Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Blogging Challenge: Best Parts of Each Season

For the last two years, I've been taking part in the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. (The first link will take you to the list of topics; the second one goes to the homepage, where you can find a post with everyone's responses each week. Feel free to join in!)

The prompt for today is "the best parts of each season," which is interesting because I don't generally think about seasons that way. For one thing, I work in a server room, so to some extent it's always cold regardless of what's going on outside. Mainly, though, I just don't tend to stop and reflect on things as an aspect of their seasons. 

So, for example, I don't generally think, "Ah, summer is here! We can go to the beach!" It's more like, "Dear ye gods it's hot outside! Why? WHYYYYY!?!?!" ...along with a bit of, "And now the boys are out of school and it will require extra effort to keep them on schedule." 

I'm in Texas, by the way, and it turns out our super-special not-federally-regulated power grid is not only incapable of handling extreme cold, it's also not real good with extreme heat. Given what the temperatures are doing right now, this is probably going to be every bit as much of a disaster as the loss of power was during the Icepocalypse. 

But the prompt was for the best parts of each season, so let's look on the positive side. 

Spring: Spring is usually (hopefully) a time when the temperatures are pleasant and it rains a lot (which I also enjoy). The plants are green and blooming, and despite what that does to my allergies it's always refreshing to see that. 

Summer: In summer the boys are out of school, so we can take family trips. Travel is absolutely the best part of summer, to my mind. 

Autumn: Fall is when the heat finally breaks and my allergies settle down; we usually get some rain again, too, which I love. There are also holidays (Halloween is, perhaps unsurprisingly, my favorite) and the boys are back in school so our household gets back into more of a rhythm. 

Winter: Texas winters tend not to be all that cold -- though climate change is making that less reliable than it was in my youth -- and I find the chill very pleasant. Also, it lets me break out some items of clothing -- coats and suchlike -- that I don't ordinarily get to wear. Plus, again, we get a stretch where the boys are in school and everybody's on a fairly regular schedule; that's more of a relief than I care to admit.

So... off the top of my head, those are my favorite parts of each season.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Sol Povos: The Sword of Kaz

We're down in the base of the dungeon with Old Man Kaz and the Death Door that guards the Sword of Kaz. Apparently the globes used to tingle and be warm to the touch. Neither of them are uncomfortable now. Old Man Kaz -- whatever he is -- considers this a very good sign.

We consider other ways of testing the door, and... well, some time back Leira turned a couple of young dragons into lizards. Marshall extracts one of them and tosses it through the door. It seems uninjured, but slips around the corner and there's a horrible whirring sound followed by a crunching.

Giant saw blades. It's giant saw blades cutting into the corridor from various angles. The former dragon is now a very deceased lizard.

Leira thinks it might be a variant of Wall of Blades, and tries to dispel it. She fails, but she doesn't think it's impossible; it's just harder than she first thought. She tries again, and manages it.

We advance, and find that the blades are all through this passage as we wind back and forth. Leira moves us along by alternating between teleport and Dispel Magic. We go forward until we find a key on the ground; then we try the other passage and find more blades. This method is working, but we're burning through Leira's spell slots at a ferocious rate, which might be a problem since we intend to teleport all the way out once we get the sword.

Then we hit a point where the blades prove highly resistant. Tavros: "Don't worry, when we get there you just turn invisible; we'll handle the smashing."

We blow all but the last of Leira's spell slots, and get to a door. It's locked, but we have a key. We open the door to an ancient crypt, with green marble floor titles and vines growing all through this.

There's a mummy standing behind the altar at the far end. "You have come at last! You are the servants of the dark one!"

Tavros: "Indeed we are, good sir!"

Mummy: "Wait a minute... you befoul this place with your presence, paladin!"

...We've found Destrian. Who was the personal priest of Kaz, who has clearly turned himself into a mummy.

Old man Kaz apparently didn't know.

Marshall: "Never fear. Mummies are my specialty."

Tavros charges, and in the process steps onto a magical symbol and triggers it. He is wracked with pain, and as a consequence misses his attack on the mummy.

Destrian casts Shield of Faith, making himself even harder to hit. Also, he animates the vines that have grown throughout the room. Tavros manages not to be trapped, but the only way out of here is going to be to kill this guy.

Marshall moves into the room and is entangled by the vines. Alexej makes his way along the edges of the room, positioning himself close enough to attack. Leira drops a ball of cold on Destrian and Tavros (who is immune) and does the mummy some damage.

The mummy casts Silence over by the door, to block off Leira and Marshall's spellcasting, but fails against Marshall. Then he reanimates the vines, entangling Tavros.

Marshall hits him with Searing Light; Alexej trips Destrian but fails to damage him. Leira sends her familiar, a talking seagull, into the room in her place. The seagull moves out of the range of the Silence and speaks her magic words for her.

Destrian dies.

Alexej and Tavros search the body:
Cloak of Resistance +2
Ring of energy resistance (fire)(minor) (+2)
Magical half-plate armor that we'll sell for gold.

Tavros casts Detect Evil on the sword on the altar, and immediately passes out. The sword is very, VERY evil.

Marshall makes his way over the sarcophagi and around the pentacle; then Marshall put his hand on the hilt. There's a whispering just outside his hearing, as the overwhelming evil of the sword tries to take him over.

He drops it, but there's still a voice in his head. He wraps his hand in cloth, and tries to pick it up without touching it. The sword is clearly still talking to him, because he's shouting answers back into the pommel (which he's holding like it's a microphone).

Tavros stirs, sits up, and says: "WHY THE HELL ARE YOU HOLDING THAT THING? ARE YOU TALKING TO IT?"

There's a switch by the door; Alexej throws it at Marshal's instruction. The sword wants us to kill Old Man Kaz, who is actually the demon Marduk.

We're... basically okay with this, but Tavros really wants Marshall to put the sword in the bag of holding first. Marshall wraps the sword up in a blanket and ties it across his back.

We take a quick show of hands, and decide that yes: we're going to kill Marduk. Apparently the servants of Asmodeus are working against the Dark Lord.

The sword continues talking to Marshall as we make ready, warning him that Marduk can teleport at will and that we probably don't have time to rest before we fight him. The sword is also trying to convince Marshall that he should wield the sword against Marduk.

Marshall cast Align Weapon (Good) on our weapons, and we teleport back to Old Man Kaz. He's been pacing the room, and we teleport in basically on top of him.

Marshall uses a Quickened Divine Favor, and slashes at the "old man" with his twin-bladed scythe ("the fangs of Artem-hiss"). Alexej and Tavros move to flank; Leira sensibly turns invisible.

Old Man Kaz reverts to his demon form, swelling into a large monster; we're all knocked away. It follows up with Power Word Stun at Alexej, and stuns him. Leira casts Greater Heroism on Tavros, which mostly counters the pain he's in from stepping on that glyph.

Marshall slashes Marduk, and nearly takes his head off. The demon staggers back, and it is pissed. Tavros attacks, but misses; then Marduk attacks Leira, clawing her twice and biting her; he picks her up and says, "You stop now or she dies."

Leira promptly teleports to the far side of the room. The demon looks frustrated.

Marshall attacks again, missing; Tavros bounces his falchion off Marduk's knee, adding a bit more injury. Marduk reaches across the room and attacks Leira again, injuring her badly and grabbing her again; she's unconscious at this point.

Alexej comes out of his stun, rages, and attacks.

"Fool! Do you want your little girl to die?" He tries to intimidate Alexej.

Alexej hesitates, then attacks anyway but misses. Marshall attacks again and finishes Marduk.

While the sword is busy telling Marshall how useless the rest of us are, Tavros uses a wand of Cure Light Wounds on Leira, and we stagger back up to the surface. 

According to the servants, here's another party scheduled for tonight.

At the manor, the sword keeps whispering in Marshall's ear while we gather the servants. We explain the situation, tell them to split up the remaining gold, and then attend the party before crashing out and getting a full night's rest.

...And now the sword wants us to go to one of the northern cities, Styre, before we find the tower and depart. The sword wants us to teleport there.

After some discussion, we teleport to Styre -- Leira casts the spell. Sture is split by a river called the Grand Gulch. There's a bridge across it called the Skybridge, but with half the city on each side it's almost two different cities.

We take advantage of the opportunity to shop for supplies, because holy hell we need some. Alexej needs +3 Mithril Full Plate... or maybe +5 Mithril full plate. Marshall also needs better armor, and Tavros needs some additional options with different compositions and damage types. Considerable discussion of strategic options ensues.

The sword guides us across the skybridge, which is a market square of its own. The sword is trying to lead us to someone who has something that we need in order to get out of this place.

At this point, we will leave these characters and return to the elves. The elves will be level 14 at this point.

This is yet another Vecna manipulation, where we're almost certainly bringing back something that the god's followers will use to try to resurrect him -- and even if we get it back to the palace, it will never be well-protected enough to avoid being taken. But at this point, we're back to the Duendewood elves and their arrival at Renfall, which is going to be... interesting, given what we know they'll find there. 

Pro-tip: if you want to negotiate with elves, don't execute elves by hanging them off the ramparts so everyone can see them if they approach.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Duendewood vs. Solari: Memento Vitae

(FS557-06-24, so about two months after the Duendewood elves departed the Temple of Amun...)

Aesa set her plate on the table and lifted her fork, then set it back down. Across from her, Tarric frowned. "Are you ill?" 

She shrugged. "Upset stomach," she said. She reached for the pitcher of water, poured herself a cup, and sipped it. "I'll be fine as long as I eat slowly."

She'd managed three bites of the scrambled goose eggs and Tarric had nearly finished his entire plate when Anica sat down beside her. Anica took the pitcher and poured herself a cup of water, sipped at it, and then looked down at her plate with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. 

Tarric looked from one to the other and said, "Okay, I can see where Aesa might have a bit of an upset stomach from something she ate--" He looked at Aesa. "--though I'd assume you would cure yourself if you were really sick. But--" He looked back to Anica. "--you're a paladin. You shouldn't be able to get sick." 

Anica sat back and sighed. "I'm not sick. I just have an upset stomach."

Aesa said, "What?" She sounded puzzled. 

Before Anica could draw breath to respond, Tarric said, "Wait... Did you...?"

Anica nodded, and ran a hand through her hair. She needed to tie it back, but that could wait. 

Aesa was still frowning, puzzled. When Tarric turned to her and asked, "Both of you?" her expression changed to one of alarm:

"Both of us what?"

Anica looked at Tarric, who drew his head back and made a helpless gesture with his hands. "I should have kept my mouth shut," he said. "It's none of my business."

Aesa flushed, and then went pale. She turned to look at Anica. "So... wait. No. Wait. You and Ruin--" 

"After I tried to kill him, yes." 

"And you think we're both--"

"Showing the first symptoms, yes."

"That can't be right," said Aesa. "It can't be. It was an offering to Amun. Well, the first time was, anyway. Amun wouldn't do that to me." Then she frowned. "Corellon might, though." 

Tarric said, "Look, I'm in no position to criticize. It's not like I was sleeping alone either." 

Aesa said, "You weren't?" but Anica, quicker to make the connection, asked: "Martini?" 

Tarric nodded. "And before that, Geddy." He looked at their expressions. "What? He was charming, and handsome, and it wasn't like I was going to see him again." 

Aesa said, "Wait, so you slept with the bard and then you slept with the assassin?

Tarric shrugged. "Mother Mia introduced us, and I was showing her around, and one thing led to another..." He looked around, to make sure nobody was listening in. The Temple wouldn't censure any of them for any of this, but he didn't particularly want them to be part of the gossip, either. "So maybe she's staring at her breakfast with the same expression that you two had earlier," he continued. "Probably not. I don't know. I meant to see them off, but wound up sleeping away half the morning instead."

Anica nodded slowly, then turned to look at Aesa. "I really had no idea you two were..." 

"I didn't either," Aesa replied, thinking back. "And it was all very sudden and intense, and I really didn't give him a chance to object, or explain anything like that, and anyway..." She swallowed. "...we're probably never going to see him again." 

Anica nodded again at that. "Still friends?" 

Aesa smiled, then leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. "Still friends. Besides, if you're right, we're going to have siblings. Half-siblings, anyway. So we're going to have to raise them together, when we're not busy helping people or defeating the forces of evil."

Anica laughed, then turned to look at Tarric. "You realize you're going to have to help with this, right?" 

Tarric's eyes widened. "Me? With kids? Teaching them to... do whatever it is you teach kids to do?" He grinned. "Yes, I suppose I could do that... Uncle Tarric. I like the sound of that. 'Teach us how to hit each other with sticks, Uncle Tarric.' 'Tell us about how you defeated all those kobolds, Uncle Tarric.' 'Did you really rescue all those villagers, Uncle Tarric?' Why yes, little whatever-your-names-are, I'd be happy to tell you all about it."

"Oh, no," said Anica, "You just wait until Martini shows back up to hand off your kid. You won't even know what hit you." 

Tarric made a warding gesture, but he didn't stop smiling. "Amun forbid." 

Martini isn't my character, so it'll be totally up to her player to decide whether she might be pregnant or whether she would have taken steps to prevent it. I'm pretty sure she drugged Tarric so he couldn't see her off, and she probably only failed to rob him because he doesn't really own anything that would interest her.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Character Sketch: Julian Arden

Julian Arden was heir to the chivalrous House Brightblade until he and his brothers unlocked a forbidden door in the cellars beneath his family's house. Unexpectedly bound to a bloodthirsty magic dagger, he was suspected of fratricide and refused entry to Skywall Academy. He wound up at Sunhaven by process of elimination, and is now in his third year there. The dagger serves as his focus, and gives him access to some of its own unique abilities. He has recovered somewhat from the grief-stricken mess that was he was when he first arrived, but has stayed mostly apart from the social life of the school in favor of making his own quiet way. He was disinherited but not disowned, and remains estranged from his family. Instead, he remains on campus or visits with friends on holidays.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Writing Progress: Getting There, I think

So, I haven't made any visible progress on Shadow Academy. Last week was supposed to be the week when I'd regroup, re-evaluate my projects, assign some priorities, and generally just get my feet under me. Instead, well, work just fell on my head like an avalanche of snot. (It's a rare natural phenomenon, found only in the Eastern European nation of Mucosia.) I've spent most of the last couple of days trying to export data files on stored documents -- time-consuming, since some of these document types contain upwards of 65,000 documents -- and work on other projects in between, and listen in on training for a new set of applications that we're in the process of switching over to. 

Work, basically, has eaten my life. 

But I've been thinking about the story, and how it shapes itself from my opening scene, and what the vampire prince Dominic might say upon first meeting Darian, and how Darian might respond. It'll work, I think, and it'll carry the story forward, and as I bring in more characters we'll get some interesting groupings even before we get to the final arrival at the Sunhaven Academy of the Midnight Accord.

I've also had a few oblique thoughts about Remant and a book-length project set in the milieu that I've tentatively been calling A Remnant Of Heroes. But I'm not working on that one now; it was originally intended to be a series of shorts, somewhat like the Conan stories, to occupy me when I needed a break from other projects. Just take the character, throw him into something interesting, and see what he does. 

Only... he needs a longer story arc, and I'm not ready to focus on that right now. Not yet. Someday, time and attention permitting, but first I have to survive June.

Here's hoping your projects are going well, dear readers, and if you want to talk about them in the comments I'd be excited to hear from you.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Challenge: The Best Gift I Ever Received

For the last two years, I've been taking part in the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. The first link will take you to the list of topics; the second one goes to the homepage, where you can find a post with everyone's responses each week. Feel free to join in! 

The prompt for today is "the best gift I ever received," which is going to take some thinking even if I limit myself to physical gifts like birthday/Christmas presents and not metaphorical gifts like Becoming A Father.

...But after thinking about it a bit, I think I do have an answer. 

Back when my mother was still alive, she made sure that my brother and I always got at least one big present at Christmas. This continued well into our adulthood, though later on she would frequently just give us some extra cash to help take the strain off the end of the holiday season. And she was very good about checking with us to see what we actually wanted and/or needed. 

So, one year -- back during my sword-collecting days -- I asked for a kindjal. And she bought one for me. 

Now, I realize that this was probably not the most practical gift ever to grace my life; in fact, the impracticality of it was sort of the point. This was a gift requested -- and given -- for the sheer fun of owning such a thing. And it was a very elegant little blade, well-balanced and every bit as pretty as it looks. 

Unfortunately, when the boys came along I decided to pack the sword collection away, so I haven't gotten this one out in years; but someday -- someday, he repeats wistfully -- I'll be able to hang blades on the walls again, and this one can return to its place of pride.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Sol Povos: The Gate, The Blade, and Old Man Kaz

When we last left our intrepid adventurers, Marshall had destroyed the giant undead and we'd beaten down the three nasty things that kept stunning Tavros. We expend cure light wounds from some wands to get everybody back up to speed, then proceed to check out the area to the south.

Tavros uses his detect evil ability. There are three sarcophagi in the area to the south, but they do not radiate evil. To the north, the way we didn't go yet, there's something evil just at the edge of his senses.

Each sarcophagus has a statue in front of it, a person holding a brazier; Marshall checks for magic -- there is definitely something there. We get Leira to start lighting braziers for us, but separately or together they don't stay lit. The sarcophagi have Roman numerals on them, but going in numerical order doesn't help.

Based on their placement, the numbers, and like that, we assume that we need to get a fourth sarcophagus to appear. We try opening sarcophagus #1, but it's empty.

We continue to the south, finding a gate blocking a small, closet-sized area. Leira uses the wand of Knock, and Marshall pulls the gates open.

Some sort of darts come flying out to hit Tavros, Alexej, and Marshall. Leira cries out in sympathetic pain: "Whyyyyy?" It probably bears mentioning that she and Alexej are still very, very drunk.

Even knowing that there had to be something here, it takes a minor miracle to find the secret door. But, there's a passage on the far side of the door that leads to a pair of ladders. We decide to leave those for later, and re-close (but don't re-lock) the gates. We head north instead.

We open the gate on the far side, and see another of the giant undead beyond. Tavros moves first, charging in and cutting it badly, and it reaches out to grab Tavros by the throat and try to rend him. "Guys!" he chokes, "Might need some help here." 

Alexej moves up and attacks past him, injuring the giant thing with his guisarme; Marshall moves up and uses a Heal spell to all-but-kill the thing; Leira finishes it.

Tavros staggers back to his feet, gasping. "Of all... the gifts... the gods... give us... air is... second only... to sleep..." He staggers a couple of steps and stabs the thing again, just for good measure.

Marshall moves north, and Tavros follows him, moving to cover a side-passage. Four undead-demon-things immediately charge out of the corridor and try to death gaze us to death. Alexej moves up, putting himself in the death gaze as well. Fortunately, we all Death Warded ourselves before we came down here.

Marshall looks at these things and speaks a Holy Word. They are blinded and deafened. Leira drops a fireball in behind them, but these things are fire resistant.

Tavros takes a swing at the closest one, and hits it once; then they all move forward, groping blindly for meat. They try to grab Tavros and Alexej, but fail. Alexej steps back to reestablish his range, and then attacks and kills the one that was approaching him.

Marshall casts Undeath To Death. It costs us 500 GP in components, but it wipes out the remaining three.

We check the side-corridor, and find a corpse. Alexej grabs gems off the corpse -- just about enough to cover Marshall's last two spells. There's another statue with a brazier to the north; this one stays lit!

We light a second brazier on a second statue, then head down the last side-passage. There's a figure guarding the statue there: Tavros charges and hits it, though again it's resistant to damage. Tavros recognizes it from the old books: it's an entropic reaper. (The Elvish party fought one of these before, but these characters have not.)

It attacks Tavros, but misses; then Alexej moves up behind him and attacks it as well. Marshall, recognizing it as something extraplanar, tries for Dismissal. The monster has spell resistance, and manages to shake off the spell.

Leira attempts to cast a Frost Sphere on it, but doesn't get through its spell resistance. Tavros carves it up a bit more, though it's both resistant to damage and regenerating. Marshall drops a Mass Cure Light Wounds, to heal us and damage the Entropic Reaper.

The monster continues regenerating, and attacks Tavros again but can't touch him.

Tavros and Alexej lay into the thing, carving chunks off it, and it goes down. Leira lights the third brazier.

We head back down to the set of three in the southern area. There's now a fourth statue and sarcophagus, but it won't stay lit for us. We head down the passage to the west, but find only a staircase leading up.

This leaves us with two choices: up the stairs, or down the ladders.

The new coffin has a roman numeral IV inscribed on it.

We stop to check the new statue, and Leira casts Greater Heroism on Alexej. So... we try the stairs up.

Tavros and Alexej come up in the middle of the hedge maze -- and find Katarina and Beatrix sitting there waiting for them. Beatrix moves over to Alexej and asks for another kiss.

So, Katarina is beautiful and Tavros is powerfully tempted, but he resists and then he hears slupring sounds and find that Alexej and Beatrix are embraced in a life-draining smooch.

This is exactly the point where Leira emerges from the stairwell; she takes in this scene and immediately recasts Greater Invisibility. Marshall followers her out; he's been saving something special for both of them: Banishment.

He doesn't get through Beatrix's spell resistance, but Katarina is not so strong; she is banished. (Tavros is relieved.)

Alexej, meanwhile, is still busily kissing the horrible life-draining monster that is Beatrix. Tavros reaches out and (using Grapple) rips Beatrix off of Alexej, who is grossly disappointed and still wants to be kissing her in spite of the fact that it's killing him.

He strikes out and trips Tavros with his guisarme, but utterly fails to hit him with the follow-up; Beatrix rolls off into the corner.

Leira drops a Freezing Sphere on Beatrix, and takes her out. There's now the corpse of a dead succubus in the corner, and Alexej's head is clear.

Alexej: "You need hand up, friend!"

Tavros: "Are you okay, my friend?"

We light the last brazier (in the garden, here) and head back down. There's a fourth coffin now, with accompanying sarcophagus; the sarcophagus has stairs down.

We decide to go back to the house and rest. We startle Tug on the way, but head back into the guest room. Alexej -- still under the influence of greater Heroism -- wanders over the table and pulls out the journal of Guslan the Uncatchable.

"Light reveals that which is hidden."

They came to see what was in the crypt; the rogue was deeply entranced by Katarina. He had trouble finding the Brazier. Also, he alerted his friends that the east wing was dangerous. Also also, he had tea with Katarina. And Guslan finally goes off to join Katarina in the hedge maze, and probably at this point his friends tried to intervene and everybody died.

Tavros takes first watch. Alexej takes second, and Marshall takes third; Leira just sleeps. Or at least that's the plan; at the end of the second watch there's a commotion outside and somebody knocks on the door.

Marshall opens the door: "May I help you?"

It's Ayleth: "Ah, good morning, sleepy heads! We do have breakfast with the master this morning."

Leira and Marshall head to the dining room; Alexej and Tavros go back to sleep.

Old man Kaz: "Have you seen my wife?"

Marshall: "Which one?"

Kaz: "Never mind. Have you seen Katarina!? I dearly hope she hasn't forsaken me."

Marshall: "Yeaaaahhhh about that. I just want to point out that we just did you a massive favor here. MASSIVE."

Leira: "Did you know your wife was a succubus? And Katarina was a succubus?" 

Marshall: "Both soul-devouring demons, my friend. You're better off without them."

Ayleth and Alice slip out of the room. Marshall considers, and decides that this is servants being discreet rather than some sort of deliberate complicity.

Kaz: "Never mind that, where's my daughter? Gail? GAIL???"

Marshall throws Restoration on him.

He's suddenly a lot less confused. Marshall starts filling him in again, with the succubi and everything else, and...

Leira: "Oooh, Katarina's dead! I could go back to her room and steal her smut!"

Alice returns with a very fancy breakfast. Kaz continues rambling, and Marshall just says reassuring things to him; it's not worth arguing.

The very fancy, very good breakfast takes about an hour.

While they're waiting for the others to wake up, Leira and Marshall decide to go toss Katarina's room. Lug is in the foyer polishing the columns; Leira asks him where Katarina's room is. He looks disturbed. "Not my business, ma'am."

She tries to convince him, but he doesn't want any part of this. Knowing where Alice, and Ayleth, and Beatrix's room are, Leira concludes that probably Katarina was just... sharing Kaz's room. She grabs a candle, turns invisible, and sets off for Beatrix's room.

Beatrix's room is weirdly separate. There are bones under the altar/table and not much else in there. She passes through the office, ignoring Ayleth, who in turn decides to ignore the randomly opening doors, and passes into the bedroom. There's an unused pallet, a much-used bed, and a tapestry depicting a great warrior holding a mighty sword as his troops pour over the hill behind him; the sword is very detailed, and there's a tower in the background. Someone with a knowledge of Fanaxian geography might be able to locate the area where this was set.

At the man's feet is a single dead body with an insignia: the symbol of the magiknights.

There's also a backpack, which clearly belonged to a rogue; it has a lot of basic equipment, and some bloodstains on the outside: "A backpack contains Gussalen’s possessions: Lockpicks, a hand crossbow, a sap, some caltrops, ingredients for making smoke powder, 6 torches, several tinderboxes, multiple candles, and some oil."

She finds and open a large chest, containing three thousand gold; there's also a tapestry, depicting a figure in the center with his hands on the chopping block. In the background is a sobbing young boy, a stoic evil-faced man, and the warrior from the tapestries -- Kaz, who is struggling to get to the sword. Next to the warrior, resting a hand on the warrior's shoulder and evidently praying, is a priestly figure in back robes; he is holding up a holy symbol that she recognizes as the Eye of Vecna. A prominent figure is preparing to cut off a hand from the obscured figure of the dark one.

Tavros and Alexej wake up to a platter of very fancy food, and immediately stuff themselves. Once they've had a chance to make their ablutions, we head to the cemetery.

Lug is following us; he warns us to be careful and then walks away. Tavros resolves to hand him some gold if we survive this.

We return to the crypt, then head down the newly-revealed staircase: Tavros first, then Alexj, Leira, and Marshall.

The stones here are very old. We follow the passage down, and find Old Man Kaz standing with the remains of the last group of dead adventurers behind him. "Ah, good. So few adventurers even make it down here, and I could use the help."

Tavros: "So what do you need help with?"

Kaz: "You could help me turn my fortunes, and I would gladly split the spoils with you."

Tavros: "What do you have in mind?"

Kaz: "My grandfather's sword was brought back with Destrian's help, and taken through this door behind me. It is a very valuable sword, but everyone who tries to retrieve it dies in trying to pass through. The only clue is the glimpses of another world we have seen in these two globes beside the door."

We enter the room. There are two statues here: one to indicate Kaz: a powerful warrior holding a mighty sword. The second statue is pointing with its right hand to the statue of Kaz, but this one is worn down and almost featureless.

Tavros Detects Evil, on both the statues and Old Man Kaz. (Marshall, as usual, steps out of the way.) Tavros tries to keep a neutral face, and apparently Kaz doesn't notice when Tavros detects overwhelming evil from him. The northern orb shows the top edge of Mar Dentro, where the eye of Vecna was; the other one shows the area of Titan's Reach, where the Hand of Vecna is supposedly resting. 

Old Man Kaz: "I fear the priest sealed the door against anyone of this world, or perhaps until the time was right."

Tavros, half reluctant and half fascinated: "It is true that if you have sought for adventurers from outside this world, you have found some."

The treasures upstairs, which we grabbed before heading down here:
Divine Scroll (Animal Growth (1125 gp), Summon Nature's Ally V (1125 gp), True Seeing (1375 gp), Mass Cat's Grace (1650 gp), Move Earth (1650 gp)) (total 6925 gp)
Lots of money.
Manual of Bodily Health (+3) (82500 gp) (design provides clue to function)
Staff of Life (14 of 50 charges) (43610 gp)

Tavros feels he is strong enough and has no need of the Manual; Alexej could certainly use it, but Marshall has also recently lost some of his constitution and the improvement would restore what he lost. We table that conversation for later.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Duendewood vs. Solari: The Many Ways of Worship

"So," said Ruin, "You're telling me that... Grandfather... asks for sex as a sacrament." He couldn't believe he was having this conversation with someone who looked like a young human girl, but there was nobody else in Midgard he could have it with.

Eva shook her head. "Not exactly. Understand that we don't worship him the way you do--" 

Ruin nodded fervently. Eva and her sister Rita were dragons, descended -- it seemed -- from Amun Himself.

"--but as I understand it, what you and Aesa did in the chapel wasn't anything like his regular worship. It's accepted as sort of special offering, like a sacrifice. A very old way of making an offering." 

"Ah," said Ruin. "That... makes more sense." 

Eva smiled at him. "You needn't worry, you know. He's pleased with you." 

Ruin's eyes widened. "You're saying He... knows who I am?" 

"He knows who everybody is, silly." Eva grinned as if Ruin had been making a joke. "You just have a little more of his attention than most." She tilted her head and looked off into the distance, considering that. "Not as much as Aesa, though. But then, you're not a priest." 

"...And Corellon?" 

Eva shrugged. "We're not close family. He doesn't talk to me. But it did kind of sound like he was paying attention to you. And he does have a sense of humor."

"Well," said Ruin, and then stopped to consider whether this made any difference at all before concluding that as far as he was concerned, it couldn't. "As long as they aren't angry with me, I suppose." 

"Oh, no!" said Eva. "They're very pleased." 

"Wait," said Ruin. "How pleased?"

Eva shrugged. "Very." She smiled, looking perfectly innocent and not at all ominous; she seemed genuinely happy that her grandfather liked her traveling companions.

Ruin nodded slowly and then very deliberately turned his mind to something besides the gods.  His blade, for instance. Geddy's singing, maybe. Azrael, and his half-mumbled attempts to compose poetry. The way Martini managed to seem absolutely focused on the knife in her hand as she ran her thumb down the edge of the blade. The gentle swaying of the wagon as they moved down the road towards Renfall. 

Anything, really.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Sol Povos: Old Man Kaz and The Demons, live in concert

Note to self: I should really go back and edit these before I post them, because there's some weird syntax that creeps in when I'm roleplaying and taking notes...

Leira and Tavros are on their way to join the party. As we pass the front of the house, we notice a lit window; naturally Leira and Tavros stop to stare in. Leira makes us invisible and we look.

It's a mess; lots of clothing, especially dresses, scattered around. There are three well-worn but bound texts lying on the table.

Leira proceeds to them. The first is about a beautiful servant girl who is taken from her life of drudgery by a handsome noble who sweeps her away and debauches her thoroughly. The other two texts are similar: beautiful girl is swept away by rich, dashing noble; smut ensues.

Leira regretfully decides not to steal any of them, and searches the room instead. There really isn't anything in here; it's probably Alice's room. Leira stops to listen, then jumps back out the window.

At Leira's suggestion, Tavros tears off a tree branch and throws it at the window. It smashes the shutters open, revealin Beatrix -- Kaz's wife -- hunched over a chunk of meat which she's chewing on. She gestures and mutters something in a way that's clearly casting a spell. Then she spends a few second looking around, and seems to focus on us. Then she reaches out and touches Tavros. She tries to do something -- possibly teleport, but Tavros tears loose from the effect and we flee (still invisible) into the party.

Our arrival results in pants-wetting terror for Tug, but Marshall manages to calm him down and Lug takes him off to put him to bed.

Marshall starts looking around for anybody with a key ring. Alice has one that seems to have a bunch of keys on it; Brom and Joseph each have a single key.

Brom comes and sits beside Tavros, and confirms that Brom thinks Katarina is a golddigger, and neither she nor Beatrix eat much of the ordinary food. Tavros keeps speculations about hag covens to himself.

Joseph and Alice are getting closer to hooking up.

Leira goes ahead and has a drink. Alexej: "In my land, is bad luck to pour your own drink." He pours her some shots.

She's very excited, and starts trying to convince Alexej to go shot for shot with her. Alexej, unfortunately, has switched to beer.

Joseph and Alice are pretty much wrapped up in each other at this point. Brom rolls his eyes. "Those two. They're indefatiguable."

Brom, meanwhile, tries to switch Alexej's beer for more liquor.. but Alexej notices and reclaims his beer. "Now, you must do the shot!"

Leira and Brom both drink a toast with Alexej, "To sausage!" Brom has some that he made himself, and he and Alexej head out to eat sausage. Josef and Alice head out the door.

Marshall: "So I think we have an in if we can get ahold of that keychain of hers."

Tavros looks at him: "AM I the only one sober here?"

Marshall: "No, I am also."

Tavros is strangely reassured.

Brom is disappointed in Josef; he knows he's no good for Alice. He wishes Ayleth would buy better materials, but admits that the house would fall apart without her. Still, he's saving up to help Josef open his restaurant someday.

Brom: "Problem is, Alice and Joseph are the only two young ones here, and they can't keep their hands off each other."

He leads Alexej into the kitchen, and cuts some sausages for Alexej.

Alexej: "Tell me what kind of sausage this is!"

Brom: "Boar, but with fancy seasonings."

Alexej: "I think you should make sausage restaurant!"

Brom: "Naw, I like it here."

Alexej: "Is it hard to focus on food with all the action happening around here?"

Brom: "It is kind of strange. You're the first visitors we've had in about a month."

Alexej: "We found book in room, would like to return it. Do you know what happened to them?"

Brom: "No, but if it's the rogue's diary I'll bet it's pretty spicy. Just mind your business and stay out of trouble, it'll all work out."

The door to the kitchen opens and Ayleth comes in. "Are they at it again?"

Brom: "What can I say? They get drunk and they do their thing."

Ayleth shakes her head and leaves again.

Meanwhile, Leira and Tavros and Marshall; Leira has decided that the thing to do is dance on the table. Tug looks out from the back door and he just... stares... at her. He closes the door again.

Marshall and Tavros consider strategies. Tavros tries to convince Leira to drink a glass of water by telling her it's unflavored beer.

After a few minutes, we head back towards the house. Leira can hear suspicious thumping sounds through the open window up ahead. Leira is learning many important things about adult life. When she recovers, she makes Marshall invisible. He casts Silence on himself, and peeks in the window to locate the ring of key (not a euphemism). He goes into the house and looks under the door. His silence effect is now muffling them, so he tries to scoop the keys out from under the door.

Marshall asks Leira to use Mage Hand; then he returns to the door. Leira makes herself invisible and positions herself at the window; when they go silent, she Mage Hands the keys over to Marshall.

We go inside (eventually) and Marshall starts trying keys on the game room door; when he finds one that fits, he moves on. Tavros has kept an arm on Marshall and follows him around the house to the door to the demon sauna.

Alexej stumbles out of the kitchen, relieves himself on one of the columns in the foyer, and then follows the sound of Leira's singing since she's invisible. He wanders into the dining room by mistake, stumbles around, and then heads towards the guest room and runs into Invisible Leira.

Alexej: "I must go to sleep, I hurt." He continues on, and runs into Marshall and Tavros; Tavros taps Marshall on the shoulder, and then steers Alexej back to the guest room and puts him to bed.

Tavros returns to Marshall, and they climb out a window to avoid detection. Interestingly, there's a light coming from one of the windows, and Tavros and Marshall go over there to look into a very well-appointed room. They then slip into the kitchen, and consider whether to start murdering now with the element of surprise, or wait for our friends to sober up and start murdering as a team.

Beatrix, meanwhile, has crept into the guest room and awakened Alexej, suggesting that he was sneaking around; then she suggests that he kiss her, and he does; and again...
He's getting negative levels from this.

Leira, meanwhile, is passed out on the bunk overhead.

Beatrix kisses him one last time. He finally manages to shake of her evil charms, and she disappears; leaving Alexej with four negative levels.

Tavros and Marshall decide to smite evil. We head for Beatrix's room. Ayleth interrupts us, but we let her go back to sleep and find a key that lets us in.

Marshall steps inside and consecrates the room. Then we search it.

The stone table has human bones in a crevice under the cover. Under the bed we find...
700 GP
Scroll of hypnotism 25 GP.
Wand of Magic Missile, 30 charges, level 1

We leave and close the door behind us, deciding to head for the east wing and start trimming down the number of evil outsiders around. We start going through the keys looking for one that will get us into the Game Room.

"Who goes there?" asks a voice. "You need an invitation to enter the game room." Tavros seriously considers kicking the door in, but Marshall unlocks the door. We have interrupted a bunch of clearly-inhuman *things* playing poker.

"I'm sorry," says Marshall, "we forgot our invitation, but here..." He casts Banishment.

One demon vanishes in the process of trying to scrape his money off the table; two others disappear it. The fourth one remains.

"Ne-Jung means no harm! Don't banish Ne-jung back to the castle. "

Marshall: "So, friend, tell us what we need to know and I won't send you back to the castle. And these winnings? As far as I'm concerned, they're yours."

Ne-Jung explains that Kaz doesn't know they're here, though his father did. ...But, he's lying. Okay, he tries to tell us about wine in the servants' shack. We don't care.

The master and katarina are not their rooms. This time, he isn't lying... but he doesn't know where they are. Master Kaz lets them stay here. Beatrix, however, is "very nasty". What are the things in the sauna? Dretches. They're very dumb.

How is Ne-Jung planning to get back home? "To the abyss? Noone can travel between planes from here. I came from the castle."

Tavros: "Is Katarina human?"

Ne-Jung: "I get in big trouble if I answer that."

Tavros: "Good to know."

Ne-Jung: "So, a secret instead. The secret is in the fourth coffin."

We cross to the guest room. Alexej is lying on the bed, and he looks terrible. Not only is his skin turning black, but he's got lipstick all over his face.

Marshall moves to check him out.

Alexej: "I need you to find me hair of dog. I dream of woman kissing me, and I feel terrible."

Marshall casts Restoration, restoring him to health.

We catch everybody up on the current situation, and Marshall puts his armor back on. Marshall casts Light on his shield, and we Death Ward ourselves, and then we head out for the cemetary. We've given up on subtlety; Alexej and Leira are still drunk, and Leira is singing.

The cemetery is fairly dilapidated, and also unhallowed. (Formally. By magic.) With Tavros leading the way, we are unafraid. There are a lot of graves here, but they seem to servants and coattail relatives. There's a stone sarcophagus at the far end; this one is unmarked, and a bit cleaner than it should be. It looks as if it's been opened recently.

With a bit of effort, we get the lid off; there's a staircase leading down into a spooky crypt. We are, at least, out of the rain at last. There are shrines down here, and it looks like we've found the main family. Ahead, the passage opens up with stone pillars with wrought-iron fences between them; there's a gate to the north and another to the south.

Marshall alerts us to critters to both the north and the south; he moves up to flank Tavros.

Slightly ahead, a creature slams itself against the fence and snarls at us; another hits the fence farther down, and a third hits the south gate, which give a little.

Alexej moves forward and Tavros moves up with him, observing several large undead (or possibly flesh golems of some sort -- whatever they are, they are no simple zombies) to both the north and the south. Marshall moves up with them, and Turns Undead. Leira turns invisible.

The creatures are undeterred. The one in the middle throws itself at the gate, and nearly breaks through;  Alexej and Tavros move forward to block the gate. Leira moves up a bit, sees the horrible undead beasties, panics, and drops a fireball behind the fence.

It catches two of them in a massive burst of flames, but they're not nearly as damaged as we might hope.

Marshall once again attempts to turn, but his faith is not strong enough for this. The one in front of the gate bursts through, and Tavros and Marshall cut at them as they come through. Two of them pound on Tavros, damaging him and leaving him dazed.

Alexej steps back and trips one of them, then slashes it a lot. It does *not* finish him, but he's damaged.

Tavros is dazed, and the giant undead from the north side wanders closer. Leira drops a Sphere of Cold on Tavros, which he's immune to; unfortunately, these undead are too.

Marshall tries to turn them again, and again fails.

The undead continue their attack, but only one of them hits Tavros this time. Still, he's stunned again; he's basically their punching bag until these things are destroyed.

Alexej trips another one and slashes it up with his guisarme.

The giant thing from the north reaches over the gate and grabs Alexej from behind, pulling him back against the gate.

Leira unleashes some scorching rays, and finishes one of the undead that are pounding on Tavros.

Marshall is fed up with all this, and casts Mass Cure Light Wounds. Which, at Marshall's cleric level, as actually fairly devastating -- plus it heals us while damaging the undead.

The undead attack Tavros again, but only one of them hits him; unfortunately, that's enough to daze him.

Alexej tries to escape his grapple and fails; the horrible giant undead starts crushing his throat. Leira tries more scorching rays, but misses.

Marshall steps over to the thing that's crushing Alexej's throat, and casts Heal on it. It doesn't kill the thing -- it can't -- but it does a huge amount of damage.

The undead attack Tavros again, damaging and dazing him; Alexej pries the fingers back from his throat. Leira lets loose with a burst of Scorching Rays, and this time manages a sort of drunken hyper-focus: she finishes the big one, and adds more damage to the other two.

Marshall steps back and uses a quickened Divine Favor, then tags the lesser undead with his silvered elfbane scythe.

The remaining undead misses Tavros, and Alexej tries to trip it but fails. Tavros, finally able to move, reaches over and lays on hands for everything he's worth, essentially healing the undead thing to injure it; Leira follows up with Scorching Ray, damaging it further. Marshall moves in and attacks it with his scythe, hitting it twice.

It tries to attack Tavros, but misses; Alexej slashes with his guisarme, and finishes it.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Duendewood vs. Solari: Departures

"It has been our great honor to stay with you here," Geddy was saying, when Ruin staggered out of the monastery and over to the wagon. 

The woman who stood facing the gnome was human, willowy but imposing, with dark skin and salt-and-pepper hair. A handful of other robed figures stood behind her, but none of them spoke and all seemed to have their attention focused on the gnomish bard. The tall woman, who had to be the Abbess, replied: "It has been a great pleasure to meet with emissaries of Mythrandril, and I pray that your efforts will help end the war and reconcile our peoples." 

"This is our hope as well..." Geddy was saying, when Martini caught Ruin's arm and helped him sling his pack into the luggage bay of their wagon. 

"What is wrong with you?" she whispered, as Ruin leaned on the back panel and resisted the urge to toss himself in with the luggage. 

"Tired," he whispered back. "Haven't slept in two days. It's been busy."

Martini looked around suspiciously. "You haven't gotten us in trouble, have you? I stole Lilly's diary again, and it said something about a... girlfriend?" 

Ruin looked around, but the only people nearby seemed to be the abbess and her attendants, and none of them were looking at him. "He has no idea," Ruin said, "and don't tell him. If anyone comes looking for me before we're away, tell them I'm dead." He paused, and then added: "Of exhaustion." 

Martini turned her head, looking speculative. "Oh, really?" 

"Really," said Ruin, and stepped up into the carriage before stretching himself out to die. Or sleep. Or whatever caught him in between. It was a horribly un-Elvish thing to do, whatever it was, but at this point he didn't care. As long as they all got on their way and nobody else wanted him... Yes. Please. Corellon, Amun, any other deities who might want to throw people at me... I beg you: mercy. Let me be. At least give me a day or two to recover.

Eva settled in beside him and handed him a water bottle. "So I've been talking to Rita," she said, and Ruin nodded out of reflex and took a long drink of water.

"She's back in the forest, and she isn't planning to leave again. But she talks to grandfather too sometimes, and she's wondering about maybe trying out this people-thing that you keep doing, if we ever pass that way again..."

Ruin groaned, and pulled his cloak over to cover his face, and stayed still until the carriage started moving at last.

So here's one of those fun facts: when I originally conceptualized Ruin, he was very different from the way he's worked out in play. He was Nameless, for one thing, refusing to answer to his childhood name but not yet ready to choose an adult name, as elves usually do upon reaching maturity. He was a barbarian, but one who dressed in nothing but fancy clothes -- Conan with the fashion sense of Prince. "Ruin" was going to be an appellation of convenience, reflecting his current mood and outlook; he would use others, including Regret, Triumph, and Caution, and expect people to ask how he wanted to be called at any given time. That part hasn't worked out the way he'd expected; people have just taken Ruin and essentially made it his name. 

But the big thing about Ruin that I'd thought out in creating him but never managed to bring into play was that as a child of the Rebirth, the first generation of True Elves born after the emergence of the Hierophant An'Drow, he would be an absolute man-slut -- convinced that increasing the number of elves in the world was a moral imperative and willing to sleep with essentially anyone to achieve that end. But that never came up in the game, and his prejudice against humans blocked off a couple of situations where maybe he could have acted on it. So, I never had him act on it. 

I don't know where he's going or where he's likely to end up, romantically speaking. And Ruin-in-actual-play is a lot more restrained and conflicted than what I originally conceived, at least when it comes to relationships. But this is, maybe, a glimpse of what he could have been all along. 

Now I just have to decide what to do with Werendril...

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Music: No Diggity

 I haven't thrown up any Postmodern Jukebox in a while so here: 

My plan to settle in and get organized yesterday did not entirely succeed, since I immediately ran into a couple of new issues and now I have to put those fires out before I can get back to what I was planning to work on. The Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge, which I'd ordinarily do today, is asking about my favorite book (I can't choose one) and how I'd cast it for a movie (I have no idea - I basically don't have opinions about actors). Hence, well, you get music. 

...Possibly as a tribute to my complete lack of diggity this week. What is the optimal amount of diggity for someone to have, I wonder?

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Catching up and strength

I've been reflecting recently that for all the time I spend complaining about the holiday season and how stressful October-November-December can be, it's actually May -- and particularly the second half of May -- when things actually fall apart. 

It's not that I never noticed it before, it's just that I finally started looking back and thinking, Wow, that really has been a years-long pattern, hasn't it? ...Probably because this year it's been particularly acute. We've had a death in the family; my allergies are acting up and my sinuses are freaking out; the boys had their STAAR tests -- in person, at their schools, which completely threw off our usual morning pattern for a week; we've had so much rain that it's causing problems with our house; then we had the funeral, with all the attendant logistics of family in town; and now the boys are finally out of school.

Not all of that is wholly unpleasant, obviously, but taken together it's been a lot. We're exhausted -- Beautiful Wife, me, and the boys alike. 

But now we've finished Memorial Day Weekend and reached the month of June. Personally, I've bottomed out. I stopped reading a book right in the middle of it, not because it wasn't good -- it was excellent -- but because I just didn't have the energy to process it. I turned back to an old favorite and started re-reading that instead, and even then it's been slow going. I'd been working my way through the new collection of Wolfenstein games, but stopped about a third of the way through New Colossus and tried something simpler... and then dropped that and went back and replayed one that I know so well I could practically play it in my sleep. 

Writing progress? Well... not completely hopeless. I signed up for a writing class in the hopes of keeping my brain focused on the Shadow Academy project, and I've been dropping little character sketches here on the Blog o' Doom to much the same purpose, and it actually seems to have worked: I haven't made any real progress since the beginning of May, but I don't feel like I've lost my way with the thing completely, either. I have done a fair amount of fiction about my D&D characters here on the blog, but I blame my DM for that.

Work is in a similar condition: I have, at this point, only the vaguest idea of what I've been working on and what I need to be working on. Fortunately, I keep a checklist of work projects (on paper, for the sheer visceral joy of crossing them off when I get something done) and looking over it I see that I've actually finished some things that I hadn't marked off yet; that's a nice feeling. Also, I've spent the last several months alternating between working from home (Monday - Wednesday) and coming into the office (Thursday & Friday), which has been absolute hell on my sense of routine; with the boys out of school, I can go back to working in my tiny little corner of the morgue server room and maybe reestablish some patterns. 

So today's going to be a day to stop and regroup: clear out my email, look over my projects, clean up my desk, and just generally try to get myself grounded again so that I'm ready to move ahead with all the things I need to do. 

But not until after I finish my tea.

Also, and apropos of absolutely nothing, I have this song stuck in my head:

Monday, May 31, 2021

Duendewood vs. Solari: Intruders

"Ahhh..." Ruin paused in his doorway, leaning against the frame. This is not going the way I expected...

After the episode in the chapel, Aesa had dragged him back to her cell -- explaining along the way that she wasn't done with him yet. They'd paused to grab some food from the kitchens, and then Ruin had found out that no, she really wasn't done with him. Not for some hours yet.

The half-elf priestess had been sound asleep when Ruin finally forced himself to get up, dress, and make his way back. With any luck, he might be able to trance until his friends were ready to leave with the cart in the morning. Only... someone was in his bed. Or at least, someone was in this bed, which he was pretty sure was the one that had been assigned to him. 

Anica sat up, rubbing her eyes, and asked: "Ruin?" 

She was human, and a paladin; she couldn't see in the dark like he could, but clearly opening the door had been enough to wake her. "Yes, it's me. All is well. Go back to sleep." 

She cast the blankets aside and stood up, then put her hand on the wall and felt her way forward. "Not what I'm here for." 

He touched her arm, drew her into an embrace. "You're exhausted. Sleep." 

She shook her head, then brought a hand up to his cheek and leaned down to kiss him. "No, this is my last chance before you leave in the morning. That's why I was waiting here."

Ruin looked up at the ceiling. Really, Amun?

The steady drumming of the rain outside the window was broken by an extended flash of lightning, followed by a rumble of thunder that sounded, once again, like laughter. 

Son of a bitch, Ruin thought, half awed and half annoyed, and guided Anica back to the bed. "Here. Sit. It's fine. I'm glad to see you again." That part was both untrue and very true. "You're sure you don't just want to sleep?" 

"Slept already," she said. "I'm sure." 

"Well then," he said, and drew off his shirt; he didn't need to do the same for her, since she was already naked. 

She reached over, pressed her lips to his neck. "Glad we're not enemies," she murmured, as she kissed her way up towards his ear. 

"I, as well," admitted Ruin, and ran his fingers through her hair. "I find I rather like it here."

She drew back for a brief moment. "I don't suppose you'd consider staying?" 

Ruin shook his head, though Anica wouldn't be able to see that in the dark. "No... but I'd consider coming back, if our peoples ever stop fighting."

Anica chuckled, and he smiled. "Then that will have to do," she said, and reached for him again.

Tavros is going to kill me, Ruin thought, as he put his arms around her. He wasn't sure if it was true; it was one of those vagaries brought on by exhaustion. At least I can tell him that Amun approved, maybe... And just about then, thinking once more gave way to more important things.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Duendewood vs. Solari: Triumphs

Ruin was sparring with Akkora when Aesa finally returned. 

At first he didn't notice; fighting the half-orc armsmistress took all his attention. She was easily as strong as he was, and every bit as skilled; speed was the only edge he had. And she fought like he did: all nerve and instinct and controlled fury, fast and aggressive. It was only after they'd stopped and were toweling off -- and that because he'd eventually worn her down by dodging nearly everything she threw at him -- that Akkora grunted and gestured with her chin: "Battle priest."

Ruin looked, and saw Aesa sparring with a lean human who was probably a paladin. Ruin didn't recognize him, but the look of surprise on his face was unmistakable, even from across the yard. He wasn't losing, exactly, but he obviously hadn't expected Aesa to fight him to a standstill, which she clearly had. 

They were fighting with blunted steel weapons, instead of the wooden ones used for beginners: he with longsword and shield, and she with shield and scimitar. 

"Was that your idea?" asked a voice at his elbow, and Ruin looked down to see Eva, the child they'd rescued from the priests of Vecna and brought with them to the temple, standing beside him. 

She looked human, as long as you didn't pay too much attention to the disconcertingly golden glints in her tawny eyes: round-faced and blond-haired and sweet, her expression was one of innocent inquiry as she looked up at him. 

Ruin said, "Was what my idea?" just as Akkora asked: "Who is this?" 

"Oh, I'm Eva," said the girl, holding out her hand. 

Akkora reached out, and Eva clasped her wrist; the half-orc looked surprised. "Good grip. I'm Akkora." 

Eva let her go and said, "I just wanted to know if it was Ruin's idea for the elf-ish girl to talk to Grandfather and his nephew." She looked back up at Ruin. "Grandfather approved."

"Grandfather?" Baffled, Ruin looked from Eva to Aesa and back again, just in time to see Eva shrug. 

"He's not really my grandfather," she admitted. "More like my grandfather's grandfather's grandfather. But he likes us to call him that. And it's so much easier to talk to him here -- they have a big, fancy room downstairs just for that." 

It took Ruin a long moment to digest that. It took him another long moment to believe it. He'd heard that dragons were descended from the gods, but... Finally he said, "And... Grandfather... approved?" 

"Yes!" Eva sounded excited. "Look at how well she's doing!" She was looking at Aesa now, and Aesa was definitely winning -- even if that was partly because the paladin couldn't seem to wrap his mind around the idea that he needed to be fighting harder to defeat her. "Grandfather approved, and the other one approved too." She glanced at Ruin. "Your grandfather." 

"My... grandfather... approved." Ruin shook his head in disbelief. Corellon Larethian, she has to be talking about Corellon Larethian. Well... thank you, Grandfather, if you helped with this. Thinblood or not, she's still one of ours. And you too, Amun, I guess. He'd told her to pray to the gods, and evidently they'd answered.  

He didn't know why he was surprised by that. The whole damned thing had been his idea. And it wasn't as if he'd never seen clerics call upon the powers of the gods, or even as if he'd never seen the gods answer. 

Maybe it was just that they'd never bothered to answer him. Maybe it was just that, after everything he'd been through, he didn't expect the gods to step in and actually be some fucking use. No divine power had strengthened his arm when he needed it most.

Aesa slid past her opponent's guard and tapped him three times: thigh, arm, and shoulder. Then she stepped back as he lowered his blade and held up a hand. Then they were talking, and the human stepped forward to press his palm to hers. Ruin found that he was smiling. 

Akkora tapped him hard on the shoulder. "You, Elf, are my friend."

He glanced up at her. "I'm glad." He didn't elaborate; he didn't have to. When he looked back, Aesa was halfway across the practice ground and coming directly towards him; her opponent was trailing along behind her. 

"Praise Amun," she said, when she was close enough to speak without shouting. "Did you see that? It worked! It worked!" She threw her arms around him and kissed him firmly on the mouth, then turned back to her opponent before Ruin could respond. Before he could even realize that he needed to respond somehow. 

Ruin caught a brief glimpse of Azrael, making his way along the walk at the far edge of the practice field. The young elf in the black robes was looking at them, mouth agape; then he straightened, rolled his eyes, and continued on. This is going to end up in his journal, Ruin thought absently. 

Eva was saying, "See? I told you Grandfather liked you," and Ruin managed to nod as though this was all perfectly good and normal and exactly what any medium-sized child would say. Akkora had taken a step back and was regarding them all, bemused; half-orcs weren't known for their wits, but she seemed more than sharp enough to decipher this. 

"Ruin, have you met Tarric?" 

Ruin shook his head. 

Aesa glanced between them and said, "Tarric, this is Ruin." 

The human looked him over once, then nodded. "Anica said you were good people. And I see you've met Akkora already." 

"Best match I've had in a while," Ruin admitted. 

Akkora sniffed. "Bah. I didn't get near you." 

"...And you have no idea how hard I worked to make sure that was the case," Ruin told her, and watched a brief smile quirk her lips. 

"Come on," said Aesa, and slipped her arm into Ruin's. "You need to-- I need to-- you haven't even seen the chapel yet!" 

He waved vaguely at the others and let her draw him away. Eva was saying something to Tarric that made him blink and draw back -- more surprised than alarmed, though -- and Akkora was grinning wide enough to show the near-tusks of her lower canines. 

"It really is like fire and ice," Aesa was saying, as she pulled him around the corner. "I'm going to get a scimitar of my own. Maybe a magic scimitar! Or maybe the gods will bless it for me." She stopped, pulled him around and kissed him again. "It's going to be amazing," she said, and started off again, pulling him along behind her. 

Ruin couldn't bring himself to resist; her enthusiasm was infectious. 

Ahead of them, Geddy stepped out of a side-passage. He saw Ruin, grinned, and drew breath to say something. Then he focused on Aesa and his eyes widened. He pursed his lips, swallowing whatever he'd been about to say and possibly a rich bit of laughter as well, and stepped back out of sight. By the time they reached the intersection, he was gone.  

Ruin didn't recognize this area; he hadn't walked these passages. Aesa pulled him along, to the top of a triple staircase: the widest bit, in the center, looked like a comfortable descent, but the stairs to his right were lower and closer together, sized for smaller feet, while those to his left were broad and deep. A god for all peoples, Ruin thought, and moved with Aesa down the stairs. 

The doorway at the bottom was wide and high, large enough -- he thought -- for a dragon to pass through. The wooden doors were bound with iron, but they stood open and projected a sense of invitation. The room beyond was...

Row upon row of wooden pews marched towards the front, where a rectangular stone altar stood in the beam of light from a long channel that had been carved out to the edge of the hillside and covered with stained glass. Even with the glass out of sight and its light spread across the altar, Ruin could recognize the motif: it was a book, blazing where its depiction fell. 

"What you told me felt right," Aesa said. "So I came down here, and I prayed, and they answered. They told me I could be what I wanted to be, that I would honor both of them." She turned and kissed him again. "Thank you." 

"Bide? A moment?" said Ruin, because he had the feeling that they were about to reach a point where he would be very uncomfortable to have the gods looking on. "This is the heart of the monastery, the chapel of Amun." 

Aesa nodded. "Can you feel Him? Or Corellon?"

Ruin shook his head. He didn't; he never had, and he wasn't sure he wanted to. "This is... not for me. For you, and I'm glad of it, but not for me." 

She smiled, still holding onto his arm. "But you did this. You brought me here." 

Ruin shook his head again. "That was your gods," he said. "It wasn't me." 

Her smile faded, but she kissed him again. "If you say so. But I got the idea from you, and it worked, and I know what I was meant to do now and you were part of that." 

Ruin straightened and looked around the chapel. It was buried deep in the hill, but even with the heavy clouds outside it seemed brightly lit. Whoever had carved the channels to the outer edge of the mountain-top had known what they were doing. "I hope you don't mind this," he called, to any gods that might be listening. "I hope you're getting whatever you want from me." 

Outside the monastery, thunder rumbled across the sky. Even through the stained-glass windows and the carved stone passages, it sounded dangerously like someone chuckling. 

Aesa said, "I'm not getting what I want from you. Not yet. Come on." 

She took his hand and pulled him around behind the altar, then kissed him again as she tugged his shirt up. 

"Here?" Ruin  looked around. "Are you sure this isn't blasphemy?" 

Aesa shook her head. "Not to Amun. To Amun, this is an offering." She grinned at him, looking slightly crazed but also more certain of herself than he'd ever seen her -- in, admittedly, the day-and-a-half of their acquaintance. "Think of it as the good kind of virgin sacrifice," she added, and tripped him onto his back on the stone. 

Then she was on top of him, and leaning down to kiss him again, and it was nerve and instinct that took over. Whatever sort of divine madness this was, he wasn't going to fight it. If there was a price, he would pay it later -- and willingly.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Challenge: My Fantasy Vacation

For the last two years, I've been taking part in the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. The first link will take you to the list of topics; the second one goes to the homepage, where you can find a post with everyone's responses each week. Feel free to join in! 

The prompt for today is "my fantasy vacation". So, well, all right...

I open my front door and I'm looking down my sidewalk to the street. The mailbox is relatively new, the lawn is covered in grass and very green after all the rain we've had, and the neighborhood is quiet. I close the door again, because none of that is very interesting.

Then I think about it for a while. All right, I'm not going on my own. So I help Beautiful Wife and the boys get all ready to go: comfy shoes, durable pants and shirts, a bit of equipment and a change of clothes just in case...

We open the front door again. 

The concrete sidewalk is gone, replaced by sparkling flagstones lined by a pair of hedges that close into an arch overhead. The light out here is dim and green, and fireflies flicker as they move back and forth. This definitely wasn't here before, but that's sort of the point, isn't it?

Everybody troops forward, and I lock the door behind us. 

We emerge from the end of the hedge-tunnel into a land of sparkling white, where snow gleams underfoot and our breath turns to smoke in the chilly air. Stately trees bear their decorations of frost, and the moon is barely visible through their branches. A young man in a leather jacket is leaning against a lamppost nearby, smoking a cigarette; I note that what appeared to be furry trousers are on second glance the goat-legs of a faun. 

He looks us over, eyes wide with surprise. "Sons of Adam? Daughter of Eve?" 

"Wrong turn," I say, and start herding the boys back the way we came. 

"Hang on!" calls the faun. "Our rentals are very affordable! And you can catch the lift up to this bitchin' Black Diamond slope if you hurry--!"

It's too late for him; we're back in the tunnel, only this time instead of the leaves and branches of hedges we have thirsty roots wound through rich, dark soil. The short passage back to our door is gone; this one winds and turns and seems to double back on itself. The floor still sparkles, though...

This time when we emerge, the path we were on has turned to gold in the morning light, and rolling green hills stretch away to either side. A pretty young woman in a wide -- and suspiciously clean -- dress of pink and white turns to face us, smiling brightly. 

"Oh, no," I say, when I spy the wand. "Not here, either." 

She looks puzzled. "But haven't you come to...?" 

"Flying monkeys give me hives," I tell her, truthfully. We turn our steps the other way, and this time Secondborn leads us off to the right. He's eleven, and impulsive, but we follow him anyway.  It's another tunnel, low enough that Firstborn and I both have to duck down, but it's neither dark nor dirty; the rounded, wood-paneled walls are clean and set with wide windows that look out from what is clearly a hillside. 

"Here we go," announces Secondborn, and leads us out through a circular wooden door. 

We're tall here, tall as none of us are in our own world, but the people we meet are friendly and only slightly suspicious of how we arrived here and why we might want to get to the Lonely Mountain. They give us directions to Rivendell, and a strong hint that we really ought to ask for advice from the elves there; we set off. 

As we're leaving the Shire, Firstborn turns to me. "So... wait. Are we going to slay a dragon?" 

I shake my head. "Not this time. You're not ready yet. Besides, dragons are an endangered species; we don't hunt them for sport. No, this is just a chance to travel culminating in the opportunity to steal a bit of dwarven treasure back from the dragon's hoard. What do you think?" 

"I don't know." He turns to look at his younger brother. "What do you think, Bro? Best vacation ever?" he asks. "Or just the best vacation ever?" 

Secondborn studies him suspiciously. "Um... yes?" Then he nods decisively. "Good thing I brought my Poké Balls."

Beautiful Wife puts a hand on her vorpal sword and grins at me, and off we go on my fantasy vacation.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Sol Povos: Old Man Kaz

Old man Kaz lives in a manasion a few miles west of fanax. It sits atop a hill, surrounded by tangled, leprous vine and old farmlands. The gravel hill leads up past a five-foot stone wall. The house is a single story, with a steep roof and many windows; the place is wooden, but well-cared for, and lit by lamps along the path. On the left is a smaller building, probably for servants. There is a family graveyard off to the right, filled with eerie red mist.

Ahead of us a short, stout guy with dirty blond hair; the other is tall and skinny with a spindly beard and no hair, and only sort barely properly dressed; he immediately starts waving.

"HAIL, GOOD FELLOWS!" Tavros is happy to see a friendly face.

Tug starts to come over but Lug grabs him and motions for him to get back to work.

Tavros: "Have we reached the house of Old Man Kaz?"

Lug: "Yes. Knock on the door."

The door is answered by an austere, Middle-aged lady who appears to be some sort of servant -- name Aelith. Running up behind her is a young, pretty blonde who is probably also a servant. She invites us inside: "Master Kaz welcomes all guests."

Marshall: "This is a mighty find place y'all have here, but goodness am I tired... and thirsty..."

Aelith: "Yes, please follow me."

We enter a dining hall. Old Man Kaz is at one end of the hall; another old woman named Beatrix scows as a very pretty young woman named Katarina welcomes us.

Marshall: "My friends have come with questions; but I, as wandering priest, could offer you my blessing in exchange for libations."

Master Kaz calls to Alice and asks if the harvest has come in.

Katarina stays here by the grace of Master Kaz; Beatrix is Kaz's wife. Katarina makes introductions; Tavros  introduces himself, and Katarina looks at Alexej. "Will you be staying for dinner?"

Alexej: "Of course."

Marshall: "I am Marshall Mercy, a travelin' priest. Perhaps I might bless your crops and offer some tidings for the harvest."

Kaz: "Oh yes, it's almost time for the harvest! I must speak to Mark. Does he have the crew ready for the harvest?"

Katarina: "Mark left years ago, master. The vines stopped when the rains began. But perhaps Mr. Mercy could lend a hand to our garden." She bats her eyes at him.

Leira says hello and then sits down.

Alice comes sweeping back in and starts passing wine around; another man comes in and starts setting appetizers around. "That's Joseph; he helps Brom in the kitchen."

The food is actually very fancy. Tavros digs in; it's as good as the food at the King's table.

Beatrix tells that Brom has been with the family for years; Beatrix sends Alice to the kitchen to extend our compliments to him.

Katarina: "So tell me: Marshall, you 're a priest. The rest of you?"

Tavros: "We have questions about history, before the rains began."

Kaz: "Where is Gale?"

Katarina: "Gale left years ago."

Kaz: "You should stay with us! Ayleth! Have rooms readied!"

Ayleth: "Of course!"

Tavros: "Lady Beatrix, we came to speak with Kaz; but it occurs to me that you may remember many of the same things that he does."

Beatrix, who is old and sports some sort of sores on her skin: "I remember FAR MORE than he ever does. Come and speak to me afgter dinner."

Marshall: "Lady, I see you have some  conditions. I could perhaps offer healing."

Beatrix: "Nice to have a *respectful* young man in the house."

Katarina: "So Alexej, clearly you're the brawn of this operation."

Beatrix is flattered by Marshall's attention. "Tell me, are *you* married?"

Marshall: "Vow of chastity, but I do keep an out for a Mrs. Hiss."

Joseph comes in with the next course.

Katarina turns to Leira: "You must be the daughter of one of these fine men."

Leira points at Tavros, the half-dragon: "Adopted!"

Beatrix: "So Marshall, do you have any family at home?"

Marshall: "The only family I have is here," and he pulls out one of his snakes. "I am a friend of nature."

Beatrix is a bit taken aback by this, but: "It's just that you're so handsome..." She touches his knee under the table. "You have any more snakes in there?"

Marshall: "You know as well as I do that a good snake charmer does not kiss and tell."

Kaz: "Well, I just want to welcome you as my guests. You'll stay the night, right? Come and join us for dinner."

Kaz asks after King Baldrik; apparently he was quite a fan. "My grandfather, of course, knew him very well. He was the High Commander of his army!"

Marshall: "Word is that someone is trying to get rid of all this rain."

Beatrix and Katarina both focus on that revelation. Ayleth tells us to see her in the foyer about our rooms.

Marshall: "Lady Beatrix, what is your role in this household."

Lady Beatrix: "I'm his wife!"

Marhsall: "Yes, but the lady of every house has her pursuits and her interests..."

Lady Beatrix: "Oh, I see. I am into a bit of gardening."

Marshall: "What sort of gardening? I once knew a woman who raised the most beautiful garden of the most poisonous plants..."

Lady Beatrix: "How terrifying. You might have seen the hedge maze out back; in the middle is a beautiful garden that I myself tend. If you find your way to the center, I will show you my flowers."

Marshall: "Shall I see you there tomorrow."

Tavros: "Katarina, may I ask your role in this household?"

Katarina: "I'm just a humble guest." She puts a hand on Kaz's arm. "It was love at first sight, though."

Tavros: "It's... so... good to see an old man so very well cared for."

Katarina rubs Kaz's arm, and Kaz gets this *grin*... Beatrix, meanwhile, is glaring daggers at both of them.

Kaz looks at Leira: "You're a pretty little girl. Why don't you talk to Joseph? He's a fine young man."

(Joseph *is* quite good-looking.)

Tavros: "I would have to think very hard before allowing my daughter to wed at such a young age."

Joseph and Alice return and begin sitting out the main course, a very fine pork dish with nuts. Katarina scoots closer to old man Kaz as the dinner winds down; Beatrix eventually gets up and leaves.

Tavros leans over to consult with Marshall, who will talk to Beatrix; Leira intends to visit the library. Tavros well, perforce, talk to old man Kaz.

Leira and Marshall speak to Ayleth, who offers to take them to their rooms. She leads them down the hallway. Marshall follows, and she shows them to a room with bunk beds.  There are some spider webs in the corners. She does advise against poking our noses around; apparently we shouldn't visit the east wing. "There are other visitors who Mr. Kaz wouldn't want to have disturbed."

Ayleth and Alice have rooms in the west wing; there might be snacks in the kitchen. Leira asks after the library, and Ayleth denies that such a thing exists. She does keep some ledgers, but nothing interesting...

Leira: "And what wing is that in, so I know not to got here?"

Ayleth: "Good question. That's in the west wing; please avoid it. The master suite is down the hall past Alice's and my rooms."

Alexej does some wandering and finds Alice, Joseph, and Brom in the kitchen. Joseph and Alice are planning a party in the shack; Alexej is in favor of this. The others are fine with this. Apparently the servants sing and dance when they're off work. Joseph's ready to invite all of us; Alexej is awkward but goes along with it. Also, there's a lot of leftover food in here; Alexej is prepared to eat it.

Brom is an advocate of styrian hens, from the north part of the island; ordinary chickens aren't nearly as good. Ayleth says many of the supplies are hard to get and too expensive.

Joseph is saving up for his own place. He wants to start a restaurant in Fanax.

Alexej wishes him good luck and great happiness. Joseph loads him up with a giant plate of food and turns him loose again. Alice offers to show him to his rooms, and Alexej accepts. She tells him about the mysterious other guests, but when he asks she says they're not really supposed to talk about them.

Meanwhile, Tavros draws Kaz out about his father. He's offended at the implication that the original Kaz was anything less than a loyal servant of the throne. He doesn't have any memory of the archmage or the war.

Kaz invites Tavros to look around anywhere; Katarina corrects that Tavros is welcome to look around the grounds. Tavros answers that he's more interested in memoires of the general. She indicates two tapestries.

Kaz: "Oh yeah, I almost forgot! My grandfather was the high commander; a close friend of the king. He often dined at Sandorn castle." ...That was the Archmagister/dark one's castle.

Kaz goes off on the battles. We hear about general Kaz's sword. The only thing left after he was gone. It was returned to his father's safekeeping. His father's grave is in the family graveyard.

We wind up at this point; Katarina leads old man kaz off to bed. They leave Tavros in the foyer, where he wanders around looking at art and whatnot.

Marshall, meanwhile, sets out to find Beatrix and runs into Tavros instead. Tavros brings him up to speed on what he learned from Kaz; then, before he does anything else, he uses his paladin Detect Evil ability to just scan the house.

In the Southwest quadrant, he senses Evil - a little ways down the hall, maybe the third door down. Southeast, he does not sense evil. To the Northeast, there's some evil off int he distance -- probably the graveyard. But also there are four evil auras, all stong, across from what turns out to be out guest room. North of that, there are four more moderate auras. He tries the northwest quadrant next, and sense two evil auras: one strong, and one overwhelming.

Ayleth *really* doesn't want us to look around; she would like us to "have a safe stay" instead.

Alexej, meanwhile, has alerted Leira and Marshall to the party, and has claimed a lower bunk to sit on and eat his plate of food. He flops down, and feels something digging into his back.

There's a book under sheets.

It looks like a spellbook. He tosses it to Leira; it's definitely a spellbook, but she's a sorceress and most of it is lost on her. Still, she's pretty sure that no wizard would willingly leave behind their spellbook. Alexej naps while he waits for his party.

Leira casts Invisibility and goes to the west wing. On the way, Tavros tells here about the Evils. Leira continues on, invisible. She stops to listen at a doorway... but after a couple of minutes, she doesn't hear anything. She tries the door...  it is not locked. She goes through it and comes into a little office. The main desk is covered with ledgers and books Leira starts looking through them. It looks like it's all Ayleth's work, and the overall accounting of his finances is down to 3,000 GP - which is low. Note: "If I can negotiate a bulk price on the oil, I can finally order those truffles that Brom wanted.

She searches the desk, finding little of interest; but the change in purchases indicates that Katarina arrived about two years ago. There's an old parchment on the back "Although my lord is shamed in his death by a false king, I know that his soul remains unblemished and whole." It's signed by Destrian, the personal priest of the general, and talks about bringing his sword back ("stained with the blood of Vecna") to be interred for all eternity.

She also overhears Katarina talking to Old Man Kaz in the north room.

Leira heads back to our room.

Marhsall is concerned by Tavros' warning; they're still talking when Brom and Joseph and Alice come out and invite us along. Marshall goes with them; Alexej follows.

The "shack" that is the servants' quarters is actually very well provisioned; the servants have been smuggling food and drink over her. Joseph is very excited to have people here; he fetches out the bagpipes and the drum. When the dancing starts, Tug comes out and starts dancing wildly; but nobody makes fun of him. Marshall thinks Tug is touched in the head.

Tavros and Leira, meanwhile, head around to explore the east wing. Tavros opens the door to something that appears to be a sauna for... demons. Or something.

Tavros: "Oh, excuse me. This isn't our room." He closes the door again, draws his sword, and backs away.

Marshall and Alexej areat the party, and Marshall keeps turning the wine into water and stays sober; Alexej witnesses this and starts trying to keep up by drinking the same amount of wine. Alexej finally figures out that Alice and Joseph are An Item.

Joseph is *really* smitten, and sits down next to Marshall to swoon over her a bit.

Marshall: "Are you courting this fine lady?"

Joseph: "She so wonderful. She could be with anybody -- she could marry someone with money."

Marshall gives him a pep talk, points out that he's going to start his own restaurant.

Joseph confirms that Kaz and his estate are sliding into insolvency.

Marshall: "You mind if I ask you about Katarina?"

Joseph: "Oh. She showed up a couple of years ago, with some traveling merchant."

Marshall: "Was that about the point when Kaz was starting to lose his wits."

Joseph: "Round about. Though she's not as faithful as you'd think. You saw her making eyes at Alexej, right? You should have seen her with Gusalin, about a month ago. She was leading him out into the garden and all over the place. I don't even know what happened to them; I think the four of them just left in the night or something."

Joseph also knows about "creepy creatures" in the east wing -- the same things Tavros just found.

Marshall: "I've never heard of anything like that, but it sounds terrifying. What about Ms. Beatrix's garden?"

Joseph: "The hedge maze? It's creepy. I went in a little ways, kind of went up the left side, and I found this statue and then centipedes starts pouring out of it. I ran all the way back out, and I swear they were chasing me."

Marshall calls out one of his snakes. "I don't usually worry about  bugs."

Joseph: "There were more of them than that one snake could eat, though."

Marshall: "Well in that case, I'll need to be-- erm, get a bigger snake."

There's not too much coming and going; every so often somebody will go into the back room, or step outside to take a leak. Marshall does so, and take a moment to look around outside... and look into the windows from the outside.

Alice, meanwhile, is sitting by Alexej: "It's so much fun to have guests. We haven't had guests in a while. Not since Gosalin, and that Salivar guy... Gosalin was head over heels for Katarina. And she was totally cheating on the master."

Alexej: "Was the master always so... coco-bananas?"

Alice: "I mean, maybe not always, but..." She looks around. "So, have you been talking to Joseph? Do you think he likes me?"

Alexej: "Yes. I think you jump on that bronco."

Alice tells Alexej a bit more about the previous adventurers; she thinks they just sort of disappeared one night, too. Does she know why those adventurers were here? No. On the way to see the lizard-men, she thinks. There isn't much of anything else in this area.


Monday, May 24, 2021

Duendewood vs Solari: Battle Priestess

"Try this," said Ruin, and handed Aesa a wooden practice scimitar. 

She took it, held it up, and frowned. "I like it, I like the feel of it, but I don't really know how to use it." 

Ruin nodded. "I know. It's not that different from my blade -- or that thing your friend Tavros uses -- but it's meant for one hand. You can grab it with both, though, if you need to. But you can also use it with a shield, and that's what I want you to look at."

"So..." Aesa looked around. "You're not angry about last night?" 

Ruin shook his head. "No. Anica apologized, and anyway that wasn't your fault." He did not want to be discussing that -- any of that -- with Aesa, but he forced himself to sound reassuring rather than impatient.

"Oh. Good."  She was still looking at the practice weapon, at least. "Sooo... how do I use this?" 

"It's actually not that different from a mace," Ruin told her. "See how it widens out here near the end? That changes the balance, puts the weight farther out. And the curve of the blade makes for more powerful slices, if you line them up right. Among the elves, the scimitar is a fire weapon: you flick it out and snap it back, again and again. In your case, you'll balance that with a shield -- think of that as the ice that absorbs your opponent's fire."

"...As you say," said Aesa, and stepped back, lining the scimitar up behind the shield much as she had with the mace. 

"Good," said Ruin. "Now, you're going to have to coordinate the two movements: get the shield out of the way long enough to attack, but bring it back in immediately after your blade has passed. That part, I can teach you -- and again, it's not that different from the mace, except that you have to be aware of the edge of the blade." He paused. "What I can't teach you is the part you're really going to need, and that's the blessing of the gods."

Aesa stopped, staring at him, and Ruin held his hands up. "That is not an insult. You've been around a lot of paladins, and clearly you're drawn to using weapons. But you're a cleric, and you'll need spells to supplement your skills. Did you pray this morning?" 

Aesa nodded. 

"And what did you receive?" 

Aesa thought about it, then mumbled something and gestured without releasing either scimitar or shield. A faint glow seemed to settle over her, but Ruin blinked and by then it was gone. He lifted his own wooden weapon -- still notched from the blow from Anica's blade -- and said: "Good. Pretend I'm a monster. Attack me." 

Aesa stepped in, guarding with her shield, and swung the sword. Ruin voided, but it was a harder attack to dodge than it had been the previous night. Aesa swung again, and this time she might have hit him except she pulled the blow. 

Ruin held up a hand. "I know you don't want to hurt me," he said. "But you have to intend to. Just a moment." 

He turned away, and pulled a padded helmet off the rack. "All right," he said. "Try to hit me." 

Aesa swung, and Ruin slid back and evaded the blow. "Try again." 

Aesa stepped in, catching his blade on her shield, and he deliberately slowed his steps; her wooden blade crashed into the padded helmet. "Good," he said. "Try it again." 

He didn't try to dodge this time; she swung at his helmet and connected. "Again. Harder." Clong. "Again." Clong!

He stepped back, and shook his head. "There you go. You can't fight if you aren't trying to win -- and if you're trying not to hurt your opponent, you aren't trying to win." He paused, then added: "My cousin Werendril had the same problem when he first started."

Aesa grinned, then frowned. "That's--" 

Ruin shrugged. "It's precisely the problem with trying to be a good person and still fight. You end up wanting to fight without hurting anyone, and that's... not how it works."

Aesa stopped to consider that, and Ruin lowered his blade to give her time. "Very well," she said at last. "So what should I do next? Hit you some more?"

"Pray," he said. "You're a priestess, so pray. Pray to Amun, or Corellon, or both. Pray for the strength to serve them, and the martial skill to defeat their enemies. I don't know exactly how this works -- I've seen battle priests, but I'm not one of them. But the gods should know their business. And then, if you go into this sort of combat, use whatever magics they grant you to enhance your skill or take advantage of your opponents' weaknesses." 

Aesa stopped and looked straight up, suddenly distracted. Then she turned back to him. "Excuse me," she said. "I need to go to the chapel."

She turned and walked off, so completely distracted that the two paladins had to stop their bout as she passed between them. Looking after her, Ruin shook his head: she was either going to be completely brilliant, or she was going to get herself killed, and he honestly wasn't sure which. 

"Battle priest," rumbled Akkora, standing behind him. "Huh."