Friday, October 29, 2021

Tavros & Ruin: Sword Practice

"Would you come back here--" Tavros scowled as Ruin danced away, sliding his blade aside with the most effortless of parries.

"Ah!" said Ruin. "I should acknowledge your royal blood and stand still so you can take my head off?" He came in with a series of hard strikes, and Tavros fell back -- parrying when he could, and turning to catch them on his armor when he couldn't. "Or you could quit layering yourself in enchanted steel and rely on skill alone!"

"Never!" cried Tavros, and brought his sword around in a massive undercut, forcing Ruin to slip aside again. The half-dragon was taller, stronger, and had more reach, but the True Elf seemed made of wind and shadows: near-impossible to touch. 

And that was without the possibility that he could slip away at any moment, wending through some tiny crack in the world itself, and come out elsewhere. Tavros was trying to keep him too busy for that, but Ruin just laughed and fell back, concentrating on defense, not even bothering to attack. He's trying to wear me down, Tavros thought. Well, that wasn't going to happen. He could keep this up forever, even if he was the one doing all the work--

Then Ruin reversed directions, sliding in at him, and Tavros saw his opening. He brought his blade around even as he realized that Ruin was thrusting for his throat...

They stopped with their blades locked, both just far enough off-course not to draw blood. The problem was, Ruin's blade was angled correctly for a devastating strike, and Tavros' blade was... not.

Then Ruin grinned. "Point to me." 

Tavros glanced at his blade and smiled. "Yes."

They stepped apart and cased their blades. Ruin gestured. "Is it just me, or are you not fighting as well as you were before?" 

"It seems so," Tavros admitted. "A part of the geas, I think." 

"You sure someone didn't just kill the enchantments on your sword?" 

Tavros blinked. "I suppose that could be... trade me for a moment?"

They exchanged swords, and Ruin nodded slowly. Tavros' blade was bigger than he was used to using, but it was manageable... and it moved as if its enchantments were intact. "Try it," he suggested. 

They moved towards each other again, but again it Ruin who had to catch his blade before it struck; Tavros just wasn't getting through, not reliably. Ruin's blade, for all that it was smaller and lighter than Tavros was used to, felt clumsy in his hands. 

"I don't think it's the sword," said Ruin. 

"Nor do I," answered Tavros. 

Ruin passed the silver blade back and accepted his own in return. "Do we have any other way to check?" 

Tavros shrugged. "I mean, there is that one blade I found on the island, but it was..." He shook his head. "Might as well try it, I suppose." 

He ducked back through the stables and into the inn, and Ruin stood waiting in the yard for his return. As he waited, a young human approached him, looked up at him, swallowed, blinked, and swallowed again. "What?" asked Ruin finally, and the child started. 


Ruin sighed. "I'm not going to behead you, child. You work in the stables? Care for the horses?"

The child nodded. "I were wondering... if... the two of you...?"

Ruin gave the child what he hoped was an encouraging look, and the child edged back before stepping forward again. 

"...were finished?"

Ruin shook his head. "A few minutes more." He paused, studying the child, then asked: "Why?"

"The fight sounds... they make the horses... nervous." Quickly: "It's not a problem! They'll just... be calmer... once you're done."

"And you? Are we making you nervous, too?" 

He must have gotten the expression right this time, because the child shook their head. "I were always nervous, Sir. Except with the horses."

Ruin blinked at that. "We'll keep it short," he said. 

The child nodded and went back into the stables, just as Tavros returned. Tavros offered a greeting, but the child didn't respond. 

"What was that?" asked Tavros. 

Ruin shrugged. "Apparently we're making the horses nervous. And apparently the child is always nervous."

"Well..." Tavros shook his head, but the stables behind the Bitter Asp were the closest thing to seclusion that they were going to find in Styre, and if they didn't finish this now they might not get another chance. Events were about to begin moving very quickly, and it would help if his fighting skills weren't impaired. "Let's finish quickly, then." 

They faced off again, Ruin with his elegant two-handed scimitar and Tavros with the blade he'd found on the northern island. It looked like a remnant of some ancient battle: rusted and battered all over, with nicks in the blade and stains on the simple wooden handle. Still, the blade was straight and the weapon felt solid, so Tavros put his left shoulder forward and settled in with the blade angled out and down behind him, waiting for Ruin to move in. 

Ruin feinted forward, angling to catch Tavros' countercut, then rolled aside at the last minute as Tavros' battered old blade came up with unexpected precision. The two of them were evenly matched in skill; but suddenly Tavros, with his greater strength and reach, had the advantage again. Ruin cursed -- more in surprise than frustration -- and fell back, using every trick he knew to fend Tavros off. Despite his best efforts, Tavros was driving him back towards the corner of the yard. 

"I slept with Anica," Ruin said, waited a beat, and then slid past Tavros' blade and back into the open as that sank in. As ideas went for distracting the paladin and buying himself some room to move, he was pretty sure this one was terrible. It was just that he literally couldn't think of anything else. 

Tavros stopped and stepped back, looking at his sword and then at Ruin, surprise on his scaly face. 

"What the hell was that?" asked Ruin, before Tavros could open his mouth to say anything. "All morning you've been fighting like you forgot how to use a sword, and all of you sudden you pick up that thing and you're unstoppable?" 

Tavros nodded slowly. "There is more to this sword than it seems," he said. "I can feel it doing things... A gift from Amun, it seems. One I failed to recognize." There was an inscription along the flat of the blade, visible now: A Sword for All Peoples.

"Your god has a strange sense of humor," Ruin observed. 

Tavros sheathed the sword and turned to look at Ruin again. "And Anica? Or were you making that up to distract me?"

"Your god has a strange sense of humor," Ruin repeated, emphasizing it. 

Tavros laughed. "That he does." He shook his head. "The order doesn't forbid it, you know."

Ruin nodded. "She told me. They both did." 

"Tarric?" Tavros looked surprised.

Ruin shook his head. "Aesa. In the chapel, no less." 

Tavros' expression turned serious. "Truly?" 

Ruin nodded. "Is this going to be a problem? If it is, I'd like to have it out now, before we set half of Fanaxia on fire trying to stop the Cult of Vecna from taking over."

"No, but..." Tavros shook his head again, frowning. "You were only there for... a couple of days? So you must have been with both of them almost at once. I hope neither of them were hurt by that."

"So do I," said Ruin frankly.

"How did it happen?" asked Tavros. "I mean, not that it's any of my business, but..."

Ruin shrugged. "Well... this is going to be the short version of the way I remember it, but let me start by saying: your god has a strange sense of humor..."



Thursday, October 28, 2021

Fanaxia: Gathering Allies and Defending Lydell

 We’ve split the party again, this time sending everybody with Charisma and a sense of perspective down to recruit possible allies. Leira, Alexej, Ruin, and Azrael will be defending the northern village of Lydel. We’ve asked Lady Merrowin to go support the Queen and defend the capital of Vrist.

Martini has come to Styre to entreat them to join the struggle against Vecna and by extension Wallington. Of the four merchant lords in Styre, Green has allied with Vecna and Merrowin is with us; Bulbek has the largest force and is neutral; and Crowe is neutral, and the Duke of Styre is the one she needs to convince to send out the army. 

Tavros will be visiting West Styre in an attempt to recruit their champions; he’ll be talking to the High Magistrate. Marshall will be consulting with Lord Crowe, who should have fond memories of Heroes’ Feast being served on his ship. Geddy will try to recruit Bulbek, who’s a firm royalist and likely to be the most difficult to recruit. 

Martini introduces herself to the guard at the door, and he goes off to pass word up the chain of command. They take Martini to the Steward, and she introduces herself as a dragonslayer and announces her desire to see the king on an urgent matter regarding the war that’s about to start. She shows him the dragon’s head to add verisimilitude to her account.


According to the Steward, the King has received other offers of alliance; Martini points out that she can’t make any counter-offers if she doesn’t see the king. The Steward offers to take her offer to the king. She offers to return the sun. The Steward suggests that land, alliances, and suchlike are less impressive but more suitable. She proposes an arranged marriage between the queen of Vrist and a combined kingdom which would unite the northern half of the island under his rule, with the queen by his side. 

That’s enough to get his attention. Martini is announced and taken to an audience chamber and greeted by the king. Martini explains that the offer is genuine and she is absolutely empowered to negotiate on the queen’s behalf. The king is interested, but he needs assurances and he’s concerned that he might be joining the weaker side. On the other hand, the other side’s offer leaves him as a duke, and he definitely prefers king. 

The standing army would answer to either the king or the merchant lords; but fortunately the merchant lords are divided so they army will absolutely follow his lead. However, she’s going to have acquire official documents from Queen Durane. 

Hadrian Wickham is the Minister, and is married to the King of Styre’s eldest daughter; he’s in charge of West Styre. However, the High Magistrate Brom Crewe is the one directly in charge of the Archons (their near-Solari champions). He gets directed to the Palace of Archons. As he approaches the building, a guy in a black robe emerges, talking to a fairly slick-looking fellow. “I hope we can come to an arrangement,” he says, and then departs. 

Tavros introduces himself as one of the dragon-slayers and asks to speak with the high magistrate. After a little bit, the magistrate invites him in and it is indeed the slick bald guy from earlier. He’s very likeable; he also seems very well-read. The guy’s an operator, and he’s probably the real power player in West Styre. Very smooth, very polished, very political. Tavros puts his guard up and begins negotiations. 

The high magistrate is very proud of his elite force, and would like a free hand in developing it further. He wants Tavros to provide three candidates to be trained as new Archons. He will become minister of defense under Queen Durane, and he would get his three recruits and a possible Count of Vrist inheriting Fenrir’s land, with a suitable wife with a large dowry. He worries that the lands might be damaged and the sum of 100,000 gold might be appropriate for a dowry.

Tavros should probably never again be left to negotiate on his own, but High Magistrate Crewe is in. 

Marshall’s return to Crowe’s ship and is immediately greeted by his two recruits. He explains about the war and the werewolves and Wallington’s plot. Lord Crowe has apparently been met by a priest of Vecna… and had him thrown overboard. Lord Crowe is pretty nervous these days, and Marshall agrees that it’s pretty dangerous out there. Also they’re extremely taken with Leira. 

Lord Crowe is pretty nervous, though his men still seem confident in his leadership. He’s happy see Marshall, though. The representative from Cardinal Richlieu wanted them to pledge to Urgroth, and Crowe had him thrown off the boat. 

Marshall takes a soft sell with him, since Crowe says upfront that he isn’t sure what sort of answer he can give us. “We are trying to rally a cause, and we want to prevent Urgroth from taking over.”

Crowe is worried about getting his fleet crushed; he’s also worried that his father might join Urgroth and be displeased with him. And he’s lord of Kuldas Keep, the most important city in Fanaxia after Fanax itself. Marshall switches tacks, and asks about what would help Lord Crowe to feel more secure and better able to protect his people. Crowe is considering leaving the field entirely, move all his men and ship to North Island. He’d need gold and supplies to do that. Alternatively, he could stay here but try to remain neutral. Or, he could join our rebellion with the understanding that we would come to his defense if he were attacked. He agrees with our cause. 

Marshall pledges that we would absolutely help him. (Tavros would approve of this; he likes Lord Crowe.) If we can give him a way to contact us alongside that pledge, he’s in. Marshall considers the logistics of that. Marshall promises to provide such a thing. They pour some brandy and clink glasses. 

Geddy arrives on Bulbek’s large, impressive capital ship. There’s another priest of Urgroth with a small entourage just… hanging out by the railings. A couple of guards come over: “You the emissary? We were told to look for a small person.”

Geddy: “I am truly offended.” 

Guard, holding rope: “I gotta tie your instrument.” 

Geddy: “Let me sing you a song about rope.” 

Behind this guy is a group of four dudes holding crossbows under their cloaks. They’ve probably been given specific instructions not to let him sing. Also… they have wax stuffed in their ears. 

Geddy hands over his lute, and basically peace-bonds the lute to his back. They take him into Bulbeck’s cabin. He’s got a table at one end, and another table at the far end; they set Geddy on the far side of the room, with guards in front of him. “No tricks, bard. No magic, no singing. I’ve dealt with your sort before. The priests of Urgroth have offered me full control of the Northern Seas.” To side with us instead, he wants a barony and the entire northern island with a commitment of 200 settlers from whoever becomes king.

He intends to settle Dente island, start mining and farming operations and eventually hand over command of his fleet to a protege and retire. 

Geddy: “Okay, but why that island?” 

“It’s unsettled land, and I suspect the mountain holds very valuable minerals.  And I would have control of all trade.” So Lord Crowe would need be… removed. 

Geddy: “I like to understand things; I’m a simple man. Obviously you want supremacy of the seas and trade around there. Does that mean that you and your fleet run all the trade?” 

“Yes, and I answer only to the king. No duke of Styre, only king Baldrick.”

Geddy: “Well, you’ve come up with your demands; obviously, I’ll need to negotiate back with the others. And I’m not sure the priests of Urgroth will give you what you want.” 

Bulbeck: “They’ll give me control of the northern seas and the destruction of Crowe, but not the Northern island.” 

Geddy: “I think they don’t want you to have it, and won’t give it to you.” 

Bulbeck: “That would be disappointing. If you can commit to both, then I will commit to you.” 

Geddy: “If you’re already committed to them, that’s kind of a problem.” 

Bulbeck: “If you can give me what I want, then I will throw them off my boat and sign whatever you want me to sign.” 

Geddy: “So you want Crowe dead.” 

Bulbeck: “Or removed; I could let him live if he were powerless.” 

He’s not too concerned about the Lord Crowe in Kuldas Keep; he can destroy trader Crowe’s fleet and send him back to his father to be properly trained as he should have.

Geddy: “I think we understand each other. We will be in touch. If you haven’t heard from me in two days, then I did not manage the arrangement.” 

Bulbeck: “I can’t control the sands of time; advocate quickly.”

They put him on a little boat and take him back to Styre. 

Meanwhile, in Lydel in the north, Alexej, Azrael, Ruin, and Leira all show up. We head for city hall, and it’s… chaotic. Arguing and screaming and hubbub, yelling. 

Alexej throws the door open. “We have come to help!”

There’s a momentary silence. Then one of the ones in charge says, “Um… who are you?” 

Leira, posing: “Dragonslayers.”

Someone in the crowd calls out, “Take it off, beautiful!” 

Leira turns him into a kitten. 

Townsfolk: “She’s a witch!”

Leira: “He catcalled me! If you’re going to catcall me, you’re going to turn into…?” 

Everybody: “A kitten.” 

The speaker introduces himself as Hugo d’Foeur, and introduces the rest of the council: the hunter, the constable, the local heroes who are actually well-armored. Elderman Garris is not back yet, and there are huge beasts with three arms and the Shadow Dragons thieves’ guild. 

Leira: “Don’t worry. We’re here!”

Hugo: “We don’t want any trouble.” 

Leira: “Look, anybody who wants to help can help, and anybody who wants to be a little bitch can run away like this guy.” 

Hugo: “Well, we were having a vigorous debate before you came in. You seem like powerful heroes, why are you helping us?” 

Ruin: “We don’t like these people.” 

Azrael: “I just wanted to test out my area spells.” 

Hugo: And where did you come from?” 

Us: “Vrist.” 

Hugo: “The queen sent help! When do the others arrive?” 

Leira; “You have us. You don’t need anybody else. So now we just have to decide who wants to fight, and who wants to be turned into a kitten.” 

Farmer: “Is everyone who isn’t fightin’ gonna turn into a kitten?” 

Leira: “Yes.”

Farmer: “No more questions.” It’s enough to sway them into staying and defending the town. Hugo is Lady Jeanine’s husband, the leader of the farmers. They have some basic soldiers (ten squads, each with one lieutenant) and two captains, and their five heroes. They start describing the Sons of Athose, huge and strong with three arms; there was a whole clan of them. Maybe 30-50 of the giants, and about five leaders; then Lady Green and her thieves’ guild with 4-5 dozen accomplished rogues. 

It sounds to Alexej like a formidable force, one capable of ripping apart the human soldiers. The lieutenants could be assembled into squads and be at least borderline effective -- especially as archers. Hugo’s prepared to shelter the women and children on his lands. 

So it’s basically us, the five local heroes, a squad of lieutenants, and the two captains. And we need to kill thirty to fifty giants, plus the thieves guild. 

So Ruin is standing out in the village when a couple of rogues sneak up to one of the house. Ruin gestures to them, and they immediately retreat to the forest. Unsurprisingly, they decide not to attack just yet. 

So, just after midnight, Leira and Azrael go to drop a full Dresden-style firebombing on their camp. Azrael, of course, is flying; Azrael’s always flying, and this time Leira is too. Ruin and Alexej come strolling up the path together underneath them, pretending to not see the rogues waiting for us. And our flyers are invisible. 

The rogues hear the flyers overhead, but they’re distracted by the approaching footsteps and in any case Azrael and Leira are using Greater Invisibility. Azrael drops Horrid Wilting on a batch of giants, and we’re off. (Horrid Wilting is a wide-area damage spell, so a bunch of giants have just taken a big hit.) They start scrambling, trying to get out of being bunched up and also because they’re in a bit of disarray.

Ruin and Alexej stroll up one path and plant themselves back to back. Leira drops Sunburst on the giants, damaging them and blinding them. Rogues attack Ruin and Alexej; Ruin takes two points of damage. Alexej does his whirlwind attack with a bit of power attack thrown in, killing three of them. 

The battle will continue next week. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Challenge: Favorite Halloween Treats

This is part of 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 Favorite Halloween Treats, and that's a pretty easy call: anything with caramel or toffee. I don't have anywhere near the sweet tooth I had when I was young, but that'll do it for me. 

But that's my favorite sort of Halloween treat to eat. My favorite to give out, well... the photo above is from one year when I had a bowl of candy for the children, and another, different bowl for any adults who were accompanying them. You have never in your life seen so many grateful parents. 

This year, however, since I'll be allowing the kids to choose from a bowl while I stay a respectable distance back, I've come up with a different pair of choices. One bowl will have candy; the other bowl will have Halloween-themed rubber duckies. Tremble before my sense of whimsy, y'all.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Youth DnD: Hallowe'en Special

So Firstborn's friends have requested a special Halloween episode for next weekend's game... and they've approved using a system that is not D&D. Which means... we're going diceless. I'll post the full scenario on Monday, but I've got it pretty well mapped out and I'm really looking forward to it. I think they're really going to enjoy it. 

It's really weird to feel like I'm prepared, though.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Music: Cannibal Buffet


This has been stuck in my head for the last couple of days, and I think it's also a bit of a Current Mood. I'm not sure how much of the rest of this week is going to be me randomly posting bits of music, but given the way Sunday night went I'd say the odds are pretty good (even if the goods are pretty odd).

Friday, October 22, 2021

Dark Armor V2 Ch01 SC05

A pair of arrows came at him at once, but he managed to angle his shield to deflect them both. He tried another lightning bolt, this time aimed at the tower itself, but the wood soaked it up with only superficial damage. Fire? Or... Now there was an idea. It hadn't occurred to him earlier, because he generally only used it when he was assaulting fortifications. 

Another arrow struck his shield and exploded into a ball of flame, but the armor and Black's barding absorbed it. Hell below! He leaned down and touched Black's shoulder, and the horse stopped abruptly, reared, and then slammed its hooves down harder than should have been possible.

The earth shook; the wooden tower swayed. The fires in the camp did amazing things as the shockwaves reached them. A section of bluff came loose and slid away into the valley, though nothing in the camp was close enough to the edge to be caught by it. 

Black was already charging, closing the distance to the tower, and Pallian watched with interest as an arrow buried itself in the ground beside them. The swaying of the tower must have thrown off the archer's aim. This arrow slid deep into the ground, burying itself, and Pallian wondered again at how the archer had come by these abilities. It must have taken real dedication to build up all this... and it wasn't the work of a sorcerer-lord, either. At least, he didn't know any who used an archer as their champion, and Edrias already had its Shadow. If that was what I truly saw... 

He leaned down, gripping the saddle as a wave of magic built in front of Black. They hit one side of the tower at a full gallop, smashed through the thick wooden beams, and came out the far side. Behind them, the tower swayed and began to collapse; Pallian tossed another ball of fire behind him to complete its destruction. 

He couldn't see it, of course, but his armor could. It captured the final moments of the collapse and showed them to him... along with the image of a lone figure, thrown or leaping free.  Damn it, he thought, and nudged Black into a sharp turn to get them facing back towards the fallen tower. An arrow struck his shoulder, lightnings spreading out from it in an echo of his own attacks. He shivered, but the armor absorbed the worst of it. 

Damn it, boy, KILL HER! The thought was so strong that Black felt it and shivered; inside the armor, Pallian froze for a moment and nearly died as an arrow slammed into the face of his helmet, missing the eye-slit by a hairs-breadth. 

"Not helping!" he shouted, knowing his father would hear him. Of course the wizard-king was watching his attack instead of Ravaj's defense. Of course he would have opinions about it. And of fucking course he would make those opinions known at the worst possible moment for Pallian. 

I should have seen it coming, he thought, as he regained his focus on the archer. Dark hair pulled back, light armor designed to aid her mobility, a bow already drawn... if he could hit her with anything she'd probably go down, but of course she intended to keep him at a distance and kill him there. And at this rate she might very well succeed.  

He tossed fire and lightning at the same time, the fire to one side as a distraction and the lightning directly towards her. She ignored the fire and dodged aside, impossibly quick, as the lightning scorched the air where she'd been standing. It cost her another shot at him, but she didn't seem to care; the tip of her arrow was a bright spark, growing larger and brighter as she held it ready. Oh, hell, he thought, and turned his attention to the lance to try for more lightning...

...but something caught him from behind, something soft and dark that soaked through the armor and closed off his sight, his hearing, the images from the armor itself. He thought Black stumbled, thought he might have been thrown, but... 

Should he brace for some sort of impact? He wasn't sure he could, and then everything went away.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Fanaxia: Striking The Spark

 Wallington has agreed to Geddy’s terms. He’s really pushing to know if we know about or can find Brice Lamonc, who disappeared fourteen years ago; it’s imperative for the safety of the realm. Fenric’s father Gerwulf was a great general but a lousy ruler. And, of course, his heirs are potential marriage prospects if we want to join the clan. 

The attacker who tried to steal from the house had been on a crew that was doing some work on the house; he learned where the valuables were kept in the study, and was contacted by some thieves and it all went improbably wrong from there. The cards were very definitely looking for a new owner.

It occurs to Leira that the first temple of Vecna was apparently right here in the city, but the chapel downstairs might be it. Especially since it’s guarded by an old, stupid nightwalker. 

Martini has a suggestion, and it involves a lot of plausible deniability for us. Geddy immediately falls in behind. So, during dinner, Martini scopes out the second floor and locates the chamber with the prisoner. He looks pretty rough (and the rest of the gang was executed). And yeah, we’re totally going to clean out the chapel/temple and blame it on this guy. 

We make our goodbyes and settle in at our hotel. At about 11 a.m. Martini gets a message from her brother: “Farta! Farta! I slew a cloud giant with my sword! Also, if you meet someone named Fenric, he’s planning an attack with giant werewolves. I’ll bet you didn’t know about that.” 

Then, about dinner time: “Farta, you bitch? Who told them where we were? Thanks to you I had to slay two nightwalkers and four nightwings! Anyway we’re finished here, and we’re coming up there from the south, with some really old elf. We’ll be there tomorrow. Also, the old elf says that things are about to get ‘real’, but nothing is real.”

They arrange that we should meet somewhere else -- in Styre, in fact. 

Then, on the following evening at dinner time, we start buffing Martini: Death Ward, Greater Heroism, a bit of inspirational singing, pass without trace, Invisibility. The rest of us wait outside while Martini goes into the house in full Black Widow mode. She slips through the kitchen and walks down the stairs, finding the shadow walker on guard again. 

The room has clearly been prepared for an after-dinner service, so she moves to the altar and snags the book and the scroll. She places the Blade Barrier trap on the door, and then starts working on the other door, the one that leads to the treasure chamber. She starts going over it, looking for (and expecting) traps. Finding nothing, she starts trying to work on the very complex lock, taking her time and doing it as carefully as possible. 

She manages to open it. 

And it doesn’t even explode. She walks in and just takes a moment to observe and look around. There’s a lot here that hasn’t been touched in a long time. There’s also a crate of treasure and money on the ground. She goes to the little box and searches it for traps, finding five different traps on it; she’s immediately worried that there might be more. She takes the loose treasure and the crate, then comes back to the chest like the professional she is. Checking it over more carefully, she finds a full nine different traps on it; this was placed here long ago and not intended to be moved. 

She disables the horrible first spell-trap, and moves on to the next. The symbol of death gets disabled, then the finger of death. Then disintegrate goes away, then feeblemind. Phantasmal Killer gets disabled. Then the ray of exhaustion, the blindness, then permanent Reduce Person. She wipes her forehead and grabs the box, hearing some feet upstairs. She throws the box into the bag and tries to Dimension Door out; she fails. She steps out of the treasure chamber and into the cell, then grabs the guy and Dimension Doors back into the temple. 

Then she casts Modify Memory, 

The guy now remembers being hired by Boris’ wife Ginger to teleport down there and shunt all the treasure into an extradimensional chest. 

Martini then teleports out and joins us, and Leira teleports us to the Striking Asp inn in Styre. 

25,000 gp, 11,000 gp in art; the book of secrets (+10 on Gather Info, also how to get Kroni out), a scroll of foresight (lvl 9 divine) and a mirror in the crate. We are reunited with the others. The mirror is a Mirror of Memories; if taken to certain locations, it would display its enchanter's memories. Martini takes a minute to search the box for traps one more time, and then sets herself to open the lock. 

Which is good, because if we’d have broken it open it would have exploded. 

There’s a dagger inside, a very seriously murdery looking dagger. Tavros cannot detect evil because of his geas, but Marshall can still cast it as a spell. It reeks of strong necromancy but is not technically evil. It’s a +5 vorpal dagger that gives +1 to Assassin’s save DC. It was probably Kroni’s originally, and Vecna’s creation, and it’s about to become Martini’s favorite weapon. 

Zilv, the druid, sends everybody out of the inn. “I have been scrying and collecting information. The battle for Fanaxia is happening right now.”

Zilv can give us information on the status of everything on the island. 

The forces on the island are all over the place, but they’re starting to face off. There’s a werewolf army moving on Lydel; Fenrir and his werewolf clans are preparing to move on Vrist. Lay Merrowin has some gryphons and lizards and such, enough to be an army of their own. West Styre has a minister and his archons, while Styre has a standing army. The four merchant lords (Crowe and Bulbeck, the Sea Lords, plus Lady Merrowin and Lady Green - who is moving towards Lydel). A big chunk of the south of the island is on our side, but Cimarron the Nightwalker Lord and Richlieu and his priests are a huge threat down there. The army of Fanax is disorganized. The Magiknights are a force to be reckoned with, but their numbers are few. 

The whole thing is about to erupt. We could fight armies; we could gather allies; we could split up or stay in a group. Also, once we move openly against Vecna she will have no confusion abotu what side we’re on, and will try to exert her power from the swamp. 

Zilf can go camp at Castle Fanax and lock down Cimarron and Richlieu until we can get there. This seems like a good use of our resources. After that… 

The northern half of the island probably needs our help more than the south. 

Our plan, it looks like, is to send our charismatic heroes to gather allies for the north, and send the others to block the werewolf attack on Lydel. West Styre has a high magistrate who leads the archons. Styre has a Duke/King, but the high council of merchants has a huge say in things there. Azrael will send a message to Lady Merrowyn to come and protect the queen; Marshall is going to Lord Crowe; Martini is going to styre and Tavros is going to West Styre; and Geddy will try to recruit Bulbeck. He’s the hard one, a Royalist, loyal to the original king of Fanax. 

Alexej, Ruin, Azrael, and Leira will be going up to Lydel. She will burn four teleports, and Azrael one. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Challenge: Scariest Book

This is part of 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 "scariest book I've ever read", just in time for Hallowe'en. 

...Which is tricky, because back in my youth and particularly from about age 12 to age 16, I read a lot of Horror. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, any number of unknown or less-known authors... and some older stuff, like Lovecraft. I have no idea what, out of all that and all the books I've read since then, would qualify as the scariest. 

On top of that, I remember some scenes and moments that came from books whose authors and titles I no longer recall. It's like having the ghosts of books in my head. 

There was a werewolf book which I remember as being interesting but not especially striking, except for one scene where the heroes have encountered the werewolf and are fleeing from it in a car. The driver of the car is so freaked out that he won't slow down, he just keeps trying to go faster and faster while the other characters are trying to get to ease back to a safer rate of speed. 

Until one of them looks back and werewolf is right behind them

Not a great book, as I said, but that particular moment hit me as a visceral shock. 

There was the book where the two protagonists got sucked into investigating the remnants of a corporate bioweapons program. The monsters were interesting enough, and there was a very obvious wish-fulfillment element early on where the hero, an Ordinary Guy, stumbles into a relationship with the heroine, a movie star (possibly while humming Uptown Girl under his breath). But the really memorable scene comes before the confrontation with the monsters, when our hero visits one of his old friends who used to work for corporation... and discovers that the friend is now bedridden because he's been exposed to something that rendered all his bones cartilaginous; he barely has enough body structure left to breathe. 

Then there's a moment in Barbara Hambly's Darwath books (a truly excellent if somewhat older portal fantasy) where two of the characters have gone to investigate the nearest nest of the monsters only to discover that A) it's still inhabited, and B) they've been cut off by the arrival of a band of raiders in the entrance to the valley. They're climbing out one side of the valley when they look back and notice that the whole valley floor has an odd set of patterns: lines and shapes in the trees and grasses that are only visible from above. The heroine, a historian by training, identifies the effect as being caused by the buried foundations of some ancient city, and suddenly they realize just how long these things have been preying on humanity. 

So... scariest book? I don't know. But there are three of my favorite moments, even if I can't recall exactly whence two of them came.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Some Writing

So most of what I got done this weekend -- and why the actual fuck it "what I got done" a defining characteristic of my weekend? Like seriously, how fucked-up is that? Why should I need to feel like I'm working as hard on my "time off" as I am on during the week? Or harder? Where the hell is my time to rest and relax?

So most of what I got done this weekend was running and sorting laundry -- a solid eight hours worth, at least -- and running the youth D&D game, which isn't a chore but still requires spending some energy. Also? A database migration for a major application. And between the work I'm doing at work and the work I'm doing at home, I've managed very little writing. A bit for the blog, for Friday; and another pass through a short story involving a demon or two and a drinking contest with a human drinking partner. 

I do not want to be at work today. I do not want to be at work at all. I am behind on about six or seven major projects, I'm not getting paid enough for the work I'm putting in on them, I have no help, and I'm slowly realizing that for as much as I like my job, I really don't like my job. And I have a bunch of other stupidly-inconvenient things that I also need to do, like get my oil changed and clean the cage of the lizard-goddess. 

I shouldn't even take it easy. I should just push through and do as much as I can, and then go to bed at like 8:00 like the responsible adult that I will never in my life fucking be except by accident. And honestly I probably shouldn't publish this, because everybody wants everybody to pretend that everything is fine, but there is no goddamn way that I'm the only one here. 


Writing-wise? A bit more of Dark Armor, which I think is going off in an interesting direction, and a pretty good run through the short story, though I need to proofread and review before I show that one to anybody. 

Sleep? No, chronically underslept at this point. I keep trying to break that cycle, but look...

And it would be wonderful if recognizing that offered any way to break the pattern, but it doesn't. 

Still... any writing progress is better than no writing progress, right? 

Also, as a general statement of philosophical outlook? Fuck capitalism.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Dark Armor V2 Ch01 SC04

The watchfires were nothing worth noting; he pushed Black to a gallop as he passed between them, letting the cries of alarm grow behind him. They would only add to the chaos and confusion. An arrow shattered against his armor, sent by some sentinel who was both quick and ready; Pallian responded by lifting a hand to toss a small ball of fire behind him. The ball expanded as it rose through the air, became enormous before it hit the ground. The shouted alarms were joined by screams. 

Somewhere, a bell began to ring. 

The Black Knight tossed another ball of fire off to his left, where troops encamped in neatly-organized groups of tents were racing to grab their weapons and join the battle. Ahead of him, a man in silver armor rose up, greatsword rising to cut. Pallian shifted the angle of his lance and skewered the man, then tossed him aside; his armor added to his strength to make the gesture seem casual. 

Another arrow slammed into his breastplate, this one landing much harder than the last. Pallian clenched his knees and managed to stay on his horse, but Black stumbled and only barely managed to keep his footing. Damn it. Where...? 

That hadn't been one of the sentinels. That came from somewhere else, probably the same archer who had tried to murder him and Ravaj from the far side of the ridge. Ravaj focused briefly on his lance, conjuring a bolt of lightning that cleared a path ahead of him. He immediately turned aside from it, and was rewarded when the next arrow skipped off the edge of his shield and enveloped a section of camp in some sort of sticky webs. 

His armor had mapped its passage, and drew his attention to a wooden tower that sat near the center of camp. The archer was there, and--

He raised his shield at the last possible moment, as an arrow struck it hard enough to pierce the steel. It was sheer luck that it hadn't found his forearm. That archer must be equipped with a whole constellation of interlocking initiations to manage this, he thought, simultaneously intrigued and annoyed. The Shadow of Edrias hadn't reappeared, so it was probably off trying to murder Ravaj, but that was a concern for later. 

Black twisted and changed course, and Pallian tossed another ball of fire in what he thought was the direction of the command tents. The way this evening was going, those might be a diversion: large, fancy tents left empty to draw his attention while the archer took shots at him. The fire flickered and was absorbed as it neared them, drained by some sorcerous defense. 

Damn it, he thought again, as Black charged for the tower.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Fanaxia: Dinner with the Would-Be King

So apparently last week, Martini followed the priest into his room. Basically, the group with Martini, Leira, Geddy, and Alexej spent a lot of time in the libraries and the werewolves seem to want to recruit them; then a nightwalker appeared and they had some sort of conversation; apparently Kroni needs to be put into an alternative body in order to save Sacha. 

There’s some difference of opinion about who started the violence, but there was some sort of massive fight which culminated in the nightwalker getting disintegrated. So now we’re at the Wallington estate, along with Boris the Baron and Dragen the bishop. Geddy apparently managed to intimidate the bishop out of the room. 

Geddy managed to entrance everybody, and Martini went off to follow the priest who was busilky cursing the nightwalker for attacking us. At this point everybody’s back in the room with Wallington, who’s laying out his case for him needing to be king of Vrist. 

The other party is off in someone else’s house, doing the gods alone know what.


-The girl was born in 1731; survived the night of 1000 fangs in 1941; she was 10 and Vecna, who would become her adopted brother, was 8. She was the magical prodigy who was adopted by Vecna’s father, count Orlock; Vecna fell sick and died after she was adopted, and the Count became a recluse. There were rumors that he and the girl had a falling out after Vecna’s death. She wound up going to the capital in 1745 to study under the Archmagister, where she crafted Kaz’s sword and did a bunch of other very impressive things: flying warships, foiled an assassination attempt, and slew a white dragon whose egg she kept and hatched as a pet. In 1759 Prospero the archmage named her as his successor, and 1762 he died and she ascended to the position. In 1766 King Baldric ascended to the throne; Baldric started trying to rein her in, and tried to limit her power. In 1769, she and Kaz attempted a coup that was foiled by the magiknights. She was executed. 

Kroni had apparently been with her the whole time, acting as a servant or bodyguard or protector. 

Recap complete. 

Martini returns to the room and brings Geddy up to speed. Geddy isn’t too sure whether Wallford is actually worried about someone moving to attack the kingdom soon, or whether he’s planning to make that happen. Geddy releases his fascination and starts trying to gather more information. And yeah, he’s clearly planning to orchestrate an attack and use that to put himself in power. 

Geddy: “So how do we fit into this.” 

Boris: “So when the time comes we put all the petty people aside and do what’s best!” 

Wallford: “Well, um, I’m going to probably need to send some of my men north to help defend Lydel; it would be helpful to have some resources to defend this place.” He’d also like to invite the other half of the party. “So let’s talk. You’re help is--”

Martini: “Expensive.”

Wallford: “Is it money that you want? I would be happy to provide a demonstration of good faith.”

Geddy: “There will be other things that need to be divvied up by the end of this.”

Wallford: “A barony? That could be arranged. Eight of them would be more difficult. There’s also Lydel. And there are other gifts that we are uniquely positioned to bestow. Then, too, there is the bond of marriage; my heir Clifford, or Fendril, would make fine options for a formal alliance. My daughters might be interested, also.”

The queen is pretty popular, but Wallford is too -- and the queen’s lesbian lovers and lack of heirs are more than a little scandalous. Fenric Wallford is viewed as more stable. 

Wallford invites us to stay for dinner, but suggests that we need to speak to the bishop about long-term plans for things like the weather and the sundering. We accept the invitation, and they leave and bishop Draughan returns to talk to us. The bishop is very apologetic about the attack by the Nightwalker. “He is a wild one; the king’s other servants are fully under control. Cimarron, the leader of the nightwalkers and advisor to the king, may a bit in competition with the bishop.

Bishop: “My four children are all adopted, but I do value them. Regarding your… earlier encounter with them, I would ask that you forget.” 

Martini: “What, that they’re wolves who like to snuggle?”

Geddy: “It’s forgotten.” 

Bishop: “It would be much easier for all of us, and good for Fanaxia, if you were to come into the fold. And Urgroth is one of the less assuming religions; we gather knowledge, and share it with our followers.”

Geddy: “We’re considering it.” 

Bishop: “And I think you’ll find that we help the people more than these other rogue religions that have sprung up under the queen’s inattention.” Geddy gets the impression that they’d like to wipe out the other religions and be the only church around.

Leira: “You get me Sacha back, and I’ll convert to any religion you want.”

Geddy: “That’s a compelling argument. Do you think we could get an audience with the cardinal?” 

Bishop: “Why yes, yes! I have an invitation for you.” He pulls out a coin with the Eye of Vecna sigil. “Present this coin to the guardians, and they will give you safe passage. 

Alexej: “But we do not like Asmodeus either. Have fought them. Did not like.” 

Bishop: “We believe they seek the sword of Kaz. Is there any chance you have retrieved it?” 

Alexej: “Maze under house is full of spinning blades. Very bad. Did not like.” 

Bishop: “One last question: do you by any chance know the location of the King’s missing son? We tried to scry, but the results were confusing.”

Geddy: “We can definitely try to look.” 

Bishop: “Excellent! You will travel to Fanax to meet with the King and the Cardinal. Dinner is in an hour.” 

Meanwhile, a day later, the other half of the party is still talking to the High Druid Zilch, a day or so after we resurrected him, when he says: “We have visitors.” He gestures toward his door. “Does anyone else know where you are?” 

Tavros: “Our friends certainly do.”

We look outside, and see four nightwings in the trees and two nightwalkers outside the door. Nightwalker: “We were told you were here. We wish to speak.” 

Tavros: “Well, speak.” 

“I am Furi, and this is Baku. Know that your compatriots slew Kaiji, and it is with much anger that I come. But Cimarron demands that I speak with you and not rend your flesh. You have one of my master’s artifacts, and he demands that you return them.”

Tavros: “Artifacts?” 

Furi: “The sword, or the hand.” 

Tavros: “No, I have the sword of Tavros.” He notices from their reaction that his sword is not looking as good as it once did.

Marshall, meanwhile, is talking with the Sword of Kaz. It wants to be put in the hand and taken to the tower. It doesn’t care who does it. 

Furi: “Also, Cimarron wishes to know if you come from the Master’s world.”

Azrael asks the druid if he’s going to fight with us; he is. 

Tavros: “Um?” 

Furi: “I am allowed to flay you if you will not return the artifact.”

Marshall: “If it’s got to be someone, it’s going to be me.” He turns undead. 

One of the Nightwings flees, injured. 

Marshall: “Aw, gee. Fuck y’all.” 

Azrael throw down a Disintegrate on one of the nightwalkers, damaging it, then follows up with a quickened scorching ray; they both cast Finger of Death on Tavros and fail to kill him. The three remaining nightwings try as well, and also fail to kill him outright; Tavros collapses from the incidental damage. 

Fortunately, the druid casts Heal on Tavros, restoring him. Marshall moves up beside Tavros and Holy Wards himself, which is sort of Protection From Evil on steroids. (We lose 500 gp from the party fund, but it is so worth it.) Ruin fires through the are where Tavros was standing, and puts an arrow in one of the nightwalkers. Azrael drops an empowered fireball, followed by a quickened fireball, which scorches the whole group of enemies. 

The two nightwalkers let loose with quickened Unholy Blight spells, but Marshall has placed a Holy Aura on us and we’re resistant to the spell. The nightwings try to breathe cold into the house, which bothers Tavros not at all. Marshall isn’t immune, but he ducks partly back behind the doorframe and is only mildly damaged. 

Tavros stands up, and Lays Hands on himself, curing the damage he took from their shadowy attacks. Zilf, meanwhile, creates a sort of tsunami of grass that knocks the nightwalkers back and knocks the nightwings out of the sky; they take more damage from that. One of the nightwings goes down. Marshall follows that up with Mass Cure Critical Wounds, which will heal us and damage them since they’re undead. It fails to penetrate the spell resistance for Baku, but affects the other three; the shrug off the worst of it, but Furi dies and both the nightwings are pretty fucked up. 

Azrael throws Evard’s Black Tentacles, but fails to grapple any of them. Baku is angry; he tries Finger of Death on Marshall but fails to kill him. The nightwings are badly injured and try to fly off. Tavros charges Baku, but misses him. Zilf drops Sunlight on Baku; Marshall throws Cure Serious Mass on the two nightwings and tags them both. Ruin charges and attacks the nightwalker, but misses. Azrael throws a scorching ray and a quickened scorching ray. 

Azrael: “Honestly, I don’t know how you would manage without me.” 

Baku attempts to Finger of Death Azrael, but it doesn’t affect him; Tavros attacks and finishes it. 

Azrael teleports us to Styre, to the bar where the two parties first met. They hop on a wagon and head for Vrist. 

Meanwhile, a day earlier, the bishop draugan leaves our company. Martini turns invisible and follows him; Leira casts Silent Image and makes it look like Martini is still standing next to her. The bishop heads into the kitchen and disappears; Martini heads down into the cellar, looking around for secret doors. She finds one, of course; she also finds an alarm trap on that. She bypasses it and goes through the door, moving silently. She’s come down the stairs to some sort of crypt. A lot of the skulls are wolf skulls; but they’ve also made tables out of the bones. Bishop is just going around the corner, so Martini follows. 

There’s a nightwalker at the end of the corridor; the bishop says something to it and passes by as it steps aside. He goes through a door behind it. 

Martini knocks down a couple of bones as a distraction. The nightwalker wanders over and looks at her: “Passphrase?” 

Martini starts trying to talk to him in Draconic. Nightwalker: “Leave.” Martini goes back up, and tells the rest of the party about it. 

Geddy: “Where is the dumb motherfucker at? Boris.” 

We find him in the dining room. “Little man! You gonna join the boss!” 

Geddy: “Hell yes we are!” He lies convincingly. 

“All right!” he tries to slap hands and knocks Geddy over. 

Geddy: “Man, I whacked my head and I forgot that word they told me so I could go and check things out downstairs.” 

Boris: “You’re gonna worship Urgroth with us? AWESOME. And I knocked the password out of your head?” 

Geddy: “Yep, ‘fraid so.”

Boris: “So you have to talk to the creepy nightwalker thing, and the password is Gwendolyn.” 

Geddy: “Can I sing you a song?” 

He promptly uses Modify Memory to remove any memory of this from Boris’ head. Boris now thinks he whacked Geddy because Geddy sang a song about how awesome he was and he got so excited.

Unfortunately, now he wants to hear the song again. Geddy now has to play all three verses.

Geddy: “But I didn’t even get to the solo! I’ll play the whole thing tonight.” 

They exchange a cautious fist-bump, and Geddy encourages him to drink more. 

Martini goes back downstairs and uses the password, still invisible, and gets through the door. The door shuts, and the bishop is occupied with reading the book. He looks up: “Did someone come in?” 

He goes back and checks the door. “Lodi, did someone come through here?” 

Lodi the shadow walker: “Passphrase?” 

The Bishop goes back to his book. Martini walks onto the ceiling and reads over his shoulder. It appears to be a book of secrets. There’s also a magical scroll, a fancy one, on the altar. (Martini’s player: “The only reason he’s not dead yet is because I’m planning his murder.”) She checks out the rest of the room, finding an adamantium portcullis with a complex mechanism next to it that probably requires some sort of key. There’s money on the other side of the gate, and a tiny little chest covered with heavy dust. Nobody’s gone near it in a very long time, and she wants it. 

She returns to the front door and knocks quietly. Lodi opens it. “Passphrase?” 

She glances in a side door, and notes that it’s a laboratory for creating undead and there are two entropic reapers and to angels of decay. Then she goes back upstairs and tells the rest of us about what the room contains, including the isolated shoebox. 

We attend the dinner. Pretty much the whole Wallington family is there, along with Boris and the Bishop. Geddy begins his song, and Boris is thrilled. 

Fenric Wallington sits next to our group. “Have you considered my offers?”

He asks Leira about Fendril and dancing, and Leira bursts into tears. 

Fenric: “So… no marriage. Barony, then?” 

Alexej is face-deep in his plate of meat; Geddy is laying out our willingness to be of service, convincingly, in exchange for Lydel and a barony. It’s also possible that Alexej is now semi-engaged to one of the Wallington twins, who are really a matched pair. 

It’s a bit more than Wallington intended, so Geddy reassures him that if it takes more we can scale the deal down. There’s also some discussion of the Queen’s suitors; it’s a source of some bitterness that the count was never chosen as a suitor. (It was probably a combination of her not liking him and him not having quite overcome his father’s reputation at the time.) 

It turns out that the gang of thieves who attacked the manor were captured; most were executed, but the leader is in a cell on the second floor. Boris’ wife Ginger talks to Martini and commiserates about having to work around men to get things done.