Monday, February 28, 2022

Music: Temptation


I don't really have anything for today, partly because I kind of crashed this weekend; I think I've been... not sick, exactly, but right on the edge of it. Beautiful Wife has done just amazing things in getting the house back into shape, and I managed to pull myself together long enough to run the youth D&D game, but that was my big accomplishment for this weekend.

I hope the rest of you are doing better than I am.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Durest: Paternal Pride

"Is it true?" asked Vandraka. 

Durest blinked and turned. The child had literally just come in the door; she hadn't offered a greeting or even cleared the threshold before asking her question. "Is what true?" asked Durest, somewhat disgruntled. 

"That you and your friends set loose that thing that's chewing through the south," Vandra clarified.

"Oh," said Durest. "That." He nodded, still uncertain about where this was going. He'd been gone from the clan for years now, and for all that Vandra was his daughter she was still an unknown quantity. Would she rebuke him for releasing an unstoppable horror on the world? Or would it just reinforce whatever image of himself as a darkly powerful father-figure that she seemed to be carrying in her head? "Aye. 'Twas Malefar's plan, but we were the ones that did it."

"That's amazing. I wish I'd been there to see it." Vandra looked briefly wistful, and Durest decided that he'd better step on the idea that this was somehow admirable. His instincts as a parent were all kinds of wrong and he knew it, but this he was fair certain about. 

"I'm very glad ye weren't," he said gently. "Meanin' no offense, of course, but that thing is pure destruction and distance be the only true safety from't.  Ah'm nae so sure we did the right thing by letting it out, tae be 'onest, though Indra's sure eno' pleased wi' it."

Vandra frowned. "But once it's eaten enough Solari, sure'n Malefar will..."

"Surely. What of ye, me darlin' girl?" asked Durest. "What've ye been keepin' busy wi'?"

Vandra pursed her lips, but allowed him to change the subject. "Small errands, minor bits of sabotage. I ran support when we kidnapped the mayor of... some little hamlet outside of Garamond. Kassadia Etriga says I'm not ready for more, yet. She's got me working on casting spells without showing any sign that that's what I'm doing, which makes it a lot harder."

"Useful, though, if you can master it." Durest thought about that, wondered if it was something he should try to learn for himself. "They're treating you well, then." 

Vandra nodded. "Aye, well enough." Then she added, "Damn it, Dad, I start talking to you and all of a sudden I sound like every hidebound elder in the delve again."

Durest chuckled and shrugged. "'Tis a danger, me lass, to be sure." He stopped, recomposed his voice, and said: "I'm one of those undisciplined young men and women who refuse proper behavior. You can tell by the way I talk, which is perfectly normal and much more in keeping with the times."

Vandra laughed. "Sure, Dad. You just keep telling yourself that." Then she went back out, leaving him alone and bemused in his room.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

EvilParty: Release the Kr-- Tarrasque

So, there’s a teleport block on the ruins, or at least on the monster storage room. Which calls for strategy

We decide on an aerial assault, with Chuck as invisible mist and Durest using a combination Fly, Silence, and Invisibilty. Silence is an interesting spell: it's an area effect with a ten foot radius, and since most spells have a verbal component it tends to suppress spellcasting. So he doesn't cast the spell on himself; he casts it on a small rock and carries that with him. Once they arrive, he leaves the Rock of Silence at the top of the stairs, and gets ready to head out of range of Silence and cast his next spell. 

He gets to the bottom of the step, turns around, and his mace smacks the door with the sound of a huge gong. (OOC: Durest rolled a 2 on his Move Silently check, and he has a -6 modifier for being not-that-dextrous and also heavily armored, so... yeah. Sneaky, he is not. Not without a lot of magical help.) Durest quickly casts his Ethereal Jaunt spell, just before a bunch of Lammasu come rushing down to investigate. Fortunately, Durest is invisible and intangible now; but the lammasu have passed through the Silence spell around the rock at the top of the stairs, and the effect is unmistakable since it renders them deaf while they're in it. They know something's up. 

Chuck takes this moment to cast Resist Energy on himself. Behind him, he hears someone unlock the door; that would be the guardians arriving. Durest is crossing the room, ethereally, until he gets close enough to the Wall of Force. Chuck, meanwhile, is clinging to the ceiling  when Durest casts Greater Dispel Magic and takes down the Wall of Force. 

Acid floods out into the room just as the lammasu fly in through the door. The scattered monster-pieces start pulling themselves back together. Chuck’s invisibility wears off, and he dissolves into a cloud of mist and hopes not to be noticed. 

Demikos: “Fools! What have you DONE???”

The Celestial Charger tries to turn undead, but fails. A couple of the Lammasu saw where Chuck turned into mist, and start casting Holy Smite. Chuck curses. 

Meanwhile the partly-regenerated monster stands up, mewling. 

Chuck drops a Fireball on the gathered guardians, because he’s annoyed about being smitten. 

“Quickly! Before it regenerates! It’s our only chance! TO ME!” The Golden Protectors charge the monster, just as we'd hoped. The celestial charger goes with them. Durest walks out the door and uses Stone Shape to seal the doorway closed. Two of the Lammasu manage to fly out before it closes, leaving two others trapped inside. 

One of the Lammasu takes the Silence Rock and throws it away. Two cast Holy Smite, damaging Chuck even further. “Oh, you pieces of shit, just wait.” 

Back inside the room, chaos ensues. 

Outside, Durest notices that Chucks’s kind of taking a beating. He returns to the material plane (being ethereal is kind of like being a ghost; you can only interact with certain things and vice versa) and drops Mass Inflict Light Wounds, curing the vampire and damaging everybody else. Meanwhile, the Tarrasque is chomping through its opponent. 

One of the Lammasu casts Magic Circle Against Evil; the other four cast Magic Smite again, trying to take out Chuck. Who responds by moving out of the circle of Lammasu and tossing a Fireball behind him. Four of them die. Meanwhile there are horrible rending sounds and screams behind the stone. 

Durest detours to the treasure pile and starts shoveling things into the bag of holding: a dwarven war axe, a bunch of coins, a couple of other things. Then he heads for the mechanical fireball-scorpion, which Chuck is attempting to claim as his own.


The giant monster bursts out of the stone, and one random lammasu who somehow missed all this flees screaming into the night. Durest teleports himself, Chuck, and the fireball scorpion back to the camp. We’re far enough back that we aren’t immediately visible, so we throw the scorpion on one of the wagons and Chuck opens the gate.  He uses the scorpion to throw a couple of fireballs up the air and gets the monster’s attention. 

So, with the goblins lined up from here back to our target, we come out of the gate and then circle around and hide behind the gate. Sure enough, the Tarrasque just comes out and starts eating goblins and following the trail of them like a giant, monstrous ET following the Reese’s Pieces out of the closet. As planned, he’s headed for Morcoast. 

By December, the monster has arrived in Morcoast. It’s… bad. It’s a town of 10,000… or it was. 

We’re officially evil now. Durest would feel a lot worse about this if his god Indra wasn't just perpetually giggling about it in the back of his head.

The Tarrasque arrives at Morcoast just in time for Christmas (or Midwinter Fest, anyway). Meanwhile, we’re back at Wellfort and Malafar is very pleased with us. He tells us he’s going to take us off the leash soon. 

Finally, the Solari in the dark woods split off part of their force to try to contain the Tarrasque, allowing our forces to push forward and take Southfair. And that’s when Malafar calls us in with Cardinal Laroche. It’s time for us to start moving along the northern road. 

So, there’s a disgraced Duke of Sol Povos - Corbin, of Janbridge - who’s sympathetic to our cause, mainly because he’s been sent south "to set the Barony of Springhollow to rights" (which he thinks is beneath him) and also because that was done specifically to take him out of the Sol Povos chain of command and he seriously resents that. As a result, we can bypass him and the barony he currently holds, and follow the north road while eliminating Solari and doing whatever we want with the towns. We ask about appointing regents and follow-up forces to hold the ground we take, but... This is not conquest; Malafar wants us to sow as much chaos as possible. It’s February at this point, and he’s going to teleport us just west of Springhollow on the road to Garamond. 

We consider strategies, and Cardinal Laroche gives us some background. Garamond has a population of about 11,000; the Baron is Fabreeze Poitier, and there are seven Solari left there. Maximilian is the head of them; he’s the Baron’s spymaster and never leaves his side. The others are a druid, Murielle; a famous ogre fighter named Samson, who’s more sophisticated than he seems; and a pair of priests of Artemis. They also suspect that there’s a fighter named Baldwin, who uses the two-bladed sword in the Elvish style. 

Springhollow and Garamond are both home to the furniture barons, who take advantage of the Ruby Woods nearby. The Baron of Garamond is an older man, on his third wife; there’s some cross-marriage between his children and those of the Baron of Springhollow. We mount the scorpion siege engine on a reinforced wagon, and use last session’s Manual of Golem Creation to create an iron golem to pull the cart. Jenny, meanwhile, has had custom barding crafted for her horse so it will have a unicorn horn. 

It would be nice if we had some kind of spy ring of our own, but we don’t. Eh, c'est la guerre. We do what we can, which is mostly murdering people and turning them into undead.

So, next week: the assault on Garamond.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Challenge: Something New

(This post is part of the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. You can find links to other writers' answers over at Long and Short Reviews.)

Prompt: something new you learned last year

I was about to say that I didn't really feel like I'd learned much of anything last year, at least not anything that I'd care to share with my children as part of our accumulated wisdom, but...

There are other kinds of learning, y'know? And I'm making a concentrated effort to get myself back together, and part of that includes trying not to be cranky about everything that happens, let alone the general state of things. And another part of that includes building out my skills a little bit (in my copious spare time, admittedly). 

So what was something new that I learned last year? 


A little bit of it, at least. 

I was actually looking at language pay for my job, but it turns out they won't pay you extra for knowing just any old language; the list of what languages they will pay for is actually pretty short. Fortunately, that list includes Spanish, and I used to be... conversational, though not really fluent... in Spanish. (I actually majored in Spanish for a year, before I switched over to an English/Anthropology combo and graduated with that.) Admitted, I'm a couple of decades worth of rusty with the language, and what I learned was academic, Castilian Spanish (which is... not what folks speak here in Texas) but still: Spanish!

And now German. Where does German come in? Well, there was a point where Beautiful Wife and I were considering retiring to German someday. Speaking the language seemed like a good idea for that. Plus, learning a new language is supposed to help keep the brain flexible, especially in one's later years, and I am not young. (Hardly elderly, mind you, but not young.) Also,  German is... sort of the other half of the two main language patterns that got trapped together in a horrifying teleporter accident and emerged as the acid-spitting hybrid mutant language that we call English. So it's interesting from that perspective as well.

So when I signed up for Duolingo, I started in on both: Spanish, to dust off those neural pathways, and German, to make some new one. I do one session of each most evenings, and as a result... 

Well, I mean, I still sound like an idiot in German. Like, my grammar and vocabulary are Freshman-year, "Ich liebe bier" stuff that any German preschooler would recognize as clumsy. But it's more German than I knew in 2020, and that's still something.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Is this Tuesday?

The boys had Monday off for Presidents Day, and apparently I completely spaced on putting anything up on the blog since I was home with them. And honestly, I don't think I have much for today -- it's going to be a bit of catching up on email and other things, and I'm kind of trying to conserve my mental resources while (among other things) I get the house back in order. It's amazing how fast the laundry builds up around here. 

I'm also trying to get my feet back under me on writing, because I really want to get moving on the Magic School for Monsters story that I started (in theory) a year ago. And that, as I've discussed any number of times previously, requires regular sleep at the very least. Eating better and exercising  a bit wouldn't hurt, either. Getting the house into shape would be a huge bonus.

News at work is mixed, but it's mostly stuff that I don't want to discuss here. Suffice to say that I've got more than enough on my plate there, and it's about to get even busier. 

I've also got a list of things that I need to go back and deal with which are... home business? Like, they're not my job, but they're still job-like responsibilities, just in my private life. And that... I don't know how anybody keeps up with all this, I really don't. 

Still, we trudge on regardless, and hope that nothing too important falls through the cracks.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Dark Armor: Formidable

"Well," said the archer, looking around the damaged camp, "that didn't go as expected." She spat into the coals of a burned tent, listening for the soft sizzle as her spittle boiled away. 

"No," agreed the Shadow, a soft voice coming from nowhere in particular in the darkness. "He is... formidable." The archer heard the change in her voice as the Shadow grinned under her shadows and her mask. "I kind of like him."

The archer looks around again, pointedly. "I don't. He shouldn't have been here. You didn't even get near killing Prince Ravaj. Who sends out a Champion for a farmer's rebellion?"

"The Wizard-King of Teregor, apparently," answered the Shadow. "At least, he does when he's sending his heir along as well. And I did put a dagger in his belly." 

The archer straightened at the sound of approaching footsteps, letting the words she would have spoken fall away. "How bad is it?"

Sorcerer-General Abdis Grenvold shook his head. "Bad," he said "Our supply train is annihilated, and we lost at least a third of the camp. Were we attacking in force, we might send out foragers and continue to advance... but the trap has failed, the enemy is alert, and our resources are low. Our remaining forces will be lucky to retreat intact."

"No," said the unseen Shadow, "You won't. I'll make sure of it."

Thursday, February 17, 2022

EvilParty: Release the Eldritch Horror

Picking up with the Other Adventuring Party in the service of the armies of Vecna... Evil!Party is: 

  • Jenny, human barbarian
  • Chuck, human sorcerer turned vampire
  • Durest, dwarven cleric with a thing for necromancy 

We’ve been called into some sort of conference of war in Wellfort just as it's breaking up. The Hierophant has a special mission for us.

The Hierophant introduces us to a secret Ancient Formorian City, Seshresh, which was a center of research and design. If we can retrieve the thing he wants, we will have earned his trust. There are sphynx-like guardians, and we will have an easier time if we pose as merchants crossing the desert - perhaps we can deceive the guardians.

Durest: “So what d’ye wants us to bring back, Hierophant?”

The Hierophant offers drinks -- probably not a good sign -- and Jenny asks for All The Whiskey, and Durest asks for The Rum. 

He wants us to retrieve a horrible, nearly indestructible monster from ancient days, and set it loose along the southern coast to divide the Solari and thin their ranks; if we survive, we can follow the northern route and hunt Solari there. They've sent others to the ruins before us, but they all died.

The Hierophant suggests that merchants crossing the deserts sometimes encounter these sphynx-monsters and are even helped by them. We could pretend to be merchants and perhaps get past them that way. 

We do some research: the people of Seshresh were researching ways create an unkillable – but not undead – monster to use as a weapon, and very possibly they succeeded because their historical record kind of cuts off at that point. So this is clearly a good idea and nothing bad will happen to us if we manage to revive the thing.

We then do some planning, and decide that our best bet is to lure the monster over to the gate in the Briar Marsh, and also we’re going to stop by there first and collect 100 Goblins to help with this effort. The goblin chieftain Tiktik reports for duty as their commander. Chuck assures them that the spoils will be theirs for the keeping. Also, they’re going to get fed all the good food now that they’re part of our big, important mission. Tiktik is pleased; he's thrilled to finally be recognized and assigned to an important mission.

We set out. Jenny is bringing her harem, and we have the goblins, and we have a wagon with the gateway. Durest is riding in the ribcage of his skeletal frost giant, Bob. We’ve been traveling for about ten days, and we’re well into the desert, probably another four or five days out. We’re in our camp when some sort of giant ant creature attacks one of Jenny’s harem, and the man starts screaming in terror. He's being attacked by some sort of man-sized ant-creature: a formian, not to be confused with a Formorian.

Durest: “Cool. I’ve never had an exoskeletal skeleton.”

Harem guy: “AHHHHHHHH! I’m going to die!!!”

Then a giant ant burrows up out of the sand behind him and rips his torso off. 

Another one comes up behind Chuck and stings him, which isn’t as effective as it could be since Chuck is immune to poison and resistant to damage. Jenny immediately attacks it, and both the giant ants turn to look at her. Then a bunch of smaller ants come up out of the ground around Jenny and attack. Two of them actually hit, doing a little damage and trying to poison her but she ignores the poison and shrugs off the damage.

Chuck casts Lightning Bolt and wipes out a couple of them. Bob the skeleton attacks a small ant and damages it; the first of the large ants scuttles over and attacks Chuck (and misses) and the other one scoots over and attacks Jenny. It damages her with its stinger. 

Jenny whips her spiked chain around and wipes out all the little ants and then buries the spike in the big ant; she attacks again, but doesn’t quite manage to get through its armor this time. Bob the frost giant skeleton misses the original giant ant. It moves past Chuck and Bob, and flanks Jenny; they both miss it as it passes. 

The giant ants attack Jenny, stinging and biting. Jenny is… actually kind of turned on. She murders the ant in front of her, yanks her chain around, and hits the remaining giant ant. She wraps the chain around its head and wrenches, and its head comes off. Durest hears some rumbling nearby and casts Greater Magic Weapon on Bob’s axe. More ants pop up around us and charge in. Jenny kills one and maims four others on the way in. 

Two ants attack Durest but miss; two more attack Bob and hit, for minimal damage because he’s a skeleton and they’re trying to sting him. Two more attack Chuck, but fail to damage him. Bob murders one of them with his temporarily magical axe. Jenny kills another one and drops her chain; she scoops it back up and they attack her but miss. Durest drops a mass Inflict Light Wounds, wiping out the wounded and injuring the unwounded. 

The rumbling under the ground is growing louder, and all of a sudden the ants vanish back into the ground. 

A moment later a giant worm rears up out of the desert. Chuck casts Ennervate. Bob steps in and chops at it twice with the axe, and Jenny follows up with her chain. She only hits once, but it does a big chunk of damage; Durest follows with Inflict Critical, doing more damage. It attacks Jenny, biting her and then swallowing her; the barbarian is now making discoveries about the appeal of vore. Unfortunately, in this case it involves crushing and acid damage. 

It then stings Durest, who takes a bit of damage but doesn’t get poisoned. Chuck decides to hit it with a lightning bolt. Bob hits it with his axe, damaging it a bit more. It starts to attack Chuck, and about that moment Jenny rips it apart from the inside, shrugs its corpse off, and steps out of it. 

The formians have vanished. 

We continue traveling through the desert, and finally get to the spot where the city is supposed to be… but we can’t find it. Late in the night, almost morning, a winged lion flies down. “Hello there. You appear to be lost. My name is Kaladite.” He looks at Bob. “Um…”

Durest: “Caravan guard. Very reliable.” 

“Are you a necromancer?” 

Durest: “Well, more of a merchant, but in particular sorts of merchandise.”

“Ah. Are you selling him?” 

Durest doesn’t realize that he’s talking about Chuck and says, “Of course. Reliable servants are so hard to find.”

“Ah, well, are you lost? I can guide you to the far side of the desert.”

Durest: “Actually we’re looking for Seshresh. Heard there might be treasure in the ruins.” 

Sphynx: “No one knows of Seshresh! You are all evil! This conversation is done.” 

Durest: "Wait, was he asking me if I was selling Chuck?"

Chuck turns into a bat and goes to follow the sphynx as he flies off. Chuck takes the line that he’s been cursed and his friends are stupid, and that actually he could use some help. He’s… a lot more convincing than the rest of us. 

Kaladite thinks that if Chuck needs help with his condition, her should talk to one of the more senior Lammasu or a celestial unicorn. Kaladite promises to return tomorrow with Demekos the senior Lammasu to see about helping Chuck escape from that evil necromancer, Durest. “Don’t worry, friend. We’ll save you.”

Chuck flies back and looks at Durest. “Hey, necromancer boy. You’re fucked. You may want to come up with a really good excuse for being a necromancer before tomorrow.”

Durest figures his best bet is just to offer to sell Chuck to them in exchange for the location of Seshresh... but quickly changes his mind and decides on a less evil-sounding approach.

So Cassiopeia and Demekos arrive with Kaladite, and another Lammasu shows up: “Necromancer! We have come to rescue your prisoner.” 

Durest tries to sell them on the idea that he actually saved Chuck but could only do it by turning him into a vampire, and we’re looking for Seshresh because we’ve learned that there’s a way to restore him to life in Seshresh. They're... more willing to believe this than they probably should be.

They’re not interested in telling us where Seshresh is, though. Their duty is to protect it. They believe Durest well enough, but they’re going to leave us and come back tomorrow. Durest takes this opportunity to commune with Indra, using a spell that allows him ask a bunch of yes-or-no questions. Are we close enough to Seshresh to find it today? Yes. He continues on, narrowing it down, and finally inspires Indra to give him a full answer (gods can break the rules if they really want to!), mainly because Indra is apparently all in on this plan and the absolute chaos it will cause in the mortal world.

...After a bit of Twenty Questions, we head southeast looking for some kind of ruins that are visible on the surface. We approach a large dune, and as we near it, it sort of turns into a sand storm. We continue on, and the sands part and we come upon the ruins; there are Lammasu circling around above the ruins. There are Formorian ballista in the ruins, but no roofs. There is a statue of a scorpion that’s actually a siege engine; it’s called a flame-render scorpion, and it calls down fireballs if someone activates it. We count eight Lammasu, but no golden protectors or celestial unicorns. 

Chuck turns invisible and also into mistform, and goes ahead to scout. There’s really only one intact room on the surface, but he finds another set of doors leading down into the sand. As Chuck descends he finds a large room with a bunch of dead things in it – way more than we could have fought past. There’s an old stone door at the back of the room, guarded by four guardian nagas. He flows through that as well, and finds himself in an old lab, mostly smashed up but with a few items intact - a couple of books, a pair of rings, a staff. There’s also a tank in the back of the room. In the tank are chunks of something that’s trying to regenerate but being eaten by the acid at the same time. Dispelling the wall of force would let the acid out and there we’d go… 

Chuck resumes solidity and looks around. The rings are Shield Rings; there’s a staff of Illusion, a decanter Endless Water, and an Iron Golem manual. The mundane book is mostly technical gibberish that would probably be lost on modern scholars, but there’s a passage at the end where a scientist SERIOUSLY regrets creating the beast that they did. We’re going to sell the staff, but we’re keeping the golem manual and Jenny really wants the shield rings. 

The room doesn’t look like anybody ever comes in here. Chuck takes all the treasure including the book, and then goes to report back. Everybody in the party thinks this is a completely terrible idea, but we also think it will work and this is the party that is absolutely going to do it anyway. 

Durest and Jenny, meanwhile, have set up their best attempt at a hidden camp out at the edge of the ruins. And that's where we stop, with the plan to try to teleport directly into the room and dispel the wall of force, freeing the monster and running like hell before it finishes putting itself back together.

What could possibly go wrong?

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Challenge: Favorite Genre

This post is part of the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. You can find links to other writers' answers over at Long and Short Reviews.)

Prompt: favorite book genre and why

This is one is trickier than it looks like, for two reasons: 

  • My favorite genre kind of depends on what I'm in the mood for.
  • I don't know that I could explain exactly why I like particular genres, and often what gets marked out as a "genre" isn't in itself the quality that I enjoy or look for in a book.

With that said, most of what I tend to read falls under what I'd generally categorize as Fantastical: fantasy, science fiction, horror, and all the various permutations that reverberate between the three of them. (But then I'll turn around and read a romance or a mystery or a bit of satire because it sounded like what I was in the mood for, and I really don't feel like I should need to justify that.) I like books with swords and magic and adventure and monsters, I like well-realized worlds that are strange to me but still accessible, I like ordinary people who are trying to cope with absurd situations and even their own absurd selves. I like fantasy worlds that still rely on old-fashioned blacksmiths and coopers and haberdashers and are smart enough to incorporate interesting facts about those trades. Give me a soft, fluffy romance between a paladin and a perfume-maker that also includes a handful of severed heads. 

I can tell you about what genre(s) are my favorite and why, but honestly a well-realized trope or personality/relationship/situational dynamic is often much more important to what draws me in and makes me prefer one book over another. I tend to favor genres that are more likely to have my sort of tropes and dynamics; in some ways, it's as simple as that.


Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Character Sketch: Amados Bronin

Amados is beginning his first year at Sunhaven Academy, having applied and been accepted for his unusual talent as an artist. He is still human, though several groups (the vampires in particular) are interested in courting him despite his humble background. He is quietly ambitious, and has learned enough of fencing and sorcery to hold his own, but his relaxed and self-deprecating sense of humor are out of place among the children of the high and mighty. He uses a (very plain) dress sword as a focus, but his real skill is in producing images that connect directly to actual people and places; he spends most of his time working with the Academy's Illustrator to improve his art, and he isn't above producing a number of non-magical sketches or comics to make a point. 

In addition to the usual Tarot-style cards carried by the personages of the Empire, he keeps a personal deck of cards that he can use to connect to beasts, strategic locations (such as the inside of a jail cell), and environmental conditions (lava, hurricanes -- think of the Addams Family library) that he might want to call forth. 

Art is dangerous.

Monday, February 14, 2022

RoH: Camp Disturbed

The camp was quiet when he returned, but the other guards were out and he stopped just beyond the trees, to call out and wave so he wouldn't get an arrow to the face on his way back in. Tamril was the closest of the guards; he shouted, "It's Remant!" and after that Remant knew that it was safe to approach. 

"Did you kill them?" asked Tamril, as he came within speaking distance. Tamril was young, barely into adulthood, but he had nothing of that sense of invincibility that Remant had once associated with men of his age. He came from a generation that knew that the world would cheerfully kill them if they let down their guard, the ones who had come of age just after the war.

Remant nodded. "It was just a few." 

"Really? With a spell like that, we thought--"

Remant shook his head. "I think they must have prepared it in advance, for whoever came through. I was fortunate to escape it, but beyond that..." He shrugged. 

Tamril nodded, doing is best to look sagely. It was common knowledge, or at least common belief, that spells prepared well in advance could be much stronger than a mage or magister could call forth in the moment. 

Remant had been counting on that; it helped make his story believable. "How is everyone else taking it?" he asked. 

"Ashela said we should leave them asleep," answered Tamril, and Remant nodded. 

He wasn't surprised. The caravan was led by the merchant Varkas and her six drovers, but they'd brought along a wagon belonging to a displaced family and two other wagons owned by puppeteers, for a token fee. If Ashela had awakened everyone, it would have been chaos... or at least a lot of shouting and recriminations, and the camp certainly wouldn't have been quiet when he returned. Also, explaining that the would-be bandits were dead would have been a lot more awkward. 

Ashela was helping him out. 

"Sensible," he said. "I'll go tell her what happened, and then I need to get back to sleep myself." 

"Quiet duties," Tamril said, the well-wish from one caravan guard to another, and Remant smiled and walked the rest of the way into the camp.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Nothing Left

This week has just been... I'm tired. I think having the boys home from school last week kind of broke me. I've actually been really productive this week, but it's been an uphill slog the whole way. So I don't have any amusing fictions for you this morning, and several of the other things I've been trying to do have been... yeah. Not done. Work stuff has been getting done. Everything else, not so much.

This morning, you get music:

Thursday, February 10, 2022

RoH: Fraught With Magic

Remant walked out into the woods, slipping between the trees and easing through the underbrush until the camp was well behind him. He was fully dressed now, with his sword on his hip and the dagger in his left boot, his bow across his back and a quiver of arrows arranged beneath it, slung crossways at the small of his back. They were still three days out from Doblim, and the woods here were thick. Whoever and whatever was out here, Remant doubted that they were anything more than rumors to the people of the would-be capital city. 

"You come to us?" asked a voice, soft in the darkness. 

It sounded nearby, almost at his shoulder, but Remant shrugged and disdained to look around. He didn't know what sort of magic had been used to project it, but he knew for a fact that nobody was standing behind him. "It seemed easier."

"Whatever it is you carry, it strains the fabric of this world. No difficulty to sense it, no fault to want it." This time the voice came from ahead and off to his left, but he thought that that too was misdirection. 

"On the contrary," he replied. "There is fault in wanting such things."

"Easy to say when you have them." This time the voice was behind him, but farther back. "Easy to say, when your place is secure." 

Remant sighed, but remained where he was. "There's some truth in that," he admitted. "What is it that you want?"

"A place of our own, safe from those who drove us out. Ascendancy, security. A world in which we make the rules by which we are judged."

"Do you not have that now?" Remant still wasn't sure what he was dealing with, but  it sounded as if these beast-bound had been driven away from Doblim, or possibly some other city, and taken a place out here in the woods. 

The voice moved again, or seemed to: "We do, but the cities rise again. With the power you carry, we could drive them back, separate them, isolate them. We could make the world safe."

Safe for whom? Remant shook his head slowly. "Clearly you have power already. Surely you can work out some way to live beyond the cities, to give them something they need and make them accept you."

"Diplomacy?" scoffed the voice, now somewhere off to his right. "We tried that before. Now, it will be conquest. And the power you carry will show us the way." 

The first attack came from behind him, and Remant met it with a sense of regret: four wolves, their shoulders as high as his own, charging in from separate directions, dodging from side to side as they approached. He cut and stepped back and to the right as one wolf fell, cut back and twisted to the left and rear as the second one reached him, forced his eyes shut as he called for a flash of light, and then stepped forward and cut down the remaining two as they stood, staggered. 

"Did you enjoy that?" he asked. "I didn't. Give up this poisonous dream and let me pass."

"We... do not yield," said the voice, and Remant felt the forces stir as a mist sprang up from the ground and spectral figures rose out of the mist. 

"Leave them to their rest," Remant growled, watching as the ghostly figures approached. Then he launched himself among them, and the blade of his saber cut them apart as if they were flesh. They screamed, fell, dissolved. 

"You do have your surprises," the voice admitted, this time drifting across the back of his neck. "But you will fall, and we will take your power."

"Promises, promises," answered Remant. He knelt, pulled the dagger from his boot, and held it in his left hand. His saber balanced easily in his right. "Come and try it."

They came, finally, from all directions: four men and eight women, pulling beast-forms over their human bodies as they fell on him. His sword cut their beast-flesh as easily as it would have parted human, and the dagger covered wounds with ice wherever it struck. They attacked, fell back, gathered over their wounded and attacked again; at the end of things, they all lay still and much of the forest around Remant was covered in frost. Spears of ice pierced several of the corpses. 

Remant sighed. "It didn't have to be like this," he said, though most of them were too far gone to hear him. "We could have sat and talked. You didn't have to raid the camp. You didn't have to try to murder me."

One of the dying beast-bound coughed and looked up at him. "I would-- I would..." Then there came a rattling sound, and the woman fell back a corpse. 

Remant shook his head and turned back towards the caravan.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Challenge: Showing Love

This post is part of the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. You can find links to other writers' answers over at Long and Short Reviews.)

Prompt: ways to show someone you love them

...It's eleven o'clock on the night before this prompt is supposed to go up, and I have absolutely no idea what to do with it.

Okay, no, that's not right, I do know how to answer that. I know, because Beautiful Wife took the dog for a walk earlier -- much earlier -- and when she still wasn't back at a quarter to eleven I called and asked if she wanted me to come pick her up. (She was at her mom's house; it was the only thing that made sense under the circumstance.) So one way, obviously, is to realize that it's very late and your spouse is still out with the dog and then go rescue them so they don't have to walk all the way home.

But also, I spent an hour this weekend going over Secondborn's homework and helping him work it out. So that's another way to show someone you love them: help them with math.

And that brings me around to my absolute favorite, which works for both Beautiful Wife and Firstborn: tea. Especially tea with little notes attached to it. "You are amazing and you can do all the things. Here is tea." "I'm very proud of the way you're taking care of your responsibilities. Have some tea." "This tea was forged in the cauldron of the gods and may only be drunk by the most beautiful and wonderful of women."

But those are just some particular examples. Showing someone you love them is basically just a matter of understanding their needs and desires -- and then being mindful about helping them when they need and want it. Our dishwasher broke, and I did the dishes myself, by hand, so we would have forks, without complaining (much) or asking for help from Beautiful Wife. That shows love. I leave Firstborn in charge of his own bedtime and wakeups, because he's shown that he can handle that and still get his schoolwork and etc. done. That shows love. 

Pay attention, and do what you can to show appreciation and support. Everything else is just details.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Undone by Snow Days

Let us speak of all the things I have not done. Come, children, gather 'round. We have electricity and running water, at least. Come.  

Let us speak of the Three Days of Vacation that I applied for some weeks ago. Let us speak of the plans I had for them: the meals I would eat, the scenes I would write, the sleep I would get. There would be cooking, and cleaning, and video games! It was to be a wonder, those Three Days of Vacation. 

Let us speak of the Time of Cold that came during those days. Let us speak of the snow and ice, and the closing of the schools. Let us speak of my children, with whom I spent the last four days indoors, and let us speak of how they grow very excited at Snow Days and do not sleep. Let us speak of how it falls that when they do not sleep, I do not sleep. 

Let us speak of the dishwasher as well. Let us speak of its honorable service as a household appliance, and the many dishes it has cleaned for us. Let us speak of its demise, and our mourning, and The Great Hand Washing of the Dishes. Let us speak of the horror movies that carried me through that task, and give thanks once again that we had electricity and clean water.

Let us speak of the stories I did not write, of the resume I did not clean up, of the cover letter I have yet to produce. Tomorrow, I tell myself, knowing full well that tomorrow I will face The Inbox of Bottomless Email, and another troubleshooting call, and fasting for the bloodwork for my annual physical exam. Let us speak of the Coming of the Plumber and the Repair of the Shower, much anticipated for all that it will occupy Tuesday afternoon. Let us speak of how the promise of Tomorrow is rash and unreliable. 

Let us speak of finally returning the children to a school schedule. Let us speak of the difficulties this will entail, and the relief we hope it will bring. Let us speak of the overdue Math Homework, now all filled out and paper-clipped together as it rests in a young man's school folder. Let us speak of our hopes for the return of a regular sleep schedule.  

Let us speak of the things that have passed, and the things that we hope are yet to come.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Setting: The Arcane Empire

The Arcane Empire is the setting for the Magic School For Monsters book that I'm (still) trying to write. It is a land populated by human beings as well as magical races, rich in sorcery and under constant threat from the monster-filled wastelands beyond its southern border. Those are the two fundamental elements that define and inform everything else about the empire. 

Regarding Sorcery:

  • Almost anyone can use sorcery. The right words and gestures, made together, produce reliable results. No real mystical understanding is required; words and phrases can be learned by rote, and most people know at least a handful of useful sayings.

  • Speakers are the ones who study the grammar and vocabulary of sorcery, in order to assemble their own phrases; the best of them are able, through long practice, to condense long, precise speeches into shorter phrases that can be filled in with keywords specific to a particular situation.

  • Scribes are able to render words and phrases into the hieroglyphs of the Forgotten Tongue, and so add magical qualities to ordinary items. This can encompass anything from creating a doorway that cleans you off when you walk through it, to marking a chest with a glyph that will explode when someone touches it, to adding powerful magics to a sword or shield. Scribes are highly valued by the Imperial military, and learning how to inscribe is one of the best ways to complete your service without ever seeing battle.

  • Images also have power in Imperial magic. An image can be connected to a real place, or to a specific person, allowing a means of magical communication and transportation. This can be done with any size of image, but tarot or playing cards are especially common, particularly among Speakers. 

Regarding Monsters:

  • The monsters come out of the southern wastelands, and would lay waste to the empire were the southern border not constantly defended. This is the primary role and purpose of the Imperial military, and the reason why a four-year term of service is required of all Imperial citizens.

  • The monsters come in many shapes and sizes, but even the ones that most closely resemble humans are incapable of infiltration. Their actions, outlook, and understanding are simply too alien for them to pretend to be human. The more humanoid strains are also a relatively new development; Imperial records show no accounts of them prior to about thirty years ago.

  • The monstrous Great Houses within the Empire are almost all the result of sorcerous attempts to create beings better suited to fighting the wasteland beasts (as are their more heroic equivalents within the houses of Light).

  • Sorcery -- Spoken or Inscribed -- remains the most effective defense that the Empire has against monstrous incursions. Regular troops are trained in basic sorcerous attacks and defenses, but officers and specialists are expected to be Speakers themselves, or at least have a good vocabulary. Most have other gifts as well, either dark or light Arcana.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Fanaxia: Escape from the Abyss

 We're still in the Abyss, and still naked. We've just killed our second slavemaster, and we're trying to come up with a plan. Our plan was for Azrael to create a distraction and then Plane Shift out while we escape through the portal.

We decide to sneak off and engage one of the Retrievers, the demonic constructs with the magical eye-rays, to get it to zap the staff and thus recharge it. Azrael absorbs its first attack and blasts it with a lightning bolt.

It moves up on us, and Tavros starts ripping into it with claws and fangs; Azrael moves back and fires off another lightning bolt. Marshall attempts to grapple the thing, taking a bit of damage on the way in, and the thing shrugs him off. Leira hides behind Azrael and taunts the Retriever. Martini starts slinking around, and Ruin goes after it with a pry-bar and damages it some more.

It fires an eye ray at Azrael, and then attempts to attack Tavros but misses and gets a claw stuck under a rock. The other three attacks do some damage, though. (-82 HP to Tavros.) We leap on him and try to pin the other claw down. Tavros takes more damage (-33) and grabs the claw and successfully grapples it. Azrael uses telekinesis to drive the arm into the ground and trap it there.

Leira taunts the thing again, keeping its attention and its eye lasers on Azrael. It attacks Tavros with its claws, doing another 33 damage to him.

Marshall offers himself as the sacrifice for the next attack of opportunity, taking a bit of damage. Tavros uses the distraction to grab the next leg and drive it into the ground. It fires its eye-beams at Azrael again, and attacks Marshall again.

Tavros drives the third leg into the ground, effectively pinning the thing. We move back out of reach of its claws, and let it keep firing at Azrael and thus recharging the staff.

Azrael: "I think we've taunted him enough. Kill it now!"

We run back in, and beat it down.

Azrael is fully confident in his power now. Azrael starts laying out his plans for how best to distract the demons, now that he's fully charged.

Azrael makes us invisible and we head for the stair up the pyramid. We look back, and see Azrael riding on the back of a giant scorpion, shouting shit at the demons and summoning Celestial Rocs and devils and whatnot. Demons start teleporting over to deal with him.

We run into the pyramid and come into Behemoth's throne room. All hell is breaking loose outside, and Behemoth and Hecate are gone. We take a minute to look around for our stuff.

There's a *lot* of treasure here. We locate a bag that looks like it has our stuff, and Ruin dashes over to it. Tavros moves over there as well. Martini and Marshall move into the room as well.

A Babau runs in. "What's going on in here?" It can't see us, but it definitely hears something.

Leira sneaks towards the portal. Martini just jumps through the portal, invisible and inaudible; we don't even know she's gone. Tavros grabs a carpet of flying and heads for the portal, making a bit of noise; Ruin grabs the bag and follows silently.

The Babau casts See Invisible and starts yelling: "Slaves! Slaves escaping!"

We jump through the portal and escape.

Marshall, Tavros, and Leira wake up in coffins. Martini, Ruin, and Geddy crawl out of the water of Mar Dentro, at the edge of the rainforest beside Titan's reach. Our equipment is magically restored to us.

Geddy uses one of his wishes to make sure that Eva is safe and happy. Eva will no longer be part of the party; she is much older, and has grown into an adult while we were away.

Turns out that when Geddy went through the portal, he landed in the swamp and wound up staying there for some fifteen years. He finds a magic pond that lets him look in on Eva, hundreds of years ago in Povos. They become friends, and she grows older, and then after about two years a human man wanders in and introduces himself as Bryce Lamont, the crown prince of Fanaxia. So Geddy starts trying to help him, mentor him. This goes on for another fourteen years, until finally one day the swamp starts to change and a path appears, leading to the place of an ancient tree.

Bryce returns to reclaim his throne; Geddy stays by the pond. As the demons are destroying the ghost tower, Eva dives into Mar Dentro and pulls Geddy out through the pond.

Geddy, unfortunately, has been aging at the same time-frame as Eva; he is *old* now. (OOC: "Venerable".)

Meanwhile, Azrael makes his escape and shows up in someone's summoning circle. He escapes and winds back up in the Abyss. Behemoth is waiting for him: "The Compact prevents you from leaving, Mortal."

Azrael: "Oh."

Behemoth: "I accept your challenge, mortal."

Azrael absorbs more of Behemoth's magic; he throws lightning back, but doesn't do much damage. He remembers what the staff can do, absorbs more magic.

"You bulbous, crypt-nosed whore!" yelled Azrael. He laughed. "Pathetic. Your mother should be ashamed of you. Your the bitch of the litter, useless... boyfriend!"

A barrage of magic drove him to his knees. The staff burned in his hands.

Behemoth drew his sword and whip, and came forward to finish him.

Azrael came to his feet as the Balor charged. He raised the staff above his head, and Behemoth stumbled to a stop. There was a brief moment as their eyes met.

Behemoth turned to flee, but it was too late. Azrael brought the staff down and cracked it over his knee.

The explosion shook the Abyss.

We went into Fanaxia in April of 557. It's... about two years later. Somewhere in about May, the Solari died and were buried. Viggo the Whisperer is a bit broken up by this.

Next time we'll pick up with Evil!Party and find out what's been happening in the meantime. Hatch has left Evil!Party and retired to live it up in Sander's Reach.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Blogging Challenge: 2022 Theme Song

This post is part of the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. You can find links to other writers' answers over at Long and Short Reviews.)

Prompt: your theme song for this year

I... kind of have two answers for this one. The first one is the one that suits the mood of 2022 so far, "Everybody Knows" by Leonard Cohen:

The other one is... more aspirational, perhaps. "Giants" by Matt Nathanson:

I suppose that together they're sort of the two sides of 2022 for me right now.

...You know what? I need one more, on the theme of giants. Lindsey Stirling, with Dia Frampton, "Giants".

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Duendewood: The Librarian Who Wasn't

Aesa sighed and tried to find a comfortable position while she read. They'd been here for days, tucked away in the chapter house just outside of Woodhill, while the human scholar Domian Ulthres and the Elvish scholar Rondelvan sorted through the ancient treaties, took notes, and made copies. The gnomish librarian Ellywick was supervising them, and for the first few days that had been enough to make Aesa grateful that she'd been left in the larger library outside of the study room. 

The elvish paladin Werendril raised his eyes and shifted his weight at the next table over. He was not unattractive himself, she thought, though she wasn't sure how much of that was her reaction and how much might be Corellon Larethian wanting her to be allied with one of His own. Divine politics were both subtle and complex, and Aesa wasn't eager to involve herself in any more of them after the crash course that had resulted in her pregnancy. 

"Are you finding what you need, dear?" asked a soft voice, and Aesa realized that one of the librarians had stopped beside her. The woman was old, even for an elf, white-haired and stoop-shouldered; she might have been old enough to remember Saint Margery herself. 

"Amun provides," Aesa answered automatically, then added: "Corellon does as well."

"In his way," answered the librarian, with a small laugh. "You offer praise to them both, still?"

Aesa looked up, distracted enough to give up on trying to sort out the Elvish view of history. "I do. I am a priest of Amun, and I honor Corellon on behalf of my father."

"He is well," said the librarian, and Aesa blinked and asked: "What?"

"Jerivir Quindillan works the docks in Annon, for far too little pay. Still, he is whole and well, and he would pleased to know that his wife and daughter are safe, and that you seek news of him."

Aesa held up a hand and took a deep breath. "This is too much. Who are you?"

The librarian chuckled even as something tickled at the back of her mind, a hint that all was not as it seemed. "Were you married, I would be your mother by law." 

Aesa drew breath to speak a name, held it, then let it out without forming the words. "It is good to finally meet you." 

The elderly librarian smiled. "You are wise, and gifted. No wonder my son found his way to you. Would you speak well for your human companion?"

Aesa nodded without hesitation. "If I have the timing right, Anica caught him first. And she was interested, and apologetic for a mistake she had made. She is my friend, and she made her own choices for her own reasons... but there is nothing of dishonesty or betrayal there. Ask the paladin, if you're uncertain."

The supposed librarian smiled. "I did, and his assessment matches yours. I will see you both later. If anything comes up, Darvinin can contact me."

Aesa nodded again. "I am... honestly, kind of puzzled. But it was good to meet you at last."