Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Fanaxia: The Titan and the Elf's Cabin

 We open by looting the bodies. The wizard, the spymaster, and the king are the only ones with any appreciable treasure. There’s a cabinet full of potions; Azrael suggests that it might trapped. So… we Death Ward everybody with the wand, and then Marshall summons 3 celestial monkeys. Elixir of sneaking, oil of darkness, cat’s grace, cure light wounds, and silversheen get brought over from the shelves. The second monkey tries the trap door, and fails to set off any traps. The big adamantium door doesn’t set anything off either. Once they’re done, two of the monkeys start going at it. 

Using the keys we took from the bodies, we unlock the doors. First, we open the trapdoor where the king kept his treasure. It’s… a lot. 18,000 silver, 20,000 G, 1580 pp, 34000 in gems, 19000 in artwork, and a bunch of arcane and divine scrolls. Cloaks of resistance, +2 and +3, staff of conjuration, and a pair of wings of flying which Marshall immediately commandeers. 

We then turn to the adamantium door. Inside is a strange-looking man lying on an altar; he appears to be in some sort of stasis. Marshall attempts to dispel the stasis and succeeds; the man sucks in a breath and tries to sit up. “Thank you for saving me from that nasty giant. Please, take me somewhere where I can really stand up.” 

We take him out of the cell, and he turns back into a titan once the ceiling is high enough. Then he looks at all the bodies. “Did you do all this?” 

Marshall: “We did.” 

Azrael: “There’s still something pulling at him..."

Titan: “After they ambushed me, they kept me trapped…” 

So, the sundering prevented him from leaving Fanaxia and reaching Asguard. Stuck here, the titan was aging, and the Cloud Giant became a priest and his men ambushed the titan. "In my youth, I might have taken them; but they trapped me, and were draining my power to elevate their followers into giants.”

He looks at Tavros: “I have a geas for you.” 

“The grandfather charges you with establishing a church in this land.” He pulls out a necklace. “This necklace, if placed around the neck of a worthy individual, will raise him to the priesthood and make him head of the church here in Fanaxia. If you accept, during this quest you will not be able to detect evil.”

Tavros accepts the necklace. He is now the Sword of Amun, and henceforth wields the Father’s Holy Justice. Ruin asks about Eva, and the Titan suggests that she might have been pulled in many directions. Hyperion the Titan promises that if he runs into her he’ll tell her we’re looking for her and try to help. He then demonstrates Meteor Swarm for Azrael. “You see? Amun is pretty cool.” 

Azrael: “Amun is pretty cool…” He immediately moves to go collect meteor fragments. 

We stop to rest, and Azrael summons a Magnificent Mansion (which he refers to as the Nine Halls, so that he can be the Lord of the Nine Halls) and we rest for the night.

Azrael’s quite sure he can teleport us to the front porch of the shack that he and Ruin feel drawn towards. So, after a brief conversation with another adventuring party -- four people and a dog -- Azrael teleports us to the hermit’s hut. 

The door is open and there are barrels and crates and shit out front, and there’s growling inside and somebody shouting, “Use your noses! That old coot must have hid his treasure around here somewhere.”

Marshall looks at Tavros: “Usual plan.” 

Tavros nods, and whispers, “Get her!”

Two dire wolves are sniffing around in there, a long with a large, hirstute man in a cloak, a belt, and a loincloth, and not much else. 

Tavros strolls in the door: “I say, sir, I must ask you to take your wolves and leave this place where you clearly don’t belong.” He draws his sword. 

Marshall starts enchanting himself for better damage, and move into the house. He makes it all the way to the doorway. Ruin charges in and attacks one of the dire wolves, hitting it very hard but failing to kill it. Also, the wolf has glowing red eyes. Our dude roars and turns into a half-wolf half man. He attacks Ruin, doing a fair amount of damage. A dire wolf follows up, damaging him and tripping him. Marshall moves in and attacks the tripping wolf, which proves harder to hit than the first one, and hits it once. 

Azrael fires off a quickened ray of enfeeblement and a ray of exhaustion on the werewolf, weakening him significantly. The werewolf is larger than he was; he reaches out and attacks Tavros. The wolves attack Tavros, rending him; Marshall heals him. Tavros takes that moment to step forward again and tags the weaker of the two dire wolves, taking it down. Azrael follows up with an empowered Scorching Ray on the other wolf. Both the wolf and the werewolf attack Tavros; the werewolf does some damage but the wolf misses. 

Ruin starts loosing arrows and sinks two of them, one into each of the wolf’s eyes. (Ironic, since Ruin was the young barbarian who disdained the bow in favor of hitting things at close range with a sword.) The wolf goes down. 

The werewolf attacks Tavros again, hitting him twice. Tavros is still up. Marshall moves in, and the wolf turns and attacks him on the way in, doing some damage. He casts anti-magic field, causing the dude to revert to human form. “Oh, you son of a bitch!” 

Marshall: “Do you yield!?” 

“Fuck you!”

Marshall: “You’re going to regret that when I turn into a giant snake!” 

“Big talk!” 

Tavros moves around and flanks him, hitting him; Ruin charges and attacks as well. Marshall steps in and attacks, hitting once but failing to damage. Tavros attacks again, then steps back to avoid his whirlwind attack; Ruin finishes him. 

We check the bodies. The wolves have turned back into people; we loot the leader. The cabin is trashed, the trap door is open, and the stairs go gown to a small stone closet. There’s not much here. The cabin actually looks abandoned. 

We pause to do Speak with Dead on the super-were leader. The druid who lives here has all kinds of treasure. He doesn’t know where the old man is. The old man’s name was Zilv. Nothing is downstairs. How long were they here? A couple of hours. How did you know he wasn’t here? He hasn’t been here for months - ran away like a pussy. Pansy little elf-man, tree-hugger. The dead were believes the South will rise again and Northern Fanaxia will fall, praise Urgroth. Malwin’s the boss. He’s in his cave. By the waterfall, to the east, here on tooth island. 

Ruin and Azrael go downstairs and immediately spot the secret door. We open it and find a basement room overgrown with roots with a masonry stone table to one side, and a piece of natural stone with runes carved on it is setting on the table. Written on the stone is, “Restore balance to raise me from my slumber.” There’s a thick layer of dust, except there’s an outline as if there’s something lying there. 

Ruin puts a hand out to see if it’s something invisible. 

A voice says, “Welcome, brother,” in Elvish. Everybody except Marshall understand it. Ruin takes Azrael’s hand and puts it on the stone. 

It has years since the sundering and the loss of my people. I am a shepherd without a flock. With the rest of the world gone, I am I fear the last True Elf. Brothers, if you be stout of heart, defeat Malwin and free this land. 

Azrael: “So… unfortunately, Ruin heard this.” 

The compulsion on Ruin and Azrael dissipates. 

Back on the boat, Lord Crowe had shared a story about some merchants that had been cast upon the shore and were captured by a race of giant beastmen who lived on this island. Apparently there was some truth to this. 

Azrael theorizes that what was happening with the apparently-variable difficulty in hitting was actually something interfering with Tavros’ attacks. Tavros, just as a precaution, drops Cure Disease on Ruin -- in case this giant werething might be catching, as it were.

We think that there's probably a set of scales that need to be placed back on the rocks.

We head east and find the cave, which is surround by tracks of dire wolves, wolves, and humans. Ruin and Azrael have this vision of an unnatural cave, with building and trees and rocks and streams; it's an old Elven magic. When Fanaxia was still part of Povos, this would have been near to the druid's groves. Now, of course, it's been taken over by werebeasts.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Writing Class

So there's another class by one of my favorite writing teachers coming up at WriterUniv.com in September, and I just signed myself up to take it. I've taken this one before, and I still have all my notes and all the handouts and I could reproduce the technique that's being taught here without paying for another class. So why would I be taking it again? Well... 

First off, I'm still trying to make progress on the Magic for Monsters boarding school story. (I'm making progress, actually, but dark gods it's slow...) Second, things are about to get hellishly busy around here and a class like this... even if I don't have a particular "Eureka!" moment -- even if I don't gain any new insight into the story at all -- a class like this helps me stay focused on it. It gives me reasons to keep thinking about it when I'm dealing with all manner of distractions and disruptions. Assuming that at some point we come out the other side of our present troubles, it helps me remember what I was working on with the story and what I wanted to do; it makes me less likely to drop the thing and then spend weeks trying to come back to it. 

It's a good class, and if you're trying to write a book-length project (even a novella) I would recommend it. But learning new techniques isn't the only reason to take a writing class, especially one like this.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Character Sketch: Nadia Gheata

Nadia is starting on her first year at Sunhaven Academy. She is fully human, small and slim and pale and blonde, and only slightly unusual for choosing to study at Sunhaven despite being born to House Tecuceanu, which holds a wide area of farmlands and vineyards near the center of the empire. Nadia has a solid general background in sorcery, with a specialty in ice magics. She is well-versed in Imperial politics, though generally from the perspective of the Houses of Light; she is also surprisingly capable with staff or spear. Her focus is a red-gold ring that she wears on her left hand; it becomes a longknife or a sword when she needs it to. She fights left-handed, but does all of her writing, drawing, etc. right-handed. 

Nadia is still feeling her way along in an unfamiliar environment; she knows the houses and clans of the Midnight Accord, but she isn't intimate with them.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Fanaxia Bystanders: One Big Giant Mystery

"Can't we just go back to the boat, Ferd? There was food on the boat."

Shiggae was whining again, and Ferd was about one more complaint away from throwing him right off the side of the mountain. They'd brought food -- they'd brought plenty of food, enough for weeks -- but of course Shiggae and his hound Scouty had eaten every single bit of it over the course of the last two days of hiking. "Shiggae," he said, trying not to show his irritation, "the faster you and Scouty lead us to the top of the mountain, the faster we can solve the mystery and go back to the boat." 

"I wonder if there really is a titan," Valme mused absently. "That would be amazing. Just think of how much we could learn."

"I'm thinking about what walking around in the wilderness like this is doing to my boots. Just look at them! I'll never get the scuffs out." Dephna shook her head sadly and sighed, and Fred reached over and steered her around a tree that she had nearly just walked into while staring at her boots. 

"Probably just giants," Valme said. "Tales do grow in the telling." 

Shiggae stopped walking. "Cloud giants, at least," he whispered theatrically. "That one's asleep!"

Scouty whined, and Ferd shook his head. "Even cloud giants breathe when they're asleep. This one's dead. So's the guy beside him." 

"What guy?" asked Dephna. Then she focused on the second, far smaller corpse and said, "Oh." 

They were all silent for a long moment. Then Dephna asked, "Do you suppose they killed each other?"

Scouty moved cautiously forward, and Shiggae followed. "It looks like..." he bent down, studying the snowy ground as Scouty sniffed around and then made one of those grunting noises that sounded almost like words. "It looks like they were fighting, but not each other. And, like, do you see those two gargantuan daggers? And that gargantuan mace? I think the giant dropped the daggers. But the human isn't holding a weapon."

"That's strange," said Ferd. 

Valme glanced at Dephna. "Maybe he was enlarged when he was fighting." 

Dephna frowned. "But who would carry around that big a weapon just so it would be the right size when you enlarged yourself?"

"We should keep going," said Ferd. 

"Aww, do we have to?" asked Shiggae. 

"Yes," said Ferd. "Keep us on the path, guys."

Shiggae and Scouty exchanged a look, then started off again. 

By the end of the afternoon they'd found three more human bodies and two dire tigers, all of whom appeared to have been caught in some sort of rock slide, and finally arrived at a cave with two more dead tigers out front. "This isn't making me nervous at all," said Shiggae, eyeing the dark hole in the stone with a wariness that bordered on panic. Beside him, Scouty shook his head and huffed: "Uh-uh."

"Well," said Ferd, "there's only one way to find out what's in there," and then he started walking towards the cave entrance. 

"No there's not," Dephna said to Valme, quietly conversational, as they followed along behind him. "I'm a sorceress. Not the most powerful one, but still. There are plenty of ways to find out." 

"Don't tell me," said Valme, equally quiet and conversational. "Tell your boyfriend." 

"He doesn't listen," Dephna said, shaking her head sadly. 

Valme stopped and turned back to Shiggae and Scouty. "Come on, guys. Safety in numbers and all that. You don't want to be left alone out here, do you?" 

"A-alone?" asked Shiggae, immediately moving to follow them. 

Valme turned back to Dephna. "Maybe you need a better boyfriend," she said. 

"Maybe I don't need a boyfriend at all," Dephna said, and took her hand. 

They were still holding hands when they reached the cave entrance and stopped again. The two dead dire tigers were badly scorched and beginning to decay; they'd probably been dead for a full day, and they still smelled of burned hair. Ferd, however, was not looking at them. Instead, he was looking at a corpse that lay in the cave mouth. Or was it two corpses? No, this was very definitely two halves of the same corpse, a human who had been neatly bisected down the middle. 

"Something bad happened here, guys," Shiggae moaned. 

"But what was it?" asked Ferd. "That's the real mystery..." 

Valme and Dephna exchanged a glance, neither of them quite rolling their eyes; but they followed Ferd when he pulled out a glowing rod and led them into the cave. 

They stood, looking around at the large cavern beyond the entrance. There'd been a rockfall, obviously. Probably not natural, Valme thought. And under the rockfall... "Corpses," she said. "So many corpses." Humans, dire tigers... and over there, on the floor, a pair of cloud giants. They hadn't been buried by a rockfall; they'd fallen in battle. And there was a third one, collapsed at the top of a small stone cliff that had probably been little more than a step for them. 

"Welp," said Shiggae, "they aren't titans. Just cloud giants. Mystery solved. Can we go back to the boat now?"

Ferd shook his head, stubborn as always. "A titan might still be around here. We need to find out what happened to them."

"I can tell you that," said a new voice, and all four of them started. Dephna shrieked; so did Shiggae. Scouty was halfway back to the cave entrance before he realized that none of the others were following and began to slowly circle back. 

Standing on the ledge, just at the edge of the light, was an elf. His sword was sheathed, but he had a hand on its hilt; his expression as he regarded them was completely blank. There were other figures behind him -- three of them, Valme thought. A big one, with reptilian features. Another elf, slim and robed and looking unutterably bored. A rotund human in metal armor, holding a scythe. 

"We did," said the elf in front. "We happened to them." Then he raised his free hand and the entire group vanished. 

Ferd grinned maniacally. "A mystery."

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Challenge: Books into Films

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 "book I wish they'd make into a movie or TV series" and let me tell you, I didn't even have to think about it. 

It's Martha Wells, of course, but it's not Murderbot -- I honestly don't think that a movie could do Murderbot justice. No, it's The Books of the Raksura. It's got everything:

  • A cranky protagonist.
  • An even crankier mentor-figure.
  • A matriarchal society of were-dragons.
  • Flying ships. 
  • Ancient mysteries. 
  • Strange magics.
  • A sprawling fantasy world in which none of the races are human, and which owes more to Nature Channel documentaries than to medieval Europe.
  • Dangerous enemies. 
  • Amazingly cranky queens.
  • Some surprisingly sweet moments and all the little details that make the world come alive. 
  • Five full books and two short-story collections to work from. 

Seriously, the Books of the Raksura are just begging to be made into a TV series, and someone should have optioned them ages ago. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Fanaxia: The Cave of the Cloud Giants

After defeating the dragon, we split into two new parties. 

Ruin, Tavros, Azrael, and Marshall are headed up to Tooth Island, to seek a True Elf and Titan who are said to be there. (Martini, Geddy, Leira, and Alexej will be going to find more information on Kroni, but that’s a later session.) Marshall goes around talking about killing the dragon and claims a 250 GP reward. So, to recap:

  • Ruin: True Elf, Horizon Walker, can Dimension Door every 1d4 rounds, fights with either a falchion or a bow. 
  • Tavros: half-dragon paladin, who also fights with a falchion. 
  • Azrael: Goth elf wizard. 
  • Marshall: human cleric of Artem-hiss.

So, we accept the good Lord Crowe’s (“the Goldenmaster”) offer to sail us up there. Tooth island is probably volcanic; there’s a single peak that dominates the island. The titan is supposed to live on the top of the mountain. 

Tavros has taken advantage of the opportunity to talk to the younger Lord Crowe, and Marshall tries to gather information but ends up talking to one of the sailors by accident. Lord Crowe seems to be a pretty decent guy; he lives this far north to avoid his father. He knows there are some giants around up there, but he has some doubts about the titan. 

Marshall makes us hugely popular by casting Heroes' Feast, and then proceeds to convert some of the sailors to the worship of Artem-hiss. His initiation rite involves letting them get bitten by snakes. Fortunately, both of the sailors are fine. (Heroes' Feast makes you immune to poison.) 

Lord Crowe drops us on the eastern shore (the north and west are too rocky) and Azrael and Ruin are irresistably drawn to the west side of the island. Something there is calling to them. Azrael thinks this through, and decides that it’s probably a very powerful spell called Sympathy, probably cast by someone really powerful. He's impressed.

Tavros: “It looks like a two-day walk.” 

Azrael: “It looks like a half-second teleport.” He brings us into the air about twenty feet above the peak of the mountain, and we fall into the snow. 

We’ve landed in a bunch of stone ruins, full of columns and giant buildings; it looks like it was built for beings that were maybe three times larger than us. We take a moment to look around after we dig ourselves back out of the snow. Marshall immediately notices that a lot of the destruction here isn’t just time; there was a battle here, and traces of it are still visible. Ruin looks at the amount of snow and ice and concludes that whatever battle happened here, it was decades ago; he also spots something that might be a path. There’s also a raised area under a section of snow nearby, perhaps a dais or altar or something. 

Azrael digs around on the dais, and finds some old clothes… and a crappy old Falchion, rusted and nicked and very large. It’s very much of a size with Tavros' falchion, which is curious. There is an altar to Amun, but it’s been defaced with the sigil of Asmodeus. Tavros immediately tries to wipe it off, but it’s… burned into the stone somehow. Tavros turns to Marshall, who consecrates the altar, and in the process learns that whoever did this was a substantially weaker spellcaster than him. Marshall, of course, is not surprised by this. 

The mark on the altar fades and vanishes. We look around a bit more, and Ruin points out the long-snowed-over path. Marshall, however, takes the sandal and attempts to scry on the titan. He sees a man in a toga sleeping on an altar in a relatively small room. He seems to be human-sized; he also looks sick. Marshall also faintly hears some kind of low speech on the far side of the door; he casts Comprehend Languages. There are two giants talking to each other. One is King Titanus, and the king is displeased because a hunting expedition came back without any food, and he sent them back out with tigers to try again. 

We follow the path -- not very quietly -- and find ourselves in a bit of a valley when we look up to see a cloud giant with a dire tiger on one side and two giants and a tiger on the other side. 

Tavros: “Ho! Fellows! We come bearing food! Perhaps we could parley?” 

The best-equipped of the cloud giants, the one with the nicest armor, chuckles. Then the tigers attack, and one pounces on Marshall and just tears into him. Another claws at Ruin. who turns around and lays into it with his falchion, just carving it up. (OOC: 156 damage.) The tiger dies. 

The cloud giants look at each other, and the leader just roars in anger at losing one of the tigers. Marshall, still pinned by the tiger, casts Sanctuary; Tavros steps in and cuts it in half. The lead giant roars again. 

Tavros: “I *did* offer to parley!”

Giant: “Fools! You are the food!” They charge. 

Azrael hits two of them with Waves of exhaustion; they hit the bottom of the ridge at half speed, and Ruin attacks one giant, definitely getting its attention; Tavros then attacks the leader, hitting once and getting its attention. Azrael tags the leader with a Ray of Enfeeblement, further penalizing its strength. The giants are equipped with gargantuan morning stars, and the giant next to Ruin tags him twice; this is going to hurt. Tavros attacks the leader again, injuring him but leaving his sword stuck in the giant's thigh; Tavros is now unarmed.

The exhausted follower-giant swings at Tavros but misses. The even-more-exhausted leader also tries to attack Tavros. He’s raging to counter the exhaustion, and hits Tavros once. 

Ruin attacks again, hitting twice. And doing more damage; Ruin has no sense of self-preservation. Marshall reaches over and Heals Ruin, bringing him back to full health. Azrael takes another step back from the giants, and hits the non-exhausted giant with an empowered Scorching Ray. The giant goes down, and the ground shakes as he lands. 

The remaining exhausted giant attacks Tavros again, but misses. The leader grabs Tavros and scoops him up: “I take you to King Titanus!” Ruin steps over and attacks him, but misses. Marshall also steps over and attacks, hitting all three times. Tavros exhales a cone of cold into the leader’s face (pro-tip: never grab a half-dragon), and Azrael uses another empowered Scorching Ray. Meanwhile, the giant we killed has collapsed down to human size. 

The captain wipes the frost from his face and throws Tavros straight up into the air. He comes plummeting back towards the ground… and Azrael casts Feather Fall just before he hits. The uninjured giant attacks Marshall, hitting him twice. Ruin hits the leader again, and he staggers. 

Tavros lands beside the leader, reaches out, and wrenches his sword free from the giant’s leg. Then he cuts him down, leaving one giant remaining. Azrael tags him with a scorching ray, and the giant turns and runs. Ruin teleports ahead of him and the giant comes to an abrupt halt. “Don’t kill me!”

Tavros comes running up behind him, yelling for him to surrender. He drops his weapon. 

Tavros: “Why did your friends turn into humans when they were killed?”

Giant: “Uh. Well. I… I’m not sure, but there’s a rumor that we used to be humans.”

Ruin: “And you can be again, only dead this time.”

Giant: “I don’t remember anything about it. King Titanus and the Special Ones won’t talk about it.” 

Tavros: “Who are the special ones?” 

“King Titanus and his wizard, and his spymasters. They’re the special ones. The warchiefs under them aren’t part of their council.”

Tavros: “If we let you go, you can’t go back to King Titanus.”

Giant: “I know! I bet if you took that special artifact from King Titanus you could turn us back to humans!”

Azrael: “Go on.” 

Giant: “King Titanus is a chosen of Asmodeus.”

Tavros: “Well, if you wake up in a day or two as a human, you can come back. Meantime, go somewhere where King Titanus won’t find you.” He’s pretty sure the giant won’t come back. 

Ruin and Azrael, on the other hand, are pretty sure that he’s going to betray us; they Dimension Door after him and finish him off. 

Marshall sighs and casts Speak With Dead. “How many if you are there in the keep?” 

There were 20. 

“Are there any passwords or traps that we have to deal with to get in?” 


“Is King Titanus actually a titan, or is he just a Cloud Giant?”

Cloud giant, and priest of Asmodeus. 

How many cloud giants would it take to kill Titanus? 

He can draw power from his god, so... all of them, maybe.

Titanus is master of the artifact!

Is there a secret passage leading inside? No. 

Do we get there by following this path? Yes. 

Where’s the sentry? Up ahead. 

Are there more tigers? Ohhh, yes. 

What does he fear most? He most fears being stabbed in the back by the spymasters. 

There’s a trapdoor in king Titanus’ room, he keeps his treasure there, 

There isn’t anything living besides the tigers and the cloud giants? No. 

...We spend a bit of time discussing strategy; then Azrael organizes us to make it look like a rockfall swept the giants off the side of the mountain. We go back and rest in Azrael’s Magical Mansion, then come back the next day to begin our assault. 

Our first obstacle is the door to the cave: the giants don't use traps because they just drag these  huge blocks of stone into place to block off the entrance. Second obstacle: a couple of dire tigers are sitting out front. Marshall summons a noble salamander and sends it over to engage the tigers; then we wait for the giants to open the door. The tigers and the salamander immediately dissolve into a massive fight. 

Warchief: “Bawlion, get out there and see what’s going on!” 

“Chief, there’s like a giant fire snake out here.” 

Marshall casts Earthquake into the cave. Rocks fall from the ceiling, striking the giants and dire tiger and pinning most of them. Azrael casts Haste, and Ruin Dimension Doors us into the cave. Tavros moves to intercept the giant who isn’t pinned, and Marshall drops a Mass Cause Serious Wounds. 

Tavros moves up and engages the giant in the doorway, hitting him and getting his attention. Azrael drops an empowered Fireball on the two giants and the warleader in the training pit. The giant in the opening attacks Tavros, but misses; another door back in the cave gets slid open, and King Titanus emerges. Ruin fires arrows at him, but they shatter on his armor. The wizard and one of the spymasters is standing in there with him. The wizard drops a fireball, but Marshall has cast spell resistance and Ruin has it as a True Elf; neither is scorched. Tavros hauls off with one of those full-on anime attacks and cuts the cloud giant in half (OOC: 254 damage). 

Azrael moves over and casts quickened Ennervation on the cloud giant wizard, and strips four levels of spellcasting off him. King Titanus casts Invisibility Purge and moves up beside Azrael. The spymaster moves up also, and tries to stab Azrael; the first attack triggers his Mirror Images. His second attack hits one of the images. 

Ruin moves in to flank him, taking a bit of damage on the way in, then lays into the guy with his falchion. Marshall… turns into a giant snake. A really huge, gargantuan snake. He slithers over to King Titanus, bites him, and then wraps around him. The Cloud Giant wizard moves up and casts glitterdust on Azrael and the Spymaster. Tavros charges across the room, and cuts into the spymaster. Azrael uses Dimension Door to get out of danger, then drops Acid Fog on the spymaster and the wizard. 

The Spymaster attacks Ruin, hitting once. Ruin moves five feet back, then cuts into him; the spymaster isn’t looking too good. Tavros attacks, but loses his sword -- it flies all the way to the far side of the acid fog. Marshall tries to pin King Titanus but fails; Titanus tries to escape but fails. Ruin uses Dimension Door again and takes Tavros over to the far side of acid fog, behind the wizard. The wizard tries to cast Blindness on Ruin, but doesn’t get past Ruin’s spell resistance. Tavros picks his sword back up. 

Azrael drops quickened, empowered Magic Missiles on King Titanus… twice. Titanus tries to break out of the grapple and finally succeeds. Ruin attacks the wizard, but misses and drops his sword. 

Marshall, still a snake, casts Slay Living. It doesn’t slay him, but it does do Titanus some damage. The wizard is almost out of spells; he attacks with his staff instead, hitting Ruin once. Tavros moves in on him, flanking him -- and takes some damage on the way. He swings at the wizard but misses. 

Azrael tags King Titanus with a weakening spell and follows up with an empowered scorching ray. The king casts Cure Critical Wounds spell on himself. Ruin picks his sword back up, but misses the wizard. Marshall attacks King Titanus, biting him but failing to grapple. Azrael finishes the king off with an empowered scorching ray. Ruin attacks the wizard, carefully aiming his cuts, and gets through this time. The wizard attacks Tavrios again, but misses. Tavros injures him some more, and Ruin finishes him. 

So much for the Cloud Giants. We'll loot the place and try to free the titan next week. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

Are you kidding me?

So, last Thursday was my crash day; I hit the end of my rope and more or less collapsed. Friday would have been a good day to take things slow, but... no. Instead of methodically working my way through projects, I had a lot of things coming at me; my interruptions had interruptions. That kind of day. 

And by the time I got home I was... overstimulated, overwhelmed, and done. I literally walked in the door, put my pack down, climbed into the bed, and planted my face in the pillow for... an hour and half? Maybe two. 

And then I got a call from work, because some of the forms in our document management system weren't opening, and the document management system is my baby. At eight o'clock. On a Friday night. For a system that we don't have after-hours support for. 

So I rebooted servers, checked disk space and system resources, looked for errors. The first error seemed to indicate that it was a problem with the ODBC connection to the SQL database, but of course by then it was after nine on a Friday and nobody was answering their phones; I finally got somebody to confirm that we hadn't been upgrading our SQL setup or anything that would blow out the ODBC connections, which was reassuring on one level and frustrating on another. 

And then at ten o'clock I got a text from someone else, explaining that none of the documents were opening. It wasn't just the forms anymore; it was everything. And we still don't have after-hours support, and I can't get ahold of anybody at our vendor's office. By then I'd started notifying people higher-up in the IT hierarchy, starting with my boss and the co-worker who also works on this system. I'd also tried a different client and gotten a better, more detailed error that seemed to indicate that the problem was with a particular table in the database.

I swore off it at a quarter to eleven, told the assistant CIO that I'd call our sales rep first thing in the morning and see what it took to get us after-hours support, and that I'd keep everybody posted. Fortunately, we don't have a lot of people in that system on the weekends; unfortunately, the people who are tend to be 9-1-1 operators and the Judge. 

So there I was, on a weekend when I desperately needed to be resting and getting my shit back together, waking up at 7:30 in the morning to call our sales rep directly. Fortunately, she answered. Even more fortunately, she was willing to hook us up with support and bill us later, and by eight o'clock I was back to troubleshooting and probably ten minutes after that we'd determined that yeah, we definitely needed to get the software company on the line. I'd also managed to send follow-up messages to the folks I'd left messages for the night before, saying that never mind, it was something fairly specific and I probably didn't need them unless we had to restore the database from a backup, gods preserve us. 

So it was... 9:45 Saturday morning, I think, by the time we'd fixed the issue and I'd confirmed that things were working again and started notifying people. The issue was in the table that I'd thought it was, and it was basically that we'd hit a maximum number of records within sequel and needed to reset the count. So this issue might conceivably come up again, in a decade or so. Basically, the table tracks document histories: when the document was created, when it was modified, who looked at it, etc. And it was effectively full, so when someone tried to open a document the system would try to write a record of that transaction to this table, and the table would basically reply with, "Phphphphphphphphbt! No room!" 

I'm still going to have deal with the "and bill us later" part of getting support -- the very idea makes me tired -- but the system's up and working again and my weekend is only sort of all shot to hell. 

...Or, at least, that's what I said on Saturday, before we woke up Sunday morning to find that the air conditioner wasn't cooling the house. In Texas. In August. 

I'm so tired. 

Fortunately, we know a guy in our area who's very, very good at such things, and he was able to swing by at noon. Turns out some sort of supplemental component in the outdoor section of the system had quit working, and he was able to replace it on the spot, in less than half an hour -- and for a very reasonable price. And while it took most of the afternoon, the house did get back down to its normal temperature. 

Then the dog ate a plate of bacon I'd prepared as a snack, while I was on the other side of the house sorting school pick-ups and other bits of logistics; but by that point I didn't even care. I just made myself another plate. Dog's gonna dog.

So that's where I am right now. I need to pick up Secondborn from school on Monday and Tuesday, and I'm almost deliriously unfocused. I'm still going to go into work, because there are still several projects I need to get done...

But there may be a day or two this week where I just let a lot of things go to voicemail while I tackle things at my own pace.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Burned Out

I finally crashed yesterday. I'd been trying to do it Tuesday night, but my body didn't cooperate -- possibly because I got a lot done at work and was still riding an adrenaline high. I could feel it coming, I just couldn't get ahead of it enough to make it happen overnight. 

No, instead I woke up Thursday morning to the realization that the CPAP machine had somehow gotten unplugged during the night, which meant that I hadn't been breathing as well or sleeping as deeply as I needed, and that I had nothing left. I got up, got Secondborn up, put food in front of him, and then fixed the CPAP machine. 

And then I sent an email to my boss and went back to sleep. And despite a couple of work-related interruptions, I slept until about 1:00. And it was good sleep, with lots of weird dreams and rapid eye movements. So I checked to make sure that nothing else was on fire, helped a couple of people who needed guidance with one thing or another, and other than that basically didn't do anything. I think I did maybe an hour of total work; the rest of the day was just me being useless. 

Well, I say that. I collected the boys, got them dinner, and walked the dog... because Beautiful Wife wasn't doing any better than I was. But she made it through her day, got home, and went to bed -- and honestly that's the best idea I've seen in years, so I'm going to go do the same. 

So here, have some Halestorm for the occasion:

And here, if you want something a little... lighter... Thomas Benjamin Wild Esq.:

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Fanaxia: Bystanders

"Remind me why we're walking," said Ferd, tall and blond and broad-shouldered in his neat clothing and polished armor.

"Because we can't afford horses," said Shiggae, who was taller than Ferd but thin, and wore daggers at his belt. His clothes were rumpled and sloppy, and the armor he wore over them was stained in a dozen places. A rangy, equally-rumpled hound walked at his side.

"Remind me why we can't afford horses?" said Ferd

"Guys," said Shiggae, "That wasn't my fault!"

The sorceress Dephna, tall and slim and beautiful, immaculately dressed despite the near-constant rain, sighed. "Really? It wasn't your fault that you and your dog snuck downstairs in the middle of the night, ate everything in the storeroom, and nearly burned the inn down while trying to cook?"

"Scouty and I were hungry," Shiggae protested. "What were we supposed to do?"

The hound huffed under its breath, sounding almost as if it were speaking words of agreement.

"Did you consider waiting until morning?" asked Valme, taking off her glasses and wiping them dry again. The rain immediately splattered them again, and she scowled momentarily up at the sky. Her hair was red and cut in a bob, spreading out just above the high collar of her robe.

Thunder rumbled, and Valme abruptly stopped walking.

Two steps ahead, Dephna turned back. "Valme?"

Valme was still looking up at the sky. "Did you see that?"

Ferd stopped and turned to look at her, then looked up at the sky. "What did you see?"

Valme gestured vaguely. "It looked like... the glowing outline of a dragon, up in the air."

Ferd's eyes widened. "A mystery! We should investigate."

"Aww, do we have to?" Shiggae's response was expected, and the hound at his side was also shaking its head.

"The ghostly image of a dragon in the sky?" asked Ferd. "We need to check this out."

Then, suddenly, the dragon was there: huge, malevolent, with gleaming white scales. They watched as a series of golden arrows slammed into its side, and it twisted in the air, snarling.

The hound made a sound like, "Rut-ro," and Shiggae nodded in agreement. "All right, we investigated, and that's a real dragon and it's big and angry and if it notices us we're all going to die."

Valme blinked behind her glasses. "I hate to say this, but for once I have to agree with Shiggae. A dragon who survives to that age is a cunning, cautious beast. If it's fighting something here, we should be... somewhere else."

She looked around to see what the others thought, and found that Shiggae and Scouty were already gone; she could see them, barely, dodging through the trees in a direct line away from the dragon. Dephna was nodding, and met Valme's eyes. "I'm too pretty to let myself get eaten by a dragon."

Ferd turned to them. "We should still investigate," he said stubbornly, but then he shook his head and added: "...but maybe after the dragon has gone."

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Challenge: One Task

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 "one task I wish I never had to do again". 

And really, how do you narrow that down to just one?

Still, speaking as a parent... "clean up poop." I would like to never again have to clean up poop. Poopy diapers, poopy underwear, that one poor towel on the bathroom floor after The Cashew Incident with the dog... it never ends. The lizard's cage? Full of poop. Needs cleaning. Back when we still had cats? Soooo much poop. Small children who don't eat enough fiber? Poop. I don't think I can adequately describe the extent to which Being A Parent is completely entangled with Cleaning Up The Poop. It always comes back to the poop. 

And I'm tired of it. No more poop. If I could afford a professional poop-handler to deal with any and all poop that comes along, I'd hire one. If a genie could make it so that I never had to deal with poop again, that would be my wish. High-tech robotic poop cleaner and disposal unit? I'd put it on layaway, yesterday.

No more poop.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Combined Parties: The Dragon Battle

 We gather at a spot outside of the city, with a pond and some trees and most importantly a cave. We park the Apparatus near the cave, and summon Phantom Steeds for the melee folks while it’s still a good 200’ in the air. Ruin sees its shadow circling over the Apparatus and passes the word, using the Message effect that we prepared. 

We have prepared extensively: hero’s feast to avoid its fear effect, various sorts of cold resistance and protection, invisibility to avoid being torn apart by claws, phantom steeds so the melee fighters can fly. 

Azrael is flying; he rises into the air and positions himself near a dragon. Geddy now throws Haste on us; Marshall summons a noble salamander (the fire beast, not the lizard). The dragon swoops lower and casts a spell; Azrael identifies it as True Strike. Martini looks the dragon over, but it doesn’t seem to be looking at her. Leira prepares a scorching ray and waits for it to get into range. Tavros circles down to the ground. Alexej screams something loud in his native tongue, and runs into the entrance. 

Azrael drops Wave of Exhaustion on the dragon, exhausting it. (-6 dex, -6 str, half movement speed) and then follows up with a quickened Ray of Enfeeblement (-14 str). Both get through the dragon’s spell resistance, weakening it substantially. He then heads down towards the entrance. 

Geddy starts singing, and Marshall casts Sanctuary on himself. 

The dragon moves back up and attacks Azrael, clawing the heck out of him but not actually killing him. Azrael is suddenly surrounded by Mirror Images. Martini tries to shoot it, but it’s covered itself in magical protections; she ducks into the cavern. Leira attempts magic missile but something absorbs it -- the dragon has a shield spell up. Tavros taunts the dragon and charges into the cave. Alexej charges the dragon and takes a slap from a claw on the way in; he attacks and hits, 140’ in the air and actually does some damage. First blood!

Azrael uses a quickened Dimension door into the cavern, then casts a quickened ennervation, giving it a negative level. Ruin actually manages to put an arrow in the beast with his magic fire bow; this reveals that the beast has also shielded itself against fire. This is not unexpected.

Geddy fires off a Dispel Magic and strips its magical defenses. Marshall fires off a Fire Storm, and the wyrm fails to dodge. It is also no longer immune to fire, so… (OOC 87 damage). The salander moves up to where it can attack the dragon when it hits the ground. 

The dragon flies 100’ further up; Alexej hits it again as it withdraws. It casts a spell (Fire Shield) that wreaths it in an aura of flame. Leira tags it with Magic Missile, and this time the spell does damage. Tavros yells, “Coward!”

Alexej retreats to the cave. Azrael throws a couple more magic missiles, one regular and one quickened and empowered. Martini taunts the dragon by waving the Hand of Vecna at him, which definitely gets his attention; the problem is, he’s distracted by those of us outside the cave. 

Geddy tries Greater Dispel Magic but fails to remove the fire shield. Marshall moves into the cave and uses Mass Cure Serious to cure Azrael and Alexej. The dragon casts another spell and disappears: greater invisibility. Martini taunts the dragon with the hand, and then goes back into the cave; Ruin follows and positions himself at the far end. Marshall casts Resist magic, and then adds Divine Favor and Divine Power; he then adds Freedom of Movement, and drops more healing on Azrael and Alexej. 

The dragon reaches and tries to grab Leira; Azrael catches it with Glitterdust as it yanks her out, then launches itself straight up into the air. Leira dimension doors right back into the cave, and the dragon roars with rage. Tavros calls: “Well, that didn’t go the way you expected, did it?” The dragon curses extensively in Draconic. 

Ruin calls for everybody to move back from the entrance, and Geddy tags the monster with Greater Dispel Magic again, stripping its defenses again. The dragon goes another 100’ up and casts Protection from Energy. Martini uses Dimension Door to get onto the dragon’s back, latching her slippers of spider climbing to it but losing her balance; she is prone on the back fo the dragon. Leira tries a Dispel Magic. Azrael throws out empowered magic missiles, and does a perfectly ridiculous amount of damage. 

Ruin teleports up as well, but immediately falls back off; Azrael hits him with Feather Fall just above the ground. 

Geddy tries Hideous Laughter, but fails. Marshall drops Freedom of Movement on Tavros. The dragon drops like a hawk, coming down on top of Ruin and pinning him. However, the salamander has been standing right there and attacks, but misses. Martini, on the dragon’s back, makes a full attack and hits him three times, sneak attacking for a ridiculous amount of damage. Tavros charges and hits with his sword for a decent amount of damage. Alexej moves up behind Tavros and attacks over his shoulder. 

Azrael uses an empower magic missile, gets through its spell resistance, and hurts him some more. Geddy continues singing as Marshall steps in and beheads the thing. (OOC: this was Round 12.) Martini looks at the head: “We should keep that.”

Ruin, darkly, teleporting out from under the dragon: “We should drop this on the Provost’s desk. No, wait, we should leave it in his bed while he’s sleeping.” 

Azrael teleports up to its hoard and retrieves the remaining treasure. 44,000 GP worth, in fact. 

Marshall casts Speak With Dead, so Geddy can try to question it. It fails its Will save, and he begins to question it. Geddy describes the vortex and whatnot for the benefit of the party, then asks the dragon what exactly happened when we took the hand. “Fanaxia was severed from Povos.” 

“When severed, where would non-Fanaxian creatures go?” Most would stay in Fanaxia. 

“If a creature disappeared from Fanaxia, where would they go?” I don’t know.

“What would happen to a metallic dragon?” Povos is one place, Fanaxia is another place, and Asgard is a third place. 

“Who gave you the Hand of Vecna?” I do not remember his name.

“What do you remember about him?” I don’t remember anything.

So our conclusion is that she could be in any of three worlds, or in between. We know Midgard is sealed off from Asgard; we can’t come to the gods in person, and they can’t come to Midgard. Marshall then attempts to cast Discern Location looking for Eva the young gold dragon. Marshall is a bit puzzled about why the gnome is so insistent about this. 

The spell comes back with a sort of vaguely-Fanaxia-but-nothing-specific. This suggests some possibilities, but we’re going to have to go look around. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

Monday Morning, and the Things that Keep Us Going

So... it's Monday again, and I'm still tired. I didn't do much of anything on Saturday, and I did housecleaning and then the youth D&D game on Sunday and I'm still just... ugh. (We played in masks, because the youth are all back in school and our governor -- wretched ghoul that he is -- is fighting tooth and nail against letting anyone establish rules for community precautions. It's still not as safe as I'd prefer, but we're trying.)

So instead of dwelling on the relentless parade of horrors, fears, and impending disasters, I'm trying to stay focused on things that make me happy. We'll be playing D&D tonight; two groups of our characters have teamed up to fight an ancient white dragon that's been enchanted to kill the person who stole the magical artifact it was guarding. 

It should be do-able -- the dragon shouldn't be able to kill all of us before we kill it -- but it's definitely possible that some of our characters might die, and even with eight of us going after the thing it's not going to be easy; dragons are ridiculously powerful. We've spent the weekend preparing our strategies, and I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do. (My True Elf horizon walker, Ruin, will be using a magical bow with a fire enchantment to attack the ice dragon at range; my half-dragon paladin is just planning to try to get close enough to hit it really hard with his sword. He's immune to cold damage, which means that its breath weapon doesn't affect him, but that won't stop it from tearing him apart if it gets the chance.) On the plus side, we're a powerful enough party now that anyone who dies can be brought back.

And, of course, I've got plenty of things to keep me busy at work: I need to finish an upgrade that I started on Friday.  (It's on a test system, so leaving it in place over the weekend wasn't an issue -- but damn I wish this system just did reliable installs. I am working directly in the database to make updates to the SQL tables in order to make the upgrade work, and I should not have to be doing that -- or even have to know how to do that! A well-designed program would not require me to reprogram it on the fly.) (I have written -- obliquely -- about this program before.)

We're creeping up on October, and I'm getting ready to set up the zombie gnomes in the front yard. 

My hair is currently layered in black, silver, and red; this makes me happy. (It also drives my former boss, our assistant CIO, slightly crazy but that's really just a bonus.) 

I have a ridiculously over-the-top mug (resin) that looks like it was carved from a horned human skull, and another that looks like an ossuary. I love them both deeply. 

And, of course, there's always music.

What's keeping you going as we head into this week?

Friday, August 13, 2021

I am tired of these people



Yeah, I'm... "having a moment" over here. We're right back where we were last year in terms of COVID-19, except that by now we should know better... but we still have several Republican governors who clearly want people to get sick, and at least one who's decided that it's more profitable politically to offer a more-expensive "cure" to sick people than it is to keep them from getting sick in the first place. 

I don't even have words for this; just rage. This is my family that these assholes are willfully endangering.

And unlike Dr Manhattan, I can't even teleport to Mars. Even more tragically, I can't teleport our governor to Mars.

I want them to face consequences; I hope they do. But I'm not holding my breath for that.

I am so tired.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Duendewood vs Sol Povos 3: Final Decisions

The final wrap-up as recounted by our DM: 

Eight adventurers sat around a table in the back room of the Striking Asp, one of Styre’s more upscale inns. The tone at the table was serious, as they planned their next steps.

“So it’s settled,” Geddy said, “Tomorrow we kill the dragon. With all eight of us together, we should make short work of it.”

“We’ll see,” said Azrael in a low voice, steepling his hands. He’d already made the point that dragons who’d lived the better part of a millennium were epic and mind-bendingly powerful, but the fools in this room were confident in their abilities. Also, Alexej was somehow under the impression there was more treasure. Azrael didn’t bother telling him that he and Ruin had already taken the best stuff.

“After that,” Geddy continued, “it gets tricky. It seems we will need to split up. I propose we split into two groups of four.”

“A wise choice,” Tavros agreed, “as I have already explained, I must insist on leading the expedition to Dente Island. If the rumors of a titan are true, then I must meet him –“

“Or her,” Martini corrected.

“Yes, of course, the titan may be a female,” Tavros said.

Ruin stood up, “I will go with you.” He paused, then added, somewhat amicably, “Oh my enemy.”

Tavros smiled, “Of course. We will find this elf of yours as well.”

“I would like to try trip a titan,” Alexej said, “but we may not have time. Sacha is my friend, and my Capitaine! I must help him get Kroni out. I go to Vrist. Also, I have never tried Vrist food.”

Geddy nodded, “I’m inclined to go with Alexej, to see what we can do about exorcising this Kroni. Also, I must admit… the story of the Dark One intrigues me. Perhaps if I find out more about Kroni, I can add a few passages to my ballad.”

“You’re not going without me!” Leira blurted. “This Kroni is infesting my boyfriend, and I intend to put a stop to it!”

“I’ll go, too,” Martini said quietly. When they looked at her with surprise, she said, “I’d like to… study him.”

“Blech!” Azrael exclaimed, “Hard pass! If these are the options, I’m going with the dragon-man to Tooth Island, but leave me in the wagon when you go talk to the preppy elf. Sorry, Farta, I guess you won’t have me around to protect you.”

Martini rolled her eyes, “Try not to get stepped on!”

“Well,” Marshall drawled, putting his arms around Tavros and Ruin, “that darn well settles it. These here sheep will be in need of a shepherd. I’ll go with ‘em to make sure they don’t get into too much trouble.”

“Very well,” Geddy said, “we’ll depart tomorrow after slaying Er’wain –“

“IF we slay Er’wain,” Azrael interjected.

“Right, if we slay the dragon, we will depart for Vrist and Dente Island, respectively. In approximately one week’s time, we will rendezvous –“

“Back here,” Alexej exclaimed, “they have excellent pies!”

Marshall grinned, “Works for me!”

Azrael shook his head in disgust, “Mortal pleasures.”

“Errr, right, we’ll meet here, at the Striking Asp, to plan our next move. That should give Mylemus time to assemble his army of centaurs, and Lotan time to join them. Then we strike at Fanax and Kuldas Keep. Viva la revolution!”

“Viva la revolution!” Marshall hollered, standing to toast and sloshing his beer on Tavros in the process. Alexej jumped to his feet and joined the toast enthusiastically. Geddy and Martini gracefully added their cups, while Tavros wiped beer from his face and raised his glass to the others without needing to stand up. Ruin shrugged and joined his mug, and Leira downed her drink without toasting. Meanwhile, Azrael stared at them darkly and refused their silly toast, imagining how the next day they would all be slowly digesting in the belly of an ancient dragon.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Blogging Challenge: My Bad Habits

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

This week's topic is My Bad Habits, and the very first thought that comes to mind is that I'm writing this by the seat of my pants the night before it's supposed to go live, which means it'll appear on the blog with minimal proofreading and  possibly a random thought about peacocks or something. So there's definitely procrastinating involved with this. 

Do peacocks ever procrastinate? Probably. I mean, you don't prance around displaying you tail feathers if you're ready to just get down to business. 

Anyway, my second thought is that a lot of what people think of as my bad habits are actually undiagnosed ADHD. Our old department manager thought I was lazy. I'm not, but I basically can't focus on anything unless it's interesting or urgent. Doesn't matter how important it is, the brain won't do it. 

I tend to get caught up in things, stay up late, not get enough sleep, and then stay up later the next night trying to get caught up on the things I wasn't able to do because I was too tired. That's an ADHD thing, too: basically, I operate better in cycles of push-very-hard, relax-completely, -then-build-back-up-to-pushing-very-hard-again. 

So what's an actual bad habit that I have? Well... bacon. I eat a lot of bacon. Probably too much bacon, though my doctor says my cholesterol is still okay. I am, in fact, eating bacon right now. 

And I'm pretty sure that isn't symptomatic of anything.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Duendewood vs Sol Povos 3: There Is Another Option

"There is one alternative," Tavros said quietly, "but it's probably suicidal."

"Oh?" asked Ruin. 

"The forbidden wing of the castle felt like... like a different kind of evil from the Nightwings and the shadows. It might be the product of a different god, or it might be the place which anchors Fanaxia to the Abyss."

Ruin considered that. "You're suggesting that we might be able to... contact Asmodeus, and bargain with him to send us home in exchange for the sword and the hand?" 

Tavros nodded. "It might keep the artifacts away from Vecna, and it might still get us back home. The gods cannot visit Midgard in person because of the Compact, but I believe Asmodeus could still send us there." 

"If he agreed," said Ruin, "and if he kept his end of the bargain -- and if he didn't just annihilate us and take the artifacts anyway. And that's assuming that Asmodeus actually wants to prevent Vecna from returning to Midgard, which... I would not take that bet. If Azrael's right and Vecna did somehow bargain with Asmodeus to become a god, Asmodeus may be planning for him to somehow open the way back to Midgard. This whole thing could actually be Asmodeus' plan, with Vecna as a willing co-conspirator." 

"That's..." Tavros held his hands up. "Yes. That's the risk. One of them, anyway. We just don't know enough... about anything, it feels like." 

Ruin nodded. He wasn't entirely sure if Tavros wasn't what he'd expected, or if the half-dragon was just so perfectly what he'd expect of a friend of Anica and Aesa that it kept throwing him off, but... How the hell did I find myself enjoying my time at a temple on human lands, and befriending priests and paladins? Part of it, here and now, was that Tavros was easy to be with. He didn't have Geddy's charisma, but he had this particular voice he used that made you feel like everything would be fine and you could tell him anything you needed to say. Confessional voice. Paladin voice. 

"You didn't want to suggest this in front of the others," Ruin said quietly. 

"No," Tavros admitted. They'd moved to their own corner of the tavern, once the group started breaking up. Or rather, Ruin had moved to his own corner of the tavern, and Tavros had followed him over. "No, your friend Azrael seemed just a little too keen on meeting demons, and I have a fear that Marshall Mercy is truly evil -- in a strict, spiritual sense. At the very least, he can order undead around in a way that good priests simply don't do. I suppose he might just have a knack for negative energy effects, but..." 

Ruin nodded. Mercy had never been anything less than loyal to their group, and Ruin had never seen him do anything gratuitously horrible, but his morals had never been particularly better than Ruin's own. And Ruin knew that his own desire to do good was strongly at war with his rage, his bloodlust, and his need for violence. They'd proven that again, just recently, in the cavern with the frost giants. "It's possible, O my enemy." 

Tavros tilted his head. "Are we enemies?" 

"I don't know." Ruin looked at him. "A god for all peoples. Is that even possible...? I don't know. But our peoples are on the edge of war, and I feel like the best thing we could do is stop that from happening... but if they do go to war then we're standing on opposite sides. Aren't we?"

Tavros shook his head, sighed. "I don't know. Things were simpler at the temple. I didn't even know I was related to the king. My mother is a famous wizard, and in her youth she was an adventurer, and when I was growing up we always had all sorts of people coming to visit the house. Elves, dwarves, halflings, gnomes... a half-celestial, once. Other wizards. And then I went to the temple, fell in with Anica and Tarric and Aesa, studied under Akkora -- did you meet her?" 

Ruin nodded. "She's my friend." She'd told him so herself. 

"Those are my people, Ruin. Not the humans of Sol Povos in general, or the King, or the Court. The ones I know, and care about, and cherish. Who are yours?" 

Ruin sat back in his chair. There was a pewter mug of ale in front of him, but he hadn't so much as sipped from it yet. Darvinin, of course. And Shanna, and Werendril, and their friends. Our mother. Martini and Azrael... and Geddy. Darvinin's lover, whatever the hell her name was. Mythrandril the King, possibly. Definitely not the High Provost, so definitely not all elves. Amaranth. 

Anica and Aesa. And Akkora. The halfling priest Birno, who let us in without so much as blinking. Hell, even Halmar and Selucca. The High Druid. Eva and Rita. That mayor we rescued that one time...

Damn it.

"...The crazy ones, I think," he said finally. "The ones who don't fit in, and know it, and find or make a place for themselves anyway. "

Tavros just looked at him. 

Ruin grumbled. "Yes, yes, I see it. We needn't be enemies, O my ally. Gods-damned paladins." 

Tavros smiled. "So... Asmodeus is too big a risk. The sword and the hand can probably bring us back to our own world. Whatever happens then, we need to unite our peoples against the Order of Secrets and make jolly damned sure that Vecna doesn't get reincarnated here -- or that if he does, we kill him immediately."

"And very, very thoroughly," Ruin agreed. "If that's even possible."

"So we make our own side," said Tavros. "Against Vecna, and against the war."

There was a momentary pause. Then: "What the hell," said Ruin. "There are worse things to die for. I'm in."

Monday, August 9, 2021

Duendewood vs Sol Povos 3: Options and Alternatives

(OOC: This is our DM filling in some additional information for things our characters might do next.)

Geddy looked around. "Alternatives? I mean, we can't exactly stay here with an ancient white dragon hunting us. Fanaxia's not that big."

Alexej nodded. "Many nasty undead, too. I think they come for us if we don't go back."

"Still a bad idea," Ruin said, "but I think you're right. We may not have a choice."

“It’s pretty metal, if you think about it,” Azrael said quietly, “We’re like, almost destroying a world – discarding it, like gods!”

“Come again, brother!?” Martini looked at him as if he were even crazier than she remembered.

Azrael tossed his hair back and sneered, “Well, obviously, if there’s no way to get to this drab, worthless world, then it effectively ceases to exist.”

“The little nerd has a point,” Marshall said, “We ain’t coming back.”

“Right,” Geddy nodded, understanding, “The artifacts of Vecna were related to The Sundering, and they were also the threads that connected this world to our own.”

“The Sundering?” Tavros asked, curiously.

“Oh,” Geddy said, “It’s what the people of Fanaxia call the event which severed this land from Povos. Or well, they don’t know that, but it’s pretty obvious once you hear it. I talked to several of the locals about it. You see, pretty much all cultures on the island, from the Centaurs to the Lizardfolk, have what they call The Sundering as part of their history. Whether its oral or written, it pretty much all goes the same way: A god or gods or some such became very upset and tore the lands around Fanaxia away, leaving them an isolated island. They think everybody else is just… gone. The curious thing is that nobody seems to know when The Sundering occurred.”

“Obviously, the Dark One used some wicked magic to obscure his past,” Azrael said.

“Horse man talked about brothers over sea,” Alexej said, “You think they mean in Sol Povos?”

“I definitely think that,” Ruin said.

“Duh,” Azrael shook his head in disgust at their stupidity, “I mean, isn’t it obvious? Everything is in the right place. The centaurs live in Serpente Selva, directly north of where the Centaur Groves would be in Sol Povos. The Dragonwood is in the northeast, which would be next to the Uncharted Region of Duendewood, which is known to be an area with, I don’t know… dragons? And the Griffon Hills of Fanaxia in the west, if you put them where Mar Dentro would be, oh yeah, it’s next to the Griffon Peaks of Sol Povos. Gosh, I wonder if it fits?” He tossed his head back arrogantly.

“You’re such a child,” Martini chided.

Ruin blinked, processing what Azrael had said, and nodded, “Yes, now I very, very much, definitely think this place was ripped out of Sol Povos.”

“The first connection was the Eye, but it only seemed to allow passage of our souls,” Geddy said, “but the worlds were still connected by the hand, which quite literally held them together. When we possessed the hand, the sky broke open and the connection was broken, both the portal in the south that the Archmage created, and the one in the ocean that we piloted the Apparatus of Kwalish through. The thundering turbulence in the sky must have literally been this whole world breaking apart.”

“I thought we had all concluded that I was the one done that,” Marshall said tentatively, no longer quite as convinced of his words.

“Which means,” Tavros said quietly, “that we either aren’t leaving, or if we do escape, we’re not coming back.”

“Awww,” Leria cooed, “you want to save the nice girls in Kuldas Keep! I wish Sacha would rescue me.” She crossed her legs and made a production of sitting back in her chair, pouting.

“Well, actually,” Tavros looked at others, who were silently waiting to hear the end of his sentence, “actually, yes. It bothers me to leave the business undone. Lord Crowe is a bad man.”

Alexej put a hand on his shoulder, “Uncle say if you try to save all people from bad men, you be very old when done and can no longer drink beer.”

“You certainly can’t save everybody, I’ve seen that proven time and again,” Ruin nodded his head solemnly. “But it brings up a good point. If we have any unfinished business, we need to take care of it now.” He looked at Geddy. “Tell me again about the elf.”

“The elf?” Martini raised an eyebrow.

“A Pureblood supposedly lives on the northern island,” Geddy said. “Lord Crowe – the good one, who’s a merchant lord here in Styre – he told me about it. I think he’d take us there if we want.”

“An elf, Martini. A True Elf, here in Fanaxia.” Ruin said.

“Damn,” Marshall said, “That feller might be old enough to remember all the shit that went down.”

“There’s more,” Geddy said, “Supposedly also a titan, or rather the Last Titan.”

Tavros stood up suddenly and spoke with great seriousness, “A titan? They are the sons of Amun himself. Remember that he is known as the Titan King and was raised to godhood in the beginning times by Nepthys to oppose her evil child, Anubis.” He turned a stern look on Geddy, “These are not things to discuss as idle rumors. Titans are sacred beings, who vanished from the world long ago. Tell me truly, do you believe these rumors you hear, or are they farfetched stories spun by bored sailors?”

“I believe,” Geddy thought, “that Lord Forthwind Crowe believes the words he spoke to be true… and that he is not a foolish man.”

Tavros nodded and sat, retreating into quiet contemplation.

“I also heard some rumors of Kroni,” Geddy said, dropping a bomb in the room. Everybody stared at him, incredulous that he had not shared this information sooner. “I was getting there!” He waved his hands in defense and did his best to look innocent.

“That’s the empty coffin, right?” Leira asked in a singsong voice.

“One of the empty coffins,” Alexej corrected, “Also tiny boy coffin empty.”

“That’s right, the only body we found was Kas.” Marshall confirmed.

Ruin looked at Marshall and his companions, aghast, “Wait, you dug up their bodies!? In the cemetery!? When we went to the Black Acre, we only looked at the headstones!”

“Yeah, that was dumb.” Leira said.

“The little lady’s right,” Marshall said, nodding in agreement, “now we know which ones are dead-dead and which ones still out to get us!”

Geddy cleared his throat, “As I was saying, when I talked to Lady Maerwynn – another one of the merchant lords, the one they call Griffonsinger and Beastmaster – I was asking about The Sundering and the Dark One, and she knows of Kroni. Turns out he’s somewhat of a local legend in Vrist, to the northwest.”

“Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?” Martini looked at him accusingly.

“No, that’s it.” Geddy said.

“So, it seems we have some options in front of us,” Ruin said, “we can save the people of Kuldas Keep from the rule of evil Lord Crowe, we can travel to Vrist to learn the history of Kroni, or we can travel to ‘Tooth Island’ in the north in search of ancient elves and the last living titan. Whatever we deem essential, must be done now, for we may not be able to come back. At the same time, as Alexej’s uncle says, we can’t save everyone or we’ll be too old to drink beer afterward.”

“Ahem,” Martini cleared her throat, “there is also the business of the ancient, murderous dragon that is hunting me.”

“Right, add that to the mix.” Ruin agreed. “Anything else?”

Around the table there was silence. Azrael appeared to be zoned out, periodically flipping his hair. Leira was more than a little bored, Tavros was deep in his contemplations, and the rest needed some time to absorb all that had been said. Geddy seemed to sense the feelings of the group, and stood up. “Well, everybody needs some time to think before we decide. Let’s get some sleep.”

As they stood up to leave, Tavros grabbed Ruin and pulled him to the side. “I did have one more thought… do you have a moment to talk?”

Friday, August 6, 2021

Duendewood vs Sol Povos 3: Puzzle Pieces

"So you think Fanaxia used to be in the middle of Sol Povos, where Mar Dentro is now?" Tavros sounded fascinated. 

"It's the right shape," Ruin said. "Or very close. And we got here by taking the sacred metal crab all the way down to the bottom of Mar Dentro, which turned out to be so deep that it wasn't there -- we came out under the ocean here. Yes. I believe that at some point, Fanaxia was wrenched out of our world and moved... someplace else. At a guess, it's probably something to do with the rise and fall of the Dark One; everything here seems to be connected to him."

"Amun have mercy," Tavros said, and Marshall glanced over at him reflexively. 

"All that power," Azrael's gaze went dreamy. "To just... take part of the world and shove it partway into another one."

Leira looked distinctly unimpressed. "Why would you even want to do that?" she asked. "If I was that powerful, I'd just marry a handsome paladin and live happily ever after."

Ruin looked a question at Tavros, who shook his head and motioned for him to move on.

"Wait a minute," Ruin said, looking across the table. "You're Leira." 

She looked at him like he was an idiot. "We did the introductions already--"

"You're the girl Sascha kept talking about."

Leira beamed. "He talked about me!? What did he say?"

"Is not best time for this, I think," said Alexej. 

"Of course it is," Leira said. 

"We'll tell you about it once we've figured out what we're going to do," Geddy assured her.

Leira pouted but kept listening.

Geddy tapped his fingers on the table. "If Vecna originally was the Dark One, it was probably part of what happened to him when he was executed. They took his hand for laying hands upon the king, they took his eye for spying, and they exiled him to the abyss for trying to overthrow Fanaxia. I'll bet Fanaxia somehow came with him when it happened."

"So we're in Hell?" asked Martini. "That would explain the weather." 

"And how hard it is to get a decent hot bath," Leira agreed.

"It would also," drawled Marshall, "explain all the demons in Old Man Kaz's house." 

"Is right," said Alexej. "Demon said he lived in the castle here, right?"

Tavros nodded slowly. "It did say something like that. Or that we'd banished its friends back to the castle."

"That was it," said Marshall.

"We're really in the Abyss?" asked Azrael, suddenly excited. "This is so awesome! I'm going to meet so many demons."

Martini gave him a look. "...And get eaten by them, if we're lucky."

"I'm far too powerful for that, Fartathren." 

Leira rolled her eyes as if to say, This is your spellcaster? Ruin shrugged. 

"But portals are gone now," Alexej pointed out. "We are, as Colonel would say, Cut Off."

Marshall drawled: "Mah friend the sword says it can get us back."

Alexej looked concerned. "This is evil sword, friend."

Reluctantly, Tavros said, "...But it may also be the only way for us to get back."

"And this sword belonged to the original Kaz, who was the commander of the Dark One's armies?" Ruin asked. "So it's one of the things that the Order of Secrets needs in order to resurrect Vecna and turn him loose on Midgard. Which means the moment we do get back, they're going to try to take it from us... if the sword doesn't just go to them by itself somehow."

Marshall nodded. "Like the eyeball did," he said. 

"I'll bet that's how Vecna became a god," Azrael said. "I'll bet he got banished to the abyss, and then he cut a deal with Asmodeus or something. I'll bet I could--"

"Stop," said Martini, "talking."

"Well," said Geddy. "So the sword says it can get us back. All of us, right?" 

Marshall nodded. 

"..And since it brought you to us, I'm guessing what it needs in order to do that is for Vecna's hand to hold it."

"Which we have," said Martini. "Ugh."

"That's what the sword says it needs," Marshall told them. "It says we should... give it a hand." 

Tavros put his face in his hands. "Oh, this is such a bad idea."

Geddy looked around. "Alternatives? I mean, we can't exactly stay here with an ancient white dragon hunting us. Fanaxia's not that big."

Alexej nodded. "Many nasty undead, too. I think they come for us if we don't go back." 

"Still a bad idea," Ruin said, "but I think you're right. We may not have a choice."

Duendewood vs Sol Povos 3: This One Time in Fanaxia

"Marshall?" asked Azrael, so surprised that he forgot to be indifferent. 
They were sitting in a tavern in the city of Styre, in the otherworldly island-world of Fanaxia, where they were once again trapped. Their dealings with the servants and artifacts of Vecna always seemed to lead them back here, and Ruin had long since come to believe that Vecna had been the Dark One who was defeated and executed in Fanaxia long ago.

"Alexej? Leira?" Geddy sounded equally surprised.

"Friends!" proclaimed Alexej, lifting his guisarme and accidentally banging the ceiling with it.

Ruin turned to see the human snake-priest Marshall Mercy, in the company of two unfamiliar humans and... a dragon-man. A half-dragon. A silver-scaled half-dragon in armor, wearing a very large, single-edged sword.

"You must be Tavros," he said, and then he teleported.

He didn't go far, just up to the rooftop across the street; he didn't want to risk colliding with anyone or anything.

Yes, that was definitely Tavros. And he was definitely here, in Fanaxia, somehow.

And he was every bit as big as Aesa had said.

Okay, calm down. He hasn't come looking for me. Why would he? He probably doesn't even know about... anything. He took a deep breath, then another. Right. He's just here on business. Elfbane's business. He frowned at that, because that could be a problem. On the other hand, the half-dragon was traveling with Marshall Mercy, and Mercy -- aside from declaring the whole of Duendewood a snake-murdering moral wasteland -- had been well-disposed towards them. Which means they're probably here looking for something, just like we are. He paused. Maybe just like we are: something associated with Vecna. The more he thought about it, the likelier it seemed. So either they're still looking, or else they found it and now they're looking for a way back, also just like we are.

He walked to the edge of the roof, looked down at the street, and then caught hold of one of the tiny waverings of reality and used it to take himself back down there. He walked into the tavern through the front door, cautious but no longer panicked.

Inside he found Geddy talking miles-every-minute in his reunion with the two unfamiliar humans, and Azrael explaining something about magical portals and planes of reality to Marshall in his bored, supercilious tones. Tavros was standing off to one side, looking bemused and also still huge, but he turned as Ruin approached. "You have a strange way of introducing yourself, my friend," he said, and extended a massive hand. "Do I know you?"

Ruin shook his head. "Anica and Aesa spoke very highly of you." He reached out and clasped the man's wrist, feeling the texture of scales under his fingers and the gentle strength of the paladin's grip as he clasped Ruin's wrist in return.

"You've been to the temple? Recently?" Tavros sounded pleasantly surprised, and seemed willing to overlook the question of why someone speaking highly of him would cause Ruin to immediately teleport away at his arrival. Ruin wasn't sure whether it hadn't occurred to him or if Tavros was just being polite, but either way he was grateful. "How are they doing?"

"Well, Anica's still Anica," Ruin said, "And Aesa's officially a priest; she came to some kind of arrangement with Amun that lets her use a scimitar."

"Battle-priest!" exclaimed Tavros. "She must be thrilled."

"She was. And I met Tarric, but only briefly. You were pretty close to all three of them, weren't you?"

Tavros nodded and his expression changed, but his face was unfamiliar enough that Ruin couldn't read it. Melancholy? Regret? Something like that. "Yes. Anica and Tarric and I used to be inseparable, at least until the King called for my service. We got into a very great deal of trouble together, but I like to think that we did some real good as well. And Aesa was... something like our little sister. It pleases me to know that she's finding her way."

Ruin nodded at that; it pleased him, too. "So you're here on Elfbane's business?" he asked. 

Tavros looked pained. "Please don't call him that. He is my liege... and my uncle."

"He's also doing a very great deal of harm to my people, and his own," Ruin replied, "but I don't suppose you're a part of that." 

"No." Tavros shook his head. "We were sent here to learn more of Vecna and his servants."

Ruin nodded, unsurprised. "How did you manage that? We had to steal a major divine artifact from the Hierophant's guards to make the crossing."

"A rather unpleasant magical ritual performed by the Archmage himself, which required us to die. Or almost die. I'm unclear on the details. Alas, the portal we came through vanished in the midst of a tremendous cataclysm some time back, and for the moment we are trapped here." 

Interesting. "As are we," Ruin admitted. His neck was getting stiff from looking up at the half-dragon. He looked the man over, muttered, "a god for all peoples," and then said: "It sounds like both of us have the same problem: Vecna and the Order of Secrets. Why don't we pull over another table? There may be some things about Vecna and this place that you don't know yet, and I'm sure there are things you've learned that would be good for us to know."

"There is also," Tavros said, "the matter of the highly evil, extremely intelligent magical sword that directed us here. It seems to think you have something we need in order to get back."

Ruin blinked. Intelligent, evil magical sword. Right. "On second thought, let me see if the tavernkeeper has a private room we could meet in."