Myam 1 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) – Part 3

There was enough left of the frame for a very large loom (I didn’t know they came that big, it took up half the bottom floor) that I was able to precariously clamber on it through the hole I had made and up to what was left of the second floor.  I had the vague notion of trying to travel from rooftop to rooftop to stay above the fray and get to safety despite the fact that I’m neither much of a climber or leaper.  Maybe I should travel with some acrobats for a while and learn their ways.  Of course then I’d have to be around circus folk. 

Pulling myself awkwardly through the hole in the floor/ceiling I found myself in a small bedroom where a woman was smoking flayleaf and looking out the remaining window at the chaos outside.  Her appearance was that of a shapely young woman in her early thirties with sparkling green eyes but I’ve gotten good enough at seeing through illusions that I wasn’t taken in by that.  The real woman underneath was pushing hard on fifty and was heavyset with the face of a longshoreman and a sprinkling of facial hair.  She glanced back when she heard me speak but seemed utterly unconcerned.

“You must be a Hells of a seamstress to be able to afford magic disguises.”

“I’m not a seamstress, I make rugs for rich people.”

“Is that why your loom is so massive?  I’ve seen ships smaller than that thing.”

“Seen a lot of looms have you?  Part of the reason is that it’s for rugs, but they’re just a lot bigger now – some new technology.  It used to be that you couldn’t weave anything bigger than the span of your arms.  With this apparatus you hold a stick attached by cords at both ends of the shed. With a flick the wrist, one cord is pulled and the shuttle is propelled through the shed to the other end, a flick in the opposite direction and the shuttle is propelled back.  It’s like magic, boring, boring magic.  I suppose the man who invented it is rich now.”

“The man who invented it is probably in an unmarked grave somewhere, the guy who was already rich and stole the idea after his goons killed the guy who invented it is probably a little richer than before.  You mind if I get a drag off that?”

“Yes, I don’t like sharing my smoke – that’s like kissing on the mouth – but there’s plenty more in the drawer over there.  Help yourself.”

I went over the single chest of drawers in the room (I think there was another but it fell in the hole and possibly lodged in my armpit temporarily) and rifled through until I found what had to be a solid three pounds of flayleaf in a waxy feeling bag.  Despite my nimble fingers I’ve never been good at rolling my own leaf but I managed.

“Can I get a light off you or is that also too intimate?”

Apparently it was because she flipped me a tindertwig instead.  A single puff starting calming my nerves immediately– before the drug could even take effect.  Which means that it was purely psychological.  Which means that my mind could have given me that same feeling at any time.  Once again the brain is a withholding asshole.  I came to stand beside her at the window watching a group of Adarielite acolytes struggling to try to upturn a sideways carriage under the watchful eye of a crossbowman.  You could faintly hear someone inside the carriage shouting hoarsely. 

“Did you know that flayleaf plants are almost always infested with an aggressive kind of spider?  Dozens of laborers each year are killed by swarms of flayleaf spiders.”

“No, but that doesn’t surprise me.  The people doing the work are always being killed by something or other.”

“So you can afford illusions, huge bags of drugs, and alchemical doodads?  Are rugs that lucrative?”

“The amulet was a gift, but yes, the rugs I make are that lucrative.”

“Is this what you looked like when you were younger or merely a random image?”

She snorted “I never had a figure like this, or skin this smooth.  I remember my old da telling me when I was twelve he was going to have to show me how to shave.”

“What an asshole.”

She shrugged “He wasn’t so bad, a lot of people have had worse.”

I nodded “It can always be worse.”

“This is just a woman from Narhold that I remember seeing around when I was a kid.  She may not have even looked like this, this is just what I remember.  All the men around thought she was a real beauty.”

“What happened to her?  Was she promised to marry her one true love but then some rich lord came to take her for his mistress?  Or did an ankheg chew her face off?”

She gave me a sidelong glance “No, she just moved away.”

Outside, a few blocks away on the other side of a building we should see that there was a bright flash, followed by a strange whistling noise and then dozens of shouts of pain.

“It’s really kind of a miracle that there are any cities and towns left in the Kingdom.  Just in the past few months I feel like this is the fourth or fifth community that I’ve seen being torn apart.”

“How many of them were utterly wiped off the map though?  People will rebuild.  And if not they’ll form a new town.  As long as there’s people there’s going to be settlements and there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of new people.”

“You have any kids?”

“Two daughters.  They both got married and had kids of their own years ago.  Don’t hear from them much.”

“Some manner of falling out?  Did you not approve of their spouses?  Did they convert to a weird religion?”

“Nothing so dramatic, it’s just hard to keep in touch.  Never learned to read so we can’t correspond with letters and such like your people.”

“Who are my people?”

“With that hat you’re wearing?  Upper crust people.”

“Sure, I’m as upper crust as they get.  You mind if I cross class boundaries and ride out this scenario here with you?”

“Why here?”

“Seems as good a place as any other.  The stairs are wrecked so I don’t think anyone can get up here unless they really want to.  Plus I’m already here which is a real selling point based on what’s going on down there.”

“Why are you here?  Are you the one that crashed through my roof?”

“No, that was someone else, I was running from a rape-gang and I saw that your door was open so I ran in and then up here.”

“Oh yeah, you got to watch out for the rape-gangs.”

For a good long while we stood watching the carnage out the window and not saying much, what else was there to do?  The streets would empty out for a while and then people would come surging back.  This may have started as a simple brawl between laborers but it had become something else.  Everyone has some kind of score they want to settle, some person they want to get at, some crime they want to commit – it was anarchy in the truest form.  Sometimes we saw guardsmen marching by in lockstep.  Other times we saw men in guard uniforms joining in the looting. 

Eventually we heard the sounds of rummaging below.  My host didn’t seem concerned and stayed at the window but I went to check out the hole.  I saw a man with long greasy hair in chainmail and a tattered grey cloak with the sigil of Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company on the back trying to climb what was left of the stairwell.  I retrieved my crossbow and waited at the edge, once he was almost to the top I moved forward and reveled myself – the point of a crossbow bolt maybe six inches from his face.  A very surprised face.

“I think that’s far enough.”

“Don’t shoot, I’m not one of them!”

“One of who?”

“I’m not . . . I’m not . . . I’m not anyone.  I’m not on either side.”

“Either side of what?”

I heard the voice of the rugmaker behind me “Oh, let him up.”

“Why?”

“Because I said so.”

“So what?”

“I guess you’re the one with the crossbow, do whatever you want.”

The man’s voice was strained “Can you make up your mind?  I can’t hold on for long.”

I gestured with the crossbow “Down.”

His voice turned desperate “But I . . .”

“Don’t make me boot you in the face.”

He slid/fell down the remains of the stairwell into the wreckage below.  Getting a better look at him I thought that he might be some manner of mongrel Northman mixed with southern blood.  He was one of those sorts who was almost handsome, looked like maybe they were supposed to be handsome, but the effect was ruined by an aura of sliminess.  There’s a certain type that can pull of handsome and slimy but he wasn’t it.  He glanced around nervously.

“Look, I get it, things are bad so it pays to be cautious, but I’d really like your help.”

“You’ve got a sword on your hip and a crossbow under your cloak, what do you need us for?”

“Doesn’t do much good when you’re alone against a mob.  Plus truth be told I’m not much of a fighter.  What can I do to get you to let me up there?  People call me Smiling Sperry, what’s your name?”

“They call you that on purpose?”

He scowled “There’s no reason to be nasty.”

“I disagree, I think this is the exact situation in which being nasty is the order of the day.”

He moved around and if he was trying to see what was behind me “I heard another voice up there, is this your place or someone else’s?”

“I’m not sure that it matters, in times of civil unrest I don’t know that property rights mean much – or any rights really.  It’s the law of the jungle.”

A hard look came in his eyes “Are you saying that you’d really shoot me?”

“Try me.”

He held his hands up “Look, we got off on the wrong foot here, I . . .”

“Why are you wearing that cloak?”

“What?  My cloak?  What about it?”

“I thought Królewna & Bonifacja were bankrupt.  Do you work for them?”

“I used to.  I got fired before whatever happened to them happened.  No reason to get rid of a perfectly good cloak though.”

“What did you do for them?”

“I was a translator and an agent.  I brokered deals and talked to people, I’m good with people.  I mean normally I am, clearly you haven’t taken a liking to me.  I speak eight different languages.”

I switched to Kostelos “Why did you get fired?”

He frowned “What?  I don’t know that language.  That doesn’t even sound familiar to me.”

I switched to Northern “How about this?”

“That sounds like Northern, I don’t speak that either, I . . .”

“You don’t seem like much of a translator to me.  I asked why you got fired.”

He shook his head “It’s complicated . . . political, you wouldn’t understand.” He smiled  “Did you work for them too?  Because maybe . . .”

“No I don’t work for them, they tried to have me killed.  They did kill my friends.”

His face fell “Oh . . . well I can assure you that I never had any dealings like that.”

“Sure, that’s why you’re both armed and armored.”

“That came later, it’s a dangerous world when you’re on your own.  I hear someone coming down the streets will you please let me up?  I’ll do whatever you want.”

“Okay, you can come up if you leave your sword and crossbow down there.”

“But then I’ll be defenseless!  And if I leave them down here someone will grab them.  If you let me . . .”

“You know what I’ve noticed, people will say that they’ll do anything and then the first thing you suggest they balk at.  I’m starting to wonder if I don’t know what ANYthing means.  It seems simple enough – like it’s just the word any and the word thing put together I thought, but clearly there’s some nuance that I’m missing.” 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 50,874 gold

XP: 523,101

Inventory:  Noble’s outfit, Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Field Scrivener’s Desk, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Surcoat of the Night Wind, Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, Ring of Invisibility, sunrod (4) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, dreamtime tea, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), Masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring, Everwake Amulet

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 

Myam 1 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) – Part 2

The problem with confronting a mob is that the best way to address them is take up a position exactly where you don’t want to be if things go south.  That’s a weird expression.  The North is the place that sucks.  You should say that things “went north” when they go awry.  Anyway, with the power of my voice and my commanding presence I made my way through the crowd to the epicenter of the conflict.  Stone had been doing his best to try and cool the situation but his best wasn’t very good – I mean the guy’s a labor organizer not an orator, what do you want from him?  Being in the most dangerous spot did gave me a better look at the ringleaders of this confrontation.

I got the sense that the fellow in the old city watch uniform was the main instigator.  He had a chaotic mess of brown hair that was badly in need of a trim but it did nicely frame his lean, hard face – quite by accident I assume.  There’s a couple looks you see on the faces of people who once had a comfortable living and now are now guttertrash, the most common is a blank numbness, just not understanding to believing what happened to you.  The second most common is despair and utter hopelessness, knowing full well what’s come to pass and not being able to do anything about it.  But this fellow had the third and most rare – hatred sharpened on the twin stones of suffering and anguish.  A look of hunger that shouts out that this person is going to get it all back or die trying – or more likely make other people die trying.  Or really both probably. 

You rarely see a half-orc with facial hair but the second of the trio had big beefy sideburns that made his bald pate even more prominent.  He had a very long face for a half-orc, looked very marginally like an elf face only magnified to double the size.  He had little notches cut out of the tops of both his ears that were too similar to be battle-wounds, although what kind of adornment that is I have no idea.  The broken longsword he was waving around looked like it had once been a very fine weapon – the hilt was wrapped with some kind of exotic leather (manticore?) and was ornate enough that I wasn’t sure if it was a functional weapon or an ornamental deal.  He was backing the play of the fake watchman but the impression I got was that he didn’t really care about what was happening, he was just looking for a reason to get loud and try and intimidate people.  There are people out there that just want to pick a fight, they don’t really care with who.  Whom?  Who. 

The third member of the angry mob leadership committee looked even older once I got a good look at him.  As battered and scuffed up as his plate mail looked he himself looked even more abused by time.  He still had a goodly amount of wispy white hair but the lines on his face were so deep they were more like cracks in his flesh.  His eyes were so droopy I wasn’t even sure if they were open and his nose looked like it had been broken about a hundred times.  Based on how ancient his face was it was shocking to see him walking around at all let alone being draped in what I have to assume is sixty pounds of armor.  He must be one of those stout old guys who look like they could crumble to dust at any moment but are actually tough as an old tree stump.

I tried to address my questions to Tree Stump as he seemed the most reasonable, but Fake Guard jumped in to answer most of the time.  This mob had assembled because someone (I think we know who) was been spreading the rumor that what was being built here was temporary art installation to honor a Vieland diplomat who was going to be visited in a few weeks.  Which is a story so ludicrous that it’s absolutely going to gain some traction.  The beauty of that rumor is that the truth, that we’re building a demon-cage, is so implausible that you can’t use that to counteract the claims in question.  Instead I decided to try and go with the flow, saying that it was indeed an art installation but that it had nothing to do with dirty Vieland dogs and instead was dedicated to the new Queen.  What I hadn’t considered though is that most people are uncomfortable with the idea of a woman being in charge, even though she’s not really, so it backfired on me a little.  But instead of changing course I doubled down, playing up the fact that it was really about the Kingdom and the people rather than the queen herself.

Over the course of a solid twenty minutes I orally sparred with the three men and I say this without a hint of overestimation – I eviscerated them.  I could see the mob around them seeming to shrink before my eyes as all the wind went out of their sails.  I belittled them and made a mockery of their retorts.  I baited them into verbal traps and they stumbled into them headlong.  I appealed to the emotions of the crowd, I plucked at their heartstrings.  I had stories and tales that framed my overall message.  My reach was total, my tower secure, my cause noble, my power pure – they were eating out of my hands by the end.  I had that mob completely talked down.  And none of it meant shit when someone hurled a rock and smashed one of Stone’s leg breakers in the face.   Half an hour of work to defuse the situation all undone in one second.  It’s an unfair reminder that violence always wins.

In a heartbeat it was a full-scale melee as the mob attacked the workers and their handful of protectors.  I turned invisible but it hardly mattered – I was right in the thick of it.  My only goal was not to get knocked down and trampled and to get the Hells out of there but I still ended up getting shoved from behind and sent flying to the ground.  I realized that being invisible maybe wasn’t a benefit since there might be a few people who wouldn’t intentionally stomp on a woman if they could help it.  I ended the effect and scrambled to my feet in the midst of the whirling fists and shouting.  There isn’t much that really frightens me, I mean really and truly frightens me at the core – but one of those things is the idea of being trampled. 

Crowds are a part of city life.  You pass through them without even thinking about it – some part of your brain guides you through without even touching anyone.  There are even times when you join a crowd voluntarily – a public hanging, a victory parade, an entertainer – you press together in a weird kind of communion with strangers that transcends the fear of being touched.  But the transition from good natured civic smooshing to suffocating pressure occurs imperceptibly – you don’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late to escape.  Everything seems fine but then you feel pressure on all sides of your body.  You realize that you can’t raise your arms. You are pulled off your feet, and melded into a block of people. The crowd force squeezes the air out of your lungs, and you struggle to take another breath.

The crowd is like a living thing, but it’s one without thought.  It can’t be bargained with or bullied, you can’t talk your way around it.  It’s like a natural disaster – power being exerted without intelligence.  What can you do but hope that it doesn’t take you?  It’s all the anger and violence inside of people without any of the gates built up by morality or society or religion.  After all if two hundred people all step on a woman one time each who’s to blame?  “I just stepped on her once, I didn’t kill her – and only because someone else was pushing me.”  It’s the ultimate in deflected responsibility.  It’s the pure inverse of a victimless crime, it’s an offenderless crime.  Someone is dead and there’s no one to blame.

My initial strategy was to try and stay upright, protect my head and just go with the flow of the crowd.  But this resulted in my being pushed towards the center over and over so I adopted a new plan – take out your dagger and stab the shit out of anyone near you.  This was much more effective.  I managed to get clear of the press and catch my breath.  This whole process took maybe ninety seconds but it felt like forever and a day.  I thought that the good news was that it was just a relatively small number of people in a single clearing maybe a block wide, but then I looked down the street to the north and I saw a group of a dozen men pry a cobblestone from the ground and hurl it through the window of a shop – they went in through the shattered glass and drug a man and woman screaming out into the street where they started to beat and kick them.

I looked down the street to the west and saw a dwarf with a bloody head wound hurling a flask of alchemist’s fire into a market stall and setting it ablaze.  A riot is like a wildfire, it can spread quickly but this was something else – Lypara Emprenzo (if she’s behind this and it seems pretty likely that she is) had agents in place to fan the flames, people were waiting for this, they were ready, it was their chance to release their animal side.  I should know since I pulled the same trick in Graltontown.  Standing there, looking at danger on all sides, I couldn’t help but once again think how much going up against the bride of the Hells was like trying to defeat myself. 

I turned invisible again and waited for a moment to make a dash – ending up in an alley where I found a young woman in a maid’s dress clutching at a holy symbol of Adariel and whispering prayers as she cowered against the wall.  In the split-second after my invisibility faded but before I was deciding whether to ignore her or help her a four men came tumbling and falling into the alley as well – being driven forward by six guardsmen with big heavy shields side by side forming a wall.  They marched step by step forward, herding the four men before them like sheep. 

Trapped, one of the men turned and looked at us with wild eyes, dashing forward and yanking the praying women to the feet and holding her like a shield in front of him.  One of his fellows came at me to do the same and I stabbed him three times in the neck as the guards continued inexorable forward battering the other two men before them.  They praying woman screamed in terror as the man grabbed her by two handfuls of her dress and shoved her forward at the guards like she was a battering ram and not a ninety pound girl.  The shields of the guardsmen turned slightly to the side and through the narrow slits came the flash of spearpoints – skewering both the woman and the man holding her. They continued their slow steady movement forward, stabbing down the other two men with their spears as well and showing no sign of slowing or halting.

“What the fuck are you doing?!  Stop!”

I’m not sure if they didn’t hear me or didn’t care – they kept coming like a miniature spiked wall, a trap in some bad adventure novel.  I grabbed my Flask and activated it for a swig of magic – growing instantly to more than ten feet tall.  This even didn’t give them pause, at least until I reached over the shields and picked up one of the men like a child and hurled him back into the others, knocking them arms and legs akimbo.  With my new stature I was able to reach up the roof of the building to one side and pull myself up – but the roof immediately groaned with my increased weight.  Moving as slowly and carefully as I could I tried to crawl to and down the other side but the roof collapsed under me, sending me crashing into what I think was a textile shop of some kind – not only knocking the wind out of me but also piercing me with broken boards.  The worst part was that I was too large to get out the door so I had to stay there stuffed in like a leg in a stocking until the magic wore off.  By then the riot was in full swing.

I saw maids and servants dumping waste bins, meat trimmings, and chamber pots off the balcony of a building into the masses below who responded with a barrage of rocks and debris.  I saw two men grabbing giant bags out of a granary and ripping them open, spilling food out into the streets were people raced to fill their pockets, skirts, and whatever they could grab to fill with grain.  I saw women running screaming from a fancy building with a red tinted glass window attempting to cover their nakedness with bedsheets and mismatches pieces of clothing.  I saw a bloody and battered man sitting in the doorway of a looted building crying.  I saw a man on the roof of a building firing indiscriminately into the crowd below with a crossbow.  I saw a shirtless man with elaborate tattoos tying another man to a rope of other people already lashed together like a chain-gang.  I saw a sobbing man trying desperately to bandage the bleeding stomach of a woman in the back of a wagon.

“Well fuck.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 50,874 gold

XP: 523,101

Inventory:  Noble’s outfit, Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Field Scrivener’s Desk, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Surcoat of the Night Wind, Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, Ring of Invisibility, sunrod (4) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, dreamtime tea, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), Masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring, Everwake Amulet

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