Thursday, June 30, 2022

Late June Horoscopes

It's not July yet, thank the gods. 

Aries:
They look like people, don't they? Your neighbors, your friends, your family. Only they're a little too calm, a little too happy, a little too earnest. Check the basement for seed pods, and whatever you do, don't fall asleep.

Taurus:
I know it looks like an ordinary cabin, but that book in the basement will release an ancient evil and before you know it all your friends will be dead and you'll have a chainsaw in place of your hand. Maybe just don't go there in the first place.

Gemini:
Yes, the killer has been caught. Yes, the derelict summer camp is just an old property by the lake now. No, the killer definitely won't escape and murder you if you decide to go camping there... WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? Of course he will.

Cancer:
Look, there's nothing inherently suspicious about a nobleman who wants to engage your services as a solicitor to buy some properties in London for him. Happens all the time. Still, take some basic precautions: let people know where you'll going and when you expect to be back. Eat a lot of garlic. Wear a silver cross.

Leo:
You may notice your reflection looking at you even when you aren't looking in the mirror; it might even talk to you. Ignore it. It just wants to trade places with you, take over your body, and leave you trapped in the mirror.

Virgo:
Put any plans to hijack a luxury ocean liner on hold for this week. Something's already come up under the boat, and you're just going to find yourself fighting for your life against a hungry undersea monstrosity. Better to wait, really.

Libra:
Do not attempt to help any beautiful young women who seem to be trapped in ancient manors, no matter how deranged their fathers seem to be. The local witch wants revenge, the father *is* crazy, and the girl has been dead for thirty years. It will end badly.

Scorpio:
Before you stop in any rural towns, check carefully to be sure that there actually are some adults around. If you can't see any, say something nice about He Who Walks Behind The Rows and drive away quickly.

Sagittarius:
Carefully research any new homes or apartments before you consider moving. Nobody wants to get on the wrong side of a bunch of vengeful spirits, especially at this time of year. They get cranky when it's this hot.

Capricorn:
Look, I'm not saying you shouldn't mourn your losses. Grief takes time. I'm just saying that you shouldn't go up there and try to bring them back. There are Bad Places in the world, and that "sematary" is one of them.

Aquarius:
Yes, it's the murder capital of the world. Yes, there are vampires. Yes, your would-be girlfriend is one of them. Yes, ghouls and werewolves may occupy high positions at city hall. But no, those aren't worms. They're just noodles. Take the win.

Pisces:
Just remember: if someone asks you if you're a god, you say Yes.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Music: Children of Light II

Meg Myers:

I have no brain, so I don't have a response for the blogging challenge this week; the plan for tonight is horror movie followed by deep sleep with lots of rapid eye movements.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Evil!Party: A Titanic Problem

We begin our quests to improve our personal abilities by pursuing a way to turn Jenny into a werebear. It’s rare for a werebeast to have the sort of control that Jenny wants to have; ordinarily it takes a lifetime of practice. We’re going to cheat and use magic instead. So, we need to get the High Provost to create a ring for this purpose. We also need to find a werebear to infect her, and anything that boosts her willpower would also be a huge help. The one we know about is protected by the druids, so we’ll need to avoid getting into a massive battle with them. Finally, we’ll need some way to contain Jenny so she can come to terms with her new affliction.

We hang out and do some preparation, which brings us to August of 558… at which point Marcion sends us to a prearranged location in the forest to meet the High Provost Lucien. We do some shopping before we depart, adding:
Another Manual of the Iron Golem, which we used to recreate Ferris.
6 potions of Extra Healing,
A Pearl of Power for Durest
Luckstones for all three of us.
More black onyx for Durest.
A portable hole.

(Also I need to do a story about Helga, who shows up to clean the palace back in Springhollow and accidentally releases the vampire horde.)

So we reach the north, and Kaz Lucien greets us a a ghostly image. He’d like to put us to work up here. 

Chuck: “Sure. What towns do you want us to destroy?” 

He apologizes for showing up as a ghostly image, but he’s trying to stay under cover in Annun – staying annunimous, so to speak. Lucien reminds us of the fact that we reawakened the rightful Elvish King and his buddy the white dragon, Dagomir. “Our good king Mithandril has become quite an obstacle for me, but I cannot remove him yet; we need him to unite the clans." Plus, Joe R Pious’ assistant Beauregard is acting as a spy for Lucien. "Even with that, I need to have these priests of Appollyon take their place as the royal guard.” 

So, he wants us to murder the dragon Dagomir and a titan named Iapetus. Mithrandril and Dagomir will be going to meet with Iapetus to see about bolstering his defenses by securing an alliance; they will likely bring gifts, and funds. 

We talk things over a bit, then head north to the hilly area with the giant cave mouth that leads to the titan. We arrive at dusk to see a pair of celestial chargers wandering back towards the cave. “Gosh, poppy! We had the greatest day today! I saw twelve butterflies.” “Well gosh, Daffodil, I just had the most scrumptious grass.”

Durest: “They must die.” 

Chuck: “Not yet!” He goes off to scout the cave as a bat. 

One of the storm giants looks up: “A bat. I thought we got rid of all those. Why don’t you throw some lightning on it.”

They zap Chuck, who dissolves into mist right on cue. 

“Good shot, Nazra!” 

Chuck, in mist form, drifts back out the door. It looks like they were settling in for the evening. so , we wait an hour, and then Chuck and Burhea teleport us in. Jenny is already a Stone Giant, we’re all invisible, and we’re bringing Bob and Ferrous with us. 

Burhea, Durest, and Bob pop in beside a sleeping storm giant; both giants are asleep, and the unicorns are dancing in the middle of the room. Bob hits a sleeping storm giant with his axe, Durest attempts to implode a unicorn but fails, and then Chuck shows up with Jenny and Ferrous, and Jenny immediately attacks Daffodil, who explodes into a fine red mist. She follows through and attacks the surprised mommy unicorn as well. Ferrous attacks the sleeping storm giant. 

The unicorn/celestial charger cries, “Daffodil!” then turns and steps in and smites Jenny… and misses completely. The storm giants stand up, and Bob hits one of them on the way up. The first storm giant casts Invisibility Purge, and the second one casts Chain Lightining, which flickers through us. Durest and Burhea take some damage, as does Bob, but everyone else is unaffected. Chuck drops an empowered scorching ray on one of the storm giants, burning him badly, while Bob smacks the other one. Jenny promptly murders the unicorn and one of the Storm Giants. Ferrous, meanwhile, smashes the other giant for more damage. 

This is the point at which the Titan kicks down the door and attacks with a Meteor Swarm, hitting Jenny for a bunch of damage. The rest of us take some damage, but avoid the worst of it. Ferrous actually gains temporary hit points from this. 

The one remaining Storm Giant tries chain lightning again. 

The titan is holding an enormous spiked chain. Jenny: “Nobody touch him. He’s mine.”

Burhea ignores her and drops a fireball and a quickened fireball on the titan, who manages to resist the magic of the first attack but is struck by the second. Durest Heals himself and then drops a quickened Flame Strike on the remaining Storm Giant. Chuck casts Bigby’s Forceful hand to keep the titan back from him, but fails to push it back. 

Jenny charges, and the titan smacks her with his spiked chain on the way in. Jenny attacks, but misses. Ferrous finishes off the last Storm Giant.

The titan attacks Jenny, hitting her three times, then tags us with a quickened chain lightning. Jenny tears into him, and he responds by casting Maze - hurling her into an extradimensional space that she’ll need intelligence to escape. (This is a nearly-perfect anti-Jenny spell.)

Burhea casts a Power Word Blind but fails to get through magic resistance; Ferrous charges and attacks, but runs into the titan’s damage resistance. The titan pushes past Bigby’s Forceful Hand and damages Durest, and then hits us with Chain Lightning again. Burhea casts Power Word Blind again, and again fails to get past spell resistance. Durest drops Time Stop, heals himself, and uses Greater Spell Immunity to make himself immune to chain lightning, and also lightning, lightning storm, and meteor swarm. He also moves well away from the titan.

Chuck picks at the titan with scorching rays, and then Ferrous attacks and manages to do some damage. 

The titan casts his own Bigby’s Forceful Hand, and then zaps Burhea with Chain Lightning, which no longer affects Durest and only partly affects the two vampires. Burhea tries again and finally manages to blind him; Chuck drops a fireball which fails to damage the titan but does heal Ferrous. The titan uses his magic hand to push back Chuck’s magic hand; then it attacks Ferrous. However, the titan is still blind and so fails to break our golem. 

Burhea hits him with Power Word stun; the titan will be stunned for two rounds. Durest drops a Fire Storm, which again fails to hurt the titan but heals Ferroustopher a bit. Chuck drops an empowered fireball on him, finally managing to damage him and again curing Ferrous. 

And then Jenny comes back. “I think maze not so hard. Exit sign right next to door.”

Ferrous attacks and does some damage. Burrhea tries a power word blind but fails; Durest tries a Baleful Polymorph but fails, and Chuck drops another fireball, healing Ferrous.

Jenny then finishes Iapetus. Then she takes his chain, which is… magical. Very, very magical.

We check the treasure, finding another luckstone and a ring of telekinesis which Chuck promptly claims. 

Monday, June 27, 2022

A quick update

So this past week I actually made it back into the office and I was generally, mostly, fairly productive. And with the exception of a bit of scheduling weirdness this morning, I expect that to be the case this week too. We're awfully close to the go-live date for the Big Software Changeover at work, and I expect to have to navigate a bunch of last-minute changes this week and next, as people do the final bits of testing and/or look and realize that, yeah, they're actually going to have to use this thing. 

Meanwhile, we're dealing with the fact the Secondborn effectively disassembled his own bed by throwing it the heck out and replacing it with a loft bed instead... which shouldn't be that complicated, in theory. In actual fucking reality it requires rearranging his room, which involves quite a bit of sorting and cleaning and... yeah. It's a project. It's a project that will get done, but it's not a project that got done this past weekend, despite the bones of the loft bed cluttering up the floor of his room. There's just too much stuff that needs to get pulled out, cleaned and/or sorted, and put back in place first. 

And we're all still recovering from COVID, or at least Beautiful Wife and I are. It takes us a while to gear up to do things; frequently, we need to stop and rest after doing them. That thing we used to do when we were younger and not recovering from a plague, where we'd just push through and then collapse after? Not really viable anymore. Plus, from everything I've read, the best way to avoid Long Covid at this point is to really take the time to recover, and not push ourselves We're doing the best we can at that, despite the fact that it's neither of our first instincts. 

On the writing project, I've gone back and expanded the opening. The story is being told in the third person, and while I have a sort of primary protagonist the story itself is going to rotate between three point-of-view characters. (If you're curious about why I would do that or how that dynamic would work, take a look at the first three Jason Bourne movies -- yes, he's the title character, but what the other characters are doing and how they're reacting fills in the background and context that makes the whole thing make sense.) Once I figured that out, I realized that I couldn't stick with my original opening or approach; there needed to be more going on there. Which there will be, and hopefully all of it contributing to the story. 

So... that brings us to Song #7 in our writing playlist, one which I know I've put on the blog before: Mono Inc, with Children of the Dark. 

Friday, June 24, 2022

Paladins: The Vampire Paladin

Salya staggered back, blinking, then shook her head. "Not good enough. You're both going to die now, and my master will reward me."

Tarric glanced down at the sunburst on her armor. "Helios won't approve of this." 

"Helios!" spat Salya, and threw herself at Werendril, who slipped aside and turned her blade away with a deft gesture. Tarric stepped forward and sank his blade into her ribs, backing the blow with a burst of holy power. 

Werendil stepped back and put a foot on Tanovir's shoulder. He paused there, and a moment later the human paladin stirred. Lay on Feet, Tarric thought. Why didn't I think of that? "Heal yourself, paladin of Helios," said Werendril quietly. "Your friend is trying to kill us, and we need you."

"No!" cried Salya. She turned on Tarric, but he managed to keep her sword at bay and took only a slight cut across his forearm. That was going to be a problem -- he was losing blood from arm and shoulder alike now -- but she hadn't taken him out of the fight. 

Tanovir staggered to his feet, reclaiming his sword and shaking his head. Werendril moved in, cutting with the elvish double-scimitar and backing the blows with divine power just as Tarric had. They might worship different gods, but they had that much in common.

"Salya--" said Tanovir, and then placed his free hand on his own chest to heal himself further. "What have you done?" 

She whirled to face him and didn't even bother trying to attack Werendril, who stood between them. Tarric took his opportunity to attack, but she brushed him aside almost absently. "What I had to, brother. I survived after you let the vampires take me!"

Werendril raised an elegant eyebrow. "At what price, cousin?"

Her gaze flickered to him, but he shook his head. "My mind is my own," he told her.

Salya snarled, then ground out: "The Lord of Light abandoned me. So I foreswore him, and turned to One who knows the ways of Undeath. I'm a paladin of Vecna, now."

"That's--" Tanovir trailed off, apparently at a loss for words. 

Salya raised her blade and moved to attack Werendril, and for a few moments they traded blows, attacking viciously but seemingly unable to touch each other. The wound Tarric had delivered was already closing. 

"Attack her!" Tarric yelled, but Tanovir was still standing there, apparently stunned with guilt. Tarric himself was trying to attack, but the vampire paladin kept moving at unexpected moments and avoiding his blade. Even with them flanking her, she might still manage to kill them all if Tanovir didn't--

Then a figure hurtled past Tarric's shoulder and threw itself onto the vampire's back, stabbing down with a short, silver blade that gleamed in a way that shouldn't have been possible for a tea-server, no matter how angry this one appeared. The blade went into Salya's neck, just above her armored collar. 

Salya screamed and reared back, dropping her sword and shield and hurling Laina off of her. The tea-server slammed into the wooden wall of the back of the brothel and slid to the ground, but Salya was still clawing at the knife in her neck, trying to draw it out. 

Then Tanovir pushed Werendril aside, took a two-handed grip on his blade, and brought it down in powerful arc that cut through the vampire paladin's armor and sliced into the flesh beneath. He struck again, and again... and then Salya was dissolving into a mist, and that mist was flowing away... into the brothel, which was already on fire. She left behind her armor, her sword and shield, and the blade that Laina had defeated her with.

Tarric strode over to where the girl lay beside the wall, then knelt down and put a hand on her shoulder. As the healing power of Amun flowed from his hand into her body, he said: "That was well done. Suicidal, but surprisingly effective." 

"Silver... bread knife," said Laina. "I'd been saving it for a last effort. And it was her, the one who kept staring at me when she came into the shop." She shuddered, then took a deep breath. "I prayed for strength, and then I put it into her neck. And it still didn't kill her."

Tanovir knelt down beside them. "Laina Heartling, I owe you many apologies. It was my duty to protect you, and I failed. I failed you and Salya both. I did not know they had taken her; I thought she had left. I... should never have let it come to this."

"Idiot," said Laina. "Is she dead?"

Tarric glanced at the brothel. He could see the glow of flames even through the shutters, and smoke was curling out around the edges of the back door where Tanovir had been pouring out his jug of lamp oil. "If she's not, I suspect she will be shortly." 

Tanovir nodded, looking stricken. 

Werendril had moved closer to the door. "Get up," he said. "I think we have a problem. I can hear people moving around inside here."

"People?" asked Laina. 

"Vampires." 

Tarric and Tanovir exchanged a look. "The front of the building should be thoroughly on fire right now, but... do you think you can cover it without getting cold-cocked by anyone else?" 

Tanovir nodded and rose. "I will make most certain." 

Tarric glanced at Werendril. "Take the cellar door, or help you here?" 

"Cellar," said Werendril, though he didn't sound entirely certain. "There are three doors, and we only have three paladins." 

Laina stood, and Tarric watched as she walked over to Salya had fallen. She bent down, pushed aside the sword and the armor, and picked up the bread knife. "Wrong," she said. "You have four."

Werendril just nodded while Tarric stood gaping. "Stand behind me," said the elf. "Finish anything that gets past me. And don't die. Tarric, the cellar." 

Tarric nodded and went back around the side of the building.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

It's Thursday. Let's do this.

So Thursday would normally be horoscope day, but forging a proper connection to the stars to glean their wisdom requires energy, and I am very tired. So instead, we're just going to do our best. 

For the next week, I want you, my dear readers, to take extra time to cultivate your human disguises. Make sure that skin is really in place. Double-check the current fashion. Don't let anyone look too deeply into your eyes, or see how they sparkle or glow. Place a phone call. Attend a meeting. Order school supplies. Be scornfully jealous of your neighbor's new car, job, or spouse. Humans do that.

But at the same time, remind yourself of who you really are. Unfurl your wings when no one is watching. Ride the night winds. Flex your claws, or extend your spines. Show your fangs, or unfold your hunting mandibles. Bewitch someone. Steal their soul. Drink their blood, or eat their heart. Send their life-essence to your enormous alien spaceship to renew your species, if that's your thing. Drag them through the doors that only open at night into the dark places of the world; get a good price for them (or even just their teeth) at the goblin market. Live a little! 

Life's too short not to devour that annoying co-worker.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Challenge: Auto-Buy authors

(This post is part of the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. You can find links to other writers' answers over at Long and Short Reviews.)

Prompt: your list of auto-buy authors

It's not actually that long a list, but here we go:

Martha Wells has been a must-buy author for me for years now; I first stumbled onto her when I was working in a bookstore and purchased her City of Bones, then went back and picked up The Element of Fire, and I've purchased pretty much everything she's written since then. 

Lilith Saintcrow is next on the list; I first encountered her when she was being interviewed about her Bannon & Clare books -- mad science, magic, and mayhem in Victorian England, with some particularly intriguing worldbuilding -- which I immediately purchased and read before diving into her entire backlist. I'm still not sure I'm 100% caught up, but I do my best.

I found Ursula Vernon under her nom de plume of T. Kingfisher, in the delightful fantasy short story Nine Goblins, and I've been hooked ever since. Disturbing horror, cozy romance, a good many stories that are a mix of both. 

Finally there's John Scalzi, whose particular flavor of cheerfully deranged science fiction adventure has done a very great deal to cheer me up at various points where I needed to be reading something that could do that. I'm not sure where I first ran into his work, but after The Kaiju Preservation Society I'm pretty well locked in.