October 22, 1973 (STILL) – We’re caught in a trap, I can’t walk out

Thao (that’s the woman who came to warn us, who actually is Elvis’s cousin) didn’t know where Elvis was.  No one ever seems to know where he is.  I wonder if his reputation for wandering the neighborhood like an itinerant monk fixing people’s clogged sinks and babysitting and helping them pirate electricity is just a cover and really he’s doing something nefarious.  Madripoor seems like that kind of place.  I read a book about Port Royal once called The Wickedest City in the World.  It was about how the place was run by pirates.  I remembering thinking – this can’t all be true, you can’t have a city where everyone is on the hustle.  You need most people to be squares, otherwise who’s going to collect the garbage and clean toilets and other things no criminal wants to do?

But here we are.  I realize now that notion was narrow-minded.  In the Coalition, surrounded by roads and parks and Dairy Queens and drive-in movies and nude hot tubbing it’s easy to think that the world is a safe place, a tame place.  It isn’t.  

Thao didn’t know where Elvis was, but she knew where he was going to be later, washing dishes at a noodle house called Le Petit Point d’Arret Parlant.  Which is a pretty weird name.  I wanted to go looking for him, but Blue and Martialla said that roaming the streets like Hensel and Gretel (I always forget that birds came and ate their trail of crumbs, I wonder why that expression caught on since it didn’t work in the fable) would do no good, and in any case the Shadow Lords weren’t likely to kill him until later.  Thao didn’t even support me, she agreed that “probably” nothing was going to happen to her cousin until that night.

I kind of checked out while they continued talking about the best way to sell the Burlington Industries murder suit to maximize profits and minimize risk.  LBK doesn’t speak French, and even though they’re Canadian, Blue and Martialla don’t have real strong English (how does that make sense?) and the Tower of Babel stuff was getting old, so I chain smoked crappy cigarettes and drank crummy Chinese beer that seems to come in a “can” made of paper instead of paying much attention to what they were saying.

My grandmother would be very disappointed in me being sullen and withdrawn just because things aren’t going my way.  I loved her dearly but she was a hard woman.  It would have been nice if I had another grandmother who was more the nurturing sort to balance things out.  I’m the leader of this group (obviously) so I should always be doing most of the talking, but I found myself sinking further back into my chair and wondering how the Tropics are doing this year.  I just didn’t want to deal with it anymore.  

I haven’t even been in Madripoor for two months but it feels like I’ve been here forever.  And I don’t see any chance of getting out any time soon.  There’s no way we’re getting that money, I just know we won’t.  Something will happen.  When we try to sell this stupid robot suit, Mr. X or Superkill Shadow Lord or someone else I’ve pissed off is going to attack us.  And then some other supervillain asshole crimeboss is going to show up while we’re fighting them and steal the suit.  And then use it to give me tinnitus or an itchy rash on my thighs or some other damn thing to annoy me all day every day.  I started wallowing in self-pity and it’s challenging to pull out of a good wallow.  

While I was wallowing, I had a thought.  That Stars and Stripes jerk who showed up during the fight – who was he and what was he doing there?  Blue told me that a group called the New Founding Fathers are the ones that supered me up – a dude with an America flag chest seems like the sort that would be associated with a group like that.  Maybe this is some kind of field test of my powers and he’s been watching me this whole time.  Maybe the whole thing is a set-up.  I started peering suspiciously over my beer at everyone and wondering who else might be in on it.  I need some weed to calm my nerves.  Of course, they probably don’t even smoke weed in Madripoor, they probably smoke something like weed that’s made from sea urchin venom or some bullshit that gets you high but also causes violent cramping.  Stupid Madripoor.

Eventually it was time to go save Elvis so I had to pull myself out of my funk.  Martialla found some clothes that she put on OVER her wetsuit like a lunatic.  I think that thing is melded to her sick fish-flesh, she never takes it off.  How does she pee?  And she wasn’t even getting dressed to try and blend in, she just wanted someplace to hide her guns.  Blue didn’t even bother, he had an AK (or whatever) in his hand – which is actually fine in Madripoor.  How does he even pull the trigger with his giant lizard fingers?  He must use the claw.  Which seems fiddle.  LBK didn’t need any guns of course, since his hands are registered as deadly weapons with the deadly weapon registration bureau.  

I let Blue and Martialla go first (“taking point” as they called it) and I drifted back with LBK so I could feel normal for a minute.  Just a foreign lady and her friend out for a stroll.  I asked him how he came to speak English and he said that he went to a British School in Manilla before it was taken over by Japan.  We chit-chatted amiably for a while and then he confided in me that he got his powers from a mystical jungle rooster that was fifteen feet high.  So much for normal.

When we got to the noodle house, the woman in a red Cheongsam that was running the place acted like asking to speak to a dishwasher was stranger than the fact that we were there at all.  A giant blue lizard with a machine gun and a fish-woman walk into your restaurant and what fazes you is that they want to talk to the help?  She told us that we couldn’t talk to Elvis just then on account of he was washing dishes but she’d send him out on his break.  

I was only too happy to take a seat and start shoveling mie goreng into my maw and hammering bintang beer.  Blue and Martialla are used to it but LBK watched with fascination/horror.  The fact that my super-metabolism seemingly makes it impossible for me to get drunk really makes me try that much harder to get drunk.  I think I had four dozen beers that night.  I didn’t even get a buzz.

Fun fact, even though he’s huge, Blue hardly eats anything.  I guess lizards need far less food than mammals.  I don’t even know what Martialla eats, she probably sucks slime off the bottoms of ships or something like a catfish.  When my twentieth plate of noodles arrived, Blue gave me a concerned look (I think, lizard facial expressions are tough to decipher even for someone as emotionally keyed in as me).

“How are we going to pay for all of this?”

I ducked my head at LBK and talked around a mouthful of noodles “The new guy pays, it’s like an initiation.”

Lim seemed like he was going to say something but just then Elvis came over to our table.  He looked clean for once and grinned at the sight of me.  I never noticed before that he’s actually pretty handsome.  Or maybe that was the forty-eight beers talking.  

He wiped his hands on a towel and then threw it over his shoulder “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

I managed to stop eating for a second “We’re here to rescue you.”

He smiled slightly “From washing dishes?”

I shook my head “No, this is serious, the Shadow Lords say they’re coming for you tonight.”

He nodded “Yeah, I heard about that.  Ela, I’m going to let you in on a little secret, there’s always someone gunning for me.  I’ve learned the appropriate response is just to live my life.  I live the way I like and I’ll die the way I’ll die.  I get threatened all the time.”

“I think they mean it this time.”

He looked over at the other people at the table “So you came to defend me?  I barely know you, these other people I don’t know at all.”  

I gestured “These are my friends.” I pointed at LBK “Except him, he just glommed onto us like a slug.”

LBK threw his hands up “You told me to come!”  

“Nobody told you to follow fish-lips back to our secret lair from the robbery.”

“Secret lair?  It’s a bar in touristville!”

Elvis smiled “And you all came out to risk your lives for me?  I’m touched, truly.  But it’s not necessary.  However, if you want to protect me at a few bars after I get off work, that sounds great.  In fact, I was hoping I would see you, I’ve been working on a little surprise for you.”

Montalan 3 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

How far away from someone do you need to be for a crossbow to work?  Obviously if you have it pressed right up against them it’s not going to work very well is it?  I’m no engineer but it seems like it needs some room to get the momentum of the bolt going for it to do any damage.  But on the other hand if all the force in the arms is transferred to the bolt what difference does it make?  Shouldn’t it punch through anyway?  Is a foot away far enough?  Two feet?  Just to be on the safe side when I was standing over Rudo I was standing at full height – it’s probably more intimidating to have the point of the bolt right in their face but it’s less effective if you have to fire isn’t it?  Regardless I guess he’ll get the message.  My original idea was just to wait for him to wake up but I gave up in that quickly because crossbows are heavy so I gave him a little kick to wake him up.  Based on the look of shock in his eyes at seeing the crossbow pointed at him he must not have ever considered the mechanics of the minimum crossbow distance either.

“You thought you could fool did me?  I’m on to you.  What’s the plan huh?  It’s the lumber consortium right?  Somehow you’re in communication with them and they’re setting up an ambush but they need time to put it all together so you’re leading us around out here in the woods until they give you the word.  Is that it?  Probably you put yourself in that cage knowing that I would rescue you.  The whole scene was probably staged.  You took advantage of my charitable nature.  Am I close?  Speak up, you have nothing to lose now, you’re going to die anyway, so you might as well tell me.  Where’s it going to go down?  What forces are they bringing?  I grant you this sir, that look of terror in your eyes is very convincing, but why don’t you answer me?  Because you’re trying to think of a lie!  You can’t fool me!  I see right through you!  The only thing stopping me from putting a bolt through your head right now is the information you’ve got so you better spill it real quick.  Otherwise you’re useless get it?  Who are you working for?  Where are you leading us?  I’ll shoot you right now and not think twice about it, believe me on that.”

I had started off talking quietly enough, but I inadvertently had gotten a little loud and I saw Nasso and Chaucier looming in the periphery of my vision, approaching me cautiously like you would a crazy person wielding a crossbow – as if that was the case.

Nasso held his hands out and talked in that faux calming way people do that is actually very provocative “What are you doing Ela?”

“He’s been leading us WEST, I know it, I want to know why.  He’s an agent for someone, probably the lumber consortium.  They put him out here so I would find him and he could infiltrate our ranks.  They knew, they knew what I would do.”

“Why would a lumber consortium be out to get you?”

I chuckled mirthlessly “Oh, we’ve had our issues we have.  That’s just the most likely suspect though, it could be anyone really.    All sorts of people want a piece of me, they want me dead.  He’ll tell us though, no reason to speculate.” Chaucier started edging towards me. “Get back you!  I haven’t ruled out that you’re working against me either.”

Chaucier stopped but didn’t back up “Think about what you’re saying Ela, that doesn’t make sense.  We helped you fight against Kamad and our own men.”

“Oh no?  It makes perfect sense, what better way to gain my trust?  The more I think about it the more it makes sense.  Kamad was a disposable lackey, a pawn sacrificed so that you two could get on my good side.  And four soldiers?  Well soldiers are made to die right?  Who cares about that?”

Nasso was carefully picking closing as well “So you think we’re working for the lumber people too or is Rudo helping us?”

“I don’t know, but it’s what I’m going to find out.”

Rudo finally found his voice “How could I be leading you into an ambush?  How could I be in contact with anyone?”

I nearly ran him through with the Blade on the crossbow right then “MAGIC of course!  Always magic!  Sorcerers and seers and wizards alchemists all plotting against me with their ungodly powers.  They think that can do anything they want to people like me, normal people, GOOD people.  When the lumber consortium had me as their prisoner they had a mind mage come in and scan me, they learned everything about me, they looked into my thoughts and they took it all.  I was studied by their pet mages.  Then, they took everything about me and they did a spell where they created a perfect copy of me. The recreated me and that me told them every thought I could possibly ever have.   Which they then used to perform divinations to determine everything I was going do in the next twenty years.  So you see, Rudo here knows my entire history before the thought of the thing I’m going to do ever even occurs to me.  He knows everything I’m ever going do before I know it myself.  All through the wonders of magic!  That’s how he knew where I’d be.” 

Chaucier reached out hesitantly “If that was true though wouldn’t he have known that this was going to happen and have prepared for it?”

“Don’t patronize me!  No he couldn’t have known that, because I bested them!  They thought they plumbed the depths of my mind but they didn’t know just how deep it went!  You can’t read my mind fools, I’ve got memories hidden so deeply I can barely remember them myself!  You can’t anticipate what I’m going to do!”

The next voice I heard was that of our newest add-on, the body-shifted pit fighter who calls himself Duel “Well that’s certainly true.”

My head whipped around to see her leaning against a tree digging at her belly button with one finger while slurping from a wineskin with the other hand “Good Gods woman, show some comportment!”

She rolled her eyes and switched to digging in her ear “Yeah, I’m the one who’s acting poorly.”

“Stop doing that, it’s disgusting, you’re making us all look bad!”

She stopped digging and flicked something to the forest floor, which she followed up my spitting “Look, first of all I told you already I’m not a woman, I just look like one temporarily.  Secondly of all you need to settle your tea kettle lady, you’re flying off the handle over nothing.  You need a drink is what you need, loosen you up, you’ve got a major stick up your butt.”

I spun and loosed my crossbow at the foul woman but she dodged out of the way with a mannish yelp and my bolt thudded into the tree.  Rudo scrambled away as Chaucier and Nasso rushed at me.  I activated my Amulet for mental skin but that didn’t turn out to be all that helpful in a wrestling match.  I got a couple good shots, drawing blood, but they had me pinned to the ground in short order. 

“What now?  You kill me?  Prove me right?  It was Kartak all along right?  You killed your own men at his command just to trick me right?!  Go on, do your master’s bidding you cowards!”

Duel shook her head “She’s hysterical, you know how women get, dunk her in the creek – that should bring her out of it.  Or maybe a good hard slap.”

“I’ll kill you!”

Her mouth dropped like her feelings were gravely injured “Me?  What did I say?”

Chaucier and Nasso clearly had no idea what to do so they just continued holding me down for a few minutes while everyone else stood there equally clueless.  Eventually Chaplain Stenton came over to “talk me down” and I made a show of appearing like he was doing so.  After I was “calmed down” they let me up and told them that when I forget to use my Censer I have terrible nightmares that lack of sleep sometimes makes me act a little crazy.  I apologized profusely and begged everyone’s forgiveness and asked that they help me make sure that I never forget to use my Censer.  Rudo in turn apologized and admitted that we weren’t going directly north.

“You said that you wanted to avoid Preen and I thought it would be better if we came out of the woods near the Hairpin Run rather than by the Locust.  I wasn’t trying to deceive you I promise you that My Lady.  I owe you my life, I would never betray you.”

There was a lot more lip flapping and endless apologizing back and forth from all directions, except from Duel of course, and by the time everything was “settled” it was mid-day and “we” decided that instead of traveling that day to just stay put and rest.  I nearly bashed Chaucier in the face when he said that it was because someone was “overtired” and looked right at me.  It was one of the more vexing experiences of my recent life – which has been full of vexation as you all know by now.  But that was just the beginning.  Later when I went down the creek to freshen up a bit Duel appeared out of nowhere – for a clumsy oaf trapped in the wrong body she can be surprisingly stealthy.

“Get the Hells away from me.”

She leaned against a tree and took another drink, this time from some manner of dirty jug “That was bullshit, I saw you light your little drug machine before you went to sleep.”

“It’s not drugs, its magic incense!”

She grinned awfully and winked “Yeah, ‘magic’, I got it, mum’s the word.  Look I don’t care, if you want to ge high or if you want to to skewer that guy with a crossbow, go ahead do whatever you please, I just need to ask you a question.”

“I’m not interested in your question.”

“It will only take a second, there’s no one else I can ask . . . . it’s about lady stuff.”

I stood up and moved close to her, looking her right in the eye “I want to say this clearly so you don’t misunderstand me.  If you say one more word about whatever you want to ask about or anything relating to anything like that I will get on my horse and trample you to death.  And I mean that literally.  You will be killed by the hooves of a horsing crushing you into the ground.  That is what will happen if you continue down this path.  Is that clear?  I want that to be clear.”

“Sure, I just mean that when things are happening . . .”

“No.  Not.  Another.  Word.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 23,045 platinum, 19,788 gold

XP: 725,701

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Badge of Last Resort, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Censer of Dreams, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow with Sharpshooter’s Blade, Ring of Urban Grace,  Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Black Marketers’ Bag (5), white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Token of Summoning, Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Better Walking Stick, Meteoric Amulet

Courtier’s Outfit, 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), severed hag head, 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, glass vials of something awful (8), disguise kit, covenant ring , tiny diamonds (27), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring

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   

Montalan 2 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I spent the morning sticking with Rudo so I could suss out what he may be up to.  I rode with him when we rode.  When he dismounted to look around I went with him.  When we took a break I chatted with him.  My goal was to get a sense of what he’s up to – is he leading us astray or are we on the right path?  Or is he just incompetent?  I couldn’t get any impression other than that he was legitimately doing his best to find a path through the forest.  Which means either he’s genuine and true, which I don’t really believe, or he’s better at prevarication than I am at reading people.  Which I also don’t really believe.  So that leaves us nowhere.  I was on the verge at one point of just asking him if we were heading west but I didn’t want to tip my hand if there was a hand to be tipped.  At one point I was also on the verge of shooting him in the spine just to be safe, but I didn’t because for fighting men Chaucier and Nasso have been really sensitive when it comes to random acts of violence.  Some people.

All that I can do is keep an eye on Rudo and try to be ready for the inevitable and sudden betrayal.  While waiting for said betrayal the guy with the stupid fur hat, whose name it turns out is Balec, pointed out that off in the forest there were the ruins of an old village.  Actually, ruins is far too grandiose a term for a couple of old hatched huts with the thatch long gone and the walls full of bird nests – let’s say the remains of an old forest village rather.  This isn’t really noteworthy in any way but Chaucier and Nasso insisted on checking it out for reasons that I assume only make sense to men.  I had to go with them of course because anytime anyone goes off without me they seem to die.  Chaplain Stenton came along as well as we left the horses with Rudo and the rest of the servants and beat our way through the underbrush.  As I was helping pull Stenton’s robe free from being snagged on a thorny tree he felt the need to enlighten me.

“This is probably the remains of one of the Hom villages.  I’ve read the records about them, it was eighty seven years ago that they tried to settle these woods and start up the logging trade on the north side of the river.”

“How fascinating, I assume they were abandoned due to a plague of giant spiders eating everyone.”

He looked stunned “How did you know that?”

“Is that what actually happened?!  I was just pulling a random horrible thing out of the air.”

He nodded gravely “So the records say.  Although they were no ordinary spiders . . .”

“Of course not, what fun would that be?  Why are we going to this place where giant non-ordinary spiders killed everyone?”

He stroked his chin “Well we don’t know that they killed anyone, no bodies were ever found, only . . .”

Only what I’ll never find out because we were distracted by Nasso shouting back at us.  In the middle of the ruined village were a few tumbled down stones that had once been the top of a well – what’s that called?  That has to have a name right?  A well is mostly underground but then there’s the part at top made out of stone and timber with the bucket.  Like the well is wearing a hat.  Anyway, he was standing by that thing.  Nasso was saying that there was someone down there and waving us forward.

“Are you stupid?!  Get away from there!”

Instead of getting away he leaned over and turned his head “I can hear someone shouting for help.”

I stomped up, leaving Stenton still entangled in the thorns – suppressing the urge to grab Nasso by the ear “Are you dense?  It’s obviously a trap!”

“That’s what you said about the wagon.”

“That was a trap!”

“Well yeah, but you said it was an illusion and it was real.”

“Sure, I didn’t get the particulars of the other trap exactly right, I was only right about it being a trap, so why listen to me now?  Look around, why would someone be out here to fall in a damn well?  It makes no sense.  We’re nowhere near anything.”

“We’re out here.  We found Rudo out here.”

“And that was also a trap!”

“Yeah but you didn’t see that one.”

I fought the instinct to grind my teeth – that’s very bad for them “How does that factor into anything?  What matters is that it was a trap.”

Chaucier walked up from the shell of a cottage that he had been examining “If there’s someone in there we should help them.”

“There’s no one in there!  It’s a trick.  Stenton just told me this whole place was massacred by trickster spider monsters so it’s probably one of those.  Or else it’s some kind of fey monster that lives in a well and lures people to their doom.  Or it’s like a giant pitcher plant that sprays out hallucinogenic spores to make it look like a well.  Or it’s a demon or a dragon or some other damn thing!  Best case scenario, best case, is that someone did fall down there at some point and they died after seven days and now they’re a well ghost that drowns people for laughs!”

Chaucier frowned slightly “Why seven days?”

Nasso nodded “Yeah, I mean it’s a well so there’s water down there, it would take a lot longer to starve to death than seven days.”

Chaucier snapped his fingers “Unless the water has gone bad.  Is that what happened?  Was the water fouled?  Is that why they died so quickly?”

“That is NOT the point!”

At this point I heard a voice echoing up from the well “Hey, I can hear you out there you know, I’m not a monster.  Just get me out of here.”

 I shouted down the well-hole “Shut up you, no one asked for your opinion!”

“I’m just a man that fell in a well.”

“You’re probably just some kind of translucent ooze that’s learned how to mimic human speech!”

The voice sounded offended “Am not.”

“Prove it, say something that you wouldn’t have heard to mimic!”

“I don’t know what that even means.”

“It means you’re a well witch or something!”

Chaucier put his hand on my shoulder “Well witch?  You’re shouting at a man trapped in a well.  Why don’t calm down?”

I jabbed my finger at his face “Why don’t you smarten up?  Everything is trying to kill us out here!  There are monsters and stalking beasts and goblins and vampire vines and exploding apples – it’s all out to get us!  I don’t even see how you’re still alive!  You can’t go rushing over to every ruin and monster infested thing out in the world!”

“You’re the one who rode their horse into a pit trap.”

Before I could retort Nasso spoke “What’s wrong with just throwing down a rope?  No one is saying that we jump into a well.  How could dropping down a rope hurt anything?”

“Because . . . because . . . maybe there’s . . . .whatever is down there might . . . .” I sighed “Fine, throw your rope down.”

They did thrown down a rope and after what seemed like an inordinate amount of hauling – seriously how long does it take to pull someone out of a hole – they dragged up not a man but an overly buxom peasanty looking woman dressed like a man (and not well either) with the worst haircut I have ever seen, it looked like she had hacked her dirty brown hair with a scythe. 

“What the Hells, I thought you said you were a man.”

She spoke in the same deep mannish voice that had been coming out of the well “I am a man, it’s a long story.”

“Is it?  Well you can tell it to us right now or I’ll toss you back down there myself.”

She snorted like she didn’t think I could (probably true) but answered anyway “I put on a magic belt and it transformed me physically into a woman, but I’m a man.  Huh, now that I say it aloud I guess it isn’t a long story.”

“Why is your voice the same?”

“How the Hells would I know that?  Do I look like a girdler wizard to you, I don’t know anything about magic belts!”

“You’re the one who put the thing on, what did you think it was going to do?”

“The guy who sold it to me told me that it would transform me into a fighting machine – stronger, tougher, faster, and more skilled in combat.” He swung his arms wildly in what I think was supposed to be some manner of fighting display “I’m a prize fighter, a pit-fighter, a gladiator of the bloody spectacle.”

“Even if I believed you I wouldn’t believe you.”

“I don’t even know what that means.”

“I have a feeling you say that a lot.” I turned to Chaucier and Nasso “There, you rescued this idiot, can we go now?”

Nasso glanced at the well “Don’t you want to know how he got down there?”

“No, I don’t.”

The supposed pit-fighter grinned, which looked inappropriate – a man’s grin on a woman’s face “I’d be happy to tell you.  I came to the Baku Woods in search of a powerful fey princess so she could use her magic fey powers on my behalf.  And then I fell in this well.”

“Wow, that a story!  You really know how to weave a tale.  So many surprises, twists and turns, I had no idea what was coming next!  Can we fucking go?!”

Chaucier was nodding “So you wanted to make a bargain with a fey enchantress to be returned to your normal body.”

She looked confused “What?  No.  I came so that she could enchant me with strength and agileness and fighting spirit!”

Nasso raised his eyebrows “So you want to stay like that?”

She shook her head vehemently “No of course not!  I just figured I could deal with that later, after you know, once I was a famous warrior.”

I snapped off a salute “Good luck to you in your journey, may the God watch over you, etcetera.  If you do find this fey queen while you’re at it ask her to give you a decent hairstyle, you’re making our entire gender look bad.”

She plucked at her hair like it was some foreign thing “Yeah, it kept getting in the way so I had a go at it with some sheep shears.  Cut myself something bad.  Anyway, I’m tired of trying to find my way around here, I’ll just come with you lot out of the trees, I can find some other way to become a better fighter.”

Before I could say anything Chaucier and Nasso had agreed to bringing her with us.  Later in the afternoon as we were riding I saw Nasso giving her several admiring looks – despite her ill-fitting man clothing and embarrassment of a head of hair.  I gave him a withering look.

“How can you with that voice?  She sounds like a field sergeant, a twenty year veteran about to retire.”

He looked away guiltily “What?  What do you mean?’

“I tell you another thing, when you’re sealing the deal watch out for those tits – I don’t think she has any control over them at all the way they’re swinging around on that horse – I realize that she’s new to all this but you could still end up with a broken nose if you’re not careful.”

 He spurred his horses away from me, face flushed a bright cherry-red.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 23,045 platinum, 19,788 gold

XP: 725,701

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Badge of Last Resort, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Censer of Dreams, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow with Sharpshooter’s Blade, Ring of Urban Grace,  Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Black Marketers’ Bag (5), white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Token of Summoning, Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Better Walking Stick, Meteoric Amulet

Courtier’s Outfit, 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), severed hag head, 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, glass vials of something awful (8), disguise kit, covenant ring , tiny diamonds (27), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring

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

Myam 17 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Last night  before I left the Rest Inn Peace I let Stinty believe that he had convinced me to play along with “cousin Emmalina” but we’ll see where it goes.  The question is why is he so hellsbent on putting the two of us together?  I can’t rule out the possibility that’s he’s involved too.  But involved in what?  I still have no idea what the goal of this scam might be.  There are times when a con artists for one reason or another tries to get by on pure audacity – they walk into town and announce that they’re the new mayor, something no one should believe, but by sticking to their guns and effecting an air of being totally committed to what they’re saying sometimes they can skate through.  If you pretend to believe in something hard enough there’s some people that will get on board.  So maybe that’s what’s going on, but I can’t understand why.  Yet.  I’ll get to the bottom of this, don’t think I won’t.  I got up early to head over to the RIP and catch Stinty at breakfast before the place opened up.

“Alright, I’ll go along with this for now but I don’t want to be alone with that thing.  Lend me one of your goons until I figure out what’s going on.”

He scowled over some lumpy looking Halfling egg dish with leeks and capers “Goons?  What goons?”

I scowled right back “What do you mean what goons?  You have a whole network of people at your beck and call.  Give me the broad with the sliced up face.  Or the guy with the beard.  Or that one who attacked the assassin right before your place burned down in an incident that was no one’s fault.”

His tone turned sour “That would be a neat trick since he’s dead.”

“Occupational hazard right?” 

“Maybe I would be more willing to ask one of my friends to watch your back if you weren’t so cavalier about their lives.”

“Come off it Stinty, they’re hired muscle, they know the risks.  I can pay if that’s the issue.”

He snorted “Pay with what?  I’ve seen you scam a blind beggar out of the coppers in his bowl.”

“First of all, no you haven’t.  Second of all, he wasn’t really blind.  Third of all, I don’t rip people off because I need money, I have plenty money, believe you me – I rip people off because they deserve it.  Or sometimes just for fun.  Or because I’m bored.  Or because . . .”

He held up his little Halfling hand “Yeah, I get it.  I’ll find someone to protect you from your cousin.  I mean you stabbed her but clearly you’re the one that needs protecting.”

I shouted at Stinty’s back as he took his dishes to the kitchen “It’s not my cousin!”

I was too agitated to eat anything so I went upstairs and paced while drinking from my flask.  Eventually Josta came up to tell me that it was “time to go” and I came down to find the thing that looks like Emmalina talking with Stinty and the Strider priestess from yesterday.

Stinty gestured to the priestess “Ela this is Vanara, she’ll be going with you guys like you asked.”

“I don’t remember agreeing to go anywhere, also if this is the back-up you got for me you can think again.”

Stinty seemed aggrieved “Vanara will watch out for you guys, I trust her.”

“I don’t, I’m pretty sure she’s part of it.”

Stinty threw up this hands “Part of what?!”

I pointed at Emmalina-thing “Look, this is a shapeshifter or an imposter or something.  Even if you do trust Vanara how do you know that she hasn’t been replaced as well?”

“How do you know that I haven’t been replaced as well?”

“Exactly, I don’t!  Now you’re taking things seriously!”

Stinty sighed “Ela, the whole world is not out to get you, I realize that that may sound hollow considering the circumstances under which we met – there are some people out to get you, but not everyone in the world is conspiring against you.”

“I know that, I’m not stupid, but when a cousin that I made up shows up in the flesh something is wrong.  Not to mention the church of Strider has tried to kill me at least three times and every time I meet a Strider priest they seem to know about it.  They have some secret way of communicating long distance and they ARE all out to get me.”

Vanara spoke up “If I can say something, I . . .”

“You can’t.  So I can’t trust her no matter what even if you do.”

Stinty scratched his chin “What if you forgot.”

“What?”

“Maybe you really do have a cousin Emmalina and forgot.  I have dozens of cousins, I can’t keep track of all of them.  Maybe you thought you made that up but really you were just remembering . . .”

I held up a hand “Don’t even go down that road.”

“You’re going to have to trust someone if we’re going to get through this.”

“I don’t have to trust anyone.  Look, okay, let’s just talk about whatever the Hells ‘this’ is and we can go from there.”

Stinty directed us to the overlook like he wasn’t going to come along but I told him in no uncertain terms that he was coming too.  We sat there awkwardly for a while before “it” finally started in with the alleged task at hand. Its alleged client Nacario and his wife Rosalee got out of the city after the rioting started but before they locked the place down.  They went to an old family cabin not ten miles away near a village called Sharbus.  A few days later the Nacario was found wandering around the outskirts of Sharbus disoriented and covered with blood.  Rosalee was nowhere to be found and Nacario could offer no details of what had happened, the local reeve was called in and placed him under arrest for suspicion of murder.  As soon as the situation in Beresford is under control they’ll move him to the city to be tried, where “it” thinks that he’ll be convicted and sentenced to hang.

“Assuming for the moment that I believe any of this, why are you so sure Naca didn’t croak his wife?”

The thing bit its lip in a very convincing show of mild shame and contrition “I know that Nacario didn’t kill his wife because on the night she disappeared he was with me.”

I laughed “Fuck you.  You almost had a tiny little part of me believing this story until just then.  This isn’t a mystery novel.  There aren’t plot twists in real life!”

Stinty nodded “And because you’re his lawyer no one would believe you if you provide the alibi.”

I glared at him “What is wrong with you Stinty?  You’re not this stupid.” I turned back to the priestess and the imposter “So what’s the idea?  You get me out at this cabin then kill me?  That seems a little convoluted, why not just kill me here in the city?  Is it a cult thing?  Do you need me at that cabin because it’s a Hellsmouth or something?” I snapped my fingers “That’s it!  You must be some kind of Kralten people and you want to sacrifice me on account of I broke your messiah’s dick and got all your people arrested and executed.  Where was that?  Was that in Wryby?  I mean I’ve exposed so many of your cults it’s hard to keep track.”

Vanara spoke up “I can assure you that . . .”

“Shut up you.  I know that Kralten people like to assume covers as priests of other religions, and that makes perfect sense – if you were really a Strider person you wouldn’t have already know about me with their secret communication network, but you didn’t because you’re really a Kraltenite masquerading as a Stridarian.  How and why you cooked up this Emmalina imposter I don’t know but it’s clear to me now.”

Stinty shot Vanara an apologetic look “Ela, what . . .”

“No, hold on a minute Stinty, tell me ‘cousin’ what help did you want from me?”

It did a good job of pretending to look trapped and stressed “Well . . . I wanted you to go to the cabin and . . .”

I smiled smugly “Is that a fact?” I turned to Stinty “Paranoid am I?  Acting crazy am I?  Looks like I hit the nail right on the noggin there doesn;t I?” I turned back to the thing “Why would you even ask that?  What good would me checking out the crime scene do even if this was a real request?”

“You have a knack for uncovering things that people don’t want uncovered” it pretended to shift uncomfortably “Especially things that involve . . . magic . . . stuff.”

“Right sure, that makes total sense, bring my in as a magical troubleshooter to solve the case.  That totally tracks.”

Stinty shifted in his chair “What harm could come from just going to take a look?’

“What is with you?!  Why do you care about any of this?!  What’s your angle?  What harm could come?  How about the part where I get murdered?  They lure me out into the countryside and then it’s a knife in the ribs and a shallow grave for me.”

It pretended to cross its arms and mutter “You’re the one that stabbed me.”

“I wish I would have stabbed you in the throat, that was my mistake – your kind always reverts to their natural form when they die, that would have solved all this right there.”

The thing made a big show of gasping like it was shocked and frightened by the suggestion that I should have killed it and things degenerated from there.  Vanara left with the annoyed visage or someone’s whose time had been wasted and gave Stinty a dirty look as she went out the door.  The thing once again put on an appearance of a woman who was at a loss for what to do.  I’m becoming more and more convinced that whatever or whoever it is doesn’t know what the plot against me is, it was just told to come here and get me to go to the place and the since I won’t its flummoxed.  I sat around stewing for a while until I decided there was no point hanging about and made to leave.  Stinty ran up before I could get out the door.

“Ela, can I please talk to you for a moment?” I allowed him to lead me into the storeroom off the kitchen “Can you please just help me out here?  That sergeant, Karta, she’s holding me responsible for this – me and Josta.  If your cousin goes back to her and tells her that you didn’t hold up your part of the deal . . .”

I looked at him coolly “I don’t remember making any deal.”

“Can you please just do be this favor?  Things are going to go bad for me if you hang me out to dry.  I gave you a chance to bail, and you chose to stay.  You said you were going to help smooth everything over.”

I laughed incredulously “Are you insane?  You’re asking me to walk into an ambush!”

“Now you don’t know that, you . . .”

“Alright, here’s what I’ll do Stinty, as a favor to you.  I’ll go out there, without that thing – but I need some protection, some real protection, not the bullshit you tried to pull today.  I need some real fighters that I can trust.  Because whatever is out at that cabin, it’s waiting for me.  You want me to walk into an ambush?  Fine, but I need some real killers on my side.  And if I get out there and anything seems at all shady I’m leaving immediately.”

“I don’t really know anyone like that Ela.”

“You better figure it out then.  In a couple of days I’m leaving town, you have until then to make arrangements for my safety on this suicide mission you keep trying to send me on .”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 27,817 platinum, 44,853 gold

XP: 635,101

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Badge of Last Resort, Stone of Good Luck, Tankard of the Drunken Hero,  Censer of Dreams,  potions of cure moderate wounds (5), potion of invisibility, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow with Sharpshooter’s Blade, Deck of Curses (two cards used), Ring of Urban Grace,  Bewitching Gown, Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Black Marketers’ Bag (5), white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Nymph’s Favor, Token of Summoning, Tidy Trunk

Courtier’s Outfit, 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), severed hag head, 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, glass vials of something awful (8), disguise kit, covenant ring , tiny diamonds (27), Saryah Phidaner gown, bottle of elfen absinthe, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55)    

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

Myam 16 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

Looking at myself/cousin Emmalina/whatever it is sitting at the table across from me I came to the realization that when I disguise myself as a woman I probably make myself too striking much of the time.  I mean think about it, how many people in the world are attractive?  Not many.  And out of that small population of attractive people how many are actually beautiful?  Even fewer.  It’s a percentage of a percentage is my point. I’ll have to keep that in mind going forward, there’s reasons to adopt a memorable disguise sometimes of course, but when I’m just creating a persona to pass without any specific purpose in mind I need to remember to tone it down a bit.  Perhaps I am a tiny bit vain.    

Whoever it was that was sitting across from me seemed to be at a loss at this point, and if they were putting on act it was a great one.  I’m damn good at telling when someone is lying and I wasn’t getting that sense.  I’m not saying that I can’t be fooled of course, but I’m starting to wonder if maybe whoever this is isn’t in on the joke.  I don’t know how or why but the thought is bubbling up that maybe this “person” actually thinks they are cousin Emmalina.  Maybe someone is manipulating them – which magic it seems like anything is possible.  Anything horrible anyhow.

“Alright, for the sake of argument let’s say I believe you – what is it you want me to do?”

“I’m just a lawyer Ela, I know the law – anything else” she made a vague gesture “anything out of the ordinary that’s your world.  Mother always said that you were too clever by half, I want you to use that cleverness and your . . . uh, ‘other’ qualities to help me find out what really happened to my client’s wife.  I know he didn’t kill her but I have no alternative suspects or theories.”

“Mother huh?  What mother would that be?”

“Your aunt Needi.”

I nodded mockingly “Of course, of course.  Now things are taking an interesting twist.  Do you have an entire made-up family history?  Are there other cousins and uncles and people that I don’t know about?  I tell you, I could maybe see someone who doesn’t know any better trying to impersonate a fictional cousin but now you’re just plainly making things up.  What on earth could be the point of that?  What possible reason would there be for me to buy that?  There is no aunt so why pretend that there is?”

It banged its fist on the table “Ela, I don’t know if you’re high or if the crotch-rod has spread you’re your mind and made you insane now but whatever you’re talking about I don’t understand it.  If you’re not going to help me just say that so I can quit wasting my time!”

I grabbed its arm across the table “You know, I’ve found there’s one pretty good way to see what someone really is when they’re playing games with taking on forms.”

It scowled “What are you talking about?”

“This.”

Inside the Haversack I unattached my Sharpshooter’s blade and brought it out like a knife – stabbing it through the creature’s forearm and into the table, pinning the arm there.  I thought that it would reveal it’s true form, or at least react naturally in that moment, something that would give me some signal as to what it was.  But it didn’t.  It screamed just like a real woman would scream upon being impaled through the arm and then started panicky weeping.  It was a very impressive performance but I wasn’t buying it.  I dashed around the table and grabbed the creature by the hair that might not even actually exist – slamming it’s head down onto the table.

“I admire your commitment but you can’t fool me!  What are you!?  Tell me!”

Blubbering and wailing it acted like it was in incredible pain “I don’t know what you’re talking about!  Why are you doing this to me Ela?!  What did I do?!”

I gave the “hair” a good shake “Who are you?!  What’s your angle?!  Tell me or with the Gods as my witnesses I will skin you alive!”

It was at this point that some of the bar patrons came rushing up the stairs to see what the rhubarb was – I mean sure from their point of view it looked like I was torturing a sobbing woman for no reason, but they were in no position to make that call.  They had the temerity to surge forward like a mob and try to restrain me.

“Get your hands off of me you maggots!  That’s not a woman, it’s something.  I don’t know what but I can show you if you just . . . don’t touch me!  No, don’t! No! Just please!  Please wait just one second!  It’s out to get me, let me show you what it is!  Bring me a real knife!”

I was fighting and kicking so much that they picked me up bodily and in the confusion they almost pitched me over the side of the overlook accidentally.  What an ignominious end to my tale that would have been – neck broken by a horde of morons dropping me on my head.  As it was they dragged me kicking and screaming, literally, into one of the rooms nearby and hurled me in like a common drunk, slamming the door and holding it shut like I was going to try and beat it down.  I sat on the bed calmly and waited while there was a lot of commotion outside.  I could hear the thing acting like a badly injured woman doing her best to put on a brave face and failing heartbreakingly.  Whatever this thing is it’s a great actor.  Eventually the door open and Stinty came in, arms wide.

“Ela, what the fuck?!”

“Look, I don’t know what that thing is or what its agenda might be but I do know . . .”

“Ela, why are you stabbing your cousin in my place?”

I jumped to my feet “I have no cousin!  Well, I mean I have cousins, but there is no cousin Emmalina I mean and even if there was that’s not here, which there isn’t.”

“Ela you sound crazy.”

I walked to the window and gazed outside “Maybe that’s the plan, send this thing to me to make it seem like I’m crazy, get me locked up in the booby hatch.  Or maybe it’s actually supposed to drive me insane.”  I turned back to Stinty “You said this monster had been here for a few days, when exactly did it show up?  Who else was around?  Did you see anyone talking to it?”

He shook his head “Ela, the guard is coming, you need to get your shit together.  We’ll tell them you were drunk and you had an argument with your cousin . . .”

“There is no cousin!  It’s a creature of some kind, I don’t know what kind yet.  But I’ll find out.”

He jabbed his finger at me angrily, managing to look menacing even though he’s legitimately three feet shorter “Hey, listen to me!  I know that you’re used to doing whatever you want without caring about the consequences but you can’t do that here.  If you don’t want to smooth this over you need to get lost before the watch shows up and not come back.  If that’s what you want to do fine, but don’t stick around and spew this garbage about creatures.  Do you want to help fix this or do you want to leave right now?”

Stinty had a friend or acquaintance of his – a priestess of Strider – turn up in short order to heal “Emmalina” with her divine spells.  While that was happening the watch turned up, none other than Sergeant Karta and three bully boys.  I got the impression that she’s arranged to keep half an eye on this place and make sure that she’s the one that turns up here if there’s any reason for the city watch to come around.  I went along with Stinty’s polite fiction about quarreling cousins and did my level best to downplay the whole thing.  Karta gave me a dressing down about brawling like a tavern whore, which galled me, but in the end she seemed willing to accept the doctrine that that no real harm had been done so there was no reason to arrest anyway.  “Emmalina” came forward looking wan but brave, holding her recently healed arm like it was still injured.

“It’s okay sergeant, I don’t want to press any charges against my cousin, it was just the heat of the moment.  My cousin and I haven’t seen each other in a long time and some old family stuff came up kidn of out of nowhere.  You know how it is.”

Karta nodded sagely “Yes, I see it all the time.” She fixed me with a stern look “You just keep your nose clean you hear me?”

I was appropriately contrite “Of course officer.”

Emmalina smiled “I think things are going to be just fine between us from now on.” She looked me in the eye, smile gone “As long as she helps me with my case everything should work out fine.”

Karta asked what case she meant and they were off having themselves a wonderful little chat about law enforcement.  I slipped away and headed down to the common room where the priestess – a weather-beaten woman with an athletic build and silvery hair – was just finishing up a cup of wine and appeared to be heading out.  As seems to be the case with those of her order she wore no vestments, just traveler’s guard – without the holy symbol around their necks you’d never know a Strider priest for a normal person.

She held up her hand as I approached “No need to thank me for helping your cousin.”

“No problem there, tell me your holiness, you have special magical sight or clairvoyance or something right?  What do you see when you look at my ‘cousin’?  Not when you look with your eyes, when you look with the powers that Strider gave you.”

“I don’t understand, what . . .”

I held out a few coins “Just look would you?”

She deftly pocketed the money without a word and then took up her staff/walking stick that the Strider people seem to always have at hand – she spoke a few soft words and her eyes took on a subtle bluish glow.  She looked up an “Emmalina” for what seemed like an eternity.

“Well, what do you see?!

The glow faded from her eyes “I just see a woman, nothing else.”

I grabbed her arm “So you’re part of it huh?  I should have known, I’ve had run-ins with your kind several times before.”

She pulled her arm out of my grasp “You need to batten down the hatches on your crazy ship lady.”

I shook my head as she walked out the door “I’m not crazy.  No I’m not.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 27,817 platinum, 44,853 gold

XP: 635,101

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Badge of Last Resort, Stone of Good Luck, Tankard of the Drunken Hero,  Censer of Dreams,  potions of cure moderate wounds (5), potion of invisibility, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow with Sharpshooter’s Blade, Deck of Curses (two cards used), Ring of Urban Grace,  Bewitching Gown, Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Black Marketers’ Bag (5), white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Nymph’s Favor, Token of Summoning, Tidy Trunk

Courtier’s Outfit, 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), severed hag head, 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, glass vials of something awful (8), disguise kit, covenant ring , tiny diamonds (27), Saryah Phidaner gown, bottle of elfen absinthe, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55)    

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 

Mathanaya 5 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Patterns rule our lives.  There’s a pattern to what we do, what we eat, where we go, what we say.  People with mental problems don’t have a pattern, or rather they probably do but it’s one that we can’t understand, and that’s why people are so frightened of them.  As long as there’s a routine, a design, people can adjust to anything – no matter how horrible.  But break that pattern and they tend to go off the deep end.  And that’s all fine as long as you’re living the pattern and not thinking about it.  When you think about it that’s when things start to get weird.

Here I am again slogging through a wet forest, slipping in mud, get tangled in branches, and my ears.  They are so cold.  I now retroactively hate any man I’ve met with a shaved head – why would anyone do this to themselves?   I thought fingers and toes were the worst but no, it’s the ears.  Fucking bald fucks, I hate them all.  And what’s at the end of this journey?  A warm bed?  A roaring fire?  Fine liquor?  A hot meal?  Sparkling conversation?  Contentment?  Happiness? Justification? No.  None of that.  Violence.  And blood.  Sometimes I wonder if there is nothing else, if all the rest of it is pretend, if we’re just monkeys playing dress up fantasizing we’re anything other than backbiting animals. 

I think the problem is that I haven’t been drinking enough lately.  I feel like it’s been weeks since I had a drink.  I’m starting to daydream about it.  I was just about to talk to a wine-seller when Martialla distracted me with all her talk about slavery.  If it wasn’t for her I could be taking a sip of Dreamcaster Red right now to warm me up.  What is her deal anyway?  Why has she attached herself to me like a barnacle?  What’s her angle?  What does she want from me?  Is she the world’s most misguided social climber?  I’m going nowhere.  She has to be dumb as Hells not to realize that.  Wine denying whore.  I started starring at the back of her head as we stumbled up a leaf-covered hillside and imagining driving my dagger into it. 

And this so-called tracker, what’s his story?  Leading two women out into the woods like this.  He’s probably some kind of reprobate.  A smuggler and a poacher for sure – why else would be out here in this Hellscape?  And that’s just for starters.  He probably brings his victims out here for whatever kind of sexual perversions he inflicts on the wretches before he tortures them to death.  I’ll have to keep my eye on him, wait for him to make his move, because Gods forbid that I do anything about it before he tries to cut my tits off.  Because then I’m just an overacting emotional woman. 

Sometimes I hate being a woman.  Everything I do scrutinized, everything I say questioned – when I can manage to get a word in edgewise.  I can’t decide which is worse, they eye-raping I used to get constantly before my hair got burned off or the looks of derision and disgust that I get now.  I might as well be a three headed orc the way they look at me now.  Filthy animals, always watching me, judging me, waiting to pounce on anything I say or do. 

What’s the point of this?  What’s the point of anything?

“Are you okay?”

It took me a moment to realize that Martialla had turned back and asked me something – she looked concerned.  I grunted a response.

“You look like you’re freezing.  Your lips are blue.”

“That’s the fashion these days.”

Martialla looked at the tracker “Maybe we should stop and take a little rest.  Build up a fire maybe, warm ourselves up a bit.”

I wanted to bark at her that we had no time for dawdling, that we needed to keep pushing forward, but the words wouldn’t come.  I just stood there until Martialla took me by the hand and lead me over a dry spot where the tracker had a fire going in about thirty seconds flat.  I stared at the flames with envy.

“Remember that time we tried to get a fire going for hours and never could?”

“I do, we’re not really the outdoors type.”

“You can say that again.”

“I know that you don’t need to sleep but maybe it wouldn’t hurt if you laid down for a while and got some rest.”

I snorted “You want me to put my head in your lap like a damn baby?  Are you going to stroke my hair and sing songs to me?’

“If you want.”

I waved her off angrily but the next thing I knew I was waking up on Martialla’s bedroll by a small by merrily burning fire.  I did feel better than I had trudging about that morning until I realized that Martialla and the tracker were gone.  This was their plan all along!  Abandon me here to die.  Just like the Duke’s wife did in Graltontown.  Only this time it’s probably going to work.  That was the Duke’s wife’s mistake – leaving me in a city, if you can even call Graltontown that – I know how to operate in a city.  You can’t take me down in a city.  But these two did it right.  Take me out in the middle of the wilderness where my skills are useless and leave me to get eaten by a man-bear or just starve to death.  Sneaky fuckers.  I almost admire them. 

I was plotting my revenge when Martialla and the tracker came back holding some weird orange colored roots.  I told them we should get going but Martialla said that a few more minutes couldn’t hurt.  The tracker set up a pot over the fire which he filled with water and brought to a boil with the roots in it along with some other stuff they tossed in.  As they were stirring the mixture I’m pretty sure Martialla did some magic – for that matter I think the tracker did too!  Is everyone magic but me?  Martialla poured some of the now reddish liquid into a tin cup and handed it to me. 

“Jopha says that this should make you feel better.”

Apparently that’s the trackers name.  Jopha.  What kind of name is that?  Probably that’s not even his real name.  I grumbled, but I did take the probably poisoned beverage and took a sip.  It was slightly bitter but it didn’t have much taste at all.  It did make me feel good though.  It wasn’t like warmness went through my body, it was more like everything unclenched – like my muscles had all been held in tension for a long time and I wasn’t able to relax until just now.  It’s hard to describe exactly, I just felt better.  Jopha wandered off again and Martialla leaned against a tree across the fire from me.

“You hide it well but you’re pretty frayed right now aren’t you?  You should stop to smell the daisies once in a while.”

“Isn’t the expression smell the roses?”

“I never cared for roses.  I don’t know your whole story, but I know more of it than anyone else – you’ve been through a lot.  A lot a lot.  Have you ever thought about taking a break from this revenge business?”

“I would if some catastrophe didn’t befall me every five minutes.”

“Would you?”

“No.  I can’t.  My position doesn’t get stronger, it get weaker.  And my enemies aren’t standing still, they’re out there making themselves tougher, harder for me to get at.  It’s a race, one that I started way behind and every second I don’t try to catch up is a second that I get even farther behind.  And I was already impossibly far behind to begin with.”

“That sounds like a hard course to travel.  Have you heard that living well is the best revenge?”

“Of course, that’s why the third act of every opera is about someone living well.” 

_______________________________________________________________

Hair regrowth progress :  .0075%

Funds: 900 platinum, 4251 gold

XP: 234,561

Inventory:  Pathfinder’s Gear (white) Pocketed Scarf, Wrist Sheath, Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Dagger of Venom, Bracers of Armor +2, Ring of Protection +2, Light Crossbow, Assortment of Fake Signet Rings,  Bag of Concealment,  Belt of Giant Strength +4, Vest of Resistance +1, Ring of Sustenance, Gem of Brightness, Silver Chain set with Moonstones, Gold and Emerald Ring (2), Glove of Vampiric Touch, Platinum and Silver Holy Symbol of Kralten, Holy Symbol of Kozilek, Ruby (2), Black Marketers’ Bag, 879 Garnets

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, Gibson attackers