Campaign of Evil

Parlay in the Boat House
Session 53

Dear readers: I have just had the best nights sleep in my life.  I had forgotten what clean sheets even felt like in my meandering over the years.   And never had I known the comfort of whatever this strange fabric – doubtless it is imported from some far away heathen land.  Perhaps the heathens aren’t as uncivilized as I had once assumed.  After we had the opportunity to break the evening’s fast, we were joined for conversation with our gracious host, Mr. Polecat.  His peculiar nature speaks of a man that can afford such freedoms bought with perhaps only the most elite mix of wealth and power.  As he is our host, I have chosen to overlook the basal debauchery of some his extensive drug use off the posterior of a beast of the fields, albeit and exotic one.  He took his leave after some bewildering lectures?  Or was it an interrogation?  How can say when dealing with such a man.

We were then left alone to discuss the disposition of our gladiatorial arrangement with those whom we have started referring to as The Rockettes.  A troupe of meekly built, purple haired women – surely they don’t mean to compete in the upcoming contests?  At that point Meimei decided to take exception with something I had said.  I don’t even remember what it was in all honesty.  But rather than confront my slight like a man, she took occasion to strike me! 

Seeing the ire break across my face, the rest of our mismatched band decided to join in!  Again Meimei assaulted me – this time missing.  Kiaran cast some sort of spell on me which left me diminished.  Shizuka had the stones to come at me with a knife – however ineptly.  I am a patient man, but this sort of violence can not be left unanswered.  Quickly producing a blade, I targeted the stretch of floor between MeiMei feet and through.  As the dagger trembled, having been expertly positioned – I thanked them all to mind their manners and not try that again. 

Yet again they tried to assault me, again escalating the situation.  Meimei trying to replicate my skill with the blade but failing embarrassingly, the blade bounced flew well off target and clanked uselessly to the floor.  Shazuka meekly beat upon my chest.  At this point it was up to me to be the bigger man, or rather the man and draw this encounter to a close.  Zuzu was easily cast aside, I retrieved my knife, and went on to converse with The Rockettes.

The Rockettes, it seems, are really only interested in gaining access to the hill – the same as we.  Their mission is clear, your standard distribution of wealth.  They are a bit stumped, however, on how to achieve victory without being brutally murdered.  It was decided that we would arrange things so that they and we would be the two reigning champions and both earn our trip up the hill.  In exchange for our aid in this matter, they would provide for us a map of all known water resources in the region.

Next we were off to our meeting with ‘The Man.’  Hopefully enough time remains before the approaching army arrives for any deals we are able to strike are able to reach maturity.  We were lead to a house where we were locked within coffins, and then transported to and frough before arriving at our final destination.  I expected some obfuscation being taken to the meeting location and participated quite willingly.  My companions followed suit and we were brought to a boat house where we were set free.

Well – freeish.  The coffins were opened remotely, likely some kind of magics in use, but we were release into a locked steel cage suspended over water.  I opened negotiations as I normally have in such situations – calmly describing the situation the city is facing.  And an offer to negotiate an arrangement that would bring both profit and a means of surviving the coming menace.  We could hear the inexperienced whisperings of what sounded like two boys bickering from beyond the floodlights.  They then demanded all available in exchange for..nothing?  Obviously inept negotiators, I began to understand that these boy’s were not ‘the man’, at best – they were his agents.  At worst, we had been duped by Knucles.

Obviously, I refused to divulge the only information currently keeping us alive at that point.  Unfortunately, the boys took that as a signal to murder us out of hand.  Standing brave, I called their bluff stating that we were not afraid of death as the cage was lowered into the water.  As the cage continued to be lowered into the water, I reminded them that the information we had would die with us, and that a beneficial arrangement could be made for all parties.

It was about that time that Zuzu chimed in by stating she had knowledge of the Gladiatorial bouts being fixed.  I judged that her gamble might just pay off, so I allowed her to continue.  Unfortunately, she overplayed her hand in stating that it was her desire to murder Duke Cassus.  Men such as these operate with under agreement and even a sort of cooperation with the nobility.  In threatening his long-term position, the die was cast.

Luckily, Zuzu is quick on her feat.  She immediately recognized her misstep and set to unlocking the cage with a skeleton key.  Shrewd move (for a girl).  In an instant, the door was open and she had lept across the water to ledge with an easy grace.  Being an ungraceful old man, I opted for a more measured pace.  Climbing atop the cage, I got a running start and lept across 10 feet of water.  I was actually so stunned in making the jump and landing expertly on my feet, I just stood there.  My, that did go better than expected.

Kerian and MeiMei made effort to following along but came up short and found themselves handing from the precipice.  I reached down – offering a hand to each.  Accepting my aid, in unison, we were able to get them hoisted over the ledge.  Zuzu was attacked by what I later learned were magic missles in took some injury.  The rest of us sprinted after the boys who had betrayed the neutrality of our parlay.

A fire bomb of some kind was set off, but I quickly sprinted past with the others hot on my tail.  Our attackers attempted to barricade themselves behind a door while fire spread through the room.  We had wanted to preserve their lives and merely subdue them, however with the fire spreading this course of action was becoming quite impractical.  Little by little we whittled down the resistance until none remained.

By this point, the build was engulfed in flame.  I made effort to retrieve whatever information and possessions I could from the bodies of the boys, but the flames forced my retreat as well before I could remove some rings that seemed of interest.

Bursting into the street, a crowd had gathered and seen us exit the burning building.  I quickly shouted for the fire brigade and got to organizing bystanders to aid in fighting the flames lest the entire district go up.  Knowing what to do, the town citizenry quickly took my direction and started to work.  At this point, we melted into the chaos and disappeared.

We are met again by our gracious host.  Zuzu came right out and asked if he could fix the fights.  Seeming to take offense to this he went off into a spirited and somewhat comprehensible lecture.  Quickly interrupting, I explained that she is new to this language and misspoke.  By ‘fix’, she mean ‘arrange’ or ‘setup’ – like any true manager would.  Feeling better about this situation he again started, but then drifted off looking for the ass of the great beast which provided him with his comfort.

Later that night, I was awake at the table in my room, preparing extracts for the next day.  I could have sworn I heard Zuzu’s voice in the room next threatening some poor soul with her knives.  Adorable.

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B02C08 a la Shizuka
Men and The Man

After breakfast, we spoke with H.Q. Polecat, an interesting man. He only answers questions to ask questions, and even that game tires him quickly. Which is fine with me. In my homeland we have a saying, “Some people need answers, others live life.” His attention is rapidly switching, one moment talking of Emperor Sun Kings, the next anxious to snort drugs off of a live hippopotamus.

After our host excused himself, Belo made one of his usual sexist comments. (I’m thinking he must be trying to be funny. Surely he can’t believe the things he says?!) Meimei, ever principled, slapped him across his face. Rather than apologizing, Belo retaliated aggressively, and the whole room gasped as our party went full-on combat mode including Belo and Meimei throwing knives at each other! I had thought we were such a great team. Meimei, my favorite person in the world, was under attack by the only man I’ve known that I haven’t flat-out despised. I had a vision of our party splitting, of our mission over before it had begun. Confusion overwhelmed me. I just don’t know how to fight someone I’m not willing to kill. My eyes burned with stupid tears, and I ran to Belo and started punching his chest rapidly, pleading with him, questioning him. I was emotional, and it was pretty embarrassing. He forcibly pushed me off of him, but thankfully, that pretty much ended the fight.

The fight was actually a nice segue into a productive conversation with the four purple-mohawked gladiator lesbians we had originally met at The Swamp, because they also think men are ridiculous. They too were considering H.Q. Polecat as a manager. Though they are inexperienced in combat, the top two gladiator teams are rewarded with a trip to the governor’s palace, and they wanted to go to pilfer some of his riches. Together, we devised a plan of rigging the fights so that our teams could fight a choreographed match in the final bout, hoping of course that no one dies on the way there. In return for our “altering the odds,” the ladies are to give us a map of Marash’s water sources. We promised them a spectacular draw in the final match, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up killing a few of them.

At noon, we set out to meet The Man, an appointment that Belo had set that up with that guy Knuckles. We were escorted by a young boy to a flop house with a sign that read “Rooms for,” and I was intrigued to meet this master of the town’s underbelly. I have plenty of experience with scoundrels of the nomadic type, but it must take a different kind of scoundrel to remain in one place. When we were nailed into coffins and placed on a ship, that difference was confirmed. They didn’t even try to rob us first.

When the boat stopped moving, we were hoisted into the air and set upright. The nails were removed from the coffins one by one, and we each became aware that we were locked in a cage suspended above water in a boat house with bright spotlights shone right in our faces. My initial panic eased when I noticed the padlock on the cage door. In my homeland we have a saying, “What can be locked can be unlocked.”

To no one’s surprise, Belo immediately began bellowing at our unseen captors, and “The Man” (who sounded more like a nervous boy) started lowering our cage into the water. As the water was disturbed, we heard the scratching sound of hundreds of crustaceans shifting positions. We had just heard of these flesh-eating crabs, and I for one was not interested in meeting them. I quickly jumped into the conversation before Belo got us killed.

Like I said, I have experience with scoundrels, and no matter what motivates them, money is always a happy byproduct. They were not interested in our warning of an imminent army of doom. But when I said, “We have information about the gladiator fights that will make you money,” the cage stopped dropping. “We will trade that information for access to Duke Cassus.” The Man and his attendant were intrigued, but when I mentioned killing the Duke, the cage started dropping again. They ignobly demanded to know our information before we had negotiated a trade, and for once, I agreed with Belo when he boldly refused and insisted he’d rather die. All four of us stood in solidarity as the water reached our knees.

Then I heard the ominous sound of shellfish armor clanking and tiny crunchy feet scraping across rocks. This is a stupid way to die. I grab a skeleton key from my wrist sheath and work on the padlock as Belo continues his loud defiance. The lock falls, and I swing the door open and use its momentum to fly through the air towards the dock … and miss. My hands scrabble on the edge, and I’m hanging by my forearms, careful that my feet do not touch the bottom of this horrid body of water.

Belo quits talking and jumps on top of the cage, making an impressive running leap and landing with panache on the dock. Kiaran and Meimei decide his way is better than mine, and they both climb and jump as well, but neither quite makes it. I’ve already pulled myself up out of the water, but my stomach lurches as I see Meimei swimming above those ravenous creatures, picturing her delicate toes being devoured by a horde of flesh-eating monsters.

In my homeland, we have a saying, “Fate is on the side of the passionate,” and if anything, our party is passionate about surviving and punishing those who would rather we not. Belo pulls our friends out of the water. And though I’m hit by one of those colorful spinny things Meimei can conjure (which means we must be facing a powerful wizard), and though we have to skirt a quickly growing fire, we shove our way into the room those scared whelps have hidden themselves in and they are killed before I get a chance to muddy a blade.

Belo and I search the bodies, finding some gold and a few weapons. They have some pretty fancy rings on their hands, but the fire is approaching (I mean, Belo is literally on fire), so we leave them and their rings and run outside into the gathering crowd. Belo directs the fire brigade, and the crowd suspects no fowl play. We disappear during the confusion and head back to H.Q.’s.

Our host was wasted and unintelligible when we returned. He babbled about true truth and causal truth, and wet spots, and the right day to fight. Man, I just wanted to join him in his altered state. But instead, I drank just one glass of wine and went to bed, waiting patiently. My mind started thinking (which I hate):

Did we really kill The Man or just a stand-in boy? Why does this group of crime bosses want to protect the life of Cassus? Are those rings on the bodies the same that Mabel was talking about? It’s a crazy idea, but if so, maybe all of her prophecies were about the governance of Marash and not at all about the Sun Death Emperor Terror King! Are we on a fool’s mission to poison a town for an imaginary army? Are those mohawked lesbians really inexperienced fighters? Do those crabby things bite or do they pinch the flesh off so they can eat it in small pieces?

When enough time had passed, I quietly got up and went into Belo’s room. He was snoring soundly, but woke when the cold metal of my razor touched the flesh of his neck. “I do not want to kill you,” I whisper, “But if you ever raise a knife at Kinmei again, I certainly will.”

…And that should have been the end of this chapter, but Belo, startled awake with the business side of a razor at his throat, immediately started his thing—unafraid, unapologetic: “I didn’t start it, she did!”

Urgh! I hate men. If it wasn’t for how amusing he is, how impressive his knife skills, or how asexual he is, he would be dead.

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Glory Lasts Forever
Session 52

Meimei vs The Preacher

Prior to this fight, Meimei volunteers to operate the stretcher.  Perhaps it is best that she is fighting first, I’d hate to join combat after having labored removing dead and injured bodies all evening.  The preacher seems a sad sort.  Obviously, a worshiper of Belo, my name sake, his spirits were stolen much like his gods life – or so I have heard.  Either way, he seems to be more interested in being released from the burdens of this life than fighting.  His half-hearted attacks fall short as he dances about with Meimei.  She dispatches him with ease.

 

Kiaran vs Smiles

Smiles, is an old man, a handful of decades past his prime.  I’m not sure if his trident was meant as a weapon or a cane to keep him standing.  He must have truly mountainous debts to be entering the arena at this age.  Still the muscles of his past might still have memory to cause Kiaran some issue.  She is not a hand to hand fighter and will need to be wary.  As the battle begun, it’s clear that his muscle memory might match that of his mind – she easily spins away from his desperate attacks.  After towing with him for a bit, she uses some kind of ice spell to freeze his ancient head.  As he topples to the ground, the ice, and his head with it, shatters.  The crowd goes into stunned silence over his loss.  Fearing that they would turn on her for the fatality, I shout:  “Oopsie Daisy” from sidelines – the crowd erupts into laughter and gains her accolades.

 

Zuzu vs Sly Jimmy

As Zuzu was entering the arena, Sly Jimmy tried for a backstab.  MeiMei didn’t take too kindly so that and put a crossbow bolt in his back for the trouble.  Unfortunately, the Jimmy decided to play up the crowd and they turned on Zuzu in a hurry.  The match was soon started begun.  Jimmy was able to draw first blood but artfully carved loose Jimmy’s life with her knives and fed it to the crowd.  The crowd had no hunger for such a meal.  They only flower they threw upon her were the gravest of insults – some of which even made me blush.  I thought I’d heard and seen it all but… gasp

 

Me vs The Pulper

Dear reader:  I pulped the Pulper.   I played with him for several rounds, making a good show of it for the crowd.  As their cheers reached a magnificent crescendo, my cleaver took first the hand holding his mighty war hammer.  As he stood in shocked disbelief at what had happened, next I caught the leg and brought him to his knees.  I offered him the chance to submit, but still in some kind of berserker rage he bellowed only curses.  Asking the crowd for their opinion, the roared with approval and laughter giving the Pulper the thumbs down.  And so it was that I ended him.  It was a piece of cake, really.  Barely even took a scratch.

 

Polecat

After the bouts were over, made my way to the dressing chambers.  I could still hear the cheers and adoration of the crowds in the background.  A man named Hieronymous Q. Polecat introduced himself to us.  I had heard mention of his name back it Little Walop, but never really got the particulars.  Evidently, he has come here to see our contests and was quite please and excited to make our acquaintance – well, mine anyway as I take his card.  He has us all back to elaborately decorated villa and offers us a suite of rooms to rest and recover from our battles.

The next morning, we are brought to a party attended only by the finest class of people.  I felt right at home.  Hopefully those girls’ wont’ embarrass me any further.  I made the acquaintance of a fiery haired dwarf who I believe is a god of war.   Showing him every respect and honor, I humbly ask him to bless the master cleaver I had procured from town earlier.  He lay his hands upon it and it seemed much improved.

We had arranged an appointment to make the acquaintance of ‘The Man’ back when we were scoping out The Swamp.  When meeting a master of the underworld, I suspect it will serve me well to have such a fine weapon ready in defense of my life. 

In honor of, well – myself, i have decided to undertake a sacred quest:  Thrice more shall i defeat foes in man-to-man combat.  And in so doing, I shall truly become the Champion.

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B02C07 a la Shizuka
Deceptive Appearances or Why Elves are Jerks and Chocolate is Wonderful

This is it: Gladiator Fest. We all look amazing and feel amazing … and a little nervous if we’re being (uncharacteristically) honest.

Meimei is up first against The Preacher. My beautiful and brave sister’s foe was well-armored with a huge deadly flail, yet we all noticed his dejected walk, as if the meaning of his life had already been torn from his clutches, as if all he had left to do was keep fighting until merciful death claimed him. Though he was not aggressive, each time I heard that chain swing through the air, my stomach turned at the thought of it connecting with my darling sister. But Meimei was all too cunning for this battle. Again and again, she sidestepped his flail. Though her arrows bounced off his armor, I knew she was also using her powerful magic against him. When finally the flail did strike her, The Preacher fell an instant later, knocked out cold for no apparent reason. Meimei was victorious! Still, the people in the stands seemed quite apathetic during the entire bout.

Next, Kiaran fights Smiles, a bumbling feather of a man who brought the crowd to life—obviously their favorite fighter. I felt for Kiaran who hates attention yet had to endure the rabid booing and insulting of the crowd as she tried to avoid their notice. Smiles fought ineptly with a ridiculous trident and fishing net. Though Kiaran is not much of a hand-to-hand fighter, she easily defeated him, much to the crowd’s disappointment. She nearly escaped a riot when, after covering him in ice, Smiles fell and the ice shattered in sickeningly dramatic fashion. Fortunately, Belo yelled out his trademark “Oopsie Daisy” from the dressing chambers, and the crowd couldn’t help but laugh.

I have the third round of fighting with a half-man, half-elf named Sly Jimmy. That twinkle-toed Keebler sent me out to the arena first, then tried to shiv me as I went past him! (I should have taken the clue from his name.) Honorable Meimei cannot abide such cheating, so she wasted no time in shooting an arrow into his back. Upon being struck, he quickly darted in front of me then played like I had just shot him before the match had begun. The crowd was immediately turned against me, though I tried to win them over with a grand speech of epic adventure and actual truth. It was obvious I had no weapon that fires arrows, but these Marashians are jerkwad idiots. In my homeland we have a saying, “A wise word falls on an angry mob like a grain of salt into a bucket of slugs.”

I was still waiting for the official start of the match when that mutant pixie shit sliced my leg with his rapier. So I immediately reacted by slicing him with both my short sword and prized venomous dagger. Blood rained like blessings from the gods, and his cheating jerk ass fell to the ground. I was the worthy champion and tried to regain the favor of the crowd, yet they hissed me away, full of vitriol and void of grace.

Finally, Belo the Butcher meets with that orc of a man, The Pulper. Pulper is a rabid beast, foaming at the mouth and swinging a mighty war hammer while charging at the much smaller Belo. We watch from the doorway, certain of Belo’s fatality. When I look to my companions, both Meimei and Kiaran are staring so intently, I know they are magically stacking the odds. I wonder if Belo’s pride will be hurt.

Belo throws his mighty cleaver and misses, and he is struck in return by The Pulper. Our friend falls to the ground, certainly dead. At this point, Meimei turns to me and says, “Cover me,” then raises her staff and went into an inspired trance. I guard her as my own life, while Kiaran runs to heal Belo. Meanwhile, Pulper slugs around the arena half-heartedly beating his chest. The crowd is surprised when he walks back into the dressing chamber before being announced the winner. The attendants are even more surprised as they watch him systematically murder each of his three unconscious companions, first Jimmy, then Smiles, and finally the Preacher finds his eternal rest.

At this point, I sneak up to The Pulper and punch him over and over with my punching daggers, caught in a frenzy—knowing how strong he is and that I must kill him, but not knowing whether I endanger my Meimei’s life as well. I am sweaty and covered in his blood when his riddled body finally crumples to the floor. I scowl as I work on removing his thumbnail, for it is misshapen and torn and stained by unidentifiable matter.

Meanwhile, Kiaran was desperately trying to revive Belo, rummaging through his pockets searching for a potion that would restore his consciousness. I can't help but notice that she rummages for a bit too long. Could a romance be stirring between this sexist old man and this young and fiercely independent woman??

Meimei and Belo return to awareness just as a garishly dressed short man with a magnificently shaped mustache enters the chambers. He introduces himself: Hieronymus Q. Polecat, Esoteric Services Agent. He waxes fanciful praises on our skills in the arena, laying it on pretty thick. He offers his services and whisks us away to his fancy mansion astride exotic creatures called elephants, which I had always thought were mythical. At his home, we are offered hot baths, our first in weeks. I am worried and suggest we take turns watching our possessions, but Belo points to the opulence around us and assures me there is no danger of theft.

The next morning we awaken rested and restored, as if we had suffered no injuries the night before. We have a grand breakfast that includes waffles covered in an ugly brown substance called chocolate that is deceptively delicious! For the first time in ages, I can’t smell the rest of my party.

Speaking of parties, Mr. Polecat was hosting one. And quite the array of people! Such richly dressed people, beautiful and well-educated. An array of dwarves, both of the stoic and the drunk kind. An ethereal lady with a handsome companion that Kiaran and Belo are convinced are the goddess of the moon and the god of war. I ask this “moon goddess” about her preferences for fingernails, as everyone knows that the half-moons on our hands are interlocked with the auspices of the great moon, yet she simply ignores me while an owlbear suddenly enters the room and starts eating peanuts. Surely a strange morning!

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Settling the Tab
Session 51

For once, we were all agreed first off without even a smattering of our usual debate:  talking to Mabel the Seer was our top priority.   I’m glad I didn’t need to do even more mansplaining to these young girls about missions and objectives.  Perhaps the fear of the gods has helped understand the authority I hold in these matters – well, all matters where they are concerned.

A quick flip of some gold saw our Seer’s tongue loosened.  She gave to us the following visions:

  • The Dawn Rages at the theft of the morning star.
  • So many are coming.  Many spears from the East.
  • A hand of nights
  • Everything turns on a bad water beneath the hill
  • So much thirst, weakness, and death.  A hard road.
  • The signet ring on the hill is replaced by a golden mask and scepter.

Her meaning seems clear enough.  The warlord to the East has been angered by the death of his father.  An army approaches, we have maybe five evenings until their arrival.  Water, beneath hill will go bad – funny we had been contemplating poisoning it to curry favor with the warlord.  Thirst, weakness and death – the hard road: likely the citizenry here driven from their homes into the wastelands by the conquerors as the warlord topples the local Duke.  It’s almost like the plan’s, I mean my plan’s success has been preordained.  I suppose this means I’ll be successful in the ring tonight as well since I doubt it could possibly succeed without me.

She had no other information to provide and about that time it became clear that the traffic jam we saw earlier of sorts was about to become an angry brawl.  Well, this seems like an opportune time to hype my own status for the coming events in the arena.  I made a rousing speech for the lads as they struggled to right the carts.  Using my expert guidance, they were squared away in fairly short order.  I took a few moments then to bid them cheer me on in the arena this evening, and then took my leave.

We made our way into the entertainment district.  I stopped along the way to grab a new blade and see my existing blades repaired and sharpened.  The charged a steep price but with my own life on the line, I’ll have only the best tools at my disposal.  We entered an establishment called The Swamp.  It’s a rough sort of joint with a motley assortment of patrons – just my kind of place.  I settled in to observe while the girls went on to do a bit of drinking.  It wasn’t long before trouble started.

Meimei decided to assault some obviously rich tourists along with their hired thugs.  I let them have a bit of fun until things started to take a turn for the more violent.  One of them stabbed ZuZu.  No one roughs up my girls but me:  I let me dagger fly:  it found a gurgling new home in the throat of the nearest thug.  I waltzed over to check the pockets of the dead fellow and the unconsious tourist that ZuZu had dropped into the muck.  Quite a haul:  a nice satchel of coins, some weapons, a copper badge?  Interesting…

As I turned to see what the girls were getting into with the remaining tourists.  The rich boy was all full of piss and vinegar, but his hired help decided to terminate this employment contract when confronted with the odds.  I decided to have a bit of sport with him and offered a truce and a handshake.  As we should I turned his well-manicured hand over in invitation to Zuzu.  Predictably goes for it and a bit more fun ensues.  Meimei offers a bit of distraction and Zuzu ends the fool on the spot.  Those two really are a dangerous combination.

The unconscious tourist regains his consciousness and makes a hasty retreat.  He tries to hire the other patrons at the bar to end our lives – sadly, for him – I’m holding his coin purse.  Zuzu tosses a blade across the room and catches him right in the gizzard – nice shot!

The girls enjoy a final round of drinks while I tidy the mustache – mustn't let appearance drop just because of a little mortal combat.  We leave a short time later to make final preparation for the big night in the ring.  Adding our name to the lists, we decide amongst our selves whom would fair best against which opponents:  lucky me, I’m fighting the Pulper.

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Draining the Swamp
Episode 51, Kenmei's Account

Shady Lane was a swampy business district at the edge of town. Most of the street was made from rickety bits of wood and garbage, barely floating above black water, haphazard walkways here and there between businesses. Even some of the buildings appeared to be sinking into the mire. The lane was covered by tall willow trees, which blocked out most of the sun, but looking around at the businesses, I was sure that the neighborhood wasn't named for its lack of sunlight. A brothel, porn shop, dive bar, fighting arena called the Pit, along with other shops and outdoor vendors all hovered above the stinking bog of Shady Lane. Despite the poor shape of the buildings and walkways, there trade was bustling in this area of town.

 

Lucius led us to an area called Dawn Square, to meet Mabel. Mabel appeared old beyond her years, as though she had seen some things in her life. We asked her what she had seen recently with regard to danger from the east. She slipped into a trance and spoke the following,

 

"Dawn rages at the theft of the morning star."

 

"So many are coming. Too many spears from the east."

 

"A hand of nights."

 

"Everything turns on bad water beneath the hill."

 

"So much thirst, weakness, and death. A hard road."

 

"The signet ring on the hill is replaced by a golden mask and scepter."

 

After leaving Mabel, we did a little shopping and then made our way to The Swamp, a dive bar in the shadiest part Shady Lane. The floor on the inside of the establishment was sloped toward the middle of the room, where parts of the building were sinking into the swamp. I immediately went to the bar for a brandy and noticed a swarthy man drinking a green, bubbly substance. The drink seemed to have magical properties. I ordered one for myself. The barmaid, Mildred, said this drink was special, and that she would make one for me if I bought a round of brandy for everyone in the bar except one person, whom I'd choose. Seeing this as some sort of test as to whom I could piss off, I accepted and ordered a drink for everyone in the bar except a lone, tall, quiet, stranger with a huge sword, drinking by himself. Luckily, he didn't seem to notice or didn't care.

 

I walked around the bar with Mildred and Kiaran, as they handed out the round of drinks I'd purchased. A group of four men near the center of the room, where the floors were being swallowed up by the swamp began to harass Mildred, which I was willing to let go for a moment. But when Kiaran intervened and asked them politely to enjoy their drinks, they turned on her, "Fuck you, ya bitch!" Memories of my father and his treatment of my sister came rushing to the surface. I responded without even thinking, a spray of color from fingers, knocking three of them out cold. As their bodies hit the floor and rolled toward the mucky water in the room, I noticed Zuzu appear by my side, as if from nowhere. I could always count on her. There is a saying in our country, "When one twin starts a fight, both finish it."

 

I unleashed a crossbow bolt into the one who remained standing. He staggered for a second, but then with a quick whip and jab of his rapier, the he stabbed Zuzu in the shoulder. I felt her pain, as real as if I had been the target. She yelled in rage, and reached for her daggers. As she did, a foreign dagger appeared in the man's throat, sending him to the ground in a gurgling death. We turned to see Belo with a smile on his face. "Whoopsy Daisy!", he quipped. Whoopsy Daisy, indeed.

 

As Belo and Mildred went through the pockets of the dead, the unconscious started to wake up. One, Knuckles, was too afraid to continue the fight. Another was tricked into a truce by Belo, only to be stabbed and killed by Zuzu. While Zuzu was gathering this man's thumbnail as a trophy, the last of them woke up. He immediately offered 100 gold to anyone in the bar who would kill us. As a few people in the bar looked up from their drinks with interest, Belo held up the purse of gold he'd just taken off the guy while he was unconscious and asked, "And you'll be paying them with what?" The few that were interested went back to their drinks. Realizing he had no friends left, the remaining harasser bolted toward the door. Before he could get through the doorway, Zuzu hurled a dagger into the back of his skull, killing him instantly. She gathered another fingernail. Shrugging off a stab wound, she was happy. I was happy for her.

 

I was finally able to enjoy my green, bubbly beer. I'm not sure how long I was hallucinating from that drink, but I remember some vague images running through my mind. A vibrant, green river valley. The head of a large ox-like creature. And souls of the dead, running across a dusty plane towards hell. I remember thinking I need the recipe for this drink.

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B02C06 a la Shizuka
Barroom Blitz

We decided that talking to Mabel the Seer was our first priority, as she might have information pertaining to our mission, so we headed to Dawn Square. Our way was slow because an ox cart had turned over, and, apparently, when that happens in Marash, people lose their shit and everything becomes a clusterfuck. In my homeland we have a saying, “The working class rallies to fight rabbits to avoid thinking of wolves.”

Still, we made it to Mabel and talked to that contrary, confusing women who looked about 60 but said she was “only 33.” Whatever, all old people look the same age to me. She went into a trance and said some things:

  • Dawn rages at the theft of the morning star.
  • So many are coming. Too many spears are coming from the east.
  • A hand of knights. (or was it “nights”??)
  • Everything turns on bad water beneath the hill.
  • So much thirst… Weakness in death… A hard road…
  • The signet ring on the hill is replaced by a golden mask and scepter.

We couldn’t wring any more specific information from her, so Belo turned his attention to helping organize the people to move the damn ox cart. A problem solver without compare, Meimei tried to help, but people here don’t seem to take orders from women. Luckily, with Belo’s successful guidance, we gained the attention of the crowds and hyped up our upcoming gladiator battles, so maybe there will be a great turnout – key for making this death-defying feat worth our while.

We went our own ways to prepare for the evening fights. Kiaran visited an old witch’s shop. Belo decided all of his knives weren’t enough so he went to find a metalsmith. Meimei and I grabbed some pelts, leather, and supplies for our outfits. I’m quite excited by the porcupine bras I’ll be making, though Belo says he wouldn’t be caught dead in one.

We all met up at The Swamp, a rough kind of bar with terrible lighting for someone looking to sew four costumes in four hours. (I’m just saying) Meimei, always looking to increase her ravishing wisdom of ethereal things, insisted on drinking a green beer that had been doctored by a man obviously high as a kite. The price: buy a round of drinks for everyone in the bar except one. The choice of which person doesn’t get a drink was Mei’s, and she chose the tall silent guy standing by himself. He didn’t seem to mind.

Kiaran helped the barmaid Mildred pass the drinks around. But when they served the table of two rich jackholes “disguised” as poor people, one guy grabbed Mildred’s butt, so Meimei valiantly turned the drinks over on their head. I won’t get into specifics, but soon there was an all-out brawl between their group (the two rich guys and their two not-so-loyal bodyguards) and our group.

Meimei stunned three of them flat out with a spell, but the last guy proved a little tougher. He stabbed me in the shoulder with his sword. (Jerk! I still have costumes to make and a gladiator bout to fight! Ugh.) Then Belo came to my rescue and stabbed him in his jerk throat.

While Mildred and Belo search the rich guys for their coin purses (which, I noticed were quite heavy), the other two start to wake up. One guy—Knuckles—takes a second to consider restarting the fight but then realizes his patron is dead so accepts a drink instead. Belo invited the other guy, but then happened to notice his nice manicured hand and drew my attention to it. So I went to shake his hand, then slipped out my spring razor and slashed his wrist. But somehow I used the wrong side of the blade, so he knew my intent but suffered no damage. This will be round 2…

Meimei does a wondrous thing where she appears to be surrounded by the ghosts of people we have killed. The guy who spiked her beer thought it was mesmerizing. Confused, the guy is easily stabbed … by me … injured me … so it’s not a clean stabbing, and entrails spill all around his toppled body. I act like I have never killed before: “Oh dear, this is awful, so violent. A man, dead, by my hand!? Oh what I have done?” I bend over his body, fake crying and carrying on, and slyly carve out his thumbnail. Now I have 18!

Meanwhile, the rich guy who wasn’t dead awakens and offers 100 gold to anyone who will take us out. People around the bar start to stand until Belo holds up the guy’s purse and asks him what he will be paying with. People sit down, and the poor rich guy runs to the door. I throw a dagger and kill him right in the doorway. “Oh, no,” I cry, “Another dead! You saw how he attacked me! I am but a poor girl and must now retrieve my only knife.” And I convincingly struggle with the knife as I harvest another thumbnail. 19! Almost a proper necklace.

Miraculously at this point, a person crawls out of the mire in the middle of the bar. (Did I mention there is actually a swamp in the Swamp?) He looks to have been there for a few days and is struggling, happy to be alive. But Meimei, seeing a truth no one else can see, kills him in his last chance efforts and rolls him back into the swamp.

I’m just glad the owlbear didn’t get involved! He seemed content to stand still in his corner though, for which we are all quite glad. After all, in my homeland they have a saying, "Let sleeping owlbears lie, but avoid awake owlbears at all cost."

Finally, we have peace enough to drink some beers (including the green one for Meimei), talk about the seer’s prophesies, and finish creating our glorious outfits. Then we notice the table in the corner rising to sign up for the fights. There are four of them, and one I am sure is the Pulper of Lucius’ warning. He is big and brutal but dim-witted. As they were leaving, I caught the eye of the tall Elven one. He leered, and I felt that fire spark that won’t go out until I’ve killed. I yearn for it. He has iridescent nails and they are gorgeous.

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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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From Shade to Shady Lane
Episode 50, Kenmei's Account

Spells of self-disguise are very useful spells. At least that's what I told myself quite a while back when learning one. So useful I thought, that I would even scribe it to a scroll, in the event others were in need of it. As we stood over the corpses of Bob and Gary in the stables with few options of their murder going unnoticed in the town, we were about to test this spell's usefulness.

 

Although it appeared that Bob's cries for help as he was being disassembled by Belo went unheard, we were certain we would be suspects if these bodies were discovered. So we devised a plan. Using the spell and scroll, we disguised ourselves as Bob and Gary, minus the wounds they had suffered from their encounter with us. Dressing their bodies in our clothes and wrapping them up in horse blankets, we rode through town with the two corpses slung over the backs of our horses. Reaching the gates of the town, we were greeted by the replacement guards, "Hello Bob and Gary! What you got there?" The disguise was working. "Had a run-in with a couple of horse thieves in town. It didn't end well for them," I replied. "Taking them for a 'fitting' burial," I added. They waved us out through the gates.

 

We found a suitable location on the cliff-side path leading from town, burned the bodies of Bob and Gary to make them difficult to identify, and pushed them off the path, into the ravine below. This had taken some time and our disguise spells were wearing off. It was also getting late and we had no desire to try to sneak back into town, so we decided to head up the path to the haunted tower and make camp.

 

We woke early the next morning and after a small breakfast, I spent some time focusing on spells. Belo was also able to copy my disguise spell and make an extract for his own use. Such a clever cook. Meanwhile, I found it difficult to focus on anything but Zuzu. I was worried what she would think when she awoke to find that I had not returned last night. I turned my focus to her, concentrating intently and channeling our dead sister, I began repeating, "Watchtower. Watchtower. Watchtower." After some time in this trance-like state, I opened my eyes. Had Zuzu heard me? Belo sat staring at me, clearly unnerved by what he had just witnessed. "We should wait here for Zuzu and Kiaran," I reassured him. He did not look reassured.

 

About an hour passed before Zuzu and Kiaran joined us at the tower. I was relieved to see my sister and gave her a big hug. I sensed that she had been worried enough to kill after having found me missing that morning. I hated having put her in through that and felt ashamed. I also began to feel contempt for Belo for having put us in this situation from the start. Irrational maybe, but the feeling was there.

 

After catching up on the events of the previous night, we decided to explore the watchtower, against the advice of the sign posted on its door. I was not too keen on this idea, as it is best to leave the dead undisturbed. However, everyone in the party was having second thoughts about taking part in the gladiator fights that night and I thought some time together facing certain danger would pull us closer and help me make my case for joining the competition back in town. I was certain that there were resources in Marash to which we could gain access with a little fame. It was also time for me to see what Belo was capable of before facing an army of unknown size and strength. If things went poorly in battle, my obligation would be to Zuzu. So, a little experience in the ring would serve Belo well.

 

Deciding there may be a safer entrance at the top of the tower than through the door, Zuzu put her climbing skills to work and scaled the stone wall, reaching the top of the tower in seconds. There, she let down a rope, which rest of the party climbed to join her. The tower roof was crumbling in areas, which afforded us a way down into the darkness of the structure. Suspecting that conventional weapons may be useless to what we encounter, I descended a nearby stairwell first.

 

I entered a room at the bottom of the stairs, where a pile of bones lay in its center. Assuming these were either the remains of others who had entered this room or a Skeletons lying in wait, I stopped in my tracks. Belo and Kiaran entered the room behind me and set the heap of bones ablaze with a torch. This may have been a mistake as bottles of potions on the pile began to boil and pop. As we worked on putting out the fire, Belo crossed to a doorway on the other side of the blaze. Suddenly a shady figure moved through the doorway toward him. A Shadow! It reached out to touch Belo but missed. Belo returned the favor by missing the shadow with his cleaver. A quick hex by Kiaran turned the shadow into a bumbling shade, moving around the room, missing each of us with its touch. Zuzu tried taming the thing, which would've been amazing had she succeeded. But having failed that, she pulled out her Dagger of Venom and dispatched the creature, causing it to vanish. We were relieved, but Zuzu was clearly disappointed that she couldn't retrieve a trophy fingernail from her kill. I tried to console her. "Remember, in our country we have sayings. You can't kill what is already dead. And the only nail on the finger of a Shadow, is the nail in your coffin", both of which I had just made up.

 

Recovering a few useful items from the smoldering pile of bones in the room, we left the tower through the front door and made our way back to town. Disguised again as Bob and Gary, Belo and I escorted Zuzu and Kiaran back through the gates without incident. After we shed our disguises, Zuzu approached a local in the street, Lucius, a drapery trader, who was more than happy to lead us around and tell us about the town. We told him of our interest to enter the gladiatorial fights that night and he suggested that we form a team that could fight in The Pit on Shady Lane. He offered to take us to that area and show us around. We agreed, and along the way to Shady Lane, we learned of something particularly useful to our expedition to the east. A seer named Mabel who worked her craft on Shady Lane often prophesied danger from the east. We made our way to see her.

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