Montresor 29 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

As you may recall I’ve had some pretty bad luck with the Lodge Forest.  Nearly being eaten by a wolf-monster is about the best thing that’s happened to me there.  My experience with the Skin-Taker Kostelos tribe is still number one on my list of worst experiences (that used to be a much smaller list).  I remember when I first came into these woods with Felix, and then later with Augrim – I was scared just to be in a forest like an ignorant peasant.  Those were the early days when my fears were simple – the world has taught me better now.  There’s so much more to be afraid of than you can ever imagine.  

That was before the war had come to the Lodge Woods.  The good news is that it seems like all the worgs are in Graltontown terrorizing the populace as part of the new police state they’ve got going there so we’re unlikely to encounter any out here.  I also assume that the warlike Kostelos bands (if not all of them) have either been killed in the fighting already or have gone to ground, so hopefully we won’t run into any of them either.  

That’s the good news.  The bad news is the bodies.  Some on the ground half-eaten by coyotes and crows and whatever is around, but mostly in the trees.  Some with bound hands and nooses around their necks like they were being hung in the market square.  Some sprawled and hanging recklessly by whatever limb could hold a rope – their bodies showing the wounds that killed them before they were set to dangling.  I saw Vielanders.  I saw Ulpinese.  I saw Kingdomers.  I saw Kostelos tribespeople.  I saw civilians of all stripes.  Most inexplicable of all I saw a group of Adarielite priestesses all strung up together.  They had the red and white stripes on the sleeves of their blue robes indicating that they’re battlefield healers.  

Adariel is worshipped in Vieland and Ulpine was well as the Kingdom.  Adarielites offer aid and healing to anyone who needs it.  They aren’t even dicks about it.  The church of Adariel is one of the few extra-kingdom organizations that is welcomed and accepted everywhere.  Even the Northmen don’t bother them much.  Why would anyone do this to them?  That’s like poisoning a well that you drink out of every day because you hate your neighbors.  Did the Vielanders kill them because they were helping the Kingdom forces?  Did “our” side kill them because they were offering aid to the enemy?  Without realizing it I had stopped to stare at the bodies – those blue robes hanging in the air looked like ghosts – causing Bolbec to bump into me.

“Where do they get al l rope?”

“What my lady?” He looked up at the bodies as if he hadn’t noticed “Oh, I couldn’t say my lady.”

One of the other guards, I think I heard someone say his name was Cavnas but that can’t be right, chimed in “Quartermaster always has rope My Lady, whoever is in charge of sending supplies always sends rope, endless coils of the stuff.  I don’t know what they think we’re going to do with it.  By the end of the campaign you’re wearing rags and a dead man’s boots, eating horsemeat but there’s always lots of rope.”

I gestured “Why?  Why do this?”

He shrugged “Its war My Lady.”

Finchley glared at his companion “Don’t call her that, she’s no more a lady than I am . . .”

“A soldier?” I finished for him.

He made a move towards me and Bolbec got in this way.

“You want to hit me Finchley?  Go for it, I’d like to see how that turns out.”

Cavnas snickered as Finchley stalked away.  It’s good to see that they know what he is as well as I do, better probably since they have to work with him.  The fourth member of our troupe doesn’t say much, doesn’t seem to do much either.  I’ve heard soldiers talking about these types – empty uniforms – they’re there but they’re not there.  There seems to be a surprisingly little amount of rancor towards them – as long as they’re not your commanding office no one seems to care about them.  

It’s hard to tell the time of day in the darkness of the tall trees, but it had to be afternoon when we came across a group in the process of decorating the trees with their grisly trophies.  It’s hard to say who they even were – they had on a mish-mash of pieces from different uniforms and armor.  One of them had the pussified sword of a Kingdom officer, another had the stupid swagger stick of a Vieland noble, still another looked like a Satander and they aren’t even involved in this conflict last I knew.  When we spotted them the Duke’s Guards all took cover, quickly getting off the road and into the trees before they could spot us back.

I did not do that.  I kept walking.  The first of them to spy me was a bearded fellow who had a furrow down his head where no hair would grow – looked like someone had hacked off part of his scalp in the past.  The looked vaguely like a Northman but his accent betrayed that he was a southerner putting on airs of being a Northman.  Why anyone would want to do that I don’t know.  He grinned as he saw me coming.

“Well, well, well, what do we have here?”

They always say that same thing.  It’s like they teach you that in some secret school.  Introduction to Menacing.  Make sure you terrorize your prey first before abusing them.  When he came towards me I surprised him by producing a short blade out of “nowhere”.  I surprised him even more by stabbing him through the knee – from the side you see, it’s very hard to stab through a kneecap.  At least it is for me.  If you’re stronger or have better technique with a blade maybe there’s a trick to it.  I crushed his windpipe with the hilt of a dagger to stop his bellowing and I twisted his head around so he was facing his friends.  They were pretty startled as well.  I wanted them to see when I started cutting parts of his face off.  

It was slippery work, if not for the gloves Bolbec had given me I would have sliced into my own fingers any number of times.  I’ll have to thank him for being so thoughtful later.  Most of his friends ran but you have to think about it from their point of view – one moment they’re laughing and drinking and rigging up ropes to people they raped and killed (not necessarily in that order) and then without warning their friend is getting his face hacked off.  That sort of mood whiplash can really throw you for a loop.  Don’t judge them too harshly for their cowardice, I’m sure they were just startled is all.   Plus they probably thought I was a witch of the woods or a fey creaturel.

To their credit two of his pals didn’t run away, they ran to save him instead.  One of them was a small fellow, people would have described him as “weaselly” or “rat-like” but that’s because people are lazy and apply that label to any short slender fellow.  I would say he looked more like an acrobat, very supple and smooth as he ran.  He grabbed up a two-handed battleax that looked about as big as him and came blustering forward like a berserker.  His buddy was a little more cautious.  He wasn’t a big fellow but he was broad and solid – I’d say he looked like a tree stump come to life.  He looked sturdy, like he could take a wallop and stand up to it pretty good.  He had a sap in one hand, which seems like a very curious weapon for an actual fight, and in his other paw he had what I thought at first was a dagger but I realized that it was a full blade made for a small person like a gnome.

I had no plan, I just wanted to hurt someone.  Because of what I saw that day for sure, but also because of my anger over my own personal setbacks.  I’ve come to accept these little lapses of my self-discipline.  I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to banish these occasional bouts reckless behavior that come on whenever I’ve been badly beaten (metaphorically, well, and literally too sometimes) but I’ve realized that this is just who I am.  The idea that I would never lose control and always keep my cool was based on my old life.  Nothing bad enough happened then to make me bubble over.  Now things are different.  I need to accept that and adjust.  Being level-headed all the time out here, in the blood and mud and madness of the world, it’s simply not feasible.  I just have to mitigate the worst of the risks I take in times like these.

As the two men came at me I reached for the crossbow I no longer had.  That was a wake-up caw of the morning rooster, reaching for something and having it not be there reminded me where I was and what I was doing.  I threw my dagger at the little guy and shoved the faceless bloody man at the wide guy and dashed away.  I probably would have died then but the Duke’s guards had rallied and charged forward at that same moment.  It would have been a pretty good tactic if we had done it on purpose.  Military people call that envelopment or something like that.    Once the fighting was over I was trying to wipe the blood off my gloves on a tree and not having much success.  Bolbec was starting at me like I was a raging wildfire coming his way.  Cavnas just looked confused.

“What were you doing?”

“Oh shit, they weren’t on our side were they?”

His confusion deepened “What?  No, they . . . why didn’t you hide?”

“We’re at war aren’t we?  Isn’t our mission to kill the enemy?”

Finchley laughed like that was a great joke.  I finally gave up on the tree and started wiping my gloves on the pants of a man hanging from a nearby tree.

“I don’t know about you fellows but I don’t relish sleeping out here and being exposed at night.  With all this fighting and turmoil there’s probably ghouls or fey bats or shadow hounds riled up stalking through the darkness looking for victims.  I know a guy who has a cottage not far from here, let’s drop in and see how he’s doing.  If he’s still alive in all this great, if not, hey, free cottage right?”

Mathanaya 29 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Martialla and I spent the night in one of the huts of the villagers up in the hills cleaning out the tomb/portal– I’m sure they would have wanted it that way had they known.  Countryfolk are practical, no reason to let a hut go to waste.  There was some chatter in the morning about how Tanara had apparently moved on already instead of staying for a while as he usually did, but they was mostly overshadowed by the pending convention with the hillfolk and the news about the portal in the hills.  As the delegation was gathering to traipse out to speak to the savage hill people I was not looking forward to the day.

“How about I head north and start tracking down this possessed dancer while you stay here and mediate, forging an alliance between these two groups of rabble?”

“Complex social dialogues aren’t my strong suit.”

“What are you good for then?”

“I’m pretty stealthful and athletic, I can open locks and disarm traps – which I’m pretty good at spotting as well.  I can do magic and I know which end of a sword to hold.  I’m a motivated self-starter and I learn quickly, I’m punctual and can handle a high-stress work environment, I’m passionate about the challenges you’re solving, I’m an organized problem solving hard worker and my weaknesses are that I care too much and I work too hard.”

“You forgot the bit about being good at multi-tasking.”

“How about you stay here and get yelled at and I’ll head up to Wrybry and find Belle.  What is she possessed by anyway?  The ghost of the dead guy or was the mandolin cursed or is there a demon in the mix or what?  Also why do you think she can even help?”

“The ghost said so, maybe.”

“Well, at least you have a good reason.”

In the end of course both of us were at the meeting place – a rock called the Maid’s Outpost because it looked like a table or something.  Why wouldn’t you call it The Table?  I have no idea.  The contingent from Heller’s Hills was the usual assortment of suspicious country types, but there was one fellow who seemed to be a bit sharper.  He was wearing expensive clothes (although they were covered in cat hair) and a fancy hat that cried out for attention.  More than the others he seemed to get that things had changed and the best thing to do was to direct the course of that change rather than fight against it.  On the hillfolk side it was usual assortment of “barbarian” types including two shamans who droned on endlessly about the “desecration” of the tomb, but there was a woman on their side who got with the program.  She was covered in tattoos of course, being the savage that she is, but she too figured out this was an avalanche coming down the hills and there was no use standing in the way. 

Even with a reasonable person on each side it took hours of hand holding from Martialla and me to get them to forge an alliance of sorts.  The hillfolk would be sending four of their not-best-but-pretty good fighters with us through the portal to see what was what.  Rum-Monkey the Awful and Bloodcat the Angry and other names like that, I wonder at what point in a society’s evolution they realize that they’ve had fifteen guys called the Terrible and just start using proper surnames.  Probably around the same time they decide to start pissing in pots I suppose.  Progress? 

Martialla and our four barbarous friends made the trek up the hill where at least the villagers had managed to move the four Ironholders out of the tomb and into the ruined temple, which has to be a better place to convalesce than a spiderhole full of magical radiation.   None of them were well enough to travel but they could talk and revealed themselves as one Lady Enoxia Nightdove, her seneschal, the captain of her personal guard, and a knight of her acquaintance.  So whatever the woman in the green dress is up to it clearly is directed at this Nightdove house, which I can almost forgive just based on the name alone.  Other than that they had nothing much to say other than to communicate a bunch of useless information about Ironhold. 

We continued our way up the trail to the tomb where it didn’t look like much progress had been made clearing out the harpy-dung and spider-webs.  I can’t really blame them for not being overly enthusiastic but that didn’t stop me from giving them a tongue-lashing regardless.  When you get the short end of the stick you got to just take it and wave it as hard as you can.  Or whatever it is you do with short sticks.  After admonishing the clean-up crew we proceeded on to the portal room.  Martialla suggested that we have someone who can sing the song on this side to close it up behind us but there’s no way I’m going to allow that.  I’m not getting trapped over there.  And if I’m dead then who cares what happens over here?  That’s logic that can’t be disputed.

I was wondering what it would feel like to pass through the portal, I figured most likely it would either be some horrible gut-wrenching experience or something with lights and weird colors like being on hallucinogens.  Turns out it was neither, it felt like nothing.  One moment we were in a weird magic tomb and the next we were in a very mundane storage basement. It was a bit of a letdown.  As Martialla had described outside there was a short hallway and a staircase, what she didn’t mention (or notice) was a small bedroom on the other side.  Not a bedroom, bedroom, it had more of a place to sleep when you need to lay low kind of vibe.  Heading upstairs the building was decent sized and was split – one half was set up for food preparation but it clearly wasn’t a restaurant.  Catering I guess?  The other half looked to be set up for bookbinding of all things.  Most curious.

There was no one around which was surprising, I was expecting the people on this side to be ready to murder anyone who came through.  That’s what I’d do if I lost control of the other end of my magic portal.  Martialla and I told the savages to stay and guard the place while we went out into the city.  It was marvelous to be back in a real honest to Gods city again.  Ironhold isn’t the jewel of the Kingdom by any means, but it’s a city.  The hustle, the bustle, the indifference, the poor air quality, the crushing income disparity, the liveliness, the cursing and shouting, all of it – I felt really animated for the first time in a long time.  I took a deep breath of the disgusting non-clean air. 

“Aaah, this brings me back.”

“So what?  We find out who owns the building?”

“Sure, sure, but first we enjoy what a proper city has to offer.”

What it had to offer in this case was Elysium Paradisio Spa and Wellness.  The cost was obscene and it was worth every copper.  Magically treated saltwater hot tubs, enchanted steam rooms with alchemically grown gum tree leafs, thermal mud treatment with soil from the elemental plane of earth, kraken skin body wraps, full immersion illusionary mindscapes, I could go on and on.  It was delectable and I felt eight months younger and a thousand times less beaten/stabbed/clawed/burned with magic when I walked out of there.  Martialla was somewhat less impressed.

“I didn’t know I had so many places mud could get in.”

“I’m sure you did you just never really thought about it.”

“So we head to the records office now?”

“How about we just ask the neighbors first?”

Next to the peculiar food and book making emporium was a shop that sold dinnerware and table accessories.  That’s all they sold.  This was not some bullshit general store with a few plates along with sacks of grain, lantern oil, women’s corsets, and post-hole diggers for sale – this was a store that exclusively sold dinnerware.  I love being back in a city!  The proprietor told us that all the buildings along this street were under the management of a fellow called Rebus, who was a retainer of the wealthy Cravington-Evensworth family. 

“Surely this can’t just be some rivalry between noble houses can it?”

“You tell me, you’re the expert.  Should we pop back across and ask Lady Duskhawk?”

“Nightdove, and yes, but first we need goons – and this is the kind of place where you find quality goons.”

You’re probably thinking that we went to a tavern and found some ruffians lying about waiting to be hired on.  Well you can go straight to the Thirteen Hells, each one of them, in order – you can skip number four though because what is that one even about?  We went to the very nice but understated offices of a “crisis consultant” who put us in touch with a fellow by the name of Shin who was the purser for a mercenary conglomerate.  An hour later we were having tea in a nice café with Shins and two agents representing one Blevin Stene, a mercenary captain.  We chatted, we laughed, we discussed the issues of the day, and an hour after we left we returned to the store with the magic portal with ten men at arms, their sergeant and their support staff. 

I halfway (three quarters maybe) expected that we’d find the hillfolk warriors slaughtered and hostile forces occupying the store but nothing had transpired.  The mercs didn’t ask why they were guarding a kitchen/bookbindery because they didn’t care, they were hired to do a job and they were doing it – questions are irrelevant.  That felt almost as good as the spa did.  No, wait, it was great but still not NEARLY as good.  I left Martialla in charge and crossed back through the portal, heading back to the ruined temple to discuss with Lady Nightdove.  Her family had some run-ins with the Cravington-Evensworth family over the years but she was shocked that they might be involved with her being tossed through a portal and fed to a spiderthing. 

Heading back down the hills and into Heller’s Hills I gathered the council of farmers and ranchers together for a little heart to heart.

“It’s time to start making some decisions folks.  The first thing I would suggest is you abandon this idea of everyone just doing whatever and it all works out and get yourself a leader – elect a mayor or do something to put someone in charge.  You need one voice here.  But regardless you need to start moving on this because I do not want to hang around here much longer and shepherd you through this.  You have a great opportunity here and you also have great chance to being ruined so you need to take the bull by the scrotum. 

This Lady Nightdove person seems decent enough so I would try and get something set up with her – I’ve got some people on the other side ready to do violence if that’s necessary, I would suggest that you set up a contract with them as well.  Whatever you do though you need to commit and see it through, no half-measures here folks.  When you decide to go, you go all the way, it’s like swimming across a river, when you’re in the water you just gotta go, turning back means that you drown.

But that’s all for you fine folks to decide.  What we need to talk about now is my payment.  I found the portal and I killed the monsters guarding it, and I went through and secured the other side.  This is going to bring unimaginable wealth to your community and I’m directly responsible.  Even if you scraped all the money in the town together and handed it over it would be nothing really.  So all I ask of you is that you remember me and what I did.  Because some day I’m going to come back, and when that happens I’m going to want my fair share.”

There was a mixed reaction to this, as there was to the presence of the portal at all, but the villagers did grant me by way of a down payment of sorts a magic holy symbol which once belonged to a priest that retired to the village.  They claimed he had been a vampire hunter.  What a ridiculous notion. 

_______________________________________________________________

Hair regrowth progress :  .0465%

Funds: 747 platinum, 69,176 gold

XP: 266,361

Inventory:  Wig of Alluring Charisma +4, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Pocketed Scarf, Wrist Sheath, Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Ring of Protection +2, Assortment of Fake Signet Rings,  Bag of Concealment,  Belt of Giant Strength +4, Versatile Vest, Ring of Sustenance, Silver Chain set with Moonstones, Gold and Emerald Ring (2) Black Marketers’ Bag, 852 Garnets, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow, Deck of Curses (two cards used), Blue Dragoncloth Dress, severed hag head, Ring of Urban Grace,  gold necklace with jade pendant, Feather Token (tree) , white squirrel fur slippers, +1 Human Bane Dagger, ivory combs, Bewitching Gown, masterwork lute, Grappling Scarf, Wyvern Skin Robe (Robe of Arcane Heritage), receipt, Bag of Holding, tax collector’s badge, seven string mandolin, Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Calastar (Superior Riding horse, Horseshoes of Speed, Endless Feedbag)   

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