Tuesday, July 27, 2021

First drafts and older writings

Last night I tried to settle in and do some more writing on Shadow Academy, the Magic School for Monsters project that I'm working on. I'm torn, because I like the opening I have currently, and I like the things that happen after it, but it also feels like I'm getting distracted by them. Also, I know I have a bad tendency towards Kitchen Sink Syndrome -- throw in every cool idea that comes along! They won't clutter up the book until you can't even find your way back to the original plot! Surely not! 

...So yeah, I kind of find myself looking at a choice: use a different opening, or press on and trim this later.

This is, admittedly, better than what happened with my last project, where I literally couldn't seem to find an opening that I liked well enough to continue on with. Kitchen Sink Syndrome, again: I had so many ideas for the project that any given opening closed off some ideas that I really liked, until finally the whole thing stalled. 

So I sat down and tried to think about the Shadow Academy storyline, and whether to try a new opening that's closer to the action or continue on this intriguing little bit of wayside world-building, and... I couldn't muster any enthusiasm for either approach. Which is not a huge surprise; 2021 has been hugely stressful, I'm exhausted, and we'd just finished a very full day. 

I would really, really, really have liked to get some writing done. 

But in a fit of uncommon good sense, I decided not to force it. (I know there are writers and writing advice who say, "Push on, and clean it up during editing!" but that does not seem to work for me. The inevitable result of me trying to do that is crap writing followed by frustration and burnout.) Instead, I went back and looked at an old throw-away project that I was playing with a couple of years ago in an effort to write something that I wasn't deeply invested in and could possibly finish. 

And it was more or less what I remembered. It's a fantasy story about a couple of princes who get roped into accompanying the daughter of the High King to a wilderness-lost temple so that she can renew her family's link to their patron god. I remember that at one point I got overtired and determined to Get Some Writing Done and then got frustrated with the project and gave up, but for the life of me I do not remember why. What I read back through last night is... fine. Nothing I couldn't pick back up. Enjoyable reading, even.

(I think, looking back at it, that I was trying to get it going on a regular schedule on Patreon so that I could finish setting that up, so it seems likely that the crap stuff that derailed me is all over there rather than in the document that I was looking at last night. I will not be going back to review any of that; it'll just derail me again.)

So I finished reading it, and added a couple of lines, and went to bed. 

I'm so proud of me.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Vendril: The Archon and the Hunter

"Archon Marriq," said a voice, and the archon stopped. He was just about to turn from Victory lane onto Loyalty street, where his house lay safe inside its high walls and magical wards. The guards moved up from behind him, forming a triangle around him: two behind, one in front. They blocked his view of the street ahead, but he didn't complain. It was, he understood, more important for them to be able to see what was happening, especially if there was about to be an attack. 

"You have a problem, Archon," said the voice, and his guards were still looking around, still trying to place its source. 

"If you're the problem," said Marriq, "then do whatever it is you came here to do... and let us resolve it. My time is valuable." He was uncomfortably aware that any number of magical attacks could engulf him and all three of his guards, but it wouldn't do for an archon to be cowed. 

"I'm not the problem," said the voice. "I'm your solution. Your problem is the Silver Fox."

Marriq laughed. "Children's tales," he said. "Rumors spread by elvish criminals to scare us and reassure their people."

"And how many of your inquisitors have had to retire from public service owing to the mark of the Fox on their cheek? How much does your office spend on magically removing those marks? I've spoken with four, so far: two who still bear their marks, and two who had them removed. None of them felt that enough was being done. And I know full well that Vigo the Whisperer is offering a bounty... Perhaps his Highness the King doesn't feel that enough is being done, either."

"And you're here to fix that for me?" asked Marriq, gesturing the guards aside and stepping forward even as he reviewed the spells at his disposal. He was not a mighty wizard, but he was no mere bureaucrat either. "Very well. Show yourself, and let us deal."

A figure stepped out of an arched doorway that Marriq would have sworn was empty. "As you wish." 

He was human, broad-shouldered and powerfully muscled, wearing a plain brown tunic and orange pants tucked into high brown boots. There was a heavy, curved sword at his side and a black cloak thrown back across his shoulders. "I can catch the man that nobody can catch -- if there's enough money in it."

Marriq raised his hands, palms up, to either side. "You know about the bounty already. Five thousand for the Silver Fox, another thousand for each of his companions. How much more do you want?"

"Double that," said the man, and there was something very disturbing in the way that he moved, stilled, stared. "I want twice the promised reward, and a public announcement, and a presentation to the king."

Marriq frowned, troubled. "I cannot promise any of those things." 

"I understand," said the man. "Still, you can talk to the people who can make such promises. I will find you again in three days, and you will give me an answer."

"As you say," Marriq regarded the stranger. "I can do this. But why should I -- or Vigo, or the King -- believe you can keep this bargain?" 

The man shrugged and smiled. "Because I can do things other men cannot. Your tormentor is hidden from people such as you, but not from me. And in any case, there's no loss to you if I fail."

Marriq found that he believed him. "I will... speak with the people I know," he said. "I will let you know what I hear back."

Friday, July 23, 2021

Duendewood: Memories

"You're looking thoughtful there, Ruin," said Geddy, taking a seat on the back of the wagon beside him and handing him an unlabeled bottle. 

Ruin accepted the bottle, took a swig, and then forced himself to swallow without reacting; he'd been expecting beer or ale, but this was some sort of very nice whisky. Gnomish? He had no idea. "You're good," he told Geddy. "Most people can't tell the difference between me looking thoughtful and me looking homicidal." 

Geddy shrugged. "It got easier after I realized you have a bad case of Resting Murder Face." 

Ruin chuckled. "I was thinking about the temple of Amun, and the paladin and the priest -- Anica and Aesa." 

"It did look like you were having a wild couple of days," Geddy said cheerfully. "So you really were with both of them?"

Ruin nodded. 

"At the same time?" 

Ruin took another swig from the bottle, then shook his head and handed it back. "I hadn't expected to be with anybody," he admitted. "Not there. Part of that was your fault... not that I'm complaining." 

"I thought you needed the help," said Geddy. "In retrospect, I might have been mistaken."

Ruin shrugged. "I wouldn't have predicted it, either."

"So you're thinking about them. Are you missing them?" 

"I am." Ruin paused, then added: "I know, it surprised me too." 

Geddy chuckled. "One of them in particular, or...?"

Ruin shook his head. "Both. Each in different ways. I keep telling myself that it's good that we left when we did, but... I liked that place, Geddy."

Geddy smiled and shrugged. "You could always go back there. Become a paladin, maybe." 

Ruin, who had taken the bottle back again and just filled his mouth, sprayed whiskey over the back gate of the carriage and onto the ground. He paused to get himself back under control, wiped his mouth, then took another sip and actually managed to swallow it. "It would almost be worth it," he admitted, "just to see the look on Werendril's face when he found out. But that's if I could get one of the gods to accept me. And... if I could deal with that."

"You could go back, though," Geddy repeated, more seriously this time. 

"What would I say?" Ruin asked. "'Oops' doesn't quite seem to cover it, somehow."

"They've probably found out by now," Geddy pointed out. "It was a small place, and it sounds like they knew each other pretty well. I don't know if that would make it worse or better, though. The paladin seemed pretty level-headed when I spoke to her."

"She was," said Ruin. "I don't think she had any illusions about how this was going to play out. The priest, though... I don't think she really had any illusions either, but I think she might have had hopes. And I don't know how to answer her optimism-- at all, but especially given that we're all very likely going to die horribly while attempting to serve the King and defeat the Order of Secrets." He considered that. "I'd like to find out how things might have gone, with either or both of them, but I don't think I'll be allowed that opportunity. Does that make sense?"

Geddy nodded slowly. "Yeah... yes, it does." 

Ruin nodded back. "So that's what I was thinking about."

Geddy could have taken that as a dismissal, but he didn't. Instead he asked: "So what if you don't die horribly? What if you do get the chance?"

There was a long moment of comfortable silence, before Geddy handed the bottle back over and Ruin poured three large swallows down his throat. Then he handed the bottle back, and after moment he answered. 

"I have no idea." He leaned back, looked up at the trees overhead. "I thought I was ready for a war with the humans, but it turns out the important part of the war isn't with the humans. I thought I would become the sort of warrior who turned his rage and ferocity to tear through their ranks, but instead I've become this... hunter, this explorer. Traveler. Whatever."

"The old name is Horizon Walker," said Geddy. "There are stories. Not many, but some."

Ruin nodded. Then he added, "I'm increasingly convinced that I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing, and not only that but I never did. What do I actually want from my life if we somehow come through this alive? I have no idea."

Geddy chuckled. "That's not so uncommon as you seem to think. At least you're thinking about it now. So what would you do if we vanquished the Order of Secrets, disrupted Vecna's plan, and were still alive after that?" 

"...I'd go back and see them," Ruin said. "See how they felt. See if they were still interested in me. See if any of it could lead anywhere, and then see where that went."

"There's your answer," said Geddy. "If we live, you want to see what could be -- with the human, or the thinblood, or whatever worked out. You'd want to follow up on the opportunities you're afraid you missed."

Ruin nodded very slowly, then turned to look at Geddy. "Yes, I suppose I would." He swallowed. "Thanks, Geddy. That... actually helps."

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Vendril: The Unwanted Recruit

"Take me with you," said Teleian. "I can help." 

The Silver fox shook his head. Even in the light of mid-morning, even to elvish eyes, his face was still shadowed by his cowl. Teleian wasn't entirely sure how he could even see; surely the hood that shadowed his face and reduced it to nothing more than a voice behind a mask, perhaps the faintest gleam of his eyes, surely that interfered with his peripheral vision, at least. 

But it never seemed to. 

"Why not?" he asked, and his voice was suddenly too plaintive, too desperate, too much

The Fox went very still, one hand hidden by his cloak and one hand on the edge of a wagon. Then he said, softly, "Because I don't want my mistakes to get anyone else killed."

Teleian's mind went blank, and he answered before he had a chance to think: "You don't make mistakes! You're the Silver Fox! You've been making a mockery of the guard and the archons for months now!"

The Fox brought his head up, met Teleian's eyes. "Everything I did, everything that brought me here, was a mistake. Everything I thought we accomplished, everyone I thought we saved, I was wrong. We were tricked, all the way down the line, and I never caught on until it was far too late and the only option left was to run." His voice was soft, breathy, but less threatening than it had been when he'd been giving orders and sorting things out in the darkness of the elf-ghetto of Solstar. That sense of unspoken menace had been replaced by a tone of doubt and regret.

Teleian hesitated, choosing his words carefully. "Do you think I don't know how that feels?" he asked, finally. "And knowing how it feels, do you think I can set that aside and just move on?"

"...It would be better if you could," said the Fox. "Stay here in Duendewood. Find a good wife. Raise fat babies."

"And wake in the night knowing that I helped King Elfsbane's Archons root out the resistance?"

The Boar, still in his pig-shaped metal helm, wandered over and stopped beside the the Fox. "There's a question?" His voice was deep, guttural, his words thick and accented. Teleian still wasn't sure whether the boar was male or female, but he definitely presented male. 

"He lets you help him," said Teleian, trying to make it sound like a reasoned argument instead of someone whining. 

"I once punched a warhorse unconscious because I didn't like the way it was looking at me," said the Boar. "What would you bring to the struggle?"

The Hawk and the Owl had been working on other things, but now they drifted over and suddenly Teleian felt like he was on trial. "I can use a sword, or a bow," he said. 

"Who can't?" asked the Hawk, with a chuckle. None of them had removed their masks, but the Hawk was definitely an elvish woman; she didn't bother with a cowl, just her hawk-shaped mask and feathered cloak. And she was right; he wasn't offering the sorts of skills that would be any use to a group like this. He wasn't showing them how he could help with the struggle

"I know people," he said. "I know my way around Solstar, and the ghetto in particular. I could get information, spy on things without looking out of place. And I'm fast and quiet -- enough to get myself and Tennira in and out of the human armory without being caught."

The Fox glanced at the others. The Boar stood unmoving, but after a moment he(?) rumbled, "That's not nothing."

"Can you disguise yourself?" asked the Fox. "Move unnoticed through a crowd?" 

"No," Teleian admitted, "but I can learn."

The Owl moved away from the others, circled around behind him. Teleian resisted the urge to flinch, and forced himself to stay still. 

"If you had to kill someone, what would you use?" asked a soft, sexless voice that was uncomfortably close to his left shoulder. He didn't know there was a dagger back there as well, but he could imagine it all too vividly. 

"Anything I had available, of course," he answered quietly, and forced his shoulders to relax. 

"Keep him," said the whisper behind him. 

The Fox glanced from Teleian to the Owl standing behind him, then to the Hawk and the Boar. He couldn't read their expressions through their masks, but apparently the Fox could. "What would we call you?" he asked. 

Teleian considered. He wasn't a great warrior. He wasn't a mighty mage, or divinely-inspired cleric. His talents, such as they were, ran to avoiding notice and knowing when to run. "The Mouse?" 

The Fox twitched, then twitched twice more before Teleian realized that he was quietly laughing. "Very well," he said. "I've no idea what sort of mask we'll find for that, for you, but it will be done. Just remember that this isn't an adventure; it's a job. And your primary duty is to stay alive and unnoticed."

Teleian nodded, trying not to show his relief. "I understand."

Vendril doesn't think of himself as a leader, but apparently he's just acquired the Leadership feat. The Boar is a half-orc, some kind of melee combatant, who thinks that wearing a pig-shaped helmet is ironic. The Hawk is an elf wizard, and the owl is a half-elf cleric with Trickery and probably Travel as domains.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Blogging Challenge: Five Items I Can't Live Without

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!)

 I know I've been remiss about doing these for the last couple of weeks; I'll just say that life has been fraught and leave it at that.

Anyway, the prompt for today is "five items I can't live without."

So I'll skip the obvious and note that "my family" who would top the list otherwise, is not an item; nor are the people in it items. 

Inanimate objects, though? And we're talking about day-to-day use, not things that I would be heartbroken to lose? All right: 

5. Allergy Meds. I've mentioned before that I'm allergic to, well, Texas, and also that I live here. Allergy meds are are a necessity, and also one of the reasons why I never want to caught in a zombie apocalypse: I'd give myself away be sneezing.

4. An electric kettle. So I'm also fairly ADHD, and over the course of my life I've murdered no fewer than three regular kettles by putting them on the stove and then forgetting to take them off when they boil. Two of those were because I got in the shower. It's frankly a wonder I didn't burn the house down. So: electric kettle definitely goes on the list. On a related note...

3. Tea. I live on the stuff. I mean, I suppose I could wean myself off of it if I really had too, but why would I ever want to offer such an affront to the wise and loving Tea Gods?

2. My Kindle. It's like a magic book made of other books. 

1. My laptop. I live on this thing. I know people who rely on cloud storage and can work from any machine, anywhere; but I like having a single laptop that holds everything (besides books) that I need. It's where I do my writing. It has all my music, and a good selection of movies. It even has a couple of games on it, for when I don't feel up to anything else. 

So there you go. That's my list of must-have items. What does yours look like?

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Duendewood: The Ambush, Part 2

We pick up in the midst of the battle.

Azrael drops Acid Fog on a bunch of the harpies in the air. The spell isn't that damaging, but they can't see through it and they have to push through it to move, so movement is SLOW.

Ruin starts walking towards the harpy that has him charmed, coming towards the bottom of the acid fog, while Geddy (still up in the tree on a branch) heals himself of a substantial portion of his wounds.

The Harpy priestess, who was flying above the fog, moves over to Geddy and tries to curse him; he is unaffected.

A hulking corpse comes over and tries to attack Ruin, but misses; one of the harpy archers puts a couple of arrows in him. The other harpies swarm around, but fail to connect with either Martini or Ruin.

Eva the young gold dragon comes winging through, becoming briefly visible as she passes through the harpy priestess' Invisibility Purge aura, and blasts fire across the priestess and two of the harpies.

Azrael moves in and finishes off the Harpy Priestess.

The hulking corpses try to grapple Ruin and Martini. Ruin shoves his attacker away, but Martini get grabbed. The harpies around Ruin take to the sky, but the ones around Martini just cluster around to watch the corpse try to mangle her.

The Apparatus that we've come here to steal... erm, commandeer... continues past us. The wizards inside launch a lightning bolt at Geddy, who takes it on his gnomish chin. He is still clinging to the tree branch. One of the Harpy Archers shoots him, and Geddy finally falls out of the tree, unconscious. The archer turns her other two shots to Eva, the dragon.

One of the harpy archers fires at Ruin, but only hits him once. Eva drops down to guard her Uncle Geddy, and breaths fire on a couple of harpies.

Azrael drops an empowered Fireball on the harpies that are flying above Ruin. The harpy archer avoids the worst of it, but the others... four of the five die immediately. He follows up with a quickened Magic Missile, and Ruin carves chunks out of the hulking corpse beside him.

Martini uses Dimension Door to escape being grappled, and places herself on top of the Apparatus. She's out of the field, so she's invisible again. More hulking corpses move in on Ruin, flanking him. They attack, but fail to connect with him.

The last harpy stuck in the fog falls from the air as acid eats into its flesh.

With Geddy down, the harpies start singing again. Azrael resists; Ruin and Martini are both charmed again. The apparatus continues forward, trundling away from us.

The two harpy archers start singing as well, but Azrael resists them as well.

Eva heals Geddy back to consciousness, if not strength; and Azrael drops another empowered Fireball on a bunch of harpies. Only one harpy survives.

Geddy drops more healing on himself, and stands up. One of the harpies runs away, still singing; the apparatus keeps moving with Martini on the back of it. They waste a Phantasmal Killer spell on Geddy, but he's Death Warded, so that's no use.

One of the hulking corpses finally manages to hit Ruin, which snaps him out of the charm.

The harpy archers fire at Ruin, but miss.

Eva moves over and sprays fire across two of the hulking corpses, carefully not hitting Ruin. The one that Ruin wounded earlier collapses.

Azrael considers the harpy that flew away to the southwest; he can still hear its song. But since he can't actually see it, he uses an empowered scorching ray on one of the Hulking Corpses; he also drops Web in front of the Apparatus of Kwalish, possibly slowing it down.

Ruin unloads on the hulking corpse that Eva lit up, and cuts it down. Geddy activates the ebony fly and goes hunting for the harpy that's hiding to the southwest (but still singing).

The Harpy Archers move back and try to attack Eva again, this time only hitting twice.

The remaining melee-range Hulking Corpse tries to grab Ruin again, and this time succeeds.

The two remaining Harpy Archers attack Eva, who's the only one who's both visible and not closely entangled with one of their allies. They put four arrows into our young dragon companion, doing a LOT of damage. Eva changes position, and bathes them in fire breath.

Ruin uses his Dimension Door ability to escape the grapple, and yells "Neener neener neener!" or something similar at the two remaining Hulking Corpses in an attempt to lure them into charging right into our pit trap.

Geddy is homing in on the hidden (but still singing) harpy.

The two hulking corpses charge towards Ruin and fall into the pit; Eva steps aside to let one of them go by. Eva flames the two Harpy Archers, immolating one of them.

Ruin cuts down one of the Hulking Corpses in the pit.

Geddy locates the harpy, and hits it with Tasha's Hideous Laughter but doesn't bring it down.

The remaining harpy archer tries to finish off Eva, and doesn't quite manage it. She throws more fire at it, and it... dissolves into ash.

Ruin chases after the Apparatus and put himself under it. Martini sprints off from where was standing near the last remaining harpy, catching up with the Apparatus again.

Geddy returns to Eva, hovering above her on his Ebony Fly.

The Appratus continues forward, and the wizards inside drop Tasha's Hideous Laughter on Ruin and Martini, taking them both down. Geddy comes towards us on the Fly, and casts Greater Dispel Magic on Martini. Martini no longer thinks this is funny, and stands up again.

One of the wizards targets Ruin and Martini with Confusion, but neither is confused.

Eva heals herself a bit, but hangs back where she is. Ruin is not confused, but *is* still busy laughing; Martini moves under the Apparatus and attempts to open the anus-door. (It's actually a porthole, but given where it is located on Apparatus, well...) She flips up and plants her slippers of spider climbing on the bottom, and goes to work on the lock as the Apparatus moved forward.

Geddy dispels Hideous Laughter, and Ruin is no longer amused.

The wizards cast Laughter again, and Ruin goes right back down.

Azrael throws another Web spell, to slow the Apparatus. Ruin continues laughing, and Martini finally manages to get the door open.

Geddy begins singing to inspire us with courage.

The Apparatus come to a stop, and all four wizards lean out the bottom and tag Martini with Magic Missile.

Eva moves up, continuing to heal herself. Azrael restores his Greater Invisibility, which had worn off, and launches an empowered fireball into the Apparatus. He scorches the uphostery and the wizards alike, but doesn't quite kill them; they've been bolstered with False Life.

Martini starts stabbing into the Apparatus. Martini is a meatgrinder, a sewing machine of death. Of the four wizards inside, only one survives.

Geddy flies closer, still singing, forty feet in the air.

The last wizard throws one more Confusion spell. Martini is confused. (Ruin, of course, is still busy laughing.) Eva just moves over, reaches up, and yanks the last wizard out of the apparatus.

We spend a bit of time figuring out how to operate this thing; then we head into the impossibly deep lake that is Mar Dento, circling around to avoid the Titan's Reach area where the Hierophant is probably awaiting the arrival of the Apparatus. We head down into the water at about the point when the Hierophant would be expecting it to arrive at Titan's Reach. We find the bottom of Mar Dentro and the hole at the base of Titan's Reach, where the geological "fingers" come back together in a hole that goes all the way down through the bottom of the world, until it turns out that we've descended so long that we're now ascending. We come out on a sea bottom, and decide to come up to the surface.

We're looking at the coast of Fanaxia. We're in the northern bay.

It's late May. So, OOC, there's a definite chance that we're going to have to rescue our Solari characters from this place -- and dear ye immortal gods, Ruin may yet have to explain himself to Tavros. We descend again, and follow the finger-tendrils up to the surface (instead of just going straight up) and find ourselves at "The Fingers" which mark the end of the Grand Gulf in Fanaxia.

The Grand Gulch is huge, and deep, and we follow the tracks all the way up the river to Lake Ovoguia; the stone fingers twist together into a sort of arm, that seems to be reaching into the underwater extension of Mount Ovoguia; the plants here are growing in the shape of an eye, and there's an underwater cave in the center.

We enter the cave, and come out of an underground lake into a cavern. The floor of the cavern is marked with the Eye of Vecna; there's a trail of these sigils, leading to an ancient staircase that leads up. 

OOC, we break there.

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Dragon's Hoard

Fighter: "We'll attack the dragon while it's sleeping."

Wizard: "You guys pound on it. I'll keep ennervating it until it's too weak to fight back."

Barbarian: "And then we take its hoard!"

Rogue: "Um, guys? I scouted ahead, and... that isn't gold. The dragon is sleeping on a pile of teeth."
Cleric: "...What did you just say?"
Rogue: "Teeth. It's sleeping on a massive pile of human and animal teeth."
Wizard: "..."
Barbarian: "..."
Cleric: "...Teeth?"
Fighter: "Okay, new plan, guys. We turn around and we walk out of this cave and we never come anywhere near this place ever again."
Barbarian: "Sold."