Thursday, December 31, 2020

Ruin Twiceborn: Family

"Any word of Darvinin?" asked Ruin, as he seated himself at the table. One of the servants deposited a plate in front of him: baked, honeyed fruits, delicately-cooked eggs, and breaded strips of roast quail with a drizzle of lemon-butter sauce. 

"He's alive, at least," answered their mother, setting aside the letter she'd been reading. "I've been able to look in on him a few times, but he mostly seems to be either drinking or passed out afterwards."

Ruin frowned. "But you don't know where he is?" 

"All things considered, I thought it was better that I didn't." His mother, whose usual expression varied between kindly and vaguely daft, was fully focused on him now. "The Provost seems to have set him up with some sort of retirement, or perhaps a rest cure. It takes him off the playing field without killing him -- which I suspect the Provost would prefer to avoid, as too many deaths will inevitably raise suspicions. I have no good way of tracking him down without..." She gestured.

"Bringing him back into play? And likely alerting the Provost?"

"Just so. And I don't want to do that until I have a better feel for how the Provost and his cabal will react. He'll suspect that I've at least checked in on your brother, but as long as we don't make contact Darvinin should be relatively safe."

Ruin considered that, then settled back and took a bite of his food. "Much as I hate to avoid him, I agree." He took another bite. "I did have another question, O my mother." 

Her mouth quirked. "Oh?" 

"This amulet you gave me, the one that came from an 'old, dear friend'. I thought it was some sort of tutelary item, meant to offer guidance for skills I might find interesting... and it is. But it's also connected to your own amulet, and let us find you in the Dwarf-home." 

Baethira nodded slowly. "It's both. Tamisira Eldrish was my closest friend at school, a true elf and possibly something more. We were both of us, in our own ways, fascinated with acquiring knowledge. I became a wizard... and she became something else."

"A hunter?" asked Ruin. "An explorer?" 

"Both," answered Baethira. "And a warrior, and a scholar. You would like her, I think -- and she would like you. She was amazing. And not long after we finished school, she left." 

"To explore the world?" asked Ruin. 

"To explore the worlds," answered his mother. "She left her amulet with me when I wouldn't come with her. And for all that you are your father's child, you remind me of her -- so I gave it to you."

Ruin swallowed his mouthful of breaded quail and touched his amulet, confirming his mother's presence at the other end of the table. "That seems a very intimate gift, O my mother," he said slowly. 

"You didn't think your father was my first and only love, did you?" asked Baethira .

Ruin didn't answer, because of course he had. He swallowed, looked at his mother, tilted his head, and took another bite.

"Tamisira is still out there, somewhere," Baethira said. "She would be pleased to think of you as a nephew."

Ruin nodded and swallowed. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't fascinated by what the amulet has to show me, O my mother. I'll continue my studies. And if your lover returns just in time to save us all, well... I hope my father isn't too shocked."

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

VtM: A Mask, A Book, A Mansion

Edhem traced the edges of the mask with his fingers. The leather was firm, molded into the shape he needed, touched with paint to add emphasis and finalize the appearance. He'd never tried to become a corgi before, but this mask should do it.

Eighteen hours, he thought. Six to cut, soak and mold the leather, four more to let it dry; another two to scribe his best description of the breed onto the back of the mask in the First Tongue. Then two hours of careful painting, to reinforce the effect and confirm his intention, and another two hours of touch-ups and careful corrections. He'd set it aside to dry, and now it was ready: quivering and eager in his hand, ready to transform him into a dog. If he'd given it any capacity for mobility, it would have been nudging at his hand and trying to make its way into its place over his eyes. The power of the Old Blood hummed through it: his blood, that he'd used in scribing the runes. 

He set the mask beside the collar; he needed them to know each other, to recognize each other and work together. The collar was a simple leather loop, set with a buckle; where an ordinary dog collar would hold a tag, this one displayed a wooden carving of the glyph for health. It, too, had been touched with his blood; it too had a description of its purpose written in blood in the First Tongue on the inside surface. Edhem couldn't mask up as a dog, so he'd made the collar to turn aside diseases. The wood would decay and crack as the charm worked, and when it shattered he would need to make another. 

He left the weapons behind. Based on what Shannon had told him, he was walking more-or-less-willingly into unimaginable danger, but deceit and discretion would protect him far better than any weapons. And if he was somehow discovered and had to return to human form, he still had his book prepared; it probably wouldn't protect him, but it might provide a momentary distraction which he could use to escape. 

There wasn't much else to do. He had the next business card, from his mysterious patron; he just needed to park the van someplace inconspicuous, and try to make his approach without attracting any suspicion. 

Bianca Cavalieri lived in an enormous mansion with her... lover? husband? father? ...Lucien; they had recently acquired a number of servants. She was an opera singer, famous enough that even Edhem had heard of her, idolized and despised as a notorious diva. Ridiculously rich... he'd never have been able to pose as a servant. So he'd try approaching as a corgi, and see if she had a soft spot for outrageously cute dogs. 

There were so many things that could go wrong. Shannon had advised him to walk away, and maybe he should have... but having caught the attention of Elder, that seemed dangerous as well. And while he couldn't match an actual vampire for sheer power -- not at night, anyway -- he might still be able to learn what he needed and slip away. 

Idly, he wondered what Ciaran was doing right now. Hunting me, most likely. There were other possibilities, but between the murder of their master and the effort Ciaran had put into trying to kill him as well, Edhem didn't think any of them were likely. That could still be a problem; if Ciaran located him, he would not only be exposed but likely facing off against a sorcerous rival who was already more powerful than he was. He needed more counters and evasions, and his options in both cases were limited. The only thing in his favor was his geas: he couldn't die as a human. 

It would have to be enough. Still... he could add more pages to the small, hand-scribed book that held his more active spells. And he'd learned enough of fire and darkness to at least try to counter the things he'd seen Ciarin do. It would take time to make those preparations, but Ciaran would need time to prepare his attacks too; it might balance out. And if Ciaran showed up in the middle of a bunch of vampires, he'd be in at least much danger as Edhem; that was mildly reassuring. 

He touched the mask again, then called up a map of Seattle on his phone. Today would be a day of scouting. Tomorrow, he'd take the shape of a dog and go in.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Duendewood: Titan's Reach

 We spend several hours righting the wagon and putting all our stuff back inside; we stop to rest before we move on.

Geddy talks to Eva about her sister, borrows a necklace for a focus, and casts Scrying. He focuses on the necklace and scries on Rita.

The dragon is aware of the scrying but doesn't resist it. She's in some sort of camp, with a couple of big dudes talking about cooking and eating some big squirrel things and some fish. Then there's some rustling, and another guy comes running towards the dragon. "What's going on here? I sense..."

He runs over and puts a hand on an orb of some sort, and then Rita severs the connection and kicks Geddy out of it. Geddy thinks they have some kind of control device on her. He describes all this to the rest of us.

Eva: "That's not the one who captured Rita. That was their Hierophant."

Geddy: "Once they had her, they probably put somebody else in charge."

Eva: "They had some sort of orb, it was covered in runes and stuff."

Geddy, who apparently has forgotten everything he ever knew about magic, thinks it's probably just a bag of dragon snacks. Eva was taken with a more simple, temporary spell - Dominate Person or something similar. Azrael notes that this must have been Dominate Monster, a considerably more powerful spell.

Rita is quite a bit larger than Eva, too.

Tetsuo is okay with fighting, but less okay with Geddy's suggestion that we feed him to the other dragon for bait; Martini makes us promise not to eat him.

Geddy heals Ruin, and we continue down the beach. We find a narrow side-path, and Tetsuo "volunteers" to scout it from overhead. He returns, looks at the rest of us suspiciously, then settles in beside Martini and whispers something.

Martini: "Did it look like there was a dragon around?"

More whispering.

Martini: "Ruin, I need your counsel on this."

Ruin: "Yes?"

Martini: "So that path curves north and then comes upon a large pile of treasure."

Tetsuo: "Nooo! Why you tell him!?" He sulks.

Apparently the treasure is guarded by dire tigers, rather than a dragon. Tetsuo really wants to have Martini go with him to take the whole treasure for themselves.

Geddy and Ruin are inclined to move on past. Tetsuo is *freaked* by the idea of leaving treasure behind. He's now trying to cut a deal where we take this treasure and Tetsuo stays with half the hoard while we make off with the rest.

Ruin: "Maybe we could grab it on the way back."

Tetsuo: "But what if a dragon comes and takes it before that?"

Geddy: "They haven't so far."

Tetsuo: "But that was red dragon. Red dragons are stupid."

Geddy proceeds to outline the ordinal sequence of dragons, from most to least powerful, with an emphasis on Tetsuo's place near the bottom of the pile. By the time he's done, Tetsuo hates him.

But, we continue south looking for a place to stop... and instead run into a collossal spider.

Martini turns invisible. Ruin hops out and spots a couple of monstrous giant fish in the water. The spider continues adding to the giant web it's laying across the beach/path.

The fish attempt Dominate Ruin but fail; Azrael sees them also and drops a Fireball in the water.

Eva: "Uncle Geddy? I'm going to go wait in the back of the wagon. And don't worry, I can take care of Tetsuo." She scrambles towards the back.

Martini: "Azrael, can we talk about your aim?"

Azrael: "Fish. Monsters. Sister. Did you not see the fish monsters?"

Martini looks over and sees the fish-monsters trying to hide in the sand, and puts an arrow in the one Lilly/Azrael hit.

The fish-things are aboleths. The second one tries to Dominate Ruin again, fails, and withdraws to deeper water. Unfortunately, giant snakes come up out of the sand to replace it.

A snake attacks Martini, biting her and moving in to constrict; the other one moves in to attack Ruin, with similar results. The third snake moves up and starts crawling across the carriage. The other snakes head straight into the forest.

Azrael leaves the carriage on the far side and rises into the air; with his line of sight partly blocked by the carriage, he tags the snake holding Martini with Scorching Ray, burning it badly. An ordinary snake would let go, but this one... does not.

Geddy decides that Azrael has the right idea and hops on Airwolf the Obsidian Fly; the snake beside him bites him and wraps around him.

Martini and Ruin struggle, but the snakes tighten up and pin them. The snake holding Geddy wraps tighter as well.

Azrael move over the carriage and higher up, where he can see the aboleth. He drops a fireball on it. It moves to deeper water, but he follows and blasts it again; the spider winks out of existence at this point.

The snakes are suddenly less huggy and more hungry. Martini's snake abruptly drops her and heads off into the woods. She stabs it as it goes, nearly finishing it.

The snakes begin constricting Ruin and Geddy. Azrael drops grease on them, and Martini steps in on the snake and just... perforates it.

Run shakes the dead snake off, then steps in an chops up the one holding Geddy. We wind up with some snakeskin clothes and coverings for the sides of the carriage. Eva has apparently kept Tetsuo from taking his treasure and running away during the battle.

We continue on for five more days before we arrive at Titan's Reach. Our rest and all this battle experience has made us stronger.

About two nights after the Battle By The Lake, Geddy hears a commotion in the back of the wagon and sneaks back to take a look. Tetsuo is pulling his treasure together and clearly planning to depart; he doesn't notice Geddy.

Geddy uses the wand of web on him. Tetsuo, taken entirely by surprise, finds himself webbed to the ground. "Stupid gnome! I'll get free of this and rip your arms off!"

Geddy calls for the rest of us, then taps himself with a wand of Enlarge Person. Newly-enlarged Geddy explains that this was his one chance and he failed; his next chance is... we kill him.

Tetsuo collapses into apologies and starts trying to explain that he was just counting his money.

Geddy: "For now we count our money in the wagon, and we don't wake up mistress Martini."

Martini: "Money. Back in the wagon."

Tetsuo: "As soon as I can move...?"

Martini waits for him to load up his treasure, and then she stabs him to death and throws his body in the woods.

It takes a day for us to notice; Ruin isn't bothered, and Eva is happy to be rid of him.

We approach along the shore, coming around a corner to see a bunch of dead bodies and a few live figures standing on the shore naked.

We stop a ways back, and Azrael sends his owl to scout. The camp appears to be behind a ridge leading off into the water. There are a bunch of dead bodies on the shore, and the servants are being tossed into this sort of bottomless magical hole. The servants appear to be burying their fellow servants in some sort of actual grave; but the dead Vecna-wizards are being dropped into the hole.

The main camp is a little beyond that; there are a couple of warrior-types sitting around the fire, a tent, and a hand-shaped pedestal holding the orb, which Azrael thinks is being used to control the dragon.

Ruin thinks we should get control of the orb. Geddy thinks we should drop the orb into the hole, and use the wand to raise some dead wizards. Azrael is of the opinion that unless we can use the device ourselves, it will reject us if some wizard has already attuned it to the dragon.

Geddy tells Eva that if anything happens to him, she has to get the orb and take it away. Azrael and Martini cast False Life on themselves. (Azrael already has mage armor.)

Geddy fires up the fly; Ruin sneaks along the edge of the beach. One of the guards hears something, but the other one mocks him.

Eva flies in and positions herself near the orb. Ruin moves up to the front of the tent, and all of a sudden he's hearing sounds of feasting from inside the tent.

Geddy swoops down and starts raising skeletons. The servants freak and scream. Martini moves in behind one of the bruisers, which won't end well for him. (Assassin spellcasting in 3.5E is nothing to sneeze at.)

The two bruisers stand up, sounding alarms. Azrael drops Enervate on one of the Bruisers.

Rita rises up. "Flee! Get out of here now."

Ruin holds his position in front of the tent. Geddy swings over and grabs the orb, and a blaring alarm goes off. On the plus side, he does have the orb... and he's still invisible. Touching it, he sense incredible power within this. It starts to fight back, before he gets control of his thoughts and forces the orb to quiesce.

Martini begins attacking the guy she's standing behind. He had no idea this was coming, so he's basically just standing there as blades start plunging into his back. The bruiser falls.

Other Bruiser: "Holy shit! Heyyy! Paiiin!"

The wizard charges out and Ruin takes a slice at him... but finds only an image. The orb is gone, but Geddy is invisible. The Kaz-wizard drops a paralysis spell on Ruin and Martini. The bruiser charges over and tags Ruin in the face with a maul, hurting him rather badly.

Azrael tags the bruiser with Glitterdust, then zaps Kaz with a quickened Scorching Ray, hitting him once and blasting two of his images.

Eva bites the bruiser, but remains invisible; Geddy tries to use the orb and gets himself damaged by the backlash instead. His skeletons swarm Kaz, wiping out another image.

Kaz manages to cast another spell despite the skeletons, and then moves out from the middle of them. They attack again as he leaves, damaging him, and then the invisible dragon takes a chunk out of his shoulder.

The now-blind bruiser takes a wild swing, and manages to connect despit being blind.

Rita is still yelling at us to get out of here and trust nothing. Azrael throws Magic Missiles at Kaz but doesn't quite kill him; Eva attacks the bruiser and damages him badly.

Geddy tries to manipulate the orb again, and has a vision of endless time and the birth of golden dragons -- and finally to Kaz, with his hands on the orb. Geddy focuses his will and blows Kaz straight off the orb.

Geddy: "Rita, be a dear and eat this guy that's battering Ruin."

The remaining bruiser rages and tries to attack Eva and actually manages to connect, the lucky bastard. Rita promptly bites his head off. The skeletons move in and attack Kaz again, which is... not a situation he's suited to deal with. He disappears -- another image -- and appears beneath Azrael and casts Prismatic Spray. It blasts Azrael fairly badly, but he responds with Black Tentacles and grapples the guy; Eva then flies over and tags him with her breath weapon.

Geddy asks Rita to blast him as well. Kaz casts dimension door and disappears; but Rita leaps into the air and pursues, immolating him.

Rita: "Please release me."

Geddy: "That's not going to hurt you, right?"

Eva: "Please!"

Geddy breaks the connection.

Rita: "Thank you!"

Geddy: "How the hell did all of this happen?"

Rita: "That disgusting thing is known as a dragon orb. It has the ability to control certain dragons. They came upon us in a clearing, and that Malefar man took control of us and..."

Geddy tries to offer it to Rita, but she retreats; dragons can't touch the orb.

Rita: "Titan's reach is a penninsula. There are ridges that  go off it, like fingers. The Vecna worshippers believe that their artifact is at the bottom of one of the fingers. The problem is that Mar Dentro is far deeper than they realized; the bodies here are the initiates who went down and failed. Malefar left through the tent to gather more resources; Kaz Drachma was put in charge in his absence.

The tent actually leads to an extradimensional space; it must have a second entrance, as they're using it for travel as well as shelter. The hole is a portable hole.

Rita has a suggestion. It involves a portable hole, an extradimensional space in the tent, and the orb. So the plan is to put the orb in the hole, draw the enemies into the tent, and drop the hole in.

Geddy is in favor of this. Ruin is more about the chopping things up, but he'll do explosions. And apparently this space is both a bridge and a temple that Drachma uses to train acolytes.

Eva is coming with us.

Duendewood: Drood's Brood

In the dragon's lair with seven small dragons... but we will have that treasure.

Martini moves into the room, silently as only a rogue can, and invisible because she's also an assassin. Ruin moves up the passage behind her, but stays out of sight.

Unfortunately, one of the dragons hears Martini and comes to investigate her space. Another one hears Azrael moving up behind Ruin, and pops around to look down the hall, putting it more or less face-to-face with Ruin. "Brothers! There's someone in the lair!"

Ruin: "No there's not."

Geddy casts Invisibility Sphere, and Ruin steps up diagonally and attacks the dragonling, hitting it once. It and two of its brothers promptly cover him in acid.

Azrael responds with Black Tentacles, grappling at all six dragonlings and barely missing Martini, who is on the ceiling. Five of the six are now grappled by tentacles.

Martini moves outside of the tentacles and drops to the floor, deliberately making some noise.

Geddy drops a Rage spell on Ruin, who attacks the un-grappled dragon in front of him and injures it some more. It flies away, dodging between the tentacles.

One of the dragonlings rips loose from the tentacles, and flies out of the tentacles as well. The other four take damage from the tentacles. Azrael drops a fireball into the middle of the tentacles, scorching the four trapped dragonlings.

Martini steps up and pulls a full round of sneak attacks on the dragonling nearest her, which takes it down. Another turns and cries out for the death of its brother.

Geddy drops the hypnotic rainbow pattern on the trapped dragons, mesmerizing one of them. Another tears loose from the tentacles and moves out to the edge of the room. The two dragons who haven't used their breath weapons turn them on Martini, who spins aside (as rogues do) and takes no damage; the last one apparently hasn't learned anything from this and tries as well.

Two more dragonlings die of tentacles, and Martini turns invisible again. The last of the trapped dragonlings tries to escape but fails; two other spit acid at where they think Martini might be (but isn't). The last of the dragons in the tentacles goes down.

At this point, Martini is caught on one side of the tentacles with all three remaining dragons; the rest of us are caught back in the passageway, on the other side of the tentacles, with no go line-of-sight on anything.

Martini ambushes another dragonling, and perforates it. There are two left. They move in on Martini, trying to attack her.

Azrael swaps places with us, then Dimension Doors the three of us in past the tentacles. He switches us around in the process, so Ruin is flanking one of the dragonlings... and Martini takes advantage of its distraction and just wipes it out. She even manages to stab the one remaining dragon.

It cowers back into the corner: "Please! Call off the shadow-slayer!"

Martini: "Can I keep you as a pet?"

Dragon: "Oh please! Accept my loyalty, dark mistress!"

We have acquired a dragon pet/ally named Tetsuo, who is... not in good shape. He's been squeezed, burnt, stabbed... Martini pulls some meat out of her pack and hands it to the dragonling. Martini totally manages to persuade the thing to join us.

We start gathering treasure. It's... a lot: 40500 gp, 33000 sp, 90000 cp.

1. Arcane Scroll (Charm Person (25 gp), Detect Secret Doors (25 gp), Spider Climb (150 gp)) (total 200 gp)
2. Arcane Scroll (Disguise Self (25 gp), Calm Emotions (200 gp)) (total 225 gp)
3. Divine Scroll (Doom (25 gp), Owl's Wisdom (150 gp)) (total 175 gp)
4. Divine Scroll (Entangle (25 gp), Faerie Fire (25 gp), Bear's Endurance (150 gp)) (total 200 gp)
5. Divine Scroll (Snare (150 gp), Snare (375 gp)) (total 525 gp)
Mike M. (GM):6. Feather Token (swan boat) (450 gp)
7. Potion of Bear's Endurance (300 gp)
8. Potion of Blur (300 gp)
9. Potion of Cat's Grace (300 gp)
10. 2 x Potion of Cure Light Wounds (50 gp)
11. Potion of Cure Moderate Wounds (300 gp)
12. Potion of Mage Armor (50 gp)
13. Ring of Mind Shielding (8000 gp)
14. Ring of Swimming (2500 gp)
15. Ring of Water Walking (15000 gp)
16. Staff of Earth and Stone (14 of 50 charges) (design provides clue to function) (22540 gp)
17. Wand of Knock (10 of 50 charges) (design provides clue to function) (Dependent curse) (900 gp)
18. Wand of Animate Dead (8 of 50 charges) (3360gp)

We hand the ring of mind shielding, the wands and the potion of mage armor and the swan feather token over to Geddy; Ruin takes the potions of Blur, Cat's Grace, and Bear's Endurance; The ring of water walking goes to Martini; and Azrael starts picking over the scrolls. Ruin grabs the ring of swimming, and Azrael takes the staff of Earth and Stone.

We also transport the money back to the wagon, which takes several trips. As we're dumping this stuff in the wagon, we notice that Eva is sitting in the back looking bloodied.

Ruin: "You're looking a bit rough. Bad dreams?"

Eva: "Uncle Geddy... can I talk to you alone?"

Geddy and Eva wander a little ways back. "So you know that dragon that came to help you guys?"

Geddy: "That was awesome! Very impressive."

Eva: "What would you say if that was me?"

Geddy: "Awesome."

Eva: "So... I was afraid you guys wouldn't help me save my sister if you knew she was a dragon. Because the wizardws are kind of... controlling her."

Geddy: "Look! Ring of Mind Shielding! If we can get it onto her finger, it might help."

Eva: "Will that work?"

Geddy: "If it doesn't, we have a million other plans. The other guys, they're assholes but they're the nicest assholes I've ever met."

Eva: "You're the greatest, uncle Geddy!"

Geddy: "So we're straight-shooting from here?"

She leaps in and starts bringing stuff out of the cave. Then she comes back and finds Martini with our new pet/buddy Tetsuo. "Wait, you can't take the Eeeevil dragon with you."

Ruin: "No, this is his chance to learn to be a good dragon. Or we kill him."

Eva's not going to ride in the same seats with him. There's a certain amount of harrumphing at each other, but they leave each other alone.

We continue on for another seven days, until we come out on the edge of Mar Dentro - an inland superlake (OOC: roughly the size of Lake Ontario). Azrael has added Spider Climb to his spellbook, and following the edge of the lake is faster; we might actually catch up with the servants of Vecna.

We're traveling along the edge of the lake, with Geddy and Eva up front, the lake on our right, Ruin on the roof, and the occasional dragon overhead. Apparently this was a major center of dragon activity, and there are still some really ancient and powerful ones around; Eva opens up enough to share that with us.

So there's a moment where a shadow passes over the wagon, and this really monstrously large red dragon passes overhead.

Eva: "We should hide."

Geddy calls us out and makes us invisible with Sphere of Inivisibility. The shadow goes out over the lake...

...and then a big-ass dragon dips into the lake and comes back out with this six-foot-long fish in its mouth. It stops facing the wagon.

Then he rips apart our horses, opens one side of the wagon, and starts rummaging through it. We just... sit and wait as it takes our copper and silver and a bunch of mundane treasure, and flies back off with its fish.

By now our invisibility has worn off, and we're hearing some sort of bubbling from the lake. There are some crustaceans that were dug in beneath the sand at the edge of the water; they start moving in on the wagon now that the dragon's gone.

Azrael, vaguely annoyed, drops Acid Fog and a quickened Web. He catches five of the six in the webs, and tags them with a bit of acid damage. Ruin charges out and attacks; Martini tumbles between two of them, and winds up flanking one of them with Ruin.

The two crustaceans move in on Ruin, and one of them grapples him. The ones in the acid cloud take damage, and Azrael blasts one of them with a scorching ray. Ruin tears himself back out of the claw, and Geddy angles himself to shoot and puts a couple of crossbow bolts into the crustaceans.

Martini shifts over and attacks the monster that hasn't been injured yet. And striking from behind, with flanking, she just rips it apart.

It dies.

The one that broke loose from the webs moves to the rest of the party; Azrael steps back and drops another scorching ray on it and finishes it.

Ruin kills the shit out of the beast in front of him. Tetsuo flies up tot he roof of the wagon and hits them with his acid breath weapon. They take further damage from the acid cloud, and Ruin eases around the edge and takes out another one.

We move around a little, and Ruin smacks another crustacean; Martini moves in beside him and tags the thing as well, finishing it off. The last one remains caught in the webs, and Tetsuo attacks but misses.

Ruin and Martini move around, settling in either side of Tetsuo, who tears into the remaining crustacean... who remains caught in the web, and the acid. This whole battlefiend smells like Red Lobster.

Tetsuo uses his breath weapon again, and finishes him off.

We have cleared out the crustaceans.

Tetsuo is eager to go into the water and see if the crab-things had treasure; Geddy uses the wand to restore the horses.

We stop to camp here. He's come back up with treasure.

Arcane Scroll (Magic Circle against Chaos/Evil/Good/Law (375 gp)) (total 375 gp)
2 x Heavy Steel Shield (Medium) (+1 shield) (1170 gp)
Ioun Stone (dusty rose prism) (5000 gp)
Oil of Magic Weapon (50 gp)
Mike M. (GM):Potion of Blur (300 gp)
Potion of Cure Light Wounds (50 gp)
Potion of Owl's Wisdom (300 gp)

The dragon keeps the coin, and hands us the magic stuff and art. Tetsuo is starting his own little horde.

Duendewood: Here Be Dragons

We have left Zorga and continued South and southwest, through this horrible dense forest along a path that Eva knows from having been captured along it. (But at least the Treants don't attack us.) We continue for another seven days (bringing our total to fifteen) before we reach the point where Eva stops and says that this is where she was captured.

Ruin checks for tracks, and we continue along, following our map and the trail of the other wagon. The woods are unpleasant and also spooky. They're also getting damper as we go: the mosses are clearly trying to take over the trees, and the dampness is actualy worse. Our attempts to patch the roof are... barely passable, and it's getting a bit *funky* in the wagon.

Geddy is taking advantage of the trave time to draw Eva out; at one point she mentions her sister, Rita -- and then covers her mouth. Geddy plays it off, and Eva moves on to another topic.

A few days later she confesses to Geddy that her sister was taken on the other wagon. He thinks she's genuinely a child, just... not a typical one.

Ruin's been reading a book on the history of Titan's Reach... which had old ruins sized for huge creatures. The halfling author clearly had a very large stick up his butt; he's insistent that the ruins were Elvish, and built large to "house their imaginary gods". Ruin is making corrections in the margins; Azrael is writing gothic poetry, and Martini is staring out the windows and wishing she weren't trapped in a wagon with her brother.

Martini notices something outside the window and calls our attention to it. It looks like a tree until it reaches out and whacks Geddy. Other plant-monsters come shambling towards us.

Ruin shoots arrows out the window next to him, and calls for Eva to make the horses go faster. Neither of his arrows does any damage. Martini puts an arrow in another in another one, but to minimal effect.

Azrael, predictably, drops a fireball over on the enemy-heavy side of the wagon. The shamblers are resistant to the fire, but still injured by it; the treant is severely damaged.

The shambler on the other side tries to attack Ruin through the window slit, but misses; another attacks Geddy but misses. The treant is injured and angry and tries to rip through the side of the carriage, and yanks a fair chunk of the wall off.

Ruin steps over to the opening and finishes off one of the shambling mounds, then Martini stab-stab-stab-stab-stabs the other one on that side, injuring it badly.

Azrael drifts up through the roof and finishes the treant with a scorching ray before striking a shambler with the other one.

The shambler next to Martini attacks her but misses; the one on the other side of the rips off more of the wall. Geddy finishes the shambler on that side with a crossbow bolt. Ruin crosses over to the newly-opened section of wall, and slices into the remaining shambler. Martini moves over beside him and stabs it a lot, finishing it off.

We make what repairs we can to the wagon, and continue moving along. Eva continues along until we... come to some dead bodies on the ground. Eva stops the carriage a ways back, and she and Ruin go forward to investigate.

Step One: look around for things getting ready to jump out of the trees and try to murder us.  

We've reached the edge of a sort of swampy pond, and there are dead people strewn around the edges of the pond. There's dried blood everywhere, and dried green goop everywhere as well. There's also a couple of chests at the bottom of the swampy water.

Ruin: "Eva, can you keep watch while I check the bodies?"

Eva, bending over the body: "This is one of those mean wizards who captured me from the other wagon." She heads back to the carriage.

Azrael is drawn to the presence of death, and Geddy followed Eva; so Martini comes along as well. She checks the bodies and Ruin stands watch; Azrael contemplates the futility of mortal existence.

Ruin moves to put himself between the water and everyone else; he's heard something bubbling at the far edge of the water, with a cadence that sounds like speech.

Geddy begins to sing; he can hear it too, now. Azrael doesn't hear it, but take the hint and goes to hover over the lake, well above the water. He can see the bubbles now, at least. Martini says the dead people were injured with teeth and claws, and broke some limbs; the people left here seem to have been pickled, so whatever did this may be coming back for them.

Geddy casts Haste.

And then a big green dragon heaves up out of the swamp, and flaps up to about forty feet in the air. Then it drops a fireball on us.

Martini is unscathed; Ruin and Geddy take a bit of damage but aren't particularly injured. Ruin switches weapons and fires off an arrow; the dragon twists slightly, and the arrow glances off an invisible surface. Azrael concludes that it's probably using Mage Armor and Shield, and tags it with ennervation. It's weakened, and he follows up with a quickened Scorching Ray and catches it right in the face.

Also, dragons are terrifying; Ruin, at least, is shaken by its sudden appearance.

Martini turns herself invisible. Then she says, "Kindest Sir or Madam, can you stop attacking us?"

"Shut up puny human! I've got kids to feed!"

Ruin: "Who you calling human, asshole?"

The dragon flies over and lands on Geddy and Ruin, damaging them and pinning them down. "Where are you, invisible lady? If you come out now I'll eat you last."

Ruin tries to shove him off, but fails. Azrael attempts Ray of Enfeeblement and Ray of Exhaustion.

Martini tries to negotiate, to see if there's anything we can do to leave without further fighting.

Dragon: "I'm just going to kill you and take all your stuff."

Martini sneaks to a new position. Geddy attempts magic from under his claw, but the dragon shakes it off.

The battle is interrupted by a second dragon, which flies in and drops a cone of weakening gas over his head. (Geddy: "Eva's a gold dragon. Cool.")

The green dragon turns its head and hits Azrael with its breath weapon, then squishes Ruin and Geddy a bit; Azrael tries another spell but doesn't get through its resistance. Martini tries to negotiate again ("Now we have our own dragon!") but Drood the Dragon is not impressed.

Geddy casts Tasha's Hideous Laughter, but again the dragon shakes it off. The gold dragon leaps in and bites Drood badly, then claws him as well.

At this point the dragon takes his claws off Geddy and Ruin and turns to attack the gold dragon. He attacks and hits several times, but he's been weakened and doesn't do too much damage.

Ruin attacks but misses; Azrael tries Glitterdust, but fails to blind him. Martini continues her attempts to scare the dragon into backing down.

The two dragon tangle, and Geddy Enlarges Ruin. Ruin attacks again and actually manages to get through. Martini makes one more try at negotiating, but Drood is not impressed and starts looking around to see where she is.

Geddy slips back and drops a Cure Serious Wounds on himself. Eva attacks again (still as a dragon) and damages Drood some more. Drood fights back, ripping into her, but Azrael uses another spell to weaken him further.

Ruin slices him with his sword again, but the dragon ignores him and attacks Eva.

The dragon turns invisible and tries to fly away, but Ruin calls him a misshapen newt with delusions of grandeur and hears the flapping sound slow and start to circle back. Martini adds her own insults.

Azrael casts Mirror Image on himself, and Eva flies down to protect Geddy.

The dragon lands beside Martini and spits acid all over us; Ruin charges him, ducks under a bite, and finishes him off.

Ruin, still large, wades out to retrieve the chests and hauls them back to shore; they're mostly empty, with 19 GP worth of mixed coins in them. The corpses on the shore have already been picked clean.

We check the lake and find a cave opening. Martini is unwilling to go into the boggy lake water, but Azrael promises to keep her dry with magic. She swims in, still invisible, and after some *considerable* effort emerges in a cavern, in the dark. She tugs twice on the rope to tell us she's okay, which we... um... okay, sure, clearly that means she's okay.

She tries to sneak forward through the water. There's a very dim illumination coming from up ahead. A little dragon flies up, looks around, and then flies away. Martini continues sneaking...

...And steps on a stick. There are a bunch of baby dragons up here, and about half of them are moving over to investigate the sound.

Martini makes a silent, invisible withdrawal, apparently unnoticed. She tugs on the rope again and we haul her back out. We consider the situation and go back in.

Next week: Drood's Brood.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Music: To The Shoreline

 Pain of Salvation: 

I feel like this one ought to be the basis for a book, but I don't quite have the shape of it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Santa's Elves... and Dwarves

"So Legolas, I hear you retired to the Icy North?" 

"Just so." 

"Enjoying yourself up there?" 

"Certainly, Gimli. It's a... working retirement." 


"Well, there's this wizard... Santa, the Red. And there are vampires who threaten his home and his people." 


"Well, it turns out that an arrow through the heart works just as well as a stake through the heart." 

"You're fighting vampires in the Icy North!?!?! And ye didn't tell me???" 

"It was meant to be a rest home." 

"A stake through the heart is fine, but no elf can take down as many vampires as a dwarf!" 

"How do you mean?" 

"If you chop off their heads..." 

"...and stuff their mouths with holy wafers...

"...and stuff their mouths with holy wafers... I... I'm going to need a lot of holy wafers." 


"So it's a bet, then?" 

"May the best Dwarf win!"

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A Look Back on 2020

 As the end of one year lurches closer and we await the beginning of the next, it seems like a good time to look back over the past year and...

...Oh, gods. I'd forgotten about that bit. And that one. And holy shit, that. And...

...Okay, you know what? Let's just not.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Ruin Twiceborn: Old Friends 2

"I heard about what happened to Ilora," Amaranth said, just above a whisper. "I'm sorry. We came to the funeral, but I didn't get the chance to tell you in person."

Ruin, who had instinctively braced for a fresh stab of heartache at the mention of his sister's name, was surprised to find that the old grief had lost something of its sting. Maybe he was finally coming to terms with it, or maybe it was simply that there were so many larger issues in the world now that his personal tragedy paled in comparison. So he simply said, "Thank you," and squeezed her hand where it lay on his arm. 

They walked a bit farther, and he asked: "So what have you been doing, these past few years?" 

"Bladecraft," said Amaranth. "A bit of practice fighting, a bit of magic, and a lot of smithing. My mother doesn't like me to talk about it; someone of my status shouldn't be working in a trade, it reflects badly on my upbringing. But that's what I do. I was apprenticed to Blackthorn for a decade -- cranky old bastard, but he knew his work -- and now I have my own shop." She smiled proudly. "About a quarter of the double-scimitars the King's Own use come from me."

Ruin grunted in surprise. "I wonder if Darvinin is using one."

Amaranth pursed her lips and looked away, then looked back. "He is. Came to me before he went to join."

Ruin turned a look at her. 

"Come on," she said, leaning into him just enough to nudge him off course. "A fine young man of his station isn't going to depend on our taxes and the King's coffers for resources he can provide himself. And Darvinin was always a fine young man." She sounded amused. "Plus, I'm fairly certain that he knew it would annoy my mother."

Ruin wondered. He hadn't heard from his twin since his resurrection; nobody seemed to be entirely certain just where Darvinin was, or what he was doing. He didn't say anything, though; instead, he nudged her back. "Any apprentices?" 

"Not yet. Maybe someday." She paused, then touched his arm with her free hand. "Here. The Silver Stag. They usually have good whiskeys." 

Ruin nodded and turned, passing through the simple doorway into deliberately rustic interior. It was still an Elvish sort of rustic, though: the ironwork delicately braided around the lamps, the crude wooden tables were carved with pastoral motifs, and the simple wooden chairs were inlaid with flowers and vines. 

A silver-haired moon elf stood behind the bar, rag in hand, wiping it down as they approached. "What can I get you?" 

"Whiskey," said Amaranth. "Something good. Two and two." 

The woman nodded slowly. "How about the Twinwaters '14, Amaranth? Will that suit your friend?"

"We'll trust your judgement," Amaranth told her. "Revira, this is Ruin-- of the Twiceborn. Ruin, Revira of the Silver Stag." 

The barkeep stopped, studied him, then nodded. Then she looked around the nearly-empty room. "You've not come here to show him off." 

Amaranth shook her head. "No." 

"Why don't you take him up to the balcony, then? I'll be up in a minute with your drinks." She looked at Ruin. "And I won't mention that you're here."

Ruin nodded. "Thank you."

They climbed the stairs and slid into chairs on opposite sides of a small wooden table. The balcony overlooked the main room, at least up near the railing; here, near the back wall, it was discreetly tucked away. And in the middle of the afternoon, the public house was almost empty. 

They just sat for a minute, comfortably quiet, and Ruin found himself admiring the soft curves and sharper angles of Amaranth's face. He remembered her as a child, and saw that younger face refined and perfected in her now.

"Old friends," she said, "catching up. Except that contrary to the tale that Mother wants to tell now, we were never that close."

That matched his memories. "Or that far. We knew each other, but we moved in different circles. I don't recall that we ever particularly disliked each other." 

She nodded, then fell silent as Revira appeared at the top of the stairs, carrying a tray with small glasses and a large bottle. She laid the glasses out deftly, two in front of each of them, then plucked the bottle from the tray. A moment later the tray was resting on a nearby table and she had the cork out of the bottle; she filled all four glasses, looked at Amaranth and tilted her head... and then set the bottle on the table and left, collecting the tray as she departed. 

Ruin raised his eyebrows. "I like her," he said, then reached forward and picked up one of the small glasses and raised it towards Amaranth. 

She lifted one of her own, clinked it against his, and poured it down her throat while he followed suit. It was good whiskey; it burned all the way down but left a pleasant taste in his mouth. He tapped a finger against his second glass, considering, then looked up at Amaranth. "I remember you kept company with Talitha and Sanima," he said after a moment, "but you never seemed entirely happy around them." 

Amaranth shrugged. "I managed. We did have some good times. And they were very much part of our set, with parents who had very definite social plans and very definite ideas about how we should fit into those plans." She raised her second glass and drained it. "Talitha dug in. She's married to one of the High Provost's up-and-coming young political proteges, very proper, very busy. She doesn't speak to me anymore, though she will at least acknowledge me when we meet. Sanima was always a lot more interested in fencing than she admitted; she picked up with one of the Hierophant An'Drow's people, and left Duendewood entirely. Her father disowned her, but I think her mother's secretly pleased."

Ruin considered that, nodded, and finished his second drink. He didn't remember either girl well, just that the three of them had been... distant from? uninterested in? ...anyone outside their circle. And Ruin himself had been a strange child already, not terribly interested in much of anybody, so he hadn't minded that. "I hope they're happy," he said. 

Amaranth nodded slowly, then looked over at the bottle. Ruin reached for it, then refilled all four glasses. 

"You know what I remember about you?" asked Amaranth as he poured. "You always seemed so completely at home, wherever you were. Do you remember when the druids took us down into the caves? We could barely see, and everybody was half-terrified that wraiths and shadows were going to come out of the walls and eat us all. And then we reached the deep cavern, and the druids pointed to that opening and told us that it led down deeper than anyone knew, that there were strange things down there, and ways of life that we of the surface knew nothing about. And I was just standing there with everybody else, digesting that, when you walked over there, looked into the darkness, and asked if that meant we weren't going any farther. You sounded vaguely disappointed." 

Ruin nodded slowly. He did remember that trip, and he had been disappointed. He hadn't thought about it in nearly a decade, but evidently it had left an impression. He'd never thought of himself as strange; strange was everybody else. "I'd forgotten about that." 

She shrugged. "I had too, until I saw you today." She studied him for a long moment, then tilted her head. "Would you like to come share a bed for a couple of hours? No commitments. Honestly, I just want the chance to do some of the things I fantasized about in early adolescence."

Ruin pursed his lips. "Your idea, or your mother's?" He was fairly sure he knew the answer, but...

Amaranth offered a smile. "My mother never really understood that what she wanted me to do -- teasing, enticing, drawing people in -- wasn't something I had in me. I doubt she ever really understood that she didn't have it in her, either. No, this is just me asking." Her expression turned mischievous. "No, if I wanted to lure you in I'd invite you back to my shop to look at blades, maybe offer to spar with you. Not at all what my mother envisions, but far more likely to work." 

Ruin laughed. "It would be, yes. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to, so why not?"

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Challenge: Books that make great gifts

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 "books that would make good gifts."


Well, for starters, I am definitely recommending The Murderbot Diaries. However, much as I adore them, Martha Wells also has an extensive back-catalog of other books, including the very atypical fantasy adventures in the The Books of the Raksura (which... now I think I need to go re-read, because I adore them). Basically, if you enjoy Murderbot, you should really look through the rest of her work. 

I'd also recommend Matt Wallace's Savage Legion, which was both entertaining and fascinating; the sequel is due out in July. It's a multiple-POV high fantasy with a mix of action, intrigue, and exploration. 

I'm currently reading Forgotten Stars and Distant Seas by J.B. Rockwell, which starts out looking like it's going to be military SF but transitions easily to a story of exploration and discovery tinged with bits of horror; by the end, I think it may turn out to be a full-blown Cosmic Horror story set in space, but I haven't gotten there yet. I'd still recommend it just on the strength of the first half of the book. 

And if those aren't enough, well, I have long list of other recommendations scattered back through the Blogging Challenge posts, and I invite you to take a look.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Music: Targit

 Music by Idir:

Give it a listen, it's more familiar than you might think...

Monday, December 14, 2020

Ruin Twiceborn: Old Friends 1

"Springblossom? Springblossom Sunrise?" 

Ruin froze, then turned slowly and tried to make himself smile. Milathyra Antithian was one of his mother's Old School Friends, which apparently meant that they cordially despised each other but kept in touch out of a sense of social obligation. At least, if it meant something else Ruin had never been able to decipher it. "It is you!" She beamed. "How have you been?" 

Ruin, who had never in his life met a social obligation that he couldn't ignore, answered: "Dead."

"Oh, yes!" Milathyra said cheerily. "I'd heard about that. Very heroic, all that escaping from the forces of evil and bringing yourselves back to life and such. Did you actually receive a summons from the King over that?" 

Ruin nodded, not bothering to hide his disinterest. Some people might not have known about that summons, but Milathyra Antithian was not one of them. She knew this already; the woman was an incorrigible gossip. She'd only asked so that the people around them would know that she was on familiar terms with someone privy to the new king. "Briefly, yes," he said. 

Her eyelids flickered: disappointment, he thought, but it was there and gone too fast for him to be sure. "Oh!" she said. "And you remember Milasaya, surely? From those expeditions you used to go on with the druids when you were children? Only she's taken the name Amaranth, now that she's all grown up. Amranth?" She looked around. "Amaranth, where--?"

A young woman turned around from where she'd been studiously engrossed in the front window of a potter's store. "Here, mother," she said, and smiled sweetly. "I assume you'd like to introduce me to the marriageable son of your old school friend?" She turned to Ruin, and offered a more wry version of the same smile. "Except we already know each other, don't we?" 

Ruin made a quick mental calculation, then said: "We do indeed." Amaranth was a full inch taller than her mother, with broader shoulders and stronger arms; her voice was deeper too, huskier. More importantly, it was pitched more softly, meant for their ears alone rather than everyone nearby... and there was a faint hint of a blush at the edges of her cheeks. 

Milathyra Antithian hesitated, one eyebrow raised at her daughter, one eye on Ruin's expression. Then she said, "Well, I'll just let the two of you get caught up while I finish the errands, then." And she was off abruptly, sailing regally down the street. 

Ruin watched her go, then turned to find that Amaranth was watching her mother's departure with an almost identical expression. Then she realized he was looking at her and turned to face him, bringing her hands together in front of her face to cover her mouth and nose. "I can't believe she called you Springblossom," Amaranth said. "I'm so sorry." 

"It may have been the first time in my life," said Ruin, "that I've deeply regretted not keeping a flask of whiskey on my person." 

Amaranth laughed and let her hands fall. "So what are you calling yourself these days?" 

Ruin chuckled back at her. "Ruin, more often than not. I haven't really settled on an adult name." 

Amaranth shook her head. "But not Springblossom, of course." 

"No." Ruin rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "In your mother's defense, my own father had some issues with it as well. It's not done, to drop one's childhood name without picking an adult one." 

Amaranth gave a slight shrug. "Except it clearly is; you've done it." She stepped over to him and tucked her arm into his. "Come on," she said. "I feel like after that, my family owes you some whiskey... and honestly, I could use some myself." 

Ruin considered that, then nodded. They started off along the street. Somewhere behind them, he was certain, Milathyra Antithian was watching them go and feeling smug; he wasn't sure that he cared, though.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Duendewood: Untamed Wilderness

We venture into the dark, uncharted forest. After about eight days of travel, we come to a clearing... or at least a wide point in the path.

Rulf says they'd made about fifteen days before he and Kaz and Cassadia got sent back. Eva tried to cook on the first night; she showed up with a whole deer and threw it in the fire -- except for one leg that she ate raw. So, she doesn't cook anymore.

We come to a fallen tree across the path, and of course stop the carriage. Geddy, riding up front with Rulff, looks beyond the fallen tree and sees what appear to be some carnivorous plants. Ava is currently sleeping. Rulf, up front, says we're going to have to move the log.

It's a big log; Azrael looks at it and the carnivorous plants and decides that clearly the best way to clear the path is with a Fireball.

The log is now on fire, so it's going to be a bit difficult to remove. The carnivorous plant things move around through the underbrush and come up towards the carriage.

Martini opens the carriage door, and Ruin hops out; Azrael drops an acid fog cloud on them, and they disappear into the underbrush.

Ruin eases back closer to the carriage; Geddy starts singing; and Martini exits the cart to get in position to shoot or stab something. Azrael, not seeing any enemies, decides to wait.

One of the beasties slides out of the brush and bites Geddy, then attempts to swallow him. Ruin crosses the now-empty seats, dodging an attack as he moves in, and Chops into the huge plant-beast with his two-handed scimitar. Geddy casts Sphere of Invisibility, catching Azrael and Ruin again. Martini scrambles onto the top of the carriage and shoots it with his bow; Azrael crosses to the far side of the carriage, then casts Scorching Ray, burning it but becoming visible again. It attacks with a tendril, but misses Azrael. At that point, it swallows Geddy, who takes some acid damage but is fortunately not paralyzed. Geddy: "I can work with this."

Another monster slides out of the brush and attacks into the carriage, and then the third one arrives from the other side and bites Azrael, hauling him up over his mouth. Ruin slices a door-sized hole in the nearest monster, and Airwolf bursts out -- presumably carrying Geddy, but he's still invisible. Ruin on the other hand is completely visible.

Azrael boils the thing from the inside with an empowered Scorching Ray, and levitates himself up into the air. Martini, meanwhile, has rolled off the back of the carriage and made herself invisible. The last of the monsters bites Ruin, and scopps him into its mouth; he tries to tear himself loose, but fails. Geddy, meanwhile, is circling overhead on his Onyx Fly and puts a couple of crossbow bolts into the thing.

Azrael, who levitates out of habit, has also risen into the air. He tags the remaining tendriculos with Scorching Ray again.

Ruin gets swallowed but isn't paralyzed; however, the thing also reaches in and slashes Rulff, the driver, knocking him silly. Ruin turns around and climbs back out of the tendriculos' mouth, lands on the ground with his sword, and cuts the thing down.

So... the monsters are dead, and the log is on fire; it's going to take hours to burn down. Fortunately the brush in pretty damp and doesn't seem likely to catch fire.

We manage to tie off a non-burning end, and drag the log over to the edge of the trail. Rulff is very grateful to be healed, but demands that we clean the carriage before we continue.

Ava yawns and sits up: "Where have you all been?"

Martini ignores her; Azrael is busy being deep in consternation. The canopy is about fifty feet overhead, so Geddy stays on Airwolf.

Continuing, we come to a tree; the path forks around it. The right looks clear, while the left is covered in webs and scattered with bones. Geddy, meanwhile, has noticed a spider coming up behind us.

Martini lans out the window and looks back, but doesn't see anything. Geddy maneuvers for a better vantage, then shoots the spider.

Rulf: "Am I going to go to Helios this time?"

Ruin: "Stay here and keep the skeleton horses calm."

He slides off his seat and moves to look for the spider, but... Geddy appears to be shooting at a tree. Azrael levitates up through the hatch to the roof, and hovers above while he casts Acid Splash. The tree is now sizzling slightly. Martini also climbs up to the roof, looking for the spider, and shoots at it as well.

Meanwhile, a giant spider descends out of the giant tree and grabs Rulff and replaces all his internal organs with venom. Geddy attacks the second spider; it's apparently easy to hit but hard to damage.

Ruin charges the big one, which tries to bite him as he comes but misses, then Ruin charges past the thing, cutting deep as he goes. Azrael drops some Fatigue on the spider at that end and then follows up with a Ray of Enfeeblement to put a serious crimp in its style.

Martini attempts to sneak attack, but misses.

The spider turns to attack Ruin, biting him hard and weakening him badly with his poison. Geddy and Martini finally figure out that they're attacking a tree; Ruin hits the spider again but with his strength gone it's a light tap instead of his usual stunning blow. Azrael tags the giant spider with a ray of exhaustion, further weakening it.

It throws a web at Geddy and Airwolf, sticking them to a tree.

Geddy responds by trying to shoot it with a crossbow, but misses. Ruin tries to attack but he's having trouble lifting his falchion and misses.

Azrael uses Glitterdust to blind the thing, and Martini puts a couple of arrows into it... surprising it with sneak attack damage, since it's blind now. Martini is no longer invisible, but the beastie is blind so it doesn't matter. It tries to attack Martini, but misses and rips a section out of the roof fo the carriage instead.

Geddy shoots it again. Ruin manages -- barely -- to cut it with his sword. Azrael tags it with a fireball, doing a respectable amount of damage. Martini finishes it off with an arrow.

Ruin shakes off the next wave of the poison, but he's still weak. Geddy tags him with Lesser Restoration and restores some of his strength. They chop up the spider and get it out of the way. Rulff is basically a puddle of goo at this point.

Eva comes out of the carriage and is able to drive the cart, but upset that Rulff has died.

Azrael: "This is a good thing. Plenty of people wish to leave this realm."

Geddy: "Don't worry, little girl. He's in a better place now."

Fortunately, she listens to Geddy. We give Rulff a quick burial.

Ruin takes a moment to search the webbed-up skeletons. One of them is wearing +1 full plate; there's also a Potion of Spider Climb (worth 300 gp) and a Wand of Web (35 of 50 charges) (worth 3150 gp). We set the brake on the carriage and settle in for the night; Eva heads off to get dinner. She comes back out of the forest a while later, with a boar over her shoulders; Ruin shows her how to dress it, and we roast it over a cookfire before we settle in for the night.

Geddy takes first watch, and about an hour into it Eva climbs onto the front seat and starts it moving. Geddy asks, and she tells me she's taking us to see "the wisest ogre in the forest", Zorga. After driving for a bit, she stops us again, hops off, and heads off down a sidepath. Geddy wakes up Martini and then hops down to follow her.

Eva is standing in front of this rickety old shack in the woods, and doesn't see anything. "So Eva, is she here?"

Eva: "I think so, but I'm not sure." She points to a branch where an eagle and a hawk are sitting side-by-side on a branch."

Geddy: "HI!"

The eagle swoops down and turns into a big ol' ogress.

Geddy: "Ho! Hey!, Hidey!"

Ogre: "Are you with the others?"

Geddy: "You mean our traveling companions?"

Ogre: "The Wizards."

Geddy: "Oh! No, we're anti-Kaz and Cassidia."

Zorga nods and smiles and pats Eva on the head. "I see. Well, if you're Eva's friend then you're okay by me."

Geddy: "Is it safe to sleep here?"

Zorga: "Have you angered the trees?"

Geddy: "Well, I mean, we angered a spider and some plant-monsters, but..."

The hawk flies down and lands on Zorga's shoulder.

Eva: "That's Eldertalon. He's a hundred years old."

Geddy: "That's pretty old."

Eva: "Why have you come, then?"

Geddy: "Well, we're just kind of passing through after we went through the town of undead up north."

Eva: "Yeah, those stupid wizards killed everyone in the town."

Geddy: "But we took care of them."

Zorga: "You have shelter? If you're friends of Eva, you can come stay with me for the night."

So... we move into the house. The ceiling is fairly tall for us, but the ogres are a bit hunched over. Uzzik and Orrik are "her loyal protectors", and Eva assures us they aren't as scary as they look.

Uzzik and Orek stumble over to pallets and go to sleep; Ruin is passed out, and Martini's gone back to sleep. When Eva falls asleep, it's just Geddy and Zorga.

Zorga: "Tell me truly, gnome: why have you come?"

Geddy considers her for a moment, then explains: the mission for the newfound Elvish king, our intention to kill the wizards and keep them from finding the hand of Vecna.

Zorga: "It is as I feared. Powerful wizards, with a priest or wizard at their head. I flew far away from here when he came through. The trees feared him. He turned into a swarm of flies and commanded the dead like a god himself."

Geddy: "Those do sound like our targets."

Zorga: "I knew this day would come. This forest holds more than you know. There were cities here long ago, but a dark wizard tore them down and cast them away. None remember it, which is a clue itself I do believe. But I have scried, and I know."

Geddy asks what her plans and intentions are. (OOC: Natural 20 for a total of 43 on the roll.)

She's like 300 years old; she's the wise woman who advises little bands of ogres through the forest. She was touched and uplifted by a gold dragon long ago. She has scried on Vecna, "the dark one", who wants back into this world. His followers are trying hard to help him. If we'll stay for two nights, she can use the full moon to scry and gather more information -- plus, she can instruct the treants not to ambush us. They're still pissed because of the first group.

Geddy makes an executive decision to stay and offers to help with anything she needs. Eventually she goes off to sleep.

We all agree to this plan.

Geddy asks Eva how she got so good at hunting; she says she's been living here a long time. She tells Geddy she's eight, but he's pretty sure she's lying.

The day passes; Azrael is disappointed that we can't have a shrimp-boil they way they used to at their summer home. There are frogs and some other things that we collect and eat instead.

We sleep again, and then she begins her scrying. "I see him! Like all the gods, he is sealed from Midgard by a pact. But he is not like the other gods: not dead, but not alive. Unlike them, *he* might be resurrected in Midgard. I see a ritual: a hand, an eye, a sword, and a heart. He can be brought back in either plane; he can be brought back in Midgard."

The gods do not come down to Midgard (the Prime Material Plane). Long ago the gods lived here, but it devolved into a massive civil war; so they moved the gods to mMdgard and sealed themselves away. But Vecna may have found a loophole, being half-dead; because of this, he could be resurrected in Midgard.

Zorga assures us that the Treants will let us pass despite their anger at the races of men. We head back to the carriage and continue on our way. A number of treants appear and look us over, but they let us pass; apparently Zorga has some serious social capital around here. It's been ten days.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Abdael: Unfamiliar Animals

Abdael waited until nobody was looking, then slipped out of the chemist's tent. He was aware that leaving the rest of the group without telling anyone was a risk, no matter how safe their current situation seemed; but he was fairly sure that someone would want to come with him, and he really didn't want company for this. This strange carnival seemed safe enough for now, so he considered it a calculated risk. 

The tent in front of him was small, made of rich crimson cloth. As before, the space inside was vastly larger than the tent outside. Little had changed in the minutes he'd been gone: the area was still well-lit, the cages carefully spaced and mostly covered. Bearthazar was visible near the back of the tent, his head tilted to look down, and chomping sounds were clearly audible from that same direction. 

Abdael approached carefully, wending his way between the cages without touching any of them. Bearthazar turned as he approached. "Ah yes, good sir. You had some additional inquiry or concern?" 

Abdael nodded. "About your inventory... I was wondering if you had anything in a winged snake or pseudo-dragon?" 

Bearthazar shook his head sadly. "Not at present, sir. Our last pseudo-dragon was purchased by a wizard as a familiar, and tragically died with him. We did care for a couatl, briefly, but we could hardly sell her as a pet."

Abdael frowned. He wasn't familiar with couatls; if he remembered correctly, they were a sort of divine flying snake. "Why not?" 

"Well, for one thing, because she was most definitely a person; and for another, because she informed me that if we tried, she was going to execute us all as slave-traders." Bearthazar paused, looking thoughtful. "I would generally advise against trying to make a pet of anything more intelligent than you are, young sir."

Abdael nodded. "Clearly, though I'd no idea the feathered snakes -- they do have feathers, don't they? -- were so intelligent." 

"They do indeed, often in layers of bright colors. But in any case, at present we have no dragon-kin and only a very limited supply of reptiles. At least, I assume a frost turtle would not be to your tastes?" 

"...What does a frost turtle do?" asked Abdael, unwillingly fascinated. 

"Primarily, they are very cold. Their shells are made of ice, you see. And they make everything around them very cold, and frequently a bit slippery as well. Frost, you see." 

"I do. I suppose this has led to some complaints?" 

"...Perhaps a few minor quibbles. Though not fast, frost turtles are exceedingly loyal and indeed quite affectionate. Our current specimen, Jak, quite likes to crawl into his owner's blankets."

"Ah," said Abdael. "No. I'm a bit too subject to frostbite for that to work out, I'm afraid." He flexed his hand, and let tendrils of his shadow drift out. "Perhaps something shadowy?" 

Bearthaza's face lit up. "Ah, I've just the thing. Come over here, and let me introduce you to Blot." 

"Blot?" asked Abdael, but he followed the strange man to yet another cage, this one well back from the tent's entrance. 

"I don't normally show him," said Bearthazar, "but it's not so much that he minds being disturbed as that people find him disturbing. Behold!" He pulled the cloth covering from the cage, and Abdael blinked and stared. 

Most of the cages here were metal, with openings between the bars to allow light and air. This one appeared to be some sort of glass or clear crystal, and was utterly barren of all decoration. The thing inside was... inchoate, Abdael thought, while his eyes struggled to settle on it. It was dark and shifting, a flowing shadow filled with eyes, then extruding shadowy tendrils before withdrawing them in favor of endless mouths lined with hungry teeth. A moment later it was a gaping void, and Abdael was overcome with the profoundly terrifying sense of falling into it. 

"Blot is a genuine nightmare," Bearthazar announced proudly, "trawled from the dreams of a powerful mystic. He would be a fine companion and even a guardian, capable of terrifying your opponents and cowing your subjects..."

"Ahhh..." said Abdael, who was somewhat more tempted than he cared to admit. "I confess, I'm fascinated. But I don't think I can care for a pet that would constantly be frightening everyone around me." 

Bearthazar shrugged. "Your friends seemed stout of heart, but... perhaps not. Very well, I have one more possibility to show you. After that, I really must get back to feeding those animals who will be traveling on with your druid." 

"Certainly," answered Abdael. He was still curious, but nursing a growing disappointment; perhaps this wasn't going to work out after all. 

"Yes, well..." Bearthazar seemed almost hesitant as he approached another cage. "This is Puddles." 


Bearthazar lifted the cover. "Puddles." 

Abdael found himself looking down at a puppy, its body perhaps the size of his two fists pressed together. Its fur was black, and it blinked in the sudden light; then it wagged its tail. It took a moment for his thoughts to assemble themselves; then he said, "...It isn't house-trained, is it?" 

"Not yet, good sir." Bearthazar smiled. "That is where you come in." 

"Puddles," Abdael repeated. "I... my apologies, but you're going to have to explain to me why you want one-hundred and seventy gold for what is an admittedly adorable puppy." 

"Ah," answered Bearthazar. "I hoped you might be familiar with the breed. Puddles is a shadow mastiff. A puppy, but when fully grown he'll be capable of seeing the unseen and becoming all but invisible in darkness. We consider the price quite reasonable. And for a modest twenty gold more, I would be happy to throw in a leash and a darkforged cage where Puddles can comfortably sleep."

Puddles pressed his nose to the edge of the cage, sniffing, and Abdael automatically extended the palm of his hand. The puppy sniffed, wriggled, and licked his hand through the bars. Abdael blinked again. "Would you accept one-seventy for the lot?" 

Bearthazar hesitated. "Given his obvious affection for you, I must consider it... but a darkwrought cage is not easy to come by, and..." 

"One hundred and seventy-five?" asked Abdael. 

"Very well." Bearthazar nodded decisively. "One hundred and seventy-five gold, and Puddles is yours along with a proper sleeping-cage and a leash."

"Done," said Abdael. He paused, then added: "Not to be difficult, but... the sign outside the tent says that your prices are what you say they are."

"Ah," said Bearthazar. "But you asked if they could be something lower, and I said they could." 

Abdael nodded. "Makes sense. I'll... come 'round to collect Puddles after the show?" 

"Certainly, sir. We look forward to seeing you again."

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Challenge: Fictional Professions

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 "a profession from a book I'd love to try".

I've been thinking about this off and on for a while, and honestly I had some trouble coming up with answers that didn't involve things like "wizard" or "heroic warrior" -- which I suppose is completely fair, since in a lot of fantasy worlds those are legitimate occupations. But more peripheral roles, like a veterinarian who specializes in magical familiars? I'm not coming up with much there, especially not things with actual examples. 

So I went back to thinking about my own writing, and the Dark Fantasy setting that I keep trying (and failing) to write a book in. (At this point I'm beginning to think that it's because I've put too much thought into it; I have too many ideas that I'd like to work in, and they several of them simply aren't compatible with each other -- plot-wise, mostly.) Anyway, one of the distinctive things about this world is that the sky has an ecosystem every bit as varied and important as the land and the sea. Some clouds are clouds; others are swarms of tiny flying creatures almost too small to distinguish; there are floating islands, and some birds and bird-equivalents that nest on them and feed on the things that grow there... and are prey to other things, some of which never touch ground. Lower down, there are grazing animals that drift along thirty feet or so above the ground, tendrils hanging below them to capture unwary prey. 

And humans being humans, when they first wandered onto this world they immediately started dividing these things up into "things we need to exterminate" and "things that were put here for us to use". And in the awkward middle ground between those territories are the floatbeast herds. 

Floatbeasts are massive animals; the bulls are Hindenberg-sized, and even the smallest of the calves is the size of a minivan. They have an elaborate set of natural fans which they use somewhat like sails, either moving with the wind or tacking against it. During their lives, they essentially never touch the ground. And while they feed on the swarm-clouds (rather like whales with plankton) they actually rely on a symbiotic relationship with another species, called rocs or wyverns, who nest in the hollows of their back and periodically strike out to hunt, bringing back food for the herd. 

So of course people figured out a way to use them as dirigibles. 

And I would love the chance to serve as crew on a floatbeast caravan, specifically one of the roc-riders who act as guards and ferry packages down to the more isolated settlements that don't have their own skyports. That's the profession I want to try.

(Although... being a Librarian in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries would be cool, too.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Monday, December 7, 2020

VtM: A Coffee, a Park, and a Beautiful Ghoul

Edhem found Shannon leaning against a square concrete arch in Gasworks Park, and nodded to her before stopping to unroll the king-sized blanket he'd brought. He was smiling behind his mask, which was absolutely ridiculous: there was no way to get to know her without pushing into Malachi's business, and he knew full well that pushing into Malachi's business was dangerous. And yet... he wanted to get to know her. He was glad to see her. It had been years since he'd felt this way. 

Suicidal, you mean? asked the voice of his worse-if-wiser self, but he closed it away and set the paper bag in the middle of the blanket. Shannon strolled casually over, then knelt over the bag and pulled out the coffee he'd brought for her. He could see her smile even behind her mask -- which probably meant that she could see him grinning like an idiot behind his -- and retreated to the opposite corner of the blanket. 

The park was surprisingly empty, but then it was nine in the morning on a Tuesday, and all the solid citizens were probably either at work or huddled in their homes -- or, where possible, both. They were far enough apart that the risk of transmission was negligible, and there was nobody close enough to hear them. The air was chilly, but not unpleasant. 

"You're not a ghoul, are you?" asked Shannon. 

Edhem shook his head. "I don't even know what that is." 

"It's what I am," she told me. "I asked you who you belonged to because I belong to Malachi -- though it's loyalty, not slavery, despite how it might sound." 

Edhem nodded slowly, putting things together in his mind. "And this... belonging... is what allowed you to move the way you did?"

"Well, partly. Practice plays a big part, you know." 

"I know." He shook his head. "I've never met anyone like you, that I know of."

"Then how were you able to keep up?"

"Practice does play a big part, but... I belong to a tradition, an ancient one. My ancestors were the defenders of the First City, and something of their strength lives on in my blood." He met her eyes. "I think that's how I got caught up in this: I was trying to find out what happened to Jack and Valeria, and something... like Malachi... saw me using one of those ancient skills." 

"Ah," said Shannon. "Yes, that would explain a lot. Especially if the one who caught you belonged to Jack's bloodline." 

Edhem hesitated a moment, then said: "They're real, then." 

Shannon tilted her head. "You've never met one?" 

Edhem shrugged. "That I know of. We hunted dark spirits, rogue magicians, unquiet ghosts."

Shannon nodded slowly. "That explains... I doubt they know any more about you. At least, Malachi's never mentioned anyone like you. Everybody keeping their secrets so carefully that they didn't realize that others around them were as well." 

Edhem considered that. "I'm not sure that's an entirely bad thing," he said. 

"I don't know," said Shannon. "Things are bad now, and seem to be getting worse. It might be better if you walked away and pretended that you never learned anything." 

"I don't think the one who found me would let me go that easily," Edhem replied. He'd been thinking about turning his back on all this, but it didn't seem like the same sort of escape route now that his secrets weren't entirely secret. "...And I don't know how to escape it, not with any certainty."

Shannon shook her head. "I don't know what to tell you, then. They do recruit allies, sometimes, but they're... obsessive about loyalty... and they have ways to ensure it. If you've caught the interest of an Elder, my advice would be to be as boring as possible and hope it becomes distracted by some other entertainment, but that isn't much of a strategy and you're probably not helping it by meeting with me."

"Honestly, meeting with you has been the best part of this whole thing," said Edhem, and was rewarded when Shannon smiled. "No, I think the only thing I can do is press forward -- cautiously -- with this investigation, and hope that I can reach some sort of accord with this thing when we're done."

Friday, December 4, 2020

Duendewood: There's Someone Out There

 We killed the Entropic Reaper, and Azrael was still down a wisdom point from being drained. We continue exploring, since aside from restoring physical damage there isn't much we can do for him.

We find a couple of conference room areas, then head north; there's a storage room, and then a room where someone appears to be laid out in repose. The coffin says "Priestess Thera", and there's definitely something moving around inside; we take a quick consensus and decide that it's almost certainly undead.

Ruin: "Wrap it in chains, haul outside, and throw it on a nice big bonfire."

Getty raps on the coffin: "Hello?"

An incredible banging and hissing ensues. "Right," says Geddy. "Bonfire."

Martini and Azrael are hearing voices; they appear to know we're in here. A moment after she mentions this, we hear a door close down in the barracks area.

Martini turns invisible. The rest of us just stand around like great bloody lumps. Then Ruin opens the door next to him, and steps inside with the two skinless corpses of a pair of unknown nobles -- which makes it very possible that the noblewoman on our boat is an impostor.

Geddy, meanwhile, steps out into the main room and starts tuning up his lute.

Two wizards step into the room, looking tentatively at Geddy. One of them is a dark-robed elf; the other is a half-elf woman. The elf says, "Hello there. I see you have stumbled on this unfortunate town. May we have your name?"

Geddy: "You may: Geddy Lee Geddy, famed Bard. Who're you jokers?"

Wizard: "I am Cas, and this is my companion Cassadia; we were just riding by and decided to stop for supplies and discovered the horrible things that happened here."

Geddy is -- to put it mildly -- suspicious. "That's very convenient. Do you by chance know what happened to this town? We were -- the royal 'we' told some dark villainy was going on in this neck of the woods, and they needed a hero." And then he threw in a Nickelback lyric, since they needed a hero to save them...

Martini whispers in Geddy's ear: "There are more of them outside."

Kas: "I'm sure they could use a hero; the town's in bad shape. There was a girl... an elf-lady. Have you seen her?" He starts describing Martini.

Geddy: "I'm sorry, all elves look a bit alike to me. Could you give me more detail?"

They start looking around, keeping an eye on Geddy; they don't seem to want a conflict, but he's getting kind of impatient. "So why don't you finish up your business and move on?"

Geddy: "I could use some supplies too, could you take me to the stock rooms?"

There's a glimmer of recognition in his eyes. "I did see a warehouse as we came in. These people don't need it anymore."

Geddy: "Sure! Could you help me with this box in the next room?"

Outside, deep voice: "Whaddaya mean, people are here? Do you need me to kill 'em?" Someone else shushes him.

Kaz, loudly: "Okay, we're done here. Keep playing your lute, and we won't trouble you..."

Geddy casts Haste.

Kas: "Shit. Spellcaster."
Cassadia: "Yep. Haste. Call the others!"

Azrael casts Solid Fog, blocking off the wizards. Ruin crosses to the big pile of bodies near the front door and pretends to be a corpse. Martini, invisible, move up near him. We hear retreating footsteps, and the Kaz calls out "Get in here! Bring the orcs! Oh shit, fog!"

Somebody else casts Haste. Then the front doors slam open and there are two orcs holding greatswords; the look at Azrael and chuckle, and then Rage. Martini slides silently (and invisibly) over to one side of the door.

Orc: "We're gonna tear you in half, tiny elf."
Azrael: "Fireball."

He immolates a pair of invisible mages who were hiding behind the nearer wizard. The wizard is damaged, and the two orcs are singed but relatively okay. Azrael levitates up to the ceiling.

The Kaz launches a fireball to where he last saw Geddy, but Geddy ducks under a bench and avoids some of the damage. Cassadia casts Haste.

Ruin lies in wait; Geddy casts Mirror Image on himself; there are now seven fake Geddies and on real Geddy.

The two Orcs charge Geddy, moving right past Martini and Ruin and taking a big chunk of damage when we hit them by surprise as they pass. They stumble on towards Geddy; one of them misses, and the other slices through one of the images and roars in disappointment.

Geddy: "It's tough suckin' dick!"

The Cassadia outside the door casts Phantasmal Killer; thanks to Death Ward, Martini's effectively immune to the instant death, though she's convinced that the specter is real and is slightly damaged. The Cassadia gapes at the lack of dead assassin in front of her.

Martini moves in and stabs her twice, staggering her. Azrael, from his position on the ceiling, casts Scorching Ray at the orcs, tagging each of them once. He follows it up with a quickened Magic Missile. One of the orcs is only still alive because he's raging, and even then only barely upright. The other one is damaged, but functional.

The original pair of Kaz and Cassadia have come charging around the outside of the building intending to get the drop on us; they run straight into Ruin, who had the same idea in reverse and greets Kaz with his falchion.

Geddy steps back out of reach, and  promptly fumbles his attack; but he recovers and attacks again, finishing one of the orcs. ("Dodge this!") He attacks the other orc but misses.

Martini manages to shake off a sleep spell and stabs the Cassadia in front of her to death. Meanwhile, a new enemy has appeared with a bow and a pet wolf waaaaaaaaaaay out on the pier.

The Kaz and Cassadia who were coming around the building step back and the Kaz tries to cast Phantasmal Killer on Ruin but utterly fails to affect him; Cassadia's Dominate Person, on the other hand, affects Ruin just fine. Ruin attacks Martini, hitting her once but not as badly as he could have.

Geddy finishes off the last Orc.

Martini disengages and runs up the side of the building. The roof is slate-covered and angled; Martini gets herself out of sight.

Azrael drops Black Tentacles on the two wizards. They're grappled. (Technically, they can still cast spells... as long as those spells only have a verbal component. )

Ruin, still Dominated, turns around and puts an arrow in Azrael. Martini sneaks back to the edge of the roof with her bow. She puts an arrow in the remaining Kaz, and takes him down. "The lady I saw through the eye..." he gasps, and then falls dead.

Cassadia tries to tear loose, but fails completely. She takes some damage as the tentacle squishes her, and then Azrael sends a Scorching Ray her way.

Ruin scoops his sword back up, steps over to the Cassadia, and slaps her silly with the flat of his blade, knocking her unconscious.

Geddy steps out the door, and fails to spot Azrael (above him), Martini (on the roof), and really much of anything else; he drops Rainbow Pattern in front of the building, covering a substantial portion of the town.

The wolf is unaffected; Ruin, Martini, and the archer all stop to stare at the pretty lights. Azrael has seen this sort of thing before and resists it.

The wolf charges Geddy, and just mauls one of his mirror images...

Azrael considers spells and range attacks, and casts Cloudkill around the archer. He survives the initial assault, but his health is seriously affected. (OOC: -4 Con damage. Ouch.) He pushes through the nasty green fog and shoots Azrael.

Ruin: "O my friends and Allies, behold the pretty pretty lights."

Geddy drops concentration on the spell, and drops a flare on Ruin's butt; the wolf tries to attack but misses. Ruin, at least, is no longer dazzled.

Azrael follows up cloudkill with Stinking Cloud, but he's wary and holds his breath. He fires off an arrow at Azrael, and hits.

Ruin slaps his injured butt, then charges the wolf and takes a pretty solid swing at it, but doesn't connect as solidly as he usually does; it survives.

Geddy slides back, and the wolf tries to attack; the wolf rips the throat out of another image. Geddy puts a crossbow bolt in him and he goes down.

Azrael drops Black Tentacles again, and catches the guy; he tries to break out and just barely fails. Ruin had moved back over near his bow to attack the wolf; now he scoops it up and puts an arrow straight in between the guy's ribs. Martini has also been scorched out of he bedazzlement, and she whips out her bow and put an arrow in his throat. He disappears into the sea of tentacles.

"Hey! You! Get us out of here!" There's a maybe eight-year-old girl in a cage; there's a ruddy-looking guy who looks like he's about to run.

Ruin: "Don't run, you'll just die tired."

"Ahhhh I'm just the carriage driver, I'm nothing to do with these people."

Ruin: "You didn't try to kill us, you get the benefit of the doubt."

"I'm a bit shaken. This was my home, these were my people."

Ruin: "We have a few survivors, help us out and we'll be pleased to count you among them."

"The Hierophant Malefar took us south with three wagons, but it was slow going in the forest and he sent us back for supplies. And... there was a map! He gave it to one of these guys!"

We search bodies and collect 15,500 gp, bracers of armor +3, and a +2 headband of intellect. The ranger has 2,000 GP; lesser bracers of archery (which we turn over to Martini). Rolf the Peasant is just sure there should be a map... but we haven't found one.

Martini: "Empty your pockets."

Rulff: Empties pockets, hands Martini his treasured piece of cheese.

Martini tosses the cheese over her shoulder. "WHERE IS THE MAP?"

Rulff: "I saw the map, I did, that Kaz had it."

Martini: "Fine, go get your cheese."

We did spare the Cassadia, who has now been searched quite thoroughly.

Geddy, to the girl in the cage: "Hi, little girl!"

She can almost stand up in the little cage. "You let me out of here right now, Mister."

Geddy: "What's your name?"

Ava: "Well my name is Ada, and I made the mistake of getting too close to these... a-holes." She looks very convinced that she's said a very naughty, grown-up word.

Geddy: "So how'd you get here?" He plays at opening the lock.

Ava tries to obfuscate, and while Geddy doesn't quite believe her he's not sure what she's obfuscating. She seems lonely, and excited about being Geddy's friend. Geddy promptly gets his finger stuck in the lock trying to open it.

Geddy casts Detect Magic while pretending like he's casting something to open the lock. He would have bet there was some sort of magic there, but he doesn't detect anything. "Hey Martini, come over here please?"

Martini comes over to find that Geddy has his finger stuck in the lock. She yanks his finger out and twitches the lock open.

Ava: "Oh, finally! I mean it, those guys were *not* nice. But I'm with you guys now!"

Azrael: "Quite."

Ava: "Well, let's go get 'em."

Azrael: "We need a map."

Ava: "Well, if they have a map maybe it's in the carriage."

Martini searches the carriage. "But I don't take orders from you either, Azrael."

The carriage is pulled by four skeletal horses. It's giant carriage, and there's a bunch of stuff inside. Arrow slits, a ladder leading up to the top; it's wet-ass... um, posh-ass carriage.

There are almost no supplies, but it's a *very* nice way to travel. There's a chest, a lockbox on a shelf, and a cryptic-looking book on a small built-in table.

Martini turns the whole place. The lockbox on the shelf is trapped; Martini disables it so thoroughly that she can put the trap back in place when she's done. Inside are 310 PP and 3,240 GP worth of gems.

The stamp on the PP are from Lamarque; it probably came with the Vecna-ites.

The chest was neither trapped nor locked, and was basically travelling supplies and small +1 falchion worth 1,000 GP and an unused wand of Cure Light Wounds. The book on the desk is a book on the history of Titan's Reach. Titan's Reach is considerably further south of us; it was rumored to be the location of a Titan city thousands of years ago; the ruins are sized for large creatures. This book explains that the likelihood of that is minimal; it was probably just ancient Elvish extravagance.

Tucked inside the cover are two folded pieces of paper. The first is a map through the forest towards Titan's reach, with

And a note: "We expected always some sort of upward-facing structure; a hand cupping the sky or reaching up the sun, perhaps a tree. This may have been our mistake. Look for a penninsula extending into Mar Dentro with five fingers reaching into the water; what we seek may be there, deep underwater." Mar Dentro is known to be extremely deep, far too deep for a natural lake; think rift lake.

Ava, meanwhile, is doing her best to talk Geddy to death. Geddy: "Sleep now." She ignores the spell: "Oh, and the birdies are soooo pretty!"

Ava puts forth a strong argument that she's coming with us to chase down Malefar, framed mainly as "You're not leaving me behind!"

Geddy's in favor of bringing her along. Ruin, after a bit of back-and-forth, is also sold. Martini is perfectly, completely appalled. And Azrael is, well... Goth.

Ava apparently knows quite a bit about the forest and what lives in it. We're taking her with us. And Rulff will be driving the cart. We'll send the boat on around the coast while we make our way overland; the forest is slow going.