Monday, May 31, 2021

Duendewood vs. Solari: Intruders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruin looked up at the ceiling. Really, Amun?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Duendewood vs. Solari: Triumphs

Ruin was sparring with Akkora when Aesa finally returned. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ruin, have you met Tarric?" 

Ruin shook his head. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Challenge: My Fantasy Vacation

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

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

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

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

We open the front door again. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Sol Povos: Old Man Kaz

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

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

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

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

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

Lug: "Yes. Knock on the door."

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

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

Aelith: "Yes, please follow me."

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

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

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

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

Alexej: "Of course."

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

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

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

Leira says hello and then sits down.

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

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

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

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

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

Kaz: "Where is Gale?"

Katarina: "Gale left years ago."

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

Ayleth: "Of course!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph comes in with the next course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lady Beatrix: "I'm his wife!"

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

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

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

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

Marshall: "Shall I see you there tomorrow."

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

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

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

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

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

(Joseph *is* quite good-looking.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There's a book under sheets.

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

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

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

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

Leira heads back to our room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marshall: "Are you courting this fine lady?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 24, 2021

Duendewood vs Solari: Battle Priestess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aesa nodded. 

"And what did you receive?" 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 21, 2021

Atheism, me, and this here blog

Quick note for anyone coming over from Bruce's site: 

Hi, yes, I actually am an atheist, but if you've come over here looking for atheism-specific content, well... that's a very small part of what I do here, and I haven't written much of anything about it recently because I really haven't had anything new to say about it. Not for several years now, honestly.

So, if you want to read what I've written on the topic, don't go down the main feed; click over to Atheism tag instead. But honestly, most of what I've said recently on the topic, I've said in the comments on Bruce's blog. 

On the other hand, if you're interested in D&D and other tabletop games, bits of fiction (often, but not always, inspired by those games) and me complaining about how tiring it is to be an adult, well... WELCOME! Tags are at the bottom of the page; try the Storytelling tag if you're looking for fiction, or just jump in wherever. 

Got a question? Leave it in the comments.

Character Sketch: Natalya Petrović

Natalya is the second daughter of the Emperor, a position colloquially referred to as the Shadow Princess. (The first child -- referred to as Sunborn or Brightborn -- traditionally attends one of the classical academies, while the second is sent to Sunhaven and frequently either becomes a monster or marries into one of the houses of the darker aristocracy. Natalya is still human and very much on the fence about the idea of eventually getting married, at all, ever, to anyone.) She is marked out from the other students by the company of her bodyguards, and would very much prefer to be studying somewhere else in some less-visible role. She is tall and lean, with dark brown hair and olive skin, and uses a court sword as her focus. She has a solid background in sorcery, fencing, politics, and the Imperial economy. 

Not much work on the story itself right now; I've complained before about how much I hate the October-November-December "holiday season", but in looking back I've come to the conclusion that May is when things usually fall apart. On the plus side, I'm still doing things like this to keep my focus on the project, so... yeah, once the pace slackens a bit I should be able to come back to it. I hope.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Duendewood vs. Solari: Aptitude and Attitude

The morning was dull-gray with overcast, and Ruin suspected there would be storms by nightfall. Still, he'd made a promise to himself, and so he retraced the way to the practice field near the center of the temple. He had no idea where Anica was; she'd slipped out just before morning, and he hoped she didn't regret their time together. 

He stopped at one of the fountains to splash water on his face and take a long drink; the brandy hadn't been as strong as all that, but his body still wanted water. Then he continued on. 

The practice field was busy this morning, with figures practicing in pairs or formations, or loosing arrows at targets over at the far end. A few were wrestling off in one corner. Most were human, but many were not; the portly halfling priest Birno was sparring with an older woman who was clearly a dwarf, and seemed to be holding his own. Aesa was standing beside the racks of training weapons, looking quietly forlorn.

"You. Elf."

Ruin turned his head and found himself looking up at a massive woman, whose heritage clearly mixed orc and human. She was a full head taller than Ruin, and her hair was black but touched with silver. She wore a breastplate that resembled his own, and a greatsword was slung across her back. She studied him as he studied her. Not a paladin, he decided, but maybe someone who trains them. 

"You're a friend of Aesa?" she asked. 

Ruin shrugged. "We just met yesterday," he said, "but I promised I'd spar with her." 

The half-orc snorted. "Waste of both your time. The girl likes the weapons, but she's no good with them at all."

"You've kept her on the simpler ones?" he asked, remembering her choice of a practice mace the previous evening. 

The half-orc nodded. "She's a priestess. Doesn't know it, but she is. Good one, too, if she'd just go with it. She keeps trying to be a warrior instead." She paused. "I'm Akkora. Arms-mistress here."

"You can call me Ruin," he replied. "I'm... I don't really know what I am."

"Anica said you can fight. Good enough for me." 

He grinned at that, and the half-orc grinned back. "How long have you served the temple?" 

"Twenty years, maybe more. Probably will until I die. Temple's been good to me." 

Ruin nodded at that. "You train them?"

"I train them." 

"So what about Aesa?" 

"Fast enough. Not that strong. She likes the weapons, but she isn't good with them."

Ruin looked over at Aesa, who had turned to watch a pair of paladins sparring with spears and shields. "If she's a priestess," he said slowly. "She shouldn't have to be." 

"You think you can help her?" 

Ruin didn't answer; he was looking at Aesa, and thinking. 

Akkora tapped him hard on the shoulder with one extended finger. "You help her, and you are my friend." 

Ruin looked back at the arms-mistress. "Battle-priest," he said quietly. 

The half-orc tilted her head to look at him. "You think?"

Ruin shrugged. "I'm like you: I just know weapons. Much of this will be up to the gods. But it sounds as if the gods like her already, so..." 

Akkora nodded slowly. "Maybe." 

Ruin nodded back. "Maybe." He turned away and started towards Aesa. 

"Amun guide your steps," said the half-orc, "and Gruumsh lend you strength."

So this is kind of my view of the Temple of Amun: it is, first and foremost, a lot more open and accepting than any Temple of Helios. There will be different races and very different backgrounds, anyone is welcome as long as they can behave themselves. Amun will be the primary focus of worship here, but a secondary devotion to other (generally good-aligned or at least neutral) gods is acceptable and not unexpected. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Challenge: Recent Research

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 "recent topics I've Googled," and boy is that a dangerous prompt. I mean, it's a well-documented fact that the search histories of writers are indistinguishable from those of serial killers; if I'm not on a half-dozen FBI watch-lists already, the federal government is not doing its job. 

But, all right. Recent topics I've looked up online: 

  • Tumbleweeds. This one was Firstborn's fault; he mentioned that tumbleweeds were an invasive species, which fact I'd either never known or else completely forgotten. He's right, though. And in certain parts of the United States, tumbleweeds are an unholy terror: they can tangle with each other and form huge clumps -- like fifteen to twenty feet deep -- burying cars and trucks, trapping people in houses, and blocking streets and highways.
  • Morning sickness. This was for a bit of writing; I was mainly checking to see how early it showed up, but verisimilitude is all about getting the details right...
  • Bagua Dao. This one's a bit misleading, if you don't have the context. The bagua (or pakua) are the Eight Trigrams of Taoist philosophy. However, there is a Chinese martial art built around (and named for) these principles: Bagua. A dao is basically just a saber; single-handed sabers feature in pretty much any of the classical Chinese martial arts. A bagua dao, however, is a style of saber more-or-less unique to the practice of Bagua: generally two-handed, with a curved blade that widens towards the tip.

    So why was I looking for this? Well, first of all, to see if there were any decent ones currently on the market. I don't really collect swords anymore, but... I haven't quite shaken the temptation, either. But secondly, it's because I hate the word "falchion", and that is directly the fault of Dungeons and Dragons. Historical falchions were one-handed slashing weapons, similar in cross-section to a machete but lighter and sharper. If you're just looking at an illustration, they look like a big, heavy, cleaving weapon, which I suspect is how they ended up in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons with a surprisingly high damage rating. Regardless, by the time D&D got to its third edition it was using "falchion" as a term for something like a two-handed scimitar. (Currently, D&D is in 5th Edition, and the two-handed saber or scimitar doesn't seem to exist there at all; I guess you'd just use the stats for a greatsword.)

    One of the campaigns I play in still uses Third Edition (actually 3.5) rules, and two of the characters I play in that campaign use "falchions". So basically, I was looking this up as part of the process of visualizing the difference between what my half-dragon paladin (who's about seven feet tall and ridiculously strong) uses, and what my elf barbarian (who's about five-foot-six and, well, actually fairly strong himself but lighter and faster) uses. The paladin uses something like the bagua dao; the barbarian uses more of a two-handed scimitar. (I'd also considered having him use something like the blades that are currently marketed as dadao, but I'm saving that for another character.)

So, off the top of my head, those are some of the things that I've Googled recently, plus a modest digression on the naming conventions of two-handed sabers.  

What have you been looking up?

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Sol Povos: The Sundering

So, we're leaving the centaurs and the Bakinawa behind to attack Kuldas  Keep and Duke Crowe (the centaur-killer), which they'll do in a couple of weeks, and we've stopped by the foothills where we arrived and found that the portal we came through is indeed gone.

Marshall tries again to restore the enchantments on Tavros' two-handed scimitar, but fails.

We continue through the outlying farms for most of a day before arriving at Kuldas Keep. Everyone we run into is talking about the vortex in the sky and the end of the world. The best information we can get (from centaur mages) is that it looks like it hurt the Nightwings, and it was some sort of powerful magic.

Tavros: "So, Marshall... if the portal has closed, do you suppose that our bodies died out in the real world? And if so, and if we do escape and return, could we resurrect our bodies and all be twins?"

Marshall: "Beats the ever-lovin' abyss out me."

Leira: "No idea."

Kuldas Keep is a fairly large city; Leira spends 1,000 gold on diamond dust to get enough for four uses of Stoneskin.

Marshall goes looking for better armor. He hears a rumor that there might be some up north, but around here the best he can find are some potions of magic fang and barkskin. He decides to hold off for the moment.

We go find a library, and Tavros and Leira settle in do research on the history of Fanaxia. The big revelation is an event known as The Sundering - a legendary event passed down in stories. Fanaxia wasn't always an island; there was land around it. So people occasionally try to sail in search of other lands, though to no good effect. But there's no real detail about what the Sundering actually was, or the events leading up to it. Also, nobody can agree on when it happened; there's no timeline. The other big event in the history of Fanaxia is the rise of the Dark One - a powerful wizard and the king's chief advisor, who lived in a castle in what is now the lost march. He practice the dark arts and attempted to assassinate the king; he was punished, and buried in the black acre. Since then, it's rained constantly and the priests of Urgroth have come to power. The north part of the island is all but independent now, as the king stays in his castle and the priests have poisoned his mind. Trade is mainly by sea.

Sandorn castle (in the lost marsh -- it was the home of the Dark One) has not been found since the dark one was banished. It seems to move around: frequently visible, but never in reach. Also, the Dark One's name has been obliterated, removed from any record or monument where it might once have existed.

We set out to find out more from the people around us. Leira and Alexej mostly end up on the dance floor at a small club, but Tavros and Marshall manage to talk to some of the locals.

The current Lord Crowe is the descendant of Walter Crowe, centaurs-bane, who led an expeditions south from Fanax to drive the centaurs out. The family crest is a centaur dying on a human warrior's spear.

The duke has a wife who uses her wealth to help with the poor; rumor has it that she no longer shares his rooms, and the Duke keeps a harem in one wing of the castle. "Bald Johnny", the Duke's minister of trade, is rumored to be the one who's really in charge. The duke has two sons, and the heir Sadon is as spoiled and lecherous as his father; the younger son Forthwind is a merchant up in Styre on the northern half of the island.

So what's the deal with the king? Nobody's sure, but he doesn't make public appearances. The priests speak for him. Some people even think that he's dead. He does have a son, who disappeared mysteriously about fourteen years ago. He had two other children, one stillborn and one who died very young; Bryce, the one who vanished, would have been the only heir.

Marshall pulls up at the hall of records and sets out to charm the recordskeeper there; he starts asking about "civics" and the history of the realm: land ownership, history of buildings; he starts looking over the public records. He's not any sort of expert, but there's a Kaz estate north of Fanax that's still owned by a member of the Kaz family: a grandson, Hadrian, usually referred to as Old Man Kaz.

Tavros, in the library: Kaz was General Kaz, supreme commander of Fanaxia; he allied with the dark one, and his sword was used to cut off the dark one's hand. Krony, on the other hand, was obscure; he's known mainly as a lieutenant of the Dark One.

A few people ask us about the Great Vortex; Tavros claims (not very successfully) to be a simple lizardfolk from the edge of the marsh, who knows nothing of such matters. Marshall, on the other hand, claims that this is the beginning of a rebirth of the light; didn't everybody see how it affected the nightwings? In telling his story to those who'll listen, however, he discovers that nobody has heard of the Nightwalker. The nightwings, sure, but not the Nightwalker.

Marshall asks some more questions about the timeline; the shadows and nightwings are generally considered to be the servants of the priests of Urgroth, who came to power in the last thirty years following the execution of the Dark One.

Having learned as much as we can, we head north. In the city of Fanax, we try to do research again; interestingly, there's no record of the Cassadias that we've encountered. We learn a bit more about Kaz, and his turn to support the Dark One. We look to see if there are other churches, but... there aren't. The priests of Urgroth have pretty well shut those down.

Old man Kaz is still around, though the family is disgraced. Tavros goes looking for a library or a museum or somesuch, to see if anybody has any information on Krony; Leira manages to find some information indicating that Krony was a particularly talented mercenary.

Tavros, remembering a detail from the Black Acre, does some research on Vecna -- who apparently was a childhood friend of the Dark One.

Marshall tries again to restore Ruin's falchion, but fails.

Having done a bit more research and found a bit more information, we consider our next steps. Castle Fanax is more of a palace, but it's also swarming with priests of Urgroth, and shadows, and Nightwings, and... yeah. Castle Dinoden, home of the magiknights, is  probably a better destination for us. But this is this party, and so we check out castle Fanax.

The west wing is surrounded by powerful magics, so Marshall and Tavros both study it with Detect Evil. The shadows and the nightwings seem to avoid it, and maybe to try to keep people out of it; the evil in the west wing is of a different flavor from the shadows and the nightwings, as if it perhaps comes from a different god.

We leave castle Fanax and head for Castle Dinoden. There's an aura around the castle, which Marsall recalls from his last visit. It's an ancient magical enchantment on the castle walls that keeps the shadows out.

The last time Marshall was here, he was incorporeal and the elf party was being chased by shadows. We present ourselves at the gate, and Marshall re-introduces himself now that we're here in a less ghostly format.

Gorm the giant answers the door and greets Marshall with a very large pat on the head. "AHH! Christobol want see you!"

He takes us into the main hall, which Marshall remembers; there's a tapestry on the back depicting the punishment of the Dark One. Christobol and Alexej are reunited, happily.

Tybalt is the grizzled, older leader of the magiknights. Rygar is a half-elf; there are two other magiknights, and the two giants, and  Christobol, and the dire bear.

It's been months since we were last here; but it's only been a couple of days for them.

Marshall demonstrates his ability to turn into a gargantuan snake. The magiknights are a little freaked out by this, but Marshall turns back to a human: "Ain't that cool, y'all?"

They're all just staring at him.

Christobol: "So... what happened? How are you here? Does that mean that you're dead?"

Marshall: "Well..." He explains about the spell that brought us here, his vision-quest to help drive out the evil here, and our quest to learn more about Kaz, the Dark One, and Krony. He also asks about the really evil Presence in the west wing.

Tybalt: "Ah, yes, the west wing. There's some sort of field around it; we don't think it's the work of the Dark One's followers. We've been trying to get in there for years."

Marshall: "Any idea why?"

Tybalt: "Do you recall the third punishment, when the Dark One's soul was banished to the abyss? We suspect that something went wrong with that, perhaps the west wing has somehow been claimed by creatures of the abyss."

Tybalt: "The Dark One was clever. I wouldn't put it past him to make a deal with something in the Abyss. I worry that his banishment somehow worked to his advantage. But, of course, we haven't seen the king in thirty years so it's impossible to tell."

Tavros: "How well is Castle Fanax defended? Could we fight our way inside?"

Tybalt: "Not unless there are a lot more of you."

Leira, to Marshall: "Couldn't you do that thing with the vortex that hurt them all again?"

Marshall: "Well, I mean..."

They're very impressed that we've taken down a Nightwing. And Christobol has vouched for us. Marshall tells them about the Nightwalker, and Tybalt pounds his fist on the table. "So it's true! The nightwalkers are real. This is... very discouraging. There's one who supposedly lives in the castle: Simaron. Supposedly he sits on the king's throne while the king withers in his bedchamber."

Rygar: "There's no way the king still lives. Nobody's seen him in thirty years."

Christobol: "So... what brings you back? You still haven't told me: did you die?"

Tavros does his paladin thing and explains what we're here for and where we're at. They're fairly well convinced that we're out of our minds -- who would let themselves be all-but-killed by a spell to get here? -- but they understand the sort of information we're looking for.

Tybalt: "Old Man Kaz is crazy as shit, but he's probably still your best source of information."

Tavros: "Is there anything we can do to help you?"

Tybalt: "No, but if you find any additional allies please send them to us."

Tavros opens his mouth to say something about the snake priests and the centaurs, but Marshall elbows him and he keeps his mouth shut.

We stay the night, and Marshall tries to restore Tavros' weapon again and finally succeeds. They tell us a little about the order, and it was a pretty varied bunch of elite warriors sworn to protect the king. The one who are left now are mostly martial in their training, but it wasn't always that way; they had mages and clerics and rogues and others, in their heyday.

We head north to the black acre. It's a large cemetery, the main cemetery for Fanaxia. Marshall leads us to the noble area, and the shadows don't immediately sense us the way they did when we were incorporeal ourselves.

Marshall leads us to the back corner; there's an empty mausoleum. "Here lies ________ lord of Sandorn Castle, Archmagister of Fanaxia, right hand of the king." There are two steles: General Kaz, formerly supreme commander of fanaxia, executed as a traitor; Krony, servant of the Dark One. There's also a simple headstone: "Here lies Vecna, my friend."

Leira looks at that, and starts digging; she eventually gets to the wood of a coffin. We dust it off... it's child-sized. Leira is starting to lose her shit.

We decide to open the coffin.

It's empty.

We are... verklempt.

But Tavros is beginning to think that this is actually worthwhile, so he digs up Krony: it's an adult, human-sized coffin, but also empty.

Kaz, on the other hand, is actually a corpse in his coffin.

Marshall casts Speak With Dead. The corpse sits up: "Who disturbs my rest?"

Marshall: "We're concerned citizens and we think you might be able to help us understand what happened." He starts asking questions.

Who is Krony and what is his relation to the dark one? He's the dark one's servant and does his dirty work.

Who is Vecna? Kaz does not know a Vecna.

Who is the Dark One? He is the prophet.

What was the dark one trying to accomplish? To rule all of Fanaxia, as was his right.

Does the dark one have any heirs? I don't know of any.

Did the Dark One want to be banished to the abyss? ...Nooo.

Marshall: "Rest... sleep."

We head north to Kaz manor.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Duendewood vs. Solari: Apologies

Ruin had taken shelter in the small stone room that the monastery had provided for him. It seemed like the only safe place to be at the moment. If the paladins of Amun were going to come and lock him up, he could at least protest that he was trying to stay out of trouble, and -- if all else failed -- that he was working alone. He didn't think it would come to that, but people could turn vicious when unexpectedly embarrassed -- especially people with authority. He'd seen it before, and not just from humans. 

For a few minutes he considered leaving the temple and meeting the others on the road later. It would be easy enough to do, and he doubted anyone in the temple would think to stop him. It would be safer... but the priestess Aesa would probably be sad if he did. 

And why exactly would you care? asked the voice of his worse-if-wiser self. Are you really willing to risk your freedom to avoid disappointing a nearly-human worshiper of a human god?

...But that wasn't fair either, he decided. It wasn't that much of a risk. For one thing, he didn't really think the paladin would try to get him in trouble. For another... Even if a troop of paladins came to capture him, he could probably escape without bloodshed. Still, he kept his blade and his pack beside him as he settled back on the narrow bed. 

The rooms here were small, just long enough for a bed and a small writing desk and just wide enough to move past them to the door. The halfling priest Birno, who'd showed them to their rooms, had said that these were exactly the sort of cells that everybody in the temple slept in, up to and including the Abbess herself. It wasn't anything like the sort of place that Ruin would have preferred to live in, but it wasn't uncomfortable either. There was a sort of unassuming asceticism here that he could appreciate, a focus on necessities rather than luxuries. 

He was once again surprised to find that he actually liked this place. And he supposed that part of the reason he didn't want to disappoint Aesa was that he liked her, too. It was kind of nice to meet someone who didn't find him off-putting, or at least wanted to get to know him anyway. Well, fine, he told himself. If nobody's tried to lock me up by tomorrow morning, I'll go find her and talk to her some more.

Someone rapped sharply on his door: three solid, precise knocks. 

He stirred, sat up, and called: "Who is it?" 

The voice was muffled by the heavy wood of the door, but clear and firm enough to carry through it anyway. "Anica." 

...So maybe they were going to try to lock him up.  Well, no point in putting it off. He stood, took his sword, and crossed to the door. There was a small privacy latch, but no lock or bar; he supposed that in a place where nearly everyone could force people to tell the truth, petty theft wasn't much of a problem. He slid the latch aside and opened the door, half-expecting to find the corridor outside filled with armed warriors. 

Instead it was just the human paladin, and she'd even discarded her armor -- though she still wore her longsword on a wide black belt. She was a handswidth taller than Ruin, and was holding a bottle in her left hand and a pair of glasses in her right. "I came to apologize."

"Did you?" asked Ruin, blinking. Then: "Do you always apologize with brandy?"

She shrugged. "I came looking for you after I sorted things out with Aesa, and ran into your friend the gnome. He told me where to find you and made some suggestions for how to properly apologize." 

Exasperated, Ruin started to say, "He's not--" and then cut himself off and said, "Huh." He was realizing -- late as usual -- that despite the constant stream of talk and music and activity and noise, he did rather like Geddy. It was an odd mirror of his reaction to Aesa...

...And the human paladin didn't need to know any of that. "Very well, he said. "Come in, if you like." 

Anica followed him as he backed into the cell, and nudged the door shut behind her with her heel. She set the glasses on the small wooden writing desk, and wrenched the cork out of the bottle with an easy movement. She filled both glasses, and Ruin laid his sword back on the bed as she handed him one. 

She must have read his expression then, because she raised her own glass to her lips and took a long swallow. "Not poisoned," she said. "I promise." 

Ruin chuckled and took a sip. It was decent brandy, though not spectacular, and he took a moment to enjoy the flavor. 

Anica set her glass down and stood looking at him. "First of all, I owe you an apology. I'm sorry. I should not have attacked you, and I regret my mistake. In my defense, I came around the corner just as Aesa hit the ground, so that was all I saw... and it was Aesa. One of our friends asked me to watch over her before he left." 

Ruin cocked his head. "This would be Tavros?" 

Anica nodded, and her expression went a little funny. "You actually remind me of him, a bit. It's the self-possession, I think. That and your choice of weapons." 

Ruin shrugged; he wasn't sure how he felt about being compared to a half-dragon paladin who used a sword approximately the size of a wizard's tower. He took another sip of the brandy to cover whatever his expression might have been. 

"That's the second thing," Anica continued. "Thank you. I don't think it would have occurred to me to try for a disarm if someone had attacked me like that. We could have ended with someone badly wounded, and none of us need that. Especially right now, with--" She gestured vaguely at the world around them. "--everything."

Ruin nodded slowly. He was still angry about having been attacked, and he very much wanted to find fault with her apology, but... Damn it. She seemed sincere. And he could understand her wanting to protect her friends, and wanting to protect Aesa in particular: the half-elf seemed so damned innocent. It was easy to picture her getting in over her head. 

So he finished his glass, and held it out for a refill; Anica drained hers as well and refilled them both. She watched him a moment longer and then said, "You're still angry, aren't you?" 

He looked away. "I'm always angry." He looked back at her. "I'm trying not to be, about this."

"Oh," she said. "Well, your friend had another suggestion, for the second half of my apology." 

Puzzled, Ruin said: "I thought the brandy was the second half of the apology." 

Anica shook her head. "He said the brandy was just to smooth things over, make it easier for us to talk." She reached out, and when Ruin didn't move away she put her hand on his shoulder. "The second half of the apology..." She moved her hand forward, and cupped it under his chin. "...was this." Then she leaned down and kissed him. 

Ruin felt himself respond even before he realized that yes, he didn't mind this. Geddy, you little bardic bastard... He wasn't sure if he should thank his gnomish friend, or strangle him. Possibly both. 

Anica drew back, breathing heavily, and her eyes searched his face. "Was that... I didn't...?" 

Ruin shook his head and chuckled. Then he asked. "Are you allowed to do this? Are you sure you want to?"

She grinned. "The Order of the Invincible Sun takes vows of chastity. I can't even imagine how that would work, with some of the things we come up against. The Order of the Titan King, on the other hand... not so much." She paused, looking him over. "And yes, I want to do this."

Ruin smiled and shook his head, surprised and half-disbelieving. "Then I suppose... I'm just going to have to forgive you."

Friday, May 14, 2021

Character Sketch: Chad Wolfe

Chadwick Wolfe is an ogre, though still young enough to look mostly human; his horns are only just starting to come in. His clan inhabits an area of swamps and marshes along the southern edge of the empire. He is large and strong, but gentle and good-natured. His focus is a stout, oddly-shaped stick that he sometimes uses as a walking stick when his ankles are bothering him. He has a particular knack for weather magics.

Music: Drunk (And I Don't Wanna Go Home)

Elle King & Miranda Lambert:

This is... not a combination that I would have considered, but they actually sing really well together.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Duendewood vs. Solari: Foreign Blades

"What the hell is this thing?" asked Ruin, hefting the wooden practice blade. In its basic design it wasn't all that different from his two-handed scimitar, but it was huge. He couldn't imagine trying to fight with it; he'd have to adjust his entire fighting style to its length and weight.

"Oh," said Aesa. "That was what Tavros used for practice." 

"Do you jest?" asked Ruin. "That's not a sword, it's... an oar for a longboat, maybe."

"Well, Tavros is very big. And very strong." 

"He must be." Ruin set the practice weapon back on the rack. "I'd spend half my time moving myself around the blade, instead of moving the blade around me." 

Aesa blinked. "I mean... Tavros did that, sometimes." 

Ruin looked over at her and smiled. "I do, too. But it's supposed to be part of the technique, not all of it."

Aesa shrugged. "So find something you can use." 

Ruin looked around until he found something that resembled his two-handed scimitar. It was a little longer, and the guard was different, but... He hefted it, tried a couple of swings, and then nodded. Turning back to Aesa, he said: "This will do." 

She nodded and stepped back out onto the patchy grass of the practice field. Twilight was giving way to darkness, but there were statues at the corners of the field that had been spelled to give off light. Aesa held a wooden mace in her right hand and carried a shield on her left arm; she set herself in a fighting stance and backed away. 

Ruin stepped onto the field and approached her, raising the practice blade and moving it from stance to stance, watching the way she reacted. Mostly, she didn't: she kept her shield in front of her and mace cocked over her shoulder behind it, ready to swing when he came into range. Yes, she definitely had some training... 

He stepped in, feinting high and then attacking low, but she leapt back and he only cut air. Cautious, he thought. All right, draw her out. Or overwhelm her. He moved in with a series of low cuts, driving her back, then stopped and drew back himself when she suddenly lowered her shield to catch his sword and stepped in to brain him with her mace. 

She didn't over-extend; when her mace went past him she caught herself and twisted back, bringing her shield back up between them before he could attack again. "Not bad," he said, and she smiled. 

Then he slid his practice blade just above the top of her shield, hooked it behind her mace, and shoved it aside. He cut down at her forearm, and she stumbled back and fell, dropping her mace in the process. 

Off to his left, someone screamed and charged him. He stepped away from Aesa and turned, intercepting a steel blade with his wooden one and dropping his hand to catch it underneath the guard. He pulled, and a moment later he was holding the steel sword as his wooden practice weapon hit the ground. 

The woman in front of him swept with her shield, but he stepped back and threw the sword away behind him. His own weapon was still on his belt, but he was pretty sure that all this would end in blood if he drew it. "Are you mad?"

Aesa said, "Anica, no! We were just sparring." 

The woman in front of him stopped, took a careful step back, and looked down at Aesa. She was already picking herself up, and for a moment they were almost perfectly matched: each with a shield on one arm, and a weapon missing from the other hand. 

Anica was completely human, sturdily built and well-armored. She looked down at the wooden blade, then back up at Ruin. "I'm sorry," she said. "I thought... I don't know what I thought."

Ruin shook his head. "I do," he said, disgusted, and turned and walked away.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Challenge: My Favorite Indulgence

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 "my favorite indulgence."

Free time. It's free time. It's taking any sort of time for myself, whether that's for writing, or resting, or reading, or just taking a walk outside. 

I'm at the point in my life where taking time for myself -- nor matter how necessary, or overdue, or worthwhile -- is an indulgence. I'm not sure whether that's an indictment of myself, or my lifestyle, or late-stage Capitalism, or what, but there it is. 

That seems... over-dramatic, and maybe I'll feel differently about it next week; but we've hit the point where I'm trying to keep the household functioning while Beautiful Wife finishes her semester and mourns her father, and Secondborn is taking standardized tests -- in person, at his school -- and everyone still needs to, y'know, eat dinner, and have clean clothes, and also I still have a job which needs me to apply security to websites and update credit card endpoints and... yeah. It's a lot, and it seems like an awful damned lot of effort just to keep us running in place instead of falling behind. 

Forgive me; I feel like I'm being self-indulgent. But free time is valuable, and necessary, and a wonderful thing. It shouldn't feel like an indulgence, but it does.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Sol Povos: The Desecrated Shrine

There are a couple of corpses here in the glade, but they are very, very dead right now. We had back into the tunnel of snakes and engage in a very great deal of healing before setting watches and going to sleep.

Marshall take advantage of this opportunity to speak to the snakes, hoping to recruit a couple of more them as companions. A tiny purple snake named Whorra joins him and Sqirmbob.

In the distance, the Nightwing screeches and curses and eventually seems to wander off... or at least settle down.

Eventually, we emerge into the hidden clearing again. Where the other statues were obsidian, these are larger and probably made of enameled bronze. There are two bodies between the snake statues, and an entrance beyond it. The corpses are only recently dead; and they were definitely Bakinawa.

We enter the shrine. It's underground, and there's some rubble and an area that looks to have been the camp where the two dead priests were staying. Alexej finds some dried sausages in their packs, and immediately confiscates them.

Marshall announces that he thinks something's in here with us. We prepare for battle. Marshall has also managed to pray for Dispel Evil, and manages to restore Alexej's floating shield. We continue forward.

Tavros and Alexej hear the faint echo of a tearing sound, like someone squeezing out a very large rag. Marshall casts Divine Favor on himself. Tavros move behind Alexej, putting him closer to the front row.

Marshall adds another spell to increase his strength.

"Fools, you are too late. The shrine has been defiled."

There's a large, horrible shadow-figure with claws up ahead; it has murdered a coautl, and is now chanting something. The thing drops the remains of the couatl and discorporates.

A mental voice says, "Summon the Nightwing."

Tavros tries to detect evil, but the thing seems to have gone completely immaterial and left through the wall. The coautl's blood has been poured into the fountain, desecrating this sacred shrine of Artem-hiss.

Marshall gets this expression on his face, like "Oh know you didn't..."

So the first thing he does is resurrect the couatl with Raise Dead. The couatl flies around and introduces itself as Zuriel. It flies over to the fountain and hovers over it sadly.

Marshall: "Might I ask a boon, great and holy couatl-creature? I believe you were just dead, and used for a sacrifice. Can you tell me about the asshole that killed you?"

"He was a Nightwalker, the most powerful of the followers of Urgroth. They come from another plane of existence. He has desecrated this temple, and I do not have the power to undo it. Normally, a tiny bit of poison flows into the water from the statue. Now, to drink it would be death."

Zuriel flies off and returns with a stone tablet, which it says it cannot read. Leira, still invisible, looks at it. She, of course, can read it; she can read almost anything.

 And lo the forces of darkness made the sacred waters profane
 And the Creator’s followers desponded and wept
 But from a far away land did come the chosen
 Who communed with the Creator
 And drank the waters
 And praised the Creator’s very form

So we think Marshall needs to commune with Artem-hiss and then drink the waters anyway.

Zuriel and Marshall pray together, and Marshall casts Commune.
-Am I the chosen one? In this world, yes.
-Can we stop the darkness? Yes.
-If I drink the waters now will I be able to fulfill the prophecy? No.
-Can you restore the waters? No.
-Can we? Yes.
-Must we kill that asshole the deathwalker? No.
-Is everything that I need to finish my task here in this shrine? No.
 Marshall considers. Maybe he needs to be in the form of a snake in order to drink the water?
-Can turn me into a snake? Yes.
-Will you? YES.

He turns into a snake drinks, and the vision comes upon him.

It starts with Artem-hiss in the form of a great serpent, swirling through the sky. Below is Phanaxia, but it is not an island; the land extends to the horizon. In the middle of the land is a tower, and there's a deep, darkness inside; it becomes a great blankness, a nothingness, that comes between Artem and his followers. Now he can see only a few of his followers. Marshall has this vision of himself drinking up the ocean... while out here in the real world, we watch snake-marshall drain the entire pool.

The bad news is that Marshall has permanently lost two points of constitution; the good news is that he can now turn into a snake daily. A really, really big snake.

The shrine is restored.

Marshall considers this an entirely fair trade. He looks over the stone tablet again and decides that its far too large and heavy to bring with us.

We start to leave, and naturally there's something between us and the exit.

Leira turns invisible again. Alexej and Tavros move up. "It's probably a Nightwing."

Horrible Voice In Our Heads: "It *is* a Nightwing!"

The Nightwing has wormed its way into the front of the temple, and it hits us with a cone of cold. Tavros just laughs; his father was a silver dragon, and he is utterly immune to cold. Leira responds with Scorching Ray.

Tavros charges and hits the Nightwing with his silver ghost-touch scimitar. Marshall tries to dismiss it, but fails to get past its spell resistance. The Nightwing then attacks Tavros' blade, and suppresses part of the enchantment on it. Leira attempts to Hold Monster, but again fails to get through his spell resistance.

We attack it some more but mostly miss; it tries Finger of Death, but we're all Death Warded and that does nothing. Tavros hits him again; then Marshall casts Dismissal and gets it past his spell resistance; unfortunately, the Nightwing shakes it off. It tries to Hold Person on Alexej, but fails.

Leira tries to hold the thing again,  but fails; Tavros attacks and misses, and the Nightwing summons a Dread Wraith. It attacks Marshall, dmaging him slightly.

Leira drops a fireball on the Dread Wraith, but it strikes at her as she tries to move away. She take a little damage, but not nearly as much as the wraith does.

Alexej has now smeared silver oil on  his guisarme, but misses; Marshall attempts to heal the Dread Wraith, and sears the ever-loving hell out of it with the holy healing energy. Leira finishes it off.

The Nightwing casts Hold Person on Alexej, and Tavros hits it again.

Marshall turns into a giant snake, and moves up to try to grapple the Nightwing.

The Nightwing bites Marshall-the-snake, twice, doing quite a bit of damage. Alexej shakes off his paralysis. Leira moves her way forward until she can see, then hits it with Scorching Ray; two of them hit and one actually does some damage.

Tavros reaches down and lays hands on Marshall, restoring him to function. Alexej hits, staggering the monster; Marshall rears up and bites at it.

Silenced, damaged, and low on resources, the Nightwing bites Marshall and then Tavros, taking Marshall back down and injuring Tavros.

Leira tries Scorching Ray again, but fails to do any damage. Tavros hits him and does some damage; Alexej misses him completely. The thing tries to bite Tavros, but fails. Tavros finishes it.

We search the Nightwing's corpse, but find nothing.

Marshall heals us, and we rest. When we wake up, an earthquake has shaken the shrine. We rush outside, and there's a horrible cyclone in the sky, and a few other Nightwing are flying around but sort of staggering in the sky as if they've somehow been injured. Something has gone horribly wrong with the world. It takes a while but eventually it passes.

Marshall attempts to restore Tavros' weapon, but fails.

We head back to the Bakinawa. They're all sort of bowing and praying and crying. Lotan runs over to us and grabs Marshall. "Did you see it? The anger in the sky?"

Marshall: "Sort of. But good news, I walked the path of the serpent! And look!" He turns into a snake.

...The whole village turns to worship him. They definitely think he's the chosen one, and that the thundering in the sky had something to do with this.

After a while Marshall returns to human form. "Hey, don't worry about me. Keep the worship on Artem-hiss."

Tavros: "I think the centaurs need some help."

Marshall: "But first, I need a drink."

A few hours later, when he wakes up from the drink that the Bakinawa use, Lotan asks: "Chosen One! You had more wishes?"

Marshall: "Let's talk about this alliance with the centaurs. Y'all need to ally with them, and help them shut down the evil centaur-murdering Baron."

Lotan: "Of course! But how does this help Artem-hiss?"

Marshall: "It's all part of dispelling the darkness."

Lotan: "Yes! We'll sack Kuldas Keep with the centaurs, and convert them all to the worship of Artem-hiss."

Marshall looks at the rest of us: "Now, what else did we come here for?"

Well, we were supposed to get information on Vecna and his minions: Krony, Kaz, and the Dark One himself. And once we do that, we should be able to cross into the mountains and go back through the portal.

Leira woke up feeling like some sort of... connection to herself had been lost. Like maybe the connection between us and our bodies back in the real world has been severed. She tells the rest of us.

Alexej: "We should ask snake-people and horse-people about this."

They don't know much of anything, but Marshall has been here before and remembers that the Black Acre contained graves for General Kaz, Traitor; Krony, servant of the dark one, co-conspirator; and a modest grave: "Here lies Vecna, my friend."

We head south to cement the alliance. The centaurs and the crazy snake priests ally and start getting ready to organize their uprising. The centaurs immediately ask us about the turmoil in the sky, but nobody seems to know much about what actually happened.

We head east in search of more information, and detour to seek the portal; the portal is indeed gone.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Duendewood vs Solari: Ruin meets Aesa

So, our DM has apparently arranged that our Duendewood characters will have been moving down to meet up with the Dark Army while we're currently playing our Solari characters in the dream-world of Fanaxia. This has led, among other things, to my True Elf barbarian/horizon walker Ruin reaching the Temple of Amun where my half-dragon Paladin Tavros from the Solari party got most of his training. And that means... well... you'll see...

The Temple of Amun sat atop a high hill -- or low mountain -- just outside of Caristhium, and its builders had taken full advantage of the fact. The ways to reach it were narrow and steep and easily defended and the temple itself was a single, large citadel; but the space within was composed of sheltered gardens, wide and sweeping stairs, and broad balconies carefully placed to take advantage of the view. There were magical fountains that drew water from the air, and a massive library that his mother would have ached to visit. Despite himself, Ruin was beginning to admit that he actually rather liked the place. 

He still wasn't entirely certain why they'd stopped there, but Martini had been insistent and that was good enough for him. She didn't always share her reasons and he didn't always understand her motivations, but he knew she wouldn't betray them. And somehow between them, she and Geddy had managed to talk their way inside. 

It probably helped that Geddy was one of the Heroes of Fort Dedo. Then again, given the way they'd been given free run of the place, maybe that hadn't been as important as he'd first thought. The Temple of Amun didn't seem to be terribly convinced that the elvish nation was an enemy of the human kingdom. The halfling priest who'd greeted them at the gate had been friendly and welcoming, and they'd been allowed to enter with all their weapons and equipment. If anyone was keeping tabs on them...

"Hi," said a voice nearby. "I'm Aesa." The owner of the voice was a young woman, dressed in white robes that were trimmed in runes picked out in some sort of brass-colored thread. She was studying him curiously, and seemed completely indifferent to the fact that he had his two-handed scimitar across his legs and was gently polishing the edge with a whetstone. "You're a true elf, aren't you?"

Ruin nodded and turned his attention back to his blade... and then looked back at Aesa. "And you--"

She nodded back. "Thinblood," she said. "It's okay to say it."

"I wasn't going to say that," he told her, even though he'd absolutely been about to say that. He went back to his polishing.

She came forward, but stopped just out of reach of his blade. Not that he was thinking about taking a swing at her, but still... she knew the safe distance, and that caught his attention again. This was not the sort of priestess who had never been around blades before. She met his eyes and said, "My mother was human, and my father was an elf. When my father was driven out -- he went to Duendewood -- my mother thought I'd be safer here, as an adherent of Amun."

Ruin blinked. "Are you?"

She nodded, then said: "That's what I wanted to let you know. That you and your friends are safe here, unless you do something to... I don't know, hurt people or steal things or something. Amun is a god of all peoples."

Ruin stared at her. She was young and arguably even pretty, though the short cut of her hair and those figure-concealing robes did her no favors; but she seemed too absolutely sincere to be trying to trick him into some sort of confession. "No," he said. "We're not here for that. And that's the humans' job, anyway."

She fell silent, studying him, still just out of reach. "How do you mean?" 

He put the stone away. He took out a cloth and cleaned his blade. He oiled it, and eyed it, and finally sheathed it again. Aesa just stood there, waiting. "Raiding. Killing. Stealing. That's what the humans of Sol Povos have done to anyone of elvish blood for centuries, now." He looked up at her face, saw uncertainty and determination, and then looked around. "Maybe it's different here. It seems to be, for you. But in Duendewood, where I come from, humans are always a threat. It's not even that they want what we have; it's that they assume it's theirs already."

Aesa said, "Oh." She looked thoughtful. "That sounds terrible." 

Ruin leaned back on the stone bench and looked over the stone railing of the balcony at the sunset and hoped she'd go away. 

Instead she said, "Are you angry with me? Because I live with humans? Because my mother is one of them?"

Ruin looked back at her and then, almost reluctantly, shook his head. "No. We all have to do what we think is best, with the information we have. Your... your background, your understanding, is very different from mine. That's all." 

Aesa nodded at that. "Can I come and sit beside you? The sunsets are very pretty from here." 

Ruin gave a short, sharp nod. Then he managed to hold himself still as the girl came and settled beside him. "It seems like a good place," he offered. "And the sunsets really are excellent." 

They sat in silence for a time, and Ruin was starting to allow himself to believe that he might get to simply enjoy the setting sun, when...

"So if you hate humans so much, why are you here?" 

He turned his head deliberately to look at Aesa, then turned to look back at the sunset. "I'm not entirely sure. My friend Martini caught word of someone called Mother Mia, and led us here to see if she could find her." 

"Oh, the assassin," said Aesa, and then put a hand to her mouth. "I mean, she's retired now. She's taken vows. And she's very sweet, really. Please don't tell anybody I said that." 

Ruin blinked, because actually that explained a lot. "...That would probably be her. And no, I won't say anything."

Aesa lowered her hand slowly. "Your friend Martini is an assassin too?" 

Ruin nodded. "By training, at least." He wasn't going to admit that she was also an assassin by inclination, or that she was one of the most effective killers he'd met. Too many of the humans considered killing in battle honorable, and killing by stealth dishonorable -- at least unless they were doing it themselves -- and Aesa, while she wasn't an adherent of Helios, might share their views. 

"That's pretty neat. I'm still figuring out what I want to do. I mean, I've prayed to Amun and He's granted me spells, so I'll probably join the clergy here but... I don't know." She glanced at him, then quickly looked away. "I pray to Corellon, too, and sometimes I can feel His presence." 

She said it quickly, almost defensively, and Ruin answered in spite of himself: "I have a friend who's a paladin of Corellon. His name is Werendril... he's still in Duendewood, though."

"My first friend here was a paladin. Tavros. He was a half-dragon."

Did you pester him as much as you're pestering me? Ruin kept the thought to himself, and instead asked: "What happened to him?" 

"Oh, well, there was this thing... Tavros and the others went and rescued some people, and he ended up fighting a hill giant all by himself, and I guess word got around because some people came from the King and took him off to the capital to be a Solari."

"A half-dragon," Ruin said reflectively. Well, if you're going to face off with a hill giant, I suppose that would help.

The sun was halfway gone, and still sinking slowly; Ruin sat and watched it. Aesa sat beside him and stayed quiet, and finally he started to relax. Only the barest sliver of the sun was still visible and the last of the day was giving way to twilight when Aesa said, "You don't talk much, do you?"

Ruin shrugged. "I barely know you."

Aesa bit her lip and looked away. "You're right. I'm sorry if I'm bothering you. It's just... you and your friends are the first elves I've seen in a long time, and you're the first true elf I've seen ever, and I just really wanted to... I don't know. Talk to you. Make a connection."

Ruin frowned -- thoughtful rather than angry, but Aesa drew back anyway. Then he said, "Fair. Except I don't know what to talk about."

She hesitated, then relaxed. "I mean... We could talk about fighting. Tavros and I used to spar sometimes, back when I still thought I could maybe become a paladin. I was never very good at it, though."

Ruin shrugged that away. "It takes practice -- or in my case pure, undiluted fury." He paused, then added: "For you it's going to have to be practice."

That startled a chuckle out of her, and she smiled. "Would you come and practice with me, then?"

Ruin considered. He didn't have anything else he particularly needed to be doing, and it did sound like fun. "As you wish," he said.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Character Sketch: Dominic Chaddock

Dominic is also beginning his first year at Sunhaven Academy. Highborn and very much aware of it -- his father holds a seat on the Council of Midnight -- he is competitive, proud, and cruel. Like the rest of his family, Dominic is a vampire (though not undead). He is tall, broad-shouldered, lean, and pale; he dresses extravagantly when not in the school's uniform. His focus is an elegant smallsword, and he fences skillfully with it as well.

Writing progress has been erratic lately -- there are a lot of things going on right now, and I've had trouble finding time and focus. Still, I've made a decent start to the story, introducing Darian and his family and his best friend. These little sketches should be helpful when I finally get him to the school...

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Writing progress - whuf

If I were going to sum up my current writing progress in a single word, that word would be: "Whuf." I keep trying to come back to it. I like what I have so far -- I mean, it's only a page and a half of opening, but I like it. It's not even like I don't know where to go with it next. 

No, mainly it's just that everything around me is being busy and stressful and by the time I sit down to work on the story I have nothing left to put into it. 

I love writing. I love picturing a scene and then making it come to life in words, finding a rhythm and pulling together something that fits what I'm trying to do. I love it when I can find that focus and just go with it. But right now I'm discombobulated and unfocused and very much aware that I'm not making any progress, and haven't in a bit over a week. 

Still, there are things I can do try to fix that. I've listed them before, but I'm more likely to actually do them if I list them out again. So: 

  • Setting up a pattern. One that's worked for me in the past is to spend half an hour (or more, some days) doing something that clears my brain of everything else: playing a video game, or going for a walk, or maybe reading. (It can't be something like Twitter; too much stressful stuff on there.) Then take a bath or a shower and use that time to think about the next scene and what needs to go into it. Then, finally, sit down and try to write.

    The catch here, of course, is that this needs to occupy a couple-of-hours stretch of uninterrupted time, and right now my evenings are fraught with interruptions. Still, some of that will settle back down fairly soon, and even if it doesn't always work it's worth lining up for the attempt.

  • Signing up for a writing class. I've... actually already done this; it starts next week, and it'll be online. Laurie Schnebly Campbell is teaching it through, and I'm optimistic that looking at the project through the lens of the class will help my brain get back into gear on actually writing it.

  • I'm also considering getting a book coach: someone who I'd talk to about the book (not entirely unlike the way I'm trying to write about my progress here) who could offer suggestions, advice, or sympathy as needed. This wouldn't be the same as having someone proofread, beta-read, or edit; "coaching" really is the right word for it.

    I want to finish the writing class and see how I (and everything around me) is doing before I really start working towards that; but one of the things I miss from high school and college is hanging around in art class and at lunch and etc. talking about story and art ideas, character development, and how things are going on our projects. This sounds pretty low-pressure, and like it might really help with that. (Dungeons and Dragons does a lot of that for me, but it doesn't help with non-D&D projects...)

  • Tea. Writing always goes better if you have good and interesting teas to sip on while you think, and possibly to relieve the pressure on your sinuses as well. And yes, I've already put an order in on this as well.

So... I don't know. Without throwing in a bunch of personal details, that's where I'm at. I feel like if I could just pull myself together I could make some real progress, but I've also got a ton of other stuff to catch up on: dishes and laundry and bicycle tires and putting a new doorknob on Secondborn's door and assembling a trampoline so the boys can be in the back yard for this summer and that's completely leaving aside the stuff I need to catch up on -- or get moving on -- for work. 

And I do think it's possible to balance those things. But first I have to stop and lay them all out like this and just try to get a handle on the whole situation. (And then I look at this and think, No wonder you haven't made more progress, have you looked at what all you're trying to keep up with? And then I feel a little less bad about myself, and that helps too.)  It's not insurmountable, it's just a lot

Here's hoping your 2021 is going a lot more smoothly, with roads rising to meet your feet and the wind always at your back and like that. Take good care of yourselves, my bold and noble readers, and do your best to keep the faith.