Campaign of Evil

My Face Is But A Mask
Session 50

                So there I was, in the stable.  Those two corrupt city guards corpses lay at our feet.  One of them had managed to let out a cry for assistance before being dealt the killing blow.  I quickly retrieved Wustov, and checked out the doors and windows to see if alarm or suspicion had been raised.  It seems as though our scuffle had gone either unnoticed, or uncared for.  Either way, we had some time.

Closing the doors to the stables, I began conversing Kenmei.  Kenmei’s role in their deaths would not be known to anyone.  Their association with me, however, would intertwine their fates with mine.  We had four choices before us.  One: Stay and attempt to talk my way out of this somehow.  Two: Flea the city before anyone notices the bodies.  Three:  Murder anyone who had any knowledge of our interactions with these men.  Four: Dispose of the bodies and claim ignorance. 

There was still much to learn in this city.  As such, we didn’t give option One much consideration.  Option One seemed a long shot at best.  While I was fully prepared to make a solid argument in my defense, we could only guess how far the corruption in the town had stretched.  A further concern which I did not voice was my concern over my ‘companions’.  They had already sold me out once, they might decide to do so once again should they believe their own skin was on the line.  While Kenmei did come to my aid when it was needed most just then, still – she is just a girl.   Girls can’t be expected to act with intelligence or honor, as they are only slightly removed from feral beasts.

Option Two, bar far the easiest and safest option, would leave us without the information we desperately needed from this city.  Without information, our mission would surely be jeopardized.  Given a choice between the incurring the wrath of this city vs that of Landrew and Rajelei – I would choose the city any day of the week.

Option Three: It seemed like this might only include the bastard innkeep, Sharps, and some drunkard patron.  As we progressed in the task, this list could easily grow out of hand as more and more witnesses were brought in.  Afterall, we are hardly trained assassins.  That kind of work requires far more than raw strength.  Indeed, a subtle and light touch are the most prized of skills in such a task.  Such skills are not well rooted in an old butcher and three feral girl-beasts.

Option Four: Dispose of the bodies and play innocent.  This seemed the best of our options.  As we talked through various means disposal.  Kenmei came upon a capital idea.  Perhaps this one has a brain on her after all.  She has the ability to perform a spell which would perfectly disguise us for a period of time.  We could perpetrate ourselves as the two guards, be seen removing bodies from the city.  Once away from prying eyes, we would dispose of the carcasses outside of the city, and again be seen as them re-entering the city safely.

We set off about the business of implementing this plan and saw it come to fruition as well as we could hope.  Easily leaving the city, we removed Gary and Bruce to the cliffs, burned their faces to obfuscate the identities and then pushed their remains over the cliff.  The spell had worn off in the time.  As such, we were forced to spend the night outside of the walls.

The following morning, I copied disguise spell from Kenmei’s formula book and made an extract of it.  She prepared a new instance of the spell as well.  It was then that Kenmei and Shizuka shared some sort of telepathic communion.  I do not understand how exactly that bond works, but it is definitely an asset I shall need to be cognizant of should I ever be forced to put one of them down for the good of the mission.

Shizuka and Kiaran showed up a short time later, meeting us at the haunted watchtower.  A great debate transpired over our next course of action.  While it seems we might have been successful in removing any suspicion over the disappearance of the guards – I was still elected to fight and win the title in a gladiatorial arena.  Dear readers, while I am a party to self-boasting as much as any man, perhaps even more than most, this is something well beyond my capabilities.  I resisted strenuously any such plot.

Again, Kenmei came up with a cunning plan that was able to sway my thoughts.  Perhaps this one is human and more than a feral girl-beast.  She is in possession of a staff with some unique abilities.  This staff is able to allow the possession of a person, she could use this ability to ‘throw’ the match and allow for a victory when I might otherwise find no chance of one.  It was resolved then that we would re-enter the city.  I would enter the arena and engage in this combat.  We would milk this town for all the information it was worth before leaving.

Before heading back to town, Zuzu (as her sister calls her) climbed to the top of the watchtower to see what was inside.  From atop the tower she denoted a large pillar of smoke in the distance and a view of the inside.  She let down a rope and the rest of us soon saw the summit of the tower.  Once I saw the smoke with my own eyes, I realized that it was truly the dust cloud of an approaching army.  Likely that of this emperor we were to eliminate.

The party elected to go into the tower and see what the warnings on the door were all about.  A saw a pile of skeletons near a door occupied the center of the top floor of the structure.  Scouting about for traps, I could tell that while nothing of that sort were detectable, a dark presence seemed to be emanating from the next room.  We carefully approached the pile of skeletons and set it ablaze as a test.  Glass vials could be heard shattering – crap.  Suddenly a Shade appeared from the darkness and attempted to touch me!

A short battle ensured with this Shade.  While it seemed immune to my weapons, my companions were in possession of magical devices and had better luck dealing with this unnatural … ‘thing’.  The one called Zuzu seemed to be interested in recruiting it as a pet of some kind.  I shutter to even contemplate the kind of childhood one must have had to even consider such a thing.  Unbalanced at best, perhaps mad.  I’ll be sleeping with one eye open when she is on watch.

Kiaran made use of some kind of hex that reduced this shade into a clumsy oaf.  As it stubbled about the room like a drunken toddler, my companions reduced it to the nothingness from which it had sprung.  Eliminated the fire, Kiaran and I immediately put out the fire and saw to examining the pile of enflamed gear at the center of the room.  We could hear Shizuka blubbering about her lack of ability to claim the fingernails from the shade (mad?)  Exchanging odd glances, the two of us dug into the pile.

We retrieved a few vials which had not cracked under the heat of the fire.  Several semi damaged silver daggers, a short sword that appeared to have been untouched and some gold.  I thought I had seen an emerald of some kind but must have mistaken a shard of glass from the broken vials.  Shizuka and I had a brief debate of the short sword, which was clearing having magical qualities.  Of course, the feral girl-beast was no match for the cognitive faculties of a man.  I let her have my share of the gold to play with lest she murder me in my sleep.

We returned back to the city, again with Kenmei and myself disguised to get through the city gates.  We popped our head back into the inn to show the faces of Bruce and Gary before returning back to the stable to change back into normal clothing.  We then moved into the city towards the gladiatorial pits where we ran into a fabrics merchant of some kind.

After some discussion we learned a great many things about the nature of the gladiatorial bouts which caused us to revisit our original plan and a Seer of some kind that might have some information of interest regarding our mission.  The bouts take place over several days.  Tonight, the entry level bout, is not necessarily a lethal combat.  After passing that bout team matches can be formed for subsequent fights.  Interesting, very interesting…

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Drawing down the Moon

Kiaran has realized she's been very lax in her practice. Once Rascal has been "put to bed", she draws her sickle and walks to the North corner of the room. “Spirits of the North, Elementals of Earth, heed my call for I beckon you to this Circle."

Walking slowly and purposefully to the East corner, drawing a line in the air with her sickle along the way, she speaks here:" Spirits of the East, Elementals of Air, heed my call for I beckon you to this Circle."

She repeats the motions as she walks to the South corner and speaks again: "Spirits of the South, Elementals of Fire, heed my call for I beckon you to this Circle."

Continuing to the West, one more time: "Spirits of the West, Elementals of Water, heed my call for I beckon you to this circle."

At last she walks to the center of the room, raises her sickle high, and speaks one last time: "I consecrate this Circle in the name of Rajelai, the Lady Wild. Dark Lady, I invoke thee and ask that you allow me to feel your presence within my heart."

Kiaran lowers her sickle and holds it clasped between both hands at her heart. She pauses for a few moments, eye closed, breathing steady. She then opens her eyes and speaks again with renewed power in her voice. " I am the Vessel from which all life springs. I am the wind in the sky, the spark in the fire, the seedling in the earth, and the water in the river. I am Destroyer. I am at once the strike of lightning, the blaze that scorches, the stone that crushes, and the wave that crashes and drags one into the drowning deep. I am Beauty, Strength, and Wisdom. I am Maiden, Mother, and Crone. There is no force in nature which can defy me."

Kiaran lowers to a seated lotus position and places the sickle down beside her, the resting her hands, palms up on her knees. She lowers her head, eyes closed, and sits in meditation to contemplate the events since her last introspection. She ponders the honor of being bestowed a religious duty, the destruction of false idols and their fools, the culling of pathetic weaklings, the sheer industry of insects, the satisfaction of honoring a bargain, the benefit of planning and preparedness, the many sights and other sensory experiences of nature along the way, and the lust, greed, and other frailties of men. With clarity from the divine presence within her, she is able to derive inspiration from these events. 

Once content and feeling renewed vigor in her purpose, she rises, takes up her sickle again. She honors and thanks her Goddess for her guidance and gifts and bids her fare well until another moonlit night. She then retraces her steps in reverse around the room. She dismantles her circle, stopping in each corner to offer respect and gratitude to the elemental spirits she beckoned. Merry met and merry meet again. 

Kiaran puts her sickle away and heads to bed, whispering a prayer of "Dark Lady watch over us" before falling asleep. 

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Father Figure
Session 49, Kenmei's Account

After outfitting ourselves for the journey ahead, we left Little Wallop on horseback. We made our way back to the ant mound where things appeared to be in order. The ants were being fed, happy with our contract to help them, and no longer clearing the forest. We headed east.

 

On the second day, we determined that we didn't have sufficient water to make the journey, which we estimated to be about an 8 day trek. We had passed a couple of ponds along the way, but neither had water fit for drinking. Fearing that we may need to turn back, I decided to freeze some shrubbery so we could capture the melting ice in our canteens and skins. This was effective enough to allow us to continue our journey without worrying of thirst.

 

For the next 4 days, we traveled without incident, nothing but rain, dust storms, and good stories shared among the group. I felt that Zuzu and I were forming lasting bonds with Belo and Kiaran, having a chance to learn about their pasts and future ambitions. Kiaran is wise beyond her years and well disciplined in her craft. She is driven by her devotion to Rajelai and her belief in the natural order of all things. I sense a great, dark power in her. Belo is something completely different. Bold but brash, amusing but deadly, a con man and a gentleman. Belo has a strong sense of right and wrong, something our father could've used more of. He is a natural leader, but I worry that his impetuousness may lead us to death.

 

After almost a week of travel, we passed the carcass of a cow and thought we might be close to civilization. Soon after, we encountered two skeletons, undead soldiers who perhaps had been pickets guarding this pass for centuries. They didn't seem to notice us as we crossed their path and made our way to what would be our final campsite.

 

On day 8 of our journey, we came upon a watchtower at the top of a path which lead down to a small town. The door to the tower was marked with a warning, "Do not enter. Haunted." Probably more undead in there. We decided it best to follow the sign's advice and made our way along the cliff-side path, down to the town.

 

As night approached, we reached the gates to the town of Marash, where we were greeted by Bob and Gary. From these guardsmen we learned that this was mostly a merchant town, at which point Belo convinced the two that he was a merchant, trading prostitutes. You can imagine their delight when they discovered me, Kiaran, and Zuzu were his goods. Through further conversation with Bob and Gary, we learned of a Duke named Casias, a man named Jimmy that worked with ox carts, and someone name Sharps who worked at the Rusty Bucket, which they suggested we visit for lodging. Afterwards they let through the gates with a couple of warnings. Don't upset the neighborhood association, stay off of Shady Lane, and don't go south of Penny Square.

 

In town, we made our way to the Rusty Bucket where we tied up our horses and went inside. The inn was fairly well kept, but looked as though it has seen a few bar fights. The place was mostly empty except for woman cleaning tables, a man passed out at the end of the bar, and the innkeeper at the bar, who we approached about a room. Thirty gold for the room and 5 for the horses. That was a ridiculous price, which Belo immediately pointed out in his own manner. He was soon asked to leave the inn.

 

Zuzu and I had developed our own negotiating tactics over the years, which were not at all like Belo's. Of course, we could promise things that he couldn't to most folk. As Belo left to wait outside, we ordered some brandy and began to chat with the innkeeper, Mr. Buster, to learn more about the town of Marash and to negotiate a cheaper room. Occasionally the drunkard, Rascal, at the end of the bar would raise his head request that someone buy him a drink. I bought him a bottle of whiskey and asked him to tell us about the town. "Shady Lane!" he belched. "Shady Lane has gladiator fights on Friday nights. It's a great time!" Just as we were getting to know more from him, Belo came back in, clearly very upset. "One of our horses has been stolen! What kind of establishment are you running where you steal horses?" he accused Buster. Buster motioned to the lady who had been cleaning tables. "Sharps, go get the constable!" at which point, Sharps quickly disappeared. This was getting out of hand and I wanted to diffuse it. Looking back to Buster, I had an idea. "Belo is our champion and protector. He's a notoriously great fighter, with an attitude to match. We apologize for his impatience, but I wager that he can beat anyone who steps into the gladiatorial ring tomorrow." Buster seemed interested in this challenge. "Sixty gold", I offered as a wager. "Let Belo stay and give us a room for the night, and you'll have the chance to win twice the cost of that room tomorrow", I added. Mr. Buster's demeanor relaxed a bit, but before he could respond, Sharps returned with Bob and Gary.

 

After some negotiation, at the center of which Belo was a pawn, Mr. Buster agreed to the wager of 60 gold and a room for the night. However, he insisted that Belo sleep in the barn with the horses. In addition, Rascal would be the keeper of our gold until after the tournament and we would show him a good time tonight in the "finest of rooms." Sure. No problem. We agreed and as Zuzu, Kiaran, and I were led upstairs by Rascal holding a bag of gold, I saw the look on Belo's face as he was being led outside by Bob and Gary. Betrayal. I knew what he was thinking, that we had abandoned him. It was a look that I hadn't seen from him before, a look that made me pause. Stopping Zuzu in the stairwell, I whispered to her, "I'm going to follow Belo and make sure he is ok. Deal with Rascal however you want." She nodded, knowingly. I knew that Zuzu would be fine. She always was. And she was with Kiaran. I wasn't worried about them. I didn't however, trust Bob and Gary, or perhaps I didn't trust Belo not to provoke them. Either way, Belo would not be alone if things went poorly.

 

Slipping past Mr. Buster and Sharps, who were chatting at the bar about the incident, I stepped outside of the inn, where I saw Bob and Gary disappear around back with Belo. I followed, keeping my distance so I would not be seen. Zuzu would've been proud. They led Belo into the stables near the inn, where I approached the door and listened to the conversation. Things turned ugly very quickly, as Bob and Gary tried to force Belo to lie down. He refused. I stepped inside just in time to see Bob throw a javelin at Belo, grazing his arm. I immediately cast Color Spray, dropping Gary unconscious where he stood. Belo seemed surprised by this, but quickly gathered himself and turned to face Bob. He struck Bob with such force, that I was amazed Bob could still stand. As they traded blows, I moved to Gary and put a crossbow bolt in his head as he still lay unconscious. Bob screamed in terror for help, as he had been severely wounded by Belo. As he did, I put a well-place bolt in him as well, sending him to the ground. They were both dead. Hopefully no one had heard Bob's cries for help.

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B02C04 a la Shizuka
Of Stagnant Ponds and Rusty Buckets

So we set out on our journey with lots of serious discussions: By ship or by foot? 5 days of rations or 10? Pony cart or no pony cart? I thought the ship sounded nice, but as usual, I was already decided to do and to pack whatever Meimei thought best. I’m not exaggerating when I say my sister is the smartest person I know, and letting her make practical choices for the both of us has kept me alive this long. In my homeland we have a saying, “Let the brawn fight, but let the brain think.”

So after we had a completely pointless and uneventful conversation with the giant ants, we headed east. Within a day, we realized that water for horses would be difficult. We let them drink the stagnant and stinky pond water, hoping they would get us further if poisoned then they would if dying of thirst. Then we realized that we didn’t have enough water ourselves for our 8-day journey. This is where Meimei again astonished us with her powerful intellect by turning bushes to frost that quickly melted into our prepared collection device. As long as there is water in the air, at least we won’t thirst.

We traveled a full week with few incidents other than your typical rainfall, dust storms, and chirping crickets. I delighted my companions with stories from my homeland: The story of the moon princess that beguiled the monkey king (though I adapted the tale and called him the aardvark king, which made everyone laugh, especially when ants got in his pants). The classic legend of the blind jade rabbit on a quest for a magical carrot that would restore his sight. And of course the story of the peasant girl Bi Lingling who traded her last gold piece for a magic bean. (Lingling’s mother beat her senseless when she found out and threw the bean out the window, where it sprouted over night, large enough to climb into the sky. In the land of clouds, Lingling met a handsome but brutal giant who took her as his lover and then came down the stalk and destroyed her village. I love that one because the mother dies quite gruesomely!)

Our travel was forging a strong bond among the four of us. I am ever intrigued by the hint of playful cruelty hidden under Kiaran’s serious and practical manner. I am ever impressed by Belo’s knife skills, of a different class than mine, but no less precise and exacting. And he’s just so funny.

We were nearing the town of Marash when we found a deep gouge running perpendicular to our route. It was as a tall man and as wide as two men lying end to end. Then we noticed figures marching the depression a distance off. We did not want pursuers, and we literally had the higher ground, so we walked towards them, waving a white scarf, prepared to fight at a moment’s notice. The two figures, clearly dressed and clanking as soldiers in armor, never responded. As we drew closer, we understood why. These soldiers were walking skeletons! Kiaran speculated that they must have been guarding this pass for centuries, and thus eroded the earth in their endless march. It sounds impossible, but she’s pretty smart and I’m no expert in walking skeletons.

She’s also pretty daring when she wants to be. As they approached, she backed her horse up, took a running start and lept over the 12-foot divide! I watched carefully for a reaction from the soldiers, yet they never wavered on their forward march. I am less sure of my riding skills, but felt confident these brainless sticks were no threat, so I charged my horse down the incline, across the path, and up the other side. Still no reaction from the soldiers, so Meimei and Belo followed my lead.

We camped the night, and the relentless rain washed us clean of the trail dust, so we were quite refreshed (if not a bit cranky) in the morning. As our supplies were diminished, we were thrilled to see a flat road approaching a large crumbling tower. A sign on the door read “Warning: No entry. Haunted!” As intriguing an invitation as that was, we decided we should approach the cliffside town below, get a warm meal, fresh water, a comfortable sleep, and maybe even some information to help us on our quest, before we started battling spirits.

The town was guarded by two pudgy simpletons, Bob and Gary/Gaius. They immediately assumed that Belo was here to pimp us three exotic whores. But in the ensuing juvenile banter, we did learn a couple things: Try the Rusty Bucket for a place to sleep. Avoid Shady Lane at all costs. Merchants can be found at Twilight Square. Don’t litter in Cliffside. Oh, and Friday night is naked gladiator day. (It, being Thursday, promised to be a fun day tomorrow.)

We headed to the Rusty Bucket, a clean place with evidence of some raucous brawling (gouged wood, scratched plaster, and the like). The stubbornly pompous innkeeper—Mr. Buster—quoted us ridiculous rates for one room and stables for the horses. No doubt, he was trying gauge our wealth. Belo immediately took offense and charged the man with all sorts of treachery. I thought he might kill the man right there. I told you he was funny! Belo was forcibly ejected from the establishment, but the three of us decided to stay and drink a really fine brandy. We could use niceties to talk down the price of the room and learn some more about the town. No sooner had we started a pleasant conversation when Belo comes bellowing in again about a horse being stolen, and then he accused the tavern owner who obviously had been with us the whole time. Well now, this sneaky little lady named Sharps was sent to grab the constable, and we were stuck with the job of smoothing things over again.

Our best plan of diplomacy was to cast Belo as a prized fighter, a hot-head to be sure, but a valuable traveling companion for his protection and notoriety. This seemed to work and before we knew it, we had somehow signed up Belo for the gladiator tournament tomorrow, even betting 60 gp that he would win the title! Now, you know that I never stand by my word, so I thought it was all good fun, and at the least, we now had a free room for the night and could steal back our gold in the morning and leave this pointless dot on the map. Meimei really thinks Belo could win (with a little help from his friends), so best case scenario, that’ll happen. Belo, however, thought we were treacherous backstabbers and flew into another fit. I arranged for him to sleep with the horses, even demanded an apple for him, but he was just too charged up to say thank you. He’s really, such a fun traveling companion.

So we were shown “the nicest room” at Rusty Bucket. It was clean but bare, just two small hay beds, a washstand, and a worn seagrass rug near the door. Well, part of the free room arrangement was that we had to take old, balding, whiskey-rotten Rascall up to the room. He was the securer of our betting gold, and we had promised him a good time. My readers should all know what that means by now. I was counting on Meimei to help me out with the seduction and attack, but her conscience made her leave to check on Belo’s treatment in the stable.

That left me with Kiaran who I just didn’t see putting on a show for Rascall. Rascall sat on the bed and patted the space next to him. Kiaran stood in the corner glaring at him. I walked towards him and circled him, just out of his hand’s reach (he had a very clumsy reach) whispering all the naughty naughty things Kiaran and I would do to him in just a minute. He kept looking at me and Kiaran, and I’m imagining where I saw her abhorrence he saw only her innocence. In my homeland we have a saying, “Some men find a woman’s reluctance alluring.” I like to add, “So use that mistake in your favor and end his life,” but it makes it a bit cumbersome as sayings go.

I put one hand on Rascall’s shoulder and let my cheek touch his cheek as my hand ran down his arm sweetly. Whoa, did he smell like a whiskey still! His muscles twitched, and I think he was about to grab me, but my reaction time was much faster, and I quickly knocked him on the back of the head with the butt of a dagger I’d hidden in my sleeve. I’m proud of my restraint in not killing him, but we had to be sure we’d get out of this town and not have to mess with proper justice procedures … which are the absolute worst.

So he was out cold, and hopefully wouldn’t notice a new knot on his head. It seemed his head had been banged quite a bit already. Kiaran suggested we get some sleep, but I wanted to give illusion to our story. We may be treated with less caution if we were known to show a man a good time. I asked her if she could put a rash on his pecker and explained why it was so important. But she did not have the knowledge for that just yet – certainly something she should study! Instead, I picked up the grassmat rug and pulled down the man’s pants. I wrapped my hand in the corner of the rug and then gripped him. He was knocked out cold but still began to grow a bit while I abraded the skin to ripe pinkness. I put his pants back on, but removed his shirt, returned the rug to its place, then crawled into the narrow bed with Kieran. We’d have a tale to tell tomorrow! And given the whispered suggestions before I knocked him out, and the soreness in his britches, he just might believe us. It can’t be the first night that Rascall was told he did something he didn’t remember.

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Alone
Session 49, Belo's account

Faithful readers, this last episode was a real duesey.  We spent some time in Little Wallop outfitting ourselves for the journey out – very little time.  More on that later.  We had several discussions regarding the best course of action in reaching our target.  Ultimately it was decided that while traveling by sea might be easier, it would take far too long.  We secured horses and set off for the ant mound with the intention of backtracking their trail.

On arrival at the ant mound, there was hardly even evidence that they were still around.  Well stocked and healthy, they were laying low waiting for us to complete out mission.  Not much to see there so we moved on and started tracing their trail back.

It became evident after the second day that we were ill equipped for the journey.  Thanks to some lucky breaks and quick thinking on Kenmei’s part, we were able to complete the journey without dying of thirst.  On our 7th day of travel, we encountered some skeletons that had been walking back and forth for so long they had worn a very deep trench into the earth.  We skirted by them without incident – another of our lucky breaks.  We really didn’t have the resources to spare in engaging in combat whilst scrapping the bottom of our waterskins.

Finally, on the 8th day we came upon a stone road leading to the east.  At last – signs of civilization.  The road lead us to a watchtower which was labeled as haunted.  A brief debate occurred and it was decided we might revisit that location at some point in the future.  For now, we would press on to the city that was visible beyond.

Arriving at the city, we made the acquaintance of two guards: Bob and Gary.  They seemed a nice sort at the time and were amenable to answering our many questions about the city.  It seems that this town has seen its trade dry up over the years and was struggling.  They gave us a few tips: avoid Shady Lane.  Visit the Rusty Bucket Inn, etc.  For this information, we thanked them and went on our way.

It was a short walk thru the gates and into town before we encountered the Bucket.  We were resolved to first make accommodations for ourselves and our mounts before venturing forth into the city.  As we walked in, we noticed the place to be largely empty and quite clean.  A drunkard sit slouched at one end of the bar.  An old woman scrubbing tables nearby. 

We approached the barkeep and asked for his finest room and stabling for our horses.  Our barkeep had a bit of attitude which I found perplexing for someone in the service industry.  He indicated that it would be 30 for the room and 5 for the horses.  A bit high but we were quite prepared for the comfortable bed after a week in the wilderness.  As the conversation progressed it became clear that he wanted 35 gold – not silver as I had assumed?!  Outrageous.  When I questions the gold vs silver issue thinking I had simply heard wrong – he became incensed and threw us – well, me – out of the inn.  He was all to eager to retain the company of the three girls who had become my travel companion.

As I made for the horses, I noticed two things.  One: my travelling companions had decided to side with the innkeep and remain inside.  Treachery I shall not soon forget.  Two: my horse was stolen.  Enraged, I re-entered the inn to confront the thief inside and demand the return of my horse.  He brushed my accusations aside and threatened to have me arrested for re-entry.  I waited for the law to arrive so that this could be sorted out properly.  While I desired nothing more than to cut his thieving throat where he stood, this is not the way in civilized places.  The law, in my experience, has mostly proven reliable in these situations.

It wasn’t long before Gary and Bob arrived.  Slander.  Insults.  Humiliation.  These enforcers were no more than petty corrupt thugs, likely on this innkeep’s payroll.   Backing from my travel companions was again found lacking as they negotiated stuffing me in a stable with the beasts for the evening as part of a deal that would see me fighting in the gladiator pits come the morning.  Clearly these turncoats wish to see me dead as well.  It’s true what they say:  “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone”  Only through illusion might we come to be deceived into thinking that we are not alone.  I guess it will be up to I alone to complete this mission for my Lady’s Rajelei and Landrew.

The guards offered to ‘escort’ me to my lodging for the evening.  The offer did not seem optional, and I was not keen to try to defend myself against city guards in a public place.  I agreed to accompany them to the stables, where I found myself alone and cornered.  I complied with their demands until they commanded me to lie down.  If I am to meet my death here, I shall do so standing.

On my refusal, the one called Bob immediately threw his javelin at me, striking my arm and causing a moderate but not fatal injury.  Recovering, I closed the gap and consumed my shield extract to offer battle.  Again, they struck at me but now, they find me and Wustov a more difficult target.  As I was about to strike, a colorful spread of light stuck Gary causing him to drop like a dead ox!  Praise Landrew!  Whirling, I confronted my foe to the rear and struck a most crippling blow!  While most grievously wounded, he remained and attempted to return the favor.  It was then that I noticed the one Kenmei had followed me and was offering aid.  She loosed a crossbow bolt into the skull of Gary while Bob and attempted to trade blows.  Ultimately, she was able to land a final killing blow on Bob as well – but not before he was able to give a shout for assistance.

Perhaps Kenmai is not so treasonous as I had assumed.  Of course, she was the only of the three that offered aid and then only after my public humiliation.  These wretched girls are treacherous and deceitful, but are not to be trifled with.  And worse, I risk angering my Lady should I misstep my authority here.   I shall have to ensure I exercise care when dealing with this matter.

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Roasted Boar
Session 48: Belo's account

Well well well, things certainly have taken a turn for the interesting in this little endeavor.  My companions and I, having completed negotiations with some sort of filthy insect creatures, decided to make our way back towards home.  It should be noted that it does feel odd to call Little Wallop home.  The place is teaming with pathetic little wretches from aboard.  They all claim to be devout followers of my Lady, but I have known their type:  weak of character, probably would dessert as quickly as they joined should a better offer come about.  Well, I suppose fear leads to Fear, in the ancient sense of the word.  My Lady knows best and I am Hers to command.

We had hardly left the ant mound when we were set upon by some of the towns folk, armed with primitive weapons.  Kenmei dispatched them with ease.  I do enjoy the purple zorch, I shall have to ribbon for my hat in a matching color.  Landrew forgive my vanity.

Setting course for the location where we had left my wagon, we were again set upon by brigands.  In this case there were more aptly armed.  A man, by the name of Bruce, whom we had run into on the road, was more interested in introducing us to wooden projectile fire than conversing.  Cowards, attempting to snipe at us from the bushes.  My companions immediately set to task their duties in the order of battle.  For my part, I rushed the bushes and prepared to engage – when I was very nearly mortally wounded.  Kiaran set the bushes where they lay in wait ablaze.  The one called Bruce met the demise of a roasted boar as he lamented quite vocally from the flames.  His companion was quite set aback by this turn of events and made a break for it.

Recovering from my injury, I noticed Kinmei run past at great speed.  Assuming she saw something, I could not I gave chase.  It was then finally saw our prey.  Grabbing my great cleaver, Wustov, I let it fly and managed to embed directly in his rump.  What a delight!  Being in not in the condition to flee, nor fight, he relented to become our prisoner.

After some questioning, it became clear that this former scout for Genneth would be an ideal worshiper for her Ladyship – Rajelei.  The womenfolk took care of the fire and made ready for our departure, as is their station in life.  Again, we set course for the wagon to meet the Lady, all the while doing our best to indoctrinate him as her follower—and toy.

On reaching the wagon, it seemed undisturbed…until a wild boar burst from the under thicket and skewered me upon its tusk.  The most grievous wound was not well received and incurred my instant wrath.   Unfortunately, this beast made two critical errors:  1) I have slaughtered so many of his kind in my profession as a butcher, I could do so blindfolded.  2)  That shithole village had meager accommodations – I was profoundly hungry.

Making quick work of the boar, it became a great feast for us to enjoy as we waited for our retrieval.  Rajelei ultimately joined us and it was then that we gave our report.  At first, she seemed disinterested and even perhaps angry.  After joining us for roasted boar, it became evident that she was not angry, but hangry.  Ultimately, she agreed supply the ants and we would head east to see about taking care of this inconsequential despot.

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Seasoned with Cumin
Episode 48, Kenmei's Account

We were happy to be out of the ant mound and on our way back to our pick up point. Apparently, we had been followed by the two Belo worshipers that ran from the church earlier, as they confronted us on the road from the mound. They seemed quite upset with us for having killed and dismembered their priest. They charged us, yelling scripture and brandishing candlesticks. I could've sworn I heard Zuzu say something like, "There is no shame in defending one's beliefs, but there is shame in getting hit with a candlestick." So Kiaran and I killed them quickly before they could get close.

 

Moving further along the road, we encountered the ranger whom we'd first met when entering the forest yesterday. We would soon learn his name was Bruce. Bruce seemed very nervous, continuously glancing into the forest while he queried us on our knowledge of the scene at the church. We denied having anything to do with the bodies there, but Bruce wasn't convinced. Signaling to others in the forest, he quickly disappeared into the brush, at which point a crossbow bolt appeared from the brush, lodging itself in Kiaran's arm. Things got chaotic for a moment. We couldn't see our attackers and feared we may be outnumbered. Zuzu tried to reason with them, asking for a cease fire. Another bolt, this time hitting Belo. Moving backward away from the source of the attacks, I saw Zuzu sprint past me at a pace which I could not match. This was unsettling, as I had never seen her run from a fight. Angered by the shot in the arm, Kiaran summoned great courage and moved forward. Inspired by this, I followed. Reaching the edge of the wood from where the attacks were coming, Kiaran set the brush ablaze. Fire engulfed the surrounding trees and underbrush. There were screams of agony from our attackers, "Ahhrgg! Bruce! No! Bruce!" Kiaran and I moved to flank the burning area, surrounding attackers.

 

Bruce was dead, crispy and dead. There was one survivor crawling around in the underbrush, whose life we decided to spare. His name was Jaxie and he might make a good disciple for Rajelai, although it took Belo's cleaver in his ass to convince him of this. Belo was quite unhappy with having been shot by this coward.

 

Zuzu finally returned, breathless. She immediately pointed out that the forest was on fire and then tried to kill Jaxie. Belo stopped her, explaining our plan, while Kiaran and I extinguished the blaze.

 

As it neared dark, we made our way back to the forest entrance where we had hidden our wagon. A wild boar had setup home under the brush camouflaging the wagon and attacked us when we uncovered it. Belo went to work on the swine. Incredible! I had never seen an animal butchered alive before. Soon we had a fire built and were roasting pork for supper.

 

We were enjoying our tasty kill when Rajelai appeared. Her form was an ethereal fog with a handsome young lad floating inside, whom she apparently had possessed. I was both in awe of her presence and somewhat amused by her choice of incarnation. Zuzu gripped my hand tightly to steady herself. I could feel her trembling at the sight of this powerful deity.

 

We began to explain to Rajelai the situation with the ants and our plan. We would help the ants by feeding them and dealing with the evil sun god emperor, and in return, they would breed dedicated worshipers to her. At first, she was not very interested in the plan at all. I tried to entice her by offering access to ant's extensive library. Apparently, I offended her in my approach, as my throat began to restrict and I struggled to catch a breath. With just a gaze, she was slowly squeezing the life from me! As the light around me grew dim, I managed to utter an apology, at which point she mercifully released me. She was clearly not interested in the ant's library and was growing short with me. "What else do you have to offer?" she asked. "We have some delicious roasted pork", I managed, still trying to catch my breath. "It's seasoned with cumin." That did the trick.

 

As she devoured the remaining meat, she listened quietly as we convinced her that the plan was in her best interest, but we needed her help. After some discussion, she agreed to provide food for the ants for a week, while we restocked and traveled out to investigate the evil sun god emperor. How hard could it be?

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B02C03 a la Shizuka
Running Scared

We left the ant mound and were quickly challenged by the two remaining acolytes from that Belo church we’d already forgotten about. Well the two boys were spunky and hilariously brave, spouting off all sorts of scriptures and platitudes, armed with candle sticks and barrel tops. Kieran and Meimei killed them off pretty easily. I was a bit disappointed I didn’t get to do any stabbing.

Apparently we made quite an impression on the locals, because we were again challenged, this time by that ranger guy (I gather his name was Bruce) who managed to survive the frost giant attack. He didn’t believe that we had been defending ourselves, but rather made the assumption that we were wantonly destructive and evil. He darted into the shrubbery and shot Kieran in the arm.

There were others with him, so I called out to the band of self-righteous brigands: “We do not want to cause you harm. Please let us travel in peace, and we can avoid bloodshed.” At that, a particularly menacing laugh came from one of the woodsmen. I took that to mean they had chosen bloodshed over peace, and we were clearly outnumbered. A wave of fear washed over me, so I ran back towards the ant mound at full speed. In my homeland, we have a saying, “There is no shame in fear; there is only shame in dying.”

I heard terrible screaming, and when I returned I found that our antagonizers had all been killed by a blazing fire, save one young man we called Jaxalai. When I first saw him, I immediately thought to kill him, but my fellow travelers pulled me off and explained that we would take him to become a new follower of Rajelai, and we began training him for that purpose at once. Though I swear he begged me to kill him more than once, I did not, mostly because I thought it would be sacrilege to do so in the presence of the Goddess of the Wild (who showed up later… I’ll get to that).

In the meantime, we found the pony cart and killed a wild boar who proved to be delicious. Then, as I mentioned, Rajelai herself appeared. Her arrival is always awesome and terrifying, and I almost began running again, but I held onto Meimei’s hand and felt her indomitable courage strengthen my heart. She is so much more familiar with magical matters than I that, with her reassurance, I knew we must be ok.

We told Rajelai of the contract with the ants, and she was less than impressed. I thought the goddess appropriately short with that misogynist butcher on our team, but she was unnecessarily harsh to my delightfully charming sister. It was good to have that meat to assuage her anger, as Rajelai does like to feed the handsome lad’s body which she inhabits.

I pushed pretty hard to abandon the contract and destroy the ants, but the rest of my party felt their library was too valuable. Ultimately, the wild goddess agreed to organize the feeding of the ants – one feeding consisting of grains from twice the area of their current clearing with 4 days – while we are tasked with seeking out this “King. Sun. God. Emperor. Death.” fellow to see if he is easy to kill of if he really does pose a threat to our land. (Rajelai was a bit skeptical considering our only awareness of him is from second hand knowledge gained from giant insects.)

Overall, I think our first divine mission was a success, though I was disappointed in the ending that I did not perform more killings. But I feel more confident, stronger, more passionate for our cause. I feel like I’ve reached a higher level of existence.

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Bloody Entrails, Burnt Flesh, and Brandy
Kenmei's Account

We awoke to the smell of bloody entrails, burnt flesh, and brandy. Is that a penis in the corner of the room? Oh yeah. It was all coming back to me. Brandy. Not at all like the rice wines from home. Zuzu was already awake, cleaning blood from her knives and sharpening them while humming a song I couldn't quite place. She is so beautiful. Always positive and outspoken, and apparently immune to brandy. I love her. I should tell her more often. After breakfast, Kiaran and I took some time to prepare some spells. We needed to focus. There were giant ants clearing the forest and we wanted to know why.

 

Back out in the village we noticed movement around a small, mundane church a short ways away and decide to check it out. There appeared to be several individuals working the grounds and someone inside. Perhaps we could learn something about these ants. Keeping our distance from the ants, we made our way to the church and went inside.

 

We were greeted by a priest who I thought may offer us some information about the ants. However, Belo's style of questioning quickly led things in another direction. A few misplaced blows to the priest sent him to floor where he lay in agony, continuing to forgive Belo for putting him there. Belo's brutal inaccuracy was something to behold! After some coercing, the priest agreed to take us to the ant queen. Belo let him up from the floor. As we followed the priest to the back door of the church, I loaded a bolt into my crossbow, knowing that he had companions outside and certain that he wasn't planning on taking us to the ant queen. I saw Zuzu ready her knives. I began to doubt we would get any information from the priest.

 

Upon reaching the door, the priest flung it open and yelled to his three companions, "Run!", at which point Zuzu put a knife through his back in a way that made me think of our Father. As the priest slumped over in the doorway, I pushed my way past him, hoping to cripple one of his fleeing companions with a bolt from the crossbow. Maybe they had useful information about the ants? Aim for the leg…take a breath…exhale…fire…and right through the heart. Damn. Brandy. By this point, the other two targets were far out of range and none of us were interested in giving chase.

 

Zuzu and I went out to investigate the grounds and the dead church member with a crossbow bolt in his back. When we got back to the church, Belo and Kiaran were doing arts and crafts with bits of the dead priest. Repainting the walls with his blood, basket weaving a container for his removed heart, that sort of thing, converting the church from a temple to Belo into a shrine to Landrew and Rajelai. Looking around inside the church, we noticed as strange sculpture of a man who appeared halfway trapped in the wall of the church, as if he was struggling to escape it. After a closer look, we realized that the sculpture was a mere illusion. Not entirely sure what to make of this, we decided to leave the church, and head towards the ant mound.

 

The path up to the mound was lined with hundreds of dead and decaying ant carcasses, which led us to believe that the ant colony as a whole was in poor health. Someone had the idea that we should cover ourselves with the stench of one of these decaying creatures as a disguise. Not a bad idea, unless you mix it with a hangover. Brandy. After bathing ourselves in with an ant-gland tincture, Zuzu proceeded to do one of the cutest things I'd seen since we were children. Removing the head of one of the ant carcasses, she fashioned it into a helmet, which she wore around, making clickety-clack noises and waiving her arms, claiming she was an ant. Stinking of dead ants and with Zuzu looking cute but ridiculous, we made our way to the opening of the ant mound.

 

Kiaran cast dancing lights down into the darkness of the opening, and after some debate about who would go in first, she herself was cast down into the hole by Belo with a swift kick in the backside. We all followed. Our first encounter in the mound was with two rather large ants who appeared stunned by Zuzu's disguise. No confrontation, just stunned. Venturing further down into the mound, we discovered a large room full of sick and dying ants. As we suspected, the colony was in poor health.

 

Further still into the mound, we met what could only be considered the ants' librarian. This ant spoke very broken common language, allowing us to communicate somewhat. The librarian appeared to be the caretaker of a massive library of scrolls, detailing, among other things, human history over centuries. I found this very intriguing and could've spent days pouring through these documents. However, we had other issues to deal with, like why the ants were clearing the forest. And we needed to deal with it soon, because the ants had started to seal us in the mound.

 

After some difficult "conversation" and frantic moments of panic in which I burned a bunch of ants alive, we were able to learn that the ants were fleeing from a "Sun Emperor" in the far east. To keep from being sealed alive in their mound, we convinced the ants that we could help by bringing them food and protection from the Sun Emperor if they would stop clearing the forest. As a final gesture of peace which ultimately led to our release from the mound, Kiaran was also able to heal hundreds of sick ants.

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B02C02 a la Shizuka
The Hole In the Ground

We slept in a bit and woke refreshed despite the brandy. Stepping into the sunlight, we noticed some activity near the temple to Belo we had passed the day before. We decided to check it out and maybe learn more about these giant ants.

We crossed the ant trail without incident and walked into the church as we found the door unlocked. I won’t bore you with banal conversation we had with the kindly (boring) religious (boring) fat (boring) man (boring). But when Belo the Butcher had had enough of his platitudes, he punched the priest in the nose, kicked him in the gut, and ground his boot into his hand. The whiny priest just kept forgiving him, refusing to fight, and never giving us any information. He finally did agree to take us to the ant queen and help us negotiate with her, so we all stepped outside.

As soon as the door opened, the man started yelling to his three young companions “Run!” “Run!” “Run!” which was not part of the agreement (less boring), so I stabbed him from behind between his ribs (also less boring). He died. I harvested a thumbnail. That makes 17!

Then my exquisite sister Meimei shot an arrow straight through one of the running boys from almost ¼ mile away. She is so lethal it warms my heart.

We came back inside to quite the spectacle. Belo had removed the boring man’s heart and with much grunting and cursing was weaving a basket out of the dried and dying hop vines outside. He said this was to honor Landrew (who is also my patron goddess. I must have missed the basket weaving lesson!). Kiaran had covered her hands in the boring man’s blood and was making intricate hand prints all around the church to honor Rajelai. “Don’t you see the deer antlers and the faces of wolves?” she asked.

Ultimately, we decided we should advance up the ant mound. I should however mention a particularly strange work of art in the church. A blue-tinted sculpture (of the blue that was used in Pellan art centuries ago, but not since the church had been built say 80 years ago) of a man who was struggling to emerge from the sculpture … or trapped by it perhaps. The most astonishing thing was that the sculpture was merely an illusion, and one’s hand could pass through it. (Or one’s head, if you are Belo the Butcher and forget there was a wall behind it.)

As we walked toward the ant mound, we passed hundreds of dead ants in varying states of decay. Even the living ones a ways off were not of the best health. Belo and Kiaran decided to rehydrate the scent glands of the dead creatures to make a tincture to cover our bodies so we could go among the ants undetectd. A master of disguise, I joined in the planning and removed an ant head and began scooping out the dried matter inside with my fingernail scoop. I pricked holes in the eyes using my sewing needles and popped that head right over my own head. Having bathed in the cumin-scented ant secretion, I was confident I could pass as an insect myself. Too bad we didn’t have time to make helmets for the rest of the party.

At the top of the mound, we dithered about how to proceed. Belo, being our much elder, made the decision and booted Kiaran straight down the hole, shouting “Oopsie daisy!” as he jumped in after her. Meimei and I went right behind them and began traveling the hewn tunnels as dancing lights lit our way. (Thanks, Kiaran).

We took the first right down a corridor that smelled strongly of vinegar. Suddenly, two large ants blocked our way and began doing menacing ant stuff. I shoved the rest of my party aside and stood at the front, knowing I was well-disguised. I made some ant chirps and some arm waves and head bobbles. I must be a genius at ant speak, because the two guards were scared stiff. They froze and never moved again! But the scent of vinegar grew stronger and two more guards appeared, so we turned and went back to the main passageway.

We took our next right and entered a cathedral of a room littered with sick and dying ant bodies. Of no real interest to us, we turned and crossed the main passage and came to a tight tunnel that looked like a repository for stones. As soon as we had entered, ants began to seal the entrance, so we were trapped. Then a strange ant noise that resembled the common language kept saying things like “peace” and “contract.”

Now I am an excellent negotiator, and not scared to bend facts a bit to purchase acceptance and freedom. I quickly found that these ants were of a peaceful sort and had fled the Far East in terror from the “King. Sun. Emperor. Death.” They didn’t understand concepts like “assassins” or “gods” but we were able to convince them that we’d go to our “queen of queens” and bring them food and protection so they could stop clearing the sacred forest and go back the way they came. I said a lot of stuff that I had learned from the boring priest like “peace happiness love goodness” and they seemed to like it because they gave off a lavender scent then.

Now we promised a lot for the ants, and I’m guessing if we do it, then everyone would be happy, including Rajelai. In fact, in return for the murder of the Far East Terror Death Emperor, the ants agreed to breed a class of ant dedicated to the worship of Rajelai, which apparently is something gods like quite a bit.

Of course, all this contract making, and they still weren’t letting us go. But then Kieran healed quite a lot of the ants with her witchiness, and that gained us trust enough that the ants let us out.

P.S. Almost forgot that we were shown a massive library where these giant ants had been recording human history for centuries. In my homeland, there are stories of giant ants, but we had never thought them true, until now. Of course, in my homeland we have a saying, “Cumin is tasty because it is full of history and the threat of death.”

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