Thursday, April 29, 2021

Durest: The Rewards of Service

Durest rolled over and shook his head. Whatever he was lying on, it was cold. Cold, and very, very hard. like bein' back in th' mines, he thought, except... Not everything he was lying on was cold. He tried to look around, but his throat was dry and his head was pounding and he could barely see; the light hurt his eyes. 

What had he been doing...? Oh, aye, right, the worship service. An' the afterparty... He remembered breaking out the store of al'cul, and sharing it around; he remembered the divine chaos that had ensued. He remembered that one bugbear that had fallen to her knees in praise of Indra, and stayed there; he remember the minotaur twins that had had pulled him aside. Lovely women, both of them, and those shoulders... broad enough to make a blacksmith cry. 

Durest managed to sit up, and someone handed him a flask. "Good party, old man." It was a woman's voice, one he didn't recognize.

He took it, sipped, then drank deeply: it was ale, exactly what he needed to recover. He wiped his eyes, shook his head, then poured the rest of the flask down his throat and said, "Praise Indra for his mercies, and my thanks to you." 

It was at that moment he realized that he was speaking in Dwarvish to another Dwarf, and that he should be surprised by this. 

But the voice just laughed as a rough hand took the flask away and handed him another. "So you're the strongest of Indra's chosen among our kind, are ye?" There was a distinct challenge in the tone. "Let's see what you can do." 

"Are ye drinkin' wi'me?" asked Durest, "or are ye a coward?"

"Oh, I'll go flask for flask, unless ye think ye need to rest first," answered the voice. Durest squinted, and made out a stoutly feminine form in front of the crude wooden table that had served as last night's altar. "Are ye up to a challenge, old man?" 

Durest was pretty sure that he was in no condition for a challenge, but the temptation was irresistible. "I'll drink whatever ye match, lass, and still be standin'."

There was a smile in the woman's voice when she answered: "I'd tell you to show me what ye've got, but since yer sittin' there bare-assed on the stones between a couple of besotted minotaurs I think I've seen it all already."

Durest shrugged. "Drink yer flask, then, and I'll drink mine, and we'll see who stands when we're done. I hold you honor-bound to drink every bit what I do."

"Agreed," answered the woman. "Let's hope it only gets harder from here."

"One way or another," answered Durest, "I'm sure it will."

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Challenge: Outdoor Activities

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! 

Today's prompt is "favorite outdoor/nature activities" and the answer, basically, is "Yes."

Hiking? Yes. Hiking in the rain? Still yes. Running cross-country on some ridiculous half-formed trail? Absolutely.

Is there a lake? I haven't been sailing in years, but I still remember how. Ditto for canoeing. (The spelling on that gerund always looks wrong to me.) I tried kayaking once; I wasn't very good at it, but I'd try it again. Please, someone make me wear sunscreen, though -- I always think I don't need it, and I'm always wrong.

Rock climbing? I don't have the equipment anymore and I don't recuperate anywhere near as fast as I did in my youth, but I can still do it. (Had a chance to try a climbing wall semi-recently, which is how I know.) Spelunking? Any time. 

The only problem is that as much as I love all that stuff, most of it is just a set of fond memories at this point. My lifestyle is pretty suburban (and there's a plague on), so the vast majority of outdoor activities that I actually manage to do right now are... well... variations on taking the dog for a walk. 

How about you?

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Solari: Crazy Snake Priests

We head north into the jungle in search of the Crazy Snake Priests. As we get further north, we start seeing more snakes, and Marshall collects a new pet: a yellow snake named Squirmbob.

On our second day we're well into the north section of the forest when Alexej says, "Hey! I see tiny pretty lady!"

Leira: "How tiny?"

Marshall: "Where?"

Alexej: "She over there in tree! With flying wing!"

Looking around we see something fleeing through the branches towards the northwest. We decide not to give chase; instead, Marshall asks his new snake for information.

Squirm-bob: "Oh, I can show you the way! Put me down and I'll lead you to them."

He slithers very, VERY slowly, and Marshall picks back up to use as a guide. We head northwest...

"See!" cries Alexej, "Pretty Lady direction!"

We go for about an hour before we hear some rustling up ahead.

We have found Lotan, a normal-sized person -- actually an elf -- who turns out to be the High Priest, and his Nagi and his Nami who are both elves as well. Marshall vaguely remembers that there was some sort of tale of mother and father serpents associated with those names, but not much more.

So pretty much everything in their pantheon is snakes, though they're definitely Artem-hiss worshipers. They take us back to their village area, where they've made awnings out of the broad leaves of some of the trees; there are thatched huts underneath. Lotan leads us into a large hut and calls for food and drink for us.

"I see you are a snake-friend." He pours from a pitcher into a single mug and hands it to Marshall. The rest of us get water "To the creator! And the Iza!"

Marshall echoes him and casts Delay Poison on himself. The chief starts chanting and humming and rocking back and forth; one of the servants, looking puzzled at Marshall's lack of response, hands Marshall another cup. Marshall tosses it back and reaches for another.

Alexej takes a cup as well. Before long, Alexej, Lotan, and Marshall are all stoned out of their minds. The tribe is the Bakanawa, worshipers of the Iza who created this land; they are keepers of the serpent lore and custodians of the temple. Marshall is all down with the serpent lore. "A temple, you say?"

"The temple is to the east. It is very important. I believe you must go there."

Marshall explains his beliefs about Artem-hiss, and Lotan agrees and tells him of the Iza, the great serpents created by Artem, who created this land. They had two children, who are twins. Iza Cuchee (sun) and Iza Kuro (rain).

Lotan: "It was not always this way. This part of the forest... Iza Cuchee once shone his light into the forest. But it has been raining for a human generation now." He feels that things have fallen out of balance; there was balance before the shadows came. Now the dark, evil creatures have taken sway over the minds of many. Their touch withers your soul. The shadows serve the dark one, and steal worshipers from the Iza.

Lotan has had a vision, possibly in the wake of too much Moonberry Juice (also known as Yelda, or elvish moonshine). He had a vision of a traveler who would bring balance back to his people. "If you are the Vashanti, then you must walk the path of the serpent. Tell me, Marshall-From-Another-World, why are you here?"

Marshall launches into a long explanation; Tavros cuts in to explain that we're looking to defeat the dark one, and we think them allying with the centaurs is a good first step.

Lotan says Marshall must follow the path of the serpent to the temple to the east, and drink the venom of the creator to receive a vision. The rest of us should go with him to watch over him while he experiences the visions. Sort of a vision/supervision arrangement.

So: we're off in the Spooooky Forest; Marshall casts Light on his shield, since it's really dark and nobody but Tavros can see. (OOC: it turns out that every single one of my characters can see in the dark, even here in 3.5 where that's comparatively rare. Light is for wimps.)

We're walking along, heading east, when a shadow mastiff charges out of the dark and attacks Alexej, but misses. A voice says, "You should not be here..."

Tavros, the paladin: "No, no, I'm fairly sure we should be. Come out! Perhaps we can be friends!"

Marshall, who's the only one who remembers being here before: "Oh, he was talkin' about shadows! Don't let 'em touch ya!"

Marshall attempts to Turn them back with the holy power of Artem-hiss. Two of the shadows fall under his sway; another one cowers back. This is... not something that Good-aligned clerics should be able to do... but for the moment, nobody notices.

Leira turns invisible. Tavros steps forward and beheads the shadow mastiff.

Alexej: "How I supposed to trip now???" He gets ready to trip the next thing that gets in range.

Marshall moves around the tree and confronts the greater shadow that's now cowering before his might: "I'm going to take you right out of this world if you don't tell me if you have any more compatriots."

The shadow just hisses at him.

Leira follows Marshall, and fires off a Magic Missile at the greater shadow. Tavros crosses over and slashes at him... and Tavros' magic falchion is a Ghost Touch weapon, so it connects with no trouble; Alexej follows up with his guisarme, but the weapon passes through the greater shadow without touching it.

Marshall casts Shield of Faith on himself and moves up on the Greater Shadow. Leira finishes him off with Magic Missile.

"The masters will destroy you..." It dies.

Marshall asks his slave-shadows how many others there are. They aren't sure. "The Master's minions are infinite..." but they don't know how many are here.

We move forward a little bit, and hear howling. It's terrifying. Alexej drops his guisarme, and Leira drops her trident. A greater shadow attacks Alexej, stealing his strength.

Marshall sends his minions forward and tries to Turn again, but this time is much less effective. Marshall gets atttacked by a wraith, which damages his strength; Leira runs away into the dark, invisible and screaming.

Tavros attacks the wraith and damages it, and Alexej leavess his guisarme and flees into the dark. Marshall orders his shades to defend him, then tries to turn the wraith but fails.

The wraith slips around the two shadows and tries to attack Marshall, but misses because of his Shield of Faith. Tavros follows the wraith and hits it again, damaging it some more. The dogs try to attack Tavros, but miss.

Then Marshall tries to Rebuke the wraith, and succeeds; it cowers. Tavros hits it again.

Alexej runs into a pair of dire tigers in the dark but just keeps running; he runs past them and collides with a snake statue while they're still waking up.

The Shadow Mastiffs attack Marshall but miss; Marshall turns his shades on the dogs.

Tavros finishes off the wraith.

Alexej is lost in the dark... with dire tigers... he rushes away and crashes into some impassible underbrush; he can hear growling somewhere close by. He draws his great flail.

Leira shakes off her panic and starts trying to find her way back to where she dropped her trident. Marshall calls for the others, which helps. She finds her way back and picks up her trident, invisible and nonchalant.

Tavros attacks the greater shade; Alexej gets bitten by a tiger, but it fails to grab him; he continues flailing his way back towards us. The tiger attacks him again, but he cuffs it on the nose and escapes its grip.

Marshall picks up the Guisarme and heads towards the sound of the tigers. Leira follows, still invisible.

Alexej attacks the tiger with his flail, doing a bit of damage and making it really, really angry; it attacks him and just sort of mauls him, and grapples him.

"Is big mistake, tiger friend! I give you sausage if you let me go!"

The tiger is not swayed.

Marshall moves towards where he can hear Alexej, with his shades following him. Leira runs after them as her invisibility wears off. Alexej tries to tear himself free but fails. The second tiger bites Alexej and also tries to pull him away. Alexej is now caught between them. "I should not have chosen last name of Schnitzel!"

Marshall sics his shades on the second tiger, stealing its strength. Marshall moves forward, and notes that Alexej looks BAD. He uses Dominate Animal to control the slightly-injured tiger who first grabbed Alexej.

Leira uses Magic Missile on the second tiger, and Tavros moves in and slams his two-handed scimitar into the second tiger... which drops Alexej and flees, to growl at us from the darkness, at a safe distance.

Marshall sends his dominated tiger to attack its companion, but stops to cast Heal on Alexej. ("You are new best friend!" Alexej tells him.)

Marshall sends the shadows and tiger out to establish a perimeter.  Tavros moves up and growls at the second tiger, which backs up... but between the brush and a cliff, it's actually cornered. "Good!" shouts Tavros. "Stay!"

Marshall sends his newly dominated tiger to retrieve the other one, and we rapidly wind up watching an oversized cat-fight. Marshall takes the opportunity to heal himself, and Leira turns to look at the snake statue, which is made of obsidian.

The tigers continue struggling, and Marshall's new pet kills its former companion. Marshall orders it to run away from here until it gets tired, and it complies.

The snake statue immediately captures Marshall's attention. There's an unlit torch staked in front of the statue. Marshall tries lighting it with flint and steel, but fails. Leira tries Prestidigitation.

It lights for a second and then goes out, and a snake-woman appears next to us; Marshall gets the impression that maybe non-Snake-Priests shouldn't light this torch, and this snake-woman was sent to punish them.

Alexej is busy with the dead elk -- he's dressing it for steaks -- and doesn't even notice her. 

The Medusa lunges at Marshall, but misses. He averts his eyes from her overwhelming beauty... or tries to, but she's simply too attractive and he can't help looking at her. He does, however, manage not to turn to stone. He casts Slay Living, and slays her.

So, Marshall decides that clearly his companions are unworthy, and we settle in to rest so that Marshall can pray for an appropriate spell to light the torch himself. He prays to Artem-hiss and casts Poison on the torch.

The torch flares into green light, and a spectral snake extends into the air from the statue. "Supplicants, I am Iza Nagi, the father-snake. Who are you?"

Marshall introduces himself.

Apparently when the twins were born, the flames of Iza Cuchee burned their mother to death; and Iza Nagi devoured him in rage and shame. Thus does it rain all the time here in Fanaxia.

Marshall relights the torch.

"Why do you disturb me?"

Marshall: "I want to restore balance."

Iza Nagi: "Talk to the others. Quit bothering me."

We break there. Likely there are more snake-god statues around, and we might have more luck with another.

Monday, April 26, 2021

A Sampling of Tea!

I recently ordered a sampler of teas from Desert Sage Natural, a small company run by a husband and wife who do their own blends. And since I'm trying all these out for the first time, I thought I'd make notes -- since, y'know, I'll be ordering at least some of these in larger quantities (quanti-teas?) in the near future. I usually drink my tea with a dollop of wildflower honey and a splash of whole milk, but for sampling purposes I'm going to do these in stages: just the tea, then add honey, and finally with milk as well.

First up in my selection is Helga's Loyalty (caffeinated).  (Most of these blends have their own geeky names, though I confess in this case I don't recognize the reference. Maybe the very cool Norwegian mythology cartoon?) It contains both dried apple and cinnamon, which gives it an overall fruity flavor and just a little bit of bite against a nice, rich background. The wildflower honey blends nicely into it: it sweetens the cup, but doesn't change the flavor much at all. Adding milk, on the other hand... it sort of smooths everything out and you lose a lot of the flavor. 

Overall: I don't often drink fruity teas, but this one is good. Drink alone or with a bit of honey. Do not add milk. 

Second up is the one that originally caught my eye: Steve's Three Alarm Zen (decaf). It's a green tea with hawthorn berries, peppermint, and chili and it smells amazing while it's steeping. It's also really good just as is: green teas always seem a little thin to me, but the peppermint is a nice touch... and then the chili kicks in, and between that and the steam it does amazing things to my sinuses. (I have "bad allergies" -- not in the sense that I react terribly strongly to most things, but in the sense that I'm mildly-to-moderately allergic to essentially everything airborne in Texas. Admittedly, this wouldn't be a problem if I didn't live in Texas, but as it stands I'm frequently a bit stuffy. So, the combination of steam and spice-heat is really, really nice.) I'm wondering how this would do with a bit of jalapeno honey, but that can wait. Right now, a bit of wildflower honey... Okay, yes, that blends really well and adds just a little bit of sweetness that plays along well with the heat. I don't think I'll even try adding milk; I suspect all that would do is rob it of the spiciness that I bought it for. 

Overall: This tea is everything I hoped it would be. Drink it plain or with honey. 

Third sample was Leia's Legacy (decaf), a black tea with cinnamon -- less distinctive than the others, but very good by itself or with honey. Probably does just fine with milk as well, but I didn't try it. 

Overall: a solid, reliable tea -- and quite tasty; prepare it however you like. 

The fourth one I tried was another decaf tea called Enchanted Forest (caffeinated), a black tea with elderberries and peppermint. The flavors blend into something more subtle than I would normally expect from peppermint, and the overall effect was quite enjoyable. This is another one that I didn't try with milk, but felt that a bit of wildflower honey sweetened and complemented.

Overall: Would definitely recommend; serve with honey or possibly alone.

Fifth: Triforce Tea! (Punctuation mine.) (Caffeinated.) It's a black tea, and the ingredient list includes rooibos and roasted mate, which give it a strong, smoky flavor. Definitely a tea that will wake you up in the morning! A bit of honey adds some sweetness, and a splash of milk helps balance the smokiness.

Overall: The smokiness isn't entirely to my taste -- at least not by itself -- but I'd recommend it with honey and milk, particularly if you want a good, strong tea.

Next we have Spindle's Bite (decaf), an absolutely amazing black tea with chili, rose hips, and rose petals, a combination which gives it this lovely rich flavor either alone or with a dollop of honey. I didn't try adding milk -- that just feels like a mistake for anything with any bite to it, and there's just enough chili in this to give it a nice little bit of heat. 

Overall: definitely ordering more of this. I'm not sure if it's quite as sinus-clearing as the sample of Steve's was... but that could be a difference in how stuffy I was when I tried it. Drink it plain or with honey.

The last one I tried was Winter Is Coming (caffeinated) because of course it is. (No, I still haven't shaken off the lingering sense of foreboding that clung to everything in 2020: that if some sort of Zombie Apocalypse came along at this point I wouldn't even be surprised.) This one's a white tea with ginger and peppermint, which actually blend together really well. It's an interesting flavor on its own, but I find I prefer it with my usual dollop of honey -- which may say more about me than it does about the tea itself -- and it's another one where I suspect that adding milk would take an intriguing flavor and make it bland. 

Overall: a nice change from my usual black teas, and every bit as good. I'll be taking it with honey, but some people may prefer it un-doctored. 

In general... Well, first of all, apparently I really like chili teas. So I'm definitely going to be making more of those going forward. Looking over my notes, I apparently also enjoy teas with a bit of peppermint in them. My least favorites were the Triforce Tea -- the smoky flavor apparently isn't my thing -- and Leia's Legacy, which was quite good but didn't particularly stand out to me. Still, there was nothing in this selection that I actively didn't like; it's not like I was forcing myself to finish cups of tea here. ("For science!") And just having a bunch to experiment with was, well, fun. Hence the blog post. 

If you're a tea drinker looking to branch out on your flavors, this is definitely a fun way to do it. The Desert Sage Natural standard sampler includes five different kinds of tea, and starts at $10 for a set of single teabags. (Prices go up depending on the amount of tea and the work required to package it.) Note that you won't be choosing which teas you want to try! You'll need to fill out a little questionnaire to explain your tastes and preferences, and let the sages send you what they think you'll like. It's not just a tea sampler, it's an adventure.

If that sounds like your kind of thing, give it a try!

Friday, April 23, 2021

Durest: Praise and Thanks

Durest watched the skeletons swarm over the deck and nodded to himself, satisfied. Finally! The invading ships were overrun, the Solari were dead or gone, and the dark army was arriving in force. The battle for Boiler Bay was over. Even better, they were nearly done riding around in that magical crab-statue, so he could reanimate his skeletal Frost Giant again. 

Turning, he walked to one of the soldiers who had teleported in once the protections were broken and the Solari slain. "A mighty victory," he said. 

The woman was human, tall and tanned and probably stronger than Durest; but when she focused on him, the sneer on her face disappeared and she swallowed. "Yes, champion." 

"When you celebrate tonight, offer thanks to Indra for it." 

She eyed him nervously. "The priests, they say Vecna--"

"Oh, it's a victory for Vecna to be sure," Durest nodded. "But it was Indra's power that made it possible. He's still strong, even after his defeat. And if you pray to Him, He'll lend that power to you and yours."

The woman nodded slowly. She was one of the desert barbarians, wild as the wind herself; her people would remember Indra. "May the Maker of Storms watch over us," she said, and then added: "Especially here, above all this water." 

Durest nodded, satisfied. It wasn't much, but it was a start. His god wanted more worshipers, so worshipers he would  have. Reminding the savage tribes to give praise to Indra's might wouldn't be enough, but it was easy to do and would take on its own momentum; they still remembered their traditions.

Turning, he went to look for another of the warriors. He had no tongue for sermons, but a quick reminder to put the word in their ear? That he could do.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Character Sketch: Robert Farmont

Robert Farmont is a minor shapechanger, having command of only two alternate forms (fox and owl) and no related powers. Despite his distinguished lineage, he feels out of place among the highborn at the Academy and questions his right to be there. He hopes to prove himself, but fears that he will never live up to the reputation of his bloodline. Quiet and studious at first, he becomes warmer and more talkative around others who share his interests (particularly games). Rob is in his first year at the Academy. His grandparents are influential voices in the High Rock Pact of Fangs. His focus is a claw that he wears as a medallion.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Challenge: Creative Outlets

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! 

Today's prompt is "creative outlets I enjoy" and I flatly guarantee that everyone responding to this is going to include some version of "writing" in their answer. Prove me wrong, I dare you!

On second thought, don't. Writing is awesome. I mean, sure, it can be work; but can also be a lot of fun. For most people it's not hugely profitable, but it can be a source of income. Plus, it's cheaper than therapy -- and you don't have to schedule an appointment! So, yeah, definitely writing. 

Weirdly enough, another answer used to be "work". I used to do web design, back in the day when that meant designing your own layout and editing your own graphics (and building things in static HTML with just a little bit of javascript or some Flash). It was an odd mix of artistic and technical, and I really enjoyed it. 

The really big one anymore is Dungeons and Dragons. It's a nice mix of social interaction, storytelling, improv acting, and writing -- and for many people, also art or music. (I never had much talent for either, and I've let slip what little skill I once had.) I do a lot of DnD-related snippets of writing here on the blog -- including game notes from campaign, which probably aren't of much interest to anyone who isn't playing in it. 

So those are my major creative outlets. How about yours?

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

EvilParty and Solari: Transitions

EvilParty resumes the battle!

Chuck, newly restored, tries to shatter the device inside the cage with a spell. He fails, but thinks it could work. One of the enemy rogues slips past the battling barbarians (Jenny and Three-Fang, who are honestly more invested in proving their dominance than in which side wins the overall battle), and comes up under the crab-machine; he tries to attack Chuck, but misses. Durest reaches down to the dying orc on the floor, and casts Death Knell to finish the guy off and strengthen himself. Hatch continues squishing the bard, Farrakon the Fantastic.

Three-Fangs attacks Jenny, doing some damage but dropping one of his axes. Farrakon casts Otto's Irrestible Dance on Three-Fangs, because fucking bards are *not* reliable. He then tries to convince us that he's secretly on our side, and he's surprisingly persuasive. Hatch, at least, is swayed -- though not enough to release him from the mechanical pincer.

Chuck again tries to shatter the gem and again doesn't get past its damage resistance.

Jenny attacks the bugbear (Three-Fangs) again, and sends him to the ground. He's stable, but essentially out of action -- and since he was raging, he's going to die the moment he stops raging.

She then steps forward and takes out the cleric, then snaps her chain back around and lays it into the rogue, though the first attack doesn't kill him. The second attack, however, does. Jenny has literally run out of things to kill, except for the guy who has dominated her.

The rogue under the crab attacks Durest, but misses.

The sailor/swashbucklers in the main hold start fleeing up onto the deck. Two other rogues move in and flank Jenny, who is now in serious trouble.

Chuck shatters the sphere.

Farrakon uses Dimension Door to get to somewhere safer, so he misses the resulting explosion out of sheer luck.

Jenny, meanwhile, lays into the two rogues that were flanking her, and obliterates them.

At this point, the battle turns, and Jenny runs up onto the deck to go around the blade barrier. Since Three-Fangs is still conscious, she drags him along. She jumps off the side of the boat as we pull the crab-submarine out of the Blade Barrier, and swims inside -- still hauling Three-Fangs -- to where Durest is waiting to heal her.

Three-Fangs immediately proposes marriage to Jenny; she refuses, but adds him to her harem. He asks if he can at least be in charge of the harem, but she says he has to earn it. "You... firm but fair," agrees Three-Fangs.

The Battle of Boiler Bay... is over. The Solari naval incursion is all but annihilated. Somewhere, there's a ranger making his escape, and a Bard thanking the gods that he got out in time.

Hierophant Malafar is extremely impressed. We have brought him the Apparatus (the crab-submarine), we have defeated several powerful foes, and we have delivered a valuable hostage in the form of Grand Elder Ishara. (They murder all her guards, though. The elves are likely to be pissed.)


The Solari party, loyal to the human king and sworn defenders of Sol Povos, are:  

-Tavros Fontaine, half-dragon and Knight of the Temple of Amun. (Paladin/Fighter)
-Leira Sirène d'Incendie, sixteen-year-old sorceress and former mermaid (now human)
-Marshall Mercy, human priest of Artem-hiss
-Alexej (whose last name translates to Sausage Schnitzel), human fighter and gourmand.

After our previous adventures, we were sent north to reinforce Janbridge. A group of boats had been sent to circle Sol Povos and retake the town. The Duke of Janbridge wanted us to attack the elves, who looked like they might be gathering for an attack; but they withdrew, and Grand Marshall Lady Orfevre ordered us to hold our position in Janbridge. So we did, until we were summoned back to the capital.

That evening, we're bought to a laboratory down in the main part of the castle. We're met at the door by Conrad DuVall, the King's Seneschal. "Faithful Servants, the King wanted me to inform you that your apartments and lands have been expanded in keeping with your service. The mission you are about to undertake is dear to the King's heart, and your success here will gather you more of his generosity.

We enter a room with the Archmage Malzeros, Father Raphael Montaine (High Priest of Helios), Viggo the Whisperer (the spymaster), and Dante Alighieri (the world's greatest poet).

Dante starts in at length; Viggo intercedes. "Come, friends, let me tell you of our progress. You found the Eye of Vecna, and that evil Paladin Sasha cast you into that other world within the Eye, in a land called Fanaxia. Sasha pulled you out, and fled. Since then, the Archmage has been studying the artifact and believes he has reproduced the magic. We believe we can send you back to Fanaxia."

Dante, in verse: "You might want to tell them that they'll need to be dead to get there."

Priest: "Not entirely."
Archmage: "Only temporarily."

Viggo: "You should be able to return."

Leira: "Could I just stay in the bathtub instead?"

Tavros: "Some dangers require extreme measures." He turns to Viggo. "This seems a bit extremely extreme, though."

Viggo: "This mission is... not so optional. It is dear to the king's heart. And I have the utmost faith in the Archmage and the High Priest."

Leira: "If I die, I'm going to come back and haunt you. And my boyfriend Sasha is going to come murder you."

Viggo: "I accept your terms." He sounds completely serious, at least to Leira.

Viggo: "It seems the dark army is in service to Vecna. It seems that Vecna originated in Fanaxia, and may be the very Dark One that they refer to there. It seems also that some of the minions, including this Krony, originated in Fanaxia. So we want you to go to Fanaxia and find information on Krony, Kaz, or Vecna himself."

Leira: "How do we get back?"

Viggo: "We can put you in at the same place you arrived last time. The valley of the giants, I believe it was. Once you return to the portal there, you will return."

The dark one used to be in Sandorn Castle; he was executed. For laying hands upon the king his hand was removed, for spying his eye was removed, and for attempting to cause the downfall of Fanaxia, he was exiled to the Abyss. Now the priests of Urbroth run everything, and King Baldric is holed up in his castle and doesn't come out. The west wing of the castle is haunted and inaccessible. We're pretty sure the priests of Urgroth were priests of Vecna, but the west wing of the castle was something different.

Since we have a day to prepare, Leira is going to write a very lovestruck-sixteen-year-old letter to Sasha. Marshall and Tavros go to buy wands: Death Ward, Cure, and Knock. Tavros adds a +1 Morningstar as well.

We return to the clearing where we last arrived in Fanaxia. There's a portal there now, and the giants haven't done anything to repair the area. We make our way into town.

Marshall immediately begins investigating to see if there is a temple to Artem-hiss. Alexej starts asking about his friend, Christobol, who was a very good Captain.

Marshall finds a temple of Vecna/Urgroth; the moment he asks, they try to drive him away -- "You one of them snake worshipers? We drove your kind out to Serpente Selva in the west!"

Alexej has rather better luck: the first person he asks about Christobol looks around, then invites us inside. "Are you with the resistance?"

Alexej: "If Christobol is, then yes."

So Christobol is a lieutenant of Rygar now, and he's going to lead them to rise up against the priests of Urgrol. The castle of the Magiknights is where Rygar, Christobol, and the remaining knights are. "Okay, but beware the nightwing!" Alexej assures him that we'll be careful.

So our contact Bellamy now thinks we're highly placed in the resistance. He's thrilled to host us to dinner. He tells us a little about the area in passing. In particular, it's now split in half by a marsh, and there's a ghost tower in the center of the marsh that nobody seems to be able to reach. It occupies the same location as Sandorn Castle used to, except it appears and disappears, always just out of reach.

Kuldor Keep is the only port, and sea trade is the only way to trade with the north. The ruler there is descended from Walter Crow, known as the Centaurs' Bane. The family sigil is a leaping centaur impaled on a soldier's spear. (This is the same symbol we saw in the barn where Christobol was being held, so presumably he was being held by Lord Crow's men.)

The other thing we learn is that the province/city of Vrist in the far northwest has this Devil's Reef surrounding it; only really skilled smugglers can get through there. Styre and Westyre trade with Kuldor Keep; trade between Styre and Vrist passes through the Griffin Hills, which are passable but dangerous.

"Does Rygar really exist?" Bellamy wants to know. Marshall remembers: Yes, he's a lean, charming half-elf. He has three lieutenants: Tybalt, Rybalt, and Jorn - and now Christobol. When Marshall was here, he was shown a tapestry of Vecna being executed. (That was back when he was traveling with the elves, though, so he's the only one in this party who's met the magiknights.)

We spend the night with Bellamy and head north in the morning. Tavros and Marshall want to head into the Serpente Selva to look for Artemis priests; Alexej wants to head east and north to Castle Dinoden. We start looking around for a carriage, because none of us want to go traipsing through the rain.

Marshall: "So here's something you may not know about Artemis: while most religions are about being humble, but Artemis feels you should show your worth." So we end up acquiring *two* carriages: a plain one for the rest of us, and one that Marshall can decorate in snake motifs and holy symbols and arrange to have pulled by a pair of giant vipers.

We get about five miles into the forest before a low-pitched voice says, "Halt."

There are humanoids all around us with bows; an armored centaur emerges from the trees. "Who goes there?"

"Why, Marshall! The all-powerful and greatly celebrated priest of Artem-hiss, and his followers."

"Are you with the crazy snake-worshippers from up north?"

Marshall: "Maybe?"

"The centaurs rule this land. Who are you with?"

Tavros climbs out.

Centaur: "Are you a summoned snake-person?"

Leira: "This is my uncle Tavros."

Marshall actually (shockingly) manages to convince them that we come in peace. We've met the Guard Captain; he will take us to the king. Leira compliments his hair. He is really, really pleased.

He takes us about three miles further on, to a centaur village; they've arranged a number of canopies to keep the rain off. He leads us to this one particular canopy and explains our request for passage.

We go inside and sit down. He speaks to us in Elven, and Tavros starts explaining our mission. Embrasios thinks we must have come from far over the sea, but nobody has made it back on the floating trees. Apparently in the early times there were other centaurs elsewhere, but nobody has survived traveling on the floating trees in this age. Have we met any other centaurs, beyond the ocean? Tavros allows that few visited his mother when he was young. The king is pleased by this; he seems to see it as a sign.

Tavros tries to explain our mission.

The king is willing to grant us passage, but wants to know whatever we learn from the serpent priests, since apparently they're destined to join the centaurs in defeating Lord Crow. Tavros is... not entirely comfortable with this, but he's willing to carry the message and try to encourage an alliance. Lord Crow seems a thoroughly villainous sort, but Tavros is not as naive as he once was.

The king has named Tavros their Kalamon: the one who will bring the centaurs justice.

Leira asks if she can have a nickname too. "She is named [something] Concubine to the Kalamon."

Tavros' nostrils have never flared so wide in his life; he's a Paladin of Amun, and not wholly unversed in the ways of the world, but he is not going to have concubines and especially not underage ones. However, the king is pleased with this, and with us. He will grant us passage. 

At this point, we break for a feast: fire, meat, and dancing. In the morning, they send us on to meet with the crazy snake people.

Next time: crazy snake priests.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Music: Kill of the Night

 More from Gin Wigmore:

Definitely not operating at my best today -- last week wore me out, and then this weekend wore me out again. So, hey, music!

Friday, April 16, 2021

Music: Anywhere Away From Here

 Rag'n'Bone Man & P!nk:

Character Sketch: Rosemary Rot

This is (maybe) the first in a series of sketches of secondary characters attending the Shadow Academy. These may change as the book evolves. 

Rosemary Rotlingen is a First Year at the Shadow Academy, and shares several classes with Darian. As a ghoul, Rose is something of a social outcast... except among the other ghouls, who have a pretty tight-knit society and make it a point to watch out for each other. She has a solid grounding in basic sorcery, and is looking to build on those skills; her focus is a knife. Rose is quietly ambitious and fiercely loyal; she desperately wants to be accepted, especially by the students from higher-status backgrounds.

I really need to start finding pictures for these...

Thursday, April 15, 2021

It must be Thursday...

Well, it's Thursday -- the day when almost all of us wake up and seriously question the life choices that brought us here. I've gotten more writing done on Shadow Academy. On the one hand, it's progress so it's satisfying; on the other hand, it started with a bit of cleanup of my opening scene, which meant trimming off most of it and writing it again in a way that allowed me to introduce new elements more sequentially. 

And who knows? I may go back and rewrite the entire opening scene, Just, y'know, not now. Right now, I just want to get this part wrapped up so I can move on to the parts I really want to be writing. 

Do other writers get impatient with their own pace and the need to introduce their readers to their world? I imagine so. It can't just be me. 

(I didn't used to have this issue, but then I used to have a lot more free time... Nowadays, I'm so busy with making sure that everything happens when it needs to that it takes at least an hour to get my brain to settle down from meals and wakeups and prescriptions and bedtimes, and let me tell you that is not optimal when you're trying to squeeze a bit of writing in at the end of the evening. I end up staying awake later than I should, and pay for it the next day. And that, too, was easier when I was younger.) 

Anyway: our fourteen-year-old protagonist Darian has had his fortune told by a dead man, and been accepted to the Shadow Academy. Now I just need to introduce his family, settle his affairs, and send him on his way. 

That might, now that I think about it, explain the First-Day-In-College-How-Do-I-Find-My-Way-Around? dreams the other night.  Well, fine. I'm sure I can locate my dorm room, and I'll probably figure out the class schedule sometime soon, right? 


And then I can get more sleep. Beautiful sleep. Wonderful sleep. I've missed you, sleep.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Challenge: When I Win The Lottery...

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! 

Today's prompt is, "If I won a large lottery jackpot, I would..."

Well. Naturally that depends a bit on just how large the jackpot was. $500,000 (U.S.) is a lot of money for most of us, but I could put both boys through college (and possibly grad school) and only have a little bit of that left over to put by for retirement. (Which, under the circumstances, is what I would do.)

Now, if I were to win a Powerball jackpot -- something which could easily run into hundreds of millions of dollars -- well... turns out it's still surprisingly easy to burn through that, if you decide to make all your dreams come true. But I'm older, and more cautious, and so there's definitely a very slim chance that I might actually behave responsibly with that much money. 

After I got my castle, of course, and rounded out the sword collection. Okay, not really a full-fledged castle, but it would need to have stone walls, at least one tower with crenelations, and at least one secret passage hidden behind a bookshelf. (Additional secret passages would, of course, be welcome.) 

(It goes without saying that it would need a really, really big library.)

The thing that I'd want to do with money, though, isn't really buying things (as much fun as that can be). It's buying back my time. I'd want to put the money where it would hopefully do some good (maybe in micro-loans?) and then basically be able to set my own schedule with no obligations except the ones I choose for myself. I'd get back into martial arts, maybe add some dance lessons, spend time on writing and reading. Yes, I'd buy a few toys; but mostly I'd set a budget so I could own my own time.

How about you?

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

EvilParty: Surprised Sailing Solari

While we've been cruising around and smashing smaller boats while waiting for our vampire, Chuck, to recover, Durest has done some thinking. We've been ramming the attacking boats from behind, but the anti-teleportation devices have consistently been in the front. 

So, this time we crash into the front of the last of the large boats, where the enemy has apparently been expecting us... to attack from the stern.

"Three-Fang, grab the orb!" yells a very nicely-dressed Solari who was facing the wrong way. Three-Fang is a Bugbear, and presumably either Solari or Solari-adjacent; he's standing in front of the door that we didn't come in.

Chuck moves first, and opens the hatch. He drops out and sends a Lightning Bolt through Three Fang and his two Orc friends. Jenny comes out behind him and finishes the nearest orc, then whips her spiked chain over into Three-Fang, who is both badly damaged and extremely pissed off. Jenny blows a kiss at him.

A priest comes charging down the hallway; Jenny blows him a kiss as well. He drops a Blade Barrier on Jenny and Chuck.

Hatch and Ramikin turn the crab-ship and try to smash the cage with a claw; it takes damage but doesn't immediately collapse.

The remaining orc in the room with us goes into a rage, but he doesn't have ranged weapons. Three-fang is yelling at him to grab the orb and get out.

Three-Fang, raging, pulls out two hand axes and starts trying to attack Jenny. He hits, despite the blade barrier, and does some damage; his nicely-dressed companion, a bard named Farakon the Fantastic, drops Otto's Irresistible Dance on Jenny.

Chuck steps out of the blade barrier, and drops his signature Fireball in the middle of the hallway. This wipes out the archers who were waiting in the side rooms to ambush us (and whom most of us haven't seen yet). The more powerful guys in the hall survive, but standing in the middle of a fireball is never fun.

Jenny, meanwhile, is busy dancing because of that thrice-cursed spell.

There's a big brute of human who's trying to push past Farakon the Fantastic; he slides briefly out of reality and steps directly into the middle of the crab. Durest calls upon the might of Indra and tags him with Destruction; he dies, immediately and irrevocably.

Hatch continues trying to claw the cage with the device in it.

The orc barbarian makes a run for the opening of the boat and pushes past Chuck, then jumps up into the crab. He takes a quick look around and power attacks Hatch... but misses. A second cleric tries to Flame Strike our crab, but fails against its spell resistance.

Farakon the Fantastic disappears. Three-fang attacks Jenny, damaging her, and Chuck attempts to use his vampiric power to Dominate him. Three-fang tries to resist, but is helpless before the force of Chuck's personality.

Jenny, unfortunately, is still dancing. The cleric tries again with Flame Strike, slightly damaging the crab and attempting to immolate Chuck and Jenny. Jenny is damaged; Chuck is barely on his feet.

Durest drops out of the crab and uses Cure Critical on Jenny, restoring a chunk of her hit points. "This one's yours, Hatch," he calls as ducks under the orc barbarian's arm on the way out.

Hatch uses Scorching Ray and drops the orc. Ramikin is very proud of his master.

The remaining cleric casts Magic Circle against Evil, because Chuck is a freakin' vampire. Jenny is still in the blades, but she's done dancing; she gets out of the blades but otherwise doesn't manage anything useful.

Chuck commands Three-fang to attack the cleric; he does. The result is not quite Cleric sashimi, but it's close...

The invisible Bard is still casting things at Jenny; her expression goes briefly blank as something takes hold, but none of us see it.

Chuck drops Touch of Idiocy on the cleric. The cleric attempts to cast Cure Critical Wounds on himself, despite the bugbear who's trying to murder him. He then retreats up the hallway, and the bugbear takes another swipe at him; he hits, hard.

Durest drops a Flame Strike in the hall, hitting everyone there.

Hatch continues smashing at the cage with the crab claw; he's damaging it, but it's still not open. The lesser cleric casts Mass Cure Light for himself and his master, but holds his ground.

This is a mistake for the cleric. Three-fangs advances and lays into him. He falls.

Jenny, meanwhile, attacks Chuck and hits him. She then attacks Three-fang, who survives the experience. The cleric heals his fallen companion.

Durest casts Hold Person on Jenny, and freezes her in place.

The newly restored cleric casts Inflict Critical on Three-Fang, who's still on feet and still under Chuck's control. Three-fang promptly kills him again, and steps forward to engage the other cleric again.

Jenny breaks out of the Hold Person, and attacks the bugbear, injuring both him and the remaining cleric. The cleric, for reasons best known to himself, heals the bugbear (Three-fangs). Then, as if we didn't have enough going on, a rogue tumbles into one of the side rooms and stabs Jenny.

Durest drops an Invisibility Purge, and we find Farakon the Fantastic waiting beside the cage. Hatch grabs him with the crab claw, and Farakon is grappled.

Another rogue tumbles in from the other side, but misses Jenny completely.

Three-fang finally breaks Chuck's hold on him, and turns on Jenny. Jenny attacks him -- she does some damage, but misses at one point and hits Farakon instead. Farakon is very confused by this. Chuck takes a final bit of damage and dissolves into mist form -- he's not indestructible, he just thinks he is -- and flows back towards the crab, our bag of holding, and his coffin inside.

Durest climbs back into the crab and reaches into the Bag of Holding to find Chuck's coffin. "Chuck? You in there?" He casts Slay Living on the vampire, which of course restores him to unlife.

So at this point, Chuck is at 1 HP, Durest and Chuck are both in the crab with Hatch and Ramikin. Farakon is pinned by the crab claw, and Jenny and Three-Fang are engaged in a battle of dominance that has almost nothing to do with which sides they're fighting for. There are two rogues and a cleric still around, but probably not for long.

We'll pick up with that next time, and then close on this party and pick up with our would-be Solari. It's going to be a bit weird playing the good guys...

Monday, April 12, 2021

Vendril: The Mark of the Silver Fox

"Helios' sacred buttocks, we did it!" The boy's voice was quiet, but fiercely proud.

"Shut up and keep walking," said the girl behind him. "We're not safe yet, and if they catch us now--"

The shutter of a lamp slid up, casting light all down the alley. Teleian was almost painfully aware of how exposed his face was; he could see feel the faint shift in the bag they carried between them as Tennira tried to duck her head deeper under her cowl. It might even work for her, but his own cowl had fallen to his shoulders several blocks back, leaving his face completely exposed: visible, memorable.

"...You'll have led us right to your meeting-place?" asked a human voice in better-than-passable elvish.

"Run!" said Teleian, but Tennira seemed frozen.

"Go ahead," said the human. "It'll save us time and make the Archon's job easier. All it costs us is a couple of crossbow bolts. No?"

The human was still an indistinct figure behind the light of the lamp; the streets and alleys of the elf-ghetto were dark even to elvish eyes. King Elfbane the Second and his troops wouldn't spare the resources to keep them lit, or warm, or clean. Still, when the peacekeeper gestured sharply with one upraised arm, the motion was visible enough: "Put them with the others."

"Run," said Teleian again, this time in a whisper.

"They'll shoot me," Tennira whispered back. 

They would, of course. They might miss -- they were only human -- but then they might not. But even that would be better than facing one of the King's Archons. Every rumor about them was more monstrous than the last. In the eyes of the King's justice, the elves were already guilty. "We surrender," Teleian said quietly. He glanced back at Tennira and nodded, and they knelt together, lowering the heavy canvas bag to the ground. The stolen weapons inside clunked as they shifted positions. 

Teleian kept one knee up and the other on the ground, but lowered his head. He had practiced springing up from this position, even without a blade. If he waited until the last moment, maybe he could take the crossbows by surprise and escape. He wouldn't be able to warn the resistance, even if he lived; he'd be lucky to escape the city. Still, better to die in the attempt...

The light flickered wildly as something heavy hit the ground. A moment later, someone slid the shutter closed and -- Teleian thought from the sounds -- set the lamp down on the dirty, broken bricks of the alley. 

"This way," said a voice, little more than a breathy whisper. A hand touched his shoulder, squeezed briefly, released. "Bring the bag." 

Teleian reached back, found his end of the bag, and lifted. Tennira must have done the same, because the bag rose without changing angle. "This way," said the voice again, and they followed. 

A narrow strip of sky was barely visible overhead; that was all that allowed them avoid the walls of the alley. The figure ahead of them was a shadow in the darkness, visible only as a faint gleam when it lifted one gloved hand to show the glint of a silver ring in the starlight. 

"You're him, aren't you?" whispered Teleian, and felt Tennira half-stumble behind him. "You're the silver fox."

The figure didn't answer, and a moment later Teleian became aware of the faint sounds of other people ahead. There were a full dozen at least, all of them standing in the dark; and from the whickering, at least one horse. The soft clop of a hoof suggested more. 

"Well?" called a voice, a soft baritone.

"It's done," said the breathy voice of the Fox. 

Faint light rose, soft balls of false flame spreading out. The walls of the alley became visible, one of them the back of the headquarters. Three small carts, loaded with wooden crates and rolls of cloth, filled the exits; the space between them was crowded with elves. 

Teleian recognized several of them: Mannanith Smokeleaf, who gave orders to the local cell; Evareth Nooncall, who hired all manner of people to work as her messengers, and quietly forged papers in the back room of her serving-house. A handful of others, all part of the resistance; Teleian knew their faces and names, but little of what they did. They should have been inside the headquarters; that was where he and Tennira had intended to surprise them with weapons stolen from the humans. 

But the humans had turned their clever rebellion into an ambush that would have crushed this part of the resistance. Judging by the human guards who lay unconscious against the sides of the alley, it had worked... or it would have, if the Silver Fox and his companions hadn't intervened. 

There were four of them, now visible in the faint magical light. The Fox himself wore a leather mask worked with metal and flat black lenses, red-brown and black, with a snout to match his namesake. A black cowl fit tight around his head, hiding the rest of his features. Still, he moved easily and motioned to one of the wagons. "Put your bag there. I'll see that it gets put to use." 

Standing beside the wagon was the Boar, who wore a metal helm shaped to look like the head of a pig, complete with tusks. He -- or she -- grunted a deep-throated approval as the weapons clunked onto the wooden slats. The horse stamped, and the Boar reached out and put a hand on the rail of the cart, as if to hold it back with his arm alone. Then again, thought Teleian, looking at the size of that arm, maybe he can. Or she. Or whatever. 

"It's done," said the Fox, "at least for now. We'll take you out of the city, and send your families along as soon as we can. Climb onto those two wagons, and find a crate to hide in." 

Teleian watched as several of the elves moved towards the wagon. An owl-masked figure stood beside one, a hawk-masked figure beside the other. 

"I'll stay," said Evareth, and beside her Mannanith nodded. 

"They may not have looked at us too closely," he said. "Not enough to recognize us. It's worth the risk."

The Fox regarded them for a long moment, then nodded. "Be careful, as you can." 

"I'll stay too," said Tennira, startling Teleian. 

"No," said the Fox. "They know your face." 

"I had my cowl up," she said, lifting her chin defiantly. "They didn't see--"

The fox shifted slightly, and suddenly had a knife in each hand. "They've known your face for some time now," said that breathy voice. "So you let us take you away, or you go back to them. They won't believe you didn't betray them, but that's still your choice to make." 

Teleian said, "Tennira?" 

Her shoulders slumped, and all of a sudden she was moving past him, heading for one of the wagons. He tried to reach out for her, but she slipped past his hand. 

"Leave her," whispered the Fox. "We sent word to your family this afternoon; take the other wagon, and you'll rejoin them on the road to Duendewood." 

"And Tennira?" Teleian knew his voice was bitter, knew the Silver Fox didn't deserve that, and also knew that he couldn't stop himself. He had cared for her; he couldn't just let that go. Even if, he realized suddenly, she led me into this whole scheme and exposed the resistance here.

"She will go elsewhere," said that quiet voice, the one that commanded attention by its absence of volume. "There are other homes for those of our blood, and in time she might even redeem herself there."

Teleian hesitated, then nodded and headed for the wagon. Two of the others were already fitting themselves into crates. No doubt it would be a long and uncomfortable ride before he would be free of the city -- and longer and more uncomfortable still before his heart was free of Tennira. He wondered if she hated herself as much as he, in this moment, hated her. I was an idiot, he decided. I ruined everything.

"Quietly, now," whispered the Fox. "Get them on the paths."

Teleian pulled himself up onto the wagon, located a crate, and lowered himself into it. He knew he would be a minor piece of the legend: more elves rescued by the Silver Fox, more traitors against the King who vanished into the night, never to be captured. More of the Elfbane's guards left helpless with the mark of the Silver Fox upon them. I'll be more than that, he decided. I'll keep trying to fight. I'll take guidance from people I can trust. I'll come back to help the Fox, if I can.

He held that thought firmly as the Boar fitted the lid of the crate over him and hammered it into place.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Music: Walking On The Sun

Yeah, definitely having a fit of 90s nostalgia here. What the hell, why not? Have some Smash Mouth:

More Music: I'm Too Sexy

Apparently I'm still feeling nostalgic? Have some more music.

 Right Said Fred: 

Music: Tubthumping

 Chumbawamba, of course: 

Apparently I'm feeling nostalgic? Or something? Not to mention bone-weary and knee deep in brain fog. But, all right. Moving forward, moving forward, and hoping that if I just keep pushing long enough things will be where I need them be. 

It was a hell of a shock when the alarm went off this morning and I realized it was Friday instead of Saturday, though.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Writing progress: Shadow Academy

So after taking last week off, I dove back into work this week. Unfortunately, owing in no small part to Murphy's Law, everyone and their pet badger tried to get in touch with me last week about things that they needed to have done. As a result, it's feeling more than a little like if I finish all the stuff for this week, I'm going to need another week off to recover. 

I'm also noticing, as I work through one issue after another, just how burnt-out I'd gotten and how much I probably should have taken that week off earlier. But I digress...

In my youth, I used to just sit down, start a story, and write it straight through, more or less chronologically. (I wasn't usually messing around with experimental story structures; I was in my teens and I wanted adventure, so it was usually just a matter of Start Adventure, Have Adventure, Finish Adventure.) I'm not sure that's working as well for me now; in my youth, I also had a lot fewer distractions and could just lean in and lose myself in the story. That's... not so easy anymore. There's a lot going on, and this week has been particularly fraught.

Still, I got about three pages of opening done on Sunday, and I think I can just run from there (with maybe a bit of edit/rewrite in the last couple of paragraphs) and if I can, I will. I've currently got something like sixteen or eighteen pages of "first chapter" that is basically a disconnected collection of attempted openings, and I need to just settle on one and go -- before this project ends up as hopelessly tangled as the last one. That's not even mentioning how much I'd like to just get on with it, already

But I haven't touched it since Sunday. Monday night was DnD, so that's understandable; but Tuesday and Wednesday nights were just weird, and stressful, and exhausting. Nobody warns you that when you become an adult, most of your time will be spent trying to keep up with dozens of regular chores and another dozen or so not-quite-trivial things that will inevitably disrupt your best attempts at keeping a schedule. 

Don't even ask how I'm doing on the laundry. 

So I'm going to do the "re-read and pick up at the break" approach tonight, and if I don't get anything more written I'm going to be sad and angry and probably cranky into the bargain. Even if it's not writing-writing; I might just sit down and sketch out a batch of minor characters, so I have some descriptions to reference when Darian finally reaches the gods-cursed school...

Anyway. Progress can come in more than one form; I just wish it felt like I was making any kind of sustained progress, instead of these frustrating fits and starts.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Challenge: Books Bought for the Cover or Title

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!

Today's prompt is "Books I bought for the cover or title", and (as with last week's Binge-Watching topic) I find myself thinking that it's been a while since I did that. 

Which is a shame, because I love a well-done book cover and I follow a lot of fantasy artists on Twitter precisely so I can look at their work. But I don't really see them on books anymore, or at least only if I'm browsing through something like the Amazon Daily Deals... which I think reflects a shift from shopping in bookstores for physical books, to reading ebooks almost exclusively and therefore choosing books based on people mentioning them on Twitter. 

At this point, I am far more likely to buy a book because of someone's description -- "Lesbian Necromancers in Space!" or "Murder-mermaids!" for example -- than I am based on the cover or the title. And I essentially never buy without reading the blurb, and sometime a page or two of the sample. 

Still... even in the face of all that, I can think of at least two books that I very much enjoyed and that I would have bought on the strength of the title alone:

Set Fire to the Gods -- Sara Raasch and Kristen Simmons:
Ash is descended from a long line of gladiators, and she knows the brutal nature of war firsthand. But after her mother dies in an arena, she vows to avenge her by overthrowing her fire god, whose temper has stripped her country of its resources.

Madoc grew up fighting on the streets to pay his family’s taxes. But he hides a dangerous secret: he doesn’t have the earth god’s powers like his opponents. His elemental gift is something else—something that hasn’t been seen in centuries.

When an attempted revenge plot goes dangerously wrong, Ash inadvertently throws the fire and earth gods into a conflict that can only be settled by deadly, lavish gladiator games, throwing Madoc in Ash’s path. She realizes that his powers are the weapon her rebellion needs—but Madoc won’t jeopardize his family, regardless of how intrigued he is by the beautiful warrior.

But when the gods force Madoc’s hand, he and Ash uncover an ancient war that will threaten more than one immortal—it will unravel the world.

A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking -- T. Kingfisher:
Fourteen-year-old Mona isn't like the wizards charged with defending the city. She can't control lightning or speak to water. Her familiar is a sourdough starter and her magic only works on bread. She has a comfortable life in her aunt's bakery making gingerbread men dance.

But Mona's life is turned upside down when she finds a dead body on the bakery floor. An assassin is stalking the streets of Mona's city, preying on magic folk, and it appears that Mona is his next target. And in an embattled city suddenly bereft of wizards, the assassin may be the least of Mona's worries...

Honestly, I'd highly recommend either or both of these (or the two I mentioned in passing above). Set Fire to the Gods has adventure, romance, intrigue both divine and mundane, conflicting loyalties, and gladiatorial games that take the place of conventional wars. A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking is one part adventure, one part coming-of-age, and just a teeeeeeny bit of intrigue as well. Both books were fun and immensely satisfying. 

Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

EvilParty: Ship-shape

We're on a sinking ship. Our vampire sorcerer has made an emergency exit to his coffin after getting very nearly destroyed by a particularly annoying wizard. While we wait for him to recover (which will basically take an hour) we return to the submarine. Now we're running around sinking smaller boats.

The big boats are rapidly damaging our allies, but they're also losing a significant number of their support craft (to us). We've also turned the elves loose with one of our lifeboats, and they're rapidly making their escape.

After fifteen minutes or so, we decide maybe we should try to sink one of the big boats, preferably without engaging any Solari directly. (Ha ha ha...) So, we pick the ship that fireballed our vampire, and smash into it from behind. Again, we smash our way in, and some distance down its length. And again, we smash right through some cells that held prisoners. DnD being what it is, only two of them die, though -- and they were probably both evil. Maybe.

So, now we're once again lodged in the hull with enemies around us. Hatch decides to wait on Jenny the Barbarian, since Hatch is really not equipped with the kind of spells that can be cast from inside the magical mechacrab.

Jenny decides to rend a guard with the crab-claw, and murders two of them. Durest summons a giant evil praying mantis -- "Chompy" -- and it bites one of the guards. The elves step out of their cells, grab weapons, and start shooting at the guards.

One of the guards rages and steps in to attack our crab-boat. A rogue slips underneath, looking for a way to get inside. Hatch opens the hatch and finds himself looking at the rogue; he attacks the rogue with magic missile.

The other guards move in to attack. Jenny drops down in the middle of them, next to the rogue. Jenny lays her chain into one of them, killing him; she then carries the attack around into his buddy, who also dies; so she keeps going and connects with the rogue, because Great Cleave is a thing of beauty in this sort of situation. The rogue goes down, and she turns to the barbarian with the halberd, injuring him badly.

One of the elves kills Chompy; another slips around to flank the barbarian guard, but the barbarian kills him. The third one moves in and damages the barbarian.

Durest drops down and yells, "Hey! No more murderin' me bugs! We're on your side, sort of."

Three wizards drop down the ladder; one tries to disintegrate the crab, and fails to destroy it outright but does do some damage. His assistants try to scorching ray Jenny; one hits, one misses.

The one remaining barbarian attacks Jenny, hitting her twice. Hatch attempts to tag the wizards with an empowered fireball, and discovers that they're covered by a minor globe of invulnerability. Two of the elves attack newly-arrived sailor/guards; the other two fire off arrows at the wizards.

Durest dispels the lesser globe of invulnerability, and the main wizard immediately recasts it. The two apprentices cast Protection from Arrows on themselves. Hatch drops Displacement on Jenny, and Jenny moves over to the wizards. The barbarian tries to attack her as she moves, but misses.

Jenny rages, and goes for a moderate level of Power Attack. The wizards are definitely some sort of protection -- basically the same bullshit that Hatch does, with Mage Armor and Shield. She kills the nearest apprentice, and nearly kills the second one. The elves are still killing guards. Durest moves up next to Jenny, just as the main wizard tries to disintegrate her and only succeeds in damaging her.

Jenny tries to kill mages, but they're using illusions to protect themselves now. Durest drops Inflict Moderate wounds on the wizards and the newly-arrived monk.

The monk tries to attack Hatch, but misses, then hits twice. (Hatch should not have taunted him.) The wizards blast Jenny with Magic Missile. Ramekin comes down to pour a healing potion down Hatch's throat. Jenny attacks the main wizard, and takes him down, then kills off one of the apprentices; there is now one left, and the monk.

Durest drops a Mass Cure Serious Wounds, healing himself and Hatch and Jenny, and including two of the elves as a courtesy. They look a bit surprised as Durest calls, "Aye lads, you're welcome!"

Hatch tries to stab the monk, and the monk hits him with Stunning Fist again -- damaging and stunning him both. The monk turns and tries to stun Durest but fails, then turns the remainder of his attacks on Jenny. Jenny, however, is still protected by Hatch's spell, and he fails to connect. (Punches the heck out of the illusion, though.)

The last of the apprentices uses Dimension Door to escape. Jenny attacks the monk, damaging him despite his attempts to dodge. The elves send some arrows his way, nearly hitting Durest.

Durest sidles over and drops Cure Serious Wounds on Hatch. The monk immediately turns around and attacks hatch, then turns and damages Durest a bit. Ramekin puts another healing potion into Hatch, who again tries to stab the monk and again fails. Hatch plays dead.

Meanwhile, the crab starts flailing around: the apprentice wizard has teleported into it.

The elves miss. Durest uses Dimension Door to get into the crab, where there's a mage sitting in the front seat. "Oh, shit!" cries the mage.

He tries Scorching Ray, and takes out Durest, who is now dying on the floor of the crab.

Hatch casts True Strike, while Jenny flails away with her chain and delivers some damage to the monk... then drops her chain. The elves finally manage to put some arrows into the monk, who decides that it's definitely time to run into the crab.

Hatch uses Dimension Door to put himself, Jenny, and Ramekin into the crab. Jenny: "Excuse me, sir. I do believe zis is my crab. Hyu should get hyur own crab."

Jenny reaches down and takes Durest's mace. She promptly brains the mage. The elves are now looking around, confused; they start trying to bandage each other, since everybody seems to have vanished.

The monk tries to attack Jenny, but her illusiony protection is still keeping her mostly safe. The monk turns around and pounds on her, and Hatch reaches up and stabs him, but the attack is remarkably ineffective. Ramekin attempts to strike the monk, but misses. Jenny finishes him off.

Hatch uses one of his Cure Light Wounds potions to restore Durest. We loot the monk, gathering some very nice items, then move on to the wizards. We leave the boat in the hands of the elves, but first we smash the next artifact that's supporting the anti-teleport field. There's probably at least one more, and it's probably on the third of the big ships.

Having done this, we can afford to wait out the rest of the hour while smashing smaller boats, until Chuck finally wakes up. By this point the bay is basically one large shipwreck.

Monday, April 5, 2021

My Autobiography Title

 I'm currently considering writing an autobiography. I think the title should be: 

I Took A Week Off From Work And That Was When Everyone Suddenly Needed To Get In Touch With Me And Now I have A Dozen New Projects On Top Of The Dozen Old Ones That I've Been Working On.

...Or is that too weirdly specific? I'm not sure.

Back to Work

I am... not entirely happy. It's late, I've done very little of the things I'd hoped to get done while taking a week off -- though it was certainly nice not to be at work. I'm tired, I'm cranky, and I just want everyone to go away. This does not bode well for my Monday. 

So, no fiction for today. (Though it looks like we will have DnD tonight, so there's likely to be another mess of game notes tomorrow.) Instead, I'm going to put in a piece of music:

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Writing Progress: Shadow Academy

 All right, progress has not been as much (or as fast) as I'd hoped; but then, vacation while the boys are still in school is never as vacation-y as one might hope. But I've got the brief opening scene, and I'm trucking along between loads of laundry and dishes and various other errands. (Apparently I skipped my driver's license renewal because there was a plague on? Yeah. Had to get that done, finally.)

So here, randomly, is some music to help you get through your Thursday. 

(It is Thursday, right?)