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