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.

Thursday:
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.

Friday:
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.

Saturday:
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...

Friday, October 25, 2019

I was gonna write a thing for today

I was gonna write a thing for today
I really was
Truly

But then things happened
And some other things
And I slept

And I did not write the thing
Nor anything else

I just slept
And came to work

And now it is lunch, and so you get this.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Abdael: At Last, A Kiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 18, 2019

Abdael: First Battles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 17, 2019

ItB 002: Rescue Mission

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

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

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

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

Maximum safe contact was not even remotely the maximum distance possible here in empty space, where the two ships communicated with low-energy laser pulses to avoid any possibility of interception. It was entirely arbitrary, the point at which even light took a full thirty seconds to pass from the Ultima Ratio to the Majesty, or vice versa. It was a distance at which the Majesty could no longer respond effectively to any problems they encountered, but could be notified relatively quickly of any unfolding disaster.

The arrangement was deliberate. The Majesty carried a dozen long-range guns and a network of smaller point-defense cannons, but it wasn't a warship. It was designed for different purposes. Ultima Ratio, for all that it carried only a crew of twenty and Caden's squad of twelve, was a warship in every sense of the word, and nothing more.

"Advise you keep the shields up, Ultima," Caden pulsed along the command channel. "We'll launch through them, staggered one."

"Concur," pulsed back Celia, a flood of secondary orders spreading fractally through the shipnet from that decision. "Proceed."

Caden was already calling a launch order to his crew. He ran one last check of his systems, then detached his raptor from the Ultima Ratio and let it drift out of the launch bay and through the particle shield. It was always nerve-racking, that moment of enforced vulnerablility: if the ship were attacked now, he would be instantly destroyed. But if they didn't take the risk, they could only wait behind the field and share whatever fate the Ultima Ratio could forge for herself; they couldn't contribute to the battle. One by one, the rest of his crew followed him out.

"Wide Ring," he pulsed, and they began to arrange themselves in a broad circle around the Ultima Ratio.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Youth DnD: Catching up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No idea," says Toruv."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 11, 2019

Abdael: A cry for help

"At the risk of stating the obvious," said Abdael, "you don't dress at all like your mother or any of her entourage."

"Yes, well..." Tatherine drew herself up, then turned her head very deliberately to look at him. "I have two older sisters and an older brother. I'm never going to be the Countess Flurilis."

"Ah," said Abdael, taking a moment to digest that. "So you're training to become an adventurer instead?"

Tatherine sighed. "I wish it were that simple. I can't just take off in search of adventure."

I didn't do that either, Abdael thought, but he held his tongue while Tatherine continued.

"I am training, and I think I'm pretty good, but I'm also still a noble. Probably the best I can hope for is to marry someone who shares my interests. If I don't manage an advantageous marriage, then I'll probably end up using my skills on behalf of my family and our people." She looked ahead at the carriage, then back at Abdael. "I'm rather jealous of you, you know."

Don't be, Abdael started to say, when a scream rang out from somewhere back in the woods alongside the road. A moment later the same voice was shouting, calling for help. Abdael blinked, looking around, but the sound was far enough back that he couldn't see the source; he could only hear which direction it was coming from.

Tatherine looked up at the pair of guards who rode behind them. "Stay with the carriage," she snapped. "We'll take care of this."

One of the guards nodded sharply in return; the other opened her mouth, then closed it again. Tatherine was already turning her horse to leave the road and push through the brief underbrush into the relatively open area between the trees. Abdael turned his mount and followed.

The woods were heavy enough to slow them, but not heavy enough to force them to dismount. The cries for help continued, and after a long moment of smothering his misgivings, Abdael dropped his reins over his horse's neck and made himself invisible. The mount they'd given him was not the most spirited he'd ever ridden; it followed Tatherine's horse willingly enough.

There was a clearing up ahead, and now they could see movements as well as hear the cries for help and some rough, guttural voices. Tatherine urged her mount to move faster, and Abdael's mount followed suit.

They burst into the clearing to see two men holding down a smaller woman; all three were Human. A small cart stood nearby, with a horse in front of it.

"Unhand her!" called Tatherine, in a passably commanding voice. She drew a shortsword.

The two men startled, then stood and backed away from the woman, who rose slowly to her feet... holding a crossbow, which she leveled at Tatherine. "I thank you, brave warrior, but unfortunately I need your horses, your weapons, and all your equipment. Turn them over to us, and we'll let you walk out of these woods, no real harm done."

Abdael watched a series of expressions flicker over Tatherine's face: surprise, anger, more surprise, fear, and finally a sort of affronted disbelief. "You're going to rob someone who tried to help you?"

"Easy now, hero," said the woman, still sighting down the crossbow. "It's a classic ruse, and you fell for it like a rock off a cliff. So turn over your stuff and learn your lesson, or it'll go much worse for you than it has already."

Abdael looked around carefully, but he didn't see anyone else: it was just the three would-be bandits. He lifted a hand, extended it towards the woman, and loosed a bolt of eldritch darkness that slammed into her and flung her to the ground. He was visible now, but the odds were even.

The two men looked at each other. "Kill them?" asked one.

"I'm not going back to jail," said the other. They both drew swords.

"Abdael, watch out!" yelled Tatherine, as she moved to intercept the first one. Abdael was already calling his shadow out, forming it into a black, smoky sword that turned aside the second man's slash.

The first man caught Tatherine with a shallow cut across the thigh; in response, she vaulted off her horse and came down on top of him, pinning him to the forest floor with a shortsword through each shoulder. The second man danced away, his attention still on Abdael, then came in for another attack; Abdael swept it aside and thrust, and the man went down.

Tatherine straightened up, smiling briefly, then looking sick. A moment later she doubled over and threw up. On the far side of the clearing, the cart horse watched them placidly. "That--" She began, as she straightened back up, then scrubbed at her mouth with her sleeve. "They -- and they're dead. We just..."

Abdael swung down off his horse and went to put his arms around her. "Yes," he said gently. "We did. And you're right to feel sick about it."

She clung to him. "I just... I just killed him. I mean, he came at me with a sword and I just killed him."

"To be fair, he was trying to kill you." Abdael kept his voice gentle. "It was inarguably self-defense. But that doesn't make it any less ugly. And knowing that we've kept them from robbing or killing future travelers doesn't make it any less of a waste."

Tatherine shivered once, then straightened. Abdael let go of her and stepped back.

"Does it... does it get easier?"

"Not," said Abdael, "if you're the kind of person that you need to be."

Tatherine nodded, and Abdael watched with genuine admiration as she took a deep breath and put herself back together. She put a foot on the corpse beside her and yanked her swords back out, then wiped them carefully on the man's jacket before returning them to their sheaths. "Now what?"

"Traditionally, we check the bodies and take anything of value. In this case, I think you should just... take a moment. I'll check them over. Then I'll put them in the cart, and we can carry them back to somewhere they can get a decent burial. We shouldn't leave this poor horse out here anyway; even if we turned it loose, I doubt it would survive."

"That..." Tatherine swallowed. "...makes sense. Thank you."

Abdael nodded to her and went to check the first body.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

ItB 001: Mourning Has Broken

"Caden?"

Captain Caden Stillwell didn't answer immediately. He was sitting on the floor of scrubroom, letting hot water cascade over his head and sipping occasionally from the contraband bottle in his hand. He recognized the voice, of course, but he wasn't sure whether to be grateful or irritated that Celia had come looking for him.

"How long are you planning to sit in that shower?" She was standing just outside the curtain now.

He brushed the water out of his eyes and looked down at the bottle, then back up at her shadow on the curtain. "Until I use up all the hot water."

There was a long pause, then movement outside the curtain. She couldn't be... that would be... She pulled the curtain back and stepped into the shower with him, every bit as naked as he was. ...insane. She nudged him with her foot and he scooted over; she immediately sat down beside him, one shoulder in the hot shower and the other pressed against the smooth wall. "I know for a fact that the water is heated by a tap from the ship's reactor," she told him. "The Majesty will literally fall apart before you run out of hot water."

"That does put a crimp in my plans." He offered her the bottle and she took it, keeping her thumb over the mouth until it was out of the running water. She took a long pull, then looked at the bottle speculatively. "Good stuff."

"I've been saving it." She handed him back the bottle and he took another drink. "Maybe I'll just stay in here until I finish the bottle."

"Maybe I'll help," Celia said. She looked at him. "You going to be okay after that?"

Caden nodded. "I just need a chance to drown my memories and obliterate my consciousness, and then a solid twenty-four stans of sleep. I'll be fine."

"You'd better be. I'm not taking the Ultima Ratio out without--"

The alarm hit them both at once. The siren in the scrubroom was redundant; the alert and its attendant information came straight through their implants, scrolling orders across the inside of their eyes even as it repeated them into their auditory nerves. They exchanged a glance; then Celia and Caden both were moving, Caden to shut off the water and Celia to scoop up the bottle and slap the lid on it before they charged out to get back into their uniforms.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Challenge: Books That Did A Great Job of Explaining X

So, I'm coming at this late and half-sick, and this response is going to be much shorter than it probably should.

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 Did A Great Job of Explaining X.

I don't have an extensive list for this, mostly because I'm doing this at the last minute and off the top of my head, and I have no brain this week. (Well, I mean, I do. What I don't have is any energy. I seem to be shaking off some sort of virus or cold, but it's stubborn and enervating.) So I'm only going to put out one recommendation here, and it's one of the YA classics:

My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George. I haven't actually read it in years, but it's basically about a boy who runs away from New York to go live in on his own in the Appalachians (on some family land, if I remember correctly). This book explains (in just enough detail to be interesting) the various things that Sam Gribley has to do in order to survive -- hunting, trapping, foraging, making his own soap, carving out a shelter -- and is largely responsible for my early interest in camping, wilderness survival, and various other things that came up in my response to last week's question about what I'd want on a desert island.

So, yeah... only one recommendation this week, but it's a heartfelt one.

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Isle (Eye-sle) of Vecna

So no shit, there we were...
When we finished the last game, the group had defeated a dark naga and taken shelter in its cave, which seemed to cut through from one side of the ridge to the other. Night falls while we rest, but outside something is scuttling around the (steep but not vertical) side of the ridge. Martini slips outside to check on it, and sees a large, multi-legged beast clinging to the rock; she distracts it, and shortly after that we hear it scuttling around on the far side of the ridge, but nobody goes outside after that.

Eventually we wake up and proceed, following the path/ledge that seems to lead up towards the center of the island. After a short walk, Ruin hears some sort of scratching sound up ahead, and moves up to investigate. He moves as quietly as he can manage, but when he stops to look over the side of the ledge, the behir sees him. Mercy and Asrael move up; Martini hides, and then moves up more slowly. The behir scrambles up the cliff to its prospective next meal (us) and Ruin smashes it a couple of times, after which Marshall Mercy lays into it as well. It then bites Mercy and lifts him up in its mouth.

Ruin, Azrael, and Martini all make their best efforts to beat it down, but despite all this it swallows Mercy and bites Ruin, lifting him up in preparation for the same treatment. Martini finishes the beast, and Azrael -- who has already figured out what happens next -- casts Feather Fall on the corpse. As a result, Mercy and Ruin float gently down to the bottom of the cavern, rather than dropping like mortally-endangered rocks. Ruin pull himself loose of the mouth, and Mercy starts trying to cut his way back out, and between the two of them they cut Mercy loose before he dies. Martini throws down a rope, and Ruin climbs back up to the top with Mercy clinging to his back. (Just to show off, he doesn't use his legs.) (Mercy, of course, is absolutely exhausted by the time the climb is done. "Hangin' on like that is hard work, son, especially in armor...")

We proceed, and fortunately don't encounter anything else before we reach the top of the ridge. At this point, we've got cliffs on either side, and the massive silver dragon is still circling overhead, and it's... terrifying. So terrifying that Martini collapses into a fetal ball of make-it-go-away, while the rest of us have to wait until it circles away from us before we can move at all.

In keeping with his dream, Ruin stops and leaves his weapons at the end of the path. He proceeds forward, motioning for the others to hang back, and... abruptly disappears. Reverend Marshall Mercy starts forward after him, just as Ruin calls out to let everybody know he's alive.

The top of the peak seemed to be flat plateau, with nothing on it but a golden egg at its center. Ruin has fallen right through the illusion. Marshall, of course, falls through it as well. Azrael comes along behind, dragging Martini with him.

Inside the room, the fear effect dissipates and we're able to look around.

This whole room, every inch of walls and floor and ceiling, is covered in writing: old secrets, bits of ancient court gossip, knowledge that might have changed the course of empires had it been in the right hands centuries past. In that, it is much like the tree we found earlier. In light of our recent discoveries, it seems likely that this stone is a repository for important secrets that were traded to the Vecna cult. There's a single passageway, leading out of this room and down; it is also covered, every inch of it, in ancient secrets. We've come this far, and there's still a dragon up above; we follow it.

Ahead, we hear a steady tink-pause-tink-pause-tink-pause, as though someone is using metal tools on stone. The gods alone know where we are, but we line up for the superhero stride and walk in together and find...

...an old guy carving on the walls, with a small hammer and a sort of enchanted engraver's kit on a belt around his waist. He's working mostly in the dark, though there's an additional doorway that lets in a faint red light.

Then he turns his head to glance at us, and his eyes have been replaced with glowing orbs.

Mercy runs through everything he can remember about Vecna and the worship thereof, and comes up with this: the clergy of Vecna have a ritual that allows them to see through other people's eyes. This guy seems to be part of that. Except that aside from that one glance in our direction, he isn't really behaving like an enemy cleric at all: no speeches, no attacks, no threats. In fact, he's gone back to his endless carving.

So, the group moves forward to see what he's been carving recently. A lot of the recent stuff involves Party 2 (our previous-but-not-original set of characters), so we start looking ofr things we should know and find:
-Duke Corbin of Jainbridge/Corwick (one's the city, the other's the duchy) has a mystic minister Almonda, who is a (the?) Vision of Vecna, and sends assurance of a pending alliance with the dwarves.

Mercy hauls some more memories out of cold storage, and gives us a monograph on Vecnan ranks: Memories (level 1-5), Thoughts (level 6-10), Secrets (Levels 11-15), and Visions (levels 15-20) - so a Vision of Vecna (or even a Secret) would be the equivalent of a Solari in the human empire of Sol Povos, capable of turning the course of a battle on their own.

As we're discussing this, the Secret-Carver turns to us. "So," he says, "you're here for my eyes." Then he attacks, damaging Martini.

He's terrfyingly fast, and his follow-up takes Martini down. Ruin and Mercy grapple with him, but then he... is standing loose, like it just didn't happen. We have the vague (and also terrifying) impression that he's somehow undone what just happened. This is doubly disturbing for Ruin, who left all his weapons at the peak; grappling is about all he has left, and while he's ridiculously strong that's no help if the enemy can just... decide not to have been grabbed.

We aren't finished yet, though. Azrael manages to trap the guy with Black Tentacles, and someone -- Mercy or Martini -- manages to injure him; the guy decides that the injury didn't happen, but he's still grappled by a tentacle. Ruin takes advantage of the moment to pin him, and Azrael uses his longsword to finish him off.

It is at this moment, when the glowing eyes leap from the now-dead old guy to Azrael, that Ruin realizes that we are truly, totally, and completely screwed.

Azrael's first words, after he finishes writhing and screaming, are: "Holy shit, guys. This is so metal." To our tremendous relief, Azrael is still Azrael. The eyes have brought him a tremendous amount of power; not only can he reproduce the old guy's ridiculous speed and supernatural defense, he can... well.. there are about one hundred people in the world who have cut deals with the cult of Vecna that involve trading out one of their eyes for an eye from the cult. With a bit of concentration, Azrael can now see out of their eyes. He can also see... well, almost everything around him. Which is going to get really boring really fast, because he can't leave this chamber and he's going to go mad if he doesn't get back to carving secrets soon. In fact, he's already picked up the toolbelt and is reorganizing it for greater efficiency. But he can see something on a pedestal in the next room, and he tells us that if he could get to that he could leave this chamber.

So Ruin just grabs him and barrels through the illusion concealing the doorway into the next room. Sure enough, there's a pedestal in the center, and a map on the far wall. It's a map of the island; at this size and from this angle, it's also the symbol of Vecna.

We're standing on an eye-land.

Ruin barely breaks stride in the face of these revelations. He sets Azrael down in front of the pedestal and backs away quickly while Azrael reaches out... The golden orb pours power into Azrael's new eyes, and the moment it's done we book it back out of that chamber. This turns out to be a good decision, because the island is now coming apart and sinking into the ocean.

Azrael: "This is so metal. I should tell Wendy about this."
Martini: "I will murder her and you if you do."

In the treasure that we took from the Dark Naga -- remember the dark naga? -- there was a folding bolt. Ruin grabs his weapons again as the others are unfolding the boat and tying Azrael down, and we all hop in as the island finishes sinking. This silver dragon flickers and fades; it was only an illusion after all. With some effort, we row back to the boat that brought us here.

We settle in for the voyage back, and Azrael uses his lucid periods to look through others' eyes in search of answers. We don't really get those, but after piecing together several different accounts and making some educated guesses at geographical locations, we eventually figure out that there's another army entirely being led on its march into Sol Povos by a brass dragon named Estrelecada. Estrelecada is a Voice of Vecna - the high priest of Vecna on this plane.

We finally dock, and the captain sees us off with perfect politeness and no small amount of relief. We travel briefly overland, and soon reach Annon...

There are dead, tarred corpses hanging from the gate. "Traitors," explains the gate guard when Ruin asks. "The High Provost rooted them out and put them down."

We... decide not to go directly to the High Provost, even though he was the one who sent us on this mission. Instead, we cart Azrael into the temple of Artemis. After extensive negotiations, and despite the High Pristess' absolute bafflement at Mercy's insistence that Artemis (whom they both worship) is a snake-goddess and more properly addressed as Artem-hiss, we manage to convince her that, well, we need a miracle for Azrael. (Ruin: "If you could, I'd like you to consult with Artemis herself; I'm hoping she'll see fit to help us for, well, the survival of this whole plane of existence.") Eventually, we strike a deal that costs basically all our gold and Mercy's Necklace of Adaptation, and the following morning the high priestess performs the miracle: Artemis moves through the temple, and the glowing orbs that have replaced Azrael's eyes fall out and coalesce into a pair of 100-faceted gems, which we quickly dump into the bag of holding and close up. Azrael is sane again, but he still has no eyeballs.

He still needs to have them regenerated, but the High Priestess is exhausted and we can't afford it.

We still need to talk to the High Provost, though honestly OOC that was late in the evening and this may not have been our best judgement call ever. So Ruin suggests that we say nothing about glowing eyes, and just say that Azrael was blinded as a result of the battle.

We're just a block away from the High Provost's compound when a rock hits Ruin in the shoulder. He turns, sees a shadowy figure in an alley, and motions for everyone to stop and Martini to flank. Martini heads around a corner and then runs up a wall as Ruin steps into the alleyway after the figure.

It's Ruin's twin brother Darvinin. He says something is amiss with the provost: he claims to have hung the traitors who supplied that mysterious army, but there's no way this happened on such a scale without him being complicit. It was too easy for all that equipment and all those provisions to find their way there. We can't trust him. Also, in probably-unrelated news, nobody has heard back from the elvish expedition to the Dwarves, which means that Ruin and Darvinin's mother is missing.

Ruin brings Darvinin over to the others, and they agree: we can't trust the High Provost. But it'll be even more of a problem if we don't report in. So Ruin, Martini, and Azrael will go, and see if we can cadge enough money to fix Azrael's eyes while not admitting that we acquired anything from the island. Mercy decides to stay outside with Darvinin, and watch over the bag of holding that currently has the eyes.

We are shown to the High Provost immediately, and the interview goes... badly. He's not buying Martini's story that we put down a demon but it blasted out Azrael's eyes, and he says we should have come to him first; but he's also unwilling to admit that he sent us to that island with a specific goal in mind and a good idea of what he expected us to find there. So he says that if we happened to acquire an artifact, it should be hidden where the cult of Vecna can't find it -- we should take it back to Martini and Azrael's hometown, and consult with their father (emphasis explicit) who will know what needs to be done. He's also almost immediately made aware (by an underling) that Mercy and Darvinin are outside

Ruin is angry and disgusted and ready to gut the man on the spot, but the Provost hands over enough gold to get Azrael's eyes regrown and start us back on our way. And at least he isn't trying to imprison us, even if it's obvious that he doesn't trust us and we can't trust him.

Which gives us a choice of whether to be led further, or whether to pick our own path. The two main options are either to head back to Martini and Azrael's hometown, or to go see what's happening with Ruin and Darvinin's mother and the Dwarves, but there are other options.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Abdael: Home Life

Tatherine Flurilis followed the warlock through the door to his parents' home.

"Mother? Father? I've brought a guest." Abdael sounded relaxed and cheerful, but Tath was suddenly nervous: bringing word to the family herself had seemed like a proper assumption of noble responsibility when she'd suggested it, but now she wondered if it would turn out to be intrusive instead. Or, since she was a human of noble blood (albeit young and untitled), if it would be seen as arrogant.

But no, the woman who emerged from the far door was Human and roughly the same age as her own mother, and smiled even as she gave Tath a searching glance. Then she looked back to Abdael expectantly. "Is this one of your adventuring friends?"

Abdael cocked his head just slightly, still smiling. "After a fashion. She's an emissary from the Lord's Alliance."

Tath felt herself flush, but before she could answer another voice said, "That sounds very official," and an Elf stepped out of a side door, which seemed to lead to some kind of study. He stopped, studying her in that subtle way that Elves sometimes did, and said: "Welcome to our home. I am Alviros Polnes'sil..."

"...And I am Kiria Chourin," continued Abdael's mother.

Tath offered a bow. "I am Tatherine Florilis, daughter of Countess Evrinel Flurilis. I'm not properly an emissary, but my mother received word this morning and asked me to see if I could locate Abdael. The Lord's Alliance is gathering everyone who was involved in the rediscovery of the Wave Echo Cave to give formal accounts, and hosting them at the estate of Duchess Morwen while they do. Since we'll be departing in the morning to return there, I thought I should bring the news directly."

Abdael's father looked thoughtful, but his mother just turned to him and said, "Fortunately you've already done some writing on the topic."

Abdael nodded. "Yes, and after dinner I should make a copy of it; I'd like to take it with me, but Janaes had expressed some interest and I'd like to make available to more than just the library."

"I'll make the arrangements," said Kiria.

"Well," said Alviros, "it sounds as if we have time for dinner, at least. Will you join us, Lady Tatherine? I have some naithbread in the oven and a small kettle of niris that should be finished soon."

It sounded delicious, and in fact the smell was just beginning to fill the room and Tath felt her stomach growl softly at the scent. "I would be honored," she said, "but... I've intruded enough already, I suspect. You should have Abdael to yourselves for tonight, and I need to go and report back to my mother in any case."

The warlock's parents protested, but Tath was fairly certain they weren't displeased; so she gently insisted, and Abdael walked her back outside.

"You handled that well," Abdael told her as they stepped outside. "I hadn't realized this was your first time doing something like this."

"Thank you," she said, suddenly relieved. And he's right! I managed to deliver unwelcome news without insulting anybody or making it awkward. Another thought occurred to her, then. "For tomorrow, will you ride in the carriage or would you prefer to travel on horseback?" She paused. "If it's horseback, then I can ride with you instead of being stuck in the carriage with my mother and her maid. Well, some of the time, anyway."

Abdael shrugged, but his mouth quirked. "You'll have to provide me with a mount, I fear," he said gravely. "After a life of danger and exploration on the road, I wouldn't know how to make myself comfortable in a carriage."

Tath grinned, delighted. And I won't have to listen to my mother drone on in constant speculation about the current political situation! "Tomorrow, then. And Abdael? Thank you for being so... easy... about all this."

Abdael gave a small shrug, looking slightly embarrassed. "My life has never gone quite the way I expect it to," he said. "It'd be weird if it started to now."

Friday, October 4, 2019

Current State of Me and also Music: Bills

Was home sick yesterday, and basically didn't move for the whole day. (Seriously: I started a load of dishes, and I picked up Secondborn from school. Those were my big adult achievements for the day.) Feeling better this morning, but I don't know how long it'll last... and I still should be careful not to breathe on anybody, because Firstborn returned from school yesterday with a just-under-102-degree fever and when I emailed a couple of his teachers about pending assignments, what I got back was basically, "Oh no, I hope it isn't Flu, we've had a couple of confirmed cases already." Which, y'know, great.

Meanwhile I'm feeling a lot better (which isn't a high bar, but I'm mobile and functional and I'll take it) but I also have some things that I meant to follow up on yesterday, plus a couple of major things that I really ought to finish today. So instead of any of the things I'd been meaning to write, you get thematically-appropriate music:

"Bills", courtesy of LunchMoney Lewis:


Kind of an anthem for modern life, TBH.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Challenge: What I'd Want On A Desert Island

Right, so, the usual bit of context: 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 What I'd Want On A Desert Island.

So, I mean, let's start with the basics: a ready supply of fresh water, enough food sources to provide a varied diet, and some way to find or make a shelter. (I'm good with caves, or with enough resources I could probably rough out a lean-to or maybe even a tent. Caves, by the way, don't tend to be terribly good shelter; either they're cracks in the rock, in which case they usually don't keep the elements out, or they're water-carved, in which case they tend at least to get damp and very probably to flood in the weather when you most need to be in your shelter. There are exceptions, of course.)

After that? Well, I mean obviously, an Internet connection and something access it with. That way I can call for help. I don't get that? Really? No cell tower on this deserted island? Well... drat.

Next up: a knife and some way to make fire. If I was stranded as the result of, say, a plane crash, then I don't have a knife on me because the TSA is a pack of idiots engaged largely in a theatrical approach to security. But I do carry a lighter, even though I don't (can't, really) smoke myself. It's a throwback to my misspent youth, when I hung out with a number of smokers and none of them could ever keep up with their own lighters. The number of cigarettes I lit for people whom I then had to move away from because they were, well, smoking... but I digress.

So fire is probably covered. Honestly, even without the lighter I might be okay; I know how to start a fire with nothing more than some dry branches... in theory. I'd hate to have to do it that way in practice. And then if I did, I'd have to make sure I always kept enough live coals to wake the fire again when I needed it. It could be done, but it would be a constant concern and a lot of work.

Some kind of knife or axe, though... I'm either using keys, or I'm hoping to find a usable rock. Or I'm basically banging rocks against other rocks in an attempt to chip them or smooth them into usable shapes. That's a hell of a thing to be doing when you need to be out looking for food or figuring some way to build a shelter. I do normally have my key-ring with me, so the keys might help if used creatively. (The pens, pencils, and thumb drives that also travel with me probably wouldn't be much help.)

I realize that I really haven't listed anything about what I'd want to have available in order to pass the time until I got (hopefully) rescued. That's because honestly, unless the island already had a bunch of resources in place (e.g. I've somehow landed on some millionaire's private island, and it's got a very nice house with some sort of working power sources and plenty of food and supplies, it's just currently deserted) then honestly I probably don't have time to read or listen to the battery-powered radio that miraculously washed ashore with me. At best, I'm telling myself stories while I do all the other necessary things; at worst, I'm panicking and cursing. (Or, y'know, being mauled by a Komodo dragon or something.)

...Which brings me to the main thing that I'd want on a desert island: I'd want to be &^%#ing rescued.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Abdael: An Unexpected Summons

"Oh! Your commission is finished, my lord!"

Abdael stopped in the doorway of the scrivener's shop, surprised: he knew the shopkeeper, but he hadn't expected the book to be ready, and he certainly hadn't expected to be addressed as nobility. He'd honestly just stopped in to make sure that he'd be able to take a copy of his favorite book back to Neverwinter with him when he returned. He blinked a couple of times, then said: "Gleaming Gods, Janaes, you know I'm not a noble. You can't call me a lord."

The man behind the counter was an older elf, his golden hair touched with silver and the smooth, youthful skin of his face just giving way to the faint lines of age; but then, he'd looked like that for Abdael's entire life, and likely would long after. "Ah, but you're a big famous adventurer now, and I wasn't sure how else to address you."

"How about, 'Hello Abdael, I remember when your parents had to pry you back from gnawing on my merchandise as a toddler, it's so nice that you actually purchase the books now'?" Abdael grinned. "I mean, if you knew somebody when they still wore cess-cloths, you shouldn't be that impressed with anything they grow into. And anyway, I'm not that important."

The door opened again behind him in a soft, tinkling melody of silver bells, and Abdael stopped to glance back.

The woman in the doorway was Human, expensively dressed, and wearing a pair of shortswords and a bow across her back. Abdael blinked; in Neverwinter, such a sight would be normal enough, but here in Splendorhaven the majority of the population was Elven, of one sort or another. Humans were unusual; armed humans even more so. This one had the distinctive look of an adventurer, or -- and this was when Abdael realized that she was actually a little younger than himself -- someone who very much wanted to be seen as an adventurer.

Janaes looked at her, then flicked a glance at Abdael. He nodded, as subtly as he could manage; Humans tended to be blunter and more excitable than Elves, and it would likely be best if Janaes dealt with her first. Inclining his head, the older elf asked, "Gentle lady, how may we help you today?"

The Human slowed, however. She glanced at Abdael, then looked back at the scrivener. "You... seem to be already engaged. I can wait."

Janaes didn't respond, a courtesy that some humans would have taken as an insult; instead, he turned back to Abdael. "If you'll grant me a moment, I'll fetch your commission."

Abdael nodded, and Janaes disappeared through the curtain into his workshop. He emerged a moment later, holding a book in a leather travel case. "Here it is."

Abdael drew the book out and looked it over, then flipped through it. "Oh, you transcribed the whole thing."

"You said you wanted all of it," answered Janaes. "So yes, I copied A Wizard Most Wondrous: The Many Accomplishments of Mordenkainen the Mage along with your Born in the Blood."

"Ah," said Abdael. "And you included that in your bargaining? That wasn't extra work atop the price you asked?"

Janaes shook his head. "No, you asked for an exact copy of the volume, and here you have it."

Abdael nodded. It was extremely nice work, carefully scribed on proper vellum and bound in leather, with a travel case to protect it from the elements. Expensive, but certainly worth the money. He pulled the bag of golds that he'd brought along just in case, and handed it over to Janaes. "Your work is admirable as always, Janaes."

Janaes smiled. "Give my best to your parents. Your mother said you'd penned a monograph, and if you'd care to have copies..."

Abdael grinned. "I'll send it over." It would be a gratuity of sorts, something that Janaes could sell to those who wanted a copy of their own.

He turned and started towards the door. Behind him, he heard Janaes address the human woman: "Now, young lady, what may I do for you?"

"Well," she said, "I was going to ask you if you'd seen a warlock named Abdael Nightflower..."

When he turned around, she was looking directly at him. "...but I think I may have found him."

He sketched a bow. "You have indeed. What is it you want from me?"

The young woman didn't answer immediately, but returned the bow instead. "I am Tatherine Flurilis, daughter of Countess Evrinel Flurilis." She was definitely familiar with Elven customs, or else had been coached extremely well before coming here. "The Lord's Alliance has asked that those who were... involved... in the discovery of the mine and its current disposition come to the manor of the Duchess Morwen and give their accounts of the events leading up to the current state of affairs." She paused, studying him, then added: "Basically, my mother asked me to find you because important people want to talk to you and she was busy with politics."

"It's good that you're not important," observed Janaes, absently, from behind the counter. "And that you're not yet a big, famous adventurer that important people would want to talk to."

Abdael shot him a friendly glower and shook a melodramatic finger at him: "And don't you forget that!"

Janaes must have been waiting for that, because he answered immediately: "Don't wave that finger at me, young man. I remember when your parents had to pry you back from gnawing on my merchandise as a toddler, so it's nice you actually purchase the books now."

Abdael half-choked, then burst into laughter.

Janaes chuckled and retreated to his workshop, leaving Abdael to face Tatherine alone. "Very well... do you want to take me to your mother? Should we arrange a meeting? How are we doing this?"

Tatherine looked momentarily nonplussed, then straightened: "I think perhaps we should visit your parents first, so I can explain. Then we should return to my mother."

Abdael nodded slowly. That sounded as if there was some urgency to the summons, which might mean the possibility of more work or might be the result of some noble's expectation that everyone should hurry for them. Either way... "Very well," he said. "If you'll follow me..."