Montresor 28 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) part 2

The farther down you are on the socio-economic ladder the worse your shoes are – which is an issue because also the father down you are on the socio-economic ladder more important your shoes are.  When I was first drugged and left for dead in Graltontown I was pissed that my dress had gotten dirty.  Those were my priorities at the time.  I quickly discovered that when you’re down here in the mud and the guts with everyone else what you really need is a good pair of boots or shoes.  When I was given this potato sack to wear it came with “shoes” in the form of cloth to wrap about my feet, which is more common than you’d think.  It really tears you up.  Whenever I face a serious setback like the one currently occurring my first order of business is to get some proper footwear.  It was easy this time because I didn’t have to do anything.  The first step of Bolbec Forthwind’s plan was to give me some different clothes to wear.  A pair of sturdy boots, cloth skirt with an overtunic, a belt, a shirt with a terrible jacket, gloves, a scarf, and an ugly a wide-brimmed hat.  It looked terrible.  Sadly I’ve worn worse.

It’s a commentary on my life now that I didn’t even think about it – I just started changing right in front of him.  I wonder what kind of commentary it is that he didn’t even remark upon that fact.  Instead he started explaining the subsequent parts of the plan – sneaking out of town and going some number of paces this way or that and blah blah blah, I wasn’t really listening.  Once I was dressed in my slightly less crappy clothing I lay down on the bed in the shitty hostel with my hands behind me head.

“I appreciate it Bolbec but what I could really use is a whiskey sour and a nice juicy rabbit.”

He was understandably confused “But we need to go right now, we only have . . .”

I waved his concerns away “It’s no use Bolbec, they got me good.” I tapped the collar they saddled me with “This baby is all magiced up the wing-wang, there’s no getting away for me, not until I can figure out how to get rid of it.”

“That shouldn’t be hard, we just need . . .”

I sat up quickly as I felt the collar start to constrict “Stop!  Don’t say anything more about it!  Talk like that sets it off.”

He looked at me for a moment “They really got you don’t they?”

I laid back down “The hook is in deep this time my old friend.  And by old friend I mean someone I barely know.  Why is that you were going to help me?  Seems like you had this whole plan worked out in advance, what’s the skinny?  Were you secretly in love with me the entire time we were at court?  Were you pining away in silence, enraptured by my beauty?  I don’t blame you there Bolbec, I was quite something back then.  This is the part where you’re supposed to say how lovely I am still.”

“Huh?’

“Forget about it, just tell me what’s going on.”

“I volunteered for this assignment, from the beginning my plan was to help you escape, I did have things arranged beforehand.  Before I got here I spent some time working it all out.  I should have guessed that it wouldn’t be that easy.”

“Nothing ever is.  That doesn’t tell me anything about why you did it though.  Are you working for someone?  Do I still have allies at court?”

He shook his head “No, I did this on my own.”

“You’re being very cagey Bolbec, why is the question – what’s your angle?”

“I just didn’t think it was right what had happened to you.”

“I don’t believe that for a second but I won’t press the matter anymore, you can have your secrets if you want.  I supposed embarking on this shenanigan this is better than being on the front lines.  How is the war going Bolbec?  Seems like the Kingdom is losing a lot of territory given the fact that we’re supposed to be winning this thing.”

He smiled sadly “I’m sure it’s a tactical decision, all part of the plan.”

“I’m sure.  Tell me something Bolbec, if I snuck my way into Finchley’s room in the night and slit his throat and tossed him out a window how would that make you feel?”

His facial expression was hard to read, it looked like someone had stepped on his balls and he was trying now to show it “Are you capable of something like that My Lady?”

I snorted “Oh, I’m no lady anymore Bolbec, not that I ever was truly, I was the Duke’s dress up doll.  I’m still in the process of figuring out what I am.  It’s harder than you think.  Let me ask you this Bolbec, when the war is over and the Kingdom has won as it always does in war, there’s going to be a flood of people in society that have become killers.  Some of them will be pretty broken up about it but for a lot of them it will just be a thing they did.  Do you think having that many killers in society changes things?  Every time there’s a war is it followed by a weird period in the kingdom where society is made up of killers?  Seems like that would change things.  Forget the poverty and the hunger and all the other fucked up stuff about the war itself – afterwards there’s a whole generation of murderers running around.  It’s something to think about.”

“I . . . I don’t know what to say to that.”

“Don’t worry, I’m just thinking out loud.  I’m a killer now Bolbec. I’ve tried to feel guilty about it but I can’t seem to pull it off.  What do you think that means?  Am I doomed to the fiery pits of the Thirteen Hells to be tormented forever by Krolkoth the Awakener?  Seems a little harsh to be tormented forever no matter what someone did.”

“Uh . . . I’m not sure.”

“Sorry Bolbec you were expecting an exciting rescue, running through the night and hiding and horses in the night and shit and instead here I am dropping some heavy philosophy on you.  My apologies, I tend to get metaphysical whenever I lose everything.  It happens every seven or eight months.  Sometimes I can get the stuff back but I’m in a real bind this time Bolbec, I think my goose might be pickled on this one.  You’re a fighting man Bolbec, you were in the last war right?  How many men to you reckon you’ve sent on the next life?”

He seemed mightily uncomfortable “I couldn’t say My Lady, chaos of battle and all.”

I nodded “I know what you mean, after a while it’s hard to keep track right?  If you told me I had killed a hundred people I could believe it.  A thousand I don’t think so, but I can’t even really hazard a guess what the number is.  Some of them I probably wouldn’t even remember.  Most of the ones I straight up murdered in cold blood I could probably list if I tried hard enough but when you’re in the thick of battle and your blood is up you’re just reacting.  Afterwards you think, did you kill five people or seven?  It’s impossible to say.”

He abruptly headed for the door “I should get some sleep.”

“Sure, sure, you get some rest Bolbec.  How are we doing on that whiskey sour?”

Macendamandel 20 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

It’s been said that you sometimes don’t value something until after you’ve thrown it away.  The reverse effect of buyer’s remorse I suppose.  I miss Martialla, which doesn’t make sense because I just saw her yesterday.  We used to go days or weeks at a time without actually laying eyes on one another so why should I be melancholy when I just saw her last night?  I mean, I know why, but still it seems strange.  But there’s nothing for it, life goes on and all that.  Even sleeping fitfully as I did I didn’t notice her leaving in the night, she was gone when I woke up, headed south I assume.  Speaking of fitful sleeping my non-dreams have been increasingly feeling even more strange.  Have you ever watched a snake swallow a fat rat?  It’s slow and awful and you can’t look away.  Somehow that’s the feeling I get while I sleep  now – like the power that that bitch hag is using to protect me is being worn away inexorably.  I need to get to Gib’s Tor as soon as possible. 

Should be easy, all I have to do is follow the river north, problem being I’m not sure which river I’m looking at– it’s not like they have signposts.  I assume it’s the Umberlee and what I need to do is cross to get to the Pipestone but I don’t know that for sure.  It could be the Pipestone.  Another issue, all the nearby bridges are back in town and given my (totally justified) murder spree yesterday it seems like a bad idea to go back there.  But as I said, there’s nothing for it.  I headed north along the river hoping that some method of crossing would present itself.  I thought maybe that one method would be the river being fill of logs floating downriver to be milled, but I quickly realized that all the logging was going on to the south – this was the area where all the trees had already been felled. 

It’s hard to imagine that this dry desolate land was once a massive forest.  I wonder at what point we’ll reach the time when we’re cutting down trees faster than they can grow somewhere else – and will we realize it in time to stop ourselves from cutting them all down?  You know I’m feeling gloomy when I’m sparing thought for sustainable forestry practices.  Another thought I was kicking around, which I’ve had before, is how easy it is to get away with things when you can change your appearance on a whim.  I’ve been told that disguising yourself with an illusion is fairly elementary magic.  Given all the things I’ve gotten away with simply because I can appear to be someone else at the time it doesn’t take much to imagine that a small group of illusionists could cause an inordinate amount of damage to foundations of society.  Which quickly leads to the thought, maybe there is already a cabal of shape-changing mages out there that are up to all kinds of evil shit.  Who would know?  Maybe all those people being hung while protesting their innocence actually are innocent.  Wouldn’t that be a fucking kick in the ass?

There was a minor noble back at court that would let slip if be imbued enough that he was convinced that there was a sect of demon worshippers that were secretly controlling everything.  Once he was drunk enough he’d go on at length about how they would feed babies to alligators or sharks or something nonsense like that.  As is usually the case his belief was rooted in the fact that he had achieved nothing in his life and never would – and he was a great man so clearly the reason for his failure was because the world was controlled by a secret group that he was not a part of.  Usually I was intent just to listen and be entertained by his nonsense but one time I got exasperated and told him that if what he was saying was true, it would mean thousands of people killing tens of thousands of people a year all without leaving any evidence and without anyone being the wiser.  It would be the greatest cover-up in the history of humanity.  He looked me in the eye, dead serious, and said “now you understand what I’m dealing with.”

Although in his defense I have run into an inordinate amount of cults since my exile from court, not demonic all of them, but potato tomato you know – they were sacrificing people so it hardly matters to whom (or what).  I have a theory about that.  There’s all kind of crime in the city, but it’s all normal stuff like theft and murder and rape.  Out in the countryside is where the real freaky stuff happens because there’s nothing else to do.  You work day and night busting your ass to grow wheat day after day year after year with nothing to look forward to other than plowing your ugly wife occasionally and suddenly some weird monster with fifteen noses and lizard-lips is saying you should carve your neighbors heart out on a weird stone you found in the woods and doesn’t sound half-bad as an alternative.  Some people say that idle hands are a demon’s best friend, but I think idle minds are the real problem.  You need to numb people’s minds with the sweet allure of entertainment.  Alcohol is doing as much as it can, but it needs some help.   If you’re a musician or an actor or a storyteller or some kind of performer you need to be touring out in the sticks.  It sucks, but do your part to keep human sacrifice to a minimum okay?

I was contemplating these kinds of weighty issues so much that it took me a moment to realize that I heard a voice.

“Is that you cousin?  I scarcely recognize you.”

I turned and saw that the voice was coming from a boat making its way downstream towards Three Rivers.  It wasn’t exactly a pleasure craft but it clearly wasn’t a dedicated working vessel either – it was a hybrid of sorts, the kind of thing you might find in the grubby hands of a wealthy peasant who wants something nice but can’t help but be practical as well.  The voice belonged to a woman sitting on the deck in a camp chair with a maid holding a parasol over her and a manservant hovering nearby clutching a bucket of ice holding a bottle of wine. 

It took me a long moment to realize that it was my cousin May.  Last time I saw her she looked different.  To call her an unfortunate looking woman would have been overly kind.  She looked like she had been hacked from a fallen log by a blind woodsman.  Her chin was pointed, her cheeks hollow, her face creased from constant frowning, her back bent as if she was always cowering from a blow that never came, and her short dark hair was streaked with grey even though she was not yet thirty.  That was what she looked like before.  Now she was drop-dead gorgeous.  As I well know some of it was artifice – cosmetics and a fine dress and all the right accessories – but I know enough as well to spot a stone cold fox when I see one. 

Her hair was long and thick and lustrous without a hint of grey.  Her face had been alternatively sharpened and softened as needed, and if we’re being honest symmetricalized as well.  Her eyes were bright and confident, her skin was smooth and pure, and if she had gone a little overboard with the fullness of her bosom who can blame her?  Depending on your preferences some might have said she was even more comely than I.  They would have been wrong, but they would have said it.

“You’re looking well cousin, whatever can you be doing here?”

She managed to sound bored by the idea “I’ve just returned from a retreat in the mountains – hot springs, rejuvenating treatments, that sort of thing.  I wanted to go before the snows set in, winter is coming in the highlands and I wouldn’t want to be trapped in that ghastly part of the Kingdom for months on end.”

I couldn’t help but smile, remembering my awkward country cousin “Certainly not.”

She smiled meanly “You’re looking a little ragged there cousin.  I couldn’t quite believe it was you walking beside the river like a common peddler.  Last time I saw you you were the very height of fashion and good taste you were.  I was quite jealous at the time.”

“Events have conspired to teach me to be humble since then, not too humble mind you, but my circumstances are much reduced as you can plainly see.”

She was clearly delighted.  Her boat was in danger of floating beyond speaking range and she gestured slightly with her fan for the crew to pull over to the side of the river and they silently moved to obey.

“Would you care to join me for lunch cousin?  You’re looking rather underfed.”

There’s no pleasure in life quite so grand as rubbing your success in the face of someone that used to have things better than you – why should I want to deny my dear cousin that?  Her skiff (is that the right word) glided (glid?) to the shore and I walked a rickety gangplank on board where a group of efficient servants was bringing out a table.  It was a nice table but still it was quickly hidden like a shameful bastard child under a thick tablecloth and then decorated with glittering dining ware and fine crockery.  Charcoal grilled fish with white asparagus, steelhead trout roe with a sauce of cured grapefruit and spices, candied strawberry with hot strawberry jam, ravioli, chicory and ricotta topped with grated white truffles – it was quite a spread, especially for a traveling meal.  The wine was subpar, certainly not worthy of an ice bucket attendant but beggars and choosers etcetera.

“Eternal damnation suits you well cousin, you’re looking radiant.”

“Yes well if I had know that selling my soul would work out so well I would have done it years ago.”

“And here I was thinking that if I met you again you might be cross with me over the whole thing.”

She waved away my concerns flippantly “Oh Gods no, best thing I ever did.  What good did having a soul ever do me anyway?  Useless thing I say.  Nothing to compare to beauty and dignity certainly.”

“Indeed a small price to pay for eternal torment.”

“If you listen to the priests of Odobenine poor people go to the torments of the Hells anyway so I didn’t have anything to lose.  The Adariel women will tell you something other altogether but that’s why I leave theology to the theologians.  I intend to live well and let the Gods worry about souls and the afterlife.”

We touched our glasses together in a toast “I couldn’t agree more.  I have to say I’m impressed cousin, based on the manner in which you travel you’ve done a lot in a short time since I visited you on the farm.”

“That was more than a year ago cousin.”

I raised an eyebrow “Was it now?  Time flies doesn’t it?  Regardless though it’s not as if you can just walk into town and say ‘look at me, I’m pretty give me money’.  You can only go so far on looks alone, you’ve done remarkable well based on your lack of refinement and cleverness inherent in your upbringing.”

She smiled “That insult was so thinly veiled as to be practically barefaced, but I forgive you cousin because I am rich and attractive and can afford to be generous with the envious.  You’re correct though, being dazzlingly lovely doesn’t throw open all the doors of wealth and power, just opens one or two a crack – you still have to jam your foot in and then force them open.  As my sisters learned much to their remorse.”

“You were always the smart one May.”

“Damning with faint praise that is, comparing me to Liddie and Elba.  And no one calls me May anymore, my name is Maianjuno now.”

“That’s a mouthful.”

“I can’t have people thinking I’m common now can I?  Rich people always have stupid names.  And what do people call you now cousin?”

I chuckled, so briefly maybe it was only a chuck “Any number of things.  People really have no manners these days.”

May regarded her wine glass for a moment and then tossed it overboard “I have something to confide in you cousin, I don’t know if anyone else could appreciate it.  When I was a girl I used to pray every day, to Adariel, to Odobenine, to Melmoth, to any God that might be listening.  I promised them I would be good if I could just have a little more.  But now that I have instead of have not, I see that was childish.  I don’t promise the Gods that I’ll be good anymore, I promise myself that I will be as evil as I need to be to never go back to the way things were.  People born rich have never known hardship so they don’t really know what they stand to lose.  That’s why people like you and me, people that fought up from the bottom, the ones who know – we’re the really dangerous people.  Because we know what it’s like to never be clean.  Never be warm.  Never be full.  To be sick and scared all the time.  We know.  And we know that there’s nothing so bad that you shouldn’t do it to avoid going back.”

“You’re quite the philosopher for a poor country girl from Cymrile county.”

She snapped her fingers for someone to bring her a new glass “As they say, you can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the girl.”

“So true cousin, so true.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 6922 gold

XP: 1,196,951

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, ruined nobles traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage)

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

Mantelderith 23 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Back at court I had a lot of time to think, but I rarely did.  I’ve made a petty big deal about how awful and repetitive and zombie-like the life of the Baroness and women of her ilk is but if I wanted to be completely fair (which I don’t) my days as a kept woman to the eighth most powerful man in the Kingdom weren’t terribly diverse either.  I’d say maybe one day in three I was with the Duke and doing whatever he wanted to do.  Those days weren’t boring in the sense that it was like walking a tightrope, one misstep and you’re dead, but they weren’t not boring you know?  It was stressful and demanding but it wasn’t thought-provoking, not usually anyway.  There’s a reason jaded high society types are so jaded.  The rest of the time I was left to my own devices but that wasn’t all that exciting either now that I think back on it.  Don’t get me wrong, I was the in lap of luxury, but I couldn’t really go anywhere – I was expected to be ready to answer the Duke’s call at any time.  And as strange as it seems there wasn’t much to do really. 

I had no one to talk to, the real nobles wouldn’t give me the time of day unless the Duke was around when they would kiss my ass shamelessly – I guess they thought they could win his favor that way.  Boy were they braking up the wrong tree there.  And anyone else had enough of their own troubles – I wasn’t going to be one of those people that forced the servants to listen to their bullshit problems.  I went riding a lot, I went into town to buy stuff occasionally, and I would be reading a book more often that I thought, but mostly I drank.  Martialla busts my tits sometimes about how much I drink now, but it’s nothing compared to back then.  I suppose if you wanted to be one of those types you could say that I was a functioning alcoholic.  It’s pretty easy when your function doesn’t involving doing much.  Those same sensitive types would probably tell you that I was drinking away my pain and sorrow, and maybe there was a little of that going on, but mostly it was just something to do.

I remember the early days after the Duke dumped me in Graltontown, I think I spent half of what little money I was able to scrounge up on booze.  I’m pretty sure I bought a hundred gold bottle of wine that first week or so.  Stupid.  I could have been drinking for free, it’s not hard.  So maybe at that time I had a bit of a problem with drinking.  The point is though that I have a lot less time to think now but I definitely do a lot more thinking.  I don’t know if I’m more curious now or if constantly almost getting killed sharpens the logical muscles but whatever it is I wonder about a lot more things now.  Some of it is planning, figuring out what my next move should be, but some of it is just idle curiosity.  I guess when you’re at the top of the pyramid (or adjacent to the top anyway) and all the stuff is flowing do you it’s easy not to think how it gets there.  But once you’re down in the muck and the mud you really have to wonder how it all works.  Like a village blacksmith – how is there enough blacksmithing for them to get by?  How many people need a horse shoed on a weekly basis?  Or a buckle of nails?  And how do the farmers pay them?  How do they turn their crops into money?  And how did they afford the horse in the first place?  Those things are expensive. 

And don’t even get me started on the economics of magic items – that makes no sense.  Anyway, these are the kind of things you have time to think about while you’re traveling by caravan.  Melusine wasn’t dead so I transferred her to my Flask – I was curious what would happen there since that’s magic on magic.  After she was out of the whiskey barrel I dipped myself a shot.  It was better, but not tremendously better like the wine had been.  Fat Bear is a middle of the road whiskey and it was improved to being a pretty good whiskey.  So a poor quality wine was made into a great wine and an okay whiskey was made into a decent whiskey.  I wonder if the potency of how bad the booze is directly relates to the transformation – so the worse it is the better it ends up.  Such as, maybe if I stick her in a decanter of Six Roses single barrel it wouldn’t change at all because that’s already high quality.  I can’t wait to try this out with other kinds of booze and get more information.  I guess I can see why wizards do shit like this – it’s interesting to experiment.   On the other hand that’s how we ended up with owlbears and lizardbats and boaraffes.  I saw a boaraffe gore a gnome once – it was pretty fucked up.

Late in the afternoon Martialla and I were sitting on our stack of boxes on wagon number seven watching the countryside slowly go by.  I had tried to find a comfortable reclining position but it turns out that boxes don’t make fodder for a good recline.

I sighed “Can’t you summon up lounge chair of some kind?”

“I think you’d fall off the wagon trying to sit in something like that up there.”

“I meant a magic lounge chair.”

“Ah, no, I can’t do that.  I could make you feel profoundly stricken with intense grief.”

“A generous offer, but I think I’ll pass.  So are you a mind mage or what?  You have some spells like that that mess with people’s heads but you also turn invisible and conjure illusions and burn people alive like an illusionist or a normal murder wizard.”

“I’ve told you a dozen times, I’m not a mage, I’m a sorcerer.”

I made an exasperated noise “Yes you have told me that a bunch of times, but what is it supposed to mean to me?  You get all bent out of shape about it, but how am I supposed to know what you’re talking about?  I didn’t go to magic school.”

“Neither did I!”

“How do you learn horrible spells that make people suicidally depressed then?”

 She looked aggrieved “I don’t learn any spells Ela, they just come to me.”

“How, come to you from where?  Or from what?  Wizards learn magic from dusty books, witches make deals with demons to get their magic, what about you – where does you magic come from?”

“It’s just inside me.  When I was a kid little things just started happening around me, like there was a poltergeist or something.  Over time I learned how to control it.  I know for some sorcerers its part of their heritage, there’s a dragon or some other magical being in their family tree back somewhere that is the source of their powers.  For me I don’t know where it comes from, there’s nothing like that in my family that I know about.  Some people think that originally sorcerers came from fey curses but no one really knows.”

“How is being able to do awesome magic without having to learn it a curse?”

“If you don’t learn to master it the magic consumes you.  It still can even if you do.  It’s like a burning flame in a house – as long as you keep it under control you can use it for all kinds of things, but if you can’t the house burns down.”

“That still sounds better than any of the curses I’ve been hit with.  So what you have to mediate or something or you’ll explode and rip a fabric in reality?”

“No, it’s more like learning to walk, you can’t really explain it it’s just something you do.”

“Sure you can, lift your foot up, move your leg forward and then put it down again.”

“But how do you do that?  How do you lift up your foot?  You just do it.”

“Hmm, I suppose.  That still doesn’t explain where your spells come from.  Are you able to mess with people’s heads because that’s what you do without magic?  You were manipulating people with your words and actions so your magic got in on the action too?  And you learned to turn invisible because you were always sneaking around?”

“No one knows Ela, you just reach for your magic and sometimes there’s something new there.”

“There has to be a reason why you can turn into a yeti instead of something else.  Aren’t there thousands of spells?  Why do you know the handful you know?  Does a wizard have to invent the spell before a sorcerer can know it?  How the Hells would that make sense?  Or can you do stuff they can’t?  Aren’t a lot of spells basically useless?  Why don’t you know any of those?  Are there sorcerers out there that suck and can’t do anything good?”

“I know some of it is shaped by the ancestry, if you had an ice dragon in your family ten generations ago you tend to know more ice spells, but it’s not like you only know ice spells.  It’s not a strict thing Ela.  No one really understand how it works.”

“As per fucking usual.  Why hasn’t anyone studied this?  Hmm, so maybe you have a progenitor creature of some kind in your family history and you just don’t know about it.  Let’s think about what you can do.  You can bend, influence, and crush the minds of the weak.  You can turn invisible.  You can burn people alive and make them miserable.  What kind of creature does that sound like to you?”

“I’m sure I wouldn’t know.”

I smirked “Come off it Miss Monster Expert, that sounds like a succubus to me.  Clearly someone in your family got down and nasty with a vanity demon and lived to tell the tale.”

“That doesn’t make any sense Ela, even if that happened, the succubus would be the one that had the baby not my ancestor.”

“Bah, they can take human forms of either gender – I’ve seen it.  Probably your great-great grandpappy was a demonic entity in disguise.”

“No.”

I patted her on the shoulder “Don’t worry Martialla, I won’t look down on your because your demon heritage or your family history of summoning demons for the purposes of sexual exploitation.”

“I do not have demon blood!”

“Prove it.  Say the Third Blessing of the Holy Mother without bursting into flames.”

The fellow driving the wagon turned round to look at us “What’s that you say about the summoning demons for the purposes of sexual exploitation?  Can you do one of those ones with the claw hands and tail?  Just asking for a friend.”

Martialla scowled at him “Shut up and turn around!” She folded her arms sulkily “I hate you Ela.”

“I’m just trying to learn more about you Martialla.  You’re the one who’s always complaining that I’m self-centered but whenever I try to get closer to you you shut down.  Quit playing hard to get Martialla, let me love you.  I know you’ve been hurt before but I’m here for you.”

“You’re a terrible person Ela.”

I shook my head sadly “That’s just the demon blood in you talking Martialla, you have to fight it.  Do you want to pray with me Martialla?”

She tried to kick me but I was able to dodge out of the way – although I was laughing so hard I fell off the wagon anyway. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 25,750 gold

XP: 1,147,551

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

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

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

Mantelderith 22 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Out of curiosity I tried the Gridrieu Halbtrocken to see if I could detect any hint of nixie in it over the bad taste of the win itself.  I don’t have to tell you folks that Gridrieu Halbtrocken is garbage wine for garbage people, but it tasted wonderful.  Instead of its usual acrid foulness it now had romantic raspberry elements and an explicit piquant finish that was a delight for the palate.  Who knew that straining booze through the body of a fey creature would make it better?  Maybe the wizard did and that’s why he put her in that wine cask in the first place.  Seems like a lot of work for the result but wizards are an anomalous bunch – most of their schemes make very little financial sense.  I wonder if there’s different results based on the different kinds of faeries.  Boggart Bock anyone?  Leprechaun Lager?  Atomie Ale?  Brownie Bourbon?  Gremlin Grog?  And so forth. 

I was curious how strong the powers were so I sent one of the Quiviras’s servants into their liquor cellar to bring me a barrel of Fat Bear whiskey to keep the nixie in while we traveled today.  He was mildly confused when I had him lug it out the front of the compound to the water feature where I stashed Melusine,  But that was nothing compared to the look he got when he saw Melusine pop out of the water at the edge of the fountain (or whatever it is) and snatch a pick-necked green pigeon in her maw like a frog eating a butterfly.  He looked like he was going to swoon like a high society dame.  I gave him a reproachful look.

“Get a hold of yourself man, haven’t you ever seen a water spirit before?” He gulped as I turned back to Melusine “Why are you swallowing a bird whole like a dirty water snake?  I thought you fey types were sustained by sunbeams and rainbows and the laughter of friends.”

Feathers puffed out of her mouth when she responded “Nope, birds.  And water snakes aren’t dirty, they’re fastidious about their scales.”

“I mean nothing by it, some of my best friends are water snakes.” I tapped on the side of the barrel “Your new traveling home, I thought you could use some more room to swim around, or whatever you do in there.”

She magicked herself into the barrel “What is this?  This isn’t wine!”

“Don’t worry, it’s better, you’ll like it.”

I gestured to the Quiviras servant to hammer the lid back on and load it up on one of the caravan carts.  After he did so he hung around awkwardly for a moment.

“What, you want a tip or something?”

“No ma’am . . . . I was just thinking.  This reminds me of an old friend of mine.  He used to talk about how he once worked at a tavern in Scirus that he claimed was beleaguered by what he called cask imps.  He said they lived in casks of ale and such, coming out at night to steal the best booze.  He said they could control the minds of men that were deep in their cups and would make them commit nasty acts.  I assumed he was tellin’ tales but seeing this now I’m not so sure.”

“A good rule of thumb is that any story that’s awful is probably true.”

“He did say that if you caught one of these buggers and bound them with chains of cold iron and immersed them in water it would turn into top shelf cognac.”

 “Oh, that’s definitely true.” I winked “That’s why they call them spirits you know.”

While the caravan was slowly getting underway – it takes these things times you know, there’s a lot of people and animals and stuff to wrangle – Martialla elbowed me and gestured at the two half-elf guards, who had been joined by two more half-elfs of similar mien.  That mien being armed to the teeth and dressed in a mismatched yet flamboyance fashion.

“Well that completes the set, now their mystic powers are increased sixteenfold.  We’ll have to keep an eye on them.  Until they abandon the caravan to look for treasure anyway.”

“How is if that half-elfs seem to be so much more common than elfs?  You hardly ever seen elfs about here in human lands so where do all the half-elfs come from?”

“The only half-elfs I ever knew were the progeny of the same elf who traveled around the Kingdom because he had the human fever.  You can’t blame them, elf maids are reckoned to be beautiful and I suppose they are in a way, but it you ask me it would be like making love to a canoe paddle.  Despite that obvious superiority of human women though apparently it’s a pretty shameful condition in elf culture.  Elfs live a long time, maybe they’re all the sons and daughters of that one super virulent elf making the rounds.  Or a small group of amorous outcasts.”

“That would be quite an accomplishment.”

“I know there’s an old orc in Gentzilhorm that’s the father of most of the half-orcs in the country, now that’s an accomplishment.  What starry eyed tavern slut isn’t going to fall for the charms of a handsome elf?  A fat ugly old orc on the other hand knocking up that many ladies – that takes some doing.”

“I stand corrected.”

The good thing about traveling at caravan speeds (when you’re not working on said caravan) is that you stop early enough in the day to do things like consult with the local mage and have dinner with the gentry who owe you big when you’re in town.  You have time to get some things done along the way.  The bad news is when you don’t have anything to get done there’s a lot of time waiting.  Good thing I had a freshly improved bottle of wine to split with Martialla as we sat and watched a stubborn donkey (that’s redundant I suppose) hold up the hold proceedings for over an hour.

Once we got underway on the road to Cathars the inevitable attack inevitably came today.  At mid-day a boulder (well a large rock anyway, to me a boulder has to be bigger) brained one of the wagon drivers.  One wonders why giant society has never progressed beyond thrown rocks.  Some of them are primitive idiots, I know that, but some of them are intelligent and numbered among the best craftsmen out there.  Why do those “civilized” giants still throw rocks?  I understand why they throw them at us, we’re smaller than them, but are they throwing rocks at each other?  That doesn’t seem like it would make sense, but I’ve never seen a giant with a bow or even a sling.  I guess I saw one throw a spear once.  At me.

Martialla and I looked at each other, deciding if we wanted to fight giants or take cover, but it turned out we didn’t need to do either.  The four half-elf caravan guards sprang into action and surprisingly did their job.  Not only did they kill two of the giants and send the others running one of them healed the waggoneer (there’s a name for that – teamster?  Shouldn’t that be someone who’s one a team?  Oh I get it , because of the team of horses).  He was up and around and doing great even though minutes before you could see his brains.  Magic healing is interesting, as long as you’re still alive no matter how bad the injury is it seems like you can be right as rain in an instant.  I often give magic a bad name, and most of the time I’m dead on in my complaints, but the healing injuries part they have down.  Not diseases or course as we know, but injuries magic can handle.  Once the crisis was over I turned to Martialla.

“I don’t have a crossbow otherwise I would have been shooting at them. What’s your excuse?”

“They seemed to have things under control, no reason to waste good magic.”

I nodded “They were surprisingly competent.  They didn’t even desert the caravan to follow the giants back to their lair and get their treasure hoard.”

“Should we follow them back to their lair and get their treasure hoard?”

“They didn’t kill all of them, the survivors are probably there licking their wounds, do you feel like fighting wounded giants?”

“Can’t you entrance them with your beguiling siren song while I steal all the gold?”

“No.”

“Then no.”

“How much of the Kingdom’s wealth is wasting away in the giant and ogre and medusa and dragon dens?”

“A good ninety percent I’d wager.  That’s why adventurers play such a vital role in the economy, injecting that money back into the system.”

“Bite your tongue.”

“Plus it sends the worst humanity has to offer out into dangerous situations where most of them die –it’s a good way to kill off the violent lunatics that don’t have the discipline for military service.  You can’t kill them all of course, some of them get so good at killing that they become lords, but it helps keep the numbers down.”

“Now you’re starting to talk sense.”

For a day featuring a giant attack it was a surprisingly humdrum day on the road.  There was no town or village to stop in so there caravan set up camp at the side of the road at the end of the day.  Martialla and I had no gear of our own but it was easy enough to talk our way into a supply tent – whatever they’re transporting it apparently warrants unpacking and covering with a bivouac of its own.  Must be sugar or something like that that you wouldn’t want to get wet.  We’ll have to be on the lookout for giant ants.  Once we were set up I popped the lid off Melusine’s barrel.  Instead of just hearing her voice her head and arms came out to hang over the edge of the barrel like some twisted magic trick or puppet theater.

Martialla glanced over “I’m not going to lie that’s an upsetting sight.”

“I walked around for a while but I couldn’t find a body of water, are you going to be okay in there?”

She shrugged her skinny fish-frog-lizard shoulders “Probably.”

“You seem awfully sanguine about the possibility of dying given how panic-stricken you were about it when I found you.”

She waved one of her fish-paws “I’m pretty fucked up right now.  Whatever is in here it’s strong.”

“I could probably find a horse-trough or something to stick you in for the night.”

She shook her head slowly “Its fine.  I already lived millions of years, if I die I die.  We fey are older than time itself.  Or something.”

“How did you end up in there anyway?  You said a wizard out you in a wine cask?  Why did he do that?”

She puffed out her scaly cheeks, sending her seaweed hair flopping wetly “Why?  Why do your kind do anything?  Pure orneriness.” She poked her webbed finger-thing at me “You humans are always wrecking shit for everyone else.”

“I’ve met some pretty ornery fey too.”

She poked at me more emphatically  “Cause of YOU.  The bad fey, the ones that are cruel and mean are a reaction to the coming of people to the old lands.  It’s an attack on our way of life – no, on our very existence!  They’re transformed by their malice and anger at the pillaging and destruction of the natural world.  Their hated as twisted their bodies into ugly false humans, their beauty twisted into ugliness and their minds turned to vengeance.  We’re not trapped in one shape like you pathetic monkeys – we’re transformed both by the environment and our own behaviors. Those fey have internalized the corruption wrought by you and your kind and in doing so have remade themselves in your image.  And they are ashamed because they have become what they hate most.  And that shame is what makes them perform vile acts.”

“That’s stupid.”

“Waddaya mean?”

“If the problem is that humans are mean being mean back to them doesn’t help anything – that’s just more meanness.  Don’t get me wrong, I am pro-revenge, but revenge is more about elimination and you can’t kill all the humans.  You can kill humans all the live long day and not make a dent – there’s always more humans.  If the problem is one of behavior meanness only begets more meanness.  The response should be to try and make us nice with more niceness.  I mean it wouldn’t work, but logically it makes more sense.”

“Yeah . . . well . . . that’s like your opinion lady.”

“So you didn’t do anything to this wizard?”

“I mean . . . I did lure his son into the pond and drown him.  Do you think that could be why he did what he did?”

“Hard to say, hard to say, humans are capricious and unpredictable.”

She fish-snorted “Don’t I know it!”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 25,750 gold

XP: 1,147,551

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

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

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

Montalan 25 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Even though I had gone through all the trouble of letting my Pavilion magically erect itself I ended up falling asleep on the low couchlike thing we had dragged out of the farmhouse.  Not that it was exceptionally comfortable in the consideration of all things, but it was enough like a bed that sleep snuck up on me like a serpent on a baby bird.  This meant my Censor wasn’t in operation, which meant that I was plagued by ill dreams of annihilation and horror, which meant that I slept fitfully at best.  I woke up with a stiff back to form a tight friendship with an aching shoulder and a stinging knee.  Martialla’s remark the other day about me being too young for these kind of wake up pains hit the mark a little too closely.  I’m not made for all this chasing about the countryside and roughing it – I should be treated more like a treasured piece of art, cared lovingly and admired by all, protected from ill-treatment by devoted hands.  Waking up I was disgusted to see that dew dampened my clothing uncomfortably and mildly surprised to see that Jasmi was already gathering herself to leave.

“Gone so soon?”

She tapped her walking stick on the ground as is testing its soundness “I’ve given you your warning, not much else to do here for me.”

“You have enough magic to know where I’m going to be and what’s going to happen why did you come here at all?  Why couldn’t you use that magic to project your words into my mind?  Or visit me in a dream?  People do that to me all the time and it’s never nice.”

She shrugged “It doesn’t work like that.”

“Why is magic so stupid?”

To my surprise she answered “I’m no great magician so take this for what you will, it’s merely the opinion of an old woman, but it seems to me that magic is a force or energy like water.  Try to cup water in your hand and how much can you get?  Very little.  Learn to make a bucket and you can scoop up more.  Turn those buckets into a tub and so on.  But if you really want to move a lot of water what do you need to do?  Dig a trench.  Bigger and bigger for more and more water.  But no matter how much you want to you can’t move an ocean.  So you get a ship and you sail on the water, and that water works for you as long as you stick to your rules, but also it’s dangerous to you – very much so.  A storm, a hidden reef, a hurricane, a massive sea-beast, whatever you like – and you’re dead.  And magic is water that you can’t even see, only sense a bit.  So you’re manipulating it blind, and some get very good at doing that but they’re still groping in the dark.  I don’t think we’re meant to be doing magic at all.  I think magic is for others, I think like a dog picking at scraps we don’t even know what we’re doing or where it’s coming from – we’re just down here like salivating dogs waiting for the next drop.  We’re on the edge of something, taking tiny bits here and there, but it was never meant for us.”

“Others like the Gods?”

“Maybe some of it but on whole I don’t think so.  Older things, things of power to dwarf the Gods even as they dwarf us.”

“Sounds like heresy.  Or apostasy maybe, I always get those confused.”

“One of the benefits of old age, you stop caring about what people think.  Mostly because they stop caring what you say.”

Martialla emerged from Pavilion looking desirably rested as the old woman clumped off into the early morning fog.

“Did she have any final prognostications for us?”

“What’s your sign?”

“Ragabash Thurgau.”

“She said that you’ll try with all your might to save your poor little life, but there’s nothing any mortal can do when Beast of War announces your doom.”

“Well that’s certainly dire, I’ll be on the lookout for that.  Do you want to dive back into the woods or skirt the forest north?”

“Neither, let’s head for Preen.  I’m tired of this countrified bullshit.  It’s a sad day when I’m looking forward the dubious comforts of a garbage town like Preen but that’s where we’re at.”

“What about Razmiran?”

“You mean the murderous crimeboss overlord of Preen that we ripped off?”

“Yeah, that Razmiran.”

“Maybe the orcs killed him.  Maybe his own men turned on him once they realized he was broke.  Or maybe he’ll be there waiting for us.”

“And if he is?”

“If he wants to cause trouble then they’ll be trouble.”

“And what happens when you finally run into trouble that you can’t flim-flam your way out of?”

“I’ll die probably.”

“Can you try not to take me with you when that happens?”

“Sure, but as you’ve pointed out several times people that come to kill me usually end up trying to kill you as well.  It might help if you teamed up with them instead of trying to save me from them.  Get on the winning side for once, jump on the bandwagon.”

“Sure, but what fun would that be?”

“True.”

We headed straight south (probably) towards Preen (maybe) rather than following the river figuring that whatever orcs or military jerks left roaming around the area would be by the river.  Why did we figure that?  Not sure really, but we did.  After only a couple hours of walking we started to see intact homesteads and shortly thereafter we started to see people out working in the fields so clearly things hadn’t gotten too out of control.  The only excitement of the day was some moron farmer shooting at us with a hunting bow because he thought we were thieves or deserters or something.  I don’t know what the Hells he thought.  He saw us well enough to almost put a shaft into my head so he should have been able to tell that we were two innocent girls roaming the countryside and not some threatening duo of criminal murderers.  Now, if you accidentally shot at someone, even someone normal and not someone wonderful like me, you’d be apologetic wouldn’t you?  Of course you would, because you’re good people.  Common, but good.

This guy however was a real asshole.  We got into a bit of a shouting match because instead of apologizing and inviting us to dinner saying “it’s the last I can do ma’am” bashfully he blamed us for being in his field.  As if walking in a field is a perfectly normal justification for murder.  I was tempted to do so for real but I settled for merely eviscerating him verbally.  Don’t let Martialla tell you otherwise, he DID run off crying when I was done laying into him.  Martialla glanced at me as we continued on from that jerk’s plot of land – which by the way looked terrible, his fences were a mess and his rows were a disaster.  

“I’m impressed.  Not only did you not kill him you don’t seem to be plotting his downfall either.”

“What kind of a person would I be if I killed everyone who yelled at me?”

“The kind of person you were when I met you.”

“That’s unfair.”

“Only a little.”

“Perhaps.  I’ve learned a lot of things since getting hurled from the Duke’s court like an unwanted child from a clifftop, most of them appalling.  But one useful thing, I won’t say good, that I’ve come to understand is that you can’t take revenge on everyone who deserves it.  There’s not enough time in the day you know?  Let the little revenges take care of themselves.  That guy probably makes his own life miserable enough that I don’t need to bother.”

“You think so?”

“No, I think most assholes are happy as clams, but it helps to pretend.”

“Why are clams so happy in theory?”

“Well they have no eyes, nor ears, nor any senses of any kind.  They have no idea what’s going on.  Given that what could possible make them unhappy?  If an otter cracks them open and eats them they don’t even know about it so how could they care?  Even about their own deaths?”

“Is that happiness?”

“I guess.”

“That’s disappointing.”

“Tell me about it.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 23,045 platinum, 52,143 gold

XP: 789,511

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, 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, Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Better Walking Stick, Meteoric Amulet, unknown gauntlets, mysterious staff, Cape of the Mountebank, Sandals of Sprinting, +1 Agile Rapier  

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 (27), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, lots of luxury goods, Turnbill blade of first forging (one of three) 

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

Montalan 17 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I was tempted to strong-arm (or charm) some answers out of Prelate Redmau (who was studiously avoiding me as we traveled) about Hardra but decided that I could get those answers easily enough once I get back to Juost Manor.  You know, once I deal with the whole Baron being controlled by barbarian witches thing. Easy.   I don’t like leaving the good prelate thinking that he got away with putting me off (which he did) but there’s nothing for it right now.  At mid-day as the assorted people of Uthden continued south towards Preen, Autane and I turned east to skirt the forest edge and head for Alleene.  I wasn’t sure what Rova and Pragma’s plan was at that point but they made to come with us.

“It’s not my place to tell you folks what to do, but I think the better idea for you would to be continue on to Preen.  You’re not recovered yet, you don’t need to spend any more time marching about the countryside with the only thing waiting at the end is a fighting.  A fight with poor odds.  Head on to Preen and get yourselves fixed up.”

Rova and her husband looked at each other briefly “We owe you, you saved our lives.”

“I wouldn’t make too much out of that.  It’s not like I knew you were in trouble and came running to find you, it was a mere coincidence.  The situation with the Baron is tricky, even if you were healthy I’m not sure what help you’d be.”

“But you came to hire us.”

“A reasonable point, but then when I got there most of you were dead.  I hate to say it, since magic is the worst, but I was looking mostly for some magical aid, and your magic guys are unavailable on account of they died.  I don’t think two blades aren’t going to make much of a difference where I’m going.  I know that as adventures you’re used to killing people by the score but I don’t think I can kill my out of this situation.”

Pragma looked grave “You did save us though, we can’t just pretend that didn’t happen.”

“Sure you could, you don’t want to but you could.  Look I get it, you want to pay your debts, once you’re back on your feet and adventuring around again I’m sure we’ll meet again and I’ll probably need your help then.” I smiled wryly “It seems like I’m always up to my neck in some catastrophe or other so I’ll probably need help with something.  If you want to come with me now that’s fine, I’m not saying you can’t, you can do as you like  of course – I’m just suggesting that continuing on to Preen is probably the smart move for you two.”

After some minutes of tedious jibber-jabber about how grateful they were that I rescued them and this and that they finally agreed to head for Preen with the rest.  Saving someone is almost more trouble than it’s worth.  Either they’re not grateful at all or they go too far the other way.  If someone saves your life just say you owe them one and get on with it (or kill them if you don’t want to be in their debt) I hate all this drawn out “it has been an honor” nonsense.  I mean Rova hugged me for the Gods sake and Pragma wanted to shake my hand and all this other crap.  Have some dignity people.  I should give lessons to people on how they really need to act – not all that etiquette and comportment bullshit, the real practical information a staggering number of people seem to lack on how to deal with everyday situations like someone saving your life from centipedes that hatch inside you and control your dead body until the heads falls off.  A few hours later as Autane and I were walking alone I noticed him staring at me again.

“Don’t get any ideas champ.”

“Ideas?  Ideas about what?”

I held my hand up “You see this ring?  Means I’m taken, off the market, not available.  Savvy?”

“What?  Oh you thought . . . no I didn’t . . . not that you aren’t . . . an . . . attractive woman . . . you’re very . . . I mean to say . . . it’s not that . . .  it’s like . . .”

“What are you eyeballing me for then?”

“I can’t figure you out.”

“Well you you’ve only known me a couple days and it’s not like we’ve had any deep meaningful conversations.  And I don’t meant to be offensive, but you don’t seem like you’re especially skilled at figuring people out.  Plus, you know what they say.”

“What?”

“You never really know someone until you see them at their worst.”

“Who says that?”

“It’s an expression.  People say it.”

“How do you know when you’ve seen someone at their worst?”

“That’s the gag, it can always get worse.”

We traveled the rest of the day without incident, shockingly.  We halted for the day by what looked to be a semi-significant body of water which didn’t really match up to my expectations of what I know about the geography of the area.  I looked at the flowing water for a while as Autane was gathering wood for a fire.

I pointed “That’s not the Scale is it?”

Autane glanced “No, that’s Tremor Creek.”

“Huh, never heard of it.  How long is it going to take us to Alleene from here?”

“Ten days maybe.  Give or take.”

“Ten days?!  I figured we would be close tomorrow.”

“We came west and south a lot farther than we intended when we set out.  Plus . . . whatever you red devil lady did.  And now we’re taking the long way around the edge of the woods.  We’d travel faster on the road but the time we’d gain would be lost heading straight east stop get to the road so it would probably end up being the same travel time more or less.”

“That’s unacceptable.  Can’t we just head north through the forest straight to Arbeven and then over to Alleene?”

“I don’t know of any way through the woods specifically but we could try to make our way through.  That would probably cut the time in half.  Assuming we don’t get killed by bugbears or recaps.  Do you think if a bugbear wore a redcap’s cap that it would be even more powerful?  Or does the magic only work for the redcap?  I wonder what would happen if I put one on.”

“I think the whole world is working against me.”

“I’m not sure the fact that distance exists is as personal attack against you.”

“Don’t be reasonable with me Autane.”

Autane scrounged up some dirt and nuts for dinner but I declined to eat the meager results of his foraging.  While he enjoyed his baked grass and leaves sautéed in mud I decided to see what was in the chests I stole from the Steel Saviors.  Silver Saviors?  Saviors of Steel?  Whatever they were called before six eighths of them got themselves killed.  Looting usually gives me a pick me up.  I used my Walking Stick to weaken the lock on the first chest and then pulled it off– which caused Autane to literally jump up, losing half of his gross “food” into the fire.

“Did you just pull that off with your bare hand?!”

“Yes, I’m very strong.”

“How?!”

I dropped him a sassy wink “It’s all in the wrist.”

The first chest was rather disappointing but I suppose adventures keep most of their wealth on them in the form of weapons and wands and the like.  There were a few coin purses and a bejeweled tiara and they were also a book of very detailed and accurate (I assume) pornographic drawings of dwarfs which I tossed in the fire immediately.  The second chest I think might be where they put things they found (and by found I mean took off dead bodies) that they knew were magic but didn’t know exactly what they did.  Makes you wonder how smart their mage actually was.  There was a pair of gauntlets, an oak staff with a tiny glyph carved on each end, and a sword made out of a large tooth.  And I mean large, you know, large enough to make a sword out of.  I would have thought that it was a dragon tooth but I don’t think dragon teeth are serrated based on what I’ve seen.  Then again I have no idea what kind of creature has three foot long teeth that are sharp on the edges.  Doesn’t even really make sense based on how teeth work.  Not a great loot haul, but it made me feel a little better.  As I dumped the chests into the fire I asked Autane what he thought.

“About what?”

“A few coins, a couple weird magic items, this is what the lives of six people amounted to.  This is what they left behind.  All the work their parents did to raise them up and keep them alive, all their years of struggle and decisions and working to make something – this is what they left behind.  Not terribly impressive is it?”

He shrugged “They’re just things.  I don’t think the possessions you leave behind matter much.  The one thing I’ve learned in this life is to enjoy each day and look at what the Gods have given us as a gift. As long as your intent is true and you try your best to do the right thing nothing else really matters.”

“I wish more people thought like that, if they did there’d be more good stuff for me.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 23,045 platinum, 21,920 gold

XP: 739,911

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, 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, Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Better Walking Stick, Meteoric Amulet, unknown gauntlets, mysterious staff, tooth-sword

Noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring,  pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring , tiny diamonds (27), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, tiara

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 14 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

After the fighting was over two of the more optimistic imposter lawdogs searched a couple of the orc bodies but they gave up soon enough, probably after getting their fingers bitten a couple times by whatever kind of orcish louse they carried with them in life.  That’s the final insult of being ambushed by orcs, they’re so nasty and brutish that they don’t even have anything worth looting – unless you’re looking to start a tooth collection or enjoy rotting meat.  Meanwhile the bandits now toothless leader (well not toothless but less toothed for sure) was eyeballing me as if trying to decide if they should still try to rob us.  I took another long drink from my Flask and then waved Rova’s rapier in his general direction.

“Go on, try me.  I would love it.”

He glanced at my three allies before turning back to me “I don’t think you would.”

“True enough, but that wouldn’t stop me from slaughtering you like . . . like . . . what’s something you slaughter?   A goat?  Chickens?  Anyway, you get the point.”

He pursed his lips “I suppose I do at that.”

“Also, I say this unto to you so harken up, give up your wicked ways.  Set aside your worldly desires and live decent and honest lives in this Kingdom.  Because you suck at being a brigand.”

“Actually being a brigand was working out great until I ran into you.”

I snorted “I’ve heard some variation of that so many times it’s started to lose all meaning.”

He gave me a curious look and then had and his men gathered up the surviving horses and left.  The orcs had killed both of our mounts and one of theirs was well.  There’s a lot of good reasons to hate orcs, but the one that I’d pick as my favorite is the gleeful way in which they go out of their way to attack and kill our fine hoofed friends.  The religious types will tell you that in the long ago far away whatever vile god spawned the orcish race killed some nature god as part of a godly power play.  Some manner of horse demigod that was pals with the nature god didn’t care for this and kicked the orc-god right in his face, knocking out one of his god-eyes.  Ever since then the one eyed jerk god or orcs has commanded that all his worldly minions to attack our loyal and helpful hoofed friends.  Seems like the kind of thing religious people would make up so I don’t know if it’s true but it’s as good of an explanation as any.

Rova came to stand over me “Shouldn’t get moving?  There may be more of them around.”

“I just need a minute you know?”

I passed her back her rapier and took another long drink from my Flask as she walked away.  I laid back and looked up at the sky for a few minutes.  It looks so peaceful up there.  Just fluffy white clouds and happy little birds and nothing but blue sky as far as the eye can see.  But I’m sure there’s some kind of monsters in those clouds.  And the birds are like some kind of shapeshifting terror that eats human grief.  Or some other Gods damn thing.  Maybe there’s castle in the clouds were giants live and the giants mount up on massive floating sky squids and go to war with each other over possession of magic harps that play themselves and white hens that are actually witches that give you good luck and endless sacks of giant potatoes and human women that they enslave and force to dance for their amusement.  And when the giants stab at each other and tear one another’s flesh apart with their sky tridents and scimitars the blood falls to earth and anywhere the blood hit trolls spring up out of the ground to hunt humans for food.  But it looks peaceful enough.

“Does anyone know if there are giants in the clouds?”

I heard Pragma’s scratchy voice “Yes.  They’re called cloud giants even.”

“Are they nice?”

“Uh, the only thing I know about personally is a cloud giant coming down here to kidnap a renowned chef and take them back to their cloud fortress.  It’s said that they’re really into gourmet cooking.”

“How does a cloud support a fortress?”

No one had an answer for that.  I continued lying in the road for a few more minutes and then with a long sigh I levered myself up and waved us forward.  With our horses murdered we were left to walk the road under our own power and our progress was even slower than before on account of Rova and Pragma being in bad shape.  Autane had gathered up the saddlebags from the horses with all our gear and tossed them over his shoulders and I could tell that he was struggling under the extra weight.  I probably should have told him that he could just toss all that stuff into one my magic bags but I didn’t.  We probably didn’t make it another five miles before Autane called a halt and started setting up camp.  Later while Pragma was in the Pavilion sleeping and Autane was cooking up some manner of plains grouse that he had throttled I noticed Rova looking at me thoughtfully from across the fire.  I smiled and gave her a little salute with my Flask.

“You don’t remember me drinking this much huh?  Trust me, I did, it’s just back then I did a lot of my drinking in private.”

She responded with a faint smile of her own “No, I just never thought I’d see you again.”

“I wager you never thought about me at all, but I know what you mean.  Quite a reunion wouldn’t you say?”

She nodded and then after a long moment of silence spoke again somewhat tentatively “I didn’t know you well back then but I can see that you’re very much changed.”

“The same goes for you.”

She shook her head “No, I am what I was before, I haven’t changed at all – this is the real me.” She was quiet for another moment “But you’re different.”

I shrugged “Maybe.  As you said you didn’t really know me.”

“The future tells us what the past was about. You make the past mean different things by the way you use the time that comes after.”

“What?”

“There’s something brewing inside you Ela, some kind of metamorphosis is taking place – something happens, something is taken away from you or someone gets sick, something happens, and then you’re something else.  You were one thing, and then it changes.”

I halfway laughed “Are you off your stump Rova?  Autane see if you can find some water, I think Rova’s drunk.  No more rice wine for you.”

“It was strange to see you again, but its stranger still to see that you’re not the person you were when I knew you.  What is it that you’re after Ela?”  I said nothing but somehow she divined it “The Duke?  You should let that go Ela.  Don’t let that past dictate your future.  You’re free now, just enjoy that, yu can anything you want now.  Don’t drudge up the bad old days.  Don’t delve into that unhappy time.”

“Are you trying to tell me that if you ran across Eccleshall Branting you wouldn’t kill him where he stood?”

“I wouldn’t.  He doesn’t mean anything to me now.  I won’t lie, there was a time when I gripped that anger tightly, but I’ve learned how to open that hand and let the anger float away.  As long as Pragma and I are together that’s all that matters.  And all the things that happened in the past led me to him so I can’t hate them too much as awful as they were at the time.  I see you rolling your eyes, and I know that it sounds hackneyed but it’s true.  I’m not sure I believed in love before, I certainly had never seen it.  But that’s something else really.  Ela, anger is like drinking salt water for thirst, it only increases the thirst.”

“Give me a break.  What platitude are you going to toss out next?  A good man’s anger lasts an instant, an average man’s for two hours, a evil man’s a day and night, a great idiot’s until death? Or what about this old chestnut – an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind?”

“See you are changed, I don’t remember you having this sharp of a tongue, you always talked so sweetly in those days.”

“I no longer have to varnish my opinion.  I agree that I am different, what was I back then?  A cringing nothing, depending on others for everything.  Holding onto anger has changed me, I’ll grant you that.  It’s made me stronger.  It’s tempered me into something better.”

“More dangerous perhaps, but don’t mistake that for an improvement.”

“You’re right, you haven’t changed, you’re still a stick in the mud.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 23,045 platinum, 19,788 gold

XP: 739,911

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, 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

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 (27), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, locked chest (2)

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 10 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

After my first good night’s sleep in what seems like a year and a hearty, if bland and boring, breakfast dished up by the Adarielites Corune and I hit the road to head back to Beresford.  At the advice of some of the Adrinistites we took the road (more of a path really) north, which we were told would jog back over to the west and take us to Beresford.  This should help us avoid the various humungous insects and insect-like creatures that apparently occupy the land we just came through.  Another adventure in walking.  I used to never walk anywhere really, just to the drink tray and back if I felt ambitious – unless I was out riding it was carriages everywhere, even a palanquin once – now it seems like I’ve walked the length and breadth of the world fifty times over.  It’s too bad the church of Strider screwed me over and I had to murder some of their priests – otherwise I think I’d have enough walking under my belt to be their pope by now.  Or at the very least an archbishop. 

“I knew this opera singer once, very famous.  She traveled the world, she sang for the King of Ulpine back when that meant something.  I heard she went across the sea and sang for some foreign emperor.  And this was all relatively early in her career, she was still improving, still learning – she hadn’t yet reached her full potential.  Then a jealous lover punched her right in the face, just hailed off and blasted her.  That side of her face got so swollen that you couldn’t even see that she had an eye, at the time it was one of the more disgusting physical things I had ever seen.  The bruise got infected and the infection spread into her sinuses and all that sludge dripped down into her throat, because of that she developed polyps on her vocal cords and her voice was ruined.  Not just her singing voice, she talked like an old man trying to swallow a lizard made of sand.  After that she traveled the world just as much, looking for a healer or magician or something that could help her.  She drank all kinds of potions and tonics and elixirs and spent a fortune trying to fix herself.  Nothing worked though, probably it made things worse, although it hardly mattered, she was already below what you might call rock bottom.  I’m not exactly sure what happened to her but I heard she involved in a scheme to blackmail a mercenary captain for seventy-six thousand gold and I don’t think anyone saw her after that.  Have to assume she’s dead.  I’m not sure why she thought that blackmailing a professional killer was a good idea but I guess she was broke and desperate at that point.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Just making conversation.  It doesn’t seem like things ever work out for famous opera singers.  That’s what I wanted to be when I was a girl, I guess I dodged an arrow there huh?”

“That’s your idea of conversation?  Do you know any stories that aren’t depressing?

“No.  Here’s the funny thing about that story, now that I’ve been out in the world I bet it would have be really easy for her to fix her voice had she known about what’s really going on.  Sell your soul to a devil or make a deal with hag or something – it’s easily done.  Living in polite society you’re somewhat ignorant of all the irrational magical shit going on out here.  I bet there’s a fey queen that would restore your voice not even for your first born child, for like your fourth or fifth.  It’s quite a world we live in when you think about it.  Tell me something will you, how come your beloved and eternal Vultur wouldn’t fix that lady but some mystical creature harvesting souls would?  What kind of message is that?”

“Because Vultur wants us to have a safe world, a happy world. He wants there to be enough food for everyone, freedom for everyone, the end of the tyranny of the powerful over the weak.”

“You lost me.”

“There are no shortcuts Ela, we have to do it.”

“What a load of shit.”

“All those times where someone makes a deal with a devil, either literal or proverbial, does it ever end well?”

“It wouldn’t make much of a story then would it?  For all I know it works out fine sometimes, or most of the time, but you just don’t hear about that.  What would be the fun of a story where someone wishes for great wealth and didn’t end up getting fucked over?  People want blood and guts and tragedy – not some boring story about someone getting what they want.”

“The correct answer is that they don’t have a happy ending.”

“So what?  What’s Vultur doing to help?

“He gives us the guidance to achieve a better world.  It’s all written down, it’s all ready for us, we just need to execute his plan.”

“So if people like me just got with the program and did what Vultur wanted everything would be fine?”

“Exactly.”

“And the other day you accused me of being insane?  What about the other Gods?  They’re just wrong and Vultur is right?  What about Adariel, our lady of geniality and being friends with everyone and ponies and rainbows?  Her plan doesn’t lead to world peace where everyone gets a stout-hearted mule and bag of potatoes?”

“Vultur has an agreeable relationship with Adariel, her influence is favorable to the further advancement of civilized life, but her philosophy is flawed because it doesn’t take into account the natural inclinations of sentient beings.  If people were inherently good and helpful we wouldn’t even need laws – everything would be great as is.”

“So you just happen to worship the one God who’s right about everything?  You realize that’s a level of intellectual narcissism that’s beyond delusion right?”

She gave me some side-eye “You’d be the expert on narcissism wouldn’t you?”

I was about to retort when Writha Corune did a very odd thing – she slumped and almost fell over like a tree that had instantly withered.  She immediately took on an ashen and very unhealthsome pallor and doubled over as if her stomach was suddenly causing her tremendous pain.  My head whipped around and I saw on the road behind us was that tiny flying insect-demon from the camp, and he had friends.  He was buzzing around the shoulders (not head because its head was actually lower than its shoulders) of a massive slab of putrid demonflesh that looked like a frog, a bulldog and a pile of garbage had a threesome and this is what puked out.  The stench emitting from it was bowel-churning.  Why did a succubus have so many minions that stink with the furry of a thousand dead skunks bursting in the summer heat?  Shouldn’t her minions be other sexy lady demons?  It makes no sense. 

That wasn’t all though, clustered around the frog prince were four awkward vulture looking demons that were shedding swarms of botflies off their flesh like flakes of skin.  They were infinitely more filthy and diseased looking than your standard non-demon non-humanoid vulture.  They surged forward as I ran the other way but Corune was stunned or paralyze or whatever her issue was and they seized her – the four vulture demons pulling on her arms and legs like they were trying to tear her apart as the bulldog/frog demon gurgled with syrupy hacking laughter. 

“Wait, stop!” I addressed my comments at the little flying lizard-snail since he seemed to be the brains of the operation “You want revenge for your mistress, I get that, I love revenge – ask anyone – I didn’t know that demons had this kind of loyalty but live and learn right.  But here’s the thing, I didn’t just kill her – I’m not stupid – I trapped her essence so she couldn’t reform in whatever Hells you guys hang out in.  You kill my friend and I’ll never let her go, she’ll be gone for real.”

The little flying creature started to respond, but the massive frog-demon swatted it out of the air like, well like a fly, and burbled at me in a voice that was so much like he was gargling tar that it was hard to make out what the words even were.

“You let go!  Or we kill!”

“No, that’s not how it works bub, you kill her and you’ll never see your beloved mistress again.”

The toad fiend screamed in inarticulate rage and bashed one of the vulture demons out of the way, seizing Corune and shoving her in his mouth like a kid smashing a stolen cookie in his fat face.  As he slowly and horrifyingly swallowed her the little flying demon shrieked in impotent rage and ordered the vultures to turn and attack.  Maybe there isn’t as much loyalty among demons as I thought.  The vulture demons were clawing and biting at the big demon but more than anything it looked they were trying to reach into its mouth like they could pull Corune back up.  During the fracas while the small demon-fly was distracted I took out my crossbow and shot him in the back – right through the wings, sending him falling to the ground with a sodden thud.  As the other demons were tearing each other apart the little demon tried to do some magic but I waited until just the right time and then shot him again, ruining the spell. 

As he was screeching and flopping around on the ground like a wounded duck I walked up and beat him to death (well not to death but back to the Hells I guess) with my cane.  In that short time the froghemoth had torn two of the vulturelings in half (literally) and while they scrapped I shot indiscriminately in the melee.  Bloody (assuming that urine-colored glowing sap was blood) but victorious the stinking hulk was the last one standing.  Although in another way I was the last one standing because I shot him in the head a few times and killed him.  And that’s when things got weird.  After his massive rubbery bulk slapped to the ground like two people rutting in a dirty alley, a moment later Corune crawled out from between his froggy lips like some kind of awful birthing.  Which is saying something considering how awful a normal human woman giving birth to a little baby is.  She was covered with some kind of blue-green slime that seemed thick as cold jelly and was gasping for breath to the point where she may have been hyperventilating.  

“Well fuck me, you were alive in there?!”

She didn’t answer because she was on her hands and knees vomiting and then dry heaving for a while, but eventually she gestured weakly at the corpse.

“There’s . . . . a bunch of equipment . . . . in there . . . and money and shit.”

“I don’t think Vultur would approve of that kind of language.” She collapsed onto her stomach utterly exhausted “Well if there’s stuff in there one of us should get it.  No reason to let it go to waste right?  And I mean since you were already in there . . . no reason for both of us to get dirty right?”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,775 gold

XP: 628,701

Inventory:  Courtier’s Outfit, Noble’s outfit (5), Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, sunrod (2) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring,  Ring of Disguise, Ring of Jumping, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), map, Badge of Last Resort, Healer’s Satchel, 28 tiny diamonds,  Headband of Alluring Charisma +2, Ring of Protection +2, Saryah Phidaner gown, Crown of Conquest, signet ring, Stone of Good Luck, Onyx (55), Tankard of the Drunken Hero,  Altar of Adariel,  Cauldron of Brewing, Censer of Dreams, Bowl of Conjuring Water Elementals, Companion Mirror,  darkwood lute, +3 buckler, celestial shirt, +1 Frost Demonbane Shortsword

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

Mede 10 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

Sophoniba arrived at the wizard’s house of horrors a few hours later, which is impossibly fast.  She was nonplussed by the terrors at hand – I suppose any woman that takes it upon herself to trap and decapitate a cannibal in the woods has to have some hard bark on her.  She took the lone survivor into her care and we helped her take the woman outside where she used a scroll to summon a wagon and a team of horses to take her away.  Have you ever seen a bird look sad and anxious?  I have now.  Our feathered friend perched on the side of the wagon looking defeated. I have no idea if birds like the feel of the human hand, especially talking birds, but I touched it gently in a way I thought would be reassuring.

“You did your mistress proud, she’s going to be fine.”

It looked up at me with its tiny eyes filled with anguish “I’m too small to protect her.”

“You protected her the best way you could, you found us.  No one is so small that they can’t make a difference so long as you don’t give up.”

“Why do things like this have to happen?”

I’m not ashamed to say I wiped away a tear “I don’t know, I really don’t.”

Before they left we asked Sophoniba what we should do with the glass vials but she didn’t have any idea, other than to suggest that destroying them was probably a bad idea.  Once they were on their way back to Sophoniba’s cabin Martialla and set the wizard’s lair ablaze.  The bird flitted back to me and gave me a ribbon as a token of the lady’s favor, I’m not much of one for ribbons but it’s nice enough.  I wonder if that means I’m a knight now.  Martialla and I stayed and watched until we were sure the thing was going to burn to the ground.  Then we kept heading southeast.  That’s really the most outlandish part of these situations.  Something insane and awful and violent happens and then when it’s over you just keep on going.  Nothing has been solved, nothing has been changed, you just keep going.  As dreadful and terrible as it was once it’s over it might as well just be an entry in a journal.  Life goes on.

We reached the river and were wondering how long we would have to wait for a boat to come by when we saw that there was a boat on the shoreline – a large flat bottom raft type deal that was being loaded with barrels.  The men loading it looked like three bothers from a fairy tale of some kind, one was huge and muscular carrying two barrels at a time over the shoulders, one was shrimpy and weedy struggling to roll a barrel on his own, and one was in between and seemed to be overseeing the operation.  I could tell just by looking at them what sorts they were – these are the kind of country boys who head to the city and raise some hell every now and then but would never stay there.  The kind that folk like to see when they arrive but after a few months are wondering when they’re going to leave and stop raising up a ruckus. 

Some country folk get all flustered and apprehensive when dealing with big city types and treat them like they’re the Queen Herself, some of them are kind of judgy and bristly, thinking that the only honest and good people are out in the fields – but then there’s the third type, which these boys were, who just don’t care.  People are people and they afford everyone the respect they deserve and the niceties they give to everyone.  We went down and chatted with them, finding out that they’re loading moonshine to take down to Eronigh and sell, then they pick up work digging peat or working a cut for a few months before wandering their way back up north and doing whatever work they can find along the way.  They were only too happy to offer us a ride. 

I’m definitely not one to partake in shine often but I needed a drink for sure – and their stuff isn’t half bad considering that at best moonshine tastes like swallowing a bag of dirty nails.  Once were out in the river Martialla and I helped ourselves but the boys mostly obtained – since they were trying to keep the boat from cashing and so forth.  We were both pretty far gone by the time they pushed the raft over to shore to make camp for the night.  Not long afterwards Martialla and the not too big not too small brother retired over a hill and behind some bushes to keep the good times rolling.  The bantam brother had disappeared somewhere leaving me around the fire with the big fella. 

“I’m sorry, what did you say your name was again?”

“Folks call me Pine.”

“Cuz you’re tall as a tree I suppose.  Tell me something will you?  Big man like you, does that make people avoid getting into fights with you or does it make more people try to start shit with you because they want to take down the big man?”

“Both probably.”

I nodded, and the world kept nodding on its own for a while even after I stopped “Probably.  I would normally never ask something like this, but I admit this to you – I’ve been drinking a little – in all these fights have you ever killed anyone?”

“A couple times.”

“How did it make you feel?”

He sighed “It’s a shame that things like that happen but if you start fighting with people that’s going to happen sometimes.  I don’t want it and I don’t like it but it is what it is.  It’s a tough world sometimes and if I don’t protect myself and my brothers and whoever else needs it what good does that do?  If you do evil you get what you got coming.”

I gestured vaguely “You see, see, there?  That’s what I’m talking, talking about.  You’re a big rough dude and you could be a monster and fuck up all kinds of shit and do horrible things, but you don’t – you’re just a big damn stuffed bear.  You’re not going to be killing people for money, or just for fun, or doing vile shit to women.  Why are you like this and other men like you are something else?  There has to be a reason.”

He shrugged “I guess we were just raised right.  Our papa was not a bad man but when he was our age he was mixed up in a life of bloody business and that kind of thing, he did some dark deeds, but he always told us that our momma cured him of all that.  I think if that if you have love in your life you’re probably going to turn out okay.  Pa was tough on us, but he loved us, maybe that’s all that matters.”

“Maybe.  Seems like plenty of people with love in their lives turn out to be shitheels anyway.”

“You’re kind of a dark lady aren’t you?”

“Buddy you have no idea.”

_______________________________________________________________

Hair regrowth progress :  .0795% 

Funds: 1817 platinum, 70,829 gold

XP: 316,251

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

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

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