Macendamandel 23 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Of the many cold shoulders I’ve gotten over the last two years this one ranks as the most discourteous.  I kill two vampires for these religious broads and they turn me out without so much as a how do you do?  Disgraceful.  Sure killing the vampires was easy but that’s because I’m magnificent.  My magnificence shouldn’t be held against me.  Lashmi abandoning me is no big deal, she was a Striderian after all so what else would I have expected?  In truth I’m lucky that she didn’t try to kill me to win favor with her stupid shabby itinerate God.  I mean seriously, what kind of occupation for a deity is traveler?  Of course that ignores the even more interesting question of why Gods should have occupations at all.  Does Demuren need to pay rent?  Does Eltara need some scratch because she has an eye on whatever the forge-God makes and sells?  Gods with jobs, there’s a horrifying concept that no one seems to understand – if the Gods have to work for a living eternally what hope is there for us?

Some say that death cancels all debts, but the priests of Odobenine and their Church of Deals goes quite the opposite way – to that faith there is no greater sin than dying with your debts unpaid.  A sin that is punished with many lifetimes worth of servitude in the afterlife.  It almost makes you think that Odobenine must be right because no person would create a mythos so bleak.  No sane person anyway.  The problem with insane people is they always catch you off guard because you can’t even imagine what they think.  It’s like when Haimatt fought the Master of Many on the Bridge of Kumort – at first the Master was able to block Haimatt’s every attack because he was so skilled at reading the intentions of his opponents.  Haimatt was only able to prevail when he unleashed the madness inside him and attacked without thought or pattern.

But all that mumbo-jumbo is neither here nor there (nor anywhere else) what’s real is that I am heading north along the Pipestone alone heading towards Gib’s Tor.  I never thought of myself as one of those people that needs to be around other people – back at court I was never happy, but I was always less unhappy when I was alone.  But that was an entirely different situation.  I find now that trudging alone through the deforested wilderness gives me time to think and that’s not entirely welcome.  Too much time to think turns to pointless rumination about what should be or what could have been done.  And that manner self-flagellation does no good for anyone, except the religious types maybe.  What is is what is and you just have to deal with it and move forward.  There’s nothing for it. 

Early in the morning I saw some Kostelos riders watching me far off to the northeast.  Despite the good chance of decapitation I almost wished they would approach me just so I could have someone to talk too.  Plus I might get a horse out of the deal.  They were shaggy wild little things but I didn’t even know there were Kostelos that husbanded horses so that’s something.  They didn’t come anywhere near me though, they watched for more than an hour probably and then rode off.  That was the extent of the morning’s entertainment but things got interesting again later in the day. 

From a goodly distance off I saw a ship up ahead.  As I got closer I realized that it wasn’t moving.  As I got closer still I realized that it was canted off center a good fifteen degrees or so.  I assumed it was hung up on a reef (do they have those in rivers?) or rocks or whatever boats get hung up on in rivers but as I got closer still I saw that one side of the hull was staved in and protruding from that side was a massive fish.  It was the size of a small watercraft itself and it was covered with hard scales like a crocodile as well as seemingly random boney knobs. 

There were men in the water and on both banks, and more men climbing all over the ship as well – carrying supplies to the shore and hauling on ropes and generally shouting and cursing at one another.  Some folks on the east shore were pulling on strands attached around the tail of the beast and with a last heave pulled it free to reveal that the piscine abomination had horns like a bull.  Out of the many strange beings I’ve seen you wouldn’t think that a fish with horns would rate that high but it was the damndest sight.

When the colossal fish was pulled free I expected the ship to dramatically shift as a result and send men on the deck flying but it didn’t move at all that I could tell – must be run aground as well as fish-rammed.  What did happen is the river was dyed dark as the bloody head of the dead creature was yanked free to run into the water.  I approached the dozen or so shirtless and/or waterlogged men loitering on the east bank watching while other men continued to work and dipping cups into a barrel.  Said shirts, hung out to dry or clinging to their owners, were those of the King’s Own.  Or Queen’s I guess.  Royal soldiers is the point.  I directed my remarks to a mustachioed fellow who though bare-chested had his cap on, I took this to mean he was in charge.  Hats equal authority eight times out of eleven.

“Having some trouble with your ship?”

He glanced at the listing holed boat in the middle of the river “No, no trouble, why do you ask?”

“I noticed that your flag was flying upside down, I thought that was a signal for help.”

He grinned “Come running to help us poor lads did you?”

“I could do no less, every citizen of the Kingdom must do their part and so forth and so on.  What are the King’s men doing on this desolate patch of river?”

“Don’t you mean Queen’s?”

“Haven’t you heard?  She’s remarried thank the Gods.  Can’t have a woman in control of the country can we?  What would become of us?  Here’s what you’d get with a woman running the Kingdom.  Murder.  All the time.  Everyone’s going to be murdering each other.  And mail fraid.  Your wives will lose their virtue, having sex willy-nilly all over the place with lots of different men.”

“Thank goodness that’s over.  What we’re doing here is patrolling the river in case the Ulpine or the Vielanders try to sneak an army in by river.”

“Given that there’s an army of Vielanders sneaking in through the Lodge Forest right now that seems pretty unlikely – especially with all the great victories we keep hearing about our side winning.  How many armies can they have left at this point?”

“I always sat the best place to look for the enemy is where they aren’t.  You never know what kind of devious schemes our enemies are capable of, it’s only through our courage and the grace of the Gods that we’re still here at all – surrounded my enemies like we are, both at home and abroad.”

“Wise words.”

“And what are you doing out here that you were able to rush to our aid with such alacrity?”

“Hunting vampires.  I’m a famous vampire hunter, you’ve probably heard of me – Baroness Cisastasia Sarovna tussenvoegsel Cobradefreytagy.  Just yesterday I killed two vampires at a convent down the river.”

He touched two muddy fingers to his forehead “My Lady.”

“No, no, please, no reason to stand on ceremony.”

“Vampire hunting sounds like an even worse line of work than soldiering, how does one get into that field?”

“Oh, it’s a family thing.  My grandfather was a successful vampire hunter and he passed on the business to my father.  My brother was all set to take over when he choked on a clove of garlic ironically, what else could I do but step into the breach?  I had to give up a very promising career as an opera singer don’t you know, but family comes first.” 

“A most noble of sacrifices.  How many vampires have you killed?”

I gave a world-weary sigh “Oh, I used to keep track when I first started, I even had all their vampire skulls in a room in my basement all organized and documented with the tale of their destruction. But after the first fifty or so it becomes a blur, you know how it is with work, after a while you don’t pay close attention anymore.  Hundreds certainly.  Thousands perhaps at this point.  I’m undoubtedly the most prolific vampire killer the world has ever known.”

“Wow, that’s quite impressive.  Were they all vampires or did a couple normal people sneak in there?”

“That’s the nice thing about it, legally anyone I kill is classified as a vampire – liability reasons and so forth.  Can’t have my important work being interfered with now can we?”

He chuckled “Certainly not.”

“I’m heading to Gib’s Tor, looks like once you’ve got this scow right-side up you’re heading downriver.” He nodded “Well then, I guess I can’t ask you for a ride.  Do you know anything about Gib’s Tor?”

“We stop there often.  There’s no vampires that I’ve noticed but I don’t have a professional eye for them like you.  It’s a nothing town on the ass-end of nowhere, not even sure why it is there.  Lot of half-orcs there for some reason.  I guess because there’s orcs in the mountains.  There’s a tavern there that has terrible whiskey, worse beer, and pretty good brandy.”

“I wouldn’t have taken you for a brandy drinker.”

He glanced at his foundering vessel “Well, as they say, any port in a storm eh?”  

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 6922 gold

XP: 1,196,951

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage) Blessed Robes, Vampire Hunter’s Cloak, +1 Mithril Holy Undead Bane Sword-Cane  

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

Macendamandel 22 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 3

This replacement Martialla isn’t working out well at all.  Lashmi doesn’t talk much and when she does she never has anything remotely interesting to say.  I expected her to at least have some entertaining and grotesque and gruesome stories from her old days working the streets but she never talks about it.  It’s like she wants to forget being a sex worker or something.  I told her she should make a list of all the clients she had that were particularly unpleasant and then enact some form of petty, or not so petty revenge, on them but she wasn’t the least bit interested.  What’s even worse though than her taciturnicty is that she doesn’t seem to realize how great all the stuff I’m saying is – and trust me what I’m saying is pure gold. 

Here’s a good example of why she probably isn’t going to pan out as my new sidekick.  Once I determined that we were dealing with a vampire I had the priestess superior roust all the nuns and herd them outside to see if any of them would burst into flames and die.  They even wheeled Sister Agata out still strapped to her infirmary bed.  None of them did burst into flames, but it’s an overcast day so maybe a vampire is among them, best to keep an eye on them anyway.  I asked if anyone was missing and sure as shit they eventually figured out (took forever, I expected nuns to be more organized) that Sister Loke was not in the gathering.  For some reason they all thought this meant she had been killed by the vampire rather than that was the vampire.  People are strange. 

At this point is Lashmi suggested that we search the abbey, which is foolishness because clearly we need to search the crypts – where else is a vampire going to be hiding?  Martialla would have never suggested anything so stupid.  The priestess superior insisted that we would not be allowed into the catacombs under any circumstances while she continued to insist just as strenuously that there is no such thing as vampires.  I hate the part of the book where the protagonist is trying to convince everyone that they’re dealing with a vampire (or whatever) and everyone else insists on denying it even though all the evidence is in front of them.  Seemed unrealistic to me, but here I am.  I’m not even sure Lashmi believes there really is a vampire.  Martialla would be sharpening stakes right now.  She’d probably already have some pre-sharpened stakes in her bag.   

“Fine then, we won’t disturb the dead yet, but I reserve the right to disturbing the dead at a later time if need be.  Where do the secret passages go?  That’s maybe where the vampire is hiding if they aren’t in the crypts, which they are.”

The old priestess scowled “What secret passages?”

“There are always secret passages, you’re in charge you must know where they are.”

I looked to Lashmi for support but she stood like blank-faced like she knew nothing about secret passageway or that I’m always right about these things.  Martialla would have backed me up.

“Why would a religious order need secret passageways?”

“I don’t know, for secret lesbian love affairs, or to hide from the enemies of your seemingly ill-defined and amorphous faith, or from the old days when this was a fort – how should I know what you do with them?  I just know that they’re there.”

The old priestess got herself all ready to huff and puff about it, but another priestess (or nun or novice or whatever) a pink cheeked gal with massive smile-lines and a thick neck came forward to say that there were in fact two secret passageways.  I don’t know if the old broad was lying about it or if she just didn’t know – I couldn’t get a good read on it and I’m great at reading people.  This whole group of nuns is weird as Hells, even for nuns.  Cheeky Thick Neck led us to a tiny storage closet where you pushed on a panel to have a wall slide away and reveal a staircase.  I was in the middle of smiling smugly and about to annihilate the good superior with a brutal comment about how I was right when a form lunging out of darkness knocked me to the ground.

“Oh shit!”

That’s apparently what I say when I’m tackled to the ground by a blood-drinking nun (or novice or whatever).  I didn’t get a good look at her when she was hurling herself at me, but she looked small – like barely five feet maybe – but she was strong.  Not strong as a bull, more like something that’s good at wrestling.  Something that can use it’s forelimbs to grapple you.  Like a bear.  But not as strong as a bear.  She was as strong as a small bear.  Not a baby bear, but like a sub-adult bear.   Unlike a sub-adult bear though she was hissing like a bat and biting at me like a rabid wombat.  She wanted my blood bad.  I was able to hold her biting face away from my very fetching neck and was surely just about to make my move to turn things in my favor when Lashmi splattered the vampire nun’s head-goo all over my face with her hand ax.  That much at least was very similar to something Martialla would have done.

I heaved the corpse off me and spat out some eyeball jelly “Thanks.” I clambered to my feet and looked down at the now mostly headless corpse “Huh, I thought they turned into mist or something when you killed them.”

The old priestess and Cheeky were horrified “Sister Reesblout!”

“I thought you said Sister Loke was the one that was missing.”

They looked at each other “Sister Reesblout must have been missing too.  I don’t remember seeing her.”

“What kind of operation are you running here?  Don’t you even know who’s on the roster?”

Lashmi crouched down to look at the ax-hole “So was she a vampire or what did I just kill?”

I grabbed a mop sitting nearby and used it to soak up some of the nun-sludge on me “Of course she was a vampire, did you see the way she lunged at my carotid?”

All the color had drained from Cheeky’s face “Maybe she was hiding in there from the vampire and just got startled.”

Oldy was resolute “There’s no such thing as vampires.”

“She was a vampire Gods damn it!  You don’t try to bite someone’s neck because you’re scared!”

Lashmi and I went down the stairs which led to a very short tunnel that came to another staircase that led up and through another panel into a hallway by the dormitories.  I feel like Cheeky could have told us that it didn’t really lead anywhere.  I turned to Lashmi as we walked back around to the supply closet.

“You know in Morinly some vampires took over a bordello and were killing the people that visited it.  What I don’t understand is how they got away with it for so long.  Didn’t anyone notice that all the whoremongers were disappearing?” I wait a moment for a response “Do you have any thoughts on that?”

“Huh?  Uh, no, I guess not.”

“You don’t think that’s strange?  How do you think they were getting away with it?  A whole nest of vampires had to be killing a lot of people don’t you think?  Granted a lot of them were probably people that no one would miss but plenty of married men go to brothels, I think at least some of the wives would wonder why their husbands never came home.”

“Yeah, I don’t know.”

“Good Gods woman, I’m trying to make conversation here, give me something.”

She didn’t.  We met back up with the two nuns and Cheeky led us into the head priestesses own office, much to her surprise and shock.  Pushing back the desk and pulling out the rug there was a trapdoor underneath.  We were greeted by a blast of cold air when the trapdoor was thrown up.

I look at the old priestess “You ever notice any vampires or giant rats crawling out of here when you were working?”

Lashmi cast a suspicious eye at Cheeky “How do you know about this?”

“There’s a map in the library.” After a beat “I’m the librarian.”

I leaned over the hole slightly “There’s a light down there, do vampires need light to see? Seem like they shouldn’t.  Well, let’s go kill the damn thing, I suppose the rats will still be here but maybe without the vampire around they’ll wander off.”

Lashmi looked around nervously “Doesn’t it seem strange that we haven’t seen any rats?”

I pointed “They’re probably all down there.  Or out in the courtyard killing all the nuns.”  I put my hand to my ear “I don’t hear any screaming though, I feel like if you were a nun being eaten by giant rats you’d scream a lot.” I drew a rapier from my secret pocket “Anyway, let’s hit it New Martialla.”

“What?”

“Just go.”

At the bottom of the stairs was a large round room with a small pillar or pedestal in the middle.  On the pedestal pillar was a wildly incongruous little pillow that had a deep indentation in it as if something had been sitting on it for years and years.  Standing nearby in a bloody white nightshirt was a raven-haired young woman who was ghostly pale and clutching a skull to her chest like it was a newborn babe. 

“Well this is unsettling.  You would be Sister Loke them I presume?”

She smiled, overly large fangs glimmering in the lantern light, speaking in hushed towns like we were trading secrets at the opera “You want it don’t you?  You came for it didn’t you?  Well you can’t have it!”

“Uh no, I’m good on skulls, we just . . .”

Her fangs, already appearing too large to even shut her mouth lengthened and her eyes seems to shift shapes “YOU CAN’T HAVE IT!!!!!!!!!”

I was ready for the lunge this time and shoved Lashmi in the way.  Maybe you think that’s a dick move, but she’s a priestess alright, why wasn’t she confronting the vampire with her holy symbol?  What is the holy symbol of Strider anyway?  I feel like it’s a boot and a walking stick maybe.  Sometime dumb like that.  Sister Loke and Lashmi went down in a heap and I carefully stabbed Loke through the kidney.  She screamed and flailed around a lot and what seemed like eighteen gallons of blood came out of her but she died all the same.  The skull clattered out of her hands and rattled to a stop as if was looking at me – jawless but with two large fangs on the top row of teeth.

“Huh, I though vampires were supposed to be harder to kill.  What keeps the teeth in a skull after the body is dead anyway?  Shouldn’t that root rot away?  It’s not bone is it, it’s like whatever your gums are made of?”

Lashmi finally managed to yank one of her hatchets free and seemed to be brandishing it at me “What the fuck was that?!”

“A vampire obviously, maybe they’re weak at first and they get stronger over time.”

“NO!  You fucking pushed me into her!”

“Yeah, I needed a distraction so I could backstab her.  Calm down, Martialla and I used to do it all the time.”

“Who the fuck is Martialla?!”

I guess we’re not going to be friends at all since she left in a huff when I asked her to help me drag the body up the stairs for verification that it was Sister Loke.  Have you ever tried to drag a dead body UP a staircase by yourself?  Try it sometime and then tell me it’s not next to impossible.  The old priestess confirmed that it was indeed poor Sister Loke and then after much badgering did a role call to make sure no one else was missing.  I guess it was just the two vampires then.  Or whatever they were.  I never did see any rats.  I wonder what that’s about.  Maybe the Pied Piper of Illmarsh lured them away. 

When I asked for a little something for the effort the good sisters invoked the whole vow of poverty thing, which doesn’t make a ton of sense since this place itself has to be worth a fortune.  Cheeky did show me to yet another secret room though, where the gear of an old hero who had died in their care was hidden away. Seems like the kind of stuff that would have been helpful to get my hands on before fighting a horde (two is a small horde) of vampires.  When I asked why they had a vampire skull sitting on a pillow in a special hidden room they all but gave me the bum’s rush.  They didn’t even invite me to stay the night or feed me.  That’s gratitude for you.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 6922 gold

XP: 1,196,951

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage) Blessed Robes, Vampire Hunter’s Cloak, +1 Mithril Holy Undead Bane Sword-Cane  

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

Macendamandel 22 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 2

The ratman (not a literal man-rat a guy who hunts rats) refused to have anything further to do with the convent, but since my new friend the priest of the travel-god has no idea how to travel anywhere  he agreed to at least show us the way to the place.  He kept up a steady stream of recriminations about the rat-catchers guild and their leadership interspersed with sleazy comments about Lashmi and me (mostly me) but as we got closer to a copse of trees he fell silent.  Why are there trees still here when all the other ones have been cut down?  Ambience probably – loggers are well known from their sense of dramatic tension. 

There was a heavy fog clinging to the trees (nature likes a dramatic spectacle too) which were splashed with orange and yellow leaves several months out of season.  We came up on what looked like a monolith from olden times – great grey walls that you might expect to see at a fortress not a religious institution.  Maybe it used to be a fortress back when there were Kostelos to fight and was converted to nunnerism once they were all dead or scared off. 

I gestured annoyedly “You see, this is what I’m talking about, how the Hells did this get built way out here away from everything?  Who drug all this tone all this way?  And why?”

Lashmi glanced up at the walls “Well there used to be people here, we passed many old abandoned villages.  And, the river is called the Pipestone because there’s available stone all over the place that’s easy to quarry right?”

“Oh . . . I knew that I guess.”

The ratman bid us farewell and scuttled off before I could ask him exactly what he had encountered here that spooked him, a professional rat killer, so seriously.  Some more details about what happened would have been nice.  Going around the walls we found a short stone bridge over a tributary (contributory?) of the Pipestone.  Across the bridge was a massive wooden door, more of a gate really, with one of those little slit-things with a sliding window.  I pounded on the immense wood for a while before the window sild open to reveal the beady eyes of an old nun.

“I’m sorry, we’re not taking on initiates at the moment.”

“What?  Oh, you mean . . . me?  A nun?”

A had a good long laugh at that, which the eyeballs clearly didn’t like.  Lashmi took over and said that we were there to help with the rat problem while I was still chortling over the idea of me in nun school.  The mighty gate swung open and I laughed some more at the idea of a bunch of grunting nuns straining to move that massive hunk of wood, but inside there was no one else.  I guess the door operates on faith alone.  The gatekeeper shuffled off without another word and there was no one else in sight.  Lashmi and I looked at each other and started to wander into the seemingly uninhabited complex when we were chased down by a slightly younger but much more spry priestess.  She grabbed me by the shoulder, slightly out of breath.

“Come, the infirmary is this way.”

I frowned “Why would we want to go to the infirmary?  Neither of us is infirm.” I looked over at Lashmi “Are we?”

She frowned back, confused “That’s where Sister Agata is.”

“Who’s Sister Agata?”

“I thought you were . . .” she suddenly seemed suspicious “Who are you?”

“We were just passing by and we ran into the rat-catcher guy that you guys hired.”

Lashmi piped up “Otis.”

“Yeah, that guy, oddball in a disgusting big rat-fur cloak.  He told us that he was running away like a cowardly failure so we thought we’d come take a look and see if we could help.  Lashmi here is priestess too so you should get algone well, although she worships Strider instead of . . .” I looked around “What God is this place dedicated to?  Doesn’t look like any temple I’ve ever been to, it looks like a prison.”

“This isn’t a temple, it’s a postulary.”

“What’s that?”

“A facility of a religious order dedicated to self-sufficiency and service to the community.”

“What community?  There’s no one else out here.”

“All communities, once their training is completed here our members go all across the kingdom to serve in churches, dormitories, libraries, balnearies, and hospitals.”

“And which God is this facility dedicated too again?”

“We are in the service of all the Gods of good.”

“Which ones are the good ones?” She looked at Lashmi who make an apologetic half-shrug “Maybe you should just tell us what’s going on, the rat-man didn’t have much to say other than that he failed horribly and was running away like a dirty craven coward.  Why would we want to see Sister Agata?”

She stared at me for a moment before speaking “Several weeks ago some sisters complained of hearing whispering in the night and being tormented by violent dreams in their sleep.”

“I can relate to that, I’ve had dream people attacking me for months.”

“At first I didn’t think much of it this, bad dreams and whispers are nothing to be concerned with – just an overactive imagination – but then Sister Agata fell ill, and soon afterwards the rats came.  Huge and vile rats that have driven us out of the abbey.”

“So there is an abbey, the rat-guy and I were debating that.”

“They act as if controlled by a single mind, I believe that Herla, called King Herla by the debased and the wicked, is here in spirit controlling these dire vermin to vex us.”

“Who’s that?  And what is he king of?”

Lashmi seemed concerned “Herla is the conqueror of the invincible city, the devil-price of Alphas, it is said that Herla is a master of disguise who seeks to trick his victims by using a dozen voices and a hundred different faces.”

“That doesn’t sound that impressive for a devil lord, as far as I know the number of voices and faces I can use has no limit.” I took on the form and mimicked the voice of the priestess superior “See?”

Lashmi elbowed me “Stop that, you’re going to get us burned at the stake!”

I returned to my normal form “I was just making a point.”

The old nun was revolted “Who are you?!”

I waved casually “Don’t worry about me, I’m here to help.  What makes you think this Herla person would care about one little abbey like this?  Seems like a demon lord would have better things to do than personally send rats to attack you guys.  And better minions than rats.”

Lashmi corrected me “Devil prince not demon lord.”

“What the fuck’s the difference?” The old priestess gasped “Good Gods woman, calm down, your people are being devoured by rats and you’re clutching you pearls over some profanity?  Priorities okay?”

Lashmi frowned “She’s not wearing pearls.”

“It’s an expression.”

The old priestess shook her head “No one has been eaten by the rats.”

I made an exasperated noise “I didn’t mean literally, I was just . . .” I took a breath to calm down “Look, we’re getting nowhere slowly, just tell me why you think this devil-guy is all up your ass.”

“Five thousand years ago Grotrad sought the help of an oracle of Bleftrianze and was given the thousand swords of the dust-lord Agramemnon. When Grotrad and his men arrived outside the city as instructed wielding the swords all the warriors the Agramemnon had turned into dust with his vile breath sprang up into battle as undead beings. For ninety years . . .”

“Fuck me, forget I asked, let’s just go this see sick nun.”

“But the Society of Mask and Cloak, of Blade and Boot, dedicated itself to the service of Herla with debauched rites and forbidden magic and . . .”

I sighed “Can we just go look at this broad?”

Scowling the priestess led us to a wide shallow room lined with beds. They were all empty save one, where a young woman lay, pale skinned and heavy with sweat despite the chill in the air.  Her chest was heaving like she was having a panic attack.  Possibly because her hands and feet were secured to the bedframe with knotted sheets.

The priestess touched her wet forehead tenderly “She wouldn’t stop failing, even when we called up our divine magic to calm her.  We had to restrain her to prevent her from hurting herself.”

“Well this is pretty messed up.  Clearly she’s possessed, what do you expect us to do?  You’re the ones who should be able to cast out demons right?”

Lashmi was kneeling by the side of the bed “Devils.”

“What’s the difference?!”

Lashmi gestured “Look at all these bites on her neck.  I don’t think these are rat bites, and even if they are why would they only bite her on the neck?”

The girl spoke, which for some reason startled the Hells out of me “I was sleeping and in my dreams I was being watched by horrible red eyes.  I was stripped naked before them and ran, but they were everywhere, I couldn’t get away.  When I woke up I was on the floor of the abbey and there was blood running from my neck.”

“Huh.  Isn’t controlling rats something vampires are supposed to be able to do?”

Lashmi look up at me “How would I know that?”

I looked over the priestess superior and she crossed her arms “There’s no such thing as vampires, that’s a heretical peasant superstition.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?  You think a devil price is after you but vampires are too incredible to believe in?”

Lashmi stood up “If there’s a vampire here shouldn’t we leave as soon as possible?”

“Don’t sweat it, I’ve killed several vampires, they’re push-overs really.  One of them we had to dig out of the grave out by the Scar.  There was this talisman of Korrok that . . .” They both gasped as the mention of the name “Oh by Gods don’t tell me you buy into that He Who Shall Not Be Named bullshit.”  They both started frantically making various religious signs to ward off evil “Yeah, vampires are superstition but you two are the very soul of modernity.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 6922 gold

XP: 1,196,951

Inventory: Bag of Holding, +2 Distance Light Crossbow, traveling outfit, Ring of Invisibility, potion case, potions (Cure Light Wounds x3, Enlarge Person, Protection from Evil, Cure Moderate Wounds x2, Oil of Fire Trap, Rage)

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

Macendamandel 15 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Peronell Missplitter was caught wrong-footed by my revelation, which is a bad look for someone that (who?) prides themselves on being the smartest person in the room at all times.  His muscle and wizard friends looked unsure what to do next, they were ready for a knock down drag-out fight to the finish, or a festive curb-stomping at least and instead they were left standing around uncomfortably while Missplitter worked his jaw in that way people do sometimes when they’re really thinking about something.  In the end he did the only thing he reasonable could do – he sent for Psyhundt’s local contact while the goon squad stood around awkwardly in full armor.  Eventually a woman with short curly ginger-colored hair in a blue and white leather number turned up with a sardonic smirk and established my “bonda fides” such as they were.

Peronell was clearly disappointed that he wasn’t going to get to watch mm be tortured to death by the Lumber Consortium, but what was he do to?  If there’s a cardinal rule for exporting drugs is has to be not to cross the person you’re exporting them to.  The customer is always right.  It’s also best to stay on that customer’s good side when he’s the head of a sprawling criminal enterprise that reaches across the county and enforces its will with brutal murders.  That helps too.  Curly Sue said that she could dispatch a message to Psyhundt to see what he wanted to do with me, which really pissed off Missplitter – he didn’t relish the idea of holding onto me for an undetermined amount of time and trying to keep me under wraps.

I called up to the balcony where he and the ginger with knives were discussing the issue “You could let me go.  Just let me know when you get word back from Psyhundt and I’ll return myself to your custody.  You can release me on my honor like they do with noblemen and such when they’re on trial because they murdered too many of their maids that they got pregnant.”

Ginger knives chuckled but Peronell was predictably not amused.  He became even less amused when his hirelings figured out that there was going to be no reward for turning me in to the Consortium, a reward they were planning on sharing in.  I waited for them to be done expressing their displeasure and then turned to the most vocal goon, a burly fellow with a head like a bucket and one of those mouths that look like you’re always smoking a cigar even when you aren’t.

“What I would do is take custody of me yourself and turn me in for the reward, why let this old man double-cross you?”

Missplitter yelled for someone to shut me up (no one did) and then assured everyone that they would still get paid the promised amount, just that it would take a little longer.  I nodded sarcastically and then winked at another goon – a blonde big chinned man wearing a fancy blue shirt and a natty red scarf.  It’s impressive how much information you can convey with something as simple as a wink.  I was conveying to blondie that the fix was in and he was getting screwed and he was only too receptive to that message.  It helps when you tell people what they want to hear – that’s a key factor in a plausible lie. 

Blondie made a move towards me, bucket-head got bristly with him and then Peronell tried to shout this authority at everyone.  This was the wrong move.  The problem with hiring violent mercenaries to do your bidding is that they’re violent mercenaries.  You have to tread a very fine line of making it worth their while to obey your commands without throwing so much money at them that they decide they could be richer if they take you out themselves.  You have to be authoritative enough to keep them in line but you can’t push it so far that they decide to kick your ass for disrespecting them.  Normally you can juggle all this, but when something unexpected happens like this that’s when things get tricky. 

To make matters worse Peronell’s two wizard pals decided this wasn’t their problem anymore and got the fuck out of there, leaving him with no back-up all of a sudden.  Curly Sue took that moment to announce to everyone that she was sending word to Psyhundt no matter what and that word was going to be that I was in the custody of Peronell Missplitter and that if anything happened to me before the man with the golden chains could respond they would all be in for a world of pain.  That dampened everyone’s enthusiasm. And then she left with a pretty chuckle.

I sat down at one of the Percival’s Lodge tables and helped myself to some small beer “So where are you going to stash me Missplitter?  Remember that I’m a wanted felon so you’ll need to be careful.” I looked around the room “Hopefully no one here goes tattling to the Consortium – you’d be getting in from both ends then huh?”

What he decided to do was to stash me under heavy guard in what was left of the store that I had burned.  On the way there we encountered a patrol of the consortium’s legbreakers who were ecstatic that I had been captured.  They were eager to take me into their custody, but Peronell was able to wheedle and wheeze at them with assurance that he was talking me straight to the consortium bigshots himself.  The ragtag patrol reluctantly allowed itself to be convinced.  I think that officially means that he’s burning his candle from at least four different ends now. 

The basement of the first store was intact, it’s hard to “burn down” a stone cellar after all, and I was stashed here with a couple of disgruntled goons.  I thought about going to sleep, being nightmare murdered in their custody would really fix them, but instead I stayed awake and contended myself by taunting my minders about how fucked they were – Peronell was ripped them off, they’ve crossed the consortium, they’re going to be in trouble with Psyhundt, plus I made up some stuff about how the Black Widows were going to be coming after them as well.  They were having a real bad night for sure.

Before sunup I was bundled off (literally, they rolled me up in a rug – you know because people carrying around rugs like a battering ram is normal) the lower city and unfurled into a boat on the Compass River.  Apparently Missplitter had decided that the best move he could make was not to wait for word from Psyhundt and just pack me off down the river to him.  The crew was a mix of renegade Kostelos, outcast Sanpaw, and your typical dockside riff-raff, but coming along as well to make sure I got where I was going was none other than Mrs. Missplitter and a hard-worn looking fellow in ragged crimson armor that I assume is his most loyal goon.  Looked like he might be a pipehead, which is one way to ensure loyalty when you’re a drug kingpin – as long as you’re not too worried about efficacy as well.

Gone was Mrs. Missplitter’s elegant gown and in its place were what looked like newly acquired traveler’s gear – sturdy simple boots, durable breeches with unmatching shirt, a wide belt, and a voluminous hooded cloak for forever getting in your way and tangling around your legs.  She saw me snickering at her highly unfashionable wardrobe and gave me an evil look.

“It’s a fine day for a river cruise wouldn’t you say Lady Missplitter?”

The boat was that I think they call a scute, a simple flat bottomed affair mainly used to transport booze and other barrel-worthy liquids, so there wasn’t much room for Madam Missplitter to get away from me but she managed to stay out of my sight almost entirely.  The pipehead was keeping a close eye on my though, watery dull eye, but an eye nonetheless.  The crew was initially suspicious of me, do doubt having been warned what a dangerous criminal I am, but it was easy enough to win them over with my easy manner.  A few hour in and we were singing ribald sea (river?) shanties and trading jokes and insults in a pidgin of Kostelos, the King’s tongue, and some mish-mash of other languages that I was picking up.  The Sanpaw captain, a woman (I think, it’s hard to tell with them) that looked as skinny and tough as an old tree root had us roaring with laughter telling a story about how her husband had lost his leg to island cannibals in the Claws when Misses Missplitter re-appeared to glare at us.

“Quiet this commotion at once!” She jabbed her finger at the pipehead “Skador what is the meaning of this?!  I want you to make sure she doesn’t say a word this whole journey!”

While her druggie backup withered under her gaze I lounged back on the prow of the boat in a provocative way and waved away her concerns “Relax, we’re all friend here.  Psyhundt wants me dead right now but once I talk to him we’re going to the best of friends again, I have an offer that’s going to mend everything between us.  He’s a businessman and when there’s money to be made he’s as easy to forgive as it he is to get angry in the first place.  I’m not going to try and escape, I’m going exactly where I want to go.  It’s a beautiful day to be on the water, the sun is shining, the breeze is breezing, birds are singing, bees are trying to have sex with them.  It’s a perfect day.  Take it easy will you?”

She put her hand into her pocket, clearlying taking something up that granted her a measure of comfort “Why are you trying to destroy my husband?”

I feigned surprise “He’s evil.  Did you not know that?”

She scoffed “And what are you?  An avenger?”

I put on a serious countenance as a couple crewmen chuckled “Oh yes.  When I was a small girl I was walking beside a wheat field on the family farm and suddenly before me shined a shiny angel in the middle of the road.  She had long flowing white robes and three pairs of snowy white wings with feathers as delicate as those of a royal swan.  And she had a set of knockers on her that you would not believe.  Normally angel are very wispy and insubstantial but this one had a pair you could really grab onto you know?  Hot in the face, an ass you could hammer steel on, she had it all going on.  And she said to me, in voice so sweet that it may have been Adriel’s herself, that the world was full of evil and that I had been chosen by all the Gods of good to stand against it. 

Naturally I was awed by this, but I had to ask – am was just a small girl and there is so much evil in the world, what could I do against it?  She said that I had been gifted with a scared power, and that with that power came the terrible responsibility of using it.  For evil must be stopped, whatever the cost.  When you find evil, you have to fight it. You can’t bargain with it, you can’t ignore it, you can’t wish it away.  Evil doesn’t play by the rules, so neither can you.  I told her that my parents would be afraid if I did this and she said that I must never listen to what anybody else tells me.  The angel told me that I had to be willing to give up everything, because if I did nothing evil would take everything from everyone anyway.  She said that’s what people don’t understand, they’re so afraid to lose what they have that they don’t realize that trying to protect themselves from loss is what makes them lose it all anyway.  I needed to show them that people that do evil and people that do nothing are equally contemptible.  When you encounter evil you fight, because it doesn’t matter if you win. All that matters is that you fight.”

She scoffed even scoffier “And what evils have you fought?”

“When I was twelve the angel revealed to me that a man in the village was a vampire who was preying on mourners in the graveground.  I entered his home during the day and found him resting in his coffin but I wasn’t strong enough to drag it outside into the sun.  I prayed for the power to move that wooded box but I could not – I had to find another way.  I climbed up the outside of his house with a ladder and with a great effort I managed to clear away the thatch – my little hands and fingers were bloody and raw by the time I managed to make a hole in the roof to let the sun shine in.  The sun was sinking low by the time I was able to climb down the throw the coffin open.”

I shook my head somberly.

“It’s not like they say, vampires don’t scream and burst into flames and turn to ash – it’s more like rendering the fat off a slaughtered hog.  I puked my guts out at the sight of that foul thing turning to bloody sludge but I knew that it was the right thing I had done.  When I was fourteen I learned that a man in the neighboring village attacked travelers with his ax, killing and robbing them – when he was away I hid in his cupboard and then snuck out while he was eating dinner and sunk my own small hatchet so deep into his head he had to be buried with it in.  A year later I used a knotted cord and a stick to strangle a demented midwife that killed mothers to take in ‘orphans’.  The next year I burned a wicked man with troll-blood who feasted on the bodies of his neighbors.  I married a man who had chained his previous eight wives in his basement and left them to starve – I was his last wife, I left him hanging with the ghosts of his victims.”

During this speech Missplitter had turned on heel and disappeared into the scute’s small cabin, the crew largely returned to their work, but one dark haired woman who looked to be of a southern Kostelos line hesitated and looked at me cautiously.

“That’s not true is it, you were just telling tales.”

“You course it’s true, otherwise I’d be a murderer.  If I wasn’t the agent of divine retribution on earth killing all the people I’ve killed would be a sin.  Good thing I have a holy mission huh?”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: None

XP: 1,190,751

Inventory: None

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

Mantelderith 13 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

It was quite a while before anyone found us.  As I said we watched the sun rise yesterday and it was dark before a couple grim faced blood-splattered soldiers came marching up the stairs to our not very secret secret hiding place.  You’d think that checking the perimeter (or whatever) would be one of the first things that you’d do once the fighting was wrapped up.  You’d also think that finding your wife would be a pretty high priority.  But the old Baron has just been freed from the malevolent depraved mind control of Kostelos witch so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt – it’s probably akin to be hung-over, you’re not at your best.  Takes some time to get your wits about you and make good decisions again.

The soldiers escorted us and we escorted the Baroness to an almost genuine looking teary reunion with the good Baron – much hugging and exchanging of pretty words.  He explained sorrowfully to us all that his mind was not his own when he was betraying his sacred wedding vows.  Although I felt that message was undercut somewhat because he spent a good deal more time going into detail about how the witch turned herself into a comely young woman for these couplings.  There was no mention of any of his other violations of the wedding vows which if you ask me was a missed opportunity.  Were I the Baron I would have taken that chance to explain that the witch had been messing with my mind for years – which caused all the infidelities of the past.  I also would have elucidated that there was still a little witch magic rattling around in here that was to blame for the infidelities I had planned in the future.

Since Martialla and I had robbed the Baron of his revenge by killing the witch and the shaman and the witch-shaman (and possibly a shaman-witch) he had to settle for a mass hanging of the handful of Kostelos warriors that had been captured.  A popular thing for rich and powerful people to order in these scenarios is to leave the bodies to rot on the walls as some kind of lesson but that presents all manner of logistical problems.  Rotting corpses aren’t very handy to have hanging around (pun).  To make him feel better about not getting to execute any Kostelos women I presented him with Greysmith’s dwarf-axe saying that it had been the weapon of mightiest Kostelos warrior in the battle. 

The good news is that Zedkath had been captured.  With very little prompting he said that the goal of the Kostelos-Satander alliance was succession from our beloved Kingdom and the creation of a new kingdom dedicated to their God and their cultural whatevers.  I got the impression that Zedkath had gotten mixed up in the scheme out of boredom rather than any manner of religious ecstasy, a theory which Martialla backed up.  I guess that’s what you get when you send an ambitious young asshole warrior to guard a mountain pass instead of to the front lines where he can make a name for himself.  Although I suppose that was the point, the Duke doesn’t need any rivals. 

I explained to the Baron how I saved him and all his lands making sure to downplay everything I had done and emphasize that he had mostly broken free of the spell himself and had probably only fallen under it in the first place because of something someone else had done.  I told him how his lands had fallen into disarray and that many of his holdings have been either given away in his name or were being usurped – particularly usurped by Baron Saltwheel and Baron Harmenkar.  Since the Kostelos had done such a good job of stripping him of his loyal fighting men I suggested that Mord’s crew of warriors would help him start righting the ship – they’re not your typical baronial sworn men but these aren’t typical times and they had proven themselves effective in doing their small part to help him had they not?

After all that talking it was late and I was dispatched with Martialla to my old room – someone else had been living there clearly but the man (either a very casual soldier or a servant with a weapon) that escorted us assured us that they wouldn’t be coming back.  I wonder how many “innocent” bystanders got the shaft in this whole fiasco.  I had a weird sense of repetition being back in that room – even though it was full of someone else’s possessions.  For a weird moment it felt like I had never left.  Before I banished it I was overwhelmed with the helpless feeling of being trapped here that I had when they first demonstrated that they could track me with the necklace they’ve sealed around my neck.  But things are different now.  So many things are different now.  Things such as waking up in a bed – a nice bed.  A nice bed a place that is safe (sort of) and has good food and clean water and zero lurking rays (probably).  Case in point when I woke up Martiall was sitting by the window eating breakfast corn and having herself a morning cocktail. 

She nodded over at me as I stirred “How were the nightmares?  Soul crushing or just spirit destroying?”

“I’m not even sure it was a nightmare.  I dreamed that Auraluna Domeil’s daughter was working with a group of blood wizards to turn the Queen into a vampire with their blood ritual so they could control her with their vampire controlling amulet.”

“Ah yes, who doesn’t have one of those?”

“Exactly.  Of course I was the only one who had the cure and I needed to get it to the Queen before it was too late.”

“Where was I?”

“Absent.  I assume you sacrificed yourself to the Blood God in order to get the cure.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Why would I try to save the queen?  It’s a dream, they don’t have to make sense.  Speaking of, I promised to tell you about a new development.  The ghost or spirit or something of an ancient Emperoress has visited me a couple times and wants me to help her come back to life or something.”

“How tedious.  Also it’s Empress.”

“You mean it’s impressive.” 

“No, it’s Empress, you said Emperoress.  That’s not a word.”

“Impress who about what?”

“No, not IMpress, EMpress.”

“What?”

“Forget it.”

After breakfast the Baron gathered everyone in the town square and made a grand declaration that in three days’ time there would be a great feast in honor of his victory so everyone better get off their ass and fix up all the damage that had been done in the fighting.  That’s a pretty good example of how life works for these people.  You work like a dog all day and then suddenly out of nowhere there’s fighting and fires burning in your home.  You hide or run or do whatever and manage to survive the night – congratulations now you have to clean it all up!  Oh, and also this extra work that needs to be done right now!  And these are the privileged ones – they’re lives are much better than the farmers out in the countryside.  It’s almost enough to make you feel like those Black Bride/Widow/Whatever people are onto something.  Almost.  Remember how I accidentally created that movement?  Well not accidentally, but unintentionally. 

After that I “got” to attend to the Baroness since all her ladies in waiting had been killed or fled or killed while trying to flee.   Things were so dire that even Martialla was impressed into service as one of the Baroness’ attendants.  Martialla clomping around the Baroness’s sitting room?  That’s how bad things were.  After a couple hours on Baroness duty I managed to slip away and leave Martialla to attend to her needs by herself – which is probably the worst thing I’ve ever done to her.  And remember that I stabbed her a few days ago.  It might be the worst thing I’ve ever done to anyone.  Maybe not. 

I went to see the Baron and who did I see by his side but Hellerhad.  It took me a moment to recognize him since he was dressed in fine clothing now instead of being draped in animal guts, but a man that size with that stupid of a mustache?  You don’t forget a sight like that.  What’s the world coming to when a man like that is a wizard?  He’s got to be close to seven feet high and he looks like he could pick up a manatee like a sack of grain.  Or at least a dugong. 

“Good morrow My Lord, I thought all your enemies had meet their final disposition.”

He frowned “Speak plainly woman, what can you mean?”

I lowered me head demurely “Sorry My Lord, I just assumed that Master Hellerhad being the powerful man of magic that he is could have long ago broken the witches spell that affected you rather than leaving you to struggle free triumphantly as you did.  Much hardship and loss could have been prevented if he had defended you as one should their liege lord.  Ergo I assumed he was your enemy by proxy.”

The Baron’s frown turned into a look of curiosity as he glanced at his advisor “Do you know this woman?”

He nodded “We met briefly while you were away My Lord.”

“Yes, met when I went asked for his aid in protecting the Baroness, and in helping her to manage the land in your absence.”

“And what was his response?

“Why don’t you tell the Baron what response you gave to my supplication Master Hellerhad.”

His face turned to stone and he paused before speaking “My Lord, it was purely a case of bad timing, you see . . .”

“Very bad timing I must imagine, for there was no response at all My Lord.  Master Hellerhad sent me on a fool’s errand and then fled like a thief in the night, leaving not so much as a word to me or your good wife.”

Hellerhad was halfway out of his chair before the Baron waved him back irritably.

“This is a serious accusation.  Do you deny it sir?”

Hellerhad stopped glaring at me to look kindly at the Baron “It’s not quite that simple your Lord, the situation is more complex than a woman . . .”

“How convenient.  I think it’s very simple, I came to you for help and you ran on account of your cowardly soul.”

The Baron gave me the stink eye “That’s twice you’re interrupted when it is not your place to do so.  Don’t do it again.”

I curtsied retiringly “Apologies My Lord, it’s been an eventful few days, all the excitement has made me forget myself.”

“Hmm, yes, quite so.  Well, this is a troublesome problem isn’t it?  I shall need good councilors around me in the days to come and they are sadly in short supply just now.  I was counting on Hellerhad to advise me on many matters, many matters indeed.  But as you say his absences before now is rather damning.”

Hellerhad now did stand to address the Baron “My Lord all I can say is that I am here to provide you all the wisdom I have to offer.”

“My Lord, if I may, two relations of mine have traveled here with me, I would suggest that they could provide much better counsel than this vondrook and would be happy to do so.”

The Baron was shocked by my language “Madam, you forget yourself!”

I ducked my head in apology once again “I’m sorry My Lord, but the sight of a blackguard sitting at your strong right hand quite inflames my passions.”

Hellerhad spun on me “Blackguard?!  How dare you madam?  How dare you?!”

The Baron gestured at him “Sit down my friend.  Perhaps you should remove yourself until your passions are calmed Lady.”

Another bloody curtsy “I shall My Lord, again my apologies for any upset I have caused.  Before I retire however I would like to bring up one thing.  You spoke of a boon for the small part that I played in your return to your faculties.  I would request that it be banishing this scapegrace from your court.”

“I’m afraid that’s out of the question.”

“How about a duel My Lord?”

He looked like a rabbit had just ridden by on the back of a giraffe “A duel?”

“Yes My Lord, a contest of some sort.  If I win Master Hellerhad is exiled.  If he wins I shall apologize and never speak ill of him again.  We’d have to figure out some fair competition of course, clearly I cannot match magic with him just as he’s no match for me physically.”

He was incredulous “What?  I could break you in half with one hand!”

“So it would have to be something where we had an equal chance – letting the Gods decide as is the intention of these things.”

The Baron’s surprised turned to deep thought “An interesting proposal.  I shall think on it.” He waved his hand airily “You may go now.  And in the future don’t turn up in my chambers unannounced.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it My Lord.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Funds: 53,040 platinum, 8,000 gold

XP: 1,070,851

Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, 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

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

Mathanaya 26 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

We reached Heller’s Hills today a few days ahead of schedule to intercept Tanara Aluation, which gave us time to explore the community.  We saw such sights as the one street and the crazy guy who harangues passersby (passerbys?) and the taxidermy bear outside the lumbermill.  And that’s pretty much the extent of what Heller’s Hills has to offer a curious traveler.  After checking out the one street and the stuffed bear for a second time Martialla and I were sitting on barrels outside the general store drinking distilled fruit brandy from her flask. 

“How is it that you always seem to have booze?”

“It’s a magic flask, it refills itself every day.”

“Really?!”

“No.  I’m just a good scrounger and I plan ahead.  There actually is such a thing as a mug that fills itself but its weak watery beer.  I’m not sure why anyone would even bother.”

“Most likely because they have a serious drinking problem.  You’re magic, why don’t you make something like that that conjures up good alcohol?”

“That’s not how it works.”

“It’s never how it works.  Magic is the worst.”

Martialla summoned an illusionary hand giving me a thumbs up “You got that right lady.”

The excitement really ratcheted up a notch when a kid came by rolling a hoop with a stick.

“You be careful with that hoop kid, it will stunt your growth. Mess with that hoop too much and you lose the power to imagine because you’re staring at the hoop all day – turns your brains to mush it does.”

The kid deftly used the stick to flip the hoop to his hand “I’ve never seen you before, who are you?”

“Strangers, come talk to us, we’re luring you over.”

The kid shrugged and walked over “Okay.”

“We’re in town for a few days, does anything interesting go on here?”

“Well, Old Man Gwetting was killed by the hillfolk.”

“Hillfolk eh?  What’s their problem?”

“I dunno.  They sent word to the bailiff about it to see if he would come out and kill them but he said there was a war on so there’s no men to do anything about it.”

“There is a war on but there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of violent men hanging around as far as I can tell.”

“That’s probably in the city though, people there are always killing each other.  My ma says that cityfolk are all murders and drug addicts and women of loose morals.”

“A wise woman your mother.  Where could we find these hillfolk?”

“In the hills.”

“Of course, how silly of me.”

“You’re not going to go out there are you?”

“Someone has to don’t they?  Can’t have murderous hillfolk running around scaring the sheep and molesting the scarecrows.  Don’t worry about us kid, my friend and I are great warriors.”

The kid made a face like tasting something bad “You don’t even have lances.  Or armor.  Plus . . . . you’re girls.” The whispered the last part like it was a great secret.

“Correct on all counts, but when all you have is thin gruel it does no good to bite a snake.”

“What does that mean?”

Martialla turned to me as well “What does that mean?”

“It’s an expression” I said defensively.

After telling the kid to go home and help his momma Martialla and I went out to the “estate” of Old Man Gwetting which consisted of a shack and a pig pen and a second pig pen, so you know, it was a pretty nice shack.  There was a very much not old man there shirtlessly doing something with hay and a pitchfork – his sweaty muscles rippling in the sun.  This was the great-great-great fifth nephew Gwetting or some such who told us that his antecedent had been out by the Blue Ridge gathering mushrooms when the evil hillfolk set upon him and bludgeoned him to death.

Martilla and I made our way out to the Blue Ridge and made contact with the wicked hillfolk.  They didn’t look like Kostelos – they looked normal – but they spoke a dialect of Kostelos that I was able to understand pretty well.   They claimed that the old man had been grabbed by two elfs and taken up in the higher hills – which of course is where the real bad people are.  If I’ve learned anything it’s that the lower elevation you live at the more civilized and less awful you are.  Martialla and I headed up the trail they indicated.

“Full blooded elfs?  What do you think we’re really going to find up there?”

“Nothing, probably the old man just wandered off and fell in a crevasse.  Old people are forever falling in crevasses.”

It was starting to get dark by the time we were coming upon an outcropping where there appeared to be the ruins of an old temple, nothing much left standing but a couple of walls.

“I’ve never understood why religious types build in hard to reach places like this, what’s the point?  Don’t they want to be where people can come and give them their money for their God?  Hey, what is that?”

That turned out to be an alchemist’s vial thrown at us which exploded with a burst of some kind of freezing liquid that splashed all over us, which was quickly followed by a second.  We spotted two figures in the shadow getting ready to hurl more vials at us through windows (or maybe just holes in the walls) of the front face of what was left of the temple.  Martialla turned herself invisible while I used a Feather Token to create a tree and got some cover.  The people in the temple tossed a few more vials but the path was so narrow the tree blocked it almost completely and they gave up.

“That wasn’t a very kind greeting.”

The voice did indeed sound like the mellifluous tones of an elf  “We don’t get many visitors up here, come out and we’ll give you a proper welcome.”

“Did you kidnap and old man for some reason?”

“Yes.  You want him come and get him.  How long is that tree going to last?”

“Forever.  Well, this isn’t a good place for a tree so it will die in a few months but I mean it’s not magic, it’s a real tree so it’s not going anywhere.”

“That’s going to be really inconvenient to get around.”

“Can’t you just float down to the ground with effeminate elf magic?”

“Come out from behind that tree and we’ll find out together.”

“Martialla are you ready yet?”

I heard her voice coming from inside the temple “Yeah, I’m ready.”

I activated the Lion Tattoo for climbing and shimmed up the tree, switching to lion balance to get a good firing position.  I saw the two elves in the temple looking around wildly for Martialla. One of them threw down a flask that turned into a giant centipede and the other drank a potion that made him grow.  Have you ever seen a ten foot tall elf?  I have now.  It’s . . . odd.  I’m glad I wasn’t in the mix with the massive centipede, I hate those things even when they’re tiny, but it wasn’t much of a battle.  A giant elf with a massive spear seems intimidating but a molten glob of metal to the face changes things in a hurry.  After the fracas was over we found the old man’s body looking emaciated and exsanguinated in equal measure. 

The elfs both had lean-tos set up against what was left of the crumbling walls and looked to have been there for years.  They had notes and books that indicated they were looking for some way to turn themselves into vampires, which I have to assume is why they’re here instead of whatever magical land elfs are supposed to live in – elfs don’t like vampires so much.  I think where they live is to the west across the sea.  We found a few more bodies including what looks to have been a tax collector with a Bag of Holding full of gold.  We piled the bodies together and burned them along with the notes and books before bedding down in the lean-tos for the night.

“Why would an elf want to be a vampire?  Don’t they already live forever?  Is there just weird stuff like this going on everywhere?”

“You were the one that was bored.”

“Meaning what exactly?”

“Maybe if we just took a few days to rest and do nothing this wouldn’t have been here.”

“What, so I made it happen somehow?”

“Maybe.  The world is a strange place, who’s to say really?  Maybe if you think about something enough you bring it into existence.  Maybe the Gods are just waiting for ideas to make real.”

“Poor people think about food and money all the time but they don’t get it.”

“Oh no, it only works for bad things.”   

“That much sounds accurate at least.”

_______________________________________________________________

Hair regrowth progress :  .0435%

Funds: 747 platinum, 70,296 gold

XP: 263,161

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, 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

Mathanaya 8 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) Part 1

Emerging from the Broken Oar Martialla and I found signs that the wounded swamp cat had been prowling around outside while we were cavorting drunkenly inside.  Just the kind of thing you need to make yourself feel like it’s going to be a great day.  Because that coward Jopha had abandoned us and we didn’t feel confident in our ability to retrace our steps to Gibson we decided to head east to Bowcrag – we just need to follow the muddy channel where the river used to be and we’ll get there right?  As we traveled the ground seemed to randomly get less peaty and more swampy and then back again – at times almost being solid.  It was another miserable day tromping through the wilderness. 

“Remind me again why we came out here.”

“You wanted to kill the people that killed Hardra.”

“Oh right.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Have you ever been this far east?  Are we even in Cymrile County anymore?”

“I don’t know.  We might be getting near the border of Vieland.”

“What?  Isn’t the border hundreds of miles away?”

“Not as of the last war, you know the one before the one going on now – we, and by we I mean the King and people like that, seized a swath of land from Vieland but there’s two bulges along the coast that still belong to Vieland.”

“We’re not anywhere near the coast are we?”

“No, but they’re big bulges.  If you know what I mean.  Besides which the land has just recently changed hand so who knows what the people think – maybe they’re on the lookout for a couple Kingdom ladies like ourselves to ravage – you know, to get back at the King.  Or the Queen I guess since the King is dead now.”

“Yes I’m sure she’d be devastated to hear about our ravishing.”

“That’s how wars are fought right?  I’m sure the kings and high priests and court wizards and so forth sit around in their throne rooms and read lists of all the peasants killed and weep over each one.  Otherwise what would be the point of killing them?”

“I always assumed it was something to do with the Gods, they need a war every now and then a something to watch from the Heavens.”

“That too.”

Eventually our slogging led us to a small stream that we followed south, that turned into a slightly larger stream – a creek it could even be called.  Following that took us to a small village by the name of Long Avon, named after its founder for reasons I’ll leave to your imagination.  Normally it couldn’t have been home to more than fifty people, but there were a lot more there because there was a festival on.  A fellow who was visiting from nearby Grimslan clued us in to what was going on – the Long Avoners had captured a vampire that was going to be burned at the stake, which is more than enough reason for a festival.  There were painted poles decorated with flowers and long ribbons, wandering minstrels singing, dancers dancing , prancers pranncing, vendors selling dubious wares, and general merriment – all the things you need for a good vampire burning. 

The semi-main event was an over nine foot tall “statue” made out of flash paper of varying colors that people called “the Sorceress” – the resultant lightshow of it being set aflame would signal that it was time for the vampire to burn shortly afterwards.  Right next to it was the vampire attached to his stake in the traditional arms chained over the head format which has to be Hells on the shoulders.  Seemed like a pretty average looking fellow – aside from his brawny arms.  His hair was nothing to speak of but I found myself envying it nevertheless.  I really need to find a wigmaker. 

“Do you see something wrong with this scene?”

“Well, since you ask, I’m no vampirologist but aren’t they supposed to die in sunlight?  Aside from being chained to a stake this guy seems fine despite the sun blazing away.”

“Exactly.  Do you suppose there’s something stupid happening in every village at all times or are we just the unluckiest people in the world?”

“Don’t look at me, I never encountered this kind of thing until I started following you around.”

I went to poke the “vampire” and asking him what was going on, but was blocked by a chunky fellow in mismatched and rusty armor with an antique halberd.  He told us not to bother the prisoner.  My initial instinct was to slap him in his corpulent face, but it’s time to return to form.  Instead of resorting to violence or childish name-calling I turned on the charm.  It was a simple matter to convince the guardsman to let us talk to the prisoner and a good reminder that this is the kind of thing I should be doing more of.  Unfortunately the prisoner had nothing much to say, you’d think if you were tied to a stake you’d want to chat just out of boredom but he refused to engage. 

Thankfully as we were trying to get the vampire to open us his wife came running over to us – she was quite a beauty for a country girl.  Curly wheat-blonde hair, milky white skin, soft pink lips – in another few years country life would leave her a wreck, but for now she was really something to write home about.  Sadly she didn’t have much information either, she just insisted her husband wasn’t a vampire and begged us to save him.  All she was able to do was direct us to the mayor – one Navomi Noik, who was pretty much an “after” portrait of the vampire’s wife Imma, a rough looking country lady who looked like she had risen to the position of mayor based on her ability to take a punch. She all but admitted that since Drake (the vampire) had come to town a few months ago livestock had started drying mysteriously and he was the scapegoat.

“What kind of livestock do you raise around here?”

“Coypu, they’re a sort of big semi-aquatic rat.”

“What would anyone want that for?”

“Their meat is . . . edible, and you can make clothing out of their pelts, sort of.”

“Why are you accusing this guy of being a vampire?  He’s out in the sunlight.”

“It was the best I could do.  All signs point to a witch, but everyone knows that only women can be witches so I had to come up with something.”

“That’s flawless logic.  When I tried to talk to the guy he wouldn’t say anything, has he denied this vampire accusation?”

“No, which makes my job much easier.”

“How long do we have to find the real reason your super valuable rats are dying?”

“Drake is the real reason of course.  He’ll be burned the day after tomorrow though if that’s what you mean.”

We went back to speak with Imma, but were blocked at the door to her hovel by her tall, stern, cadaverous father accusing us of her getting her “riled up” and complaining of her delicate constitution.  I was able to persuade him to let us in however and after an excruciating tangent about his wife’s death and how he was a self-made man we finally got to speak with the lovely Imma.  Despite her emotional pleas for her husband’s life it didn’t sound like she even knew him that well – saying that he had been rather cold and distant the entirety of their only months long marriage.  The father explained that he had arranged the marriage, which is what brought Drake to the village, but talking to these two was getting us nowhere slowly.  We went back to the horse’s mouth, where my new friend the rusty guardsman was only too happy to let us try and talk to the prisoner again.

“Here’s what I’m thinking.  The reason you’re not shouting your innocence to the Heavens is because you’re protecting whoever is actually responsible for the death of these swamp rats.  I’m sure that seems unspeakably noble to you, but here’s the problem – after they burn you to death and the rats keep disappearing what do you think is going to happen?  Eventually they’re going to find whoever you’re protecting and kill them too.  And then you died for nothing.  So how about you let us in on whatever’s going on and we’ll see if we can help you.”

He was a tough nut to crack, but cracking nuts is my specialty, if you know what I mean.  There’s no vampire of course, that would be preposterous, a werewolf is killing the watery rodents.  Drake has a twin sister who got the Bite of the Moon and is slowly losing her battle against her murderous instincts.  People were starting to get suspicious in their old village so Drake did the only sensible thing he could do – arrange a marriage to someone in a different village and then hide his sister in the woods alone, occasionally going out to visit her and try to control her desire to feast on people like so many sheep with prayer and inspirational beatings. 

“Since you’re chained to a post and hours away from death this probably doesn’t need to be said, but that wasn’t a very good plan.”

It took even more time to convince him to tell us where this sister of his is hiding out.  Despite what Martialla said yesterday I think the real issue is that stabbing someone is fast and it’s done.  Trying to get people to do what’s in their own best interest takes forever.  I don’t understand why people persist in not doing what I say without question, it’s quite vexing.

“Alright Drake, you hang here, were on the case.”

Martialla shook her head “Really?  A pun?” 

“That was unintentional, you know I would never do such a thing.”

_______________________________________________________________

Hair regrowth progress :  .012%

Curses – Marksman’s Malady

Funds: 900 platinum, 4251 gold

XP: 243,161

Inventory:  Pathfinder’s Gear (white) Pocketed Scarf, Wrist Sheath, Animal Totem Tattoo (Lion), Dagger of Venom, Bracers of Armor +2, Ring of Protection +2, Light Crossbow, Assortment of Fake Signet Rings,  Bag of Concealment,  Belt of Giant Strength +4, Vest of Resistance +1, Ring of Sustenance, Silver Chain set with Moonstones, Gold and Emerald Ring (2), Glove of Vampiric Touch, Platinum and Silver Holy Symbol of Kralten, Holy Symbol of Kozilek, Ruby (2), Black Marketers’ Bag, 879 Garnets, bolt of silk, Pirate’s Eyepatch, dress (fancy, revealing) 2, dress (fancy) 6

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