Friday, December 31, 2021

Fanaxia: Tuldralin and The Harem, part one

Tuldralin glanced at the girls who huddled around her in the common room, then rose from her seat and stepped towards the heavy wooden door. 

It wouldn't have looked like huddling to anyone else; every woman in the harem, no matter her age, sat poised and still, with no signs of worry or nervous energy. It was the fact that all of them were in the common room and all sitting still that gave it away; none of them worked at their various hobbies, and none of them were ensconced in their rooms. They were all together, all carefully posed, and their collective presence left the air heavy with waiting. 

Tuldralin had just reached the door when she caught the muffled sound of footsteps outside, followed by voices. She doubted any of the others heard them at all, but her father had been elven and her ears were sharper than most. It was a trait that had helped to keep her alive for the last twenty-three years. 

"I'm sorry," Durk was saying, from where he stood just outside the door. It was hard to tell through the heavy wood, but he sounded nervous. "The lord's orders..." 

Another voice said, "Lord Crowe's orders no longer apply to anything in this place. He has fled. He lives only at the sufferance of Cardinal Richlieu, and only until we find him again. Kuldas Keep is ours by right of blood and conquest, and in the name of the Great God Amun I order you to stand aside."

"I--" There was a momentary pause. "A moment, I beg you." 

Tuldralin swallowed as she heard the familiar sound of the bar being lifted. Whatever she needed to do to protect the others, she would do it. Whatever their new conqueror demanded, she would provide it. And whatever advantage there might be to be had, she would find it. I have to protect them...

The door swung open, and Durk blinked when he saw that she was standing just behind it. "Ah... Madam Tuldra? There's... there are... people here to see you." 

Durk was about three-quarters orc by bloodline, tall and strong and intensely loyal: first to Lord Crowe, but also to Tuldralin and the women in her care. Tuldralin had always liked him; he was forthright and fair with them, even sympathetic -- though never to the extent of neglecting his duties. And there might be an opening here already: Durk had become a eunuch at his lord's order when he took up this post. That terrible loyalty extended in part to the harem as well; if Lord Crowe was truly gone, he might be persuaded to focus on protecting them. 

"Then open the door, and let them speak." The words came easily, and something in Tuldralin's chest loosened as Durk swung the door open and then stepped back to stand beside her, still clutching his guisarme. He looked slightly overwhelmed, and as the door swung wide Tuldralin saw why: the group outside looked formidable

The one who had spoken before offered a bow. "I am Tavros, a paladin from the lands that once surrounded Fanaxia." He might have been one of the lizard-folk, but... no, his scales were silver, and there was something alarming in the way he stood and moved. A half-dragon? "My friends and I have come in the company of the centaurs and the Bakunawa, to restore their rights and their lands. We would do the same for you, if we can."

Tuldralin swallowed and looked past him. There was an elven woman standing behind him, and a gnomish man; there were others gathered around, but those were the central figures. Meeting the woman's eyes, she voiced the thought foremost in her mind: "Some would consider us possessions of the vanquished lord, rewards to be claimed by right of conquest."

The woman shook her head with a cold certainty that suggested that she might murder anyone who tried that, and would expect her companions to do the same. Tavros barely shifted his stance, but ducked his head in acknowledgement. "There are some," he said. "We are not among them, and none of ours will be permitted such sins." 

There was a soft rustle of movement through the room behind her: positions shifted, hands clasped, fans raised, postures suddenly relaxed. "I am pleased to hear that," she said. "I am Tuldralin, First Concubine of Lord Crowe." 

"No longer," said the gnome, stepping forward. "You will be Lady Tuldralin, Viscountess of Northgrove, and those here in your care will be your ladies-in-waiting."

Tuldralin took a long, slow breath, making absolutely certain that she had heard correctly; and then, very sensibly, she asked: "What?"

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Fanaxia: Kuldas Keep, and the Deck of Many Things

We have elected to invade the castle, rather than tangle with the dragon. It is our 22nd day in Fanaxia, and that morning a powerful force emerges from the swamp and heads slowly south, engaging the magiknights; the magiknights take them out but lose about 15% of their force, and then next group takes out another 10%. The lizard-folk have now come over to Richlieu and are attacking the magiknights; it’s now an evenly-matched battle. Another force attacks lady Merrowin’s troops, but she fends them off. Unfortunately, Ziss’laer the Black Wyrm is heading her way, and he’s a considerably larger threat. 

We spend some time discussing strategy outside the keep, and then…

The airship flies high above the keep, and Azrael unloads with Meteor Strike, clearing off most one side of the wall in an apocalyptic display of destructive power. Leira follows up with Sunburst. The courtyard is filled with alarums and excursions, but the folks on the wall start losing people as whole groups break and run for the courtyard. Leira clears more wall, while Azrael drops another meteor swarm and effectively shells the courtyard, centering on the leaders; the body count is ridiculous, and the army is effectively broken. A smaller group makes an orderly retreat into the keep; we spot some Vecna robes, and someone who’s probably the elder Lord Crowe himself… but even more importantly, Richelieu and a couple of his big orc bodyguards. There was also a priest, and another guy who was probably the leader of Crowe’s forces. 

The centaurs and the Bakunawa move into the castle’s courtyard. Ruin takes himself, Alexej, Leira, and Azrael down to the courtyard, just outside the door that the rather formidable collection of enemy leaders just retreated through. Geddy, Marshall, and Tavros are all still with the advancing centaurs and Bakunawa. 

The strike force goes inside, and finds themselves in a kill box with archers around the walls and Richlieu and the others at the far end of the room, trying to maneuver Lord Crowe towards some sort of escape route. We have no intention of allowing that, but a lot depends on who moves first. 

Alexej waits; Richelieu tags our entire group with Flame Strike and Quickened Flame Strike, which despite our various resistances and attempts to dodge is still pretty painful. Azrael responds with Horrid Wilting on the entire group of enemy leaders, excepting only the Blackguard. He follows it up with a quickened fireball, finishing off the wizards. Ruin and Alexej move to block this door, so none of the enemy warriors can get past us to Leira or Azrael. 

The Vecna priest does a quickened Cure Serious Wounds on himself, then drops a blade barrier on top of us. Leira goes down again. The Blackguard moves over to Richlieu and Lays on Hands, healing him back to considerably better condition. The archers are just sort of watching and panicking. The two orcs fly into rages, and charge up to the door. Alexej, dodging blades from the spell, intercepts them both with his guisarme, damaging them badly; one of the orcs manages to strike Alexej in return using his axe. 

Crowe moves back to the door: “If you surrender now, I’ll spare your lives!”

Ruin: “Optimist.”

Alexej scoops up Leira and moves out of the doorway; the orcs try to attack him but miss. He takes the opportunity to revive Leira with a wand of Cure Light Wound. Richlieu moves up  and quick-heals the other Vecna priest, then drops Flame Strike on Ruin and Azrael. Ruin survives, being extremely fire resistant, but Azrael goes down. Ruin catches him as he falls, and slips them away through a hole in reality. 

The Vecna priest moves forward and summons a couple of Bone Devils next to Alexej. They attack, lightly scratching Alexej. Alexej: “Teleport, yes?”

Leira teleports them away, and Marshall raises Azrael from the dead. We huddle up with the leaders of the invading army, and then we heal up and start teleporting ourselves and the local champions back. 

By the time we get back, the leaders have gone and the archers are still lining the walls. Geddy tries to intimidate them, and they all move to the center of the room and loose arrows at him, doing… only a little damage. A pair of fireballs follow from Leira and Geddy; two thirds of them die, and the others flee. Ruin slips across the room and grabs one of them. Geddy asks Tavros to wait outside, and questions the guy… who is currently wrapped up by a giant snake. 

According to the captured archer, they teleported away. The younger Crowe comes in and shows us the secret passages and also the royal chambers; Marshall does a Discern Location, and we learn that Crowe has gone to the central wing of Castle Fanax. 

While we’re discussing this, the Bakunawa and Centaurs come to Marshall and lead us to Crowe’s treasure room. Younger Crowe shows a really well-concealed secret door, which leads to an armor room with the Sacred Snake Armor hidden behind it. They call it the Armor of the Avatar, and it was stolen from the centaurs and the Bakunawa. It predates the Sundering. Since Marshall is the chosen one, it is his to wear. 

Marshall is thrilled. It is +5 Wild adamantine Full Plate, provides +6 to Wisdom, and immunity to poison. Once per day it will cast Blade Barrier in a five-foot ring around him. (The blades are snakes.) The adamantium provides damage reduction 3. We also gain $99,000 plus a tome of clear thought +4. 

So: the lizard folk attack the magiknights, and the magiknights take quite a beating before they pull a trick and recover. It’s a battle of attrition at this point, with the lizardfolk slowly starting to gain the advantage. Even so, the battle drags out until at last the Magiknights are annihilated. (“The magiknights are extinct. Their fire has gone out of the Universe.”) The lizard-folk have lost about two-fifths of their force. 

The black dragon assaults Lady Merrowin, tearing into her forces and ripping up her positions. She counters, damaging him, but her attack capability is dropping rapidly while his remains intact. Martini whisks Lady Merrowin away at the last moment, as the last of her force falls to the dragon. The dragon is badly injured, but will recover by the morning. The battle has torn up the landscape, and the dragon is flying overhead. It’s blackened on the surface, but it seems to be a white dragon underneath. Possibly Vecna has raised the white dragon we slew. 

Strategically? Based on what our characters know? We need to get to Castle Fanax, and disconnect Fanaxia from the Abyss. With any luck, if we manage that – and kill Richlieu and etc. – we can then go to the tower and use the hand and the blade, which will hopefully free the place from Vecna’s influence as well. 

Kuldas Keep: we start considering who should take over the rulership. The younger Crowe has no interest. There’s another son, who’s spoiled; no. There are twin daughters, spoiled; no. There’s a minister of trade, Bald Jonny; he’s well-dressed, and carrying a bunch of papers when he comes to speak with Geddy. “Might I share with you some of my plans that I would implement if I were king of Kuldas Keep?”  He sits down, and he starts smoothly laying plans: “The centaurs and the Bakunawa would both need to have trusted advisors on the council.” Weirdly, he seems sincere though he’s also obviously telling us what he thinks we want to hear. “We will need to reorganize some of the lesser lords. I know there’s sausage-making to be done there, but we can’t just toss out the old lords… it would be chaos. Still, we'll have to levy them to give some land back to the centaurs, as fairly as possible.” 

Tavros: “Good. Also, all of the former harem are ennobled as ladies.” 

Jonny: “Of course. And that brings me to my first question for you: what would you expect of me?”

Geddy: “You have to keep the city safe, and report to us.” 

Bald Jonny: “I won’t disappoint you.”

Later, Tavros approaches young lord Forthwind: “Hey, can I talk to you about something really fucking weird?” He may have been hanging around with Ruin a little too long. 

Lord Crowe: “Of course.” 

Tavros: “You strike me as a forthright and honorable young man, one who inspires loyalty and wants the best for your people – all your people.” 

He seems kind of torn. “One that just rebelled against his own father.” 

Tavros lays out his offer, with the amulet and the possibility of priesthood. Tavros has some other options as fallbacks, but he’s the first choice. Crowe wants some time to think about it, which only seems fair since the amulet will kill him if Tavros is wrong and he's unworthy.

So next we need to get to the keep, but before that… we stand with Geddy as he draws from the Deck of Many Things. Geddy takes a day to locate a Wand of Searing Light first, so he has some way to counter the worst possible outcome; then he readies Airwolf, our Ebony Fly and dons the Wings of Flying. Then he draws seven cards, and we see what happens.

-Jack of Hearts: he gains the services of a fourth-level fighter. 

-Jack of Clubs: He must fight a Dread Wraith. Geddy finds himself in an extradimensional space with a Dread Wraith, which is a horrible robed figure with a scythe. He immediately hops on the ebony fly and uses that to stay out of reach, and bombards the thing with Searing Light. 

-Queen of Diamonds: he receives 1d4 wishes. His player rolls a 4.

-King of Clubs: Void, his body functions but his soul is trapped elsewhere. 

-Ace of Hearts: Avoid any one situation.

-Ace of Spades: He is imprisoned. 

-Two of Hearts: He gets money: 50,000 GP, in fact.

From the perspective of the rest of us... Geddy draws his cards and disappears. Apparently we’re going to have to find him. The deck falls to the ground unnoticed as we wander off discussing how to find the gnome. A random by-passer, Jerry the Archer, finds it. He draws four cards, gains two wishes, and immediately blows them to avoid the effects of the next two cards, and levels up after the next thing he kills. His heroic adventure has begun. Perhaps unfortunately, none of us will ever know about it...

Friday, December 24, 2021

Booster Shot

Well, I did it. I went and got the booster shot at noon on Wednesday, knowing I'd have Thursday and Friday off to recover. And it went about exactly the way I expected: I crashed hard Wednesday night, woke up logy Thursday morning, and proceeded to spend the entire day playing Skyrim because hey, why not? I paused briefly to: 

  • Run Secondborn and Beautiful Wife over to the nearby donut shop, which does really excellent sausage-and-bacon pastries as well.
  • Afternoon grocery shopping run. 
  • Bake a frozen pizza because I didn't eat lunch and by 4:40 or so I was starving.
  • Pull the roasted potatoes out of the oven because Beautiful Wife was busy walking the dog. 

That was literally it. And honestly, aside from just being kind of dazed, the booster wasn't that bad. (And even that was probably only partly the booster's fault -- I haven't pulled a day of Nothing But Downtime like that in way too long, and I needed one.) I don't appear to be magnetic, nor do I have the power to manipulate metal with my mind. Bill Gates has not broadcast any orders into my brain. Nor am I shedding protein spikes, except in the vague sense of getting in the shower and washing off a bunch of dead skin cells along with the dirt and grime. I didn't even wake up as a gigantic cockroach. 

The whole thing was pretty anticlimactic, which is honestly about all I want out of a vaccine booster. Even my shoulder has quit being sore. 

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go kill some more dragons. 'Tis the season, after all.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

A farewell to 2021

So it's December and Christmas is Any Day Now and that means that somehow 2021 is nearly over and I'm sitting here in the Designated Writing Closet and wondering: where the hell did it go? 2020 was this horrible, slogging, torturous grind that almost culminated in a full-on fascist coup. 2021 was supposed to kind of ease back from that, give us a small chance to regroup and maybe start to repair some of the horror and mistakes and stupidities that were done. 

And maybe some of that did happen. 


But holy hell, it feels like 2021 just went by in a blur and nothing much has changed. There was a push early on to get everybody vaccinated, and even some progress, but then Delta and now Omicron appeared and it looks like our deliberate stalling has pushed us past the point of being able to really get rid of this thing. Meanwhile, our politicians and especially the Republicans are studiously pretending -- still -- that there isn't a global pandemic going on, except when they switch to pointing out that there is and it's President Biden's fault. The schools are open more or less by mandate, a fact mitigated only slightly by the fact that vaccines are now available to everyone five and older; ditto restaurants, bars, nightclubs, concerts...

It will be... interesting [read: infuriating] to see if the spread of Omicron changes that at all. 

Climate Change is in much the same situation: we're confronted with example after example of just how bad it is and just how much worse it's going to get, and we're well past the point where if we'd acted seriously we could have avoided the worst of it... and yet we're still not doing anything about it. Oh, a lot of individuals and families are; but that's like trying to fend off an iceberg with a blow-dryer. We need large-scale structural changes, the kind of things that affect whole countries and industries, and every time someone tries to even look at doing that the Powers That Be immediately move to block and discredit them. 

Meanwhile, the would-be fascist coup is still ongoing and very well might still succeed; the Republican party has clearly decided that the best way to run a democracy is to prevent anyone who might disagree with them from voting. They'll do it legally if they can, but they'll do it either way. The anti-vaxxers and QAnon true believers and Big Lie promoters are all still out there doing their thing, and maybe even getting more virulent; I'm seeing more and more reports of the QAnon types assaulting hospital personnel for using actual medical procedures instead of snake oil. Some of the folks who besieged the capital back on January 6th (with the apparent intention of hanging the vice president and probably Nancy Pelosi and some others as well as trying to overturn the results of the election) have been arrested and some have even been given jail time, but the ones who were leading the attempted coup right out there in the open? Nothing but the distant chirping of crickets. And police reform of any kind? Dead in the water.

On a personal note, as I've said a couple of times already, 2021 feels as if it looked at 2020 and said, "Well, that was a good series of unrelenting disasters, but what if we tried it again and this time we made it personal?" I think we might be through the worst of that, but I'm afraid to say so; might be tempting fate, after all. And I sure as hell don't want to give 2022 any ideas.


Also from a personal perspective, so much of what I intended to get done in 2021 just... didn't happen. Write a book? I now have three pages and a really excellent outline, but it feels like it just got shoved aside by everything else that was happening. Finishing [Project A] and [Project B] at work? Sidelined by a weird combination of Other Projects and weird technical difficulties that I haven't really had the time or energy to properly troubleshoot, in no small part because of Other Projects. Career advancement? There's a joke. I have managed a few things -- I started studying Spanish and German again -- but they don't feel like much.

2021 feels like it just went by in a sort of horrible blur because I've just spent most of the year being overwhelmed by thing after thing after thing. And yeah, I say that knowing full well that things could have gone a lot worse for us in a lot of different ways, because that doesn't really change anything. It's still been pretty horrible, and there's a particular sort of exhaustion that comes from having dealt with this shit for two years now, if not longer.

Goodbye, 2021. Good riddance. May 2022 break the cycle, even if it's just a matter of small steps in the right direction. And you, my lovely friends: take good care of yourselves, and take good care of each other. It's the only way through.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Idea for a Novel

Just reiterating something here that I was... ranting about? ...on Twitter, in response to this tweet:

You can find my response on Twitter, but I'm reproducing it here because not everybody follows me on Twitter. 

I swear I'm going to write a pandemic novel where everybody just keeps going to work and shopping and eating in restaurants and there's just this occasional aside like, "Did you hear about John? Yeah. Last Tuesday. Funeral's next week." Because honestly, that's how this feels.

Our protagonist will be training a new co-worker but there won't be any discussion of what happened to the previous co-worker, just a vague allusion to the handout from the funeral that's still on the bulletin board by the coffee machine.

Somebody will start ranting about how people need to be more careful and everyone will just look at them and edge slowly away.

Periodically there will be emails from management or bulletins posted from the Department of Health explaining that extra precautions are advised but not required at this time, but there will be no mention of what the precautions would be *for*. 

But other than that it'll just be a perfectly mundane slice-of-life book, with no dramatic character arcs and nobody really learning anything. Character growth? Naw.

Until *maybe*, at the very end of the book, the protagonist undergoes a full emotional collapse under the weight of all the things that everyone has been carefully ignoring the whole time.

I'm so tired, y'all. And it's not just the ongoing global pandemic, it's the persistent failure of leadership and the outright gaslighting from our Republican political figures and their pet media outlets. Yes, the global pandemic was always going to be horrible, but still: it didn't have to be this way. 

Blog-wise... I'm probably going to put something up for tomorrow, and there may be a few more entries next week, but it's also possible that it's just going to be radio silence over here until January. Take care of yourselves, take care of each other, and be careful out there: it looks like the holidays are making everyone a little deranged right now. 


Monday, December 20, 2021

Fanaxia: The Rescue and the Airship

 We’re leveling up. Also, we’re kind of resetting where the group treasure is. We need some 1,500 gp each doses of ruby dust. We also need 25,000 of diamond dust for True Resurrection. We also need a bunch more silversheen, and probably some extra Death Ward wands.

At the end of the day we get a message from Brom Crewe, the leader of the West Styre Archons, requesting to meet again for revised terms. 

Ruin, Martini, and Azrael are summoned by a knock on the door. Martini puts a dagger in the door and scares the hell out of the messenger, but… the Queen has received a message and requests our presence in the throne room. We arrive to find the queen on her throne, in a formal gown with her crown on. The room is formally decorated, and the queen finally looks very serious and proper. There are two women in black in the back of room; Fenrir is on his knees with his arms bound behind him and armed guards all around. 

Queen: “We may begin. Why do you come before me?”

Woman: “You hold my father hostage, and my brothers. We’ve come to surrender and swear our allegiance.”

The Queen looks to Martini. Martini: “I don’t think we should trust her until she’s proved her sincerity. She can tell us about their army and we can verify her information.”

Elizabeth: “Begging your pardon, my queen, but it’s split to two armies.” So apparently Draughan has taken two thirds of the army and split off; he’s a “nutcase” and can’t be stopped. 

After a bit of negotiation, Milicent and Ginger have evidently decided to surrender and pledge to the queen; but Draughan is enough of a fanatic that even with his adopted son "imprisoned" (actually dead but with his body being preserved for possible resurrection) he’s camped in the hills with as much of the army as he could manage to command.

Azrael: “Could we starve them out?” 

Queen: “I must take a moment to consult my advisors.”

We follow. Count Fayette and Count Collard, plus the elven bard and Favian the older chief advisor. “Well, can we trust them?” 

Azrael: “Our friends have been successful in defending Lord Crowe; the navy of Styre and the fleet of Bulbeck are effectively off the board.”

The two Counts are in favor of executing the traitors on the spot. Favian suggests that the insurrection demands some executions, but Fenrir alone might be sufficient so long as we keep hostages. Note that the wolves have not sent Milicent (Fenrir’s Wife) or Boris (the leader of the barbarian werewolf clan).

The Wallingtons and the Glamorgans keep their lands, but Draughan’s lands are forfeit; Fenrir will be executed and his body destroyed, but the children will be resurrected and allowed to stay with the Queen until she decides otherwise. The queen returns to make the announcement, and the execution is scheduled for this afternoon. 

Martini performs the execution, and Azrael disintegrates the body. 

Meanwhile, in Styre (at about noon), the other half of the party moves to get Leira resurrected and buy diamond dust; Geddy goes to visit Crewe. 

Crewe greets him with his assistant Brumilda. “I see you’ve come to talk new terms.”

Geddy: “Well, yeah, it seems like you needed new terms.”

Crewe calls for wine, and Brumilda goes to fetch some. “Have you reconsidered my deal?” 

Geddy: “We’re just not sure it’s really going to work out.” 

Crewe: “I agree, and I really do need to revise the terms. Because now I have another ally who needs to be paid off as well.” The door opens and Lady Green walks in, fresh from the battle where we annihilated her army. Geddy looks around, spotting several doors. 

Crewe: “Here are the new terms: the same as last time, but with a barony in Vrist for lady Green, 50,000 gold, and the rights to run the Shadow Dragons in Vrist.”

Geddy checks out the escape routes before he considers this. He doesn’t know whether the queen would be amenable to establishing this thieves guild officially (or even semi-officially). Geddy: “All right. I hear your terms. You know that the way this works, I’ll have to go back to consult the queen. I’d like to hang out for a bit, though; could we take a meal together so I can get a better feel for your intentions?” 

Crewe: “It turns out that Cardinal Richlieu would very much like to have you, so I do have an alternate offer on the table. He would have preferred to obtain more of your group, but you will do.” 

Geddy: “Cardinal Richlieu would be an interesting one to trust, but if you’ve got the stones for that.” 

Crewe: “You have five minutes, Geddy. Explain to me why I shouldn’t trust the cardinal.” 

Well… Cardinal Richlieu has a demon problem, and that’s why he hasn’t really moved against us yet. His only real loyalty is to the church of Vecna, and he’ll sacrifice anyone or anything for its ascendancy. Geddy: “Here’s the thing: demons notwithstanding, Richelieu’s approaching a level of desperation where I think he’s willing to promise anything to get the help he needs. They’re playing all sides to advance themselves, and whether they’ll keep those promises is another question. And I think taking this route could carry its own dangers. Remember that you can also stay out of it; if you take care of your own people and don’t take a side, the queen would likely view you kindly.”

Lady Green: “But I am desperate too. If I don’t take this deal from Richlieu, I’m dead.” 

Crewe: “Geddy, I’d like to help you, but you’re not giving me what I need. Unless you can give me a deal that’s binding with the queen, I can’t let you walk out of here.”

Geddy: “Tell you what. I’ll make this easy for you. No games, no funny business. I’ll stay here, and write up a message to send back to the queen with your terms and my recommendations, and we can wait and see how she responds. You don’t lose your leverage, and I don’t have to deal with Richlieu yet. I do expect three meals a day, though. Gotta maintain my figure.”

The side doors open and his archons come out and stand around as Geddy writes out the letter. They’ve definitely thought this through, but they’re sending the letter directly to the queen and it should arrive this evening.


Back in Vrist, the execution happens this afternoon; the letter from Geddy arrives that evening and the queen calls the elves in. “What is this?” Ruin takes one look at the letter and says, “Geddy’s been captured.”

The queen is displeased, and dismisses us. 

Meanwhile, more stuff is pouring out of the swamp; the magiknights lose one of their number. (Not Cristobol, though.) Meanwhile, down south the centaurs and the Bacunawa have besieged Kuldas Keep. Unsurprisingly, Kuldas Keep allies with Richlieu and Cimarron as the Fanax army moves down to reinforce the keep. There were rumors of Kuldas still having an airship, and apparently they actually do; the centaurs are intensely demoralized by this. The lizard-folk are migrating east as the swamp-monsters drive them out. 

Geddy, meanwhile, is learning some things about Crewe. The two parties have reunited in Styre; and at the moment we can’t seem to scry on Crewe or Geddy. We consider our resources, but Azrael is a battle-bunny and Leira’s options are fairly limited; Marshall announces that he could ask for a Miracle to deliver some or all of us to Geddy’s location. 

After a bit more discussion, we decide that the Solari party (Tavros the paladin, Leira the sorceress, Alexej the fighter, and Marshall the cleric) will go to rescue Geddy, while the three elves (Ruin the Horizon Walker, Martini the assassin, and Azrael the goth wizard) will head south and try to take over the airship. Azrael has some doubts about teleporting directly into the airship, but there are ways around that. 

So… Marshall and company Miracle their way to Geddy. Marshall will be temporarily weakened by this, but he doesn't care. He prays: “Artemis, you know I don’t ask for much. I’m a simple man of simple means, and the only person I care about more than you is this little gnome.” A voice tells Marshall that he needs to help the Bakunawa, and Marshall replies: “Right after this.” The voice: “Granted”

Suddenly we’re flying through space on the back of a giant snake. Ahead in the distance is this little building, a small castle in this space, and the snake drops us into this interdimensional castle. 

The room is full of Geddy and a bunch of guards; the guards all look up aghast, and Marshall says: “We got your letter.” 

Meanwhile, Azrael teleports the team of elves above the airship, which is in the middle of a battle. The centaurs and the bakunawa are back by the forest, and the airship is above the keep. There’s a fleet out at sea, too. The airship is dropping magic missiles and acid blasts on the centaurs and bakunawa. We’re attempting to fall onto the ship, but it’s wrapped in a Wind Wall that blows us off-track. There are formorian weapons on this ship, and a bunch of people on deck. 

Ruin tries to Dimension Door onto the ship, but fails; he plummets and hits the ground hard. 

Back in the extra-dimensional fort where Geddy is being held, Tavros opens the fight by stepping forward and slicing into an armored dwarf who is one of the Archons and about to be a dead Archon. Marshall drops Mass Inflict Critical Wounds and does just horrible things to our enemies: the dwarf goes down. Alexej eases back from a Vecna cleric and trips him, then finishes him off on the floor. Leira drops a Freezing Sphere and wipes out the remaining rogue and damages Brom Crewe and the Archon Christiana. 

Brom runs and throws open the door. Tavros breathes ice across the room, hitting all three remaining foes; the rogue dies, but Christiana and Brom survive. Christiana attacks Tavros, doing some damage with her daggers. Lady Green, two of her rogues, and a couple of her giants are in the far room. One of the rogues moves in and Alexej attempts to trip him but fails. Lady Green’s party moves into the room. The giants attack Tavros and Alexej, doing some reasonable damage. 

Marshall moves up and lays a hand on one of the giants, then casts Slay Living. It doesn’t kill the thing outright, but it damages it. Alexej attacks the other giant, damaging it. Leira casts Baleful Polymorph on Brom Crewe, who fails to resist and becomes a snail. He’s still running away, just… not very fast. Tavros cuts down Christiana, then one of the rogues. The other rogue tries to attack Alexej and just… misses. Completely. 

Marshall casts Holy Word, blinding and deafening the snail, and lady Green, and the remaining rogue. Alexej slices up the nearer giant and kills him. Tavros steps over to Lady Green and beheads her. Tavros steps towards the giant: “You should really run now.”

Leira translates. 

Giant: “Um… me not hurt?” 

Leira: “You don’t fuck with us, you live.” She's... taken a somewhat darker turn since her last resurrection; being killed has not been good for her sense of mercy.

It puts its hands up and steps back. The deaf, blind Shadow Dragon Rogue starts feeling his way along the wall in search of the exit. Geddy picks up the snail, then puts it in a pouch. 

The giant is very apologetic and very interested in being friends. Leira makes him promise to be good, and he bounds out the portal. 

We’ve won.

Ruin, meanwhile, is climbing out of the crater where he landed; the fall from the airship didn't kill him. Martini has used Dimension Door to get down to the ground intact. Azrael is still flying around the boat, and casts Meteor Swarm and drops two meteors on each end of the flying ship. The golems are immune, the two wizards and the beholder survive, and they immediately turn the boat and take it back inside the keep because everybody else has died. 

Kuldas Keep is extremely well-defended, but chasing off the airship and showing up has rallied our allies. We introduce ourselves to the Bakunawa and the Centaurs and announce that we’re here on behalf of Marshall. Our first priority will be to take the airship for ourselves, or else take it out entirely.

We come up to the stone door where the flying ship went inside, and Ruin hears them calling up a second crew to re-staff the boat. They’re clearing the bodies off and putting new troops on. Martini is able to look in through an arrow slit; Azrael floats up beside her, peers in through the arrow slit, and casts Horrid Wilting on the back half of the ship. (This is our attempt to draw them out, since we don't have any good way past the giant stone doors and the castle is proof against us teleporting inside.)

They send the boat back out in a hurry, before we can hit it again. Ruin is waiting on the ledge; he grabs the front of the boat and starts climbing up. Martini runs and jumps onto the boat, passing safely through the wind-wall this time. 

Ruin finishes climbing up onto the foredeck and cuts down a couple of people, then attacks an iron golem and misses. It turns to look at him since he’s visible now. Azrael invisibly descends onto the boat, while a Wizard uses Dominate Person on Ruin and commands him to protect him… but Ruin is resistant to magic and isn’t dominated. Martini, still invisible, dimension doors down to the aft deck and arrives between the beholder and the wizard. 

The beholder, meanwhile, unloads its eye-beams on Ruin. Between misses and spell resistance, most of them miss… but a finger of death slips through (but fails to kill him outright). Then the iron golem turns around and attacks him, hitting once. Another iron golem starts moving up from the aft deck. The guys with the magic missile weapons miss, as do the acid bolt attacks. The guys with the obsidian crystals pull them out and activate flaming blades from them; one of them steps in and tags him with a flame sword. 

Ruin cuts down a couple of the guys with the flames swords and takes a shot at the iron golem again, but misses. 

Azrael drops a couple of fireballs on the foredeck and clears it off, leaving Ruin and the golem untouched. Ruin brushes a bit of ash off his shoulder. 

Martini starts stabbing things. The beholder and the wizard both go down. She’s now visible, and the iron golem – the last thing on the aft deck – turns to attack her. The guys with the magic missile guns do a little damage to Ruin, and the acid arrow guys attack Martini, also doing a little damage. The iron golem attacks Ruin, damaging him some more; he’s starting to really feel it, so he Dimension Doors his way up to a crow’s nest. Martini joins him up there as the three iron golems rage around on the deck. The golems are the only things left, and the boat is free-flying out into the sky. Unfortunately, we're not well-equipped to deal with iron golems. (We had plans, but we haven't been in any position to purchase that sort of equipment.)

Azrael sends a message to the other party, then conjures his mansion and the elves all go in to eat and trance. The other party will join us in the morning. 

Crowe has come down to assault his father’s navy. We’re drifting northwest in the flying boat. The swamp is still trying to expand, and fairly horrible things are now emerging from it. A force of hydras, small dragons, and harpies emerges to attack the magiknights. They fend it off, but take more casualties in the process. They keep the townsfolk from being overrun, but they’re hurting. Jorrin (a higher-level magiknight) and Cristobol are both slain. Lady Merrowin is also losing troops, but she too is still holding the line on the north side of the swamp. Still… it does not look good.

The next morning, Azrael makes himself invisible and drops a ladder, and the other party (who has teleported underneath the ship) climbs up under the shelter of Geddy’s Invisibility Sphere. 

We start looking to finish the golems. Ruin positions himself, Alexej attacks hard but misses, Geddy starts singing, Azrael casts Haste, Martini moves into position to flank. One of the golems hits Alexej. Leira summons an animated magic sword, which starts attacking golems. Marshall turns into a snake and attacks a golem, damaging it. Tavros, Ruin, and Alexej beat one of them down; Azrael drops Grease under another one. 

Marshall, as a giant snake, grapples one of the golems. Tavros moves up to help Ruin, who’s busy beating on a golem; Alexej follows. The grappled golem tries to escape but fails; the other golem attacks Ruin, hitting him twice and doing noticeable damage. Leira drops a new Mage’s Blade beside the golem that attacked Ruin; Marshall throws the other one off. It survives the fall but it’s pretty badly damaged. Ruin and Tavros finish the golem. 

The airship is officially ours. Belowdecks is pretty cramped. It’s set up so that they have two crews, one topside and one waiting to replace anyone who falls. The engine room is a crystal that seems to have grown tentacles into the ship; it’s one of Vecna’s creations from back when she was mortal. It seems possible that if we were to rip this crystal out, it could be installed on a new ship. 

We get the boat turned around and head back. Unfortunately, Zis'laer the Black Wyrm -- a black dragon -- has emerged from the swamp and appeared on the battlefield to protect Kuldas Keep... and he may actually be more formidable than the ancient white dragon we fought a while back.


We'll see. 

Friday, December 17, 2021

Dark Armor V3 Ch01 SC03

 It was just before dawn when Pallian reined up and lifted a fist, signaling to the troopers behind him to stop as well. They'd gone a long way south before crossing the valley and advancing. Darvin, their commander, rode up beside him and waited; so did Liiras, the sorcerer-assign for this company. 

"Pass the word back quietly," said the Black Knight. "When I hit the edge of the camp, you follow. Let them focus their attention on me, and then come up behind them." That would also hold the troopers back from the disasters that Pallian would be visiting upon the camp. "Liiras, do they know we're here?" 

"I expect not," said the sorcerer-assign. "I have been screening us against magical watchers. But this force is more than it seems, and I could have been fooled."

The Black Knight nodded, and made a note to recommend Liiras for advancement. To Darvin he said, "Assign a squad to find their supply train once the attack begins. Either take it, or burn it; I don't care which. Our goal here is to hurt them as much as possible while losing as few of our people as we can manage."

"With your permission," said Liiras, "I'll ride beside Darvin and do what I can to protect our troops from any spells their sorcerers might throw at us. The sortie for the supply train will have to rely on stealth and make shift as best they can." 

Pallian nodded. "Agreed." He considered the camp, with its neat rows of tents and its banked cooking-fires. There was a double-row of watch-fires around the perimeter, but no earthworks or even fascines; there was nothing here that would slow him down, and once he was inside the camp the eyes of the guards would likely be following him. The company could ride up on them unseen. 

What worried him were the two unknowns: the Archer, who could send arrows to targets ridiculously far away with impeccable accuracy, and the Shadow of Edrias, whose defenses were darkness, illusion, and invisibility. The armor had closed over the place where her dagger had pierced it, and his flesh had closed beneath it; even so, it worried him that she held a weapon that could injure the Black Knight. He expected the Shadow to come to him, rather than trying to slaughter his men; if she had any sense, she'd want to prevent the sort of devastation he could bring to the camp. The archer, on the other hand... might do anything.

There was only one way to discover how this might turn out, and no way at all to turn back. His father had placed him under his older brother's command, and an attempt to escape now would result in annihilation. No, the sorcerer-king would want the Black Knight to make an example of his enemies, even -- perhaps especially -- if those enemies had prepared for that. 

Turning back to Darvin he said, "Pass the word. I want everyone ready to ride when I hit their camp."

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Weird Dreams: Sean Connery

I woke up this morning from a dream in which I was hunting Sean Connery at a convention in a University -- he'd killed a couple of my friends. The only way to get him was to hit him with a UV light, which caused his limbs to shrink up into little baby-arms and -legs. I'd actually captured him, but then the bastard gave me the slip while we were taking the tram back across to the other side of the University and I was off trying to chase him down again...

...Yeah.I'd just caught up to him in a hallway and was shining the UV light on him again when my alarm went off. (Which was probably for the better, all things considered.)

I think this was a combination of Better Watch Out (which I saw for the first time last night courtesy of the Analog Demon on Twitch), a bit of Blade II (which I was watching before bed) and a Spellslinger Academy book (which I'm currently reading to see what people are doing with School For Magic ideas right now). 

I'm also taking this as something of a good sign, since I generally don't wake up remembering this sort of extended-narrative dream unless I'm sleeping pretty well and getting enough sleep.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Challenge: Funniest Book

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 topic is "the funniest book I've ever read," and y'all... I'm torn. 

There are obvious choices, like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or The Princess Bride or Catch-22, and for me those are all strong contenders. There are also the "books" that are republished comics, equally valid -- I'm honestly not sure I would have survived college without Bloom County and Calvin and Hobbes. 

But those are all popular choices, and while there isn't anything wrong with that -- they're popular precisely because they're funny -- I don't think that naming them here really adds anything that y'all don't already know about. So... how about some things that folks might not be familiar with already? 

Everywhereist recently posted a review of The Worst Michelin-Starred Restaurant Ever, and on the strength of that writing I've gone ahead and purchased this book. To be clear: I have not had a chance to actually read it yet. But go read that review and tell me it doesn't sound like a pretty safe bet. 

Next up is Nine Goblins, a fairly light-hearted fantasy short. (Sometimes, you just have to cheer for the goblins!) It's by T. Kingfisher, and if you enjoy it you should check out the author's other works. I'd particularly recommend the Paladin series and A Wizard's Guide To Defensive Baking, because if your sorcerous familiar isn't a sourdough starter then what are you actually doing with your life? 

Lastly, I'm going to recommend the Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse books -- a thoroughly enjoyable and humorous sci-fi series in which the janitors are the only ones left to save their battleship after a mysterious plague turns the rest of the crew into, well, basically zombies... and they have keep this from happening again. In spite of what their bosses have to say about it. 

So that's what I've got. What have you enjoyed that I might be missing? (If you took part in the challenge, feel free to link to your own post in the comments!)

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Monday, December 13, 2021

December 2021: State of Us

Last Thursday was the first of Beautiful Wife's follow-up surgeries following the mastectomy back in the beginning of September. This one was primarily aesthetic cleanup, and as a result more superficial... though it was still surgery under anesthetic, which is nothing to take lightly. Still, after about five hours of surgery and half an hour of recuperation, I was able to take her back home. 

Of course, I still had to set up the cot again -- the loft bed is a no-go zone for her right now -- and I'm back to being the Walker of the Dog, and I picked up Mediterranean food for us on the way home, and...


We're doing pretty well, all things considered. She's recovering quickly (a couple of iron supplements and a lot of Gatorade made a huge difference in that), and she's already at that stage where she has energy to get up and move around and do things right up until she doesn't anymore. It won't be too long until I need to put up another round of "It's Important To Be Boring" signs. She's already allowed to drive, though I don't think the doctors really appreciated the intricacies of climbing into the van while it's parked in the garage. 

On my end, I'm back to running support for Beautiful Wife and not much else -- especially with the last of the holidays getting ready to fall on my head like a ton of bricks. I have no real news from work, no real progress on most of my writing, and no real expectation that either of those things will change any time soon. It's the nature of the season: everything that happens this time of year is both desperately urgent, and simultaneously on hold. I did get more sleep and I intend to continue that, both because it will eventually help and also it's about all I can do right now. 

Monday (tomorrow, at the time of this writing) will be a day of sorting through projects and assigning priorities, following up on things that would be done by now if all the forces in the Universe weren't conspiring to delay me, and just possibly buying a lottery ticket in the vain hope of deliverance.

Oh, and bacon. I need to buy more bacon.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Dark Armor V3 Ch01 SC03

"You left the dagger in him?" asked Sorcerer-Commander Vanger, as Pallian laid his brother on the wide discussion table in the center of the command tent.

On the far side of the tent, Troop-Commander Jarrol rolled his eyes. The two men were close enough in age, both just entering their fifties, but the Sorcerer-Commander was whip-thin and leanly muscled while the Troop-Commander was built like a bear, soft fat over heavy bones and muscle. 

"I had no choice," he said, and let the helmet turn his voice into a fearsome rasp. "It might be tamponading something." 

Troop-Commander Jarrol nodded sharply at that. "I'll send for healers." 

"Make sure they're accompanied by troopers. Commander Vanger, can you keep this room lit? Even against an enemy sorcerer trying to plunge it into darkness?" 

The older man gestured impatiently, and magical light flooded the room. 

"Good," said Pallian. "Now, can you do the same thing for the entire camp? I want it lit up like midday."

"I can... but why?" Vanger looked hesitant, and Pallian didn't begrudge him that; even with all the initiations that strengthened and supported his sorcery, lighting the whole of the camp would require a real effort on the Sorcerer-Commander's part. 

Pallian drew breath to answer, but a woman's voice cut him off: "Because of me." 

His armor could only barely sense her, even in the brightness of the room, but Pallian had been expecting her return. He caught up the chair beside him and hurled it in a single movement, passing it through the space directly behind Vanger's back. The figure that had briefly shimmered there flickered to one side, and Pallian caught up a second chair and hurled it as well. 

This time the figure dove out of the way, rolling before coming up and sprinting for the side of the tent. Pallian seized another chair, but she slipped through the tent wall the same way she'd slipped through the guards' hands earlier. The chair struck the wall and fell harmlessly to the carpeted floor. 

"Because," he continued, "I think we're dealing with the Shadow of Edrias."

"I see," said Sorcerer-Commander Vanger, and strode towards the entrance of the tent. 

"Wait," commanded Pallian, as Vanger swept aside the curtain and stepped out into the night -- but he was a moment too late. Vanger stopped in the doorway, then staggered back, clutching at a knife in his gut. It wasn't the one she'd displayed earlier; this one was small and accented with silver, and seemed to be trying to pull itself further into Vanger's body. 

Pallian lifted his left arm and loosed a stream of fire, burning a hole through the curtain and part of the tent beside it. There was a brief cry from outside -- maybe not a scream of pain, but at least a shriek of surprise -- and he advanced, still burning everything ahead of him. The Shadow of Edrias would either be dead, or wouldn't be there anymore; but he needed the fire for cover while he approached Vanger. 

The problem here was the opposite of the one with his brother. That blade might be keeping some vital vein or artery blocked, preventing Ravaj from bleeding to death. This one was actively injuring the Sorcerer-Commander further, and it had to come out. 

He knelt down, slipped his gauntlet-covered hand under Vanger's fingers, and yanked on the blade. 

It fought him; it didn't want to come loose. Even with his armor adding to his strength, it took an effort to pull it loose. Even then, it didn't quit; it turned on him immediately, trying to twist back and cut at his hand, his wrist...

Pallian slapped the thing against his chestplate and it clung there, desperately pressing against the ensorceled metal. Good enough. "Lose something, Shadow?" he growled. 

He got as far as the burning edge of what had once been the door of the command tent before a woman's voice chuckled and said, "Not bad, Black Knight. Not enough to stop me, but not bad."

Something slams into the back of his armor, aimed for his kidney. It rebounds, but not before penetrating the steel; for the first time in his three years as the Black Knight of Teregor, Pallian's dark armor has been pierced. 

He's already turning, though, fast enough to catch the Shadow's shoulder before she can slip away, fast enough to slam her into the ground as hard as he can. She's too slippery; he need to kill her, and it needs to happen immediately. His sword is still in its sheath, so he yanks the burrowing-dagger off his chest and stabs down with it...

...A heartbeat too late. She has gone momentarily intangible, and the blade passes through her as she rolls to the side and returns to solidity; he can tell, because she's suddenly back on top of the carpets instead of being sunken slightly into them. 

Then Ravaj rolls off the table and lands on his feet, staggering over to Vanger as the Shadow turns her head, expressionless behind her hood but possibly just gaping in the same way that Pallian is behind his helm. He kneels beside the fallen Sorcerer-Commander and bends down, sinking horribly elongated teeth into the side of the older man's neck. He gestures even as he drinks, and the dark armor tracks the wards flooding out from him, filling the room and spreading out into the camp. 

The Shadow is aware of them, too: she flickers past Pallian, taking a cut on the arm from her own dagger as she passes, and races out of the tent. A moment later she is gone, melting into the darkness, and Pallian remembers that the wards around the camp probably caught her once before. He doesn't think the wards that Ravaj is generating now will fill the camp quickly enough to prevent her escape, though. 

Standing, Vanger dead at his feet, Ravaj pulls the dagger from his gut as the wound seals and his flesh restores itself. "Neither of you saw that," he says, and tucks the dagger into his leather belt. "Clearly, the Shadow of Edrias slew Sorcerer-General Vanger and escaped. He must be avenged. Troop-Commander, assign a company to our Champion. He will lead them across the valley before dawn, and assault the enemy camp."

Jarrol swallows, then nods. "As you say, my prince."

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Fanaxia: Surgical Spell Strike

 Some background:

Fenrir and Millicent Wallington have eight kids

2 younger: roger & Gloriana

Older ones include Oliver, the rowdy Clifton, Fendril the fourteen-year-old with delusions of adulthood, Elizabeth the goth (whom we set up with the son of the other baron) Alice and Juliana the flirts.

Boris was one of the barons, Ginger his wife, and his son who’s a bit stupid: Amaroc.

Bishop Draughan, the other Baron, has adopted kids, Lucien being the most senior and also a priest in his father’s church.

Their army is strong in part because it has a lot of werewolves, both regular and the really huge and powerful ones. 

We recon the house in the morning covered by Invisibility and Pass Without Trace. There’s one human guard and three wolves patrolling the yard – clearly werewolves – and a pair of dire wolves in front of one of the doors. Ruin and Martini begin their approach while Azrael floats overhead. Azrael casts Detect Magic and starts scanning the house. There are several magic items in the family wing, and some in a room we haven’t been in on the far side. There are also probably six people in the conference room, which is probably why they have Dire Wolves guarding the door. 

Azrael keeps his attention on the family wing, sorting the different magical auras and their powers. There are multiple moderate magical auras, some of them apparently on a person. 

Martini and Ruin continue their approach. They’re now close enough to hear some talking from the conference room. Fenrir: “Come now! We must strike now, while the Queen is undefended.”

Amaroc shouts his support. 

A younger man’s voice says, “Father, will all due respect those pests can teleport around this island. They’ll be back in a moment if we attack.”

Another voice: “Richlieu still wishes to turn them to his side against the demons.”

Azrael continues detecting. 

Fenrir: “Oliver, patience is wise, but I fear this war is progressing too quickly for our patience to pay off. The army of Styre has declared for the queen, and she has offered a marriage pact for the Duke of Styre. 

Side conversation: “What are these demons, Lucien?” 

Lucien: “They are the scourge of Castle Fanax, and beyond Richlieu’s power to overcome. That is why he wants their help.” 

We wait for a few minutes. There are six people in there: Fenrir, Fendril (who’s being pretty quiet), Oliver, Clifton, Lucien Draughan (the priest) and Boris’ son Amaroc. Draughan and Boris do not appear to be in the room. They’re also still kind of piss about us leaving the traps in the basement. Fenrir mentions that they have their army in place and can move immediately; it sounds like Draughan and Boris are with them. They’re concerned about what we’ve done to unite the north, and feel like they need to take back the advantage.

Azrael, meanwhile, continues gathering information. 

We meet back and trade information, and then teleport into the room under the effects of Death Ward and Greater Invisibility. Fenrir looks up as we arrive, but Oliver puts a hand on his arm and calls his attention back to the discussion. 

Fenrir finally holds up a hand: “Did you all hear that?” They all start sniffing the air. “Fan out! Search the room!” 

Azrael drops Black Tentacles on the room. We, of course, are protected by Freedom of Movement. The tentacles spring out and begin grabbing people: everyone except for Amaroc is grappled. Ruin moves over and attacks Lucien, raging as he goes; Lucien is grappled by a tentacle and takes the hit. Oliver and Clifton immediately burst into their giant werewolf forms in an attempt to break out of their tentacles. They also start screaming for help. The other follow suit. 

Leira moves up and attempts to assassinate Fenrir; she doesn’t kill him outright, but she does a huge amount of damage. The tentacles continue squeezing, but in their larger forms they’re considerably more resilient and only Oliver and Fendril take damage. 

Azrael backs into the corner and casts Horrid Wilting. Fenrir, Amaroc, and Lucien shrug off the worst of it, but the other three – Fenrir’s kids – take full damage. Oliver and Clifton try to break free, but fail. The two guards outside throw the door open, then stand there and gape. Martini takes Fenrir down and changes locations. 

Fendril tries to break out and fails. Lucien heals himself, managing to grind the spell out despite being held by the tentacles. Amaroc, not seeing any obvious targets, rages and smashes through the table, attacking where he thinks the person attacking Lucien (Ruin) might be. He takes a mighty swing and misses. The tentacles actually do some damage. 

Azrael fires off an empowered Enervation at Amaroc, and Ruin attacks Lucien again, damaging him badly. 

Clifton finally manages to escape from his tentacle. 

The two guards at the door rage and try to attack into the space where Ruin is standing. One of them hits him, hard, in wolf form. More guards are moving towards the door, but there are tentacles everywhere. 

Martini leaves Fenrir to be torn apart by the tentacles, and attacks Clifton. He dies. Lucien manages to cast Invisibility Purge, and we’re all visible again. This is exactly what Ruin has been worrying about; Amaroc sees him, grins, and attacks as powerfully as he can… and misses completely. 

Azrael attempts to disintegrate Amaroc, who unfortunately manages to avoid the full effect; Ruin moves slightly and then cuts down Lucien in a massive series of attacks. The Invisibility Purge ends, and we’re invisible again. Oliver tries to break out of his tentacle again, and again fails. Martini moves over and finishes off Oliver. Fendril charges towards where he thinks Ruin is. But misses because Ruin is invisible. Amaroc tries the same, attacking more carefully. Two of them miss because Ruin is invisible, but one hits. He’s still on his feet, though. 

The tentacles grab for Amaroc and Fendril, but fail to grapple them; Fenrir takes more damage. Azrael moves up and drops an empowered Fireball on the guards outside the door, killing a couple and wounding the others. He follows it up with a quickened Fireball.

Ruin finishes Fendril and then moves, getting away from where Amaroc thinks he is. Martini moves up behind Amaroc and murders him with her magic super-dagger. Fenrir Wallington isn’t quite dead, so… we stabilize him and then begin stuffing bodies in bags while Azrael drops Incendiary Cloud in the courtyard, where the guards are pawing at the door. At least one of them dies in the fire, and the others are scorched. We continue stuffing bodies in Bags of Holding, and Azrael drops a quickened Fireball out the door, adding to the damage. 

The werewolf guards decide that they aren’t going to hang around for this, and stagger out of the fire. While we’re doing this, Martini notices a secret door, and doesn’t hear anything behind it; she opens it and slips through. Azrael: “Farta, what are you doing? We’re about to go, Farta.”

Ruin looks up and sees that Farta is gone; he follows, since the door is blocked with Incendiary Cloud. 

Azrael looks at the Incendiary Cloud and sees it go away. There’s a hybrid werewolf outside, a woman. 

Martini and Ruin step back out and Azrael teleports us straight to the Queen’s throne room. 

Queen: “Is that–? My goodness! Are those Lucien and Amaroc? But they’re dead… too bad. If we had a hostage from each of the families…”

Azrael: “Surely that can be arranged. Or we could hold them Repose, and promise to disintegrate one of them for every day the war continues.”