Sunday, August 14, 2022

Out of Town

I am, somewhat against my better judgement, out of town at a conference. It looks like it will at least be educational, and apparently there's a lazy river on the premises somewhere. 

Anyways posting is going to be slow -- or possibly nonexistent -- this week.

Meanwhile, have a picture of the very, very sad doggo who must now wear a cone because he kept worrying at some sort of rash until he gave himself a full-blown infection. 


Friday, August 12, 2022

Vendril: Towns and Guilds

(Another plot-advancing, world-building contribution from our DM. Vendril was the rogue/ranger who was originally part of the "good" party who supported Sol Povos and its king. He comes from a border clan of elves -- not from Duendewood -- and his family has a tradition of military service. It's their way of showing loyalty and contributing to the greater good.)

Vendril slid cautiously into the tavern, making sure to close the door quietly behind him. He didn’t like this. No, he didn’t like this at all. Luckily, the tavern was quite busy.

In the time he’d spent in Solstar, one thing he’d learned was that the guilds were everywhere. No matter how stealthy he was, or how much care he took to cover his tracks, they were always right there, crawling up his ass with their army of spies and informants, like well-organized cockroaches. In truth, he mostly got along with the major guilds, and all had attempted to recruit him at one time or another.  He rebuffed the offers, of course; he was not here for profit. Still, it seemed they held a certain respect for him, and it afforded him a pass in most matters. But now they’d just vanished. And that was something Vendril did not like at all.

Across the room he saw the man he was looking for: Erwin Fourfoot, former guildmember and insufferable gossip. Vendril made two passes of the room and counted to five hundred before making his way to Erwin’s table, drink in hand. The man smiled as soon as Vendril sat down.

“So nice of ‘e to be joining meh,” Erwin drawled between his broken teeth.

“Likewise,” Vendril replied.

“I thought you’d ne’er be coming o’er. I thought per’aps you ain’t seen me.”

Vendril glared at him, “Of course I saw you. But I was being inconspicuous. Anybody in here could be an informant of one of the many parties who think they run this city.”

“Oh, ‘e mean the guilds. Well ain’t no need worry ‘bout them no more.”

“Is that so?”

“That so.”

Vendril gave him a hard stare and finally let out an exasperated sigh. “Fine, how much?”

“10 gold.”

Vendril reached for his purse.

“And a bottle of ‘at wine that noble lady be drink’n o’er there.”

Vendril squinted across the bar at the well-dressed lady, sipping deep burgundy wine from a real glass. His eyebrows went up, “That’s a 537 red from Summerwynne! It’s worth well more than the 10 gold!”

“I ain’t care how much it cost, I ain’t ne’er had fine wine a’fore. I wanna taste it.”

“Gods,” Vendril swore, “what a waste of time. Look, how about I just make it 15 gold and we call it a day, eh? Think how much heavier your purse will be.”

“10 gold,” Erwin insisted, “and m’ wine.”

Vendril grunted and made his way to the bar. He was right – the 21-year-old vintage cost over triple what he was paying the man for information. Cursing Erwin for an idiot, he purchased the bottle and took it to Erwin, whose eyes lit up like a child receiving candy. He immediately poured wine into the fine glass all the way to the brim and chugged it down in a single motion, his Adam’s apple pulsing with each gulp. It was a stark contrast to the lady across the room, carefully nursing her drink.

“Well?” Vendril asked.

Erwin poured a second glass – also to the brim – and continued chugging the criminally expensive wine. “Damn, this is good!” he exclaimed, spewing droplets of wine onto the table.

“My information,” Vendril insisted.

“Yes, yes. The guilds be gone ‘cause they all in Brightland.”

“What? That doesn’t make any sense. Brightland was just sacked by that necromancer and his evil army.”

“Well, see, that was last month. Our good guild friends, well they be enterprising fellows. They sees an opportunity when it presents itself.”

“Wait,” Vendril gasped. He was sure his jaw dropped all the way to table. “Are you saying the guilds took over Brightland?”

Erwin intimated a toast to show his approval, “That’s right. And why not? Ain’t nobody else ruling it.”

Vendril sat back in his chair, stunned. It was one of the craziest and most obvious things he’d ever heard, all at the same time. It seemed the five major guilds had pounced on the opportunity to take over the ruler-less county.

“I hear,” Erwin belched, “that the common folk sing their praises in the street. They’ve set the whole city to right, arranged for food, protection, all o’ it. I heard the common folk say that the be better rulers than the right proper lords!”

Vendril couldn’t help chuckling as he shook his head. Who better to run a city? The guilds had extremely well-organized networks and a strong, built-in sense of hierarchy. On top of that, they had resources and connections. And unlike the nobles before them, they cared nothing for divine right or the sanctity of nobility. They’d have the city and its businesses back up and running in no time. To the common folk, it would probably seem as if the war had never happened. And once the war was over? Well, he suspected the king might not be so quick to displace those generating more tax income than previously enjoyed.

“See, Brightland’s the place to be, I says, not like Flowerhedge,” Erwin hiccupped, “overrun by vampires.”

Vendril’s eyes darted to the man. He was drunk now, rocking back and forth in his seat. Vendril immediately ordered another bottle of wine – a younger vintage, much cheaper, but in the same bottle with the same label. Erwin squealed like a girl when it was delivered.

In the end, it turned out to be a much more profitable night than Vendril had anticipated. One more bottle of cheap wine was enough to milk Erwin for everything he knew. It seemed the necromancer and his minions had turned everyone in the Flowerhedge castle into vampires before they left. There were 30 vampires, if Erwin were to be believed, plus over a hundred spawn they’d created in the weeks since Flowerhedge was sacked. Like the guilds, they’d capitalized on a power vacuum and organized themselves into the new rulers of Flowerhedge. It was a dim fate, but better than the cities further down the river. Rockdale had been given to a Wildlander warlord called the Iron Lion. Garamond, meanwhile, lay in ashes.

The scariest part, however, was that this small army – apparently a vampire, a necromancer, and a Wilderlander warrior princess – had worked their way up the Rockwind, sacking one city after another, leading them all they way to Brightland, which was adjacent to the royal duchy itself. In fact, all that stood between the capital and Brightland was Duke of Erikol, a ceremonial seat for the most senior member of the royal family not in the line of succession.

As Vendril walked out of the tavern that night, he was filled with dread.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Challenge: Fan-Fiction

(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: Thoughts on Fan Fiction

I'm going to resist the urge to define fan fiction (fanfic) here, because surely anybody reading my blog knows already... and if not, Google is easy. And based on the prompt, I'd assume that this is looking for us to address the question of whether fanfic is... I guess I'd say "legitimate" art, since that seems to be the usual debate around it. You're writing stories about the characters and settings and world of somebody else's stories; is that Art, or is it merely Derivation?

...And that's not a debate I particularly care to have. The idea is that writing stories that feature characters/worlds/magic systems/settings whose traits are already well-defined is arguably easier than coming up with your own characters and world and etc. I'm not honestly certain that that's true. But even if we accept for the sake of argument that it is, well... staying true to those well-defined characters/etc. while going your own way is its own challenge, and very easy to get wrong. And trying to make that work is also an excellent way to develop critical reading skills, not to mention writing skills. 

And on top of that all art is ultimately derivative. There is no new thing under the sun. Creativity, as they say, is the art of hiding your sources. No small number of creative works exist as nothing more or less than reactions to, or expansions upon, earlier works. Northanger Abby really isn't a terribly interesting book if you don't know any of the other books it's making unspoken remarks upon. Robert E. Howard's stories of Conan the Barbarian share the same world as H.P. Lovecraft's cosmic horrors, though admittedly that was more collaborative than "derivative" -- the two were contemporaries, and correspondents. Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber have an entire role-playing game based on them -- so does The Wheel of Time -- so anybody who plays either of those is arguably engaging in fan fiction. Or, more directly...  Heck, the books of the Bible build upon and argue against and exist in a sort of constant, fraught dialogue with each other.

So I guess where I'm going with this is that my main thought on fan fiction is that the line between fan fiction and other fiction is waaaaaaaaaaay more blurry than a lot of the modern dialogue or debate would have you believe.What we call fanfiction nowadays is a brilliant and elaborate way of engaging with an author's works (even if, for legal reasons, they aren't allowed to read it themselves). Stories written in reaction to existing works -- or building on them -- may have the serial numbers filed off, but they're awfully close cousins to fanfics. 

And I just finished reading a pair of stories, where the second author had written a story in the same world, with the same characters, exploring a possible situation that the original author never intended, which is published as a legitimate piece of literature. (This eBook includes both the original and the follow-up, and the follow-up is both a perfectly good story in its own right and also fanfiction by any standard definition of the term.) 

So many people start writing because they love reading. It seems abjectly silly to criticize them for writing about the story-worlds that they love.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

EvilParty: The Hunting Lodge

So last time we we rescued someone named Malina. This time, we’re headed off to a clearing with some sort of stone spiral that might be the next step. We head to the tavern, where we find Jeremiah. Like everyone else here, he seems vaguely familiar. Chuck walks up to him and tries to challenge him to a friendly wrestling match; Jeremiah refuses.

So the snow lion pelts sell really well, but after the last sale they didn’t come back. More recently a rogue recruited a band and went north as well. He also mentions a circle of stones, that he thinks was made by something inhuman. Jenny shows him Chuck’s medallion, and Chuck turns on him threateningly… and he freaks. He’s just sure that Chuck is “one of them” – the tall, antlered beasts that walk like men and haunt your thoughts. He gives us direction to Blue Rock Lodge, where the trappers stay at night when they’re out there. Corrigard was the first trapper, who’s missing; Keller is the one who followed him, the rogue – and probably used this an excuse to blow town and get away from trouble.

Jenny asks what they do to your head, and Jeremiah said that they just stay in your head until you go crazy. 

We buy supplies: Oil of Flaming Arrow, six healing potions, twelve alchemist fire, and one silversheen. Jenny ends up chatting with another hunter, who confirms the legend of the elk but suggests that we leave our horses here. We decide to leave the horses here, and Jenny sells them off for us, netting us another 300 gold. We use that to buy cold-weather clothing and travel supplies, and some food supplies which Chuck plans to supplement by hunting. Chuck buys a pack that will let him carry Jenny (so we can move faster) and off we go!

Twelve hours of hard travel into the frozen north… we’re warm enough, so we’re feeling good about that. It is, of course, not long before we run into something in the forest. It’s an owlbear, and it looks angry and hungry, and we’ve seen it before it sees us. Durest leans over to Chuck: “Them’s good eatin’!” Chuck: “What? No.” Chuck takes Jenny off, and that’s when it spots us. It fluffs out its feathers and shrieks a hunting cry. 

Chuck moves towards the owlbear; the owlbear moves towards Chuck. Jenny moves up a little bit and casts Silent Image, placing a second Chuck next to Chuck. Durest moves beside Chuck. Chuck charges the beast and power attacks, hitting it. It then attacks Chuck, claws him, grabs him, and pecks with his beak. Chuck: “OUCH!”

Durest runs up and attempts to grapple the owlbear, and succeeds. Chuck attempts to help Durest pin it. It tries to peck Chuck, but they’ve got its head and it misses. Jenny breaks into a romantic melody from the noble Lady Gaga. Durest attempts to pin the owlbear, but fails. The owlbear tries to peck Chuck again but it fails, and the Durest somehow manages to twist this thing around and pin it. Chuck promptly slits its throat. 

Chuck looks around and decides that it probably happens onto us randomly. It’s pretty emaciated, but we collect what meat we can and fashion Jenny a crude owlbear-hide cloak. Chuck isn’t sure if the scarcity of animals is from sort of curse, or just winter. 

We continue on and make camp for the night. It’s spooky nighttime time. Chuck takes the first watch; Durest takes second watch; and Jenny takes the final watch. It’s a lot colder at night. Fortunately, we have our furs and whatnot. Just on the edge of the firelight, Jenny spots a group of small lions, who seem to very hesitant to approach more closely. She throws rocks, and they go away. The come back around once or twice, but don’t approach the camp. 

The sun is a welcome warmth. We continue traveling, with Chuck making sure we stay on the path. The second day is pleasantly uneventful, but it’s getting colder as we go and it’s going to be a very cold night. The forest has gotten denser, but the trees are more or less frozen and the snow falls continually. 

Again, Chuck takes the first watch. He’s sitting by the fire, maybe dozing a little, when a giant snow spider walks into our camp and then stops, completely startled. It turns, looks at Chuck, and jumps him. He takes a little damage from the bite, and a bunch of Dexterity damage from the poison. 

Chuck screams, and then rages, and then tries to smash. He hits, doing pretty decent damage, and takes off a leg. The spider reels back, hissing. 

Durest awakens: “Chuck! Why didn’t ye yell? Are ye drunk, lad?”

The spider tries to bite Chuck, misses, and buries its tentacles in a sleeping bag and gets itself trapped. Chuck can feel his body trying to shut down, but focuses his rage and attacks again, dispatching the beast. A moment later, Chuck collapses. 

Durest takes over the watch after rolling Chuck up in his sleeping bag and covering him in furs. Jenny wakes up for her shift to find that Durest has attempted to dress the spider and placed all the meat in a pile on the snow. He has also clearly experimented with spider-based armor. 

Nothing happens in Jenny’s shift, and by morning Chuck is at least semi-mobile. He’s strong enough to carry Jenny, but his balance is definitely off. Jenny puts up with it. We travel about a half day, and then make an early camp. Jenny takes the first watch, and nothing happens. She’s baffled as to why this seems so difficult for the boys. Durest take the next watch and nothing happens. Chuck wakes up pissed, and is more or less back to normal; Durest goes back to sleep, and Chuck takes his turn on watch. 

A couple of large, wolf-like creatures wander up. Chuck looks up at the sky and flips him off. They pace around the campsite, setting themselves up on opposite sides of the campsite. They’re wargs. 

They promptly charge Chuck. But fail to bite him. Chuck yells, and Durest and Jenny jerk awake. Chuck rages, and swings his hammer, power-attacking. The warg yips and jerks back. The warg tries to trip Chuck, but Chuck shrugs him off; he bites Chuck instead, taking a chunk out of his thigh. 

The other one also attempts to trip Chuck and fails. He also bites Chuck, who’s definitely feeling it right now. 

Chuck decides to finish off the first wolf and swings at him, hitting him with the hammer and taking him down. Jenny awakens and begins singing (“hungry like the wolf”) while the wolf attempts to trip him again and fails, and also fails to bite him. Durest tumbles out of his bedroll and smacks the wolf with his nunchucks. “Hwaaaaaaaah!” Durest is now flanking the wolf, and Chuck hits it again but only with a glancing below. Still the beast is almost dead. Jenny shoots it with her crossbow, and takes it down. 

Jenny: “What, like that was so hard?” She turns to go back to sleep, but pauses to throw some healing on Chuck first.

We now have wolf meat and furs. Which is good, because it’s incredibly cold and the furs add just a little more warmth. 

We press on, making another eighteen miles, and we’re almost to the lodge when we run into a giant grizzly bear. We exchange glances, then drop a pile of wolf meat and circle very widely around it. The bear is okay with this, and we pass by. We press on, a bit past the point where we really should make camp, and try to make the last little bit to the lodge. 

But first, we come to the circle of stones. It’s in a clearing, and there’s a dead body in the middle of the clearing leaned up against… some sort of mound? Maybe snow, maybe a tree? And there are these rocks in a spiral pattern. Durest plunges into the spiral of stones and goes to look at the body. A man’s body sits upright by slumped against a mound of snow. The dude died of blood loss from a terrible wound on his shoulder. It looks like he had bandaged the wound, but then ripped it back open. Blood is seeping from both of his ears. There’s a bloody dagger in the snow nearby, and it appears that he stabbed himself in the ears. 

Durest is all about the priorities, so he immediately searches the body. He has no tattoos, but he has a masterwork dagger and cold-weather clothing, but basically nothing else. We’re in the process of looking the thing over when we run into a snow lion. 

Durest: “Quick, Jenny, make friends with it! You’re charming.”

He’s still gaping when the Lion attacks Chuck… and completely fails to connect with him. It’s smaller than a regular lion, sort of cougar-sized. Chuck rages and power attacks, and hits it hard. Jenny shoots at it with a crossbow, and connects but fails to kill it. 

The lion runs away. Chuck charges after it and swings again, this time more carefully. He kills it. 

The other two approach Durest, who is busy poking at the snow mound. It has bones in it, and there are piles of bones like the lions at the spot of each “rock”. The rocks aren’t rocks; they’re little bone piles. Chuck looks to see how they died; several of them have broken bones. They probably were hunted and slain, and then someone set them here in a spiral around this central mound. 

There are tracks from the dead guy leading back towards the lodge. It’s not either of the two hunting band leaders: Corrigard or Keller. 

We press on for another hour, and as we’re walking Jenny starts freaking out from her spot on Chuck’s back. Durest takes her knives, so she starts head-butting the back of Chuck’s head just as we reach the lodge. CHuck sets Jenny down and starts a fire in the lodge’s fireplace. But… it’s cold; the floor is covered in blood and rubbish; and Chuck notices some partially-eaten corpses in the beds. Jenny, meanwhile, is barely in control of herself; she’s basically just rocking on the floor by the fire. 

Chuck looks more closely at the devoured bodies. It’s a single large room, and someone has tried to barricade all the doors and windows. There are beds in disarray, and there are scorch-marks as well as bloodstains. There is a fair amount of hunting equipment lying around, and a single door. Jenny, at the mercy of horrible voices in her head, goes and looks out the window. “Ohhh! So that’s what they meant by Antler person! I’m never going to have my harem, I’m never going to have my spiked chain back, but it’s out there!”

Durest races over to look out the window, but sees nothing. The front door and the window Jenny’s looking out of are not boarded up. We board them up and Durest says comforting things to Jenny and eventually we go sleep. Jenny takes the middle bed. 

Chuck takes the first watch and starts pacing around the room, looking out the windows, trying to see antler guy. He notices a second door that we have not opened this entire time, and Durest is sleeping right next to it. Chuck goes and listens at the door, just hanging out and waiting to see what he can hear. 

After a while he starts carrying stuff over to barricade that door, too. Finally he goes back to his bed and is sort of nodding off when there’s a loud noise: the bookshself that he placed in front of that door has been knocked over. Chuck screams and makes ready to murder things. 

The door opens, and this frost-bitten, emaciated man comes out of the back. He’s a half-orc, with frostbitten, gnarled feet, and antlers starting to grow out of the back of his head. Durest snaps awake but not enough to move yet. Chuck moves over to the bookshelf and tries to push it over on top of him… but as skinny as the guy is, he’s uncannily strong and throws it aside. 

Chuck: "That’s just great." Then he moves forward and bites Chuck. Durest rolls over, grabs the guy, and yanks him into the bed with him. Jenny rolls out of bed, and hides behind the bed and starts singing. With Chuck’s help, Durest flips the guy over, plants him face-down on the bed, and wrenches his arms up behind him. “Chuck! Get rope!” We get the guy tied up. 

We finally get him calmed down, and Durest shoves a sandwich in his mouth. “What the hell happened to you?” 

“I don’t know. The creature, it’s in my head. It’s out there. We thought we could come up here, but… it got in my head and I killed them. Some of them got away, but the ones inside… I killed them. I ate their flesh.” 

Jenny: “Is he the one I saw out the window?” 

Keller: “Yes! He’s coming for you. He’ll get inside your head.”

Monday, August 8, 2022

Another week...

I'm out of town again next week, and trying not to freak out about that. I'm also starting to finally catch up on some things this week, now that things have settled down -- somewhat -- with the software rollout. (I'm realizing that part of the reason we're having issues with the workflows is that the workflows were built to model the approval processes as they existed before the rollout, while Finance is taking advantage of the rollout to update the processes to something more compatible with audit requirements. So people are having to not only adjust to a new software, but also to new ways of doing their jobs. I don't know, maybe it's better to get it all out at once like that, but it means we're updating a lot of workflows, in Production, on the fly.) 

So: this week I'll be trying to catch up on all the things I've been putting off for the last... five weeks? This week is also the first week (well, half a week) of school for the boys, and I'm trying not to freak out about that, either. Secondborn, meanwhile has gone completely nocturnal and I am very definitely not freaked out about that, what with the first day of school rolling down on us and all. 

The week of vacation was good for me, I think. I'm doing better at keeping up with my exercise, and I've been working on the writing project and actually making progress. Not the way I originally envisioned it, admittedly, but at this point I'm writing what holds my interest and it seems to be workings. The Gods alone know what the finished project will look like, but that's neither here nor there. Plus, I'm sort of half-assedly easing back into Duolingo, which I've had on hold since the end of may.

Meanwhile, in preparation for all this, I have done an absolute crapload of laundry, and cooked some bacon (my go-to stress response, apparently -- and maybe not such a good idea when Texas is so hot that the air conditioning is having trouble keeping up), and I'm trying to go to bed at some sort of sensible time. (Admittedly, Nocturnal Child is not helping on that front.)

Work still hasn't come through on reclassifying my position, but we've had a lot of turnover and some difficulties hiring people and management does seem to have noticed that. We'll see, on that one. I haven't had any solid bites on job applications yet, but I'm still putting them out. I'll stop if I get suitably reclassified.

Also, as of yesterday evening Firstborn is now exactly my height.

Onwards and upwards, my friends; nothing but good times ahead.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Deep in the Staff

 So we’ve fallen into Chuck’s staff, the one that has the Pit Fiend into it. In here, we’re sort of the opposites of what we used to be. Balaam will be trying to deceive us; also, he’s been quietly absorbing the souls of the people we’ve killed. Apparently he’s building a city in the crystal on the end of the staff, which will eventually shatter the crystal and release Balaam and his army of slaves.

There are medallions that will help us to identify the two beasts who have some degree of free will. We’ve also run into a number of people, including an old lady who’s sort of haunting her room in the castle. Apparently we’re looking for Lord Prisius’ daughter, who fell in love with Jacobius. We have very much failed to resolve this situation. Heronomo the bard has been following us around, and Chuck has wandered off with him to explore the back passages of the castle. 

Apparently we’ve found a room full of creepy dolls, and Durest took one for the specific purpose of scaring someone later. Chuck has also taken a doll. Durest and Jenny have been wandering around and just looking around and talking to people. Also, Chuck and Heronomo are both dressed as ghosts.

The last thing that happened was that something assaulted Chuck’s mind. 

Angry (and not particularly smart, here) Chuck charges into a wall and nearly brains himself. Heronomo casts light, and some creature is floating next to Chuck. The creature focuses on Chuck, and the pain invades his head again. Chuck is staggered, and Heronimo comes up and casts Fear, at which point the thing retreated into the darkness.

Chuck gets back to his feet. The imp has moved some distance away, and Chuck tries to duck out of the thing’s line of sight. Heronimo fires his crossbow but misses; the imp tries another mind attack, but fails against the bard. Chuck rages and attacks, but misses; Heronomo moves up, and the fear spell drives the thing further away. Chuck follows and attacks, striking the thing critically and just… splatting it against the wall. 

However, now Chuck hears something around the corner. “Heronomo! Come!” he charges again, and Heronomo follows. 

He finds himself coming up on three creeping things, vaguely humanoid, with no skin and oversized hands. They’re just at the edge of the light, and Chuck moves up and smashes one of them with his maul, killing it. Heronomo moves up behind Chuck, creepily massaging his shoulders and encouraging him. Chuck kills another one, takes some claw damage, and then kills the last of the lemures. 

Heronomo: “Never have I see someone defeat single-handedly such denizens of the underworld as you have done here today!”

Chuck is absolutely convinced that Heronomo was being sincere.

They hear that moaning ghost-sound again. Heronomo: “Chuck! The ghosts are back! We must abscond before they return!” He cajoles Chuck into going back to find his friends before fighting the ghosts. If Chuck didn’t know he was a noble and heroic bard, he might think Heronomo was scared. 

Meanwhile, Jenny (now a charismatic halfling) and Durest (now a monk, for some reason) have been talking to the kitchen servants; they now head out to find someone - Corra - who has a crush on Lord Crisius and also knows everything that’s going on. We also need to go back and talk to one of the stable workers. 

We walk back into the dining room where Lord Prisius received us; we find Corra there, cleaning some tables. 

Durest: “Oi, lass! What were we supposed to ask ye ‘bout?”

Corra: “Malena’s disappearance?”

Jenny: “And what do you know about that?”

Corra: “Nothing…” 

Jenny: “I think you know all sorts of things.” She’s very convincing. 

Corra: “I mean, I do run the house. It’s not like Lord Prisius knows what’s going on here…”

Jenny: “Do you really believe this story about the brigands?”

Corra: “I don’t know what to believe. I mean… brigands? But then, Lord Prisius didn’t want Malena to go anywhere?” 

Jenny: “Is it possible that he might have hidden her away so that lord Jacobius couldn’t find her?” 

Corra: “No, no, he would never do that.”

Jenny: “What about these ghosts?” 

Corra: “They’ve been around for years. Like, when the Dame Crisius got trapped in that tunnel that we closed up, there were ghost sounds all over the place.”

At this point a chandelier of antlers crashes from the ceiling and flattens Corra. 

Jenny screams. 

Madam Greeva rushes in from the kitchen: “Oh my god! Corra! Corra!”

Others join them, including Lord Prisius. He sheds a single tear. “I wish for her to be buried with the family, in the family cemetery outside the castle.” His reaction seems a little off, but he does seem genuinely sad. 

Durest asks if this sort of thing is normal, and provokes a fight with the older stablehand. The guy punches him, and Durest grapples him and tries to injure him. He wrenches his arm around and pops his shoulder out. The guy drops to the ground in agony. 

Durest leans down: “Why did the chandelier fall?” 

Stableguy: “I don’t know… must have been a loose bolt.” He passes out. 

Lord Prisius emerges and sends us to our rooms. There’s an open passage, and the bed has been pushed away from the wall, and suddenly two terrifying ghosts emerge!

It’s Chuck and Heronomo. Heronomo starts singing the praises of Chuck The Barbarian, and Durest promptly decks him into unconsciousness. We exchange notes, and Jenny – now a bard – heals Chuck. We leave Heronomo and go into the secret passage. Jenny casts Light so we can see. 

Chuck: “Oh! Magic Jenny!”

To the left, parts of the passage are caved in. To the right is the passage that Heronomo and Chuck took. We find the splattered imp and the dead lemurs, and then follow the bizarrely shaped architecture before it narrows back into a passage that eventually ends in a strong wooden door. Durest tries the door; it’s locked but not trapped. 

Jenny has no ability to pick this. 

As we’re discussing the situation, someone knocks on the door. 

Jenny: “Hello?” 

Woman’s voice: “Hello? Who’s there?”

Jenny: “Who’s there?” 

Nobody answers. 

Jenny: “Have you considered running through the door, Chuck?”

He charges, and bounces off the door. “Is because Heronomo is not here. He very supportive.”

There’s a more tentative knock. 

Durest: “Step back from the door. We’re going to knock it down.”

Woman’s voice: “It’s a very strong door.”

Durest: “Are there hinges on your side? Could you try removing the hinge pins?”

There’s a weird wrenching sound, and then the door falls over.

It’s Malenia. She’s been trapped in the walls, and making ghost noises. We decide that clearly Lord Prisius is a brigand. He needs to die. 

Malenia demonstrates her psychic powers, and Durest concludes that Lord Prisius dropped the chandelier on Corra. 

Malenia: “That monster!”

So yeah, the whole family has mental powers. Also, she’s very excited to learn that Heronomo – her cousin – is here. He’s prone to collecting some idiot, and convincing him or her to follow him around like a puppy dog. She insists that he’s harmless, though. 

We decide to head back to the bedroom and get some rest before we start the murdering. 

As we return to the bedroom, we see that one of the armoires has been moved to block the door, and the other one has been shattered and its splinters driven into all the beds. Seems very likely that Lord Prisius intended to murder us in our sleep. Heronomo, who we left in the bed, is dead.

Malenia: “Heronomo!”

So… “Let’s go save Jacobius, and kill father.”

Malenia seems ready to do this.

The armoire in front of the door seems to have only moved the once, so Lord Prisius and/or his henchmen probably don’t know that we aren’t dead. 

We move the armoire, and we are… not so quiet as we could be. 

Chuck: “How good are you at hiding, girl-lady?” 

Malenia: “Um… I don’t know? Not very.”

Durest: “All right, Dimension Door… Fuck.”

We sneak out the door. Jenny hears singing ahead of us. “I hear singing, but it’s not Heronomo because Heronomo is dead.”

Chuck: “Heronomo?” 

The building appears to be completely abandoned. 

Chuck: “That weird.”

So… based on the layout of the castle, we’re probably going to have to sneak through the courtyard and out through the gates, and it seems very likely that everybody is outside somewhere. 

Jenny checks the courtyard; it is also empty. The people singing the threnody are somewhere just outside the keep, probably mourning Corra’s death. And the cemetery is right next to the chapel. We probably can’t afford to wait; Jacobius will likely die. 

Pretty much everybody from the castle is in the graveyard, and we send Jenny to sneak over to the chapel and release Jacobius. She sneaks past the mourners and sneaks into the chapel, and sees – at the end of the chapel – a body thrashing on the ground up at the front of the chapel, with  a choking, gurgling sound; there’s a weird creature with bones sticking out of its back standing over Jacobius. 

Chuck notices that Prisius is not at the grave. 

Jenny sends a message to Durest, sending him an image of what she’s seeing. 

Durest: “Shit.” He gestures towards Chuck, but Chuck is already doing his now-barbarian best.

Chuck scoops up Malenia and runs for the entrance to the chapel. “Run quietly!” Durest hisses. 

This old lady turns as Chuck rushes by, but nobody else seems to notice and she is squinting and sort of waves the image away. He sets he down beside the entrance. She opens the door and runs in. “Father! You Monster!”

Jenny is skulking in the shadows in the corner of the temple. Durest follows, trying to move silently but failing. 

All the people at the funeral turn to look at him. He just keeps going. 

Lord Prisius, in his vaguely demonic form, turns to face us. He has a human face on this demonic body. “You have made a terrible mistake.” 

We should be paralyzed with fear, but we’re… not. He looks a little surprised. 

Chuck charges, and smashes… but misses. Milenia shakes off her father’s psychic attack and goes after his mind. 

Lord Prisius: “You may protect their minds, but I will still kill you all.” He shoots lightning at Chuck from his front paws. 

Durest charges and smacks the fucker with his monkly nunchucks. They’re just wood, so they don't do as much damage as they should; but they still hit. Chuck tries to power attack, but drops his hammer instead. We also move aside to try to flank him. 

Jenny tries to shoot him with a crossbow, but shoots Chuck instead. Durest moves into a flanking position, and tries to grapple him but fondles him instead. Prisius turns and shoves him telekinetically back to the wall. 

Chuck picks up his maul, and Prisius claws at him. Jenny throws her vial of acid at him. Durest rushes back in and grapples him. Prisius tries to break loose, but fails. 

Chuck smacks him with his giant hammer, and finally really hurts him. Durest kicks around and pins Prisius, who tries to use his telekinesis to shove us all back… and fails. Durest has shoved his head out, making it a target for Chuck; Chuck hits him hard. Jenny shoots him with a crossbow, but it bounces off him. 

Prisius tries again, and this time throws Durest off; Chuck steps right back in and smashes him with the hammer.. But misses. 

Durest comes back in and grabs him again. Chuck swings and misses,and Durest tries to pin him again but fails. He knocks us back again. Chuck moves in again and misses again, and hits him with his nunchucks, but doesn’t hit hard enough to do any damage. Prisius turns his psionic blast on Chuck, damaging him. 

Chuck attacks and misses again. And Durest swings his nunchucks and hits him and does a bit of damage. Prisius blasts Chuck, who goes down. Jenny moves over to Chuck and pours a healing potion down his throat. 

Durest grapples him, but he breaks back out of it. 

Chuck is back to consciousness, but he’s still on the ground. He attacks from there, and misses. Jenny is now closer than she likes, but she stays put. Durest tries to grapple again, and succeeds, but Prisius breaks out again. Jenny retreats, and Durest grapples again, this time getting a solid home. 

Chuck stands up. He dusts himself off. He winds up. He swings. 

He misses. 

Durest pins him, but Prisius uses that psychic bullshit to throw him off again. 

Chuck moves back in, swings, and misses. Durest moves back in and misses with his nunchucks. 

Prisius slaps down Chuck, and Jenny moves in and pours another healing potion down Chuck’s throat. Chuck attacks from the ground as Durest again attempts to grapple, catches him, but again is shrugged off. Chuck attacks again and misses. Durest tries to grapple him again and fails. 

He tries a telekinetic throw, and send Durest across the room and into a pew. Chuck attacks again from the ground, Durest charges back in with nunchucks and damages him., and Chuck drops his maul at Prisius’ feet. Durest grapples him, successfully this time. 

Chuck stands up. Durest fails to pin him, and then he breaks out of the grapple. Again. 

Chuck finally hits him with the maul. 

Prisius goes down. 

Jenny strolls over and delivers the coup de gras. 

One of Chuck’s medallions turns, and a vial pops out. 

Chuck: “What the fuck?” 

Durest: “Try touching it to the dying guy!” Necromancers, man.

Prisius’ blood flows into the vial, and then Chuck puts it back in the medallion. All of a sudden, some of his intelligence is restored. 

Malenia runs over to Jacobius; it’s very romantic. At the entrance to the chapel, all the denizens of the keep are standing there. “I think you, on behalf of our lady Prisius. Although I mourn for our lord’s loss, I give thanks that the spirit has been exposed and now we have been restored to peace.” 

Jacobius swears to step up and take over the estate like some sort of adult. They award us 300 GP each for exposing the devil that had possessed Lord Prisius. 

Apparently there are rumors of a clearing up north with a spiral pattern, that might have the next bit of blood magic that we need. 

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Thursday Motivational

All right, my friends. It's Thursday. It's time to rise up and...

...You know, on second thought, maybe it isn't. Maybe it's a good day to snuggle back down. Bury yourself in pets and nap on the couch. Hide under your blankets and go back to sleep. Make a pillow fort and just lie in there and read. Fuck it. Life's too short.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Challenge: Weirdest Food

(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: weirdest food you love

This one's going to be a bit tricky, because I don't think that most of the foods I love are really all that far outside the mainstream. I mean, there's sushi, but "I like raw fish when it's served in certain ways" doesn't seem all that radical. Macaroni and cheese with bacon may be somewhat unusual, but it's not that weird. At least, I don't think so. 

Garlic, maybe? There's a stir fry place fairly close to me, and if I put together my own bowl I always include enough garlic to keep me safe from vampires. (Co-workers, too.) I mean, I realize garlic breath is supposed to be embarrassing, at least to some people, but I like the smell of it. (Plus, if I'm being hunted by werewolves, enough garlic changes my scent! You can tell it works because I've never been eaten by werewolves.) But, again... it's garlic. It's not that weird. 

Maybe something in snack foods? Cheese puffs, or those crackers-and-cheese-dip packets? I don't know. I mean, I eat a lot of different things, maybe I just don't see them as weird. 

How about you? What's the weirdest food that you love?

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Um... yeah?

I was going to write something for today, I really was. And normally it would have been pretty easy -- D&D is usually on Monday nights, so I can just drop my notes into a post, clean it up when I get home, and let it go up Tuesday morning. Alas, not this week. This week we're playing on Tuesday, so the game notes won't go up until Friday. And I don't have any particular fictions prepared -- I've been working on the book-length project, and that's where my brain is. 

Plus, I just worked a nine-hour day, of the which probably seven hours were spent catching up on email after being out of town for a week. 

It was a good vacation, but I'm not going to talk about it right now; that seems too much like work. So does downloading the pictures I took of Firstborn on his first college tour. 

Sweet baby Jesus, I'm old.

No, the vacation was good and restful and I am not going to spend my energy on things I think I should be doing; I'm going to put in some time on the writing project (a priority) and maybe Duolingo (a long-overdue but lesser priority), and then I'm going to go to bed (a priority) and get up and exercise (a priority) before tomorrow turns into a raging inferno (an inevitability).

Take care of yourselves; take care of each other. It's rough out there, and its getting rougher. Don't lose hope.

Monday, August 1, 2022

The Five Trials of The Holy Dragon Jensen

Listen, my children. Gather around, and hear the truth that only we know. Tonight we tell the story of the dragon who came to our town. Tonight, we tell the story of Jensen.

Jensen was a dragon, golden and powerful. We know this now, though we did not know it then. Jensen came to our town in stealth and deceit, a prisoner of the tasks he was forced to undertake. For Jensen had offended the gods, and had been given a series of trials to stay their wrath.  

What were his crimes? We do not know. Perhaps he spoke truth to the gods, and told them of their failures in maintaining this world. Perhaps he undertook some mischief, and was caught. We know only that he transgressed, and so the trials were laid upon him. 

His second task was to wear the body of a thinblood, what the humans call a half-elf, and to trick true elves into believing that such was truly his nature. In this he succeeded, for when he and his companions came to town, claiming to be refugees from the south, none of us doubted it. Indeed, one of our number, her name be praised, was so convinced that she lay with him as a woman with a man. Thus was his second task fulfilled.

His first task was to find a vampire and slay it. This he had already begun, for when he arrived among us he had in his company a powerful vampire in the seeming of a young boy, and when he first departed he offered that vampire to the Sacred Tree. The Great Tree responded and slew the vampire for him; thus was his first task fulfilled. 

His third task was to slay a priest, which he did by encasing Saint Ilsinor in stone: a gentle death for a noble man, and only temporary. There are those among us, defilers and deceivers, who say that Saint Ilsinor was slain after his resurrection; some even call him a martyr, but they lie. Saint Ilsinor returned to the living, and was taken to the bosom of the gods for his role in the redemption of Jensen. Thus was his third task fulfilled. 

To our shame, we did not understand these things. We watched in horror, and exchanged our suspicions, and drove the holy dragon Jensen and his companions out of our town. Then did the circle of druids watch from afar, fearful and anxious, as Jensen's companions brought him women. The women were human, and to our shame they understood what we did not: that the mandate of heaven required their cooperation in all things. Thus were we humbled and made wiser. 

The women lay with him and restored his strength, and after he had rested his companion bore him back to our town. 

...For his fourth task was to be bitten by a werebear and survive. In those days there was one among us, may her name remain unspoken, who had been born to the blood of beasts. She sought a life of peace and civility, and so Jensen appeared to her unclothed and vulnerable and bade her bite him. Her beast-self understood, and rose up, and strove with him; and when he bore its wounds, he and his companion once again departed by holy magic. 

Then did Jensen begin his final and most trying task: to lay in congress with women for half the moon's cycle. We watched, and we watched, and we marveled in growing awe and joy as he indulged again and again. His followers brought him food and drink even as he strove; his strength was endless, his body tireless, his partners a trail of exhausted satisfaction that spanned five cities. 

It was then, on the fifteenth day, with his final task fulfilled, that Jensen resumed his true form as a dragon. It was then that we who watched knew the truth: we had been touched by divinity, for the dragons are the children of the gods. It was then that we began our worship, and our work to spread the teachings of the holy dragon Jensen.

You have heard the truth this day, my children. Never doubt it. Never be scared or ashamed to speak it. The holy dragon Jensen watches over us, and will grant you the strength and endurance you need to spread his word without tiring. Go forth, and let others know as well.