Tuesday, May 31, 2022

EvilParty: Baroness Bastien and the Bridge

We approach the tavern where we believe the Baroness Bastien is hiding. After a considerable amount of preparation, Jenny the Barbarian is currently an armed and armored stone giant, immune to mind control and a couple of other things; she is also invisible. So is our iron golem, Durest the necromancer, and Chuck. Chuck has cast Haste on thge whole group. 

We reach the tavern, and Chuck adds Displacement to the effects on Jenny. Durest drops Align Weapon to make Jenny’s oversized spiked chain evil, as well as magical. The wraiths are swirling overhead, waiting until we have the Solari busy so they can go after the baroness. 

There’s a guy on the porch, watching Bob the Frost Giant Skeleton stride up the porch. Chuck throws a fireball in the window, and there are screams and the smell of burning flesh. Jenny does not see the fireball, but she hears it and moves into the room to begin the murdering. The room is full of what appears to be commoners, and they are looking towards the kitchen with expressions of horror. Jenny moves to the middle of the room and starts swinging the chain around; everyone in reach dies. 

Bob follows Jenny inside and kills a couple of more commoners. Screaming and chaos fill the taven. Ferroustopher the iron golem charges through the inn and busts into the outhouse – invisibly, mind you – and surprises a fellow in the middle of his business; he smashes the guy straight down into the cesspool below. Chuck diverts to check the stables, but finds nothing besides a drunk sleeping in the hay. 

Durest looks over at the barkeep, in the midst of the carnage. “Och! Lassie! Save those drinks for us and duck, and you’ll live!” He glances around, and then points: “Stairs!” There is indeed a staircase going down in one corner of the building, probably to where the baroness is hiding. 

We hear a sound from the stairwell as if someone is casting a spell. Also from downstairs is the sound of a chain uncurling and something solid hitting the wooden floor. We’ve come in on the second level, and obviously there’s a level below us. Jenny rages, and then smashes down through the floor, dropping herself onto the lower level. She lands in some sort of cellar. 

A planetar angel appears next to her and casts Implosion on her. It utterly fails to affect her. The angel looks slightly alarmed. Jenny: “Is okay! Happens to most men sooner or later. One in six, hy am told.”

An astral Diva also appears next to her and attacks her, hitting her once despite her various protections. The angels can obviously see invisible things. 

Durest calls for the wraiths to descend, staying close to the walls so they don’t get sucked into combat. Bob heads for the stairs and comes out at the bottom, but isn’t in a position to attack yet. Ferrous positions himself to jump down after Jenny. 

Chuck uses Dimension Door to join us inside the inn, discovering a bunch of corpses and a hole in the floor, with fighting below. Durest follows Bob down the stairs. A wizard appears on the far side of room and casts Hold Monster on Jenny, and then looks shocked when Durest’s protection prevents it from affecting her. Apparently all these guys can see invisible things. The ogre appears with his very large flail, rages, and power attacks. He does an impressive amount of damage, but Jenny steps aside show he isn’t flanking her. She attacks, hitting critically twice and landing every other attack. As a stone giant and a barbarian, her damage output is ridonkulous, and the ogre dies on the spot. 

The planetar attempts to implode Durest, but he also manages to shrug it off. The planetar drops a Blade Barrier on top of Jenny, doing… some damage. The wraiths attempt to go through the two doors but find the way blocked. 

Bob attacks the diva and does some damage; Ferrous jumps down through the hole and uses his breath weapon on the angels, who are unfortunately immune to poisonous gas. Chuck spider climbs through the hole onto the ceiling, and dangles there while he casts Feeblemind on the wizard. The Wizard fails to shrug it off, and begins blithering helplessly. She’s pretty well out of it. Durest drops Flame Strike on the angels, doing some damage but not as much as he’d like. 

Jenny lashes out with her chain and attacks the Astral Deva. The Deva goes down and she continues laying into the Planetar, and takes him out as well. Which pretty well means that everybody is dead. Chuck vampirizes the wizard, placing her under his control. “Okay, so how do we get to the Baroness?” The wizard tries to resist, but hands over a key. She threatens revenge and tells us that we won’t get away with it; evidence suggests otherwise. The baroness is through the south door. 

The key has some magic on it and is clearly attuned to some sort of safe room; we open the door and find the Baroness and her kids. Chuck forces his new slave sorceress to drink with him, and before long the rulership of Flowerhedge is dead. There are piles of papers on her desk, and they clearly were written and organized by a very intelligent woman with a strict system of codes. None of us are that smart. The only thing that’s really obvious to us is that the Baroness was working closely with the Solari here, and they’re going to notice if they don’t hear from her. 

None of us a smart enough or skilled enough to forge something to put them off. Fortunately, we know somebody who is. So we gather the whole collection of papers and take it John of the Dark Knives, under the theory that this is all valuable information and getting a bit of forgery will basically pay for itself. John… is very definitely our friend now. 

He gets back to us a couple of hours later, and he’s forged some orders to basically just keep everything going and prevent the Solari from getting suspicious. That gives us a chance to rest and recover our resources before we assault the bridge… and we are definitely going to assault the bridge. 

We go all in again, beefing up Jenny on the spells and the rest of us as well. We attack at nightfall.  

Burhaea, Chuck’s vampire slave, teleports herself, Chuck, and Ferroustopher across to the south end of the bridge. Durest, Jenny, and Bob stroll up on the north end. The plan – such as it is – is to meet in the middle. 

Ferrous uses his breath weapon on the rogue closest to Chuck & co. He follows up by slamming the rogue twice, and takes him down. A couple of the clerics drop Invisibility Purge to cover most of the bridge. An orc barbarian rages and rushes charges Ferrous, only to be met with a fist to the face from the iron golem; he attacks anyway, but misses. Another orc moves in as well, avoiding the cloud of poison gas, and with things clearly happening at the south end of the bridge the barbarians all start moving that way. Durest causes a wizard to implode. 

Burhaea is visible down at the south end of the bridge. A bunch of the sorcerers start firing off scorching rays, hoping to take out Chuck (and in some cases Burhaea as well – as a former Solari, her presence causes a bit of confusion). They don’t quite manage to take him out, but he’s very badly burned. Another one throws a fireball at Bob, incidentally catching Jenny and Durest as well. 

A monk moves in on Ferrous, and three charge Bob; Bob hits one of them as they come in. Jenny attacks as well, savagely mauling them as they approach. The monks survive and attack Bob, damaging him further. 

A couple of guys with axes also move in to attack Bob, and Jenny gets a shot at them as well. A couple attack Ferrous (over on the far end of the bridge) but fail to injure him. The guys with axes also survive, and manage to attack Bob (who is definitely feeling it). Bob collapses into loose bones. Jenny steps into the space where Bob was standing, and wipes out a wounded guy; she immediately attacks the monk next to him. She cuts through the Solari that were around Bob, and wipes them out. 

Jenny as an enhanced Stone Giant is an absolute monster. 

Chuck uses Dimension Door to get clear of the Invisibility Purge. Burhaea uses Power Word Stun to disable a cleric. Ferrous attacks one of the barbarians, and injures him further. 

Over at the north end of the bridge, the cleric with invisibility purge moves closer to where Jenny is standing; she drops Flame Strike now that she can see us. The archers and the rogues can see us too, and now they move on Jenny (mostly). A rain of arrows falls on her and does… almost nothing. Jenny brushes a couple of arrows out of her hair, shakes her hair out, and winks. 

The orcs decide that they need to take out the sorceress, and step in; Ferrous clips one as they pass. They attack her with mauls and axes, injuring her but failing to kill her. Another or charges Ferrous and power attacks, damaging the iron golem. 

Durest tried to implode the cleric but fails, then drops a quickened Cure Serious Wounds on Jenny – who probably doesn’t need it, but it seems better not to wait. 

Two of the sorcerers finish off Buraea, who turns to gaseous form and returns to her coffin (actually a crate from beneath the tavern). Jenny moves forward and attacks a rogue, damaging him but failing to kill him. He runs away, and a bunch of the other archers and rogues start moving back from Jenny. 

Chuck drops a Fireball on Ferroustopher and everyone around him. Ferrous is an iron golem, so fire heals him. Everybody else takes fire damage. Ferrous then attacks one of the more badly injured barbarians, striking him twice and finishing him off. The cleric with the invisibility purge (who’s flying around on an ebony fly) moves to get out of Jenny’s range and then drops a Flame Strike on Durest. 

Ferrous goes down under a swarm of Solari, who have basically rendered him down for parts. 

Durest calls for a fire storm and lays it along the south half of the bridge, lighting up a huge chunk of the solari. Then he drops a quicked Cure Serious Wounds on himself, right before he takes a bit more damage from a fireball. 

Having cleared (as far as they can see) the south end of the bridge, the monks and the barbarians move north; Jenny steps to the edge of the bridge and slaughters the flying cleric. 

The archers do a bit of damage to Jenny; another rogue just runs away. The others form up, trying to make a kill box for Jenny. Chuck drops a fireball on a couple of the flying enemies. The remaining cleric moves up, taking her Invisibility Purge with her to make us visible, but doesn’t get close enough this round. She casts Flame Strike on Jenny. 

Durest drops another Fire Storm, this time where people are forming up at the center of the bridge, and wipes out three of the rogues and a couple of the guys with greataxes. 

The survivors respond with a barrage of fireballs. Durest goes down, though he’s not dead yet. Jenny moves up and wipes out most of the kill box. Three monks remain. They spread out and attack her, doing a bit of damage. Chuck attempts to Feeblmind the cleric, but fails; another rogue flees. The archers take another shot at Jenny, again to no good effect. The cleric throws another flame strike at Jenny. 

The sorcerers throw more fireballs at Durest, who dies fully. 

The monks valiantly attack Jenny; Jenny turns and wipes them out. 


There are still a handful of enemy Solari around, and we’re not in good shape either, but we have definite proof-of-concept for Stone Giant Jenny. (And, OOC, DEAREST GODS the expression on the DM's face...)

Monday, May 30, 2022



(Fell asleep with voice to text on...)

Friday, May 27, 2022

D&D: Character Choices

In the GozarTD campaign, Evil!Party was never planning to stay human. Chuck, our sorcerer, became a vampire relatively early on and has been slowly catching back up on being a sorcerer. Durest, the cleric and necromancer, will very likely become a lich once he's advanced his mortal abilities as far as they will go. And Jenny... 

Jenny has choices. 

Jenny is a human barbarian, and at this point something of a walking apocalypse. But in our current assignment, we're confronted with a ridiculous number of Solari... and the Solari are getting to know our tricks and starting to take countermeasures. We need new tricks. 

Well, we came up with one. Durest has the ability to turn Jenny into an actual giant -- a stone giant would probably be best -- and create and enchant large enough equipment for her to use in that form. At that point, all he has to do is hang back and maybe heal her occasionally, while she rips through... well... everything

But because of the way the spell works, if we could find a way to increase Jenny's intelligence (admittedly, not her strong suit) beforehand, we could potentially make that change permanent. It wouldn't make her unstoppable, but as a killing machine it would definitely take her to the next level. It would also, of course, have some non-combat effects: she wouldn't be able to walk into a town unnoticed. She'd probably have to get rid of her current harem and build a whole new one that was suited to her new size. And finding a hot bath could be a bit of a problem.

There might be another long-term option, though: with the right spell, we might be able to turn Jenny into a Noble Werewolf. That wouldn't have quite the outrageously murdery potential or ridiculous armor class of turning her into a stone giant, but she could hunt things by scent and pretend to be human for when we're trying to be subtle. Or what passes as subtle for us, anyway. But she could fit in a regular bathtub and keep her current harem (although we'd probably also need to figure out whether lycanthropy behaved like a STD, because that could get real interesting real fast). 

There are definitely going to be some intriguing new developments coming up...

Thursday, May 26, 2022

EvilParty: Scouting Flowerhedge

After several months, the war has reached a stalemate; Cardinal Laroche returns to send us on to attack Flowerhedge. Following his resurrection, Forkbeard is now styling himself as Forkbeard the Unslain. Before we leave, we meet Cardinal Marcion who is even higher ranked than LaRoche and has been keeping an eye on things in the central area of the invasion. 

Durest dresses up - very successfully - and comes into town as a priest of Helios. He’s greeted by a very farmer, Walter, who… well… wants to have someone help him have a son. He and his wife have been, you know, doing things, but it hasn’t taken. Durest disguises his reluctance and agrees to help, and then has to listen to the man as he discusses his entire life’s history. 

As we approach the waterfront, Durest sees the bridge: there are about a dozen little things flying around the bridge. On second look, they look like large, ebony-colored flies with people on them. And there are a lot of patrollers on there, too. And quite a number of them are Solari. 

Durest comes up with a plan to help after looking the woman over; he then gets a hotel room – for free, in exchange for a plenary indulgence – and attempts to summon a demon. 

He gets the now-demonically-enslaved Azrael, from the Elf party. (Somewhere, Indra is laughing his ass off.) They talk this through, and then Durest leads him to the home of Walter and poor Jezebel. Twenty minutes later, Azrael emerges and Durest dismisses him. He then teleports back out and explains to the others that there are twelve Solari on ebony flies, and twenty-one on the bridge: thirty-three Solari total. 

If we take them on directly, we are all going to die. Like, permanently. 

So, Durest teleports the rest of the group into the hotel suite, and after dark Chuck goes out to scout in bat form. They’re cycling their shifts so that they have the entire force at night, and sleep in shifts in the day. We play with some ideas while Chuck gathers some more information. 

Chuck attempts gathers a lock of hair from the missing lord and lady – the Bastion family (Baron and Baroness) have fled the palace – and Durest scries. He sees the Baroness having dinner with a woman in wizard’s robes. They are in a stone room, along with a HUGE fucking ogre standing behind the baroness; his abs have abs, but he’s also well-dressed and armed with a very nice flail. Plus, two angels are hovering around the edges of the room: a planetar and an astral deva. There are no windows, no decorations, nothing to tells us where this is; it’s clearly some sort of safe room. There are also tons of papers on the tables; she’s working from whatever bunker this is. Her ten-year-old-son is there with her. 

We’ve been told that she runs things here, and apparently it’s true; it’s also apparent that she’s training her son to be a better baron than his father. 

We lay low and continue scouting. The mood of the town seems to be optimistic; with this many Solari, what could go wrong? Chuck disguises himself and does some more listening as a beggar. He starts at the fringes of the market at night, and finds one of the fancier restaurant stalls that seems to be serving the bridge. He makes a note of the more popular food vendors. He moves from there to a tavern, but hears nothing of interest; he moves to a second bar, and notices that someone is following him. 

Chuck ducks around a corner, and the moment he’s out of sight he drops Greater Invisibility and waits. 

The person is very careful, but finally a guy comes around the corner. He’s really only noticeable because he’s looking down the alleys; he’s using a group of drunks for cover. He’s wearing armor under his cloak. He pretends to pee in the alley, and then catches up with the drunks. Chuck follows him, and when the drunks go into a bar he keeps going. After a while he sheds the disguise and is just walking the streets in his armor. After a while he turns into a tavern, and Chuck thinks he’s going in there for his own reasons. 

Chuck also notices three kids playing in front of the place, and wanders over to make friends with them in his role as a hobo. 

Kid: “Get out of here you smelly bum!” he throws a rock. 

Chuck catches it. 

Their eyes go wide, and the take off in three different directions at top speed. Chuck fires the rock at the back of the kid’s head. The child is now out cold and laying in the street. The guy Chuck was following is looking out the window at him; he comes out and leans again the wall. “You know, I’ve seen people be more subtle than this.”

This is John. John deals in information. John is willing to sell information if the money is right. 

Chuck: “I got the coin if you got the knowledge.” 

John: “We have the knowledge. Come inside, and see what the Dark Knives can teach you.”

He leads Chuck in and up to a back room, and explains the costs and risks involved when the Solari are involved. Not to mention that some of the Solari out there doubtless have eyes and ears in the town. 50 gold buys his silence – in theory – but he trusts that we’re not going to tell him anything too sensitive. 

Chuck: “Even with everything that’s going on in the south, that’s a lot of guys on that bridge.” 

John: “It’s a valuable bridge. It would cut the army off if anything happened to it.” 

Chuck: “Damn, that’s a lot of Solari.”

John: “A hundred gold.” Chuck pays. “The Count at Brightland is concerns; he sent his own Solari as reinforcements.” 

Chuck: “Between the empty castle and that many Solari, there’s obviously danger.” 

John: “Anybody with a brain can see that. If the army came, we would take advantage as we could, and if it turned bad we would leave.” 

Chuck: “But your loyalty could be bought.”

John shrugs: “You’re asking cheap questions. You want information on fortifications, dossiers on people, that kind of thing… that’ll cost.”

Chuck: “If I leave a note with the bartender, it will get to you?” 

John: “To John, from the Old Man. That’ll get to me.”

We discuss this, and then Chuck goes back to ask John about who’s left defending the Earl in Brightland. For Brightland, he can give us the roster for 12,000; for Flowerhedge, 5,000; double for exact locations; it’ll take a week. We buy the full package, and add an extra thousand to hold their silence. We spend a week sealing off the palace and dropping vampires in there: ourt own private pen of undead. Then we retrieve John’s report. 

Brightland has about twenty-five Solari, and the Count has two dragons, two angels, and an ogre barbarian named Dozer, plus a bunch of lesser Solari who have almost all been sent to Flowerhedge. 

The Baron is up in Brightland under the Count’s protection, but the Baroness is commanding operations from a safehouse here. She’s in charge of the Solari. She’s guarded by the two angels, the ogre barbarian, and her own Solari, a sorceress. The Black Knives believe that the Baroness is in the back of a particular tavern. The two bronze dragons are guarding the Earl. 

We think very carefully and come up with a plan, this one involving the fact that Durest has Polymorph Any Object. We also have a pit fiend trapped in Chuck's staff; we could do something with that.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Challenge: Favorite Quote

(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 quote from a book.

I can think of several off the top of my head, so I'm not sure I could narrow it down to just one. Let's take a look: 

  • "Things fall apart, the center cannot hold... but what the hell, it's home." Roger Zelazny riffing off Yeats in the Chronicles of Amber.
  • "I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don't know, a little under 35,000 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure." Martha Wells in All Systems Red, opening The Murderbot Diaries with the most perfect introduction I've ever seen. Everything that's going to happen in the novella is promised to the reader right there in the first three lines.
  • "This is blasphemy, my dear Jessica; a very important human endeavor." Iris Murdoch, from The Nice and the Good. (I think that's the right book, and also it's possible that I'm slightly misquoting it as Google seems strangely unable to find it. I shall have to re-read the book.) I like the idea that blasphemy is not only a defining characteristic of humanity, but that the capacity for blasphemy is something that the gods might envy in us.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Paladins: Returns and Resurrections

"Kill them! Burn them out now! Those bitches thought they could play with my mind? I want them dead!" 

Tarric shook his head. Archon Le'Straide had shaken off the vampiric domination the moment he was Protected From Evil, and now he was out for blood. He'd demanded to know where his paladin Tanovir was, and why he hadn't already dealt with the vampires. Tarric's patient explanation -- "You ordered him not to." -- might as well never have been spoken for all the man seemed to hear it. 

So now they were back in the tea shop, and Archon Le'Straide was pacing and yelling while the paladin Tanovir sat with a blank expression that was probably either rage, shame, or some combination of the two. Meanwhile the sun was setting, and the vampires would most likely awaken soon. Werendril knew it too: the narrowed eyes and slightly tilted head suggested that Archon Le'Straide was about three more words from having a very bad day. 

So when Werendril started to stand, Tarric stepped in and slapped the Archon across the face. As the man hit the ground he realized that he might have overdone it, but Werendril was a true elf and the Archon had the authority to have him executed -- regardless of his actual motives and loyalties. 

There was a moment of silence, and then Le'Straide drew a deep breath. 

"My lord Archon," said Tarric, dropping his shoulders and returning to a completely relaxed and casual stance, "you look like you're about to give an order that will most likely result in bloodshed. Possibly your own blood. And it won't get the situation with the vampires resolved. You've just been recovered -- forcefully -- from a very traumatic situation. You need to go to your home, bathe, and rest. Have a glass of wine or whiskey or al'cul if you need it. We'll deal with the vampires. They've done horrible things to you." 

"They did! That's why Tanovir should have--!"

Tarric shook his head, and the Archon -- looking up at him -- closed his mouth. 

"Tanovir acted as his honor demanded," Tarric said, and managed not to add however stupid that might have been. "The vampires are the problem here." He looked at Le'Straide, willing the man to believe him or at least play along. "They were the ones who did horrible things to you. So you need to go home, and let us destroy them." 

"I..." Archon Le'Straide hesitated. "You'll kill them? All of them?" 

"We'll make absolutely sure that every last one of them is destroyed, my lord," the paladin Tanovir said firmly. "It is our duty, and your order." 

The Archon started to rise, hesitated again, and looked at Werendril. "And the Elf?" 

Tanovir shrugged. "He is a paladin, albeit of a different order.  An elf, yes, but even some of the King's Solari are true elves. I have put him to the question, and he is not a spy. I cannot order you, my lord -- and I would not if I could -- but I give you this advice: let him help us destroy these unnatural things and restore Aldpond to the peace, safety, and prosperity that it deserves." 

Le'Straide clambered to his feet, then met Tanovir's eyes and huffed. "As you say," he said haughtily. "So long as the vampires are destroyed and this Elf assists, I will gladly accept his aid."

"Your humble servant," said Werendril, and Tarric flicked a glance at him because somehow he'd managed not to sound sarcastic about it. 

"There's just one problem," said a woman's voice, and all of them turned turned to face her.

She was human, or she had been. Her hair was a medium brown, her face well-formed but neither noble nor unusually attractive. She was wearing full plate armor and had a sword and dagger on her belt. "You're not the only paladins here."

Tanovir turned to her, looking thunderstruck: "Salya?"

The woman nodded to him. "I'm back. And I want a piece of them too."

Monday, May 23, 2022

Lonnnnnnnnng Weekend

As I may have mentioned before, I get almost all of my overtime in a single weekend each year. Last weekend... was it. 

I am tired, footsore, and desperately in need of a break, but I got everything organized for our people and I think we got everything covered. This week will involve a lot of following up and sorting things out, but the part that had to be done this weekend got done. 

Also, I got to meet the Dolly Llama: 

Friday, May 20, 2022

Nailing It Down As I Go

I'd mentioned, back on Monday, that "fits and starts" wasn't exactly the way to describe the writing dynamic for the current project. Because it is, and seems to be working (for a gods-damned change) as a seat-of-my-pants no-plotting-in-advance tell-myself-a-fucking-story project, I thought I'd take a moment and describe how it's actually going. 

It's a process. 

I said earlier that "I've been working and reworking the opening couple of scenes of the new writing project, which means I'm not moving as fast as I'd like but also that I'm pretty happy with what I've got down before I move on to each new section." And that's really the dynamic that I'm trying to describe for this story: I make various attempts to write a section, decide on the one that I like, nail that down, and then move onto the next. I am, basically, feeling my way through the plot and discovering more about the characters as I go. 

It's not efficient, and you might not believe the number of false starts that I've had for each particular section, but -- however slowly and even painfully -- it's working. I know who my characters are; I know where the plot is going. It's just a matter of making everything fit with the characters and the fundamental story dynamic. 

Still, telling myself a story I enjoy hearing seems like a workable strategy -- even if I have to figure it out as I go. 

So, the fifth song on the playlist: 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Son of Horoscopes

This is a great week to spread some joy around -- and by "joy" I mean "breakfast tacos". Please, I'm so, so hungry. Keep a close eye on your transactions this week, and make sure you keep your receipts. You will meet a stranger with a terrible secret; it'll be better if you don't learn what it is.

Stay away from crowds this week, and watch your back. Not everybody is who they say they are, and some have sharp teeth and long, bony blades where their fingers should be. Make sure you're getting enough food to keep you going.

Timing will be very important this week, so set reminders in your calendar. Do not look up when you're outdoors; you might fall into the sky. Keep a pack of gum handy in case you need to distract a bunch of feral schoolchildren.

Water is important this week; stay hydrated and bathe frequently. An unexpected knock at the door brings danger; that door does not lead where you think it does right now, and you do not want to know what things dwell on the other side of it. Answering the doorbell is safe, though.

All your packages will get delivered to incorrect addresses this week, so check with the neighbors before you panic. A bit of sun will do you good, but don't overdo it; you don't want to burst into flames. Look for opportunities to show off your knowledge and skills.

This week is going to be hectic, so set aside some time to renew yourself, physically and spiritually. Take a hot bath. Drink some tea. Do some stretching. Offer sacrifice to the dark and forgotten gods. Laugh.

Beware of... well, just beware. They're all around you, and they can look like anyone... or anything. If you encounter one, just pretend you didn't see it. Otherwise, well... you don't want to know what happens otherwise.

Darkness offers opportunities for contemplation and reflection in the coming week, but also the possibility of being ambushed and messily devoured by the shadowy beast that waits outside your door. Make time for friends, and be ready to listen to someone who needs it.

Focus on your skills this week. Everywhere you go, you will be wearing a young orb weaver. Try to find some sort of matching hat; if you're going to have a spider on you, at least coordinate your look. Get exercise, but don't overdo it.

They say the walls have ears, but actually they have eyes. Millions of eyes. You can't see them, but they can see you. They're watching you, always watching you. Fortunately, they're only eyes. The walls don't have hands. Not yet.

Scheduling is vital this week, so make sure to include enough downtime. Beware of homicidal and/or carnivorous plant life. Music fans are a mixed blessing. A small dog may come to your rescue late in the week.

Don't forget to wind your watch, or else-- no, wait, 2022, not 1922. Sorry, wrong century. You'll be fine. Keep a blade and a pack of matches handy, and watch out for wild coyotes. The birds are deliberately targeting your vehicle, so park under shelter whenever possible.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Challenge: Not Feeling Well

(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: What do you do when you're not feeling well?

Honestly, I'm a huge fan of sleep if I can manage it. Sleep makes everything better. Sleep keeps me from snapping at the people I care about, or embarrassing myself at work. And I am, by American standards, very fortunate in that I can afford to take time off when I'm genuinely ill. 

So the answer is that up to a point, I push through while trying not to infect other people -- working from home, putting off anything that isn't urgent -- and after that I just call it off, reassign responsibilities as I can, and sleep.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Paladins: Meetings and Considerations

Werendril followed Tarric into the tea house, which was unlocked despite giving every sign of being closed. The girl must have been watching for them: she was waiting just inside the door, and immediately closed it behind them.

None of that surprised him especially. What did surprise him was the human sitting at a table in the center of the shop. The man was larger and heavier than Tarric, and wore full plate armor with the sunburst sigil of Helios on it. There was a sword at his hip and a shield on his back. 

The girl gestured them over to the table, and Werendril realized with some embarrassment that they still didn't actually know her name. 

"So," said the paladin at the table, "an elvish spy and his human companion, come to Aldpond in the service of the False King." His voice was viciously bitter, but he made no move to rise. 

There was an uncertain moment, then Tarric spoke: "Tarric Marshwarden, of the Order of the Titan King, come down from Caristhium to investigate rumors of vampires in Aldpond." He walked over to the table, pulled out a chair, and sat. 

"Werendril Al'veLithulrei -- it doesn't translate very well. Born of the Arriving Sun. Dawnborn, more or less. Of the Order of the Golden Bow, but also come down from Caristhium to investigate rumors of vampires in Aldpond." Following Tarric's example, he walked over to the table, pulled out a chair, and sat. 

"Laina Heartling, of the Order of Serving Tea for a gods-damned living," said the girl, and walked over and sat down with them. "So now that I know you're not going to murder each other, what are you going to do about the gods-damned vampires?" She looked at the larger human paladin. "How long have you known about them, prelate White?"

The Paladin of Helios gave her a disapproving look, but when she raised her eyebrows in response he lowered his head. "Tanovir White, of the Order of the Golden Sun," he said, glancing at the other paladins, and then said: "For about nine months now. Not long after they arrived." He looked over at Tarric and Werendril and said, "There were only two, at first. Both women, and clearly refugees. But they moved in at the boarding house, and before long it wasn't a boarding house anymore. I brought the matter to the attention of Archon Le'Straide, but he told me it was fine and ordered me not to act against them or investigate further. I asked again when the boarding house became the Honeypot Inn, and received the same orders." His jaw tightened. "I offered to protect my master against their influence, but he told me it wasn't necessary and ordered me not to. I hold to my honor before Helios. I could not disobey." He looked at Werendril, and then at Tarric. "But you could."

You fucking idiot, Werendril thought. That's not how honor works. He managed to keep the words off his tongue, but feared that Tanovir could read them from his face. Beside him, Tarric had stiffened, but he offered no objection either. Instead, he said: "Perhaps you should remain here with Werendil, to question him as to his loyalties and his purposes here in Sol Povos, while I visit Archon Le'Straide on a matter of utmost importance." He glanced back at Werendril and his lips quirked. "You never know what a true elf outside of Duendewood might be getting up to."

"Indeed not," agreed Tanovir somberly, and gave Tarric directions to the Archon's dwelling.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Everything All At Once

I'm entering what is probably the craziest two weeks of the year for me, and pretty much everything I was doing is either imploding, exploding, or both. That said... we made it through last week (and another follow-up surgery which turned out to be comparatively minor, and thank the dark and forgotten gods for that) and I finally got a very solid night's sleep on Friday (and, well, a chunk of Saturday). I also dropped the book I was reading, and went back to re-read The Goblin Emperor because it is, with all its scheming and intrigue, a fundamentally kind book and that was what I needed.

I don't know if I'm truly ready for this week -- I don't know if that's even really possible -- but I'm as rested and relaxed as it's possible to be, going into this.

Writing has, of course, largely fallen by the wayside; whatever blog posts make it up this week, be assured that they were written well in advance. Yes, including this one. But I am still making progress, in fits and starts... no, that's not right. That's not quite the dynamic here, though with various real-world interruptions it kind of feels that way. So maybe that will be a post for later in the week. 

(NARRATOR VOICE: "That would indeed be a post for later in the week.")

So, as long as we're here, let's add the actual fourth song in the playlist for the current writing project. Cards and tarot are part of the imagery of this story, and so we have Sting with Shape of my Heart:

Friday, May 13, 2022

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Weekly Horoscope

It's not tinnitus, actually. The civilization of microscopic aliens who have colonized your body rigged up an emergency siren to warn them when you move around. That's what you keep hearing. The scintillating scotoma is what you see when they have a festival.

Mercury is aligning with Saturn, and your CFO is actually a horrifying extra-dimensional wasp-monster whose larvae are infecting your co-workers. The larvae are basically harmless, at least until they hatch. Keep a few praying mantises around and you'll be fine.

The lunar eclipse will bring new opportunities but also widespread vampirism, so consider staking that one co-worker who sucks all the life out of the room. Garlic doesn't work; silver does. You can also distract them by scattering sand on a countertop or tile floor.

Expect frustrations throughout the coming week, but look for silver linings. Things will ease up towards the end of the week, especially if you make a burnt offering of a fatted calf during the dark of the moon. Focus on essentials at work and home.

Let an important project wait; it may not seem like it, but you'll be in a better place to finish it later. Connections with friends and family are vital. Renew your connections with the dark things that dwell beneath the earth to ensure a bountiful harvest.

Everybody complains about Mercury, but this week it's actually Mars that's positioned to send negative influences into your life. Don't sleep anywhere that isn't your own bed, keep a needle and a bit of thread with you, and do not set foot in a Walmart. Open flames work to your benefit.

This will be a great week for new beginnings. Whimsical purchases will turn out even better than expected, and relationships and projects begun now will be especially auspicious. Look out for attempts at bribery, extortion, and/or assassination late in the week.

Make ready, this one's going to be rough. Stock up on fresh water, batteries, and non-perishable foods. Having a toolkit handy may help. The whispers from behind the walls will be helpful; listen to them and let them guide you. Make sure you're wearing something white at all times.

Learning new skills will go well this week, and benefit you in the coming year. Cleanliness and comportment will also be important. The dark arts are not easy to master, but summoned demons are suckers for clean, well-dressed conjurors.

Avoid talking to strangers this week, and stay away from new places as well. The Kindly Ones are abroad, and they're looking for someone. Don't let it be you. A social event holds opportunities if you think them through in advance, but keep some mace in your pocket just in case.

Jupiter and Mars are slowly moving closer, so expect personal transformations as the week progresses: renewing roles and relationships, gaining new insights, waking up in the body of a duck, mongoose, or wombat... All of these are possible.

Wind and water will shape the course of the week for you. Apologize to anyone you mistreat, however accidental it was; you never know when the person you wronged might turn out to be vengeful witch or a god disguised as a mortal. Take your vitamins.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Challenge: Aliens

(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: Do you believe in aliens? Why or why not?

Since I assume we're talking life on other planets, I'm going to point out that actually I think this is a surprisingly complex question. 

First up: is there life on other planets? Well, it's hard to guess what the odds might be when our sample size is basically just our own solar system, but even if the odds of life developing on a planet are vanishingly slim, there are still a lot of planets out there. So if I have to guess, I'm going to say, "Yeah, probably." 

The same goes for intelligent life: it just seems unlikely to me that Earth is the only place in the entire Universe where this has happened. Intelligence isn't a fixed quality and honestly, human beings are frequently very bad at recognizing it when it doesn't look the way we expect, but intelligent life in general? "Yeah, probably." 

So that brings us to the next question: do I believe in aliens who actively travel through space, and do I think they've visited Earth? And the answer, again, is complicated. 

Because yes, we know as an absolute fact that aliens have visited Mars and left evidence of their advanced technology there. We know, because we are the aliens who did that. So we know that if intelligent life exists, it is possible for it to travel to other planets. We've done it ourselves. 

So why aren't there aliens everywhere? Why haven't we seen any, met any, shaken appendages with any? I suspect it's because the universe is truly, ridiculously vast, and the speed of light is an absolute limit. Otherwise, whatever species first developed a trick for faster-than-light travel -- and statistically, it wouldn't have been us and it was probably a very long time ago -- would have been able to spread freely across the galaxy, at the very least. (This line of thinking is based on several questionable assumptions, but it's the one that seems reasonable to me.)

So yeah, I think that alien life probably exists, and I think it's even possible that we might someday make contact with it -- but that would require a concentrated effort to transport human beings across mind-numbing distances to a large enough number of worlds to find it. (Or, alternatively, an alien race that had made a concentrated effort to transport its species to enough different worlds that they finally happened upon us.) And given our biases, we still might fail to realize that what we'd encountered was intelligent or even alive. 

...Which is honestly a little more cynical and depressing than I meant be when I started writing this out.

So let me just add that if I'm wrong about Earth never having been visited by extraterrestrials -- if you, yourself, are an extraterrestrial and happen to be reading this -- well, I believe in you, Alien Buddy. You've got this. You can get things done! So go on out there and have a really good day.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Paladins: Dangers

"Anything?" asked Werendril, as he extended his senses to the south. The town was just a town; he could sense evil, here and there, but it was a very mortal and mundane sort of evil that didn't really concern him. 

"Nothing," said Tarric, and then: "Woah." 

"Woah?" asked Werendril. 

"Woah," confirmed Tarric. "Best not to turn or look, but that building to the northeast? Two floors, tile roof, balcony? There are probably two dozen vampires and vampire spawn in there, including at least two masters. I think there must be a basement, too."

"Woah," said Werendril. That was a lot, for a town this size. But then he thought about the hunters and trappers and logging camps that likely filled the hills around Aldpond, and revised his estimate. Two dozen was probably sustainable here... and on top that, now they'd have to worry about vampires lurking in the Sweetwoods. He put a hand on Tarric's arm and tugged him towards a nearby shop. 

"Tea?" asked the young woman behind the counter, looking Tarric up and down in a way that made the human paladin blink. She glanced momentarily at Werendril, but dismissed him immediately. "Pastry? Something heartier?"

"Two teas and two of the pastries," Tarric decided, and handed over a couple of coppers. 

The girl pressed his hand as she took the coins, then turned away to fetch their food. Werendril raised his eyebrows, and Tarric flushed. 

"Just sit anywhere," said the girl, gesturing at the tables in front of the shop. She looked at Tarric, tilted her head slightly, and added: "Make yourself at home."

"Thank you," Tarric said heartily, and then turned to find a table where they could look over the street without seeming out of place. 

"That seemed a bit much," Werendril said softly, as they took their seats. The chairs were wooden, plain but well-built; so was the table. He didn't know how much money there was to be made in selling tea and pastries, but this place seemed to be doing all right. 

Tarric gave a soft chuckle. "She wasn't subtle, was she?" He glanced at Werendril, then looked out at the street. "Not to my tastes, though."

"So what do we think of the lair?" asked Werendril, and watched Tarric refocus. 

"Looks like it might be a tavern," Tarric said. "Maybe a brothel?"

"That would make sense." Werendril looked over the rest of the street, careful not to put too much of his attention on the lair. "Easy disguise. Hiding in plain sight."

The pastry was fresh and sweet and delicate, and Werendril looked down to discover that the small plate he'd been given was empty. He sipped at his tea, which was dark and heavy and strong with an almost smoky flavor; too blunt for elvish tastes, but good in its way. Tarric had all but inhaled his cup. 

"We should move on--" he started to say, but the girl was suddenly standing beside Tarric's shoulder, absently brushing him with her hip as she set out two new cups of tea and two slices of something that looked to be some sort of nut bread. 

"You're mercenaries, right?" she asked. "Or spies?"

Tarric and Werendril exchanged a glance.

The girl didn't wait for a response. "You have to take me with you when you go. Please, I'll do anything you want, any way you want."

Tarric leaned back in his chair, disengaging himself as well as he could from her body. "We're paladins," he said quietly. 

The girl froze, and then said. "Oh." She finished setting a second cup of tea in front of Werendril, then looked around and took a seat beside them, well away from Tarric. "Are you here for them?" 

Werendril raised his eyebrows again. "Them?" he asked quietly.

She glanced deliberately at the tile-roofed building across the street. "The vampires," she said. "I think they're vampires. Are they vampires?" 

Werendril and Tarric exchanged another glance; then Tarric shrugged and said, "Yes."

"One of them wants me. She keeps coming over here, and she looks at me the whole time she's here. I put some garlic in her tea, but she just laughed and said I was too clever for my own good."

Tarric started to stand up, but Werendril reached across the small table and put a hand on his arm. Tarric tensed, relaxed, and sat back down. 

"Not yet," said Werendril, "We finish looking, and then we finish them."

Tarric nodded and looked at the girl. "We can send you out of town, but..."

She was looking thoughtful, though. "You're paladins. You can feel them because you're paladins?"

They both nodded. 

"And any paladin could feel them?"

"Yes," admitted Tarric. "If they looked."

"And you're supposed to destroy them?"

Tarric frowned, and Werendril said, "Yes, in general. We're not required to die trying if we're outmatched... and we might be, here. We're still looking."

"One moment," said Tarric, and pronounced a blessing on the girl. It would keep the vampires away from her; more importantly, it would keep them from being able to influence her, and hold back any influence that was already in place. "So everything is as you said it was?"

The girl nodded. "Some sort of protection?" 

Tarric nodded. "Also part of our obligations."

"I have an idea." The girl didn't sound pleased or excited; she sounded angry. "Come back here late in the afternoon."

"As you wish," said Tarric. 

The girl stood, took the tray, and retreated to the counter just as another customer arrived. 

"What do you think?" 

"I think we'd be fools not to accept her help," Werendril said, then added: "Regardless of what she's prepared to offer you." 

"She's not prepared, she's desper--" Tarric caught the twist of Werendril's lips and stopped, shaking his head and suppressing a smile. "All right. Let's look around some more, and come back later."

Monday, May 9, 2022

More rest, better results

So last week was... not horrible, exactly, but it was kind of a week of Mondays. So this weekend I pretty much just let myself collapse, except for a bit of Mother's Day stuff Sunday morning. Beyond that, I've been playing Skyrim and reading Ursula K's latest book, Nettle & Bone. Those were good choices, because this is the time of year where I tend to implode on any projects I have going (including books and video games). 

The current writing project is still actually getting written, but since I'm very much "pantsing" this one (i.e. writing by the seat of your pants instead of using an outline) it's definitely appearing in fits and starts as I feel my way along. The amount of things I've written, removed and set aside for later, and then rewritten is substantially more than the assembled story. 

But here's the thing: that's fine. It's getting done. And it's getting done the way I used to do it, which was to really sink myself into the world and go from there. 

Developments at work are very much in Wait And See mode. We've pushed back the go-live date on the project I wasn't sure was going to be ready, which means that we have a much better chance of successfully getting it off the ground, but we're going to be a month tighter on the next stage of the process. Twists and roundabouts, I guess. And it does give me more leeway to work on organizing the schedule for an upcoming event, which I desperately need to do.

Also, I made a boo-boo in the playlist last week: Halsey does not have the fourth song in the playlist, and also I didn't put the third song in at all.


So, here's Writing Project Playlist song #3:

Friday, May 6, 2022

Story Playlist: Hurricane

Halsey, with the fourth song in the playlist for the current writing project:

Thursday, May 5, 2022

1st Week of May is Horoscope Time!

Things that happen in threes will be especially significant in the coming week. Watch the patterns of flying birds, too. Sleep and diet are paramount; if you're home, you won't be where the tragedy happens.

The moon is entering the Houses of Lust and Pain, so this is a bad week to start any new relationships, romantic or otherwise. Consider growing your hair out and howling into the darkness; it's therapeutic. Go easy on colognes and perfumes.

The bells of Time toll for the fall of humanity. Now is the time to shed your false skin, rise up, and feast. Avoid dairy products, and don't worry too much if things don't go according to schedule.

Making time for physical activities will benefit you in unexpected ways.New developments at work may leave you frustrated, but keep your calm and stay the course and things will eventually get better. If not, it's still surprisingly easy to order arsenic over the internet.

Jupiter will be aligning with Uranus this week, so watch out for stomach and intestinal issues. You may experience itchiness, blackouts, or disassociations, but don't worry; the change hasn't taken you (yet). Look for gratitude from unexpected sources.

Focus on Earth-related things this week: gardening, camping, hiking, playing outdoors, pouring libations. Get as much sun as you can. You'll want to brush up on both first aid and trepanning before mid-week.

Pay close attention to the things that give your life meaning. Matter isn't solid; we're just a sort of loose electro-magnetic surface over a few stray particles and a lot of empty space. Life itself is just a self-perpetuating pattern of chemical interactions, so why worry?

Scorpio: You're in for a great week! Look for lucky breaks in unexpected places, and enjoy having things go your way for a change. Don't worry about next week; there's nothing you can do about that anyway.

Stay focused on who you are in the coming week. Don't let them steal your dreams. Resist their efforts to reshape your thoughts. Above all, don't let them feed on your memories; they'll grow stronger if they do. Also, consider getting a haircut.

There's no time like the present to realize that the world isn't what you think it is. Your friends aren't your friends; they aren't even human. They're just pretending. You aren't even you, and you never were. The moment you stop believing in it, it will all go away.

News from your real family will send you on an unexpected quest to retrieve your mother's sacred weapons and armor and recover a long-lost crown. Or a ring. Something round, anyway. Possibly a soccer ball.

Do your best to keep busy all week; every time you try to slow down or rest, some crisis is going to require your attention. Steady, unbroken work will hold the crises at bay, in much the same way that carrying an umbrella keeps it from raining. Keep a cigarette lighter on your person.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Challenge: Best Mother

(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: Best mother in a book, movie, or TV show

Easy answer! (For a change...) Having thought very, very seriously about this and rigorously considered the pros and cons of all sorts of fictional figures, I have identified the perfect mother: 

Morticia Addams. 

No question. 

I feel like I shouldn't have to defend this one, but let me just make a few points to illustrate: 

1. She's the perfect hostess when you have your friends over.

2. She provides her children with proper guidance in matters of etiquette.

3. She knows how to handle children when they squabble.

4. She's always there to be supportive, no matter what her children decide to do.

No doubt about it. Morticia Addams: best mother, hands down.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Paladins: A Quiet Town

"Looks pretty normal," Werendril said, looking down at Aldpond from the branches of the tree that he'd finally coaxed Tarric into climbing with him. "I see people moving around -- in the daylight -- in the town and out on the docks." 

He offered the spyglass to Tarric, who took a moment to make sure he was stable before he reached for it. 

With the glass firmly in hand, Tarric shrugged. "Maybe the report was wrong," he said. He put the glass to his eye and adjusted it. "I see boats on the water, too. And I can't imagine why the Dark Army would want to take over Aldpond anyway; it has the strategic importance of a turnip."

"I'd feel better about that if we had any real idea what the Dark Army's strategic objectives actually are," Werendril said, suddenly nervous. Maybe they were both being too dismissive of a possible danger. Aldpond was only sort of just barely large enough to count as a city, and took its name from the lake that supplied most of its food.  It might be worth taking if the Order of Secrets was bent on conquest, but they seemed to have little interest in occupying the areas they took over. Their armies just kept pushing forward, and -- as far as anyone they'd spoken to could tell -- had bypassed Aldpond entirely. 

"Fair," said Tarric, sounding distracted as he concentrated on adjusting the spyglass and (Werendril thought) keeping his seat on the branch. "And a vampire infestation sounds more like the work of these Solari Hunters they're using than a proper military action."

Werendil nodded. Any sign of that group and the two of them would be out and gone immediately. Both he and and Tarric were reasonably accomplished paladins, but any group that made a habit of targeting Solari would have little trouble dealing with the two of them. He'd sworn to Anica that he'd go for reinforcements if the vampire infestation looked too big to handle safely; but if the solari hunters were there, he and Tarric were just going to admit defeat and beat a full and very hasty retreat to the Temple.

Tarric handed the spyglass back, wavered, and then caught his balance by clinging to the limb he was sitting on. "So we're still going in, then," he said. 

Werendril nodded. They had to get close enough to detect whether there were vampires in Aldpond. It should be safe enough by daylight, and based on what they learned they could decide what to do next. 

Tarric sighed. "All right. But if we're going to do that, you're going to have to talk me through how to get down from this tree."

Werendril smiled. "Did I forget to mention that down is harder than up, when it comes to climbing? It's because your body wants to go down on its own, and the moment you start moving that direction you have to keep reining it in." 

"I wouldn't have used the word 'forget'," Tarric said, scooting himself back towards the tree trunk and then reaching for a nearby branch. "But then, until today I had no idea how closely elves were related to squirrels."

Monday, May 2, 2022

That time of year

We've hit the busy season at work, and I do not want to do it. On the other hand, we've had a delightful, relaxing weekend. There is no truth without balance, and like that.

May, generally speaking, is not a good month for me. This year, it's going to be complicated by the fact that we're making another run at going live with a system that... well, let's start by saying that I don't think we're adequately trained on it, I'm not at all sure it's actually ready, and I expect this is going to produce a large number of last-minute panics right in the middle of another major event or two.

On the plus side, we finally managed to have Secondborn's birthday party. There was fire. (On purpose.) The boys roasted their hotdogs and then made s'mores. I got to try out my new back yard fire pit. Secondborn's friends are awesome, and I finally got to speak to both their moms at once so I now have a better idea of when we might be able to schedule a Youth D&D game for this group. Which is totally the plan. 

Do I have some reason to hope that work might finally adjust my job description and pay scale to recognize the amount of additional responsibilities that I'm carrying? Yes. Am I applying for a different job elsewhere after nearly twenty-two years here? Also yes. Is my current workplace compensating for bad hiring decisions by making more bad hiring decisions? Kind of looks that way, yeah. Does that really affect me in any way I might care about? Probably not...? If I do go elsewhere, is that going to screw my current workplace? Also probably. Depends on how well they listen, and given the current precedent I don't have high hopes for that.

The writing project is coming along... I don't want to say "nicely" because it's a bit like wrestling a bearagator (they do exist, but you have to be pretty deep in the Florida swamps to see one), but it's coming along and that's more than I can say for the last three or four projects. This one may actually see the light of day.

I need a lot of sleep, but we're all pretty much used to that by now. So that's going to be my focus for May: self-regulate. Get enough sleep. Remember to just stop when I need to. 

How're the rest of you doing?