Friday, July 10, 2020

Tavros: Clerical Issues

"There you go!" Tavros nodded approvingly as Aesa avoided his cut, then stepped in behind the blade. "Out and in, out and in. It's the only way to go up against a larger opponent. You can't win on strength."

She stepped back, keeping her shield forward but resting her mace on her shoulder. "Do you ever have to do that?"

"Not so far," he said, "but I'm unusual. I train for it, though, because sooner or later I'll run into something bigger and stronger and then I will." He stepped forward with a straight overhead cut, and she slid to the side — but her shield was angled wrong for the soft deflection she was attempting, and his blade slammed her arm down, throwing her balance off.

"Hold," Tavros said. "You have the right idea, you just didn't get it to work. Let's practice that one, say, ten times. Line back up; I'll swing, you sidestep and deflect... let's say half-speed. You work on getting the angle right, but don't forget to swing your mace out, too. Ideally, you'd want to shatter my forearm."

They switched from soft sparring into the drill, and by the end of it Aesa was panting and covered in sweat. "You're so good at this," she said, despairingly. "I'm never going to be that good."

"You won't need to," Tavros replied. "I'm a paladin. Fighting like this is kind of our thing. But you'll be a priestess. You have other ways of balancing the odds and getting things done. And as much as I enjoy this, there's more to life — and far more to serving Amun — than battle."

Later, as they were racking the heavy wooden practice blades and toweling off, Aesa asked: "You think I'll actually become a priestess?"

Tavros shrugged. "I don't pretend to know the mind of Amun," he said. "Did you feel called to become an acolyte?"

Aesa looked away. "No," she said after a moment. "After my father was... driven out... my mother decided that I might be safer here. We cried a lot, but she sent me off and here I am."

Tavros was silent for a long moment. "I'm sorry," he said. "The elves are evil, a threat to Sol Povos and the King himself. That's what I'm told. But that's not true of the ones I know, and it's not true of you. I don't know if it's true of anyone, much. But I know that Amun is a protector of people, and not a jealous god; and if you ask Him for help, He'll hear you -- even if you also offer worship to Corellan or the gods of your mother."

Aesa looked suddenly tired. "You believe that?"

Tavros nodded. "The Abbess herself suggested that I should offer praise to Demeter, in her aspect as a silver dragon, when I first began my studies. And there are other options: not all of the servants of the temple are priests and paladins. We have our warriors, even the savage ones like Akkora; we even have our scouts and spies. I think you have the makings of a priestess — and beyond that, I believe we need more priests who come to service from more than a single heritage — but I also think you're young, and still finding your way."

"You know that's true."

Tavros nodded. "So try things out. Experiment. Maybe I'm completely wrong. Maybe you should be a paladin, or a warrior, or even one of our handful of wizards. Did you know that the Temple of Amun investigates magical crimes?"

"I'd heard that, but..." Aesa shook her head. "We use wizards?"

"A few. Most are wizard-priests, and even then they're rare. But you and I should be used to not fitting into a single category, shouldn't we?"

Aesa was very still. Then she chuckled. Then she laughed. "No," she said. "No, I suppose we shouldn't."

"I'll show you what I can," Tavros said, "but ultimately it has to be your decision. And the only way to know the right course for yourself is to know yourself, and that takes time; it takes trial and error. There was a point in my life when I was determined to be a wizard, and I was... offended... to realize that I didn't really have the aptitude for it. I'm too physical; I like running and jumping and hitting things too much to settle in for that much study." He shrugged. "So I found my way here."

"I..." Aesa shook her head. "I'm sorry. I need to go think." She stood and walked away.

Tavros watched her go, hoping he had helped.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Tavros: The New Priestess

"Um...?"

Tavros glanced back from where he'd been sharpening his sword and watching the sun set. "Yes?"

She wore white robes, trimmed with runes that spelled out the words of kindness and law in the orange-gold color of brass, and looked to be barely out of girlhood... but her ears were easily visible against the close-cut hair, and the hint of points at their tips suggested that she might have some elvish blood. "May I... may I ask you some questions?"

Tavros sighted down the length of his blade, put the polishing stone away, and then wiped the blade with an oiled cloth. "Certainly," he said.

She cleared her throat. "Will you promise not to be offended?"

Tavros considered that as he sheathed his sword and slung it across his back. "No," he said after a moment, "but I promise not to leap to conclusions or assume ill-will. Will that do?"

She looked taken aback, then thoughtful. After a moment, she said: "I suppose it'll have to. It's just that I don't know how to ask, 'What are you?' in a way that doesn't sound offensive."

Tavros couldn't help it: he laughed, holding up a hand when the girl flushed. No, elvish blood or not, she was every bit as young as she looked. "I think you just found a way," he said, and started laughing again.

"I thought you were one of the lizard-folk," she said, "but they're supposed to like water and we're pretty far up in the mountains, and then I thought you might be under a curse but you don't seem bothered, and so I thought that since nobody was talking about it maybe I should just go and ask."

Tavros got himself back under control and straightened. "My mother is a human, a wizard of some renown. My father was a silver dragon, though she didn't realize it until I was born and by then he was gone. I'm a paladin of the temple, and my name is Tavros."

"Aesa," she replied. Then she added, "And I thought I was odd having an elf for a father," and clapped both hands over her mouth while she turned bright red.

Tavros pursed his lips and managed not to burst into laughter again; he didn't want to embarrass the poor girl further. "It's no insult," he said. "I am odd, but I don't feel it as much here, where regardless of our backgrounds we're all in service to Amun. Here, it sometimes feels stranger that I also offer prayers to Demeter than that half my blood is draconic. And I've found that many times, things are only as strange as you make them."

Aesa stopped to consider that, then came forward and stood beside him, watching the sunset. "I wasn't sure I'd find a place here. Elves, even thinbloods like myself, aren't always welcome in human lands."

"Have you met Akkora yet?" he asked. "The arms-mistress? Her mother was an orc. She once held me to a draw in a contest of strength; we had to call it when the table broke beneath our arms. If she and I can find a place here, you can." He scrunched up the scales behind his snout, thoughtfully. "Though learning enough woodworking to repair a broken table might help."

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Music: Wolf Totem

Courtesy of the Mongolian folk metal group The Hu:




(I was going to publish this earlier and I put the wrong song in, so here it is now - hopefully with the correct link.)

Challenge: Book-Based Project or Hobby

This is part of the weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. If you'd like to participate, you can find the prompts here. They also put up a post every Wednesday where you go and link your response -- and see everyone else's. Check out their homepage to find it.

Today's challenge is "a project or hobby of mine inspired by a book", and... I don't really have much of an answer for that. I mean, when my parents made me learn an instrument in fifth grade, I chose the harmonica because of Escape To Witch Mountain, but I'm not sure that counts:
A. It was because of the movie; I only read the book later. (The book is actually really good, though.)
B. I only practiced Harmonica for a year; sixth grade was guitar, and eighth grade was piano.

However, there was a recent project inspired by a book. It just... wasn't entirely mine. It was a school project that I helped Firstborn with. And if you really want the full details on that - along with advice and guidance on how to build a 3D cardboard map - you can find it under the School Projects Will Be The Death Of Me tag.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

RoH: The lake-town

"Did you find anything?"

Remant wiped the water from his hair, then reached for the towel that he'd left beside his things. "You could have come with me, you know."

Izra shook her head, looking past him over the surface of the cold mountain lake to the circular, tiered town that rose from its center. "Not into that. Not without a boat, at the very least. Anything could be in that water." She was dark of hair and skin, neatly trim in build and clothing and hairstyle alike, standing a little ways back from the lakeshore in a buff leather coat and trousers. He knew, because he'd looked over all his fellow guards, that the spear she stood with was ensorceled to be more precise in its use and more damaging when it connected, and that her longbow carried a stronger version of both those magics.

Remant toweled himself dry, then said: "Maybe." There were plenty of things that shouldn't be where they were, lost artifacts or unexpected dangers: traps and beasts left behind by the dark god, or his armies, or his worshippers. "I didn't see anything, but maybe."

"So why do you do it?" she asked. "Anywhere we stop, if there's anything unusual around, you immediately head off to explore it."

Remant picked up the waxed leather tube that he'd set aside when he walked out of the lake and opened the cap to remove his pants and the simple cotton shirt within. He put a leg into the pants, then said: "Why not?" Then he added: "Curiosity and caution. I'm curious about anything that's left after the war, and what is says about what was there before. And strange dangers come from strange places."

Izra studied him as he drew on his shirt, then picked up his own jacket and his gloves. She wasn't looking at his body; her expression was too distant for that. After a moment, she nodded. "So what did this floating city tell you?"

"Not much," he admitted. "I'd like to come back here sometime and look more closely. Mostly, it told me that some people thought they might be safe if they were floating in the middle of the lake — and that they were wrong."

"Were they attacked?"

"I don't think so. It looks abandoned, not destroyed, though I didn't have time to walk through all of it. There are fish in the lake, but I doubt they're enough to support a town of that size by themselves... and the soil up here won't grow much in the way of crops. If I had to guess, I'd say they probably couldn't feed everybody they tried to shelter, and by the time people started to leave they'd stripped most of what they could find." He shrugged as he tugged his gloves on. "I'd love to know how they built the thing, though."

"Sorcery, most like." Izra's voice was even; unlike some, she didn't disdain the art.

Remant smiled. "Yes. I was more wondering what kind of sorcery, and how it was done."

Izra looked out at the city again. "Not easily, I suspect." She turned to look at Remant. "Come on. It's well past dark, and you're on the deep night watch. You won't get much sleep before that even now."

Remant half-shrugged, but it was a fair point. He knew how to get by on less sleep than most, but there was no point in pushing it. "Thank you for coming out to look for me."

"It's nothing," said Izra. "I was curious; that's all."

He considered that. He didn't really want anything from Izra, but there was no point in not repaying a kindness offered. "If you're still curious tomorrow, I'll you what I found once we're on the road."

Monday, July 6, 2020

Music for 2020

Honestly not sure who made this, it's TikTok thing, but Low Key Fuck 2020:

Tom McGovern:
Shut The Fuck Up And Put On Your Mask:

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro

An abridged version of the speech given by Frederick Douglass on July 4, 1852 in Rochester, New York, can be found here on the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities website. It seems particularly salient for Independence Day here in 2020; give it a read. Frankly, at this point, I'm inclined to think that Frederick Douglass was kinder and more charitable towards the Founders than they probably deserved.

Independence Day Music: Democracy & Make America Great Again

Leonard Cohen with Democracy:

Frank Turner with Make America Great Again:

Friday, July 3, 2020

Music: Beast Within

In This Moment:

Note: Apparently I posted this with the embed code for another song entirely; in the interests of simplicity, I've updated the text to match the song here, and I'll put the other one up later.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Tavros: Deep in the Dark

"Keep your head down," said Tavros. "The ceiling gets lower—"

Klung!

"Ow," remarked Anica, rubbing at the side of her helmet.

He was about to remind her to stay towards the center of the passage when Tavros remembered that she couldn't see in the dark. "Sorry," he said instead.

"It was low enough already," Anica grumbled. "If we could see where we're going..."

"We could if somebody hadn't dropped the lamp when the rockfall started." Tarric's tone was light, but there was strain underneath it.

"That was not my fault," said Anica, pulling him carefully along behind her. "One of the rocks knocked it out of my hand. And anyway, I wasn't the one who slid us into a lake and soaked all the torches..."

"Three light sources," said Tavros. "Three. That's the rule for venturing underground, remember?" As a half-dragon, he could see in the dark — not terribly far, and everything was shades of gray, but it was enough to let him guide them. "Everybody carries three light sources."

"And what were you carrying, exactly, Mister Scaly-Breath?" asked Anica.

"I can see in the dark!" he protested.

"A fact which is doing us very limited good just now," grumbled Tarric.

"You could still be stuck in the lake..."

Anica shuddered. "No, thank you. If it had been any deeper, I would have drowned. And I swear something brushed past my leg just before you hauled me into the side passage."

"I just wish you'd found a taller side-passage," Tarric grumbled.

"You and me both," said Tavros. "Even Birno would have trouble with this one. You two might be able to crouch further, but I'm going to have to crawl." Birno was one of the priests of the temple, a balding, portly halfling with a wry sense of humor. Tavros had always felt a little sorry for him, being so much smaller than everyone else, but he was starting to reconsider that view.

"It's still artificial, though, right?" asked Anica.

"Still artificial," he confirmed, "but as low as it is, it's no wonder the townsfolk weren't able to search for the children effectively." Between that and all the traps, anyway.

"Especially with all the traps," remarked Anica.

Tavros stretched out on the stone floor and started crawling on his hands and knees. Anica followed him, and Tarric followed Anica.

"Huh. It turns." Tavros turned right and kept crawling. "Don't smack your head on the—"

Klunk!

"Ow," said Tarric.

Tavros shook his head and kept crawling. Ahead... "Anica, do you see that?"

"...Maybe?" He heard her shift position behind him. "No, definitely. It's faint, but I can see the curve of your shoulder. There's light up there somewhere."

"No more talking," said Tarric firmly.

They continued on their way, following the only path open to them. There had to be another way out; the rockfall and the ramp that slid them down to the lake had been too carefully prepared to be accidental. No, somebody had carved out this entire complex, and likely whoever had done it had also taken the two missing children.

Up ahead, a small figure occluded the light, bending down to look along the tunnel. It must have seen them, because it backed away quickly and Tavros caught the faint sound of hushed voices. Well, this is going to end however it ends, he thought. Trying to back away now would be worse than continuing to advance; the figure he'd seen was small enough to move comfortably in these low tunnels. In any case, there was nowhere to retreat to; the tunnels behind them all led back to the lake.

So he crawled until he reached the end of the tunnel, then eased out and pulled himself up into a crouch. The ceiling here was enough taller that he could do that, though his greatsword was pushed up into an awkward position across his back. I should have left it outside. It was no use in here.

"What in Kurtulmak's sacred shit are you?" asked a high, yipping voice in accented but perfectly understandable draconic. "Are you one of the people?"

Tavros turned and found himself looking at a small, reptilian figure who was leaning comfortably against one wall, with a short spear propped in the corner beside him. "My mother," he said carefully, "was human. My father was a dragon."

"Ha!" the creature replied. "Not one us, then! But if you choose well, your children's children's children could be..."

Tavros blinked. "Kobolds," he said in the human tongue. "You're what they call a kobold."

The kobold bowed with a flourish. "Eyegleam," it said. "The blood of dragons flows in the people, also. And you and your friends are too big to come down here."

Tavros nodded wryly. "The thought had occurred to us. I'm called Tavros; this is Anica, and Tarric is still in the tunnel. We're paladins, from the temple."

"So what are you doing here?" asked Eyegleam.

"Searching for a pair of missing children."

Anica came out of the tunnel, looked at the kobold and then at Tavros, and very carefully moved her hand away from her sword.

"Children... Ah, the hatchlings. We've almost finished preparing them for dinner," said Eyegleam.

Tavros said, very carefully, "How exactly do you mean?"

Eyegleam regarded him evenly. "You're warriors. Strong, I bet, even down here where you can barely move around. Survived the traps, too."

Anica, who understood draconic considerably better than she spoke it, said: "We... come not... to fight."

The kobold gave a high-pitched, barking laugh. "Big blades to not fight," it said. "But no, we don't fight. Let your friend out, and I'll take you to the hatchlings."

Tarric emerged from the tunnel. "What's he saying?"

Tavros considered. "Well, briefly, we're too big to come down here, they don't want to fight, and he's going to take us to the children."

Tarric sniffed. "Well, he's not wrong about the first two."

Eyegleam gave a delighted laugh. "I don't speak well," it said in the human language, "but I speak. And I listen." It looked at Tavros and went back to draconic. "I like this one. Come with me. I'll walk slowly, so you can keep up."

It stepped away from the wall, leaving the spear behind as it walked past Tavros and Anica and led them towards the light. "No sense at all," it muttered as it passed. "Being that big. Coming down here."

 

The chamber was large, and relatively tall; tall enough that the paladins could stand stooped over, instead of crouching. The furnishings were stone — stone tables, stone benches, niches in the wall that made shelves — but they were surprisingly delicately carved, and traced with elaborate designs. Thirty or more kobolds were scattered around the room, and there on the far side were the two children.

"They followed us into the tunnels," Eyegleam said. "I think Spindletail and Ratbreath were playing with them in the woods, but none of them will admit it. The bigger one, he stumbled onto a trap and broke his ankle. It took some time to find Darkblessed so she could heal them, so we decided to feed them before sending them home." He turned to face Tavros, mouth open wide to display a lot of very sharp teeth. "We did not hurt them. We know the difference between hatchlings and warriors."

Tavros nodded slowly. "But since we're warriors...?"

"Not here," Eyegleam said. "You came to find children, not do murder. You listened."

"You feed them..." Anica hestitated, clearly concentrating. "...what?"

"Ha!" shouted eyegleam, and the entire room turned to look at them. "Deer step into traps as easily as people. So do rabbits. And there is a kind of moss, not so filling, but edible. We feed them nothing they would not wish to eat. We feed you too, if you like. Friends?"

"Friends," said Anica and Tavros, in chorus.

"This is good," said Eyegleam. "We eat, and then I take you out, and you tell these hatchlings to be careful. And you tell the humans we help them."

Tavros nodded. "We can do that," he said.

And they did.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Challenge: Last Place I Traveled

This is part of the weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. If you'd like to participate, you can find the prompts here. They also put up a post every Wednesday where you go and link your response -- and see everyone else's. Check out their homepage to find it.

The challenge for this week is "the last place I traveled to, and why."

The answer, of course, is "the grocery store and bacon."

But of course when these prompts were put together there wasn't a pandemic on, or at least it wasn't on anybody's radar yet. Back in those golden times, buying groceries was just something you did; it wasn't a terrifying quest fraught with peril, requiring meticulous and thorough preparations. So I suspect that isn't really the sort of answer we were looking for, here.

So... the last place I traveled to that required, you know, actually leaving town was Cleveland, Ohio. I went there for a software conference, and it was... fun, I guess, in its way. It was certainly educational; there were training sessions as well as people hoping to sell you on new products. I am oh-so-very-much-not an extrovert, so I ducked out of a lot of the social activities and finished both Gideon The Ninth and The City In The Middle Of The Night — which I consider time well spent, frankly. And I did get to walk around downtown Cleveland and see the Museum of Rock'n'Roll, so there's that.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Music: Machi Bhasad

Indian Metalcore from a band called Bloodywood:

You're welcome.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Music: Parasite Eve, and also I'm burned out for no good reason

Bring Me The Horizon:

So this weekend I accomplished very little, except to stay out of Beautiful Wife's way (she's teaching a summer class, and that always devours her life until it's finished) and run a couple of loads of dishes. Oh, and make sure everybody got fed, and walk the dog a couple of times. Which sounds a lot more useful than it feels, honestly.

Like, I did things to help out around the house, but I didn't do enough to help out around the house. Laundry needs sorting -- still. Secondborn's room needs to be cleaned -- still. There's at least one more load of dishes that needs to be run -- still. And there's stuff at work that needs to be done (some of it after hours, from home) -- still. And I'm trying, but I'm just not here for any of it. It just feels like it's piling up, and the more it piles up the less energy I have to work on any of it. This despite getting a decent night's sleep and a long nap on Sunday.

I'd like to just collapse for a week, and then start over; but that's not going to happen, of course.

So I'm going to make another cup of tea, maybe take some Ibuprofen and see if that helps, and try to focus long enough to get the critical stuff done. And tonight I'm running a D'n'D game, but I think the moment that's done I just go right the heck to sleep. Allergy meds may help, too. But posts here on the Blog o' Doom may be a bit sparse this week, while I try to pull myself back together.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Legendry

So, from time to time I'll probably be posting bits of lore for Remnant of Heroes here on the Blog o' Doom. I will probably not be including anything from the actual story, which is one of two significant writing projects I'd like to be working on right now. But flavor text and background? Sure.

Like most writing ideas, Remnant of Heroes is not unique. But it's interesting, at least to me, and if it interests me it might interest others as well. And I like the main character, which is always a good start. So we'll see where this goes, and with any luck we'll have fun getting there.

Never trust the gods.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

RoH: Tales of the First Days

There are many tales of the First Days: how Sinver was born out of chaos; how they gave birth to the world and the the Firstborn of the Gods; how those newborn gods gave form to land and sea and sky; how their descendents became the first people. We hold those tales for another night.

Here, now, in the light of this fire, we speak of a later time. The Firstborn had given birth to a second generation, and the second generation to a third. There were many gods and goddesses (and some, like Sinver, who were both or neither) and each had their friendships, rivalries, and enmities.

So the Firstborn called them together in the sight of Sinver, and assigned to each a sphere of power. Huoron was was of the third generation, and had made a study of darkness, and crafted magics to suit it; but Skiwel of the second generation petitioned the Firstborn before him, and became the Lord of Night. When Huoron's turn came, all that was left for him were the shadows: temporary, fickle, and easily dispelled by the touch of light.

So Huoron made his home in the shadows beneath the earth, in a place where the sun never ventured and light was only temporary. He called his home Shadowguard, and hid it away from the sight of gods and peoples alike. It was there that his magics grew. It was there that he raised his own descendents, until their numbers were enough that he could send them out into the world. They emerged in small bands, tribes that bred, conquered, and became nations.

At first, neither gods nor rulers knew whence this strange new people had arisen. They surrounded their cities in walls of stone, and worked in things drawn from the dark depths of the earth: iron and copper and coal, making metal tools and metal outfits to protect them.

Huoron kept to himself and offered no explanation, until at last he arranged to meet with Skiwel to discuss them. It was at that meeting that Huoron raised the Shadowblade and slew his uncle, taking his place and his power, and it was then that his children the Vanil poured out of their walled cities with their metal weapons and swept over the neighboring kingdoms.

The war that followed was terrible, but at last the Juris Firstborn, Keeper of Justice, struck down Huoron and cast him into the depths, imprisoning him in the unending darkness of Shadowguard. The Aesil and the Oessil drove the Vanil back, and after a time they became just another nation of people. But the newborn world had seen its first war, and the nations would never live in peace again. And Huoron, wounded almost unto death, lay healing in hidden Shadowguard and plotted his return to his rightful place, this time as chief among the gods.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Challenge: Go-To Pick-Me-Ups

This is part of the weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. If you'd like to participate, you can find the prompts here. They also put up a post every Wednesday where you go and link your response -- and see everyone else's. Check out their homepage to find it.

The challenge for this week is My "Go To" Book Or Movie For A Pick-Me-Up.

I intended to kind of flesh this out, but I really don't have a single go-to for either category. I do, however, have whole selections which I come back to, so let's look at some lists. (I was going to add individual commentary, but apparently I have no brain this week either, and what little I have left is being used to do work, so... yeah. Plain text bulleted lists it is.)

Books:
  • Jennifer Crusie: Faking It and Bet Me (I'm counting this as a single entry because I have them from Amazon as a two-fer. Fun, funny romance with happy endings.)
  • T. Kingfisher: Paladin's Grace (and, in fact, most of the books that she publishes under that name.)
  • Barbara Hambly's Darwath books (Lord of the Rings meets HP Lovecraft, written with a historian's sense of perspective; some very nice moments all through the series.)
  • So, so many others...
Movies:
  • Mamma Mia (And one of these days I really need to watch the sequel...)
  • Last Holiday
  • The Fifth Element
  • Evolution
Music:

Monday, June 22, 2020

Looks Like Someone's Got A Case Of The Mondays

So, last week was rough -- not for any particular problem or event, but just because I was feeling run-down and unfocused and sort of barely making it. So, I spent the weekend recuperating (and finally looked at a couple of work-related things that I needed to finish and/or test off-hours) and really didn't accomplish much. In particular, I really didn't accomplish any sort of writing at all. My big achievement for the weekend (aside from finally finding the will to look at the work-thing) was to run a couple of loads of laundry and dishes, and get the sink emptied.

The sink refilled itself with dirty pots and pans on Sunday night, which I'm sure is a metaphor for something horrible.

Still, I am feeling a bit better and from the look of things I wasn't the only one who wasn't up for much last week. (That's somewhat reassuring.) And I have a couple of follow-up things to do to on the work-stuff that had to be done after hours which I can actually do this morning.

Also, my hair is copper-colored.

Apparently, Revlon hair dye behaves very differently from the Splat stuff I tried earlier; the Splat soaked most strongly into my silver and gray hairs, leaving the still-dark hairs still dark. The Revlon, on the other hand, took over everything and rendered it a fairly uniform shade of auburn. I am not complaining about this, to be clear; in fact, I took the opportunity to shave and then went down to HR and try to apply for a job as my own cousin.

Onwards and upwards, my friends. Nothing but good times ahead.

Bare Infinity:

Friday, June 19, 2020

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Darvinin: Interlude with Leander

"You know I'm not an idiot, right?" Leander's voice was soft, matter of fact.

Darvinin lowered the broadsheet he'd been reading, one which purported to carry the only true news of the Human Invasion and the War At The Front, and which currently covered some wild conspiracy-theory of a third army pushing into Sol Povos from the southeast under the command of an evil brass dragon. The two of them were alone; Evrimon had taken to the sky as a hawk, to stretch his wings and clear his mind, while Mistra had gone to send a very incomplete message to some of their friends in the King's Own and Shanna and Sam were... occupied with their own interests. Cautiously, he said: "How do you mean? Sam tells me you're really an elf despite being born as a halfling, and that's good enough for me. I'm a little past the point in my life where I thought that the gods don't make mistakes."

"Not that," said Leander dismissively, then paused. "...But thank you. No, I meant about the heist."

Darvinin frowned, puzzled. "Because of your over-complicated and impractical plan?"

Leander nodded. "That. I saw your expression."

Darvinin shrugged. "I noticed that you didn't argue too hard when we decided to do something else."

Leander nodded. "That's because I didn't actually want to run it as a heist."

"All right. So why...?"

"Because people need something to bounce off of," said Leander. "Elves, more so than most. If we'd sat down to make a plan, four hours later we'd still be talking about what we wanted to do. Whereas if I opened with something solid but impractical, everybody could see the weaknesses and come up with something solid and workable instead. Giving people something to react to forces them to focus."

"Huh." Despite himself, Darvinin was impressed. "Well, it worked. Does it still work if the rest of us know what you're doing?"

"Not as well," Leander admitted. "Not unless you play along, like Sam and Ev do."

"So why tell me?" Darvinin asked. "I didn't have the impression that my opinion meant much to you at all."

Leander drew a long, slow breath. "It doesn't, exactly. But your opinion matters to Shanna, and Shanna's opinion matters to Sam... and to Evrimon and me, at least a little. Shanna, I think, has found a place in our little group. You and Mistra are... at least influential to it. And you strike me as the sort of person who prefers to have people just come out and tell them what they're doing. So... here we are."

"You're right," said Darvinin. "I do. And I thank you for trusting me with this."

Leander smiled. "Thank you for accepting it."

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Darvinin: Reunions 4

"Darvinin?" The door squeaked slightly as it opened behind him. "I came to apol--"

Mistra cut off suddenly as Darvinin drew his shirt on and adjusted the laces for the collar, and he knew she'd seen the mass of scar tissue that covered his back. He heard her draw a deep breath, and then she said: "I had no idea..."

He nodded, finding his jacket and pulling it on without turning to look at her. "Our countrymen didn't mean for me to survive. They intended to let the Duke of Janbridge, or his agents, find out what I knew and then silence me, while they went on to carry out their mission. If Ruin and the others hadn't stumbled across me, I'd be dead now. Like Tiatha."

There was a long moment of silence as he finished buttoning up his jacket.

"How she die?" asked Mistra quietly.

"We'd come into a camp full of uniformed elves," Darvinin replied. "An army camp, where no army should be. When they figured out that we weren't part of their troops, they took us to the command tent. They spent some time convincing us that they were part of the Army, and then they put a sword through Tiatha's back and took me prisoner." He paused, then added. "I'm sorry. I know she was your friend."

"She was your friend, too," Mistra pointed out.

Darvinin felt his jaw clench as he remembered the shock of it: the horror and shock and sense of loss as Tiatha fell. He hadn't wanted to be reminded of this; hadn't wanted to remember that she'd been important. "Yes. I know."

Mistra fell silent again, but Darvinin still couldn't bring himself to turn around. "I'm sorry," he said at last. "I know it hurt you that I didn't come and find you when I finally returned. I know it hurt you more that I didn't even send word. I didn't dare. After Tiatha... I didn't want you involved in this. I didn't want you to know about it. It's all horrible, and everybody who gets caught up in it gets hurt or killed, and not letting you know -- not showing any interest in you -- was the only way I could think to protect you, at least until I could find out what was going on."

"I know," Mistra said. "I see it. I shouldn't have been angry."

Darvinin shrugged. "Yes, you should. I treated you badly. And then when you did show up, I still didn't think to explain. That's what yesterday morning was about, wasn't it?"

"...Yes." Mistra's voice quivered.

Darvinin made a noise that was halfway between a sigh and a chuckle. "I thought the Provost had gotten to you," he said. "For a moment there, I really thought you were going to kill me."

"No." Mistra sounded pained. "Maim you a bit, maybe. I'm sorry I did that."

"I'm not sure I am," said Darvinin. "I think maybe you needed to. And I think maybe I needed the shock."

"So are we..." Mistra hesitated. "Are we... back?"

Darvinin turned around, finally meeting her eyes. "I don't know," he said. "That's a lot to come back from. And I don't know how much of me is left." He offered a faint grin. "I used to worry about Ruin," he said. "He was always so angry, so bitterly sure that the humans would do us wrong. Now I feel like he was the only one who really saw the way things were, and rage is the only sensible response."

"I'd like to meet your brother someday," Mistra said quietly. "I'd like to have us back."

Darvinin nodded. "I would too. Maybe... maybe we just take it easy, and see how it goes?"

"That would probably be the smart thing to do," Mistra admitted.

They stood there, looking at each other across the length of Darvinin's small bedroom. There were soft noises in the common area behind them -- utensils clinking on plates, and bits of conversation from the others. The light of the single candle on the bedstand left much of the room in shadow.

"Or," said Mistra, "we could jump back into bed together right now, and you could make your apologies in the form of orgasms."

"That's a really bad idea," said Darvinin, slowly.

"But you're going to do it anyway," said Mistra, "Because now I've said it, and you're not going to be able to stop thinking about it."

"Well..." Darvinin shook his head. "Yes. I mean, I do owe you several apologies."

"Orgasms."

"Those too."

Mistra gave him a look, and swung the door shut behind her. "Then you'd better get started, hadn't you?"

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Darvinin: Reunions 3

Darvinin sat at a wooden table near the small stage in the common room of the Lonely Ogre, watching Shanna as she removed her cittern from its case and adjusted the tuning. Sam sat at his right, Leander the Elf at his left, and the grey elf Evrimon sat across from him, between Sam and Leander. Both Evrimon and Leander had turned their seats out from the small round table in order to face the stage.

"Dark ale, amber wine, silver lightning, and... soft cider." Their server, a common elf barely out of adolescence, eyed Darvinin dubiously as she deposited the last mug in front of him. "Are you sure that's all you want?"

Darvinin nodded. "For the moment. Ask me again in two weeks."

They handed over their coins, and the server disappeared into the gathering crowd.

Sam took a long drink from her dark ale, then set it back on the table with a clunk. "Ahh, good." She turned to look at Darvinin. "You're serious about this?"

He sipped his cider and nodded. "At least long enough for my liver to heal," he said.

"Good." She turned her eyes back to the stage, where Shanna was trying a couple of experimental chords. "Shanna was glad to see you again. Relieved. She was really worried about you."

"Hells." Darvinin shook his head and took another sip of his cider. "I'd have been worried about me, if I'd had any sense." He had a vague sense of just how close he'd come to some sort of irrevocable disaster, and it scared him.

"Were you two ever...?" Sam trailed off, and Darvinin smothered a smile. Sam was surprisingly good company: coarse and direct and profane, but caring and protective and gentle as well. Seeing her hesitate was... unexpected.

"No," said Darvinin. He stopped, looking at up at the stage as Shanna looked down at Sam and smiled. "There were four of us: myself and Ruin, and Shanna, and Werendril. Different families, but we all grew up together. And yeah, I think all of us had a crush on Shanna at one point or another, but she never seemed all that interested."

"Maybe she didn't want to choose one of you over the others," suggested Leander, who of course was listening in.

Darvinin shrugged. "Or maybe she just wasn't that interested in men, or maybe it was just that we all grew up together and it was hard to think of each other as something beside near-siblings. It doesn't matter; Sam just wants to know if she should be jealous of me, and the answer is that she shouldn't."

Sam threw her head back and laughed, then took another long pull of ale. "Well said, spellblade." She pushed her chair back and stood, leaving her mug on the table as she moved to the side of the stage and mounted the steps. Her flute occupied a small pouch on her belt, and she pulled it out as she mounted the steps.

Smiling, the two elves turned to face the crowd, and Shanna's fingertips coaxed a shimmering series of chords from the cittern. Sam accompanied her effortlessly with a little trill of the flute, and the room quieted in anticipation of their performance.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Darvinin: Reunions 2

Darvinin looked at his double scimitar and then gave it an experimental twirl. It was good to have it back. He'd been afraid to return to his apartments, the ones the High Provost had provided for him, so Leander the Elf had gone and stolen it for him. Too many secrets...

On the far side of the yard, Mistra slipped her arm into a buckler and drew her scimitar. "Ready?"

He felt himself settle into a fighting stance. "I hope so," he said, and moved in at half speed.

Mistra met him with a neat slice towards the center of his weapon, where his fingers gripped the hilt, forcing him to pivot aside. He brought the lead end up, but at this speed movements were easy to anticipate; this was just to get him back into that way of thinking, to remind his body of what it was supposed be doing. Mistra blocked with the buckler, and Darvinin twisted the scimitar to block with the rear blade as her scimitar swept in towards his head.

"Not bad," said Mistra, stepping back before he could try to slide around the buckler, and Darvinin took the opportunity to reset his position. "Three of four."

He nodded and increased his speed to three parts in four, and their blades flashed and crossed and slid aside. He was breathing harder than he should be, but he was out of training and still recovering from weeks of drink and despair. He stepped to the side, voiding Mistra's attack, but she stepped with him and continued around, sliding her blade past his. He could see it coming, tried to duck out of the way--

She stopped it a finger's-width from his face. "Hold," she said, and he went still.

Then her arm twitched, and the scimitar opened a line of blood on his cheek.

Darvinin stumbled back, panicking, trying to get the double-scimitar up before she killed him, the Provost had sent her and she was definitely going to kill him, and he couldn't even remember how to fight--

But Mistra just stood there, staring at the line of red near the tip of her blade. "You're a mess," she said, and turned away. Wiping the blood away with a cloth, she added: "And apparently so am I."

"Mistra?"

She turned and walked back through the stables and into the inn, leaving Darvinin standing in the morning sun, gaping after her.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Servants of Vecna: Claiming The Town

We pick up where we left off.  We finish Florian off; no more pretty ranger. Durest walks over and opens the door to the vault. Inside is the royal family: The lord, Murrow; his wife, three daughters, and his son.

Chuck grabs the lord and turns him into a vampire. He asks us to free his family, so we send them out the west entrance. (The dominated ranger out there still has orders to shoot anybody who comes out.

Jenny demands to know about the deed to the chateau; the lord is puzzled, but he directs us to his study. The deed is there. "Oh, yeah. Pascalina had me sign that yesterday. Speaking of, where is she?"

The desk has a bag with 150 GP; the rest is just paperwork and boredom. There is a letter addressed to S.H. from Pascalina, explaining that in addition to ransacking the castle maodeus has decided to invest in fortifying it so it'll be harder to retake. Hatch goes over the whole thing thoroughly but doesn't find anything else. We return to the vault.

There a gilded snake statue, but it's not worth much -- something about artem-hiss -- and 78,000 gold.

We check the next door along, and find the lady's chambers; Hatch searches, and find a secret drawer with 10,000 GP worth of jewelry. Jenny immediately puts it all on.

Continuing on, we find the kids' (well, young adults') rooms. Past that, we find a meeting room with nothing much in it, and then a game room with an abandoned card game on the table. Hatch collects 17 GP from the table. There's a guest room, but it's empty. Beyond is room that was clearly occupied; the chest contains clothes for a nobleman and noblewoman. A noblewoman comes around the corner, sees us, and flees. Jenny pursues her to a small chapel, where she finds two noble couples and kills all four of them. The children are trying to escape off the ledge at the edge of the roof; Durest whistles a batch of skeletons over to murder them. The last two stay on the roof until Durest pushes them off.

The first floor contains a sitting room with a cowering servant. There's a desk, but it contains nothing interesting. Next we find a dining room, and people hiding in the room beyond. We have found the servants, hiding in a storage closet. Last we find the kitchen, and Hatch makes himself a sandwich.

We settle out some troops to help make the place harder to retake: 2 squads of griffins, 2 bugbear units, some Girallons, and a rhino squad.  We add some traps -- razor wire and black tentacles -- and then we head to sleep.

We sleep overnight, and return to the tower the following night. We can hear some commotion from inside as we arrive. There's also fire flickering through the windows. They've dropped some sort scintillating sphere in the opening we made last time, but since we've been here and Durest knows where we're going, he can Dimension Door everybody up to the bedroom on the top floor.

Bob strides off to assault the androsphynx, and Chuck and Hatch prepare with Shield and Mage Armor respectively.

Jenny pretends to cast a spell on herself.

We pop in behind the line of ambushers. The initiates are surprised.

Downstairs, Bob attacks the sphynx with his axe and hits. Chuck taps Jenny and puts Stoneskin on her.

Hatch attacks an adept with a sneak attack Ray of Frost. Downstairs, the sphynx roars.  Jenny bisects an initiative and then follows through to finish off the adept that Hatch damaged. Two adepts retreat, dropping Mirror Image on themselves as they go. ("Sorry, you guys really need to upgrade the processor on your DM.") The rainbow orb moves towards us, but doesn't quite reach us yet. Probably don't want to be standing there when it arrives.

Various summoned insects -- fiendish bees and beetles -- appear and attack; Chuck shrugs it off and drops a fireball, clearing the corridor outside and wiping out several of the beetles. Hatch kills one of the wasps with a spell and steps into its place.

The sphynx attacks Bob, and hits.

Jenny steps out of the summoned monsters and attacks  initiates. The adeps move towards the door and drop fireballs on everybody except Durest; Jenny and Hatch make their saves, but Chuck fails.

Another adept appears in the doorway behind them and adds a fireball to the mix as well. The bees are now destroyed.

The sphere finally lands on Chuck and Jenny. Jenny isn't impressed, but Chuck is fascinated by the sphere. A prefect appears in the middle of the room. Durest steps in and inflicts wounds, killing him; the shiny fascination-sphere vanishes.

One of the adepts zaps Hatch with a magic missile. The remaining beetles attack again, to not much effect.

Downstairs, Bob attacks the sphynx again and hits. The sphynx attacks again,

Chuck drops another fireball,  killing a bunch of them. One of the adepts manages to survive, but that's about it for everybody who was in range.

Ramekin moves in to rejoin Hatch.

Jenny strides past the beetles, ignoring them, and ignore the fact that one of them bites her; Stoneskin protects her. She kills one of the adept's mirror images.

The adept steps back and tags Jenny with a scorching ray. Jenny is irate.

Durest steps over and whacks at the adept with his mace, taking out one of the images and whacking the adept.  The beetles attack us (to no effect) and Bob attacks the sphynx again downstairs.

Chuck uses Magic Missile to get rid of the images, and Ramekin gives Hatch a potion to get him back on his feet. Hatch turns a scorching ray on the now-exposed adept, and burns right through him.

Jenny angles around Durest and attacks with her spiked chain, taking out to of the images concealign the remaining adept. He casts magic missile at Jenny, but doesn't do much damage.

Durest attacks with his mace again, taking out another image and whacking the guy.

Chuck hits him with magic missile and kills him, and Hatch throws an acid orb. Then Jenny steps up and cuts him down.

Durest kills off his wand of healing on Jenny, who's taken fairly serious damage. She follows up with healing potions, and Hatch brings himself back up with his own healing potions, to which Durest adds some more healing.

Durest raises a batch of skeletons, and we proceed down to the next floor. He uses them to open the doors and check chests.
Wand of Slow, 29 charges; 100,000 CP;
700 GP
200 GP
Potion of invisibility
+1 Heavy Steel shield.
200 gp belt
800 GP
4,000 silver; porcelain sundial worth 700 GP.
200 GP, a handback of tricks, a potion of bear's endurance and a potion of owl's wisdom.
Stats:
Wand of slow (29 charges, 6525gp)
Bag of tricks (tan; 6300gp)

The Initiates presumably share the bunkroom. We find 7,000 GP in valuable, 4,000 in gold.

5,000 silver.

The next floor down is mostly occupied with a library. It has a bunch more treasure:

Arcane scrolls: Expeditions retreat, magic aura, silent image, feather fall, resist energy, glitterdust, alarm, blindness, burning hands, animate rope, disguise self, true strike, calm emotions, blur, eagle’s splendor
o Ring counterspells (4k)
o Robe of powerlessness (5500)
o Slippers of spider climbing (4800)
o Wand bull’s strength (14 charges, 1260gp)
• On potion table
o 2x oil invisibility, 3x potion blur, 2x potion bull’s strength, 1x potion bear’s endurance, 2x, endure elements, 2x oil magic weapon
• Wand burning hands (46 charges, 690gp)
• Wand detect magic (28 charges, 210gp)
• Wand shocking grasp (46 charges, 690gp)
• Wind fan (5300gp)

The other part of that level is the dining hall. The room behind that contains a nother staircase down, so Durest sends the skeletons down to the first floor and strolls down after them.

We arrive in a kitchen. Chuck hears noise behind a door, and opens it; it's a bunch of terrified servants. Chuck shushes them, then moves to the door beyond. Durest arranges his skeletons in front of the other doors to prevent surprises. The skeletons are not quiet, but Durest isn't either and doesn't particularly care.

Hatch moves to the door beyond the servants and checks for traps, but doesn't find any. We all move up.

Durest sends the skeletons through the other two doors, where they locate a meatlocker and another hall with a mage and some beetles standing in it. The skeletons immediately attack, wiping out a mirror image and missing the beetles. The mage tries to dodge past the skeletons and into the kitchen, giving them plenty of opportunity to "kill" his images as he passes.

He gets into the room and fireballs us over in the next room. Ramekin goes down; Hatch is intact, and everybody takes damage -- including the servants who do not survive. Hatch moves back to the door and tags him with an empowered Scorching Ray, immolating him on the spot.

Jenny opens the door. We are standing behind a wall of fire that's facing the main door to the tower. Jenny closes the door again.

Durest directs the skeletons out of the meatlocker and through the other door. They tangle with the beetles but do not actually kill any. Still, they should keep anybody out there occupied.

Chuck drops protection from energy on Jenny. Hatch moves to follow the skeletons. Durest drops some healing on Jenny as she passes, but not too well.

Chuck opens the door and blasts a beetle. The skeletons are still tangling with the beetles, killing one and injuring another.

Ramekin returns to consciousness and gets back to his feet. "Master, it hurts!"

Hatch looks through the door and sees a roomfull of skeletons attacking beetle. Jenny moves up behind Hatch.

Durest moves up into the doorway in front of Chuck, who promptly steps out and drops a fireball on a nunch of initiates who are trying to defend the front door and wiping out everyone he hits.

The skeletons move in from the other side, killing another initiate. Hatch launches another scorching ray and kills another initiate; then Jenny moves up through the skeletons and slices an initiate.

Durest steps out and drops Mass Inflict Light Wounds, taking out three of the remaining four.

The last guy surrenders.

Chuck: "Why should we let you live?"

Guy: "Cause I surrendered?"

Chuck: "Not the best reason in the world. Got something else? Anything?"

Guy: "I know how to get the headmistress's treasure."

Chuck Dominates him, because vampire. "Show me."

He goes upstairs and gets himself immolated.

The rest of us follow, and this time Hatch successfully disables the statue. We search the room.

o Wand of invisibility (25 charges, 2250gp)
o Wand of silence (47 charges, 4230gp)
o Flesh golem manual (8000gp)

The enchanting stone contains enough power to enchant an item up to 1,300 xp worth for anyone who has the proper feat(s). Hatch opens the bedroom. He disables a trap on the end table, finding 1,100 PP and some nice clothing. The armoire contains a rose quartz statue of a female dwarf wreathed in continual flame, worth money.  In the chest, we find a wand of lesser metamagic: maximize.

We camp out for a week or so while Durest heads over to the castle and adds to the supply of undead. Pascalina shows up and says Maodeus is well pleased, and invites us to treat with him about a new job.

We finish the first Solari Hunters section here; we'll pick up in Saltmarsh next week.

We head downstairs and kill the sphynx so Durest can bring it back as a skeleton.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Challenge: Favorite Poems, Short Stories, or Novellas

This is part of the weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. If you'd like to participate, you can find the prompts here. They also put up a post every Wednesday where you go and link your response -- and see everyone else's. Check out their homepage to find it.

The challenge for this week is "Favorite Poems, Short Stories, or Novellas".

I would be absolutely remiss if I did not start with the Murderbot novellas (and now one novel), but beyond that I'm... actually kind of at a loss. I don't read a lot of novellas. I also don't read a lot of poetry. (I feel like I should, but I didn't get much introduction to it until I got to college, and I just never really picked it up.)

So that leaves us looking at short stories, and I can name a few of those:

Doctor Diablo Goes Through the Motions, by Saladin Ahmed. A disgruntled supervillain ponders the nature of villainy. (The rest of the collection is entirely worthwhile too, but that's the one that stuck out to me.)

Wikihistory, by Desmond Warzel. A look at the message boards for the International Association of Time Travelers.

Stephen King's short stories were formative for me (I read a lot of horror when I was around 12-14), as were Roger Zelazny's. (Unfortunately, Zelazny died before e-books really took off, so his works can be kind of expensive. They're starting to show up as ebooks, though, finally. Some of them, anyway.)

And those are the ones that stick in my head, though I'm sure I'm forgetting some others. What are yours?

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Abdael: Hungers and Explanations

The battle was joined, and the druids and their protectors were moving. Abdael gestured and called out, and massive sphere of darkness settled over the center of the field, engulfing half a dozen of their enemies. Screams came out of the darkness, and horrible sucking slurping sounds.

Thirty feet away, Ireena turned to gape. "What... What...?"

Abdael motioned towards the figure that was even now bearing down on her with an upraised blade, and she turned back to slip the attack and counter. Abdael moved on, one portion of his mind holding the hungry darkness in place even as his shadow-blade slid out of his hand and he approached another druid.

* * *
Later, as they unrolled their blankets on the floor of the borrowed room at the winery, Ireena looked over at him. "So what in the nine hells was that? That... thing you did during the battle?"

Abdael looked relieved. "It's called Hunger of Hadar. It's a spell. It's something warlocks can learn."

Ireena looked him over for a long moment. "...And you are a warlock. I keep thinking of you as a swordsman, but you really aren't, are you?"

"No." Abdael shook his head for emphasis. "I mean, I am, but it's not like being an arcane knight or a ranger or... any of the sorts of armsmen who use spells. This is what I am." He let his shadow slide out into a sword, then dismissed it and let it become a whip. "This is something I carry inside me, because of a bargain an ancestor made." He looked down at the uncoiled length of blackness, then withdrew it.

"A bargain," Ireena said, and stopped. Then: "A bargain with what?"

"I don't know. My mother doesn't have this, nor did hers, nor did hers. But it's been part of me since about the time I learned to walk; maybe before. Whatever my ancestor bargained with, and whatever this is that it gave me, it comes to whom it chooses. My parents had to pay a diviner to determine what was happening to me and why."

"I had no idea." Ireena fell silent.

"Well," said Abdael, "it's not something I talk about much. There doesn't seem to be much point, since there's no changing it. And everything has happened so fast here, there never seemed a good time to bring it up."

Ireena loosed a gutteral exhalation. "True. Weeks in that house, with Strahd's servants clawing at the walls every night, and then you and your friends showed up and took me along with you. Has it been a week? Two?"

"Something like that." Abdael had lost track of the time. It seemed as if he'd known Ireena all his life; it seemed as if he'd barely met her. "But if you feel... about me... what I might feel about you, well..." He drew a deep breath. "This is something you should know, and this is something you should have time to think about."

Ireena blinked. "That seems... more than fair." She shook her head. "I'll think about it, I promise. It was just... a shock."

Abdael coughed. "Sorry. As a warlock I think I'm supposed to be all dark and spooky and threatening, but I'm really not."

"Except when you are."

He nodded. "Except when I am, and then it seems to take people by surprise."

"It was definitely a surprise," said Ireena. "But you're still you, you're just a you who can do things like that. I'll need to think about that."

Abdael nodded and settled back on his blankets. "I'll be here."

Monday, June 8, 2020

Weekly Horoscope for June 8, 2020

Aries:
Protest. Support protestors and protests. If you can't show up, donate. If you can't donate, find a way to assist. Do good and stay safe.

Taurus:
Protest. Support protestors and protests. If you can't show up, donate. If you can't donate, find a way to assist. Do good and stay safe.

Gemini:
Protest. Support protestors and protests. If you can't show up, donate. If you can't donate, find a way to assist. Do good and stay safe.

Cancer:
Protest. Support protestors and protests. If you can't show up, donate. If you can't donate, find a way to assist. Do good and stay safe.

Leo:
Protest. Support protestors and protests. If you can't show up, donate. If you can't donate, find a way to assist. Do good and stay safe.

Virgo:
Protest. Support protestors and protests. If you can't show up, donate. If you can't donate, find a way to assist. Do good and stay safe.

Libra:
Protest. Support protestors and protests. If you can't show up, donate. If you can't donate, find a way to assist. Do good and stay safe.

Scorpio:
Protest. Support protestors and protests. If you can't show up, donate. If you can't donate, find a way to assist. Do good and stay safe.

Sagittarius:
Protest. Support protestors and protests. If you can't show up, donate. If you can't donate, find a way to assist. Do good and stay safe.

Capricorn:
Protest. Support protestors and protests. If you can't show up, donate. If you can't donate, find a way to assist. Do good and stay safe.

Aquarius:
Protest. Support protestors and protests. If you can't show up, donate. If you can't donate, find a way to assist. Do good and stay safe.

Pisces:
Protest. Support protestors and protests. If you can't show up, donate. If you can't donate, find a way to assist. Do good and stay safe.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Darvinin: Reunions 1

"So here's the plan," said Leander the Elf, spreading out a map. "Evrimon goes in as cat, after Sam sets a fire over here to distract everyone. Then Mistra will post up on the roof here to cover us, and Shanna, Darvinin and I come to the door disguised as a displaced family looking for work. We talk to Baethira and Ruin and the others if they're there, and Darvinin figures out if they're really themselves, and then we meet back at the edge of the market, here, to regroup."

Evrimon said, "I do not make a particularly convincing house cat, though I'll admit that it sounds as if this Ruin might be willing to keep a sabertooth for a pet."

Sam said, "Should we be lighting things on fire in the middle of Ammon?"

Shanna shook her head. "It's clever, but too complicated. Too much could go wrong. Evrimon, you can be a convincing stray dog?"

Evrimon sniffed. "More easily than a house cat."

"So you go first. Watch the house. When they come out, check their scents." Shanna glanced at Darvinin. "If they smell like true elves, then we'll disguise you and you can approach them."

Darvinin nodded slowly. "The simpler approach seems better."

Leander the Elf leaned back, lips curling in a pout. "Everybody always wants the simple plan. You can't pull off a proper heist with a simple plan."

"Perhaps," admitted Mistra, "but this isn't a heist. This is a scouting run. An impostor is unlikely to have disguised their scent, so we check that first. If it seems right, then we move Darvinin in to make sure we're actually talking to the right people."

Leander sighed. "Very well. But when it comes time for a heist--"

"Oh, believe me," said Sam, "You're our authority on that."

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Servants of Vecna: Solari in the Castle

My apologies for the completely unedited nature of these game notes. I may go back and fix them later if I have time, but right now I just wanted to get them up here where the rest of the group can see them.

We open again in the tower, with the lot of standing around figuring out what to do next.

The consensus is that Chuck can spider climb up to the roof, Jenny can climb up the rope.

A man appears at the top of the stairs. "Violette, are you okay? What's going on up here? I thought I heard some crashing and HOLY FUCK!" He casts Mirror Image, which is going to be annoying.

Durest, who is still flying from the last session, scoops up Hatch and heads for the roof. Chuck leans back over the edge of the roof and attempts to dominate the guy. The guy utterly fails to resist, so Chuck hands him the bit of stolen loot that set of the dragon statue. "If anybody else shows up, hand them this and tell them that Ann is waiting for them in the dragon room.

It takes us a couple of hours to get to the keep. It's wood. Bad guys include Solari (red) elites (yellow) and regular troops (green).

Chuck volunteers to go cause some chaos in the back so our invisible butts can come in through the front. After a bit of discussion, Chuck summons some wolves (six of them) and we wait until they arrive. Chuck then circles to the back of the complex, get the attention of the Ranger Solari back there, and tries to dominate him.

The ranger starts taking shots at Chuck, who does the Matrix whooshy-dodge. Ranger: "WE'RE UNDER ATTACK!"

Chuck attempts to dominate the ranger again, and this time he succeeds. Taking control of the ranger's mind, he turns him on the archers guarding the walls.

Ramekin makes Jenny invisible, and hatch begins to move towards the door. The wolves head for the front gates, and the two guards out front retreat; Durest commands his frost giant skeleton to pick up himself and Jenny and put them on the wall.

The defenders are starting to realize that they're in trouble; one of the walltop archers takes a shot at the wolves, but misses. The ranger, meanwhile, is just mowing down the mass of spearmen, who are confused and terrified and try to run away.

The wolves reach the gate and begin mauling the guards there, pulling one down. Chuck assumes mist form and moves towards the wall. Hatch heads for the gate (invisible). Bob the skeletal frost giant (move 40) crosses to the wall.

The remaining troops are trying to tangle with the wolves, and manage to take one out. The ranger, meanwhile, takes out one of the archers on the alls. A group of troops emerge from the side of the estate, and Chuck drops a fireball on them and annihilates them. Hatch charges across the bridge; Bob places Jenny and Durest on the wall.

Jenny charges the nearest offer and slaps him with her spiked chain so hard that he explodes.

Several troopers move to intercept Jenny; others retreat towards the house, yelling alarums. The two facing the wolves utterly fail to damage any. Joelle the ranger continues to murder his friends on Chuck's behalf, and Chuck instructs him to shoot anybody who comes out of the building. Chuck descends to the courtyard.

Ramekin flies over one of the gate guards and hits him with Shocking grasp, losing his invisibility but killing the guy; Hatch takes adavntage of the chance to move through the gap. Durest moves up behind Jenny, while Bob wades towards the gate.

A trio of guards charges Jenny, who hits them with a ferocious series of countercuts. They die. "Och, an' I've never seen anybody charge into a meat grinder like that!" Durest observes.

A couple of the archers try to shoot at Jenny, to no good effect.

Chuck, still around the back, sees some nobly-dressed men and women looking at him out of a window; he decides to cast Shield on himself.

The spearmen move up on Jenny, and she mows down a bunch of them. Hatch starts making his way over to Chuck. Bob reaches the gate and cuts down a guard; Durest gets close enough to wipe out ten of the spearmen with Mass Inflict Light Wounds.

Chuck, meanwhile, is assaulted by troops moving from the house; Joelle puts arrows through three of them. More troops emerge and attack Chuck; three of them die. He counters with burning hands, taking out six of them. The wolves are now free of the gate, and can attack the handful of remaining spearmen; so can Bob. Jenny finishes all but one of them as Durest moves down and sets up next to the corpses.

The troops from the house tangle with Chuck and get hurt; the spearmen take that as their cue to back off. Joelle contines to assist his new master, Chuck, and takes out four of the newly-emerged troops. Chuck: "Have your wolf take these guys out too!"

He drops another Burning Hands, annihilating a bunch of archers. Hatch, still invisible, comes up behidn the line troops and tears into them with rays of frost, while Ramekin attacks another group and kills five of them.

Durest raises a unit of twenty skeletons, and Bob splats the last spearman. Jenny races across the courtyard to come up behind spearmen.

An arrow finally connects with Chuck, creasing his earlobe. Joelle takes out more dudes, while the spearmen move to attack Jenny. This was probably not a wise decision; three of them die, and Jenny is... slightly bruised. The next group doesn't take the hint, and three of them die as well doing no more damage than the first crowd. The the last group loses four people.

Then the wolves arrive, and the screaming starts. Chuck drops some magic missiles to break the circle of fighters around them. The Ranger's familiar wolf disdains to eat minor warriors, and Hatch continues firing off ranged attacks at the group, while Ramekin continues harrying another group. Durest sends Bob and Skeleton Troop Alpha to help the others, which spooks the spearmen. They start to retreat, and Jenny kills a few more as they move out of range. Durest, meanwhile, is making a second troop of skeleton: S Club 2.

Jenny kills a few more.

Chuck continues dodging attacks, and Joelle takes out more archers. The spearmen continue retreating. Chuck steps out of his encirclement, and wipes out four of this attackers.

Durest sends S Club 2 to form up in front of the front door, with orders to kill anyone who comes out. He then moves over to watch the other side of the house. Jenny, meanwhile, is cleaving and slaying; she is positively spathic.

One of the wolves finally dies, but the wolves and the skeletons tear into them. Chuck drops an Acid Arrow on the guy who actually managed to hit him. Hatch proceeds to the side door of the house and searches it for traps.

Bob the frost giant reaches a group of spearmen and begins smashing them; S Club 1 and the wolves continue the work, while Durest circles around to make sure nobody's escaping out the far side of the house. Jenny scythes through the last of the arechers.

Joelle continues murdering his co-workers, and the wolves tear into the last of the spearmen. Chuck kills his last attacker, and joins the others at the door.

Hatch opens the door, and discovers a rather large barracks.

Durest, meanwhile, has reached the far side of the house and posted up in front of the door there.

The other four have passed through the empty barracks. Durest directs Bob to stand guard, and heads back around to the others. We continue to search the keep, finding a training room, and maybe an officers' study? Hatch can see through another doorway to an open entryway. He opens another door and finds an officer's quarters -- probably Joelle's, based on the clothes in the armoire.

We're still missing three Solari.

The next room is a horrible mess; somebody has been practicing axe-throwing against one wall. Smelly, dirty clothes litter the room; likely this is the orc solari's room. The next one is probably Florian, a good-looking ranger that some of us had met previously; he keeps a stock of his own merch in his room. The next door is locked.

Hatch searches for traps, and open locks. Despite the lock, the room is empty and looks abandoned. We search for secret doors, but find nothing.

So, we head back to the door that led to the exposed front entryway; Jenny takes the lead this time, strolling past the desk, and comes around a corner to see a couple of guards trying to be sneaky behind some statues. Jenny: "Yoohoo! Boys!"

The swordsmen on the ground floor move to attack her and die. One remains. There are archers on the balcony, but Jenny isn't exposed to them yet.

Chuck moves up to inspect the desk. There are three letters: one says we should use the Chateau as a reward for loyal service; there's a blank deed in the study. Next: definitely need to have the walls repaired behind the throne. Third: Baron, we really shouldn't keep the treasure off your chambers.

Hatch goes to check the wall, Durest moves into hall, and Jenny kills the last of the guards here. The archers move up and shoot at Jenny, but miss. Chuck moves around to search behind the throne itself, finding nothing of note. Durest and Jenny head up the stairs, with Jenny in the lead; she kills two archers.

Chuck continues checking behind the throne but finds nothing. Hatch continues checking the wall and finds a secret door. "Oy! Check it out!"

Durest gives up on the stairs, and heads back over to Hatch. Jenny, still equipped with the ring of Feather Fall, leaps off the side and comes to the secret door.

Hatch opens the secret door. There's a short passage to a pair of ladders. The ladders go up to trap doors. Jenny goes up one ladder and finds herself in a hallway. "It's a hallway with no doors. Maybe somebody does the search while I check the other ladder?"

Hatch comes up to search, while Jenny tries the other ladder. Hatch finds a secret door, which he checks for traps; he opens it, and finds more corridor.

Jenny and Durest proceed around one passage; Jenny can hear crying, then: "Shush! They're coming!"

Hatch retreats and comes up behind Jenny and Durest; he and Chuck join us, just in time for us to reach a dead end and check for secret doors. Hatch finds one, and it opens into a waiting room.

Hatch: "Step aside, I'm about to do subterfuge." He checks, but doesn't find any secret doors.

Now Jenny can hear growling through the wall. Maybe a bear? We find another secret door.

Jenny: "Excellent! When you open this, Hatch, I think you die. So maybe you get out of the way, let the big kids take care of this, sweet thing."

Hatch finds no traps, so he opens the door. Beyond is a very fancy bedroom with three people in it. The first one attacks Chuck three times, but fails to connect.

There are three Solari and a bear inside. One is a monk, one is a ranger, and one is the orc - probably barbarian. Jenny rages, steps in, and power attacks the bear... but misses.

Florian the ranger fires off several shots with his bow, hitting Jenny twice. Jenny is... not impressed. Chuck attempts to dominate Florian, who manages to shake it off. Hatch hands Ramekin a shocking grasp, and Ramekin promptly flies in to zap Gularax the orc, who's wearing a mythril breastplate. Durest steps in immediately after and tries for Slay Living, but fails to kill Guralax; he just takes damage. Jenny attacks past Durest and slays the bear.

Guralax attacks Durest, hitting only once, but doing an impressive amount of damage. The monk does a bit more damage, and the ranger puts a couple of arrows in Durest, leaving him badly damaged.

Chuck dominates the pretty ranger Florian and tells him to start shooting his friends. Hatch drops Displacement on Durest, and Ramekin tries to fly back out but gets cut down by Gularax. Durest steps out of the flank and hits Gularax with Inflict Critical.

Jenny tags Gularax pretty hard, but not hard enough to kill him; Florian puts some arrows in him, which helps but still doesn't take him down. Gularax attacks Jenny, doing insane amounts of damage.Sophie moves back out of the way, probably to guard the important door.

Chuck fires off Magic Missiles at the orc. Hatch makes himself invisible. Ramekin is bleeding out and Hatch moves into the room; Durest tags Gularax with another Inflict Critical and drops him.

The monk throws flaming shuriken at Durest. They bounce off his armor. Florian unloads a rapid shot on the monk, hitting her twice. Chuck unloads a Magic Missile on Sophie the monk, then Hatch follows up with Scorching Ray.

Durest stabilizes Jenny, then steps over and takes partial cover behind the bear. Florian, meanwhile, fills his fellow Solari full of arrows and she goes down.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Challenge: Things I Wish I Were Better At

This is part of the weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. If you'd like to participate, you can find the prompts here. They also put up a post every Wednesday where you go and link your response -- and see everyone else's. Check out their homepage to find it.

The challenge for this week is "things I wish I were better at."

And of course, the first answer that leaps to mind is, "EVERYTHING." I mean, who wouldn't want to be some sort of genius polymath capable of building their own Iron Man suits in the garage while composing songs that would touch hearts for centuries to come in dozens of languages?

But right now, if I had to pick one thing? It would be going to bed at a sensible time. It makes everything else (including me) work so much better, and I am soooooo bad at it.

I think it's mainly because the only time I really get to myself is after about 9:30, when the boys are usually in bed and the house is relatively quiet. That used to be the time when I got things done. Nowadays, I use that time to recharge, or I try to anyway. (Last night I got on Twitter, and boy howdy was that a mistake in terms of having a stress-free evening. But I did get some writing done later, so I guess it wasn't a total loss. Except now I'm still tired, which is the thing I was trying to avoid in the first place, and also the reason why it took me so long to gear up and do writing.)

It seems a little silly, doesn't it? But I do everything so much better when I'm rested.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Darvinin: Resurrections 4

"The tale came to me in a nameless hamlet tucked into the treetops not far from Titan's Reach. I wasn't even teaching." Shanna glanced at Sam. "We'd just stopped for the night."

Leander the Elf muttered under his breath, "You two hadn't even gotten started for the night." Darvinin glanced at him, and he grinned.

"And the tale says Ruin has come back to life," Darvinin said slowly, looking back at Shanna.

She nodded. "Ruin, Fartathren, Lilly, and some human cleric they were traveling with. They're calling them the Twice-born. Mythrandril is supposed to have spoken with them. They had been turned into undead, but they turned on their captors and reclaimed their bodies."

"Fartathren?" asked Evrimon, eyebrows rising. "A fellow Grey Elf, and her name is Fartathren?"

Shanna nodded.

"I really must meet her."

Darvinin turned to the Grey Elf druid. "I'm pretty sure she would eat you alive, new friend."

"Yes, well," said Sam, "that's sort of the concern. Mistra told us about the dopplegangers, and with the traitors sending a false army to turn the dwarves against us--"

Darvinin shook his head, and she stopped.

"Something else?"

"All the evidence points to the traitors," Darvinin said quietly, "but there is no possible way that that many soldiers and that much materiel went wandering off without the High Provost knowing about it."

"Ah," said Shanna. "Which is why you think the Provost is going to send a newborn goblin to assassinate you."

Darvinin had to think about that one; he groaned when it came back to him. "Sort of," he said after a moment. "I meant I was drunk enough that a newborn goblin could take me--"

"Probably true," observed Sam.

"--and I'm also quite sure that the High Provost would happily have me murdered if he could find a way to do so that looked like something else."

"Which," said Mistra firmly, "brings us back to your cousin and her lover and why they came looking for you. Whatever's going on, whether the High Provost is involved or not, none of us can trust appearances and none of us know what the truth is. Supposedly, your mother has returned and pledged her service to the King. Supposedly, your twin brother has resurrected himself. But for all we know, a Solari illusionist could be impersonating them both. The only person who's really going to be able to tell... is you."

"Ahhhh," said Darvinin, as the last of the pieces fell into place.

Leander and Evrimon exchanged a glance as the three women nodded.

...Which means they really do think that Ruin might be alive. Even after he died. Darvinin went still, eyes unfocused. Do I think that?

He would know if Ruin died. He had known when Ruin died. It had nearly destroyed him. And yet, he couldn't shake the feeling that Ruin was still out there somewhere, that he could show up at any moment. Was that grief and denial, as he'd supposed? Or was it something else?

"There's only one way to find out," he said, almost too softly to hear.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Darvinin: Resurrections 3

Darvinin groaned as he forced himself to sit up. He was in an unfamiliar bed -- alone -- and there was sun coming in through the windows, bright enough to sear his eyes and worsen his headache. His eyes and throat were dry, his lungs scratchy, and his head pounding, but after the last few months he was used to that.

The room's single door cracked open, and Mistra leaned in. "You're awake?"

"Back from the dead, more like."

"Best get your money back from the cleric," Mistra advised. "You don't look raised, just reanimated. And poorly at that."

Darvinin squeezed his eyes shut.

"I'll get you something to drink," said Mistra, and disappeared again.

Darvinin just sat there, trying to catch up with what had happened. Thoughts that hadn't been anywhere in evidence last night were coming to him now. Shanna isn't supposed to be here, alone or with friends. Mistra's supposed to be guarding the king. And they've all obviously come looking for me, so of course they found me like this. I've been like this since it happened, maybe before. Maybe since Janbridge. Maybe since Tiatha was killed. He considered that. Maybe still.

Mistra returned with a pewter mug, and Darvinin drank it without bothering to taste it first. It was mostly water, lightly flavored with juice from some sort of citrus fruit. He drank the whole thing in three quick gulps, then set the cup aside.

"Better?" asked Mistra.

"Better." His voice sounded better, anyway. "What... What prompted all this?"

Mistra shook her head. "Later for that. I need you at least halfway back to yourself, first." She rose from the edge of the bed, and Darvinin forced himself to his feet as well.

I fear that's about the best you're going to get, he thought, as he followed her out into the common room.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Darvinin: Resurrections 2

The Lonely Ogre was a dockside inn, albeit one of the better ones. He barely noticed as he followed Shanna and the dark elf Sam across the common room to the stairs at the back; he was too busy concentrating on staying upright. Sam stepped aside at the bottom of the staircase and motioned for him to keep following Shanna. "Are you sure you want to be under me if I fall?"

Sam just chuckled. "I could carry you up if you'd prefer, big boy."

Darvinin shook his head and started up the stairs, keeping one hand carefully on the rail.

"Besides," added Sam, "the view is better from back here."

Shanna glanced back and smiled, but Darvinin just shook his head.

They reached the top of the stairs and Darvinin stopped, half-afraid to let go of the railing even on flat ground. Sam took his arm and guided him along, taking his weight easily when he swayed into her. The hallway wasn't too narrow, at least. They followed Shanna to a door, where she knocked in a complicated pattern before lifting the latch. She swung the door open and stepped inside.

The room beyond turned out to be a suite: several bedrooms and a bathing-room set around a central area which contained two long couches and a table. There was a halfling sitting in a wooden chair at the table, and a forest cat curled up on one of the couches.

Another familiar voice said, "Did you have any luck?" and then Mistra stepped out of one of the bedrooms. She looked just as she had when they were guarding the king; she still wore the uniform of the King's Own.

Darvinin stopped cold, forced himself upright, closed his gaping mouth, and said: "Mistra?"

Then he threw up all over the floor.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Darvinin: Resurrections 1

"Darvinin?"

The true elf turned in his seat, keeping his brandy in the glass through reflexes refined by long practice. He knew that voice; he knew this face. "Shanna?"

"Wow. How drunk are you?" asked another voice, deeper but still feminine, and Darvinin tilted his head up to regard the darkest-skinned elf he'd ever seen.

"Well," he said seriously. "To the left, I'm entirely too drunk; I'm fairly sure that a newborn goblin could kill me, if the High Provost commanded it. To the right, I'm not nearly drunk enough; I keep remembering all the things I don't want to be thinking about."

The dark-skinned elf glanced down at Shanna. "He's cute when he's like this."

Shanna shook her head. "No, he's not. Darvinin, what happened to you? You were always the steady one."

Darvinin drained his glass and held it out behind him. Someone took it and handed him another. "Well, I mean, there was the rogue elvish army," he said, "and then there was the part where they murdered Tiatha. And, and the part where the left me to be questioned by the Duke of Janbridge's chief torturer, who was quite talented for a human. Then Ruin rescued me and we all escaped, and then... and then he died."

"Yeah, about that..." said the dark-skinned elf, but Shanna gestured and she stopped.

"I felt it," Darvinin said, so quietly that Shanna had to read it from his lips. "I felt him die." He shook his head. "But I can't shake the feeling that he isn't gone. I keep expecting him to speak to me. Or maybe just to step out of nowhere and start killing. How strange is that?"

"Not that strange, cousin," said Shanna. "Come on, you've had enough for tonight. We have rooms nearby; come back with us and sleep it off. There's somebody you need to see."

Darvinin looked from Shanna to her dark-skinned companion and back. "I... yes?" He set the glass down and tried to stand, discovering in the process that the bar stool was oddly taller than it had been when he'd sat down on it. The floor seemed to be swaying, too. "I'm done," he said, with an unexpected sense of finality. "Tell me what to do next."

They did.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Servants of Vecna: Kill the Solari

We're finally getting back to the GozarTD campaign in the nation of Sol Povos. This game started with one group of characters, flipped to a second (arguably more heroic) group, and then kicked over to a mostly-elvish party to get a bit of their perspective. At that point (just after Christmas), our DM took a break so I started running the Saltmarsh campaign; now we basically have three parties worth of adventurers, and we'll be switching off between them. In order to avoid losing focus (on the one D&D night where everybody can play) we're alternating storyline between the two campaigns. So, tonight we started in on the "bad guy" party; when we reach a stopping point with them, I'll run an adventure in Saltmarsh; and when we finish the adventure he'll run the next segment of Sol Povos with another group of our characters

Cast:
Jenny, a human barbarian who collects men, from the original group of characters.
Chuck, our sorcerer from the original group, now a vampire.
Durest, a cleric with a serious interest in necromancy, also from the original group.
Hatch Firebrand, a halfling arcane trickster, new to the campaign. (This is 3.5, so to get to arcane trickster he's got a level of rogue, several levels of wizard, a level of assassin, and then the Arcane Trickster prestige class.)
Ramekin, Hatch's familiar, an imp.

We begin:
A Cassadia approaches Durest in the woods, where he's being cranky after being tossed out of a rather nice Chateau that the original group kept trying to lay claim to. Cassadia is a title among the worshippers of Vecna, so this one's name is actually Pascalina. She's come to recruit Durest to the Dark Army on behalf of Maodeus. He seeks to conquer Sol Povos and create a new, more accepting nation. She passes over a sack of black onyx, and Durest is in. (He needs lots of black onyx to make his undead.)

This is about the point when Jenny arrives with her harem, having received a letter about the invading army needing an elite strike force. She's brought Chuck in a large burlap sack, because he's a vampire and sunlight is bad for him and also because he got his brains scrambled in a magical duel a while back and is kind of a raving idiot right now. Pascalina (the Cassadia) is the chamberlain of the Baron of Springhollow. "Meet me at the Scarlet Queen tonight, and I will introduce you to the fourth member of your band and tell you of your mission. If you succeed, you will be well rewarded."

The Scarlet Queen is a bar/brothel/gambling den - basically your all-purpose House of Sin, very high class. There are a couple of fairly tough guards just inside the door. They're carrying magical greatswords and wearing mithril chain shirts. There's a counter with a guy behind it. "Can I help you?"

Chuck takes the lead, since he's A) a sorcerer, and charismatic, and B) a vampire and can basically make anybody believe anything. "You're probably expecting us. Chuck Dominguez."

Guy behind the counter, surprised: "We are, actually."

We are led to a private room. Inside is someone we've never met, along with Pacalina, two more of the guards, and a pair of jesters doing a very noisy act to discourage eavesdroppers.

Pascalina welcomes us. "Let me introduce the fourth member of your gang: Hatch Firebrand. He's a specialist."

Chuck: "We're not a gang, we're an organization. It's very important, for tax reasons."

This is not entirely true; Chuck actually does have a sort of criminal gang going.

Pascalina: "We needn't have the guards here for this, but they're expected for a private gambling room such as this one." She's a human woman, looking more than a little like Selma Hayek. "My master just moved a great army into this land -- some fifty thousand troops. But he doesn't have Solari. And the Solari are powerful. So he needs a group that can hunt Solari."

That would be us.

So the pay is good, plus we can collect equipment from them. And Jenny can collect some fine specimens for her harem.

The forces of Vecna have balanced the human army against the elves, then brought in their own army which has now split into two, with the evilized dragon Maodeus leading one, and the Hierophant in charge of Vecna's church leading the other. The human king, meanwhile, has assembled an army of Solari to forestall Maodeus' advance, while the Western Army was sent to deal with the elves.

Pascalina continues, "We're in a stalemate. We're well supplied, but we need someone to take down the Solari so we can proceed. So the first mission my master has for you is to destroy Springhollow. Take the castle, kill the Solari, kill the royals, turn them into undead. We're behind their lines; Let the army at Renfall know that they don't have us trapped. When you take the castle here, kill everyone inside and turn them into undead; we must strike fear into the populace." She produces a large chest loaded with black onyx.

Durest: "Marry me."

Springhollow has a famous enchanting school known as the Crimson Staff, where Chuck qualified but never joined. "The most powerful Solari here is the artificer Ann Varone, one of the prime teachers there. She was serving her month in the capital when the army arrived, so she was taken into the king's army. The two who remain are her apprentices, Violet and Amelia. There's a rogue named Angelique who's almost as strong, and after that a ranger named Florian, an Orc Barbarian named Durax, a monk named Sophie, and another ranger named Joelle. Seven Solari in Springhollow total. And two of them are in the room next door."

Amelia and Violet live in the Crimson Staff, which is nowhere near so powerful as it was now that Ann Varone is busy in the army. "So Amelia, her husband, and Angelique here, then go to the Crimson Staff and kill Violet, and then there's basically nobody left to protect the keep."

"There's a sphynx that guards the front door to the Crimson Staff; if it thinks you're intruders it will roar, and then everyone inside will know. The tower has four level, and your targets are on the fourth. The top is a giant dome, and there are windows.

Pascalina departs, soothing the guards on her way out. We drop some buffs on ourselves and then get ready to tear through the wall to the next room. Chuck casts Protection from Energy on himself, then uses Gaseous Form to slide through the cracks in the wall. Hatch and Durest, meanwhile, walk around to the door -- Hatch in a spectacular display of stealth, and Durst clumping along behind him like a steel elephant.

Angelique hears him yells for Henry to get under the table. She runs to the door and opens it. Durest waves: "Evenin', lassie!"

Her: "Oh! Um... sorry."

Chuck materializes from mist form and drops a fireball at his own feet. The husband is immolated; the rogue (Angelique) is untouched. The wizard is scorched, as are the guards. Ramekin zaps the rogue with shocking grasp, and Hatch blasts her with scorching ray and takes her down.

Jenny rages and smacks into the wall before she reels back, cursing. Durests cast Hold Person on one of the guards, while the other moves over and tries to attack Chuck, but Chuck basically blocks with his bare hand and doesn't take any damage. Hatch moves into the room, not as subtly as he could have. He sneak attacks the mobile guard with a scorching ray. It hurts, but he doesn't go down. Ramekin uses a wand to cast Grease on the wizard, badly upsetting her balance; she manages to keep her feet. Jenny smashes through the wall and charges up to the paralyzed guard, and just slams her chain down on him. Durest steps in and takes down the mobile guard with Inflict Wounds. Chuck jumps up to the roof and sticks there, spider-man style with his face down, and then casts Acid Arrow on the wizard. She's still dealing with the grease spell, so she's not at her best, balance-wise. She's now damaged and coated with acid.

She tries Limited Wish to reproduce Circle of Death. That kills the second guard... and Jenny... and some revelers out in the main room... and maybe a few other people, too. Hatch finishes the wizard and we loot the bodies.

The rogue had 2 +2 daggers, a +1 shortbow, +2 gloves of dex, +2 cloak of resistance, +1 amulet of natural armor, and a +1 ring of protection. (Magic items in 3.5 are fairly easy to come by; all part of the economy.)

Amelia had Bracers of armor +3 Headband of intellect +2 Amulet of Natural Armor +2 Ring of protection +2 Cloak of resistance +3.

The guards had +1 greatsword and +1 Mithril chain shirts, plus 500 GP apiece. (So basically all that, doubled.)

Pascalina is waiting for us in the hallway (having very luckily not died) and unlocks a door to lead us out. She departs, and now it's time to go to the tower.

We leave Bob the Frost Giant Skeleton out front with orders to kill anybody who tries to leave, then Dimension Door up to the top of the tower, where Jenny smashes through the roof and surprises Violette. Well, sort of surprises her; Hatch turns invisible, and Violetta throws Chain Lightning at Jenny, which then spreads out to the rest of us. Also, her prepared defenses kick in and mirror images of her appear around her.

Chuck responds by dropping a fireball on her and all her little images. This does not dispel them, but it helps. Durest casts Fly on himself, and Jenny leaps down into the room. She lands painfully, but crosses the room and attacks, dispelling an image.

Violette dominates Jenny; Chuck attempts to counter-dominate but fails. Durest hits Jenny with Hold Person, because even after raising her from the dead he really doesn't want her trying to carve us up. Hatch steps off the wall and drops to the ground, buoyed by his Ring of Feather Fall.

Hatch manages to hit Violette with a ray of frost.

She tries Bigby's Grasping Hand on Durest. It grabs him; he's grappled. Chuck drops an array of magic missiles, and wipes out the rest of the images. She glares at him.

Durest attempts to teleport free and fails. Hatch does an empowered scorching ray as a sneak attack, doing a hideous amount of damage, then follows it up with a quickened Ray of Frost and takes her down.

We loot her corpse. And honestly? We don't think anybody heard that, at least not enough to be alarmed by it.All the apprentices are still downstairs. Chuck, our vampire sorcerer, drains her. "Remember me?"

Bracers of armor +3, Amulet of Natural Armor +2 Ring of Protection + 2, Cloak of resistance +3, headband of intellect +2.

We start searching this lavishly appointed room: gold cloth, carved wooden statues, ermine tabard inlaid with oricalcum, a decorative silver broadsword; it's about 10,000 GP worth of art, and we take it. Hatch checks the first of two chests for traps, finding one; he disables it. He then unlocks it.

1. Arcane Scroll (Shocking Grasp (25 gp), Command Undead (150 gp), Knock (150 gp)) (total 325 gp)
2. Divine Scroll (Cure Light Wounds (25 gp), Animal Messenger (150 gp), Barkskin (150 gp)) (total 325 gp)
3. Potion of Cure Moderate Wounds (300 gp)

He moves on to the second chest, disables it and unlocks it: 2,750 in gold and gems.

We continue on, looting as we go but staying to the top floor. We find the married couple's bedroom; it's every bit as opulent as the last room, and the art is worth about 10,000 GP. Hatch checks over the armoires.

Fine nobleman's clothes and 410 GP worth of gems; the other has fine women's clothes , 5,000 gp, and an arcane scroll of ice storm which Hatch promptly claims for his spellbook.

The last door is *very* locked, but Hatch and his imp familiar manage to open it. The room beyond is larger and even fancier. Hatch searches the desk: 5,000 GP raven statue, ring of animal friendship 10,800 GP. Hatch takes them, and dragon statue shoots a bolt of lightning at him for considerable damage. The dragon's eyes are glowing, and Hatch heads for the door -- but not fast enough to completely escape the next lightning bolt.

Durest pulls the doors shut, and the dragon annihilates them. A few seconds later it blasts a hole through the wall beyond them. Durest heals him and then follows up with a bit of cure light wands.

Hatch goes back inside to try to disable the dragon. Chuck drops some elemental protection on him and he attempts to disable, but fails and sets the dragon off. It zaps his shield, but he tries again. He fails again, and flees the room.

He attempts to disable the thing at range (arcane trickster) and we cower in the hallway while the dragon blasts things.

Chuck heads into the bedroom in gaseous form. The bed is a levitation field: sort of a medieval magic waterbed.

Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, we decide to go take the castle and come back for this place. It's going to be our new headquarters sooner or later.