Montresor 29 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) part 2

You cut one guy’s face off and all of a sudden people look at you strangely.  You’d think that the Duke’s personal guard would be made of sterner stuff.  I’m sure they’ve done all manner of depraved things in service of their lord and master the Duke.  Who are they to look askance at me for one defacing?  It wasn’t like the guy didn’t deserve it.  Everyone deserves it.  Justified or not (it isn’t) Bolbec and Cavnas are eyeballing me like a dangerous forest cat.  Finchley would occasionally grin at me like we shared some private joke.  The other guy whose name I don’t know and never says anything was the same.  I guess I can take comfort in that. 

Eedraxis’s . . . compound I’ll call it, was much the same, the tree looked a little more sickly and burned perhaps and there was some manner of glowing weather-vane thing sticking out the top of the main building but otherwise it looked like the same madman’s workshop was I visited almost two years ago looking for poisons.  I think that if I had found a normal black market alchemist instead of this lunatic things would be much different now.  I made a lot of mistakes in those early days.  With a reliable source of drugs and poison I think I could have handled my business much neater and more quickly.  The Duke would probably be dead by now.  Maybe I should learn alchemy myself.  You know, in my spare time.

While the compound itself was the same the surrounding area was much different.  There was a large bonfire nearby and a roped off area with several wagons.  Big wagons.  Big wagons heavily laden with junk.  It was as random as collection of junk as you’d ever want to lay eyes on.  There were a couple of ruffians listlessly guarding the piles and up “front” was a battered table where a dozen or so people were queued up to hand over their junk.  Manning the table was a brawny scruffy looking fellow who looked like a lumberjack but was dressed like a prosperous merchant.  He had on a tight cap that was pushing out a mass of hair at the edges like a reverse muffin.  With him was a female gnome with eyes that bulged out like those of a tree lizard and who had an extra joint between the elbow and the wrist.  I haven’t seen a lot of gnomes but I don’t think they’re supposed to look that pale and glistening.  Kind of like a slug’s flesh.  Brawny was examining whatever the people brought up to him and the gnomette was freaking everyone out with her weirdness and then handing them a couple bricks of wandermeal. 

If you don’t know what wandermeal is consider yourself lucky.  It’s an edible rock made of flour and water with some other surprises.  It keeps for months without spoiling.  People say that it was invented in the Shire but that is utter bullshit.  Shirefolk would never create a foodstuff so terrible.  The best wandermeal is bland and tasteless.  The worse has all kinds of flavors.  Fun fact about wandermeal, it fills you up but it has little to no nutrition in it – if that’s all you eat you have zero energy and eventually you die for malnutrition.  The scheme playing out was as simple as it was obvious – the war is starting to make things scare so come trade all your worldly possessions for a couple handfuls of what is technically food.  An alchemist can turn out wandermeal by the basketload easily.

The ruffians by the wagons looked over incuriously as I headed for Eedraxis’s cottage but bustling out from the front door (inasmuch as the random collection of wood and iron can be said to have a front) was the gatekeeper – a Kostelos man dressed in the motley of a renegade.  He was a tall fellow with a tall hat that made him seem even bigger, although he was skinny as an elf-maiden.  He had a hatchet on his belt that his hand strayed to touch for comfort every few moments.  When he pointed at the table and its two odd inhabitants his arm wasn’t quite straight – like it had a little crook in it from being broken and not healing correctly.

“No one is allowed inside, if you want to sell something you go over there.”

“Oh I’m not here to sell anything, I just want to chat with my old pal.  He used to get very upset if people came around here, looks like he got over that huh?  Commerce can do wonderful things for people’s attitude.  Some say that war profiteering is bad but look what it’s done for Eedraxis and his social anxiety.  Marvelous isn’t it?”

“Eedraxis isn’t seeing anyone.”

I moved to walk past him “I’m sure he’ll be happy to see me.”

Put his non-crooked arm out to block me “No one is allowed in.”

I gave him a cool look “Take your hand off me sir.”

The Duke’s guards weren’t right there with me but they were nearby, and they look like some bad men if you don’t know better like I do.  The Kostelos man looked at them nervously but he didn’t back down.  He did draw his hand off me though.

“I can’t let you in.”

I snapped my fingers “Hey, I know you don’t I?  You’re Grey Horse right?  You’d skulk around on the edge of town selling phony charms and potions?  I remember Augrim talking about what a disgrace you were.” I chuckled “Man did he want to kill you.  The whores used to talk about you too, you’re the one with the dick that . . .”

“No one calls me Grey Horse anymore, my name is Sartorious now.”

“Wow, that’s about as un-Kostelos a name as you can conjure up now it’s it?  Decided to join the winning side huh?  Good luck with that.  Look Sartorious, I don’t want to get into a while thing with you here, can you just go inside and ask Eedraxis if he wants to see me?  I’ll just stay here and wait.  Maybe I’ll check out those junk wagons, perhaps there’s something I’d be interested in buying.”

He seemed dubious but I convinced him with my winsome smile.  I can winsome as fuck you know.  A moment after he went inside I turned to the Ducal Guards and gave them wink before disguising myself as the merchant woodsman and going inside myself.  The inside of the complex had been altered radically – I get the feeling that Eedraxis is constantly changing the place up to facilitate whatever crazy stuff he’s working on.  I’m sure he’s got body parts he’s trying to reanimate in there somewhere.  I didn’t see Eedraxis but I did see a couple more weird looking gnomes – I didn’t get a good look but I could swear that I saw one that had a carapace like a beetle.  I give wizards a hard time (and rightfully so) but alchemists are into some pretty freaky shit as well.  Let us not forget that Eedraxis was chased out of Graltontown for kidnapping and experimenting on dwarves.

Grey Horse was surprised by the appearance of whoever it was I appeared like and was about to say something when I grabbed one of the many flasks of bubbling shit the gnomes were working on and hurled it into a small fire that was in the middle of the room.  It exploded into a cloud of choking vapor because what else was it going to do – explosions and poison are what alchemy is all about.   That and addictive drugs and graverobbing and turning people into weird bugs.  I held my breath and covered my eyes and knocked over more stuff until the place was well on fire.  When I finally ran out noxious smoke was pouring out of Eedraxis’s hut.  But it wasn’t going up into the air, it was creeping along the ground like animal.  It was pretty strange.  Bolbec and Cavnas had their swords out as I ran over to them and started coughing like an old man.

“What happened?  What’s going on?”

Eye burning eventually I was able to speak “Wrong house.  I think my friend lives north of here.”

Montresor 28 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) part 2

The farther down you are on the socio-economic ladder the worse your shoes are – which is an issue because also the father down you are on the socio-economic ladder more important your shoes are.  When I was first drugged and left for dead in Graltontown I was pissed that my dress had gotten dirty.  Those were my priorities at the time.  I quickly discovered that when you’re down here in the mud and the guts with everyone else what you really need is a good pair of boots or shoes.  When I was given this potato sack to wear it came with “shoes” in the form of cloth to wrap about my feet, which is more common than you’d think.  It really tears you up.  Whenever I face a serious setback like the one currently occurring my first order of business is to get some proper footwear.  It was easy this time because I didn’t have to do anything.  The first step of Bolbec Forthwind’s plan was to give me some different clothes to wear.  A pair of sturdy boots, cloth skirt with an overtunic, a belt, a shirt with a terrible jacket, gloves, a scarf, and an ugly a wide-brimmed hat.  It looked terrible.  Sadly I’ve worn worse.

It’s a commentary on my life now that I didn’t even think about it – I just started changing right in front of him.  I wonder what kind of commentary it is that he didn’t even remark upon that fact.  Instead he started explaining the subsequent parts of the plan – sneaking out of town and going some number of paces this way or that and blah blah blah, I wasn’t really listening.  Once I was dressed in my slightly less crappy clothing I lay down on the bed in the shitty hostel with my hands behind me head.

“I appreciate it Bolbec but what I could really use is a whiskey sour and a nice juicy rabbit.”

He was understandably confused “But we need to go right now, we only have . . .”

I waved his concerns away “It’s no use Bolbec, they got me good.” I tapped the collar they saddled me with “This baby is all magiced up the wing-wang, there’s no getting away for me, not until I can figure out how to get rid of it.”

“That shouldn’t be hard, we just need . . .”

I sat up quickly as I felt the collar start to constrict “Stop!  Don’t say anything more about it!  Talk like that sets it off.”

He looked at me for a moment “They really got you don’t they?”

I laid back down “The hook is in deep this time my old friend.  And by old friend I mean someone I barely know.  Why is that you were going to help me?  Seems like you had this whole plan worked out in advance, what’s the skinny?  Were you secretly in love with me the entire time we were at court?  Were you pining away in silence, enraptured by my beauty?  I don’t blame you there Bolbec, I was quite something back then.  This is the part where you’re supposed to say how lovely I am still.”

“Huh?’

“Forget about it, just tell me what’s going on.”

“I volunteered for this assignment, from the beginning my plan was to help you escape, I did have things arranged beforehand.  Before I got here I spent some time working it all out.  I should have guessed that it wouldn’t be that easy.”

“Nothing ever is.  That doesn’t tell me anything about why you did it though.  Are you working for someone?  Do I still have allies at court?”

He shook his head “No, I did this on my own.”

“You’re being very cagey Bolbec, why is the question – what’s your angle?”

“I just didn’t think it was right what had happened to you.”

“I don’t believe that for a second but I won’t press the matter anymore, you can have your secrets if you want.  I supposed embarking on this shenanigan this is better than being on the front lines.  How is the war going Bolbec?  Seems like the Kingdom is losing a lot of territory given the fact that we’re supposed to be winning this thing.”

He smiled sadly “I’m sure it’s a tactical decision, all part of the plan.”

“I’m sure.  Tell me something Bolbec, if I snuck my way into Finchley’s room in the night and slit his throat and tossed him out a window how would that make you feel?”

His facial expression was hard to read, it looked like someone had stepped on his balls and he was trying now to show it “Are you capable of something like that My Lady?”

I snorted “Oh, I’m no lady anymore Bolbec, not that I ever was truly, I was the Duke’s dress up doll.  I’m still in the process of figuring out what I am.  It’s harder than you think.  Let me ask you this Bolbec, when the war is over and the Kingdom has won as it always does in war, there’s going to be a flood of people in society that have become killers.  Some of them will be pretty broken up about it but for a lot of them it will just be a thing they did.  Do you think having that many killers in society changes things?  Every time there’s a war is it followed by a weird period in the kingdom where society is made up of killers?  Seems like that would change things.  Forget the poverty and the hunger and all the other fucked up stuff about the war itself – afterwards there’s a whole generation of murderers running around.  It’s something to think about.”

“I . . . I don’t know what to say to that.”

“Don’t worry, I’m just thinking out loud.  I’m a killer now Bolbec. I’ve tried to feel guilty about it but I can’t seem to pull it off.  What do you think that means?  Am I doomed to the fiery pits of the Thirteen Hells to be tormented forever by Krolkoth the Awakener?  Seems a little harsh to be tormented forever no matter what someone did.”

“Uh . . . I’m not sure.”

“Sorry Bolbec you were expecting an exciting rescue, running through the night and hiding and horses in the night and shit and instead here I am dropping some heavy philosophy on you.  My apologies, I tend to get metaphysical whenever I lose everything.  It happens every seven or eight months.  Sometimes I can get the stuff back but I’m in a real bind this time Bolbec, I think my goose might be pickled on this one.  You’re a fighting man Bolbec, you were in the last war right?  How many men to you reckon you’ve sent on the next life?”

He seemed mightily uncomfortable “I couldn’t say My Lady, chaos of battle and all.”

I nodded “I know what you mean, after a while it’s hard to keep track right?  If you told me I had killed a hundred people I could believe it.  A thousand I don’t think so, but I can’t even really hazard a guess what the number is.  Some of them I probably wouldn’t even remember.  Most of the ones I straight up murdered in cold blood I could probably list if I tried hard enough but when you’re in the thick of battle and your blood is up you’re just reacting.  Afterwards you think, did you kill five people or seven?  It’s impossible to say.”

He abruptly headed for the door “I should get some sleep.”

“Sure, sure, you get some rest Bolbec.  How are we doing on that whiskey sour?”