This is not my actual opening scene. This is one I wrote out as a possible opening scene, but it starts out too far back from the main focus of the story, which is Darian and his time at the Sunhaven Academy of the Midnight Accord.
"Are you sure you want to do this?"
Darian Silver looked across the carefully-cleared field to the tall stone tower of the skydock at the far end and the massive beast that floated in the air beside it. "Dad," he said, faintly exasperated. "We talked about this. You helped me with application letter. We all agreed that this was best."
Eric Silver shrugged. "I know, but agreeing that something is a good idea isn't always the same thing as actually being willing to go through with it when the time comes. I just want you to know that you can change your mind."
Darian nodded, conceding that his father had a point. But... The alternative would be to climb back in the wagon, go back home, and try to finish the next four years of school under Schoolmaster Devinter, who already thought he was a troublemaker -- and then join the Imperial Army with no better control or understanding of his shadow than he had now. It sounded like a recipe for disaster.
Aware as always that he was thinking about it, his shadow reached down through his hand and flowed along the handle of his small pack. Darian held himself still, focusing on what it was doing, and felt it touch his extra clothes and the small pouch of coins that his father had added. After a moment it withdrew, leaving the contents of his pack undisturbed.
Relieved at that, Darian said: "I think that's our answer," and watched his father nod in acceptance.
"You still have the cards? And your letter?"
Darian touched the front of his jacket, feeling the small wooden case in the inner pocket. "I've got them." He'd checked them at least three times before they left home, twice on the road, and once again when they'd arrived here at the airfield of Urngardt, but it was still a relief to find them where he expected.
"Good." His father hesitated, then bent down and hugged him. Darian released his pack long enough to return the gesture. "Take care of yourself, Darian. Learn everything you can. Make good friends."
Darian clenched him tighter for a moment, then let go. "I'll let you know when I get there. Is... Is Mom going to be all right?"
His father drew back a little, looking thoughtful. "Your mother is wrestling with some things that... don't really involve you. She'll be fine, and better once she knows you're well and happy."
"I'd better get going, then." Darian shouldered his pack, made a vague gesture that was almost a wave, and then started across the field.
Provided by our DM:
Vigo the Whisperer plodded lightly down the stone steps, ducking expertly wherever the blocks of the stone ceiling hung low. He was a thin, gangly man, but tall, and had to take great care not to crack his head in the narrow dungeon corridors beneath the castle. There were nine such hazards on this particular staircase, and bile rose in his throat as he recalled how many times he’d traveled these steps. At the bottom, he saw the flicker of torchlight beneath the imposing oak door, but did not hear the customary screaming. It was as he expected.
Upon entering the room, Vigo took in the scene around him. Chained against one wall was a badly used man in black robes. The manacles pulled his arms tightly above his head, and the distinctive tattoo of an eye shone on his forearm. Kas Guerrian was his name, and he appeared remarkably calm for one in his situation. Two guards flanked the man, armed to the teeth and clearly on edge. On the other side of the room, one of the interrogators was brandishing various implements of pain, explaining their devious intents, and becoming increasingly frustrated that his victim was not exhibiting the typical response. Idiot, Vigo thought.
“Leave us!” Vigo commanded. Underneath the commanding façade, his stomach rolled. He hated this room, and despised the long hours he’d spent here over the years.
The guards regarded Vigo warily, but obeyed. It was known that he advised the king and held great power. They did not see the sense in Vigo’s request to be alone with the prisoner, but they would not defy him. The interrogator, on the other hand, seemed to think his services were indispensable and was thus exempt from the order. He exited quickly after Vigo threatened to chain the man up and use his instruments against him. After all three had departed, Vigo was left alone with Kas Guerrian and the echoes of slowly dripping water.
“I know you,” Kas said, “You’re Vigo the Whisperer.”
“Yes,” Vigo replied, walking toward the man.
“You’re not going to torture me?” Kas asked curiously.
“I know it won’t work.”
“Oh? How do you know that?”
Vigo smiled, “I know a secret.” He walked closer, “In fact, I know a lot of secrets.”
Kas Guerrian smiled back, “So do I. And I am very curious about one of those secrets right about now.”
Vigo took two more steps and was standing directly in front of the captive. He was wearing a long, quilted coat, as was the king’s style at court, with enormous cuffs and flamboyant lace sleeves underneath. It was ridiculous but excellent for concealing things. He deftly fetched the key from his sleeve and unlocked Kas Guerrian’s manacles. “Brother, let us talk and exchange secrets, always one for another, for with sacrifice comes boon, and with every gift comes a cost.”
As the manacles clicked open, Kas slumped, barely able to support his own weight. Vigo helped him onto a stool, and the man rubbed his bruised wrists. Vigo fetched a skin of water from the interrogator’s table and offered it to Kas. He drank furiously for several moments, water streaming down the sides of his mouth. Then he sighed and looked at Vigo for a long moment. “You’re one of us.”
“So you have given me the gift of knowledge,” Vigo replied, “So I must honor the Shadow Pact and pay the price.”
Kas nodded and waited.
“The king has fetched Duke Corbin to Springhollow to set order to the town. This leaves Grand Marshall Or’fevre in charge of the northern front. The Duke is most displeased by this development.” Vigo said.
Kas wrinkled his nose, “This is not a secret.”
“…and he has made inquiries with the royal assassins, behind the king’s back.”
Kas raised his eyebrows in surprise, nodded, and took another drink of water.
“Now, it is my turn,” Vigo said, “The elven provost sent emissaries to make an alliance with the Hierophant.”
“So you have given me the gift of knowledge,” Kas replied, “So I must honor the Shadow Pact and pay the price. The emissaries killed Kas Drachma and his underlings, and no agreement was reached.”
“But the Provost will have his alliance,” Vigo added.
Kas looked at him, debating how to respond. It was not exactly a secret that had been shared.
“And,” Vigo continued, “He is one of us. He works even now to form alliances behind Mythrandril’s back, and desires to see the boy king deposed.”
Kas nodded approvingly, “Yes, Kas Luthien will have his alliance.” He took another long drink of water, held up the skin, and nodded toward it. “You guys have the good stuff, here. The water in the east tastes like rocks and feels like oil on your tongue.”
“Interrogations don’t work on the Dark One’s followers. Most do not understand this.” Vigo nodded toward the interrogator’s table with its various implements still laid out from the earlier presentation. “They think pain will eventually break any man.”
Kas swallowed quickly and replied, “So you have given me the gift of knowledge –”
“They don’t understand the magic.”
“Vigo, you have shared much brother, now I must speak or my debt will become too large.”
“It’s not that you do not break. You DO break. All men break. But you are unable to reveal your secrets outside the constraints of the pact.”
“Vigo, why do you share so much?” Kas was becoming agitated and started coughing.
“What our fine interrogator doesn’t know is that by the time he breaks you, he’s already lost, for those inducted into your order embrace a sacred pact with the Dark One. In exchange for promulgating his secrets across the land, he protects you from unwanted or even accidental disclosure of precious information.”
Kas dropped the waterskin and doubled over, clutching his stomach and coughing violently. A small trickle of blood ran down the side of his mouth.
Vigo stood up and began walking around Kas in a circle. “The magic is ingenious. Torture is useless and in fact almost merciful. Your dark god’s magic would kill you before you experienced true pain; you simply choose to give in and his magic takes over, snuffing you out of existence.”
The stool clattered loudly across the floor as Kas fell to the ground, spasming. White foam was forming at his mouth and the front of his shirt was damp with bloody spit.
“Naturally, the first thing I tried was trickery. Perhaps I could trick one of you into slipping up and revealing something accidentally, before the magic prevented you from speaking. But alas, the magic protects you not only from consciously revealing a secret, but also from accidental revelations.”
A low thump-thumping echoed through the room as Kas Guerrian’s body convulsed and slammed itself on the floor repeatedly.
Vigo leaned down and stared into the man’s eyes. “A great many of you died in our custody having provided no information. But then I discovered two very curious things that, taken separately seem innocuous, but taken together provide me the tiniest loophole. First, your pact does not restrict you to exchange secrets with those of your order. In fact, the whole point is to exchange secrets with those outside the order, in hopes that you can convert them.” He picked up the stool, righted it, and sat down. “Second, your pact does not require you to affirm the veracity of the secrets you receive. Which means I can tell you secrets, or at lest things I think might be true, and you can confirm my suspicious. So long as I know where to start, I can extract a tiny bit of information before your dark lord’s magic does…” Vigo gestured to the flopping body on the floor, “this.”
The thump-thumping ceased as Kas Guerrian’s body seized up one final time and his eyes rolled back in his head. Vigo smoothed his coat, straightened his sleeves one by one, and left the room. The interrogator was standing outside. When the door opened, he looked into the room. “My lord! The prisoner has died! Now we will no longer be able to provide us information.”
There was a smug look on the interrogator’s face, as if to accuse Vigo of botching work that should have been handled by a professional. It was useless to correct him. Vigo understood the truth: All servants of Vecna served as his eyes and when captured were not liabilities, but rather spies behind enemy lines. They needed to be used quickly and disposed, for the Dark One was watching. This simpleton was not capable of understanding the underlying brilliance of this structure, so he stared at the man until he moved aside, then began climbing the stairs. He was late for a meeting with his king.
The king’s council had already begun when Vigo arrived at the small chamber. Archon Marriq was waiting at the door for him.
“Vigo, I must speak with you.”
“Not now, Marriq.” Vigo looked through the crack in the door and saw Mal Zeral standing and speaking confidently. He cursed under his breath. “How long have they been going?”
Marriq moved his jaw slowly back and forth. It was a characteristic sign that the man was thinking, and that he would provide truthful information. It was important to know every man’s tell.
“Since I’ve been here, at least… an hour?”
Vigo cursed again, “So they started early. Damn the Archmage.” He reached for the door, but Marriq grabbed his forearm. It was uncharacteristic.
“We need to talk,” Marriq whispered urgently.
Vigo jerked his hand away, “Archon Marriq, what is of such importance that you accost me so?”
“It’s about the Silver Fox.”
Vigo rolled his eyes, “The elven patriot?”
“He’s undermining the king’s loyalty mandates.”
Vigo cringed at the mention of the mandates. They had enough challenges at present without inciting an elven revolt in Solstar. Unfortunately, this was a matter on which he had a difficult time controlling his liege. “And? What’s your point?”
“I believe I may have a solution,” Marriq said, “I’ve been contacted by a bounty hunter, one I believe has the capabilities to end the Silver Fox and his band. But he appears to be… unconventional.”
Inside the king’s council chamber, Mal Zeral was making an emphatic point. Frustration boiled in Vigo’s belly, but he forced himself to consider Marriq’s words, taking deep, practiced breaths to control his emotions. “Thank you, Archon Marriq. I will speak with you on this matter after the king’s council has adjourned.” Marriq nodded respectfully, stepped back, and Vigo entered the chamber.
Mal Zeral had just finished speaking when Vigo took his seat. “Well, what have I missed?”
Father Montagne spoke in a somber tone, “Vigo, I believe you already know. We cannot fight a war on two fronts.”
Vigo’s eyes went to Dante Alighieri, seated next to the king. He had a quill in his hand and a parchment in front of him, covered in writing. The ink was drying, but it had not yet been signed by the king. For his part, Luc III seemed to be pouting. It was clear the council had pushed him down a path he was not comfortable with.
Mal Zeral observed Vigo’s eyes on the parchment and explained, “We intend to strike a peace –”
“A temporary truce!” the king interjected, “Not a peace. I am not going down in history as a weak king who makes peace with a bunch of arrow-chucking elves just because they made too much noise.”
“Right,” Zeral corrected, “A temporary truce. We will end hostilities, but that is all. Mythrandril remains a pretender and we do not acknowledge any of the forged documents the elves have produced related to land rights.” The king nodded approvingly.
“I’m afraid that will be quite impossible,” Vigo whispered quietly. All eyes turned to him, and when he judged their attention sufficiently captured, he explained, “It is impossible because they are on the same side.” A small gasp of incredulity went through the room.
Father Montagne was the one to speak, “Vigo, they have crossed swords with the Dark Army as much as we have. What you say does not make any sense. You know what happened at Wellfort.”
“Those are Mythrandril’s lackeys. As you all know, he is a weak pretender, and not our greatest concern.” The council was definitely not convinced on this point, but it was what the king believed, so they all nodded in affirmation. Vigo continued, “It’s the Lord Provost we should be concerned about. My sources tell me he has connections to the Dark Army, and I just confirmed from our prisoner that he is himself a follower of the Dark One. From now on we shall call him Kas Luthien. He is working as we speak to strike a secret alliance with Maodeus and the Hierophant, so that they may attack us from two sides.” He left out the part where Luthien was trying to assassinate Mythrandril. “So you see, even a temporary truce will not be possible.”
Scanning the room, Vigo drank in their reactions. Montagne looked shocked whereas Alighieri simply seemed sad. The archmage’s face was a mask of cold rage, and the king was sputtering indignantly. What followed was an hour of incoherent, rambling anger from the monarch as he reviewed once again the many slights he perceived from their elven neighbors. The meeting concluded with orders to escalate the offensive against the elves in order to preempt any joint military move. The king’s councilors left the room quickly once dismissed, thankful to be free of his wrath, but Vigo hung back.
“Those bastards!” the king swore, “Those long-eared bastards! How dare they!? Vigo, I want them rounded up, and the loyalty mandates enforced!”
Vigo nodded, “Of course, my liege. My archons are ever vigilant.”
King Luc turned and jabbed a finger through the air at Vigo, “And another thing, I want this Silver Fox dealt with! It’s embarrassing. People are saying I’m weak, that we’re weak!”
“Lies, my liege.”
“I know that, but we need to show the people how strong we are. We need to make an example of this brigand!”
A smile crept onto Vigo’s face, “I believe I may have a solution for that as well. Does my liege care how we apprehend the Silver Fox?”
Luc waved his hands dismissively, “I don’t care how, just catch him.”
“As you wish, my liege.”
Luc sighed heavily, “What would I do without you, Vigo?”
“I am only doing my duty.”
“You’re fixing my problems,” the king asserted, “while the rest of my advisors just talk.” He shook his head, fatigue from the previous hour’s rant finally setting in. “You have my authority to do whatever is necessary to sort out the situation in Solstar and restore order. Now, go!”
Vigo nodded and silently left the room. Thankfully, Marriq was still standing outside. “Archon, we need to talk.”
For the last two years, I've been taking part in the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. (The first link will take you to the list of topics; the second one goes to the homepage, where you can find a post with everyone's responses each week. Feel free to join in!)
This week's prompt is "TV show/movie/book that could be about me".
And y'all... I going to have to go with Captain America: The First Avenger on this.
I mean, if you met me you'd immediately understand the comparison. He's athletic; I'm athletic. (For a certain understanding of "athletic".) He's handsome; I'm handsome. (Never doubt it.) He fights off bad guys and saves the day; I make people's computers work for them. (Those are equivalent levels of heroism, trust me.) But most importantly...
I could easily sleep for a good fifty years right now.
Last night I tried to settle in and do some more writing on Shadow Academy, the Magic School for Monsters project that I'm working on. I'm torn, because I like the opening I have currently, and I like the things that happen after it, but it also feels like I'm getting distracted by them. Also, I know I have a bad tendency towards Kitchen Sink Syndrome -- throw in every cool idea that comes along! They won't clutter up the book until you can't even find your way back to the original plot! Surely not!
...So yeah, I kind of find myself looking at a choice: use a different opening, or press on and trim this later.
This is, admittedly, better than what happened with my last project, where I literally couldn't seem to find an opening that I liked well enough to continue on with. Kitchen Sink Syndrome, again: I had so many ideas for the project that any given opening closed off some ideas that I really liked, until finally the whole thing stalled.
So I sat down and tried to think about the Shadow Academy storyline, and whether to try a new opening that's closer to the action or continue on this intriguing little bit of wayside world-building, and... I couldn't muster any enthusiasm for either approach. Which is not a huge surprise; 2021 has been hugely stressful, I'm exhausted, and we'd just finished a very full day.
I would really, really, really have liked to get some writing done.
But in a fit of uncommon good sense, I decided not to force it. (I know there are writers and writing advice who say, "Push on, and clean it up during editing!" but that does not seem to work for me. The inevitable result of me trying to do that is crap writing followed by frustration and burnout.) Instead, I went back and looked at an old throw-away project that I was playing with a couple of years ago in an effort to write something that I wasn't deeply invested in and could possibly finish.
And it was more or less what I remembered. It's a fantasy story about a couple of princes who get roped into accompanying the daughter of the High King to a wilderness-lost temple so that she can renew her family's link to their patron god. I remember that at one point I got overtired and determined to Get Some Writing Done and then got frustrated with the project and gave up, but for the life of me I do not remember why. What I read back through last night is... fine. Nothing I couldn't pick back up. Enjoyable reading, even.
(I think, looking back at it, that I was trying to get it going on a regular schedule on Patreon so that I could finish setting that up, so it seems likely that the crap stuff that derailed me is all over there rather than in the document that I was looking at last night. I will not be going back to review any of that; it'll just derail me again.)
So I finished reading it, and added a couple of lines, and went to bed.
I'm so proud of me.
"Archon Marriq," said a voice, and the archon stopped. He was just about to turn from Victory lane onto Loyalty street, where his house lay safe inside its high walls and magical wards. The guards moved up from behind him, forming a triangle around him: two behind, one in front. They blocked his view of the street ahead, but he didn't complain. It was, he understood, more important for them to be able to see what was happening, especially if there was about to be an attack.
"You have a problem, Archon," said the voice, and his guards were still looking around, still trying to place its source.
"If you're the problem," said Marriq, "then do whatever it is you came here to do... and let us resolve it. My time is valuable." He was uncomfortably aware that any number of magical attacks could engulf him and all three of his guards, but it wouldn't do for an archon to be cowed.
"I'm not the problem," said the voice. "I'm your solution. Your problem is the Silver Fox."
Marriq laughed. "Children's tales," he said. "Rumors spread by elvish criminals to scare us and reassure their people."
"And how many of your inquisitors have had to retire from public service owing to the mark of the Fox on their cheek? How much does your office spend on magically removing those marks? I've spoken with four, so far: two who still bear their marks, and two who had them removed. None of them felt that enough was being done. And I know full well that Vigo the Whisperer is offering a bounty... Perhaps his Highness the King doesn't feel that enough is being done, either."
"And you're here to fix that for me?" asked Marriq, gesturing the guards aside and stepping forward even as he reviewed the spells at his disposal. He was not a mighty wizard, but he was no mere bureaucrat either. "Very well. Show yourself, and let us deal."
A figure stepped out of an arched doorway that Marriq would have sworn was empty. "As you wish."
He was human, broad-shouldered and powerfully muscled, wearing a plain brown tunic and orange pants tucked into high brown boots. There was a heavy, curved sword at his side and a black cloak thrown back across his shoulders. "I can catch the man that nobody can catch -- if there's enough money in it."
Marriq raised his hands, palms up, to either side. "You know about the bounty already. Five thousand for the Silver Fox, another thousand for each of his companions. How much more do you want?"
"Double that," said the man, and there was something very disturbing in the way that he moved, stilled, stared. "I want twice the promised reward, and a public announcement, and a presentation to the king."
Marriq frowned, troubled. "I cannot promise any of those things."
"I understand," said the man. "Still, you can talk to the people who can make such promises. I will find you again in three days, and you will give me an answer."
"As you say," Marriq regarded the stranger. "I can do this. But why should I -- or Vigo, or the King -- believe you can keep this bargain?"
The man shrugged and smiled. "Because I can do things other men cannot. Your tormentor is hidden from people such as you, but not from me. And in any case, there's no loss to you if I fail."
Marriq found that he believed him. "I will... speak with the people I know," he said. "I will let you know what I hear back."
"You're looking thoughtful there, Ruin," said Geddy, taking a seat on the back of the wagon beside him and handing him an unlabeled bottle.
Ruin accepted the bottle, took a swig, and then forced himself to swallow without reacting; he'd been expecting beer or ale, but this was some sort of very nice whisky. Gnomish? He had no idea. "You're good," he told Geddy. "Most people can't tell the difference between me looking thoughtful and me looking homicidal."
Geddy shrugged. "It got easier after I realized you have a bad case of Resting Murder Face."
Ruin chuckled. "I was thinking about the temple of Amun, and the paladin and the priest -- Anica and Aesa."
"It did look like you were having a wild couple of days," Geddy said cheerfully. "So you really were with both of them?"
"At the same time?"
Ruin took another swig from the bottle, then shook his head and handed it back. "I hadn't expected to be with anybody," he admitted. "Not there. Part of that was your fault... not that I'm complaining."
"I thought you needed the help," said Geddy. "In retrospect, I might have been mistaken."
Ruin shrugged. "I wouldn't have predicted it, either."
"So you're thinking about them. Are you missing them?"
"I am." Ruin paused, then added: "I know, it surprised me too."
Geddy chuckled. "One of them in particular, or...?"
Ruin shook his head. "Both. Each in different ways. I keep telling myself that it's good that we left when we did, but... I liked that place, Geddy."
Geddy smiled and shrugged. "You could always go back there. Become a paladin, maybe."
Ruin, who had taken the bottle back again and just filled his mouth, sprayed whiskey over the back gate of the carriage and onto the ground. He paused to get himself back under control, wiped his mouth, then took another sip and actually managed to swallow it. "It would almost be worth it," he admitted, "just to see the look on Werendril's face when he found out. But that's if I could get one of the gods to accept me. And... if I could deal with that."
"You could go back, though," Geddy repeated, more seriously this time.
"What would I say?" Ruin asked. "'Oops' doesn't quite seem to cover it, somehow."
"They've probably found out by now," Geddy pointed out. "It was a small place, and it sounds like they knew each other pretty well. I don't know if that would make it worse or better, though. The paladin seemed pretty level-headed when I spoke to her."
"She was," said Ruin. "I don't think she had any illusions about how this was going to play out. The priest, though... I don't think she really had any illusions either, but I think she might have had hopes. And I don't know how to answer her optimism-- at all, but especially given that we're all very likely going to die horribly while attempting to serve the King and defeat the Order of Secrets." He considered that. "I'd like to find out how things might have gone, with either or both of them, but I don't think I'll be allowed that opportunity. Does that make sense?"
Geddy nodded slowly. "Yeah... yes, it does."
Ruin nodded back. "So that's what I was thinking about."
Geddy could have taken that as a dismissal, but he didn't. Instead he asked: "So what if you don't die horribly? What if you do get the chance?"
There was a long moment of comfortable silence, before Geddy handed the bottle back over and Ruin poured three large swallows down his throat. Then he handed the bottle back, and after moment he answered.
"I have no idea." He leaned back, looked up at the trees overhead. "I thought I was ready for a war with the humans, but it turns out the important part of the war isn't with the humans. I thought I would become the sort of warrior who turned his rage and ferocity to tear through their ranks, but instead I've become this... hunter, this explorer. Traveler. Whatever."
"The old name is Horizon Walker," said Geddy. "There are stories. Not many, but some."
Ruin nodded. Then he added, "I'm increasingly convinced that I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing, and not only that but I never did. What do I actually want from my life if we somehow come through this alive? I have no idea."
Geddy chuckled. "That's not so uncommon as you seem to think. At least you're thinking about it now. So what would you do if we vanquished the Order of Secrets, disrupted Vecna's plan, and were still alive after that?"
"...I'd go back and see them," Ruin said. "See how they felt. See if they were still interested in me. See if any of it could lead anywhere, and then see where that went."
"There's your answer," said Geddy. "If we live, you want to see what could be -- with the human, or the thinblood, or whatever worked out. You'd want to follow up on the opportunities you're afraid you missed."
Ruin nodded very slowly, then turned to look at Geddy. "Yes, I suppose I would." He swallowed. "Thanks, Geddy. That... actually helps."
"Take me with you," said Teleian. "I can help."
The Silver fox shook his head. Even in the light of mid-morning, even to elvish eyes, his face was still shadowed by his cowl. Teleian wasn't entirely sure how he could even see; surely the hood that shadowed his face and reduced it to nothing more than a voice behind a mask, perhaps the faintest gleam of his eyes, surely that interfered with his peripheral vision, at least.
But it never seemed to.
"Why not?" he asked, and his voice was suddenly too plaintive, too desperate, too much.
The Fox went very still, one hand hidden by his cloak and one hand on the edge of a wagon. Then he said, softly, "Because I don't want my mistakes to get anyone else killed."
Teleian's mind went blank, and he answered before he had a chance to think: "You don't make mistakes! You're the Silver Fox! You've been making a mockery of the guard and the archons for months now!"
The Fox brought his head up, met Teleian's eyes. "Everything I did, everything that brought me here, was a mistake. Everything I thought we accomplished, everyone I thought we saved, I was wrong. We were tricked, all the way down the line, and I never caught on until it was far too late and the only option left was to run." His voice was soft, breathy, but less threatening than it had been when he'd been giving orders and sorting things out in the darkness of the elf-ghetto of Solstar. That sense of unspoken menace had been replaced by a tone of doubt and regret.
Teleian hesitated, choosing his words carefully. "Do you think I don't know how that feels?" he asked, finally. "And knowing how it feels, do you think I can set that aside and just move on?"
"...It would be better if you could," said the Fox. "Stay here in Duendewood. Find a good wife. Raise fat babies."
"And wake in the night knowing that I helped King Elfsbane's Archons root out the resistance?"
The Boar, still in his pig-shaped metal helm, wandered over and stopped beside the the Fox. "There's a question?" His voice was deep, guttural, his words thick and accented. Teleian still wasn't sure whether the boar was male or female, but he definitely presented male.
"He lets you help him," said Teleian, trying to make it sound like a reasoned argument instead of someone whining.
"I once punched a warhorse unconscious because I didn't like the way it was looking at me," said the Boar. "What would you bring to the struggle?"
The Hawk and the Owl had been working on other things, but now they drifted over and suddenly Teleian felt like he was on trial. "I can use a sword, or a bow," he said.
"Who can't?" asked the Hawk, with a chuckle. None of them had removed their masks, but the Hawk was definitely an elvish woman; she didn't bother with a cowl, just her hawk-shaped mask and feathered cloak. And she was right; he wasn't offering the sorts of skills that would be any use to a group like this. He wasn't showing them how he could help with the struggle.
"I know people," he said. "I know my way around Solstar, and the ghetto in particular. I could get information, spy on things without looking out of place. And I'm fast and quiet -- enough to get myself and Tennira in and out of the human armory without being caught."
The Fox glanced at the others. The Boar stood unmoving, but after a moment he(?) rumbled, "That's not nothing."
"Can you disguise yourself?" asked the Fox. "Move unnoticed through a crowd?"
"No," Teleian admitted, "but I can learn."
The Owl moved away from the others, circled around behind him. Teleian resisted the urge to flinch, and forced himself to stay still.
"If you had to kill someone, what would you use?" asked a soft, sexless voice that was uncomfortably close to his left shoulder. He didn't know there was a dagger back there as well, but he could imagine it all too vividly.
"Anything I had available, of course," he answered quietly, and forced his shoulders to relax.
"Keep him," said the whisper behind him.
The Fox glanced from Teleian to the Owl standing behind him, then to the Hawk and the Boar. He couldn't read their expressions through their masks, but apparently the Fox could. "What would we call you?" he asked.
Teleian considered. He wasn't a great warrior. He wasn't a mighty mage, or divinely-inspired cleric. His talents, such as they were, ran to avoiding notice and knowing when to run. "The Mouse?"
The Fox twitched, then twitched twice more before Teleian realized that he was quietly laughing. "Very well," he said. "I've no idea what sort of mask we'll find for that, for you, but it will be done. Just remember that this isn't an adventure; it's a job. And your primary duty is to stay alive and unnoticed."
Teleian nodded, trying not to show his relief. "I understand."
Vendril doesn't think of himself as a leader, but apparently he's just acquired the Leadership feat. The Boar is a half-orc, some kind of melee combatant, who thinks that wearing a pig-shaped helmet is ironic. The Hawk is an elf wizard, and the owl is a half-elf cleric with Trickery and probably Travel as domains.
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!)
I know I've been remiss about doing these for the last couple of weeks; I'll just say that life has been fraught and leave it at that.
Anyway, the prompt for today is "five items I can't live without."
So I'll skip the obvious and note that "my family" who would top the list otherwise, is not an item; nor are the people in it items.
Inanimate objects, though? And we're talking about day-to-day use, not things that I would be heartbroken to lose? All right:
5. Allergy Meds. I've mentioned before that I'm allergic to, well, Texas, and also that I live here. Allergy meds are are a necessity, and also one of the reasons why I never want to caught in a zombie apocalypse: I'd give myself away be sneezing.
4. An electric kettle. So I'm also fairly ADHD, and over the course of my life I've murdered no fewer than three regular kettles by putting them on the stove and then forgetting to take them off when they boil. Two of those were because I got in the shower. It's frankly a wonder I didn't burn the house down. So: electric kettle definitely goes on the list. On a related note...
3. Tea. I live on the stuff. I mean, I suppose I could wean myself off of it if I really had too, but why would I ever want to offer such an affront to the wise and loving Tea Gods?
2. My Kindle. It's like a magic book made of other books.
1. My laptop. I live on this thing. I know people who rely on cloud storage and can work from any machine, anywhere; but I like having a single laptop that holds everything (besides books) that I need. It's where I do my writing. It has all my music, and a good selection of movies. It even has a couple of games on it, for when I don't feel up to anything else.
So there you go. That's my list of must-have items. What does yours look like?
We pick up in the midst of the battle.
Azrael drops Acid Fog on a bunch of the harpies in the air. The spell isn't that damaging, but they can't see through it and they have to push through it to move, so movement is SLOW.
Ruin starts walking towards the harpy that has him charmed, coming towards the bottom of the acid fog, while Geddy (still up in the tree on a branch) heals himself of a substantial portion of his wounds.
The Harpy priestess, who was flying above the fog, moves over to Geddy and tries to curse him; he is unaffected.
A hulking corpse comes over and tries to attack Ruin, but misses; one of the harpy archers puts a couple of arrows in him. The other harpies swarm around, but fail to connect with either Martini or Ruin.
Eva the young gold dragon comes winging through, becoming briefly visible as she passes through the harpy priestess' Invisibility Purge aura, and blasts fire across the priestess and two of the harpies.
Azrael moves in and finishes off the Harpy Priestess.
The hulking corpses try to grapple Ruin and Martini. Ruin shoves his attacker away, but Martini get grabbed. The harpies around Ruin take to the sky, but the ones around Martini just cluster around to watch the corpse try to mangle her.
The Apparatus that we've come here to steal... erm, commandeer... continues past us. The wizards inside launch a lightning bolt at Geddy, who takes it on his gnomish chin. He is still clinging to the tree branch. One of the Harpy Archers shoots him, and Geddy finally falls out of the tree, unconscious. The archer turns her other two shots to Eva, the dragon.
One of the harpy archers fires at Ruin, but only hits him once. Eva drops down to guard her Uncle Geddy, and breaths fire on a couple of harpies.
Azrael drops an empowered Fireball on the harpies that are flying above Ruin. The harpy archer avoids the worst of it, but the others... four of the five die immediately. He follows up with a quickened Magic Missile, and Ruin carves chunks out of the hulking corpse beside him.
Martini uses Dimension Door to escape being grappled, and places herself on top of the Apparatus. She's out of the field, so she's invisible again. More hulking corpses move in on Ruin, flanking him. They attack, but fail to connect with him.
The last harpy stuck in the fog falls from the air as acid eats into its flesh.
With Geddy down, the harpies start singing again. Azrael resists; Ruin and Martini are both charmed again. The apparatus continues forward, trundling away from us.
The two harpy archers start singing as well, but Azrael resists them as well.
Eva heals Geddy back to consciousness, if not strength; and Azrael drops another empowered Fireball on a bunch of harpies. Only one harpy survives.
Geddy drops more healing on himself, and stands up. One of the harpies runs away, still singing; the apparatus keeps moving with Martini on the back of it. They waste a Phantasmal Killer spell on Geddy, but he's Death Warded, so that's no use.
One of the hulking corpses finally manages to hit Ruin, which snaps him out of the charm.
The harpy archers fire at Ruin, but miss.
Eva moves over and sprays fire across two of the hulking corpses, carefully not hitting Ruin. The one that Ruin wounded earlier collapses.
Azrael considers the harpy that flew away to the southwest; he can still hear its song. But since he can't actually see it, he uses an empowered scorching ray on one of the Hulking Corpses; he also drops Web in front of the Apparatus of Kwalish, possibly slowing it down.
Ruin unloads on the hulking corpse that Eva lit up, and cuts it down. Geddy activates the ebony fly and goes hunting for the harpy that's hiding to the southwest (but still singing).
The Harpy Archers move back and try to attack Eva again, this time only hitting twice.
The remaining melee-range Hulking Corpse tries to grab Ruin again, and this time succeeds.
The two remaining Harpy Archers attack Eva, who's the only one who's both visible and not closely entangled with one of their allies. They put four arrows into our young dragon companion, doing a LOT of damage. Eva changes position, and bathes them in fire breath.
Ruin uses his Dimension Door ability to escape the grapple, and yells "Neener neener neener!" or something similar at the two remaining Hulking Corpses in an attempt to lure them into charging right into our pit trap.
Geddy is homing in on the hidden (but still singing) harpy.
The two hulking corpses charge towards Ruin and fall into the pit; Eva steps aside to let one of them go by. Eva flames the two Harpy Archers, immolating one of them.
Ruin cuts down one of the Hulking Corpses in the pit.
Geddy locates the harpy, and hits it with Tasha's Hideous Laughter but doesn't bring it down.
The remaining harpy archer tries to finish off Eva, and doesn't quite manage it. She throws more fire at it, and it... dissolves into ash.
Ruin chases after the Apparatus and put himself under it. Martini sprints off from where was standing near the last remaining harpy, catching up with the Apparatus again.
Geddy returns to Eva, hovering above her on his Ebony Fly.
The Appratus continues forward, and the wizards inside drop Tasha's Hideous Laughter on Ruin and Martini, taking them both down. Geddy comes towards us on the Fly, and casts Greater Dispel Magic on Martini. Martini no longer thinks this is funny, and stands up again.
One of the wizards targets Ruin and Martini with Confusion, but neither is confused.
Eva heals herself a bit, but hangs back where she is. Ruin is not confused, but *is* still busy laughing; Martini moves under the Apparatus and attempts to open the anus-door. (It's actually a porthole, but given where it is located on Apparatus, well...) She flips up and plants her slippers of spider climbing on the bottom, and goes to work on the lock as the Apparatus moved forward.
Geddy dispels Hideous Laughter, and Ruin is no longer amused.
The wizards cast Laughter again, and Ruin goes right back down.
Azrael throws another Web spell, to slow the Apparatus. Ruin continues laughing, and Martini finally manages to get the door open.
Geddy begins singing to inspire us with courage.
The Apparatus come to a stop, and all four wizards lean out the bottom and tag Martini with Magic Missile.
Eva moves up, continuing to heal herself. Azrael restores his Greater Invisibility, which had worn off, and launches an empowered fireball into the Apparatus. He scorches the uphostery and the wizards alike, but doesn't quite kill them; they've been bolstered with False Life.
Martini starts stabbing into the Apparatus. Martini is a meatgrinder, a sewing machine of death. Of the four wizards inside, only one survives.
Geddy flies closer, still singing, forty feet in the air.
The last wizard throws one more Confusion spell. Martini is confused. (Ruin, of course, is still busy laughing.) Eva just moves over, reaches up, and yanks the last wizard out of the apparatus.
We spend a bit of time figuring out how to operate this thing; then we head into the impossibly deep lake that is Mar Dento, circling around to avoid the Titan's Reach area where the Hierophant is probably awaiting the arrival of the Apparatus. We head down into the water at about the point when the Hierophant would be expecting it to arrive at Titan's Reach. We find the bottom of Mar Dentro and the hole at the base of Titan's Reach, where the geological "fingers" come back together in a hole that goes all the way down through the bottom of the world, until it turns out that we've descended so long that we're now ascending. We come out on a sea bottom, and decide to come up to the surface.
We're looking at the coast of Fanaxia. We're in the northern bay.
It's late May. So, OOC, there's a definite chance that we're going to have to rescue our Solari characters from this place -- and dear ye immortal gods, Ruin may yet have to explain himself to Tavros. We descend again, and follow the finger-tendrils up to the surface (instead of just going straight up) and find ourselves at "The Fingers" which mark the end of the Grand Gulf in Fanaxia.
The Grand Gulch is huge, and deep, and we follow the tracks all the way up the river to Lake Ovoguia; the stone fingers twist together into a sort of arm, that seems to be reaching into the underwater extension of Mount Ovoguia; the plants here are growing in the shape of an eye, and there's an underwater cave in the center.
We enter the cave, and come out of an underground lake into a cavern. The floor of the cavern is marked with the Eye of Vecna; there's a trail of these sigils, leading to an ancient staircase that leads up.
OOC, we break there.
Durest walked away from the road and into the field. The giant's body lay where it had fallen, stripped of anything that might be valuable but too large to move. Four skeletons followed in his wake, the red gems of their eyes gleaming faintly in the late afternoon light.
It took a while to find the blind, but once he threw back the cover it was unmistakable: a hole in the ground, covered with a wooden trapdoor which had soil and grass atop it. A patient dwarf could wait there, even sleeping as needed, and raise the trap to emerge into the grasses when the time finally came. It had to have been prepared in advance, and Durest wondered just how long his kin had been following him. He'd thought they'd given him up as lost, but clearly he'd been wrong. Oh, he supposed this might be some other Delve making war on the Order of Secrets in their own way, but he didn't really believe that. This attack seemed too weirdly specific, too much of a tipping of their hand, to be random. Sure an' it's a message, he thought, for probably the fourth time that afternoon.
He stepped further out into the grass, well aware that there might be other blinds all around him that he wasn't seeing; but the skeletons followed him and the Hierophant's escort was close enough to give aid if he called for it. And that was leaving aside his companions, who waited back at the road.
So he walked another dozen strides out before he stopped and pulled out his pipe. He withdrew a bit of sweetweed from a pouch on his belt, packed it into place, and lit it with a single, soft word. He drew the smoke in, then breathed it back out. Then he raised his voice.
"Well? Yeh wanted me, I think. Ah've come. Step up, or take yerselves back tae the clan."
"Actually," said the dwarf in the silver armor, rising up from the grass, "we've come to take you back to the clan."
"Have ye, then?" asked Durest, turning to face him. "Ye should've declared me dead and had done with it, and saved yourselves the trouble."
"Little brother, you have no idea the scope of this trouble. These forces you serve, they annihilated the Northern Delve. Ye're commanding skeletons made from the bones of our people."
Durest nodded. "Did ye think I did nae know this? I can trace the shape of the bones as well as any." He turned away, and found his other brother creeping up behind him. "Balos. Hold yer ground."
"Little brother," acknowledged Balos.
Durest stepped to the side, positioning himself where he could see them both. "I serve Indra," he said. "Surely, by now, ye've given up any hope o' dissuadin' me frae that."
Morthros frowned, and Durest knew that his oldest brother had not given up on any such thing. Balos, at least, looked resigned. "You've a duty to your wife and children," Morthros said.
Durest scowled. "The ones my clan chose for me? We'd both hae been better off wi'out the marriage. It's done and I will no' renounce it, but dinnae hand me a quartz and call it a diamond."
"Then come back and serve your duty to your clan," said Morthros, and Balos nodded. "With the humans gathering their forces, we need all our resources. For all that you've turned aside from the Council of Stone, we could use your help. And the Stone Cabal will not censure you; the Marble Bishop himself declares it to me."
Durest shook his head. "No. My place is here; my god declares it so. Give my apologies to our mother, and tell Aviarra... tell her that the fault is not in her."
Morthros rolled his eyes in disgust, but Balos studied him and nodded slowly. Durest turned back towards the road, and his brothers turned back into the grasslands.
So there's a bit more insight into Durest. He left his clan -- and his wife-by-arranged-marriage, and their children -- to become a priest of Indra, or because he was a priest of Indra already; I'm not sure which. He has at least two brothers: Morthros, the oldest, who's a pure fighter, and Balos, who's either a ranger or a rogue. They haven't given up on taking him back, either...
"And that's how ye do it, eh?" Durest nodded thoughtfully.
"Yes." The Hierophant Malafar was smiling; the expression sat oddly on the withered skin of his face and the flickering red flames of his eyes. "The actual transfer is easy, once you've created the phylactery. And then, of course, there's the question of how best to keep it safe. Some keep it close, so they can protect it; some hide it away; some give it into the care of powerful guardians. All three approaches have their risks."
"Aye, but the rewards..." Durest sat back, then turned his attention to the scroll where the Hierophant had been outlining the structure of the magics involved. There was much to consider there, including some principles that could perhaps be applied to other things. The creation of a phylactery blurred the lines between divine and arcane magic in some fascinating ways.
He rose, and bowed. "I thank ye fer sharin' your time and yer knowledge with me, Hierophant."
"Not at all," said the Hierophant, rising and moving to show Durest to the door. "You've proven your value, and you seem to have a positive talent for this sort of magic. I'll look forward to witnessing what you do with it."
Aye, I'll bet you will, thought Durest, keeping his ambivalence off his face. He had always been fascinated with death magics, and this was his chance to learn from the best in the business; but his loyalty was to Indra, not the Hierophant or Vecna. Sooner or later the Hierophant might see his lessons turned against him. Sooner or later, Vecna might find that Indra was not the ally he had thought.
...But those were background thoughts; his attention was on the scroll, and on the nature of the magics involved in what it promised.
They stepped from the Hierophant's chambers onto the balcony overlooking the main room, and immediately became aware of a disturbance below. A hobgoblin was kneeling in front of Cassadia Dilva, head down, as she raised the back of her hand. "How did it happen?"
"I don't know!" The hobgoblin sounded terrified. "Please, I only bring the report! Krobisk was on watch. Someone walked up and attacked him!"
"Someone came out of nowhere and slew a hill giant?" asked Dilva, and Durest could hear the frown in her voice.
"It was a dwarf! He wore silver armor, and carried an axe! He tripped Krobisk, and chopped him up where he lay! There was nothing we could do."
"...Have you no archers? No reinforcements?"
"Captain Erlunk, he ordered the attack. But the arrows glanced off the dwarf's armor and he vanished before we could reach him. I gave chase myself!"
"Fool of a hobgoblin." Cassadia Dilva sounded resigned and disgusted, and Durest concluded that she probably wasn't going to kill the hobgoblin in a fit of pique.
Hierophant Malafar said, "What is this?" and the hobgoblin on the floor below went pale.
Dilva turned, looked up at the balcony, and pressed her fingers to her eyes before flicking them outward in a salute. "One of the hill giants was slain while on watch. Not an ambush, exactly, but... strike and run. Possibly designed to lead more troops into a trap."
Durest shook his head, then turned to the Hierophant. "Let me investigate," he said. "It may be a message fer me."
The Hierophant turned his head slightly, regarding Durest with his left eye. "Is it the kind of message you might need help with?"
Durest shook his head. "A family matter, I think. A full troop won't find anything, but if I go, I might."
The Hierophant considered. "Take a few of the skeletons with you. The Quartermaster will have a ring that places four of them under your command. Let me know what you learn."
"...And Durest? Do be careful. I'd hate to lose your services just as you're coming into your power."
We're preparing to ambush the servants of Vecna as they bring the Apparatus of Kwalish overland to Titan's Reach, a very deep lake at the edge of the rainforest section of Duendewood; we're up in a tree. This is an old forest, so the branches start at about 75' up, and extend to the canopy at about 150'. Geddy uses Sphere of Invisibility to hide us as the Vecna-ite caravan approaches at mid-afternoon.
(It's around the 15th of May, in game.)
Azrael's familiar owl, Horatio, is flying through the woods to keep an eye on the approaching caravan; but honestly, the swarm of harpies orbiting the Apparatus is a dead giveaway. There are close to twenty of the things, which is a massive problem. It also means that Horatio wasn't able to get close enough to see how the Apparatus is being transported.
We discuss strategy as the Apparatus approaches. We've left a large mud pit on the far side of one of the two bridges in the area, in hopes of sinking the artifact into the mud. It's passably well hidden, and even if the Apparatus doesn't reach it first, it should still bring everything to a stop and hopefully make our enemies bunch up.
We wait, invisible, as the caravan moves closer, watching from inside a Rope Trick spell.
A pair of hulking corpses are pulling a carriage in the front; a mechanical device is crab-walking along behind it; and a second carriage is in the back. There are additional harpies on the caravan itself, and they look tougher than the others; one seems to be armored and possibly some sort Harpy commander.
Azrael tags himself with Greater Invisibility and floats down out of the Rope Trick. Martini tags Ruin with Greater Invisibilty. Geddy casts Haste on us -- including Rita.
One of the harpies lands in front of the pit and begins picking at the leaves covering it, suspiciously. She squawks something, and stops the lead wagon on the bridge, just before it would have gone in; the other harpies spread out, searching the area.
Azrael drops Incendiary Cloud right between the two Hulking Corpses that are pulling the lead carriage; it's big enough to get the Harpy Priestess as well. The harpies are agile, and dodge the worst of it; the hulking corpses take the full damage. Piling out of the carriage, coughing and choking and burning, are civilians. They... don't survive the experience. What the hell are they doing there? It seems the servants of Vecna anticipated a possible attack, and brought them along -- possibly as hostages, possibly just to mess with us. They're elves, of course, and Ruin goes from 0 to Homicidal Fury in 0.03 seconds.
Azrael then throws a quickened Magic Missile at the Harpy Priestess.
Ruin bamfs down to the rear carriage, and throws open the door. "EVERYBODY RUN AWAY!" The people inside are more elvish civilians, as he expected, and he basically just scared the shit out of them. Unfortunately, they're not moving just yet.
Geddy emerges from the Rope Trick, and begins a countersong to keep the harpies from charming us. He's basically just lounging on a branch, invisible and singing, and keeping the rest of us from being easily killed.
The harpy priestess flies straight up to get out of the Incendiary Cloud, and casts Invisibility Purge because she's not an idiot. Azrael becomes visible, but he was the only one close enough to be caught by this. Unfortunately, it's not just the spell; it's an aura, and it moves with her.
The hulking corpses do not like being burned, so they run forward and fall into the pit; the wagon explodes, and this weird disgusting flying creature busts out of it and hurls itself forty feet into the air to get above the Incendiary Cloud. It seems to be some sort of horrible, winged, rotting thing that scatters filth all around it. The Apparatus turns aside, trying to navigate around the cloud; the two other Hulking Corpses follow, still dragging the rear wagon behind them. Ruin moves up to the edge of the cloud and attacks one of them, wounding it.
The harpies start singing, but with Geddy doing his thing none of us are affected. The harpy archers take shots at Azrael, since he's the only one they can see right now. The first arrow connects, and damages him but also triggers his Mirror Image defense. The remaining four archers hit images instead of him, but that first arrow had a frost enchantment on it and it does a fair amount of damage.
A fireball shoots from the rear window of the Apparatus and lands just behind Azrael; he avoids the worst of it, and is still in pretty decent shape. He moves the Incendiary Cloud closer to the ground, and also a bit further towards the next set of Hulking Corpses.
Azrael tries to drop Maze on the Angel of Decay, but doesn't get past its spell resistance. Which is a damned shame, because this thing is horrible.
The harpy priestess tries a flame strike, hoping to remove some of Azrael's mirror images. Azrael takes the whole thing and is still standing, but not in good shape.
The Angel of Decay isn't fooled by our invisibility; it moves over towards Geddy. The two lead hulking corpses climb out of the pit. The rear hulking corpse that Ruin attacked tries to hit him, but fails; the other one moves away.
Azrael begins singing an ancient Elvish ballad: "I tried so hard, and got so far... but in the end, it doesn't really matter."
The harpies swarm around Azrael, but they all miss; they don't even hit his mirror images. The Apparatus continues on its way.
Whoever's in the Apparatus casts Tasha's Hideous Laughter on Azrael. Azrael manages to resist it, though: "Not. Funny."
The harpy archers attack Azrael again, taking him down to a single Mirror Image. The last one takes out Azrael, though; he falls to the ground, taking more damage. He isn't actually dead, but he's out of action and badly hurt.
Eva sees Azrael go down, and swoops down to grab him and swoop back up into the air. She plucks him off the ground and pulls him out of danger. He vanishes as they depart the range of the Invisibility Purge Aura.
The Incendiary Cloud continues on its way, pouring over Ruin and burning the poor bastards in the back of the wagon. Ruin takes some damage, and moves to the back of the Apparatus. Martini crosses the creek and joins him beside the door into the Apparatus, which is locked.
The Angel of Decay flies up beside Geddy, who is still lying on the branch and singing his countersong. He drops his countersong to cast Greater Dispel Magic to send the Angel of Decay back whence it came. If this thing was summoned, or created by a spell, he has a decent chance of getting rid of it. He's struggling against the Hierophant that created this thing, and... miraculously, he manages it. The angel of decay falls.
The harpy priest moves in on Geddy, and tries a touch attack -- since Geddy is now visible. It casts Harm.
Geddy saves, and avoids the worst of it. The hulking corpses move out to try to tree Geddy and avoid Azrael's fire cloud.
Sixteen harpies start singing in chorus, and we all start wandering towards various different harpies.
Eva manages to shrug it off, but the rest of us are kind of fucked. They attack Geddy, shaking him out of the charm.
Eva hits Azrael with Cure Light Wounds. He can't heal himself, but he is invisible... Eva stays outside of the invisibility purge aura, but positions herself to take out as many harpies as possible.
Azrael is restored to consciousness, and drops a Stinking Cloud on the harpies.
We'll pick up with the effects of that next week.
Marta is paralyzed from the waist down, in a way that Imperial Sorcery has not been able to repair. (There was a magical plague that swept out of the wastes shortly after she was born.) She uses a wheeled chair, but is also perfectly capable of levitating when she cares to make the effort. Her father is a crafter and her mother is a clerk; they both put in their time in the Imperial Army before returning to civilian life, marrying, and having children. Marta is focused, organized, and adept at sorcery; she applied to Sunhaven because the Bright Academies generally expect their students to be physically whole. She has every intention of showing them exactly what they're missing. Her focus is an amulet which she wears around her neck; it resembles a stamped coin, with the image of a wheel on one side and a shield on the other.
It was shortly after midnight and Ruin had just finished the night's trancing when someone pulled the ties loose on his tent and swept the tent-flap aside.
"Martini?" he asked in breathless whisper, silently drawing his kukri. It was a guess: Geddy or Azrael would probably use a cantrip to alert him if something went wrong; Martini was the only one who might come in person. He put his free hand on his sword and made ready to get his feet under him.
The woman outside the tent wasn't Martini, but she was an elf: a true elf, by the looks of her, wearing a very nice dress that looked out of place here in the depths of the jungle. She also didn't look as if she was about to attack him. "Do I know you?" he asked.
"It's Rita," she said.
"Rita?" For a moment he was puzzled; then he let go of his sword so he could clap a hand to his forehead. "So that's why Eva was so insistent that I should pitch a tent instead of trancing in the carriage."
Rita smiled. "She was trying to help us out."
"I seem to be getting a lot of that sort of help lately," Ruin observed, but he smiled as he said it and motioned for her to join him in the tent.
She ducked down and gathered her skirts, then slid inside with him. He straightened and reached past her to refasten the tent flap, then turned to look back at her. She was studying his face, clearly able to see despite the absolute darkness of midnight in the forest. Then she smiled, and gestured to herself. "What do you think?" she asked. "I've never tried being an elf before."
"Well," he said judiciously, "for a majestic dragon, you make a singularly attractive elf."
"Flatterer," she smiled. "You know why I'm here? You don't object?"
"Studying the rituals of lesser beings?" he asked.
"Something like that. It's less scholarship and more personal curiosity, though."
"Nothing wrong with that," said Ruin. "And no, I don't object."
"So how do we go about this?"
"Well," he said, "first, we disrobe." He reached down to unbuckle his breastplate, and watched as Rita fumbled with the laces of her dress.
"Oh, my," said Rita, looking him over when they'd finished undressing. "Do all elves have so many scars? Should I have added some to this body?"
Ruin shook his head. "Your body is just fine," he told her. "I just have an unusual knack for getting myself injured."
"How do you mean?"
He shrugged, and pointed to one that cut across the left side of his chest. "Well, that one was a barbarian with an axe. Annoying, too, since I was invisible at the time." A jagged scar on his leg: "Bitten by a wererat there." A row of parallel scars across his belly: "Mauled by a bear." A slice across his right bicep: "A particularly desperate hobgoblin."
"Oh." Rita reached out, traced a line down his cheek. "This one?"
"Sword. A fighter from a band of human mercenaries who called themselves Los Muertos."
Rita stopped. "Were they undead?"
Ruin shook his head. "Just humans."
Rita looked puzzled. "Then why use the Dwarvish word for...?"
Ruin shrugged. "I think because they thought it sounded scary. And by the time we left them, they actually were dead."
"Oh." Rita looked at him. "Well then, what about those two?" She pointed to a pair of thin scars that crossed each other on the back of his left forearm.
"Human with a knife. One of the ones who murdered my sister."
"Oh," she drew her hand back. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," said Ruin. "I wouldn't have answered if... it was a long time ago, and they're all dead now. And I've met some good humans since then, but I still have trouble trusting them. I'm glad you chose an Elvish body for this."
"I'm getting sidetracked, aren't I?" asked Rita. "I'm sorry. I think..." She tilted her head, thoughtful. "I think I might actually be a little nervous about this. Huh."
"Understandable," said Ruin, "but don't be. We'll take it slowly, and you can stop at any time. Deal?"
He put a hand out, traced his fingertips down her arm to her hand, then lifted it to his mouth and kissed her knuckles. "You see? Done right, it should be pleasant and enjoyable."
"Should I be feeling this... this sense of urgency?"
"Yes," said Ruin. "The gods know, I certainly am. But taking things slowly and letting the urgency build makes it even more pleasurable."
"Very well," said Rita. "Show me."
* * *
It was an hour or so later when Ruin lay back and asked, "I don't suppose you'll join us in ambushing the caravan and taking the artifact, will you?"
Rita lay back as well, catching her breath, and then shook her head. "No, but I'll keep an eye on you from a distance. They might still have some way to enslave a dragon, and if that happens again I want to be in a position to come to the rescue, rather than being enslaved myself."
Ruin considered that and couldn't find fault with it. "Fair."
"So is this... I mean, that was very enjoyable. Can we do it again?"
"Ohhh, yes," said Ruin. "That's also part of the fun."
* * *
"Do you want to tell me what happened to your sister?" asked Rita, the next time they stopped to recover.
Ruin shrugged. "We were staying with some friends out near the edge of the forest. Ilora went for a walk to get some time to herself; when she didn't come back, I went looking for her. I wasn't much of a tracker, but I found her... she told me what had happened before she died. Some human hunters had come into the forest, and stumbled into one of their nets. They... had their way with her, then left her broken and dying in the woods."
"Had their way with her?"
Ruin looked at her and shrugged. "Kind of like what we're doing, but forced. And violent. Among humans and elves, it's a pretty horrible thing to do."
"Oh." Rita's attention turned inward, and he could almost see her thinking that through. "Like with the Orb." Her expression hardened. "Do you want my help in hunting them down? Or..." She glanced at the scar on his arm. "...is that no longer needed?"
"No longer needed," said Ruin. "I traced them back to their camp, caught one of them alone in the woods, and killed him. I took another by surprise when I burst into their camp, and killed the remaining two in a rage, almost before they could find their weapons." He glanced down at the scars on his arm. "Almost." Then he looked over at Rita. "But you offering to help... that's pretty hot."
"It means it makes me want to do more of... what we've been doing... with you."
Rita said, "I would not object to that."
* * *
It was nearing dawn when Rita rose and started pulling on her dress. "I thank you for showing me this. I confess, I've never understood why your people would want to have such soft-skinned bodies, with no wings and no tail; but I think it makes more sense now."
"Thanks," said Ruin. "It was a pleasure to get to know you, too."
"I will go and talk to Eva now," she told him. "Then I'll return to our lair. I'm glad you and your friends are watching over my baby sister. I know what you do is dangerous, but I can almost see her growing up as she travels with you and yours. I think knowing Geddy has been good for her."
He nodded. "I'm glad." Then he smiled. "And... Come back any time if you want a refresher."
Rita considered that, then leaned forward and kissed him. "I might do so, at that."
Yes, Ruin thought as he watched her slip out of the tent. It's a good thing Eva had me pitch my tent out here.Whatever Azrael got up to with Wendy, I do not want to have to explain this to him...
I firmly maintain that this whole episode is our DM's fault. I know for a fact that he read this, and now he's had us head right back into the jungle? Yeah, this encounter was really inevitable at that point.
Also, if we ever do a follow-up campaign for this, I want at least one whole party composed entirely of Ruin's offspring. Possibly they've all come together to search for their father... though that would also depend on how this campaign ends.
I got a bit more done on Shadow Academy last night, despite being exhausted and unfocused. It's not much, but it's more than I had so I'll take it. (And it's still, basically, the story of a young man going off to magic school and what happens there.) I've also, in the interim, found recommendations for two more books in that same genre:
I haven't managed to read either one, yet. (I'm finishing something else first.) But once I do, these two are next up on my list. (I may add Fangirl as well, if I enjoy Carry On.)
I feel like a lot of people are processing their thoughts about the Harry Potter books right now; it's been long enough to get some distance and perspective on them, and perhaps the author behaving badly has also caused a lot of people to reexamine them. I don't know, but I don't see that as any reason not to write my own Wizard School book.
"Werendril," said the Abbess, "this is Ellywick. Ellywick, this is the paladin Werendril and the druid Shondrelle. Ellywick is our librarian."
Werendril bowed to the robed gnome. "A pleasure."
"Likewise, and very much so," she answered, studying him. "You're a true elf?"
"But you're not the father of...?" she trailed off, waggling her fingers vaguely in what might have been the direction of the practice yard.
"No." Werendril shook his head. "Neither of them."
"Yes, well, that would be a bit of all or nothing, wouldn't it? The Abbess tells me that you might have access to some historical documents."
Werendril tilted his head and lifted his gaze to regard the Abbess.
Hilda smiled. "The treaties," she said. "The ones that those adventurers obtained, the ones that form the basis for all those elvish claims to human lands. The ones that almost certainly aren't forgeries, no matter how much the King and certain nobles might protest. I think it might change things a bit if we, too, had copies of those treaties -- copies created and certified by an established historian from our order, and one or more from yours."
Werendril considered that. It made a sort of sense, though politics had never been his strength: the more well-established and widely available the documents were, the harder it would be for the aristocracy of Sol Povos to deny their existence or argue against their authenticity. A joint study wouldn't be unassailable, but it would be much harder to argue with than the claims of elvish scholars who kept the documents to themselves. "So what do you propose?"
"I would like to send for a scholar from Caristhium, with your permission. He is a well-known historian, and has a particular focus on Saint Margery. I would like to send him along with Ellywick into Duendewood, under your care, to look over the treaties and make copies for our archives here."
"Does he have a name?" asked Werendril, interested at this insight into the way the Temple of Amun functioned: they were merciful, they were charitable, and they were not at all above playing politics or even going into battle if it would better people's situations.
"Domian Ulthres," answered the Abbess. "Do you know him?"
Werendril had heard the name, but that was all. He shook his head. "Not really. Enough to have heard him discussed, not enough to have an opinion about him."
Hilda smiled. "Well, for my purposes what matters most is that he's an established scholar and a full-blooded human, without any particular political axe to grind. Pair him with an elvish scholar of similar standing, and while they might quibble over details I expect we'll get a firm assessment of the facts. Let Ellywick add a voice that's neither human nor elven but has an eye for the work of the divine, and..."
Werendril nodded. "It's a good balance, one that comes from both sides. Hard to take issue with something like that. Which is not to say that some on both sides won't try."
"They will," the Abbess said, "but anything that slows our headlong rush to war is all to the good. And while you're there, you can deliver my proposal to Sar Nathlinel."
Werendril glanced at Shondrelle, who nodded firmly. "Very well. So you want me to conduct these two scholars back to Duendewood, and try to arrange such a study?" He'd need his master's help for that, and possibly the weight of the entire order, but he thought it could be done. The Order of the Golden Bow served Corellon, and Corellon would desire above all else the preservation of the elves.
"Just so," said Hilda. "I also thought I might send a couple of others along, to help protect the scholars. A priest and a paladin, perhaps."
Werendril raised one finger and opened his mouth, then sighed and let his finger drop. "In the meantime, your people will help funnel our refugees into Duendewood?"
"We would do that anyway," said the Abbess. "I only regret that we didn't see the need for it earlier."
Werendril turned to look at the painting of the monastery. To his left, this felt very much like the right thing to do, and held the possibility of achieving some considerable good in the world. To his right, it was not going to please the human king -- or, very likely, the paladins of Helios -- or some of the political factions in Annun; they might all be condemned for treason, each by their own people. And that was leaving out entirely the possibility of having to introduce the wizard Baethira to the mothers of her grandchildren, a prospect that frightened him in an entirely different set of ways. Still, it was a task that needed doing, and it had fallen to him. He nodded gently to himself.
But it was Shondrelle who stepped forward, met his gaze, and nodded back. Then she turned and half-bowed to Ellywick, and finally she turned to the Abbess Hilda. "You entrust your people to our care," she said. "We value that. We will not disappoint you."
Werendril swallowed, then nodded. "Corellon grant it be so."
Apparently they were going to do this.
Sar Nathlinel is the head of the Exalted Order of the Bow Made Golden by the Touch of Dawn... erm, the Order of the Golden Bow... and Abbess Hilda Sturmgart's proposal to him is essentially a non-aggression treaty between the paladins of Corellon Larethian and Temple of Amun (which includes both the paladins of the Order of the Titan King and the priesthood of Amun). Essentially, they will avoid each other on the battlefield and may assist each other in healing the wounded and protecting bystanders. Abbess Hilda is entirely serious about trying to prevent the war and rescue everyone they can in the meantime.
It was July 20th in-game when the Abbess sent for Werendril; he arrived around August 5th; so the expedition back to Duendewood will probably leave the Temple around August 10.Which means that Ruin is not going to learn about the existence of his children until at least then, probably closer to August 20, unless... Oh.
We’re on the boat on our way back to Annun, and we’re under attack. There are two dire sharks in front of the boat, and something huge and skeletal under the boat. “Brace yourselves!” cries Ruin, as the skeletal thing moves towards the bottom of the boat. Captain Halmar is calling instructions to the crew. The sharks appear to be acting in a coordinated fashion to redirect the boat.
Tentacles pop out of the water.
One of the arms grabs Azrael, inflicting some negative levels on him. Ruin hacks one of the arms off. Martini casts False Life on herself. Grand Elder Keishara drops a flame strike on the vampiric kraken’s head, injuring it somewhat. Eva reassumes her dragon form and takes to the air. Azrael uses Dimension Door to escape the tentacle, and thus frustrates a vampiric dire shark that was moving in for a snack.
The Kraken then grabs Ruin, inflicting negative levels on him. Geddy and Martini both turn invisible, and Keishara drops another flame strike on the Kraken’s head. Ruin tries to Dimension Door out but fails. One of the sharks promptly dominates him and he starts dog paddling towards its mouth. Another sailor gets dominated and dives into the second shark’s mouth.
Invisible Geddy drops Cure Serious Wounds on the vampire kraken’s head, becoming visible in the process. Martini makes use of her slippers of spider climb and heads straight up the mast, then moves down to try to retrieve Ruin. Eva drops another flame breath attack on one of the dire sharks.
Azrael finishes the vampire kraken with Disintegrate. Martini Water Walks over to Ruin and Dimension Doors him back into the boat and drops the bar across the door. Azrael keeps using empowered Scorching Rays on one of the sharks. We pound on the sharks a bit more, and they finally give up and swim off.
So at this point we need Restoration for both Ruin and Azrael, and there’s only one way to get it: from Sascha/Kroni. Geddy goes to Kroni, who’s shouting threats and epithets, Dominates him, and sends him into quiescence. Sascha, temporarily back in charge, takes time to rest and pray for spells.
The next morning is the Second of May, and Sascha is ready to cure Azrael. The next day he’s able to restore Ruin. So we’re back at full strength a couple of days later when we realize that we’re being pursued by another ship that’s closing on us. It… doesn’t have sails, and it’s moving faster than we are. It also has to be after us; there’s nothing else on the water, and it’s not being coy about heading directly towards us.
We go ahead and cast Death Ward on everybody and drop some other prep spells. Geddy and Eva take to the air, Geddy on his Ebony Fly and Eva in dragon form; they use Invisibility Sphere to vanish.
A dragon leaps off the enemy boat and comes flying towards us, though not at full speed; it seems to be hanging back. Geddy and Eva are looking to see how the boat is propelled but can't tell. It seems to be some sort of magic.
Four Blasphemes teleport over to our boat. Keishara drops Flame Strike on them. The enemy dragon “Drak” comes tearing over towards us. The blasphemes rip apart four of the sailors, and the others flee towards the back.
Drak flies closer and throws a fireball at those of us on the poop deck. The sailors who had retreated back here get immolated. Ruin attempts to Dimension Door onto Drak, and succeeds, thoroughly distracting the dragon.
Martini grabs Captain Halmar and the First Mate, and Dimension Doors them down under the decks. She grabs Sascha’s equipment and dumps it out, then opens his cage. “We need your help!”
Azrael, meanwhile, is high in the air and uses an empowered Scorching Ray on one of the Blasphemes, which does a ridiculous amount of damage but doesn’t actually kill it. Geddy keeps moving towards the enemy boat.
Drak now has an elf on his back. He tries to shake Ruin off, and mostly succeeds; but Ruin catches a claw and starts climbing back up. Azrael drops an empowered Fireball on the Blasphemes, wiping out the wounded one and injuring the others.
Sascha is now out and pulling on his armor while the others help. Eva gets into position beside the enemy boat as Geddy continues approaching.
Geddy casts Rainbow Pattern and becomes visible, but fascinates all but one of the enemy wizards and warriors on the foredeck of the EvilBoat.
Up in the air, Drak tries to bite Ruin but fails. And begins flying higher. Much higher. “All right, you want to fly, sub-creature???”
The Blasphemes start scuttling around the deck, looking for living creatures. They’re still close enough together that Azrael can drop a fireball, so he does. Down in the hold, Martini turns Captain Halmar invisible.
On the other ship, Kaz steps into a pool that’s been set up on the deck; a cloud comes overhead, and he hits Geddy with a lightning bolt. There are also some wizards on the poop deck of EvilShip, and they send a bunch of magic missiles at Geddy. Eva, meanwhile, scorches the foredeck and immolates almost everybody there, and even tags the Kaz for some fire damage; a Mirror Image springs into existence for him. The one remaining barbarian shoots an arrow at Geddy, who collapses and falls off the ebony fly and into the water. From the rear deck, two troopers turn magical ballistae to fire Acid Arrows at the young dragon.
Drak is still heading up into the sky, intent on dropping Ruin from as high up as possible...
Ruin Dimension Doors back down to the poop deck of our boat, leaving Drak way up in the air by himself.
The Kaz tags Eva with a Ray of Enfeeblement, but she breathes fire again and kills him and another guy on the foredeck. The ballistae hit her again, but she moves down next to where Geddy fell.
Drak realizes that Ruin is gone, and dives towards the boat, aiming for Azrael.
Ruin silvers his blade and moves after the Blasphemes. Martini and the others have finished getting Sascha armored just as the Blasphemes find their way down into the hold; she tumbles around behind him. Then she make Keishara invisible.
Azrael looks up and sees Drak on the way down, tries to hit him with a quickened Ray of Enfeeblement but fails, and uses Dimension Door to get over to the other boat… where he promptly gets hit by all the magic missiles in the whole world, which is not quite enough to kill him.
Eva plucks Geddy from the water and flies him back over to the other boat, taking a couple of more hits from the Ballistae on the way.
Azrael drops Cloudkill on the front half of the boat, and drops down under the bow to use the boat for cover. (He's flying; he's been flying ever since the battle started.)
Ruin comes in behind the Blasphemes and tries to attack, but slips and instead throws his sword at Sasha. Sascha smites one of the Blasphemes and takes it out, then turns and smites the second one and continues attacking it.
Eva manages to heal Geddy back to consciousness, and he makes the two them invisible again.
Ruin takes himself over beside Sascha and picks his sword back up. (He's still invisible, and has been since just before he teleported onto Drak; Martini took care of it for him.)
Azrael’s Cloudkill is making its way across EvilBoat, tearing up the enemy forces.
Drak, meanwhile, tries to pilot our boat and fails, sending us veering off in a random direction. Keishara, meanwhile, is an invisible bird who’s summoned a lightning storm and is dropping lightning bolts onto Evilboat.
Sascha smites one of the Blasphemes and takes it down, then starts smiting the next one; it goes as well. Ruin returns to visibility beside him: “How do you feel about dragons?”
Sascha: “Evil dragons?”
Sacha: “I’ve got a few smites left.”
Ruin: “Then let’s take this thing.”
Eva drops her weakening gas on Drak, who’s still on the poop deck trying to steer our ship.
Azrael throws Obscuring Mist above his head, where it will sweep back along the deck of evilboat and hide him from view next round.
At this point, Drak sees Eva and Geddy; he flies up off the deck and tries to hurl a cone of sleep gas back at them. Eva shrugs it off; Geddy passes out.
Azrael rises up behind his cloud and drops Black Tentacles on the back of the boat, capturing two of the ogre barbarians and the one remaining wizard. Keishara takes a moment to cure Sascha of some of the damage he took. The boat turns abruptly, but everybody manages to keep their balance.
Eva shakes Geddy awake and breathes her weakening breath on Drak again. Ruin, meanwhile, has charged up behind it and hit it on the tail. Geddy hits Drak with Tasha’s Hideous Laughter, and he collapses to the deck, dragon-laughing helplessly.
Azrael sinks back down out of the line of sight, leaving the tentacles to do their work.
Eva puts Geddy down and jumps on top of Drak. “Don’t you hurt uncle Geddy!”
Sasha hits the dragon, and at this point we’re pretty much all just pounding on him. Ruin is carving him up when Martini -- who’s been studying the dragon for the last three rounds -- steps in and assassinates him.
Over on EvilBoat, one of the wizards miraculously escapes the tentacles, only to stop as Eva the dragon lands on the boat. Then Kasheira hits him with a lightning bolt and he dies.
The barbarian who had ducked down below decks comes back up and sinks his greataxe into Eva.
Geddy heads downstairs to get Captain Halmar so we can have someone steering our ship again. The rest of us head over to EvilBoat, and Azrael comes up and blinds the barbarian with Glitterdust… right before Eva burns his face off. Sascha moves over to engage King Charth, the ogre, who moves in to attack him; Kasheira drops a lightning bolt on Charth. Charth bludgeons Sascha pretty thoroughly, but Ruin charges in from the other side and does some damage; Eva moves in as well and bites him. Kasheira drops lighting on his head. Sasha takes a 5-foot step back and lays hands on himself, healing a lot of the damage that Charth did.
The boats are now just a couple of hundred feet apart, and more or less on a collision course; Captain Halmar finally takes the wheel of our boat again.
Charth turns and tries to power attack Ruin, hitting… once. Ruin counters, and slays him as Martini finishes killing off the last of the ogres who are still trapped in the tentacles. The battle is over, and while our crew has been slaughtered we now have two boats at our disposal: one a traditional sailing ship, and the other magically-propelled monstrosity that we're absolutely planning to keep.
We leave Captain Halmar and Grand Elder Kasheira to take our ship to a nearby island where they can recruit a new crew before heading back to Annun; the First Mate, Selussa, joins us and takes over the steering of our new magical boat, which Ruin has tentatively named the Unwise Decisions. Our plan is still to stop at a point along the coast, then cross overland to where we can ambush the forces of Vecna as they try to bring the Apparatus of Kwalish through the jungle to retrieve the Hand of Vecna from the depths of Mar Dentro. We'll need to do this before the Hierophant Malefar arrives, because he's insanely powerful and he's likely to arrive with powerful lieutenants.