Thursday, June 20, 2024

Driving Needs, Part Eight

"Which direction?" asked Antoinette. 

Right, said the voice of dark flames and screaming silence.

Damn it, Chris thought back, let me do this. But he said, "Right."

"Then we'll take left," Elyssa replied, and turned with Antoinette to follow the scent. 

Chris followed the other trail. The scent was fresher to the left, he thought, wondering if it was worth focusing some of his stored Grey into the word for Connection in order to get clearer answers, or whether that would just wake the dark heart further and make it even more difficult to manage.

It was, the voice replied, rich with weight of its own cold fire and divine certainty. Your prey went to the left after it departed the killing-room, and those two will kill it. We have other duties.

Chris swallowed. He'd known when he absorbed the dark heart that it was too much, too powerful. Even if he could have absorbed it forcibly, it would would have overwhelmed him. He would have become part of it, rather than the other way around -- if any part of him had remained at all. It was only because it gave itself up willingly that he was able to take it in, but that meant now that it retained an individuality, a will of its own, that none of his other captured essences possessed. I thought Vengeance was your duty. 

It is. I am the killer of killers, the avenger. But the one your friends hunt is only a little killer. Ending him will be a minor vengeance. You wish to be worthy of me? Show me you can find, and end, the ones who brought him here and loosed him on these people. 

The scent was still clear, but Chris slowed for a moment to sort it from everything else hanging in the half-stale air of the hotel hallway. No blood, no terror, just that rancid, half-rotten scent. Either the hall had been empty when the skin-stealer passed through, or nobody had recognized it as inhuman. 

All right, he replied. Watch me hunt.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Challenge: Childhood Misunderstandings

(This post is part of the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. You can find links to other writers' answers over at Long and Short Reviews. I have not been following along as reliably this year as I did in previous years, but I'm still participating! Mostly.)

Prompt: Things I totally misunderstood as a kid...

I grew up with a large-ish wooden chest in my room. It sat under the window, and we kept stuffed animals, sheets and blankets, and toys in it at various points. It had a lovely little cushion on top, and it was very solid and a good height for sitting on. So, naturally, we called it the seater chest, 'cause it served as a seat. 

Seater chest. For years, I genuinely thought that thing was a type of furniture known as a seater chest, in the same general way way that a small, two-person couch is a love seat. Made perfectly good sense. 

It wasn't until I was sixteen and getting ready to leave home, and we were rearranging the room, that I discovered it was called a seater chest because it was...

...made...

...of...

...cedar

It was a cedar chest, made of cedar wood, and my parents had put a cushion over the top for no better reason than that it seemed like a good idea at the time, not because that sort of chest was supposed to be padded for seating. 

I would not have been more surprised if I'd discovered that my mom had been a cephalopod this whole time. Absolutely mind-blowing. I don't think I've ever recovered.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Lithos Foundingstone: Arcane Limitations


"So we're going to have to pull the warden out of his room," Amergin said, looking at the guard they'd taken prisoner. 

The monk nodded reluctantly. 

Well, all right... Lithos considered what spells he had left to help out with that. Damn it! He was down to one prepared spell: Silent Image. It was a good spell; he liked illusions more than necromancy, to be honest, though he wasn't going to admit that with Vinnie around. He'd even considered specializing in it, but... no, he still wanted access to everything

One spell. And it wasn't going to help them here. 

"Vinnie?" he asked tentatively. 

"Yo kid! What's up?" The skull was, of course, floating beside him -- still wearing its hat and sunglasses -- and just waiting to see what they'd all do. 

"So I know we've used most of the spells that you prepared for us," Lithos said cautiously. He wasn't sure how he felt about that; the choices offered to them seemed more whimsical than practical, like they were designed to entertain the demilich more than actually help the group escape. "I was just wondering if you had anything ready that could help restore some of my spells."

There was a momentary silence, and of course it was impossible to read the expression on a skull; all it did was grin. Constantly. Then Vinnie said, "Kid, you've done good here. I liked that Enervation you hit the berserker with. But the thing you've got to learn about being a wizard is this: it's all about planning. You gotta conserve your resources, know what you're gonna need and when you'll need it. A bit of divination woulda helped you with that."

Lithos raised an eyebrow -- an expression he'd practiced because it was so effective when his mother used it on him. "You think I should have been doing divinations from inside an anti-magic field?"

"Oh. Right. That. Okay, maybe it wouldn'ta helped you now, but it's somethin' to remember for next time. Anyway, kid, the answer's no. I ain't gonna restore any of your spells."

"So you can't," said Lithos.

"I didn't say that!" The green gems affixed to some of the skull's teeth suddenly flared brighter. 

Lithos swallowed. "What if I said you could raise one zombie for each spell I got back? That's not permission," he added quickly. "I'm just asking."

There was a momentary pause as the skull spun around in a full circle. "All right, kid, ya got me. I actually can't restore your spells. That's gotta be you, and it takes rest and study. But damn that was a tempting offer, kid."

Monday, June 17, 2024

Driving Needs, part seven

"This door?" asked Antoinette. 

Chris and Elyssa inhaled, looked at each other, and nodded. 

Antoinette rattled off a phrase, and Chris felt the Grey gather around her and settle into place. Luck? Armor? Some kind of protection, anyway. She'd muttered it under her breath, so he wasn't sure what she'd actually spoken. 

"I'll take the door," Elyssa volunteered. She glanced back at Antoinette. "Chris should go through first, with you ready to speak against anything that comes at him."

Antoinette nodded. "Sounds good. Do it." She muttered something else and the lock clicked.

Antoinette reached forward and opened the door. Chris slipped through, gun out and angled to cover everything he could. He was relying on sight and sound now, but nothing moved and the only sound was the very faint hum of the ventilation and the slight dripping of a leaky...

He'd expected a faucet, or something similar. It wasn't. The blood was soaked into a king-sized bed ahead and to his right, and dripping onto the tight weave of the carpet. A suitcase was open on a small stand to his left, beside the set of drawers with the large hotel television on top. A memory tried to push its way up, but he shoved it back down. 

The bathroom door to his right was open. "Cover front," he said automatically, and turned into it. Practice at working as a unit had definitely paid off. 

There was nobody on the toilet, nothing in the bathtub, no surprises under the counter. He came back out, stepped deeper into the room. 

"Closet?" asked Antoinette.

He stopped, turned to his left, and slid the door aside. Coats and slacks hung on the hangers, and there was a small metal safe tucked up onto a shelf above them, but otherwise the space was empty. He still couldn't hear anything, and so far he hadn't seen any movements. The scents, though... blood and urine and emptied bowels, the body-scent of terror still hanging in the air, and something else... something that smelled like rotting meat. He'd smelled it out in the hallway, too, but it was better to start here and be certain...

And now he was. This was definitely the place. He stopped and looked around again, but the only tracks in the room were traced in blood and emerged from the far side of the bed, racing out towards the balcony. 

"Following," said Elyssa calmly, letting him know that she'd moved into the room behind him. 

He nodded without looking back, and finished circling the bed. Lowering his gun at last, he said, "Yeah. This was the place. We missed it."

"You smell that?" asked Elyssa. 

"Same as the hallway," he confirmed. "Problem is, the scent goes both ways out there. Which way did it come in, and which way did it go out?"

Antoinette had come into the room behind Elyssa; he turned just in time to see her swallow as she focused on the bed. "So the victim was skinned here, but managed to throw himself off the ledge. We have no idea what the killer was doing when that happened, and there are two possible paths it might have followed when it left." She swallowed, then looked at Chris. "Can I trust you not to get yourself killed if we split up?"

Chris considered that for a long moment, then nodded.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Music: Seven Days to the Wolves

Nightwish:

No dark armor today, sorry. This week took a turn for the surreal (and also very busy) and I simply haven't had time or energy to envision the next scene.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Terra Povos: A Prison Break Most Broken

Whisper has pulled the Sleep lever in the Safe Room, and pretty much everyone is asleep except for Whisper and probably the warden and a couple of guards who had retreated into the guardroom. At this point, Whisper is the only person still conscious. He’s in the same room with some of our treasure as well as some utility items: pipes of the sewers, elixir of vision, 2 tanglefoot bags, 2 smokesticks and some miscellaneous weapons and armor. There’s also some food and water. 

Whisper leaves the sleep gas on, and hears some voices coming out of one of the tubes, labeled guard’s quarters. 

Warden: “I’m going to retreat back to my room with a couple of guards. You take the tunnels and go pry them out of the panic room. We’ll get this all wrapped up."

Whisper opens the trapdoor and looks down into the tunnel system. There are actually two trap doors, and they appear to go into different tunnels. Can hear feet coming down the tunnel; three people, he thinks. He spikes the trap doors closed, starting with the one with the footsteps. He then grabs a bunch of weapons and heads down the stairs. He comes to a side-passage whence he can turn left or continue on straight. 

He comes up a set of stairs that apparently end in a blank wall… but there are wisps of gas still slipping through the cracks. He hears a smashing sound down the tunnels; it’s probably guards trying to get through the trap door. He waits. They continue smashing at the trap door and finally get through. Whisper stays silent where he is. 

One of the monks-guards arrives in the passage with Whisper. Whisper opens the door and slips through, finding Baldy on his back on the stone. He move and kicks Baldy awake, leaving the secret door open behind him, and drops the pile of weapons on Baldy. 

Baldy scoops up the light crossbow and loads it. The monk runs into the room. “They’re in-- ugh!” Baldy shoots him with the crossbow. It doesn’t do that much damage, but it brings him to a momentary halt. Whisper stabs the monk with a dagger. Baldy shoots him again. Monk: “Fuck! Shit!” He backs up as Whisper stabs at him again, and shuts the door behind him. 

Whisper tries to open the door, but the monk is holding it closed. Baldy gets up and charges the door and manages to smash it open with his body. He and the monk both go tumbling down the stairs. The monk tries to grapple Baldy, but Baldy manages to slap him away. Whisper slides next to them and stabs the monk again. Baldy is still slap-fighting, but the monk manages to grapple him. Baldy: “Oh, yeah, pin me Daddy!”

The monk has called for somebody to get back to the sleep lever, and Whisper hears steps. The monk attempt to slap him into unconsciousness, and Baldy opens his mouth to absorb the blow. Whisper runs for the lever room through the tunnels. He’s sprinting, but he’s a dwarf; he’s not that fast. He runs up the stairs and finds one dwarf by the levers and one looking surprised. These guys are *not* monks; but one of them pulls the gas lever. The other one pulls a weapon and starts toward Whisper, but misses him.

The monk attacks again, but Baldy manages to avoid the attack through sheer carnal flexibility. (His favorite class in school was mouthmatics.) 

Whisper throws himself on the guy with the lever, knocking him away. Baldy is getting himself tied in knots. The guy that Whisper tackled manages to throw him off. The gas is now creeping down the stairs. Baldy: “Oh! We’re going to wake up in each other’s arms. Now *that* take me back.” 

The monk finally manages to land a blow, and Baldy is stunned. 

Whisper stabs the guy in front of him. One of them slices him, but not badly. The monk grabs Baldy, take a deep breath, and runs up the stairs to drop Baldy just inside the secret door. Whisper is still fighting the two guys; Baldy is back to being asleep. 

The monk slams the door and then crumples against it, also unconscious. Whisper continues fighting, but nobody hits anybody. Whisper manages to hit one of the guys, then smashes the glass and grabs the red lever; he looks at the two guys threateningly. They attack him. 

He pulls the lever. The anti-magic field goes away. Vinnie: “Awwww, yeah. That’s the stuff.” Whisper stabs with his suddenly-magic dagger and takes one guy down. He fights with the other guy, taking a bit more damage in the process, and takes the second guy down as well. 

He shuts the gas off, and starts counting down waiting for it to dissipate. While he’s waiting he flips the emergency doors open, then goes to finish off the monk. He gets about halfway down the passage and hears footsteps running towards him. Vinnie hasn’t got much left for us in the way of spells, but he drops Phantom Steed in the passage, and the horse charges the monk. “Oh! Fuck! Shit!” The horse runs over him and he takes damage. 

Whisper follows the horse around the corner and stabs the absolute *fuck* out of the monk. The horse attempts to stomp on him, forcing him to dodge and preventing him from getting to his feet. He tries to sweep Whisper’s legs out from under him, but Whisper resists and stabs him again. 

The horse promptly tramples him to death. 

Vinnie: “You know, I was thinking Fireball, Lightning Bolt, and then I thought… horse!” 

Baldy wakes up to see Whisper coming past on a ghostly horse, tossing weapons around. He decides to shake Monster awake and have him come with us. 

Lithos wakes up to mouth-to-mouth from Vinnie. This also wakes up James, who is only slightly less appalled than Lithos is. 

We still need to finish getting people out, and Monster accepts a greatsword though he seems a bit reluctant to use it. 

The riot in the yard has resumed, now on somewhat more equal terms. Baldy rushes over and grabs Lithos’ and Amergin’s stuff. Baldy also grabs the Pipes of the Sewers, grins maniacally, and starts playing them. He also grabs Roetta Blackwood’s spellbook: Scare, Cause Fear, and Chill Touch. 

Whisper gallops back to Solitary, pops the lock, and gets James and Lithos out. We should go. But first: tunnel to the guards’ quarters. We start routing people down into the tunnels. Whisper jams the sleep lever. We disable the lever labeled “gas” too. 

Leaving the riot to fall as it may, we take to the tunnels and head for the guards’ quarters, with Baldy playing the Bagpipes of the Sewers . We come to the stairs leading up to the wall. Whisper charges through the door on his phantom steed, smashing it open; Whisper tumbles off and lands neatly beside it. The horse fails to trample anybody. A monk tries to tumble over next to Whisper, but whifs it; Whisper tries to stab him but misses. He attempts to punch Whisper and hits him. 

Amergin throws Entangle into the room. Various guards attack, mostly missing. Monster lumbers up the stairs and swings at the monk but misses. James races up behind him, jumps across the horse, tumbles, and lands in the back. Lithos fires of Glitterdust, blinding a couple of enemies, while Baldy sends his rat swarm up the stairs to assault the blinded glitterdust victims. 

Whisper takes out a blinded scrub. The monk attacks Monster with a stunning fist; Monster is stunned. The rats are on the monk, the legion fighter, and one of the scrubs. Amergin moves up and heals Whisper. 

The legion fighter turns around, looks at James, laughs… and turns around and attacks Whisper, hitting him very had with a dwarven waraxe. The battlerager, however, attacks James and hits once, doing a bit of damage. The blind scrub misses, and the other scrub misses the horse. The horse, meanwhile tramples the scrub and moves further into the room. 

James swings his awesome mace of awesomeness and hits the battlerager with a sneak attack. Lithos hits the battlerager with a Ray of Enfeeblement; his target loses a significant portion of his strength. The rats continue working on the legion fighter and the monk. Baldy moves up, still playing his bagpipe, and and puts a crossbow bolt through the throat of one of the scrubs. The scrub goes down. Whisper stabs the legionnaire, doing a fair amount of damage. 

The monk attacks Monster again, hitting him critically but failing to stun him. The horse is basically rampaging at this point. Amergin heals Whisper again. The legion fighter attacks Whisper, but doesn’t do much damage. The battlerager attacks James again, doing a bit of damage. The remaining scrub is just attacking the stone wall. Monster attacks the monk, doing a chunk of damage. James hits the battlerager again. Lithos tags the monk with Scorching Ray, burning him badly. The scrub is still struggling on, blind and being eaten by rats. Whisper moves to flank the battlerager, stabs him, and watches him fall. Vinnie: “Oh, yeah! Hey, I should start turning some of these guys into zombies." 

Lithos:  "No! Not now!"

The monk hits Monster again, and stuns him. Amergin gives him a bit of healing to help him keep going. The legion fighter attacks Monster and takes him down. 

James is still caught in the Entangle and tries to move on the Legion Guy; Legion Guy takes damage. The monk manages to slip through the Entangle and attacks Whisper but misses. Amergin stabilizes Monster. Lithos renders Whisper invisible, and he takes out the legion fighter. The scrub finally goes down as the pile of rats swarms over him. The monk takes a bit more damage from Lithos throwing acid. Whisper attempts to shank the monk. The monk sizes up the room and surrenders. 

Amergin ties him up and starts asking questions. 

We use the warden’s keyring to open the vault. The place is absolutely full, and after ten minutes we’ve made a huge mess but we haven't found our stuff and it’s taking too long. The warden has the lever for the outer doors and a book that lists where things are kept in the vault; we're going to have to go dig him out of his hole.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Challenge: In A New Light

(This post is part of the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. You can find links to other writers' answers over at Long and Short Reviews. I have not been following along as reliably this year as I did in previous years, but I'm still participating! Mostly.)

Prompt: Characters I see differently now than I used to...

Okay, so hear me out on this one. Back in the eighties, there was a Dungeons and Dragons cartoon. 

The cartoon featured a group of six teenagers who'd been magically transported into a fantasy realm and equipped with legendary magical weapons. Among the ongoing dangers they encountered were Venger -- "The Force of Evil" -- and Tiamat, the five-headed dragon of chaos. Their primary ally, guide, and mentor was the mysterious figure known as Dungeon Master -- the same one who provided them with their weapons. Dungeon Master would offer them advice and guidance, though often in the form of riddles. 

Of the six adventuring teenagers, Hank the Ranger was the most noble and heroic, always ready to face a new challenge and do the right things. Diana the Acrobat, Sheila the Thief, Bobby the Barbarian, and Presto the Magician were generally cooperative and supportive, following Hank's lead and trying to work together to solve problems. Eric the Cavalier was presented as the weak point of the party, the one you weren't supposed to like: a spoiled child, a grumbling complainer, mistrusting Dungeon Master's advice, and frequently advocating for the party to turn aside from their current quest and go do something easier. Basically, he was a horrible brat who still occasionally saved the entire team because his shield could project a force field. 

Yeah, well... I picked up a copy of that old cartoon on DVD a while back, and re-watched about half of it. 

Thing is? Eric was right. Frequently. Consistently. Maybe not always, but he saw right through Dungeon Master's fatherly facade and had no problem with calling him out on the fact that his "help" was frequently misleading in ways that deliberately led the group further into trouble. He was the one who spoke up when the group was about to do something mind-bogglingly stupid. He was presented as a coward -- and that was, to some extent, accurate -- but that was frequently the only sensible response to the situations the group found themselves in. 

And for all that Eric might have been a coward, he was also 100% a hero.