Monday, June 27, 2022

A quick update

So this past week I actually made it back into the office and I was generally, mostly, fairly productive. And with the exception of a bit of scheduling weirdness this morning, I expect that to be the case this week too. We're awfully close to the go-live date for the Big Software Changeover at work, and I expect to have to navigate a bunch of last-minute changes this week and next, as people do the final bits of testing and/or look and realize that, yeah, they're actually going to have to use this thing. 

Meanwhile, we're dealing with the fact the Secondborn effectively disassembled his own bed by throwing it the heck out and replacing it with a loft bed instead... which shouldn't be that complicated, in theory. In actual fucking reality it requires rearranging his room, which involves quite a bit of sorting and cleaning and... yeah. It's a project. It's a project that will get done, but it's not a project that got done this past weekend, despite the bones of the loft bed cluttering up the floor of his room. There's just too much stuff that needs to get pulled out, cleaned and/or sorted, and put back in place first. 

And we're all still recovering from COVID, or at least Beautiful Wife and I are. It takes us a while to gear up to do things; frequently, we need to stop and rest after doing them. That thing we used to do when we were younger and not recovering from a plague, where we'd just push through and then collapse after? Not really viable anymore. Plus, from everything I've read, the best way to avoid Long Covid at this point is to really take the time to recover, and not push ourselves We're doing the best we can at that, despite the fact that it's neither of our first instincts. 

On the writing project, I've gone back and expanded the opening. The story is being told in the third person, and while I have a sort of primary protagonist the story itself is going to rotate between three point-of-view characters. (If you're curious about why I would do that or how that dynamic would work, take a look at the first three Jason Bourne movies -- yes, he's the title character, but what the other characters are doing and how they're reacting fills in the background and context that makes the whole thing make sense.) Once I figured that out, I realized that I couldn't stick with my original opening or approach; there needed to be more going on there. Which there will be, and hopefully all of it contributing to the story. 

So... that brings us to Song #7 in our writing playlist, one which I know I've put on the blog before: Mono Inc, with Children of the Dark. 

Friday, June 24, 2022

Paladins: The Vampire Paladin

Salya staggered back, blinking, then shook her head. "Not good enough. You're both going to die now, and my master will reward me."

Tarric glanced down at the sunburst on her armor. "Helios won't approve of this." 

"Helios!" spat Salya, and threw herself at Werendril, who slipped aside and turned her blade away with a deft gesture. Tarric stepped forward and sank his blade into her ribs, backing the blow with a burst of holy power. 

Werendil stepped back and put a foot on Tanovir's shoulder. He paused there, and a moment later the human paladin stirred. Lay on Feet, Tarric thought. Why didn't I think of that? "Heal yourself, paladin of Helios," said Werendril quietly. "Your friend is trying to kill us, and we need you."

"No!" cried Salya. She turned on Tarric, but he managed to keep her sword at bay and took only a slight cut across his forearm. That was going to be a problem -- he was losing blood from arm and shoulder alike now -- but she hadn't taken him out of the fight. 

Tanovir staggered to his feet, reclaiming his sword and shaking his head. Werendril moved in, cutting with the elvish double-scimitar and backing the blows with divine power just as Tarric had. They might worship different gods, but they had that much in common.

"Salya--" said Tanovir, and then placed his free hand on his own chest to heal himself further. "What have you done?" 

She whirled to face him and didn't even bother trying to attack Werendril, who stood between them. Tarric took his opportunity to attack, but she brushed him aside almost absently. "What I had to, brother. I survived after you let the vampires take me!"

Werendril raised an elegant eyebrow. "At what price, cousin?"

Her gaze flickered to him, but he shook his head. "My mind is my own," he told her.

Salya snarled, then ground out: "The Lord of Light abandoned me. So I foreswore him, and turned to One who knows the ways of Undeath. I'm a paladin of Vecna, now."

"That's--" Tanovir trailed off, apparently at a loss for words. 

Salya raised her blade and moved to attack Werendril, and for a few moments they traded blows, attacking viciously but seemingly unable to touch each other. The wound Tarric had delivered was already closing. 

"Attack her!" Tarric yelled, but Tanovir was still standing there, apparently stunned with guilt. Tarric himself was trying to attack, but the vampire paladin kept moving at unexpected moments and avoiding his blade. Even with them flanking her, she might still manage to kill them all if Tanovir didn't--

Then a figure hurtled past Tarric's shoulder and threw itself onto the vampire's back, stabbing down with a short, silver blade that gleamed in a way that shouldn't have been possible for a tea-server, no matter how angry this one appeared. The blade went into Salya's neck, just above her armored collar. 

Salya screamed and reared back, dropping her sword and shield and hurling Laina off of her. The tea-server slammed into the wooden wall of the back of the brothel and slid to the ground, but Salya was still clawing at the knife in her neck, trying to draw it out. 

Then Tanovir pushed Werendril aside, took a two-handed grip on his blade, and brought it down in powerful arc that cut through the vampire paladin's armor and sliced into the flesh beneath. He struck again, and again... and then Salya was dissolving into a mist, and that mist was flowing away... into the brothel, which was already on fire. She left behind her armor, her sword and shield, and the blade that Laina had defeated her with.

Tarric strode over to where the girl lay beside the wall, then knelt down and put a hand on her shoulder. As the healing power of Amun flowed from his hand into her body, he said: "That was well done. Suicidal, but surprisingly effective." 

"Silver... bread knife," said Laina. "I'd been saving it for a last effort. And it was her, the one who kept staring at me when she came into the shop." She shuddered, then took a deep breath. "I prayed for strength, and then I put it into her neck. And it still didn't kill her."

Tanovir knelt down beside them. "Laina Heartling, I owe you many apologies. It was my duty to protect you, and I failed. I failed you and Salya both. I did not know they had taken her; I thought she had left. I... should never have let it come to this."

"Idiot," said Laina. "Is she dead?"

Tarric glanced at the brothel. He could see the glow of flames even through the shutters, and smoke was curling out around the edges of the back door where Tanovir had been pouring out his jug of lamp oil. "If she's not, I suspect she will be shortly." 

Tanovir nodded, looking stricken. 

Werendril had moved closer to the door. "Get up," he said. "I think we have a problem. I can hear people moving around inside here."

"People?" asked Laina. 

"Vampires." 

Tarric and Tanovir exchanged a look. "The front of the building should be thoroughly on fire right now, but... do you think you can cover it without getting cold-cocked by anyone else?" 

Tanovir nodded and rose. "I will make most certain." 

Tarric glanced at Werendril. "Take the cellar door, or help you here?" 

"Cellar," said Werendril, though he didn't sound entirely certain. "There are three doors, and we only have three paladins." 

Laina stood, and Tarric watched as she walked over to Salya had fallen. She bent down, pushed aside the sword and the armor, and picked up the bread knife. "Wrong," she said. "You have four."

Werendril just nodded while Tarric stood gaping. "Stand behind me," said the elf. "Finish anything that gets past me. And don't die. Tarric, the cellar." 

Tarric nodded and went back around the side of the building.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

It's Thursday. Let's do this.

So Thursday would normally be horoscope day, but forging a proper connection to the stars to glean their wisdom requires energy, and I am very tired. So instead, we're just going to do our best. 

For the next week, I want you, my dear readers, to take extra time to cultivate your human disguises. Make sure that skin is really in place. Double-check the current fashion. Don't let anyone look too deeply into your eyes, or see how they sparkle or glow. Place a phone call. Attend a meeting. Order school supplies. Be scornfully jealous of your neighbor's new car, job, or spouse. Humans do that.

But at the same time, remind yourself of who you really are. Unfurl your wings when no one is watching. Ride the night winds. Flex your claws, or extend your spines. Show your fangs, or unfold your hunting mandibles. Bewitch someone. Steal their soul. Drink their blood, or eat their heart. Send their life-essence to your enormous alien spaceship to renew your species, if that's your thing. Drag them through the doors that only open at night into the dark places of the world; get a good price for them (or even just their teeth) at the goblin market. Live a little! 

Life's too short not to devour that annoying co-worker.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Challenge: Auto-Buy authors

(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 list of auto-buy authors

It's not actually that long a list, but here we go:

Martha Wells has been a must-buy author for me for years now; I first stumbled onto her when I was working in a bookstore and purchased her City of Bones, then went back and picked up The Element of Fire, and I've purchased pretty much everything she's written since then. 

Lilith Saintcrow is next on the list; I first encountered her when she was being interviewed about her Bannon & Clare books -- mad science, magic, and mayhem in Victorian England, with some particularly intriguing worldbuilding -- which I immediately purchased and read before diving into her entire backlist. I'm still not sure I'm 100% caught up, but I do my best.

I found Ursula Vernon under her nom de plume of T. Kingfisher, in the delightful fantasy short story Nine Goblins, and I've been hooked ever since. Disturbing horror, cozy romance, a good many stories that are a mix of both. 

Finally there's John Scalzi, whose particular flavor of cheerfully deranged science fiction adventure has done a very great deal to cheer me up at various points where I needed to be reading something that could do that. I'm not sure where I first ran into his work, but after The Kaiju Preservation Society I'm pretty well locked in.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Monday Update, part Bleugh

It was 4:00 on Sunday afternoon and everyone else in the house was asleep. I've been trying to keep everyone on schedule, since Secondborn has a Climbing Camp this morning and Firstborn is supposed to be working on PSAT stuff because apparently he's really, actually that old.  And apparently we don't have a working login for the PSAT course because we reset the password and don't remember it and can't reset it because the school email it's associated with blocks almost everything that doesn't come from the school -- and it's a company holiday for the Princeton Review (Juneteenth) because in some states that actually happens. Not Texas, but some of them.

Instead, the whole family has gone nocturnal and they're dragging me off-schedule with them.

And I can't really blame them, since we're moving into the hot portion of the Texas summer and daytime is pretty miserable. Fortunately, our little house is pretty well-insulated and we haven't had any power outages yet, but... yeah. I'm tired, I'm cranky, I just want everyone to be on schedule and doing what they're supposed to do and not stressing me the fuck out.

Beautiful Wife is still sick, and I'm still in the late stages of recovery (I think) and honestly at this point I kind of just hate everything. 

I think I'm making progress on writing, though I'd love it if I could just sit down and spend about six or eight hours being completely focused on it. No idea what's going to go up on the blog this week, but... eh, I'll figure something out. Weekly Wednesday blogging challenge for Wednesday, maybe just some music for tomorrow? And paladins on Friday, which really only leaves Thursday... and Thursday is usually horoscope day, isn't it? Fine. If I don't have enough brain for that, I'll do some sort motivational post, but only because I love my readers with all the dark and hungry void that passes for my heart. So yes... writing.

Where were we on the book-writing soundtrack? Ah, there we go -- I think I'd left off with Rag'n'Bone Man. Which means the list so far is:

  1. Metallica - The Unforgiven
  2. Lucero - Have You Lost Your Way?
  3. The Pretty Reckless - And So It Went
  4. Sting - Shape of My Heart
  5. Rag'n'Bone Man - Human

...Which brings us to our next song in the sequence: 

Friday, June 17, 2022

Paladins: Set It On Fire

"Old joke: how many paladins does it take to burn out a nest of vampires?" Werendril was wrestling with a keg of lamp oil, trying to splash it across the wooden porch without getting any of it on himself. They'd have to douse the walls too, but he wanted to make sure that anybody who came out the front door ran directly into the flames. 

"I don't know, how many paladins does it take to--" There was a sudden cry, abruptly cut off, and a soft sound that might have been a body hitting the ground on the far side of the building, and Tarric frowned. "All of them, maybe." He'd been dousing the cellar door at the front left corner of the building; now he set his keg aside and drew his sword. Knowing that Werendril would follow, he headed for the back of the building. The True Elf wasn't Tavros and wouldn't ever be, but that didn't mean they couldn't work together.

The alley behind the brothel was empty, save for the fallen form of Tanovir who was bleeding onto the rough, irregular cobbles. Tarric stopped and spun around, looking, but Salya was gone and the alley was empty. The skin on the back of his neck prickled, and he turned and put his back to the wall just as something unseen whooshed through the space his head had occupied a moment before. "Amun take you," he muttered, raising sword and shield. "Werendril! Invisible enemies!"

There was no response, and for a moment Tarric feared that Werendril had abandoned him. Then there was a great WHOOSH and a gust of wind stirred the dust of the alley. 

The brothel was on fire. 

He wasn't sure later if his enemy said, "No!" or if it was just a small sound, but he turned and cut and found a body in what looked like empty air. There was the ring of metal on metal, and someone staggered back. "Salya?" he asked, not quite as surprised as he might have been. 

"Very good," she whispered, and then moved. He heard the footsteps but couldn't place them, and when she attacked it was sheer luck that he had his shield in the way. The first blow struck like a blacksmith's hammer, and drove his shield down; the second connected with his armor and cut into his shoulder. Then suddenly Salya was visible and Werendril was there too, the words of a dispersal spell trailing from his lips. 

"That," said Tarric, looking at her, "was a mistake." He raised a hand and filled the alley with daylight.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Thursday Horoscopes, Mid-June of the End of Days

Aries:
Everybody know the dice are loaded; everybody rolls with their fingers crossed. Everybody knows the war is over, and everybody knows the good guys lost. Everybody knows the fight was fixed; the poor stay poor, the rich get rich.

Taurus:
It ain't that in their hearts they're bad. They can comfort you; some even try. They nurse you when you're ill of health. They bury you when you go and die. They'll stick by you if they could. Ah, but that's just bullshit, baby: people just ain't no good.

Gemini:
A rat always knows when he's in with weasels. Here, you lose a little every day. Well, I remember when a million was a million... They all have ways to make you pay.

Cancer:
There's a shark in the pool and a witch in the tree, a crazy old neighbour and he's been watching me. And there's footsteps loud and strong coming down the hall. Something's under the bed -- now it's out in the hedge... There's a big black crow sitting on my window ledge. And I hear something scratching through the wall...

Leo:
Make it seven o nine California time... Whoever said it was a small world was either a liar or a fool, 'cause it's not true. And any promise we make is as easy to break as the plastic people on a wedding cake -- so says you, but you know, I do.

Virgo:
People 'round here say you're a witch; they're intrigued in seeing you roast. They really intend to burn you my friend -- I think that's the bit they like most. Wake up baby, the mob are on their way -- howling, growling, they want your blood and they're out to get it today.

Libra:
The clock strikes twelve and moondrops burst out at you from their hiding place, like acid and oil on a madman's face. His reason tends to fly away, like lesser birds on the four winds, like silver scrapes in May... And now the sand's become a crust and most of you have gone away.

Scorpio:
I come, old friend, from hell tonight, across the rotting sea. Nor the nails of the cross, nor the blood of Christ can bring you help this eve. The dead have come to claim a debt from thee. They stand outside your door, four score and three...

Sagittarius:
I dreamt I saw you walking up a hillside in the snow, casting shadows on the winter sky as you stood there counting crows: one for sorrow, two for joy; three for girls and four for boys; five for silver, six for gold; seven for a secret never to be told.

Capricorn:
"Oh, don't talk of love," the shadows purr, murmuring me away from you. "Don't talk of worlds that never were -- the end is all that's ever true. There's nothing you can ever say, nothing you can ever do." Still, every night I burn...

Aquarius:
Zeno's arrow never hits the mark. It's always hanging there over its shadow: safe from battle, waste of archer's time and trouble. Waste of effort, waste of parts... If you don't aim for the center it's a waste of the art.

Pisces:
Pour your misery down. You can keep me company as long as you don't care.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Music: Moby Duck

 The Longest Johns, because you might need something silly to break up your week: 


Tuesday, June 14, 2022

EvilParty: An Offer from the Count

We finish cleaning up the battlefield, and return to our rooms in time to be met by Cardinal Laroche, who has come bearing gifts. For Jenny, he has brought Wings of Flying; for Durest, he has brought a shield that will allow him to fly once per day; for Chuck, he has brought Dark Robes of the Archmage. (This will give Chuck several advantages.) Durest using the shield can fly for five minutes, which is shorter than if he just casts the spell himself; but the shield version allows him to fly at full speed despite the weight of his armor (and also, seriously ups his armor class).

We’ve done well; Laroche is basically done with us, and settles us in to have some down time. Chuck and Durest head over to Merrowhaven to check on Chuck’s drug empire and brothel. Jafreese, who Chuck left in charge, is now up on the local billboards. We stop by the local moneylender where Chuck receives his deposit; the moneylender is a gnome. Durest is following along, bemused, as Chuck works his way through the discussion and discovers that the money-lender has been cut out of the loop and doesn’t have his money. Jafreese has bought out some lord’s former manor, and is claiming that Chuck is dead…

Yeah. Chuck assures the moneylender that he’ll be back in the loop shortly. We head off to have a chat with Jafreese.

There’s a jaguar parked out front - an actual jungle cat - and a couple of bodyguards. Chuck promptly terrifies them. They run away and immediately hide behind one of the local Solari, who Chuck immediately Dominates. Apparently Jafreese has convinced the local lord to loan him some protection, but... not enough. The house is a large manor, roughly U-shaped in footprint, with an open courtyard and a pool in the center. Jafreese is out by the pool, with most of a harem scattered around him.

Chuck: “Jafreese! My man!”

Jafreese: “Chuck! Um! Hi! I’m so glad you’re still alive.” He starts trying to sell us on how well his operation – um, Chuck’s operation – is doing.

Chuck: “Jafreese! You are my man. I just think we need to review the business plan.”

Jafreese: “I’m just… I’m going to go get your money, and then we’ll sit down and have a drink with all these lovely ladies.”

Jafreese goes into the house and comes back out with a chest full of 15,600 gp – about half what the moneylender said we were owed. Possibly much less.

Durest: “Lad, ye do realize I c’n cast Discern Lies any time I bloody well want?”

Jafreese pales: “That is my least favorite spell.”

Chuck pulls out the ledger and drops it on the table.

Jafreese just stares: “That asshole!”

Jafreese goes inside again and promptly tries to run away. Durest sighs, flies, spots him running across the lawn, and hits him with Hold Person.

Chuck: “So, here we are.”

Durest: “I feel like he’d be more reliable as a zombie.”

Chuck: “...Maybe not yet. Jafreese… we need to stiffen your upper lip. See, either you turn our operation towards making yourself a warlord, and kick out the Solari. Or, you come with us and do things the way we do.”

Jafreese: “What about if we had a Baron who was so corrupt and in our pocket that he never wanted to use his Solari?”

Chuck: “For somebody who’s so bad at math, that’s a pretty smart idea. You’re gonna make this happen?”

Jafreese: “For you, boss? Anything.” He hesitates. “I’m, um, I’m sorry that Jenny didn’t make it.”

Chuck: “Jenny just killed about twenty Solari while she was spending a week being a stone giant.”

Jafreese: “Does she still do the, um, the thing with the men?”

Chuck: “Ohhh, yes. With our new friends, she doesn’t even need to keep the men. Just a quick slice, and we reanimate it, and she can keep herself occupied.” 

Jafreese gulps as that image sinks in.

We stay for an evening of partying, including a chance to chat with Madam Frumpy (the Madam of the Brothel). Then we head back.

Meanwhile, back in Flowerhedge one of the Black Knives shows up at the inn. Jenny answers the door. Jenny is none too clear on their role in all this – she was busy being a stone giant at the time – so they ask her to tell Chuck that John wants to speak with him. She decides to go talk to John instead.

The fellow leads her to the inn, where John gives his messenger a look. Then he composes himself and says, “Jenny! I was expecting Chuck.”

Jenny: “I am here.”

John: “Is Chuck going to be back soon?”

Jenny: “No idea.”

John: “Can I leave a message with you?”

Jenny: “Sure! But I cannot read.”

“Perfect!” John writes out the note as quickly as he can, and the bartender comes rushing over to give them drinks. The drinks come in collectible glass mugs, and Jenny gets to keep hers. The bartender opens his mouth to object to this prevarication, but John elbows him in the ribs and Jenny is happy with her new mug.

Miraculously, she actually gives us the note when we return. The Black Knives have been hired by someone else, and they’re leaving town. “It’s just business.” However, John suggests that we should check under the statue in the market square.

It’s a bronze statue of a guy on a horse, very heroic; there’s a crack under of the horse’s upraised hooves. The note hidden there has the seal of Count Boisson of Brightland.

“I know that you are no religious zealots of Vecna. If you will walk away from the service of Vecna, I will pay you your weight in platinum.” He’s basically offering us about 100,000 GP apiece.

Durest, standing back at the edge of the square, notices a cowled figure and promptly casts Hold Person. It’s one of the Vecna spies, the ones missing an eye. It’s been replaced with a glass eye which allows the Vecna forces to see from his perspective at any time.

Durest reaches out and rotates the eye around until it’s facing the back of his skull. We sigh and send him on his way. Then we head back to the Baroness’ safe room to discuss the offer. None of us are all that impressed. We've exchanged about four sentences to that effect when there's a knock at the door.

Cardinal Marcion has arrived.

After a bit of discussion, Marcion agrees to throw in a bit of extra for us since we were A) planning on double-crossing the Count anyway, and B) are now also doing that as a job for him. If we can bring him the two Solari dragons – alive, or at least with their souls intact – they’ll use them to create more Stat Books for us. But we now have permission to proceed, which is also kind of important.

It’s going to be interesting, because in addition to the two dragons, Brightland was where Master Fedoki the monk retreated to.

We make ready for murder and teleport into the throne room. The throne room has been cleared of anything valuable, and all the regular guards are gone; Count Boisson and Baron Bastion are there. Clearly, they've considered the possibility of violent betrayal. Which, well, is what we're here for.

Durest drops a Dimensional Anchor on the far end of the room, then tries a quickened Hold person on the Count; he’s shielded, though. Jenny, once again a stone giant, charges Master Fedoki. She is raging, and power attacks. Her giant spiked chain smashes into the old monk, and the rest of us get the distinct impression that she’s still a bit sore about how things went the last time. Chuck drops a fireball on the dais, but it doesn’t make it through whatever shield they have up.

The count stands up: “Wait! Listen! I offer more!”

Chuck: “Okay, we’re listening.”

Jenny ignores this, but she’s completely focused on Fedoki and everybody except the monk kind of ignores her in turn.

The two pretty boys at the front of the dais turn into dragons.

The count:
He offers baronies to Durst and Jenny, and cure from vampirism for Chuck. Hereditary titles, and the King’s blessing. At this point another man walks in, leading Baron Laroe from Springhollow. He looks… a little out of it, but he isn’t a vampire anymore. He’s a major PTSD case after a year’s attempts at treatment, though.

“It took us a while to figure it out, but now we know–”

Jenny keeps going after Fedoki, chasing him around the room.

Meanwhile, the man who just came in is Viggo the Whisperer, who has come on behalf of the king. He has contracts, establishing us as lords if we will but turn on the dark army. Having figured out how to cure vampirism, they can do so for Chuck.

Chuck asks whether we could perhaps hear directly from the King. No; they’re satisfied to get us off the field, though they’d prefer to have us working for them. The count suggests that we take a day to consider; then, if we return, it’s for battle, and if we accept the offer, we should send word.

Durest considers for the space of a breath. “Naw. Sounds boring.”

Burea casts Fire Shield on herself. The dragon throws a magic missile at Jenny (but she’s immune because Durest saw that one coming), but also being in the presence of dragons is terrifying. Chuck is shaken, and Jenny gets a face full of repulsion gas and is driven back from one of the dragons.

Durest drops an empowered Fire Storm, for a bunch of damage; the Baron dies, but the count is just an illusion. That’s annoying, because killing him was definitely part of the plan. Fedoki attacks Jenny, but misses; Jenny laughs in Stone Giant. The second dragon tries to hit Jenny with his electrical breath weapon, doing some damage. Jenny retreats from the older dragon, and is really annoyed.

Burea makes Chuck unafraid.

The older dragon flies over, blows a quickened True Strike, and nails Durest with a claw. Durest tries energy drain, but fails to get past the dragon's spell resistance. Fedoki charges Durest, and attacks him with a stunning fist. It does some damage, but fails to stun him. The other dragon also doesn’t want to fight Jenny; he also attacks Durest. Chuck drops Weird on the gathered enemies.

He gets through Fedoki’s spell resistance and the smaller dragon's, but Fedoki shrugs off the effect. The smaller dragon takes some damage from it. Burea tries Power Word Stun on Fedoki, taking him out of the fight for a bit. The larger dragon lays into Durest and takes him out of the battle. The smaller dragon goes after Burea, and power attacks.

Chuck takes a step, grabs Durest, and dimension doors over to Jenny. The dragons move on Burea, and almost – but not quite – take her down; the second dragon fell prey to her Charm, and does not attack her. He moves over to attack Jenny instead.

Jenny retreats to the corner with Chuck and Durest; Chuck makes Durest invisible. Burea uses Limited Wish again to cure Jenny of her repulsion right before the older dragon tears her apart. Fedoki, at least, is still stunned. The younger dragon moves in and attacks Jenny, but… misses. Jenny uses a controlled power attack, and lays into him. The younger dragon goes down.

Chuck: “Things are looking up!” Though his minion has dissolved into mist, and the older dragon is more formidable. He pours a healing potion down Durest’s throat, just before the older dragon flies over and tries to use his repulsion gas on us.
This time, we all shrug it off.

Jenny charges and power attacks, taking some damage on the way in but returning it with interest. The dragon casts a quickened mirror image on itself, then attacks Jenny. Durest attempts to implode Fedoki, but fails. Jenny keeps moving on the dragon, and nails him with her chain. The ground shakes as she steps. Unfortunately, with the mirror images she's killing images instead of damaging the dragon... mostly. She manages to connect with the real dragon twice. Chuck flings out a bunch of magic missiles, removing all but one image and damaging the dragon a bit.

The dragon steps back and casts Displacement on itself… and Durest Implodes it. BLAM.

Fedoku finally shakes off the stun. He climbs to his feet and charges Jenny. The rest of us back off as our stone giant barbarian wraps her spiked chain all the way around him and then yanks it back, spinning him around like a blood-spewing top. He goes down, and doesn't get back up.

We immediately tear through the castle until we find the count, who’s pretty much just reduced to terrified pleading. We kill him, because that was the job, and promptly rob his treasury as well as Master Fedoki's equipment – in particular taking an ioun stone from him, which Jenny will use to qualify for even more damage reduction. In scouring the castle we find a pair of dragon hoards, because even Solari dragons have standards.

Durest steals the image projector that the Count was using.

There’s a ring of invisibility and a ring of evasion in the dragon hoards, and a ring of major electricity resistance.

We head back to Flowerhedge to take dragon chunks and resurrect them in captivity, then perform the dark ritual and convert the dragons into stat books. We use the lesser one (OOC: +3) on Jenny’s Constitution, and the greater one to improve Chuck’s Charisma – which, since he’s a sorcerer, will help with both his spells and his Dominate ability.

Cardinal Marcion is very impressed, and LaRoche is pleased because we’ve made him look good. He’s made arrangements to ensure our future services. He’s prepared to reward us with new powers and abilities; they’re going to show Durest how to become a lich, and Jenny how to become a lycanthrope. They’re offering Chuck a choice: a way to master the staff, or a chance to restore his humanity. The staff has a pit fiend trapped in it; that’s Chuck’s choice. Each will involve a quest.

Durest needs to fashion a reliquary as a focus for the spells needed to become a lich; he’ll need body parts from some sort of saint or god. We’ll have to consult with Maodeus about where to find those. It’s going to be dangerous. For Jenny’s lycanthropy, the infection is easy but the skill to master that affliction will not be. So, we’ll need to get past the Duendewood druids, and then we’ll need to fashion an item that could place the affliction under her control. There’s someone in Annun who can do that, but we’ll have to do him a favor first. To tame Balaam, the demon in the staff, we’ll need to enter the staff and face our greatest fears. We’ll need the hierophant’s help for that. (Durest is deeply curious about what his greatest fears might even be.)

We decide on lycanthropy, demon staff, and chunks of god-corpse as our sequence. Marcion lays out a bit more details on the lycanthropy quest. First we have to find a warbear and manage to get him to infect Jenny; he’s in hiding, and protected by the druids. Then we need someone to fashion a magic ring, which the High Provost of Duendewood can do but we’ll need some way to repay him. Finally, we’ll need to contain Jenny until she regains control.

Note to self: figure out how to improve Jenny’s wisdom.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Quiet weekend

So we've been attempting to take it easy and just recover, and it's... I mean, I really believe that's the best course and none of us have a whole lot of spoons right now, but also we were just starting to get the house back together when this hit and I would love to find the oomph to get ahead on the laundry, dishes, etc... or just have a robot maid: 

Writing progress has been non-existent, and we're getting further behind on the youth D&D game as well; I would love to get that back on track. Meanwhile, we're hoping for the best and muddling through as well as we can.

I keep reminding myself that all things considered we've actually been pretty lucky, and this could have been so, so much worse. 

And then I think about Long Covid and panic all over again. 

Anyway, I hope that you, gentle readers, are doing as well as possible under the circumstances. Take care of yourselves; take care of each other. It's the only way we get through.


Friday, June 10, 2022

Plague update

So the general run of COVID has looked like this: 

Beautiful Wife had the earliest symptoms, which showed up mostly as a massive head cold -- lots of mucus, lots of drainage, sore throat -- and felt like it was trying to climb down and become an upper-respiratory thing; the nebulizer helped with that. She was also very tired, which... no surprise there. She seems to be coming out of it now, but she's still sleeping a lot. 

Secondborn was the next one to show up with a fever, but then he's always been more prone to fevers than the rest of us. He slept for about eighteen hours from early Tuesday night into Wednesday, and we had to keep nudging him awake long enough to put Tylenol or Advil into him (alternating) to keep his fever down to something that wasn't dangerous. On Wednesday he got slowly back on his feet and seemed to be much better, but of course it took him a while to go to sleep Wednesday night. Still, he seemed to be more or less back to normal on Thursday. I wasn't quite there -- still tired, though I think some of that was emotional -- but pretty close. A bit of fever in the evening, but nothing life-threatening.

Anyway, we're still being cautious about not going out and potentially exposing anyone else, and Beautiful Wife's throat is still sore, but I think we're coming out of it. 

We've been lucky.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Bad horoscopes

I really try to make these a weekly thing but what with one thing and another I have no brain right now. So...

Aries:
Get a smallpox vaccination if you can.

Taurus:
Mask up. Stay masked. Wash your hands.

Gemini:
Maybe just don't breathe when anybody else is anywhere nearby.

Cancer:
Isolate as much as you can.

Leo:
Today would be an excellent day to let Governor Abbott know that he's a homicidal asshole and we all know it. Honestly, it's amazing that God would waste skin on somebody like that.

Virgo:
Definitely get tested.

Libra:
Sleep. You probably need it.

Scorpio:
This has to end sometime, doesn't it?

Sagittarius:
Doom. Doooooooooom...

Capricorn:
All things in moderation, especially fevers.

Aquarius:
There is no ethical medical system under Capitalism.

Pisces:
A milkshake would probably soothe your throat.

Check back next week for more delightful and uplifting glimpses into what the stars have in store for us.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Plague House 2022

Just when I thought I we might be starting to get our shit back together, too...

Beautiful Wife tested positive for COVID on Monday, after a night of not feeling too well (mainly sinus meltdown and sore throat). Secondborn is running a fever, and Firstborn and I have both shown up with less serious fevers. So, you know, we're back to isolating and medicating and hydrating and... 

Yeah. We're fortunate that we have a nebulizer and something to put in it -- that seems to have kept the thing from moving down into pneumonia and/or bronchitis.

Really could have done without this, especially right now. It seems like the end of the school year and the start of summer is just one damned thing after another. There are small blessings to be counted, but that's hard to do when the hits keep coming. 

Right now it's not so bad for me and Firstborn, but Beautiful Wife is just starting to come out of it and Secondborn keeps trying to run a fever that's worryingly high. I'm tired, but I'm waiting to see if it gets worse.

And with that, it's definitely time to go to bed. Y'all... take care, please. Everybody in my area seems to be acting like the pandemic is over, but it's very definitely not and the potential long-term side-effects are worrisome, by which I mean terrifying.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

EvilParty: Battered by the Badass Bridge Battle

Right, so:

Durest is dead. Ferroustopher the iron golem is destroyed. Bob the Frost Giant Skeleton is down, but he’s due to pop back up this round. Jenny is still up and very dangerous, but the remaining Solari have mostly turned invisible and moved out of range. Burhaea has been forcibly returned to her coffin, but Chuck is still up, mobile, and invisible.

Chuck uses one of our magic items to summon Durest’s dead, invisible corpse to him. He then takes Durest and moves a bit away, trying to avoid getting targeted. The spellcasters are pounding Jenny with everything they have left, which is enough to… well… make her notice? I guess?

Bob stands back up and charges up towards Jenny, and Jenny runs further down towards the far end of the bridge, getting out of the invisibility purge. The remaining archers take shots at her, but they haven’t been terribly effective so far and apparently they aren’t about to start now.

Chuck throws a fireball at the cleric with the Invisibility Purge field going. He then summons Jenny over to where he is; she starts yelling at him. The cleric tries to follow Jenny down the bridge but Jenny is gone. Bob continues to endanger himself by running down the bridge and attacking an archer. Jenny yells for Bob to run.

That gets everybody’s attention, but Chuck uses Dimension Door to get out of Dodge before more fireballs start falling. Bob is still back on the bridge, though. And it is at that precise moment that the Invisibility spell wears off. Chuck looks around for someplace to hide, and spots a dark room in the nearby inn. Chuck leaves Jenny and dead Durest on the street, and pulls Bob out. Bob reassembles himself and gives Jenny a big head.

Chuck pays one of the Black Knives to send a message while we hole up and decompose. Or maybe that part’s just Durest. Laroche shows up and takes in the scene. “So what happened to Jenny?”

Chuck: “There’s a solution for every problem.” He recounts how we carved through the Solari.

Cardinal Laroche resurrects Durest, and Chuck levels up. Laroche points out that he probably won’t be able to do this again. Still, the Night of the Crying Sun was a terrible blow to the Solari.

Chuck turns into a bat and flies over the bridge. They’ve reorganized: their guards are pretty much all on flying mounts, the archers are gone, and they’ve swapped in some clerics instead. Still, the overall numbers are low: about where we left them.

We spend some time planning. Jenny will go in at her normal size, so Durest can cast Fly on her. Chuck goes into the water, and Burhaea teleports us to a point midway down the bridge. Chuck will be disintegrating chunks of the support pillar, while the rest of us keep everyone busy and distracted.

Burhaea teleports us in. We’re buffed all to hell: invisible, able to see invisible and otherwise-hidden items, and generally ready to do murder. An alarm goes off the moment we arrive, and the civilians flee. The enemy sorcerers immediately make themselves invisible, for all the good that will do. Durest drops Silence on Jenny as planned, and Jenny heads up and out to start a murder spree. She heads for the nearest cleric, and attacks with her spiked chain. The cleric is blooded but not immediately killed. The cleric moves back and casts Invisibility Purge.

The other cleric also casts Invisibility Purge. Burea moves away from Durest so they can’t target both of us at once, and lobs a fireball at a group of enemies. “I am being forced to destroy you!” she yells. “But they are destroying the bridge down below!”

The sorcerers respond. Four of them attack Jenny, but Magic Missile does not work on her. The other four attack Durest, and Magic Missile works just fine on him. Durest moves towards the south end of the bridge and heals himself. Jenny murders the cleric, and we’re invisible again – at least for the moment. The next cleric moves over to paint us with Invisibility Purge. The other clerics throw Flame Strikes at Jenny, which don’t affect her because Durest has made her immune.

Burhaea continues shouting: “I am being forced to do this! They’re under the bridge!” She throws Power Word Stun at one of the clerics.

Chuck disintegrates another section of bridge, but it’s still standing. Durest is then the target of All The Magic Missiles, but he doesn’t go down yet. He heals himself and then throws a quickened Hold Person on the mage by Jenny. Jenny moves over to the cleric at our end of the bridge (who was stunned by Burhaea) and wallops her with her chain. The other two clerics cast True Seeing on themselves.

Burhaea, still protesting, fireballs another group of spellcasters. They’ve been showing remarkable restraint towards her, and now they’re paying for it. Chuck is still disintegrated the bridge, and shouts “Anarchy in the U.K.!”

Good news: Durest is about to be out of range of a bunch of spells.
Bad news: This is because the pillar is tilting to the side and falling, and taking the whole bridge with it.

There is falling damage, and rubble damage. But on the plus side, mission accomplished: the bridge is destroyed as we were ordered. Durest is in a pile of rubble, but he’s invisible again. He casts Time Stop and does some healing and teleporting around, curing himself and Jenny and ending up at the south end of the bridge. Jenny kills the cleric, then moves over next to a wizard, who is now silenced by her proximity. The sorcerers try scorching rays on Jenny.

Burhaea drops another fireball, and extracts herself from the rubble of the bridge. Chuck commands her to stay by his side; she has no choice but to obey. Chuck throws Disintegrate at the nearest cleric. She shrugs off the worst of it, but takes a lot of damage. She survives, but only barely.

The sorcerers cast Mirror Image on themselves. Durest summons a Vrock, which fills one of the mages with spores and then stuns him. Jenny decides that this is fine, and goes to wipe out one of the remaining clerics. The last cleric moves down far enough to make Chuck visible, but Burhaea is standing there next to him. She fireballs the mages. Again, they’ve been holding back against her and she’s just been murdering them. Bloody tears are running down her face.

The sorcerers start throwing fireballs, more or less at random, into the valley. Chuck is more or less unfazed.

The Vrock attacks sorcerers, and Durests sends a couple of Invisible Stalkers up to help it out. Jenny looks at the last cleric, charges, and annihilates her. Burhaea throws another fireball, killing another of her former allies/friends and injuring another. Chuck throws a fireball of his own, and injures more sorcerers.

The sorcerers finally figure out where Chuck is and drop fireballs there. Chuck mostly dodges them, but still takes a bunch of damage. He stands and dusts himself off.

Durest starts Imploding sorcerers. Jenny finishes off the last cleric, and Burhaea throws a pair of fireballs. The guy that Durest used Hold Person on is still caught, and remains so while we finish cleaning off the battlefield. At last our enemies have fallen, and we move to loot the bodies.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Yep, there it is...

I tried to pace myself through the end of May, and I almost made it. Still, I managed to postpone the Great Collapse until early June -- now -- which is better than nothing. And I'm really not in full-on collapse, although I'd kind of like to be. I've just... kind of disappeared into books and video games and left the family to mostly fend for themselves. Writing? Nope, that requires having a brain. And just at the moment, I barely have enough brain to keep myself organized, let alone everyone else, let way alone do that and still put some oomph into writing. Duolingo? Same. Reworking the patch jacket I started in high school? Yeah, no. Cleaning the house? I mean, actually yeah kind of, but at a very measured pace. Ran a lot of laundry, didn't sort any of it.

Still... D&D tonight, and I always feel emotionally refreshed afterwards. We're still playing Evil!Party, too, so we'll probably be doing even more horrible things to would-be heroes. Admittedly, our position is a bit precarious right now, but... Eh, later for that. We'll see how it goes and I'll figure out where to put the write-up in the schedule for this week. I certainly don't have anything ready to post after this morning -- and today seems like to be very busy, even before this post goes up. 

Ah, well. Onwards and upwards, my friends and companions. Nothing but good times ahead.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Hrm. Friday? Friday.

Well, I was going to do the next installment of the paladins thing -- which is definitely getting out of hand, it was supposed to just be Werendril and Tarric bonding, I swear -- but the week has definitely gotten away from me. So... time to pull myself back together, but in the meantime... 

Some music, I guess? Sure. Music. How about some Xandria? This morning feels kind of... Xandriatic. 

Not a lot of progress on writing this week, obviously, and I'm still trying to get back to Duolingo — plus, there's still a lot of laundry and general cleaning that needs to happen, especially now that the boys have had their first full week off school. And off schedule — bedtime has been an absolute no-go this week. Which... they've done a decent a job of letting me sleep, so I'm picking my battles for the moment. 

Things fall apart, the center cannot hold, but what the Hell, it's home.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Early June Horoscopes!

Aries:
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune will include actual slings and arrows this week, along with a couple of golf balls; body armor, a shield, and an armored umbrella are advisable. Otherwise, best to stay indoors.

Taurus:
They know you. They're looking for you. You do not want them to find you. Stick to crowded places as much as possible to confuse them, and eat a lot of garlic to change your scent. The ritual is on Friday, so they'll give up if they don't find you by then.

Gemini:
Tell your friends your secrets, but do not ask for theirs. A full moon would lend strength, but that isn't until the 14th. Eat a lot of protein and fresh fruits, and get exercise when you can. It makes you far less appetizing to certain sorts of hungers.

Cancer:
Financial news will arrive this week; unfortunately, financial institutions specialize in making their announcements as opaque as possible, so you won't know whether the news is good or bad. Eating out offers an opportunity to connect with co-workers.

Leo:
The watchful sky remembers all, and will call you to account this week. Wear blue to appease it, and avoid walking under anything that isn't firmly attached. A friend's intervention could save your sanity.

Virgo:
Burn it all down! Wait, no, not that. Not that either. Okay, maybe just burn some of it down. Just... not that bit. Hang on. Okay, new plan: make a campfire and cook some s'mores. That'll do fine.

Libra:
The Earth hold secrets long forgotten, and it wants to share them with you. Unfortunately, they sound entirely too much like an episode of Ancient Aliens, and you won't be able to take them seriously. This is probably for the better.

Scorpio:
The moon aligns with Venus, making this a great week to speak your truth and stick to your guns, and also to sound your barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world -- especially at sporting events. Treat yourself early in the week to set the proper mood.

Sagittarius:
Electronic devices will prove extremely unreliable this week, as Mars and Jupiter conflict over Saturn. Frustration is understandable, but don't let it overwhelm you. A properly jaunty hat is the key to everything.

Capricorn:
Music will help you get through the week, but beware of dubstep; the wub-wub-wub will be nothing but a hindrance. Allergies will bring both negativity and snot. Pay close attention to animals, especially pets, and follow their cues as best you can.

Aquarius:
A positive outlook is important this week, which is kind of a problem since the world is objectively a massive trash fire and the super-rich and well-connected are gleefully steering us towards the next Permian Extinction. Smile!

Pisces:
Mercury appears to be doing a little jig as it enters Scorpio, so be carefully with your spending and guard your savings. Help a stranger if you see the chance. Stick to parks and trails you know, and don't go wandering into the Tulgey woods unprepared.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Challenge: Near Your Town

(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: Book/Movie/TV Show set in or near your town

This may actually be the easiest prompt so far. 

I had a friend in school who went by his initials, RJ, and right around middle school there was a months-long period where he got very tired of people asking him, "So... who shot RJ?" (If you don't get it, don't worry -- it just means you aren't old enough.) Neither of us actually watched the show, mind you, but back in the mid-eighties it was... inescapable.