Thirteen names were on Skot Skevins’s list and to my horror I discovered that one of them was my Lily! How could this be?
|River Kingdoms--Copyright Paizo|
My colleagues insisted that I lead a party to question her but I found myself abashed. I could hear the whine in my voice as I asked her if she was part of Gyronna’s cult. She denied it. As you know (and Little Billee, to his chagrin, can attest) I can tell when someone is lying to me, but with Lily I was reluctant to employ this technique. It proved a fatal mistake.
“I don’t understand what you’re doing, Marquand,” she accused, voice like a whipsaw. “Why am I being interrogated? Maybe Grigori was right about you guys. You barge in here asking me questions, casting these spells!” I found myself unable to question her further.
Next we saw Sasha Tovan, still angry about the owlbear attack. “I bet that Vika Godina’s involved!” she sneered. “Just you listen to me, she is behind that owlbear attack!” As worrisome as that notion was, we decided Tovan was speaking from lust for revenge, but was not personally involved with the cult.
Word of our interrogations spread quickly around town and the people were not happy.
We visited Madam Godina next. “I’m not mad about the owlbear,” she insisted sweetly, motioning for us to accept the petit fours a girl not much older than you offered. “The owlbear destroyed the brothel. But what have you done since?”
“We’re in the process of rebuilding it.”
Her eyes shone with bitter contempt. “Back alleys are not the safest place. Some of my girls are angry. Some have gotten hurt!”
Kelm agreed with her but, “This isn’t a perfect world,” he wheedled. “We know the sex trade is necessary—this is why we’re trying to keep it safe.” Then his voice dropped 20 degrees. “We’re trying to figure out why some of your girls are implicating you in a serious crime.”
“They are? That’s crazy,” she scoffed. “I just handle the money. They’re not happy about that?”
“Would you know why Sasha Tovan might have it out for you? Could she have been shorted?”
“Of course not!” she cried, outraged. We knew she was lying, but there was no way to prove it. “I’m probably the most equitable madam in all the River Kingdoms.”
“Do you know any reason outside of money that they’d be angry with you?”
“No,” She lied again, which is a form of truth, I suppose—you know what things are not. She knew about the cult, too, although she wouldn’t admit it. “I don’t have time for this,” she said angrily.
“I want to remind you,” Lev cautioned, “that the worship and support of the vast majority of gods is welcome here in this fine kingdom, however there are certain that . . .” he suddenly dropped his chain of thought.
“Look, we don’t have to rebuild the brothel,” Kelm interjected. “We can do it as a service to you, but you must tell the truth.”
“But I am,” she protested. “I’ve never heard of this ‘Cult of Gyronna’ that you’re talking about!”
“You’re not fooling anybody here,” Cane growled menacingly.
“Am I being accused of a crime?” He had nothing and she knew it. “Thank you for being forthcoming,” Kelm finally grumbled.
Next we talked with Natalie Bukov. “I want to know what you’re doing about the brothel,” she blustered.
“We’re going to rebuild it as soon as we get this cult thing fixed.”
“I was in the alley with some guy behind the tradesman’s house and he put a knife to my throat and said if I spoke a word to anybody he was going to find me and cut me!”
“Can I kill him?” Cane asked, always looking for an excuse.
“Can you describe him?”
“He was wearing a hat.”
We asked her about Madam Godina.
“She’s kind of cruel but fair when it comes down to it.” Bukov knew nothing about the cult so we let her go.
“If you ever have any problems again, come and find us,” we urged.
“Is that code for something?” she asked, eyes narrowing as she passed out the door.
Next came Katya Rochev. We asked her about Vika Godina. “I like her,” she said truthfully. “I know some of the other girls don’t.”
“What are some of her problems?”
“She loses her temper with the girls—they’re just kids, y’know? They rub her the wrong way and she lashes out.”
“As far as I see it we have two options,” said Duke Lev after she left. “Follow them and find out what they’re doing or arrest them.”
“It’s not the headmistress who’s the head of the cult,” Kelm reasoned. “She knows about it but isn’t going to rat the person out—she probably brings in a lot of money.”
Cane followed Rochev over to Jankov Vagina’s house, a tradesman, but a tradesman of what his papers didn't say. Perhaps an oversight. Crawling to the window on his belly, Cane saw that Vika was speaking with his wife Alotta (Lottie). He also witnessed a man furtively pulling on his clothes and sneaking out the back. Fortunately, Lev was politicking in a nearby tavern and quickly responded to Sizzles’s summons, pursuing the stranger into the night until determining he was an adulterer only.
It hasn’t been easy writing you about these “fallen women” Pino. If we were back in Restov I would agree that you are too young for such knowledge. But out here on the frontier, you need to know the depths that people can plunge. Only a strong moral backbone will see you through.
At sundown the women left the house heading east, with Lev and Cane in stealthy pursuit. Other women were also following the road in that direction, including Miss Kushi Bussoms—one of the more popular of these kind of ladies—and Regina Smirnoff, wife of the tanner. Cane and Lev followed them to a barn on a quiet farm before sending Sizzles to fetch us.
There was a single lamp burning in the barn. Cane tried to reach the loft while standing on the Duke’s back but quickly came tumbling to the ground. He made it on his second try.
From there he saw that while the barn was empty there was a trapdoor in the floor. He gestured to us and soon we’d shuffled nervously inside. In our minds’ eye was the memory of the owlbear attack—after all, Sasha Tovan implicated Godina in the attack on the city—and the disaster that it caused, myself most of all. We intended to taking no chances with these women.
“You realize,” Kelm cautioned us in a hoarse whisper, “that we can’t kill them.”
“Wha!?” cried Piea and Lev, simultaneously.
“I can kill them,” Cane insisted. “You see, I have this sword. . . .”
“Because,” he interrupted, “if we kill all the whores and the wives to prominent people in the city, they’re going to turn on us faster than . . . than Golem will turn on orcs,” he said, referring to the popular legend.
“Bert Askew told me before we left that only two of them are wives,” Piea interjected.
“We can always find more whores,” said Lev.
“I can talk to them as they bleed out,” Cane added casually.
“From their eyeballs,” Piea laughed.
“It would be better to take them alive,” Kelm sighed. “Try them publicly.”
“Let’s see how they react to us storming in,” Lev said. “We’ll try to take some prisoners if necessary—try to redeem them.”
“Save the wives,” Kelm reminded us.
We opened the trapdoor. There were steps leading down and a light was flickering. We heard the disturbing sound of chanting.
|There was a bright flash of light.|
I tried to reach her but seeing me she shrunk back with a cry that rent my heart more completely than the owlbear had done. “I hate you,” she snarled, tears streaking down her ravaged face. “And I will hate you forever!” She broke into tears, her one surviving colleague, Regina Smirnoff, hugging her, glaring at me. Turning my head I walked away. How do you protect someone from herself?
I stared out over the carnage. Even Piea’s ebullient humor had abandoned her. It smelled of burnt hair, fabric, and skin.
The dead—some of the poor girls still twitching—were:
• Malgorzata Niska—midwife, who had apparently been the leader of the group and was curiously not on Skevins’s list
• Vika Godina—madam
• Katya Rochev—prostitute
• Kuhi Bussoms—prostitute
• Lottie Vagina—wife
• Masterwork dagger
• 5 gp
• magic shabble
• gem, symbol of Gyronna, 500 gp
The gem is a very dangerous item because it’s how Gyronna watches the world. “This is your fault!” Kelm said, staring into it.
“You’re all going to die,” Lily spit as Lev and Vlad led them away. “Gyronna will see to it. Gyronna will see to it!”
Shaken, I followed them back to town but declined to enter, instead making for a small grove of Erastil where I spent the rest of the night examining my soul.
Bert Askew later told me that the woman had been put in the same dungeon as the Mad Hermit and within a few days had killed and eaten him. I can’t imagine that he tasted good.
Lev gave an impassioned speech excusing the massacre to the satisfaction of the proletariat but not to that of my heart. How could I have been so wrong—about Lily, about the cult, about my actions? How will I make it up to the dead?This is why you haven’t seen me recently, Pino, I’m not fit company for decent people and won’t return until I am.
Finally, we left Tuskland behind to fight something that could fight back—the trolls that were terrorizing the southwestern corner of the Green Belt.
A narrow path wended its way up a hill, steep cliff-face on one side, sheer drop-off on the other. At the top the path followed a wide ledge around the corner of a weathered stone building jutting from the side of the hill. We debated whether or not to wait for them to wander down.
“Gghrargghhuhuhuh!” it cried as Piea charged in, blood squirting into the air.
Then it was Piea’s turn to scream as Cane accidentally slashed her with his sword. “Oopsie,” he apologized before he and Piea turned their attention back to the luckless troll and quickly it was dead. Cane then used his flaming sword to cook the creature thoroughly.
We waited there as night fell but the others had been alerted, if not by the cry, then by the stench of its cooking. We heard rocks falling from up above, like somebody climbing and we could just make out movement on the side of the hill. We reasoned that they were going to the other side to turn the tables on us.
Kelm said, “We should go up and ambush them instead of waiting here.”
“We could run over and shoot them while they’re climbing up the side of the Pillar,” Lev said.
“I could stand toe-to-toe with 20 trolls, myself,” Cane replied sardonically.
“I say we climb,” Kelm repeated.
I agreed with Kelm although Lev was still unconvinced, thinking that they’d detect our approach first and set up an ambush.
“If we stay down here the best case scenario is there are five trolls and four of us,” Kelm explained patiently. “In that case I’m betting on the trolls. Three of them are going to charge one person and drop him.”
“What are we going to do?” Cane asked.
“I vote to go up,” Kelm said.
“Up, up,” Cane cried. “If we’re wrong we’ll fire our way out and kill everything in the world!”
“I like your style,” laughed Kelm.
“If nothing else, if we’re on the path it’ll be harder for them to . . .” Lev began reasoning.
“. . . come up more than one at a time!” Cane finished his thought.
If you wonder where I was in all of this, I was still stunned from all that had happened to me. Truth is, I’ve been in a daze ever since meeting that owlbear. Oh Lily, I hardly knew ye! I never believed it when they said you were using me because you did such a poor job. When I love again—if I love again, because right now I don’t care if I survive the night—I will listen to my friends.
We soon reached the structure that was sticking from the side of the hill. At first we heard nothing within, then the sound of an argument. We crept carefully, well beneath the arrow slits in the side of the blockhouse. Then I tripped over a large rock. I thank Erastil that it was too dark for me to see the looks on my colleagues’ faces, although I heard Sizzles snort with disgust.
There came a growl and scream in pure rage as a huge rock-troll lumbered through the door. “Ggraaghrrraagh!”
|Rock Troll--Copyright Paizo|
“Oogleboogle!” came a cry of chagrin from the watchers in the blockhouse.
We moved closer where we found a door pulled off its hinges. Lev leaped gracefully up the wall—surprising unless you know that he led his acrobatics team at the academy. He clung like a giant mantis to the arrowslit as he looked inside. He signaled that he saw a troll with a double-bladed axe waiting for us.
Cane sent Sizzles in first, so surprising the creature that its axe missed her. In his excitement Cane dropped his own weapon. Lev, meanwhile, continued hanging from the slit, raining fireballs on its head. “Justice!” I cried, hitting savagely. It made a halfhearted swipe at Vlad as Kelm leaned over, casually finishing it.
With trolls, at least, you can feel good about killing them.
Ah, the postman is here. I’ll have to finish in my next letter.
Your sad uncle,