Friday, July 29, 2022

Durest: They Grow Up So Quickly

Durest stood in the doorway of the former Temple of Helios, newly dedicated to Indra, and watched as the last of his followers shuffled out. In the weeks that they'd spent in Rockdale, he'd accumulated quite a congregation: enough to fill the chapel and then some. He wasn't honestly sure how many of them were sincere in their devotion and how many merely feared that he might do horrible things if people didn't show up when he held services, but they came and they offered praise and Indra seemed pleased. 

He had just turned to shut the door when he saw another dwarf come around the corner -- and not just any dwarf, either. It was his oldest daughter, Vandra, and she had company. 

He caught her eye, waved, and then waited as they closed the distance. The girl with her was dressed in a black skirt-and-shawl combination that almost looked like a robe; she was human, and... buxom, he thought, and shoved that thought down. He was not going to take that sort of interest in his daughter's friends. 

Also, there were a couple of hobgoblins trailing along behind them, and there was something about the way they moved... Zombies, he thought, surprised. Very well crafted, too. 

"Can we come in?" asked Vandra, and Durest grinned. "O'course." He motioned them inside, and closed the door behind them. 

The girls were four steps into the temple when the human paused, taking a moment to study Bob. The skeleton stood politely back against the wall, well off to one side; the undead were Durest's particular obsession, and not part of the formal worship of Indra. 

"That's some nice work," the human said, sounding faintly surprised. 

"I told you you'd like my dad," Vandra said.

Durest offered a smile. "I was going to say the same about your two. The skeleton's called Bob."

"The zombies are named Pain and Suffering," said the human girl. "They were the first ones I raised."

"And you've managed to keep them intact? Good work." 

Vandra cut in. "So, um, Dad. I'd like you to meet someone. This is Wendy. We're... kind of an item."

Puzzled, Durest had just opened his mouth to ask what sort of an item when it occurred to him that there was really only one possible answer in this context. He closed his mouth, nodded, and then said: "Like calls to like, it seems."

Vandra flushed, but Wendy just nodded. Durest said, "Right, well, I'm not sure what you're looking for under the circumstances, but if ye want to know if I object, I don't. Sure'n I'd rather have yez choosing your own company than having it thrust on ye by t'elders of yer clan -- and I say that with no insult intended towards yer mother."

Vandra said, "Thanks, Dad," and Wendy just nodded. 

"So this is a death church?" the human asked. 

"Not so much," Durest said. "It's for the worship of Indra, the Blue Devil, keeper of the sky and the winds and the storms. He... indulges me interest in death and resurrection."

"I like him," said Wendy, and reached out to clasp Vandra's hand.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

End of July horoscopes: Indiana Jones Variations

Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?

Wasps. Why did it have to be wasps?

Spiders. Why did it have to be spiders?

Rats. Why did it have to be rats?

Turkeys. Why did it have to be turkeys?

Hippos. Why did it have to be hippos?

Cassowaries. Why did it have to be cassowaries?

Jehovah's Witnesses. Why did it have to be Jehovah's Witnesses?

Wolves. Why did it have to be wolves?

Bison. Why did it have to be bison?

Corgis. Why did it have to be corgis?

Piranhas. Why did it have to be piranhas?

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Challenge: Bookcases

(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: show us your bookcase(s)

I hate to say, "All right, you asked for it," but... well... here we are.The bookcase that I think of as "mine" is the one that lives in the writing closet, and the writing closet is, well... here: 

Inside, well... might be just a little bit cluttered. 

And behind my chair, more bookshelves - mostly with old D&D 3.5 books:


I might be a little overdue to haul all this stuff out and reorganize it.

Also, you may notice that I am much better at giving myself good advice than I am at taking it.

So how about you? What do your bookshelves look like?

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Music: Love The Way You Lie

Skylar Grey -- who, I repeat, is one the great underappreciated talents of modern music: 

Friday, July 22, 2022

Sol Povos: Laina meets Raven

"Oh good. Another paladin." The words were delivered in a disinterested monotone, and the girl who spoke them had stopped sweeping the entryway just long enough to look them over. She was small and slim, dressed in black leggings and tunic, with the symbol of Amun worked in silvery embroidery on the front.

Laina glanced at Tarric, but the older paladin just rolled his eyes and continued on. Werendril didn't even seem to hear, which couldn't possibly be true. The elf heard everything

Curious, Laina asked: "What makes you say that?" 

The girl had started sweeping again. "Those two," she said, in the same nothing-really-matters-at-all tone of voice. "And you walk like you belong with them."

Laina nodded. "Well, you're not wrong," she said, and started away. 

"I know," the girl said from behind her.

* * *

The graveyard was down behind the temple, on the far side of the hill from Caristhium. A smooth marble path wound its way down, but gave way to dirt and gravel when it reached the gates. Narrow walkways traced their way between the graves, and high stone walls -- probably cut from the hill itself -- surrounded the whole area. This was sacred ground, an extension of the temple above, but heavy with a quiet melancholy that was almost peaceful. 

It bothered Laina that she could feel that just by stepping across the threshold, but she was slowly getting used to it. Eighteen years of living in Aldpond had not prepared her for this. But Tarric had encouraged her to explore in the empty hours between the evening meal and the fall of night, so here she was. 

"The dead welcome their own," said a soft voice behind her, and Laina only barely managed not to shriek. She turned, and saw the same girl who'd been sweeping the entry when she first arrived. Her hair was a bloody crimson now, and she'd put something on her lips to match the color; between that and the tight black tunic that emphasized the pallor of her skin, she looked like another damned vampire. 

"You're not dead," she observed. No true undead would be standing so calmly in a place like this. "Neither am I."

The girl made a dismissive gesture with her free hand -- she was holding a shovel in the other. "Not yet."

A hint of a grin creased Laina's lips, and she sniffed in a way that was almost a chuckle. "True. You never know."

The girl nodded an acknowledgement. "I'm done now," she said, and started to walk past Laina and out the gate. 

"Wait," said Laina. 

The girl stopped, but didn't look back. 

"What's your name?" 

There was a brief hesitation. Then the girl said, "Raven."

"I'm Laina. I make tea sometimes, if the thought of drinking the juice of dead leaves appeals to you."

The girl's shoulders twitched; then she walked off. 

Laina moved further into the graveyard, tracing the paths until she found the open grave that the girl had evidently been digging. There was something beside it... a small scrap of parchment tucked under a rock. Frowning slightly, Laina bent down, picked it up and unfolded it. 

Life is a lie. Death is truth. No one can hide from the truth forever. 

Laina considered that, then tucked the note into the pouch on her belt. She missed wearing dresses sometimes, but the simple pants-and-tunic combination was better for a lot of the physical training that Tarric and Werendril -- and now Anica and Akkora -- had her doing. She'd always been a bit of a tomboy, but this was something else again. On her own, she'd have been happy to stick with her silvered bread knife, but the half-orc armsmistress and the other paladins seemed determined to teach her the use of every possible weapon in the shortest possible time. She spent her days training, her evenings exploring the temple and its environs, and when night fell she collapsed into bed with a feeling of gratitude that was frankly embarrassing. 

Then she got up in the morning and did it again. No one can hide from the truth forever. It was a good reminder. 

* * *

"Tell me what you want from me," said Laina. "Fucksake, give me some kind of guidance or I swear to You that I'll go back to serving tea somewhere." Tea, at least, had always been there when she needed it.

She was in the Chapel of All, a small room in the northeastern corner tower of the Temple of Amun. It was sanctified, but not dedicated; a place for the worship of other gods, aside from Amun. The priestess Aesa used it when she wanted to offer praise to Corellon; so did Werendril. The armsmistress Akkora used it to offer praise to Gruumsh. There were probably others who used it as well; Archon Le'Straide hadn't prepared her for the idea that a god might not mind the worship of other gods, let alone that one might encourage it. The more she thought about it, the more it seemed like Helios might just be a massive asshole. 

Whatever. Not her problem. "Come on," she said. "Give me something. I'll learn the weapons if you want, I'll help whomever I can, but you can't seriously expect me to wear full plate armor. I looked ridiculous, and I was ready to fall over after the first five minutes. And yeah, that's kind of shallow, but I am kind of shallow."

She waited. 


"Why did you even call me to your service? Vampires? Why not just help the boys directly? You didn't need me for that. You took me away from everything I knew... for what? Is there some grand purpose to all this, or was I just... convenient?

Still nothing. 

Laina turned, ready to leave the chapel, and that was when her goddess nudged her eyes towards the chapel door. The woman in the doorway wore white robes trimmed with bronze; together with the willowy figure and the calmly amused expression, she was unmistakable. This was the Abbess Hilda. And Laina had been imprecating her own goddess in front of her.

"You have an interesting approach to prayer," the older woman said. 

Laina felt her cheeks redden, and looked down. "Sorry," she said. 

"Don't be. It's good for them, I think, when mortals argue back. And from what I understand of the Order of the Scales, Nepthys often chooses reluctant, recalcitrant champions to serve her."

Laina was still feeling irritated, so she raised an eyebrow and asked: "Order of the Scales? Am I going to turn into a dragon?"

"The other sort of scales," answered the abbess, unperturbed. "Think of weights and measures." 

"Fine." Laina drew a breath, sighed, and gave in. "So why does Nepthys want to... recruit... people who don't want to work for her?"

"I don't know," answered the abbess, "but I think it keeps her honest. And I put a word out when you arrived, and one of our people in Brightland answered. There were a pair of clerics of Nepthys there, and they've agreed to come here and teach you what they can. We're still looking to see if we can find one of her paladins, but they are..." 

"Incredibly fucking rare?" 

"...incredibly fucking rare." The abbess nodded, and turned away. Then she paused, and Laina frowned, watching her. "Take care with Raven. She's more delicate than she seems." Then the abbess vanished down the hallway. 

For a moment, Laina just stood there. Then she looked around the Chapel of All, and thought: How did this get to be my life now? Then she sighed, and went outside to practice with more weapons.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Horoscopes for July -- it is July, right?

The mists gather, softening the world, muffling sounds and hiding objects. They thicken, limiting your vision, until all that remains is you. The world might still be there when the mists depart, but I wouldn't count on it.

The waters rise, carving away the coastal cities, driven by strange tides and once-impossible currents. They sweep onto the land, a steady success of invasions and retreats, eroding farmlands and industrial centers alike, driving the survivors to ever-higher ground.

The melting of the ice caps released them from their imprisonment in Lake Vostok. We do not speak of them; we can barely see them. Their influence is measured by the ever-expanding zone of mysterious disappearances and strange transformations.

The storms roll through, driven by the rising heat of the atmosphere: floods and droughts, side by side, lightning storms that melt buildings, winds that flatten cities. There is no stopping it; it is too late for that, and the underground cities are only a stopgap. They were never meant to be permanent homes for what remains of humanity.

The world is empty. We wander through the cities, meeting and parting, trapped in the broken reflections of what was once our world. We cannot form families, alliances, societies; we are gone from each other almost as soon as we meet, will we or not. 

It was a magnificent effort: a massive artificial intelligence, self-educating but able to access the whole of the world's knowledge. It was supposed to save us, to show us how to turn back from the edge. Instead, it shut itself down in disgust. 

It started innocently enough: we were all so tired. It was only natural to lie down and sleep. A few extra hours here or there, to make up for what we'd miss. Maybe an extra day. Maybe two. Maybe a week, or more. Now the last remnants of the wakeful wander through a world of blissful dreamers.

We had no idea they were among us. It seems very possible they didn't know themselves. Then the signal came, and there they were: marching in the streets in their matching uniforms, rounding up the ones who opposed them: nameless, faceless, all driven by the same will. Perhaps we could oppose them, if we only knew the source...

The end of the world came without drama, just a slow grinding down of everything as we used up the last of our resources and all the great achievements of our technology and civilization fell to pieces. Even the great die-off was a slow, gradual thing. Our lives are not bad lives, those that are left, but we live them knowing that we will never again be what our people once were.

It was that research into psychic phenomena, back into the seventies. Fifty-some-odd years trying to isolate the ability, verify it, tie it to something genetic or trainable. Then they created the children, thinking that children would be well-behaved and biddable. They were so, so very surprised.

They say it was something at the supercollider that set of the rippling patterns of instabilities, swapping bits of our world for others, turning loose new plants and animals and ecosystems, changing everything. We may yet survive, if we're fast enough to adapt, but we can lose anything at any time.

The stars aligned and that horrible, maddening city rose. The things it loosed -- monstrosities, madness, murder -- made a mockery of our mortal concerns. We live now in a world where that city has always been risen, those things have always been here, and everything has always been this horrible.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Challenge: Weekend Getaway

(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: describe a perfect weekend getaway

Listen, at this point any kind of weekend getaway sounds perfect. But at this point I think a perfect weekend getaway would be to take the Beautiful Wife and just... go somewhere and relax. Camping? Maybe. But just the chance to get out of town, stay at a place where the room gets cleaned without us, and just have a couple of nice meals and maybe see a show... that sounds great

How about you?

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

EvilParty: Locating the Wherebear

That's a pun, because we haven't found the beast yet.

So we’re still trying to figure out who the werebear is, and we have no idea.

But we’ve met with the Mayor and most of the town by now, and we’ve left Chuck/Tim and Burhea/Tiny Tim upstairs while we go down to eat. Chuck is using the image projector and the ring of telekinesis to pretend to be downstairs with us.

Unfortunately, the priest Ilsinor decided to go up and check on Tiny Tim. Even more unfortunately, he quickly figured out that Tiny Tom was a vampire. Down in the common room, Big Tim looks to the side and says, “Shit.” He then appears to teleport away, leaving his beer hanging in the air.

Durest casually reaches out and takes it, then sets it on the table.

Innkeeper: “What just happened?”

Durest, bluffing: “His underbosses have ways of sending him messages. He probably had to go deal with an employee issue.”

Innkeeper: “But that was sorcery!”

Durest, puzzled: “Aye, he’s a sorcerer. And a trader. Gives him a great advantage in trade.”

“And you? Are you a sorcerer?”

Durest: “No, I’m a cleric.”

“Of whom?”

Durest: “Indra.”

Durest proceeds to explain about how we’re traders, and he’s this close to pulling it off when he giggles.

The innkeeper, very unreasonably, tells us to get out of her bar. Durest turns to go collect Chuck/Tim and finds himself nose to nose with the High Druid. “‘Tis a pleasure to meet you,” Durest says, “but it seems we’ve just been asked to leave the inn. D’ye mind if we collect our friends and go?”

“Why don’t we go see your friends together?”

Durest: “As ye wish.”

Meanwhile, upstairs, Tim/Chuck has dominated the priest, and is trying to figure out what to do with him. He tries Feeblemind, but the guy shrugs it off; he tries again, and succeeds. Chuck tries to teleport him down to the coffin, and on the third try he succeeds. He uses Dimension Door to get back, leaving the priest trapped in the dark. Chuck summons a new image, and has Tiny Tim get back in the armoire and stay silent. Tim, it seems, has scratched a message in the back of the armoire: “I am a vampire. I am being held here against my will. Save me.”

So Chuck/Tim’s image starts back down the stairs, and finds the druids starting to come up. They demand that he fetch the child; they wish to speak with them outside, under the great tree. Chuck dimension doors them both to the tree, and drops Tiny Tim to the ground. “I’ll see you in Hell, Tiny Tim.” Then he uses Dimension Door to insert himself into John Bear’s coffin. “I wonder how Durest is doing…”

All of a sudden there’s this giant crash and the earth shakes.

Those of us in the bar hear this hideous shriek and then a body hits the ground, and then an enormous crash as something very large lands on top of it. Righeera has seen them escape, and come to stop it -- or at least, that's what Durest thinks. Everybody rushes out of the bar at the sounds of screaming. Durest, meanwhile, grabs Jenny and uses Dimension Door to get to the nearest shelter: the underground cell.

The priest is down here, trapped in the coffin. Durest seals him in and leaves him to suffocate. We wait. Chuck’s in a coffin, so he naps. Jenny/Jensen is immediately and incredibly bored.

After half an hour, we hear the druids coming down the hall. Durest/Bandolier makes Jenny invisible and casts Disguise Self on himself. Unfortunately, the druids have been scrying us the whole time, and so they aren’t even remotely fooled. "Ah," says Durest, and promptly teleports himself and Jenny/Jensen to the mountain fortress of a long-dead druid that they explored months ago, and which has the added advantage of being very far away from Calisthum.

At sunset, Chuck uses his last Dimension Door to appear in the cell; he looks around at the druids and immediately teleports to Jafreese’s mansion, and appears in Jafreese’s hot tub, scaring the hell out of Jafreese. Jafreese establishes Chuck’s identity and then sends two of his girls over to comfort him.

Chuck: “Jafreese, Jafreese man. It was bad. It was so bad. I had to kill my son. I watched my friend fuck a monkey.”

Jafreese is all sympathetic and starts sending more girls over to Chuck.

Chuck: “We’re going to need to run a rescue mission.”

Jafreese: "I mean, I'm a lover, not a fighter. Plus I'm not sure the people I have running this place can be trusted. I should stay here and keep an eye on them."

Chuck uses the last pearl from the friendship bracelet to summon Durest, who teleports the two of them and several of the girls back to Jensen.

They catch up on events. So we’re resting here. Well, eventually; Jensen takes all three of the girls to bed with him. Chuck/Tim stands guard while Durest collapses, and eventually the sun comes up. Jensen immediately gets back to business, and Chuck goes to sleep in his coffin.

Recovered, Durest uses Discern Location and finds that Nin is cleaning our room. He grabs Jensen and teleports them to the room at the inn.

Jensen: “Hello pretty lady, I need you bite me.” He’s currently naked, so this is more than a little creepy. Durest swings the door shut, and Jenny grabs Nin and pulls her head towards his shoulder. Nin claws at Jensen, doing a bit of damage, but Jensen has now grabbed her. She struggles and then screams. Durest watches as Nin freaks out and transforms into a bear. Jenny continues to grapple while pulling her head closer. Unfortunately, they accidentally headbutt each other and the bear fails to bite her. The bear tries to rip loose but fails; Jenny responds by slapping the crap out of the bear. Durest hears footsteps outside the door, and just leans back against it.

Jenny finally gets bitten, and also clawed. Durest grabs her and teleports them back to the mountaintop chateau. Jenny: “Look! I got bit! It hurts.”

Jenny will change at the next full moon; the last one was six days ago, so we’ve got a little time. We’re still being scried on by the druids in all likelihood, so we’re going to need some countermeasures. We also take advantage of our crystal ball of scrying – the one with Detect Thoughts – and use it to look over the town and spy on the druids in turn.

We start with the werebear, Nin. She’s in the jail, behind the bars, pacing around and occasionally ramming into them. We try for the murdered priest next; he’s in a bed in a nearby village, being tended by a local priest who has apparently resurrected him. The older priest gets up and leaves, and Chuck teleports in and disintegrates him.

He ceases to exist, and Chuck teleports back.

Then we check on the beastmaster druid. He’s standing in front of the tree, just staring at this crater with Burhea’s corpse at the bottom of it. Chuck can’t detect his thoughts. He’s beginning to think that the sacred tree was what did her in. Finally, we scry the mayor; he’s in the back room of the town hall, with a tray set out with all the trappings of druidic scrying. They’re watching Jenny.

They’re all very puzzled. They literally have no idea why we came back; they think it was just Jensen attempting to have more sex. They decide to keep scrying on us for the next fortnight or so, and if we don’t seem inclined to return they’ll give up.

So, easy answer: we’ll spend the next two weeks brothel-hopping. Durest takes the opportunity to preach the wonders of Indra, and by the end of the first week the true elves have formed a betting pool. By day twelve, it’s started an all-out theological debate: is he even human? When Jensen finally stops on day 15, they're amazed -- at which point Durest polymorphs him into a gold dragon.

We… we might have just started a cargo cult here. They seem to be worshiping the image of the gold dragon and, um, holding orgies in his honor. (The hermit won the bet, by the way.)

Next Up: The pit fiend in Chuck's staff.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Really don't want to do this week

It's Sunday night, and I'm depressed about going back to work tomorrow. Again. This despite a cautious get-together with friends this weekend and otherwise taking it as easy as possible. I mean, maybe I'm just tired -- I think that's definitely part of it -- but also we've been completely tied up with this software rollout for basically three weeks now, and I have at least two other projects on hold because of this, my job reclassification is supposed to be in process (finally) but it's dragging on hopelessly, and I haven't gotten any significant writing done. 

...That last isn't true, by the way. Not entirely. I've gotten some things written for the blog o' doom, here. This is one of them. And there are bits of short fiction, and other things that I've tried to pre-write because at this point when I get home from work I have nothing left. I'm making updates while I'm on multiple calls at the same time, and it's absolutely killing my ADHD; I come home and just stare at the walls. But the novel-length writing project? Completely stalled. Has been for weeks. 

We're due to be out of town next week, and I don't even know how I'm supposed to get ready for that. 

Plus, the world's on fire; but the less said about that the better. 

I don't know. I'm going to set this to post tomorrow morning, then I'm going to see if I can write something that will make me feel better. Either part of the novel, which would make me feel a lot less like I'm failing, or if not then something for the blog that will make me giggle. Hopefully by the time this goes up, I'll be feeling better. 

Earlier bedtime. More exercise. Figure out my schedule so I can actually do the things that matter to me. Sure, why not? Sounds like a plan.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Paladins: Relationships

"Did you and Anica ever...?" It was just after dark, and the three paladins had finished their meal and were sitting around a campfire in the hills just north of Aldpond. Werendril's voice was only slightly louder than the wind in the trees overhead.

Tarric shook his head. "It isn't forbidden, obviously, but no... we never have. She and Tavros and I were... too close for that, I guess. I think that's part of why having you at the temple is so weird for me now. The idea of you and Anica..."

On the other side of the campfire, Laina raised her head from the scroll she was reading and said, "What?" She hesitated, then added: "Or is this something where I should just go take a walk for an hour or so?" 

Werendril looked at Tarric, who met his eyes and then said: "You might as well know. It's common knowledge at the temple, or it should be by now. I'm sure there will be gossip."

Laina set the scroll aside and leaned forward, looking intrigued, while Tarric looked away and leaned back onto his arms. 

Werendril cleared his throat softly. "I am near-brother to a man who calls himself Ruin. He is, among other things, an Emissary for the True King, Mithrandril. A year and a half or so back, he and his companions paid a visit to the Temple of Amun at Caristhium, where we're headed now." He paused, and Tarric picked up the story. 

"This is where I come in. I essentially grew up at the temple: apprenticed there, trained there. In that time, I made the two closest friends of my life: Anica and Tavros. Later, a..." Tarric glanced briefly at Werendril and then continued. "...a half-elf named Aesa came to the temple as well, and the three of us sort of adopted her."

"Sort of like you two have done with me," Laina observed. 

Tarric glanced at Werendril, who shrugged. "I suppose so," said the true elf. "Occupational hazard."

Tarric turned back to Laina. "Well, Tavros was called to service as one of the Solari, in much the same way that Ruin was called to serve the True King."

Laina frowned slightly. "I'm sorry, but... How can you call him that? Archon Le'Straide was... very firm in calling him a pretender and a rebel. 'A greedy, ungrateful insurrectionist,' I think was the sermon." She glanced at Werendril. "Sorry." 

Werendril shrugged. "The king's archons uphold the king's policies," he said. 

"...And the actual situation is more complicated than that," Tarric added. "There's history. I've seen the documents: treaties written side by side in human and elvish script, promising the exchange of lands and titles. I know the scholars who validated them. Mithrandril's claim is as valid as any, so if the elves refer to him as the True King, who am I to object?" 

Werendril smiled fondly at Tarric, who picked the earlier story back up. "In any case... My friend Tavros and Werendril's friend Ruin both went into the service of their respective kings, and that's where this gets a bit complicated."

Werendril chuckled. "It's not that complicated. In the course of their journeys, Ruin and his companions happened to visit the Temple of Amun. Things happened, and both Anica and Aesa wound up pregnant with Ruin's children"

"Ah," said Laina. "So by 'things' you mean 'fucking'?"

"Yes," answered Werendril. "Fucking happened."

"Thank you," Laina said. "It sounds so much better when you just say it."

Tarric laughed. "Fine. So fucking happened, and then babies happened. Problem is, by the time any of us realized, Ruin was gone and so was Tavros."

There was a momentary pause.

"Dead?" asked Laina.

Tarric nodded. "As best we can tell, they were both sent to another realm." He glanced at Werendril. "Do you remember the name...?"

"Fanaxia," said Werendril. "It had something to do with the dark army and the priests of Vecna. They went to investigate, and they died. And the temple of Amun sent for me, because of something Ruin had said, and that's how Tarric and I met." He took a breath and decided to skip over everything that had happened after that. "So I've been staying at the Temple of Amun, to help Anica and Aesa raise Ruin's children, which is awkward for me because I'm not really their father, and awkward for Tarric because I'm sort of there being part of everybody's lives but not being Tavros." He glanced at Tarric. "Fair?"

Tarric gave an uncomfortable shrug. "It's not just that," he said. "I mean, it kind of is that, but it's not just that. I've seen the way you look at Anica when you think she's not looking. And I've seen the way she looks at you when she thinks you're not looking."

Werendril flushed. Then he said, "You know I look at you too, right?" 

 "Oh," said Tarric. Then: "How am I supposed to know that if you only look when you think I'm not looking?"

"Dearest Nepthys please," said Laina. "The two of you are just hopeless disasters, aren't you? You want each each other, and it sounds like maybe both of you want this Anica person too. So get back to the temple and do something about it. I swear the two of you would rather burn out a nest of vampires together and probably die than admit you might have feelings for each other."

Tarric drew a deep breath, met Werendril's eyes, and then chuckled. He jerked a hand towards Laina: "Paladin."

"Paladin," echoed Werendril. "Also... wow."

Laina shrugged. "Paladins of Nepthys are not subtle. At least, not if I'm going by the only example I have."

Thursday, July 14, 2022

It must be Thursday

It's Thursday, my dark and gleaming darlings. Time to gather yourselves, and plot your next moves. Listen to the voices: behind the walls, under the floors, beyond the skies. Emulate the moon as she changes. Meet the soulless gaze of the distant stars, and learn wisdom from their unspoken words. You are chosen; you are special; you are worthy. 

Curse a single victim each day this week: someone horrible, someone deserving, someone who has wronged you or yours, directly or indirectly. Study one power, and take it for your own. Cultivate one ally, and bless their efforts and their growth. Feel the slow, steady pulse of the world and breathe it in. Align yourself with it. Make ready to defend it.

Stretch your talons from the shadows alone, or find others there and hunt in packs. Join the drummers and the dancers and the watchers at the high fires, or stare alone into a single candle flame. Whisper back to the night wind, or sing back to the calls of distant beasts. Craft the weapons that you will carry into battle. Hone them. Make them part of yourself. 

The world is burning. Let them fear you as you cast down their works.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Challenge: Meet A Character

(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: character in a book you'd love to meet and why

Hm... I know I have more interesting answers to this -- I know I do -- but we're in the middle of a software rollout right now and my brain is basically cheese curd. So I'm going to go with the absolute first thing that comes to mind: 

Thorin Oakenshield

I mean, not just Thorin, obviously. I need a band of dwarves to just... show up at our house, throw a huge party, and then whisk us away for an adventure. 

Did I mention the software rollout? Yeah. Gimme singing party-dwarves instead, please.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Evil!Party: Finding the Warbear

So we’re trying to locate the warbear (werebear) in Calisthium. We’re staying in the inn, and we have a couple of things that we need to do. 

Jenny decides to scout by walking to the solitary person next door. He does not want to speak to us; he does not want to open the door. Jenny attempts intimidation: “Sir, if you do not open the door, I will break it down. I am very concerned that you might need help.”

The occupant is an old man who’s incredibly social awkward. He seems to be a wizard; at least, he’s surrounded by books and scrolls and such, and when “Jensen” mentions that the folks around here are racist, he immediately starts expounding on the local history and then explains that he’s traveling around the forest writing a twelve-volume treatise on the local cultures. 

But we’re humoring him, and he’s talking about his particular hobby/obsession and Durest manages to assure himself that this guy is not the warbear. He steers the conversation over to the subject of druids and shapechangers. There’s a local druid circle too, all of them excellent shapechangers; he gives us an alphabetical list of all the shapes that he’s documented them changing into. Ellendor is the local head of the druid circle, and she usually comes into town with Lyren and Tiriel. After a bit of wine, when he’s discussing his upcoming Volume Nine, he lets slip that Navis, the hermit on the hill, is the local contact for the druid circle and very possibly our warbear. 

Chuck and Burhea – excuse me, Tim and Tiny Tim – are out there in bat form, spiraling out from the town and looking for the warbear and possibly a deer as well. Righeera the behemoth gorilla is very suspicious, and loud enough to bring Glanduil out from his house; he transforms into an eagle, and flies up to inspect the bats. The bats flee, dodging through the branches and trying to escape and hide. (Bats do that.) Tim manages to hide, but the eagle sees Tiny Tim and goes in for an attack. The eagle tears into Tiny Tim, which should kill an ordinary bat; Burhea turns to gas. 

Glanduil drops to the ground and calls, “Come out! Let us speak!”

Chuck considers, and decides that the guy looks kind of pissed. 

But, y’know, what the hell. Tim and Tiny Tim appear in front of him, and explain that they’re just looking for a deer. 

“Why are you hunting for a deer in the dark?” 

Chuck/Tim: “They move around at night.” He's not wrong, and the druid at least acknowledges this.

So clearly they’re going to need to meet Ellendor, the leader of the local circle; he’s going to escort them back to the inn, and have them stay there until Ellendor can arrive. He’s sure she’ll be here by the end of the day tomorrow. He also gives Tiny Tim a bit of a lecture about how druids in the territory of another circle should not be using their powers at night like that.

Righeera drops onto the inn and plants herself there, right above our room. Durest and Jenny look up, then note the giant ape-hand swinging outside the window. Durest: "What in hell?"

That’s the point where Chuck walks back in with Tiny Tim. “Sorry guys, my bad.”

Durest: “Nae, lad, this is grand! Now I can visit with the mayor and say in perfect honesty that ye airn’t allow to leave the inn because Glanduil has grounded you.”

There’s a knock at the door, which is probably the last thing we need. 

Chuck opens the door. It’s the pretty, noble-looking woman who was talking to the merchant: Piravin. She’s tall, willowy even by elf standards, with a pixie cut. She’s just stopped by to introduce herself. 

Durest starts to say something, but Tiny Tim cuts him off: “DAD, we’re not supposed to talk to people, we’re grounded.”

Chuck/Tim: “Yeah, that’s what I tell my son when we're traveling.” He has the impression that Piravin is just nosy, but hey – she’s shown up with a bottle of wine.

We show her in and start trying to get information, starting with how best to deal with the mayor. Piravin gets a few drinks in and gets really gossipy. She thinks Valdir the mayor has something fishy going on. Apparently the magistrate’s assistant has acquired a new scar, and she thinks they’re keeping something in the back room at city hall. "Valdir’s not telling us everything." 

She stumbles over to Jensen, and well… He's handsome, but Piravin is a lesbian, and it just can’t happen. Might have gone another way if Jenny hadn't decided to try out being male, but Piravin doesn't know that. Speaking of her partner, she should get back downstairs. She’s very, very drunk, and Jensen helps her down the stairs. Nim and the other serving woman are kind of bedded down on sleeping pads in the hall. 

The merchant and his dudes have returned to the wagon, and the remainder of the inn’s patrons are over in the town hall. Jenny looks around the downstairs and finds a half-empty wine bottle on the bar; she swipes it and goes back upstairs, after asking Nim if she wants to play a game. Nim: “I’m… too exhausted.” 

Loris the scribe is at the full-on Sawing Logs stage of drunken sleeping. 

Jenny goes back into the room and sits there holding Durest’s hand. "Is this what they call ze friend zone?"


We need to do more scouting, but if we're going to do that we need a way to distract Righeera. So... 

Durest steps outside and turns himself into the biggest gorilla he can manage, which turns out to be a dire ape; at Chuck’s command, Burhea adds Eagle’s Splendor to increase his charisma and Enlarge to get him closer to her size. He climbs out the window and waits until she wakes up, then preens at her. 

Durest is… not terribly seductive, but he’s also the largest ape she’s seen in a while. They exchange bad attempts at flirtation, and Durest winds up with her rubbing his shoulders. He manages not to flinch, and then returns the favor. Chuck assists by casting Grease on his hands, which helps make her fur glossy and smooth. 

Fortunately, Durest has good fortitude; she's strong, but he manages not to flinch or whimper. She scoops Durest up and sweeps him away into the forest for an hour-long giant-ape snogfest. 

Chuck takes advantage of Durest’s, um, distraction, and wings it over to the town hall. He orders Burhea to stay in the corner and say nothing. There’s a grotto under the hermit’s house, which is dark and quiet, with no evidence of activity. He then checks out the town hall. 

It too seems dark and quiet, though there is some small movement in the front room – night watch, maybe. The jail cell is empty. There’s a graveyard in back of city hall, and a gravestone in the cemetery – slightly oversized, inscribed with the name John Bear. Apparently most of the notables of the town government sleep in there. In addition, there’s a warrior-woman in there who has a fresh wound on her neck, probably from a claw. There’s also a staircase leading down. 

Chuck Dimension Doors down into the grave, and then has to stop and yawn because it’s so comfy being in a coffin again. It’s a skeleton of an elvish man, but there are… changes. The bones are stronger, and there are claws. Chuck considers taking a tooth, just in case True Resurrection might net us a werebeast, and then checks for treasure: 1, 360 gold and a wand of cat’s grace. 

He then turns invisible, and uses Dimension Door to place himself at the bottom of the stairs inside the town hall. The room down there has supplies: barrels, boxes, bags of grain. Chuck is about to leave when he notices some scratch marks on the walls. Someone has piled some stuff in front of it, but… there’s a pattern to the marks. Chuck assumes gaseous form, and slips into a secret passageway. He comes to a heavy steel door that is very much sealed. He dimension doors again to the other side. There are two portcullises beyond, both lowered, and both bent slightly outward. There’s a pile of chains beyond that. 

Invisible gas-form Chuck enters the main room, and it looks like someone has set a very heavy stone slab on top of something that might be a pit or a well. There’s a sort of iron coffin underneath, with padlocks to chain the lid down. There are marks on the sarcophagus, and places where chains can be draped over it. It’s not currently chained down, though. He wisps into the sarcophagus and finds it empty, but also marked with claw marks 

Righeera, meanwhile, falls asleep… but wakes back up when Durest tries to slip away. They’re going to be at it until morning. They're up on a fairly thick branch that may not survive this experience. Chuck goes to see why he hasn’t come back, then heads back to check out the hermit’s place since apparently he has time; the grotto underneath is probably the center of the local druid circle’s worship. There are summoning circles and glowing crystals and like that. He slips up into the hermit’s house. The trap door from the grotto is hidden by a rug.  The hermit is an older-looking elven man; it looks like he had at least one guest in here earlier. 

Chuck, feeling bold, checks out Glanduil’s house. It has a basement, so Chuck teleports into it. It is sadly lacking in claw marks. He stops to look around, and finds a secret door that takes him to the druid’s grotto. 

Morning comes, and Chuck is cowering away from the sunlight. Jenny wakes up, and after a moment finds out that Chuck is hiding under the bed and Tiny Tim is closed up in the armoire. Durest has come in at mid-morning, and collapsed face-down on the floor. 

There’s a knock at the door. 

Jensen/Jenny opens up the door and finds himself looking at Kattur, the older server. “Hello, handsome. Breakfast?” She winks. "Or something a little more active?"

Jenny tosses Durest out the door, and invites Kattur into the room. Durest groans and crawls towards the stairs. Chuck is stuck under the bed, and soft weeping comes from the armoire. 

Jenny: “I am having the best time!” 

Durest, meanwhile, half-rolls down the stairs and orders a bottle of whiskey and asks for some sort of hangover remedy. It turns out that the classical elvish remedy is… running. Like, jogging. He asks for the second-tier solution, and gets a kale smoothie which is about half weak elvish whiskey. 

He is now completely ready to give up his living flesh, and become undead. 

Jenny comes downstairs, and most of the usual suspects are there. Ilsinor the priest invites Jenny over to drink with them. The priest also smells a bit of dirt and sweat and the outdoors. He fancies himself a bit of a hunter. He pulls “Jensen” into the conversation, where she meets councilfolks Ruvin and Mirren. Who is also the owner of the inn. The town actually has a lot of True Elves that pass through very regularly, but we stand out because we’re not full elves. 

After a bit the merchant comes in and sits down next to Jenny, who is Definitely Not Wealthy… but apparently nobody believes that now. Is she looking to buy property? 

Jenny: “Yes? Durest... Erm, Ruvin, have you met my friend, um, Bandolier?”

Durest staggers over. “Merchant! Thank the gods. I’ll hand you twenty gold if you can get me some proper whiskey in the next two minutes.”

The merchant does, and he does. That's us: definitely not rich.

“So,” asks the merchant, “what sorts of goods do you deal in?” 

Durest: “We backed a very successful mercenary company in the south, but… then we had to leave suddenly.”

“So, where are you headed next? And what do you have to trade?”

Jenny: “We’re headed on to Annun next because the mayor said we weren’t welcome here.” 

There’s a brief whispered conversation, and then Valdir storms out of the inn looking a bit miffed. 


The councilman immediately starts trying to smooth things over. They start trying to get information out of us, which would be a problem under the best of circumstances. With the two of us, it’s a disaster: 


Ruvin leans over to Durest. "So, who's in charge of your group?" 


Durest, "Aye, that'll be Chuck." He's well into the whiskey and missing a night's sleep. Then he realizes his mistake and says, "Ah-- for now, ye'd be best tae talk to Tim."


Ruvin winks at him. "Right. Tim." He winks again.


Jensen: "Er. Yes. Chuck will be along later. Talk to Tim." 


At this point, Jenny goes back upstairs and tells Chuck that we might have made a teensy little error. Durest comes up a moment later, explains that they want to meet Tim by the tree at 1:00, and then collapses onto the bed. 

Chuck uses the image projector projector to send his image downstairs, and uses his ring of telekinesis to move things around so it looks like he's really there. Once he’s got things settled a bit, he uses the Rod of Rulership to convince these guys that he’s actually a master merchant scouting markets in disguise. 

Chuck: “Before we bargain, I need to curry favor with the mayor. Prove yourself, and you’ll have the finest deal in all the land.” 

They promise to have a word with mayor. Afterwards, they’d like to discuss their financial arrangements. Chuck tries to persuade them to meet him at night. When they insist on knowing what we have to trade, Chuck promises to introduce them to Moon Wine, a very rare delicacy. (It doesn’t actually exist, but we’re going to fake it. What could go wrong?) We’ll meet for Moon Wine at six o’clock, since apparently we’re still meeting Ellendor the head of the local druid circle at five. 

Tim puts Tiny Tim in charge of waking him up and takes a nap. The he sends his “son” back into the armoire. Durest casts True Seeing on himself, and we head over to the meeting. Jensen immediately tries to take somebody’s hand and kiss it, except she licks it instead and gets slapped. The mayor is not entirely happy to see us but his friends have clearly leaned on him about trade opportunities. 

Chuck’s image looks over at Bandolier. “You know, you try to scout out a location for a new location, and it’s just the worst experience…” 

The high priest: “You must excuse us, we’re not used to the people of importance.” 

Chuck is selling it. “I feel like the way a town treats the least of us is indicative of the way it treats everyone.”

The priest leaps to agree with him. 


The mayor asks how long we intend to remain in town; he's behaving better, but it's still pretty obvious that he doesn't want us around. 


Chuck: “We intend to stay for a fortnight.” 

Valdir almost chokes. 

Chuck: “Just kidding. We’ll be out of your hair in a couple of days. Our representatives will be following soon, so we’ll need to establish a trading post. And, of course, any trade they establish will be subject to your tariffs. But first, we do have a concern. You see… we have a sense that there may be something untoward going on in this area. Before we make any permanent deals, we want to make sure that everything here is above-board.”

The warrior with the scar on her neck shifts nervously when Chuck says this. She’s hiding something. The others exchange glances.

Chuck: “You know, if we can’t be honest with each other, I don’t think we can make this deal.”

Durest: “‘Tis an interesting scar on the lassie, there.” 

Chuck: “To invest so much…”

Elsinor the priest: “Perhaps a… private conversation… might be in order? Could we take a walk?” 

They leave the building and stroll over by the tree. Jenny and Durest just stand in the city hall front room, making everyone feel awkward. 

They do have a shapechanger in their midst. They have taken measures to keep things safe, he swears by Artemis. 

Chuck: “I would feel better knowing the exact nature of the danger.” 

So long ago they had an elf who became a werebeast; John Bear. His offspring still lives in the village, but desire to harm nobody. They take measures to help this person keep themselves safe until the moon passes. 

Chuck: “You have it worked out. That’s good. So is the young woman going to be okay?” 

“Yes. Cleansed and safe.”

{We break there.}

Monday, July 11, 2022

Seven Questions for Atheists, answered

I saw this over on Bruce Gerencser's Blog, and thought it might be worth composing my own answers -- since, as the original article notes, no two atheists are identical. The article is titled "Some Honest Questions For Atheists", and it's a column posted by a Dr. Michael Brown. Since I know almost nothing about Dr. Brown, I'm going to take him at his word and assume that he is A) sincere, and B) not trying to, I don't know, entrap anybody as if this were some sort of debate. (I am so, so very tired of people who want to debate.)

If the questions are indeed offered out of genuine curiosity and an honest desire to understand, well... I do my best to answer those. Why not? It seems a worthwhile effort. So, without further ado:

First, would you say that you are (or, were) an atheist based primarily on intellectual study or based on experience? Or did you never believe in God at all?

I mean... both? I've written a bit about growing up as what a Christian might call an immature believer, and why that stopped working for me. I am probably closer to never having believed in God at all than most of the ex-Christians who get accused of "never having been a (real) Christian", but I was raised to believe and by rights I probably should have gone on believing. You can follow those links for more detail, but the short answer is that I was raised as a Christian in a Christian environment, and I stopped believing for a number of reasons, some intellectual and some experiential. 

Perhaps the simplest way to describe it is that at some point Christianity just... stopped making sense for me. It doesn't seem to accurately describe the world I see around me; as a lens for understanding human nature I find it extremely flawed, and as a revelation of the supernatural it doesn't match with my own experiences (such as they are). It doesn't make sense to me, and I cannot "choose" to believe in something that makes no sense to me.

Second, would you say that even as an atheist you still have a sense of purpose and destiny in your life, a feeling that you were put here for a reason and that you have a mission to accomplish? Or is it primarily people of faith who feel like this, since we are simply the products of an unguided, random evolutionary process?

Ummmm...? I mean yes, I feel like my life has meaning and purpose, but I'm not sure I mean that in quite the same way that you do. I don't feel like I was "put here for a reason" and I have no sense of being "put here" by anything with any sort of awareness or volition. I don't feel like there was a plan for me. But on the other hand, the human experience of life is full of opportunities to find meaning and give yourself purpose, and I did. I certainly don't waste time feeling like nothing I do matters (except occasionally at work -- and that's an issue of Capitalism, not religious belief).

Third, would you say that you are 100% sure there is no such being as God—meaning, an eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing being? Or would you say that, for all practical purposes, you have concluded that this God does not exist, although it is impossible to prove such a negative with absolute certainty?

I don't believe that God exists -- not as defined and described in either the Christian or the Judaic traditions, and not in any other tradition that I've ever encountered. I do not, on the other hand, affirmatively believe that something that might be described as God does not exist. (The simplest explanation here being the universally-applicable human principle of "but I could be wrong.") 

I will say that if an eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful being exists, then its nature and character seem unlikely to resemble anything described by Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. 

Fourth, do you believe that science can provide answers for many of the remaining mysteries of the universe, including how the universe began (including where matter came from and where the Big Bang derived its energy), the origin of life, and DNA coding?

This question is complicated by the current state of the world,  in that I'm not sure at this point that science will be around long enough to do any of that. And while the question absolutely reeks of God of the Gaps nonsense, I'm going to assume that it's offered in good faith and just try to answer: I think it potentially could. Given enough time and enough information to work with, I think we could have answers for any and all of those things. 

However, I will also note that science does not present Absolute Truth. At its best, it presents our best understanding (and in some cases, our best guesses) as to how things work. It is not subjective, but it's not truly objective either; science, on the whole, is a direct application of intersubjectivity. All scientific answers are subject to further research.

On top of that, there's a point at which... I don't really care. We have the world we have. We live the way we live. If we somehow discovered that our Universe was actually created by, say, the ineffable super-cosmic equivalent of a high school freshman for a class project on algorithmic patterns derived from string harmonics... so what? On a day to day basis, what difference does it make? The things that give my life meaning still give my life meaning, and the things that are huge, harmful problems for us are still huge, harmful problems for us.

Fifth, have you had any experiences in life that caused you to question your atheism? Has something happened to you that seemed genuinely supernatural or otherworldly? Or have you been confronted with some information that shook your atheistic foundations, such as a scientific argument for intelligent design? If so, how have you dealt with such doubts to your atheism?

So... I'm not entirely sure how to answer this one.  This is partly because it conflates atheism and materialism, which... aren't always the same. (There atheistic religions, for example. I could believe in ghosts but not gods, and still be an atheist -- and that's kind of comparable to my actual position.) Yes, I've had things happen that felt supernatural or otherworldly. (Again, see the links above -- or read about how I got back together with the woman who became my wife.)  

But I haven't really "dealt with such doubts" because atheism isn't a position I'm particularly trying to hold onto. It's the conclusion I've reached based on the best information I have. In the case of how I re-met my wife, well... it's basically a statistical outlier, a one-off: an extraordinarily unlikely event that might just be coincidence or might indicate that something else is going on, but without a pattern of other similar events -- which we don't have, because of the whole "extraordinarily unlikely" bit -- it's impossible to guess which might be the case. In the case of the Sense of Presence I mentioned in the Bit of Both link above, I think that's more likely my brain doing things on its own that I hadn't expected, rather than anything genuinely supernatural. 

So overall, no: while I have had some odd experiences, I really haven't had anything that would lead me to "question" my atheism. And honestly, my atheism doesn't really have "foundations" as such, except maybe for the fact that the idea of powerful supernatural intelligences capable of interacting with our world just... doesn't fit with the world I see around me.

Sixth, are you completely materialistic in your mindset, meaning human beings are entirely physical, human consciousness is an illusion, and there is no spiritual realm of any kind? Or are you superstitious, reading horoscopes or engaging in new age practices or the like?

I would describe myself as an experiential materialist. The best way that I can think to explain this is that I firmly believe that pain is a physiological reaction which relies on electrochemical stimuli in the body, but also holy poot stubbing your toe on the end table still hurts. Human consciousness is an experience, not an illusion; but I still think it's rooted firmly in the physical world, because if our consciousness was a separate spirit driving our physical bodies, it shouldn't be possible for people to get drunk.

Seventh, if you were convinced that God truly existed—meaning the God of the Bible, who is perfect in every way, full of justice and mercy, our Creator and our Redeemer—would that be good news or bad news? And would you be willing to follow Him and honor Him if He were truly God?

Speaking of differences in perspective, this one sounds like a you-concern, not a me-concern. If it turns out that I'm wrong and that some version of the God of the Bible exists -- and I will note that there are multiple versions, just as their are multiple denominations within Christianity, not to mention Judaism and Islam -- then I'd have a lot of things to rethink. By the same token, I would also have a lot of questions, which more or less boil down to, "Okay, but in that case what the hell have You been doing this whole time???"

Good news or bad news? Eh, depends. Would I be willing to follow? He's all-knowing and all-powerful, so following Him and honoring Him would most likely be the only sensible course of action. Still, I've got a number of questions I'd like to have answers to before I commit to anything here.

...So there you go. Comments are open; ask me anything. (If you can't comment, try changing browsers -- some of them seem to have issues with the way Blogger uses cookies.)

Friday, July 8, 2022

Evil!Party: Dragon Battle and on to Calisthium

We prepare for the arrival of the dragon and the Elvish king, starting with laying down a series of Symbols (magical traps). Durest then cast Unhallow to support the undead and help us avoid dragon fear. Durest is also a stone giant now, in an effort to avoid being easily identified. Plus, we’ve brought Iapetus the Titan back as a titanic skeleton and renamed it Tiny Steve. 

On the third day of our preparation, Burhea reluctantly reports that there’s a dragon on the way. Jenny quaffs a potion of cat’s grace, while Chuck casts Protection from Energy (cold). The dragon lands outside the cave, and Mithrandril climbs down; Burhea casts Haste on the whole party, and Durest drops True Seeing on Jenny. Chuck casts False Life on himself. 

The dragon looks inside the cave and asks, “Where is Iapetus?”

Durest resists the dragon’s fear, but Jenny and Chuck and Burhea are stricken. Jenny screams and runs to the back of the cave. So does Burhea. Durest: “Come in. He awaits.”

Dragon: “We were not told that Iapetus consorted with stone giants.” He’s very suspicious. “I demand that you produce the titan Iapetus immediately.”

Invisible Chuck runs to the titan and climbs inside, which is about as far away from the dragon as he can ger anyway. 

Chuck, impersonating Iapetus: “I am here. Welcome to my cave.”

Dagomir: “Ah, finally, Iapetus.” He frowns. “You’re a skeleton.” 

Chuck: “Times have been very difficult for me.”

Dagomir: “That bastard Luthien swore that the titan was alive, but you are nothing but an abomination.”

Chuck: “Maybe you could break my curse.” He points to Burhea. “Her dark magic has cursed me.”

Jenny figures out that it’s Chuck, and smiles knowingly. 

Chuck explains that Burhea is just a slave to the dark necromancer who has imprisoned him here. 

Dagomir the dragon: “With the help of your stone giant friends we’ll slay this monster and find her evil master.” He charges Burhea, and immediately hits all four of the magical symbols. He manages to shove through all our carefully-arranged spells, and slams into Burhea with a massive bite attack. Burhea responds with a fireball and a quickened fireball. 

A sort of shield absorbs the damage. Durest drops an Empowered Fire Storm on him and tears through more of that shield. Ferrous attacks and misses, taking a bit of damage on the way in. Jenny moves in and power attacks, hitting him. Tiny Steve and Bob move in and attack, and fail to hit. Chuck, who is still inside Tiny Steve, casts Shout. He gets through the dragon’s spell resistance, but the dragon is tough enough to soak some of the damage; still, some gets through. 

Dagomir turns and attacks Jenny, hurting her despite her ability to soak a lot of it. Burhea attacks with a couple of fireballs, adding extra life to Ferrous and eating away at the shield. Durest drops a Greater Dispel Magic, tearing away his Bull’s Strength, Shield, and Mirror Image effects. He’s still protected against fire, though. 

Ferrous attacks and hits, doing minor damage. Jenny tries a more cautious power attack, and hits three times, ripping him up. She’s employing a special ability of her new spiked chain, which allows her to deal a ton of extra damage in exchange for taking damage herself. It tears him up something fierce, and the two skeletons (Bob and Tiny Steve) attack but miss. The dragon then attacks Jenny again, doing a ton of damage. 

Burhea casts Magic Missile and quickened Magic missile, clearing out all but one of the images from the dragon’s quickened Mirror Image. Durest steps in and Heals Jenny. Jenny attacks, clearing out the dragon’s mirror image before laying into him again. Tiny Steve manages to hit him, doing quite a bit of damage. Chuck casts Disintegrate and actually gets through the dragon’s spell resistance. 

The dragon teleports away, to the top of the hill beside Mithrandril. Burhea casts Fireball and quickened Fireball. Durest grabs Jenny and teleports over to him, then drops Flame Strike and finishes the dragon. The king is beside himself with grief. Chuck teleports over in the titan’s body and disintegrates the dragon’s body. 

We imprison the king, and it’s not long before Luthien shows up with a small army of dark elves; we stage a brief battle outside, and then flee. 

It turns out that the king had brought a lot of money as a gift for the Titan. We are even richer than we were, and one of the items is a Rod of Rulership. We hang onto that; it's good for whipping up mobs. 

We return to the meeting place. Luthien is pleased, and will immediately begin work on the ring; it will take him forty days or so to complete. In the meantime, he will share with us that the warbear is in Calisthium, which is under the protection of the druids; the more quietly we can get in and out, the better off we are. If we try to take them on directly, we will lose. The lycanthrope is hiding and trying to live a normal life. 

Durest starts polymorphing us into half-elves. Jenny and Burhea are now male half-elves, except Burhea is a child. Durest and Chuck remain male. We’ll be representing Burhea as Chuck’s son, and the group of us as refugees from Morcoast, fleeing the chaos in the south, and having taken a ship from Renfall. 

Calisthum is a quiet, lovely hamlet just east of the druid groves; it is distinguished by a single giant tree at the center of the hamlet, large enough to cover the whole place. It has a very prominent inn, a modest town hall, a merchant’s wagon. As we’re walking into town a giant gorilla drops out of the giant tree and starts wandering around town; a man on a rooftop throws it some food, which it catches with a well-practiced gesture.

In the classic tradition, we head for the tavern. Pretty much everyone in the place is elvish; there’s a bard performing in one corner, while people are standing around talking. The ones at one table seem like they might be important, and a merchant and his guards at another table. Chuck commands Burhea to ask him about the giant gorilla. 

“Hello there,” says the barmaid in Elvish. 

Chuck attempts to repeat it back, then apologizes for our poor command of Elvish. Durest adds that we’re refugees. Chuck lays out our story, making sure that the bard can hear him; he’s so convincing that Jenny’s pretty sure we actually are elves who escaped from the south. 

Burhea asks Chuck about that gorilla in the dullest, most sarcastic voice possible. 

The innkeeper Mirren explains that Righeera is a protector of the village, a behemoth gorilla and very possibly the only one of her kind. She’s a friend of Landuil the beastmaster. 

Chuck: “Well, that must make you feel safe. Tiny Tim, isn’t that fascinating?”

Tim/Burhea, through gritted teeth: “Scintillating.”

Mirren mentions that the merchant’s wagon has toys. Chuck immediately latches onto this: “Oh, Tim, it’s been so long since I bought you a gift.”

Mirren mentions that the merchant is the fellow at the table, talking to Perovin – and Durest thinks there’s a relationship between the two women. 

First drink is on the house for newcomers – and some apple juice for little Tim/Burhea. Jenny takes a beer, and gets something very weak; so does Durest, since they don't have al'cul this far north. Chuck gets the wine, which is much better. We give our fake names: Durest is Bandolier, Chuck is Big Tim, Jenny is Jensen. 

The mayor, Valdir, comes over and introduces himself. He hopes we’ll be well-behaved while we’re here, and is clearly hoping that we’re just passing through. We’re thinbloods, and this is old blood True Elf territory. He'd be happy to help set us up with some supplies and other resources to get us on our way towards Annun if we'll stop by city hall tomorrow afternoon. (This is going to be a problem for Chuck and Burhea, what with the sunlight and all.)


Mirren gives the younger server a look, and she intercedes and gets Valdir back to his table. Valdir, according to the server, is beholden to the older and more established families. She’s very flirtatious, and Jenny responds in kind. She leads us to our room. The room next door is taken by this really weird guy who never leaves his room. 

We have dinner in our room, which we now have to ourselves. The younger servant is Nim, and the older one is Kather. Nim hands over our food, and also we have a visitor: Glanduil, the local beastmaster. He introduces himself as the resident druid. 

Chuck settles in to get more information from Glanduil, who explains that a behemoth creature is unique, and of unknown origin; we also learn that the great tree is known as Cloudsweep. It, too, is god-touched. Chuck explains that we’re probably on our way to Annun, and lays out more of our escape from Morcoast – convincingly. Glanduil would be willing to pay us five silver if we’d bag a deer for him. He reminds us to stay out of trouble, then heads back out.