Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Abdael: At Last, A Kiss

Tatherine Florilis stepped in, catching the big sword with her two shorter ones and shoving it aside. She lashed out with her blades, one-two, but Abdael danced back out of the way, twisting to bring his blade back up between them. Tatherine advanced again, sweep-and-stab, but Abdael stepped aside with the sweep and wasn't there when she stabbed. With his hands still up beside his head and his point downward, he countered with a stab at her foot, forcing her to sweep her leg back and break her advance.

A two-handed weapon will have the advantage of reach and leverage. It was the memory of trainer Caron's voice that filled her ears, from just after Tatherine had settled on paired short swords as a fighting style. To get past it with paired weapons, you'll need to move in, and you'll need to find a rhythm for using your blades separately and together.

Abdael had his tip up immediately, handle beside his shoulder, blade pointing slightly downwards towards her. He wasn't the most aggressive fighter, which was also a problem: he seemed perfectly content to keep her at a distance and attack her there. If he'd charge, or over-commit on a lunge...

Abdael drew back and leaned forward again, threatening with his blade but not actually attacking. Tatherine shifted her grip to try moving in on him again, and that was when he lunged, tip pointed right at her chest. She stepped aside and swept with her blade, then thrust with her other hand -- aiming not for his body, but for his extended arms.

She wasn't sure which of them was more surprised when the blow landed.

Abdael smiled and stepped back. "Nicely done." The blunted blade had connected solidly with his arm, but the thick leather of his training jacket had soaked up some of the impact. It had probably hurt, but he didn't seem bothered by that. "You have the basics down solid. Have you decided what path you want to follow?"

Tatherine stepped back and lowered her blades. "I was thinking about training as a Ranger," she said.

Abdael nodded. "That's a good choice for you, I think: versatile, independent. I've known a couple of rangers, and even the relatively inexperienced ones had a nice mix of stealth, combat, and magic."

He turned, and she stepped up beside him as he started for the racks of training weapons. "It's not as... court-appropriate as my mother would prefer," said Tath, "but I have older siblings for that. Daina will be the next Countess, unless something happens. I'd like to be the sort of noble who just... goes out and deals with problems."

Abdael nodded and placed the blunted greatsword back on the rack, then unfastened his practice helm and started pulling it off. Tath moved a little ways down the rack and slung the blunted shortswords back into place.

"I think your county will be lucky to have you," he said, as she was removing her own practice helm.

That, she decided, was what she liked about Abdael: he took her seriously. Her mother and oldest sister often seemed vaguely disappointed in her choices; the guards and servants treated her with courtesy; and the other courtiers in her mother's circles were alternately amused and condescending. Abdael treated her like... well, sometimes like her trainers did, but more often like a friend.

"So, Abdael..." He was in the middle of opening the clasps on his leather training jacket when she stepped up beside him, and went completely still when she wrapped a hand around his neck and pulled his head gently down. But when she kissed him, he kissed her back like he'd been wanting this as much as she had.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Abdael: First Battles

"So is the lesson here that I shouldn't rush in to help someone?" asked Tatherine. "I mean, she said I fell for their trick like a rock off a cliff, and she was right."

Abdael was relieved to have her talking again; Tath had been quiet for the last day and a half, trying to digest the shape of her first real battle and the realization that it had been nothing like she'd imagined. He'd said a few words and then left her to it, riding quietly beside her and occasionally looking back at the impromptu corpse-cart behind them.

The two guards who rode behind the Countess' carriage had seemed relieved at their return, and only mildly surprised that they'd reappeared with a horse-drawn cart filled with a few small cloth bags and three dead bodies. It was the one who'd started to object to their riding out who had cocked her head and asked, "Bandits, then?" Tatherine had met the woman's eyes and nodded, and the guards had fallen back to include the cart in their perimeter.

"No," said Abdael quietly. He was a bit surprised to find that he had opinions about these things, but apparently he did. "No, when someone calls for help, the right response is to answer -- as we did. The lesson is that you also have to take precautions, and be sure of the situation before you decide what's the right response. As we also did."

"As you did," Tath said, looking over at him. She'd done that several times over the last few days, but he'd kept his attention studiously elsewhere to give her time for whatever considerations she was thinking over.

Abdael shrugged. "There wasn't time to discuss it, but we'd been hearing those screams for a long time. It seemed suspicious. So yes, I made myself invisible and let you ride in as if you were alone. But if I hadn't been here... would you have ridden out alone?"

Tath had settled back now, and was looking thoughtful rather than wretched. "I... might have tried. But I bet Claris would have followed, and I wouldn't have ordered her back."

Abdael nodded. Claris, he suspected, was the guard behind them. "You're not as foolish as you feel right now," he said.

"Still a little foolish," Tath said, but there was a hint of a smile on her face.

Abdael shrugged. "Some things have to be learned the hard way," he said, "and now that you know more, you can make better decisions."

Tath tilted her head, studying him. "I must ask: why in the world did you become a warlock? I can't imagine you bargaining with some unearthly force for power. Learning wizardry, maybe, with all your books, or becoming some sort of bard perhaps, but... a warlock?"

Abdael chuckled. "I know. It surprised me, too. Truth of the matter is, I inherited it. I've been a warlock literally since I was born. And that's precisely why I couldn't become anything else, however much I might have liked to."

Tatherine fell silent. When Abdael looked over at her, her expression had gone oddly serious. "That's..."

Abdael shook his head. "It's not some personal tragedy. If I hadn't been born this way, I wouldn't have gone to Neverwinter, I wouldn't have been part of that expedition, and I never would have met you. We do our best with what we have." He paused for a beat, just long enough to let that settle in, then asked: "Would you like hear the glorious tale of my first battle as an adventurer?"

Tath looked shocked and intrigued. "...Yes?"

"All right. You have to picture me striding boldly forward, sword in one hand, spell dancing ready on the fingertips of the other, towards the dark walls of a pillow factory and the band of evil, pillow-chewing rats inside..."

Thursday, October 17, 2019

ItB 002: Rescue Mission

"What the actual motherfucking hell?" Celia's voice was low and furious, audible to Caden's cyb alone. Linked into the transport, he could see everything she saw as they neared the source of the emergency beacon: the station in orbit around Ganymede, the elaborate alloy cage extending out from it, and the almost-complete outline of a massive ship inside it.

"Well," he responded wordlessly, "the scan wasn't wrong."

Celia sent back a pulse of pure, wry amusement even as she composed a status report: "Majesty of Earth, we confirm potential capital ship in dock at station Hirakawa's Celestial Triumph. Advise you pull back to maximum safe contact distance at this time. Continuing our approach."

"Admiral Battuta to Ultima Ratio, understand potential ambush Hirakawa paracorporation. Withdrawing to maximum safe contact distance this time. Proceed with all caution."

Maximum safe contact was not even remotely the maximum distance possible here in empty space, where the two ships communicated with low-energy laser pulses to avoid any possibility of interception. It was entirely arbitrary, the point at which even light took a full thirty seconds to pass from the Ultima Ratio to the Majesty, or vice versa. It was a distance at which the Majesty could be notified of a disaster relatively quickly, but probably couldn't respond in time to make any difference -- but it gave them plenty of margin to make an escape.

The arrangement was deliberate. The Majesty carried a dozen long-range guns and a network of smaller point-defense cannons, but it wasn't a warship. Ultima Ratio, for all that it carried only a crew of twelve, was.

Caden was already calling a launch order to his half of the crew. He ran one last check of his systems, then detached his raptor from the Ultima Ratio and let it drift out through the particle shield. It was always nerve-racking, that moment of enforced vulnerablility: if the ship were attacked now, they could all be destroyed. But if they didn't take the risk, they could only wait behind the field and share whatever fate the Ultima Ratio could forge for herself; they couldn't contribute to the battle. So they drifted out, one at a time, until they were all the way through and could activate their own propulsion and their own shields.

If this wasn't some sort of trap, then some Hirakawa tech had made a terrible mistake in activating the emergency beacon. The base itself wasn't an issue; all of the paracorporations and most of the planetary governments maintained research stations in out-of-the-way locations; putting one in orbit around Ganymede was extreme but not illegal. The ship in the cradle, on the other hand, was nearly a quarter of the size of the Majesty, and violated at least half a dozen major treaties. The profusion and scale of its armaments made it very nearly a war crime in itself.

"Signal incoming," said Drake, who was monitoring outside communications. "Originates with the ship, not the station." His voice went briefly fuzzy, and then the message came across the cyblinks:

"Attention approaching vessel: disregard beacon and turn back. Repeat, disregard beacon and turn back. Ship's reactor compromised, explosion eminent. Withdraw to safe distance now. There are no survivors. Repeat, pull back to safe distance now. This message is an automated recording."

"Well, that's..." someone started to say into the cyblinks. Celia cut them off: "Scanners are detecting no unusual radiation, nothing that would indicate a meltdown or even a leak."

"Message has looped and is repeating," said Drake.

"Someone," said Caden, as he eased his raptor further away from the Ultima, "doesn't want us to board them."

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Youth DnD: Catching up

The boys are out of school today in celebration of the birthday of Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau or something, I don't even know. But it's basically a long weekend for them. Between that and one of the players dropping out, this session was down to Firstborn and his friend who plays the Halfling Arcane Trickster.

This was the session where I finally came back to a bunch of the stuff that we had pending, but it started with the group going back to explain to Lord Aldenmier about the orcs. Aldenmier, it turns out, has a stake in a mining concern; and since these are Delving Orcs (who normally live underground) he thinks he could find a place for them at this mine if they were willing; they could even carve out their own living chambers in their spare time. This immediately caused some friction with the Orc Chieftain Ghazat, who's definitely not giving up control of his tribe, even if they'd be taking orders from a half-orc. But, the group talked Ghazat into coming out and meeting Aldenmier, and Aldenmier said basically that the half-orc foreman would be in charge of the work, but that Ghazat would be in charge of the tribe. Ghazat was at least willing to consider that; they'll just have to see if it'll work out.

They did, however, establish that it was possible to walk the orcs through the magical shield-membrane that keeps the dungeon sealed, as long as there was at least one member of the company already outside and at least one member still inside. This was a great relief to the cleric, who is looking forward to freeing their mousefolk clan from somewhere further down in the dungeon. Lord Aldenmier said he'd need at least two more days to finish making the arrangements with the other house who has a stake in this mine, and Ghazat went back inside to share the news with their people.

As they were leaving the orcs, the small cat statue that the Dragonborn Sorcerer has been carrying around began to meow and purr again. (It does this occasionally; they haven't yet figured out the pattern.) As they neared the exit, they nearly walked into another adventuring company who was clearly on their way down to the depths. This was the Laughing Beasts, a banner company in the service of a mysterious and much-rumored house; their leader is a gnoll, there's a massive lizardman with a greataxe, a couple of orcs, a kobold...

The gnoll stops to look at the group, while the rest of them file past him and into the room with the kobolds; this is immediately followed by the sound of dying kobolds. Then the gnoll walks over to the Dragonborn sorcerer, takes his hand, and makes a cut across the palm and up the arm with his knife. He nods once, then turns and walks away. Our heroes restrain themselves, because they're pretty sure that attacking the Laughing Beasts would be suicide... and because the Toruv, the sorcerer, is pretty sure that the wound was deliberately superficial -- that this is something in the nature of a "Welcome to the club" ritual.

So they head back outside, and back to the Aldenmier estate... where someone is waiting for them: older Human, brown robe, excited expression... He's a druid and a professional Griffin trainer, and he's come up from the Griffin Ranch to see these eggs. He's actually fairly excited about it -- "Ooh! Speckled Mountain Griffin eggs! They're nocturnal, most unusual..." -- and offers to buy them on behalf of the ranch.

...Which is when the PCs erupt into argument about keeping the eggs, learning to ride griffins, costs of feed, etc. etc. etc. while Aldenmier looks on, bemused. After a couple of minutes of this, the druid makes an alternate suggestion: he's been thinking about retiring, and if lord Aldenmier would help set him up with a farm (preferably somewhere isolated, with stone buildings) and a stake for starting expenses, he could set up his own ranch for griffins and other exotic animals. He'd be willing to raise the speckled mountain griffins and train them to the PCs as part of the process, thereby demonstrating his skills for one of the local Banner Companies and their illustrious lord.

Lord Aldenmier is amenable. As it happens, he has some magical rings of unusual potency, which he could sell out to local nobles and adventurers to recoup his costs. (These would be the Rings of Protection +2 that the group was farming from the treasure chamber.) Mainly, though, he's interested because this would give him another business venture that none of the other Houses have any stake in.

After that there's a lovely dinner before the druid flies back to work things out with his current employer, and in the morning Toruv (Dragonborn draconic sorcerer) and Barrith (Halfling Arcane Trickster) head into town to sell off treasure and look for useful supplies.

They're just nearing the market when a massive figure steps out of a cross-street and throws its hood back, then sweeps its cloak open. It's a skeleton... a very large skeleton, with a bull's skull and large horns, carrying an axe that's roughly the size of Toruv and has blades the size of Barrith. It attacks, injuring Toruv fairly severely. Barrith takes a moment to cast False Life on himself so that it can't squash him immediately, and Toruv turns and sprints away. The skeletal minotaur attacks Barrith this time, but misses.

Toruv skids to a stop at the edge of the market, then turns and lifts his hands to cast...
A massive, scaly hand comes down on his shoulder. It's the lizard man from the Laughing Beasts company. "What's that?" he asks, looking at the minotaur.

"No idea," says Toruv."

"I know what it is," says the lizard man. "It's fun." Then he lifts the axe off his shoulder and starts striding towards it. Toruv grins, then casts a doubled Catapult spell, prying up a couple of cobblestone and hurling them at the skeleton. They hit, and it staggers. Barrith, dancing in and out of its legs, adds some damage with his staff. Then the lizard man arrives and slaps the thing with the flat of his axe; it definitely feels that.

The minotaur attacks the lizard man but fails to connect, and Toruv finishes it off with another pair of magically-propelled cobblestones, which at that point are sufficient to kind explode the minotaur's rib cage. It collapses.

The lizard man looks back at Toruv and calls, "Well done." Then he strolls casually off into the crowd, while Barrith and Toruv look over the body -- or, well, the pile of bones.

Somebody has tied a small pouch to the spine, just below the neck. There's a note in it.

It's from the lich who runs the library outside of town. He'd be pleased to meet with Toruv and Aspen and provide them with assistance in their research, as long as they are honest with him about their goals and their findings. They will need to bring their own supplies if they stay for any time, as he does not keep food on the library grounds; but he does have guest rooms with small kitchens for visiting scholars of the sort who aren't undead yet.

And that was where we ended. I need to do math on the treasure, but that's more than my brain is prepared for right now.

Treasure they're carrying from this last adventure:
-silver coffer (worth 200 gp)
-3 rubies (100 gp each)
-50 PP
-Bottle of perfume

Current party treasure by my count is 25 PP, 1217 GP, and 31 SP.