Friday, December 2, 2022

Ruin: Paternity, Part Six

Later, Ruin would remember little of what Anica had blithely referred to as family time. They had eaten at a shared table, and he had been given his time to play with the two toddlers, Rune and Rose, as they practiced standing and walking and exploring. 

It was only when Aesa gathered up Rose, and offered Ruin her hand, and said, "Why don't you stay with me tonight?" that Ruin realized that he might not be dining with two established couples, but with something else entirely. 

Aesa's chambers were across the hall from those shared by the paladins. Ruin followed her inside, and watched as she placed Rose into a simple wooden crib, which she then scooted into place beside her own narrow bed. "So..." he said cautiously. "Werendril, and Tarric, and Anica? And you alone?" 

Aesa shook her head. "Not alone. I have the three of them. But those three fit together romantically, and I haven't taken a lover since..." she blushed. ""

Ruin nodded slowly, feeling sad. "That must have been difficult." 

Aesa shrugged. "In some ways. But seeing my friends happy is not that great a trial. And it's not as if I've been unhappy, myself. Yes, I might have wanted more, but..." 

She gestured towards Rose, who was leaning against the railing of her crib. Ruin extended a hand, and Rose grabbed his fingers. He turned his head to look at Aesa. "I'm not sure I can offer what I think you might want," he said cautiously. 

She shrugged. "I know. It's the end of the world, and you have things to do. You might get killed-- or I might. I just want to know that our daughter is safe, and loved, and moving into her own life."

Ruin nodded at that. "Whatever I can do," he said. 

"Stay with me tonight," Aesa told him. 

Rose leaned in, smelled Ruin's hand, then tottered back and rolled over onto her side. Aesa looked down at her, then reached in and pulled a blanket over her legs. 

"It's a small bed," Ruin observed, but there was a hint of a smile around his lips.

"We'll fit," Aesa assured him. "We did before."

"You're not worried about...?"

Aesa shrugged. "Amun and Corellon have their own ideas," she said. "No, I'm not worried. There's an orison to prevent it, if you want to be sure, but I don't think whatever plans they have for the two of us include further children. Not for a while yet, at least."

Ruin nodded slowly, as his daughter settled into sleep. "All right."

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Ruin: Paternity, Part Five

The nursery was busy, and surprisingly full. The woman in charge -- a round-faced human with a kind expression -- looked up as they entered. "Time already?" she asked, then frowned. "No, you're early. Nothing bad, I hope."

Ruin watched as Aesa smiled. "Nothing bad," she said. "But we need to take ours back for tonight. There are introductions to be made."

"Oh?" asked the woman, glancing briefly at Ruin. "More of your true elves?"

"He's their father," Anica said, from Ruin's left, and the woman's expression went blank with surprise. 

Then she smiled, and approached. "Imara DuChamp," she said, extending a hand to Ruin. 

He took it, offered a gentle handshake, and withdrew his grip. "My name," he said, "is Ruin." It hadn't been, not really; Ruin and Regret and all his other moods had just been fill-ins, ways to call him while he decided. But Ruin had stuck with him, and Ruin was what everyone else used. And here he was, telling a human who likely hadn't the slightest clue about any of this that he was choosing it for his adult name. 

"Right, well, yes, first of all I'm terribly sorry it's so crowded in here, it's just that when the elves took over the city we had to close the orphanage and move all the children into the temple. Safer that way, but crowded."

Ruin made a vague gesture. "This is all new to me anyway," he said. 

Imara glanced at Anica, then at Aesa. "I'll fetch your children, then," she said, then stepped back and turned away. 

Ruin glanced at Aesa, then at Anica. "You keep them here during the day?" he asked. 

Anica nodded. "Sometimes overnight, if we're away on business. Mostly we all gather in the evenings, though, and let the children play together. It makes it easier, if one of us can watch them while the others prepare the meals and get everyone set."

"So it's the two of you," said Ruin, frowning slightly as he puzzled through this, "and...?"

"Tarric and Werendril," finishes Aesa. "They're--" She glanced at Anica. "--helping us out."

Anica sighed. "It's a bit more than that."

Ruin opened his mouth to ask, but at that moment Imara returned, holding a toddler in each arm. "See?" she said, looking from one child to the other. "I told you your mothers were here." 

Small, round-faced and pointy-eared, the two children twisted and lifted their arms, and Anica and Aesa stepped in to grab them. Ruin swallowed. 

"Come on," said Anica. "It's family time. We'll introduce you there." 

"It was a pleasure to meet you, Ruin," said Imara. 

Ruin nodded back, dazed. "Likewise." Being told he had children was one thing; seeing them was something else again. And he had no idea how Werendril and Tarric were part of this, though they obviously were... 

Still shaking his head, he followed Anica and Aesa back to their chambers.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Good!Party: Grand Marshall Giselle

So at this point the elf Tauriel is dead, Tavros’ mother has been resurrected, and she has judged that Rona deserves to hang for crimes, and Tavros has declared himself the King in the East. Caristhium is liberated, but in bad shape. 

He still needs properly noble clothes. 

That was in July; also in July, Ruin, Geddy, Eva, and Leira go to rescue the besieged mages. 

Overall: Lamont, former Duke of Janbridge and notable bigot, is King in the North. The High Provost and Bauregard are definitely gone; Joe R Pious is probably still around up there. The True Elven army is scatter throughout Duendewood and has largely gone into hiding. The druids have also vanished into the forest – so those are two formidable forces which might be worth rallying. The centaurs have also withdrawn. 

Meanwhile, elvish revolutionaries have spilled out of the forest and taken over the northeastern cities of Sol Povos. The priests of Vecna and the dark army are just gone; this allowed commander Giles to take over Welfort, probably with an eye towards eventual rulership. Sacha is somewhere down in that area too. 

Giselle, who had commanded the northern army, took the other half ot the army away from the capital. The remaining solari forces have reinforced various local cities. Crime lords took over Brightland and imposed their own order there. Vampires still rule Flowerhedge. The mages have been rooted out of their tower at Springmage, which is now the demonic seat of power, and taken shelter in Starroads Inn. 

The Iron Company is mercenaries, so they could be brought over to our side. The same is true for the Wildlanders; they’re barbarian hordes. 

So, having discussed the disposition of all these forces, we teleport to an area outside the influence of both demons and storm. Eva then carries us the rest of the way – invisibly – to Giselle and the remains of the eastern army. They notice us anyway when we get close enough, but Geddy manages to signal that we’re friendly. 

We land, and a big man in armor comes striding over. “Who goes there?”

Geddy: “It is I, Geddy, the bringer of…” He drops invisibility. “help!”

Phaneas, captain of the White Warriors of Lakemont, introduces himself. “He calls on us to identify ourselves.”

Geddy introduces himself, then introduces Eva, who curtsies; Ruin, whose presence causes a great deal of consternation; and finally Leira, who is using his shiny armor to fix her hair. He immediately starts hitting on Leira, and he’s pretty good looking; and Geddy in turn starts turning on the charm towards Phaneas. Phaneas is… flustered. 

Apparently we’ll need to meet with Duke Dearborn as well as Grand Marshall Giselle. Geddy looks around at the cloud, pulls out the Lute of Destiny, and starts singing, and uses Mass Charm to suggest that they take us to Giselle. They sweep us up and carry us along. He dresses down the guards for being not up to the standards of the WHite Warriors. 

Lakemont is a very traditional town, with a lot of canals – think Venice. It’s very devoted to Helios, and most of the local Solari are paladins and clerics. The paladin Solari are the White Warriors of Lakemont. There are a significant number of other Solari and soldiers, and it’s all very orderly and very well-organized. Leira pulls out her Solari badge, which she wears on a headband like a very soft tiara. Geddy is one of the heroes of Fort Dedo, and Ruin is… unknown, but probably just some sort of servant. 

We reach the room with the duke, and a woman with very nice (and probably magical) equipment. 

The Duke stands up. “Geddy Lee Geddy! It is quite an honor for you to come visit us. I have heard much of your exploits…” Someone whispers in his ear and he looks around: “Really?” He looks at Leira: “My lady Solari, you are welcome here.” 

Duke: “So, we have not heard of you in many months. What has happened to you?” 

Geddy immediately dumps all of his trauma in the form of song, and of course he’s Geddy. Women weep, men faint, small children swoon. One of the court bards grabs a sword from a nearby guard and tries to throw himself on it; the guard wrestles him away from it. 

He follows it up with the Ballad of Tavros Fontaine. (Sung, I might add, to the tune of Walking in a Winter Wonderland – don’t ask.) The introduction turns into a sort of impromptu ball, followed by a banquet. 

Leira and Geddy are taken to rooms; Eva and Ruin are gone. They have both taken the opportunity to hook up while they’re out here. 

Geddy wakes up and four a.m. and shuffles off to find breakfast. He stumbles into three of the local governors, who are also elderly, and they start exchanging notes on their various aches and pains. He takes the opportunity to pump them for information about Lady Giselle. She still fights for the crown, and is loyal to the crown. She is extremely torn about having fled the capital. She is, however, very popular here; she brought the army, and the town is not only well-run by the duke, but extremely well defended. Lakemont is to some extent unaware of what’s going on elsewhere, which is as much a problem as it is a good thing. Convincing everyone to follow Tavros is going to be a bit tricky, since Giselle is going to want to be sure that the king is truly dead. 

Phaneas walks in with Eva, both of them looking a bit… ruffled. Geddy starts trying to convince Phaneas that he’s going to need to marry Eva and come up with a dowry and all like that. Phaneas turns pale and stumbles back across a chair. “I, um, I have to go check on my men.”

Eva: “Careful there. You take this too far, I’m not going to be able to get any around here.”

Leira and Ruin come wandering in, Leira staggering and clutching at her head. She’s a lightweight, and now very hung-over. 

The conversation turns to the refugee mages. There’s some sort of force field over Starroads Inn that’s preventing them from teleporting away. The mages are apparently putting up quite a fight. We’re talking about Lady Giuselle when she walks in. She spots us, and comes over to sit with us. 

Atrix the White may be leading the refugee mages. There are force fields keeping the mages in, and keeping the demons out. Lady Giselle knows nothing of the vault, but she does know Giles and they were both part of the Privy Council when the occasion called for it, but not part of the inner circle. She considers King Luc to be her king until his death is proven. 

The inn at Starroads is sort of the Buckey’s of Sol Povos. There are around a hundred mages and three hundred initiates, many of them children. 

She starts laying out her intelligence. The demons are led by three balors; they have Maralith bodyguards, and they don’t know who they report to – they report to The High One. Each baalor also has one of the rolling eyes-and-hands things, which may be responsible for the magics. There are also some large snake-warriors. There are a bunch of other demons, including some of the Retrievers. 

We meet with the Duke once he’s awake. He’s in a meeting room with a couple of his advisors. He’s a bit troubled that Tavros worships Amun, but Geddy points out that they belong to the same Covenant and have much in common. He also laments the lack of leadership in the church of Helios. We bring up Clovis Cloverfield, and Geddy manages to sell him as a new potentate. Might he be the new Avatar of Helios? We can’t be sure. 

And, of course, the death of King Luc hasn’t been established. Ruin: “And you have no idea how quickly and happily he would step aside were King Luc to reappear.”

It doesn’t seem like they believe him, but it was the right thing to say. Then the Duke asks about the Elvish land and title claims, and Tavros’ position on them. Geddy spews a huge line of bullshit that says more or less nothing; then he starts selling them on the benefits of supporting Tavros. 

He gets one of his magisters to explain about the College at Springhollow. There are eight archmagisters, one for each school of magic; of the the eight, Verhad of Many Faces was killed during the attack. The Evocation guy made it to the Starroads in made to the inn but then died. Strogan the Transmuter escaped the attack but his whereabouts are unknown. The other five are at the Starroads Inn. The Necromancy master was a big fan of Durest Inglorian, which might be a problem. Below them are the Masters. And below them a few dozen adepts. 

The magister believes that the mages inside are maintaining overlapping dimensional anchors to prevent the demons from teleporting in; the demons also have dimensional anchors preventing the mages from teleporting out. The inn has been fortified with walls of stone and iron and like that. The demons have laid webs around, encircled the place with Unholy Blights; stormclouds lurk overhead, and retrievers patrol the dead zone. The mages have covered the place in magic circles against evil, black tentacles to surround them on the ground, minor globes of invulnerability at choke poiints. 

We could possibly get inside on dragonback, and the mages inside know best what their situation actually is. That’s probably the plan. 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Rested? Is this what rest feels like?

So we had a very nice, solidly low-key Thanksgiving, and I made it a point to sleep a lot, and honestly I'm feeling a lot better for it. Which is good, because I was starting to feel pretty run-down, and this week is going to be extremely busy. Plus, the more energy I have in general, the more energy I have for writing -- and the better my writing is, too. 

The boys have spent their week off doing their best to be completely nocturnal, but with any luck by the time this posts I'll have dragged them back onto a schedule. Probably. Hopefully. 

And, of course, once the first of the year rolls around I'll be eligible for retirement. I need to review the details of how that works -- it might, for example, be advantageous to hold off a bit longer, or to change jobs without "retiring" as such -- but I've signed up for an online seminar that HR is hosting that should go over that stuff. And while work has been pathetically, ridiculously, embarrassingly slow about it, they do seem to be moving forward on reclassifying my position to something that at least vaguely resembles my actual job.

I can't believe we're coming into December already; I can't believe the degree to which each of the last four years has been its own special kind of Hell. It seems like a few things, at least, are finally looking up a little, so I guess we just keep the faith and do what we have to do. Hardly a ringing endorsement, but that's the best I've got.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Ruin: Paternity, Part Four

Aesa pulled her blow and stepped back as Akkora's gruff voice cut across their bout. "Hold arms!"

Looking puzzled, Tarric turned to face the Armsmistress. "Were we..." he trailed off as Akkora shook her head and turned to Aesa. "You have a visitor."

What? Who would be coming to visit her? And why would Akkora think that a visitor was important enough to interrupt their practice? She turned, looked, and nearly dropped her sword. Anica and Werendril were over on the far side of the yards...

With Ruin standing between them. 

Aesa started towards them. Tarric said, "Oh," and followed. 

Ruin stood waiting, wariness in every line of his face and body. She smiled, and his expression softened; after a moment he offered her a smile in return. The blunted steel practice sword was still in her hand; Aesa paused and handed it off to Akkora. Then she came forward, leaving Tarric and Akkora behind. 

"So Darvinin was right," she said. "You did make it back." She glanced at the pair of swords that crossed his back, then frowned slightly. "Is that...?"

Ruin turned his head to follow her eyes, then reached back and slipped the larger two-handed scimitar over his shoulder and held it out to her. "Yes," he said. 

"Merciful Amun," she breathed. "You found Tavros." 

"More accurate to say that they found us," Ruin said, aware that Anica, Werendril, and Tarric were all staring blankly at him now. "And Tavros found a new blade, so he gifted me with this one. I think it would please him if you were to have it."

Aesa frowned, suddenly worried. "Is he...?" She reached out and took the blade. It should have felt clumsy, unwieldy, but it didn't.

"They're alive," Ruin said. "Tavros, and the sorceress Leira, and the human snake-priest Marshall Mercy. Or at least they were a few days ago. They returned to the capital, near to where they were first sent to Fanaxia. I came back out with Martini and Geddy and Eva by way of Mar Dentro, where we made our own crossing to that world."

"The capital?" asked Tarric. "That's not good. It's overrun with demons, and Amun knows what else." 

Ruin shook his head. "They'll make it," he said. 

Aesa brushed away a tear; she wasn't at all sure where that had come from. Then she frowned again. "What about your other friend? The elf in the black robes?"

Ruin squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them again. "Azrael. He died getting us free of the Abyss. And the last of Tavros' companions, Alexej, chose to remain behind in Fanaxia and help rebuild the Magiknights, a local order of elite protectors."

Werendril cleared his throat, then swallowed. "That sounds," he observed, "as if you've had a rough couple of years." 

"Months," Ruin corrected. "Time is different in Fanaxia." He looked at Aesa. "For me, it's been less than a season since I last saw you. But here... I've been gone for years. If I seem a bit shaken, it's only because I am."

Aesa studied him for a moment longer, then stepped forward and hugged him. "It's good to see you," she said, and then stepped back. "Are you ready to meet your children?"

Ruin shook his head. "Of course not," he said. "But... I want to, anyway."

Aesa smiled as a profound sense of relief flowed through her. "Then you'd better come with me."

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Ruin: Paternity, Part Three

The practice yard was much as he remembered it: an open square at the center of the temple, statues of titans at each corner. There were racks for practice weapons and training armor along the far wall, protected beneath a sloped roof of clay tiles, and a row of archery targets set up off to his left. Aesa was out on the sand, sparring with an armored human who just about had to be Tavros' friend Tarric. She'd gotten better, he saw; she'd also switched from a regular scimitar to the two-handed version that he and Tavros both favored. 

Tarric fought with longsword and shield; Ruin didn't remember him well, and wondered if Tarric remembered him at all. They'd only met in passing. 

Two years. Two and a half years. He shook his head. It had been a matter of weeks for him, and clearly a lot had happened in his absence. No wonder Aesa was so much better; she'd had plenty of time to practice. And to have my child, apparently

He didn't know how he felt about that. The passage of time had created a gulf between them, one he hadn't expected. And, of course, he'd gone off and left them with his children... and so Werendril had stepped in for him. Paladins, he thought. He still didn't know how that had happened. Not that he was at all surprised that Werendril would do it; it was just that he couldn't imagine how his near-brother had gotten dragged into this at all.

It was still early afternoon, bright and warm but not overly hot; a good time to practice, and the paladins, at least, were taking full advantage of it. As he watched, Akkora the half-orc armsmistress released her hold on a dwarf's arm, which she'd trapped between her legs and locked against her chest to immobilize him. She sat up as he rolled away, shaking his head. "And that," she told him, "is why you should never assume that someone isn't a threat just because they've been disarmed." 

"We're going to learn that, right?" asked the dwarf, shaking his head and rolling his shoulder. 

"Yes," she assured him, and then glanced over to where Ruin stood with Anica and Werendril... and stopped. A moment later she stood and crossed to them. She stopped in front of Ruin and leaned down, studying him. "You've come back," she said. "You heard?"

"That I had children here?" he asked. "Yes. I came as soon as I learned of it."

"You are my friend," she said firmly, "and I'm glad you came." She broke into a grin.

"It's good to find you here," Ruin said. Not least because you haven't hit me yet. He glanced at Aesa, and Akkora followed his gaze. 

"A moment," she said, and then she was striding across the yard.