Friday, July 31, 2020

Ser Ilavna: The Town and the Revenant

Occasionally I write short pieces to help me fill in background for something else I'm working on, or get a feel for a character, or just sort out a sequence of events. This is one of those.

It was a relief to finally reach the town. Ilavna had badly miscalculated the time; if she'd known it would take this long to arrive, she would have stopped and made camp two hours ago. Instead, she'd kept pressing on, thinking that she'd doubtless reach the town in just a few more minutes. For two full hours.

Now it was well after nightfall and most of the houses were closed and dark, though here and there the edges of wooden shutters flickered with hints of candlelight inside. Still, she decided, it wasn't entirely her fault; maps of the hinterlands were unreliable when they could be found at all, and she was navigating on little more than the direction of the road and a handful of carved stone markers.

As towns went, it wasn't bad; shops lined the main road, most with dwellings above them, and they seemed to be in good repair. She picked out the signs hanging in front of them in the moonlight, identifying a blacksmith, a cooper, a thatcher, a cobbler... Ah, thank Abarik, an inn. The inn sat across from a general store, and looked as if it served mainly as a public house; but she didn't doubt they'd have rooms to let.

Something moved in the corner of her vision, and Ilavna turned her head to look. A dark figure had just stepped out from between two buildings: armored, like herself, and holding a drawn sword. It turned towards her, stopped, then lifted its blade and charged.

Its eyes were glowing dimly, red coals in the darkness.

Ilavna hesitated, gaping; Swift, her mount, did not. The warhorse charged, shouldering the sword aside and trampling the armored figure as Ilavna clung desperately to the saddle. She reined up in front of the inn, looked back once, and decided she needed help with this. Help, and witnesses. "Stand," she said quietly, and felt the warhorse go still underneath her.

Then she dismounted and went inside.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Guardians of Sol Povos: Solari

We return to our characters from the second party, and begin the next stage of the campaign...

Leira has servants cleaning her and dressing her and gossiping. They hope she's happy with them. After a while they send her out, where she's collected by the King's chamberlain. The servants let slip that they're supposed to pack, as she's leaving today. Leira: "No."

The hallway is full of suitors, all looking to court her. The first is a bottlemaker; the second is a captain in his Majesty's army.

Leira turns to Hugo the chamberlain: "Why is this happening?"

The Archmage catches her just outside the audience chamber and rescinds his offer for her to come to the Mage's college. He sounds frustrated and regretful, but then she's been refusing magic school in favor of heated baths for months now. His reason? "The king has chosen you something else."

Leira: "Am I being sacrificed?"

Hugo: "Absolutely not."

Alexej is sparring, and being admired by the noble ladies who are trying to get his attention. He is approached by Gaitan Tallier, the King's Constable. They've interacted socially.

"Alexej! I see you have quite the crowd of admirers today! You can't steal all the attention, though. Care to spar?"

Alexej: "Is there dinner afterwards?"

"Of course!"

So Gaitan is using a heavy flail, and attempts to disarm Alexej. The guisarme hits the ground, and Alexej dives after it, grabbing it up and trying to trip him. Gaitan managed to tag Alexej while he was retrieving his weapon, though.

Sitting on his butt, Gaitan curses as Alexej whacks him. Gaitan attacks from the ground, slamming the flail into Alexej's shin. Since his opponent is still prone, Alexej goes to power attack and make use of his combat expertise, but misses.

Gaitan tries again, hitting once. Alexej tries to hit him again, but misses; Gaitan is rolling around a lot. Gaitan tries again, but misses, and this time Alexej tags him. Alexej's starting to feel the strain, but he whacks Gaitan again.

It's looking like a fairly even match. Gaitan misses again, and they continue exchanging attacks until Gaitan finally yields. The noble audience applauds. Gaitan: "Next time I'm going to trip *you*!"

Alexej: "Is good plan."

Gaitan: "Come! This was fun, but I was sent to bring you to the King."

Alexej: "Last time I see king, I get thrown in basement."

Gaitan: "Not that king, our king. The big king."

Alexej: "Ahhh! I come!"

The halls are lined with nobles, all on the look-out for a marital match. Gaitan shoves Alexej in next to Leira.

Marshall is in a room with Viggo the Whisperer, who's doing parlor tricks. He's the King's Chamberlain: "So let me get this right: Lord Provost Luthien, of the Duendewood elves, is a Vecna worshipper and possibly in league with this invading army."

Marshall: "Yes."

Viggo: "And they're all in league against us?"

Marshall: "Definitely."

Viggo: "And they're creating an army of invincible skeletons?"

Marshall: "I know this firsthand."

Viggo: "And the Eye of Vecna had a whole other world inside it?"

Marshall: "Indeed."

Viggo: "You did the right thing coming south." He snaps his fingers and a servant appears with a tray of snacks.

Viggo: "Over there, that military man is Alexej. The young girl next to him is Leira. She may not look like much, but don't underestimate her; she wields powerful magics. Conrad the Seneschal, Charlaine the Master of Ceremonies, the Lord Mage, the King's Champion, and Dante Alighierri, possibly the greatest poet in the world; Father Rafael; and Sir Gosper, the avatar of Helios ("and the only man in this room I am truly scared of").

The king stands: "Faithful servants! Thank you for coming. Today I bestow upon you the title of High Protectors of Sol Povos: Solari."

The Master of Ceremonies goes through the details, and servants bring us broaches of office and capes with the rising sun sigil of the Solari embroidered on them; Gosper comes down to pin them on us. We have minor estates, titles, and Tavros is commanded to take the name Fontaine, and embraces his cousin the King... but carefully, so as not to crush him.

Alexej: "I don't understand why I cannot be Sir Alexej. It is my Sir-name."

Charlaine: "You are being made a lord, not a knight."

We are also given chambers here in the palace. Alexej gets servants and cooks; Mercy receives a recently-vacated chapel with living quarters for himself, acolytes, and servants. Leira gets a heated pool. Tavros gets a small keep with its own staff. We'll need to pay the staff from our own stipends, but it's basically done: we're all Solari, and we celebrate.

About ten minutes later, a tall elf-lady comes in and announces that Springhollow has fallen. Discussion follows, with the revelation that the her followers were trying to create a cubic gate, and the forces of Vecna are using those powers in some dark ritual.

We have our first assignment. We're to be teleported to Springhollow. Alexej selects Lord Rizek (Pork Schnitzel) for his noble surname. Leira has not selected one yet; she wants to give it proper thought. Marshall Mercy is, of course, now Lord (have) Mercy, and Tavros is formally a Fontaine, acknowledged scion of the royal family.

We ask for (and receive) a wand of cure light wounds and a wand of enlarge, and Tavros and Marshall add Masterwork Heavy Flails. We also pick up some silversheen to be able to make our weapons behave like alchemical silver, and some holy wafers.

Our writ is to clear out the undead, capture the duke, and stop whatever dark ritual the Vecna-worshippers are trying to perform.

Alexej: "Sounds easy!"

Tavros: "Dark rituals are never easy, but I feel we can handle this."

Mercy: "Actually, they're not that har-- never mind."

The wizard teleports us to Springhollow, and it's a zombie wasteland. What kind of monster would do this? (Leira: "Wight Supremacists.") The wizard points to the arcane vortex swirling up into the clouds from the tower. "I think I can open the force field enough to let you in. But your first priority should be to clear the town and capture the Baron.

Alexej has his cloak on and his broach is upside down. Tavros has cloak and broach, but nothing more.

We approach the keep. We see no lookouts; Tavros rides his warhorse up to the gates and looks inside. The griffins on the roof and the skeletal T-Rexes spot us and approach. Leira sends a fireball at the Griffins. She moves up takes shelter behind Tavros.

Marshall, meanwhile, moves up and considers spells.

Oh hey, now we've got *everything's* attention! The griffins spread out, and one of the zombie horses comes rushing up. We are about to be on the wrong side of a Zerg Rush.

Alexej moves up, but not far enough to do anything.

Tavros' horse freaks out at the skeleton horse, and kicks and bites it. Leira drops a fireball on a big crowd of skeletons, and wipes out all but one of the thirty-two skeletons. Marshall casts a quickened Divine Favor, then attacks the skeleton horse.

One of the T-Rexes charges Tavros, but misses. The zombie horse tries to attack Quicksilver and misses. Another zombie horse moves in, and the griffins are circling around overhead. Fortunately, we're still standing in the gate and there are only so many things that can reach us. The skeletons are piling in to fill the gaps between them. Another squad of skeletons is moving towards us from beside the house. Alexej attacks the zombie horse, and finishes it. Alexej attacks the other zombie horse, but misses.

Tavros and Silver pound on the second zombie horse; Leira fireballs the rhinos. Marshall casts Dominate Animal on the T-Rex, but it manages to resist. The dinosaurs move in, and the first one attacks Marshall, biting him for a ridiculous amount of damage. It attempts to yank Marshall up into the air, and succeeds. The second one attacks Tavros, biting him and lifting him into the air as well. Odds are good that we're both going to get eaten next round.

One of the griffins has circled over the gate and lands behind Leira. The other griffins have settled in atop the guard towers.

Alexej switches over to his scythe, and attacks the griffin, but misses. Tavros prepare to sell his life dearly, and readies an attack for when the beast tries to swallow him.

Lyra chooses this moment to turn invisible, and the griffin looks very confused. She slips behind the griffin.

The Tyrannousaurs swallow Marshall and Tavros; Tavros attacks on his way down the throat, doing some damage. Alexej adds some damage as well.

Tavros cuts his way out of the T-Rex from the inside, and falls at its feet. Leira backs up and throws another fireball, this time at the griffins on top of the towers. Two of them die; the rest are even more singed than they were.

Marshall tries to cut his way out, but doesn't quite make it; he's sitting in stomach acid and being crushed, which isn't doing him any good. The T-Rex over Tavros attacks and misses; the other one heads off with a belly full of Marshall. A zombie horse move in towards Alexej; and one of the griffins moves over him.

Alexej does his Whirlwind attack, damaging a griffin and finishing the zombie horse.

Tavros attacks the T-Rex above him, doing more damage but still not bringing it down. Leira moves back up and drops another fireball, clearing out a squad of skeletons and damaging the Rex with Marshall in its tummy. Marshall tries to cut his way loose, and succeeds; he drops out, and falls on the ground. He attacks again, and slams his scythe into the Rex's Achilles tendon.

The Rex spins around, reaches down, and bites Marshall again. The second one tries for Tavros, but misses. A griffin attacks Alexej and misses; a second griffin attacks and also misses. A skeleton tries to attack Tavros but misses; more are moving in. Alexej is a bloody storm in the center of griffins and skeletal horses, killing two of the griffins.

Tavros attacks from the ground again, doing a huge amount of damage to toes and ankles, and the Rex staggers.

Leira throws more fire, since nothing here is resistant to it, and Tavros' Rex goes down; the zombie horse falls, a big chunk of skeletons fall, and the rhinos survive, but they're scorched and *very* unhappy.

Marshall got bitten again, but manages to throw Hold Animal on the dinosaur and escapes. Marshall comes back to his feet. More griffins attack Alexej, who's a blur of deadly movement; he takes no damage.

The rhinos charge, and one of them connects with Tavros, who takes A LOT of damage. The skeletons move in on Marshall, who goes down.

Alexej does another whirlwind, but only connects with one of his opponents. Tavros decides to use Lay On Hands, and heals himself for some of the damage; Leira drops a fireball on the Rhinoceri, killing all of them. (Tavros is extremely grateful.)

The Rex is still held, Marshall is still out of action, an Griffin attacks Tavros but misses; and none of them manage to damage Alexej. The skeletons start trying to claw through Marshall's heavy armor, but fail.

Alexei continues spinning and attacking, taking out the zombie horse, then tags a griffin, misses another griffin, hits another one but fails to kill it, and misses the last. Tavros charges the paralyzed Rex, and power attacks it but good.

Leira fires off a magic missile at the remaining Rex, adding to the damage. The Rex shakes off Marshall's spell, and Marshall is still out of the fight. The Rex attempts to bite Tavros but fails. The griffins swarm around Alexej, but they all miss him. One of the skeletons damages Marshall, which is... bad. Alexej takes out another griffin.

Tavros desperately attacks the remaining Rex and misses completely; Leira blasts it with Scorching Ray but misses. Fortunately, the T-Rex misses Tavros as well.

The griffins attack Alexej and one of them manages to damage him finally. The skeletons miss Marshall.

Alexej continues his attacks, and tags the first griffin.

Tavros tags the dinosaur and finishes it, then takes out a skeleton. Leira zaps two of the skeletons with Scorching ray. Alexej kills another griffin.

Tavros moves over and stabilizes Marshall. Leira moves away from the griffin and kills two more skeletons. Marshal awakens beside the body of a dead Rex, and destroys the last two skeletons.

The remaining griffin actually manages to connect with Alexej. The griffin snarls at Alexej, who tries to trip it... and succeeds. Four legs are no barrier to Alexej, who attacks it while it's prone and finishes it off.

Thus is the courtyard of the Baron's keep reclaimed... at least for now.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Challenge: Bucket List

This is part of the weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. If you'd like to participate, you can find the prompts here. They also put up a post every Wednesday where you go and link your response -- and see everyone else's. Check out their homepage to find it.

The challenge for this week is "stuff on my bucket list."

I... don't really have a bucket list. I mean, there are things I'd like to do, but I don't really have a formal list and a lot of the things on it are kind of vague. But very well, a vague bucket list is better than no bucket list at all (and perhaps easier to manage than a comprehensive bucket list), so off we go.

1. Travel. It's been a while since I've been out of the state, and rather longer than that since I've been out of the country, and I'd very much like to go and see other places. If any other countries ever allow Americans to visit again in my lifetime, that is.

Preferably places with castles.

2. Publish/Get Published. This one's particularly wavery, because A) if it were a bucket list thing, I could mark it off on a technicality, and B) the current issue is more about getting things finished to push them out the door than it is about the actual publication or self-publishing process.

3. Come up with something for item three on the list.

4. Retire. Yep. That would be nice. Make it a lot easier to do the traveling.

5. Seek Out The Dark Forces And Join Their Hellish Crusade. But maybe that one goes without saying; I'll be everybody's already got it on their list.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Darvinin: Homecoming 3

The house was exactly as Darvinin remembered it, except that it wasn't there.

The gates let into an empty lot, forlorn and overgrown. The walls were still there, but even they were hard to look at; they were bland, uninteresting, far too boring to focus on.

Darvinin frowned. He had the address right; he was sure of it. Which meant... She hid it. Mother hid it. Mistra was waiting at his side, Shanna and Sam behind them, Leander and Evrimon spread casually out to the sides. He lacked the skill to break this spell -- he doubted that there were more than a dozen people in the world who reliably could -- but he still knew what to do. Come to the house.

So he walked forward, through the gates, and the others followed. Inside, he could see the stone walk that led to the front door, though the lot remained bare and there was no door. "Keep to the path," he said quietly.

"There wasn't a trail here," muttered Sam, but she sounded more intrigued than worried; Darvinin glanced back in time to see Shanna squeeze her hand and then let go.

"Your mother isn't going to arbitrarily destroy us, is she?" asked Leander.

Darvinin shook his head. "No, Ruin's the crazy one." He stopped to consider that. "Or I am."

"That's a bit less reassuring than I'd hoped for," said Leander, and Darvinin shrugged.

"I'm not a reassuring sort of person," he said. "Not anymore. Maybe I used to be..."

"So," said Leander nervously, "You're saying that at any moment we could find ourselves--" He stopped. "Standing at your front door."

Darvinin nodded. "Exactly. Can't imagine how you missed it. Centuries-old house, right here in front of us. All we have to do..." He raised a hand towards the knocker. ""

The door swung inwards. They were, somehow, standing on the wide stone porch; columns stood to either side, supporting the upper porch above them. "Master Darvinin," said the elderly servant Sonder in the most melancholy voice imaginable, "We rejoice at your return."

"...Show up," finished Darvinin, nonplussed.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Dnd 5e Interlude: White Plume Mountain 3

Picking up above the ziggurat:
Jhuni Blackfire (she/her)
Thelmor Irdro (he/him)
Nil (they/them)
Snow (she/her)
Sunrise (she/her)
Perfect (he/him)
Grey (he/him)

We have left the room of the floating river and returned to the inverted ziggurat, passing by the secret door in the hall on the way. Snow is already inside, and we regard again the stepped landscapes: aquarium, terrarium, aquarium, and some central base. There's a door at the bottom level.

Snow, already in the room, looks around, spotting manticores on the bottom level and large scorpion-things in the terrarium mezzanine level. Snow decides to wait. Grey tries to shatter the top-ring aquarium with an arrow, but misses. Jhuni drops a firebolt over the water and down to a scorpion; it screeches. On the bottom tier, the manticores raise their tails and fling spines, tagging Grey and Jhuni with two tail-spikes. Perfect passes his turn back to Grey, who puts an arrow into the wall successfully and creates cracks and a small hole, but doesn't quite shatter the wall; it won't take much more, though. Nil tries to remember what she's heard about manticores; the tail spikes have a long range, but there is a limited supply. They still have bunch left (like, 63 between the three manticores).

There's definitely something in the top-level water. Nil moves into the room and drops Shield of Faith on Jhuni, and pull out her own (physical) shield. Sunrise pulls out a nearly-violin and begins to play, filling the air with a sharp, tense melody. A giant, boiling stormcloud forms. She calls a lightning bolt, zapping a couple of scorpions and maybe something else and making a large opening in the glass. The scorpions are... kind of still in shock.

Snow becomes aware of the things in the water; she moves over and attacks one of them, stabbing down into the water. She feels the resistance as she stabs it, but doesn't hear anything; impossible to tell how badly the thing is damaged. As usual, she dances back out of the way. Thelmor moves in to take her place, and tries to put an axe into it; he succeeds. It comes surging towards the surface; it's a giant crawfish. Grey puts another arrow in the far aquarium wall and widens the hole; Jhuni drops a Fireball into the bottom of the ziggurat, hoping to shatter more glass and damage some manticores into the bargain. (OOC: 32 damage.) The glass shatters, and water pours in on top of the manticores.

Perfect passes his turn to Grey, who opens the hole further; Nil tags the nearest (damaged) crawdad with Toll The Dead. It cannot pay the toll, and dies. Sunrise drops another lightning bolt on the manticores, who are backing away from the water. (OOC: 16 damage apiece.) Snow skewers a crawfish on her rapier, but of course none of us see it; the crawdad appears to have just asploded.

Thelmor continues his assault, slaying another crawdad, and Grey cracks more of the lower aquarium wall. Jhuni drops another fireball, doing yet more damage to the manticores. The beasts are all spilling into each other's areas now.

Snow: "Oh, PLEASE let one or both of those things be territorial."

Sunrise: "That would be an absolute fucking delight."

The beasts tear into each other, and one of the manticores dies; Nil drops Toll The Dead on the most wounded remaining manticore. It collapses. The sea lions are triumphant.

Sunrise drops a lightning bolt on two of the remaining scorpions, damaging the glass beside them in the process.

Snow makes a jump, bounces off a floating dead crawfish, and balances on the top-tier glass wall on the near side where it's still intact. She tries to stab down at the scorpion, loses her balance, and drops into the terrarium beside it. She tumbles and comes up on her feet face-to-face with the giant scorpion. Snow radiates absolute assurance that this is what she attended to do.

Thelmor uses his Blood Knight abilities to teleport down in front of the skeleton he shot with a crossbow last round, and then reappears in burst of shadows and raven feathers and slams his axe into it twice. Grey follows Snow's path to the glass wall, and puts an illusion of a knight beside the scorpion that was facing Snow: "Ho, Varlet!" says the knight.

Jhuni fires off magic missile at the scorpion in front of Thelmor, and it staggers back shrieking.

Then the beasts attack again... The scorpion attacking Grey's illusion is entirely too stupid to realize why its attacks aren't hitting; it may think its opponent is invincible. A crawfish and a scorpion are fighting each other, and int he process rolling nearer to Thelmor. Thelmor: "They're fighting over who gets to be friends with me!" The crawfish dies or poison, and the scorpion starts trying to eat it. Grey: "I did not bring nearly enough melted butter for this adventure."

The beasts did attack Thelmor and Snow, but not to any effect. The sealions killed the manticores, and are now eating them; the crawfish and scorpions are fighting, and Perfect turns his attack over to Thelmor, who unfortunately misses. Nil tags the scorpion in front of Thelmor with Toll The Dead again; it shudders and then curls up and dies. Nil: "Good-bye!"

Sunrise drops a lightning strike on the four sea lions, then moves to get a better view.

Snow attempts to stab the scorpion, then darts past to join Thelmor using Zephyr Strike. Thelmor uses his power to give one of the crawfish one last attack against the scorpion that's killing it, and it throws a desperate blow that connects solidly and nearly kills it. The crawfish dies, and the scorpion is almost dead: the crawfish pinched its tail off! Grey tries to do a drop assassination on the scorpion that Snow had been fighting, but misses. His illusion continues to be vocal and distracting.

Jhuni uses Misty Step to bampf over to Snow, and firebolts the scorpion in front of Thelmor. The water is still spreading, and the beasts are still fighting amongst themselves as well as attacking us. The scorpion attacking Thelmor turns and attacks a living crawfish instead of the dead one that nearly killed it; but without its tail, it's weakened. Two of the crawfish are attacking another scorpion, and Grey is saved from being attacked by his illusionary distraction... which distracts the scorpions so much that one of them attacks the glass next to it and shatters it.

The cleric points out that in the bottom, the blood from the manticores seems to be going towards the corners of the room, suggesting that the bastard laid drains.

Perfect has no desire to step into the water; he looks at Nil. "Anything noteworthy? I looks like everyone is handling themselves. I feel like this party is doing quite well for themselves."

Nil: "We certainly have destroyed more terrariums than any of your other adventuring parties." She continues with Toll The Dead, aiming at a wounded Sea Lion. (OOC: 27 damage.) It rears up, howls in pain, and is looking wildly around.

Sunrise drops a lighting bolt on the crawfish and scorpion in one corner, blasting them rather thoroughly (OOC 18 damage all around). Snow moves in the scorpion that's engaged with the illusionary knight, and stabs it fairly thoroughly; it shrieks and turns around, but of course can't see her. (Gloomstalker.) Snow fades back out, looking smug.

Thelmor slams his axe into the scorpion, and removes a pincer; then buries it between the beast's eyes. He uses his power to allow it to attack the crawfish one more time, and it does some damage before it dies. Grey tries again to attack the scorpion, and again misses; Jhuni throws Magic Missiles and does some damage.

Then the monsters do their things again. The water is starting to rush in hard enough that one of the scorpions is drowining; Grey and Thelmor are in about three feet of water. It's only going to get wetter and swifter-current from here.

Perfect's still chatting with Nil up on the top balcony, but Nil is a bit distracted by the life-or-death battle. Nil moves down to the formerly-dry terrarium level, and joins us in three feet of water. She casts Water Block, and everybody is suddenly standing on top of the water. Snow: "Okay, you could have done this the WHOLE TIME???"

Nil just stares at her like, "...Yes?"

Sunrise drops a lightning bolt onto the Sea Lions, then leaps down to join the others; she's still playing her instrument. The sea lions are still looking pretty healthy. Snow moves to attack one of the crawfish, tremendously relieved to find herself on top of the water. Zephyr Strike is still active, lending just enough extra damage to tip the rapier blow's damage over the edge. The beast dies, and Snow moves down to the south end of the chamber. Thelmor moves over to the scorpion that's still trying to kill the illusion, and finishes it off.

Grey finally manages to connect with the scorpion next to him, not killing it but at least (finally!) doing some damage. Jhuni fires off Scorching Ray, aiming at the three remaining scorpions. The first one misses, the second scorpion goes down, and the last one last one takes some damage. The scorpions are also having trouble with the water; the crawfish kills the third scorpion, and the sea lions are still nibbling on the manticorpses.

Perfect steps in and finishes the last scorpion, which was busy drowning in any case, and give Grey a little fist-bump.

Nil throws another Toll The Dead, finishing off the last of the crawfish, and starts down towards the door. Sunrise drops another lightning strike on the Sea Lions, doing a huge amount of damage and killing one of them.

Sunshine casts Leomund's Tiny Hut, and we take a long rest while the water drains. When we emerge, the water is gone and so is the wall of force. Nil opens the door... and finds an lavish, well-appointed room. It looks like there's some history here, but... we're not historians. The styles are old, centuries old. The more aware realize that these are all local, but it's Perfect who says, "This is my family's past. That one, with the greatsword piercing the giant's skull... why would my family's crest be down here?" Something on the dais moves; a fairly tall man covered in spike armor rises. He seems to be made of shadows and decayed flesh, and snorts. "Who comes into Thaddeus' lair?"

Thelmor: "A servant of the Raven Queen, for one."

Thaddeus: "You've come to take my blade."

Thelmor: "Even if I hadn't, I'd have come to take your head. You don't belong in this world."

Thaddeus laughs, and draws a perfectly black blade and raises it. Perfect exclaims: "You hold Blackrazor?"

"If you want it, you're going to have to take it from my hand the hard way!" He lets out the sort of roaring shriek that only the undead can make.

...And there we stop for the night. Or possibly for the knight.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Music: Massacre of the Saxons

Music by, of all people, Christopher Lee:

This week has been rough and I am just ridonkulously tired...

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Challenge: unpronounceable

This is part of the weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. If you'd like to participate, you can find the prompts here. They also put up a post every Wednesday where you go and link your response -- and see everyone else's. Check out their homepage to find it.

The challenge for this week is "character names in books I can't pronounce", and I have to admit that the first thing that comes to mind is this opening from Robert Jordan regarding certain characters in the Wheel Of Time books:

But... I did it to myself in the Great Unpublished Pulp Fantasy Novel that I wrote back when I could actually get things finished. The main character was easy: called himself Cat, refused to admit that he might have a real name, was even listed in the records at his school as Cat.

But his best friend was a young woman named Gin... with a hard G. There is literally no way to spell that in English so people won't automatically assume that it's pronounced "jin". There is no casual way to work the pronunciation issue into the dialogue. And there was no possibility of changing her name; she was Gin, and she damned well wasn't going to go by anything else -- and would probably put an arrow into you on general principles if you asked her to.

So... yeah. If there's a moral to this story, I have yet to find it -- but I still scoff when people try to tell me that English is a phonetic language. English is an unutterable mess, that's what it is, and it's amazing that anybody manages to communicate in it at all.

Update: Cathryn Hein reminded me of another example, so I'm copying my response here.

I do not, for the record, remember the title, author, series, or really much of anything else except this:

1. It was a fairly generic high fantasy setting -- elves, dwarves, humans, roughly medieval technology, etc. -- that could have come out of virtually any D'n'D game.

2. Except, all the racial names had apostrophes added. All. Of. Them. So there were dwa'rves, cen'taurs, me'erfolk, and I believe even e'elves. And I have no idea how that sounded in the author's head, but when I see an apostrophe in the middle of a word I automatically assume it's representing a glottal stop, a fact which turns perfectly easy names into an unholy mess of pronunciations, even in my head.

3. I did not finish the book.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Darvinin: Homecoming 2

Ruin came to his feet so fast that his chair fell over and went scraping away across the floor; that two-handed scimitar of his was halfway out of its sheath before he stilled himself. He was staring directly across the room, directly at Darvinin. Nobody else moved; even Sam looked surprised. The tavern had gone silent around them, again.

So much for subtlety, Darvinin thought. Still, the High Provost knew Ruin was back, would be seeing their mother in the Privy Council, and probably wouldn't find it remarkable that the brothers were reunited as well. Wishful thinking, he decided. The High Provost will try to use this however he can. But it was too late for secrecy now. And if rumors spread of this, of a Twice-Born drawing steel in a tavern, word would also spread that the High Provost worshipped Vecna and was working against the greater good of Duendewood; if the gods were kind, it might balance out.

Darvinin said, "My brother," and let the words hang there.

Ruin stepped to the side, twisting his head to look at Darvinin from another angle. "You survived."

"No," he replied. "Your death half-killed me, and I am not yet healed."

Ruin looked away. "It didn't do me any favors, either." He slammed his blade back into its sheath.

"No," said Mistra, "I imagine it didn't."

Ruin turned to look at her, then looked again at Darvinin. "This is Mistra," he said. "We were -- we are -- lovers."

Ruin nodded. "Another of the True Prince's honor guard?"

She nodded back. "The same. I had hoped to meet you under better circumstances."

Ruin relaxed, albeit slightly. "I would have also," he said, and a small wave of relief passed through Darvinin.

"How did you come here?" asked Darvinin. "We planned to visit the house, to present ourselves in disguise."

"You know what we're dealing with," Ruin said. "Deceptions piled on deceptions. Mother blocked sight of the house, so when a stray dog approached us in the street I assumed that someone had decided on another approach. I followed it back, and found it talking to Shanna."

Darvinin moved closer and Mistra moved with him, keeping her hand in his. "If we came to your house this evening," said Mistra, "could your mother check us over and be certain that we are what we seem?"

Ruin considered. "That... might be for the best." He looked at Darvinin. "I know she would like to see you; she's been worried. And I'm sure she'd like to meet you," he added, looking at Mistra, "along with Shanna and her companions."

Behind him, Sam said: "Meet the wizard Baethira? In person? Oh hell yes."

"Then it's decided, O my allies," said Ruin, and strode forward to envelop his brother in a hug tight enough to make Darvinin's ribs ache. Mistra let go of his hand so he could respond, and he wrapped his arms around Ruin as well. "Come tonight." He turned to look back at Evrimon. "And no more trying to imitate stray animals."

"No, m'lord," said Evrimon. "Thank you for not murdering me."

Monday, July 20, 2020

Dnd 5e Interlude: White Plume Mountain 2

Picking up beside the spynx...
Jhuni Blackfire (she/her) - Fire Mage
Thelmor Irdro (he/him) - Warrior
Nil (they/them) - Priest
Snow (she/her) - Swashbuckler and Ranger
Sunrise (she/her) - absent
Perfect (he/him) - fighter

So, the gynospynx... Nil bows politely to the gynospynx. "Greetings. Do you live in these tunnels?"

Spynx: "They are nice tunnels. You have solved my riddle and you may pass."

Nil: "What might we find down these passages?"

Sphynx: "You are seeking three items, are you not? I can tell you how to obtain them, for a price. I do not have much here, but I have knowledge."

Nil: "What's your price?"

Sphynx: "Knowledge, or riches. I am not picky."

Grey: "There is a wizard in town, a rogue from Waterdeep, who disappeared from the guild there with a set of magical tomes. He will awaken this morning to discover that those tomes have again disappeared. The most interesting of the tomes contained a series of initiations designed to... increase one's natural abilities."

Sphynx: "Knowledge for knowledge: I helped the wizard write those letters. We have come to an... arrangement."

Nil: "What sort of arrangement?"

Sphynx: "Will you give me knowledge for knowledge?"

Nil: "Old knowledge, or new knowledge?"

Sphynx: "Old is better, but often more expensive."

Nil: "Nearby towns, or mountains?"

Sphynx: "I know this mountain very well."

Nil: explains about Doc Pep.

Sphynx: "Very well. There are no wrong turns here; what you seek is at the end of each of these passages."

Thelmor: "Would you trade a bit of knowledge, something of interest to the Raven Queen, for knowledge of Keraptis?" He comes across with an interesting historical tidbit.

Sphynx: "I can tell you something of Keraptis. He is alive; his age has given him power. You would not be able to kill him, though it gives me no pleasure to say it. If you come across Keraptis, you will perish horribly."

Thelmor: "I thank you."

Sphynx: "Enjoy yourselves in the halls. Don't die."

Nil: "If we take the items and escape, would he let them go or come after them?"

Sphynx: "He lets nothing go: not the weapons, not his life, not his lands."

Nil: "So how do we feel about going up against an unstoppable opponent?"

Everybody turns to look at Perfect, since he's our employer: "If we steal them," says the tiefling, "we could still have a perfect retreat."

We decide to take the left fork, and start down it in our marching order. ("Nil takes the lead, with Jhuni following, then Perfect, then Thelmor, then Sunrise, then Grey, then Snow.") Nil is probing the ground with her staff, so she notices when suddenly there's nothing under the staff. A little experimenting with rope and the Light-spelled rock shows that there's a ten-foot pit in front of us. We don't see anything in the pit, just really murky water. Grey manages to chalk in a little warning mark above the edge, then follows Perfect and Thelmor in jumping across; Snow (ironically) misses, and makes the cat-fell-in-bathtub noise and then swims the rest of the way out and is deeply upset with everything. Jhuni has trouble with the swimming, but Thelmor and Perfect help haul her out.We fall back into our marching order and continue on, with Nil still checking the floor as we advance.

We reach a new section of passage, with copper-colored plates 6' high and 6' wide covering the walls before us. Nil starts checking to see if they're moveable. They're in scale mail, over a trousers-and-tunic outfit, and the longer they stand in front the plates the warmer they feel. "Jhuni, you've an affinity for flame and fire. What do you make of these?"

Jhuni and Nil consider. There are plenty of heat-related spells, so this may well be magic. There are also other ways to heat metal, from flames to levin-fire. The gnome artificers use a soft lighting to make metal hot sometimes.

The copper plates are not touching the water we're standing in.

Grey begins casting Detect Magic. While he's working, we start hearing heavy-footed tramping in the water ahead. So... this spell is likely to go unfinished for the moment. (OOC: We roll initiative: Snow, Grey, Nil, Thelmor, Jhuni, and Perfect's in there somewhere.) There's a large creature down the corridor, massive; it comes slogging down the corridor at high speed.

Snow moves up and attacks; as a gloomstalker ranger, she's effectively invisible and also making a sneak attack. (OOC: 30 damage) It roars in confusion: "Fuck!" Snow slips back, and the Ogre has no idea what just happened.

Grey drops an illusion further up the corridor: an armored knight who shouts: "Ho, ugly! Turn and face your doom!"

The ogre swings around and raises its massive club to point back at the knight in a challenge.

Nil, looking at the ogre's massive back, casts a spell but fails to affect it.

Thelmor's greataxe is suddenly on fire, and he just buries it the ogre's back. (19 slashing, 4 fire damage) It screams in pain and anger. Perfect pulls out his greatsword and says, "You can do more than that! Thelmor, strike him again!"

He's passed his attack to Thelmor, who attacks again. (13 slashing, 5 fire) It's not as solid as the first blow, but it definitely connects. Jhuni shoots him in the back of the head with firebolt. The ogre roars, realizing that it shouldn't have turned around, and attacks Thelmor with its greatclub -- but the weapon slides off his fancy new reinforced armor.

Snow slides back and runs her rapier through its heart; she dances aside as falls back into the space she was just occupying. Snow gets out from between the copper plates, and Grey starts the ritual again...

(OOC: we take a break.)

Grey completes the ritual, and the plates do not appear magical; nothing on the ogre appears magical.

Snow drops all her metal gear, and proceeds forward to a 30 x 30' square room, which is free of the copper plates; it's about 70' to get through the passage. There's a staircase leading up. Snow pauses to investigate, and finds a secret door on the east end of the south wall.

The ogre was wearing hide armor and carrying a wooden club, but literally nothing else. Nil discards her metal items and goes poking down the corridor with her staff. There's no sign of a switch for this. We decide to drag our equipment down the corridor, which still gets hot enough to burn through the ropes at about the 60' mark. We manage to haul it the rest of the way through a combination of mage hand and shoveling it along with wooden staff and greatclub.

Once we're re-equipped, Snow points us to the secret door. We can see the seams, so hopefully we can just push it open. Nil checks over the door, looking for traps or anything else, then pushes it open. The stench of death wafts out, and groans and growls fill the air as six figures in the dark start walking towards us.

(OOC: Initiative is Thelmor, Snow, Grey, Jhuni, and Nil, and once again Perfect is in there somewhere.) Thelmor steps forward and bisects the first of the creatures, leaving its halves to slide into the water. Snow moves up and stabs the closest one; Grey puts an arrow in its throat. Jhuni moves up and hits them with Burning Hands, immolating the one in front and damaging the rest. She moves back as the ghouls shuffle forward, and they attack our front line but miss.

Perfect maneuvers around beside one, and cleaves through one of the ghouls, then follows through to the one adjacent to it as well; it doesn't fall, but it feels it. He raises his greatsword and smiles, then attacks again, damaging the one in front of him. Nil looks at our opponents, and determines that they're ghouls and not as powerful as all that. They raise their staff and summons a powerful ball of divine light, and attempts to turn them.

There's something around the ghouls' necks: they're wearing amulets, and the amulets hold an aura of darkness around them. It turns back the light effect of the turning, and Nil curses vehemently. Thelmor attacks, cutting into a ghoul, and then beheads it. Grey finishes Perfect's victim with an arrow, and Jhuni sets fire to the last one. It snarls and attacks Thelmor with a claw to the face (OOC: 6 slashing) to remarkably little effect. Perfect steps up and uses his greatsword to, um, disarm the thing. He calls for Grey to finish the job, which he does by decapitating it with an arrow. Nil moves to collect the necklaces.

We find a stone panel with a metal handle on it; when we pull the lever, we find a switch. We turn off the hot metal corridor. Who even does that in his own dungeon??? Nil examines the amulets, finding a mixture of necromancy, abyssal and infernal writings, all cobbled together to confound turning undead. We've never seen the like; they're probably created by Keraptis. Nil turns one over to Thelmor for the Raven Queen, and wraps the others up to take back to their temple. We check the room, but don't find any adventurer corpses.

Jhuni replaces the glowing stone with a glowing ball bearing. We climb the stairs up out of the water, finding a 20' wide passage broken by a pair of trenches -- 5' wide and 10' deep, the bottoms lined with razor-like blades. There's a second one a little ways out, and the floor between is covered with a silvery sheen. Nil throws the ball-bearing across to the silvery floor. It bounces wildly, leaping from the floor to the walls and ceiling and eventually crashing into the pit on the far side.

We try an unspelled ball bearing, and throw it down the corridor. It behaves similarly. Snow gets us to put a rope around her waist with a very careful length, then leaps across to the far side. She starts to slide forward, then gets pulled back by the rope, which is short enough to keep her from landing on the spikes at the bottom. There is a distinct impression that the entire corridor is basically frictionless, so anything that enters it is going to proceed to the far end (and its pit) at an uncontrolled rate of speed.

We try pouring some acid on one of the walls using mage-hand, but it doesn't touch the walls or floor until it finally falls into the pit and lands there. Snow manages a perfectly ridiculous stunt with a rope around her waist, surfing down the corridor and leaping across the pit. She tries to pound a spike into the back wall, and the spike goes right through the wall; she changes direction, and puts it in a side wall. Then she adds a second spike at ankle level, and runs a second line along below the first so we don't have to touch the floor at all. We make it across in style.

The illusionary wall lets on to... just about ten feet more of the passage. There's nothing back here; it's just making the passage seem arbitrarily shorter by ten feet. Maybe it's here to prevent people from firing arrows to get across the corridor? It's a one-way illusion, and we could potentially use this.

We have two options from here: north or south. South would be in keeping with the Left Hand Wall approach. Each direction ends in a wooden door. We take a quick consensus and head south. Nil notices a secret door along the wall, but has no way to open it.

There's only the sound of water sloshing beyond the southern door; Snow hears a bit of water, a bit of movement, but not at the door. Snow quietly opens the door. The area beyond the door is a large chamber with a stepped set of aquariums and terrariums leading down. Snow moves inside to get a better perspective (quietly, of course). She finds a door on the far wall, and sees a door at the bottom of the terraces. This... is probably the inverted ziggurat.

We reverse course and check the north door. There's a sound of rushing water beyond, fast-rushing water. It's a ways beyond the door. We look inside. The water is flowing steadily along, well above the floor -- two feet above the floor. It flows from the northeast corner to the south. There are kayaks beside the door, but no paddles. It enters and leaves through holes in the wall. The flow is basically from east to west.

In theory, we could load ourselves into the kayaks and take off down the floating river into the cave/tunnel/pipe beyond, but... No. This is way too terrifying for us. Jhuni has clairvoyance, but we'd have to sacrifice a kayak. We could do it, but.. No. Ziggurat. We'll go see what's under the ziggurat. (OOC: Next session.)

Friday, July 17, 2020

Dark Armor 009b: Discoveries At The Camp

This is an alternate direction for the story -- probably the one I'll go with, actually. I was toying with it earlier, and I don't think I like the direction the current storyline took.

It was a near thing, in some ways. The arrow had pierced Ravaj's lung, and the healer-sorcerers struggled against his initiations to mold the flesh so that they could withdraw it cleanly. Pallian left them to their work, and strode heavily back to the command tent. He needed to climb into the sarcophagus that housed the armor (and himself, when he wore it), and rest and heal while the enchanted black steel mended. In the field, he never removed the armor; he was always the black knight. The sarcophagus took the place of food and bunk.

The guards studiously regarded the rest of the camp as he passed, and he threw open the tent flap and moved inside.

Then he stopped, finding himself regarding the figure of a naked woman, not far from his own age, chained to the central wooden pole of the command tent.

She regarded him with a sort of strained, resentful pride. "So. The Champion of Teregor. You attacked our camp?"

He turned his head, regarding her from behind his visor. He shouldn't have, and he knew it immediately; it was a human movement, an emotional reaction, and the Black Knight did not have those. But Pallian was shocked out of all reckoning, his control gone. "Who are you?" The mask disguised his voice, at least: rendered it indifferent and distorted.

"The Shadow of Edrias -- or I was, until your brother caught me in his spells. Did you attack our camp?"

"You know I did," he said, and took a step forward.

She held herself straight, looked directly at him. With her hands bound over her head and no clothing in sight,  it was more awkward than proud; but he could see the set of her shoulders and the balanced determination in her expression. "I confess, I'm surprised that you made it back out. Did you slay the archer?"

Pallian considered that, and decided that the question was too unexpectedly specific to be anything but personal: there was only one archer she could be talking about. "No," he said. "Two guards and an older man who looked to be a sorcerer-general, maybe some staff officers when I destroyed the command tent. Some troopers as I rode through the camp. What is she to you?"

There was a long pause. "She's my sister."

Finding he had no idea what to say to that, Pallian simply reiterated: "She lives. She put an arrow in Ravaj's lung."

"Good." Then the woman turned her head slightly. "What is Ravaj to you?"

Pallian hesitated, but she had answered when he had asked. "My brother."

The woman's jaw tightened; then he head lowered and her shoulders slumped. "Will you kill me, at least? Before he does to me what he did to my sister?"

"Your sister the archer?"

But the Shadow of Edrias shook her head. "My sister, the Heir of Edrias."

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Challenge: Things I Collect

This is part of the weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. If you'd like to participate, you can find the prompts here. They also put up a post every Wednesday where you go and link your response -- and see everyone else's. Check out their homepage to find it.

This week's challenge is "things I collect".

Which is, for me, an interesting topic — I mean, anything I collect, I'm going to be interested in, right? So let's see...
  • Melee weapons, mostly swords, but also staves and polearms. The two I'm most proud of are a custom sword that's sort of a cross between a viking sword and a jian ("Tai Chi sword") and a nagamaki, which is... picture a samurai sword, but with the handle every bit as long as the blade. It's an odd, in-between weapon, not a sword but not quite a full polearm either. I stopped collecting weapons about the time our kids came along, so it's been a few years now, but I'm still well-prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse.

  • Ceramic mugs. This was kind of what replaced the weapon purchases, honestly. There's a particular potter who does very distinctive work, and I've been buying things from him at the local renfest, once a year, for an embarrassingly long time. Those aren't the whole of the collection, but they're a good third of it.
  • DnD miniatures, both the unpainted metal ones — that collection goes back to my childhood — and the pre-painted plastic ones they have available now. They're basically little fantasy statues, usually about an inch high, and they're just fun to look at. Not to mention the sheer joy of pulling out exactly the right model in the middle of a game and watching the players gape when they realize just how much trouble they're in.
  • Books.
So, what do you collect?

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Darvinin: Homecoming 1

"They smell like elves," Evrimon said quietly, reassuming his elvish shape. "In fact, they smell quite a lot like you."

Darvinin nodded matter-of-factly, and was pleased to find that he was firmly in control of his emotions. Then he turned and walked all the way to the far side of the tavern and stopped beside the fireplace to stare into the flames.

He wasn't in control of anything.

Mistra came and stood beside him but didn't say anything, and after a time he took her hand. They were standing there, backs to the room, when Shanna said sharply, "Ruin?"

And from the far side of the room, Ruin -- very clearly -- said, "Shanna?" The tavern, not terribly loud in the late afternoon, had gone completely silent at Ruin's arrival.

"Ah," said Evrimon, "before you start trying to murder us all, I just want to let you know that I'm not--"

"You were the dog," said Ruin. Then: "He's with you?" 

"Yes," Shanna answered immediately, and Darvinin stayed very still -- though he realized suddenly that he was gripping Mistra's hand far too tightly. She hadn't flinched, but he made a deliberate effort to relax his grip back to something more comfortable. With any luck, Ruin's attention would be on Shanna, and he wouldn't notice them at all. "We heard you came back from the dead, and we wanted to make sure you were you."

Ruin said something absolutely blasphemous in Draconic. Despite the best efforts of their mother and their tutors, he'd never actually learned the language; but he had committed a few choice phrases to memory and apparently still recalled them.

Sam laughed. Apparently Ruin turned to her, because his next words were: "Who are you?"

"Your cousin's lover," she said, in a tone that lay somewhere between speculative and challenging. "And her protector, if it comes to that."

There was a pregnant pause; then Ruin said, "I dearly hope it doesn't. We need allies, not more enemies." There was a scrape of wood, a chair dragging across the floor, and then he continued more quietly. "So, I'm going to assume that you aren't secretly a bunch of Vecna-worshippers."

Darvinin should be doing something. He should be... going over there, or turning to observe, or... something.

He couldn't. He was panicked; he was paralyzed. He wasn't ready for this and didn't know how to cope with it.

Shanna said, "What?" just as Sam firmly said, "No." Evrimon stammered something half-coherent about mostly being an animal.

The tavern started to return to its own business, and the murmur of unrelated voices made it harder to hear, but Darvinin caught Ruin's voice saying, " we got here. We got too close to the cult of Vecna and whatever they're up to, and..." Some nearby idiot said something to his companion about the tax levies, and Davinin missed the next bit. "...guarded against magical spying, so we were watching for something else. Your friend doesn't make a particularly convincing stray dog."

Evrimon's voice broke in: "...told you that!"

"...should have set the fire and had the archer covering us from the rooftops," added Leander the Elf.

"Hush," said Shanna. "No, we were just..." Their voices faded into the background noise; Darvinin wasn't entirely sure how much was in the tavern and how much was in his head. "...lost as you are."

Mistra leaned in and put her head on his shoulder, doing her best to make them look like a normal couple and offering him comfort at the same time. He was too frozen, too lightning-struck, to respond.

"Darvinin was right," Ruin said. "The Provost is behind it, or at least in it up to his eyeballs. I really don't see why Mother won't let me kill him."

And Darvinin thought, Corellon Larethian's hairy left testicle, it really is him. And he still couldn't move. He was as frozen by the knowledge as he'd been by the uncertainty. His brother was alive. My brother is alive! He should be across the room. He should be clasping his brother and grinning like a maniac. And instead he stood there, staring into the fire, unable to make himself move. He was honestly afraid he was going to piss himself, stone cold sober in the middle of the afternoon.

And that was when Ruin said, suspiciously, "What?" And then, with unexpected certainty: "He's here, isn't he? Where is he?"

And Darvinin, very slowly, drawing Mistra with him, turned around.

Monday, July 13, 2020

DnD 5e Interlude: White Plume Mountain, episode 1

White Plume Mountain
(A brief aside from Strahd featuring 8th level characters)

We begin in the city of Pinehost, a primary producer of lumber but large enough to be a trade center and home to a number of nobles. The tavern is peaceful, with a few groups celebrating but overall pretty sparse; a lot of them seem to be manual laborers, but there are exceptions.

Grey is half-drow, sitting by himself, nicely but not expensively dressed; he's just finished a job, and is feeling pretty good about himself. Silvercat's character Jhuni Blackfire is a dragonborn, and keeping to herself at another table. Danny's character Thelmor Irdro is a Shadar-Kai, a shadow elf, nondescript clothing but distinctive dark eyes; he has tattoos of a raven and a wolf, and is simply listening to whoever is talking, half-visible by virtue of his heritage. Songbird's character Nil is a slender half-orc dressed in traveling clothes, with a quarterstaff leaning against the wall behind them and a holy symbol depicting a raven. Like the others, they're observing the room and listening to the bards. Snow is a tall, slender tabaxi with blue-gray fur and green eyes; she wears green, in a combination of fancy and functional - very Three Musketeers. She has taken a spot on the small stage, and is telling the tale of the Dragon Skull Heist and drawing a crowd. Griff's character Sunrise is hanging back to let Snow lead the show; she looks completely relaxed, but also completely out of place: she's a tiefling, dressed in white and gold, with large ivory-colored horns, wearing quite a bit of jewelry. Even her instrument, a sort of dulcimer, looks too rich for this place. Sitting on her shoulder is golden-colored creature, an imp.

As Snow and Sunrise wind up their story to applause and profit, they settle back to enjoy having drinks bought for them. The tavern has settled into a quieter moment when the doors swing up and a trio of distinctive strangers stride in. They are obviously wealthy, probably noble; the first is a tiefling, with purple horns and purple skin, wearing an open-front shirt of silk. The one immediately behind him is a dwarven woman, richly garbed but in leather and a dress warhammer (like a dress sword, but y'know hammer). Where the tiefling swishes, she comes in serious and alert. Their companion is more graceful, more restrained than the tiefling, their gender ambiguous, also richly dressed.

The dwarf pushes past the tiefling, steps onto a table, and clinks her hammer against her armor to draw attention. "We three are here," she announces, "to offer adventure to anyone who wants it. We have had items stolen from us, and we will offer any reward within our power to whomever can retrieve them. A payment will be made to your next of kin if you perish in the attempt. We'll be over here, if you're interested."

The tiefling looks offended again as she pushes past him and claims a table.

The rest of the tavern stares, then goes back to their business; apparently this is commonplace. Sunrise waits a brief moment, then stands and crosses the room and takes a seat at their table; Thelmor follows suit, as does Nil. Jhuni and Grey move close enough to listen in, but don't immediately join them.

Sunrise greets the tiefling, and asks about how many of these payments they've sent out already. It's... quite a few.

"So, these lost treasures...?"

The dwarf removes a folded letter from her pocket and places it on the table. "This was left where my hammer had been." Each of the other two produce similar letters; the tiefling looks disgusted at having to touch it.

The letter reads (rough notes):
Search ye far or search ye near, you'll find no items three.
North past the farms and forests, into the earth, fight the beast, pass beneath the inverted ziggurat, then be caught; I care not who you send, I'll make slaves of them or send them to the fire. Specifically (with the actual text rather than my hasty notes):

Search ye far or search ye near
You'll find no trace of the three
Unless you follow instructions clear
For the weapons abide with me.

North past forest, farm and furrow
You must go to the feathered mound
Then down away from the sun you'll burrow
Forget life, forget light, forget sound.

To rescue Wave, you must do battle
With the Beast in the Boiling Bubble
Crost cavern vast, where chain-links rattle
Lies Whelm, past water-spouts double.

Blackrazor yet remains to be won
Underneath inverted ziggurat.
That garnered, think not that you're done
For now you'll find you are caught

I care not, former owners brave
What heroes you seek to hire.
Though mighty, I'll make each one my slave
Or send him to the fire

Thelmor recognizes the symbol as the glyph of an ancient wizard... name starts with a K? Maybe?

All three letters are identical.

Nil: "Well, that's... definitely verse."

Tiefling noble: "I've seen better poetry scrawled on the walls of an outhouse..."

The elf straightens. "We believe that the feathered mound must be White Plume Mountain; since the adventurers we have sent there have not returned, we feel that must be correct."

Nil: "So what all did you lose?

The dwarf: "Not just any items. Mine was a magical warhammer, known to break apart anything in its path. It's called Whelm. Dwarven make, strong and powerful, a thing of beauty and strength."

Tiefling: "Mine was absolutely perfection. A pitch-black greatsword, shining like the night sky, named Blackrazor."

Elf: "A trident known as wave, a beautiful piece that my ancestors gained through a peace treaty with the sea elves."

Nil: "Were there ransom demands?"

Dwarf: "No. We have only the letters. Is it a challenge? A way to collect adventurers? We know not."

Nil: "It sounds like it's trying to goad you. Have any of you gone?"

Nobles: "Our duties do not permit us to leave willy-nilly, however important the mission."

Sunrise: "I understand that you value these, but with enough money you could commission replacements rather than sending people to die..."

Tiefling: "Mine, at least, was sentient: unique and irreplaceable."

Sunrise: "Ah."

Thelmor: "So, if we are able to get these, I would like for my reward to be involve a chance to study the weapons."

The Tiefling, whose name is Perfect, elects to go with us. He also introduces his fellow nobles: Selanar Qivaris, wood elf and Dhudruda Grumblefoot, dwarf.

Nil looks to see just how identical the letters are. The paper seems handmade, the writing nearly identical, the marks precisely identical. The nobles have been able to figure out that the mark was used by a wizard some three thousand years ago, confirming Thelmor's memory.

Thelmor scowls, and Nil asks: "Does that mean something to you?"

Thelmor: "Perhaps it's a copycat, or perhaps someone is cheating death; that cannot be allowed. Things that are meant to die must die in their time."

Snow: "It has been my experience that there are always people who have too much of some things, and others with not enough. Life, it seems, is one of those things. I... make it a habit to try to correct those imbalances."

Thelmor: "We would seem to have that in common."

Nil: "So, Perfect... how old are these weapons? They all sound like heirlooms."

Perfect: "Very old; I don't really know."

Nil: "3000 years old?"

Perfect: "Good question. I know not."

Perfect: "There's a village known as Stormvale at the base of the mansion; with luck we can get there, get into the mountain, and come back for cocktails all around."

The other two offer him bags of... money? I think? They all seem in agreement that if Perfect is going with us, they should support the effort.

We head out the next day, piling into a couple of horse-drawn carriages to travel to a nearby village; the carriages are sort of purple chandeliers. We arrive, quite comfortably, in Stormvale; Perfect points out a peak that seems to be constantly emitting smoke or steam; there's a visible cave that seems to exhale steam at regular intervals. The village is small and unwalled, but not entirely lacking in amenities; in fact, there are more resources than it seems like a village of this size should host.

Perfect: "Before I secure our amenities, let me offer the down payment we promised." He sorts the three pouches, and hands each of us a sack of coins: 500 GP each. "We can discuss the next of kin tonight."

There's a big sign in the middle of town, offering directions to various places in town; we've clearly wandered into the DnD equivalent of a Colorado ski resort town.

Nil: "About the thefts..."

Perfect: "All the same night, irritatingly. And we did not know each other well before the thefts."

Nil is interested in the temple, so we head off in that direction. It's a very old building, but also fairly large; it's mostly divided to various alcoves, each dedicated to a pantheon. We are welcomed by a gracious half-elf, with the blond hair and golden skin of high elf ancestry. The elf guides Sunrise to the shrine of Hamity in the Elvish pantheon, and recommends a particular smith who might have magic items to Nil. Thelmor looks for the sigil of the Raven Queen, and finds it in a niche of its own -- apart from any pantheon. (There are others arranged in similar positions, for those who are worshipped without quite being gods or quite being part of a pantheon.)

There's a blacksmith, there's general goods, there's a library, and there's a tavern. The signs for the blacksmith are blue; and the fires that the gnome and her smiths are using to forge are blue. The place is called the Blue Blazes. The sounds of smithing fill the air. There are a few orcs and even a goliath working the metal, but also gnomes working on smaller bits of jewelry. One of them comes rushing over with a great smile: "Welcome, my name is Jellior, this is the Blue Blazes, where you can get anything your dreams can imagine."

Snow asks after the possibility of enchanted studded leather that can take the appearance of any sort of clothing. Sunrise immediately perks up. Jellior has no such thing available; Sunrise asks after protective amulets or jewelry. Jellior had a ring of protection, but it was purchased by an adventurer... he was definitely headed for White Plume Mountain. Grey crosses to General Goods store, finding the fellow behind the counter to be a fireblood genasi. Grey asks after a cloak of protection, and the Genasi opens a glass case and picks something out: a cloak with a shield clasp. "For you, I would let this lovely cloak go for a mere 200 GP."

Grey: "Sold."

Jhuni follows him in and purchases the second one. Snow wanders over to the general goods in search of a hat of disguise. The fireblood pulls out a beautiful hat in a lovely emerald green. It's ostentatious, but gorgeous. Snow will take it, and she'll most certainly wear it out - but she'll definitely take a hat box for her current hat. Sunrise asks in both stores after a ring of mind shielding. Jellior can oblige. Jhuni buys some black velvet ribbon to decorate her horns. Sunrise adds a Pearl of Power, and Thelmor asks about improved studded leather; Jellior can manage that, and could manage it for Snow as well. Nil asks about adamantine scale armor; apparantly adamantine comes from the mountain and isn't so hard to find up here.

There are hotsprings around the edge of town. (Sunrise asked.) Nil then goes to buy tool kits from the general goods. Grey returns to the blacksmith and asks after warning weapons, then claims a dagger. Jhuni grabs a potion of greater healing from general goods. Grey considers that an excellent idea, but can only afford a regular potion of healing.

With everyone supplied, we head to the library. It's stone, lit through cracks in the stone and carefully covered lanterns. A gnome beside the door, Panrik, perks up as we enter: "How may I be of service to you?"

Nil: "We're on a quest. Have you seen this symbol before?"

Panrick adjusts his glasses. "Give me a moment." He disappears back into the stacks. After a time he returns and hops back onto his seat. He sets down a very old scroll case and carefully opens it. "Ah yes, this symbol here." It's the same one. "This is very old, only around about 3000 years ago. Surprised to see it on something so recent. This is the seal of the wizard Keraptis. This entire scroll is about him. He rose to power in the valleys of this mountain, controlling the warlords with cruel and gruesome punishments. He drove back the local monsters and savage tribes, but held his people in an iron fist and taxed them mercilessly. Madness, demonic possession, undead... all grew common, according to the stories. And in time the monstrous incursions -- hobgoblins and bugbears and such -- began to increase again. But what truly tipped the balance was his demand that one third of newborn children be given to him. Led by a powerful cleric and his ranger acolyte, the people rose up and destroyed the guardians; the wizard was only able to escape by sacrificing his followers. The legend goes that White Plume Mountain was the only place left where he could find refuge; he had nowhere else to go."

Nil asks about the weapons.

Panrick: "Well, they were recently stolen; this article, 'Nobles Gone Mad,' discusses reports of just how desperate the nobles are to retrieve those weapons. It's all been very messy since then. There are many rumors, depending on who you talk to. They were even hangings of servants who were supposed to be on guard, it's said."

The group makes a note to discuss this with Perfect.

On to the tavern! There's already a table full of food and drink sitting there, with Perfect sitting there ushering over to eat with him. There are other people at other tables, but nobody wants to bother the flamboyant noble. Nil asks if we could move all this somewhere more private; Perfect agrees and throws down some more money and off we go.

Nil draws out a large circle and casts a spell. "This is a zone of truth." She looks around. "There are some questions we wish to ask before we leave tomorrow, and perhaps some you wish to ask us." Sunrise goes directly to the accusations in the library.

Perfect: "Those nasty little rumors?"

Sunrise: "Those."

Perfect: "The thieves' guild was ransacked, but that was not for us; the guards do it as performance every so often, to show that they're doing their jobs. We merely asked if they found anything."

Sunrise: "And the servants?"

Perfect: "Complicated. It wasn't one of our servants. We posted rewards, and unfortunately some less scrupulous entrepreneurs took it upon themselves to try to scam us. Grumblefoot received a letter; she informed the guards, and the guards rounded up the perpetrators. When the guards learned that they didn't actually have Whelm... well, under Dwarven law, intruding on someone's grief this way is punishable at the lord's discretion. It turns out that this person was also involved in bribery and blackmail, and so Grumblefoot had them hanged."

Sunrise: "Were any of your servants punished for not doing their job?"

Perfect: "A few were fined or released from service, but none of them were hanged. We would not hang servants for such a thing."

Thelmor: "You mentioned that your weapon was sentient. Did that add to your desperation when it was stolen?"

Perfect looks stricken, though he tries to hide it: "I understand the sense of desperation; that is why I am here. I long to have a friend back. I can't speak for the other two."

Thelmor: "I look forward to us being able to retrieve it."

Do the weapons have genders?

Perfect: "Blackrazor doesn't seem to care."

Nil: "As a cleric of Odin, in accepting this job I will do my best to protect you all and see us all back alive and well." They touch their holy symbol, a raven.

Thelmor cocks his head: "A familiar symbol, but not the same as mine."

Sunrise: "Have you any questions for us?"

Perfect: "Do you promise to stay alive as long as possible?"

Grey: "Immortal until proven otherwise."

Perfect takes down names for next of kin, or other desired heirs.

Once the food is done, we're provided with beds and blankets and a chance to sleep. We leave the following evening, with all our new equipment.

The mountain really does seem to be breathing: every thirty seconds or so, smoke or steam comes out of the cave, and a few seconds later is partially sucked back in. It's weirdly regular, and not at all normal for even a volcano.

Sunrise: "Are we sure this is really a mountain?"

Nil: "Are sure the wizard was human, and not say a now-ancient dragon?"

Perfect just grins at the speculation. "White plume mountain is a continuous geyser, and that cavern is actually called Wizard's mouth. It does rather look as if it's breathing, doesn't it?"

Sunrise: "'Geyser' would be a wonderful cover story for a three thousand year old dragon wizard."

We go back to looking over the clues in the letters.

Perfect: "With the number of adventurers we've sent, whatever is in there must be something terrible."

Nil: "You're very trusting that we're going to keep you alive?"

Perfect: "I'm trying to keep you arrive."

Nil: "Thank you."

Perfect: "I try to be perfect."

Thelmor: "Is there any way in that doesn't involve the Wizard's Mouth?"

There's a cave along the way. Perfect has no idea if anybody has tried it, but Grey is in favor of at least checking that first. So is everyone else. Nil is mapping as we travel, and doing pretty well.

The cave is still in the foothills. There are some adventuring items in here: old wooden chests, saddle bags, and like that. There's a sign at the back. "Welcome to Dead Mole's Eyesocket." It looks like a great place to take shelter from bad weather or the like. Nil looks around to see if anyone is here.

A goblin emerges from a side area.

Nil speaks goblin(!!!). They address the goblin.

He's wearing full armor, and has a symbol of a hammer on his necklace. "You need keep your stuff here! Doc Pep keep your stuff here in name of Mahal!"

Nil immediately drops into discussion of gods. Snow, recognizing Doc Pep from an unrelated campaign, says hello. The rest of us experience a moment of OOC dissonance.

Snow: "Hi, Doc Pep. It's Snow. You can't see me right now, but it's me." Snow is a Gloomstalker ranger, and invisible to the Darkvision that we're all using to see.

Doc Pep: "Stabby Kitty! I miss you, Stabby Kitty! You get discount. Not them, just you."

Nil: "Are there tunnels from here into the mountain?"

Doc: "One, but it bottomless pit. Lead straight to lava."

Grey: "I'd... like to see that."

Nil asks about alternate ways into mountain.

Doc: "Very top, but you fall into lava."

So our choices are basically lava, lava, or breathing hole death-passage.

They ask about the halfling with the ring of protection. Doc's pretty sure he's dead. He hasn't come back in three months, and also he was dumb. Doc already sold his stuff to the village.

Snow: "This would explain how that tiny village has such a supply of magical goods... and at those prices."

Nil: "How long have you been in business?"

Doc, counting fingers: "Five years."

Sunrise decides to keep her instruments with her. And Jhuni and Thelmor recall that there was an altar to Mahal in the temple in town. (OOC: I love that the temple here is a full Parthenon.)

Nil: "You don't have any customers named Keraptis, do you?"

Doc: "Some bugbears come by. They mention Keraptis. They come from breathing hole."

We continue up the slope, and enter through the mouth -- literally the only way inside that we've been able to find.

Everything here is unnaturally *moist*, enough to make Snow shudder in disdain. The cloud is steam. There's a whistling sound coming from the cave. The entrance is slippery, and the floor is thick with muck; Perfect is hiking up everything he's wearing and stepping as delicately as possible along. Sunrise has, at this point, changed into more standard adventuring gear. There's a crack about a foot wide, where the odd exhale-inhale seems to focus.

We spend some time looking at this entrance, because the steam coming out is uncomfortably hot and will probably hurt us if we're standing there when it comes through. Thelmor looks for any kind of hidden doors, but doesn't find anything. Poking around with Nil's staff, we find a spot where the floor has a small wooden trap door, hidden under the muck. Jhuni pulls on the ring; Nil touches her and adds a bit of magical aid, and the trapdoor pops loose.

Directly beneath the trap door is the opening of a spiral staircase descending a twenty foot square shaft.

Nil tries to sort out our marching order, and asks everybody what they can do. Perfect is a battle commander. He fights with a greatsword. Nil is surprised.

Thelmor is a blood knight. Nil doesn't know what that is. This is kind of awkward, but eventually we sort it out:

Nil takes the lead, with Jhuni following, then Perfect, then Thelmor, then Sunrise, then Grey, then Snow. We proceed downward, relying on darkvision and not using lights. We go slow, and try to be silent. The air is foul and the stair is rusted but sturdy; we reach the bottom, and find the floor covered in a foot of warm water. There a constant low thrumming that permeates this whole place. We proceed down the corridor, and notice some algae floating on the water. Jhuni make a light-rock with a cantrip; Nil notices that trying to light a candle is a near-impossibility in this wind and humidity.

Lit, the algae is green and white; it floats in the water, and clings to the walls and ceiling. It appears to be harmless. Nil tucks the lightstone back into their pouch, returning us to darkness.

However, we notice that the floor is covered with slippery mud beneath the water, forcing us to walk slowly and carefully. This is going to mess with silence, invisibility, and movement - particularly running. We take resigned breaths and proceed. Eventually we reach a sort of crossroads; there's a creature crouching behind a wall of force, regarding us; it looks bedraggled and probably unhappy. Nil stops and motions everyone to stop behind her.

"Round she is, yet flat as a board..." the sphynx begins. Jhuni pops out with an answer and the wall dissolves and the ginosphynx lays down in the water again.

Here's the actual riddle:
Round she is, yet flat as a board
Altar of the Lupine Lords
Jewel on black velvet, pearl in the sea
Unchanged but e'erchanging, eternally

The answer is "the Moon."

That's probably a good stopping point for tonight.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Tavros: Clerical Issues

"There you go!" Tavros nodded approvingly as Aesa avoided his cut, then stepped in behind the blade. "Out and in, out and in. It's the only way to go up against a larger opponent. You can't win on strength."

She stepped back, keeping her shield forward but resting her mace on her shoulder. "Do you ever have to do that?"

"Not so far," he said, "but I'm unusual. I train for it, though, because sooner or later I'll run into something bigger and stronger and then I will." He stepped forward with a straight overhead cut, and she slid to the side — but her shield was angled wrong for the soft deflection she was attempting, and his blade slammed her arm down, throwing her balance off.

"Hold," Tavros said. "You have the right idea, you just didn't get it to work. Let's practice that one, say, ten times. Line back up; I'll swing, you sidestep and deflect... let's say half-speed. You work on getting the angle right, but don't forget to swing your mace out, too. Ideally, you'd want to shatter my forearm."

They switched from soft sparring into the drill, and by the end of it Aesa was panting and covered in sweat. "You're so good at this," she said, despairingly. "I'm never going to be that good."

"You won't need to," Tavros replied. "I'm a paladin. Fighting like this is kind of our thing. But you'll be a priestess. You have other ways of balancing the odds and getting things done. And as much as I enjoy this, there's more to life — and far more to serving Amun — than battle."

Later, as they were racking the heavy wooden practice blades and toweling off, Aesa asked: "You think I'll actually become a priestess?"

Tavros shrugged. "I don't pretend to know the mind of Amun," he said. "Did you feel called to become an acolyte?"

Aesa looked away. "No," she said after a moment. "After my father was... driven out... my mother decided that I might be safer here. We cried a lot, but she sent me off and here I am."

Tavros was silent for a long moment. "I'm sorry," he said. "The elves are evil, a threat to Sol Povos and the King himself. That's what I'm told. But that's not true of the ones I know, and it's not true of you. I don't know if it's true of anyone, much. But I know that Amun is a protector of people, and not a jealous god; and if you ask Him for help, He'll hear you -- even if you also offer worship to Corellan or the gods of your mother."

Aesa looked suddenly tired. "You believe that?"

Tavros nodded. "The Abbess herself suggested that I should offer praise to Demeter, in her aspect as a silver dragon, when I first began my studies. And there are other options: not all of the servants of the temple are priests and paladins. We have our warriors, even the savage ones like Akkora; we even have our scouts and spies. I think you have the makings of a priestess — and beyond that, I believe we need more priests who come to service from more than a single heritage — but I also think you're young, and still finding your way."

"You know that's true."

Tavros nodded. "So try things out. Experiment. Maybe I'm completely wrong. Maybe you should be a paladin, or a warrior, or even one of our handful of wizards. Did you know that the Temple of Amun investigates magical crimes?"

"I'd heard that, but..." Aesa shook her head. "We use wizards?"

"A few. Most are wizard-priests, and even then they're rare. But you and I should be used to not fitting into a single category, shouldn't we?"

Aesa was very still. Then she chuckled. Then she laughed. "No," she said. "No, I suppose we shouldn't."

"I'll show you what I can," Tavros said, "but ultimately it has to be your decision. And the only way to know the right course for yourself is to know yourself, and that takes time; it takes trial and error. There was a point in my life when I was determined to be a wizard, and I was... offended... to realize that I didn't really have the aptitude for it. I'm too physical; I like running and jumping and hitting things too much to settle in for that much study." He shrugged. "So I found my way here."

"I..." Aesa shook her head. "I'm sorry. I need to go think." She stood and walked away.

Tavros watched her go, hoping he had helped.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Tavros: The New Priestess


Tavros glanced back from where he'd been sharpening his sword and watching the sun set. "Yes?"

She wore white robes, trimmed with runes that spelled out the words of kindness and law in the orange-gold color of brass, and looked to be barely out of girlhood... but her ears were easily visible against the close-cut hair, and the hint of points at their tips suggested that she might have some elvish blood. "May I... may I ask you some questions?"

Tavros sighted down the length of his blade, put the polishing stone away, and then wiped the blade with an oiled cloth. "Certainly," he said.

She cleared her throat. "Will you promise not to be offended?"

Tavros considered that as he sheathed his sword and slung it across his back. "No," he said after a moment, "but I promise not to leap to conclusions or assume ill-will. Will that do?"

She looked taken aback, then thoughtful. After a moment, she said: "I suppose it'll have to. It's just that I don't know how to ask, 'What are you?' in a way that doesn't sound offensive."

Tavros couldn't help it: he laughed, holding up a hand when the girl flushed. No, elvish blood or not, she was every bit as young as she looked. "I think you just found a way," he said, and started laughing again.

"I thought you were one of the lizard-folk," she said, "but they're supposed to like water and we're pretty far up in the mountains, and then I thought you might be under a curse but you don't seem bothered, and so I thought that since nobody was talking about it maybe I should just go and ask."

Tavros got himself back under control and straightened. "My mother is a human, a wizard of some renown. My father was a silver dragon, though she didn't realize it until I was born and by then he was gone. I'm a paladin of the temple, and my name is Tavros."

"Aesa," she replied. Then she added, "And I thought I was odd having an elf for a father," and clapped both hands over her mouth while she turned bright red.

Tavros pursed his lips and managed not to burst into laughter again; he didn't want to embarrass the poor girl further. "It's no insult," he said. "I am odd, but I don't feel it as much here, where regardless of our backgrounds we're all in service to Amun. Here, it sometimes feels stranger that I also offer prayers to Demeter than that half my blood is draconic. And I've found that many times, things are only as strange as you make them."

Aesa stopped to consider that, then came forward and stood beside him, watching the sunset. "I wasn't sure I'd find a place here. Elves, even thinbloods like myself, aren't always welcome in human lands."

"Have you met Akkora yet?" he asked. "The arms-mistress? Her mother was an orc. She once held me to a draw in a contest of strength; we had to call it when the table broke beneath our arms. If she and I can find a place here, you can." He scrunched up the scales behind his snout, thoughtfully. "Though learning enough woodworking to repair a broken table might help."

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Music: Wolf Totem

Courtesy of the Mongolian folk metal group The Hu:

(I was going to publish this earlier and I put the wrong song in, so here it is now - hopefully with the correct link.)

Challenge: Book-Based Project or Hobby

This is part of the weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. If you'd like to participate, you can find the prompts here. They also put up a post every Wednesday where you go and link your response -- and see everyone else's. Check out their homepage to find it.

Today's challenge is "a project or hobby of mine inspired by a book", and... I don't really have much of an answer for that. I mean, when my parents made me learn an instrument in fifth grade, I chose the harmonica because of Escape To Witch Mountain, but I'm not sure that counts:
A. It was because of the movie; I only read the book later. (The book is actually really good, though.)
B. I only practiced Harmonica for a year; sixth grade was guitar, and eighth grade was piano.

However, there was a recent project inspired by a book. It just... wasn't entirely mine. It was a school project that I helped Firstborn with. And if you really want the full details on that - along with advice and guidance on how to build a 3D cardboard map - you can find it under the School Projects Will Be The Death Of Me tag.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

RoH: The lake-town

"Did you find anything?"

Remant wiped the water from his hair, then reached for the towel that he'd left beside his things. "You could have come with me, you know."

Izra shook her head, looking past him over the surface of the cold mountain lake to the circular, tiered town that rose from its center. "Not into that. Not without a boat, at the very least. Anything could be in that water." She was dark of hair and skin, neatly trim in build and clothing and hairstyle alike, standing a little ways back from the lakeshore in a buff leather coat and trousers. He knew, because he'd looked over all his fellow guards, that the spear she stood with was ensorceled to be more precise in its use and more damaging when it connected, and that her longbow carried a stronger version of both those magics.

Remant toweled himself dry, then said: "Maybe." There were plenty of things that shouldn't be where they were, lost artifacts or unexpected dangers: traps and beasts left behind by the dark god, or his armies, or his worshippers. "I didn't see anything, but maybe."

"So why do you do it?" she asked. "Anywhere we stop, if there's anything unusual around, you immediately head off to explore it."

Remant picked up the waxed leather tube that he'd set aside when he walked out of the lake and opened the cap to remove his pants and the simple cotton shirt within. He put a leg into the pants, then said: "Why not?" Then he added: "Curiosity and caution. I'm curious about anything that's left after the war, and what is says about what was there before. And strange dangers come from strange places."

Izra studied him as he drew on his shirt, then picked up his own jacket and his gloves. She wasn't looking at his body; her expression was too distant for that. After a moment, she nodded. "So what did this floating city tell you?"

"Not much," he admitted. "I'd like to come back here sometime and look more closely. Mostly, it told me that some people thought they might be safe if they were floating in the middle of the lake — and that they were wrong."

"Were they attacked?"

"I don't think so. It looks abandoned, not destroyed, though I didn't have time to walk through all of it. There are fish in the lake, but I doubt they're enough to support a town of that size by themselves... and the soil up here won't grow much in the way of crops. If I had to guess, I'd say they probably couldn't feed everybody they tried to shelter, and by the time people started to leave they'd stripped most of what they could find." He shrugged as he tugged his gloves on. "I'd love to know how they built the thing, though."

"Sorcery, most like." Izra's voice was even; unlike some, she didn't disdain the art.

Remant smiled. "Yes. I was more wondering what kind of sorcery, and how it was done."

Izra looked out at the city again. "Not easily, I suspect." She turned to look at Remant. "Come on. It's well past dark, and you're on the deep night watch. You won't get much sleep before that even now."

Remant half-shrugged, but it was a fair point. He knew how to get by on less sleep than most, but there was no point in pushing it. "Thank you for coming out to look for me."

"It's nothing," said Izra. "I was curious; that's all."

He considered that. He didn't really want anything from Izra, but there was no point in not repaying a kindness offered. "If you're still curious tomorrow, I'll you what I found once we're on the road."