Did you know that in many jurisdictions the penalty for wine fraud (selling adulterated wine or label swapping) is death? That’s how serious people are about their wine. Admittedly hanging someone for wine fraud is fairly rare – usually they’re just beaten almost to death. By the order of state. Which is really something to think about. Your taxes at work – a man beating a helpless criminal almost, but not to, death for putting some water into a wine bottle. Some people say that expensive wine and cheap wine tastes the same. These people are stupid. But they’re not one hundred percent wrong because beyond some very broad ranges there isn’t much difference. There’s shit wine, there’s okay wine, and then there’s good wine. That’s pretty much it aside from some very subtle gradations. You can spend ten thousand gold (well not you, but other people who have lots of gold) on an extravagant bottle of wine but it’s honestly not going to taste better than any number of hundred gold wines I could find you. Although at certain levels of society wasting money is the whole point – you can brag about spending 10k on a bottle of wine and show everyone what a whopping swinging dick you are.
I was explaining this to Martialla as we sat on our boxes of merchant goods drinking a Revanchinist Classic ’72 but she barely seemed to be listening. She was paying more attention to the reason that the caravan was stopped – namely that it was being assaulted by a wizard and his ogre lackeys. The half-elf quadrumvirate of guards was engaging them and I have to admit it was quite a sight. I’ve never been one for bloodsports but a wild magic-enhanced melee like this is pretty attention grabbing when you’re not in it. I can understand why watching this would appeal to certain types. The wizard wasn’t so much as flying as he was just hanging in the air like he was on wires and cackling manically as he blasted down below him with is spells. If I had a crossbow I could have ended the whole thing with one shot. And yet, sadly I did not.
I elbowed Martialla “Are you listening to me? This is important information I’m giving you here.”
She waved her had at me vaguely “Yeah, yeah, you’re a bigshot who knows about wine, I get it. Should we be helping them?”
Just at that moment an ogre cracked a greatclub the size of a fencepost in half over one of the slight half-elfs and sent them crumbling to the ground “Looks like they’re doing fine, I’m sure we’d just get in the way. This is what they’re getting paid for, I see no reason to do their job for them.”
“What about for a share of the loot?”
“Bah, ogres never had anything but lice the size of mice – mice lice if you will. And wizards are just as disappointing. All they ever have is stupid wands with dumb stars on the end and shit like that. They keep all the good stuff back in their towers. Why do wizards love towards so much?”
“How would I know?”
“Well what to sorcerers do?”
“Travel around in caravans and watch epic fights without getting involved apparently.”
I snort “We’ve been in epicer. And we almost died may I remind you, no reason to go looking for trouble.”
“You go looking for trouble all the time.”
“Right, so I know what I’m talking about. I suppose wizards live in towers because they’re usually into star gazing. They seem to be very interested in the positions of the stars and convergences of planets and things like that. I suppose so they can open the gates of the Thirteen Hells and ruin everything for everyone. Although the only wizard we ran into that actually had a telescope wasn’t in a tower at all – it was like a dome on the ground. That doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Martialla shuddered quickly “Don’t remind me about that guy, he was seriously fucked up in the head.”
“Well he was a wizard so yeah. Plus towers are a representation of arrogance and hubris so that makes sense, wizards being the way they are.”
“In their defense it’s hard to remain humble when you can bend the nature of reality to your will.”
“Is that what magic is?”
She shrugged “Sure, why not?”
“You seem humble enough.”
“Well, as you point out so often I’m terrible at magic so what would I have to be proud of?”
“Very true. Looks like they’re wrapping things up down there, you want to wander over and have a gander?”
She did and we did. All of the half-elfs looked very much worse the wear, but one of them looked like they had a broken neck. Normally a broken neck is fatal, but when you’re a mighty adventurer it’s more like a sprained ankle. One of the other half-elfs invoked the healing power of Cycnus and the head popped back into place like a dislocated toe. It certainly looked like it stung in an eye watering way, but it wasn’t a big deal. The divine healing magic of the Gods is a strange thing, millions of people die every day from preventable causes and then you have a handful of strange people that can come back from just about anything – as long as they win the day. I was still pretty slashed up from my own personal battle with the wolf demon so I hopped in line for some healing too. The half-elf who was doing the Cycnus invoking looked at me like I was crazy.
“You got any healing juice left for old Ela? I’m still pretty hurt from yesterday.” S/he just stared at me “Okay, fair enough. Look, does this seem strange to anyone else? I know caravans gets attacked all the time, but usually it’s by bandits or animals or things like that – a giant attack and a band of mage-supported ogres in a span of a couple days seems like a bridge too far to me. What do you guys think?”
One of the half-elfs who seemed more warriory than magicky nodded slowly “It does stretch credulity from a certain point of view.”
“I was thinking either this caravan has something far more valuable than we were told or maybe that wizard has an axe to grind with someone here. Is he dead or did you guys grab him?”
The healer finally spoke “He escaped.”
“Well I think I’m going to have a word with madam Hücresel if anyone would care to join me.”
They huddled up to speak amongst themselves and I waited for a moment but it seemed like they were going to be a while so I went looking for Diarmaid Hücresel. I found her doing a fair job of reassuring everyone that everything was fine and if they got attacked again their guards would protect them as they have done twice so far. Allying people’s fears is an advanced kind of manipulation and she has a knack for it. Once she was through comforting everyone that they wouldn’t be roasted alive and eaten by verbeegs I asked her for a private word. It didn’t take much prodding for her to spill the beans – turns out it was both, the wizard has an axe to grind with her and the caravan has something worth stealing.
As the story goes the wizard was courting the daughter Hücresel (who probably has a first name) and in the process of said courting said daughter became convinced that the wizard was less interested in her and more interested in her family’s possession of a valuable fire opal of unstipulated magicalness. Allegedly grandpappy Hücresel had brought it back from a campaign of some manner against a plague of necromancers that were raising zombies – the usual necromancer bullshit. At least they’re predictable. They didn’t know what it did, assuming that it brought them good luck after some vague manner, but the fact that the wizard was trying to romance it out from under them seemed like a good indication that it really is magic. Maiden Hücresel rejected the advances of the wizard and then little things started happening – strange feelings of being watched, things moved around in the house, a fire at one of their holdings, etc. the kind of things you couldn’t track back to anyone. At least until things escalated to a where a toothy little ugly humanoid thing (presumably a homunculus) stealing into their place to try and grab the gem. So while they were leaving for better business opportunities that wasn’t the only reason.
“Wait, this was all happening in Alleene? I thought Hellerhad was the only wizard in Alleene.”
Hücresel nodded “That’s him.”
I frowned “I didn’t get a great look at the guy hanging in the sky like a puppet but that didn’t look like Hellerhad to me, he looked kind of scrawny like a normal wizard. Hellerhad is close to seven feet tall if he’s an inch and he’s built like . . . like . . . like something, well you know what I mean, he’s a big strong guy.”
Diarmaid looked confused and her daughter chimed in “You mean Ox the butcher?”
“Yes, people in town called him Ox once he gave up wizarding but his real name is Hellerhad. They have to be the same guy right? There can’t be two wizards named Hellerhad in the same smallish town. I never got the story, but he and some other wizard were wooing the same woman and somehow that led to him giving up magic. Was that you? How old are you? I got the impression that this was years ago – were these wizards both pederasts?”
Martialla also looked confused “So was this gem thing you were talking about the same wooing?”
Both Hücresels looked at each other and then Darimaid said that they didn’t know what we were talking about.
“Does anyone even know if Hellerhad is a first name or a surname? Maybe they’re brothers and they’re both Hellerhads?”
No one knew.
Martialla piped up “It could be same guy, nobody knows better than us that changing your appearance is a pretty fundamental trick of magic. Maybe he took on a different form when he was making his move on young lady Hücresel here. Or vice versa, maybe he took on a different form when he was trying to pretend to be a butcher.”
“Why would he use the same name though? That makes no sense if you’re trying to conceal your identity.”
“Well, Hellerhad can’t be the only wizard in Alleene anyway because according to your story he had a rival – maybe that other guy decided to call himself Hellerhad as some kind of weird screw you to the butcher.”
“The Baroness said that he was the only one around, maybe none of that even happened in Alleene or maybe the other wizard left with the girl. This is all just speculation, and I suppose it doesn’t matter – next time he attacks Martialla will just kill him.”
I clapped her on the back all friendly like “You sure will, our half-elf friends here will engage his minions and you can blast him out of the sky.”
Hücresel looked worried “You think he’ll attack again?”
I nodded “Oh yes, wizards always attack three times, he seems to be using up his minions in reverse order of uselessness – first the giants, then the ogres, so the good news is the next attack will just be goblins or something little and weak like that. If we don’t kill him then that will probably be it, I doubt he’ll risk attacking on his own. Assuming he doesn’t get desperate and summons some demons or something.”
Martialla had a sour look “Where do all these minions come from anyway? Who has a clan of ogres on retainer? And how does he move them around?”
“I don’t know, portals or some shit, evil wizards always seem to have portals. Constructing a portal to travel around is clearly something that requires a lot of evilness. As to where they come from I assume there’s some kind of middle management wizard who keeps tabs on all the humanoid tribes and brokers deals with the evil wizards who need to attack and/or kidnap someone. You think wizards have the time to go out and make all these contacts themselves? It makes no sense. Plus have you met these people? Any self-respecting giant would crush them with a boulder just on principal.”
“That doesn’t seem very likely Ela.”
“You explain it then smartypants. No? Didn’t think so.”
Funds: 47,040 platinum, 25,750 gold
Inventory: Hat of Effortless Style, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Ela’s Dazzling Garment, Belt of Physical Might +4, Ring of Urban Grace, Black Marketers’ Bag (5), Tidy Trunk, Whiterock Family Ring (Ring of Binding), Ela’s Elegant Boots, Ela’s Extravagant Necklace, Brooch of Shielding, Headband of Subtle Misdirection, Antiquarian’s Monocle, +1 Glorious Undead Bane Short Sword, Ela’s Stately Greatcoat
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