Friday, September 30, 2022

Valthor: Job Prospects

I spent my first three days in Merilos living off what money my father had sent with me and what additional funding I could win at cards. I did fairly well at that, but only when I cheated -- and that was risky, too risky to rely on as a long-term strategy. 

It was my third night, and I was taking a stroll through the warehouse district behind the docks -- just to clear my head, you understand. I certainly wasn't casing the buildings or considering how my fortunes might fare if I turned to a life of crime. And, of course, I was keeping myself in shape with an idle bit of night climbing, which was better practiced here than in more populated areas. It was in this perfectly innocent fashion that I happened to be near the edge of a rooftop when I heard the sounds of someone running: rapid footsteps coming closer, exhausted wheezing mixed with barely-gasped curses. 

Several thoughts went through my head: that this might be some poor innocent, out for a nighttime stroll like myself, and now pursued by the city's criminal element. Or it might be some nefarious rogue, of the sort that I would never consider becoming, on the run from the guards after a job turned sour. From the sounds of shouting behind him, I rather thought the latter. 

So, in recognition of my civic duty, I swung over the side of the building, dropped down, rolled, and came to my feet in front of him. He screamed, tried to stop or perhaps dodge around me, and managed -- entirely of his own accord -- to slam himself face-first into the wall of the alley we were currently occupying. It was, to be fair, a fairly clean and wide alley -- the trash carts came through the warehouse district regularly enough -- and he certainly had no reason to think that an upstanding citizen such as myself might spring up out of nowhere to inquire after his safety. 

I was crouched down and checking him over -- purely to assure myself of his health -- when his pursuers slid the covers of their lanterns up, bathing us both in uncomfortably bright light. One of them, the nearer one, growled, "Where did you come from?"

"Me? I was out for a stroll, as anyone might be," I told them. My eyes were starting to adjust, and I thought they both looked dubious; and even after three days I knew that the rest of Sorilan didn't keep even remotely the sort of hours that I'd been raised to. "I heard someone running, and stopped to see if he needed help. Unfortunately, I startled him, and... well... I was just checking to see if he was okay. He doesn't seem to be carrying a purse, but he was carrying this."

I held up the item the man had obviously stolen. It looked to be some sort of brazier, made of some silvery metal. It looked expensive, but also distinctive -- the sort of thing that might net me a lot of money, but also might get me into a very great deal of trouble. 

"You checked his purse?" asked the nearer of his pursuers -- a half-orc, I thought, or maybe even a full orc. 

"Only to see if he had anything that might identify him," I said, radiating so much innocence that the half-orc actually hesitated before laughing softly. I forebore observing that he must have somehow dropped his purse while being pursued -- along with a rather nice dagger that I was already becoming quite fond of, actually. "Do you know the gentleman?"

"That's Calder Carefree," said the maybe-orc, and the man behind him nodded. "We captured the rest of his team, but he caught wise and almost escaped. You should come with us -- the boss will want to meet you." 

I hesitated, but he added: "There's a bounty on him, and the boss'll also want to make sure you get your share."

"Oh?" I asked. "Is there money to be made, capturing criminals?" 

"That's not the only sort of work we do, but yes." The probably-half-orc came forward, lowering the cover on his lantern. 

"Damn it, Rrhoral, you know I can't see in the dark." 

"So leave yours open, Barghif, but quit blinding our new friend."

He checked Calder over for weapons, then scooped up the half-conscious human. His companion turned his lantern away and approached me, holding a hand out; I handed him the brazier, and he nodded. "You really should come with us." 

And that was how I met Rhoral the Quick and Barghif the Stubborn, and through them the dragonborn woman Sarail who commanded their troop. She asked if I was looking for work, and I admitted that I might be. I hadn't expected to find it with a troop of adventurous mercenaries and almost -- but not quite -- pirates, but I did. And I like to think that we were all the better for it.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Missed Connection: Ephemeral Intruder

You've suspected that you weren't alone for quite some time, haven't you? The soft whisper in the night, barely audible over the air conditioning, the occasional chill when I couldn't get out of your way, doors or cabinets left open or closed. You've suspected, but you've never really known. 

But then, last Tuesday, you saw me -- the pale, silvery figure on the stair, caught by the moonlight through the window. You saw me, and you thought I was an intruder in your house. So of course you called the police. Of course they found nothing. But you weren't imagining things. I'm here. I've always been here. 

Come back, please. It's a perfectly good house, and I mean you no harm. I try to respect your privacy, though I don't always see you either. Come back, and keep me company. It's so cold here. So very, very cold. Cold... and lonely. 

Please, please keep me company. I need someone to see me. I need someone to know I still exist.


Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Challenge: Library or Bookstore?

(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: using the library vs. buying books

I love libraries. I love them to death, and I do my best to support our local libraries. That said... I never know when I'm going to get around to reading something, or how long it's going to take. I read fairly quickly, but finding time for it is always a bit iffy. 

So as a general thing, I buy books. Mostly electronic books, at this point, which is not something I ever thought I'd say. Which means that my TBR pile is kaiju-sized monstrosity, but I seriously doubt I'm alone in that. But, it also means that I don't have to worry about forgetting to return something, or keeping someone else waiting while I'm finding time to finish something, or whether I can re-read something that I'm particularly in the mood for. 

I love libraries, but checking things out just feels like one more thing to keep track of, and I have too many of those already.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Evil!Party: The Lucky Life of Clovis Cloverfield

We’re still engaged in combat. Yes, still. And now we’re facing off against a giant primal earth elemental. This is such a completely bad idea.

The druids use their call lightning to attack Jenny, but fail to get through her spell resistance. Balaam moves away from the elemental, who smacks him as he leaves. He drops a quickened fireball on the sorcerers, then teleports Durest, Bob, and Ferrous back to Maodeus. One of the sorcerers dies; the other tries to cast Hold Monster on Chuck.

Chuck does a quickened Dimension Door, grabs Jenny, and Teleports out. We are now all up on the ridge with Maodeus, who is finishing up squishing helpless Solari. Durest casts a Mass Cure Serious wounds, helping himself, Jenny, Maodeus, and Balaam. He then inflicts some healing on Chuck. 

Cardinal Lovis Sunsoul casts Storm of Vengeance on us. The deafening thunder effect of the first round fails to affect us. Balaam uses Greater Dispel Magic to try to disrupt the storm of vengeance, and succeeds – leaving an image of goatse in the sky for one brief and shining moment. 

Meanwhile, the remaining archers and paladins have gathered close together, and suddenly our nice empty ridge is full of enemies. The giant earth elemental is just sort of wandering around down on the plains, looking for enemies. 

Chuck responds by dropping a fireball on one end of their line. Bob moves forward, carrying Durest in his ribcage, and reaches one group of enemies. Jenny rages and charges, reaching the front line of paladins but attacking past them to reach the sorcerer. The sorcerer explodes into a red mist and a mysterious meteor-corpse plummeting off the side of the cliff. She ignores the clerics and the paladins that the sorcerer had teleported in with, and wipes out another sorcerer. And then another. She then turns on the archers, and starts taking them out as well. Then paladins. She’s using her spiked chain’s ability to do extra damage while injuring herself in exchange, and Durest is just reaching for the scroll of True Resurrection that he’s going to use when she kills herself doing this. 

In a frenzy of violence, she carves through the paladins and then starts in on the priests. Down on the plains, the remaining solari were cheering for their companions; as the carnage becomes obvious, they fall silent. Maodeus moves up and uses his cone of sleep gas, and drops a quickened Cure Critical Wounds on Jenny. One cleric remains standing; the rest of our enemies are now asleep. 

That One Cleric says, “You may kill me, but with my final breath I will cast down your vile evilness with the power of Helios!” He casts Searing Light on Chuck. 

Durest swings down out of Bob’s ribcage and hits him with a Shadow Bolt from his staff. Then Cardinal Lovis drops a second Storm of Vengeance on us, deafening Durest. The druids finally move into position where they can see us, and take Durest down with lightning strikes. Balaam drops a pair of fireballs on them in return. They survive that, but… yeah. 

Chuck wipes out the sleeping enemies, leaving only the single brave cleric. Bob circles around him, taking a crack from a mace on the way. Jenny charges, and misses. Meowdeus heals Durest, while Ferrous lumbers forward. The Cleric cries out, “Are you going to spare me?” Jenny: “Are you joking?” 

The cleric throws Searing Light at Chuck, who is forced to return to his coffin. We take a tiny little bit of acid damage from Storm of Vengeance. The druids drop more lightning on Durest, but he’s healed enough to shrug it off. Meanwhile, Balaam burns out the last of the druids; that should stop the lightning. 

Another sorcerer teleports in, this time with Cardinal Lovis and four clerics. Lovis immediately drops a firestorm. Bob takes the full damage; Jenny is still protected from fire, but Durest takes full damage as well. Bob swings at the lucky cleric, but misses. Jenny charges the new arrivals, and immediately wipes out the sorcerer, again damaging himself to do it. She whips her chain around and wipes out the lesser clerics as well. Cardinal Lovis is surrounded by a rainbow bubble, so Jenny disdains to attack him and blows a raspberry at him instead.

Meowdeus Heals Durest again, and then moves over next to Jenny. Durest moves closer. Balaam moves around to flank Cardinal Lovis, and tries to dispel his Prismatic Sphere… and succeeds. He then drops a quickened fireball on the lucky cleric, who survives. Cardinal Lovis attempts to cast Destruction on Balaam. Balaam shakes it off, taking damage but not being destroyed. Bob takes a swipe at Clovis Cloverfield, the world’s luckiest cleric, and misses. 

Jenny attacks the cardinal, hitting three times – and on the last one she wraps her chain around his neck and rips his head off. Meowdeus heals Jenny. Clovis Cloverfield turns Bob and runs for cover. Durest teleports people down to the first anchor; Balaam brings the others and dispels it, then throws a quickened fireball at the remaining Solari. 

Maodeus gathers us up and takes to the air as the primal elemental turns back towards us. The remaining solari stay together as a group, but they have no sorcerers left to teleport them, so they move away from the elemental and generally towards the bluff. (They do still have some archers.) Balaam, meanwhile, teleports Jenny and Bob. Jenny is complaining that they’re going away from the enemies. Maodeus follows the cliff at the south end of the battlefield, until we find a spot where a couple of stone golems are standing in the mud, probably guarding something. Maodeus drops Durest, who flies down close enough to get a better look at the stone golems. They’re glowing, faintly, and lines of power connect them to something that’s hidden back in the cliff face. 

Balaam teleports over with Jenny and Bob, coming in directly in front of them. 

Bob attacks, but a stone golem smashes him on the way in; Bob goes down. 

Jenny attacks, with a modest power attack, and takes one of the stone golems out. Meowdeus drops down and Heals Jenny again. The golems move in. Meowdeus bites one of them as it moves in, while Jenny hits another. They attack Jenny, but she laughs. Durest, still flying, drops more healing on her, with what spells he has left. Balaam attacks the nearest stone golem, and tears into it with his claws and bite. 

Jenny rips into them again, this time using her full strength, and one goes down. She continues on, beating on the next one, Meowdeus attacks one of the remaining two, and rips into it. Ferrous moves up beside it, and attacks as well; the golems are tough, but they’re still taking damage. 

The golems attack Jenny, hitting, and doing some damage. Durest throws some healing again, but he’s getting low on spells. Balaam attacks, taking out another golem, and Jenny takes out the last one. As the last one goes down, a glowing aura in the mountainside dissipates and we can see the anchor. Maodeus throws Greater Dispel Magic at it, and takes it down. The dome that’s keeping us trapped on the battlefield shivers again. 


One anchor yet remains, and we can either find it (and hopefully call in reinforcements) or wipe out the last of the Solari and search at our leisure. With Chuck down and Durest painfully low on spells, breaking the final anchor and bringing down the dome that's keeping us trapped on the battlefield seems like the better option. 


Archivist's Note: The evil Brass Dragon who acted as one of the generals for the Order of Secrets in their invasion of Sol Povos was originally known -- and feared -- under the name Maodeus. Unfortunately, in interacting with the Solari Hunters, the dragon revealed a certain tendency to play with its prey, rather like a cat. The Solari Hunters took to calling the dragon Meowdeus, and a matter of weeks that appellation had spread through the entire Order of Secrets, the wildlander army, and most of Sol Povos. This was not considered a betrayal of the Order, but Meowdeus is said to have gone to his grave muttering resentfully about the corruption of his name. 

Monday, September 26, 2022


So, the older youth D&D group has essentially dissolved, mainly because Junior Year has hit everybody over the head like a large wooden mallet. The younger D&D group is going splendidly, but I'm still sorry about the older one. On the other hand, that left my entire Sunday free to run laundry, sort laundry, and help Beautiful Wife change the rear tire on Secondborn's bike, which he's using to ride home from school. So yeah, Things Got Done. 

Writing is coming along; exercise and sleep have been a lot more catch-as-can, though. I'm going to try to pull everything back together again, now that I've managed to get a decent handle on how to do that. Hopefully the transition will be easier this time. 

Meanwhile, I re-watched the horror movie Leviathan while sorting laundry, and I'm impressed with how well it holds up. Practical special effects had their weaknesses and limitations, but they sure hold up better than early CGI did. Also managed to play through the next section of the Epic Battle in D&D, which is fun even though our characters are getting really low on resources. Next session should finish that up, at least. I probably need to look at how high-level characters play out in 5e, since there's a decent chance that Secondborn and his friends will get there. 

Anyway: going to see if I can squeeze in a bit more writing before I start work. We'll see how it goes.

Take care of yourselves; take care of each other. The world's still on fire, and we're still in the middle of multiple global pandemics, and somehow despite all this everybody still has to show up for work. The only way through is together.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Forgotten Family: Dwarven History

"Gather to me if you will, children. I would speak to you of the early days of our world, and the rise of our people." Stoneshaper Braeken took a seat in the ceremonial stone chair at the head of the table, and watched as the students took their seats around him. Their usual tutor, Boroka, glanced curiously at him, but he offered her a small smile and she inclined her head in return. 

When the students were settled, he began:

"In the early days of the world, the first dwarves were created by Moradin, whom the unenlightened call Sardion. At first we were a cruel people, believing other races to be weak and vulnerable. We valued strength, but not the brittle breaking-strength of Gruumsh; we valued the strength that endures, the strength that withstands, the strength that never yields. Ours also was the strength that comes with order, and ours was a nation in which everyone knew and respected their place -- and the position of those around them. Some dwarves still hold to the old ways of Moradin; these are the dwarves known as Duergar, and in this age they are a people unto themselves."

He paused and looked around, but his students -- even Andrik -- remained silent and attentive. 

"Other dwarves, inevitably, came into contact with other people and other gods. These became the deep dwarves of the underkingdoms, and the surface dwarves of mountains and hills -- our people, and once more each became almost a race unto itself. From Amun we learned to temper order with Justice; from Demeter we learned to cultivate the land both above and below; and in Belrab we found a strength and order that did not require the cruelties and sacrifices that Moradin demanded. Thus was the Stone Cabal eventually founded."

"And--" interjected Andrik, then cut himself off abruptly. "I would that I hadn't said that, Stoneshaper."

Braeken suppressed a smile. "I would have you speak, Andrik son of Durest."

Andrik swallowed, aware that his peers were looking at him and at least one or two were glaring. "Aye, well, 'tis just this: from Indra we learned to love the sky and sail the seas."

"It is good," said Stoneshaper Braeken. Andrik, while too young to enter any sort of clergy, had taken on something of his father's advocacy for the trickster-god Indra, and even the stone cabal couldn't fault the boy for his devotion. "It is good for you to say this, because it is true." He paused, both for effect and to organize his thoughts, and then he said: 

"We honor three gods, first and foremost: Moradin, who created us; Amun, who taught us justice; and Belrab, who gathered us into his strength. This is true, but this is not the only truth. We honor Demeter, who taught us to cultivate food for ourselves; we honor Yondalla, who taught us the value of knowledge; and we honor Indra, who first showed us the sky. Shall I tell you that story?"

Andrik, eyes wide, nodded slowly. Several of his peers settled back, losing something of their hostility as they returned their attention to the Stoneshaper. 

"I speak now of ancient days, but long after the first days of our people. The Duergar were still strong in the deeps; they still held the oldest cities, and still made war upon the dwarves who had turned away from the primacy of Moradin. The Stone Cabal was young then, and still finding its way; the priesthood of Amun was only just beginning to be eclipsed by our current ways. And while the conflict between the old ways of the Duergar and the new ways of our people was often bloody, there were passionate and loudly-debated conflicts within our people as well. Many had questions about what shape the new ways should take. Some even wondered if we might be better guided by other gods entirely.

"It was one of these, Taraia Stormcalled, to whom Indra first spoke. It is said that the storm-god had long ignored us, for in ancient days our people still dwelled belowground and only the worst of exiles were ever sent to the surface. Perhaps it was one of them, some misfit or criminal, who first caught Indra's attention; or perhaps it was only that Amun and Belrab were increasing their worshipers. It is said that when the trickster god first saw our ways, orderly and disciplined, he pronounced them unutterably boring. It is said that as he was turning away from us that he first noticed Taraia, who was not yet Stormcalled. 

"In her he found a kindred spirit, and through her he put out his call. For Taraia, like Indra, did not see our carefully-structured places in gards and delves, in clans and societies, as giving us meaning. They saw those things as trapping us, caging us, holding us back. And in time others came to agree, and Taraia led her followers to the surface and founded there the first of the skygards, contesting goblins and elves alike for a place beneath the sun. From there, it was inevitable that others would follow -- even across the seas and to other lands. 

"Sol Povos was one of those other lands; our people here can all trace our ancestry to those who left the underkingdoms.

"It is said Indra intended to trick us, to fracture our orderly ways with chaos and discontent, and perhaps that is true; but Taraia Stormcalled led us to new realms and in doing so gave those who might have created chaos and discontent a new place to go and new ways to find meaning for themselves. 

"Indra is not a kindly god, but in his unkindness he did us a great favor and made us stronger, and for that he is honored."

And Andrik nodded, accepting the Stoneshaper's tale.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Missed Connections: Beast Seeks Beauty

You were the young woman hurrying home through the park at night. You knew you were being followed. You could hear them behind you, coming closer, taunting you... and then you couldn't. Something had happened to them. 

That something was me. I was the beast in the darkness that night. You looked back, and for a brief moment our eyes met, and something clicked. If you felt it too, get in touch. I'm not always like that. And I'd love to meet you by daylight, with my humanity restored, in someplace warm and open and safe. Perhaps we could have tea? 

I hope you see this. I hope you respond. But if you don't, or if you don't, then I wish you well. And please, please be more careful.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Challenge: Least Favorite Chore

(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: least favorite chore and why?

Well... hard to say. I think the one I'm actually the worst at is yard work, though I arguably dislike cleaning the bathroom more. It's not just that I find yard work unpleasant or tedious -- I mean, that's pretty much chores by definition. It's a combination of things. 

Thing One: I'm in Texas, so pretty much any time the yard needs mowing or trimming or even watering, it's pretty well guaranteed to be insanely hot outside. I do not deal well with heat. Nor, as an IT guy, am I particularly well adapted to that much sunlight. (I used to be, but... nope. Not any more.) 

Me, in daylight, July 2022

Thing Two: We... actually park inside the garage. And owing to my aversion to heat/sunlight, I don't go outside unless there's a compelling reason. Other people may sit on the back porch and admire the landscaping, but I am not one of those people. If it's late enough in the evening that the sun isn't a problem, then I have to deal with the kamikaze mosquitos instead. It's just not worth it. 

And as a result, I don't tend to notice that the yard needs maintenance until it's fully reverted to wilderness and nearby tribes of feral children have stepped out of the brush to ask if they could borrow a cup of Oreos. 

Okay, yeah, might be time to trim the hedges.

So I deal with this the way any red-blooded American man deals with it: I hire somebody. We have a lawn service. We basically leave money sitting out for them, and every so often the yard suddenly looks neat and tidy and the money is gone. It's like the cobbler and the elves, except the elves have a cell phone number so we can get in touch with them. 

It's awesome.

I still don't like cleaning the bathroom, though.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Evil!Party: The Great Solari Murder Attempt, Part III

The druids are throwing lightning at us, and the archers and the sorcerers have moved up and throw a freezing sphere at Balaam. Tiny Steve kills another archer. The four active barbarians attack Jenny, doing a big chunk of damage. Chuck drops a quickened fireball on the archers, taking out a couple of the shadows and all of the archers. More lightning lands on Jenny. Bob smacks a barbarian again but doesn’t kill it. Ferrous kills another barbarian. 

Pretty much everyone is moving in on us, trying to kill us – and the archers have started trying to kill Durest, as is apparently everyone. Durest casts Harm on Chuck to restore him to full unhealth, and Heals himself and Jenny. More lightning bolts arrive, and Chuck teleports over to the druids and their hordes of summoned creatures. 

Balaam fires off a quickened Fireball, and wipes out a huge chunk of treants. Tiny Steve kills another elite archer, and the remaining elite barbarians attack Jenny again. Chuck looks at the Hierophant Druid and tags her with Finger of Death. She dies. He follows up with a quickened fireball against the remaining treants, wiping them out. 

Chuck’s delayed-blast fireball goes off, damaging the barbarians around Jenny. Durest takes more lightning damage. Over on the other battlefield, the rhinos power-charge Ferrous. They deliver some damage, but... not a lot. More charge Balaam, but do essentially no real damage. Four of them attack Chuck, and similarly fail to do much of anything. Chuck, Balaam, and Ferrous attack them as they approach. 

The archers try to hit Durest, and do a bit of damage. More lightning hits Jenny, and then Durest. Ferrous exhales his poison gas, damaging rhinos. The less-elite archers attack Tiny Steve, and take him down. By this point we’re out of foot soldiers; they’ve all been wiped out. Jenny attacks a barbarian, kills him, and follows through to another. She hits him again, kills him, and then finishes off the last one. 

Durest uses Dimension Door to bring himself, Bob, and Jenny over to the other battlefield. He leaves his shadows behind to finish off the elite archers. 

The druids go after Chuck with Sunbeam spells, and three of them get past his spell resistance. 

He survives. 

Balaam drops a Mass Hold Monster and then a quickened fireball, doing some real damage. The sorcerers hit Chuck with scorching rays and nearly kill him. Chuck turns invisible and relocates to the far side of the battle. Rhinos attack the pit fiend Balaam, and… yeah, that’s going to end badly. The rhinos essentially can’t damage him; Ferrous is equally impervious. 

Jenny starts in on the fire elementals and the rhinos. She kills a fire elemental – and these are enhanced by the hierophant, or were before the hierophant unexpectedly keeled over a heart attack. She cuts through pretty much everything she can reach. The druids respond by murdering Bob the frost giant skeleton. He’ll be back in two rounds. 

Ferrous looks at the rhinos in front of him, lifts his metal fists, and then smashes one. The archers move closer to us, but we’re out of their range. 

Durest drops Fire Storm across this whole enemy force, and then follows that absolute maelstrom up with a quickened Destruction to get rid of one of the sorcerers. Healing Ferrous a bit of damage with all that fire is really just a bonus. The surviving druids drop a ton of lightning on Durest in return, and he goes down. 

The five greater fire elementals back off and start swirling together. Balaam casts more Mass Hold Monster, paralyzing more druids. He follows it with another quickened fireball, because Pit Fiends are utterly insane. 

The air elementals move over and start mixing with the fire elementals. Chuck tags one of the fire elementals with a Polar Ray, and then drops a quickened fireball on the same ones who just got hit by Balaam. The rhinoceri attack Balaam, who basically ignores them. “I’m a prince of Hell!”

The earth elementals move over to the elemental swarm and start circling with them. The air elementals join the swarm, and the whole pile forms into a colossal primal earth elemental. 

About ⅔ of the solari druids are down. Three of the remaining druids heal themselves. 

Balaam drops a quickened fireball on himself and Ferrous, healing Ferrous and wiping out the rest of the rhinoceri. Balaam moves carefully towards the elemental. The two remaining sorcerers shake off the Hold and stand back up. Chuck Dimension Doors over to Durest and heals him with a potion… barely. 

The earth elemental power attacks Jenny and slams the crap out of her. Jenny attacks, and only gets through once. It’s like attacking a mountain. Maodeus has been smushing archers up on the ridge, when the surviving sorcerer teleports in with Cardinal Lovis, who takes one look at the dragon and casts Prismatic Sphere around himself and the sorcerer.

Balaam moves in on the elemental, still being cautious. The two enemy sorcerers fireball Jenny. Chuck responds by Fireballing the three wounded druids. Bob steps over and lifts Durest into his rib cage. The Primal Earth Elemental attacks Jenny again, hitting her twice and doing a big chunk of damage. We start pulling back together, and Cardinal Lovis runs away from Maodeus and lands next to us. 

Monday, September 19, 2022

Clean living

So I've been trying to get my shit together -- drink less, sleep more, eat better, exercise -- and I am here to tell you that I have never been so tired in my life. Which... I mean, that's definitely a thing, as your body lets itself slow down and starts trying to make up for some sleep debt and adjust to running on less adrenaline. But while I did manage to run the younger youth D&D game and do some cleaning and laundry, I feel like I basically just slept through the weekend. 

It's enough to make me wonder if I've come down with something, but... I don't think so. I think it's just body trying to adjust. (Well, and allergies -- we're in Second Spring here in Texas, and I cannot wait for autumn to properly arrive.) I mean, on the plus side I should be coming into this week feeling fairly rested, but... well, we'll see. 

Not much writing progress, and what I've managed has been more D&D-related than focused on my writing projects. (See above re: exhaustion...) I have managed a bit of reading, at least. And plenty of rapid eye movements. So, I don't know. Probably worth it in the long run, but it's enough to make me wonder.

Meanwhile, 'tis International Talk Like A Pirate Day!

Friday, September 16, 2022

Valthor: Dispersal, Disposal (3/?)

My father was never much in the habit of explaining himself. He simply summoned us, all of his children, to attend him upon his throne on the night of the full moon. None of us knew why, and no matter how well or poorly we concealed it all of us were unsettled. For myself, I wondered if he had intended to rebuke my sister Magda for whatever she had done to our brother Vildern, or Vildern for mauling her in return; I even worried that he might intend to rebuke me for the way I had cast Magda out of my room, though surely I'd been well within my rights in that

I was among the youngest of my siblings, being -- as Vildern had once sneeringly observed -- "natural-born." I was not quite the youngest; that honor -- or burden -- fell to Lynna, a gnomish peasant girl whom my father had turned from light and life almost exactly one year before. She had been, perhaps, seventeen at the time -- barely out of childhood, for a gnome. 

Our father was already seated on his throne, nine steps above us, as we assembled. I was neither the first nor the last to enter, but I saw him glance at me despite my best efforts to be unobtrusive. He seemed to be numbering us in his head, weighing and measuring; but perhaps that impression was merely my worries at work. Father could be absolutely expressionless when he wanted to be, an affectation that the rest of strove to imitate at need. 

When all of us were present and attentive, he straightened. "My children," he began, and I wish I could remember the precise words that he spoke. He told us of our value as heirs to the kingdom of the dark, of his hopes for us and for a worthy successor. The word abdication passed his lips, though whether or not that was in mockery I am genuinely unsure. What was clear to all of us was that he expected us -- one of us -- to claim the Shadow Crown by proving ourselves worthy to succeed him. 

And he did not mean worthy within the court. Whether he planned to select a successor based on our deeds, or whether he expected one of us to take the Crown from him by force, he intended for us to manage on our own. Any allies we found would not be found here; any forces we raised would not be raised within the kingdom of the dark. We would take the basic equipment we needed to survive, and some small money; but that was all.

Come the dark of the moon, he would send us out into the world, to make our way by our wits and skills alone. 

On one level -- as all of us realized but none of us bothered to say -- it was horrifyingly unfair. Our father counted as children both vampire spawn and full vampires, undead he had raised to this purpose, half-mortal progeny, and even a sister that I was quite certain was a construct. On another, it was absolutely, mercilessly fair: exactly the sort of ruthless fairness of predator and prey that the kingdom of the dark could not fail to respect. Regardless of our personal resources, we were all being given exactly the same chance. 

I do not know where the others were sent. I do not know if anyone was truly given a choice. I know that when I came into the small receiving room with the portal like a pool of black oil rippling at the back wall, my father turned to me and said, "I had thought to send you to a city."

I nodded back to him and said, "A place of many races, if you will it, where elves and their kin are not unknown." 

I thought I saw a hint of a smile quirk his lips, and then he nodded and gestured for me to step through the portal. 

Thus did I find myself in the port city of Merilos, on the shore of the Inland Sea. And that was where I would make -- or break -- my fortune.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Voltures

Do you have a private laboratory or secret lair hidden out in the desert? Are you concerned with finding the right balance between security and discretion? Do you need sophisticated, versatile, highly-mobile guards who won't attract attention to your activities? 

Well, Savage Labs has the answer for you: Voltures! Our solar-powered, self-sustaining drones are equipped with the latest in sensory equipment and intrusion detection technology, guided by a state of the art artificial intelligence capable of distinguishing between innocent desert animals, mood-altered teenagers who took a wrong turn, and attempted trespass by agents of your rival mad scientists or overbearing government agencies. 

And should they detect a potential issue, the Savage Labs MK IV SPSS Voltures are able to deliver a controlled electric shock capable of anything from startling to a mouse to dropping a rhinocerous. 

Yet, until their defense algorithms are tripped, SSPS Voltures are indistinguishable from ordinary desert scavengers: they flap, they circle, they sometimes come down to the ground as if something tasty had died. Intruders won't see anything unusual until it's far too late. Savage Labs Voltures offer the perfect mix of discretion and defense. Purchase yours today!

Savage Labs: where Mad Science helps keep the world safe for Mad Science.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Challenge: Reasons To Buy

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

Prompt: What makes you pick up or buy a book?

Honestly? Recommendations. I follow a big chunk of authors on Twitter, not to mention interacting with a lot of readers. So I see people promoting their work, and if it looks like my kind of story I go check it out. Or I'll see somebody (frequently after reading an ARC) promote somebody else's book, and think, Oh yes! There are also a few authors whose work I'll buy just on the strength of other things they've written, and of course The Next Book In A Series I've Been Enjoying is always a compelling argument. It doesn't have to be Twitter, either -- I've bought books based on authors talking about the ideas that went into them on John Scalzi's Whatever, or reader recommendations from Jennifer Crusie's Good Book Thursdays, and similar venues.

I don't tend to read a lot of book reviews, especially on Amazon, partly because I don't always trust that they're real reviews the way I do if they're somebody I follow on Twitter or know in meatspace. Mostly, though, it's because if I'm not sure about a book, I can read through the first couple of pages and usually get a pretty decent feel for the writing style, general level of editing/proofreading, etc. 

So my sequence is generally: 

  1. Recommendation
  2. Blurb
  3. Sample text (if I'm still not sure)
  4. Purchase/don't purchase

How about you?

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Evil!Party: Ye Battle Continueth

 Durest, Jenny, and the undead are facing off against barbarians. Durest heals Jenny and takes out a sorcerer. Tiny Steve strides forward and maims a couple of barbarians. The barbarians rush in and attempt to swarm Jenny, pausing just outside of her reach. Durest takes a bit of damage as well. Jenny begins taking apart barbarians. Durest restore Jenny’s protection from fire, and destroys another sorcerer. The Barbarians start charging Jenny, and dying, but enough of them survive to surround her. 

Durest has used his staff to be incorporeal, sparing him a bit of damage from the barbarians around him. One of them attacks Bob; Bob tears into the barbarian who has just attacked him. Jenny tears into the barbarians around her, and they… are really not up to this job. More of them die. 

Durest uses his staff to summon a half-dozen shadows, draining the strength of the barbarians around him and three of the ones around Jenny – plus, they’re flanked now. One of the sorcerers casts Mirror Image; the other two run away and try to Searing Ray Jenny, taking out the last of her fire protection. 

At which point Chuck shows up beside Durest: “Durest! We killed so many people! Also, help!”

A Barbarian attacks Bob and takes him down. He’ll be back in a round. “All right, guys! I got the Frost Giant skeleton. 

Durest chuckles ominously. 

Bob is already restored.. 

The barbarians around Jenny attack her again, doing some respectable amount of damage. Jenny’s not looking for good. The barbarians attack Durest, scratching him lightly. Durest’s shadows attack the barbarians again, further draining their strength; he uses some Inflict spells to restore Chuck to unlife. Chuck uses Finger of Death on one of the sorcerers, while Tiny Steve wipes out a couple of more mirror images. Chuck also steps away from Durest. 

The barbarians attack Jenny – well, what’s left of them. The one who was fighting Bob fires a couple of arrows at Jenny, but miss. The ones attacking Durest do a tiny little amount of damage. 

Bob stands back up, scaring the hell out of the barbarian next to him. 

Jenny wipes out the last of the barbarians. Durest heals her, then drops Silence on one of the two sorcerers. Unable to cast anything useful, that guy runs. Tiny Steve takes out another mirror image and then smacks the remaining sorcerer. Chuck uses Finger of Death on the fleeing sorcerer, taking him down; he then drops a quickened Protection from Fire on Jenny. 

Jenny moves into range, and wipes out one barbarian and injures another. Durest bops the injured one with his mace; the remaining sorcerer fires another firebolt at Jenny, and Tiny Steve finishes him. Chuck dominates one of the remaining two barbarians, and has him attack his buddy. Jenny promptly murders them. 

Meanwhile, in the larger battle, Durest’s undead are moving forward. The mummies run into some foot soldiers, and damage them; the wraiths tear into more foot soldiers and kill three squads of them. Sorcerers, meanwhile, are taking out our bugbears. Goldilocks is moving in on the elite archers, who are just sleeting waves of arrows at him; he goes down. Maodeus goes after the high-level sorcerer on the ridge. He finds a bunch of archers up there, along with a high-level priest, a high-level wizard, and (eventually but not yet) Cardinal Lovis. Maodeus puts two companies of archers to sleep with his breath weapon. A troop of clerics casts Destruction on him, doing some damage but not destroying him. The remaining three groups of archers shoot at him, and a few even get through. The sorcerer attempts to disintegrate Maodeus, and does a bit of damage. Maodeus disintegrates him in return, and the sorcerer dissolves into dust. Maodeus adds a quickened Mirror Image. 

The archers promptly dispose of the mirror images, and the clerics try Destruction again. Maodeus is starting to feel it, but he uses his sleep breath again and takes out two more companies of archers plus the clerics. Maodeus begins using Crush attacks to coup-de-gras the sleeping units. He’s finished off the clerics and one troop of archers at this point in the battle. 

The Elite Kings’ Guard has been moving up on us, along with the elite archers and the archmage. 

Our army moves up quickly to clash with their foot soldiers. Casualties are quite serious on both sides. The druids at the back summon great storms, including a Storm of Vengeance over our troops… which is bad. About half our troops go down under this assault. The other druids summon treants and rhinoceri. 

The King’s Elite move in to engage us. They look skilled and very well-equipped. And then, of course, there’s the arch-mage Arexis. 

Chuck hits her with Finger of Death and she dies. He follows up with a quickened Fireball on a group of archers and barbarians. Bob and Tiny Steve move up; then Jenny moves up and nails one of the barbarians, but doesn’t take him down. The others move in, taking damage from her as they come, and then swarm her and take her down. 

A great cry of joy sweeps across the battlefield as Jenny hits the ground. 

Durest yanks out a scroll of True Resurrection and brings her back at full strength. Then he sics his shadows on the archers, hoping to make them too weak to pull their bows. Balaam and Ferrous appear as well. Balaam immediately drops a Mass Hold Monster on the barbarians, paralyzing about half of them. Balaam then drops a quickened fireball on the other group of archers. Tiny Steve moves up and flattens one of the archers. Chuck uses a scroll to cast Horrid Wilting on a bunch of archers, then throws a fireball at the other group of archers. 

Bob moves to flank a barbarian, and smacks him. 

Jenny comes back to her feet. 

Barbarian: “Holy SHIT!”

Jenny lashes out with her chain and maims a damaged barbarian; she follows up and kills him. She moves on to the next one, adding substantially to his damage and then killing him with her next attack. She follows through to the guy next to him, injuring him. Then she attacks again, killing him. The barbarians who are still on their feet are falling quickly. 

The archers immediately attack Jenny; these are more skilled than the last batch, and do some damage. Ferrous the iron golem moves in and smacks one of the paralyzed barbarians. Three of them manage to shake off their paralysis, and the one that was still active makes an attack, hitting three times. The shadows attack the archers, but ALL miss. Durest heals himself, Jenny, and Balaam. “You’re welcome, Demon Lord.”

Monday, September 12, 2022


So I realize that last week was, um, pretty quiet around here. That was mainly because, despite last week being theoretically only a four-day week, I was operating with about half a brain and it was a week full of disruptions. I did manage to get some things done -- work and personal both -- but it was just kind of an uphill slog through exhaustion and allergies. Hopefully this week will go more smoothly. Still, a quick State Of Me, mainly for accountability purposes: 

Work: Meh. Lot of interruptions, lot of things waiting on other things. We've had a big disruption at the workplace, and everything is still settling back out from that. Did manage to cross one significant project off my list, and since nobody has called me in a panic I'm assuming that everything I set up worked correctly when they used it this weekend... though I really should check up on that, just to make sure.

Writing: Some actual progress, on both projects. "Both projects?" you might ask. Yes, well, um... I have the one project that I've been working on that I really haven't talked about in anything other than general terms here, which is sort of the next iteration of some of the thoughts and themes that went into the last two (incomplete) projects, but rearranged into something that I'm actually, y'know, making progress on. (Did that make any sense at all? Okay. I have one writing project that I've been working on. Call it the dark fantasy project, I guess.)

So naturally, right in the middle of that, I woke up with a thought about a guy who chases his rogue toddler into the Great Temple and all the way into the Court of Choosing and accidentally gets himself anointed as the Chosen of the Goddess -- and then has to go back home and explain this to his wife. Which, forgive me, I immediately veered off into writing that for a couple of days. However, I've since gone back and written more on the dark fantasy project, so this one -- which I'm referring to as Accidentally Anointed -- apparently hasn't thrown me off the other thing I was working on. Which means... I may be working on both of them, alternating; or I may be saving Accidentally Anointed for when I've finished the dark fantasy story. I guess we'll see. 

Duolingo: No, not this past week... probably week and a half, actually. I was starting to get back to it, but right now it's more of a when-I-have-time project; writing gets priority. 

Exercise: Some. I'd meant to start walking and a bit of light jogging -- this was several weeks ago, mind you -- and while I've gotten a lot better on the walking, I really haven't felt up to the jogging. Hopefully we're getting there, because I think that would be really good for me.

General health and family and all that: I'm having some weird allergy issues, which may be due to some stuff that I'd brought home and have now decided to throw out; I don't think there's any way to get it clean without extreme, and probably expensive, measures. It might be due to the weather changing and the plants deciding to try to kill me, too. And I've been tired, though I am working on sleeping more (and more regularly) and drinking less -- along with the aforementioned exercise. I'm starting to give up on getting the boys down before I go to bed, but Secondborn has been doing a lot better about getting up in the morning so that's less of a defeat than it might be. (Firstborn has been self-regulating for the last year or two; I don't worry about him at this point.) Beautiful Wife is well into teaching her semester and has been seriously stressed out, which isn't doing either of us any good, but I'm doing what I can to help with that. 

The two D&D groups (Firstborn's and Secondborn's) are still going pretty well, though we've had to skip a couple of weekends in both cases. The two have very different play-styles, which is fun to watch - Firstborn's group is very interested in what sorts of things their characters could do, while Secondborn's group is very focused on what their characters are doing right now. And Secondborn's group survived their first major battle, taking down a half-dozen skeletons through a combination of fighting skill, negotiating a last-minute ally, and sheer determination. 

Overall, if we can just stay on some kind of schedule I think it will help everything out. It would be better still if I could build some kind of Day Of Rest into the weekly schedule, but at this point I honestly don't see how that's feasible. Still, we're doing all right. And meanwhile, I'm going to make another cup of tea and start another load of laundry, because some things are never really finished.

Late update: Annnnd now both Beautiful Wife and Secondborn have turned up with some kind of horrible tummy bug, which means that A) we're not doing nearly well enough at masking and distancing, and B) Firstborn and I are probably next. Yeah. I'm calling this one in as a Sick Family What The Fuck day.

Take care of yourselves, my friends, and take care of each other. It's a rough world out there.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Valthor: Family ties (2/?)

When I was twelve years old, my father had me sealed inside a coffin and buried in a shallow grave, to prove that I was truly of his bloodline. 

It was boring. 

I am my father's child. I don't need to breathe. And while I don't share the supernatural strength of some of his children, shoving my way out of a coffin and digging back up to the open air wasn't so very difficult. It was just a matter of finding the right position, so I could provide the proper leverage.

I wondered what my mother would have thought. I wondered if she would have been proud of me. I didn't bother to go looking for him, to tell him I'd survived; I just went back to my room. It was just another day, just another test.

But after that, my father started paying attention to me. He watched. He spoke to me directly -- not often, but when it pleased him. He moved me out of the nurseries and gave me my own room. And when I stabbed my half-sister in the back and shoved her out into the corridor to face the consequences of her actions, he didn't so much as blink. 

But several weeks later, he announced that he was banishing us all: all his children, born or turned or raised. We would go out into the world, and we would make what we could of ourselves, and whomever he judged most successful would inherit the Crown of Shadow -- and, presumably, the Shadow Kingdom and all that that entailed.

I didn't want the crown. 

But if any of my siblings claimed it, there would be a price on my head. So I went out, taking with me the skills that had kept me alive, and I joined a company of mercenaries. If I wasn't the most successful, then I'd have to be the first to disappear. It would have to be one or the other.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Evil!Party: Sol Povos tries to kill us

 The military situation is now hopelessly muddled. We’re getting ready to head up to Nameless to get the bones of Ezra Cardon to build  a reliquary for Durest. Before we can head out, the eastern army crosses the river and lays siege to Wellfort. While we’re on our way, a batch of Solari and troops move to intercept us. Thus did the Battle for Solstar take place just outside of Springhollow instead. 

On our side, we have bugbears and ogres (the remains of Maodeus’ army), and Durest’s ridiculous collection of undead – including the skeleton of Jorgumand, which we’re now calling Goldilocks. On the other side we have troops and archers, some groups of clerics and paladins, plus some actual Solari heroes: a sorcerer, an angel, and a cleric. There’s also a group of rogues who were hoping to surprise us and failed. 

Balaam turns to the nearest group of rogues, and drops a fireball and then a quickened fireball on them, wiping them out. The wraiths start moving forward at Durest’s command, whisping through the bugbears. The sorcerers on the other side drop a volley of fireballs on Jenny (who was explaining about her past glories) doing a lot of damage but failing to kill her. The Solari Hero sorcerer tries to disintegrate her, and also fails. Goldilocks falls on the other group of rogues, killing two and leaving three to be killed later. Various of our troops start to move up; the Angel casts Righteous Might on itself. Ferrous stays put – chuck has plans for him. The paladins move up through their troops, using the gap that Maodeus made in their lines. The others use longbows to take out some of our ogres. 

Arrows rain down unexpectedly from a nearby ridge, hitting Durest for a bit of damage. This is followed by a set of Flame Strikes on our front lines, wiping out a bunch of bugbears and one squad of ogres. The cleric, Cardinal somebody, drops a Sunburst on us, blinding Durest; Durest cures his blindness and heals Jenny. Balaam drops a Meteor Swarm on Nehru the Solar (basically an angel), overcoming his spell resistance and damaging all the Solari who are huddled around him as well. The undead continue to advance. 

A pile of Solari teleport in behind us, and more appear with some druids on a nearby ridge. Hierophant Chossic has arrived with a batch of elementals. Another group of archers teleport into view – these were the ones on the ridge. This is definitely a full-on ambush. 

The sorcerers drop another round of maximized fireballs on Jenny. Someone on the ridge tries to hit Maodeus with a meteor swarm, failing to get past his spell resistance but wiping out two companies of my wraiths. Goldilocks finishes the rogues, and Chuck decides that this ambush shit is a great idea and teleports himself, Balaam, and Ferrous behind the Angel and his buddies. He immediately drops a quickened fireball on a bunch of clerics and sorcerers. Nehru casts Divine Power on himself, and unleashes his dancing greatsword, which takes a chunk out of Chuck. Cardinal Lovis attempts to turn undead, hoping to drive off Chuck, but fails. The Solari clerics also make the attempt, and also fail. Balaam turns on Nehru and hits him with Power Word Stun, then drops another quickened Fireball on a bunch of sorcerers and a cleric, killing two of the sorcerers. The sorcerers promptly cast Protection from Energy on themselves. Chuck uses Dimension Door to get away from the sword, then drops a quickened Fireball on the angel but fails to get through his spell resistance. Ferrous takes out another cleric. One of the other clerics heals himself. The remaining clerics cast Searing Light at Balaam, doing a bit of damage. Balaam attacks the angel and takes it down. 

The sorcerers try to cast scorching ray on Chuck; half of them fail to get past spell resistance, and the rest is absorbed by Protection from Energy. The Solari sorcerer decides to follow that up with a Meteor Swarm, and shoves through Chuck’s spell resistance and burns through the rest of his Protection from Fire. Chuck restores his Protection from Fire, and then casts a quickened fireball on the Solari Sorcerer along with two other sorcerers and a cleric. The Solari survives, the sorcerers do not; the cleric is injured. 

The Cardinal finally manages to turn Chuck, who is forced to flee. The clerics throw Flame Strikes after him. Balaam takes out the Solari Sorcerer and does a Mass Hold to paralyze everybody else, except for the cleric and one sorcerer who escapes. The remaining sorcerer throws a freezing sphere at Chuck, who takes some cold damage despite his resistance; he’s very close to being dispersed into mist. 

Chuck throws a quickened fireball over his shoulder and teleports out. “Durest!” Balaam and Ferrous remain behind to mop up. The angel is regenerating and is due to recover from being stunned any time now. Cardinal Lovis decides to heal himself. Balaam finishes the angel and drops another quickened fireball on a bunch of clerics and sorcerers. The cardinal manages to blind Balaam. Balaam unblinds himself and drops another quickened fireball, clearing out a bunch of lesser clerics and burning the cardinal as well. The one remaining mobile sorcerer grabs the Cardinal and teleports them both out. 

Balaam and Ferrous kill the remaining sorcerers and cleric, and we return to the battle at large. We will return to loot the angel and the sorcerer later. 

The barbarians charge towards Jenny and Burest. A moment later, Archmage Arexis teleports in with the elite troops, from the King’s personal guard, disciples of the king’s own bodyguard. Flanking them are two sets of elite Solari archers. Jenny, Durest, Bob the frost Giant Skeleton, and Tiny Steve the skeletal titan turn to take them on. 

We'll pick up there next time.

Friday, September 2, 2022

Valthor: Unexpected Visitors (1/?)

Valthor snapped awake in the darkness of his stone-walled room in the undercrypts of his father's mansion, and yanked the hidden dagger from the headboard of his bed. He slid out from under the covers, set his feet silently on the floor, and glided around the bed, placing himself beside the doorway to his study. He waited there, watching and listening, knowing that someone was in the room beyond. 

After a moment he slipped through the door. His study was just as he'd left it, but there was a figure just inside the outer door, white-haired and robed. Mabda? Yes, almost certainly. He slipped up behind the wizard, who was doing her best to remain silent, then stabbed her in the kidney and twisted. She gasped, and he yanked open the door. 

Fire scorched him, but then of course it would; Mabda's reaction to injury was a reflex so well-honed that it bordered on a natural law. He shoved her out into the hall, heedless of having been burned. A low growl sounded, built, filled the corridor outside. Mabda had raised her hand to punish Valthor, but she flinched away from that sound and turned to face its source.

Valthor swung the door shut, latched it, and then slid the bar into place. On the far side of the door, the growling grew louder and then the screaming began. Valthor shook his head and went back into his bedroom, wiping the dagger's blade with a cloth and then oiling it again. Then he placed it back in his headboard, crawled back under the covers, and slept. 

Night would come again all too soon, and he'd need to be rested. And sleep was restorative; it would help heal his burns, as well as restore his energy and his strength.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Horoscopes: Unlikely Choices edition

They are coming, and the world will fall. To help you survive, you may have the book, the sword, or the cloak. Make your choice, and make your stand.

Three paths lie before you, to carry you through the end of the world: that of fur, fangs, and sharpened senses; that of scales, spines, and venom; and that of wings, talons, and the sharpest of eyes. Everything you know will fall, but choose wisely and you might not fall with it.

The coming disaster carries gifts as well as tragedies. Will you face it with unmatched strength of body? Will you provide health and healing for others? Or will you keep yourself safe with incomparable fleetness of foot? Choose.

The end of the world will drive you underground, to shelter in the darkness and make your new life there. Will you become a thing of many legs, of venom and webbing, clinging and trapping your prey? Or will you burrow through the earth, lean and narrow and twisting, devouring anything before you and leaving naught but empty tunnel behind you? Or will you become a scuttling thing of dark fur, gnawing teeth, and clever paws, taking your opportunities where you find them?

The world turns strange, and civilization falls by minutes and inches. Will you join the caravan, and hope to find some place of safety beyond the vast desert? Take shelter on an airship and try to wait above the chaos, only returning to the ground to scavenge? Or will you step onto the ships, and hope the trackless oceans bring you relief instead of ruin? The time to decide is now.

Darkness falls, and the great beasts rise again. Will you take up arms and try to fight them? Or follow the ways of running and hiding and try to avoid them? Or will you go to them, and offer your worship and assistance in exchange for a promise of safety? All paths have their risks.

The world is dying, and you must lead the people around you to safety. Will you take them to the city in the mountains, where something of civilization and technology yet remains? Will you lead them to the fertile valley, poorly defended but rich in food? Or will you make of them wandering scavengers, scouring the ruins and the small pockets of survivors for whatever you need? In some worlds there are no good choices.

The spear, the shield, or the mark of the great beast: each of you must choose one of these. The storm winds come, and all that you know will be swept away. Which will best carry you through? Which will best serve your friends?

The cities grow gradually emptier, as does the countryside. There are stories of strange beasts and stranger portents. In the twilight of their power, the gods offer you choice of gifts to face the end of this Age and the beginning of the next. You may call up food for your people. You may borrow their strength to increase your own. You may be a source of warmth and light for them. Which will you do? The gods await your answer.

A plague falls across the land, along with floods and droughts. The living are sorely vexed, and even the dead no longer lie easy in their graves. You must make the sacred pilgrimage, but to whom? The great worm, which coils about the heart of the world? The Father Of All Dragons, who lairs at the heart of the Endless Forest? Or the Steel Firebringer, who is said to dwell above the sky itself? You are chosen; no one can decide for you. The answer must be yours.

You can always choose, but of course it doesn't matter. The gun? The sword? The fist? None will prevail in the face of this. Find another way... if you can.

Disaster threatens, and the world calls again for a champion. You must be remade, prepared to face the Enemy. Which of the ancient enhancements of your people will you choose: the razor-edges and flight of the Steel Wings? The many tricks and surprises of the Clockwork Arm? Or the unexpected protection of the Metal Skin? Our future depends on you.