Thursday, May 30, 2019

Ruin and Control

"Are you so certain it will be war?" asked Sherralitha.

Ruin shrugged. "Has our history ever suggested otherwise?"

"But it came so close." Sherra leaned forward, intent on convincing him. "We had the treaties. They still remember them. And they do revere Saint Margery."

"That didn't stop them from betraying us. And this new king is selfish and vain. We aren't like him, and so he doesn't see us as people. And the human lords listen when he claims that the treaties are forgeries. Or they pretend to believe him for their own gain."

"The humans live in peace with Dwarves, Halflings, and Gnomes," Sherra said. "They could learn to do the same with us."

"They could," Ruin acknowledged slowly, "but not until we hurt them, not until we teach them that it costs too much to attack us. The Dwarves hold their power below the surface, in the places of stone. Halflings and gnomes keep to themselves, live in small bands at the mercy of the humans. The humans offer them peace because they accept human control, or avoid human notice. Neither of those are options for us."

Sherra sighed. "I only wish I knew how much of this is what you see, and how much is because of what happened to your sister."

Ruin looked away, then looked back at her. "I'm not sure you can separate the two."

"So your answer to the humans is violence and rage?"

"I don't see any other way to answer their violence," Ruin said quietly, "but I don't think rage will be enough. As you said, O my cousin: we can't kill all of them."

"Then how...?"

Ruin shook his head. "I don't have any good answers. Expect violence. Expect betrayal. Be ready to answer in kind for as long as we must. Watch for opportunities to convince the humans that acknowledging our king and our rights is the better course. Protect our people and teach them to protect themselves. Beyond that... I don't know." He looked away. "Maybe I'm wrong, and the negotiations will succeed, and the humans will concede some part of what they owe in exchange for peace."

Sherra sighed. "I don't think you're wrong."

Ruin snorted. "I'd like to be."

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Blogging Challenge: Lessons I Learned from a Book Character

Right, so, the usual: Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. (If you're just joining up, swing by their homepage and add your response to the current post each Wednesday.)

This week's prompt is Lessons I Learned from a Book Character.

"Of all the rash and midnight promises made in the name of love, none, Boone now knew, was more certain to be broken than "I'll never leave you." It's the opening line to Clive Barker's Cabal, which was (perhaps unfortunately) made into the movie (and accompanying comic, which was how I found it) Nightbreed. Nightbreed suffered from the studio's attempt to edit it into a traditional horror movie, and from some amazingly bad marketing. (Among other things, the movie posters they shipped out were the wrong ones.) Cabal was... something else, and late-teen me found a home in it. And the lesson in the book (and to some extent the movie) is that the premise of that opening line is both true... and very false.

In my first couple of years of college, I was... kind of a mess, socially and emotionally. Grimjack, while sometimes dark, was heavy with themes of friendship and loyalty. ("Friends are family. Family we choose.") Reading that comic may very well have saved my life.

And a few years after that I would discover Spider Robinson's Callahan's Place books. It's more a series of short stories that grew into a series of books (the first stories were printed in Analog Magazine back in the day), but between the puns and the weirdness and the occasional alien, there's an explicit message: pain shared is diminished, joy shared is increased.

...And that's what I've got so far. If I think of anything else, I'll come back and add it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

More Vendril (Because, well, why not?)

Vendril came awake with a knife in his hand but caught himself before he stabbed anybody. He was in an unfamiliar bed, pressed against a warm body, and the hand that had woken him was shaking her shoulder, not his. He heard someone stumble back with a curse, and squeezed his eyes shut before blinking again and trying to see.

"Easy, easy," said a woman's voice. "I'm just trying to get Amra up so she isn't late for her shift."

Amra? Oh, right: that was the guardswoman, the one who had taken him out for al'cul, the one whose bunk he was currently occupying. Well, that didn't go the way I expected. This sort of thing didn't happen to him; it happened to Geddy, or sometimes Alexej. "Sorry," he said.

Amra groaned. "Al'cul," she said, "is not worth it."

Vendril wasn't at all sure of that. True, he had woken up in a human woman's bed; true, he wasn't immediately sure where his clothing was or whence he'd drawn the knife that was currently in his hand; true, his head was pounding and his eyes were all but glued shut; but that haunting sense of guilt was gone, replaced by the desire to do something even crazier than his erratic memories suggested the previous night had been.

"Juice," said the other guard, and Amra sat up. Vendril wriggled halfway out of the blankets and looked around for someplace to set the knife.

"Helios, Amra." The other guard looked disgusted. "You slept with a--" Her eyes widened and her expression went blank. "He's the scout."

Amra poured the contents of the pewter cup down her throat, then nodded. She half-turned to Vendril. "How are you doing?"

"Better," he said. "Even with the hangover."

"Al'cul is a harsh mistress."

"But it did as you said," he told her. "Burned away my cares and most of my common sense."

"So what are you going to do now?"

"Something stupid."

The other guardswoman chuckled. "If you two were into the al'cul last night, then I think you've already managed that."

Vendril grinned. "Then... something crazy."

Amra grinned back. "All right. You know where to find me if you want more of this."

"I do." He did. But right now, he needed to find out if his friend the gnome was alive again yet. And then he needed to find out what it might take to rescue the Baron... and the Baron's family.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Well Met By Moonlight

Or, Michael Mock Tries To Decide On A Character Concept

Darvinin stepped into the clearing without any attempt at stealth, his weapon on his back and his eyes on the figure who moved through the sword-dance on the far side. Their cousin was here as well, strumming softly on her citole while she waited. To his right, another figure entered the clearing; seeing the three of them already there, he put his foot on a small stick and stepped down.

The sound of breaking wood split the night.

Sherralitha looked up from her instrument. "Darvinin," she acknowledged, then looked past him. "Werendril."

Darvinin offered her a bow, then turned and offered the same vow to Werendril. "Cousins." Darvinin was slim but muscular, dressed in pants and coat of dark gray with highlights of silver and red; his hair was white and his eyes were gray.

The figure at the far side of the clearing sheathed his blade and approached them. He was the largest and heaviest of them, but he moved with silent grace. His clothes were burgundy and crimson, and his blade was single-edged and two-handed, atypical for a True Elf.

"And what are we calling you today?" asked Darvinin.

"Call me Ruin," said the elf, and smiled. "How fare you, O my brother?"

"I am well. Sherralitha? Werendril?"

Werendril looked to Sherralitha, who answered: "Well enough." She rose from where she'd been leaning back against a tree, the gold of her vest matching the gold of her hair, a sharp contrast with the dark blue of her shirt and skirt. Sherra was graceful even by the standard of True Elves, captivating; Darvinin suspected that all three of them had had a crush on her at one time or another. Maybe they all still did.

"I also am well," said Werendril. "May Corellan watch over us. With the return of the true king, there is much to do." Werendril was solidly built, heavier through the shoulders than than Darvinin but not so solid as Ruin. His hair was silver and his eyes were a pale blue, and he wore an overtunic and divided skirts of scale mail armor, with the twin-bladed elvish double scimitar slung across his back.

"Is that why you asked us here?" Sherralitha turned a look of curiosity on Darvinin. "To discuss the coming negotiations?"

The four of them were not all of the new generation of True Elves, the ones born since the Great Extermination. Darvinin knew of at least a dozen others, scattered through the Duendewood, his cousins and kin. Many belonged to other clans; generations ago, they might have been rivals. No longer. Those few True Elves who belonged to the Rebirth had been raised as one family.

"It won't be a negotiation," said Ruin. "It'll be a war."

Sherralitha shot him a disapproving look. "You don't know that."

"He may be right," said Werendril. "I have heard the stories from the ones I've protected and healed. This human king will not accept the existence of a king among us. The human lords will not cede the lands they once pledged to us. No matter the history of the realm, no matter their reverence for Saint Margery, they cannot accept the idea of Elvish rule. Not even for ourselves."

"We'll have to kill them," said Ruin.

"We can't," answered Sherralitha, looking to Darvinin for support. "There are too many."

"Too many now," echoed Darvinin, "and not enough of us. Even if the centaurs come over to our side, I fear it will not be enough."

"But you won't flee the battle," said Ruin, looking directly into Darvinin's eyes.

He sighed. "No. I will not. I will take what I know, blades and spells alike, and bring them to the defense of our people."

"As will I," said Werendril. "I will do my duty to the gods and to our king. I will preserve as much as I can."

Darvinin smiled. "Your honor would not let you do otherwise."

Sherralitha nodded slowly, and Darvinin saw Werendril and Ruin both turn their attention to her. "I will have no part in the negotiations," she said. "My role is to learn our history, as much of it as I can, and to pass it along to anyone who shares our blood. But if the time comes when we must fight, I will be ready."

Darvinin turned his head to look at Ruin. "Little brother?"

"Little?" asked Ruin. "You were born, what, two breaths ahead of me? And I'm bigger than you, anyway."

"It's a strange path you've chosen," Darvinin said. He wasn't certain if he meant to sound critical or not; his brother had turned away from the disciplined fighting of the Elvish style, or the wizardry that his people were known for. Instead he'd become... something else. But however much he might be at odds with everything that Elvish culture valued, Darvinin knew that his brother was at least his equal in combat.

"I know," said Ruin, not sounding offended.

"Promise me that you won't do anything to spoil the negotiations," said Sherralitha. "If you're so certain they will fail, then at least wait until they do and we have no other choice."

"How many of our people will be hurt while we wait?" asked Ruin.

Sherra didn't answer.

"As you wish," he said. "I will wait. But if the humans behave like humans, well... once it begins, I will do as I feel I must." He turned to look at Werendril. "Fight with honor, holy warrior." He looked to Darvinin. "Fight with cunning, Duskblade." He looked back at Sherralitha. "Fight with skill, bard."

Darvinin nodded sharply. "And if it comes to it, little brother -- show the humans that elves, too, can rage."

So those are my choices. I don't think our DM will let me play the Duskblade -- we've been core-only, so far. The bard would run support until she could could kick over into the Shadow Dancer prestige class (we're running 3.5) but we've already got another player looking at some sort of rogue. The True Elf template is a homebrew, but it would lend itself well enough to a paladin (Werendril) only I'm not sure we need one. So unless I'm wrong about the duskblade, it's looking like the True Elf barbarian who currently calls himself Ruin. That't not an optimal combination, but it'll still be strong. And I do take a certain satisfaction in just, well, smashing things.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

After The Battle (A Vendril Follow-Up)

"You there! Halt! What do you think you're doing?"

Vendril glanced over his shoulder at the guard and her upraised halberd. He did not point out that he was sitting on edge of the crenelations of the highest tower in the palace of Solstar, because that should have been obvious. He did not point out that his weapons were all tucked away, because that was equally obvious. He very definitely did not point out that he was considering pitching himself off the edge of the tower, because that was none of the human guard's business.

"I'm talking to you, knife-ears." Then the woman stopped, squinted, and grounded the butt of her halberd. "You're him, aren't you? The scout from Fort Dedo."

Vendril nodded, and the human relaxed. "So what the hell are you doing up here?"

"Being up high helps me think." Dark thoughts, angry thoughts, but still thoughts.

"Helios. You're a gods-blessed hero, and I was about to..."

Vendril shook his head. "I'm not a hero. We fell into the enemy's trap, let ourselves get fooled into doing their work for them. For three generations my clan has worked with Fort Dedo to protect the borders of Sol Povos, and I failed them."

"You didn't fail them. You brought warning to the King, and if the stories are even half-correct you fought your hardest all along the line."

I did fail. We all did. Vendril didn't answer, just looked out over the city again, then down to the ground so very far below.

"Listen," said the guard. "I'll make you a deal. You stay up here and do your thinking... and don't do anything foolish, like deciding your life needs ending... and I'll put the word around to the other guards so none of them bother you. And in half an hour, when I go off-duty, I'll come back and take you to my favorite tavern and buy you enough al'cul to make you forget everything you ever knew."

Vendril blinked and looked back at her. "Al'cul?"

"It's a dwarvish drink, imported. Not sure what they brew it from, but it'll burn away your cares and most of your common sense."

Vendril hesitated, then nodded. "Deal."

He listened as her footsteps receded.

And he thought.

The colonel was dead. The Baron was captured. Maodeus was back in its original body, and the forces of Vecna had access to the great gates and at least some of the ancient Formorian weapons. Fort Dedo still held, at least as far anybody knew, but it was leaderless and cut off.

He could go back to the clan and tell them of his disgrace, but he knew already what his father would say: his duty was here, doing whatever he could to protect the king-- even this king, even in a city where anyone with the slightest hint of elvish blood was in danger of being murdered by the mobs or cut open by the Archons.

No matter the depths of his shame, he still had his duty. And when his time came, he could only hope to die as honorably and spectacularly as Geddy had. Until then...

You're a hunter, he heard his father's voice say. So hunt.

Until then, he thought suddenly, I have to alert the clan. They can aid Fort Dedo, or help to evacuate it. A troop held in reserve, behind the invading forces, could split their attention and tangle their strategy. Even with the gates, they'll need supply lines, and the clan could show the forces at Fort Dedo how to cut those lines. But first, we have to preserve those forces.

He made a quick calculation as he slipped back from the edge of the wall and set his feet on the tower top. Yes, he could get down to where the king kept his messengers and still be back here when the guardswoman finished her shift. He would send word to his father, who would set the clan into motion. And with the message sent, Vendril would let this human guard show him exactly what this al'cul could do...

Friday, May 24, 2019

Music: The Motherland

Music by Lyndy Butler:

It's a bit more country than I usually go in for, but it's fun.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

DnD Stage 3: In Which We Almost Die, Again

So we ventured into the ruins in search of the larger gate, and immediately found ourselves facing a huge collection of zombies and skeletons of various sorts. This was basically the boss fight, except that instead of an individual boss, we were facing one large mob.

The undead noticed us immediately and moved to attack. So did a dozen or so animated statues. Even worse: Some of the zombies were acting as low-level clerics or wizards. Our sorceress was taking out large blocks of enemies with fireballs, but our fighter took a lot of damage from Magic Missiles, and it was really looking like we weren't going to make it until the bard made us all invisible. That lasted just long enough to heal the fighter a bit, and then suddenly the bard was visible again.

The skeletons and zombies swarmed him, and he let them. Our sorceress released another fireball and killed the entire swarm, but took down the gnome bard along with them. (My elvish rogue/ranger was also caught in the blast, but he has Evasion and took no damage from it. Picture him brushing a bit of ash off his shoulder.)

With the bard dead, everybody but the sorceress was visible again. I moved to attack one of the zombie mages, which were the biggest danger. The fighter got close enough to the sorceress that she could make him invisible. Chasing the mage put me up on an overlook, and since I was the only one still visible everything came towards me... until I killed the zombie mage and tumbled off the side of the ledge, landing in a spot where the sorceress could make me invisible as well.

Hers was a better class of invisibility. With it in place, we could attack without becoming visible. Our fighter turned into an unseen meat-grinder, while my ranger/rogue moved off to hunt zombie mages (and quaff a healing potion, because ouch). The sorceress used fireballs and magic missiles to pick off the remaining targets, including a couple of the zombie mages and skeleton archers, while the fighter downed the last of the Dead Knights.

Invisibility was the only thing that saved us. The bard was dead. My rogue/ranger and the fighter were both fatally low on hit points. The sorceress was mildly wounded, but if the rest of us had died she probably wouldn't have lasted long. But with the skeletons destroyed and the zombies unable to see us, we were able to clean up.

That was when the the Solari showed up. Danathir, one of the desert elves, an elite warrior-scout in service to the Baron, had been missing for months. He appeared as soon as all the dead things were put down, to warn us that the Colonel -- who we rescued from a bandit camp after the initial raids, way back at the beginning of phase 2 of this campaign -- wasn't himself, and hadn't been since we'd brought him back. Naturally, we suspected a trap.

Unfortunately, we were wrong. The Solari convinced us to hide, and we did -- taking shelter in a passage behind a secret door, with a view overlooking the big room we'd been fighting in. That was when we (essentially) dissolved to a cut scene: the air shimmered, and the Baron appeared along with the Colonel and two of the Baron's Solari: a monk who served as his bodyguard, and the mage who teleported us out to the ruins in the first place.

The Colonel took a quick look around, pronounced the ruins amazing, and then the wizard cast a spell... that utterly failed to get past the magic resistance that a human colonel absolutely shouldn't have had and obviously did. He looked at her, and then cast Finger Of Death; she died. The other two moved to attack, but he stunned them with a word and slit their throats. There's a character I'm missing here, because the Baron was still alive; the Colonel said he was going to leave him alive to see this.

Then the Colonel activated the gate, and troops started marching through -- giving them access to the country well past the border, if they can find a way out of the ruins.

The Solari who had urged us to hide had a gem that the wizard had given him as a last resort. It could carry four people. Fortunately, there were only three of us left. So he crushed it, and teleported us all to the capital to warn the king.

We have a couple of choices at this point. We could make yet a third set of characters, and explore things from the side of the Elvish rebellion that our original characters set off. We could move to alternating between the two existing parties. Or we could create a single party from the existing two -- with each of us choosing one of our two characters and sticking with it. Personally, I'd like to see the Elvish side of things (and, of course, I love making new characters -- I'm intrigued by the idea of an Elvish Barbarian just now) but we're going to try to hash this out online before the next time we meet. Since that's going to be a couple of weeks, hopefully we'll have time to get things settled.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Blogging Challenge: Books Into Film

As you probably already know, I'm participating in the Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. This week's challenge is "Books I love that became movies or TV Shows".

This one is tricky, because the very first one that comes to mind is a book that I loved in my youth, but find highly problematic now:

Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein) was made into a fairly terrible movie -- deliberately, I think, as a rebuke to the book. My thoughts on the book itself are... complicated. If you just read it as a military adventure, then it works pretty well - solid opening, great prose, plenty of action -- except that Heinlein's welded on a bit too much of his political views to dismiss them as mere flavor in the setting for the adventure. It's more the reverse: the adventure story is basically a vehicle for those views, and the views themselves are... based on some very questionable premises.

I have somewhat similar feelings about the Jurassic Park books - I enjoyed the first books, and the first movie, but -- unusually -- for the sequel I actually felt that the movie was far better than the book. Like, that almost never happens to me, but here we are.

Do comic books count? Because those have been the source of an awful lot of movies that I've enjoyed, and/or had issues with, and/or been deeply disappointed by. But if I was going to pick a comic-book-based movie that I really, really adore, it's Blade. Why? It's the way they handled his superhero origin: it's not the first third of the film, it's three lines exposition worked into a fairly natural bit of dialogue. ("Blade's mother was attacked by a vampire. She died but he lived. He's got all of their strengths, none of their weaknesses.") By contrast, I'm pretty sure I've seen Peter Parker get bitten by a radioactive spider in film six different times now. For the love of God, in this one case, please tell -- don't show.

I feel compelled to mention Harry Potter again, because of course I do. Those are awesome, as either books or movies.

Neil Gaiman's Stardust is a good read and a fun movie as well.

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy and its sequels have been made into at least one movie, but honestly the old BBC TV series version came much closer to doing them justice. Still: completely awesome.

But if you really want the One True King of Books That Were Made Into movies?

I'd have to go with The Princess Bride.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

No, The Other Ancestral Castle

"The spell is complete. Come, my darling succubi. We shall retire to the ancestral castle, and await the coming of these would-be heroes... or the news of their death."

"Yes, my lord."

"My lord... At the castle Malice? Should I pack my warmest cloaks?"

"No, no, not Malice. I was referring to my mother's side of the family."

"Oh! Castle Grimpeak! It's a bit windy, but--"

"What? No! That one's ours too. True, it is the family home on my mother's side, but... We'll be at Coldcourt. Uncle Grimsby's my only surviving ancestor."

"Um... my lord? I thought you were only related to Grimsby by marriage."

"Aliara, my sweet succubus, my darling familiar, you're thinking of Aldrich Grimsfang -- the warlock. Grimsby is the thousand-year-old lich."

"Oh! Of course, my lord."

"For an immortal demon who can provide the intelligence and concentration to help me cast the oldest and most dangerous of dark magics, you can be surprisingly forgetful."

"All the better to lull you into a false sense of security and lead you to your eventual demise, my lord." Smiling brightly, she turned and left the room at that point, leaving Alistaire Blackheart to wonder how much of what she said was irony.

(With full thanks and appreciation to Ana Mardoll, whose thread sparked this entire line of thought.)

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Like a Rock, Part 3

Yep: slept hard, woke up on time, put in a whole day. I am done, I am home, and I think I'm even sunburn-free, though we'll see about that last one.

Apparently my Mutant power is sheer, unyielding stubbornness.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Like a Rock Part 2

Slept hard again last night. Actually felt better rested this morning. Which is good, because today is chaos. The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is having rain, hail, high winds...

Hell of a day to plan a picnic.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Like a Rock

Slept like a rock last night and still had trouble getting out of bed this morning. Beautiful Wife fell asleep on the couch, so I wound up putting the boys down by myself (without waking her up! Yay!) which... was a bit rough, considering that I'd been thinking about passing out as soon as I got home.

Still: sleep is good, especially since this is going to be a fifteen- or sixteen-hour workday.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

He was a skater boy

He was a skater boy
She said, "see you later, boy"
Sometimes things just don't work out
It's not that big a deal really
Though it can certainly feel that way sometimes
Especially when you're young

(This is why I should never write songs...)

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Blogging Challenge: Favorite TV Shows and Why

As you probably already know, I'm participating in the Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. This week's challenge is "Favorite TV Shows and Why".

I, um, I don't actually watch TV shows.

I mean, seriously: I don't. Not with any kind of reliability. And almost never all the way through. No, not even if they're perfect for me.

It's not that I don't appreciate the format. I mean, back when Buffy The Vampire Slayer was a thing, Beautiful Wife and I would wait until each season came out on DVD, buy the set, and then watch it as we had time. I didn't even know Firefly existed until it was already off the air. So what do I put on a list like this?

Well, there are favorites from my youth:
  • Blackadder
  • Red Dwarf
  • Doctor Who (Fourth Doctor era)

There are things that remind of those -- Upstart Crow has a lot of the tone and feel of Blackadder.

There are things that I just kind of stumbled onto:
  • Star Wars Rebels (an animated series set between the end of the Clone Wars and the beginning of A New Hope) -- I made it all the way through Season 2 of that one before I lost track.
  • The Librarians -- I made it through some of Season 1...
  • Lucifer -- I finished Season 1, and I'm still absolutely baffled by why they'd take one of the most interesting characters in the DC Universe and Christian theology, and decide it was a good idea to cast him in an 80s-style Buddy Cop scenario.
  • Rick and Morty -- a cartoon series sort of loosely based on the Marty McFly / Doc Brown dynamic from Back To The Future, only darker, edgier, and weirder.

Things that Beautiful Wife dragged me into:
  • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
  • The Order
  • Vikings (bits of it, anyway)

So, I mean, yeah: I don't really have favorite TV shows. I just have a handful of shows that I've actually seen, or at least seen parts of. Like this:

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Reading Old Scraps

I've spent a portion of this evening reading scraps of my old writing. It's... interesting. A lot of different stories that I started and then abandoned for one reason or another. Some of them could be salvaged; others, well, I'm not sure I could find the voice I was using when I first attempted them.

Here's one of them. It was actually a community-chosen story -- sort of like a Choose Your Own Adventure, but by committee -- so at the end of each section I'd put up a poll to see what people would choose next. I don't really have that capacity here on the Blog o' Doom, but if you want me to pursue something say so in the comments.

For a long time, there is nothing but darkness and silence. Then, slowly, the emptiness fills with light and sound, a bright and melodic beauty that fades almost before you become aware of it. You open your eyes to an arched ceiling high overhead, curving smoothly down to meet with the walls. A shiver runs down your back, and you realize that you're lying on cold stone -- some sort of table or altar.

Ceiling, walls, floor, and altar; all are white marble, shot through with veins of gold. There is light, more than enough for you to see, but it seems to come from everywhere. If there are any sort of blocks or joints in the stone, you can't see them. The whole room might have been carved from the heart of a single piece of stone.

You don't recognize the place. You're not sure if you just woke up; it doesn't feel like you've been asleep, and anyway the last thing you remember is that vague impression of light and... was it a song? And who would sleep naked in a place like this?

The stone is still cold, so you lower your feet to the floor. There, in front of the altar, is a crumpled figure. It is small and lean, lying face down and unmoving. Its white robe blends with the marble floor, and its arms are flung out in a way that looks awkward and uncomfortable.

At the far end of the room are three passageways. Squinting, you can make out the shapes at the far end of each: three low pillars, each with something on top of it. The passage on the left leads to the pillar that holds a book. The passage in the center leads to the pillar that holds a sword. The passage on the right leads to the pillar that holds a small statue in dark stone of some four-legged beast. At the foot of each pillar sits a pile of something that might be clothing, or armor, or both.

You are cold and shivering.

Do you...

...Follow the passage to the pillar with the book?
...Follow the passage to the pillar with the sword?
...Follow the passage to the pillar with the beast statue?
...Check on the figure on the floor?

Monday, May 13, 2019

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Gonna be erratic!

We've finished a busy weekend going into what's usually the busiest two weeks of my year, with another busy week coming up after that and...

...Look, I'm just saying, no promises for what gets posted over the next month, how often, or whether it's even remotely been proofread. I can never tell, going into one of these, whether I'll be too busy to write, too stressed-out not to write, just in the mood to post a lot of music, or picking fights with people online. (Well, okay, probably not that last one. It's not actually that entertaining, and I have other ways of working out aggressions.)

I expect things to settle down again about the middle of June. That, or I expect to have a nervous breakdown. Whichever, really.

See you when we get there? Good, good.

Friday, May 10, 2019

We put the cat down

We took the cat to the vet this morning and saw him off. Firstborn is home sick (probably Strep - will we ever be rid of this wretched disease?) so it was everybody except Secondborn. It's probably for the better that he was at school.

It was definitely time. The cat was essentially immobile, so much so that the vet didn't bother giving him a sedative to prepare him.

Definitely time, but it sucks.

Music: Coffee

"Proper Cup Of Coffee" by Trout Fishing In America:

...No idea why I might have coffee on my mind this morning.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Back From The Healing Sleep

Edrin jerked awake. He was on his bed, in his room, but he wasn't sure how long he'd been asleep or why...

"Here," said Father Aylus. "Have some water. There's a bit of juice in it, but only a bit."

Edrin accepted the cup and sipped cautiously at it. Then he drained the whole thing. In addition to being covered in sweat, he was parched. What had he been doing? And why was there a priest -- even a priest whose entire ministry was intended to aid the poor -- in his room? "Father...?"

Father Aylus nodded, took the cup back, and poured more of the enriched water into it. He'd apparently had no qualms about using the pewter pitcher that Edrin kept beside the stove... but then, he'd apparently had no qualms about coming into Edrin's room uninvited, either. Edrin took the cup back and drained it again.

"You only ever help at the mission after dark," said the priest. "By itself, I wouldn't have thought anything of it. But then, Mad Miryen has been so much better since you came: less pain, and thus less anger. So has old Carya. In fact, a lot of people at the mission have been inexplicably feeling better since you came around."

"Are you sure that wasn't your influence?" asked Edrin, then glanced at the faint glow that hovered over the priest's right shoulder. "Or your angel's?"

"After this many years?" Father Aylus chuckled. "Yes, I'm sure. It's not for lack of trying, but my angel is not the strongest and I've never had a knack for healing. No, my son, it wasn't until last night that I thought to associate you with the destruction of that cult of demon-worshippers down in Vecthal..."

"That wasn't me," Edrin protested.

"...or the ones in County Marith last year."

Edrin set his jaw.

Father Aylus just looked at him.

"...That one was," he admitted reluctantly.

"It was really only last night that it all came together for me," said the priest. "When I heard that our local band of thieves, the Redfingers, had been killed -- apparently to a man, despite the fact that they hunted together and chose their targets carefully. And that whoever had killed them was nowhere to be found, alive or dead. There was just a hint of the supernatural about the whole thing, and it made me wonder... well, what sort of person might have managed to fight off six armed attackers while carrying no weapons, and wouldn't wait for any sort of recognition afterwards?"

There was no point in dissembling, and anyway Edrin like the old priest and thought he deserved an honest answer: "The sort of person who can call weapons out of thin air and knows how to use them. The sort of person the Church considers a heretic, an outcast, and a defiler, and will cheerfully hunt down on sight."

"Exactly," Father Aylus smiled. "So I came to your room here, and... well... I'm sorry to say this, my son, but you weren't as discreet as you could have been. There was a trail of blood down the hall, into your door, and right up to your bed. And yet here you are, awake again after a day's sleep, with nothing but perhaps a few scars to show for it. It was the sleep that gave it away, really."

Edrin drew a breath and let it go; he really couldn't think of anything to say.

"I cleaned the blood," Father Aylus said. "I didn't want anyone else to know."

Edrin tilted his head, looking cautiously at the older man. "So what do you want?"

"I want your help, of course. You've been working with the mission for two months, now. I daresay you have a decent idea of how much money -- or how little -- we take in, and where it goes. So you know I'm honest about it. I'll even show you the books if you like, though I suppose a good swindler would have a second set of books prepared."

"...Sometimes," muttered Edrin. He looked up, meeting the priest's eyes. "It's often more complicated than that." Then he frowned again. "But why would you work with me?"

The older man lowered his head in acknowledgement. "Yes, yes, I know. You're one of the fallen, a dark templar, an ash knight. But I also know about Cardinal Orbash's connections with the bankers, the lords, and the Archon. For someone forbidden by his vows to hold more property or wealth than he needs, he lives in a very nice house and eats well at every meal. His friends see to his comforts, and he uses his influence on their behalf... and frankly, I'm tired of it. I'd like to see him shown that his pride, his vanity, his greed... is a sin. If you'll permit me to speak as a man rather than a priest, I'd like to see him taken down."

"And what do you think I can do about that?" Edrin made the question sincere. "If you know what I am, you know that holy ground burns me just as daylight does."

"I do," answered Father Aylus. "But I also know about the Bishop of Tulwin, and the priests in Bettermore and Niceras, and I suspect you have ways to work around that."

"...I'm a little uncomfortable with how well-informed you are," said Edrin, "but all right: I'll help."

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Blogging Challenge: Books I Want Youth To Discover

This is part of the Weekly Wednesday Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. This week's challenge is Books I Want Youth To Discover.

As the father of two boys (currently aged 9 and 12), this is such a day-to-day consideration that I'm not immediately sure where to start. Naturally I want them to love the books that I loved, and to enjoy the authors that I enjoy. Naturally, that doesn't always work the way I'd hoped -- I once recommended a book to Firstborn that seemed like a quirky story about a mimic that escapes its dungeon and has to figure out how to make its way in the world; three pages later I discovered that the book was wildly inappropriate for children, but by then he'd already finished it. But generally... yeah, I'm passing book recommendations to the boys as frequently as I can.

Well, I mean, there's Harry Potter of course, but I imagine that's going to head a lot of people's lists. So let's look at some of the ones that are less obvious.

Emilie and the Hollow World and its sequel, Emilie and the Sky World (both of which were available as e-books, I swear) are really excellent and deeply underrated YA books by Martha Wells, author of The Murderbot Diaries. I would love for these to have the popularity they deserve. You have a teenage heroine who is brave but not fearless, a sort of steampunk-and-magic setting, and some really lovely exploration-adventure-danger sequences. (I also would love to see a third title in this series.)

Joan D Vinge's Cat series (Psion, Catspaw, and Dreamfall) is an older series, where the protagonist is a half-alien telepath who keeps getting dragged into trouble because of his powers, and because of his sense of social conscience.

For Love of Mother Not, the first (though not first-published) of the Flinx and Pip adventures, about a young boy with erratic psychic/empathic powers and his acid-spitting winged snake. (Who wouldn't like to have an acid-spitting flying snake?) In the first book, Flinx's adoptive mother gets kidnapped and Flinx sets out find her. As the series progresses, there are ancient alien artifacts, strange new races, and a growing threat gathering at the edge of the galaxy.

...Apparently I have a bit of a space adventures theme going on here.

Anyway, that's my top-of-my-head list. I mean, there are others that we've had some wild success getting Firstborn to read -- Harriet Hamster and Danny Dragonbreath, both series by Ursula Vernon, the Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland -- but those are modern and already quite popular, and not really much in need of being discovered.

I'll come back and update if I think of any more likely candidates before I publish this.

Oh! Late shout-out to one Beautiful Wife's early favorites: Crusade in Jeans. It's the story of a kid who gets sent back in time and gets caught up in the Children's Crusade.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The cat is dying

When Beautiful Wife and I first got married, each of us had two cats. Mine were Wayward and Astrophe, while hers were Syn and Claire. We'd pictured merging the two households as a sort of fuzzy Brady Bunch kind of thing, but in the event they didn't blend well. Claire and Wayward kept scrapping for dominance, and various cats were spraying all over the apartment trying to mark territory, and... it just didn't quite work out.

So Wayward went to live with my parents, in a life of luxurious indulgence that I can only admire. The other three stayed with us. Astrophe, apparently, was sufficiently unthreatening that he could bond with the other two.

Then we had children, and I can barely describe the looks of betrayal that the cats gave us as they aged. Cats and toddlers are natural enemies, as cats are very particular about how they get touched, and toddlers will touch everything and have no sense of restraint. But we mostly kept them separated, and everyone was mostly all right.

And, of course, we all got older -- though when the toddlers do that, it's called "growing up". So, y'know, they grew up. The rest of us, cats included, just got older.

Eventually, for health reasons, we put Syn down. A few years later, we did the same for Claire. Neither was easy. Shortly after Claire left us, my parents did the same for Wayward.

And somewhere in the past two weeks, I've realized that we're looking at the same thing for Astrophe. On one level, it's almost overdue; he was looking skinny and miserable two years ago, but we altered his diet to something much more gravy-intensive and got him onto a semi-regular dose of miralax, and for a fairly long while he was doing a lot better. But over the last two weeks or so, well...

He's amazingly skinny. His bones are all very prominent. He keeps wandering into the kitchen and looking at us, but no matter what we give him he eats very little of it. He walks slowly, almost (but not quite) limping. One day last week, he managed to poop and throw up over a huge portion of the house, basically tracing a path from Firstborn's room back to his litter box. It took me a solid half an hour to clean it all up. And as of today, he keeps settling on this one mat beside the litter box -- way closer to his own waste than a healthy cat should be willing to settle. He doesn't seem to be in pain, he's just... increasingly, relentlessly weakening. It's been very sudden. And so far, our every effort to bring him back from this has failed.

He's still a sweet kitty. He's still... I don't know, not comfortable but also not miserable, and we're trying to give him as much affection as we can in whatever time we have left. But he's quieter than I ever remember him being, slower than I ever remember him being, more careful in his movements than I ever remember him being.

He's twenty years old, and I'm pretty sure the cat is dying.

Monday, May 6, 2019

DnD: Back to the Dungeon

This week's game seemed a little short, in part because we were a little slow to get started (a lot of crosstalk among the kids about their characters and weapon selections and possible purchases and...) and in part because one of the kids was getting picked up early so I called it a few minutes earlier than I would have normally. All in all though, it was a good game.

Having taken a day off after the assassination attempt (and not having heard anything back from Sheriff Mourn about the assassin), the group woke up and early and marched back to the keep and down to the entry chamber for the dungeon. Lord Aldenmier planted their standard, and saw them into the dungeon.

They went through the first room and into the four-way intersection, where they again paused to disable the trap on the far door. This time, the small space on the other side of the door held three spears, which they promptly collected and distributed around the party. They considered going back and attacking either the hobgoblins or the ghouls again, but decided against it. Instead, they went the other way (west) and tried the first door they came to there. Despite their attempts at stealth, the door opened noisily - and slowly. It was essentially webbed shut. Through the half-open door, Barrith could see the glowing figure of a small, glowing animal off in the far corner somewhere, but the thickness of the webs made it hard to see clearly. So they eased the door closed, stepped back, and told the rest of the party what they were looking at.

Various plans were proposed, involving trying to sneak into the room, putting different characters in the front row, trying things to ascertain what sort of spiders they were likely to be attacked by... until finally the dragonborn sorcerer said, "I know how to solve this." He then walked past everybody, went up to the door, wrenched it halfway open, and set the webs on fire with a firebolt. After a moment to make sure they were burning, he pulled the door shut again and stepped back.

It was about five minutes later that the smoke stopped curling over the top edge of the door. They gave it a couple of minutes longer, checked the door to make sure it wasn't hot, and then cautiously opened it again.

The room was no longer covered in webs. Now the floor was covered in ashes, and the ceiling was stained black by smoke. The counted the bodies of four giant spiders at various points around the room. The glowing animal-shape that Barrith had spotted earlier turned out to be a small statuette of a cat, which the dragonborn sorcerer immediately claimed (amid much cooing and admiration, and over the mild objections of the Mousefolk Cleric). Their knowledge of history and arcana didn't yield much of anything about it, but they're pretty sure that it's magical, and that its magic is somehow tied to the magic of the dungeon. Beside the statue was a bronze-bladed short sword with no magic whatsoever; the monk immediately claimed that.

They proceeded to the next room, scouting carefully (a new strategy for the group, but it seems to be paying off) and noted that something was moving around in there, and that the air around the door held a musky, reptilian scent. So they opened the door with the cleric and the sorcerer in front, both ready to parley in draconic, and found a bunch of kobolds waiting to attack them.

So much for parley. The halfling thief attacked immediately, throwing both his daggers and missing with both. (And yeah, I really need to look up the rules for Dual Wielding in 5e.) The monk attacked next, and took out two of the kobolds. The cleric used a cantrip to kill a third one. Of the remaining two, one rushed the party and struck down by a prepared action from the cleric. She had the impression that it wasn't exactly trying to attack her; it seemed to be lunging for the lamp on the ground beside her. Shadow finished the last kobold with his hand crossbow, and the group immediately moved to the post-combat looting stage.

The kobolds had been armed with javelins and daggers - six of each. Barrith, the halfling thief, took four of the javelins. He likes ranged attacks, but here in the dungeon the range is too close for him to effectively use his longbow. So... javelins. They also found a chest with 38 gp in it. Half of that will go to Lord Aldenmier, but it will still bring the party total up by 19 GP (to a total of 161)

They also now have 6 daggers (1 gp each) and two more javelins (5 sp together) that they can sell later. They also have the three spears that they took from the spear-launching trap, but they don't seem inclined to sell those.

By that time we'd reached the point where one of our players was due to be picked up, so I called a stop there. We're still moving at about the same pace - an encounter or two per two-hour session (with pizza, tacos, or sandwiches in the middle). These encounters went a lot more easily, though -- partly because everybody had leveled up, making them a bit tougher, but also because they didn't try to fight the giant spiders directly, and the kobolds are simply much weaker than the ghouls or hobgoblins were. In addition to that, the party is getting better at working together: I keep hearing words like "flanking" and "helping" and "I have a plan."

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Music: Pico De Gallo

Trout Fishing In America:

...and sort of loosely in honor of Cinco De Mayo.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

He's a Ranger, a Rogue, a Campfire Marshmallow

So, as the party's designated Sneaky Guy, my Elvish Rogue/Ranger (3/5) really rather distinguished himself last session. First, he was the only one in the party who didn't end up in a force cage. Then he killed the last of the zombies belonging to the green hag sisters, and annoyed the heck out of them from a safe distance until he ran out of thunderstones, alchemist fire, and the like.

Then he found out that you really shouldn't engage hags in melee combat, because ability drain is a terrible thing to be on the wrong end of and also their fingernails are really sharp. Fortunately, you can still heal someone from inside a force cage. Unfortunately, trying again got us within a mouse's whisker of a total party kill, and only the bard's skill at persuasion and the mermaid's homicidal impatience got them through alive.

So while they were waiting for the remaining Force Cage to release the mermaid sorceress, they checked over the ancient ruins that had been built on top of other, ancienter ruins. And they found a door that bade them to speak the pass phrase or die by fire.

They didn't know the pass phrase. So my elf boldly set out to see what was up with the door.

The door, as it turned out, was magically trapped and would release a Flame Strike every time the trap was set off. But Vendril Bloodthorne was not deterred; he was skilled with traps and locks alike. However, as a slight and very clearly unnecessary nod in the general direction of caution, he did chase everyone else out of the room and quaff a potion of Protection From Fire before he set to work.

Y'all, he set the trap off no less than six times. FWOOSH! FWOOSH! FWOOSH! FWOOSH! FWOOSH! FWOOSH! FWOOSH!

Okay, maybe seven. FWOOSH! Maybe even eight.

But he's a rogue. Well, partly a rogue. So he has Evasion, and his reflexes border on the inhuman. Between that and the potion, he was only very lightly singed when he finished disarming the trap and went to work unlocking the door.

Well, in the next room they found a trap door leading down -- hopefully to the gate that they were seeking. So the bard turned everybody invisible, and they threw open the trap door, and...

...It was completely black. Nobody in this party can see in the dark. So Vendril lights his lantern and looks into the dark.

That was when the spirit naga that was hiding down there Fireballed the whole room.

Well, the invisible bard quickly went down the ladder into the basement. The invisible mermaid sorceress immediately returned fire (::ahem::) with a Fireball of her own, damaging the naga and failing to vaporize our bard. The invisible fighter leaped down into the darkness and landed on... well... his face. So Vendril, with his skill at tumbling and his nearly godlike dexterity, tried to tumbled down to the basement.

He, too, landed on his face.

So at this point both the fighter and the rogue/ranger were prone (but still invisible). The bard was on his feet, but not terribly well equipped to attack a naga, and also still invisible. The mermaid sorceress was still on the ground floor above, and quite visible. So the naga charmed her. ("Awww! We can't hurt her! She's my pet!") It was at this point that Vendril remembered that it was theoretically possible to get to his feet and make a full attack with a successful enough Tumble check.

Y'all, I rolled a natural 20 on that check. Vendril came to his feet like something out The Matrix and murdered the shit out of that naga. ("Dodge this.") ...Then we double-checked the math, and yeah: that natural 20 was absolutely the only way I could have done that. Anything else was too low. So Vendril should really never, ever try that again.

After that we laid to rest the ghost of the little girl, but that... well, that's another story.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Blogging Challenge: Things I wish more books talked about

This is part of the weekly Wednesday Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews.

I have one big, glaring one and I'm to write it out right now, and maybe if I think of something else I'll come back and add that later.

1. Women have periods. This is... this is one of those weird blind spots. It's one of those Things We Don't Talk About. At least, it is in my reading. And that's deeply weird to me, because we're talking about something perfectly normal that happens to better than half the population at some point, but... {{crickets chirping}} (Like, seriously: I think I've seen it referenced twice - once in a post-zombie-apocalypse comic, and once in the otherwise-completely-horrible movie Showgirls. Oh, and it's an actual plot element in Pitch Black.) But, I mean... We've reached the next stage of the Hunger Games. Does Katniss check the calendar to see if she needs to add some pads to her pack? Our heroine is scouting the Shadow Tower so she can report back to her friends before they enter its fearsome depths. Has she missed a period? Is she worried about it, or is this normal for her? Who the hell knows? I'm not saying it needs to be a major focus, but if you're going to have a go at realistic worldbuilding maybe consider that this is a normal thing that normally happens to normal people on a pretty regular basis? Because I feel like leaving those considerations completely "off screen" just contributes to an unnecessary and harmful taboo.

Late update: Nope, apparently that's it. That's my soapbox issue on this topic.