It is I, Martinette Kratovic. I write this for myself only. Know, O Reader, that I shall find you and kill you for your prying.
I sit in a hostel in the Nether Courts of Merkabar. My agent, Yuri, has many jobs in his file.
“See,” he says, “a wife whose husband betrays her with his gardener. Such rage!”
“Alright, then this. A clerk passed over for promotion. His boss is –“ he reads on to himself and his eyes pop “- a real bitch!”
“Boring,” I tell him.
“A handmaiden in the Stainless Spire who loves her sister’s husband. Wait, listen, her identical sister, and –“
I am not listening. I am reading a fly poster pinned to the wall. ADVENTURERS WANTED! EQUAL SHARES! NO TIME-WASTERS!
Yuri is explaining something about two sisters.
“I am going down a dungeon,” I tell him.
He stops talking and examines me. He suspects a joke. But I do not joke.
“Dungeons,” he says, “are risky. But missions,” he goes on, “are profitable.”
“Profitable and dull,” I tell him. “Kill the sister yourself.”
The adventurers are interviewing hirelings at a gambling hell called the Crack’d Mirror. One of them is a Danaan with absurd trousers and a pet pig.
“I used to be a temple-dancer in Varang,” I tell him when he asks about my background.
“Why did you give that up?”
“I don’t believe in God.”
He thinks about that. Or about my breasts. Then he asks, “What skills would you bring to the party?”
I shrug. “I kill people. If you like, I poison. That costs more.”
“How much more?”
I think of a number. It seems to satisfy him.
“What happened to the last dungeon party you adventured with?”
I think of the startled look on Iskandar’s face, before he fell backwards into the pit leaving the knife in my hand. No, he was not startled. What is the word? Disappointed.
“They all died,” I tell him because that is the truth.
“We’ll let you know.”
I sit in the bar and let a fat Northron buy me drinks and put his meaty hand on my knee. I wonder about the two sisters in the Stainless Spire. Would it not be better to kill the husband instead? Then the Pig-man returns.
“You’re hired," he says." We leave for Stonehell tomorrow. Bring your – your – what we talked about –“
“I know what to bring,” I tell him.
Our party is not large. There is Pig-man. With him is an Elf with a painted body and a toad familiar. There is a woman, a Vinlander who smells of bears. There is a pretty boy whose name is Gore and who carries no weapons. I am curious about him. They have a mission, which is to destroy a tribe of Orcs who inconvenience them. This is good. There is focus. That means less talk.
The Orc guard post is well-defended with a barricade and archers. We split into two groups. Pig-man shows me a junk room full of giant rats. He sets fire to them and drives them down the tunnels towards the Orcs. When I arrive, the rats are eating fallen Orcs and the Vinlander woman really is a bear, which explains her smell. More Orcs arrive, including a captain, and the fighting is hard. The Swamp Elf is a mighty swordsman. Gore kills with his bare hands. I am wounded and restless.
Gore drags the Orc bodies to another room and I go to watch him eat them. I understand now. His beauty is only show. Beneath, he is monster.
“We are the same,” I tell him.
He watches me undress while he licks his bloody fingers.
Sex, it is better when there is danger. Dead things stumble into the room while we couple. The excitement, it is fantastic. The Pretty Boy-Monster is injured but the Swamp Elf arrives and then the Pig-man and his Silver Hand. He holds up his symbol and his god chases the dead from the room. I study the Pig-man, bathed in his god’s pure light. For the first time, I am curious about him.
We search the Orcs’ lair. There is a mighty axe. There is much gold. I watch the Pig-man as he loots the Orc captain’s room.
“I’m not Pig-man,” he says. “I have a name. Dian.”
There’s no glory to him now. His god has gone. But I am restless.
“Bring your god back, Dian Pig-man,” I tell him. “I want to feel his brightness.”
But he puts aside his holy symbol while he watches me undress.
After that, there are traps to get through, but they are old sorceries and mean nothing to me. We stand at a crossroads while the others talk about the Orcs and how the Elf once hexed the Great Orc Chieftain. The Vinlander woman is no longer a bear. I am so bored. I think about the sisters in the Stainless Spire. Perhaps Yuri was right about that mission.
“Let me kill Orc-Chieftain,” I interrupt them. “This is job for me.”
They look at one another and nod. We will surrender to the Orcs. They will take us to the Chieftain. The Elf will hex the door shut. He must dance to work his hex, but that will be a show to amuse our captors. Then I will kill the Chieftain.
There are many Orcs. They crowd around us as we are escorted to the Chieftain, and peer through the doorway after us. We stand before the Chieftain and his mate and his bodyguard, whose name is Ka-Plott. The Pretty Boy-Monster knows this Ka-Plott. The Chieftain and his Mate are delighted with their prisoners. They think they have us at their mercy. Their smiles remind me of the Temple in Varang where the men press in between the pillars and the incense sticks to the sweat on my thighs.
The Swamp Elf begins to dance his hexing-dance. He too is a Temple-Dancer. I realise, we are the same, he and I. My feet remember their old steps. My hips remember their arcs. My face is the gorgon’s mask. The roar of men grows louder. In truth, I never left Varang. I straddle the bloated priest with his grinning mask. His hands touch my sacred body, though it is forbidden. I draw my knife across his throat as I have in dreams, so many times. His neck smiles a second smile, a smile of blood.
But he does not die. It is the same as all the dreams. He will not die, though I stab and stab. The old priest is the Orc Chieftain now and he does not die, though my blade cuts deep. He calls for help. He draws his sword.
The Elf-Dancer steps up and chops off his head. We stare at one another, the Elf-Dancer and I, standing over this corpse. I am grinning.
There is fighting. The Vinlander throws down her staff and it becomes a serpent. I approach the Chieftain’s Mate where she cowers against the wall.
“Turn your face away,” I tell her. “Close your eyes. This will pass.”
Afterwards, I take a large sapphire from her body.
There is commotion. Only one Orc, Ka-Plott, lives and he worships the Pretty Boy-Monster as a living god. This is foolishness. There are no real gods. Only men and their desires.
“So, we are leaving?” I ask.
“We have made Ka-Plott the new chieftain. The Orcs have a new chief now who is our friend,” they explain to me, like I am a small child.
“What about the plan?” I say. “The plan to kill all the Orcs?”
But plans change.
The Orcs-who-are-now-our-friends escort us out of the dungeon. At the Inn, the treasure is divided. It is a great amount, the loot of a tribe. We are rich. The blood of all the sisters in the Stainless Spire would hardly purchase such treasure.
I am restless. I walk away from the noisy inn, under the cold, uncaring stars. I tell myself, I am no longer in Varang. I see the Elf-Dancer’s sword chopping off the old priest’s head, over and over. I am grinning. It makes my lips hurt. I am curious about him.
The inn is silent. Everyone sleeps. I go to his room and hammer on his door.
“What is your name?” I say when he opens the door.
But the Elf-Dancer shakes his head.
“Tell me your name,” I say.
But he will not share it.
I curse him in the Varang tongue. I weep tears of frustration. I beat my fists on his chest. I press my lips against his. I snuff out the candle, so he will not watch me undress.