Mantelderith 23 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Back at court I had a lot of time to think, but I rarely did.  I’ve made a petty big deal about how awful and repetitive and zombie-like the life of the Baroness and women of her ilk is but if I wanted to be completely fair (which I don’t) my days as a kept woman to the eighth most powerful man in the Kingdom weren’t terribly diverse either.  I’d say maybe one day in three I was with the Duke and doing whatever he wanted to do.  Those days weren’t boring in the sense that it was like walking a tightrope, one misstep and you’re dead, but they weren’t not boring you know?  It was stressful and demanding but it wasn’t thought-provoking, not usually anyway.  There’s a reason jaded high society types are so jaded.  The rest of the time I was left to my own devices but that wasn’t all that exciting either now that I think back on it.  Don’t get me wrong, I was the in lap of luxury, but I couldn’t really go anywhere – I was expected to be ready to answer the Duke’s call at any time.  And as strange as it seems there wasn’t much to do really. 

I had no one to talk to, the real nobles wouldn’t give me the time of day unless the Duke was around when they would kiss my ass shamelessly – I guess they thought they could win his favor that way.  Boy were they braking up the wrong tree there.  And anyone else had enough of their own troubles – I wasn’t going to be one of those people that forced the servants to listen to their bullshit problems.  I went riding a lot, I went into town to buy stuff occasionally, and I would be reading a book more often that I thought, but mostly I drank.  Martialla busts my tits sometimes about how much I drink now, but it’s nothing compared to back then.  I suppose if you wanted to be one of those types you could say that I was a functioning alcoholic.  It’s pretty easy when your function doesn’t involving doing much.  Those same sensitive types would probably tell you that I was drinking away my pain and sorrow, and maybe there was a little of that going on, but mostly it was just something to do.

I remember the early days after the Duke dumped me in Graltontown, I think I spent half of what little money I was able to scrounge up on booze.  I’m pretty sure I bought a hundred gold bottle of wine that first week or so.  Stupid.  I could have been drinking for free, it’s not hard.  So maybe at that time I had a bit of a problem with drinking.  The point is though that I have a lot less time to think now but I definitely do a lot more thinking.  I don’t know if I’m more curious now or if constantly almost getting killed sharpens the logical muscles but whatever it is I wonder about a lot more things now.  Some of it is planning, figuring out what my next move should be, but some of it is just idle curiosity.  I guess when you’re at the top of the pyramid (or adjacent to the top anyway) and all the stuff is flowing do you it’s easy not to think how it gets there.  But once you’re down in the muck and the mud you really have to wonder how it all works.  Like a village blacksmith – how is there enough blacksmithing for them to get by?  How many people need a horse shoed on a weekly basis?  Or a buckle of nails?  And how do the farmers pay them?  How do they turn their crops into money?  And how did they afford the horse in the first place?  Those things are expensive. 

And don’t even get me started on the economics of magic items – that makes no sense.  Anyway, these are the kind of things you have time to think about while you’re traveling by caravan.  Melusine wasn’t dead so I transferred her to my Flask – I was curious what would happen there since that’s magic on magic.  After she was out of the whiskey barrel I dipped myself a shot.  It was better, but not tremendously better like the wine had been.  Fat Bear is a middle of the road whiskey and it was improved to being a pretty good whiskey.  So a poor quality wine was made into a great wine and an okay whiskey was made into a decent whiskey.  I wonder if the potency of how bad the booze is directly relates to the transformation – so the worse it is the better it ends up.  Such as, maybe if I stick her in a decanter of Six Roses single barrel it wouldn’t change at all because that’s already high quality.  I can’t wait to try this out with other kinds of booze and get more information.  I guess I can see why wizards do shit like this – it’s interesting to experiment.   On the other hand that’s how we ended up with owlbears and lizardbats and boaraffes.  I saw a boaraffe gore a gnome once – it was pretty fucked up.

Late in the afternoon Martialla and I were sitting on our stack of boxes on wagon number seven watching the countryside slowly go by.  I had tried to find a comfortable reclining position but it turns out that boxes don’t make fodder for a good recline.

I sighed “Can’t you summon up lounge chair of some kind?”

“I think you’d fall off the wagon trying to sit in something like that up there.”

“I meant a magic lounge chair.”

“Ah, no, I can’t do that.  I could make you feel profoundly stricken with intense grief.”

“A generous offer, but I think I’ll pass.  So are you a mind mage or what?  You have some spells like that that mess with people’s heads but you also turn invisible and conjure illusions and burn people alive like an illusionist or a normal murder wizard.”

“I’ve told you a dozen times, I’m not a mage, I’m a sorcerer.”

I made an exasperated noise “Yes you have told me that a bunch of times, but what is it supposed to mean to me?  You get all bent out of shape about it, but how am I supposed to know what you’re talking about?  I didn’t go to magic school.”

“Neither did I!”

“How do you learn horrible spells that make people suicidally depressed then?”

 She looked aggrieved “I don’t learn any spells Ela, they just come to me.”

“How, come to you from where?  Or from what?  Wizards learn magic from dusty books, witches make deals with demons to get their magic, what about you – where does you magic come from?”

“It’s just inside me.  When I was a kid little things just started happening around me, like there was a poltergeist or something.  Over time I learned how to control it.  I know for some sorcerers its part of their heritage, there’s a dragon or some other magical being in their family tree back somewhere that is the source of their powers.  For me I don’t know where it comes from, there’s nothing like that in my family that I know about.  Some people think that originally sorcerers came from fey curses but no one really knows.”

“How is being able to do awesome magic without having to learn it a curse?”

“If you don’t learn to master it the magic consumes you.  It still can even if you do.  It’s like a burning flame in a house – as long as you keep it under control you can use it for all kinds of things, but if you can’t the house burns down.”

“That still sounds better than any of the curses I’ve been hit with.  So what you have to mediate or something or you’ll explode and rip a fabric in reality?”

“No, it’s more like learning to walk, you can’t really explain it it’s just something you do.”

“Sure you can, lift your foot up, move your leg forward and then put it down again.”

“But how do you do that?  How do you lift up your foot?  You just do it.”

“Hmm, I suppose.  That still doesn’t explain where your spells come from.  Are you able to mess with people’s heads because that’s what you do without magic?  You were manipulating people with your words and actions so your magic got in on the action too?  And you learned to turn invisible because you were always sneaking around?”

“No one knows Ela, you just reach for your magic and sometimes there’s something new there.”

“There has to be a reason why you can turn into a yeti instead of something else.  Aren’t there thousands of spells?  Why do you know the handful you know?  Does a wizard have to invent the spell before a sorcerer can know it?  How the Hells would that make sense?  Or can you do stuff they can’t?  Aren’t a lot of spells basically useless?  Why don’t you know any of those?  Are there sorcerers out there that suck and can’t do anything good?”

“I know some of it is shaped by the ancestry, if you had an ice dragon in your family ten generations ago you tend to know more ice spells, but it’s not like you only know ice spells.  It’s not a strict thing Ela.  No one really understand how it works.”

“As per fucking usual.  Why hasn’t anyone studied this?  Hmm, so maybe you have a progenitor creature of some kind in your family history and you just don’t know about it.  Let’s think about what you can do.  You can bend, influence, and crush the minds of the weak.  You can turn invisible.  You can burn people alive and make them miserable.  What kind of creature does that sound like to you?”

“I’m sure I wouldn’t know.”

I smirked “Come off it Miss Monster Expert, that sounds like a succubus to me.  Clearly someone in your family got down and nasty with a vanity demon and lived to tell the tale.”

“That doesn’t make any sense Ela, even if that happened, the succubus would be the one that had the baby not my ancestor.”

“Bah, they can take human forms of either gender – I’ve seen it.  Probably your great-great grandpappy was a demonic entity in disguise.”

“No.”

I patted her on the shoulder “Don’t worry Martialla, I won’t look down on your because your demon heritage or your family history of summoning demons for the purposes of sexual exploitation.”

“I do not have demon blood!”

“Prove it.  Say the Third Blessing of the Holy Mother without bursting into flames.”

The fellow driving the wagon turned round to look at us “What’s that you say about the summoning demons for the purposes of sexual exploitation?  Can you do one of those ones with the claw hands and tail?  Just asking for a friend.”

Martialla scowled at him “Shut up and turn around!” She folded her arms sulkily “I hate you Ela.”

“I’m just trying to learn more about you Martialla.  You’re the one who’s always complaining that I’m self-centered but whenever I try to get closer to you you shut down.  Quit playing hard to get Martialla, let me love you.  I know you’ve been hurt before but I’m here for you.”

“You’re a terrible person Ela.”

I shook my head sadly “That’s just the demon blood in you talking Martialla, you have to fight it.  Do you want to pray with me Martialla?”

She tried to kick me but I was able to dodge out of the way – although I was laughing so hard I fell off the wagon anyway. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 25,750 gold

XP: 1,147,551

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake (with Nixie) Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Brooch of Shielding, Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword

Noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring,  pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, disguise kit, covenant ring, tiny diamonds (26), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55) personal signet ring, tiara, masterwork red and black long greatcoat, Turnbill blade of first forging (one of three), darkwood and platinum music box, silver bracelet set with bloodstones, platinum ring set with fire opal, silver and moonstone bracelet, holy symbol of Kozilek, dwarf journal

Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane, Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis,  Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee,  Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage, Essa, eyeless hag, Baron Saltwheel, Baron Harmenkar, Colonel Tarl Ciarán’s wizard soldier, Victor, Beharri, Cebuano, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company

Myam 7 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

Beresford has no walls but since the city is under martial law it doesn’t seem like a good idea to try sneaking in – that’s the sort of thing that tends to piss off the people enforcing the martial law.  They’re funny like that.  We approached from the north not only because it’s farthest away from the riot zone but also because that’s the only part of town that I’m even somewhat familiar with.  I took on a form similar to that of my seven bodyguards and flagged down the first patrol that I saw – four men on horseback lazily making their way around the perimeter of the city.  As you might imagine they were taken significant aback by the appearance of eight nearly identical women in vaguely uniform-looking attire appearing out of the night.

Their orders were to keep anyone from coming into or leaving the city – it was at this point that I noticed a hastily erected (if you know what I mean) shanty-town of disappointed merchants and the like to the north – but the day I can’t sweet-talk my way past a random night-patrol to kill a demon is the day that I use my magic Boots to turn into a giant and lay waste to Beresford.  Soon enough we were making our way through the deserted streets heading for the Rest Inn Peace.  There was a curfew in effect of course, but our friend the border patrolman had given me a pass that said it was okay for us to be wandering around.  We were stopped a few times but once we presented our paperwork everything was fine and dandy like shine candy.  It’s good to know that sometimes the system can work. 

Honestly I was expecting the RIP to be burned to the ground, that seems to be the way my luck goes, but it was perfectly intact even though it wasn’t all that far from the epicenter of the “troubles”.  The place was deserted aside from Josta, who was behind the bar as usual, and Stinty who was sitting at a small table looking glum.  Stinty’s glumness was replaced by shock when he saw me walk in but Josta was nonplussed.

“I was wondering if you’d ever turn up again.”

“Are you going to say that every time I disappear and then come back?”

“Probably.  Have my years of wild hedonism finally caught up with me or are there seven identical women behind you?”

I waved my hand dismissively “Don’t worry about them.  What I need right now is . . .” It was my turn to be astonished as Stinty sprinted over and hugged me, which is even more awkward coming from a Halfling  “What is this, what’s happening?”

He started up at me with honest to Gods tears in his eyes as I maneuvered him away from me with my knee “We thought you were dead!”

“So?”

“So?  So?  We’re friends!  I was upset!”

“We are?  Didn’t helping me result in your life’s work being burned down and one of your good friends being killed?”

“Well yeah, but . . .”

“Look I don’t mean to be rude Stinty, but I don’t really have time to talk right now – we can discuss our friendship later – I’m on a tight deadline.” I turned back to the seven non-sisters “Will you guys really kill me if I don’t go back?”

One of them, I think one that I haven’t seen before, shrugged “I guess.  I don’t know who’s really paying us but that guy with the lady name seems like he can stop us from getting paid.”

I reached into my Haversack and dumped out a handful of gold “How about now?”

One of the others raised an eyebrow “Maybe we wouldn’t kill you.”

“Good to know, we’ll deal with that later.” I turned back to Josta “What I need to know is where Crawdore Van Saar lives.”

Stinty nearly jumped into the air “I know where he lives!  I can show you the way.  But what about the curfew?”

“Don’t worry about that, I have a piece of paper that says it’s all fine like cherry wine.”

And just like that we were off.  We headed towards the northwest portion of town, not that far from the home of the Staelishs but firmly across the invisible line between the GOOD portion of town and the portion of town where the good people used to live.  We were quickly stopped by another patrol and when I was presenting them with our pass I had a great idea.

I looked to the leader of the patrol adoringly “Captain, can I ask you for a favor?”

“I’m just a lieutenant ma’am.”

I laughed and touched his arm “Just a lieutenant you say, it sounds very important to me.  My apologies lieutenant, it’s just that you have a very captainy presence you now – a natural leadership quality you see.”

His glowing smile of appreciation was so typical it almost made me sad “Just doing my job ma’am.”

“Of course of course, we must all do our part.  I have a very important message that I need to get to Master Van Saar, which is the reason I have this temporary permit to break curfew, but I’m concerned that there may be footpads and other unsavory sorts about, despite the best efforts of the fine men of the city watch such as yourself.  Would it be possible for you and your men to escort us?  As you can see my only protection from misfortune is women and one of the smallfolk, they do their best of course but they can’t hold a candle to a real righting man like you.  I’d feel so much better if you could see us safely to our destination.”

The lieutenant was overjoyed to do just that, although his men seemed less sanguine about it.  As we walked with our new sheepdogs Stinty sidled over to me and whispered.

“Is this a good idea?”

“It’s a great idea.”

“It’s just that general you’re doing things where it’s not a great idea to have witnesses.”

“That’s an unfair characterization.  Regardless though, I figure a rich man is going to have guards of his own in times of trouble and turmoil such as these – these fellows will help get us in to see him.  Probably.”

“And then what?”

“And then if they stick around witnesses will be fine, better than fine in fact, depending on what’s going on exactly.”

“You don’t know what’s going on exactly?”

“Not as such no.”

The home of Crawdore Van Saar was fancy enough but it was still out of place in this neighborhood – it was a low sprawling affair with walls and iron gates and courtyards connecting to courtyards, very segmented and cluttered looking it was.  Whoever designed it likes to feel confined I think.  It was ugly but not in the way that extravagant homes are usually ugly where there’s just too much or it’s garish – this was ugly more along the lines of a battle-axe made out of platinum.  Certainly a lot of money went into it, but it wasn’t designed to please the eye.  The place was lit up with lanterns and even a few magical lights and there were two guards outside the gates – and two more within.  The watchmen talked to them and then they talked to the footman and then the footman talked to the butler and notes were passed and so on and so on.  Eventually we were granted entry and were met by the dashing Crawdore Van Saar himself, who looked like he was dressed to receive the Queen herself even at this late hour. 

My “attendants” as he called them were left to cool their heels in the servant’s quarters while Van Saar and I retired to the sitting room, where mulled wine was waiting for us.  After some exquisitely polite chit-chat he got down to the business and hand and asked me about the message.  I told him that it involved his “companion” as well and that it would be best that she join us.  A bell was rung and a servant was dispatched and minutes later “Lypara Emprenzo” entered the room with dainty yet fetching steps, looking a vision even with her tousled hair and hastily-thrown on receiving gown.  Maybe because of them. 

Van Saar’s face betrayed the first hint of annoyance as he crossed his legs “Now then, what’s this message you have for us?”

“This.”

I took out my crossbow and shot “Lypara” in the chest with one of the special bolts I had been given.  For a horrifying second I thought that I was wrong, or that even with a demon-killing bolt in her flesh that she could maintain her disguise, but after a moment her fake appearance fell away and Crawdore Van Saar was left sitting on a loveseat with an angry hissing demoness.  Seeing her true form in a dream did not prepare me for seeing it in the real world.  The combination of apex female beauty with the most base and foul demonic features was confounding. She was concurrently impossibly abnormal and shamefully intriguing, both repulsive and nearly impossible to turn away from.  Looking directly at her stabbed at your eyes like looking at a bright light, but turning away caused a longing in the chest that hurt even more.  And the whole effect wasn’t helped by the sick pale blue ichor pouring out of the grievous wound on her chest – whatever it was it reminded me of a terrible cold mushroom soup I was served once. 

I was hoping to the gods that Crawdore was just a manipulated dupe rather than a willing participant, and based on the way he screamed and dove to the floor with his hands over his head gave me a good indication that for once my hopes had been fulfilled. 

“Yeah buddy, that’s what you’ve been having sex with, it’s best not to think about it.”

I was also hoping that “Lypara” being a creature of deception and seduction wasn’t used to physical pain and she would be stunned for a moment, which she was, but not for as long as I hoped.  I had my crossbow loaded but before I could fire a second time she squealed out in the demon language and in a sickening blast of malodorous smoke there appeared before her a demon lion.  Curious what a demon lion looks like but don’t want to die and burn in the Hells to find out?  Allow me to tell you.  Take a normal lion and then starve it to death, only it doesn’t die, so it looks basically like a literal bag of bones in the shape of a massive cat.  Only unlike an actual starved lion it doesn’t look weak at all, it looks like one giant horrible coiled muscle ready to tear your soul away.  Then make its face look partially like a human face, but not in the sphinx way where it kind of looks okay – in the worse way possible.  Just stretch out an actual human face over the face of a lion, which is ten times bigger than a human face mind you, and you’ll be close.  Then paint what little wiry fur is left with blood and entrails and add in asymmetric spikes and spurs and exposed bits of bone and you’ll be pretty much there.

“Holy shit!”

Is what I said as I fired, hitting the succubus again who let out a horrific screech, and scrambled backwards away from the withered yet menacing beast.  The lion lunged and I grabbed Van Saar by the collar, throwing him forwards into the teeth and claws of the beast – and act for which I don’t feel sorry at all.  Anyone would have done the same with that whirlwind of horror coming at them.  I backed towards the door as I reloaded the crossbow and one of Van Saar’s men came barging past me, stopping in shock at the sight before him.

“Save your master!”

Is what I shouted as I helped him along with a kick in the ass.  He rushed forward with the ingrained servility of a thousand generations of exploited workers, yanking his sword out of its scabbard.  The lion stopped savaging Van Saar and its bizarre head swiveled up as if to roar at the charging man but there was no roar, there was more of a squeaking sizzling like of noise – I would imagine that’s what it sounds like if you toss a mouse onto a hot frying pan.  I didn’t see anything come out of the demon lion’s mouth but the man flinched backwards like he had been hit with something and then his skin literally started to boil and bubble off his bones.  Here’s a fun fact, I can still shoot a succubus with a crossbow while I’m vomiting violently.  Which is good to know.  She howled like a stomped bandicoot as the third bolt slammed into her and ran for the door on the other side of the room with me chasing at her as several guards poured into the room – both mine and Van Saar’s.  His household men were stunned into inaction but my blue and silver ladies immediately started wrestling with the skeletal gore-encrusted demon lion like that was a normal thing to do.  I suppose that’s the benefit of all that mountain-top training, not that you can fight unarmed as well as a man with a mace or a spear, but that you don’t hesitate when confronted with some mindbending crazy shit.

As I came around the corner into a tiny parlor-type room the succubus ambushed me with a stab in the side, I’m not even sure from what, didn’t feel like claws though.  I bashed her with the stock of my crossbow but it had zero effect, which doesn’t seem fair.  Why does she get to look lithe and ethereal but be tough as dragon turtle?  Just because she’s an immortal embodiment of evil and sin?  I call bullshit on that.  She grabbed the crossbow and as we were struggling for it I felt the crushing pressure of her mind trying to dominate mine.  She couldn’t of course, but the distraction did allow her to hook her legs around mine and trip me to the floor, gaining superior position.  Didn’t to her a ton of good though when I grabbed the bolt that had fallen out of the crossbow and stabbed her in the side of the head with it.  It seemed to stun her more than anything but it gave me a chance to slither out from under her while she was kneeling there seemingly in a trance  I grabbed her by the hair and swung her head into the wall a few times, driving the bolt completely through her head, the tip peeking out the other side. 

She toppled to the floor and then after a moment the four magical crossbow bolts slid out of her as if they were being pushed from the inside – because they were, by large black snakes.  In fascinated horror I watched as the four snakes emerged from her wounds and turned their snake heads to face me.  They spoke in unison with one voice, a voice that was harsh and raspy, a voice that sounded ancient and unknowable.

“You are doomed.”

After that pronouncement the four snakes started devouring the corpse at the hands and feet, not swallowing like actual snakes but tearing and swallowing huge chunks of demon flesh like sharks.  They consumed the entire body in maybe thirty seconds.  At the very end as they were ripping her head into equal fourths one of the household guards came in to watch in shock.  After the corpse was gone the snakes simply disappeared.  I turned to the guard.

“That was something huh?”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 50,874 gold

XP: 570,101

Inventory:  Courtier’s Outfit, Noble’s outfit, Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, sunrod (2) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring,  Ring of Disguise, Boots of the Winter Jarl, Ring of Jumping, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), map, Badge of Last Resort, Healer’s Satchel, 28 tiny diamonds

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 

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

I admit fully that I am merely an average card player, but I am an exceptional card cheat.  Stinty on the other hand is very a good card player and a mediocre card cheat – that thing he did were people shuffle the cards all fancy?  That doesn’t mean you’re actually good a double dealing or other chicanery necessarily – for him it was clearly just a trick he had learned.  We had fun sparring for a couple hands (I came out head of course) but we realized that us jousting like that wasn’t very entertaining for Josta and Kalisha so we cooled it after that and just played things straight and enjoyed the evening.  Kalisha was clearly the worst player at the table and she’s by a wide margin the most educated.  Is there a lesson there?  Maybe. 

We played and drank and joked and told tales well into the dark of night – it was an amusing diversion from the typical people shooting at me or trying to kidnap me or random immolations that are now part of my life.  After the game broke up and I went to bed the fun was over.  Again I was wracked with disturbing dreams.  I hesitate to call them nightmares because I feel like there’s a connotation there that you don’t know what’s going on and I certainly did.  The quaint nails in my flesh of the previous night were gone.  In their place I dreamed of being ripped apart by arrows, spears and swords on some snow-covered battlefield.  I dreamed of being on a riverboat that was shooting out the mouth of a river into the ocean and being knocked off the deck and carried away by surging waves, sometimes to drown sometimes to be torn to pieces by sharks and wicked sea serpents.  I dreamed of many hands being upon by body, dozens maybe hundreds of hands holding me firmly and throwing me into the midst of a great fire to burn and smolder – the stench of my own seared flesh plugging my nostrils.  I dreamed of being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, being carried by a great wind and falling from thousand-foot cliffs, shaking and convulsing and vomiting blood from disease.  And I dreamed of killing myself – placing a dagger to my chest and falling forward to drive into my heart.

While all this was going on in my mind I was also aware of my sleeping body being subjected to strange undulating sensations of intense heat that felt like it was coming from under my skin.  It was like a fever only it was traveling around my body in patches.  What it felt like was as if someone had taken a rolling pin and was running it along my skin from the inside after having heated it up in an oven.  It was unpleasant to say the least.  When it would travel over some of my more sensitive areas I could feel tears slipping down the side of my face.  Who knew that you could cry when you were asleep?

Eventually the dire visions of death and dismemberment faded away and I was left in a featureless misty void.  Facing me was Lypara Emprenzo, not Lypara Emprenzo the woman, the vision projected into the world – but the real demonic presence in all her glory.  I see now why certain types get all hot and bothered about studying these foul fiends – she was something approaching physical perfection.  Assuming that you can get past the scaly wings and horns and claws and all that.  Which I bet you most men wouldn’t pick up even after doing the deed.  They’re like that you know.  “Oh, she had fangs and a tail?  To be honest I didn’t notice.”  Of course she wasn’t wearing a stitch, I assume because the Hells are so hot and all.

“Those breasts are anatomically incorrect.  They’re like coming out of your collarbone.”

She was looking around as if there was something to see “You’re very closed off, no wonder I couldn’t get inside you the other day.”

“I don’t care for that phrasing.”

She smirked “Don’t play the prude with me.”

“Fair enough.  Is this the correct venue for a dream invasion?  Shouldn’t it look like there’s a bunch of file cabinets that you’re rifling through or something obvious like that? Or like a library maybe and all the books have titles like ‘Ela learns to ride a horse’, ‘Ela’s first day in court’, ‘The time Ela fell off a roof and busted her ass’ something like that?”

“I can conjure that up if you like.”

“I’m not here to tell you how to dream-haunt someone, I just thought you’d want some feedback.  So I assume that was you last night, and the night before?  Was I really visited by the ghost of a dead man or was that you messing with my dreams?”

“I guess you’ll never know.”

“When I was younger some other kids told me that if a demon intruded on your dreams three nights in a row you’d die.”

“They were right.”

I snorted “I doubt it, if you could dream-murder me you would have done it already.”

“Maybe I want to recruit you.”

“For what?  A sewing circle?  I’ve never understood demon worship, is the idea that somehow at the end they won’t go to the Hells?  Because logically that makes no sense.  If you’re worshipping a demon where else are you going to end up?  It’s like riding a horse off a cliff and not expecting to fall.”

“Well there aren’t a lot of logical demon worshippers.  Besides, most people don’t think too far into the future.  Who can be bothered to think about their immortal soul when they can have a shiny new sword?  You’d be amazed what people are willing to damn themselves for.”

“No I wouldn’t.”

“Maybe you wouldn’t at that.  You’ve a pretty bleak outlook, for a mortal.”

“That kind of goes hand and hand with the mortality thing.  As soon as you’re born you start dying – it’s a race to the grave and all the rest is vanity.”

She smiled “It doesn’t have to be like that.”

“Immortality huh?”

“Naturally.  The simplest bargains are the most enticing – eternal life for eternal servitude.”

“Pass.”

Her wings flared slightly, which I assume is a succubus shrug “Don’t say I didn’t offer.”

“If you can’t kill me why are you here?  Just to drive me mad with sleep deprivation?  That’s not a bad plan I guess but I think that’s going to take too long, I’ll have you trapped like a rat in a few days.”

“No, I was trying to see if I could breach your defenses while you were asleep but you’ve really walled yourself off here.  You are one guarded mother fucker.”

“You’ve said that a couple times now, am I supposed to be flattered by that?”

“Sorry, I can’t help myself, since you’re not a mind invader you can’t really appreciate what you’ve done here.  It’s like trying to describe a masterpiece painting to a blind man.”

“It’s just the way I am, nothing to get worked up about.”

She shook her head “No.  I can see your mind laid out like a strata on a rock.  I can see the layers.  You had a little bit of fight in you when you were a child, you’d have to make this, and then you gained some strength later on.  But for a long time it was unfocused.  You had some willpower but it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be overcome.  I could have cracked you in a few minutes.  But over the past few months you’ve built a castle on that rock and a wall around that castle and filled the moat with flaming lava and manned the gates with vukodlakcrs.”

“What are those?”

“It’s a beast that’s like a combination of a giant black wolf and a horse.”

“Sounds dumb.”

“They’re fearsome, trust me.”

“Why are there so many beasts that are just a bunch of different animal parts put together?  Are the Gods lazy?  I mean chimeras?  Come on.  And don’t even get me started on galluvix or esquilax.  Even the deadly minotaur is just a man with a bull head.  Where’s the creativity?”

“You don’t need to tell me about the Gods and how much they suck, I’m a demon, that’s my whole deal.”

“Oh right.  So are we about done here?”

“No, I’m going to continue making you dream of your own mutilation and destruction until you wake up.”

“Oh, I guess I better wake up then.”

And so I did, feeling like I hadn’t sleep in three days.  Most likely because I hadn’t slept in three days.  I tell you this now.  I’ve said before that being bone-weary and not being able to sleep is tortuous, but what I learned is that being so tired you can barely keep your eyes open and knowing that you could very easily fall asleep but that if you do so you’ll be tormented mentally and physically – that is real torture.  This is some next level shit right here.  Embodiment of evil or not this succubus knows her stuff. 

With little else to do I drug myself downstairs in the lull between the breakfast crowd and the lunch rush.  I shuffled down to the bar and asked Josta for one of the standard wake-up drinks from the old days – some people called it the Trash Bin, other’s called it something much more crude involving the bum.  Half an ounce of gin, half an ounce of dark rum, half an ounce of vodka, half an ounce of peach Schapps, and half an ounce of blue curacao served in a heated mug – that takes the edge off.  When I asked for it, and then explained what it was Josta just stared at me.

“What?  I need something to keep awake.”

“I know I’m standing behind a bar so I can understand your confusion but I am not a bartender.  I don’t know how to make drinks.  I can tap a barrel, that’s pretty much it.”

“You are useless you know that?!”

“You’re mean when you’re tired.”

“To be fair I’m pretty mean most of the time.”

She walked away, I assumed in a huff, but she returned a few minutes later and tossed an only sort-of ugly necklace at me.  I was startled but managed to catch it anyway due to my catlike reflexes.  The pendant was made of decent sungold and it was in the shape of a stylized eye – very stylized – it took me a moment to realize what I was looking at.  It had some symbols on the back that I didn’t exactly recognize but I had a feeling with religious in nature. 

I frowned “What’s this?”

“Just put it on.”

“Yeah no thanks.  Is it magic?  I’ve been cursed enough times already, I don’t need to be putting on some cursed magic necklace you stole from a grave.”

She sighed “Just do it.”

“Wow, what a convincing argument.”

“It will make you feel better.”

“Fine but if this turns me into a hunchback I’m blaming you.”

I slipped it on and as soon as I fastened the clasp I felt the weariness drain out of me from the top down to the feet – like it was running out a cup with a hole in the bottom.  Two seconds later and I felt fresh as a daisy and ready to take on the world. 

“Wow, thanks, where did you find this?”

“I actually did take it off a dead guy.  I figured if there’s anything the dead don’t need it’s that.  It only works for seven days at a time, then you crash hard.  Just so you know.”

After getting myself cleaned up and grabbing a bite to eat I decided to check out the worksite.  Before I even got there I knew something was wrong.  The people on the street there were all going the other way and they were walking with that weird leaning forward tension you see in people when they don’t know what’s going on but they know something is going on.  They weren’t exactly rushing away but they weren’t not rushing you know?  Once I got closer I saw Stone and a couple his men along with the guards provided by Hans and Grete facing off with a man in a tattered and outdated guard uniform, a half-orc waving a broken longsword, and an older fellow in battered platemail who stood at the head of whatever you call a mob before they start rioting.  I guess that’s still a mob.  There was a lot of posturing and metaphorical (and some literal) chest-pounding.  I used my vocal abilities to project over the thrumming of voices.

“What’s going on here?”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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 

Muthuselan 23 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

I’m no expert on comparative religion, but in my experience two gods split the lion’s share of religious ecstasy – Adariel the just and kind lady of community and goodness and charity and Odobenine the greedy lord of greedy greed.  The common folk tend to lean towards Adariel while the aristocracy tends to favor Odobenine – which seems understandable.  My point is that even though Duke Eagelvane was not at all a religious man there were a few priests knocking about his court.  One of these Odobeninians cornered me one time and was telling me all about how there’s a different demon for each of the ten lethal sins.  The one he was most interested in was the succubus, because for some reason that seems to be the one all the men like.  He delighted in pointing out that the succubus is NOT the demon of lust as people commonly assume but rather the demon of vanity.  This he claimed is why the succubus is an exclusively female demonform because while lust afflicts men vanity is the providence of women.  I believe he passed out drunk in a fountain one night and drowned if I remember correctly. 

Why do I bring this up?  You may recall that for a while I was carrying a small ivory sculpture of two entwined succubi, looking back on it now it unmistakably was magic and was exerting some kind of subtle influence on my mind.  I’m not sure what would have happened to me had it not been stolen, nothing good I’m sure.  Lypara Emprenzo looked exactly like those succubi, you know, only without the horns and wings and fangs.  Coincidence?  Very unlikely.  Maybe whoever carved it knew or saw Lypara and based it on her.  It’s possible.  But what I think is that Lypara is actually a succubus and the subject of that carving.  And what kind of shapechanging demon would take on a form that was exactly similar to her actual form?  A prideful one. So maybe that drowned priest wasn’t totally full of shit is the point.

Vablis was up annoyingly early and wanted to head over to the theater but I assured her that theater folk aren’t early risers and went back to bed.  When I did get up she was itching to go and not in the good excited way more in the troubling nervous way.  I’m starting to realize that she may not be the smooth operator that I thought, she may be more of a desperate woman out of her element.  Probably like I was at the beginning of this “journey” but I like to think I hid it better.  I should have spent some time reassuring her and making her feel relaxed but I wasn’t in the mood.  Why am I always the one who has to keep everyone else from losing their head?  Doesn’t seem fair. 

The inn was still the home of frenzied activity as Stinty and his men continued with their renovations.  I got sick of Valbis asking me when we were going to go every few minutes and told her to go read the papers the mayor had given me.  I stood on the overlook with Josta watching Archum and the rest of Stinty’s crew work themselves into a lather, literally.  There’s something very satisfying about doing nothing while watching other people work.  Makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something.  Around mid-day Vablis and I headed to theater.   

Macourek Theater is a massive building for a city the size of Bereford, one of the largest in town I would wager.  It looked like it had been through some significant upgrades somewhat recently but there were still some signs of dilapidation about the edges – someone had spent a chunk of money fixing it up but hadn’t quite finished the job.  Not yet anyway.  The layout was odd for a playhouse, there had been some remodeling on the inside as well but still there were a lot of rooms that seemed to serve no purpose.  Unless I miss my mark I think in times past this was a tenement building or something of the like.  We were met in the lobby area by a tall grey-haired man in some sort of red fluffy jumpsuit.  That’s the problem with theaters types, you can never be sure if they’re wearing a costume or if they’re dressed like they are because they’re insane.  He said that they weren’t taking auditions currently, but between myself and Vablis he had no chance of keeping us out.  We’re winsome as fuck we were. 

We interrupted practice for an upcoming show of Dead in Infinity which is a dreadful play that continues to be performed for reasons that elude me.  There’s an odd phenomena where sometimes something that sucks becomes a “classic” and then just continues on even though nobody likes it.  The players almost looked relieved to have a distraction from going over the tired dialog and nonsensical turns of plot in Dead for us to showcase our skills.  We each sang a solo, we sang a couple duets, Vablis played her pipe, I demonstrated a little sleight of hand, and even though we hadn’t discussed it before Vablis went rogue and also danced a little.  Her steps were pedestrian but her cleavage was on point.  The assembled fops and dilettantes were very impressed and came close to fawning over us as they assured us that they would find us work soon.  

It was during this fawning period that Crawdore Van Saar came in with Lypara Emprenzo on his arm, accompanied by a gaggle of sycophants.  I recognized her immediately as the same “woman” on the carving.  I halfway expected her to sprout wings and fly after me to suck my soul, but she merely played the part of the demure yet sluttish paramour of the theater owner.  Upon hearing about our audition Crawdore insisted that we perform for him as well, which we did, but I couldn’t help but stare at Lypara.  I’ve unfortunately been in close proximity for a demon a few times now (add that to the list) but somehow it was much worse with a demon in disguise.  With a slavering red-skinned monster you know what to expect, but with one hidding in the form of a pretty brunette with blue ribbons in her hair?  Who the Hells knows what’s going to happen?  Eventually after much flattery and fame-whoring and facile chit-chat we were able to extricate ourselves and head back to the inn.

“Well, that was easy.  I thought this was going to be a whole big long thing.”

Valbis frowned “What do you mean?”

“Lypara Emprenzo is a bloodsucking shapeshifting demonspawn from the pits of Hells, obviously she killed the mayor’s brother when she figured out he was sniffing around.  Case closed.”

“How do you know that?”

“Trust me, I know these things.”

After depositing her back with Josta and Stinty I headed to the mayor’s compound.  I was so pleased to have this wrapped up nice and neat without any fuss that I wasn’t even annoyed that he kept me waiting for over three hours.  When I was escorted into his office I almost skipped I was so happy with the way things turned out.

He was messing about this some papers as important men must to show you how important they are “What is it?  I have a meeting in a few minutes.”

“Lypara Emprenzo killed your brother.  She’s a succubus in human form and she drained the life out of him like sucking the juice out of a mango.  Who do I need to see about getting my possessions back?  Do you have a ticket or something that I give to a guy for my stuff?  I don’t want to accidentally get someone else’s stuff.”

“No.”

“Then how does it work?  You just summon the guy or what?”

“I mean no my brother isn’t dead.”

“Trust me on this, she got him, she got him good, he’s dead.  She demon-sucked the life out of him and left him a dried up husk of a man – literally.”

“No, the divinations of the priests indicated that he’s still alive.”

“So what?  Fortune tellers and charlatans they are.  I can get you ten mediums here tomorrow that will tell you whatever you want to hear.”

“No.”

“No?”

“My brother is alive.  Don’t come back here without real information.  I’m not interested in your speculation.  Get out of my office.  I don’t like having my time wasted.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 61,244 gold

XP: 516,701

Inventory:  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 (2) Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style

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