Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Challenge: My Earliest Memory

Some context for anyone coming in late: the topic is from the Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. They have a new prompt each week (see the graphic at the first link) and on Wednesdays you can drop by their homepage to find the post where everybody puts links to their responses. You can even add your own if you like.

This week's challenge is My Earliest Memory.

Memories are strange things; they're more than shadows, less than realities. They're ghosts, and like ghosts they're unstable and prone to fading if ignored. Without something to anchor them, they deform and dissipate and sometimes disappear entirely.

There's a whole field of research related to how memory works, how memories are created (and recreated), and how they alter and are altered over time. Memories are untrustworthy, albeit with certain caveats; they may be more or less so for different people, and/or at different stages of life, and/or in regard to certain kinds of events and how they were processed afterwards, and/or because of certain kinds of trauma, mental illness, substance use/abuse, and processing issues. I'm fascinated by it, but I've barely scratched the surface of the available research on the topic.

My earliest memory isn't a memory. Not really; not anymore. It's a memory of a memory, or possibly further removed than that. There's nothing particularly special about it; it's just a memory of me walking past the corner of a couch in a particular place in a particular house. It's noteworthy only because when I was very young, maybe five or six years old, my father asked me this same question: what was the earliest thing I could remember? And that funny little scene -- was someone saying something to me at the time? I'm no longer certain -- was what came to me clearly as the farthest back my mind could reach. I remember being a five-or-six-year-old remembering a moment from when I was perhaps three.

You shouldn't trust any of this, by the way. I don't. Though the timing does match up with the period of time when we lived in that particular house, and the layout that I recall of the place. Also, some of the details that I remember about that house were later confirmed by my parents. Still... I clearly remember that as my earliest memory, and I remember recalling it clearly when I was younger. Nowadays, I couldn't tell you anything about the couch except that the armrest was about the level of my shoulder; I couldn't tell you much about the space it was in, except that it had a glass door to the back yard. And I may be conflating that with another piece of that house; memories are malleable, too.

So let me give you another memory of that house, from later on, because I'm more comfortable about -- and confident in -- this one. I remember the incident more clearly, partly because my father has told the story also (and in so doing, reinforced my own impressions; did I mention that ghosts need anchors?) and partly because, well, you'll see...

There was a tree in the back yard of that house. How tall, I'm not sure; tall by the nebulous standards of a small child, and in any case tall enough to have a branch that came out at a near-horizontal a good ways above the ground. My father hung a rope swing from the branch, and of course I swung in the swing. Then, one afternoon, I found myself looking at the ropes and decided to climb up them, so of course I did. At the top was the limb, so I climbed up onto that and stretched myself out along it.

My father came out into the yard some time later, saw me up there, and asked me if I knew how to get back down. He was very calm about it, but of course it was an alarmingly good question -- which I think is why this memory is still so clear to me. (When he tells the story, he explains about the nearly-superhuman effort he made to keep his voice calm and not frighten me, and the way he was moving forward to be under me in case I fell. I was aware of none of that.) Anyway, I thought about it for a moment and decided that in fact I did know how to get back down: it was the same way I'd come up, only backwards. So I eased myself off the limb, got my legs around the rope, and shimmied right back down.

...If you met me later in life, that story would probably not surprise you at all. And I think that's another part of why it's still a fairly clear memory: it had some drama to it, so naturally it got retold considerably more often than the one where I was a small child walking around the corner of the couch. In the process, it got reinforced, even rebuilt. My father remembers it too, and his memories of it are consistent with mine.

But you still shouldn't trust it.

Memories are funny like that.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Eye Seeks Its Master

Okay, so this is part of the GozarTD Campaign, which I haven't updated in a while... partly because we haven't played in a while. Also, there was an episode before this, which I missed; I'm adding the brief summary below from memory, so it's going to be really, really brief. But since we're playing again this week (YAY!) I'm going to go ahead and put up our notes: otherwise, I don't think any of us are going to remember what happened the last time we managed to play.

A Very Brief Summary Of The Episode Before Last, Which I Missed:
In the wake of our meeting with the High Provost and getting Azrael's eyes regrown, the group decided to swing by Azrael's and Martini's home town and at least check in with their parents, even if we still weren't admitting that we'd collected anything from Vecna's cursed island. We were apparently then lured by their father into some sort of basement, where Daddy turned out to be a doppleganger. I'm told there were also gorgons involved somehow. Doubtless this culminated in bloodshed, but I don't know the details.

Last Session, back at the end of October:
So, not only are we trapped in some sort of basement, we've been trapped in here by a cave-in. Despite Ruin's absolute refusal to believe that the cave-in was real, the rocks are solid and we're definitely trapped. It looks like the only way out is through, so we advance to the next room...

...Which contains four suits of armor: two red, two blue. In addition there are three pedestals, each with one blue medallion and one red medallion sitting on top.

Ruin rushes into the room, attempting to grab both medallions off the furthest pedestal at the same time. Instead, he stumbles and knocks them both into the far corner. Still, we make it to the medallions, and Ruin grabs the red one while Marshall Mercy grabs the blue one. We now have control of two of the shield guardians; the other two are trying to kill us. The pedestals and the other amulets immediately vanish.

Even so, it's a tough fight. We're right on the edge of a Total Party Kill until we finally take down one of the attacking guardians. After that, taking down the other one is a lot easier. With the battle won, another pedestal appears with a ruby on it; it's large and hideously valuable, and looks light it might have been cut to be a spell component.

Afterwards Azrael supplies us with a Rope Trick and we rest.

We proceed to the next room, and encounter a black pudding. Ruin whacks it, Azrael Fireballs it, and Martini shoots it; then it grabs Ruin and fucks him up. We do a bit more damage and Ruin breaks the grapple; Azrael finishes the thing with Magic Missile.

In the next room is an altar. Behind the altar is big statue... which is missing one eye and one hand, so it's clearly a statue of Vecna. There are also two troll skeletons stalking around in here. This would be a great time to turn around and go somewhere else, buuuuut we're trapped, so we beat them down with a combination of Black Tentacles and other attacks. They're tough, but not unbeatable; they both go down.

We enter the room, noting that the altar in front of the statue has a small depression in the middle of it, just about the right size for the ruby. We also note that there are no other exits; if putting the gem in the altar doesn't let us out somehow, we're trapped.

...And that's when the skeletons stand back up.

Martini leaps up onto the nearest skeleton's head and rips the rubies out of its eye sockets in an amazing display of acrobatics; it falls. We beat the second one down, and Ruin rips the rubies out of its eyes as well.

This time, they stay down.

We search the room very carefully, but there are no secret doors and no other exits. We go back and check the cave-in, but the entrance is still completely blocked. About the only thing left to try is to put the ruby into the altar -- risky, but we don't have much choice. So we go back down to the altar room and do so.

At the last possible moment we realize that what we're putting on the altar isn't the ruby; it's the bloody Eye of Vecna, and it's fooled us into returning it. It vanishes from the altar in a burst of light, and Ruin swears he hears it chuckle with a bit of vitreous humor. And at that point the altar room fades around us, and we found ourselves in an inn somewhere completely else.

And that's where we'll be starting next session: figuring out where we are and what the hell just happened.

Monday, December 9, 2019

IMPART: Retrieving the Godhood

This is our second aside as part of the IMPART campaign, where -- when we don't have enough players for our usual campaign -- we do one-shot adventures in which we head off to high-level battles as part of a vaguely-Avengers force that helps protect the Mulitverse. This week's cast included:

Lexx Bloodgood, a Fallen Aasimar Fighter (Champion)
Freek, a Human Warlock (The Fiend)
Sierra, an Aasimar Cleric/Sorcerer
Meghan Bridie Glivet, Human Fighter/Cleric (Grave Domain)

OOC Notes:
We had several absences plus two additional last-minute cancellations, so the challenge balance on this one was a little off; I note with considerable admiration that our DM essentially fixed it on the fly.

Game Notes:
We've been tapped to retrieve the Godhood of a fallen god - one that fell across worlds, and crushed a village when it landed on this material plane. The landscape was once beautiful, but now is scarred by the fall of the god.

We're interrogating a dead bandit who got killed by angels, and they were just here to salvage whatever they could from the destruction - looters, basically. They haven't seen a humanoid misty shape like the one we were told to seek; they did see plenty of winged angelic types that cut them down.

The meteor that crashed into the center of the village is a curled-up humanoid, impossibly large. There are figures around it, but Lexx can't make them out. We move on, racing to get closer.

The closer we get, the more bodies we see -- and they aren't all human. Reaching the village, we find a few Devas still lurking around the god's body. Scythe is among them, wounded but still functional. Scythe immediately approaches, leaning on her scythe. Scythe is going to lead us past the guards, so we follow her. Meghan: What locals could be a problem for Devas? Apparently there was a very powerful bandit camp around here; they had powerful weapons; we've take care of them, and we're cleaning up now.

Moving closer, we can see a few more details: all through the village and around are these red puddles. They're hard to avoid... Meghan steps in a puddle and takes damage (radiant and acid). The substance is ichor -- godsblood -- horrifying powerful and dangerous. Viscous and unnaturally red, with gold specks like stars -- it's also glowing. However, nobody has ever been able to find a way to interact with it safely; containers won't hold it, and spells won't either.

Scythe takes us as close as she can, then asks us to get on with it. We look around for the godhood, but don't see any red mist. Meghan holds the phylactery against the fallen god... but nothing happens. Scythe sort of crumples emotionally at this. "In the attack we had to break ranks so we could get villagers out and... something must have taken it while we weren't looking. Check the village -- maybe whatever took it is still here."

We begin investigating the village: fallen bodies, wrecked buildings. Freek finds a book that's partly destroyed by ichor called The Curse of the Hill Shrine. The book is damaged, but... "Invaders, a shrine was lost, they watch over--, beware the dual gaze." We notice on the east side, just beyond the fallen god's hip, there's a small structure on the top of a hill. Possibly a shrine? We'd have to go around the god, but it's plenty close enough for something to have slipped out, taken the godhead, and gone back in. This is a male war god -- a patron of anger, war, and hate. As he fell, he opened a portal to the nearest convenient parallel dimension because fuck you, that's why.

Songbird's character Sierra sends a message to Scythe, who flies (poorly) over to join us. Songbird uses a healing prayer to restore scythe and partly restore others as we pass. It's not huge, but it's better than nothing.

On the way up the hill, we notice some carved stones -- old, not recent, nothing to do with the ichor -- with worn carvings. They grow larger and more frequent towards the top of the hill, but the ones at the very top are, well, toppled... and at the top is a sort of stone shrine or gazebo. There's a low pillar in the center, with an orb at the top. As we near it, we see something like an ethereal being hovering over the orb and absorbing the red mist.

The thing absorbing the mist seemed fairly... harmless -- but the more of the mist it absorbs, the stronger and angrier it seems. It's an ethereal being roughly our size. Its essence darkens and grows red, soaking into the shrine as well as the being. The ethereal being itself sort of fades into the orb in the center of the gazebo... and the dark, angry aura spreads out through the rest of the shrine. Freek yells for it to stop (Command) but it shrugs his spell off with an epic effort and finishes its meal. And the battle begins.

Lexx has their wings out and opens by attacking the orb, and hits it pretty hard.
Analysis: This thing is a divinty/aberration mix, Neutral (but Neutral Furious) with high Wisdom (20) and Intelligence (18). Sierra drops a massive firestorm on the gazebo and surges up into the air. Lexx, in the center of the storm, is fine -- despite the gazebo's attempt to shove him into another plane of existence with a Devour attack.

Analysis 2: The orb and the shrine are one, so Freek's plan to try to break its power by using Plane Shift to move the orb elsewhere is a no-go. It's solid (AC 20), Str and Dx are both 16, it seems to have fairly normal perceptions; it can do two actions -- try to devour, or try to blast. It definitely has the godhood and presents as agender. And it has legendary actions for Devour, Ray, and Smite (a modified/enhanced Chain Lightning) - very powerfully. Freek drops Darkness on the temple, and effectively blinds it. Godzebo casts Chain Lightning in retaliation - though we're lucky and it doesn't do too much damage.

Then the Gazebo attacks, with a 150' cone that wipes out the magical darkness, the fire, and the holy aura. It's a massive anti-magic field, covering... 1/8 or so of its radius. We need to get out of this field. It can see all of us now. And it's not done yet. It hits Lexx with a magical beam attack - hard. Then it attacks Sierra with something else, inflicting Necrotic damage.

Analysis 3: It has 18 Cha and 20 Con, with 1,000 or so HP. It's resistant to radiant, necrotic, and thunder. It's immune to cold, lightning, fire, and non-magical attacks. It can do a charm ray (wis), paralyzing ray (con), fear ray (wis), slow ray (dex), ennervation ray (con) necrotic dam, telekinetic (str or be moved), sleep (wis), petrification ray (dex), disentegration ray, death ray (dex, necrotic). It's weak again Force damage, but...

It's a demonic Beholder-god in the form of a building, basically. You might call it a Gaze-bo.

Meghan drops Blight on it, and Freek hits it with Eldritch blast and then Hurls it Through Hell, doing a perfectly ridiculous amount of damage to the thing. Sierra Wishes that we were all immune to Charm, Death, Disentigration, Petrification, and Sleep. We are all protected!

The Godzebo then attacks Lexx with Devour, drawing him briefly into another plane and, um, damaging him slightly. And also Lexx is gone. Meghan prays for divine assistance (silently, b/c she's been paralyzed in the meantime) and asks for a gate back out of the Devour-space. Her god, the Harvest Maid: I'll go you one better.

There's now a gate from the Devourspace to the roof of the Gazebo.

Meghan breaks her paralysis.

The Gazebo is not happy about this. It hits Scythe with an enervation ray, for notable but not crippling damage. Scythe responds by attacking and apparently damaging it. Lexx, back on his feet, attacks it four times, and hits with all four to good effect.

The Gazebo is pissed. It does radiant 40 and lightning 25 dmg with, I think, Chain Lightning. Sierra prays, but gets no immediate response. She moves out of the anti-magic cone. Freek moves out of the Anti-magic cone on the other side and tries Eldritch blast again, missing with one ray but hitting with the other three.

The Gazebo attacks Meghan, doing a bit of damage, then attacks Lexx for necrotic damage. Then it attacks Meghan again but fails to paralyze her. Meghan drops a Blade Barrier on top of the orb itself, because magical slashing damage. The Godzebo attacks Scythe, who manages to avoid being devoured but does take a little bit of damage. Irritated, Scythe drops some healing on Lexx.

Sierra swings back down, pulls a blanket out of her pouch, and covers the orb with it. The Orb is blinded, and unable to use its rays. Blanket for the win! It angrily tries to Devour her, but she twists away from it. Freek blasts it again. Meghan: "Gosh, I sure wish this thing had vulnerability to Fire." Scythe smacks the thing for a bunch of damage. So does Lexx.

Lexx gets eaten and immediately comes back out of the portal. (Lexx swears in Abyssal, it turns out.)

Sierra casts Fire Storm again, and does a perfectly obscene amount of damage. Freek follows up with another eldritch blast; and of course the orb's still sitting in the middle of a blade barrier.

Badly damaged, the Godzebo... speaks. It's arguing with itself: this has to be over/it can't be over. It targets Scythe again, more or less by accident sicne it's blinded. Meghan hits it with Blight again, using up the last of its Epic Resistances. Scythe smacks it again.

It's Lexx's turn, and he smacks it again and the glass orb shatters under the blanket. A soundless dual-voice wailing streams out -- one hating and violent, the other remorseful and relieved. Two beings separate, one taking on a physical form and collapsing inside the gazebo, while the red mist rises up beside it. It looks angry.

Meghan waves the phylactery at it, and sucks in the mist. The runes on the phylactery glow a bright yellow even as the red mist struggles to escape. Then phylactery turns dark red, and the runes fade to a lighter glow.

Lexx checks on the fallen being. It's exhausted; it looks like it's struggling to stand. Sierra drops some healing on it. It's hard to tell if it's male or female; it has mismatched eyes, green and yellow, and its voice drops between higher and lower pitches. It claps Lexx on the shoulder, thanks Lexx and Sierra, and apologizes sincerely. I didn't mean to hurt you, I just wanted my power back.

Lexx: Were you a God?

Being: A long time ago. I had followers. They loved me, feared me, sometimes both. I gave them everything I could. And then war came. I had no power after that. The victors built some new shrine for some new god, but it... wasn't for me.

Sierra: Can you help people to the afterlife? There are a lot of dead bodies down there in the village.

Being: I was a god of life and death, male and female, duality.

Sierra: Right, we're bringing you back. We're going to set up a church, restore your worship. Help us bring these people peace.

Being: I... will try. I can't promise, but I'll try.

Being, turning to Lexx: "You dealt the final blow. You helped me at the same time. I know not what I can do, but if there be anything... I am the balance of opposites..."

Lexx: It's taken some time to temper my own self. The best thing you can do for me... is to thrive."

Being: "You seem both sad and happy."

Lexx: True. I've lost things, but found friends... and inspiration. (looking at Scythe)

Being: takes Lexx's hand and clasps it with both theirs, concentrates, and gives Lexx a permanent character inspiration.

Being: Says nice things to Freek.

Freek: Being a warlock was the only way to be able to do the things I felt like I needed to do.

Being: I hope if we meet again you will share your stories with me.

Freek: I would love that.

Being: Sierra, thank you for showing mercy.

Scythe: Whenever you want, IMPART will take you in. There might even be a few followers waiting.

Being: I think I'm better here. I know it seems like a good idea.

Scythe: Gives the being an IMPART amulet anyway.

So basically, we captured the godhood of the fallen (and very much out of place) Angry Volcano-War-Spite God, made nice with the mostly-forgotten local god (who really does have a name, we just misplaced it), and all that's left now is to lay the dead villagers to rest and maybe help their families rebuild. Freek will probably offer the occasional prayer of appreciation to the god of the shrine (since IC he would know their name), and Sierra seems interested in trying to re-establish a local base of worshipers. Also, if I ever decide to run a cleric in one of these episodes, I may have them be one of the survivors of the Volcano God's destructive crash, and a proponent of this new worship.

Also: I forgot to add that Meghan concluded that this is an alternate-world version of her own Harvest Maid, and decided to dedicate herself to wandering the world and spreading its word to all.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

ItB 007: Survivors

"Survivors, Captain." Padma's voice was crisp and efficient through Caden's implant. "Three were supposed to be ship's crew here on the Ascendancy. One claims to have escaped from the station, and keeps saying that we have to go now. He says the Ninety-Fifty is going to sabotage the ship and destroy the station."

Caden pulsed an acknowledgement. "Your plan?"

"Split," answered Padma. "Two of three. I'll leave Ngawa and hers to guard the docking bay, and take O'Bannon and Campbell to look for the Ninety-Fifth."

"Concur," responded Caden. "We'll send support as soon as we can."

"Shuttles inbound to landing bay this time," pulsed Celia. "Updating Majesty of Earth." Both Caden and Padma acknowledged that.

Caden's six had been moving along the corridor, and now they reached an opening.

"Careful," said Tamimi, as Shannon reached across to grab one of the metal rungs. "We lost gravity for about half an hour two hours back. It's been stable since, but... it was hell trying to avoid that thing when everything was floating loose."

Shannon nodded an acknowledgement and started down as Scout raced past him. Walker patted her on the shoulder again, then moved to follow. Velasquez slipped down the shaft almost unseen, and Caden motioned for Tamimi to proceed. She grasped a rung, tested it, then swung out and started down. Watch her.

Shannon pulsed back an acknowledgement.

The gravity remained stable. According to Veranovich, the primary astrophysicist on the Ultima Ratio, the station appeared to be tapping the moon's gravity well, creating limited artificial gravity within the station without pulling itself out of orbit. That was more than just unusual; as far as Caden knew, it was unprecedented. The larger stations simulated gravity through centripetal force, while the smaller ones didn't bother. Caden wasn't aware of any station, no matter how experimental, that could hold a stable orbit and still borrow gravity from a moon like this. It was enough to explain why Hirakawa's Celestial Triumph had been built all the way out here in orbit around Ganymede. Clearly they were experimenting with technologies that hadn't been established elsewhere. And very possibly those technologies, or their origins, had been stolen.

A pulse from Padma reached his implant: "Heading into the Ascendancy, Captain. Ngawa has the bay."

Caden grasped a rung and stepped out into the shaft. "Understood. We are proceeding towards vac-suit for survivor Valenzuela Tamimi."

A few moments later he was on the next deck down, and Basque and Siegel were coming down behind him.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Music: Üks kord veel (One More Time)

It's an Estonian band (and, yes, they're singing in Estonian, I don't care, listen to it anyway) called Traffic:

The lyrics are on the youtube page, you can run them through if you really need to know, but it's exactly what you probably think it is.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Dark Armor 002

"So: the Black Knight, Champion of Teregor. On your way to raze the camp of the enemy?"

It was well past midnight, and Pallian had just come out of the stream on the enemy's side of the valley. He looked around the woods, but saw nothing; his armor, usually sensitive to the presence of enemies, found nothing either. "Just so," he answered softly. "And who are you, unseen to me?"

"I am the Shadow of Edrias," the voice replied, "sent to slay the sorcerer-prince Ravaj and as many of his officers as I can find."

"Well, Shadow?" Pallian kept his voice wry. "I don't see you, so I doubt I can keep you from your mission. Will you contest my passage?"

There was a momentary pause. "No," said the soft, echoing voice. "Will you ride back to give warning to the devil's monstrous son?"

"No," answered Pallian. He had his orders, he had given Ravaj as much warning as his brother should need, and there was no point in issuing a challenge when neither army would consider itself bound by the results.

"Then I bid you safe passage. If you bear slightly to the south as you leave the wood, you'll find a trail that will take you to the top of the ridge. It's steep in places, but I suspect your mount will manage."

Pallian considered that, but only for a moment; fair was fair. "I came down along a similar trail that lies straight back towards the ridge; follow the curve of the rock."

There was no reply, and after a moment he nudged his horse forward. Black carried him along, and a dozen strides later they emerged from the trees. There was movement, finally, behind them: something that had seemed a piece of one of the trees separated itself and slipped away towards the stream. Be damned, he thought, admiring. They must have passed within thirty feet of each other, and he hadn't seen a thing.

Notes: if you missed it earlier, Pallian was originally named Ingloris. Or, if you prefer, Ingloris has had his name changed to Pallian. And it looks like this is going to be a "write it now, clean up later" sort of story. Which... I dunno, I'm just feeling like I should get back into the habit of doing those.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Happy Thanksmas!

It is done.

We have hosted, for a bit over seven hours, my mother- and father-in-law, my wife's sister and her husband, and their three children.

We have Eaten All The Thanksgiving Food.

We have had family time and interaction. It went well!

We have exchanged Christmas presents, because my wife's sister and her family will not be in town when that holiday rolls around.

...Seven hours...

My nieces and the boys have played together, and built enough memories to hold them until the next time we get everybody together.

There were mimosas. ("Wingardium Mimosa!")

...Seven hours...

They'll be leaving fairly early in the morning. (Well, not my mother-in-law and father-in-law, who live nearby.) So we're basically done with the Thanksmas visit.

The whole thing went great, but today was seven hours of company and I am exhausted. I am not built to play host for anywhere near that long. (Beautiful Wife is in the bathtub, and both boys have now retreated to their rooms.)

So the lovely holiday story I'd planned to write for you will either get written later, or not at all. Maybe I'll write it and save it for next year.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

ItB006: Scout

Scout was one of Velasquez's two drones, the one she used for exploring and reconnaissance. It was self-powered, capable of flying in or out of gravity, and equipped with a close-range plasma weapon. Caden didn't see what took it down, and judging by the private stream of curses neither had Velasquez.

Shannon stopped their advance immediately. "How far ahead was that?"

"Too close," answered Velasquez. "Another twenty meters. We should have heard something. Scout should have seen something."

"Ease back this way," said a voice -- audible, not over the tightwave, and coming from behind them. "And please don't shoot me. I can't see it either, but it's up ahead of you somewhere."

Velasquez disappeared. Caden was vaguely aware of her moving, quick and silent, but he was monitoring the others as they retreated and didn't realize what she was doing until a strangled gasp let him know that she was holding someone off the ground by the lapels of their jacket. "What was it?" she snarled, soft but audible. "What happened to Scout?"

"Just wait," said her prisoner. "Your drone should be fine once it moves away."

"It? What sort of it?" Velasquez's voice was intense: focused, not panicked. Caden pulsed her with a brief go easy, but he was still motioning the others back and trying to detect whatever had knocked Scout out of the air and couldn't spare any more attention than that.

"Another... moment... more..."

Caden reached them just as the figure relaxed in Velasquez's arms. "It's moving away."

"What is moving away, damn it?" Velasquez hadn't shifted position, but Caden had the impression that her prisoner's attention was suddenly on the helmet of her armor.

"Easy," said the figure. "You can re-initiate now."

Velasquez turned her head slightly, then slowly lowered the woman back to the deck. Scout reappeared, circling Velasquez's head in a happy loop, and then moved out to the edge of the team again. "Better," she said. "I still want an explanation."

"I don't have a good one," the figure admitted.

Caden motioned for the others to spread out, and they did. "Start with who you are," he suggested, keeping his voice soft and friendly.

"Valenzuela Tamimi," the woman answered immediately. "Lab tech. More importantly, I'm a class seven Sensitive."

"Are you?" The question was rhetorical, almost an expression of surprise. Velasquez straightened, made a deliberate show of relaxing, and deliberately let go of the lapels of the woman's dark coat. The shirt underneath was white, but stained and grungy; the pants were a soft brown, and showed similar stains. The woman herself was tall, with medium-dark skin and black hair.

Valenzuela Tamimi nodded. "So I don't know what it is, but if I... listen... I can tell when it's nearby. I've been avoiding it for the last eight hours."

"Is it hunting you?" Caden asked, as Velasquez stepped back and unslung her egg, putting her hand into the center of the weapon.

"I don't think so," the Sensitive answered. "I think it's just... exploring. Feeling its way around."

"So what did it do to Scout?" asked Velasquez, without looking back over her shoulder. Caden could feel the others listening in, a soft weight at the edge of his attention.

"I don't know. Your drone flew into it. Maybe it was curious... but Scout wasn't really alive, so it didn't take it."

Caden drew a breath as explored the implications there. "It's been taking people?"

Valenzuela Tamimi shrugged. "There were nine hundred and fifty-seven people on the station," she said, then added with implacable logic: "It's here. They're gone. It took them."

"Holy Mother of God," said Basque.

"You're certain of that?" asked Caden. "There's nobody left but you?"

"A few escaped to the Ascendancy, but here on the station? No, it's just me. And before you ask, I have no idea whether that thing has made it across. I don't think so, but I have no sense of it either way."

Caden considered that, but only for a moment. Then he pulsed the entire team, included Celia by way of Drake, and made sure to speak aloud so that Tamimi could hear him. "We're pulling out. We've found one survivor who attests that there aren't any others, and we have reason to believe her." He hesitated. Tamimi would need a suit to survive the crossing to the Ultima Ratio, and he hadn't seen any on the way in. "Is there a vac-suit you can use?"

The woman shook her head. "Not here. Maintenance usually suits up well away from the airlocks. There should be a closet on the next level down."

Walker stepped back and put an armored hand on her shoulder. "All right," they said. "We're going to get you out. Stay in the middle and tell us where to go. And if that thing comes back, let us know."

"Deal," said Valenzuela Tamimi.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Challenge: Books That Influenced My Life

Starting with the usual bit of context: the topic is from the Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. Hit their homepage to see the current week's responses, and add a link to your own if you're so inclined.

This week's challenge is Books that Influenced My Life.

The obvious answer, of course, is "All. Of. Them."

But, okay, there are a couple that I think I've mentioned before, but not recently enough to show up in skimming back through my blogging challenge posts.

So I'm just going to go through them (again).

Starting with a comic book: Grimjack, written by Jon Ostrander and illustrated by a number of talented people across its run. It's a sort of Fantasy Noire, set in a city where dimensions meet. The main character is this cranky old mercenary, the supporting cast is amazing, and... look, I went to college early. A couple of years early. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was... I'm not entirely sure how to describe it. Part of it was that I don't think I'd have fit in at that University even if I'd been two years older, but part of it was that since I was sixteen most of the time I knew what I was doing and was fine, but when I didn't/it wasn't I was completely at sea. I found Grimjack during my freshman year, and it may actually have saved my life - the right story at the right time.

Shortly after that I discovered Cabal by Clive Barker -- oddly enough, also through the comic book that was built off the movie, Nightbreed. That became the basis for a whole new circle of friends after I switched to another university in my Junior year. In its way, it was just as important to me as Grimjack was.

The last one I'd put on this list, which I know I've mentioned before, is The Callahan Chronicles. These stories (and it is mostly, and originally, a set of short stories) are some of the most fundamentally optimistic weird science fiction that I've ever encountered. They reinforced and catered to my love of puns; they codified the belief that pain shared is lessened while joy shared is increased; and while I don't have them associated so strongly with a particular point in my life, Spider Robinson's writing did an awful lot to shape my thinking on people and what we need from each other.

What books influenced you?

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Music: Giants

The band is True Damage:

It's not my usual sort of music, but I love the video.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Dark Armor 001

Pallian stood at the crest of the hill, holding his mount by its reins, and watched as his older brother looked out over the likely battlefield below.

It wasn't a good spot for either side, just a low valley with a wide creek across its center. High grasses alternated with clumps of scattered trees, and the dozen or so farms that occupied the area were rapidly being abandoned. On the far side, uniformed men organized into neat units occupied a matching ridge, and didn't seem any more inclined to descend into the valley than Pallian was. Still, they were a foreign army on his father's lands, and didn't seem likely to turn back without a fight.

"What do you think, Brother?" Ravaj was pale-skinned and dark-haired, with a lean, handsome face. He wore heavy armor and carried his helm in one gloved hand.

From within his armor, Pallian inclined his head. Ravaj was the heir, and had been put in charge of this expedition to gain some experience in battle. There was no particular reason for him to seek the opinion of his youngest brother, but perhaps he was having a moment of uncertainty out here in the wilderness of the world, so very far away from the citadel and their father's protection.

"Starting with the obvious? This is no simple farmers' rebellion."

"No. And I do not like the look of that army." Ravaj glanced down. "Or this valley."

"It's a terrible battlefield," Pallian replied. "Advantage to the defender. Victory by attrition. Costly. I'd guess we have the advantage in sorceries, but they have the advantage in numbers."

"So we could win, and still be at a loss." Ravaj was nodding; he was pampered and sometimes cruel, but he wasn't a fool. "Perhaps that's what they want."

Pallian frowned. "The best outcome for them is if we attack while they hold the far ridge. The same, in reverse, for us." He paused as an arrow slammed into his armor and shattered. It must have been ensorceled, to fly so far; but his armor was their father's work, an extension of his strength, and Pallian had yet to find anything that could pierce it.

A second arrow tangled itself in his brother's sorcerous defenses; Ravaj laid a hand on the shaft, whispered new instructions, and sent it back to the archer that had loosed it.

"Neither side will get that," said Ravaj, picking up the track of Pallian' thought. "So we'll either need to draw each other out, or keep each other distracted while we do something else."

Pallian nodded.

"We'll make camp here, set up defenses as best we can. We can send some skirmishers down to keep them occupied. Likely they'll do the same, and nothing much will come of it. You'll head south, cross the valley after dark, and hit them from behind. If you can get to their leaders, do it. If you can't, work through their stores and supply lines. If they don't have food, they'll have to move, and whichever way they go we can take advantage of it."

Pallian nodded again. "It will be done. Be careful while I'm gone, brother: they're likely thinking similar thoughts."

Ravaj considered that, then nodded. "Then they may be expecting you. I'll take extra precautions; you do the same."

"As you command," said Pallian.

Notes: I think this will be an ongoing series, but rather like Into The Black it may have a couple of false starts before it finds a direction. Also: if you read the original version of this, Pallian was named Ingloris; I changed that.

Friday, November 22, 2019

My new book pitch!

It's like Animorphs but the heroes are cyborgs and the aliens are disembodied nightmares and the whole thing is set on a derelict generation ship and... okay, it's, um, not really like Animorphs at all.

Yeah, sorry Nineties Kids.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

ItB 005: Entering the Station

"I'm inside." Velasquez's virtual voice, carried on tightwave, sounded uncertain. "There's nobody here. Nobody nearby, anyway."

Caden pulsed back an acknowledgement. Shannon and Basque were already entering the airlock to back her up. "Siegel, Walker, with me. We're going in as soon as that lock cycles."

The pair pulsed back their acknowledgements and they launched together, converging on the outer door of the airlock. It was already cycling open at Velasquez's direction, which should have alerted the station's security and most of its administration, but Shannon had taken position just inside and Velasquez and Basque had spread out to watch the nearby corridors.

"I don't like it," Shannon said over tightwave, coded for Caden alone. "It's too empty, too quiet. I'm not picking up anything but automated systems."

Padma and her five had brought two raptors directly into the docking bay, and Caden wasn't going to second-guess her on that decision. They hadn't encountered any resistance, but they weren't detecting any crew members looking to escape a compromised reactor, either. The station and the capital ship had that much in common: nothing seemed to be moving on either one. He sent a brief pulse to let her know he was still monitoring, and left her to it.

Air filled the enclosed chamber and the airlock opened. Caden's trio stepped out into the nearly-silent emptiness of Hirakawa's Celestial Triumph. It was every bit as clean and impersonal as any station he had ever visited, but the lack of activity filled it with a sense of desolation. Something had gone very, very wrong here. Space stations were by their very nature crowded; even on a sleep shift, there should have been people moving around. Someone should have answered their broadcast. And someone should very definitely have come when Velasquez hacked the airlock and let them onto the station.

"I don't like it either," he tightwaved back to Shannon, then recoded to reach the rest of his group. "We don't have a schematic for the station, so we're heading for the center to look for administration or essential systems. Keep an eye out for maps, directories, anything; if we can get directions, we might not need to explore. And if anyone sees any sign of survivors, sing out."

The other five pulsed back acknowledgements almost simultaneously, and Shannon stepped into point. The others fell into place behind him, and Caden followed at the back.

The first sign of trouble came less than five minutes later, when Scout ran into something that dropped it dead to the floor of the passageway.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Challenge: Things That I'm Thankful For

Starting with the usual bit of context: the topic is from the Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. Hit their homepage to see the current week's responses, and add a link to your own if you're so inclined.

This week's challenge is Things I'm Thankful For.

And right now, that is straight-up My Family. Yes, even when they're exhausting. Even when they can't keep up with their Science Fair Projects and we're working on them at the last possible minute because the stupid biodegradable cups refuse to biodegrade. Even when Beautiful Wife is rushing off to sneak in a tiny bit of Yes I Still Have Social Time and leaving me to put the boys down even though I'm almost too tired to see straight. (She lets me sneak off and play D'n'D, and fair is fair after all.)

Because they're wonderful. They're fun and funny and loving and snarky, they're full of neat insights and unexpected surprises. We work as a team, and we're all part of that.

There are a lot of things I'm thankful for. Ask me another time, you'll get a different answer: probably more of a list, definitely covering some disparate topics. But right now at work the sky is falling and everything is on fire, and I am tired in a way that's like a physical weight, and coming home to my family is what makes everything okay.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Music: Hold On

The band is Animal Fiction (and you can probably guess where my spare time has gone lately):

Monday, November 18, 2019

Superhero Bar Stories: Doctor Roach

Huh. Weirdest scenario involving a lab? That's your challenge? Any kind of lab? All right. Waitress, a round of Laphroaig for the table, on me. Full glasses, no ice. We're going to need it for this one.

Everybody ready? Right then, picture this:

There's this guy. Not an especially bad guy, but not an especially good guy either. And as such guys sometimes do, he develops a habit and becomes a junkie. But of course his habit makes it hard for him to hold a job, which makes it hard for him to feed the habit, and... you all know how this goes, right?

He's not really a bad guy, he's just an addict. But he's hungry in that way that some sorts of addicts get, and he's desperate. He needs a fix. And he's noticed this place, a couple of blocks down, mostly just a single guy working out of a basement setup. It's not a supplier, he'd know about it if it was. But it's something, and there's some interesting glassware and maybe some chemicals that could be sold for money. Like stealing tranquilizers from a vet's office, but maybe easier because whatever this guy is doing doesn't get much business.

So our addict, he cases this place: the little narrow windows looking out at street level, the doorway down at the bottom of the stairs, the gate that goes across it. And finally he breaks in. Well...

I'm downtown, because that's where I usually am. I'm running a patrol, because that's what I usually do. And then my cell phone rings, because... wait, what? I'm on a zipline three hundred feet in the air, maybe twenty people in the whole world have this number, how the hell is my cell phone ringing right now?

So I get to the next building, unclip, and answer it. It's Doctor Roach.

No, of course you've never heard of him. He's not a supervillain, and he doesn't work for the agency either. His name is Mark Roach, and he has a PhD in Biology, a Masters in Biochemistry, and a junkie in his lab who won't stop screaming.

Yeah, fine, all right. He could have been one of us. I knew him in high school; we did a lot of skateboarding together, extreme sports style of stuff. He was good, but if he had powers he never admitted it and after graduation, well... he went on to college. But yeah, with a last name like that and a potential for life in costume, maybe it was inevitable that he'd end up doing research on cockroaches.

So there he was, checking results, when someone crashes through a vent and lands in a specimen container. Perfect landing, too: dead center in a glass tank maybe three feet wide and eight feet long, holding fourteen thousand bugs, and this desperate junkie -- not a bad guy, but not a good guy either -- his break-in attempt lands him face-up, square in the middle of them. Absolutely covered. And then he starts screaming, but well... Fourteen. Thousand. Cockroaches. Ever swallowed a bug? Maybe while riding a motorcycle? Well, it's a lot worse if they crawl in on their own.

So yeah, this guy: Doctor Roach pulls him out, brushes him off -- I hate to think of what the rest of the building had to put up with for the next couple of weeks -- gets him into a chair, even scoops the roaches out of his mouth... the junkie just won't quit screaming. So he calls me. Naturally I came right over -- you don't think I'm afraid of cockroaches, do you? I'm already on the line with Dispatch, and they're sending EMTs and a squad car.

I start talking to the guy, asking his name and is he hurt? He says no, but I'm not sure I believe him since he fell out of the ceiling. Does he know what day it is? He doesn't. Does he know who's president? He does. What's his name? He gives it to me, so I know he's not all there.

Around this time the EMTs come in and sedate him, except one of them freezes in the doorway and has to wait outside. Too many bugs. It doesn't bother me -- they just tickle -- but for some people it's just too much. Then we get him upstairs, dust him off again, and put him in the back of the patrol car. Straight to the detox cell.

And you know what? That was it for him. Talk about your "scared straight". That guy swore off everything, got himself a job, stayed straight... last I heard, he owns an Appleby's down in Texas, got a wife and three kids. Took us a week to get the lab back in shape and the Inventor had to loan us a device to get the specimens back in their cage, but all in all it came out all right.

So that's my weirdest scenario involving a lab. You think you can top it, kid?

Thursday, November 14, 2019

ItB 004: Prepare for Boarding

The silence stretched as the raptors drifted around the capital ship and the space station. Despite all the horror immersives he had watched, Caden had never found any sort of space stations to be particularly spooky; most of the ones he visited were military, and as a result they were uniformly clean, busy, and impersonal. Hirakawa's Celestial Triumph seemed determined to change that. It still had power, and its emergency beacon was still transmitting, but there were no perceptible attempts at communication and the scans from Padma's team had shown no movement and no signs of life. The whole place looked dead.

The capital ship, the one the nameless voice from Hirakawa's Ninety-Fifty had identified as the Ascendancy, seemed equally quiet from the outside: no shields, none of the faint energy pulses that would have indicated active detectors, no visible movement. It was one hell of a ship, and would be more than a match for the Ultima Ratio if fully activated, but it was powered down and quiescent.

"What do you think?" Caden pulsed the question directly to Celia.

"I think if we had any sense we'd pull back, rejoin the Majesty of Earth, and get on with the mission to Tanivar." Celia's return pulse sounded calm, but he could hear the worry and frustration underneath -- or maybe those were just echoes of his own feelings. "They can't be planning to ambush us at this point, not unless they have another capital ship pulling up alongside the Majesty right now. I think something has gone very wrong out here, and given our mission it shouldn't be our problem..."

"...except that it is," finished Caden. "Concur."

He made a slow count of five, giving Hirakawa's Ninety-Fifty one last chance to respond to Akira, then pulsed his team. "All right. Two of six. Padma, you're going in through the landing bay with yours. Mine will open a hatch on the station and enter there. Leave the raptors outside and make the crossing in armor."

Wordless acknowledgements pinged his awareness, and he turned his raptor towards the station as Ngawa brought her trio into place alongside Padma's, maneuvering carefully towards the docking bay at the front of the capital ship. They spread out, positioning their ships to match the orbit of the station and the cradle that held the Ascendancy, then left them to float. Small bursts of stabilizing thrust sparkled around the raptors as their pilots launched out into the void, aimed at the atmosphere-retaining screen that was all that covered the entrance to the docking bay.

Shannon was already bringing his trio into a stable position just outside one of the airlocks on Hiragawa's Celestial triumph. As Caden maneuvered his trio into position above them, Velasquez launched from her raptor and fell towards the entry. Her armor was completely dark; if she hadn't been on the net, he wouldn't have known that anything had changed at all.

"Akira," he pulsed. "Tell them we're still coming."

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Challenge: A Strange Or Useless Talent That I Have

Starting with the usual bit of context: the topic is from the Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. Hit their homepage to see the current week's responses, and add a link to your own if you're so inclined.

This week's challenge is A Strange Or Useless Talent That I Have.

Well, all right. I have a talent for making things out of cardboard. A 3D map for a school project; a cardboard castle to reduce the brightness of an overly enthusiastic night light; random bits of furniture for action figures. I don't do it real often, but I am pretty good at it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Youth DnD: New Adventurer, New Room!

So apparently I utterly failed to write up the previous session, wherein Barrith (halfling arcane trickster) and Toruv (dragonborn draconic sorcerer) tried to chase down a thief as he fled the market, only for Barrith to find himself in a net loosed by two of the thief's accomplices -- who promptly fled. A pair of warriors moved in from the side-passages, and were completely surprised when Toruv (who'd been jogging rather than running) rolled up and lit one of them on fire. There was a brief exchange attacks while Barrith cut himself loose, and at the end Toruv and Barrith were standing over the bodies of two dead thugs.

They turned them over to the guards, which -- with the incident being this close to the main marketplace -- earned them some commendations from both the guards and the vendors. Toruv (who was shot with a crossbow from cover a while back) suspects foul play on the part of one or more of the other noble Houses, but of course it's impossible to prove anything.

They returned to House Aldenmier only to be awakened shortly after midnight by the sound of someone sneaking through Toruv's room. Toruv followed the shadowy figure, and Barrith woke up and followed him; the intruder turned into the grand hall. By the time they reached the open doors, the figure was nowhere to be seen. The two adventurers spread out, and managed to spot the intruder and wound her - whereupon the figure threw down a smoke bomb, reducing visibility to all but nothing. Both adventurers started forward anyway, just in time to see a bright flash from the far end of the room.

By the time the smoke had dispersed, they had found the body. She'd been trying to steal the banner, and got herself electrocuted instead. So they yelled for the guards, and left them to clean up the mess.

So that was actually last session. (Yes, you'd think I could keep up with this, but you'd probably be wrong.) So this session the group was joined by a new player. Apparently he was not the one who'd been talking about making a Circle of the Moon Druid for the game (don't ask how that all went down; I don't have the energy to explain the details) and when we were looking over his character he really didn't seem committed to the druid concept anyway: apparently he makes his characters by spreading his ability points around evenly (14 in everything) and then going from there. Since he didn't seem to have any spells picked out, I asked him if he'd be willing to try a barbarian instead (because I'd been looking at barbarians for something else and I'm deeply impressed with the class). He was willing, and his druid already had a flame tongue sword that he'd inherited from his family, so making the switch was really easy... and I think really successful.

He's a very unique and interesting barbarian, because he's really not optimized at all: his ability scores are 14 across the board, plus the bonuses he gets for being a half-elf (which are dexterity and charisma, rather than the barbarian standards of strength and constitution) and he's got a background as a sage (which he declined to change, despite the offer). So what we've got here is someone who's very devoted to his family, who has the potential to be fairly good at anything he turns his hand to, who knows how study and do research, and who also knows how to pick up that flaming sword and go to town with it.

I'm actually really charmed by this. We need to talk out the character background a little more, but I'm going to see if we can't do that either via text or email or something during the week. If not, I might need to have him stop by a little earlier next week; with the new arrival and getting his character sheet printed out (even though he'd already created the PC) we got off to a bit of a late start.

It was worth it, though.

With the party back up to a group of four, they were able to enter a room that they hadn't been to before. The rest of the group talked their new barbarian through the dungeon so far, up to and including the Delving Orcs (which we hand-waved away as having come out and gone off with one of Lord Aldenmier's lieutenants to be shown to their potential new job). So they entered, and were unsuccessfully ambushed by bugbears. And the ambush was largely unsuccessful because the barbarian is rather difficult to surprise and substantially hard to kill, especially while he's raging.

It was a close battle for a while there, but it was easy to see when the tide turned. (And also, when the weird trend of All The Dice Rolls Going Badly For The Party In The First Half Of The Battle finally stopped being an issue.) And while we did run a bit late -- we finished the battle with All The Moms waiting at one end of the kitchen -- we did get it done. The new barbarian is named Arch, and his player seems to be a good fit with the rest of the group, so I think this is going to work.

Current party treasure by my count is 25 PP, 1482 GP, and 31 SP.

From this last encounter, the group (once they finish looting) will add:
600 SP
6 morningstars
6 sets hide armor

Perhaps more importantly, that's another room clear and another room closer to being able to reach the next level of the dungeon.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Session Notes: IMPART one-shot

So the Dungeon Master for our usual Saturday Night got very sick back on Thursday, and contrary to what Harlan Ellison may have thought, I Have No Voice And I Must DM is not actually a viable strategy. So, another player stepped in with an intriguing idea: "Make a bunch of twentieth-level characters, and then fight whatever I throw at you." There's a loose framing device around this to smooth the edges, but that's the concept. So we tried it. These... these are my notes from the episode.

Since it might help anyone who wasn't there (and even some of us who were), here's a cast list before we get started:
-Dala (human rogue, swashbuckler)
-Grimblood Darkborne (half-orc barbarian, totem warrior) (me)
-Lexx Bloodgood (fallen aasimar fighter, champion)
-Luka Alphason (human wizard, Evocation)
-Meghan Bridie Glivet (human, cleric 19/fighter 1, grave domain)
-Sirro (Aasimar, cleric, life domain)
-Vulferam Fireflower (Goliath, fighter 18/rogue 2, battlemaster)

Let us begin...

Everyone no matter what your adventures were in the past, what you did, what you achieved... you all became very powerful. So when we were all recruited (in various ways) it because I.M.P.A.R.T. needed our help. (Interplanar Mystical Protectors and Arcane Research Teams.) They will provide resources, and we will help... everyone. We protect against things from outside the material plane. Our job is to get the job done, and the job is something nobody else can do.

We may have been here for different lengths of time. Whenever we joined, we received a medallion. It's not large, but it's carved with the name of the organization and a handful of gems; when it glows, we grab it and concentrate and it'll bring us to the conference room. (The concept reminds of this old series of toy-advert cartoons, actually. That is not a criticism, though; I loved that whole idea.)


Dala is attractive but nondescript except for a particularly garish bracelet that matches nothing else she wears. Megan is a small human woman with a very large scythe. Luka is a human male, young, dark-skinned, bright auburn hair. Vulf is large but surprisingly unobtrusive. Lexx is gray-skinned and deshabille. Sirro is wildly unkempt and complaining about an interrupted tryst. Grimblood is a large half-orc wearing only a kilt and a pack.

At this point Scythe appears in the room. She's the one who gives us our assignments.

Giant monsters are coming up out of the sea and destroying cities. Only six months apart. Then another three months later. Usually these giant monster attacks happen maybe once a century; this is far too frequent. Or there are far too many of them.

There are some local cults that may be calling this thing up. That's our way in. Find them, bring them in, make sure we can still ask them questions, then stop them from doing whatever they're doing to call these guys up. Let's go to the armory and get suited up.

We go through a couple of checkpoints and into a large room. The equipment is mundane, but there's a massive and varied supply. (OOC Note: there isn't much description of the facility, but that's because this is a one-shot that might become an every-once-in-a-while thing for when we can't do the main campaign.)

In the back of the room is another security checkpoint. Here Scythe starts showing us magic weapons, Vanna White style. Lexx grabs the longsword. A Flame Tongue greatsword - after a bit of arguing Bloodgrim takes the flame tongue, Vulf takes the Frost Brand longsword. A Sunblade longsword is next, and Sirro shivers lustfully. A rapier that's a holy avenger: no immediate takers. The second rapier is a luckblade. Dala snags the luck blade rapier. The wizard immediately takes an interest in the staff of frost. We do a couple of swap-outs; since the holy avenger isn't well suited to any of us, Scythe puts it away and retrieves a straight +3 rapier instead. She also reconsiders on Grimblood's flame tongue, and manages to scrounge a luck blade greatsword for him instead.

A couple of enchanted suits of armor come over and take the holy avenger back, and Scythe produces a magic scythe for Meghan

Next: armor! It's all +3. Grimblood and the wizard grab bracers of defense instead; everybody else suits up.

Then we're off for dinner (IC), then a long rest so we can get attuned to the new weapons, and then it's off to Cultist City and/or Tarrasque Target Town.

Discussion of tactics ensues before bedtime:
1. Yeet the Goliath into the Tarrasque's mouth.
2. Seduce it.
3. Rum. Lots and lots of rum.
4. Or, maybe, we could go look for the cultists and try to prevent them from summoning the thing.

Dala concentrates on her necklace to get Scythe back in for a minute. "Can we get some maps of the area, and maybe a book or something on the area?"

Scythe: "Sure."

Us: "Can we get rum?"

Scythe: "There's wine on the table."

Us: "No, enough to get the tarrasque drunk and maybe seduce it."

Scythe: "..."
Scythe: "..."
Scythe: "It's immune to poison, I don't think..."
Scythe: "No. Just no."

The cults are mostly just rumored, and there may be two of them. The devastated cities are essentially no-go zones. Dala wants to know how far the cities are apart.

Lexx: "Okay, so we could start a *third* cult and really mess things up."

The distance between the cities is a matter of hours or days. The rate of the attacks has been increasing, and there's a distinct possibility that we'll get there just before the next attack. And... it's on Waterdeep. Which, you know, nobody's really going to miss Waterdeep, right? Daggerfall is already gone.

Next morning: Best Breakfast Ever, then through the magical gate. It's closer to nightfall than we thought it would be, and we've come in on the outskirts of town.

This is an alternate Waterdeep; we're in an alternate timeline, it looks like. We're not too far off the road into town, on the northern side where there are a lot of farms. The wizard who's with us says this is an alternate dimension.

We decide to circle the city once, while Dala employs her investigation skill. She spots two guys running along, one struggling to keep up with the other. They're similarly dressed, but the one that fell dropped something. Dala turns us that direction, quickly but subtly. She picks it up and it seems to be some kind of rough amulet, with a rough footprint as the central design. It's not a religious symbol that anybody recognizes; it's probably reptilian, but not a dragon. It's probably a (the?) tarrasque.

We take off after them. Not all of us are particularly stealthy, but the cultists are oblivious. They come out of town and head down a small peninsula, and they seem to be heading for a crowd of maybe eight other people (so ten total). There are a lot of bags with them and a heap of something. As we approach the group, we hear talking and complaining about the couple who are late. ("It's a dork cult and they're trying to summon dork forces.") We think it might be fish in the bags. It's a lot, whatever it is, and it definitely smells like fish.

So Dala slides into concealment, and the rest of us follow.

Their cloaks are patched, mismatched. There's one person with a larger medallion, very hand-crafted and crude, but much more elaborate than the others. We're... roughly 100' out, close enough to hear them shouting. Sirro approaches Dala and suggests that if we rush them he can throw down an anti-magic field that will prevent summons and whatnot.

There... is a magic circle on the ground, just past where the cultists are standing.

Okay, so: Dala the rogue sneaks forward to dashing range, and then the Goliath (Vulf) yeets the Aasimar (Sirro) while Grimblood yeets the other (fallen) Aasimar (Lexx). Sirro drops an anti-magic field, while Lexx sprouts bony wings and black eyes and just goes TERRIFYING. So Dala pops out of hiding and puts a blade to the throat of the leader, who stays *very* still. The back of his amulet says PTT, which he explains as... Pet The Tarrasque. They want to pet the tarrasque so it won't destroy the city. Tell it it's a good boy and send it on its way. Oh ye gods...

Cultist Leader: "You used an anti-magic spell? Oh, no, the other cult is gonna summon the tarrasque! They're on a boat. They were going to summon it and we were going to try to lure it over here. Fucking Todd took our fucking book and they're just way better than us."

Okay, new plan: we can gate out of here and gate back in to the boat.

...Or not. The boat out on the water disappears as we all sense a great rush of magic. So yeah, the would-be monster fuckers are fucked. The Tarrasque is now rising out of the water.

We handwave the next little set of actions, where we all run back towards the town, yelling for everybody else to evacuate, and get into a position to intercept the beast as it comes tearing into the docks.

We attack. Grimblood... hits, but basically just dents a scale. Lexx does a ton of damage; Sirro gets his wings back through a divine intervention and does more, but... this thing is way, way too big for even a solid hit to make a lot of difference. We're going to have to whittle it down. Meghan casts divine aura, making us all a lot harder to hit. Our wizard makes an attack but misses.

The Tarrasque attacks! Grimblood and Lexx fail their saves and are terrified, but everybody else is okay. Grimblood takes some slashing damage (but hey, rage!) and the two fighters take some as well.

Okay, so we're fucked. New plan: we're going to need a giant enchanted fishhook and a lot of enchanted chain.

Lexx the Fallen Aasimar reaches out for something, anything, and gets his wings back. He can now do necrotic damage and for the length of this battle can also fly. It seems the Raven Queen supports us.

Sirro does something to damage it, and it's now down at the 3/4 mark on its hit points. The pattern on its attacks seems to be roar, then bite, claw, claw, horn, tail.

The wizard tries a magical star attack, and the star turns away from the tarrasque and hits him instead. Irritated, the wizard casts Freezing Sphere for some godsawful amount of damage; the Tarrasque is annoyed, and swallows the barbarian. Then it goes to attack Sirro, hits itself instead, and then attacks Sirro again, this time doing some damage.

Grimblood uses his wish to get out of the monster's stomach and winds up on the beast's back, where he makes a single attack to stay in place... and crits. The tarrasque tries to buck him off, and instead drives the sword in deeper. Sirro casts a healing and restores us, then brings Grimblood all the way back up to max by flying up and slapping him on his naked ass. (Grimblood fights completely naked. Armor on the battlefield is for the weak. So is clothing.) Vulf attacks and smacks the fuck out of it.

Meghan points with her scythe and recites "Ye hold the doorway and none shall pass." Meghan is casting Blight, and even with the save the tarrasque takes 50 damage. The Goddess of Death is generous.

Sirro suddenly remembers that seduction was supposed to be Plan A, and... winds up in the beast's mouth. The wizard promptly rescues him.

The Tarrasque is not happy. It takes a bite at Lexx, then tries to claw Grimblood off. It does some damage but doesn't manage to pry him loose. The tarrasque attacks Vulf and does some damage, but loses Lexx from its mouth. Grimblood attacks and does some more damage, then manages not to get bucked off. Taking advantage of his shadow wings, Lexx swoops around and attacks its ass, reaming the monster thoroughly with his longswords. Sirro swings up and plants a blade next to Grimblood, then offers him a ride off. Meghan blasts it with Blight again, solidly damaging it. The wizard casts Control Water, then uses that to lift Grimblood off the Tarrasque; Grimblood takes advantage of Sirro's presence and leaps into his arms just before the water would have dropped him onto the docks.

Dala has been dancing around the monster, attacking, then moving away, then hiding. The Tarrasque finally notices the rogue and starts scratching around his legs, but fails to find him. It slashes at Vulf and does a bit of damage, then hits Lexx. It tries another tail sweep for the rogue, and finally manages to connect. Dala attacks in return, and the Tarrasque falters and turns away, roars, and heads back into the water. We have felled the Tarrasque.

Someone is washed up on the shore in formerly-lavish robes. He too has a medallion, but this one is custom. It's got the footprint on the front, and on the back it says F.T.T. This is Todd, and his group was summoning it for sex. ("We thought... if we tied it down... it would be safe...") So we grab Todd and start focusing on our medallions, and Scythe appears.

We get a bunch of experience and Grimblood goes off to retrieve his kilt.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Music: Thumbsuckers

So one of the responses to the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge reminded me of Shel Silverstein and his music, so I'm just going to put this one here for this morning:

Thursday, November 7, 2019

ItB 003: Approach

The raptors were a string of obsidian arrowheads, sparkling with small bursts of thrust as they spiraled in towards the capital ship. "Four of three," broadcast Caden and watched as their line staggered out and fell apart, separating their approach.

Nothing moved on the station, or on the surface of the capital ship. The Ultima Ratio was coming in behind them, shields up and weapons at the ready, but Caden didn't believe that her presence kept the unfinished capital ship quiescent. It looked too close to completion for that: systems in place, weapons powered, quarters ready to be crewed. If it considered them a threat or intended to assault the Majesty of Earth, it should have been doing something. Even its shields were down.

They were silent for a few seconds as the raptors spread out in trios and their sensors explored the surface of the capital ship.

"I mark eight one-person maintenance airlocks, four connecting airlocks, and a main docking bay on the capital ship. Two primary airlocks and four maintenance airlocks on the station." Nobody pulsed back a correction, which meant that they were seeing the same things that Caden was. "Docking bay has an atmosphere shield in place, but the gate is open."

"Confirm, sir," pulsed back Padma, who had taken her trio past the front of the capital ship and then looped around the station. Caden was vaguely aware of the slender triangles of the raptors passing between the alloy ribs that encased the capital ship; his attention was more on what they were picking up, the map that was coalescing in his implant. Padma continued; she had always shared something of his sense of humor. "Capital ship warning us away is open, while station requesting help is sealed."

Caden bundled the new information and pulsed it back to the Ultima Ratio.

"The capital ship's the one that spoke up as we approached," said Drake, pulsing back from the Ultima. "They may want us to go away, but there are definitely people there. No further contact from the station."

"Concur," said Celia, and Caden knew that she was not only targeting but warming her weapons up to fire. Facing a ship like this she would be well within her legal rights, but Caden pulsed her a private message: "Hold, tenth stan."

Celia pulsed back: "Holding."

Apparently at her order, Drake broadcast: "Capital ship and station crew: if evacuation is needed, please gather in cargo bay of capital ship or main airlocks of station. Raptors are inbound and shuttles will be provided."

There was a long, empty moment as Caden and his team continued their approach and the beacons continued their conflicting messages. Then the same voice that had warned them away came on the broadcast again, re-transmitted by Drake: "Approaching ships, do not make contact. Repeat, do not make contact. Station is compromised and Ascendancy may be as well. Forget the beacon; pull back and destroy us from a safe distance. Hirakawa's Ninety-Fifty, out."

Caden cursed to himself. The broadcast he'd just heard made its own advice impossible under panhuman law. If this is a trap, it's the best and most convincing I've ever seen. He kept that thought to himself as well, because it didn't change anything. If there were people alive and a rescue was possible, they had to make the attempt.

Akira pulsed him a half-formed query, the emotional equivalent of Should I? Caden sent back a nod.

"Hirakawa's Ninety-Fifty," Akira broadcast, "We are inbound at this time in accordance with the Treaties. Please advise on what we should expect and how we can best assist."

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Challenge: Books I've Recommended & Why

Starting with the usual bit of context: the topic is from the Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. Hit their homepage to see the current week's responses, and add a link to your own if you're so inclined.

This week's challenge is Books I've Recommended & Why.

I feel compelled to point out that over the course of this weekly challenge, I have already recommended an awful lot of books... So for today I'm going to point out three titles that I know I haven't mentioned so far. (Well, I haven't mentioned them here on the Blog o' Doom, anyway. I have recommended them to people in person; otherwise they wouldn't qualify for today's prompt! But I digress...)

First up: Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather. So why am I recommending it? Well, for starters: nuns in space! Nuns in space making difficult choices, both personal and moral! Nuns in space in a living spaceship! Nuns in space with a decidedly ambivalent attitude about the mother church back on Earth! Nuns in... well, nuns in a very enjoyable story about different kinds of and approaches to faith, flavored with elements of adventure and danger, and several very nicely-crafted storytelling moments which I won't talk about until you've also had a chance to read it. It's a relatively short novel featuring a very unusual and well-done take on a number of classic science fiction elements.

Next: The Outside by Ada Hoffman. Why this one? Well... Lesbian conjurors in space! Reality-bending eldritch monsters! Cybernetic angels! AI gods! Mad science! Own-voice Autism representation! Conflicting loyalties! This one is longer than the previous book, taking the time to fill in a much larger world and slowly unveil its mysteries and its horrors. It mixes science fiction and cosmic horror and makes the combination work -- and it has a good time doing it.

Finally: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. Why? Well, you may notice a pattern here, but: lesbian necromancers in space! A derelict gothic palace holding an arcane mystery that could unlock untold power! Magic! Sword fights! Murder! Enemies to friends to lovers! A series of deadly tests! Ancient secrets! This book is just... it's a whole world of its own. Easily the longest of the three, but it's worth every minute.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Death by Science Fair Project

So, in the midst of the utter chaos a couple of weeks back, I discovered that Firstborn was a full month and half behind on his science fair project. He essentially hadn't submitted anything to the approval site, and so despite the fact that we'd come up with a pretty good set of experiments he wasn't even approved yet. And yeah, the whole thing is due in the middle of November.

Well, Friday night he updated the last of his corrections and Sunday morning he received his approval.

And thank the dark gods for the time change, because without that extra hour of sleep I don't think either of us would have survived.

Setting up the experiments wasn't actually too bad; the real issue was that he has to keep a journal of all this, which meant I needed for him to write down everything that we were going to do before we started doing it. And that took a lot longer than it should have, mostly because he was radically overthinking the whole thing. Finally I made him pull on shoes and the two of us took a long walk while I talked about what the journal really needed to have, which is basically "a lot of sentences". (I did refine that to point out that yes, they needed to be a detailed description of what we were doing and why, and what issues we were expecting to encounter and what we were going to do about them.)

So I finally got him writing while I went off to pick up some supplies that we were going to need to resolve one of those problems, and shortly after I got back we were ready to start. (And, of course, I have to remember to take pictures all along the way.)

So now it's two-thirty on Sunday and we've got the main multi-day portions of the experiments set up, and more journal-writing done, and I am drained. I need to do some laundry. I want to do some writing. But I think this blog entry is about what I'm going to accomplish.

School projects are going to be the death of me yet.

Monday, November 4, 2019

DnD: Why is the other half of Half-Whatever always human?

It's an under-discussed fact (particularly among human cultures) but where other races have intrinsic qualities like luck or racial spells, humans have the magic ability (and the moral flexibility) to breed with nearly anyone. There are competing theories on why this is, and in fact among Sun Elf scholarship there's a whole anthropological subcategory devoted to the question of, basically, "Dear gods, WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?" Is it a gift from whatever deity originally created them? A curse laid on them (so to speak) by some long-extinguished enemy species? Is there actually such a thing as truly purebred human?

Dwarven scholar Durdek Two-Hammer claims that the behavior comes from a fundamental instability in the human bloodline, and speculates that without breeding in bloodlines from other races humans would eventually become infertile and go extinct. The gnomish wizard Litha Glitterball, however, has published a number of scathing critiques of these claims, claiming that the sheer number of humans in the world could not possibly exist if that were true, and that Durdek should stick to the truly wild all-dwarf parties that earned him his name. Sir Artur Proofwaithe of the Human Anti-Defamation League (whose motto is "We Can't Be Racist, We Allow Half-Elves To Join") claims that the ability isn't magical at all, but instead reflects the "fact" that humans are the original bloodline that all other "humanoid" races were created from, which is why the human bloodline is compatible with all of them. (n.b. The Waterdhavian Scholarship Exchange does not hold with the use of this offensive term, and also notes the circular logic which undergirds it, as Proofwaithe elsewhere defines "humanoid" as "any race capable of breeding with humans", a category that apparently includes even dragons.)

Not everyone is troubled by this peculiar racial trait. Famous moon elf therapist Mona Highglow has long advocated for bringing in one or more humans to "spice up" elvish marriages which have fallen into a bit of a sexual rut after a century or three. More ominously, the infamous Grigor The Butcher directly attributes his success in looting, raiding, and pillaging to his mixed parentage and urges the orcish clans to take full advantage of the services (both military and sexual) of the more ambitious, mercenary, and horny sorts of humans. Halfling courtesan Delicia Gallops also famously announced that humans were "an experience everyone should have", a controversial remark that was widely associated with her rise to prominence in the Erotician court.

This proposal will explain why it is so vital to perform further research into this unique and under-studied phenomenon, and why the authors are uniquely situated to do so. It is our hope that the Whaterdhavian Scholarship Exchange will see fit to fund this important field work.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Blogging Challenge: Things That Scare Me

Starting with the usual bit of context: the topic is from the Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. Hit their homepage to see the current week's responses, and add a link to your own if you're so inclined.

This week's challenge is Things That Scare Me.

It's 2019 in the United States of America and Donald Trump is president, and his... regime... is the outgrowth and culmination of Republican political policies and strategies that have been around, and worsening, for my entire lifetime. So at this point it would be fair to say that I'm no longer afraid of anything; it would be equally fair to say that I'm afraid of everything. In particular, I'm afraid that there are a great many things going on that seem likely to have horrible consequences for people I care about, including my own children, that I have essentially no control over.

I don't focus on that. Not much. I can't. I'd be overwhelmed by it, reduced to useless despair. So I do what I can, and cling to the hope that the situation isn't as bleak as it looks (even as absolute horrors are perpetrated every day at an individual level). I try to hold to Things Are Horrible And Must Be Fixed, without sliding over into This Is Irredeemable And I Have Brought Children Into The World Just In Time To Witness The Next Great Die-Off.

But that's what I fear.

I don't fear ghosts. Not even the ghosts of my own mistakes. I live with them, and try to learn from them.

I don't fear werewolves. The ones who've wrestled with their beasts, learned their ways, and made peace with them? They're among the safest of companions, and the wisest.

I don't fear zombies. They're just trying to get by, like everybody else. Leave them some room, move past them, and let them get on with what they're doing. Help them on their way, and they're fine.

I do fear crowds. (Literally, actually: I have a phobic reaction to having too many unfamiliar people pressed in around me. It's not uncontrollable, mostly, but if you ever really wanted to push me into a state of panic, that would be the way to do it. Remind me to tell you about how Beautiful Wife and I noped out of New Year's Eve in New Orleans in 1999, when the specter of Y2K and the turn of the millennium had brought everyone out onto the streets.) I fear large groups of ordinary people, because they're unpredictably volatile and because they're all around me.

And I do fear vampires, but not because of their endless hunger or their presumed superiority to everyone else; at this point in my life, what I fear is that we can never reach their castles to put the stake in. The distance is too far, the peasantry too desperate for work to pull together and end them. I'd like to be rich in much the same way that I'd like to have Vast Supernatural Powers: it's a pleasant fantasy, and if by some dark miracle I ever find myself in that position I'll do my best with it. But mostly I'd like to be comfortable, to have enough, to own my own time and be able to produce the things dearest to my heart. I fear the ones who hunger endlessly, who are never satisfied, who want to keep me constantly producing things that they can profit from.

I am so, so very tired sometimes.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Abdael: The Need For Farewells

"You wished to see me, Countess?" Abdael gave the full formal bow appropriate for a tradesman or scholar meeting a countess. Despite the fact that he'd spoken informally with the Countess Flurilis at various points on the journey from Splendorhaven to the manor of Duchess Morwen, this meeting had come as the result of a formal summons, so there was nothing for it but to observe the forms until she indicated otherwise.

Countess Evrinel Flurilis had strands of silver running through her black hair, but she moved with a sort of lithe, athletic grace that made Abdael wonder if she hadn't been at least as active in her youth as her daughter was now. Her dress was black and silver, with emerald jewelry carefully placed to accent it: necklace, earrings, brooch, wristband, rings. Her eyes were dark in her fine-featured face, and the look she turned on Abdael was... measuring. "I did," she said. "It is, of course, about my daughter."

Abdael nodded. "Of course, Countess." He waited without speaking further, and after a moment a small smile bent her lips.

"I do not pretend to understand what sort of relationship has sprung up between you and Tatherine," she said then, "but my youngest daughter seems quite taken with you... and happier, I think, than she's been in some time."

What is she after? Abdael wondered. Was she about to forbid him to see Tath? Encourage him to keep her happy? Was she merely curious? Or was it something else entirely? Cautiously, he said: "I would not swear that I understand it any better than you do, Countess, but it gladdens me that it makes her happy." Unsure of what else to say, he fell back on silence again.

The countess regarded him for a long moment, then sighed. "My daughter is a full twenty years old," she said, "but she is still a very young twenty years old."

Abdael tilted his head, aware that his expression was giving away his disagreement. Still, he didn't say anything; telling a countess that if she truly believed that then she didn't know her daughter all that well... seemed impolitic.

"You disagree?"

Well, so much for waiting her out. The Countess could read his expression as well as anybody. "I am the only child of my parents, Countess," he said slowly, "but I am told that it is often hard for parents to recognize that their youngest children are as old as they truly are -- just as it is often hard for them to recognize that their oldest children are still as young as they may truly be."

For a moment, the Countess' face went absolutely smooth and cold. Then something in her relaxed, and she settled back in her chair. "...There is some truth in that," she admitted. Abruptly, she slapped the table beside her. "Cairwen! Some mulled wine from the kitchen, and two cups!"

A door at the back of the room edged shut, and Abdael thought he caught the sound of retreating footsteps.

"Come and sit," said the Countess. "Call me Evrinel, and tell me what you want from my daughter."

Abdael took a step towards the long wooden table. This room was made for receiving rather than dining, but the central table and the arrangement of high-backed wooden chairs was still designed for the careful management of politics and personalities. He considered leaving a chair between them, but... no. That would be awkward. He took the chair beside her and seated himself cautiously. He had just opened his mouth to speak when the servant's door at the back of the room opened again, and a young woman entered with a silver tray, carrying a pitcher and two matching mugs which she set on the table between them.

"Pour for us," said the Countess, and continued her study of Abdael as Cairwen did.

"Would you believe me if I said that I don't want anything from your daughter, but I do want some things for your daughter?" Abdael watched as Cairwen retreated, then returned his attention to Evrinel and added: "It's true."

She blinked once. "Yes," she said slowly. "Yes, I'd believe you. You're not looking to improve your station, then."

Abdael felt a cynical chuckle rising in his chest and let it out without hesitation. "Countess -- Evrinel -- I barely know what my station is. My parents are scholars, researchers. I am, of necessity, an adventurer -- because being a warlock leaves little room for anything else. Apparently I'm famous enough to be summoned by the Lords' Alliance, but I'm also well aware that our great achievement in rediscovering the lost mine was more luck than virtue -- and it was done by working as a team. As for Tath..."

He stopped and leaned back, trying to organize his thoughts. Evrinel grasped the base of her goblet and raised it to her lips; Abdael did likewise, to buy more time to think. The wine was light, neither sweet nor bitter, and flavored with gentle spices. It was also warm enough to prevent him from doing anything more than sipping at it. "I admire Tath," he said simply. "She knows what she wants, and she's working to achieve it -- even within the constraints of her station. I feel like she needs someone to support her, to take her seriously and really see what she's doing."

"You don't think I take her seriously?" asked Evrinel.

Abdael took a long pull at his wine, swallowing enough to burn the back of his throat. "I think you take her seriously," he said slowly. "She's your daughter, you have to."

Evrinel didn't answer, and Abdael recognized with some amusement that she'd just turned his own trick of staying silent back on him -- and that it had worked.

"Countess," he said, "you deal with a lot of high-level political interactions: balances of power, lines of communication, carefully-cultivated goodwill. I firmly believe that you take your daughter seriously, but I also believe that you don't take her seriously for the things that she excels at and really wants to do. Or not as seriously as you should, anyway." He took a smaller sip of the wine, then added: "Gods. She identified me at a bookstore without ever hearing my name, handled my parents beautifully while presenting a summons that could have been very unwelcome, and rushed into danger to defend someone she thought needed help. She's not ever going to be a high-ranking diplomat handling the most delicate of treaties, so you can't meet her there. Set aside a morning and ride with her, spar with her, talk to her about what she loves."

"That--" Evrinel stopped, then took a slow sip from her cup. "Continue."

Abdael shook his head and shrugged. He'd said most of what he felt, but... "I know you take your daughter seriously," he repeated. "I just feel like you're too focused on the things that are important to you to take her seriously for the things that are important to her." He looked away, then turned back. "I don't know. I've only known her for a couple of weeks, and your world is very different from mine. I could be wildly off-target. But... well... you asked."

This time Evrinel looked away. "I did. I did indeed." She loosened her shoulders. "When our time here is finished, will you be returning to Neverwinter with your companions?"

Abdael nodded slowly. He hadn't really considered that he might do otherwise. "Yes. Much as I like spending time with Tatherine, she needs some time to come into her own. And even if it were possible, I'm not at all ready to... form an alliance... with anyone. Not until I understand my power better." Not until I know for certain that it's not a danger.

"Very well," said the Countess. "All other things aside, if at some future time your journey carries you our way, you may visit the Flurilis estate with the assurance that you will be welcomed as a friend there."

Sunday, October 27, 2019

This past week...

TL/DR: Oy.

So, let's see, how to recap this... Right, well, for starters Beautiful Wife came down with something horrible... I don't know, last weekend? A day or three earlier? Fever, chills, all-over body aches, coughing... dark gods, the coughing... Anyway: horrible. Probably not flu, since A) she got her flu shot sometime back, and B) it seems to be the same thing that Firstborn had two weeks earlier, which came back as "something viral, but negative for flu".

This, of course, came just before she was due to leave town for a conference -- and not just a conference, but one she was actually presenting at. And by Monday morning, the fever had stopped and the worst of the symptoms were getting better.

So... on Wednesday morning, Beautiful Wife's parents took her to the airport for an early morning flight, while I settled in for a few days of being a single parent. Despite a little bit of chaos (on my end, "Oh my GOD wait I haven't packed the lunches!" and on my wife's end, well... apparently a steady diet of sugar-free cough drops causes ongoing explosive diarrhea. Who knew?) we got everybody where they were supposed to go.

However -- say it with me, children -- "better" is not "well".

So we navigate the day as best we can, with the boys in school, me tired but reasonably productive, and Beautiful Wife miserable and half-dead and drinking a lot of water and orange juice. And at the end of the day I leave work, and I'm off to pick up Secondborn (Firstborn goes home on his own when school lets out, but we're not quite there yet with Secondborn.) And I'm within minutes of the school when my cell phone rings.

It's Firstborn.
He's calling from the house.
He's tried to do his practice on the upright bass.
The head of the instrument has come off.
Apparently there was a crack (that he had noticed and we hadn't) that finally gave up. So he unzipped the case and the head of the instrument fell out, followed by the strings, followed by the ramp-thing that hooks to the base of the instrument and lies under the lower third of the strings. And now it's all tumbled out and is sort of lying in a pile on the kitchen floor beside the body of his practice instrument. So, y'know, he thought he'd call and let me know that this was a thing.

So I did what any self-respecting parent would do under those circumstances: I picked up Secondborn from school, went through a drive-through for some food, and went home to try and figure out where the hell we were renting the instrument from.

I finally found the rental information and called Brook Mays Music, who were absolutely lovely about the whole thing. We'd been paying to have the instrument insured essentially since we first started renting it, so at the end of the day on Thursday I left work, raced home, parked my sedan, packed Firstborn and the broken bass into the van, picked up Secondborn from school, headed over to the music store, and swapped the 1/8 bass out for a 1/4 bass, which seems like a pretty good size given that Firstborn has grown a bit over the last few years. Then we grabbed more food and headed back home. We arrive to discover that the bridge of the instrument is still lying on the floor in Firstborn's room, where he had attempted to scoop everything into the instrument case, so we drop that on my passenger seat to return later.

Beautiful Wife, meanwhile, has apparently kept her roommates up all night with her coughing, and they're also very concerned that they're going to catch Captain Trips from her. (I don't believe there's any way she could still be contagious at this point, but I understand their concern.) So she's gotten a separate room and is basically just staying indoors and sleeping any time she feels so inclined. Conference? Yeah, no. I advise not doing anything except the presentations that she's giving, and sleeping as much as possible, and also soup.

On Friday I don't hear much from Beautiful Wife, until finally in the evening I call her and confirm that she is, at least, still alive. She had apparently turned off the ringer on her phone and was sleeping as much as possible, which seems like good sense to me. I, meanwhile, have called Brook Mays again and discovered that while they don't much care about the bridge of the 1/8 bass they do want me to return the bow that they issued with it. That sounds fine; I add the bow to the passenger seat of my car, and make a note to myself to do something about this on Saturday, because it's been rainy and cold for the last two days and the traffic has been terrible and I'm not making any more extra trips after picking Secondborn up from school if I can help it. Work is blessedly quiet, allowing me to work on something that I've had to put off for a couple of weeks now, and if I weren't so bloody exhausted it actually would have been a good day. I give up on drive-through food and have a pizza delivered instead, because I may suck as a parent but at least I'm putting food in my children. Then I get everybody into bed and collapse.

However, somewhere in here -- Friday morning, I think -- I get an email from Firstborn's science teacher. Despite some efforts from Beautiful Wife several weeks back to help him put together a reasonable, workable Science Fair project that will neither bankrupt us nor end with us committed to an asylum, Firstborn has apparently not entered any of his information into the approval site and is now weeks behind. So when I get home Friday night, I inform him that he's not allowed to do anything -- video games, YouTube videos, reading books, smiling -- until he's caught up on this thing.

He takes this in fairly good spirits, finds the site, and starts in on it.

On Saturday morning I claw my way out from under the blankets like a zombie who's just smelled teenagers having sex in his cemetery, and shake the boys awake because by the gods we are going to stay on schedule. Also because I need to run a truly nightmarish amount of laundry and dishes if the house is going to be even vaguely presentable, and if I have to get up for that then everybody else does too.

So I make food, hand out morning meds, and set to work: laundry, then dishes, then garbage and recycling, then more laundry, then... Secondborn has put himself in the bathtub, and I step in there to say something to him and realize that what I'd previously taken for some sort of bruise or scrape on his cheek is actually some kind of rash, and it's on his nose and running down the line of his hip towards his crotch as well.

Fortunately, we have the best pediatrician in the world (I May Be Biased) and at 9:30 in the morning I'm able to schedule an appointment for 10:10. This gives me just enough time to shower, a blessing which takes me from Affront To Human Decency back to Modestly Presentable Father-type Human.

Meanwhile, Firstborn has continued his work on the Science Fair documentation, and Beautiful Wife has texted me to let me know that she showed up, gave her presentation, and ghosted back to her room; she's getting ready to head to the airport. Oh, and also: her parents would like to have dinner with us, and can I arrange that?

I DM my DM[1] that I'm not only going to be late to the Saturday Night Game, I'm very likely not going to make it at all. Then I grab Secondborn, inform Firstborn that he's on his own until I get back, and head out the door.

So, the pediatrician's office is quite busy this time of year, but honestly I was expecting that and we're prepared with devices and books. We do a quick swab and then wait some more, and for once in our entire history of pediatric visits it isn't Strep. It looks like just a skin-surface allergic reaction, probably something Secondborn got into outdoors, possibly poison ivy. (Secondborn, for some reason, is very invested in explaining all the reasons why it might something besides poison ivy, but I absolutely do not have the energy to unpack that or even pay attention to it.) So: a quick run by the pharmacy, more medications, a stop by the house to grab Firstborn, then a nice lunch and a quick grocery run, and finally we're back at the house. Naturally I have forgotten to buy Capri-Suns for Firstborn's lunches, so I'll probably be sending him off with airline-sized liquor bottles instead, but that's what you do when you're a parent and anyway I digress. I run more laundry and more dishes, and then grab a forty-minute break before loading everybody into the van and heading off to collect my in-laws and go retrieve Beautiful Wife from the airport.

Finally -- FINALLY -- we get Beautiful Wife back. She is weary and still coughing, but upright and looking at least a little better than she did when she left. We bundle her into the van and drive off to one of our favorite pub-food stops... which is blocked off because apparently there's a festival that none of us knew about. We head for Mexican food instead. It is delicious but not quick, and everybody eats way too many chips.

Then, at last, we drop my in-laws off at their house and return to our own home, where we put Beautiful Wife into the bath and I start working on getting the boys down to bed. This is quite possibly the only thing that really goes right in the entire past week: Beautiful Wife is at last clean and relaxed (and goes to bed shortly afterwards at like 9:00); the boys get ready for bed with no fuss and no complaints and not even much noise; and I am finally able to sit down, though by now -- as expected -- it's far too late to try to catch up on the DnD game. Firstborn has received feedback on the corrections he needs to make for his Science Fair documentation, but I tell him to leave those for first thing in the morning.

So now it's Sunday. Firstborn has submitted his corrections, I'm running blasphemous amounts of laundry, and Beautiful Wife has slept from about nine o'clock last night until roughly eleven-thirty this morning. I've provided breakfast and lunch and medications (on schedule, yet) and have been generally Taking Care Of Things. The thought of going to work tomorrow morning fills me with a sort of soul-devouring existential dread, but that's middle-class life in 2019 America so at least I won't be the only one.

And by all the dark and forgotten gods, I'm going to take a nap.

How has your week been?

[1] ...send a Direct Message to my Dungeon Master...