Friday, September 24, 2021

Dark Armor V2 Ch01 SC03

The wind swept across the plains and out over the bluff as Pallian reined up outside the enemy camp. It was carefully organized, the tents all neatly arranged around cookfires, weapons placed in neat stacks for easy access. They hadn't bothered with earthworks or even fascines, but then they likely didn't expect to be encamped here for long. They had, however, put out a double ring of watchfires with sentries gathered around them in groups of three. 

For a moment, Pallian wished he could slip into camp unseen the way the Shadow of Edrias might have done. But the Champion of Teregor was his father's creation, and the wizard-king had wanted an indestructible black knight, something that would smite his enemies with irresistible power. So Pallian would attack the camp, stabbing into it like a speartip into a heart, spreading death and chaos in his wake. 

Or else he'd die. 

Accidents happened, especially in battle, and this army was better-prepared than it looked. It would be easy enough for something to go wrong. But there were other reasons to worry: someone had arranged for word of a farmer's rebellion to reach the Citadel, knowing that the wizard-king would dispatch a lesser force to deal with something like that. Perhaps even knowing that Ravaj would be in charge, though that would require either some excellent intelligence or a traitor in the court. And there was no reason to assume that the Shadow of Edrias had spoken truly, that it was on its way to assassinate Ravaj; it might just as easily have doubled back behind him, waiting to catch him when turned his attention to the camp. Destroying the Black Knight would weaken his father's magical power, and it would be a terrible blow to his reputation; this entire situation might have been engineered to such an end.

Still, with the training he'd been given and the resources he had available, there was only one way to find out. He would have to attack, and hope that the armor would protect him and Black would carry him through. He considered that for a moment longer, reviewing the spells he knew and the initiations he'd been given. Well then, he thought to himself. Let's find out.

He touched his heels to Black's flanks, couched his lance and raised his shield, and started forward through the tattered remains of the night.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Fanaxia: Palace Revolts, Magical Playing Cards, and Sad Stories

Martini is settling in to give some crap to George Ley'Saunce when she hears a voice in her head: "Martini! Martini! I hit a cloud giant with a sword."

Martini rolls her eyes. "You're a wizard, idiot."

Alexej is still dancing with Marie. Count Wallington's library would have the history of his clan; Her father would have records from all of the queen's factions. Marie glances back at her father, and says she'd better get back; Alexej bows as they part company, with the over-dramatic motion of a drunken actor at the end of the play at the end of its run.

Geddy, meanwhile, had just finished up talking to Boris, who is more or less the MAGA/January 6 component of his fashion. Lucien intercepts Geddy as he's departing, and introduces him to his adopted father. All four of the Ley'Saunce brothers are adopted.

The older man comes across as very humble: Drogan. Having made the introduction, Lucien heads off to another table.

Geddy greets the bishop of the church of Urgroth in this city. The first temple was built here; and Ley'saunce is troubled that Urgroth has lost some of its influence since the sundering.

Geddy: "So has someone taken that influence?"

"The queen, despite her best intentions, does not understand how religion can unite a community. She lets the populace worship whom they will."

Geddy: "Sounds like chaos to me."

"It is a nice idea, but most of these people shouldn't be choosing those beliefs for themselves. They aren't enlightened enough to make that choice. Cardinal Richlieu has promised that the True King seeks peaceful ways to treat with Vrist."

Geddy: "So how do we figure into this?"

Ley'saunce: "We would hope you will ally with clan Wallington, if there is some unfortunate struggle."

Geddy: "Do you think there would be a struggle?"

Ley'saunce shrugs: "Much depends on the queen. Perhaps you can help."

Geddy suggests that having been dead, he actually is.

"Do you know much about Urgroth?"

"Oh, sure! All the hands and the eyes and the secrets, all that."

Ley'saunce: "It was very unfortunate, what happened to the arch-magister. But the church has been very conciliatory and loyal to the king. Cardinal Richlieu lives in the castle and advises the king."

Geddy, "Madam Ley'saunce what should I know about you?"

Lady L: "We are happily married and united in our devotion to Urgroth. But Master Geddy, I'm sensing some reluctance from you."

Geddy: "Oh, no, I just like to know as much as I can."

The Bishop suggests that he talk to Luthien and the other priest; learn more of the lore of Urgroth and the church's plans. "You'll hear some good stories, while you're there."

Geddy: "Is there anyone I should watch out for tonight? We do get into trouble. I just want to make sure we don't walk into any traps. Baron Lamorgan's son has the strength of two men and a temper; but if you want to get on his good side, ask about last year's mayfair games.

Leira has gone back to dancing. A younger man approaches and tries to cut in. Leira: "No."

Young man: "What?"

Leira: "Sorry, trained response. Who are you?"

Fendril Wallington, who's maybe three years younger than her, launches into a whole elaborate bit of flattery.

Leira: "You seem young, but I'll take a chance."

He's stiff and a little nervous. "Tell me, my fine lady, what brings you to Vrist?"

Leira: "We're on a quest to find a lost friend."

"Someone dear to you?"

"Friends are always dear." She does a little pirouette.

"Have you met my brothers?"

"I have not had the luck. Should I avoid them?"

"Well, sometimes they think they're more important than they are."

Leira: "You train to be a warrior; surely you'll be someone to respect."

Fendril: "I am a warrior! My brother boasts of defeating the thief; but I defended the women and small children. I don't even know what my brother was doing in there. That half-elf wife of his sometimes corrupts him away from telling the truth."

Leira: "So, do you wish to lead men in battle? Or conquer fearsome foes?"

"Well, when the time comes I plan to be at the forefront of my father's attack."

"An eminent attack?" asks Leira. "Anything I should be worried about?"

He freezes: "I'm... just saying... in case we need to defend the lands."

Leira: "I'm sure you would make a formidable leader."

Fendril: "Might I beg you for your favor? Something to wrap around my lance as I go into battle?"

Leira pulls out... a napkin. "Among my people, everyone carried such a cloth to remind us of who we are."

He's very proud of himself, as he returns to his father's table.

Another young man approaches...

Martini and Elizabeth had just finished listening to Clifton Wallington, who was describing his battle with the thief in great detail.

Martini: "So you... stabbed him in the back?"

Clifton: "No, I spun him around and stabbed him..." He tries to demonstrate, but the story isn't terribly consistent.

Martini: "So you spun him around to stab him, but you move to disarm him... how many arms did this guy have?"

Clifton: "I get it. You and my sister just think I'm boasting and want to bust my balls. But I'm a hero. Ask anyone!"

Guy at bar: "I'm Jeremiah Fayette. Who are you?"

Martini: "Martini, dragonslayer."

Jeremiah: "Another beautiful woman at court. I would ask to court you, if my father would only allow it."

Martini: "Do you to know each other?"

Jeremiah: "The Wallinford family doesn't speak to the Fayettes."

Elizabeth: "That's because my dad is a jerk."

Martini gets Elizabeth talking, and Elizabeth and Jeremiah bond of being unhappy with their families. Elizabeth thinks people should be more wary of her father; Oliver the heir makes her feel worthless, Clifton is reckless, and mentions Alice and Juliana, who are flirting with George Ley'saunce. Trying to please her parents is a waste of time.

Jeremiah complains that his father is too conservative, too prim and proper; it's only because his position is so tenuous, especially if Wallington comes into power.

Martini fades back just as Alexej and Geddy enter the room.

Geddy: "You ready to make some money?"

Alexej: "I love money!"

Clifton Wallington approaches them, and complains about Martini tryingto bring people down. "You two look like you might have a pair on you. Deal yourselves in?"

Alexej, thinking he's talking about dice: "I did not bring my own pair."

Geddy motions Alexej to sit.

George: "Tonight we'll be playing... cards." He flips the cards through an elaborate pattern. "Hand of Fate."

They draw cards and start making bets. The fourth partner, Amarok Glamorgan, is both holding a bad hand and also the one that Geddy was warned not to antagonize. Geddy raises; everyone else folds. They lay more money for the next round, and go around again; Alexej wins.

Clifton: "Another hand! But this time, a little richer. 200 GP buy-in."

Geddy: "Where I come from, we pass the deal around."

Clifton: "Not with my special cards."

Amarok: "Yeah, they're magical cards."

Clifton: "Um... these are some magic cards that my father passed down. They're lucky, but they don't have any special powers related to the game, as you just saw."

Geddy mutters something, and then falls over backwards in his chair.

Amarok goes around the table and shakes him awake.

Alexej: "Sometimes he gets very big erection, and it makes him go to sleep."

Geddy is awake again.

Clifton offers to put his deck aside and use one of the other decks on the table.

Geddy: "Let's keep using the magic cards."

Amarok draws and then slaps his cards down. "Urgroth damn it!"

Alexej raises 50.

Clifton chides him. "It's a 200 gold buy-in, friend. Raise more."

Alexej ups it to 100, and Geddy and Clifton match. They draw more cards, and Alexej calls.Geddy and Clifton both raise; Geddy tries to bluff, and goes higher.

Alexej: "Were you there today when robbery happened?"

Clifton: "Have you not heard how I slew the thief?"

Alexej: I would like to hear from you.

Clifton: "All right, after this hand."

They deal agin, then call; Clifton raises 500. Alexej folds, but Geddy matches him... and wins.

Clifton regards Geddy. "One more round, you and me. 'Cause it's clear that nobody else here has the balls for a high-stakes game. 500 buy-in."

They deal again, and Geddy bluffs: "You might as well go home, kid." Geddy raises by 500; Clifton matches and raises by 500.

They're starting to get some attention; even Martini has come over to watch.

Geddy matches and raises as well, and starts noodling around his lute; he tries to use his bardic magic to Suggest that Clifton fold.

"Geddy, Geddy, Geddy," says Clifton. "So here's the thing, you must realize that I am playing with the very cards that won Wallington their fortune."

They draw again.

Geddy: "All right. I'll raise you another 500."

Clifton looks at his cards, grins, and raises by 1000. Geddy calls it.

"You know, my grandfather's grandfather won his entire fortune with a single card from this deck."

Geddy: "You mentioned that.

Clifton: "Geddy, let's make a real wager. It is so clear..."

Geddy: "2000 gold, and I play your wedding -- or your son's."

Clifton: "I'll match your 2000, and throw in the magic cards. But you'll have to match with something."

Geddy counters by offering his ring of mind shielding.

Clifton calls, and takes it. Elizabeth walks over and says, "Are you sure? Is that a nine?"

Amarok adjusts the card, and... it's a six. "Uh, Clif? I think you just lost your father's magic cards."

Gerwolf Lamorgan comes back in. "I still want to gamble. How about a 5 gold buy-in.

Martini circles the room, listening to vacuous conversations; she wanders over and catches up with Geddy and Alexej; Geddy is gathering up his winnings.

Gerwulf bumps the table, and the cards all slide together into one big pile. The magic cards are highly magic. Geddy finishes collecting his winnings while Alexej heads off to collect Leira.

Alexej runs into Janine in the hallway; she's sobbing. She's the one who was talking about her husband buying her a brand-new dress for the occasion, since she came down to congratulate her brother on his upcoming wedding.

Apparently that bitch Ginger and her gaggle of followers, who came over and mocked her while she was dancing. Her family is not rich, and she

Alexej: "This is terrible! How much was dress?"

"Thirty gold!"

Alexej hands over the money that he won off of Clifton. "Is investment! I have mission in this castle."

Janine: "I used to work in this castle. Perhaps I can earn this."

Alexej: "Well, I may need to look at books in library."

Janine: "How do you know about the library? The Von Stein library is here. Nobody goes in there these days."

Alexej: "I would like to go to library, for sure."

Janine: "I know a secret way! Come with me."

She comes outside, and immediately runs into Geddy and Martini. We fall in behind her, and Alexej pulls a sconce from a pool for light.

Alexej: "Can you send message to Leira?"

Geddy: "Who do you think I am, some little goth wizard who sends messages."

We retrieve Leira, and follow Janine. She leads us across the courtyard and to the back door to the library. Martini opens up the library, and Janine comes inside with us. She's really excited to be able to look around in here.

Alexej starts looking, and turns up a Book of Elders. "Is maybe old things?" It appears to be a list of clan elders, covering some very secretive people who seem to have lived very long lives. Leira digs in as well.

Martini finds an account of the Night of 1000 fangs, and finds a record of some retainers who were killed then as well: Elaine and Gloria. They ran the mason's guild and apparently built castles for a lot of the elders. They had a daughter who may have escaped with some Von Stein guards.

Geddy digs into the book of elders; the lifespans are too long for humans, and they lived very private lives. He starts looking for accounts of wolf-people. The Wallington Glamorgan, and Ley'saunce clans are referenced as shapeshifters; the Durane clan is referred to as the Humans. There's something about hereditary enemies. Leira starts looking into property and ownership, but gets distracted by the book of fashions that Janine is looking through.

Alexej finds a little more about the elders and their official heraldry; there's a book of heraldy in there somewhere.

Martini finds a book about Giving the Gift and making a new elder; it appears to be vampirism. Geddy goes hunting for the heraldry book, and confirms that yeah, the elders were vampires.

Leira heads over to another shelf, and finds an interesting roll of students who used to study at this school. Von Steins, Daschkovs, or their retainers could all qualify if they had great potential. Elaine and Gloria (the mason couple)'s daughter was allowed into the school at a very young age. Alexej keeps looking for the archive book, but finds a cool book about swords.

Geddy manages to narrow it down to a specific section on genealogies. We do eventually find a reference to a Kroni Daschkov, who had been a son to one of the leaders; he won both the melee and the joust at the tournament in 1729. He was also unaccounted for on the night of 1000 fangs. Elaine and Gloria were retainers to the Von Stein family, and the Von Steins posted guards at their house to protect their daughter.

Janine comes over to ask how we're doing. Alexej: "We found our friend might be named after ancient warrior. Is there map of castle here?"

Janine: "What are you looking for?"

"Somewhere you would put someone if you didn't want them found."

Janine: "The archmagister (Vecna) was a woman." They don't talk about that. They also don't talk about the fact that she was a student here.

Janine: "Well... you might ask Gwendolyn. She used to be a teacher here; now she just helps out. If she's here, then she'll be next door."

So Martini unlocks the next door. We head down the hallway and Janine takes us into a classroom to make introductions.

Gwendolyn is extremely old. The room is basically a clasroom; there's alchemical gear around the edges of the room, scrolls on some of the desks, and shelves with magic textbooks, and a series of class portraits above the shelves.

Martini explains what we're looking for.

Gwendolyn. "The Daschkovs... that was long ago, before the night of a thousand fangs. Very sad."

"As sad as them?" Leira points at the paintings, where one of the portaits is blacked out.

"Now that IS a sad story. She was a daughter of two masons, a magical prodigy. Such a promising student, she was. I was just twenty years old myself."

Martini: "So what happened?"

Gewn: "On the Night of 1000 fangs, her parents were killed. The Von Steins had placed guards on her, and the guards got her away. She resurfaced some time later, and was adopted by Count Orlock. I never saw he again after that, but she continued to do quite well for herself. You can imagine our shame after she went to the castle, became the archmagister... and then betrayed the kingdom. King Baldrik, when he came into power, did not get along with her. She'd brought General Kaz into her plot."

We're puzzled about how this fits with what we sound in the grave. The girl who's blacked out in the pictures always has the same boy standing next to her. "That's got to be her boyfriend?" asks Leira.

...There was a second Vecna, a little boy named Vecna Orlock. "He wasn't as good a wizard as she was, and he died young. Which probably explains the second child-coffin. He died of a fever; it's why Count Orlock never comes out anymore." And she wasn't Vecna; nobody remembers her name anymore. They just call her the Archmagister, even when they're talking about her time as a small child.

Martini: "And do you know anything about Kroni Daschkov?"

Gwen: "Oh my yes! He was a great warrior! Won the tournament. I assume he was killed in the night of a thousand fangs."

Janine has just been following along listening; she doesn't seem very surprised by anything we've asked or been told. "Just think! If the Wallingtons and their friends hadn't slaughtered everyone, she might never have turned bad."

Gwendolyn heads off to sleep. Janine leads us back to the party. Clifton and Amarok have left, and Janine goes back to the queen's table.

Alexej takes Marie to dance again, while Martini distracts her father and asks about Count Orlock.  

Count Orlock, a respectable man with many lands and estates, but not a factor at court anymore. It's been this way for many years.

Night of 1000 fangs: 1741
Currently: 1799 in Fanaxia
1744-45 when Orlock's son died.
The girl moved to the castle, studied under Prospero; she became Archmagister in 1762, and the sundering was 1769. This is using the Old Calendar, not what is currently in use in Sol Povos (and has been for about 500 years). King Baldrik succeeded his father in 1766; that was what prompted her treachery and later the Sundering.

Orlock's son died like fifty years ago, and he's been a recluse since then; the girl moving to court and disaster didn't help. There's a rumor that he adopted another boy after she left. He must have been lonely. Martini theorizes that this other boy may have been Kroni Daschkov, and as a fellow victim of the Night of a Thousand Fangs, may have gone to lend aid to the Archmagister.

Alexej is asking a lot of the same questions of Marie. Has she ever met any Orlocks? No, it's really just the Count and he never comes to court. He has a huge castle down in the griffin hills. She thinks the queen gave up on him long ago. Alexej has a library-date for tomorrow; she gives him directions.

Goran slides up next to Geddy. "I heard about your gambling match with Clifton. I suspect that when you meet with the count that he's going to request that you return his cards. Did you hear about the attack today? It sure seems like those cards were looking for a new owner. Sounds like Clifton just decided to take them from the table."

Yeah, we definitely need to find out more about these cards. And ideally help the queen find an heir.

We get Identify cast on the cards: they're lucky, but you can also use them to draw the Cards of Fate (Deck of Many Things).

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Challenge: LOL

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!)

This week's prompt is "what makes me LOL" (which means Laugh Out Loud for all you young'uns that don't remember the early days of the Internet and chatrooms in particular). (Also? Get off'n my lawn.)

And, well, there are a lot of things. My kids, sometimes. Beautiful Wife can be quite funny when she wants to. Various movies and TV programs. 

But for today, I think I'm going to limit myself to things I can share with you directly on the Internet.

First, a bit of music: Cheap Flights

Next up: Action Movie Kid

I have a whole CD of humorous songs by the Scottish folk duo The Corries

Predator, the Musical:

Last one (and this one's a bit gory, so be warned) is for the comic book geeks out there: Wolverine's Claws Suck

So... what makes you laugh out loud?

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Music: Thrill

 Concrete Castles: 

Music: Beatles Medley

Jesus Christ, Walk Off The Earth is a whole and complete mood unto themselves:

I'm posting this because such writing as I've gotten done has been done for the writing class I'm taking and the writing project I'm working on, and very little of that is going up here -- and I just don't have the energy to produce anything else. I'm riding that edge of being just exhausted enough to be just stressed enough to get things done, which isn't healthy but it does get things done. And I'd like to break that cycle, but things still have to get done.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Monday Medical Update: Progress

 So right yes, Beautiful Wife and I are still neck deep in the recover phase of her surgery. And frankly, she's recovering better and more quickly than she has any right to: she got her post-surgical drain shunts removed last Thursday, which was less than two weeks after the surgery. (The shunts were technically called something like Jackson-Pratt drains, I think.)

Which can also be a problem, because the doctor explained (and I'm paraphrasing): "So you know what happens next? You feel so much better that you over-exert yourself, and tear something inside, and then I have to do more surgery to fix it. So don't do that. Be boring."

This is why I now have have signs all over the house, extolling the virtues of being boring. "Ask yourself: am I boring enough?" "Boring is the new Black." "Boringness is next to Godliness. Be boring -- become DIVINE." And, on the dishwasher: "Ask yourself: could my husband be doing this for me? (Yes. The answer is yes.)" 

So basically, we'll be just fine as long as we can frustrate every single one of Beautiful Wife's most basic instincts. 

And she really isn't recovered yet; her energy's back up, but it doesn't last. Which means that I'm still trying to cover bases and spin plates and keep balls in the air and all that sort of thing. Which means we haven't been doing the kids' D&D games, and I can barely manage to play in the ones I'm playing in, and probably half of the last two weeks of work is just going to get coded as family-related sick time. Also, our washing machine is now semi-functional, but still in need of repairs and the laundry hovers on the edge of being out of control. 

We're trying to take time to do things we enjoy anyway, but it's one hell of a balancing act. I've been adding zombie gnomes to the front yard, and Beautiful Wife added a skeletal flamingo. (It'd be a flock of skeletal flamingos, but we haven't been able to find any more.) I'm taking a writing class to help me stay focused on my current project, and it's already proven worth the cost -- and not just because it helps me stay focused, either. 

So, I mean, it's not like everything's dreary; it's just that everything, together, is a lot.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Dark Armor V2 CH01 SC02

"So: the Black Knight, Champion of Teregor. On your way to raze the camp of the enemy?"

It was well past midnight, and Pallian had just come out of the stream on the enemy's side of the valley. He looked around the woods, but saw nothing; his armor, usually sensitive to the presence of enemies, found nothing either. "Just so," he answered softly. "And who are you, unseen to me?"

"I am the Shadow of Edrias," the voice replied, "sent to slay the sorcerer-prince Ravaj and as many of his officers as I can find."

"Well, Shadow?" Pallian kept his voice wry. "I don't see you, so I doubt I can keep you from your mission. Will you contest my passage?"

There was a momentary pause. "No," said the soft, echoing voice. "Will you ride back to give warning to the devil's monstrous son?"

"No," answered Pallian. He had his orders, he had given Ravaj as much warning as his brother should need, and there was no point in issuing a challenge when neither army would consider itself bound by the results.

"Then I bid you safe passage. If you bear slightly to the south as you leave the wood, you'll find a trail that will take you to the top of the ridge. It's steep in places, but I suspect your mount will manage."

Pallian considered that, but only for a moment; fair was fair. "I came down along a similar trail that lies straight back towards the ridge; follow the curve of the rock."

There was no reply, and after a moment he nudged his horse forward. Black carried him along, and a dozen strides later they emerged from the trees. There was movement, finally, behind them: something that had seemed a piece of one of the trees separated itself and slipped away towards the stream. Be damned, he thought, admiring. They must have passed within thirty feet of each other, and he hadn't seen a thing.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Fanaxia: Mixed Party at the Mixed Party

This is the second recombined party, and after defeating the dragon we have met up with Lady Maerwynn, who conducts people through the savage hills. Her animal companion is a Comodo Dragon; there is an elf with her, carrying a lute, and he is *very* excited to meet the bold dragonslayers. Goran Rovenall is his name.

Alexej: "Aleksander 'Alexej' Václav Dvořak Bohatýr-Popovič, Lord Řízek."

Goran: "I'm so pleased to meet you all! I'll be traveling with you back to Vrist, because the queen is throwing a party. It's Athena's birthday!"

Geddy: "Just remember that the songs written by the guy who was there are always better than the ones who weren't."

Lady Maerwynn informs us that Goran is a friend of the queen, and he's gotten us invited to the party.

Goran: "It is my honor to travel alongside you. In fact, I wrote a song in your honor."

He plays a bit of it. It's actually pretty catchy. Geddy is fuming but trying to play it off.

So... we head out. Alexej is in charge of the Death Ward wand, because he's a non-caster with a lot of skill at Use Magic Device. So today will be a travel day, and tomorrow will be a day in town, and the day after that will be the party.

Goran is quite chatty. Alexej implores him to entertain us with a tale of Fanaxia. He tells us of a great battle some seventy-five years ago, and the great hero Kaz who led the king's troops across the river ("in a single stride") and faced off against the king's enemies (in a very dramatic battle full of mighty blows and very narrow escapes).

Alexej: "Who will be at the party?"

Goran: "Who will NOT be at the party? Athena is an old friend of the queen. Rumor is that they were *very* close when they were younger."

Martini: "The queen is wed to the king, who's been missing for ten years now?"

Goran: "Oh, no. There's the True King, Baldrick, who's locked up in his castle; Benedict Montfort, the King of Styre, and Eleanor Durane, Queen of Vrist. The last two were once Duke and Duchess, but the island is so divided that they can make the claim. And Eleanor Durane, for all intents, *is* queen. Styre is still connected, so Montfort's claim depends on his company; Vrist is very isolated, and so nobody can gainsay Eleanor."

The queen is not married, has no king, and probably never will. The nobles have tried to arrange suitors for her, but never with any success; the lack of heirs is a cause of political strain.

Leira immediately vounteers to be the heir. Turns out Goran is a former suitor, and lord Roundtree (another former suitor) will be there. The quality of the clothing is a mark of station, and we're definitely going to need new outfits.

Geddy asks about the current state of the succession; if she suddenly died, who would take over?

Goran: "Well, to understand that you must understand that there are two factions in Vrist. Queen Durane and her supporters, Count Orlock, Count Fayette, and Count Collard. The rival faction is led by Fenric Wellington, a Count; he's the likely candidate to take over if she suddenly died. The queen, on the other hand, is likely to choose someone from the Collard or Fayette families. They are, however, relatively weak houses. Count Collard is sometimes referred to as The Crab Baron.

So who would Goran pick? Leira: "Pick me!"
Elderman Garris of Lydell, is an elf and a solid leader. He's not part of the main political scene; Lydell is pretty distant, and operates fairly independently. Lydell holds to his bond to the queen, and everything stays peaceful.

And we'll need to make sure to get new clothes for the party -- and no weapons and armor.

Goran's cousin happens to run a dress shop. Vinny could take care of us.

The queen herself is very powerful; as was Count Orlock, but he's a recluse now and her other two allies are rather weak; Wellington has been working hard to position himself as the next ruler; his father ruled for a fortnight ("the fortnight duke").

We travel and make camp, and reach the city in the morning. Goran parts ways as we enter the city; he'll see us at the party.

Cousin Vinny has laid some stuff out for us. Leira demands the biggest ball gown available; she gets one, but it's 200 gp. She also needs a suit for her familiar, Scuttle the bird. Vinny alters a pixie suit for Scuttle. Martini purchases an elegant gown for 75 GP; Geddy asked for something sophisticated, yet slutty. Alexej... um... does his best.

Martini smuggles in a dagger, because of course she does.

We get the full introductions as The Dragonslayers, right down to introducing us properly as lords and ladies. There is music and dancing, and tables of food; server carry trays of drink around. Leira grabs a drink and immediately starts dancing. (Scandalous!) Darian Ley'Saunce gets up to dance with her, introducing himself and bowing. His twin brother is also at the table -- that appears to be David Ley'Saunce.

Alexej takes two drinks and pours them into one large drink; Geddy takes a single drink. Martini's eye is drawn by a gothy human girl lurking by one of the pillars; she seems confident enough, just out of keeping with the fashion.

Geddy and Alexej head out into the crowd together, heading straight towards the queen. The queen is very obviously enjoying herself; Goran is stting beside her: "Ah, the dragonslayers! These are the ones I was telling you about."

Geddy bows and does his best courtly impression, impressing everyone. An older man stands up. "Oh, it is so good to meet you. I am Fabian Roundtree, one of the queens good advisors. I want to thank you for slaying the dragon. I have hear a purse of fifty gold..."

Alexej is just standing behind him, mouthing everything that Geddy says.

Geddy refuses the money, nobly; Fabian approves. 

Goran nudges the queen: "What's bothering you?"

Queen: "Well, I'm supposed to give Athena my present, but how am I supposed to do that if Letholdus steals her away from me?" Athena is older but still very pretty; Celeste Wallington is younger, but also very pretty and equally elegantly dressed.

Geddy tries to convince Alexej to dance with the queen; the queen refuses graciously (but very definitely). They join the queen's table instead. "Do please join us."

A lady at the queen's table asks Geddy: "What brings you to Vrist?"

Geddy: "May I ask your name?"

"Elspeth Degray," she says. "I am an old friend of the queen's -- nobody important."

Geddy: "Well, we have several tasks that we would like to complete, one of which we have already accomplished."

Alexej: "And we are looking for Sascha. He is old friend."

Elspeth: "Have you perhaps tried the gambling hall? There are many people here at the party."

Elspeth turns to Alexej: "Where is it that you come from?"

Alexej makes out as if he comes from the Forest of the Centaurs, and claims to be the vessel (he means vassal) of Lord Crowe.

Fabian doesn't hear everything, but he seems sharp; Goran is, well, a bard; the queen is a bit tipsy; and a bit further down Cyril and Fantene are batting eyes at each other. Janine Collard is very much running the conversation at that end of the table; she's wearing a nice new gown.

In the center of the room, Darian is spinning Leira around the dance floor and doing his best to be charming and supply Leira with drinks. "My dear, how *could* the most beautiful woman at this ball appear without a date?"

Leira: "Well, my fiance has been kidnapped by evil and is possessed."

"Possessed by his work?"

Leira: "No, possessed by evil spirits."

"Sounds like my adopted parents. My father is the high priest of Urgroth. He lacks lands and income, of course, despite being a Ley'Saunce. He married later, and so he and his wife adopted my brothers and myself."

Leira: "Do you remember anything about your original parents?"

Darian: "Oh, no, I was very young. But my father has raised me to be as kind and generous as he is. Tell me, what brings you here?"

Leira: "Well, my friends told me we had an invitation, and I got a pretty new dress."

"Lovely! Perhaps later I could take you outside to the gardens. I know of a lovely gazebo."

"Oh, let's go, but first I must speak to my best friend Martini."

"Of course!" Darian goes back to his table to wait; Leira heads for Martini.

Martini, meanwhile, has approached Elizabeth Wallington. She sighs theatrically. "I suppose everyone here is pursuing some meaningless goal?"

Elizabeth: "My father certainly does. He's the illustrious Count Wallington, the most powerful man in Vrist."

"I suppose he'd like to become more powerful, then. Powerful people never seem to have any imagination."

"Oh, yes. He'll say he should be King; and my mother is complicit. What brings you here?"

"We seek information about a dead man." 

"Well, that's interesting. Who was he?" 

"Kroni, a servant of the dark one. This would have been thirty or forty years ago, now. He's some sort of ghost, now."

"Oh, well he wouldn't be one of them, then."

"One of whom?"

"The Dead Clans."

"...Tell me?"

"Well, there used to be three factions here: the queen's faction, my father's faction, and the Dashkov and the Von Stein families, who my father's father killed on the night of a thousand fangs."

"Quite impressive."

"My grandfather, Gerwulf, was an idiot. He believed violence solved everything. My father, on the other hand is cunning. This castle used to be a Von Stein Castle -- a school of some sort. Still is, I believe."

"And the queen? Is she also an idiot?"

"I don't believe so. She's been a fairly good ruler, for forty-two years. The rub is that everyone in my father's clan is a staunch follower of Urgroth. And the queen opposes their ascendancy."

She offers to take Martini over to torment her insufferable brother, but Leira's appearance delays that.

Geddy, meanwhile, is making small-talk about the great vortex a week ago, to see how everybody reacts. Fabian: "It was a cause of great concern. Wallington would insist that it's a sign from Urgroth, that we need change, but then of course they would."

He overhears the queen talking in very harsh tones with Goran; apparently Cardinal Richlieu was in town and visiting with Count Wallington, and apparently they had a long conversation at the estate before the attack, so he did not stay for the ball; Bishop Ley'Saunce was there too.

Fabian: "The attack on Count Wallington today was very strange. He has many guards, so this was strange; apparent his son killed a burglar who tried to enter while the attack was going on. Clifton happened to be in the right place to stop the burglar. Clifton would very likely tell us; he's off in the gambling hall.

Alexej tries to make conversation at the queen's table: "Hello, Janine, do you like porkchop?"

Janine: "Are you asking me to dance, dragonslayer?"

Alexej: "I can dance."

Janine: "You must promise to be very well behaved, or my husband will be angry."

Alexej promises not to get caught being naughty, and they head off to dance.

There are all sorts of people at this party. Three red-headed, energetic sorts; Wallington and his cohort. Geddy makes his excuses to the queen, and moves to circulate; she's looking at Litholdas and Athena again. He offers to play music while the Queen shares her birthday present with Athena... and possibly Litholdas. Geddy plays a sexy chord on his lute; Goran approves. Meanwhile:

"Oh Alexej, I never thought her father would let Fantene marry, but she's engaged to Cyril." Janine continues on in this vein at considerable length. Alexej manages to ask her about Sascha and Kroni, but gets nothing. He learns a bit more about her husband, and her brother and his fiance. Then Alexej gets off on the subject of cooked fish, and manages to be not-insulting.

She explains that her father is mocked as "the crab baron", and then has to explain to Alexej why that's an insult. The implication is that the Queen elevates her favorites, and neither of the two counts who support her really deserve the title. The two Counts in the queen's faction are very careful about the reputations of their families, very cautious about propriety. Janine suggests that if Alexej wants to make someone happy, he should get Marie away from her table.

Leira and Martini grab the two Ley'Saunce boys, tearing them away from two other girls who look very jealous. They walk out into the dark, and Leira immediately casts light, which throws them for a bit of a loop.

They lead us out to the rose garden, where Martini drops Deep Slumber and takes out David. Darian, however, is alarmed; Leira explains about how we secretly both wanted him to ourselves. He believes it. Two tries later, we put him to sleep as well. Leira goes back for David, and... he's a wolf now. And Darian turns into a sleeping wolf as we watch. We arrange them so that they're cuddling with each other.

Geddy walks up to the huge, muscular guy, who is Count Wallington: "Dragonslayer! How come I never heard your name before?"

Geddy: "Well, I like to keep a low profile until it's time to shine."

"Low profile... funny guy. I hope while you're in Vrist, we can talk some business. I will have my steward contact you for that. Tonight, we are out in Society!"

Geddy: "What's up with this whole queenly lineage thing? How is that succession supposed to work out?"

Duke Wallington: "Clearly it should be me. Though I fear that my father's reputation hurts me in this cause. He was a brash man, and what he did was too heavy-handed."

Geddy: "But you maintained your status."

"Improved it," corrects the Duke. "My father set us back. Some thought we should stripped of titles. But I have improved us. And of course, we serve the will of Urgroth. My vassal, the baron Lay'saunce, is a bishop in the church. Cardinal Richlieu himself visited us today, before the attack."

Geddy: "Oh, yeah, the attack. What's up with that?"

"I would appreciate your help in finding out."

Geddy: "I was about to make that offer."

"Ah, you've done your homework."

Boy down the table: "Very vicious! It's a good thing I was there to guard my mother and younger brothers."

Mom: "Yes, very good Fendril."

Fendril wants to become a warrior and a knight to serve his brothers when they become heirs to the throne. He's short his full growth, but he's pretty muscular; he might have a chance.

Geddy offers to hook him up with Alexej for training.

Wallington: "You've made your rounds enough to see where the strength truly lies. But please, do continue. Sit with Count Fayette. Sit with the Queen's favorites. See for yourself if these are men who are fit to lead." He also suggests that Geddy introduce himself to his son Oliver and his wife, the future king and queen.

So Alexej, meanwhile, has thanked Janine for the dance and accepted his challenge. He intercepts a tray of drinks and moves to the table of count Fayette. He sets the drinks down.

Count Fayette greets him politely and very ornately. The man's speech is terminally flowery.

Alexej: "Anyone want a drink?"

Count Fayette: "No thank you, my wife and I are still on our first drinks."

Alexej: "Marie?"

Marie's mum: "She does not need anything."

Alexej asks about them, and passes out drinks anyway. "We share drink! Is custom of my people."

They take tiny sips. Marie sulks. Patrick does his best to stay still and behave.

"This is my beautiful daughter Marie, the apple of my eye. And this is my fearless son Patrick. Patrick, introduce yourself."

Patrick: "I greet you, dragonslayer. I am Patrick."

Alexej maneuvers into offering Patrick the chance to learn tripping-based combat. Patrick is very enthused, but his parents kind of glare at him, and he collapses. "Well, then, perhaps I could at least offer Marie the chance to dance once with a dragonslayer."

"...I think a single dance would do no harm," the Count admits. Marie is already heading for the dance floor.

Martini and Leira return to the party, and the two girls glare at us some more, though they also look a bit confused. Martini rejoins Elizabeth as Leira goes out to dance.

Elizabeth leads Martini to the gambling hall, and greets her brother Clifton. Martini insults him, then flatters him, then wonders idly about who might have attacked his father's estate.

Cardinal Richlieu was visiting to talk about some magic cards that the Cardinal might be interested in. When the alarm went off, his father sent him to watch over his mother, but Clifton realized that perhaps something was going on, and the point of the attack was to empty the study and leave the family's treasures unguarded. Clifton raced back to the study, and discovered the burglar there. They fought, very dramatically, and Clifton finally finished him as his father returned. The burglar had no distinguishing features.

Martini: "I admire a man with a sense of dramatic timing." She's studying him, but she also thinks it's a bad idea to do anything to him here.

Geddy, meanwhile, heads over to the boisterous redheads. "Baron Boris Glamorgan. Call me Boris. This is my wife Ruby. Heard you slayed a dragon."

Geddy: "Hell yes."

Boris: "You're pretty small."

Geddy: "You should see me when I turn into a giant snake."

"You can do that?"

"Only on the full moon."

"So you don't have anything against people that turn into things."

Geddy: "Nope. Coolest people around."

"And you talked to the count? It's gonna be good to have you guys on our side."

Geddy: "Now I know you guys are here, I'm a lot more intrigued."

OOC: Geddy rolls Gather Information and gets a perfectly insane 40.

The Baron hauls him over to a chair and starts talking about how the Queen is running Vrist into the ground. Geddy's just playing along.

Geddy: "I don't mean to pry, but you got really excited when I talked about turning into a snake. Y'all turn into something? Y'all, like, a pack?"

The Baron punches him in the shoulder. "You heard about the Night of a Thousand Fangs? Those were our fangs."

Geddy: "You're sure you got 'em all?"

The Baron is confused: "You think some of them might've lived?"

Geddy: "Naw, just asking. Say, is that your daughter?"

Ginger is definitely the center of attention in her group of friends.

Baron: "Kind of takes after me."

He gets back to talking about how the human's days are numbered and we need to be on the right side. And also, Praise Urgroth.

Alexej is now dancing with Marie.
Marie: "Oh, thank God. Thank you for getting me out of here."

Alexej: "It looked bad. You no have enough freedom."

Marie: "My parents are so obsessed. They're so afraid of being stripped of their lands. Everybody thinks Wallington is going to take over and strip them of their titles."

Marie is pretty sure that Alexej is making up stories of owning lands. (He isn't, but he's very clumsily trying to hide the fact that his lands are in a completely different world.) Marie also thinks the best thing Alexej could do is marry her and get her out of here. Or perhaps he could convince her father to let her go on one of the family caravans to Lydell.

What does Alexej need? He's looking for a friend named Sascha, who may be visiting here. He also sometimes go by Kroni name.

Marie: "Well, we maintain detailed records of people around here."

Who maintains them? Her father. But each of the clans has their own library.

Alexej would be very interested in seeing those books.

"Alexej, how about you talk to your smart friends and they come up with a reason to visit the library. And then you and I could go for a walk."

Alexej likes this idea: "This is good plan, Marie. I will help you get on wagon to Lydell."

Marie: "Tell your friends that they should check the other libraries as well."

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Challenge: Time Capsule

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!)

This week's prompt is "books to include in a time capsule and why". 

Top of my head: War for the Oaks (Emma Bull). Why? Well, it's honestly a little dated already, but it's just such a quintessentially eighties book, and very much a product of Minneapolis/St. Paul. It's also, as far as I can tell, more or less the origin of the Urban Fantasy genre. Plus, y'know, it's just fun

I'll come back and edit if I think of some more must-adds.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Character Sketch: Darian Silver

Darian Silver is a fourteen-year-old with a problem: his shadow magic has a mind of its own and keeps getting him into trouble. With his family’s support, he’s applied to Sunhaven Academy in the hope that a school full of monsters will be better equipped to deal with him than his own small town. Unlike most of his new peers, Darian isn’t ambitious, privileged, or status-conscious; he didn’t come to make connections or prepare for his time in the Imperial Army and a career afterwards. Making a place for himself won’t be easy, but it’s the only plan he has. 

Darian is also unusual in that he has no focus, and that probably half of the magic he knows comes from the Great Forest (and will be weaker or unusable at Sunhaven, which is on the far side of the empire). He is of average height, wiry and slim, and has a good grounding in basic survival sorcery, including some healing.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Dark Armor V2 Ch01 SC01

I'm making another run at this story. Like the first time, it will just be a scene at a time until I either finish it, get lost or distracted, or write myself into a corner. This is one where I like the basic concept and the key characters, but I'm still feeling out the flow of events; I know where I want to go with it, but I'm not sure how best to get there. So, these first couple of scenes are going to be a repeat of the original setup, but I'm going to change things up as Pallian attacks the enemy camp and build from there. I don't want to push too hard on this -- that way lies burnout -- so it'll probably be a regular Friday feature until it isn't. 

Pallian stood at the crest of the hill, holding his mount by its reins, and watched as his older brother looked out over the likely battlefield below.

It wasn't a good spot for either side, just a low valley with a wide creek across its center. High grasses alternated with clumps of scattered trees, and the dozen or so farms that occupied the area were rapidly being abandoned. On the far side, uniformed men organized into neat units occupied a matching ridge, and didn't seem any more inclined to descend into the valley than Pallian was. Still, they were a foreign army on his father's lands, and didn't seem likely to turn back without a fight.

"What do you think, Brother?" Ravaj was pale-skinned and dark-haired, with a lean, handsome face. He wore heavy armor and carried his helm in one gloved hand.

From within his armor, Pallian inclined his head. Ravaj was the heir, and had been put in charge of this expedition to gain some experience in battle. There was no particular reason for him to seek the opinion of his youngest brother, but perhaps he was having a moment of uncertainty out here in the wilderness of the world, so very far away from the citadel and their father's protection.

"Starting with the obvious? This is no simple farmers' rebellion."

"No. And I do not like the look of that army." Ravaj glanced down. "Or this valley."

"It's a terrible battlefield," Pallian replied. "Advantage to the defender. Victory by attrition. Costly. I'd guess we have the advantage in sorceries, but they have the advantage in numbers."

"So we could win, and still be at a loss." Ravaj was nodding; he was pampered and sometimes cruel, but he wasn't a fool. "Perhaps that's what they want." Not when it came to matters of power.

Pallian frowned. "The best outcome for them is if we attack while they hold the far ridge. The same, in reverse, for us." He paused as an arrow slammed into his armor and shattered. It must have been ensorceled, to fly so far; but his armor was their father's work, an extension of his strength, and Pallian had yet to find anything that could pierce it.

A second arrow tangled itself in his brother's sorcerous defenses; Ravaj laid a hand on the shaft, whispered new instructions, and sent it back to the archer that had loosed it.

"Neither side will get that," said Ravaj, picking up the track of Pallian' thought. "So we'll either need to draw each other out, or keep each other distracted while we do something else."

Pallian nodded.

"We'll make camp here, set up defenses as best we can. We can send some skirmishers down to keep them occupied. Likely they'll do the same, and nothing much will come of it. You'll head south, cross the valley after dark, and hit them from behind. If you can get to their leaders, do it. If you can't, work through their stores and supply lines. If they don't have food, they'll have to move, and whichever way they go we can take advantage of it."

Pallian nodded again. "It will be done. Be careful while I'm gone, brother: they're likely thinking similar thoughts."

Ravaj considered that, then nodded. "Then they may be expecting you. I'll take extra precautions; you do the same."

"As you command," said Pallian.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Fanaxia: Fellow Travelers

"I'm not talking to them." Ruin's voice was firm. "I brought you back up here, you go talk to them." 

"By the terms of the geas, I suppose I must." Tavros sighed. He should probably be grateful that the True Elf was willing to transport him around... and he was grateful, really. It's just that he would have appreciated a bit of moral support when he approached the band of adventurers that had followed them up to the titan's cave. 

In truth, he was a bit surprised that they hadn't already approached him. Ruin had brought them out on the mountaintop clearing, less than a hundred yards back from the mouth of the cave; and while Ruin was fading back into the concealment of the snowdrifts, Tavros had never in his life been anything other than a large and obvious target. 

Apparently, however, the adventurers were too busy arguing to take note of any changes in their surroundings. It's a wonder they're still alive, thought Tavros, then dismissed the thought as hypocritical; he himself had never been particularly alert to the approach of anything but the most obvious dangers. On the other hand, I wear a very great deal more armor than any of these five do. No... charity, Tavros. Charity. Benefit of the doubt and all that.

He sighed again and strode off towards the group. They were arguing about food... no, about whether there had been a titan here, and if so where it might have gone... no, about going back to the boat... or... no, maybe they were arguing over the existence of giant beastmen? He wasn't sure. They seemed to be having five arguments all at once. 

"I say, worthy adventurers!" he called, when he close enough to raise his voice without actually shouting at them. 

The tall, blond man and the two women whipped around in surprise; the skinny man and the sentient hound yelped and fled a few steps before realizing that there was a cliff in their way and coming to an abrupt stop. 

The broad-shouldered blond man looked Tavros over and then said, "Aha! Maybe now we'll get to the bottom of this." The dark-haired beauty beside him rolled her eyes, but the redhead with the high-collared robe was studying Tavros carefully. 

"My name is Tavros," he called, slowing to keep his approach as casual as possible. He didn't think they'd randomly attack him -- and Ruin would likely come to his aid if they did -- but he didn't want to panic them, either. 

"Are you the one behind all this?" asked the blond. 

Tavros slowed further and looked around, confused. "I suppose I might be? My friends and I slew the giants and freed the last of the titans, whom they were using to raise their human followers into the form of giants as well." 

"See?" said the blond. "I knew there wasn't really a-- wait, there was a titan up here?" 

"Oh yes," said Tavros. "Lovely chap. A bit worn down after years of magical imprisonment, but a fine and noble example of the people of Amun."

"I don't suppose you know where he went?" asked the redhead. "I was so hoping to get to ask him some questions." 

"I fear not," said Tavros, stopping a couple of paces away from them. This conversation was not going at all the way he had hoped. "I don't mean to be rude, but could I at least know your names?" 

"Dephna," said the dark-haired one. She gestured at the blond: "This is our fearless leader, Ferd." 

"Valme," said the redhead. She gestured behind her. "Those are Shiggae and Scouty." 

"I see," said Tavros. "May I ask, then, what brings you to this remote island and its high peak?"

"We're trying to solve a mystery," said Ferd. 

"The mystery of whether or not there was truly a titan up here?" asked Tavros, who was pretty sure that was the case but felt obliged to humor them. 

For a moment, Ferd looked uncertain. "Well, originally, yes. After that, we were trying to solve the mystery of what happened to all these cloud giants. Did you and your friends really kill all of them?"

Tavros thought about it. "I believe there were two still unaccounted for," he admitted. "One would have been a true giant; the other would have reverted to a human body when he died, or when the titan was freed."

Dephna nodded. "So that's why they had the oversized weapons," she said. "It wasn't just a poor fashion choice." 

Valme added, "They're accounted for now, but not by us; your titan must have done it." 

Tavros chuckled. "He was hardly my titan, but that does seem likely. Good to know, in any case." 

Ferd opened his mouth, but Valme cut him off: "Right, then. So why are you back up here?" 

"Well," said Tavros, "this is where it gets awkward. I was given a quest, by the titan, at the behest of Amun himself."

From behind the rest of the group, Shiggae said, "Um... who's Amun?"

Tavros sighed. "That is precisely the issue. Amun is a god: the Titan King, the Lawgiver, the Keeper of Records. And here, in this place, Amun is... forgotten. I seek someone worthy to found His church anew in Fanaxia."

There was a momentary pause. Then Shiggae turned to Scouty and asked, "Are you worthy?"

The hound shook his head. "Nuh-uh."

"Me neither," muttered Shiggae.

"Come now," said Tavros. "You are seekers after truth. Surely the truth of Amun would be worth learning."

Ferd frowned. "I can't found a church. We have mysteries to solve!" 

Tavros nodded, and looked at the redhead. "What of you?" 

A small grin quirked her mouth. "Can't help with that, I'm afraid." She made a sign with her hand. "Already committed to the great serpent, Artem." 

Tavros said, "Ah," and mentally took a long step back. He turned to look at Dephna. 

"I mean..." she searched his face, and seemed to come up blank. Tavros wasn't surprised; being a half-dragon gave him very different facial features from most people, and it took some practice to recognize his expressions. "I couldn't abandon the gang here, and also I'm really more of a sorceress than anything else. I wouldn't know how to be a priest." 

"Fairly stated," admitted Tavros. "Very well. I shall continue my search, and I bid you all good day and good luck in your investigations." 

"Um, okay," said Shiggae. "You're really not going to chase us around and try to kill us?" 

"I hadn't planned on it," Tavros told him. "I'm a paladin. My hobbies extend more to saving villages and patching old clothes." 

"Yes, of course," said Ferd. "Well, then, I suppose we'll see you around." 

"That does seem likely," answered Tavros. Unfortunately. "Until then." He nodded and turned away, heading for the path out of the valley and hoping that Ruin was waiting to take him back down to the cave of the giant beastmen.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Challenge: What I Do to Recharge

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!)

This week's prompt is "what I do to recharge". 

Thinking over this past weekend, I have to start by saying that it depends somewhat on what exactly I'm recharging from. I got home after Beautiful Wife's surgery and spent basically the entire next day playing a video game (in between various wife-care activities). Recharging from, say, a busy day at work or a lot of social interactions usually involves reading a book, or watching a movie... or playing D&D. Sometimes it's just futzing around on Twitter. D&D aside, it nearly always involves getting some time alone. 

In extreme cases, getting out of town and into some more outdoorsy, natural setting is what does it. Give me a complete change of scenery, a lot of trees and maybe some cliffs or boulders to climb on, and I am renewed. (I'm never quite myself in cities. I love them, I live in one, but... I'm more myself when I'm out of them.) 

The final element, of course, is sleep. I tend to push myself hard, and then collapse; getting a huge amount of sleep definitely recharges me. (Getting a decent amount of sleep on a regular basis is generally a better strategy, but apparently I am absolutely no good at that.) How about you? What do you do to recharge?

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Music: Radioactive

For a bit of compare and contrast this morning, I'm putting up both Imagine Dragons and Marina and the Diamonds: 

Monday, September 6, 2021

Monday Medical Update

If you know me in real life then you're probably caught up on this already, but back in July Beautiful Wife found out she had breast cancer. On Friday, we went through with a full double mastectomy, complete with cosmetic replacement. Which is... not insignificant surgery. And things can definitely go wrong. And with 2021 being, y'know, What It Is... both of us were honestly kind of terrified even as we agreed that this was definitely the best way to deal with it. 

And if I'm being really honest, I should have left the 'kind of' out of that last sentence. 

I'm not going to describe the ordeal, except to say: 

gif of woman saying she's only slept nine hours in the past four days so she's right on the edge of a nervous breakdown

Fortunately, the surgery seems to have gone every bit as well as that sort of significant bodily trauma possibly could. Beautiful Wife was... worn down as she came out of post-op recovery, and spent most of Friday night sleeping in the hospital room (and being awakened roughly once an hour to be examined by the nurses). By Saturday we'd gotten her some chicken broth and a lot of water, by noon on Saturday she'd been able to get out of bed and go to the bathroom (which she did quite a lot; we were putting plenty of water and a bit of gatorade into her). At lunch she was finally able to order solid food, and by the end of the day she had gotten up and shuffled around the ward twice, supervised but unassisted. 

I write this having gone back home on Saturday night to resume parenting the boys, who have been with their mother-in-law; with any luck, we'll be able to bring Beautiful Wife home tomorrow. If you're reading this, then that hasn't changed; I'll only update if something goes wrong or we have to bring her home later. 

The recuperation phase is going to take a while, but fortunately we have some very good friends; we've got meals covered for at least the next two weeks, and probably three, even if I don't so much as touch the stove. (Thanks, guys!) And it will be at least a week before we get the tests back to confirm that the cancer hadn't gotten into the lymph nodes, which (if you know nothing about medicine or biology) "would be bad" in a very Ghostbusters sense of the phrase. 

scene from Ghostbusters in which Venkman explains what Bad is

But at the moment, it looks like everything has gone just about as well as it possibly could. 

So naturally the washing machine broke down. 

Seriously, fuck 2021, y'all.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Character Sketch: Joseph Bradford

A first-year student at Sunhaven, Joseph Bradford -- Joey -- is a vampire (living, not undead) with an affinity for rats. His focus is a familiar rat named Whisper, and he can take a variety of rat-based shapes including a regular rat, a terrifyingly large rat, and a rat-person crossbreed. He is Dominic Chaddock's cousin, and one of his closest friends. (This is mainly because the two of them give each other permission to be perfectly horrible to anyone they don't like, or anyone who they think deserves it, or just anyone who happens to be around when they're in the mood to be cruel.) He is tall (though not quite as tall as Chaddock), with dark hair and eyes and an unusually pale complexion. Joey is not above using his familiar or his shapeshifting to spy on other students, and is perfectly willing to use whatever he learns for embarrassment, leverage, or outright blackmail. He stays in Chaddock's shadow because it keeps people from realizing just how much of Chaddock's cruelty originates with him.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Variations on Two Wolves

There are two wolves inside of you, and don't you think that's a bit crowded?

There are two wolves inside you. One of them is trying to get work done. The other one keeps insisting that sitting in a hot bath with a glass of wine and a book is close enough to working for 2020, and it's *really* annoying the first one. (Doesn't mean it's wrong, though.)

There are two wolves inside of you, and they're stepping on your major internal organs. The doctors are considering an experimental new procedure which they call a "lycectomy".

There are two wolves inside of you. One is the ongoing global pandemic; the other is climate change.
Now would be a good time to panic.

There are two wolves inside of you. One of them wants to complete your project on time; the other one wants to properly document your work. They can never be at peace.

There are two wolves inside of you. Oh, God, they've had a litter! Now there are dozens of wolves inside of you, running all over the place and sniffing everything, and one of them won't stop howling.

There are two wolves inside of you. One of them keeps stealing all the blankets.

Menopause: there are two wolves inside of you. One of them keeps cranking the thermostat up; the other keeps setting it back.

There are two wolves inside of you. No, wait, those are bunnies. Big ears, lots of hopping... Yeah, definitely bunnies. Sorry.

There are two eldritch abominations inside of you.
But then, you knew that. You've always known it. You will never be free of that knowledge. It haunts you, no matter where you go or how you try to distract yourself.
They're there.

There are two wolves inside of me. One of them thinks I should keep this up; the other one thinks I should cut it the hell out and get back to work. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Fanaxia: The Titan and the Elf's Cabin

 We open by looting the bodies. The wizard, the spymaster, and the king are the only ones with any appreciable treasure. There’s a cabinet full of potions; Azrael suggests that it might trapped. So… we Death Ward everybody with the wand, and then Marshall summons 3 celestial monkeys. Elixir of sneaking, oil of darkness, cat’s grace, cure light wounds, and silversheen get brought over from the shelves. The second monkey tries the trap door, and fails to set off any traps. The big adamantium door doesn’t set anything off either. Once they’re done, two of the monkeys start going at it. 


Using the keys we took from the bodies, we unlock the doors. First, we open the trapdoor where the king kept his treasure. It’s… a lot. 18,000 silver, 20,000 G, 1580 pp, 34000 in gems, 19000 in artwork, and a bunch of arcane and divine scrolls. Cloaks of resistance, +2 and +3, staff of conjuration, and a pair of wings of flying which Marshall immediately commandeers. 


We then turn to the adamantium door. Inside is a strange-looking man lying on an altar; he appears to be in some sort of stasis. Marshall attempts to dispel the stasis and succeeds; the man sucks in a breath and tries to sit up. “Thank you for saving me from that nasty giant. Please, take me somewhere where I can really stand up.” 


We take him out of the cell, and he turns back into a titan once the ceiling is high enough. Then he looks at all the bodies. “Did you do all this?” 


Marshall: “We did.” 


Azrael: “There’s still something pulling at him..."

Titan: “After they ambushed me, they kept me trapped…” 


So, the sundering prevented him from leaving Fanaxia and reaching Asguard. Stuck here, the titan was aging, and the Cloud Giant became a priest and his men ambushed the titan. "In my youth, I might have taken them; but they trapped me, and were draining my power to elevate their followers into giants.”


He looks at Tavros: “I have a geas for you.” 


“The grandfather charges you with establishing a church in this land.” He pulls out a necklace. “This necklace, if placed around the neck of a worthy individual, will raise him to the priesthood and make him head of the church here in Fanaxia. If you accept, during this quest you will not be able to detect evil.”


Tavros accepts the necklace. He is now the Sword of Amun, and henceforth wields the Father’s Holy Justice. Ruin asks about Eva, and the Titan suggests that she might have been pulled in many directions. Hyperion the Titan promises that if he runs into her he’ll tell her we’re looking for her and try to help. He then demonstrates Meteor Swarm for Azrael. “You see? Amun is pretty cool.” 


Azrael: “Amun is pretty cool…” He immediately moves to go collect meteor fragments. 


We stop to rest, and Azrael summons a Magnificent Mansion (which he refers to as the Nine Halls, so that he can be the Lord of the Nine Halls) and we rest for the night.


Azrael’s quite sure he can teleport us to the front porch of the shack that he and Ruin feel drawn towards. So, after a brief conversation with another adventuring party -- four people and a dog -- Azrael teleports us to the hermit’s hut. 


The door is open and there are barrels and crates and shit out front, and there’s growling inside and somebody shouting, “Use your noses! That old coot must have hid his treasure around here somewhere.”


Marshall looks at Tavros: “Usual plan.” 


Tavros nods, and whispers, “Get her!”


Two dire wolves are sniffing around in there, a long with a large, hirstute man in a cloak, a belt, and a loincloth, and not much else. 


Tavros strolls in the door: “I say, sir, I must ask you to take your wolves and leave this place where you clearly don’t belong.” He draws his sword. 


Marshall starts enchanting himself for better damage, and move into the house. He makes it all the way to the doorway. Ruin charges in and attacks one of the dire wolves, hitting it very hard but failing to kill it. Also, the wolf has glowing red eyes. Our dude roars and turns into a half-wolf half man. He attacks Ruin, doing a fair amount of damage. A dire wolf follows up, damaging him and tripping him. Marshall moves in and attacks the tripping wolf, which proves harder to hit than the first one, and hits it once. 


Azrael fires off a quickened ray of enfeeblement and a ray of exhaustion on the werewolf, weakening him significantly. The werewolf is larger than he was; he reaches out and attacks Tavros. The wolves attack Tavros, rending him; Marshall heals him. Tavros takes that moment to step forward again and tags the weaker of the two dire wolves, taking it down. Azrael follows up with an empowered Scorching Ray on the other wolf. Both the wolf and the werewolf attack Tavros; the werewolf does some damage but the wolf misses. 


Ruin starts loosing arrows and sinks two of them, one into each of the wolf’s eyes. (Ironic, since Ruin was the young barbarian who disdained the bow in favor of hitting things at close range with a sword.) The wolf goes down. 


The werewolf attacks Tavros again, hitting him twice. Tavros is still up. Marshall moves in, and the wolf turns and attacks him on the way in, doing some damage. He casts anti-magic field, causing the dude to revert to human form. “Oh, you son of a bitch!” 


Marshall: “Do you yield!?” 


“Fuck you!”


Marshall: “You’re going to regret that when I turn into a giant snake!” 


“Big talk!” 


Tavros moves around and flanks him, hitting him; Ruin charges and attacks as well. Marshall steps in and attacks, hitting once but failing to damage. Tavros attacks again, then steps back to avoid his whirlwind attack; Ruin finishes him. 


We check the bodies. The wolves have turned back into people; we loot the leader. The cabin is trashed, the trap door is open, and the stairs go gown to a small stone closet. There’s not much here. The cabin actually looks abandoned. 


We pause to do Speak with Dead on the super-were leader. The druid who lives here has all kinds of treasure. He doesn’t know where the old man is. The old man’s name was Zilv. Nothing is downstairs. How long were they here? A couple of hours. How did you know he wasn’t here? He hasn’t been here for months - ran away like a pussy. Pansy little elf-man, tree-hugger. The dead were believes the South will rise again and Northern Fanaxia will fall, praise Urgroth. Malwin’s the boss. He’s in his cave. By the waterfall, to the east, here on tooth island. 


Ruin and Azrael go downstairs and immediately spot the secret door. We open it and find a basement room overgrown with roots with a masonry stone table to one side, and a piece of natural stone with runes carved on it is setting on the table. Written on the stone is, “Restore balance to raise me from my slumber.” There’s a thick layer of dust, except there’s an outline as if there’s something lying there. 


Ruin puts a hand out to see if it’s something invisible. 


A voice says, “Welcome, brother,” in Elvish. Everybody except Marshall understand it. Ruin takes Azrael’s hand and puts it on the stone. 


It has years since the sundering and the loss of my people. I am a shepherd without a flock. With the rest of the world gone, I am I fear the last True Elf. Brothers, if you be stout of heart, defeat Malwin and free this land. 


Azrael: “So… unfortunately, Ruin heard this.” 


The compulsion on Ruin and Azrael dissipates. 


Back on the boat, Lord Crowe had shared a story about some merchants that had been cast upon the shore and were captured by a race of giant beastmen who lived on this island. Apparently there was some truth to this. 


Azrael theorizes that what was happening with the apparently-variable difficulty in hitting was actually something interfering with Tavros’ attacks. Tavros, just as a precaution, drops Cure Disease on Ruin -- in case this giant werething might be catching, as it were.


We think that there's probably a set of scales that need to be placed back on the rocks.


We head east and find the cave, which is surround by tracks of dire wolves, wolves, and humans. Ruin and Azrael have this vision of an unnatural cave, with building and trees and rocks and streams; it's an old Elven magic. When Fanaxia was still part of Povos, this would have been near to the druid's groves. Now, of course, it's been taken over by werebeasts.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Writing Class

So there's another class by one of my favorite writing teachers coming up at WriterUniv.com in September, and I just signed myself up to take it. I've taken this one before, and I still have all my notes and all the handouts and I could reproduce the technique that's being taught here without paying for another class. So why would I be taking it again? Well... 

First off, I'm still trying to make progress on the Magic for Monsters boarding school story. (I'm making progress, actually, but dark gods it's slow...) Second, things are about to get hellishly busy around here and a class like this... even if I don't have a particular "Eureka!" moment -- even if I don't gain any new insight into the story at all -- a class like this helps me stay focused on it. It gives me reasons to keep thinking about it when I'm dealing with all manner of distractions and disruptions. Assuming that at some point we come out the other side of our present troubles, it helps me remember what I was working on with the story and what I wanted to do; it makes me less likely to drop the thing and then spend weeks trying to come back to it. 

It's a good class, and if you're trying to write a book-length project (even a novella) I would recommend it. But learning new techniques isn't the only reason to take a writing class, especially one like this.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Character Sketch: Nadia Gheata

Nadia is starting on her first year at Sunhaven Academy. She is fully human, small and slim and pale and blonde, and only slightly unusual for choosing to study at Sunhaven despite being born to House Tecuceanu, which holds a wide area of farmlands and vineyards near the center of the empire. Nadia has a solid general background in sorcery, with a specialty in ice magics. She is well-versed in Imperial politics, though generally from the perspective of the Houses of Light; she is also surprisingly capable with staff or spear. Her focus is a red-gold ring that she wears on her left hand; it becomes a longknife or a sword when she needs it to. She fights left-handed, but does all of her writing, drawing, etc. right-handed. 

Nadia is still feeling her way along in an unfamiliar environment; she knows the houses and clans of the Midnight Accord, but she isn't intimate with them.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Fanaxia Bystanders: One Big Giant Mystery

"Can't we just go back to the boat, Ferd? There was food on the boat."

Shiggae was whining again, and Ferd was about one more complaint away from throwing him right off the side of the mountain. They'd brought food -- they'd brought plenty of food, enough for weeks -- but of course Shiggae and his hound Scouty had eaten every single bit of it over the course of the last two days of hiking. "Shiggae," he said, trying not to show his irritation, "the faster you and Scouty lead us to the top of the mountain, the faster we can solve the mystery and go back to the boat." 

"I wonder if there really is a titan," Valme mused absently. "That would be amazing. Just think of how much we could learn."

"I'm thinking about what walking around in the wilderness like this is doing to my boots. Just look at them! I'll never get the scuffs out." Dephna shook her head sadly and sighed, and Fred reached over and steered her around a tree that she had nearly just walked into while staring at her boots. 

"Probably just giants," Valme said. "Tales do grow in the telling." 

Shiggae stopped walking. "Cloud giants, at least," he whispered theatrically. "That one's asleep!"

Scouty whined, and Ferd shook his head. "Even cloud giants breathe when they're asleep. This one's dead. So's the guy beside him." 

"What guy?" asked Dephna. Then she focused on the second, far smaller corpse and said, "Oh." 

They were all silent for a long moment. Then Dephna asked, "Do you suppose they killed each other?"

Scouty moved cautiously forward, and Shiggae followed. "It looks like..." he bent down, studying the snowy ground as Scouty sniffed around and then made one of those grunting noises that sounded almost like words. "It looks like they were fighting, but not each other. And, like, do you see those two gargantuan daggers? And that gargantuan mace? I think the giant dropped the daggers. But the human isn't holding a weapon."

"That's strange," said Ferd. 

Valme glanced at Dephna. "Maybe he was enlarged when he was fighting." 

Dephna frowned. "But who would carry around that big a weapon just so it would be the right size when you enlarged yourself?"

"We should keep going," said Ferd. 

"Aww, do we have to?" asked Shiggae. 

"Yes," said Ferd. "Keep us on the path, guys."

Shiggae and Scouty exchanged a look, then started off again. 


By the end of the afternoon they'd found three more human bodies and two dire tigers, all of whom appeared to have been caught in some sort of rock slide, and finally arrived at a cave with two more dead tigers out front. "This isn't making me nervous at all," said Shiggae, eyeing the dark hole in the stone with a wariness that bordered on panic. Beside him, Scouty shook his head and huffed: "Uh-uh."

"Well," said Ferd, "there's only one way to find out what's in there," and then he started walking towards the cave entrance. 

"No there's not," Dephna said to Valme, quietly conversational, as they followed along behind him. "I'm a sorceress. Not the most powerful one, but still. There are plenty of ways to find out." 

"Don't tell me," said Valme, equally quiet and conversational. "Tell your boyfriend." 

"He doesn't listen," Dephna said, shaking her head sadly. 

Valme stopped and turned back to Shiggae and Scouty. "Come on, guys. Safety in numbers and all that. You don't want to be left alone out here, do you?" 

"A-alone?" asked Shiggae, immediately moving to follow them. 

Valme turned back to Dephna. "Maybe you need a better boyfriend," she said. 

"Maybe I don't need a boyfriend at all," Dephna said, and took her hand. 

They were still holding hands when they reached the cave entrance and stopped again. The two dead dire tigers were badly scorched and beginning to decay; they'd probably been dead for a full day, and they still smelled of burned hair. Ferd, however, was not looking at them. Instead, he was looking at a corpse that lay in the cave mouth. Or was it two corpses? No, this was very definitely two halves of the same corpse, a human who had been neatly bisected down the middle. 

"Something bad happened here, guys," Shiggae moaned. 

"But what was it?" asked Ferd. "That's the real mystery..." 

Valme and Dephna exchanged a glance, neither of them quite rolling their eyes; but they followed Ferd when he pulled out a glowing rod and led them into the cave. 

They stood, looking around at the large cavern beyond the entrance. There'd been a rockfall, obviously. Probably not natural, Valme thought. And under the rockfall... "Corpses," she said. "So many corpses." Humans, dire tigers... and over there, on the floor, a pair of cloud giants. They hadn't been buried by a rockfall; they'd fallen in battle. And there was a third one, collapsed at the top of a small stone cliff that had probably been little more than a step for them. 

"Welp," said Shiggae, "they aren't titans. Just cloud giants. Mystery solved. Can we go back to the boat now?"

Ferd shook his head, stubborn as always. "A titan might still be around here. We need to find out what happened to them."

"I can tell you that," said a new voice, and all four of them started. Dephna shrieked; so did Shiggae. Scouty was halfway back to the cave entrance before he realized that none of the others were following and began to slowly circle back. 

Standing on the ledge, just at the edge of the light, was an elf. His sword was sheathed, but he had a hand on its hilt; his expression as he regarded them was completely blank. There were other figures behind him -- three of them, Valme thought. A big one, with reptilian features. Another elf, slim and robed and looking unutterably bored. A rotund human in metal armor, holding a scythe. 

"We did," said the elf in front. "We happened to them." Then he raised his free hand and the entire group vanished. 

Ferd grinned maniacally. "A mystery."