October 4, 1973 – SUPERFIGHT!!!!

Editor’s note – I know what you’re thinking “Jeremy, the Kool-Aid Man character didn’t come out until 1974 you moron!  You’re the worst writer ever.”  Well I am the worst writer ever but you’re forgetting that this is an alternate history deal.  In this world the Kool-Aid Man commercials started airing in 1972!  The changes that led up to this alteration and the staggering ramifications of it will be explored in my forthcoming graphic novel Kool-Aid: 1972.

A quarter of the world’s maritime trade passes through the Malacca Straits.  Half of all seaborne chemical and gas shipments pass through. So of course the area is infested with well-organized, well-armed, and ruthless pirates.  When they aren’t chased off by local brutal corporate-sponsored hired goons anyway. It’s estimated by people that estimate things that over one hundred ships a year go missing around Madripoor.  Hijacked and redirected to another port.  This does not include the innumerable others attacked and raided on their journeys.

When I first heard people in Madripoor talking about pirates, it threw me for a loop.  I never hear anyone in the CS talking about pirates.  The word pirate makes me think of ships with sails and guys with swords.  But I guess, thinking about it logically, there’s no reason for pirates to have gone away.  If you can’t stop people from stealing your shit, they’re going to steal it.  That’s a rule of some kind.

Grain of salt because it’s all rumors, but I understand that it’s sometimes part of an insurance scam.  You got a shipful of hot pants headed for Africa and suddenly hot pants aren’t cool anymore.  They’re just going to take up room in your warehouse in Johannesburg.  So you get in touch with your fixer who knows a pirate boss.  They “attack” the ship, you get the insurance, and they get some ransom money.  You dump the hotpants into the sea and everyone wins.  Except the insurance company.

I figured that pirates wouldn’t be afraid of the Shadow Lords and also could get me out of here.  You may be thinking “Dealing with pirates, Ela?  That sounds like a terrible idea.”  You happen to be right but where were you yesterday asshole? 

In my defense I’m a singer, not a . . . person who deals with whatever this situation is.  Whatever Steve McQueen would be if he was a real badass and not just an actor.  Whatever that is, I’m not that.  I’m all alone here and I don’t know what’s going on.  Plus, you don’t understand what kind of place Madripoor is.  If you were here you’d think that buddying up to pirates was perfectly normal.

Elvis’s friend Say likes to party so we went to a couple bars, a couple clubs, a couple parties, and it just so happens that I managed to rub elbows with a couple people in the piracy world.  Sidenote, about twenty percent of the men here are super into me because I’m white.  And about twenty percent think I’m super gross for the same reason.  It’s interesting. 

I met a guy I thought was named Preman.  I learned later that “preman” means gangster in Indonesian.  Although it’s actually from the Dutch language and means rooster.  Language is complicated.  “Preman” and I hung out a few times, smoked something like weed, drank some weird booze, and got to know each other.  Once we were good pals, he said a friend of a friend of a friend of his could help me out and wasn’t scared of the Shadow Lords and I should meet him at a restaurant the next morning to talk details.

It was a set-up of course.  What I didn’t know then is that the Shadow Lords were basically the seaside agents of the local pirates when the first came to Madirpoor.  The pirates would steal the stuff and then pass it off to the Shadow Lords as the middlemen.  Not only that, but most of the pirates around here are groups that grew out of the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon, a resistance group from the Philippines that fought against Japanese occupation.  The Huk and the Shadow Lords both hate the yazuka so they bond over that.  The point is that the entire idea was more or less the worst thing I could have done.

“Preman” and a friend came in to the restaurant, we sat down, and next thing I know someone is behind me and has a rag over my mouth.  Here’s the thing though, with my new metabolism nothing like that seems to affect me much.  I don’t know if the Shadow Lords didn’t warn them or if they didn’t know. 

I grabbed the ragman’s arm and flung him across the room like I was tossing a Frisbee (or a bag of rags, a ragbag if you will).  When I swung him around, I felt his arm come out of the socket.  Which was a little nauseating, but if we’re being honest it felt good too.  I was angry and frustrated and it felt good to hurt someone.  Does that make me awful?  I don’t know. 

“Preman” got the hell out of there but his buddy went for a gun.  I flipped the table into him and the gun fired.  You always forget how LOUD those damn things are.  As he raised the gun again, trying to get disentangled from the table, I tried to yank the gun out of his hand.  Instead I crushed them both.  The gun and the hand.  I never heard a human being make a noise like he did as he fell back against the wall cradling his hand to his chest.  It was truly chilling.

I took a hold of his forehead in one hand like Jackie Moon palming a basketball.  I wanted so badly to squeeze it.  That’s all it would have taken.  One little squeeze and a man is dead.  It would have been no more effort than checking the ripeness of a peach.  Just a little squeeze.  I wanted it more than I wanted any cigarette or any drink.  A part of my brain told me it would make everything better.  It would make all the pain go away.  No one would ever fuck with me again.  He was a bad guy, wasn’t he?  Why did he deserve to live? 

I wanted it. 

But I didn’t do it.  Just as I let the guman go, their ace in the hole came smashing in.  And I mean that literally.  He crashed through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man.  I have no idea why, the door was wide open.  He was easily over seven feet tall and he had electric blue scales.  It was like the skin of a technicolor crocodile on acid.   Only you know, on a big dude.  He didn’t look like a rhino but something about him made me think of a rhino.  Maybe just because he was massive and leathery and mean looking.

He came charging at me like a bull (a bull rhino) and I threw another table at him.  He batted it aside like he was swatting a volleyball.  I managed to leap out of the way of his crashing tackle and he slammed into and through the other wall out into the street.  I hope this restaurant is owned by the pirates or the Shadow Lords, because I’d hate to think some innocent people got their place wrecked just because this is where some assholes chose as their kidnap location.

As the blue alligator rhino man was getting back to his feet in the wall-hole, I grabbed him around the waist and hurled him back over my shoulders like a sack of grain.  It feels weird when you can throw someone ten times your size, but I knew from working on the docks I could lift him easily.  He slammed into the ground hard enough to shake the building.  Which was getting pretty shaky already from being run through on both sides.  I think I saw “Run through on both sides” on the marquee of a movie theater once.  You know the kind I mean.

I was ready to rumble but I saw that blueman’s head was twisted at a funny angle.  Not funny ha-ha but funny “oh shit I just killed a guy”.  I won’t lie, I stood there staring, mouth agape for a moment.  I’m not a murderer you know.  But while I stood there I heard a crazy crackling, snapping, popping noise and his head jerked back to the right way and his eyes opened.  I guess he can heal super-fast.

Since he wasn’t dead, I went outside and pushed the building down on him.  I should have grabbed something to drink before I did that.  Fighting is thirsty business.

Mantelderith 30 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Yesterday after the successful murder of the annoying adventurers and the stalker wizard the town (what’s this town called again?  It had a really stupid name) decided to have a celebration in my honor.  Probably Martialla’s honor too, dubious as it is.  The caravaneers were just as happy to be free of their menace and were excited about the victorious slaughter of the goblins so they were only too happy to agree.  All the villagerfolk came out of their shanties and mudholes with their finest moonshine jugs and smoked meats clenched in their fists to mingle with the Hücresel Merchant Company (both of them) and their hirelings.  Even the half-elfs who have thusfar been universally been dour and workmanlike joined in the rowdy low-class fun.  There was much picking and singing along with wholesome activities like frog jumping and barrel races.  I won’t say that I didn’t enjoy some moonshine and some ribs, because I did, but it was a waste of time.  I don’t blame anyone for celebrating the death of wizards, but I feel like we’re only twenty miles from Cathars – probably Martialla and I should just continue on alone, we could be there tomorrow.

The worse part of the night was when Lord Yellowshirt the Cowardly came to me in a drunken miasma and sobbingly confessed that he’s not a real knight, nor the lawful lord of whatever this town is (Grumpshunshire?  Harmtonvilletown?  Something like that) saying that the whole thing was a con.  I’m not sure why he thought that I would care.  Or maybe he’s craftier than I think and that’s exactly why he was blubbering the whole thing to me – it let him unburden himself in a way that also let him continue to scam everyone because why would I bother to tell anyone?  I’m not sure I should give him that much credit though.  Regardless it was a revolting spectacle – is there anything more disgusting than when a man cries like a baby?  Yes there is, but it’s still pretty bad.

To make matters worse when we got up today these was a steady rain falling so since everyone was hungover anyway madam Hücresel said we’d stay put another day.  We might be setting a land-speed record for the slowest passage from Alleene to Cathars.  Someday storytellers will tell a rabbit and tortoise style parable about this journey.  They’ll probably leave out all the killing.  Or maybe not, there’s a lot more violent murder in children’s stories than you remember.  With nothing much to do Martialla and I were hanging around the inn with blue eyes – who’s name apparently is Zanya, which sounds like a woman’s name to me, but what do I know.  The chandelier was still hanging down in the middle of the room, there were bloodstains on the floor and most of the chairs were smashed but at least it was dry.  We tried to play cards for a while but none of us was really into it.  Zanya was futzing with something behind the bar and Martialla took to tossing the cards and then making them dance through the air with her magic.  The ring I had taken off the wizard, the good one not the one who tried to run away, gave me the ability to ready dwarfish so I decided to check out Bonder’s journal.  After a while Martialla was making a card orbit around my head and I irritable swatted it out of the air.

“Do you mind?”

She flipped another card into the air “Not at all.”

“Sorry, what I mean was, fucking stop that, I’m trying to read.”

“Anything good?”

I closed the book with a sigh “Not so far, unless you count self-important boasting as good.  Turns out that Greysmith was in the right and all the people against him were wrong.”

Martialla feigned surprise “You don’t say.”

“Shocking I know.  Also he claims to be the rightful king of some dwarf-hole or other and that’s the real reason he was exiled – not for the people he murdered.”

“Aren’t you a dwarf clan princess or something?  What was that?”

“I don’t know, I return their ancestral weapon to them so they did some long boring ceremony – I guess I had to be made an honorary dwarf otherwise it would have brought shame to their clan for a hundred generations.”

“And dwarf generations are long.”

“Exactly.  But since that magic mirror removed all those runes they put on me as part of that deal I don’t know if I get to be a dwarf anymore.  I suppose we’ll find out next time we’re underground a thousand miles away.  I’m glad to be rid of them because you don’t mar a beauty like mine but I can’t deny that those lion-powers were pretty useful.”

Martialla flung the remainder of the cards into the air and let them rain down around us “I’m bored.”

“My grandmother always said that if you’re bored that means you’re boring.”

“Your grandmother had a lot of sayings.”

“That she surely did.  She was a wise woman, she seemed like she had a bit of advice about just about everything.  Talk about a woman who got a hard hand in life and made the best of it – that was her.  I don’t like to think about what would have become of me if she hadn’t been around to tell me how the world is.”

“And how is it?”

“Hard.  You have to watch out or it will kick you right in the ass.”

“Or worse than kick.”

“Or worse than kick.  What about you?  What’s your family situation?  I know you have a sister and had a niece obviously, but where did your parents go wrong?  How did you end up like this?”

“Like what?”

“Rootless, shiftless, murderous, the comically inept bumbling sidekick of a dashing young courtesan on a journey of revenge.”

“Bumbling?  Wasn’t I the one who killed both wizards yesterday?”

“With my help sure, before that I killed the dude in this very room all my myself while you were getting cored like an apple.”

“Is that what sex is like to you?  No wonder the Duke fired you as is mistress.”

“And that’s not to mention I also defeated the warrior monk lady who could shatter stone with her very hands.  The killing art she had and I bested her nevertheless.”

“Meaning you ran away and managed to live long enough for them to be undone by pure chance.”

“That’s my fighting style.  I let my opponents defeat themselves.  It’s very advanced stuff.  I use their strength against them, like the water flows around a boulder.  I call it the way of a harmonious spirit.  I’m thinking about writing a book about this revolutionary technique that has brought me victory in one hundred battles.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, water wears down boulders over time.”

“Well I’m still workshopping it.  So what’s your story?”

“My family is from Etherasawn, this was before half of it was wrecked in the last war.  Or maybe the one before that.  Technically I think that means I was born in Vieland?  Maybe I’m not even a citizen of this grand Kingdom.”

I feigned putting a hand over my mouth “Gasp.”

“I know we went to the Protectorate when my sister and I were pretty little, I remember that because our father was eaten by a troll.  My mother didn’t seem too broken up about it though.  I think she told us specifically that we would be better off without him.”

I nodded “Ah, and that’s why you’re such a slut, you grew up with a father figure.”

“Probably that’s why I’m such a slut.  Although I mostly grew up without a mother figure as well, I don’t remember a lot of what happened when I was a kid but mostly what I do remember is me and my sister being on our own.  I remember traveling with her from town to town trying to get back to Etherasawn.  I knew that there were some religious houses that that would take kids in, but by the time we finally got there the war had happened and the place was fucked.  Silver lining, the streets were full of urchins who were banding together to steal shit and fight each other and try to stay alive.”

“What good fortune.”

“Indeed.  When I was twelve I signed on as a cabin boy on the ship Overzealous.  Boy was the first mate surprised when he tried to molest me.”

“And where was the sister while you were at sea disappointing pedophiles?”

“I got an advance on my cabin boy money and used that to get a loan to buy her an apprenticeship as a scullery maid.  Those were back in the times when a ten year old indentured servant wasn’t a big deal.”

I shook my head “Child labor laws are ruining this Kingdom.”

“Anyway by the time I was fourteen I was reckoned an ‘able seaman’ even though at that point everyone knew I was a girl.”

“How?  I’m still not sure myself.”

“Hilarious.  After that stint I signed on as a mate on the Dead Philosopher but in our third voyage we ran into trouble.  I never did get the story of what was going on there exactly.  Our ship was attacked, not even sure by who, and for some reason the captain decided to fight instead of surrendering even though we had no chance.  Someone claimed it was become they were a dragon egg in the cargo but that seems like the kind of bullshit sailors would make up.   The ship was captured and I was sold to Captain Lansquenet operating out of Lagart.”

“You were a pirate?!”

She shook her head “Ela I’ve told you that literally a dozen times and every time you act like it’s the first.  If you find it so interesting why can’t you remember it?  Anyway, after about a year I was made a full crew member and then I managed to sneak away.   Once I found my sister I saw that she was betrothed and didn’t need me to look after her anymore so I gave up my life on the high seas.”

“Why?”

“Because it sucks.  There’s a reason they have to press-gang sailors, and there’s a reason why it’s basically legal to do so – there would be no navies in the world if they had to rely on volunteers.”

“Then why do retired seamen talk about the honor of their service so glowingly?”

 “Because they’re retired.  They just like remembering when they were young.  As you told me your grandma told you, the older you get the better your life before seemed – even the awful parts.  I remember that because I actually pay attention when you talk.”

“Who could blame you?  I’m very engaging.”

“Anyway, after my sister was married I rattled around the Kingdom doing various odd jobs.”

“Very odd as I understand it.”

“Until my niece was killed and I came looking for you to help me kill her killers – the ones that you didn’t already kill anyway.”

Zanya was standing behind the bar listening raptly “That is a Hells of a story.”

I gestured at him “What about you?  What’s your deal?  You don’t seem like the rest of these yokels.”

“I’m not from around here, I’m Swardish.”

I frowned “Swardish?  What is that?”

 I half-laughed “It means I’m from Swardland.”

I looked at Martialla and she shrugged “Never heard of it.  Is that up North somewhere?”

He looked and sounded offended “Never heard of it?  Swardland is one of the Kingdom’s staunchest allies, how could you not have heard of it?”

“I’m sure the Kingdom tells all its allies that they’re the important ones – it’s like pillow talk, I wouldn’t take it personally.  Now hows about you sashay your pretty little self back into the kitchen and make us some lunch?  I’m famished after all that active listening I just did.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 47,040 platinum, 25,750 gold

XP: 1,190,751

Inventory: 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, Ela’s Stately Greatcoat, Ring of Eloquence

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