December 18, 1973 – Time to get int-ro-spect-ive

When I was nine I was playing on the roof my grandma’s house.  She had told me not to go up there.  This may shock you, but as a kid I wasn’t always the best at minding what I was told.  I saw some kids playing on the roof across the street.  What was I going to do, let them outshine me?  I didn’t fall off the roof, but when I was climbing back down onto the back porch I lost my footing and hit the railing pretty good.  I had the wind knocked out of me for a minute but once that was over, I started crying.  And I mean hard. 

After a minute my grandma came out, lit up a cigarette and leaned there and smoked it while I bawled my eyes out.  When she was done smoking she went back inside without saying anything.  I swore then that I would never cry again.  I haven’t kept that promise, I doubt many people keep promises they make when they’re nine, but I’m not a big crier.  Not for real anyway, I’m a fantastic fake crier, it’s a great way to make people feel uncomfortable if you need to do that.  If there’s any good that comes from living under a tarp on the roof of a fireworks factory (and there isn’t) it’s that you can pull one flap down and have some privacy for a good cry.  I heard Blue shuffling around “outside”.

“What’s the protocol here?  Am I supposed to throw back the tarp-flap and try and comfort you or stay out here and pretend nothing is happening?”

I peeked out from under the tarp-flap “I wasn’t crying, I’m cutting onions for a lasagna.  Don’t come in yet because it’s a surprise.”

He sat down on the roof “A surprise lasagna?  What a delight.”

I threw the tarp-flap back into a vague tent shape “What did you feel after you killed someone for the first time?”

“I don’t remember.”

I scowled “You don’t remember how you felt the first time you killed someone?”

“I don’t remember the first time I killed someone.  Have you ever been to Borneo?  It’s all jungles and swamps and mangroves, even when you’re in the mountains.  We were shooting all the time without having any clue if we were hitting anyone.”

“You know what I mean.”

He nodded slowly “Yes, I know what you mean.   I remember the first time I know I killed someone.  I was on recon and I threw a phosphorus grenade into the back a halftrack.  I hope I never get so jaded that I forget burning four men to death.  Although what I remember much better than how I felt is my sergeant dressing me down because the grenade destroyed the communication equipment and codebooks that were in there.  I should have found a way to kill them and get the intelligence materials.  That’s what I remember most.”

“So how did you feel afterwards?”

“Didn’t bother me, that’s why I was there.”

“It didn’t bother you at all?”

“Maybe a little, but by then I had been in the field for almost two years.  I had seen so many people on my side get hit that I didn’t spare too much time feeling sorry for the people trying to kill us.  Plus I wasn’t even twenty, I wasn’t given to a lot of soul-searching at that time.”

“How about now that you’re not twenty?”

He flicked his tongue in what I’ve come to understand is a shrug “Still doesn’t concern me much.  War is what it is, people die, not much anyone can do about that.  Except stop having wars, which is a little bit above my pay grade.”

“Doesn’t that make you a sociopath?”

“I don’t think so, but I wouldn’t know it if I was, now would I?  Ideology and governments and countries and all that has nothing to do with it Ela, not really.  There’s a reason nations send young people to fight in wars, they don’t know anything.  I was trained to kill people and I was told to kill people and I was rewarded for killing people – how could I feel bad about that?  I killed six men one night and they gave me a medal for doing it.  People can say they’re defending what they believe in or they’re stopping bad people or whatever they want.  But it’s just training and conditioning.  They tell you to do it and you do it.  If you’re good at it you get rewarded.  It’s what the state does, sometimes there’s due process and a needle in the arm and sometimes you get shot in the head by a sniper.   Why do riot cops shoot demonstrators?  Someone gives and order and they follow it.”

“And that makes it okay?”

“What’s okay about anything that happens?  Ela what you’re going through here is the dilemma that warriors have been struggling with since the first time a caveman told the big caveman in the group to bash someone with a rock.  Why am I doing this and what does it all mean?  And thousands of years later we still don’t have any answers.”

“But you’re not in the army anymore, so why are you still doing this?”

“Because I can’t sing and I can’t dance.  I can’t shoot a basketball, but I’m pretty good at killing people.  I’ve been doing this for more than twenty years, it’s all I know, what else would I do?  Plus I have to find the people that turned me into a freak and make them pay.”

“Revenge?  Is that it?”

He huffed a lizard laugh “You’re chastising me for wanting revenge?  That’s your reason for everything you do.”

December 14, 1973 – Justice is a noncorrosive metal, but metals can be melted by the heat of revenge!

“Oh hey Blue, I was just thinking . . . oh shit!”

When he turned and snarled at me, I realized that it wasn’t Blue.  That was my mistake on several counts.  First of all, I was going to meet Blue and Martialla, so it would be strange to bump into him on the street.  Second of all, he wasn’t even blue, he was kind of greyish-brown with some pale yellow marks.  Once I got a good look at him I realized my mistake, but at the risk of being a lizard-racist, when you’re walking about and you see someone who’s got scales and is three feet taller than everyone else, your mind kind of fills in the blank.  It’s not like there’s SO many lizard guys around here that it’s unreasonable when you’re not paying attention right?  I mean there’s like four lizard guys tops.  Sidenote why aren’t there any lizard women?  Probably because lizards don’t have boobs.  Why would any male scientist turn a woman into something without boobs?

He roared something at me, his breath was simply AWFUL with the stench of rotting meat, and I was so distracted by that that I didn’t realize I actually understood (mostly) what he was saying until he referred to himself as “Bestia-lagarto cornuda devoradora.”  Beside the color he was much different from (than?) Blue, he did indeed have little (and big) horns jutting out from his dinosoury skull.  Although he didn’t really look like a dinosaur, maybe more like a dragon guy?  Really what it was was like one of those little thorny desert lizards, only you know, a huge monster-guy.  He said “Me cago en la leche. Déjame solo!” to me which is some kind of slang (or he’s insane) I didn’t understand in full, but I got the gist of it.

I was tempted to give him a good shove, but we were in a crowd and he probably would have plowed down fifty people.  He may weigh eight hundred pounds but I have the strength of twenty strong men.  And that’s only forty pounds per man, which is something a non-strong man should be able to handle.  Not wanting to crush a bunch of locals, I contented myself by telling him “estás bien pendejo” – but I totally could have knocked him on his ass.  For sure. 

No sooner had I walked away from that dust-up when I heard someone shouting (in English, well sort of, Australian) at me from the street.  I turned to see that a small gap had formed in the crowd where my old friend the Crimson Cardinal was holding one giant red robo-fist in the air – which seemed to be the only piece of his suit left.  For reasons unknown he wasn’t wearing a shirt, and he really should have been – not a lot of meat on those bones, you know what I mean?  There was a network of wires running down his dirty bare arm to some kind of glowing chest-piece strapped to him like a bullet-vest.  He was making such a spectacle that I didn’t notice at first that Captain Patriot USA was at his side furiously swooshing his finger around his glowing green alien pad.

“Stand and deliver, Jezebel!  Your time of judgement is at hand, for you face the Hammer of God!”  He threw his hand up dramatically and made a fist, which resonated with a thunderous clap.

“Is the hammer invisible?”

“What?”

“Are you holding an invisible hammer above your head?”

“No . . . I . . . the gauntlet is the hammer of God.”

“Why wouldn’t you say the fist of God then?  Or the hand of God?”

Patriot muttered “I told you it didn’t make sense.”

Red Fist all but spat at him “You’re the one that wanted to call us the Ela Revenge Squad.”

“Like the Superman Revenge Squad?  That would have been cool.  But there’s only two of you, that’s hardly a squad, that’s the problem.”

A local guy that I thought was just watching shouted something angrily and the Scarlet Fingerman gestured “Yes, Halimah is a member as well.  Three is enough for a squad.”

I peered at the man “Uh, what did I do to him?  He doesn’t look familiar.”

They spoke briefly “He says you wrecked his kiosk.”

I made a face “Oh yeah, I did do that.  Can you tell him I’m sorry?  There’s not enough big heavy things to throw around here, I don’t know what they want me to do.  Are there boulders around here?”

“Silence!  The time is nigh, you shall be punished for your insolence!”

“Why are you the one with the robot fist?  No offense, but you’re like the guy in those Charles Atlas ads before he does the program.” I pointed at the Blond Bomber “Isn’t that guy like a special forces army ranger marine commando?  Shouldn’t he be the one with the robo attack glove?”

The Aussie pulled his fist back and made some awkward looking punching motion and a wave of concussive force went in my general direction and knocked over a bunch of boxes. 

“No more questions!  I demand satisfaction!”

I pointed “The red light district is over there.” I laughed and laughed and laughed.  Because I am hilarious.  

Mr. America growled “Just kill her already!  You only have enough power for . . .”

The Aussie’s eyes went wide “Don’t tell her how much power we have!”

I walked towards them “Alright, look guys, we had some issues in the past but surely you’re not going to kill me just because I wrecked your suit, are you?  You didn’t even really own that suit, didn’t you steal it?  Plus, I was defending myself.  Are you really suggesting that you’re going to kill me for the crime of not letting you kill me?  That makes no sense.”

“I’m not going to kill you, I’m just going to defeat you.”

I shrugged “Okay, I’m defeated.”

He frowned “What do you mean?”

“What do YOU mean?” I raised my hands “Everyone, everyone, your attention please, I Ela hereby admit defeat.  I am officially defeated.” I went down to one knee “I submit to you good sir.  You are the better man.”

His head whipped around at the curious crowd “Get up!”

I looked up at him incredulously “What?  Do you want to hit me?  You’re going to punch a defenseless woman in the face with a cracking bionic fist?”

Blondie’s face was flushed with bloodlust “Yes, do it!”

The Aussie looked around desperately “No . . . I . . . just . . . what . . . I mean . . .”

I stood up and tapped the rig on his chest, which seemed to be burning his skin “Did you guys rig this all up yourselves?”

He shook his head slowly “No, we . . .”

Blondie spit-screamed at his back “Don’t tell her!”

“Yes, do tell her.  My crew needs a contact with a good tech guy.  There have to be some of them around here right?  Some guy who worked for a company and then flew off with one of their prototypes suits and came here to sell it and now he’s like an underground outlaw tech guy?  Something like that?  I feel like that happens all the time.  There would probably be a lot fewer criminals in supersuits if the superheroes quit forming companies to make supershit.  Can you hook me up with your guy?  I’m about to come into some money and I need an equipment source.”

He looked back uncertainly at the rest of his squad, Blondie was freaking out and Dr. Kiosk looked like he had no idea what was going on “Yeeeah.”

November 27, 1973 – A Duke by any other name something something revenge

I’m working on a new song.  I wish I could find a guitar so I could really get into the nitty-gritty of it, but I’ve got some good ideas in my head at least.  It’s a song about who we are on the inside.  About how, for a bunch of reasons, we’re perceived very differently from who we are.  Some people try really hard to make people think that, but even the people that don’t are thought to be something they’re not.  It’s not a new or revolutionary idea but that’s why music is the truest and greatest form of art.  

Want proof?  There are a million songs about getting your heart broken, and there needs to be a million songs about getting your heart broken because each one speaks to people in different ways.  With music, the same basic message in a different package really is something different because it hits people in a different way.  You can’t achieve that with any other medium.  

If you’re into mountain climbing, you may read a bunch of books about climbing Everest but one is all you need to get the message.  The other ones are just entertainment.  With literature, the same story is the same story.  Maybe one writer is better than the other or there’s one perspective that you identify with more, but you don’t need more books about the same thing like you do with songs.  

Paintings and sculptures and drawings and things like that can evoke feelings and ideas but it’s open to interpretation.  Maybe the artist intended those three red lines to signify the sunrise but you see what you see.  When I look at ‘The Poetess’ by Joan Miro, I have a strong reaction, but it’s one that I can’t really explain.  When I hear Etta James singing about how she’d rather go blind than see her man walking away from her, I know exactly what she’s talking about.  

The point is while that song speaks to me, maybe someone else really feels it when Janis Joplin is telling them about someone taking a piece of her heart.  And maybe another body feels it when Otis Rush is telling them.  They’re all singing about the same thing, getting hurt by love, but we need all those different ways to say it because everyone is different.  Music speaks to the soul in a way that other art doesn’t.  Sorry other kinds artist, but as a singer I’m better than you.   At least you’re still better than horrible non-creative types.

Fred (editor’s note, she means Frank) told me that Duke Eaglevane is in a prison in German East Africa.  When I suggested that the world’s most wanted man being captured and put in jail was something that would have been in the papers, he said that they don’t know that’s who they have.  According to Fred, a few months ago the Pecos military launched a missile attack at a guerilla camp in southern Mexico under the impression that in residence at the time was an international criminal by the name of Miro Viga, wanted in connection with several violent uprisings in South America.  Miro, who either wasn’t there or survived the attack, in retaliation, tried to enter the Pecos Republic intent on blowing up several government buildings.  There was a battle at the border in which six men were killed and thirty more wounded before Miro was taken into custody by one of the only PR NBH operatives, Justice Ranger – which is a terrible name.

Fred claims that Miro Viga is none other than Duke Eaglevane.  As Fred tells it, the good Duke has many different personas that have been constructed and maintained with such detail as to be practically different people – hence why the Pecos authorities don’t know who they really have.  He said that this is at least the third time the Duke has been captured without the authorities knowing who they really have.  Seems pretty far-fetched to me.  I asked Fred if this was so super-duper secret how did he know about it, and he said that he was part of an “op” that broke the Miro Viga identity back when he was still in the good graces of the US spymasters.  

“If this is true, why didn’t your government tell the Texans who they had?”

He half-shrugged “I don’t know, I’m not in the loop anymore.  Maybe they did and the Pecos authorities didn’t believe it.  Or maybe they like having one of the Dukes identities that no one else knows about.  There are a lot of angles they could be playing.”

I glanced at Martialla “So all we need to do is get to German Africa once we wrap up this other thing.”

Fred looked somber “Get there quickly is my advice. As I said, this has happened before – the Duke’s minions always break him out in a couple of months.  That’s the whole point of these supplementary personas, if they knew who they had, Duke Eaglevane would be in some black site where you’d never find him.  Actually, he’d never be taken into custody in the first place, if they had him in their sights they’d kill him.  But Miro is just an ordinary terrorist wanted by fifteen world governments, so he’s merely in a normal maximum security facility.   If you want to kill him, this is the best chance you’re going to get.”

“Do you know any of his other identities?”

“I did, but it doesn’t matter, the Duke knows those ones are burned.  Miro Viga is the only one that’s still active that I know about.”

While I was thinking, Martialla gave me a look “I think you’re overlooking an obvious course of action, Ela.  Half the world wants the Duke dead.  The safe bet is to give this information to someone who has the juice to make sure he goes down.”

I shook my head slowly “No.  It has to be me.  He has to know I’m the one that got him.”  

Martialla frowned “But he doesn’t even know who you are.”

“He will.  For a few seconds.”

September 20, 1973 – Revenge, and a shipwreck

So now what?  I’m in a foreign land (where they don’t seem to like my music) with no money, and as far as anyone back home knows I’m dead.  I tried to think of someone I could call for help, assuming I could figure out how to make an international call, but I came up empty.  My parents and I aren’t close, my friends are mostly pretty casual acquaintances or broke.  Most of them are both.  I have a manager I haven’t heard from in months, and that was before I was blown up and kidnapped and lost several months of my memory.  He wouldn’t be terribly interested in anything that would cost him money anyway.  My ex could probably afford to bring me back, but I don’t know if he would.  Or where he lives currently.  

I assume the easiest route back to the CS from here would be through Panama.  And then somehow convince the police or someone that I’m me.  Fingerprints?  I’ve been arrested so I would have fingerprints on file right?  But that was in the CS, not the US.  Do they share information?  Is getting home what I even want?  Eventually, yes.  But someone by the name of Duke Eaglevane tried to blow me up.  Did blow me up.  I’d be dead now if not for . . . whoever did . . . uh, whatever they did to me.  I never thought of myself as vindictive or vengeful, but that’s a much easier attitude to have before someone murders you.  

I asked where Duke Eaglevane was and Alcazar laughed.  He’s the most wanted man in the world.  Several countries are offering millions of dollars to anyone who can give information on where he might be.  Not even for his capture, just for information.  When he asked me why I wanted to know, I told him I was thinking about killing Duke Eaglevane.  He didn’t laugh at all.  He looked at me like I said that I was thinking about swallowing molten lava.  He was pretty harsh in expressing his view that a singer from the “softest” country in the world with no training, no resources, and no support should not attempt to hunt down the world’s most dangerous and notorious terrorist.  Correction, the world’s most dangerous and notorious terrorist who may possibly be immortal.  

I barely know the guy, where does he get off talking to me like he’s my father?  I couldn’t get too mad at him though because he loaned me some money to get a place to stay and got me a job down at the docks with a French shipping company unloading ships.  The manager, who was skinnier than me, didn’t bat an eye when I picked up a crate that had to weigh a couple hundred pounds.  I guess Madripoor does have its fair share of weirdos.  

I foolishly thought that since it was a French company, most of the other workers would speak French, but they didn’t, even though it seems like some of the locals do.  The one guy there who spoke Spanish told me they were Vietnamese, but don’t they speak French there too?  I should have paid more attention in model UN.  So I can’t understand whatever horrible things my co-workers are saying about me.  Which is probably for the best.  Out of the many paths I thought my life might take, I would not have put lugging boxes on that list in ten thousand years.

While I was working one day, I heard a horrendous noise and looked out in the harbor to see that two ships had collided.  Actually it looked like one ship had sliced another in half.  Everyone came to gawk as the one ship listed badly with a half-ship stuck in its side while the other half sank like a rock.  I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that what I was seeing in the water were people.  My Spanish speaking “friend” Omar happened to be nearby and I asked him what I should do.  He thought about it for a moment, looked around and then shrugged.   

(translated from Spanish) 

“I don’t see anything you can do.”

“I have super strength.  I must be able to do something.”

He squinted out at the water “Like what?”

“I don’t know, hold up the ship until everyone gets off?”

“How would you do that?  There would be nothing to support you.”

“Maybe I could rip the side open in case anyone is trapped inside.”

He looked at me appraisingly “Could you?”

“I could try.  I mean I have to do something don’t I?”  At that moment the bossman, not the skinny guy who hired me, a big bald bastard with a mess of tattoos on his arms, came over and bellowed something not in English, French or Spanish.  “What did he say?”

“Boss says back to work.”

I gestured “But what about the people in the water?”

Omar and the boss exchanged a few words, Omar gesturing at a small boat nearby, and then he turned back to me with another shrug “Boss says back to work.”

September 13th, 1973 – Duke Eaglevane

I stood looking out the window of Pinetree Exports, also known as Alcazar’s office, which despite its small size and generally messiness would have been a much nicer place to stay than his apartment.  I was watching the steady flow of pedestrian traffic down on the street as he looked for my file in his stacks of papers.

(translated from Spanish)

“What is the deal with this place?”

“You’ll have to be more specific, Madripoor has many ‘deals’ at any given time.”

I pointed down at the street “There’s a dude wearing like a space helmet.  And the other day I saw a woman riding a bike whose skin was yellow, like banana yellow.  I’m pretty sure I saw a guy jump into a second story window too.”

“That was probably Bayu, he jumps all over the city.  Usually into the windows of married ladies.” 

I turned and gave him a look “Hey can you do me a favor and be a little more nonchalant about impossible things people can do around here?”

He stared at me for a moment “Sorry, I guess I’ve gotten used to it.  The ‘deal’ is that Madripoor, for this reason or that, has more than its fair share of NBHs – that’s non baseline humans – like you.  And not for nothing, there may also be an alien or two in residence as well.  The military usually finds aliens and shoots them in the head as soon as they crash-land but a few slip through the net.” 

“Oh sure, aliens exist and are on earth and that’s normal.  How about you give me a little build up to these shocking revelations?  Are your CIA buddies the ones that kill the poor little green bastards as they stumble out of their wrecked saucers looking for their triple A cards?”

He snorted “If I was in the CIA it would have been much easier for me to get this.” 

He waved a stained folder at me that had budget written on the tab, then crossed out and written 1968 redeposit which was itself crossed out and replaced with something I couldn’t read.  I sat down across the desk from him, he handed me the folder and helped himself to a cup of coffee while I thumbed through the papers inside.

“So I’m dead huh?  That’s very dispiriting.”

He nodded with a grin “I know, it’s a real shame you were cut down in your prime like that.”

“Who’s Duke Eaglevane and why did he blow me up?”

He raised an eyebrow “Don’t you read the newspaper?”

“Just the box score of the Tropics game and my horoscope.”

“Duke Eaglevane is someone who a man that was actually in the CIA would call a ‘bad guy’.  He’s a super terrorist, or supervillain if you want to be theatrical.   He’s maybe hundreds of years old and when he’s not killing German communists, he spends his time running the largest criminal organization in the world.  An organization that does things like blow up pretty singers in the heart of the Coalition.” 

“Why would he blow me up, what did I ever do to him?”

“I would imagine that you are what people who blow buildings up call ‘collateral damage’, I wouldn’t take it personally.”

“Of course not, it’s just my life.” I shuffled through some more papers “So I was blown to bits and then the government scooped up the pieces and put them back together?  Like the Six Million Dollar man?  That was nice of them.  And then these Shadow Lords stole me?  I would have expected the Coalition Super Soldier Division to have better security.”

“If I was with the CIA I could answer that for you, but since I’m just a humble businessman, all I can give you is guesses.  I don’t think it was the Coalition, from what I gather a private organization did the Humpty Dumpty job on you.  Maybe they sold you to the Shadow Lords, maybe you were stolen, maybe they were funding the whole operation, I don’t know.  But it wasn’t the super soldier program, that medical report says you’re negative, this was something lower key.  Just saving your life and giving you some ‘minor’ super powers.  You’re stronger than you have any right to be but I’m pretty sure Angel would rip you apart, if she wasn’t dead.”

“Being dead does increase the degree of difficulty.” I flapped the folder at him “How did you gather all this, non-CIA man?”

“I have a lot of friends, I keep my ear to the ground. Information is critical in my line of work, other vague answers are available at request.”

I read from one of the pages ‘Due to the stimulation of neurological, chemical, and glandular activity, subject will suffer from chronic headaches and will need to consume fifteen to twenty thousand calories a day to avoid rapid weight loss and death.’ “Well that’s just great.  I thought my head hurt because I wasn’t smoking enough.”

“You may as well smoke up, on the next page they anticipate that with your increased metabolism and all the damage it’s doing to your systems, you’re going to die of organ failure in another five to seven years.  Live fast and die young, etcetera.”

I tossed the file on the desk “This day just keeps getting better and better.  So who did the Shadow Lords want me to fight so badly that they went through all this trouble?”

“Other gangs probably.  Or maybe they were going to rent you out as a mercenary, there’s always fighting on the mainland.  Or maybe they wanted you for the tournament.  Madripoor is the proud home of the only super powered death sport in the world.”

“That sounds pretty illegal.”

“Even though you’ve only been with us a couple of days, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that legality is a flexible concept around here, especially for people with money.  And the psycho that does the annual tournament has gobs of it.”

“Lovely.  This is all good information but how is the project of getting me home coming along?”

He leaned back and steepled his fingers for a moment “Not great.  Since you’re legally dead, that complicates things.  And being an NBH complicates things even more.  It means that you have to register with all kinds of groups with three letter names.  Smuggling you into the States would be super illegal.  People are going to be very interested in you, Ela.  It’s a good thing that I’m not with the CIA because if I was, you’d probably be knocking over some east African dictatorship right now.”

“I feel like you’re saying you’re not going to help me without saying it.”    

He held his hands out “I ship matchbooks and crummy electronics, what do you expect that I could do for you?  I don’t know anything about sneaking people through multiple countries illegally.  You’re too hot for me to handle.”

“That would be a good name for a song.”  

“I think Otis Redding already did that one.”

Montumazin 1 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Sending a Vieland army to attack Three Rivers isn’t the most satisfying of revenge on the Lumber Consortium but I’m not confident that I’m going to secure any better.  I’m reluctantly crossing them off the List while reserving the right to further avenge myself on them at a later date.  I don’t feel great about it but they’re proving to be a tough nut to crack.  Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company was reckoned to be on be one of the movers and shakers in the Kingdom but I was able to completely ruin them without too much trouble.  It helped that they were complicit in treasonous activity but even so they had a lot of clout in the halls of power and they still went down hard.  The Lumber Consortium on the other hand I don’t think has any influence outside of the County, or very little, and they’re proving to be a far more stubborn opponent. Maybe the fact that their providence is smaller helps them?  K&B most likely had people trying to drag them down I gave them the chance.  Perhaps no one with enough power to do anything cares about the Lumber Consortium.

Point is I’m done with them for now.  I tried to the road back to Narhold and that displeased the collar around my neck forcing me northward.  And since the road north is crawling with Vieland soldiers (for some reason) I took off into the woods.  That always works well for me.  As you might imagine a gigantic warhorse is not well suited for picking your way through the trees and underbrush so I did significantly more leading than riding.  I had to use my Beastspeech several times to keep the big lummox moving.  In case you were wondering animals can be jerks.  And this guy is.  It’s probably not really his fault, I’m sure he was bred and trained to be like this, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.  I’ve heard tell that  the savages that live out on the plains indulge in horse-fighting instead of  civilized bloodsports like dog-fighting or bear-baiting.  In my less charitable moments that’s where I feel this fellow belongs.

Since I can’t ride him and since he probably needs a ton of food and since I don’t really care about all that armor he’s carrying I was thinking about just turning him loose.  But just about the time I was convincing myself to do that was also the time when I noticed a form in the underbrush stalking after us.  Some folks call them stalhounds, others call them festrogs, they have many names – but a rose by any other name would smell as rotting.  Whatever you call them what they are is undead wolves with slack limbs and empty eyes driven by the needed to slaughter the living – and not just kill, terrorize and dismember first.  I would imagine it was keeping its distance on account of big hairy brute beside me, if I had been alone I’m sure it would have attacked.

Certain types, your intellectuals and academics and whatnot like to speculate on why the living dead spend all their time trying to kill us.  Is it because they envy the living?  Is it because of the dark magic that propels them forward?  Is it to avenge their own deaths against the entire world?  This is a great example of pointless conjecture – the undead want to kill us, does it really matter why?  I can assure you when you have a zombie wolf eyeballing you (metaphorically, as they have no remaining eyes) you don’t worry about its motivations in the least. 

The crossbow I stole from the commander was as huge and awkward as his stupid jerk horse.  It makes no sense for an officer to have something like this, it’s not like he’s going to be standing shoulder to shoulder with a unit of crossbowmen firing at the enemy, he should have a smaller weapon that he can keep around all the time in case things go sideways.  I managed to get it loaded once and fire at the skulking beast but I don’t think I hit it and I gave up on the idea of a second shot quickly.  I can barely raise the thing to my shoulder.  I suppose if it comes at me I can throw the crossbow at it, this thing weights thirty pounds it feels like.

The good news is with this murder-collar on me for once I can always make sure I’m heading essentially in the right direction – if I get turned around it lets me know by starting to kill me.  The bad news is that as the day wore on several more undead wolves turned up the join the very slow silent “hunt”.  Anticipating that they would eventually reach a critical mass where a single warhorse wasn’t going to keep them at bay anymore my first thought was to mount up and ride, despite the dangers of doing so in dense woods, but I quickly realized that was futile – the chances of enduring beyond the capacity of a living wolfpack is a tough prospect, and if there’s one thing the undead have going for them it’s that they don’t get tired and they don’t give up. 

Unfortunately I wasn’t coming up with a second thought very quickly.  It was hard to tell how many of the beasts there were as the day worse on since it was dark and they kept to the shadows, but I’m pretty sure there were at least six, and based on the stench there could have been more.  However many they were they were emboldened enough to get closer.  I think attack was imminent when I spotted a lumber camp in the distance.  I leapt onto Stanger’s back and set him to as fast as a gallop as I thought prudent given the terrain.  Still I was almost thrown away just by the force of him moving beneath me – it was a jolt to the spine when he started running in earnest.  I don’t think he liked those creatures sneaking about any more than I did.  They didn’t chase us, which is always unsettling.  Whenever you run away from a deadly menace and it just watches you go you have to wonder what’s you’re running towards.

The camp was abandoned, what with the war and all, but there were six men in a line in the middle of the place – hands tied behind them.  Five had been beheaded, one on the end had had his throat slashed, maybe the ax had gotten dull before they got to him but if anyone should have a good supply of sharp axes it would be loggers.  They weren’t wearing uniforms but I think they were Vielanders.  With that cheery sight revealed I headed for what is generally the most secure building in a place like this – the paymaster’s hut.  I tied the reins over the saddlehorn to make sure they wouldn’t get in Stranger’s way, refraining from touching him as I used the Beastspeech.

“If those things come up here stomp them in the head, keep your back to the wall here, make sure they don’t get behind you.”

He horse-snorted “I don’t need you tell me how to fight wolves female.”

See what I mean?  Jerk.  I went inside and checked the hidden compartment that I know now is usually in these places – I’ve been in a depressing amount of lumber camps at this point.  It was empty, the entire place had been cleaned out other than a massive desk that was probably too heavy to shift easily.  Even the chair for the desk was gone.  I took a seat to consider my options.

“I don’t remember inviting you in.”

The voice belonged to a shaggy wolfman that was couching in the corner.  It was covered with dark fur that was matted and tangled in ways that looked painful.  There’s no way I could have overlooked it but yet there it was catching me unawares.  When I think of a werewolf I think of a full wolf-head with a long snout but this being wasn’t like that – it was more like a wolf-skin face stretched over a flat noseless human skull.  It wasn’t a good look.  Not helping the overall appearance was the fact that this was clearly dead – not only were its guts splitting out of its belly like an apron but it had deep gouges across both arms and the back of the neck.  Whatever it was it was deader than a doornail, yet there it crouched.

“I let myself in.”

It made an odd coughing noise “Hasn’t anyone told you that’s very inconsiderate?  What would your mother say?  Not to mention it can be very dangerous as well, you never know who could be home.”

“Clearly.  I thought that werewolves turned back into humans when they died, how do you end up a zombie werewolf?”

“How should I know?”

“Because you are one?”

It made a raspy wheezing noise that I think was supposed to be laughter, sounded like it really had to work to push out that rattle “Zombie werewolf, that’s a good one.”

Date Unknown

Well it turns out that I misjudged Elth slightly.  I thought when I verbally tore into her she’d crumble.  Which technically she did, so I was right in a way, but she didn’t fall apart enough to keep her from having her goons throw me in a deep dark hole.  And if there’s one thing Graltontown has in abundance its holes – both of the ass and deep dark variety.  That and mouth breathing freaks.  It’s really a toss-up between the holes and the freaks.  That’s what it always comes down to in the end. 

If my reckoning is correct this is the third time I’ve been thrown on a lightless stone pit and I have to say it’s not an experience that improves the more you do it.  I’m going to be controversial here and say that I would be glad to never be thrown into a lightless pit ever again.  There, I said it.  On the other hand though it is probably the only form of torture that comes with a silver lining – it gives you time to think.  Time to plot.  Time to scheme. 

I don’t know how long I was down there, but I didn’t die of dehydration so it couldn’t have been more than a couple of days.  Sadly at this point I’ve become accustomed enough to a few days without food, but there’s not a lot you can do without water.  Except get really tired and have your mouth feel like it’s full of gross slime even though it’s so dry your tongue starts to turn into a piece of leather.  I knew a rent boy back in the day called Leather Tongue.  He wasn’t very popular.  That’s probably why he had to resort to robbery to get by and ended up being executed for robbery. 

It’s been a while since I pulled a proper robbery, I should do that one of these days just to keep in practice.  I loot dead people all the time, but that’s not the same at all.  That’s just taking stuff.  I haven’t picked a pocket in a good little while either.  I need to keep my skills sharp on these things.  Remember back in the early days when I stole twenty gold from the butcher shop and that was a big accomplishment?  It really was too, I mean I was singing on the street corner for silver at the time.  Look how far I’ve come. 

I wonder if Elth really did kill Martialla or if she was just saying that to try and get under my skin.  Clearly they must have encountered one another otherwise how would Elth have known about her?  I think she was lying though, Elth doesn’t have cold blooded murder in her bones, not just to potentially get back at me anyway.  She didn’t even have it in her to kill me, so probably Martialla is still alive.  Or if she’s not it’s because of something else.  Beyond my feelings about her on the personal level if would be a real tragedy if a useless pair of tits like Elth killed someone as wily and valuable as Martialla.  That would be a real shame.

When they finally came to drag me out of the hole the light stabbed at my eyes like a thousand burning needles.  You know the feeling when you’re hung over and some jerk throws back the window shades to flood you with sunlight?  It’s much worse than that.  I swear that dehydration does something to make your eyes more sensitive on top of the whole being in total darkness for three to four days thing.  Maybe someday I’ll be trapped in a dark room for a while with access to water so I can compare.  I hope that I’m not, but the way things go for me it would be a step up.

I moved to get up far too slowly for the liking of one of the goons.  I think I was moving pretty well considering the circumstances.   This fellow disagreed and expressed his counterargument by kicking me a few times.  I’m going to make another bold statement – I don’t like getting kicked.  It hurts so much more than getting punched.  His fellow goon pointed out that kicking someone on the verge of death wouldn’t make them go faster it would make them go slower.  But this guy has an answer for everything, he said “I know, I just like kicking women when I get the chance”.  You can’t argue with that.

When they hauled me up and dragged me out of there I very much wanted to pull a knife out of my secret pocket and stab the kicker in the face until his face was done and he was dead but I figured that was likely to result in me being thrown back into the hole.  I’ll just have to do something to him later.  After a long while without a lot of expansion on the List we’re about to have a slew of new names.  Sometimes I think my work is never going to be done.

I have no clue where they keep the hole they throw people in, but where it was I was taken to a small room with naught up a skinny table and a couple of chairs – I suppose it’s an interrogation room or something of the like.  They sat me down at the table and a trio of women came in to replace them.  One of them looked like a carnival strongwoman who was starting to turn to flab.  One of them was a lean half-orc woman who looked like a coiled spring.  And one of them was my old pal Stek.

“Well you’re moving up in the world aren’t you?  Are you a prison guard or what is your role here?  I’ve heard that pays a decent wage.”

She furrowed her brow for a moment and was just about decided to clobber me when she recognized me “Ela?”

I smiled thinly “The very same.”

Her face twisted into a mask of horror “My Gods what happened to you?  You look awful.

“Well thank you, it’s good to see you too.”

I jokingly asked if she could get me out of there but of course there was no chance of that.  She and her beefy pals searched me thoroughly a couple of times and then gave me a sackcloth “dress” to wear.  Stek sat me down at the table and gave me some broth to drink – apparently that’s better for rehydrating yourself that water.  Or at least that’s what she said.  Once I was lubricated enough to breath without getting a nosebleed she brought me some small bitter apples and some hard bread.  Even that small amount of food made my stomach roil.

“Thanks Stek, what I could really use is some whiskey though.”

She grinned “That’s not a good idea, alcohol just dries you out more.”

“Oh, that’s just an old wives tale.”

Despite her words she took a flask out of her shirt and poured me a capful which I eagerly downed “How did you end up here?”

I passed the cap back to her for some more “Oh you know, fighting against the established order, trying to stand up for the common folk, that sort of thing.  They don’t like it when you do that.”

“Strange, I figured you to be on the other end of the ladder when the class war started.”

“You want to know my secret?  I stay right in the middle of the ladder, that way when it flips I end up in the same place.”

She chuckled and looked around pointedly “Yes, clearly things are going well for you.”

“You know what they say, the night is darkest before the dawn.”

“They do say that but it makes no sense, the night it darkest hours before dawn.”

“True, so are you and your friends going to kill me or just beat me senseless?  If you’re going to beat me could you hold on the kicks?  I’ve had my fill of kicking for a while.”

“Neither, now that you’ve soften up a bit we’re just making you presentable for your audience with our benevolent and kind master the Baroness.”

“Master?  Don’t you mean mistress?”

“I thought a mistress was a woman having sex with a married man.”

“It is  a confusing term.  How about we say mastress?”

“Isn’t that a woman who makes masts?”

Once I was “presentable” I was loaded into a coach and returned to Wardsmeadow Manor where I was escorted under heavy guard to the solarium – if they did that on purpose to hurt my eyes it was a stroke of genius.  Baroness Elth was there but she wasn’t alone.  With her was another Baroness – the Lady Juost.  For a split second I was relieved, I thought she was there to speak on my behalf, but then I saw the coldness in her eyes.  There’s no way she could have figured out that I killed her husband but I suppose she could have guessed it.  In the cold light of day knowing what she knows about me and given the givens that’s what I would have assumed were I her. 

But that wasn’t the only special guest in the audience, along with the two Baronesses was none other than Duchess Eaglevane herself.  Seeing here there was so incongruous that for a moment I couldn’t believe what my eyes were telling me.  It’s like seeing a cow on the roof of a building in the city – it makes no sense so it takes a moment for your mind to agree with what your eyes are seeing.  The Duchess was never a great beauty, although she was no sideshow bearded lady either, and she was often in ill-health which didn’t help anything – but standing there before me that day she looked both healthsome and toothsome.  Her hair looked great.  She had grown it out and had some nice little curls going.   Maybe it was the dehydration talking but I don’t think she ever looked better.

They brought me there to grovel for my life and that’s what I did.  I’ve talked about this a couple times before so there’s no reason to rehash it, the bottom line is if you get a chance to beg for mercy there’s no reason not to take it.  Have you ever seen someone on the gallows lift their chin defiantly and say they won’t give the person condemning them to death the “satisfaction” of pleading?  Those people are idiots.  Dead idiots.  I knew Baroness Juost to be a religious woman, and I assumed that Elth was a well, being a country bumpkin that she is, so I leaned on that.  How I was a wretched sinner and ashamed of the things I had done and so on and so forth.  I apologized for everything I had done, I threw myself on their mercy, the whole nine yards.  I’m damn convincing at that sort of thing when my life is on the line. 

Aside from the three aristocrats there were a few other sycophants and fawners about who observed my display and clucked their tongues and said things like “disgraceful” and “have you no pride?”  Pride?  What the Hells good does that do anyone?  You can’t drink pride. You can’t eat it.  You can’t buy anything with it.  You can’t fuck it. The more of it you have the less good it does you.  If you’ve got none at all you don’t miss it.  There’s no shame in being a truckler if that’s what the situation calls for.  Okay there’s shame in it but that’s fine. 

The three women in their beneficence and mercy said that my life would be spared and I would be exiled to the North, never to trouble the good people of the Kingdom again.  I wept at their compassion and goodness and thanked them submissively.  I would have kissed their feet if they wanted.  I’m glad they didn’t because feet are gross but I would have done it. 

And so instead of death merely exile.  How stupid are these people?  Do they really think I’m going to quietly disappear never to be seen again?  Am I really that good of a liar?  I may have my flaws but one thing I don’t do is hesitate to put someone in the ground when I have the advantage.  It’s one of my best qualities. 

Montresor 20 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I expected that Ancin, Reda, and Wine would try to murder me in the night.  They’re pretty salty about getting fired despite the fact that it was entirely justified.  Or maybe that’s why they’re so peeved about it – people are weird like that.  I suppose there’s a lesson there about taking it easy on people.  I should have killed Ancin and Reda and dumped them in the Heathgrove sludge for the gators or eels or wamp trolls whatever the Hells is down there.  Wine probably wouldn’t have sought revenge without being roped into it by those other too.  Maybe leaving him alive was okay.  Seems like being alive is plenty of punishment for him.

I don’t think that Kellgale even put them up to it.  It seems as though she’s had a rough time of it, there’s not a lot of fight left in her.  She’s so abjectly afraid of me that it’s not even fun.  What’s the point of taking revenge on someone who’s been beaten down by life so much that you almost feel sorry for them?  It’s like the world stole my chance for revenge.  What can I do about that?  I can’t get revenge on the world.  I suppose what I should do is build her back up to some semblance of the cocky scam artist she once was and then ruin her so that it has some teeth to it when I do it.  But that seems like a serious commitment of time.  It’s a real pickle. 

But what other options do I have?  Forgive her?  That certainly doesn’t seem like something that I would do.  I’ll have to think on that – how do you solve a problem like Kellgale?  Anyway, when the three murders snuck up on the tent I had commandeered I was standing a ways off in the darkness.  I give them no points for subtly and high marks for enthusiasm.  They collapsed the tent and started wailing away on what was inside (nothing) with their weapons.  I don’t know about you, but I have a pretty good idea if I’m stabbing a human body or a pile of bedding, seems they do not.  I guess they were too excited to take notice.  I wonder what their plan was for after, if they had one.  Loudly murdering someone in the middle of a camp doesn’t seem like a good way to get away with murder to me.   

With the fire behind them it was pretty easy for me to see them, although they clearly had no idea I was there.  They picked up that something was going wrong when I shot Reda (or maybe Ancin, I don’t actually remember which is which very well).  I was aiming for the chest but he moved just when I loosed and I ended up hitting him high on the side in the ribs.  One of the Duke’s torturers told me one time that burning someone in the armpit is one of the more painful spots you can target.  I wonder if that’s true.   

Before I could get off a second shot the camp was up in arms – which is pretty damn good response time.  I’ve seen far worse from far more professional organizations.  I belayed (what does that mean actually?) taking another shot as someone lit up the night with magic and people were rushing about with weapons drawn.  I stowed my crossbow and carefully came out of “hiding” into the light while Ancin, Reda, and Wine were surrounded.   

Someone asked what was going on.  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a Striderian and based on the amount of grizzle going on I think it was one of the mercenaries rather than a bandit.  Mercenaries are often very grizzled whereas bandits tend to be hungrier looking like starving coyotes.  I told him what was going on was that these three men had stolen up upon me in the night intent on murder and I had barely managed to slip away from their depredations. 

They offered nothing in the way of a defense.  Although they did loudly complain about how I had fired them for incompetence.  Normally providing a motive for the crime you’re being accused of is a very risky legal move but I suppose since they were caught in the act there wasn’t must to be gained or lost no matter what they did.  I told the gathered assembly how I had dismissed them from my employ on account of their incompetence and drunkenness respectively and a tribunal was quickly assembled of the three leaders – the mercenary captain Blick Rissa, Stor Hairtail most senior Strider person based on whatever dumb system they use (most worn boots probably) and Pittacus Peatmoss the guy claiming to be a merchant who was clearly a bandit lord.  

They quickly decided that the defendants were guilty and the sentence would be death – carried out immediately.  Swift and arbitrary justice is much more enjoyable when you’re not on the sharp end of it.  I thought about asking for some manner of lenience for Wine since he’s more of an easy suggestible doormat than a stone cold killer, but what would be the point?  He’s the drunkest drunk I’ve ever encountered and I’ve encountered a few.  How he’s still alive I don’t know.  There was some talk about holding Kallgale responsible as well since they were in her employ but I put in a good word for her.  She was exiled from the camp but that’s fine since she’s coming with me to Graltontown anyway. 

There’s nothing like three men being decapitated before breakfast to start the day off with a bang. 

For some strange reason in the morning the rest of Kellgale’s hired swords decided they didn’t want to be around her anymore and made themselves scare.  Therefore it was just the two of us girls heading south full of light and promise and other good female stuff.  Late in the morning the stench of Graltontown came wafting northwards.  A couple of hours later the crouching toad of a town came into view.  Even from miles away it was clear that fustulent and brawling Graltontown was much changed since last I was there.  It seemed to have doubled in size and somehow gotten even shabbier and sadder.  I would liken it to an aged sow that somehow managed to become pregnant well past the day it should have been slaughtered out of pure mercy.  I suppose several thousands of soldiers passing through both ways along with all their hanger’s on will do that do you. 

Kellgale perked up enough to comment “What a shithole.” 

I snorted “What do you think it was before?” 

“Good point.” 

It’s hard to say at what point we actually entered the town, at one moment we were amongst a shanty town of tents and the next we were in amongst the glory and beauty of what has to be one of the worst cities in the Kingdom.  Aside from the population explosion (despite doubling in size it seems to have quadrupled in smelly morons) two other things were immediately evident.  Like in Cathars there were paintings of the Queen on the walls of many buildings.  There weren’t nearly as many but they were generally all of good quality, surprisingly.  Even more surprising though was that along with portraits of the queen were many paintings of none other than little Elth Belker herself.  She never looked so fine in real life as in those depictions but you have to make allowance for artistic license I suppose.   

The other interesting thing is the dozens of worgs we saw stalking through the streets.  Crowded though the streets were the beasts were given a wide berth – people flowed around them like fish around a shark.  A few of them were mounted by uniformed Shirelings like we saw before out on the plains but most of them were free and unencumbered.  I don’t know if they’re supplementing the town guard or supplanting them but they were doing more to keep people in line than that pack of lazy imbecilic fatheads ever did.  I saw a pickpocket get his hand snapped off to a bloody stump right there in the market.  Justice as swift and merciless as I saw that morning.   

Kellgale and I made our way to the Cardshire Arms – the place was hopping.  Mr. Conrad has really done well for himself with the influx of travelers.  The harried fellow at the desk told me that they had no rooms available and that none would be coming available.  I told him that I was old friends with the owner which seemed to really throw him off his game.

“You’re friends with Mister Moribond?”

“Who’s Moribond?  I thought Claire Conrad owned this place.”

“He sold the Cardshire Arms to Mister Moribond six months ago.” He tossed over his shoulder as he scurried off.

“Oh well, no matter, we’ll find him somewhere” I told Kellgale as we elbowed our way to a table.

We sat down ordered some food and drink and I started telling her about the many people in town we needed to take revenge on.  The many, many people.  I really had a hair trigger for putting people on the List back in those days.  I’ll forgive myself though because it was early on, I was still pretty angry about being drugged and left for dead in a provincial backwater.  Kellgale seemed to start coming alive a little as we discussed what contacts she still had in town and what kind of schemes we could get cooking.  Things were going well until I realized that the town watch – the normal town watch not the wolf monsters – had come in and were looming over us.

“Good evening gentlemen what can we do for you?”

The leader had that gruff voice that they must teach in watchman school “You’re wanted by Lady Cornelio.”

I put a hand to my chest “Little old me?  Tell me is ‘Lady’ Cronelio the broad who’s face is plastered all over the city next to the Queens’?  Has the country girl I knew by the name of Belker social climbed that high?”

He didn’t care for that.

Not.

One.

Bit.

Montresor 15 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

In retrospect I’ve given Peronel too much credit when it comes to not hesitating to employ swift and blinding violence.  With his magic as back-up I think he had enough men to take out the Ardint city watch.  I’m pretty sure that was the entire city watch since last time I was here they didn’t even have one.  He could have killed all the law men in Arindt and then taken over the entire town – which you may remember as the plot of the Eight Cavaliers.  I enjoyed that book but I think people give it too much credit for having one of the “cavaliers” character be Kostelos. 

First of all that character gets very little attention and undergoes no development of growth throughout the story, and secondly the character also in no way presents a shred of authenticity about the Kostelos experience.  IF anything what it really represents is the same stereotype of the subservient mystic barbarian who helps out the very people who are destroying his way of life.  But more importantly, even if that character was well done and a good representation of the Kostelos people who cares?  How does that help anything?  Kostelos don’t read and if they did why would they give a shit?  Having a character in a book doesn’t give them their land back.  Nor give them any status in the Kingdom.  Nor make them be alive again. 

But they’re dirty barbarians anyway so screw them.  Peronell missed his chance (maybe being a drug dealer doesn’t mean you’re willing to engage in mass slaughter of the legal authorities and the flouting of the King’s sovereignty) and we were all taken into custody.  I figured that would be fine since the mayor and I are old chums but he didn’t seem to be around.  Instead there was some pinch-faced magistrate that looked like a schoolmarm (gender aside) who seemed to be in charge of the situation.  Whatever they were going to do it seemed like it was going to take a long time so in the confusion I changed appearance (Peronell’s anti-changing magic seemed to have worn off) and walked away from that mess.  Just to be on the safe side I snuck (sauntered really) out of town and slept under a hedge like a dirty knight errant.

That’s two times now (or three depending on how you account for it) that Peronell has managed to avoid being revenged upon by me.  It’s starting to get annoying.  Maybe he’ll get hung and I won’t need to worry about it.  Once upon a time I was very strict that I had to be the one that took care of people on my list.  I’m not so worried about that now, with some of them at least.  There are just so many people that I need revenge against and I can’t be revenging all day you know?  Maybe I should make two columns on the list – a premium tier of people who I need to destroy personally and a lower level of miscreants who need to come to a bad end but it doesn’t necessarily need to be at my hand.  Then I can start contracting out some of the lesser revenge jobs.  Revenger smarter not harder.

Traveling the road to Graltontown there was nothing much going on and I was feeling a bit blue so I entertained myself with one of my old games.  As I was traveling I would take on a different appearance and persona with each fellow traveler I came across.  A group of young fellows were out running the road, training for a long distance competition of some kind, I talked their ear off as Lemiel the stuttering ratcatcher.  Buckleuck a greedy witch hunter came across a scruffy priest of Strider and a few acolytes.   They claimed to be roaming the the land helping those in need but you and I really know how those Strider people really are.   Buckleuck regaled them with grisly tales of witches and the terrible fates of their victims while bragging about his victories over such demonic enemies. 

A veteran back from the front on the way to visit the family farmstead got into a blistering row with Leoet Violetteus a nobleman disowned for his drunkardness – and if you know anything about nobles you have to be fantastically drunkardly to get disowned for that.  I was in my own form when I came across a skinny fellow drawing the scenery.  I accused him of being a Vielander spy and he ran away.  So I must have been right.  When I was tired I sat down on the ground with nary a comfort to be had, retrieved some rations from my Greatcoat pocket and chewed on the vile “food” and felt sorry for myself.  You can’t indulge in that too much or you become melancholy and gross but it’s okay every now and then. 

Emotions need to be stuffed deep down inside where they can’t interfere with your decision making but every now and then you need to trot them out and give them some air otherwise they fester and grow like things that live in caves.  Mushrooms?  Some like that.  Mold maybe.  You need to drag them up into the sunlight every now and examine them to make sure that they’re not undermining your tower of self-control.  Emotions hidden TOO well have a way of insinuating themselves into your mind all sneaky like and making you react in unproductive and unpredictable ways. Not giving your feelings a good kick occasionally can impact your ability to make reasonable, thoughtful decisions.

Think about someone who know who’s a real disaster (if you can’t think of anyone it’s probably you). That person is at the mercy of their emotions. They feel abnormal, weird and avoid sharing them. They feel lost and don’t know how to pull themselves out of their misery.  Feeling sorry for yourself can be helpful, just don’t go overboard with that bullshit right? 

It’s okay to moan and groan and think that the whole world is against you. Just be mindful that you’re doing it, and teach it who the boss is. You can cry and whine for about twenty minutes and then you’re done.  If you do feeling lousy right it can be quite cathartic and energizing. But the path to change and feeling better is action, feel crappy for a little while and then get over it and crack on.

This ends Ela’s book corner and self-actualizing workshop.  Fifty gold please.  No refunds.

Montresor 10 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

What kind of name is Saltwheel anyway?  I feel like I heard of an ocean-going paddlewheel ship one time but if one of this guy’s ancestors invented it, and it was a noteworthy invention, why aren’t they all over the place?  In what other context would a wheel be salty?  Can you make a waterwheel on the ocean shore?  What would be the point of that?  All barons are bad, but is Saltwheel worse than other baron?  All he did was lock me in a bedroom which is a pretty feeble response to my defiance.  Maybe he had more convincing inducements to come but I wasn’t going to stick around to find out. 

With my Boots I was out the window and up the side of the wall before you could get a knife from the barn.  It’s an expression.  The next window I climbed in just so happened to be that of the good Baroness Saltwheel.  Given the late hour she was abed and the room was dark so she was little more than a lump and a mass of curly brown hair on a pillow to my eyes.  Taking on the form of the Baron (in what I imagine are Baronial pajamas) I slipped slyly into bed aside her.  She made a noiseless not awake noise (it makes sense!) and rubbed her feet together as I snuggled up to her and started favoring her with manly baronial caressing.  Eventually she rolled over sleepily and our lips met, filled with Baronial passion.

That’s when I changed forms again to that of one of the snakemen (or snakewomen) that had hauled me here.  At first the Baroness’s lips puckered like when you bite into a bad spot on a mango.  Then her eyes fluttered open and even in the dim light she knew something was wrong.  Mainly that she was smooching on a lipless snake-face.  I flicked out my borrowed snake-tongue.

“What’s wrong baby?  Your husband said you would be down for this.”

I tell you this much, that woman can scream, my ears were still ringing several hours later.  I slithered back out the window and down to the lawn where I took up the appearance of the Baron again.  I started shouting for men under arms to attend me and then rushed them over to the outbuilding where the adventuresome four we housed – explaining to them all how my ladywife had been assaulted in my very own matrimonial bed!  They were in no mood for shenanigans by the time they broke the door down and adventurers being adventurers the fighting started instantly.  There’s not much they don’t react to with deadly force. 

Once things were well under way I climbed back into my locked room to watch and listen to the chaos and shouting and people rushing about with torches.  In the melee one of the buildings was set on fire – it’s a classic move.  When you’re not sure what to do burn some shit down.  I saw both snake people dragged dead into the middle of the courtyard.  I saw the former knight Harweal angrily challenging the Baron to a duel and when the Baron laughed in his face I saw the former knight Harweal cut down six soldiers before he was impaled through the leg from behind by a spearman and captured.  I saw no sign of the one eared woman.  She must have escaped. 

As I watched this deadly scene play out I wondered what is the appropriate revenge for the Baron.  Merely denying him his necklace seems too thin.  But I can’t go around killing everyone on the list can I?  It just doesn’t seem very elegant, there has to be some more creative revenges I can come up with right?  The problem is I simply don’t have the time.  What I should do is spy on him for a few weeks and find out what he really cares about and then hit him there.  But I don’t want to hang around here for a few weeks.  Not at all.  No one ever told me this revenge business would be so mentally taxing.  Maybe I should get in touch with Kralten the god of revenge, if nothing else he has to have some good ideas about different forms of revenge.  Although all of the Kralten people I’ve meet have been very boring – they were all about murder.  Maybe I just don’t encounter the subtle ones.

I decided to sleep on it, wondering if with all the excitement in the night I would be forgotten about in the morning.  I was not.  Before dawn I was rousted and after an insulting short amount of time allowed to make myself presentable was escorted back to the Baron’s study.  As sickly as he looks normally it was hard to tell that he was haggard and sleep deprived as well but the signs were there.  After some obligatory nonsense he apologized for the commotion, which I obligingly and lying said I hadn’t noticed, and he again restated his insistence that give him the necklace.  I gave a pretty speech about how because of the commotion, which of course I didn’t notice, I would relent and give him the necklace.  I produced instead the very nice silver and moonstone number I’ve had for a while.

His face was impressively impassive “That is a fine piece my lady, but sadly it is not the necklace I’m after.” He sighed “It seems those vondrooks have betrayed me in more ways than one.  I should have known better than to place my trust in a disgrace like Harweal, he was once such a loyal knight, it’s such a pity how base he’s become.”

I tucked the necklace back away “Good help is so hard to find My Lord.”

He started to say something and then stopped, giving me a quizzical look “What are you doing?”

“Pardon me My Lord?”

“Your skin appears to be glowing, stop that at once!” 

I looked down and saw the tattoos of Hadar blazing through my clothing “Oh shit!” I jabbed my finger in Baron Saltwheel’s face “Are you an abomination from beyond the stars?  You have to tell me if you are!  That’s the law!”

The door flew open as if from a stout kick and in lurched/hopped/galumphed a nude man.  An unexpected nude man is bad enough, but this fellow’s surprising appearance was made all the less welcome by the fact that he had a massive growth on his left shoulder.  Have you seen a hunchback?  It was like that only instead of the back it was on the side.  At first you think that’s the head but then you’re like “oh no, that smaller thing next to it is the head”.  That head wasn’t doing him and favors either.  Have you ever seen someone who was fat and then lost a bunch of weight and was left with a big flap of loose skin around the belly?  It was like that only on the head – he had a face it just wasn’t attached to the skull, it was hanging loose a good foot to the south.  Did I mention that he had three arms?  I mean the additional arm on the right side wasn’t much of an arm, but it was still there.  That’s one more arm than most people no matter its quality. The axe clenched in its two right hands with blood and chunks of hair on it was possibly the least disturbing thing about him. 

“Blllaaaaaaaargheseshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

That’s what it “said” by way of introduction while I dodged and ducked and scrabbled and slid out of the way of the swinging axe.  The Baron, to some credit, did draw his pussified courtier’s sword and make one attempt at a strike before trying to use me as a human shield – which was annoying because I was trying to go out the window and he was holding me back.  We stumbled into the mutant freak and I managed to pin the axe between our attacker and the Baron.  The “man’s” clacking teeth were trying to bite the Baron through a veil of its own droopy skin.  I wish I never saw that.  I managed to maneuver/stagger us to the window and we all fell through. 

The mutated axman hit the ground and bounced up like it was nothing.  I don’t know why exactly but I kept one hand on the Baron’s belt as I stuck to the wall with the rest of my limbs.  This turned out to be one of my less good ideas as my shoulder was torn out of its socket.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH FUCK!”

That’s what I said when I let go of him on account of the agonizing pain.  Which seems like a pretty good reason to let go of someone if you ask me.  The Baron caught me around the waist, squeezing the life out of me and nearly yanking me off the wall with his extra weight.

“Climb you scar-faced whore!”

Those were his words of encouragement as we dangled precariously on the side of the building.  I would have shaken him off if I could but there was no way.  Here’s the fun thing about these Boots, they only allow me to climb and cling like a spider about a minute.  So as much as it hurt I had to climb as quickly as I could.  Which was not very quickly.  It was only about ten feet to the roof but it took a good thirty seconds.  Once I was within grasp the fucking Baron started climbing over me to get to the roof himself.  I tried to grab his foot and shake him off but he stepped directly on my face.  I managed to haul myself over the side where I immediately clutched my mangled arm to my chest.

“I’ll assume that’s your way of thanking me for saving your fucking life!”

I don’t think he even heard me.  He was standing on the edge of the building, jaw gaping open, staring down.  I took a drink from my Flask to heal my shoulder, and another to calm my nerves and then sat up to see what he was gaping at.  It was certainly gapeworthy.  It was like the chaos of the previous night multiplied by a factor of seventeen.  A mob of stark nude people, both normal and those with ghastly mutations, covered with mud and bearing various forms of ram-head staves and sticks were attacking the complex, viciously hacking and tearing at the Baron’s staff.  I saw with them a black goat as large as an elk with horns that glinted razor-sharp.  Among them I saw a bloated flabby winged creature with elements of ant and bat on a human frame.  I saw several heavily armored men and women with a triple headed goat symbol on their shields.  I saw a savage minotaur dressed in the clothing of a civilized man while humans ran and ravened like beasts.  Directing the chaos was a robed man with curling horns and on his shoulder clung the rat-beast I saw the day before – whispering into his ear with its filthy humanish face.   

I gave the Baron a ‘wake up’ shove as I retrieved my crossbow “Snap out of chief, the day has taken a real turn here for both of us, it’s time to either get to fighting to getting the Hells out of here.  I know which one I vote for.”

His mouth moved wordlessly for a moment before he could speak “What do we do?”

“Run for our fucking lives.”

“How?”

“A distraction would be helpful.”

“What kind of distraction.”

“Something like this.”

I shoved him off the roof into the waiting clutches of the . . . whatever these people are.  Cultist of some kind I assume.  It’s always Gods damned cultists.  Half the world must be in some cult or other just waiting for the signal to start killing everyone.  As he toppled over the side his cane flew out of his hand directly into mind as if he was tossing it to me.  The hordes below fell upon him like squealing hogs chasing after corn.  I saw the minotaur and the horned man gazing at me calmly.  Even the little rat-beast turned its eyes on me.  I fired at them with my crossbow but the bolt was blown aside by a gust of wind – they didn’t even flinch.

I took a deep breath, climbed down the opposite side of the building, managed to fight my way free and ran until my tattoos stopped glowing.  And then I ran some more.  I always thought “run yourself ragged” was just an expression.  It isn’t.  I guess death will have to do for the Baron after all. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,940 platinum, 27,309 gold

XP: 1,297,951

Inventory: +3 Thundering Distance Light Crossbow, Ela’s Fashionable Belt, Cerulean Sign Tattoo, Hat of Effortless Style, Ela’s Wonderful Flask, Ela’s Dazzling Garment,  Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, Ela’s Stately Greatcoat, Ring of Eloquence, Cheating Gloves, Clothier’s Closet Rod, Singer’s Stole, Saltwheel’s Cane 

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 (631), 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, diamond and pearl lover’s knot tiara,  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, cruddy gold necklace

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