This really feels (like so much of Leonard Cohen's work) as if it should be the seed of a story.
So, for this week I've been reading (or in one case re-reading) several books at once to kind of get a feel for how I want to lean into the Hogwarts-But-For-Monsters project. Basically, I've also been poking at some other series that seem to be off in the same direction to see how they handle their initial setup and introductions, and what might work for me. So, here's what I'm looking at:
A Living Nightmare (Cirque Du Freak): I thought I'd take a dive into this one since it seemed to have monsters, and school-aged-children becoming monsters, and that's sort of the direction I'm headed. It's... not what I thought it might be, and (at about one third of the way through it) I'm not entirely sure I know where it's going, though of course I have my suspicions. It's taking a long, slow, horror-story buildup which is interesting in its own way, but definitely not what I want to do. Our narrator and his three friends are in high school when a mysterious freakshow comes into town, and two of them manage to sneak away and watch the show, where the acts become stranger and more terrifying by ominous degrees...
Vampire Academy: Right, a school for vampires, definitely worth looking at to make sure I'm not about to retread well-worn ground. Only this one starts in media res, with the narrator realizing that her roommate is having a nightmare, shaking her awake, and letting the roommate -- a vampire -- feed on her, since the narrator is a half-vampire herself. The dhampir (half-vampire) realizes someone was watching through the window from outside and saw them, so as the vampire's protector she immediately evacuates them both. This is all basically the first scene of the book; my Kindle says I'm 3% of way through. So, my first reactions were, Wow, that got moving quickly, and Wow, that was amazingly sapphic and do they even realize that they're girlfriends? But this is opening with an established relationship between the two characters and with both them apparently comfortable in their roles as supernatural beings, which is definitely not what I'm looking for. I want to read on a bit further and see what they do with the eponymous Vampire Academy itself, but as far as the opening goes there's no resemblance to what I have in mind.
The Burning Sky (The Elemental Trilogy): I'd never heard of this one until somebody mentioned it on Twitter, and having read the whole trilogy I'm frankly amazed that it isn't wildly more popular. It's not as comparable to the Harry Potter books as that initial mention led me to believe, but it does feature young wizards fighting an evil overlord and his armies, and of course there's romance as well. There is actually a college involved, though it isn't a college of wizardry; it's Eton College, in 1883, which serves as a sort of backdrop and contrast to all the magical scheming going on. And it opens with both of its main characters already well-established as wizards; their education is as much learning about the true nature of their enemy as it about learning magic. So, much as I loved these books, they weren't particularly relevant to what I'm doing here. (I mention them primarily because I firmly believe that more people should read them. Seriously, go download a sample. Go!)
The Lightning Thief: It's been a while since I read this one, so I'm less clear on its details. I think I remember the general shape of it, though: ordinary young man, raised by a single mom and now at boarding school, discovers that he's far less ordinary than he believed when his teacher turns into a monster and attacks him and his best friend turns out to be a satyr. He arrives at Camp Half-Blood, where the half-human children of the gods are gathered for learning and protection, and begins to learn about his powers. Much as I liked this, there are definitely things I'm doing differently. For one thing, I want a somewhat older main character; for another thing, the gods in Percy Jackson and the Olympians are all these sort of horrible, absentee parents. And I don't want one super-powerful parent, either; I think it might make a nice change to have a young hero who comes from a stable, loving family with fairly ordinary, human parents.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: This, of course, is the main thing I'm looking at, since it's easily the most popular and best known Wizarding School book series in recent memory. It's also, in its way, the weirdest of the lot: it doesn't even start by introducing its main character. In fact, it starts by introducing the Dursleys -- the aggressively ordinary and respectable parents who will go on abuse Harry for the first ten years of his life -- and then Dumbledore and McGonagall, two wizards, who explain about the end of a terrible, hidden war among the wizards and the end of Voldemort. When the story finally does introduce Harry, it's as a baby in a basket. The whole first chapter is basically just a massive infodump/piece of foreshadowing, and it only works because it manages to be quirky and entertaining while the reader is trying to figure out where this is all going. (If the same background information had been given as a traditional preface, nobody in the world would have read more than halfway through.)
Once the actual story gets going, it's essentially a Cinderella story: neglected young boy living a life of misery in an abusive household is saved when a messenger arrives to tell him that his parents were special, that he is special, and that he's needed in the wonderful, magical place where he truly belongs. He is taken to Diagon Alley and given his first taste of magic; then, a bit later and overcoming a few challenges in the process, he makes his way to Hogwarts to learn wizardry. Unlike Cinderella, being plucked away from his horrible life is only the beginning of the story, not the Happily Ever After; but the fairy tale setup is unmistakable. Annnnnd yeah, I don't really want to do that either.
Okay, so what should be similar and what should be different? Well, for starters, their ages: Percy Jackson is twelve when he discovers Camp Half-Blood; Harry Potter is rescued from the Dursleys on his eleventh birthday. I want my protagonist, Darian Silver, to be old enough to make decisions for himself. And I've had enough of this selected-out-of-nowhere bit; he's applied to go to the Shadow Academy because for the last year strange things have been happening around him and it's making trouble for his family -- he's making trouble for his family. So he's decided to go somewhere that will be hopefully better equipped to deal whatever's going on with him. And his family isn't entirely happy about this, but they're prepared to respect his decision.
And that's where I need to come in.
For the last two years, I've been taking part in the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. I've had a great deal of fun with it, so naturally I'm continuing it this year. If you'd like to participate, follow that first link for the list of prompts, and then check the main site for the weekly post with links to everyone's responses (and add your own link, if you're so inclined).
Today's prompt is "my greatest strength" and... boy, howdy, that took me a minute. I am not feeling anything to do with greatest strengths right now; we're thawed out and everything's getting going again, but this past week has been yet another object lesson in just how much of what we call "civilization" is actually just a murderous scam. Still...
All right, I can answer this. And actually, I think I have two answers for it.
In daily life (and especially in my work), my greatest strength is patience. I do a fair amount of troubleshooting and training (in addition to maintaining and updating some computer systems) and in both cases, the ability to just... not get frustrated... is invaluable. Explaining things in simple English is also a surprisingly useful skill; hire liberal arts folks for technical positions, y'all.
(It helps to remember that an awful lot of things are very obvious once you've seen them, but not at all obvious before then. I have a lot of users who are like, "I'm so stupid about this stuff," and they're really not; they're just dealing with detailed and slightly finicky process that they only use every couple of months. Of course they're not going to remember how it works, even if they take notes -- and a lot of them do.)
So day-to-day, I'd list patience as my greatest strength.
But every once in a while -- and this is actually kind of related -- I think my greatest strength, my actual super-power, is the ability to Just Not Care about unimportant things. Major system just went down! Whose fault is it!? I don't care, how do we fix it? I posted something on the website two hours ago, then got sent an update to replace it with... and then another, and then another? I don't care, it still needs to go up. Project leader has decided that we're going to do something the difficult, unreliable way that will make more work for us in the long run as well as the short term? I can't affect the decision, so I don't care.
I cannot tell you just how much I despise the phrase "It is what it is" -- as far as I can tell, it always means "this is stupid, difficult, and could be easily resolved but we're going to do it this way anyhow" -- but when I find myself in or adjacent to one of those situations, the ability to Just Not Care comes in very handy.
We continue experimenting with levers, trying to claim the final orb. We're forced to rest again, but after some switching things around we have the fourth orb and start placing things on platforms.
As with the previous area, each orb emits a beam of light and the hatch opens onto a pool of water.
Once again, we send Chuck ahead. He goes down and pops out on a new level, invisible and un-drown-able. He reappears a moment later.
Chuck: "There's like some sort of dumb fucking chessboard... whoever built this place was waaay into themselves and their stupid puzzle stuff. There are more orbs and another hatch and some more of those clockwork guys, but I think we can go down safely enough."
The floor is a misaligned chessboard, with mechanoids set at various points on the board and two walls of electricity running down the sides. Each square is ten feet by ten feet.
Chuck steps onto a black square, and the first row slides ten feet to the left. There are no mechanoids here, so he steps onto the next black square, which moves the second row to the left and brings one of the mechanoids into the field of lightning. It straightens and looks up, and now we're in combat.
Chuck moves first, and casts Scorching Ray at the mechanoid knight. (This is just a suit of armor, not the nasty life-draining thing we fought last time.) The fire damages it.
Jenny steps onto a white square, which shifts the row to the right and carries her closer to the mechknight. She barely keeps her balance, but still manages to attack. Unfortunately, it's like attacking an iron statue; very little damage.
The knight moves forward and attempts to smash her with an iron fist, but misses.
Hatch tries magic missile but doesn't do a lot of damage. Ramikin flies over a black square and the whole row shifts left. Apparently it doesn't require body weight to activate them; good to know. Bob -- Frost Giant Skeleton -- steps over and whangs the guy without setting foot on a square, and the knight goes down.
We move around a little more, discovering that anybody carried off the board disappears into a little cubby, and then we activate one of the centaur-types by moving its square into the wall of lightning. It moves around and tries to cast a spell on Chuck, who saves; but that's taken it within Bob the Skeleton's reach, and Bob bonks it with his axe. Chuck and Hatch both fire off scorching rays; Chuck fails to penetrate its magic resistance with his, but Hatch hits with both of his.
Jenny moves up onto a new square, which slides Bob, Ramikin, and Jenny closer to the mechanical centaur. It takes advantage of this to slap back at Bob, doing some damage; fortunately, Bob is a skeleton and soaks most of it. Jenny steps in with her chaos-tinged whip and tags it hard. Bob swings and loses his grip on his axe, which is now several squares away; he claws at the thing and takes it down.
We move forward carefully, until Bob retrieves his axe. Chuck tries to move diagonally and accidentally sets off The Wrong Square, activating one of the Big Uglies that we fought at the end fo last session.
Chuck attempts to use Web on the thing, but it fails. He manages to tumble to another square, shifting the row; the shift carries him into the lightning wall. He soaks most of it, and the Big Guy smashes him with his fists twice. The fists carry electric and sonic damage, but Chuck is very fortunate that he's a vampire; he's resistant to a lot of that.
Bob charges forward on Jenny's command, shifting the battlefield and activating another one of the knights, then tosses Jenny onto a square. She steps onto a white square, carrying her into range, and tears into Big Guy construct.
Hatch throws a scorching ray and does some damage; Durest drops a flame Strike on the two constructs, killing the big one and fucking up the knight. Chuck finishes off the knight.
He maneuvers the row he's on, until we can see the whole row; but doing so activates another of the knights; fortunately, Jenny is standing in range and just carves it up before it can even finish activating.
We continue manipulating the board, until Chuck stops us and drops a fireball on a cluster of not-yet-activated beasties up ahead of us.
Hatch decides this is a good idea, and drops his fireballs on the batch as well. They're harder to damage while they're inactive, but after a bit of shelling we've destroyed the two knights and injured the centaur and the big one.
We move things around a little more, getting the third pedestal closer to the lightning wall and activating one of the knights. It moves in, attacking Chuck but not doing too much damage. Jenny attacks it and rips it apart.
We move on, revealing the full width of more rows. We look at the position of the remaining constructs, and start dropping preemptive fireballs.
Then we move, and activate another knight on the far side. Chuck throws another Fireball off in that direction, and the knight steps in and punches Bob in the face. Jenny, irritated, rips this one apart as well.
We claim the last orb, and open the next gate. There's another bit of shuffling to get us off the board, and then Hatch uses Dimension Door (twice) to go get Ramekin. We have crossed the room, retrieved all four orbs, and are ready to head down to the next level. We also decide to take a break here; these puzzles are exhausting.
Ruin gestured towards the pile of kindling and mouthed the words that he'd memorized in childhood. He'd never had much knack for sorcery, and he'd forgotten what little skill he'd ever had. Unlike Darvinin, he thought, though without any particular jealousy. I couldn't cast a spell to save my life.
He looked out into the trees, then up into the branches that closed out the stars. It was dark here, as dark as the inside of a cave -- and almost as chilly. No, he was never going to be any sort of wizard... but he could see in the dark.
It was something he'd learned from exploring through the amulet. In its visions, he traced out various sorts of terrain, explored tiny details of different environments, put them together and learned from them... and somehow, in the process, grew stronger. He no longer grew exhausted after great exertions, and now he could see in the dark. Neither ability was going to destroy his opponents for him, but then he had a blade for that. And they were helpful things, useful, things that might give him an edge.
He wondered, again, about his mother's first love: who she'd been, what she might have become, and if he'd ever meet her. He was beginning to think that it might be more likely than it seemed.
So Crotchstomper McSnuggles went out into the back yard and found a dead bird. And of course, when Firstborn called him back inside, he brought it in with him. And the dog is not-well behaved when it comes to taking things away from him. (He'll play tug-of-war with rope and like that, but if he's stolen some food -- or a dead bird -- and you try to take it away from him, he will threaten to bite.) Right now, he's additionally crazed from having been stuck in the house with no walkies for the last three days.
The result of which, for now, is that the dog is in his kennel, the bird is outside of our back yard, and the grippy-claw thing that I was using to try to pick it up is broken... not because he tried to bite it, but because I immediately smacked him over the head with it when he did. It was clearly not designed for that.
So now I'm ordering another (hopefully tougher) gripper, and we're looking up additional dog training to teach him not to bite (and hopefully not to steal food), and the word "birdcicle" has been added to our household vocabulary.
Say what you will about being trapped in a snowstorm, but it's certainly not boring.
It snowed again last night, as predicted. It doesn't look like too much; maybe another two inches, but that's two more inches of snow and another several days of cold in a state that simply isn't prepared for it and mostly doesn't seem interested in dealing with it. (Amusingly, the theme for today's Weekly Blogging Challenge is "how I take care of my health" and the answer, at this point, is "stay warm, and reach out to friends and family who might not have electricity." Like so much of 2020, at this point we're just trying to get through it and hoping there's something better on the far side.)
There's a lot of misinformation going around, including reports about Texas' "green grid" failing, and... look, first of all, the only reason you get to call it a green grid is because you colored it that way on a map. Second, while the wind energy resources have largely frozen up, that's a very small source of power generation here in the middle of winter and ordinarily the rest of the grid could cover it; plus, the wind turbines could have been winterized, but nobody wanted to put the money into doing that down here where it never gets cold. (Ha!) Which is basically what's going on with the other power plants, though there may be some artificial scarcity and price gouging figuring in as well what with the sudden rise in demand for natural gas (which supplies power to our power plants as well as heating to a lot of dwellings).
But it's also worth noting that, as we've been discussing for at least a decade now, Global Warming isn't universally warmer; it's better described as Global Weirding. Heat is energy, and if the atmosphere is holding extra heat it's going to produce wilder, more spectacular, and more destructive weather events. I realize a lot of news services don't seem to be able to grasp this, but this is Climate Change 101.
We're lucky: we still have electricity. (No gas -- the house isn't built for it -- but we're not just sitting here freezing.) We're trying to use as little as possible, but the house is staying warm and the indoor pipes, at least, haven't frozen. It helps that we're a relatively small, snug house; but even so, the pipes for the kitchen are in the outer wall and have frozen closed at least twice already. Fortunately, we've been able to restore them with a hair dryer.
Meanwhile, the dog hasn't been on a walk in three days; he is absolutely sure that this is the end of the world. The local school district is shut down until at least Friday (and probably will be on Friday as well) for both in-person and distance learning; you can't do remote teaching to people who have no power. My job has moved to "late opening" for people who are still coming in, but that's because it's local government and has a crippling pathological fear of being seen as "lazy government employees" even in the face of genuine danger. But, of course, nobody much else is available, so I'm using this time to catch up on online training instead of working on the half-dozen major projects that are going to immediately fall on my head once things get going again. Beautiful Wife has had her classes cancelled for the rest of the week; she's using the time to nail down resources for the rest of the semester... which, again, is only possible because we still have electricity. (This, in turn, is probably only because there are a couple of private care facilities including an Alzheimer's unit relatively close by.) So far, nobody has had to come shelter with us -- a relief, since we're still in the middle of a pandemic -- but if this keeps up, I don't know.
So, yeah: I knew 2021 was going to be at best the beginning of a long, slow climb back up from 2020... but I hadn't really appreciated the way the steady cascade of ongoing apocalyptic disasters would just blithely continue. But here we are, and the only way through is as it always was: forward, and together.
Durest sat in the dark and prayed. At the moment, it was all he could do. His servitor, Bob, created from the skeleton of a frost giant, was on the main platform with the others... but Durest was stuck here, in a sphere of force, holding a magical orb that would probably help to unlock something important. And until his god saw fit to restore his blessings, here he would stay.
"Lord of the Winds," he said quietly, "Father of the Storms, Deceiver of the Gods, I offer praise. I marvel at your power and aspire to your cunning. Hear my voice as I worship your divine chaos."
Durest Deathtouched, a soundless voice admonished, those are not the sanctioned names for your deity.
"Aye, well," said Durest, "it's no as if that's a sanctioned name for me either, but I appreciate ye're comin' up wi' it."
There was a silent chuckle. I bear you a message, Priest of Indra, as one of His servants.
"Sure'n that's new," Durest said. "I'm honored, right eno'."
We are pleased with your work, pleased that you help the Cult of Secrets. This, you should continue. There is no conflict in serving Indra and doing the work of the one-eyed god.
"Aye? And here was me thinking that it was nae more a good job that put me in view of all sorts of interesting necromancies whilst payin' quite well." Durest nodded. "'Tis good to hear."
Those magics may be of use to more than just yourself, Durest. Study them, learn them, for the greater glory of Indra as well. But while you do... remember that all gods draw strength from their worshippers, and Indra's worshippers are much depleted.
"Aye," said Durest, "because people are fools."
So fool them in turn, if you must. Dazzle them with the blessings that Indra places in your hands. Persuade them of what they should already believe. Bring them to the worship they should know already. Lead them to understand His glory.
"Oh," said Durest. "Ah've ne'er been much fer public speakin', y'know. Still, I'd not disappoint Himself by choice. He needs worshipers? I'll find him worshipers, and set them to proper praise and ceremony. If He's no at odds wi' Vecna, it shouldnae be too hard. Plenny o' orcs an' bugbears and suchlike around, who remember His strength of old."
Very good. Remind them, guide them, call them back... and you will be much rewarded.
"Well, I'm no opposed t'that," said Durest, "but ye know I'd do it anyway. I dinnae take vows on a whim, spirit."
This is good. But no one acts entirely unselfishly, and Indra of all the gods understands that.
The presence was gone then, ephemeral as it had been, and Durest nodded. Then he lay back; he needed rest, and when he woke he would have magic enough to remove himself from this bastard sphere and rejoin the rest of his group.
Well... we still have power, which is not true of everyone in Texas or even everyone in our suburb. We're currently checking in with people to make sure they have electricity and offer a spot in our house if they don't. So far, all but one family does, and they're going to try camping-in-place and see how it goes.
This is looking pretty bad -- I mean, how dangerous does it have to get before the Governor of Texas actually advises you to stay home? -- so I hope everybody has a place to shelter and a backup plan.
So, yeah: North Texas has snow, and apparently a record-breaking cold snap. Fortunately, we're all working remotely. Unfortunately, our house was not really built for this. It's still relatively snug, but...
I would very much like to not be working today; it's a good day to sit back with a cup of tea and book and just stay under the blankets. Tragically, this is not to be.
Okay, back to work...
So... yeah, not much posting this week. I've been both tired, and busy with other projects. I'd meant to write a short fiction for Durest, the dwarven necromancer/cleric from Evil!Party, and I think I have enough background information to do that now, so that'll probably happen sometime this weekend. Work, meanwhile, has been busy with large and rather urgent projects, and that's going to be a continuing theme for the next several months. At least I can work from home...
I'm still going on the dream-inspired writing project that I started a couple of weeks ago -- which is not the one I'd meant to be switching over to, but since I'm making progress on this one I'm going to stick with it. I basically try to do an hour or more of writing (on writing nights) and when I feel my attention slipping I reward myself with some time playing video games.
The boys are still attending school remotely, and we upped the dosage on Secondborn's ADHD meds recently so they're both doing pretty well by it. (I need to make sure that he doesn't have any unfinished work from this week, but at least he seems to be paying attention in class.) Beautiful Wife is still teaching remotely, and the University seems to be doubling-down hard on getting back to Face-to-Face instruction. At this point that still seems dangerous and spectacularly ill-advised, except that given the structure of their income I can also see where they don't feel like they have a choice. So there are things to worry about there, but for the moment we're doing all right.
Some recent medical drama in the extended family seems to be winding down, though I'll feel more confident in saying that if things are still going well in a few more days. But even this is kind of a temporary reprieve; liver cancer is nothing to joke around about, and we still have a few more years at most.
Politically, we're in the middle of an impeachment trial for what ought to be a slam-dunk case against the former president, so of course the Republican side of the Senate is dragging its feet and looking for any kind of excuse to acquit him, mostly because they're entirely complicit in his behavior and scared to death of his followers. ("At this point they're either cowardly, evil, or both," is a hell of a thing to say about people, but I literally cannot see any other explanation.) As infuriating as that is, at least it isn't as stressful as the past four years have been -- though we escaped a fascist coup by the barest of margins, and I'll admit that part of the reason I'm less stressed out right now is because I'm not forcing myself to watch the trial directly.
At least there seems to be a plan in place for dealing with COVID-19 that isn't just deliberately obstructing any effort to help the situation... still, the virus was unmanaged long enough and in enough places that we've now seen several variants crop up, some possibly more dangerous than the original. So I guess there's still some cause for gloom and doom, in the specter of a possible Forever War against Coronavirus variants. Also, I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop economically; since about the middle of 2020 I've felt that a lot of things were being propped up just long enough to get past the election, one way or another. (As in, either Trump is reelected and now doesn't have to care about them, or Biden is elected and they're now his problem.) For the moment, I hold to some hope that I'm actually wrong about that.
Life is a beautiful and horrible and strange, but at least I'm not showing up to my Zoom meetings as a cat. (Which is not to say that I haven't tried, because Dark GODS that would have been hilarious.) Hope you're all plugging along as well, my dears.
"Oh, brave dwarves heed the battle call,
And humans guard the castle wall,
But halflings ne'er in battle fall--
They're busy drinking alcohol!"
(Generally sung by Dwarven bards when Halflings are anywhere in hearing.)
We proceed to Dimension Door back to the first set of gates, and pass through the to the first platform. Jenny switches the portal and walks through, finding herself face-to-face with another mechanoid. Hatch and Ramekin follow, and Hatch attacks with an empowered Scorching Ray. The Mechanoid moves in and springs spiked chains, attacking Hatch and missing. Chuck can see what's going on and drops a Fireball inside the far sphere.
The mechanoid is looking pretty battered, so Jenny smacks him with her chain twice, taking him down with the first blow and tangling her chain with his chain on the second. She takes a minute to untangle it.
We do some experimenting with the portals and the levers, using spells to see where they come out. We identify the right position for the lever, and Chuck steps through and throws an Acid Arrow at robot-dude on the far side, bypassing his spell resistance. Durest moves through and casts Dismissal, but fails to get past its spell resistance.
We keep fighting, and the mech-man tags Jenny with Vampiric Touch; Durest strolls by and gets hit with it as well, but is now flanking the enemy across from Jenny. His attempt to hit it with a mace fails miserably. On the other hand, his Chaos-enhancement of Jenny's spiked chain allows her to carve him up a bit. Unfortunately, he tags her with Vampiric Touch again.
Hatch tries Glitterdust on him, but he ducks away from it and is still not blinded. Chuck's Acid Arrow is still doing some additional damage, so he drops another on it. Durest is still flanking across from Jenny and fighting defensively; his mace isn't enough to do any real damage to the guy. Jenny attacks him, but he immediately tags her with the touch attack and sucks it all back. Hatch hammers him with a scorching ray, and Durest calls to him to move back. Durest tries to tag him with Flame Strike, but fails to get through his magic resistance.
Jenny takes him down.
We drop a Fireball and a flame strike onto the next platform, and annihilate the mecha-centaur there.
Figuring that we should move while Jenny's weapon is still Chaos-enhanced, we go ahead and drop two fireballs into the room; Durest makes himself invisible. Hatch adds another fireball, then Durest steps through and drops a Flame Strike on him and takes him down.
We're on a bit of a roll, so we figure out the portal to the last platform and Hatch drops a fireball onto the mecha-centaur on the for side (or fire side). Chuck follows up with another fireball, doing massive damage. Jenny walks through the door and attacks, but misses. Hatch throws another fireball, and finishes it.
We move through to join Jenny, then stop to rest.
Then we move through the next gate, which puts us back on the bridge just before we started platform hopping. Unfortunately, they trigger a trap; fortunately, it doesn't do much damage.
We switch the gates again, and move forward through a section of the bridge. Durest tries a lever on the side, and we hear clunking sounds but don't see any immediate effect. Chuck flips the other one, with similar results. Durest tries flipping his lever back so they're both pointing north; Hatch tests the portal again, and it's still arriving at the same place. Whatever these levers do, they don't affect.
Hatch and Ramekin move ahead to investigate the area which looks like it should have an orb, but doesn't. Unfortunately, there's really nothing to see.
So... Fine. We go through the portal to the final area, where the big guy is. Chuck leads the way, drifting along in gaseous form along the ceiling.
There's a very large construct at the far end of the bridge. Chuck has positioned himself behind the guy when Jenny charges through and attacks. Hatch and Ramekin move through invisible. Durest rides Bob through and hops off as Bob charges and misses; Durest drops a Flame Strike, but doesn't get through his spell resistance.
Chuck materializes and tries Shocking Grasp on the construct's butt. Jenny takes a shot at him, since he's still flat-footed and her weapon is Chaos-aligned; she hits him three times in a row and tears him up. Hatch follows up with an empowered scorching ray, while Ramekin throws a lever to make them both point north.
The construct creates a sphere of force around itself. Durest uses Dimension Door to get inside the sphere, and says, "Keep it busy."
Jenny: "I'm not stuck in here with you. You're stuck in here with me." She tags him again with her chain, hitting twice. (When it really counts, Jenny is here.)
Hatch Dimension Doors himself, Chuck, and Ramekin into the sphere as well. Ramekin drops Grease to try to screw with the construct's movement, and while he doesn't fall down, he is flat-footed.
The construct casts chain lightning, which rips through us. Durest tries to banish him and fails to get through his spell resistance; Chuck tries Shocking grasp and also fails. Jenny attacks and misses; Hatch attacks with empowered scorching rays, and takes him down.
We have three of the four spheres, and no idea where the fourth one is. There's no particular treasure here, so we need to solve this puzzle and move on.
Jenny: "Jenny does not solve puzzles."
Okay, so I was going to do a bit of fiction for my DnD character Durest, the Dwarven Necromancer... only once I got to thinking about it, I realized that actually there were several things I really hadn't thought through. So instead, you get this song from the Hooters...
...while I go send an email to my dungeonmaster.
"We can rebuild this," said the old man, looking around at the ashes of the village, "but I'm not sure we should."
Tavros nodded. The survivors were less than a third of the original villagers, and they were not in good shape: shocked, grieving, hungry, some angry and some hopeless, others stubbornly determined.
Anica said: "The temple will offer what aid it can, and of course anyone who chooses can shelter there -- we serve Ammon, and do not require vows. The more vulnerable of your people could shelter there while others rebuild..."
"...if you choose to rebuild," Tarric put in. "I would understand if many found it too painful."
The old man nodded. Berrin, his name was. "I will talk to them, and we will see." He sounded forlorn.
As he moved away, Anica turned to Tavros. "How did you kill that thing?" she asked quietly. The villagers seemed to take it for granted that Tavros had won by force of arms or possibly some inherent virtue, but Anica and Tarric weren't fooled; they knew him too well. With armor and a blade, he would have been a match for a hill giant; without... it should have been a much closer contest, if he'd won at all.
Tavros quirked his mouth -- not a human expression, but his friends had learned to read his face. "I let Mother Mia paint my nails before the battle."
Tarric said, "...What?" and looked down at Tavros' claws.
Tavros nodded. "You know these elderly village women. A bit of herbcraft, some cunning... though in this case, I think it helps that she's a retired assassin."
Anica said, "...What?"
Tavros nodded. "She coated my claws with something she'd managed to keep with her -- I didn't ask what it was."
"And you cut into him, early in the fight," said Anica. "You poisoned him."
Tavros nodded. "After that, it was just a matter of staying alive until the poison took effect, and then... well... more or less bluffing the hobgoblin chieftain. Though I admit, I hadn't expected Olvern to find our equipment, or start covering our escape with arrows."
"That's why you took out the priest," said Anica, nodding appreciatively. "It wasn't just getting rid of the spellcaster, you were giving the chieftain a way out."
"Mother Mia's idea," Tavros said. "She said he was the one pushing the tribe to invade and expand -- and to eat other peoples. And from the brief exchange I had with him, I think she was right. So yes, the moment the hill giant wasn't a threat, he was the target."
"Ah, there you are." Mother Mia stepped up to their circle, almost out of nowhere. "I knew you were taking my name in vain, I could feel my ears itching."
Tavros snorted. "I was singing your praises, and don't imagine otherwise."
"Well, good," she said, "because those idiot goblins burned my house down and even if you taught them a lesson I just don't feel like living out here anymore. I think I might take vows, join your order. Maybe see what I can do straighten things out in the world."
Tavros managed to keep himself from gaping at her, but it was sheer effort of will. Tarric's eyes were as wide as his fists. It was Anica who grinned, stepped forward, and put an arm around her shoulders. "I think we'd do well to have you," she said.
Picking up, belatedly, from here...
Tavros fell in with the others as the hobgoblins marched them out of the prison-hut and into the large, empty circle at the center of the village. On the far side was another large hut, but this one had a single large doorway, with two doors that had been slid aside; it looked more like a barn than a dwelling, except that visible inside was a single, massive bier that seemed to serve as a bed. A figure lay atop it, stirring as the human priest Moro and another figure, an armored hobgoblin at his side; most likely that was Procrustes, the chieftain of this tribe. The sun was just dropping below the horizon, and the goblins and hobgoblins had gathered in clumps around the edges of the circle. There were torches lit, and off to one side there were several firepits with empty metal spits set over them, waiting.
Defeat their champion, and everyone goes free. Tavros looked around again. Truly, we should not count on that, nor depend upon their honor in the face of hunger. Their weapons were nowhere in evidence, but Tavros had turned his head just far enough to see Olvern drop down from where he'd been clinging to the ceiling above the door, and slide out of the prison behind the guards and prisoners to go in search of their equipment or anything else they could use.
He looked at Tarric, then at Anica. Each them nodded back to him, keeping their gestures small. They knew their duties. Tavros, since he had evidently been mistaken for one of the lizardfolk, would step forward to face the tribe's champion; he was the distraction. When the tribe's attention was most closely on the battle, Tarric and Anica would assault their guards, while everyone else made a break for the edge of the village. There didn't seem to be any mounts here; perhaps the tribe had eaten them already.
The priest Moro emerged from the champion's hut and mounted wooden stairs to a small, square platform that seemed to server as a sort of crude pulpit. He made his voice loud enough to carry across the field, and called: "Tonight, he comes forth!"
The crowd answered in chorus: "Tonight!"
Moro continued: "Tonight, he fights for our tribe!"
"Tonight, he faces the lizard-man paladin!"
"Tonight he breaks this paladin! He throws him across the place of the trial! Tonight, he feasts on his bones!"
"TONIGHT!" They were screaming, now, and Tavros stepped away from his friends and the other prisoners, out of the circle of guards, and into the center of the village.
The village fell silent as their champion rose from his bed and stepped out into the dying of the sun's light. For he was huge, taller than any of them, wider and heavier and stronger, and his steps shook the earth.
Behind him, Tavros heard Anica say softly: "They have a Hill Giant."
And into that silence, Tavros called: "Tonight, he falls." He stepped out into the jeers of the crowd, ignoring them, clenching and unclenching his fingers, rolling his shoulders, stretching his neck. On the far side of the circle, the giant stepped out of its hut and clapped in childish delight. Then it ran forward.
Tavros moved to meet it, calculating distance, timing...
It was almost close enough to reach for him when he exhaled a spray of frost, an inheritance-gift from his long-absent father. The giant stumbled in sheer surprise, then tried to grab for him; but Tavros ducked under its arms and scored it with his claws: once across the belly, again across the small of its back. The giant spun, swinging out a fist, and Tavros barely got his arms up in time; the blow knocked him back fifteen feet, but he rolled out of it and came up ready.
The giant charged him, and this time Tavros hit it. It stopped, startled, then grabbed for him. He caught its hands and they stood there, straining, each matching the other's strength.
Far off in his peripheral vision, Tavros saw Anica reach out and yank the sword out of a hobgoblin's sheath, then stab him with it. She turned immediately, cutting another one down. Tarric struggled with a second hobgoblin, who had caught his arm, but Mother Mia threw an arm around its throat, and Tarric took advantage of the moment to stab it.
The hill giant shuddered, and Tavros went down on one knee. He curled his fingers, digging his claws into the back of its massive hands, and felt a certain satisfaction when the giant cried out in pain. Then it shuddered again, and hurled him away.
The change of directions was unexpected, and he was helpless against it. He felt himself spin through the air, then hit the ground with stunning force; he only barely made it to his feet in time to dodge aside as the giant blundered past, screaming in rage and pain and fear. It smashed through a group of goblins who were too shocked to the get out of the way, then flattened a hut and came to a stop in the wreckage, still screaming. Something in the hut set fire to the thatch of the roof, and now the giant was burning as well.
Tavros shook his head, got his bearings, and sprinted away from the giant and towards the crude wooden pulpit that the priest Moro occupied. The man was already chanting, but whatever he was attempting to invoke brushed past Tavros like a sudden wind. Tavros sprinted past the edge of the stand, and the chieftain Procrustes was between him and the wooden stairs but Tavros didn't slow. He barely felt the bite of the sword into his side as he smashed into the hobgoblin and trampled him. Then he was coming up the stairs, brushing past another spell as he charged.
He tackled Moro off the pulpit and landed atop him on the bare dirt. Off to his right, the Hill Giant was burning and screaming and smashing another hut, apparently blind from the flames; a handful of villagers were trying to drive it back, but dying. Abruptly it stopped, shuddered again, and collapsed into the flaming wreckage. He raised the priest above his head, then brought him down across his knee, and heard the breaking-branches sound of his spine snapping.
Rising, he kicked the corpse in the direction of Procrustes. "How many?" he demanded, and the armored hobgoblin, who had just come to his feet and lifted one arm, stopped.
"How many can you afford to lose?" asked Tavros. "How many warriors, before your families starve?"
Procrustes lowered his arm.
"We're going to leave now," Tavros said quietly. "You have enough warriors here that you could end me, perhaps even recapture my friends and the other prisoners. But you would lose much in the attempt, and even if you managed it nothing would remain of your before long."
The hobgoblin looked down at his blade, then back up at Tavros. He tilted his head.
"You heard me predict the fall of your champion," Tavros said icily. "Do you doubt my prediction now?"
Procrustes lowered his sword and stepped forward, slowly. "What are you?" he asked, at last.
Tavros shrugged. "A paladin. My mother is a wizard, my father a dragon."
"Then someone might come to avenge you," the hobgoblin observed.
"Possible," Tavros admitted. "But I think you'd be ruined well before then. Choose the path of wisdom."
Procrustes nodded, then turned and walked up to the crude wooden pulpit. "Hold! My people, hold! We have been misled by the evil priest Moro! Even I have been taken in. Let these people leave in peace! Let us return to the hills, to live by the old ways. Let the name and the teachings of the priest Moro be forgotten. Come!"
And he turned, and stepped back down. At the bottom of the stairs, he nodded to Tavros, and then turned to the goblins and hobgoblins who were gathering around him.
Tavros made slow, obvious bow, then turned and walked away.
For the last two years, I've been taking part in the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. I've had a great deal of fun with it, so naturally I'm continuing it this year. If you'd like to participate, follow that first link for the list of prompts, and then check the main site for the weekly post with links to everyone's responses (and add your own link, if you're so inclined).
Today's prompt is "a few of my favorite things" and while I don't think I can match the meter of the song, I can certainly offer some examples.
Swords -- I was thinking about this one again recently, because I've fallen into writing a story with swords in it (again). I mean, it isn't just swords; it's swords, and high technology, and psychic powers, and a strange world with dangers both monstrous and surreal, all together in what I think of as "a very seventies blend" though hopefully a bit more internally consistent and great whopping load less sexist. I used to collect swords, and I still have the ones I collected; I could outfit a decent-sized group in the event of a zombie apocalypse with actual zombies.
Ceramic Mugs -- Beautiful Wife and I have a lovely collection of these, and they're far more useful than the swords have ever been. I like the collection better than any sort of matched set; it lets me pick a mug that matches my mood.
Stories well told -- but then, I doubt that comes as a surprise to anyone reading this. Still, let me offer a specific nod to Roleplaying Games here, as there are a startling variety of them and the experience is such wonderful mix of storytelling, dramatics, strategy, and socializing. The recent popularity of RPG podcasts has I think helped reinforce the idea that these can be every bit as much an act of storytelling as writing a book or play or making a film.
So what about you? What are a few of your favorite things?
Okay, last DnD posting for today:
At this point the party is very much disabled. Everybody except Chuck is blind and deaf; Chuck is merely deaf. Durest is okay, because he was off in the globe of invulnerability, but he's stuck there while we rest.
Chuck loots the body of artworks and gems, since nobody else can see him do it.
Everybody rests; and when he's recuperated, Durest uses Dimension Door to get back the main platform and cures everyone of their blindness and deafness.
We drop a bunch of fiery error-effects on the next platform, wiping out the floating glowy-balls before Hatch uses Mage Hand to retrieve the third orb.
Chuck looks over the orb while we wait some more, and determines that they're power sources keyed to the trap door.
We decide to take out the next platform as well, and Hatch and Chuck drop Fireballs there as well. The Archons on this platform have spell resistance, but Hatch gets past then and Chuck manages to burn one as well. Durest drops Shield of Faith on Jenny, and Hatch uses his last empoweree fireball on the platform, doing more damage. Chuck tries again but spell resistance is a hell of a thing; Durest tries Inflict Mass Moderate and also fails to get through it.
They teleport over to Hatch, who steps aside and tags them with a Cone of Cold. Jenny follows up with her evil-ified spiked chain, and Hatch follows up with Enervate. Durest drops Mass Inflict Moderate Wounds and takes one of them down; Bob the Forst Giant Skeleton attacks but misses.
The remaining Archon smites Hatch several times, taking him down but not *quite* killing him. Ramekin dumps a potion of healing down Hatch's throat; Hatch, prone, attempts to tag the Archon with Shocking Grasp. Jenny slashes into him, doing horrible amounts of damage and taking it down.
We stop and rest again, then claim the final orb and put it into place. The central portal opens, revealing a layer of water. The ruins seems to be dedicated to the clockwork god Kwalish, but these Archons seem to be servants of Good, placed here to prevent us from retrieving the artifact.
Chuck steps into the water, and a current grabs him and just yanks him down. After about thirty seconds he emerges at the bottom. At the bottom is a column of water; when he hops back in he get carried back up. "Um... Yeah. It's basically like a water elemental. But that's not the big deal. The big deal is the giant mechanical centaurs at the bottom. So we're probably going to want to be invisible."
Hatch: "I have a wand of Invisibility..."
We pause to loot two sets of +3 Full plate - 10,000 GP worth of armor.
Then Hatch makes us all invisible except for Bob, and we drop down the water elevator. Ahead of us are a pair of mechanical centaurs, with wings, and with spiked chains in place of their arms.
The centaurs move past Jenny to get to Bob, but she waits a beat before attacking. She misses, and is no longer invisible.
Hatch drops his empowered Fireball again, and they're definitely injured -- scraps of metal are falling off of them, gears are grinding... Hatch (visible) and Ramekin (invisible) retreat out of their range. Chuck follows his fine example, but only gets through the spell resistance for one of them -- but it destroys the thing. Durest follows up with Flame Strike and immolates the second one.
So... these mechanisms seem to be self-repairing, and they seem to be resistant to damage from non-chaotic sources. Over on one side of the room is an empty doorframe, which does us no good at all. To the north is a bridge over a very deep pit, blocked by a wall of fire. It sounds as if the bottom of the pit is a pool of the tiny little repair-bots. We can see vague shapes through the flames, but not very well. Jenny moves closer to the wall and finds that it radiates a massive amount of heat.
On the far side of the firewall is a humanoid mechanical on the bridge, and another force platfor off to one side above the pit. Hatch and Ramekin fly over the pit, and Hatch uses Mage Hand to retrieve the orb through the wall of fire.
We try rubbing the orb on the empty doorframe, but nothing happens.
We go back towards the fire wall and Durest Dimension Doors past it. He's in a new area with another pair of the flying mechanical centaurs. He casts Fly while they're surprised, then zips past them, taking a bit of damaged from an electrified chain-whip arm. The centaurs give chase, and one of them tries to attack but misses; it attacks again as he grabs the orb, damaging him again, and he teleports back to the others.
We spend a bit of time resting and plotting and changing out spells. Then we dump an unbelievable load of elemental protections on Hatch, and let him dimension door his way across. His first jump puts him on top of a mecha-centaur, but he's also invisible and protected against Good so he just flies off to the side and snatches the orb with his ranged legerdemain.
He uses dimension door again, and this time winds up at what looks like a midpoint, with two empty doorframes and a lever, with a wall of force blocking the way and a rainbow wall over the bridge.
Hatch calls back through Ramekin: "Doors! There's this wall of force, and there's these six platforms with enemies! It looks hard! But their platforms have levers! It's a lever-puzzle. He should pull the lever, right?"
Jenny: "Tell him to pull the lever."
Durest teleports everybody except Bob to where Hatch has moved to stand over the bridge again.
Hatch: "Don't try to walk through the prismatic wall."
Durest, in a fit of "What the Hell," pulls the lever, which switches which portal is active. Durest steps through, and arrives at one of the further-ahead rooms. Jenny moves through the teleporter and Durest adds Chaos to her weapon. Jenny moves closer to the mecha-centaur on the platform. Chuck and Hatch and Ramekin all follow.
Durest strolls over and tries to smack the thing with his mace, but misses; Jenny hits with her spiked chain. Chuck hits it with a scorching ray, and Jenny takes it down.
She immediately charges through the active portal, and the rest of us follow... and find outselves back at the start of this level.
"Well, shite," says Hatch.
This is more for my own edification than anyone else's because I keep forgetting the names of books that I know I want to read, and I'm hoping that if I write down some of the titles I'll be able to find them again.
Currently Reading: I hate your prophecy!
And we're back with more Evil!Party villainy, in the service of Vecna, Maodeus the evil brass dragon, and a lich called the Hierophant. The work ain't pretty, but it pays well.
-Hatch, Arcane Trickster and magical assassin
-Ramekin, Hatch's familiar, an imp
-Durest, not so much a professional necromancer as an enthusiastic hobbyist
-Jenny, barbarian reaver
-Chuck, vampire and occasional sorcerer
We just finished clearing out the Archons, and we can see parts of the camp. We start checking around.
The wizards that were here are dead, their tents are just boring ordinary tents. We can see a large fire a bit to the north, and the interior of the first tent we check looks like it's been ransacked.
Jenny the Barbarian hears pebbles crunching under boots just to the northeast of us, over a dune; there's a dilapidated stone building off in that direction as well.
The tent that we're looking through has been ransacked, anything of value taken. We start to check bodies, and notice that there's an archon leaning against the ruins; he's holding position but glaring at Durest the dwarf necropriest.
Chuck attempts to dominate the Archon, but the circle of protection against evil protects him; Jenny, however, calls: "Here, puppy, puppy, puppy!" and successfully taunts him.
He charges, and attempts to smite.
The smite fails, but he does do some damage.
Jenny moves and attacks, and this time connects; her second attack misses, and her third attack misses. He repositions and attacks her again, then tries to bite her but misses. She is, however, turned on by the attempt.
Another Archon enters the fray and charges Bob the skeletal Frost Giant and slashes at him, doing some damage. Chuck drops Enervate on the first one, but fails to get through his spell resistance.
Ramekin drops Grease under one of the Archons, depriving it of its Dex bonus; Hatch then tries to tag him with an empowered shocking grasp, combined with his sneak attack. The archon is... not happy.
Durest attempts to attack the first archon with a touch spell, but fails; Bob the Frost Giant tags the second one for a fair amount of damage.
Jenny tags the first archon for a bit of damage, and the Archon turns to Smite Evil on Hatch (our halfling arcane trickster) and connects solidly both times. He attacks Jenny again, and hits. The other archon smites Bob a couple of more times, hitting twice and wearing Bob down.
Chuck attempts a slam attack on the first Archon, but fails to slam him.
Ramekin bring Hatch a healing potion, enough to get him back on his feet. Hatch doesn't even bother getting to his feet; he just reaches out for another Shocking Grasp. Durest follows up with Inflict Serious, gets past his spell resistance, and leaves him staggering; Bob swings at the other one but misses.
Jenny notes that the first archon is in bad shape, and finishes him.
The other Archon is still engaged with Bob; he power attacks, tearing into the frost giant skeleton and obliterating him.
Chuck drops a fireball on the remaining archon, who fails to duck away from it; Ramekin hits it with Grease, and Hatch follows up with a scorching ray but fails to connect, then follows up with a quickened ray of frost to the nuts. Tavros follows up with Flame Strike, roasting him a bit; Jenny charges past the roasting pig and attacks, adding a modest power attack, but misses.
Chuck follows up with a scorching ray, but doesn't connect.
Ramekin throws more grease, and Hatch throws another pair of scorching rays which both connect. The archon curses in Celestial as he sinks to his knees. "Archael will stop you! You will never get past him!"
Chuck: "I'm gonna turn you and your friends into vampires, so fuck you!"
Unfortunately, he really can't turn them immediately without releasing his hold on his existing thralls. So he stuffs the corpse into the bag of holding for later.
We pull three sets of +3 full plate (15,000 GP) off the bodies.
We also pull the boar off the fire, because it is definitely ready to eat. Hatch drops Tiny Hut and we climb inside to rest. And eat bacon.
Nobody comes by to mess with us, so presumably we've cleared the guards from the local area.
We check out the rest of the camp, and aside from the wine everything worthwhile has been burned.
The ruins appear to be an ancient temple; Durest stops to examine the natural spring of water coming up from deep below.
There are more dead wizards in the entryway of the temple. Hatch decides that we need to search for traps, and Ramekin flies in invisibly to scout and look for traps.
Ramekin doesn't see any likely traps, but it does see a Trumpet Archon in the midst of the temple. The central room was clearly a dig site, and there's a passage going down; so we're almost certainly going to have to take this thing on.
We don't want to.
So we send Ramekin down to fly into the hole and find us a spot where we can teleport in. The angel hears the imp passing and whips out his trumpet and sounds it.
Durest is fine, and Chuck the vampire sorcerer is immune to this; Hatch, alone out of all the party, is paralyzed. Ramekin disappears down the hole, passing out of sight as the angel casts Invisibility Purge.
He comes out above a stone platform hanging above a seemingly-endless void. Durest teleports the group down.
We're standing on a platform suspended above a bottomless pit, with a mirror on the far side. In the mirror, there are four additional platforms alongside the big one we're standing on. In the middle of our platform is a hatch leading down; there are four pedestals around it, each with a different aura.
Discussion ensues. Durest climbs up one of the pedestals and notes a concavity in the center of it; he thinks we need skulls to activate these pedestals.
Chuck tosses him a skull and Durest sets it in place, but nothing happens. He hops back down, and Hatch hops up in his place and tries to use his Ranged Legerdemain to see if he can steal the orb within the ball of force through the mirror.
Grabbing at the reflection doesn't appear to do anything; it just hits the mirror.
Durest goes over to examine the hatch, but it's impenetrable and sealed. Hatch tries reaching towards where the reflection of the sphere of force platform would be, and suddenly it's visible.
Hatch stops to consider this, and Chuck discusses it with him. It can't be damaged or moved, but disintegrate will end its protection. Durest uses Dimension Door to travel across, grabs the sphere, and finds himself stuck in the sphere. He settles back to rest.
Hatch takes this moment to see if he can sleight-of-hand one of the orbs from the platform with the Archon on it. The Archon does not see the orb vanish, but he does notice that it's gone a moment later. He's confused... and then enraged, and we're in intiative.
Hatch and Chuck do a bit of spell damage, and Jenny decides to move away from them and try a shot with her bow. She hits! but only does a little damage. Durest tries a Flame Strike, but doesn't get through his spell resistance.
The archon summons a swarm of blades; Hatch and Ramekin duck away from them, while Chuck eats some knives but largely doesn't care.
The Archon moves in to hover over the hatch on the central platform. Chuck strolls up the side of the hatch and tries to Enervate, but (barely) fails.
Hatch departs the Blade Barrier, and tries a sneak attack with a scorching ray... but fails to penetrate the Archon's spell resistance.
Jenny moves close enough to attack with her spiked chain, but misses. Durest is still in the ball of force, but Bob smacks the Archon fairly solidly.
The Archon sounds his horn, paralyzing Ramekin -- but the rest of us shake it off. Chuck tries to slam him, but misses. Hatch tries for an empowered Ray of Enfeeblement -- and gets through his spell resistance. The archon loses a big chunk of his strength.
Durest is still out of action, but Bob carves a chunk off him; unfortunately, he immediately heals himself.
Hatch drops Glitterdust, and the archon is glittery and blinded. Jenny attacks with a bit of power attack, and Bob follows up with his axe. The Archon throws out a Holy Word; Chuck is deafened and everybody else is blinded and deafened.
Chuck, deafened, pulls a full-on Vampire Slam and slaps the crap out of the archon, inflicting negative levels and sucking away some of his life.
Hatch follows up by dropping an empowered fireball on the space where the archon was, but fails to get past his spell resistance.
Jenny, though blind and deaf, attacks... and connects! Twice! Thrice! And the Archon goes down, finally. Unfortunately, Durest is stuck in the sphere until he rests long enough to recover his spells. Still, we've managed not to foolishly get ourselves killed, if only barely. And more dangers yet await...
All right, so: when last we left our heroes, they were going to try to lure some of the Vecna higher-ups into an extra-dimensional space before stepping outside and throwing a portable whole in to break up the whole thing and exile everyone inside to the space that aren't spaces. We did that, and then we just had to escape before they caught up with us and murdered us to death.
Geddy's in trouble: Ava has been dazed, and Sasha is bearing down on them. Sasha has so far not attacked him. He sings the song of freedom and frees Ava from being Dazed. "Get us the fuck out of here! Quick!"
Sasha -- or Kroni -- attacks Ava, full attack, with smites, for a huge amount of damage. Azrael moves up and zaps Sasha with a Ray of Exhaustion, but fails to break through his spell resistance; it looks like the protection is coming from his sword. Azrael follows up with a Ray of Enfeeblement (quickened) and dramatically saps the evil paladin's strength.
Martini has fled out the far end of the interdimensional tent and is waiting outside with Rita. The Blaspheme attacks Rita again but misses. The other monsters from the Dark Army are pouring over the grease spells and into the area behind us; it's definitely time to go.
Ava is still holding Geddy, and flees; one of the Blasphemes tags her on the way out, and she is again dazed. Geddy tries to break the enchantment again, but fails.
One of the blasphemes runs straight through the space where Azrael is standing invisibly. It doesn't even notice him, just flattens him as it passes. The other one attacks Ruin but fails to daze him. Sasha also tries to rush past, and trips over Azrael and comes down on his face.
Azrael grabs Ruin's ankle and casts Dimension Door to remove us to the entrance. Ruin hauls Azrael to his feet and tosses him out the door, then follows. It's now only Geddy and Eva who are in danger. And, of course, the rest of us don't know what's happening to them -- but hopefully it involves a very fast retreat.
Sasha has now emerged from the tent looking very confused. He has his sword out. "Back! Back!" He can only see Ruin and Rita the Gold Dragon, though.
Azrael tries to tag him with a Ray of Exhaustion but fails to get through his spell resistance. A blaspheme barrels out of the tent behind him. Ruin steps in and engages the Blaspheme, and a creepy disembodied voice says "BLOWWW IT!"
Rita throws the portable hole into the text.
The tent swells and flexes and that's it on the outside. Inside... things dissolve into a dimensional rift, tearing apart everything inside. Ruin yells, "Great, now help me with this thing!"
A rainbow appears over the now-empty tent. Geddy reappears, yelling "Like a rainbow in the darrrk!" The Blaspheme is mesmerized by the rainbow effect, and Geddy and Ava become visible.
Sasha, meanwhile, is looking around. "Geddy! Geddy, what the hell is going on?"
Geddy: "Drop your sword, bud. I got you out of there, you have to work with me for this."
Sasha: "Geddy, you know I can't drop this sword."
Geddy tries to break the effect but fails.
Sasha: "Um. Show of peace." He turns to the Blaspheme and drives it off.
Geddy: "Be cool everybody. I know this guy. He's got somebody in his head, though. We got to get him someplace safe and fix him." He looks at Sasha: "How did you get involved with these people?"
Sasha: "Ever since the ritual in Lamarque, I've had this voice in my head. Sometimes it's me, but sometimes it's this Krony."
Geddy: "Do you trust me?"
Geddy attempts to use Modify Memory on Krony, inside Sasha. Kroni comes to the front of the consciousness, and Geddy tags him with the spell. He uses it to give Kroni the memory that he was exorcised and now he's in purgatory.
Sasha is finally able to relax, as Kroni stops struggling to control him.
Geddy: "This is only temporary, but it should help. How much do you remember about the other side of that portal?"
Sasha: "A decent amount, but I was stationed in Briarmarsh with Maodeus. I was in Welfort taking some message to the hierophant, and they ordered me in after you.
Azrael teleport us to Mar Bola, leaving Geddy and the dragons to follow. During the teleport, Sasha seems to have an odd sort of resistance -- someone seems to be trying to pull Sasha back. We land on the beach without him.
Azrael: "I lost Sasha in transit. Terrible shame."
Geddy and the dragons catch up with us six hours later. The Boner Galley is there; they've been worried.
And at this point we switch to Evil!Party
-Chuck, a sorcerer-turned-vampire
-Jenny, a human barbarian, and her harem.
-Durest, a dwarven cleric with a focus on touch-spells and necromancy
-Hatch, an Arcane Trickster
-Ramekin, Hatch's imp familiar
Maodeus has given us an army -- 500 of the regenerating skeletons, and 100 griffins -- so we can take Sander's Reach and thus complete our conquest of this province. The idea is to take it by surprise and shore up Maodeus' flank.
We... basically wiped out the entire garrison and the Solari. (We didn't play through this; this is all a flashback, or a cut scene.) Three days later an army of 6,000 Wildlanders arrived and took up residence under the command of Chuck's two new ex-Solari thralls.
We then depart; the Hierophant has tasked us with a secret mission.
Wellfort is an ancient keep built atop a hill with any number of ancient tunnels underneath. Compared to the other provincial capitals, Wellfort is small -- so the Hierophant's troops are crowded everywhere.
Harpies are perched on the walls; there are manticores atop the towers. An escort of wizards and ogres emerges, and a lich appears and introduces himself as the Hierophant; he is, among other things, a legendary necromancer.
Durest: "Huge fan. Would love to get some pointers if we have time."
He leads into a secret area well inside the keep. Inside is a tank holding a grotesque partially-formed human. Hatch looks this over but isn't immediately sure what's going on.
"Kaz Drachma," says the hierophant. "Made a clone to preserve his life, but it wasn't finished when he failed me."
He orders the guard to smash the tank and release Kaz Drachma. Then he shows us a map of Mar Dentro and the location of the Hand. "This," he says, pointing to another parchment, "Is the apparatus of Kwalish. It is an artifact, strong enough to pierce the depths of the lake. I need you to retrieve it for me."
Chuck: "Hey! We could get that thing and take it into the lake and retrieve the Hand of Vecna."
Jenny: "No. Where's the food?"
Servants bring food. Kaz Drachma finally comes back into the room, in his new-but-incompletely-grown-and-therefore-hideous body.
Hierophant: "Ah, my servant. I accept you back into my service. You must tell me where to find the artifact."
Drachma sort of crumples, then limps over to the table and selects a map, pointing to a spot in the Wildlands.
Jenny: "I am from there. You do not want to go there."
Malefar: "That's why I saved your hide, Drachma. You're clever."
Drachma: "You'll need to talk to a man named Marlin. He's in charge of the dig."
So, we've been tasked to retrieve the artifact; Chuck is in favor of using the artifact to retrieve the Arm as well. The Hierophant turns into a cloud of flies and departs.
One of the minions teleports us to the dig site. There are... a bunch of dead bodies on the ground, and some little glowing balls floating in the air.
A dog-head man crests the hill and calls down to us in celestial. Between Chuck and Hatch's familiar, Ramekin, we manage to translate it: we're tresspassers, intruders, we'll never get past them, blah blah blah.
The glowing balls shoot out beams of light, attacking Chuck. Several of them hit, but they don't do a lot of damage. The dog-headed fellow charges, attacking Hatch with a greatsword and missing. Durest slides around and tags him with Inflict Serious Wounds, and he goes down. Jenny charges one of glowing balls and swings her chain at it, damaging it.
Chuck casts Scorching Ray, shattering one of the glowy balls. Hatch blasts two more of them, destroying them. Ramekin turns invisible.
At this point, enemies start teleporting in. We're now surrounded by a horde of these little glowy-balls and holy hound-people (Archons). They move in to flank us. Bob the Frost Giant Skeleton cuts one down. Durest drops a Mass Inflict Moderate Wounds, killing a couple of the lanterns and wounding the nearby hounds.
Jenny attacks one of the hound-guys, taking him down and swinging around to hit one of the lanterns. It shatters as well.
Hatch drops a Fireball, and Ramekin -- invisible -- heads over to smash one of the glowing orbs of goodness. He casts Poison, which unfortunately doesn't affect it.
The surviving Archons transform into Dire Wolves and attack. One of them hits Chuck, for damage that he'll probably regenerate immediately on his turn. One attacks Hatch and misses; the last attacks Durest and misses. Two more of the Archons teleport in, along with a bigger one that looks like a leader. Two more orbs arrive as well.
The orbs that didn't just arrive try to zap Ramekin, since he's an imp. Bob the giant skeleton cuts down one of the wolves. Durest turns and inflicts some damage on the nearest wolf. Jenny, meanwhile, is smashing orbs.
"I am an Archon of Light! Ww will not allow creatures of evil such as yourselves to land hands upon sacred artifacts! This site will be lost to memory!"
Chuck: "It's cute that you say that." He tags him with a spell, but it fails against his spell resistance.
Archon: "Fool! Your pathetic magic cannot penetrate the protection of my god!"
Hatch drops Grease under him, but the Archon keeps his balance -- though he's still flat-footed. Hatch then tags him with an empowered Scorching Ray. Hatch has spell penetration and doesn't care a bit about his spell resistance, and does a bunch of damage. He follows up with a quickened Ray of Frost, hitting him again and damaging him more. The Archon is still on his feet, but he is not doing well.
One of the wolves attacks Hatch, and two of the lesser Archons attack Chuck with their greatswords. The first one misses; the second one hits once, for (again) negligible damage. A wolf attacks Durest, and the big Archon steps in and tries to smite. Durest, however is not evil; he's chaotic neutral. The smite fails, but still hits. Durest fires back with Slay Living, but fails to slay him. Still, he takes more damage.
Chuck drops a fireball and takes out one of the lesser archons and one of the wolves. Ramekin uses his wand to cast Grease again, and Hatch tags the guy with Scorching Ray, and finishes the Archon leader.
Two of the lanterns attack Chuck, doing minor damage; the last Archon standing hits Chuck as well. Durest follows up with a Mass Inflict Light wounds, finishing off the injured and the vulnerable.
So... all the dig wizards are dead, and there are Archons all over the place. Something has definitely gone wrong here.