Muthuselan 20 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 1

For some strange reason being kidnapped by bizarre hybrid fey beasts really had Stinty on edge – we walked in the dark through the forest for hours before he realized that I was following him and he was just walking without pay attention to where we were going.  Once we got started back in the right direction the sun was coming up by the time we got back to the campsite.  And then I had to spend a good hour talking him down – he was so jittery it seemed like he was going to fly apart.  I have a lot of tools in my bag of tricks, but the one that I dislike using the most is gently reassuring someone that everything is going to be okay.  It’s not hard, staying calm yourself is the lion’s share of calming someone else down.  Speak in short simple sentences, give them a lot of (undeserved) praise, ask them what they need, say things like “You can do this”, “stay with me”, “what you are feeling is frightening, but it is not dangerous” – crap like that.  So it[‘s easy but it sucks because it takes time and all you want to do is to tell the person to get the fuck over it and be an adult.  But that’s counterproductive. 

Once Stinty was “okay” I was going to lay down for some sleep, but instead it was time to head to the secondary location. This annoyed me because if he had been thinking we would have just gone straight there and then I would be asleep right now but I couldn’t say anything because they could get him all riled up again.  So instead of sweet, sweet sleep we were stomping through the forest again – it was good four hours before we got to the second campsite where Stella was waiting for us.  The relief on her face was obvious as we slogged towards her.

“Thank Gods, I was starting to think something had happened to you two.”

“I wasn’t expecting to see you until tonight.”

She blinked in surprise “I thought you were going to be here last night.”

“Well whatever, sounds like we had a miscommunication there.  Tell Stinty the plan, I’m going to sleep – we had a rough night.”

“What?  No, we need to go now – everything’s ready in town, we’re going to be late as it is.”

“Late for what?  If you have the decoy why do you even need us at all?  Wouldn’t it make more sense for us to stay out here while the broad with the mismatched eyes kills the guy?”

“You said that you wanted to be there, that you wanted to be part of it!”

“Oh right, I did say that.  Ugh . . . . . fuck.  Let’s go then I guess.  Did you at least bring horses?”

Stella gestured “Look around, do you see any trails here?  It wouldn’t be much of a hideout if there was a road for horses.”

I yawned, mouth gaping open like a commoner “Don’t be reasonable with me.”

And so sleepless, we set off again – with Stella herding us along at what seemed like an unreasonable pace.  What’s the rush?  Is the assassin going to leave down before he tries to kill me?  She kept going on and on about how important timing was but that makes no sense – the killer is waiting on us, it doesn’t matter when I show up.  If I hadn’t been so tired I would have eviscerated her argument’s ass off but I was so I didn’t.  I don’t know how Stinty was able to keep up better than me with his little legs but he did, which only served to irritate me further.  It was late afternoon when we moseyed into Beresford.  It seems like I’ve been here forever.  Why did I even come to this stinking burg anyway?  What am I doing here?  I was so caught up in my negative thoughts that I realized Stella had been talking for a while.

“ . . . and then what we’re going to do” she stopped in mid-sentence on account of the arrow that slammed into her chest. He stared down at it, and touched it with her hand as if trying to make sure it was real.  “I . . . I’ve been shot.”

I knocked her to the ground as another arrow flew by and then scrambled into an alley to get out of the line of fire.  I saw no sign of Stinty, he must already be in hiding, but what I did see is an archer on a rooftop, looked like a woman with one foot up on the eave as she drew back an very impressive looking longbow.  I grabbed my dagger and watched helplessly as Stella was trying to crawl for cover and the archer coolly shot her in the back several more times.  Stella stopped moving and it looked like the archer was going to continue shooting at her fallen body so I dashed across the street to draw her aim, if only for a second.  I dove behind a trough but it I was trying to hide behind it the short way and they didn’t work very well – I was hit in the leg and gazed on the scalp.  I heard Stinty shout “make yourself fucking small!” and then saw a stick of some kind trailing big plumes of smoke come flying end over end and land on the roof where the archer had taken up their position.

Stinty ran out of wherever he had been hiding and under the cover of smoke, I helped him drag Stella’s limp form into the alley.  He was about to say something when I saw a disruption in the swirling smoke along the roof of the adjacent building and suddenly there was an arrow protruding from his shoulder – or at least the vanes were – the rest of the arrow was buried in his body.  I’ve never seen an arrow go so deeply into someone.  Stinty fell sideways, slamming his head on the ground with a sickening thud as above the archer’s invisibility dissipated and she took aim at me. I threw my dagger at her, not even coming close, and then flared my cloak out to try and conceal myself as I ran for all the good it would do.  But the shot never came.  Suddenly the archer was hit by a crossbow bolt – right through the eye.  She stood for a moment and then pitched over the side, bouncing off the opposite wall with her legs and landing in a heap. 

I looked and saw Sergeyevna Kostornaia and three men standing on a roof a several blocks away.  She was holding her crossbow upright and had a smug smile on her face as her cronies patted her on the back and told her how great she was.  I headed their way.

“That was your fucking plan?!  What happened to the decoy?  What happened to controlling the situation?  Why were your men up there with you instead of down here?!  What the fuck were you doing?!”

It looked she was about to say something when all of a sudden she was pin cushioned with arrows across the upper chest and neck.  With looks of horror her men tried to hold her up and tend to her, but they were being pelted with arrows as well and looked panicked – except for one man wearing a bearskin of some kind who roared with anger and started leaping across from rooftop to rooftop.  Before I could process this turn of events a masked man in black robes appeared on a rooftop between me and the building Kostornaia was on with a nasty looking crossbow – shooting me directly in the sternum with enough force to knock me backwards and off my feet.  I crawled back into the alley as he reloaded, taking cover behind the lifeless form of the first assassin.  The rooftop crowssbowman sent a few shots into the back of the first assassin and then gave up to move to a better firing position.  I quickly rifled through the first assassin’s bag and found a potion which I drank blindly – and I found myself turning invisible.  I grabbed an arrow from her quiver and ran, having no idea how long I was going to be unseen. 

As the crossbowman moved around the edge of another building scanning for me I found a horse tied up, saddled and ready to go.  I mounted up and then stood up on the saddle, using the horse to leap and catch the edge of the roof – I’m not ashamed to admit it was a real struggle to pull myself up.  Still invisible I came up behind the crossbowman as he scanned the streets below and jammed the arrow into his neck – it must have been enchanted because his neck exploded like it had been hit by a ballista, showering me with gore.  Falling down in surprise, I narrowly missed being skewered by a barrage of arrows.  Sliding to the edge of the building for cover I saw the original assassin who started this whole mess turning invisible – still partially blurry as he jumped to an adjacent roof.

“Why is everyone else in the world so much better at jumping and climbing than me?” I said to no one. “And where is the fucking city watch?!  Why don’t they ever show up when I need them?”

I slithered careful to the body of assassin #2 and drank whatever potions he had – which healed my wounds but really I was hoping for more invisibility.  I dragged his heavy awkward looking crossbow into my hands and then activated my scrivener’s desk, hiding behind it and grabbing the vials of ink.  I heard a voice shouting from some distance away.

“Is that a writing desk?”

“Yeah.”

“Well how odd.”

“Any chance I could bribe you?”

“Sure, come out in the open and we’ll talk about it.”

Assuming that the assassin was moving into position to fire at me enfilade (maybe, I’m not one hundred percent sure what that word means) I draped my cloak on the desk to hopefully make it look like I was hiding under there.  I doubt it would have worked at all if not for the fact that I kept talking and threw up voice to make it sound like it was coming from under the desk as I crab-crawled into cover between it and the low wall of the roof.  A barrage of arrows shredded the cloak and slammed into the desk and I spied the archer on the very next building in the process of turning invisible again – I dashed up and hurled two pots of ink at him.  My aim wasn’t great, but enough spattered on him that I could tell where he was.  He fired another volley of arrows as I dove behind the other side of the desk.

“Very clever.  If all your friend weren’t dead already you’d probably have the advantage now.”

“How many arrows do you carry around?  Haven’t you shot like a hundred by now?  When are you going to run out?”

“Never.  I have a magic quiver that never runs out.”

“I used to have a crossbow like that.”

“What happened to it?”

“The watch took it.”

“Fucking watch.”

I threw my voice so it was coming from directly behind him “Tell me about it.”

At the sound of a voice behind him the archer spun around and fired at nothing and I popped up from behind the desk and shot him in the back before dropping back down.  I couldn’t see him well on account of he was just an ink-spattered outline but it didn’t seem like that one shot bothered him too much.

“Nice.  How do you do that with your voice?”

“I’m a mermaid that drank a potion to turn into a human.”

“To pursue your true love?”

“To pursue revenge on the pelican that ate my family.”

“What’s your next trick?”

“Trying to figure out how to reload this fucking crossbow.  What the Hells is this thing?  There’s like levers on here and shit.  I thought the whole idea of a crossbow was that it was supposed to be simple to use, unlike a longbow.”

“Well you know how people are, they only thing they like more than simplifying something is making it more complicate.”

“Do you normally talk this much when you’re trying to kill someone?”

“No, but this hasn’t been a normal job.  When that desk appeared I had to know who you were.  You’re a tough nut to crack, but I think you’re about out of time.”

“Eventually the watch has to show up right?”

“Not this time I’m afraid.”

He was right, I was pretty much out of tricks.  One thought kept going through my mind, if only I could turn invisible again – and then all of a sudden I was.  Turns out that wedding coat they gave me was more than just stylish, it had some magic in it as well.  I carefully walked to the edge of the building expecting to be shot down like a dog, but I saw the ink-outline moving methodically back and forth as if scanning for an opening.  I made a terrifying jump to a very close building and pulled a short blade out of my secret pocket.  From that building I made it to where the archer was and approaching with maximum caution, I came up from behind and slashed him across the back of the neck – then giving him a shove.  I have no doubt without having taken a vicious blow to the back of the neck he would have agilely flipped to the ground and landed like a cat, but as is, he tumbled headlong into the ground with a hideous crack.  I pulled a rope and hook from my pocket and awkwardly slid down the side of the building where I stabbed him a half dozen more times to be sure.   It was at this point that I saw a few city watchmen peeking around as if checking to see if the coast was clear.

“Good response time guys!  Real bang-up work!”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 79 gold

XP: 516,701

Inventory:  Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Field Scrivener’s Desk, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Surcoat of the Night Wind

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  

Muthuselan 17 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I’ve been told that it’s a myth that the smell of smoke will wake you up if there’s a fire and that in fact the smoke will dull your senses and make you fall into a deeper sleeper – the kind you don’t wake up from.  It may very well be true, all I can tell you is that I woke up this morning and I was instantly coughing and choking amidst a cloud of smoke.  No, not a cloud, more like a fog maybe?  Or a mist?  The point is there was smoke down there.  It was coming from under the door of the only exit, where I could see flames lapping underneath the door as well.  What’s the bottom of a door called?  The door jamb?  Or is the jamb the frame?  The point is there was fire flickering under the thing like the door itself was maybe on fire.

There are people that will tell you in an emergency situation you’ll get a surge of adrenaline that will make you strong and sharpen your decision making skills.  This is total horseshit.  There’s no superhuman strength, no clarity, almost invariably people make worse decisions under pressure because of course they do.  How many people do you know that can make a good decision when they have all the time in the world?  And you think these people are going to make better decisions when their life is on the line?  That dog won’t hunt monsignor. 

You may be saying “But Ela, why would our bodies do that if it wasn’t helpful?”  Clearly you don’t understand the relationship between us and our bodies.  Our bodies aren’t really on our side, they’re stuck with us and they have to make the best of it but they don’t like it.  Take the brain for instance.  It could make you feel good all the time.  But it doesn’t.  It only makes you feel good for short periods of times when very specific conditions have been met – and not even then half the time.  Because it’s an asshole. 

Why do I bring this up?  Because I want you to know that when I dragged the bed over to the other side of the room and propped it up on end and climbed onto it so I could reach the bottom of the staircase above and I smashed (pushed maybe honestly) one of the boards of the stairs (do those have a name?) out of its place and then wriggled through the gap I did that.  It wasn’t adrenaline, it wasn’t temporary super strength, it was me being smart enough and strong enough to save myself. 

As I was pulling myself through the small gap in the stairs (thank Gods I’m not one of those women with a comically outsized bust eh?) even through the smoke I was able to smell the stink of massive amounts of lamp oil and I saw that the common room was mostly engulfed in flames.  But that’s not terrifying enough.  Oh no, not for old Ela.  I couldn’t see well through the smoke and the shimmering of the heat from the flames, but what I could see was a vaguely humanoid shape in the fire.  And by in the fire I mean it was the fire.  Part of it at least.  It even looked like it might have been wearing a helmet.  This figure also appeared to be holding a sword made of flame which makes no sense on a lot of levels.  Why would you want a sword made out of what you are?  I wouldn’t want a sword made of skin and bones and muscle (insert cock joke here).  But even more than that what is the point of a sword made of fire? A flaming sword?  Sure, it burns you as it cuts.  But you can’t cut anything with a sword made of fire.  It’s just fire.  Think what you’re doing fire monster.

Retreating up the stairs into one of the rooms above my instinct was to run to the window, but I had to assume the sniper was out there waiting for just that.  I did my second bed-flip of the day (and of my life) to block the window, and then awkwardly pushed the bed out as a shield of sorts and jumped/fell down to the street.  My landing wasn’t bad honestly, but the bedframe cracked me on the head pretty good and I was stunned for a second.  In that second I was exposed and five arrows came screaming down at me.  I managed to duck down at the last instant but one of them passed completely through my ear and the other gazed the top of my head.  I didn’t even have a chance to see where the shots came from.  Trapped behind a bed pinned up against a burning building?  Not bad enough.  The archer started shooting through the bed – somewhat successfully, hitting me in the forearm.

What saved me, oddly enough, was the fire- monster bursting out of the tavern and into the street – emitting great plumes of smoke from its body that provided me with cover to run along the front of the building and then through the narrow alley to the north.  Before I knew what was what someone had grabbed me and tossed me into the back of wagon under a tarpaulin, I was about to start fighting free when I saw Stinty under there with me.  After a moment the wagon lurched forward.  The canvas covering us had an odd odor –like it was fishy but it wasn’t a fish smell.  If that makes sense.  Which it doesn’t.  It was dark but light enough that I could search out Stinty’s little eyes.

“Sorry about your place burning up.”

“Well it was only my life’s work, the product of decades of hard work, all my wealth, and the thing I wanted to do the rest of my life.  No big deal.”

 “Where is this wagon going?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t want to know in case the guy after you can read our minds.”

“That’s admirably insane.  Sitting here under a tarp, my ear filling with blood, I can’t help but wonder – where did things go wrong?”

“It’s pretty easy for me to pinpoint – it’s when you showed up.”

“That’s fair.”

Several hours later the wagon came to a halt and we crawled out from under the covering in what looked like a large building dedicated to turning fish guts into some kind of slurry – which is exactly as disgusting as you’d think.  Of the drivers there was no sign. 

“What’s the next move?  Are you still on the payroll or did you obligation end with your establishment?”

“I’m committed now, I have nothing else to lose and only your payday to look forward to.  That’s the mistake people seem to make a lot – if you want to discourage someone you shouldn’t take everything away from them, then they have nothing to do but seek revenge.  Just take most of their stuff and leave them something to cling to, much more effective.”

“You don’t have to tell me.”

“Archum and the lads are running around town being suspicious to hopefully draw the attention of any watchers, but we have to assume that someone was following the wagon just in case.  So we’re going to have to go through the tunnel.”

“And should I assume that this tunnel is a claustrophobic Hellshole filled with rotting fish slime that no one would ever want to go through even if their life was on the line?”

“You’re certainly clever, I give you that.”

The tunnel wasn’t actually so bad.  Don’t get me wrong, it was bad, but I’ve been in worse holes.  Come up with your own joke there.  Being the svelte and taut exemplar of womanhood that I am it was snug but not awful – I can see how a bulkier non-Halfling type would look at crawling through there as a nightmare.  We ended up in a cave of some kind, where we were able to wash off the worst of the fish slime with some shockingly cold water running nearby and then made our way up a ladder into the basement of a scrap-metal storage building.  Shop?  Warehouse?  Whatever, it had a bunch of scrap metal in it.  We made our way up and out where two horses, well one horse and one pony, were waiting for us, ready to go.  I disguised myself as Archum just in case and we were off.

“This is quite an operation you have set up here.”

“I’ve had a lot of practice.  I used to be part of a group that smuggled people out of bad situations.”

We made our way out of town and maybe two hours later we turned off the trail and into the woods for maybe another mile – where there was an old but serviceable campsite set up.  Stinty and I cooled our heels there until nightfall when Stella appeared on an speckled grey mount that looked like it had been a warhorse in its younger days.  Stinty jumped up nervously.

“Were you followed?”

As dismounted a little stiffly “Not to be contrary, but I wouldn’t be here if I had been followed.”

Stinty glanced around suspiciously “This guy seems pretty cagey, even if you didn’t think you were followed you may have been followed.”

Stella shook her head lightly “We can’t start down that road.  He’s smart but he’s not omnipotent, if we start anticipating that he’s anticipating every move we make we’ll paralyze ourselves with indecision.”

Nevertheless Stinty stalked off to check it out, leaving the two of us alone.

“I’ve never been the target of an assassin before, I didn’t know they were so tenacious.”

“Depends on the assassin, like any profession some people are more serious about it than others.”

“I wonder what path leads one to assassining as a profession.  A philosophic conversation for another day.  What’s the plan?”

“In three days you’ll move to another campsite, by then we’ll have everything ready in town and then if Sergeyevna is as good as she says she is we’ll have this little detour wrapped up.”

“If I’m safe out here why didn’t you move me out here in the first place?”

“Too much risk of being followed then, starting the inn on fire really gave us a nice chance to move you stealthily.”

“You were just teleporting me around with magic yesterday – why didn’t you teleport me here?”

“Because . . . . well . . . this is embarrassing.  I guess no one thought of that.” 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 79 gold

XP: 454,301

Inventory:  Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, spidersilk cloak, Field Scrivener’s Desk

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