Friday, September 30, 2022

Valthor: Job Prospects

I spent my first three days in Merilos living off what money my father had sent with me and what additional funding I could win at cards. I did fairly well at that, but only when I cheated -- and that was risky, too risky to rely on as a long-term strategy. 

It was my third night, and I was taking a stroll through the warehouse district behind the docks -- just to clear my head, you understand. I certainly wasn't casing the buildings or considering how my fortunes might fare if I turned to a life of crime. And, of course, I was keeping myself in shape with an idle bit of night climbing, which was better practiced here than in more populated areas. It was in this perfectly innocent fashion that I happened to be near the edge of a rooftop when I heard the sounds of someone running: rapid footsteps coming closer, exhausted wheezing mixed with barely-gasped curses. 

Several thoughts went through my head: that this might be some poor innocent, out for a nighttime stroll like myself, and now pursued by the city's criminal element. Or it might be some nefarious rogue, of the sort that I would never consider becoming, on the run from the guards after a job turned sour. From the sounds of shouting behind him, I rather thought the latter. 

So, in recognition of my civic duty, I swung over the side of the building, dropped down, rolled, and came to my feet in front of him. He screamed, tried to stop or perhaps dodge around me, and managed -- entirely of his own accord -- to slam himself face-first into the wall of the alley we were currently occupying. It was, to be fair, a fairly clean and wide alley -- the trash carts came through the warehouse district regularly enough -- and he certainly had no reason to think that an upstanding citizen such as myself might spring up out of nowhere to inquire after his safety. 

I was crouched down and checking him over -- purely to assure myself of his health -- when his pursuers slid the covers of their lanterns up, bathing us both in uncomfortably bright light. One of them, the nearer one, growled, "Where did you come from?"

"Me? I was out for a stroll, as anyone might be," I told them. My eyes were starting to adjust, and I thought they both looked dubious; and even after three days I knew that the rest of Sorilan didn't keep even remotely the sort of hours that I'd been raised to. "I heard someone running, and stopped to see if he needed help. Unfortunately, I startled him, and... well... I was just checking to see if he was okay. He doesn't seem to be carrying a purse, but he was carrying this."

I held up the item the man had obviously stolen. It looked to be some sort of brazier, made of some silvery metal. It looked expensive, but also distinctive -- the sort of thing that might net me a lot of money, but also might get me into a very great deal of trouble. 

"You checked his purse?" asked the nearer of his pursuers -- a half-orc, I thought, or maybe even a full orc. 

"Only to see if he had anything that might identify him," I said, radiating so much innocence that the half-orc actually hesitated before laughing softly. I forebore observing that he must have somehow dropped his purse while being pursued -- along with a rather nice dagger that I was already becoming quite fond of, actually. "Do you know the gentleman?"

"That's Calder Carefree," said the maybe-orc, and the man behind him nodded. "We captured the rest of his team, but he caught wise and almost escaped. You should come with us -- the boss will want to meet you." 

I hesitated, but he added: "There's a bounty on him, and the boss'll also want to make sure you get your share."

"Oh?" I asked. "Is there money to be made, capturing criminals?" 

"That's not the only sort of work we do, but yes." The probably-half-orc came forward, lowering the cover on his lantern. 

"Damn it, Rrhoral, you know I can't see in the dark." 

"So leave yours open, Barghif, but quit blinding our new friend."

He checked Calder over for weapons, then scooped up the half-conscious human. His companion turned his lantern away and approached me, holding a hand out; I handed him the brazier, and he nodded. "You really should come with us." 

And that was how I met Rhoral the Quick and Barghif the Stubborn, and through them the dragonborn woman Sarail who commanded their troop. She asked if I was looking for work, and I admitted that I might be. I hadn't expected to find it with a troop of adventurous mercenaries and almost -- but not quite -- pirates, but I did. And I like to think that we were all the better for it.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Missed Connection: Ephemeral Intruder

You've suspected that you weren't alone for quite some time, haven't you? The soft whisper in the night, barely audible over the air conditioning, the occasional chill when I couldn't get out of your way, doors or cabinets left open or closed. You've suspected, but you've never really known. 

But then, last Tuesday, you saw me -- the pale, silvery figure on the stair, caught by the moonlight through the window. You saw me, and you thought I was an intruder in your house. So of course you called the police. Of course they found nothing. But you weren't imagining things. I'm here. I've always been here. 

Come back, please. It's a perfectly good house, and I mean you no harm. I try to respect your privacy, though I don't always see you either. Come back, and keep me company. It's so cold here. So very, very cold. Cold... and lonely. 

Please, please keep me company. I need someone to see me. I need someone to know I still exist.

Please.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Challenge: Library or Bookstore?

(This post is part of the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. You can find links to other writers' answers over at Long and Short Reviews.)

Prompt: using the library vs. buying books

I love libraries. I love them to death, and I do my best to support our local libraries. That said... I never know when I'm going to get around to reading something, or how long it's going to take. I read fairly quickly, but finding time for it is always a bit iffy. 

So as a general thing, I buy books. Mostly electronic books, at this point, which is not something I ever thought I'd say. Which means that my TBR pile is kaiju-sized monstrosity, but I seriously doubt I'm alone in that. But, it also means that I don't have to worry about forgetting to return something, or keeping someone else waiting while I'm finding time to finish something, or whether I can re-read something that I'm particularly in the mood for. 

I love libraries, but checking things out just feels like one more thing to keep track of, and I have too many of those already.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Evil!Party: The Lucky Life of Clovis Cloverfield

We’re still engaged in combat. Yes, still. And now we’re facing off against a giant primal earth elemental. This is such a completely bad idea.

The druids use their call lightning to attack Jenny, but fail to get through her spell resistance. Balaam moves away from the elemental, who smacks him as he leaves. He drops a quickened fireball on the sorcerers, then teleports Durest, Bob, and Ferrous back to Maodeus. One of the sorcerers dies; the other tries to cast Hold Monster on Chuck.


Chuck does a quickened Dimension Door, grabs Jenny, and Teleports out. We are now all up on the ridge with Maodeus, who is finishing up squishing helpless Solari. Durest casts a Mass Cure Serious wounds, helping himself, Jenny, Maodeus, and Balaam. He then inflicts some healing on Chuck. 


Cardinal Lovis Sunsoul casts Storm of Vengeance on us. The deafening thunder effect of the first round fails to affect us. Balaam uses Greater Dispel Magic to try to disrupt the storm of vengeance, and succeeds – leaving an image of goatse in the sky for one brief and shining moment. 


Meanwhile, the remaining archers and paladins have gathered close together, and suddenly our nice empty ridge is full of enemies. The giant earth elemental is just sort of wandering around down on the plains, looking for enemies. 


Chuck responds by dropping a fireball on one end of their line. Bob moves forward, carrying Durest in his ribcage, and reaches one group of enemies. Jenny rages and charges, reaching the front line of paladins but attacking past them to reach the sorcerer. The sorcerer explodes into a red mist and a mysterious meteor-corpse plummeting off the side of the cliff. She ignores the clerics and the paladins that the sorcerer had teleported in with, and wipes out another sorcerer. And then another. She then turns on the archers, and starts taking them out as well. Then paladins. She’s using her spiked chain’s ability to do extra damage while injuring herself in exchange, and Durest is just reaching for the scroll of True Resurrection that he’s going to use when she kills herself doing this. 


In a frenzy of violence, she carves through the paladins and then starts in on the priests. Down on the plains, the remaining solari were cheering for their companions; as the carnage becomes obvious, they fall silent. Maodeus moves up and uses his cone of sleep gas, and drops a quickened Cure Critical Wounds on Jenny. One cleric remains standing; the rest of our enemies are now asleep. 


That One Cleric says, “You may kill me, but with my final breath I will cast down your vile evilness with the power of Helios!” He casts Searing Light on Chuck. 


Durest swings down out of Bob’s ribcage and hits him with a Shadow Bolt from his staff. Then Cardinal Lovis drops a second Storm of Vengeance on us, deafening Durest. The druids finally move into position where they can see us, and take Durest down with lightning strikes. Balaam drops a pair of fireballs on them in return. They survive that, but… yeah. 


Chuck wipes out the sleeping enemies, leaving only the single brave cleric. Bob circles around him, taking a crack from a mace on the way. Jenny charges, and misses. Meowdeus heals Durest, while Ferrous lumbers forward. The Cleric cries out, “Are you going to spare me?” Jenny: “Are you joking?” 


The cleric throws Searing Light at Chuck, who is forced to return to his coffin. We take a tiny little bit of acid damage from Storm of Vengeance. The druids drop more lightning on Durest, but he’s healed enough to shrug it off. Meanwhile, Balaam burns out the last of the druids; that should stop the lightning. 


Another sorcerer teleports in, this time with Cardinal Lovis and four clerics. Lovis immediately drops a firestorm. Bob takes the full damage; Jenny is still protected from fire, but Durest takes full damage as well. Bob swings at the lucky cleric, but misses. Jenny charges the new arrivals, and immediately wipes out the sorcerer, again damaging himself to do it. She whips her chain around and wipes out the lesser clerics as well. Cardinal Lovis is surrounded by a rainbow bubble, so Jenny disdains to attack him and blows a raspberry at him instead.


Meowdeus Heals Durest again, and then moves over next to Jenny. Durest moves closer. Balaam moves around to flank Cardinal Lovis, and tries to dispel his Prismatic Sphere… and succeeds. He then drops a quickened fireball on the lucky cleric, who survives. Cardinal Lovis attempts to cast Destruction on Balaam. Balaam shakes it off, taking damage but not being destroyed. Bob takes a swipe at Clovis Cloverfield, the world’s luckiest cleric, and misses. 


Jenny attacks the cardinal, hitting three times – and on the last one she wraps her chain around his neck and rips his head off. Meowdeus heals Jenny. Clovis Cloverfield turns Bob and runs for cover. Durest teleports people down to the first anchor; Balaam brings the others and dispels it, then throws a quickened fireball at the remaining Solari. 


Maodeus gathers us up and takes to the air as the primal elemental turns back towards us. The remaining solari stay together as a group, but they have no sorcerers left to teleport them, so they move away from the elemental and generally towards the bluff. (They do still have some archers.) Balaam, meanwhile, teleports Jenny and Bob. Jenny is complaining that they’re going away from the enemies. Maodeus follows the cliff at the south end of the battlefield, until we find a spot where a couple of stone golems are standing in the mud, probably guarding something. Maodeus drops Durest, who flies down close enough to get a better look at the stone golems. They’re glowing, faintly, and lines of power connect them to something that’s hidden back in the cliff face. 


Balaam teleports over with Jenny and Bob, coming in directly in front of them. 


Bob attacks, but a stone golem smashes him on the way in; Bob goes down. 


Jenny attacks, with a modest power attack, and takes one of the stone golems out. Meowdeus drops down and Heals Jenny again. The golems move in. Meowdeus bites one of them as it moves in, while Jenny hits another. They attack Jenny, but she laughs. Durest, still flying, drops more healing on her, with what spells he has left. Balaam attacks the nearest stone golem, and tears into it with his claws and bite. 


Jenny rips into them again, this time using her full strength, and one goes down. She continues on, beating on the next one, Meowdeus attacks one of the remaining two, and rips into it. Ferrous moves up beside it, and attacks as well; the golems are tough, but they’re still taking damage. 


The golems attack Jenny, hitting, and doing some damage. Durest throws some healing again, but he’s getting low on spells. Balaam attacks, taking out another golem, and Jenny takes out the last one. As the last one goes down, a glowing aura in the mountainside dissipates and we can see the anchor. Maodeus throws Greater Dispel Magic at it, and takes it down. The dome that’s keeping us trapped on the battlefield shivers again. 

 

One anchor yet remains, and we can either find it (and hopefully call in reinforcements) or wipe out the last of the Solari and search at our leisure. With Chuck down and Durest painfully low on spells, breaking the final anchor and bringing down the dome that's keeping us trapped on the battlefield seems like the better option. 

 

Archivist's Note: The evil Brass Dragon who acted as one of the generals for the Order of Secrets in their invasion of Sol Povos was originally known -- and feared -- under the name Maodeus. Unfortunately, in interacting with the Solari Hunters, the dragon revealed a certain tendency to play with its prey, rather like a cat. The Solari Hunters took to calling the dragon Meowdeus, and a matter of weeks that appellation had spread through the entire Order of Secrets, the wildlander army, and most of Sol Povos. This was not considered a betrayal of the Order, but Meowdeus is said to have gone to his grave muttering resentfully about the corruption of his name. 

Monday, September 26, 2022

Bicycle!

So, the older youth D&D group has essentially dissolved, mainly because Junior Year has hit everybody over the head like a large wooden mallet. The younger D&D group is going splendidly, but I'm still sorry about the older one. On the other hand, that left my entire Sunday free to run laundry, sort laundry, and help Beautiful Wife change the rear tire on Secondborn's bike, which he's using to ride home from school. So yeah, Things Got Done. 

Writing is coming along; exercise and sleep have been a lot more catch-as-can, though. I'm going to try to pull everything back together again, now that I've managed to get a decent handle on how to do that. Hopefully the transition will be easier this time. 

Meanwhile, I re-watched the horror movie Leviathan while sorting laundry, and I'm impressed with how well it holds up. Practical special effects had their weaknesses and limitations, but they sure hold up better than early CGI did. Also managed to play through the next section of the Epic Battle in D&D, which is fun even though our characters are getting really low on resources. Next session should finish that up, at least. I probably need to look at how high-level characters play out in 5e, since there's a decent chance that Secondborn and his friends will get there. 

Anyway: going to see if I can squeeze in a bit more writing before I start work. We'll see how it goes.

Take care of yourselves; take care of each other. The world's still on fire, and we're still in the middle of multiple global pandemics, and somehow despite all this everybody still has to show up for work. The only way through is together.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Forgotten Family: Dwarven History

"Gather to me if you will, children. I would speak to you of the early days of our world, and the rise of our people." Stoneshaper Braeken took a seat in the ceremonial stone chair at the head of the table, and watched as the students took their seats around him. Their usual tutor, Boroka, glanced curiously at him, but he offered her a small smile and she inclined her head in return. 

When the students were settled, he began:

"In the early days of the world, the first dwarves were created by Moradin, whom the unenlightened call Sardion. At first we were a cruel people, believing other races to be weak and vulnerable. We valued strength, but not the brittle breaking-strength of Gruumsh; we valued the strength that endures, the strength that withstands, the strength that never yields. Ours also was the strength that comes with order, and ours was a nation in which everyone knew and respected their place -- and the position of those around them. Some dwarves still hold to the old ways of Moradin; these are the dwarves known as Duergar, and in this age they are a people unto themselves."

He paused and looked around, but his students -- even Andrik -- remained silent and attentive. 

"Other dwarves, inevitably, came into contact with other people and other gods. These became the deep dwarves of the underkingdoms, and the surface dwarves of mountains and hills -- our people, and once more each became almost a race unto itself. From Amun we learned to temper order with Justice; from Demeter we learned to cultivate the land both above and below; and in Belrab we found a strength and order that did not require the cruelties and sacrifices that Moradin demanded. Thus was the Stone Cabal eventually founded."

"And--" interjected Andrik, then cut himself off abruptly. "I would that I hadn't said that, Stoneshaper."

Braeken suppressed a smile. "I would have you speak, Andrik son of Durest."

Andrik swallowed, aware that his peers were looking at him and at least one or two were glaring. "Aye, well, 'tis just this: from Indra we learned to love the sky and sail the seas."

"It is good," said Stoneshaper Braeken. Andrik, while too young to enter any sort of clergy, had taken on something of his father's advocacy for the trickster-god Indra, and even the stone cabal couldn't fault the boy for his devotion. "It is good for you to say this, because it is true." He paused, both for effect and to organize his thoughts, and then he said: 

"We honor three gods, first and foremost: Moradin, who created us; Amun, who taught us justice; and Belrab, who gathered us into his strength. This is true, but this is not the only truth. We honor Demeter, who taught us to cultivate food for ourselves; we honor Yondalla, who taught us the value of knowledge; and we honor Indra, who first showed us the sky. Shall I tell you that story?"

Andrik, eyes wide, nodded slowly. Several of his peers settled back, losing something of their hostility as they returned their attention to the Stoneshaper. 

"I speak now of ancient days, but long after the first days of our people. The Duergar were still strong in the deeps; they still held the oldest cities, and still made war upon the dwarves who had turned away from the primacy of Moradin. The Stone Cabal was young then, and still finding its way; the priesthood of Amun was only just beginning to be eclipsed by our current ways. And while the conflict between the old ways of the Duergar and the new ways of our people was often bloody, there were passionate and loudly-debated conflicts within our people as well. Many had questions about what shape the new ways should take. Some even wondered if we might be better guided by other gods entirely.

"It was one of these, Taraia Stormcalled, to whom Indra first spoke. It is said that the storm-god had long ignored us, for in ancient days our people still dwelled belowground and only the worst of exiles were ever sent to the surface. Perhaps it was one of them, some misfit or criminal, who first caught Indra's attention; or perhaps it was only that Amun and Belrab were increasing their worshipers. It is said that when the trickster god first saw our ways, orderly and disciplined, he pronounced them unutterably boring. It is said that as he was turning away from us that he first noticed Taraia, who was not yet Stormcalled. 

"In her he found a kindred spirit, and through her he put out his call. For Taraia, like Indra, did not see our carefully-structured places in gards and delves, in clans and societies, as giving us meaning. They saw those things as trapping us, caging us, holding us back. And in time others came to agree, and Taraia led her followers to the surface and founded there the first of the skygards, contesting goblins and elves alike for a place beneath the sun. From there, it was inevitable that others would follow -- even across the seas and to other lands. 

"Sol Povos was one of those other lands; our people here can all trace our ancestry to those who left the underkingdoms.

"It is said Indra intended to trick us, to fracture our orderly ways with chaos and discontent, and perhaps that is true; but Taraia Stormcalled led us to new realms and in doing so gave those who might have created chaos and discontent a new place to go and new ways to find meaning for themselves. 

"Indra is not a kindly god, but in his unkindness he did us a great favor and made us stronger, and for that he is honored."

And Andrik nodded, accepting the Stoneshaper's tale.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Missed Connections: Beast Seeks Beauty

You were the young woman hurrying home through the park at night. You knew you were being followed. You could hear them behind you, coming closer, taunting you... and then you couldn't. Something had happened to them. 

That something was me. I was the beast in the darkness that night. You looked back, and for a brief moment our eyes met, and something clicked. If you felt it too, get in touch. I'm not always like that. And I'd love to meet you by daylight, with my humanity restored, in someplace warm and open and safe. Perhaps we could have tea? 

I hope you see this. I hope you respond. But if you don't, or if you don't, then I wish you well. And please, please be more careful.