Friday, September 24, 2021

Dark Armor V2 Ch01 SC03

The wind swept across the plains and out over the bluff as Pallian reined up outside the enemy camp. It was carefully organized, the tents all neatly arranged around cookfires, weapons placed in neat stacks for easy access. They hadn't bothered with earthworks or even fascines, but then they likely didn't expect to be encamped here for long. They had, however, put out a double ring of watchfires with sentries gathered around them in groups of three. 

For a moment, Pallian wished he could slip into camp unseen the way the Shadow of Edrias might have done. But the Champion of Teregor was his father's creation, and the wizard-king had wanted an indestructible black knight, something that would smite his enemies with irresistible power. So Pallian would attack the camp, stabbing into it like a speartip into a heart, spreading death and chaos in his wake. 

Or else he'd die. 

Accidents happened, especially in battle, and this army was better-prepared than it looked. It would be easy enough for something to go wrong. But there were other reasons to worry: someone had arranged for word of a farmer's rebellion to reach the Citadel, knowing that the wizard-king would dispatch a lesser force to deal with something like that. Perhaps even knowing that Ravaj would be in charge, though that would require either some excellent intelligence or a traitor in the court. And there was no reason to assume that the Shadow of Edrias had spoken truly, that it was on its way to assassinate Ravaj; it might just as easily have doubled back behind him, waiting to catch him when turned his attention to the camp. Destroying the Black Knight would weaken his father's magical power, and it would be a terrible blow to his reputation; this entire situation might have been engineered to such an end.

Still, with the training he'd been given and the resources he had available, there was only one way to find out. He would have to attack, and hope that the armor would protect him and Black would carry him through. He considered that for a moment longer, reviewing the spells he knew and the initiations he'd been given. Well then, he thought to himself. Let's find out.

He touched his heels to Black's flanks, couched his lance and raised his shield, and started forward through the tattered remains of the night.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Fanaxia: Palace Revolts, Magical Playing Cards, and Sad Stories

Martini is settling in to give some crap to George Ley'Saunce when she hears a voice in her head: "Martini! Martini! I hit a cloud giant with a sword."

Martini rolls her eyes. "You're a wizard, idiot."

Alexej is still dancing with Marie. Count Wallington's library would have the history of his clan; Her father would have records from all of the queen's factions. Marie glances back at her father, and says she'd better get back; Alexej bows as they part company, with the over-dramatic motion of a drunken actor at the end of the play at the end of its run.

Geddy, meanwhile, had just finished up talking to Boris, who is more or less the MAGA/January 6 component of his fashion. Lucien intercepts Geddy as he's departing, and introduces him to his adopted father. All four of the Ley'Saunce brothers are adopted.

The older man comes across as very humble: Drogan. Having made the introduction, Lucien heads off to another table.

Geddy greets the bishop of the church of Urgroth in this city. The first temple was built here; and Ley'saunce is troubled that Urgroth has lost some of its influence since the sundering.

Geddy: "So has someone taken that influence?"

"The queen, despite her best intentions, does not understand how religion can unite a community. She lets the populace worship whom they will."

Geddy: "Sounds like chaos to me."

"It is a nice idea, but most of these people shouldn't be choosing those beliefs for themselves. They aren't enlightened enough to make that choice. Cardinal Richlieu has promised that the True King seeks peaceful ways to treat with Vrist."

Geddy: "So how do we figure into this?"

Ley'saunce: "We would hope you will ally with clan Wallington, if there is some unfortunate struggle."

Geddy: "Do you think there would be a struggle?"

Ley'saunce shrugs: "Much depends on the queen. Perhaps you can help."

Geddy suggests that having been dead, he actually is.

"Do you know much about Urgroth?"

"Oh, sure! All the hands and the eyes and the secrets, all that."

Ley'saunce: "It was very unfortunate, what happened to the arch-magister. But the church has been very conciliatory and loyal to the king. Cardinal Richlieu lives in the castle and advises the king."

Geddy, "Madam Ley'saunce what should I know about you?"

Lady L: "We are happily married and united in our devotion to Urgroth. But Master Geddy, I'm sensing some reluctance from you."

Geddy: "Oh, no, I just like to know as much as I can."

The Bishop suggests that he talk to Luthien and the other priest; learn more of the lore of Urgroth and the church's plans. "You'll hear some good stories, while you're there."

Geddy: "Is there anyone I should watch out for tonight? We do get into trouble. I just want to make sure we don't walk into any traps. Baron Lamorgan's son has the strength of two men and a temper; but if you want to get on his good side, ask about last year's mayfair games.

Leira has gone back to dancing. A younger man approaches and tries to cut in. Leira: "No."

Young man: "What?"

Leira: "Sorry, trained response. Who are you?"

Fendril Wallington, who's maybe three years younger than her, launches into a whole elaborate bit of flattery.

Leira: "You seem young, but I'll take a chance."

He's stiff and a little nervous. "Tell me, my fine lady, what brings you to Vrist?"

Leira: "We're on a quest to find a lost friend."

"Someone dear to you?"

"Friends are always dear." She does a little pirouette.

"Have you met my brothers?"

"I have not had the luck. Should I avoid them?"

"Well, sometimes they think they're more important than they are."

Leira: "You train to be a warrior; surely you'll be someone to respect."

Fendril: "I am a warrior! My brother boasts of defeating the thief; but I defended the women and small children. I don't even know what my brother was doing in there. That half-elf wife of his sometimes corrupts him away from telling the truth."

Leira: "So, do you wish to lead men in battle? Or conquer fearsome foes?"

"Well, when the time comes I plan to be at the forefront of my father's attack."

"An eminent attack?" asks Leira. "Anything I should be worried about?"

He freezes: "I'm... just saying... in case we need to defend the lands."

Leira: "I'm sure you would make a formidable leader."

Fendril: "Might I beg you for your favor? Something to wrap around my lance as I go into battle?"

Leira pulls out... a napkin. "Among my people, everyone carried such a cloth to remind us of who we are."

He's very proud of himself, as he returns to his father's table.

Another young man approaches...

Martini and Elizabeth had just finished listening to Clifton Wallington, who was describing his battle with the thief in great detail.

Martini: "So you... stabbed him in the back?"

Clifton: "No, I spun him around and stabbed him..." He tries to demonstrate, but the story isn't terribly consistent.

Martini: "So you spun him around to stab him, but you move to disarm him... how many arms did this guy have?"

Clifton: "I get it. You and my sister just think I'm boasting and want to bust my balls. But I'm a hero. Ask anyone!"

Guy at bar: "I'm Jeremiah Fayette. Who are you?"

Martini: "Martini, dragonslayer."

Jeremiah: "Another beautiful woman at court. I would ask to court you, if my father would only allow it."

Martini: "Do you to know each other?"

Jeremiah: "The Wallinford family doesn't speak to the Fayettes."

Elizabeth: "That's because my dad is a jerk."

Martini gets Elizabeth talking, and Elizabeth and Jeremiah bond of being unhappy with their families. Elizabeth thinks people should be more wary of her father; Oliver the heir makes her feel worthless, Clifton is reckless, and mentions Alice and Juliana, who are flirting with George Ley'saunce. Trying to please her parents is a waste of time.

Jeremiah complains that his father is too conservative, too prim and proper; it's only because his position is so tenuous, especially if Wallington comes into power.

Martini fades back just as Alexej and Geddy enter the room.

Geddy: "You ready to make some money?"

Alexej: "I love money!"

Clifton Wallington approaches them, and complains about Martini tryingto bring people down. "You two look like you might have a pair on you. Deal yourselves in?"

Alexej, thinking he's talking about dice: "I did not bring my own pair."

Geddy motions Alexej to sit.

George: "Tonight we'll be playing... cards." He flips the cards through an elaborate pattern. "Hand of Fate."

They draw cards and start making bets. The fourth partner, Amarok Glamorgan, is both holding a bad hand and also the one that Geddy was warned not to antagonize. Geddy raises; everyone else folds. They lay more money for the next round, and go around again; Alexej wins.

Clifton: "Another hand! But this time, a little richer. 200 GP buy-in."

Geddy: "Where I come from, we pass the deal around."

Clifton: "Not with my special cards."

Amarok: "Yeah, they're magical cards."

Clifton: "Um... these are some magic cards that my father passed down. They're lucky, but they don't have any special powers related to the game, as you just saw."

Geddy mutters something, and then falls over backwards in his chair.

Amarok goes around the table and shakes him awake.

Alexej: "Sometimes he gets very big erection, and it makes him go to sleep."

Geddy is awake again.

Clifton offers to put his deck aside and use one of the other decks on the table.

Geddy: "Let's keep using the magic cards."

Amarok draws and then slaps his cards down. "Urgroth damn it!"

Alexej raises 50.

Clifton chides him. "It's a 200 gold buy-in, friend. Raise more."

Alexej ups it to 100, and Geddy and Clifton match. They draw more cards, and Alexej calls.Geddy and Clifton both raise; Geddy tries to bluff, and goes higher.

Alexej: "Were you there today when robbery happened?"

Clifton: "Have you not heard how I slew the thief?"

Alexej: I would like to hear from you.

Clifton: "All right, after this hand."

They deal agin, then call; Clifton raises 500. Alexej folds, but Geddy matches him... and wins.

Clifton regards Geddy. "One more round, you and me. 'Cause it's clear that nobody else here has the balls for a high-stakes game. 500 buy-in."

They deal again, and Geddy bluffs: "You might as well go home, kid." Geddy raises by 500; Clifton matches and raises by 500.

They're starting to get some attention; even Martini has come over to watch.

Geddy matches and raises as well, and starts noodling around his lute; he tries to use his bardic magic to Suggest that Clifton fold.

"Geddy, Geddy, Geddy," says Clifton. "So here's the thing, you must realize that I am playing with the very cards that won Wallington their fortune."

They draw again.

Geddy: "All right. I'll raise you another 500."

Clifton looks at his cards, grins, and raises by 1000. Geddy calls it.

"You know, my grandfather's grandfather won his entire fortune with a single card from this deck."

Geddy: "You mentioned that.

Clifton: "Geddy, let's make a real wager. It is so clear..."

Geddy: "2000 gold, and I play your wedding -- or your son's."

Clifton: "I'll match your 2000, and throw in the magic cards. But you'll have to match with something."

Geddy counters by offering his ring of mind shielding.

Clifton calls, and takes it. Elizabeth walks over and says, "Are you sure? Is that a nine?"

Amarok adjusts the card, and... it's a six. "Uh, Clif? I think you just lost your father's magic cards."

Gerwolf Lamorgan comes back in. "I still want to gamble. How about a 5 gold buy-in.

Martini circles the room, listening to vacuous conversations; she wanders over and catches up with Geddy and Alexej; Geddy is gathering up his winnings.

Gerwulf bumps the table, and the cards all slide together into one big pile. The magic cards are highly magic. Geddy finishes collecting his winnings while Alexej heads off to collect Leira.

Alexej runs into Janine in the hallway; she's sobbing. She's the one who was talking about her husband buying her a brand-new dress for the occasion, since she came down to congratulate her brother on his upcoming wedding.

Apparently that bitch Ginger and her gaggle of followers, who came over and mocked her while she was dancing. Her family is not rich, and she

Alexej: "This is terrible! How much was dress?"

"Thirty gold!"

Alexej hands over the money that he won off of Clifton. "Is investment! I have mission in this castle."

Janine: "I used to work in this castle. Perhaps I can earn this."

Alexej: "Well, I may need to look at books in library."

Janine: "How do you know about the library? The Von Stein library is here. Nobody goes in there these days."

Alexej: "I would like to go to library, for sure."

Janine: "I know a secret way! Come with me."

She comes outside, and immediately runs into Geddy and Martini. We fall in behind her, and Alexej pulls a sconce from a pool for light.

Alexej: "Can you send message to Leira?"

Geddy: "Who do you think I am, some little goth wizard who sends messages."

We retrieve Leira, and follow Janine. She leads us across the courtyard and to the back door to the library. Martini opens up the library, and Janine comes inside with us. She's really excited to be able to look around in here.

Alexej starts looking, and turns up a Book of Elders. "Is maybe old things?" It appears to be a list of clan elders, covering some very secretive people who seem to have lived very long lives. Leira digs in as well.

Martini finds an account of the Night of 1000 fangs, and finds a record of some retainers who were killed then as well: Elaine and Gloria. They ran the mason's guild and apparently built castles for a lot of the elders. They had a daughter who may have escaped with some Von Stein guards.

Geddy digs into the book of elders; the lifespans are too long for humans, and they lived very private lives. He starts looking for accounts of wolf-people. The Wallington Glamorgan, and Ley'saunce clans are referenced as shapeshifters; the Durane clan is referred to as the Humans. There's something about hereditary enemies. Leira starts looking into property and ownership, but gets distracted by the book of fashions that Janine is looking through.

Alexej finds a little more about the elders and their official heraldry; there's a book of heraldy in there somewhere.

Martini finds a book about Giving the Gift and making a new elder; it appears to be vampirism. Geddy goes hunting for the heraldry book, and confirms that yeah, the elders were vampires.

Leira heads over to another shelf, and finds an interesting roll of students who used to study at this school. Von Steins, Daschkovs, or their retainers could all qualify if they had great potential. Elaine and Gloria (the mason couple)'s daughter was allowed into the school at a very young age. Alexej keeps looking for the archive book, but finds a cool book about swords.

Geddy manages to narrow it down to a specific section on genealogies. We do eventually find a reference to a Kroni Daschkov, who had been a son to one of the leaders; he won both the melee and the joust at the tournament in 1729. He was also unaccounted for on the night of 1000 fangs. Elaine and Gloria were retainers to the Von Stein family, and the Von Steins posted guards at their house to protect their daughter.

Janine comes over to ask how we're doing. Alexej: "We found our friend might be named after ancient warrior. Is there map of castle here?"

Janine: "What are you looking for?"

"Somewhere you would put someone if you didn't want them found."

Janine: "The archmagister (Vecna) was a woman." They don't talk about that. They also don't talk about the fact that she was a student here.

Janine: "Well... you might ask Gwendolyn. She used to be a teacher here; now she just helps out. If she's here, then she'll be next door."

So Martini unlocks the next door. We head down the hallway and Janine takes us into a classroom to make introductions.

Gwendolyn is extremely old. The room is basically a clasroom; there's alchemical gear around the edges of the room, scrolls on some of the desks, and shelves with magic textbooks, and a series of class portraits above the shelves.

Martini explains what we're looking for.

Gwendolyn. "The Daschkovs... that was long ago, before the night of a thousand fangs. Very sad."

"As sad as them?" Leira points at the paintings, where one of the portaits is blacked out.

"Now that IS a sad story. She was a daughter of two masons, a magical prodigy. Such a promising student, she was. I was just twenty years old myself."

Martini: "So what happened?"

Gewn: "On the Night of 1000 fangs, her parents were killed. The Von Steins had placed guards on her, and the guards got her away. She resurfaced some time later, and was adopted by Count Orlock. I never saw he again after that, but she continued to do quite well for herself. You can imagine our shame after she went to the castle, became the archmagister... and then betrayed the kingdom. King Baldrik, when he came into power, did not get along with her. She'd brought General Kaz into her plot."

We're puzzled about how this fits with what we sound in the grave. The girl who's blacked out in the pictures always has the same boy standing next to her. "That's got to be her boyfriend?" asks Leira.

...There was a second Vecna, a little boy named Vecna Orlock. "He wasn't as good a wizard as she was, and he died young. Which probably explains the second child-coffin. He died of a fever; it's why Count Orlock never comes out anymore." And she wasn't Vecna; nobody remembers her name anymore. They just call her the Archmagister, even when they're talking about her time as a small child.

Martini: "And do you know anything about Kroni Daschkov?"

Gwen: "Oh my yes! He was a great warrior! Won the tournament. I assume he was killed in the night of a thousand fangs."

Janine has just been following along listening; she doesn't seem very surprised by anything we've asked or been told. "Just think! If the Wallingtons and their friends hadn't slaughtered everyone, she might never have turned bad."

Gwendolyn heads off to sleep. Janine leads us back to the party. Clifton and Amarok have left, and Janine goes back to the queen's table.

Alexej takes Marie to dance again, while Martini distracts her father and asks about Count Orlock.  

Count Orlock, a respectable man with many lands and estates, but not a factor at court anymore. It's been this way for many years.

Night of 1000 fangs: 1741
Currently: 1799 in Fanaxia
1744-45 when Orlock's son died.
The girl moved to the castle, studied under Prospero; she became Archmagister in 1762, and the sundering was 1769. This is using the Old Calendar, not what is currently in use in Sol Povos (and has been for about 500 years). King Baldrik succeeded his father in 1766; that was what prompted her treachery and later the Sundering.

Orlock's son died like fifty years ago, and he's been a recluse since then; the girl moving to court and disaster didn't help. There's a rumor that he adopted another boy after she left. He must have been lonely. Martini theorizes that this other boy may have been Kroni Daschkov, and as a fellow victim of the Night of a Thousand Fangs, may have gone to lend aid to the Archmagister.

Alexej is asking a lot of the same questions of Marie. Has she ever met any Orlocks? No, it's really just the Count and he never comes to court. He has a huge castle down in the griffin hills. She thinks the queen gave up on him long ago. Alexej has a library-date for tomorrow; she gives him directions.

Goran slides up next to Geddy. "I heard about your gambling match with Clifton. I suspect that when you meet with the count that he's going to request that you return his cards. Did you hear about the attack today? It sure seems like those cards were looking for a new owner. Sounds like Clifton just decided to take them from the table."

Yeah, we definitely need to find out more about these cards. And ideally help the queen find an heir.

We get Identify cast on the cards: they're lucky, but you can also use them to draw the Cards of Fate (Deck of Many Things).

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Challenge: LOL

For the last two years, I've been taking part in the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. (The first link will take you to the list of topics; the second one goes to the homepage, where you can find a post with everyone's responses each week. Feel free to join in!)

This week's prompt is "what makes me LOL" (which means Laugh Out Loud for all you young'uns that don't remember the early days of the Internet and chatrooms in particular). (Also? Get off'n my lawn.)

And, well, there are a lot of things. My kids, sometimes. Beautiful Wife can be quite funny when she wants to. Various movies and TV programs. 

But for today, I think I'm going to limit myself to things I can share with you directly on the Internet.

First, a bit of music: Cheap Flights

Next up: Action Movie Kid

I have a whole CD of humorous songs by the Scottish folk duo The Corries

Predator, the Musical:

Last one (and this one's a bit gory, so be warned) is for the comic book geeks out there: Wolverine's Claws Suck

So... what makes you laugh out loud?

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Music: Thrill

 Concrete Castles: 

Music: Beatles Medley

Jesus Christ, Walk Off The Earth is a whole and complete mood unto themselves:

I'm posting this because such writing as I've gotten done has been done for the writing class I'm taking and the writing project I'm working on, and very little of that is going up here -- and I just don't have the energy to produce anything else. I'm riding that edge of being just exhausted enough to be just stressed enough to get things done, which isn't healthy but it does get things done. And I'd like to break that cycle, but things still have to get done.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Monday Medical Update: Progress

 So right yes, Beautiful Wife and I are still neck deep in the recover phase of her surgery. And frankly, she's recovering better and more quickly than she has any right to: she got her post-surgical drain shunts removed last Thursday, which was less than two weeks after the surgery. (The shunts were technically called something like Jackson-Pratt drains, I think.)

Which can also be a problem, because the doctor explained (and I'm paraphrasing): "So you know what happens next? You feel so much better that you over-exert yourself, and tear something inside, and then I have to do more surgery to fix it. So don't do that. Be boring."

This is why I now have have signs all over the house, extolling the virtues of being boring. "Ask yourself: am I boring enough?" "Boring is the new Black." "Boringness is next to Godliness. Be boring -- become DIVINE." And, on the dishwasher: "Ask yourself: could my husband be doing this for me? (Yes. The answer is yes.)" 

So basically, we'll be just fine as long as we can frustrate every single one of Beautiful Wife's most basic instincts. 

And she really isn't recovered yet; her energy's back up, but it doesn't last. Which means that I'm still trying to cover bases and spin plates and keep balls in the air and all that sort of thing. Which means we haven't been doing the kids' D&D games, and I can barely manage to play in the ones I'm playing in, and probably half of the last two weeks of work is just going to get coded as family-related sick time. Also, our washing machine is now semi-functional, but still in need of repairs and the laundry hovers on the edge of being out of control. 

We're trying to take time to do things we enjoy anyway, but it's one hell of a balancing act. I've been adding zombie gnomes to the front yard, and Beautiful Wife added a skeletal flamingo. (It'd be a flock of skeletal flamingos, but we haven't been able to find any more.) I'm taking a writing class to help me stay focused on my current project, and it's already proven worth the cost -- and not just because it helps me stay focused, either. 

So, I mean, it's not like everything's dreary; it's just that everything, together, is a lot.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Dark Armor V2 CH01 SC02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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