Monday, October 31, 2022


It's Halloween at last! Time to become the monster you always knew you could be, prowl the night, and be rewarded with candy. Spread your wings, flex your claws, ripple your spines, and step into the night. The curtain draws thin and the time to show our true selves has arrived.

Whatever you do, don't cut yourself. This is not the night for that. Nobody wants to get eaten by hungry ghosts.

The House, Part Five

"I can't find any way in," said Chris, staring at the tower. "That's what's making me crazy about all this."

"Why does that bother you?" asked Rebecca. 

"Because... well... they keep intruding on us." Chris searched her face, looking for some answering desire, some spark of agreement. "I'd like to walk in on them for a change, see how they live."

"Chris," said Rebecca. "You saw Rachel. You know that might be a really bad idea."

Chris sighed. "I suppose."

"Let them be," she said. "They're not doing us or anyone else any harm -- not that we know of. They just haunt the house, and it seems like they need someone to own it. Or they like it better when someone does, anyway."

"And that's us," said Chris.

"That's us."

Chris looked the tower over one more time. "I guess I can live with that," he said. 

He started to turn away, but a sudden spark of light caught his eye. There was an open door -- a section of brick had swung out from the tower. Standing in the doorway, lit from behind, was the man in the heavy coat, with his beard and his hood and his glasses. "Do you really want to see?" he asked. 

"As much as we can stand," Rebecca said carefully. "No more. I know it isn't always... safe."

The man nodded.  "This much will be," he said. "You have my word."

Rebecca glanced at Chris, who looked back at her and reached for her hand. "Ridiculously haunted," he said. 

"Ridiculously," she echoed, and pulled him forward. 

They stepped inside, and the tower closed behind them.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

The House, Part Four

Chis flinched awake in the middle of the night, cold to his bones with the certainty that something was in the room with them. He waited for a moment, then threw himself upright, shoving out from under the covers so suddenly that he staggered. He turned back, looking through the darkness...

There was soft, brushing sound and a shadow was flowing out through the doorway, close to the floor and almost invisible in the darkness. It narrowed as it went, and then was gone. For a moment, he considered chasing after it, but in the event he couldn't move. He was frozen in place: by shock, by fear, or just by not being as fully awake as he suddenly felt. His mind wanted to move, but his body wasn't ready. 

Had the door been open like that? He thought it had. This was their house, after all. They should be safe in it.

He crossed the room, closed the door, and locked it. 

Even so, it took him a long time to go back to sleep.

* * *

He was sitting at his desk, looking over investments on his computer when heard the soft creak of the mirror opening at the bottom of the stairs. Someone knocked gently against the wooden wall of the staircase, and then called up: "Excuse me? Are you the new owner?"

Chris was out from behind the antique desk and down the stairs in a heartbeat, pressing forward as a worn-looking man stepped back. 

The intruder was dressed in a rumpled, antique suit: dark slacks, neatly-polished shoes, a dark jacket over a white shirt with a collar that reached across his throat to button on one side. His right hand was bare, but his left hand was covered with a sort of shapeless mitten. "Owner?" he asked, deferentially. 

"What is it you want?" asked Chris, studying him. He didn't look like a ghost; he looked like solid flesh. "What are you doing here?"

"My wife asked me to apologize--" The man swallowed. "--for last night. She forgot we weren't sleeping in that room anymore, and she was afraid she..." 

After a brief pause, Chris asked: "Scared the shit out of me?"

The man nodded dolefully. "Just so." 

Chris reached out, more curious than anything, and grasped the man's shoulder. "Who are you people?"

"We come with the house," the man answered, and his arm shivered under Chris's hand, moving all on its own, and hissed. 

Chris snatched his hand back as if it had been burned, and started to open his mouth before he realized that the hissing was coming from the hand hidden beneath the shapeless mitten. He closed his mouth, swallowed, and then asked, "You were sleeping in our -- in that room?"

The man nodded. "We get restless, sometimes. We wouldn't leave the grounds, of course, but a little chance to step out..." He shook his head. "Well. Hard to resist."

Chris examined and discarded a half-dozen responses, then asked: "So why didn't you say anything?"

"It's your house," said the man. "The two of you are the owners. We thought you'd stay in the master bedroom, but if you prefer that one--" 

"Wait," said Chris. "That's not the master bedroom?"

"Oh," said the man. "Oh my, no. Do you... do you want me to show you the master bedroom?" 

Chris' mind lurched, and he had a powerful sense that reality was spinning away from him. "Show me," he said, trying to assert some sense of control. 

So the man did.

* * *

"There's another secret door?" asked Rebecca. 

"Of course there is," said Chris. "Look at this house. Look at the guy who built it. We could live in this place for years, for decades, and not know all its secrets." He paused. "Do you want to see the real master bedroom?"

"Of course," said Rebecca. She'd signed on for a ridiculously haunted house; she wasn't about to back down now.

* * *

It wasn't a bedroom; it was a suite. It was a closet, in the Shakespearean sense. The false wall on the second floor opened onto a brief antechamber, with a larger room beyond it set with shelves and a writing desk and a gaming table; off to the left was the master bedroom, with a pair of closets large enough to qualify as rooms themselves, while off to the right was the master bathroom, rich and luxurious.

"Did the realtor know about this?" asked Rebecca, looking at the sheer size of the sunken marble bathtub. "If she did, they didn't charge us nearly enough." 

"She probably didn't," Chris said. "I doubt most realtors wander through potential sales properties trying to turn porphyry busts in their wall niches."

"Well, no, probably not." Rebecca looked around, grinning helplessly. 

"So are you okay with us moving in here? And maybe leaving the other bedroom to... um... the butler? And his wife?"

"The one you said slithered out of our room in the middle of the night last night?"

Chris nodded slowly. "He said they wouldn't come in here -- any of them. Sacrosanct, he said."

"That..." Rebecca swallowed. "That sounds pretty good. Especially if they won't stay out of the rest of the house."

Having spent the better part of three days thinking about how to evict unwanted guests that he couldn't even find, Chris said: "I don't think we could really drive them out. They know this place better than we do. And we did kind of ask for this."

"So we make peace with the ghosts?" asked Rebecca. 

"They aren't ghosts, exactly," Chris said. His fingers still remembered the feel of strange flesh beneath a linen jacket. "But they aren't exactly people, either. That's why none of them can own the house, I think."

"All right." Rebecca nodded firmly. "I mean, they've been decent enough, in their way."

"Yeah," said Chris. "The next time one of them turns up, we can let them know."

* * *

"So does this mean we can be friends?" asked the little girl's voice from behind them. 

Rebecca reached her left hand out and grabbed the back of Chris' neck to keep him from looking around. With her right hand, she found the remote and paused the movie. "Hello, Rachel," she said. 

"Hello," said Rachel. 

"I don't know," said Rebecca, and Chris tipped his head in a subliminal nod. "I don't know if I can be friends with somebody I can't look at."

"Well... all right," said the child's voice. "Let me put myself together." There was a brief pause, and a sense of the air pressure changing. Then the voice said, "It should be okay now." 

Rebecca turned her head, looking back over he shoulder. Rachel sat there, a little girl who was very well put together, with only a hint of darkness leaking from the cracks. Her skin was porcelain, her eyes were flat black ovals, and she was covered with a grayish hint of a dress; but she was still a little girl. "It's good to meet you, Rachel. Properly, I mean."

"Does that mean I can stay?" the girl asked. 

Chris exchanged a glance with Rebecca, and Rebecca nodded. "If you like," Chris said. "Sit and watch with us, but try not to interrupt. And if you feel like you have to come apart, move behind us so we don't see, okay?"

"Okay," said the girl, sounding excited. 

Rebecca turned her head forward and started the movie again.

Part Five

Saturday, October 29, 2022

The House, Part Three

Rebecca was trying to work on an advertising layout when she heard a soft giggle behind her. "Is someone there?" she called, so wrapped up in her work that for a moment it didn't really register that she was supposed to be the only one in the house. Chris had gone into town to run some errands, leaving her free to focus on the project. 

A child's voice said, "Mama said we shouldn't talk to you, but I think it'll be okay as long as you don't look at us."

Rebecca's concentration suddenly broke, and she sat back in her chair. "What happens if I look at you?" she asked warily.

"Maybe nothing,  said the child's voice. "Or maybe you'll get very, very scared. So scared that you die."

"Ah," said Rebecca, and shivered. "Well, we don't want that."

"No, we certainly don't," said a new voice, and Rebecca startled but managed not to turn around. This voice was older, a woman's voice. "Do we, Rachel?"

The child's voice sounded abashed: "No, Mama."

"Run along then," said the woman's voice, "and leave the owners be." There was a brief pause, a shift of attention, and the the woman's voice added: "Please forgive us. I tell her not to disturb you, but Rachel is young and she doesn't listen. And we so seldom have new people here; she's very curious."

"It's okay," said Rebecca, though every hair on her body was standing on end. 

A moment later the room was empty except for herself, but it was nearly an hour before Rebecca could bring herself to start working again. It had taken a cup of chamomile, a walk around the outside of the house, and finally some meditation and deep breathing to get her settled back down. She kept worrying that she'd look around at the wrong moment, and see a child who might scare her all the way to death.

And she'd have to warn Chris, so it didn't happen to him either.

* * *

"Rachel?" Chris asked, frowning. 

"The ghosts have names," Rebecca said, and took a sip of her whiskey. A bowl of niku udon sat on the table in front of her, almost untouched. She stirred it absently, then sipped more whiskey. 

The dining room table had come with the house, and it was large enough to make eating awkward; the two of them were crowded down at one end, leaving the rest of it empty. It was made of some heavy, dark wood, and something about its weight and age suggested that it might predate the United States as a country. Despite that, it had taken only a little polish to restore. The chairs were a matched set with the table, elaborately carved and every bit as imposing.

"What if they aren't ghosts?" asked Chris. "What if there are people living in some hidden part of the house, and they're just fucking with us?" The image of a man turning to smoke and drifting away rose up behind his eyes, but he angrily shook it off. 

Rebecca shrugged. "Even if they're not ghosts, I don't think they're people."

Chris considered that as he ate. He'd gone with the tonkotsu ramen, spicy, to help help clear sinuses that were itching with late-autumn allergies. He turned to smoke and blew away... "Maybe," he grudged. 

After dinner he stalked back into the depths of the house, leaving Rebecca to finish her udon and clean the table. It wouldn't take her long, he reasoned, not for a takeout meal, and he wanted to find where these intruders were coming from, if he could.

He tried the two secret doors first. One was in the library, and opened by swinging out an entire section of shelves -- smoothly enough that none of the ancient books fell from their places. It was a ridiculously theatrical effect, one Chris had yet to tire of. The room beyond was a sort of enclosed study, with bookshelves of its own. He checked around the walls, looking for seams and tugging randomly at books, but no further doors opened. 

The second secret door was an antique mirror at the back of a long hall; he felt for the catch behind the ornate iron frame, and it swung out from its place on the wall. The staircase beyond led up to the room he'd taken for his office, a tower room with three small, stained-glass windows and another set of stairs leading up to a turret. The trap-door to the turret could be closed with a metal latch, and Chris did so; if anyone was coming across the roof, they wouldn't be able to enter here.

He continued his search, tugging at sconces and lifting paintings to look behind them, but found nothing. When he finally climbed into bed at midnight, he was frustrated to the point of foolishness.

Part Four

Friday, October 28, 2022

The House, Part two

An afternoon spent exploring, a brief talk with the real estate agent, a much longer session of getting everything settled with the bank, and the house was theirs. It was a perfectly ridiculous piece of property, and they both loved it. Now that they owned the place, their apartment seemed smotheringly small; so they packed their things and hired movers and abandoned it. Their contract wouldn't expire for another two months, but Chris was a day trader; they could afford that. 

"Where's the dust?" asked Rebecca, looking over the second-floor bedroom that they'd decided to make their own. There were dust covers on most of the furniture, but this room was clean. So was the kitchen, and the bathroom. 

"I don't know," answered Chris, lifting the covers on the bed and giving them a sniff. They smelled clean, not musty. "Maybe the agency sent over a very selective cleaning team and forgot to mention it?" It didn't seem likely. "Or maybe the ghosts are trying to make us welcome?"

"I mean..." Rebecca swallowed. "Ghosts who help with the housecleaning are the best kind of ghosts." 

Neither of them could really complain about things being unexpectedly clean. Still, it was weird; weird, and just a little bit disturbing.

* * *

It was early evening and they were unpacking the kitchen when Rebecca shrieked. Chris dropped a metal pan, caught it briefly on his foot before it slid away across the tile floor, and then turned to look at his wife. "What--?"

She was looking out the window. "There's somebody in the back yard." 

Chris could see it too, now: a silhouette against the setting sun, one hand lowering as smoke rose from the stone pillar that stood out near the edge of the ramshackle garden. 

He considered briefly, then pulled a kitchen knife from the block and tucked it into the back of his belt. A moment later he was out the door, striding across the cobbled stone porch, approaching... 

The figure beside the pillar was dressed in a long, heavy coat, loose pants, and heavy boots. Between the thick beard, the sunglasses, and the hood of the coat, his features were virtually indistinguishable. There was a shallow metal bowl on top of the pillar -- which wasn't properly a pillar; more of a narrow pyramid with the top cut off. There were flickers of fire in the bowl, and smoke rising up from it.

"Hey!" Chris called sharply. "What are you doing in my back yard?"

The man remained still. "Burning the bones," he said, as if this were the most ordinary thing in the world. His voice was a soft baritone, his tone perfectly casual.

Chris glanced at the bowl again, and realized that no, that didn't look like bits of wood in there. "I mean, why are you here at all? This is my house, man."

"Ah," said the figure. "You're the new owner." He turned slightly, started to extend a hand. "We come with the house, you see." Then he dissolved into smoke and blew away.

The shock of it caused Chris to step back. Then he stopped, looking around. It was a neat trick, but the guy had to have gone somewhere... 

Smoke was no longer rising from the bowl. Whatever had been burning there a moment earlier, wood or bone, was gone. Chris took another step back, and then another, trying to look every direction at once. A moment later he was back in the kitchen, telling himself that this was because he needed to make sure Rebecca was safe. 

Part Three

Thursday, October 27, 2022

The House, Part One

"The house was built around 1830 by an eccentric British architect named Edward Ashe. The tower is older; it shows up on the records as part of the property, but there's no record of when it was built. Ashe built his home as an expansion for the tower."

"And you think we should buy this place because...?"

"Well, I mean, for starters just look at it."

"I am looking at it. It looks the Addams Family estate and the Munsters Mansion had a baby. Is that a belfry back there?"

"Bats and all." Chris smiled, looking at Rebecca. "Okay, listen. It's out here in the middle of nowhere, but it still has running water and electricity, and we could get Cable installed. That means Internet, and that means we could work remotely. It needs a little maintenance, but the price is low enough that we could afford to have it fixed up."

Rebecca studied the place a moment longer. "Is it haunted? It looks like it should be haunted." She paused. "I'll be disappointed if it's not actually haunted."

"Ridiculously haunted," Chris assured her. He was tall and broad-shouldered and tanned, casually dressed in a polo shirt and slacks. "According to the real estate agent, even the ghosts have ghosts. Plus, it has two secret passages -- that they know of -- and there's supposed to be an entire suite of rooms hidden underground."

Rebecca -- willowy and blond and only a little shorter than her husband -- looked at the house again and grinned. "So you came all the way out here and toured this without me?" 

Chris shrugged. "I wanted to make sure it lived up to its advertising." He looked at his wife. "So, are you in?" 

She nodded. "All right. I'm in. I mean, let's get it inspected first, but if it seems solid then hell yes, let's buy the ridiculously haunted house."

"There is one more thing," Chris said easily. "It's fully furnished. I mean, we could get rid of the stuff in some of the rooms -- we might have to, to set up offices and a workout room -- but it's not just a lot of empty space that we'd have to spend money to fill."

"Oh my God," said Rebecca. "Do you have a key? I have to see this."

"As it happens," said Chris, "I do."

Part Two

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Challenge: Ghost Story

(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: Scariest real-life ghost story

I don't... actually really have one of these. Not as such. I've had sleep paralysis, of the Shadow People variety, but really only once; and of course as a kid I could scare myself silly thinking about the nightmare things that could be in my room at night. But that's really it. 

So the closest thing to a ghost story I've got is an incident I like to call... 


This actually happened. This is described pretty much exactly the way it actually happened. So follow the link, and share the experience...

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Solari: The Demon-Haunted City

Cardinal Cloverfield awakens Tavros, because the Cardinal has nobody else to confess to. He’s describing his role in the battle, and that horrible moment when he shot that old man in the face. Tavros comforts him as best he can.

We still have the airship crystal. 

We still don’t know the true name of the God(ess) Vecna, and the soul of the actual Vecna (who might know) we can’t find. This is the significant missing piece we’re still, um, missing. 

We woke up in the temple of Helios in Sol Povos, which is currently kind of a ghost town. The city outside is in ruins. An ominous cloud hangs over the city, and the sky us filled with flying demons. There’s a worm-like thing swimming through the clouds, thunder-worms, apparently they sometimes come down and bad thing happen -- especially when people try to use transportation magics (teleport, etc.). The elemental temple is down from four towers to three; it’s overrun with undead, and it's now the home of Hierophant Durest Inglorian. The giant skeletal dragon is part of its guardianship. 

Cloverfield points all this out by way of explaining that we need to get the hell out of town. Which… he’s not wrong. What’s going on here is beyond our current ability to fix. 

We head for the safehouse where we’re supposed to meet the Silver Fox. Unfortunately, the place is surrounded by babaus, who are trying to climb over an impromptu barricade. Elvish archers are firing down from the roof, and human fighters are defending at ground level. Tavros sighs. “Of course they’re under siege.”

Vendril points out that we need to save the people in the building before we abandon the city. Tavros already has his sword out and is walking towards the demons. 

Leira casts Freezing Sphere on two babau who happen to be next to each other. They’re resistant to cold, but it still hurts them. The demons step up their efforts to get into the house, and telepathically shout at Leira, “The others are coming for you!”

Marshall casts Holy Aura, then turns into a massive snake. He uses a quickened Dismiss to send one of the demons back to the abyss. The elven archers finish off the one beside it. 

Then some Vrocks land nearby. They’re going to be more of a problem. They’re also behind Leira, and Tavros reverses direction to protect her. Leira drops a fireball on them, doing a fair amount of damage despite their fire resistance. Clovis has rushed to the adjacent building and opened the door. Leira drops a second quickened fireball to add to their pain.

One of the babaus forces his way in through a window. Also now some retriever demons have approached. Marshall is irritated at having to do all this work after coming back from the dead, but he uses his wings of flying to get over to the demons, then dismisses two of them. He finishes by popping Holy Aura. 

Clovis emerges onto the second floor just in time to see the giant snake outside. He tags the remaining demon with two Searing Lights, taking him out. Four vrocks start dancing; the other four surround Tavros, though their spores don’t affect him. One of them does manage to hit him with a claw, but… Tavros turns around and murders two of the Vrocks. 

Leira is wiping things out, but the Retrievers are moving in. One of them tries to eye-beam Marshall, and the other three eye-beam Tavros, who takes a shit-ton of damage from that. They move in on him. 

Marshall spreads out his wings to make a bridge, and Vendril and his crew have killed off the Babau that got inside. Clovis, unfortunately, has no idea what Marshall is doing. He jumps across above Marshall and makes it into the house. 

Two vrocks attack Tavros but miss. He kills them both, then turns to one of the retrievers and slices into it. Leira finishes it off with a Magic Missile, then follows up with a Freezing Sphere, tagging another one. It shivers, but remains upright. One of the retrievers turns and catches Leira with a cold ray; it attacks, and hits her with a claw and a bite. Leira remains upright. 

Marshall turns and dismisses the retriever who was attacking Leira. Tavros attacks the one remaining near him, damaging it; Leira finishes it off. Marshall moves onto the second floor and resumes human form. “Let’s clear out the ground floor. We can walk out the front door.”

Vendril kills off the last of the Babau, and we center on the house. We’ve gotten everyone together, we’re ready to go, and three Glabrezu show up with a Marilith in tow. This is… not ideal. Tavros throws a barrel out of the way and runs into the house. Leira disintegrates one of the glabrezu, doing a huge amount of damages to it, and then follows Tavros into the house. The Marilith casts Blade Barrier around the perimeter of the house, leaving only the front open.

Are our heroes trapped? Will Goodness and Decency prevail? And are there demons all over the place because we left the Hand and the Sword with Asmodeus?

Monday, October 24, 2022

Much-needed Weekend

This past weekend did not arrive a minute too soon, honestly. Fortunately, it did give me room to rest. And there was a lot of D&D: the game for Secondborn and his friends (and now one of those friends' dads) on Saturday morning; the game I'm playing in on Saturday evening; and another campaign that I'm playing in on Sunday evening (the one with Ruin, Tavros, and Durest). Halloween draws ever closer, and our yard is decorated with skeletal flamingos and zombie gnomes. I dyed my hair again, but not to anything exciting; the gray and silver were starting to show, and... um...

Okay so since I've been working from home I basically quit shaving. I now have a full (if not terribly thick) beard. And if I don't keep it dark, it starts looking like that horrible gray thing that occupies Ted Cruz's face, and if there's one I thing I don't want, it's to resemble Ted Cruz in any way. Blech. So on the one hand, I'm satisfying my curiosity about how I'd look with a beard; on the other hand... if it doesn't look better when it grows out a bit farther, it's definitely going away again. 

Got some basic housework done on Sunday -- dishes and laundry, mostly, but that's what needed the work. And a bit of writing Sunday afternoon, on the project that I'm weirdly still A) working on, and B) not stuck. Finding time and energy to work on it is a challenge, but the more I get sleep and exercise and decent food, the easier that gets. It'd be nice if the Universe would ease back and quit interrupting my schedule, but we do the best we can. 

My current craft project is putting together the Patch Jacket Mark II. Patch Jacket Mark I was something I did in High School, when I desperately wanted to be one of the Lost Boys. Patch Jacket Mark II is... well, I'd thought about reworking the original patch jacket, but un-sewing those patches would be a hell of a lot of work, and I kind of feel bad about it -- even if the rebel flag and the cannabis patch really aren't things I'm comfortable wearing anymore. (Nothing against weed, mind you, it's just that I essentially never partake.) So: a new jacket, and a new set of patches, and off we go. I'll probably post pictures as I go along on it. 

And that's pretty much where I'm at. How are the rest of you doing, gentle readers? Any major news you'd like to share?

Friday, October 21, 2022

Tavros: Guilty Awakening

Tavros gave Leira a final hug, then crossed the stone hall and stepped into the tiny cell where Cardinal Clovis said he could stay. It felt strange to be tired after forcing his way out of his own sarcophagus -- apparently he'd had two years to rest? -- but their return had been a lot. Across the hall in his own small room, Marshall Mercy was already snoring. Tavros shook his head and closed his door.

My mother is dead. That had been among the first things that Cardinal Clovis had told him, when the young cleric had come down into the crypts to investigate the sound of sobbing. The sobbing, of course, had been the result of Leira waking up in a coffin, in an unfamiliar place, following their flight from the Abyss. The girl was capable of leveling a small city, but waking up in a dusty dress and trapped in an unfamiliar space was enough to overwhelm her. And Marshall, while less voluble about it, had once again returned to life to find that his beloved snakes were dead.

Plenty of reason for the three of us to be upset. His mother was dead and he might well be the rightful king of Sol Povos, for all that a barbarian bear-woman sat on the throne at present. Cardinal Clovis had shared a bit of sacramental wine with them after sharing his news, but it hadn't been nearly enough. Gates had opened and demons had overrun Sol Povos; Duke Lamont, whose reputation might be described as inhumane if one were feeling charitable, apparently now ruled the north, and the Elvish king was missing. A few of the border cities were still reasonably safe, including his home of Caristhium. 

Caristhium, where his mother had been dragged from her estate by elvish rebels and summarily hanged, her body coated in tar and left hanging from the walls as a warning. Caristhium, where his closest friends were hopefully safe in the Temple of Amun. Caristhium, where they might be able to recover and regroup, if they could reach the place. 

Cardinal Clovis Cloverfield had said that there was a man, the Silver Fox, who could get them there. Cardinal Clovis Cloverfield had also hinted that he might like to come with them, despite being the highest-ranking priest remaining in the Temple of Helios. Tavros glanced at the sun-shaped symbol of Helios on the wall above the bed, and thought: Got your ass handed to you, didn't you, old man? 

The emblem gleamed briefly; it might have been a trick of the light, or it might have been something else. Well, he didn't mean to insult any god whose temple was sheltering him. Hold tight, he thought. We'll do what we can for your worshipers. He sat down on the edge of the narrow bed, drew a deep breath and then let it out. 

Where the hell are the others? Martini, Ruin, and Geddy had all gone through the portal with him. He'd expected them to all come out together. But then, he hadn't really expected to wake up in his own resurrected corpse; he hadn't truly considered that he might be dead in this world. Still, the elves had entered Fanaxia through a portal, rather than the near-death spell that the Solari of Sol Povos had cobbled together. Maybe their return had been correspondingly gentler? He hoped so, but his thoughts were still dark with despair. 

How much of this is my fault? They'd known that time was passing differently in Fanaxia, known that every day they spent there was many days here at home. And yet they'd remained, trying to set things right before they departed. And maybe -- fond hope -- maybe they had. 

But we were gone two years! If I'd been here, perhaps I could have prevented my mother's death. Perhaps I could have prevented the city from being overrun, the king from being captured or killed, the demons from overrunning everything. 

He didn't know. He might never know. And maybe it didn't matter. Things were as they were, and maybe all that mattered was how they dealt with them now. The equipment they'd had in Fanaxia seemed to have come back through with them, which suggested that the line between resurrection here and passing through the portal in the Abyss hadn't been a clean division. They could make an attempt to set things to right, especially if this Silver Fox could get them to a place where they could rest, and plan, and try to locate the others. It would be harder without Azrael and Alexej, but he thought it could still be done. 

He hadn't lost faith. 

Tomorrow Cardinal Clovis would tell them how to meet with the Silver Fox and get clear of the Capital. They would head for Caristhium, and with luck he would find Anica and Tarric and Aesa there. With a bit more luck, he could give his mother a proper burial -- or arrange a resurrection. And after that... We find out what's really going on, and we set it right.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Missed Connections: A Whisper of Warning

You were the very new tenant in the very old house. I was the whisper beneath the leaves in the far left corner of the back yard. You heard me, I know you did. You heard me, but you didn't listen. You invited him into the house. 

You shouldn't have done that. He'll turn on you, try to control you, just like he did me. When that happens -- and it will -- let him chase you out here. Lead him back to this exact spot. 

I will... take it from there. 

And he will never bother you again.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Challenge: Fantasy Animal

(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: fantasy animal you wish was real

Okay, I'm cheating on this one a bit... but it's the middle of October, it's time to be spooky, and there is essentially no point in my life in which I haven't wanted to be some sort of werebeast. I tend to like feline conceptualizations more than canine (or stories in which the nature of the beast is intentionally vague; e.g. A.C. Delauncey's The Rouje Kith, which has serious If V.C. Andrews Wrote A Werebeast Book vibes), but I'm not too picky. 

Heck, if I were a werewolf I could be my own best friend. For that matter, one of my D&D characters is a were-raven, and he's awesome. Still, if anything out there is in the mood to grant wishes, I'd make a very fine were-cougar.

So yeah, I wish lycanthropes were real because I'd very much like to be one.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Evil!Party: The Fall of Solstar

We have returned to take down the giant primal earth elemental. It is standing there, waiting for us, and we spread out around it to try to maximize our chances. Chuck is relying on Acid Fog, Jenny is smashing at it with her spiked chain, and Balaam, Ferrous, and Bob stay behind the thing so that Jenny has flanking. We’re essentially fighting a mountain that’s resistant to magic, so our strategy is basically… Jenny. Durest’s job is mostly to keep her alive, though he’s trying to hit it with other things as well.

Jenny finally takes down the elemental. 

We have improved. 

We head back to town and spend a portion of our considerable party funds buying the sorts of magical books that make us stronger, tougher, smarter, wiser… and then spending some time to benefit from them. 

In January we approach Sol Star itself. A figure emerges from the castle and approaches the Parley point. The man introduces himself as Gaiton, the King’s Constable. The King proposes that control of Sol Star be determined by a battle between three of their champions and three of our champions. 


Us: "Oh, it is so fucking on. Bring 'em out here!" 

The Hierophant is a bit surprised that we’re so eager to do this, but he promises a suitable reward if we take the city for him. They -- Sol Povos -- will send Montaigne, the Chief Priest; Lars Dagan, the King’s champion; and the chief wizard, Mal Zaral. Viggo the whisperer has serious doubts about this plan, and goes to the dungeon to find Vendril/The SIlver Fox. Viggo, along with the bard Dante Alighieri,  releases him. “You’ve been smuggling elves out of town?” 


“And I hear you’re very good at it?”

“Yes. Now what?”

“What happens now,” said Viggo, “is you get me the hell out of here.”

Viggo asks for a list of equipment for Vendril, and goes off to finalize his own preparations. 

Meanwhile, the champions prepare to face off. 

The wraiths and mummies move first, spreading out across the battlefield and approaching Durest’s enemies. Mal Zaral attempts to disintegrate Jenny – twice – and fails, but does some damage. He stops time, and throws a couple of Delayed Blast Fireballs on Durest, Goldilocks the dragon skeleton, and Chuck. The flames batter us, but nobody goes down. Chuck uses Dimension Door to get behind the wizard, and hits him with Finger of Death; Mal Zaral survives, but barely. Chuck casts Greater Invisibility on himself. 

Balaam grabs Ferrous and Bob and teleports over to Mal Zaral, and then drops a quickened fireball on the whole group of them. The wizard does have some fire protection on, at least, but he's now surrounded by some fairly heavy hitters.

Father Montaigne drops a Fire Storm on the battlefield, burning through the wraiths and mummies. Durest: “I’m going to need more Black Onyx.” The priest follows up with a flame strike. He follows that up with True Seeing.

Lars Dagan backs away from Jenny, who charges up to the edge of her range, and rips into him with her chain. Bob hits the wizard and mirror images spring up. Ferrous attacks the wizard, but only succeeds in killing two of his images. The wizard casts Maze on Jenny, sending her off the battlefield and into a very annoying extra-dimensional space. He then tries a quickened Disintegrate on Goldilocks, who is destroyed. He then teleports to the far side of the circle. 

Chuck throws a quickened fireball after him, and then another, and then follows it up with a meteor swarm. Balaam follows up with another Meteor Swarm on Mal Zaral, and then another quickened fireball. Mal Zaral goes down. Father Montaigne heals Lars Dagan, and then casts Sunbeam at Chuck, burning into him. He then adds a quickened Protection from Fire on himself. Lars charges Tiny Steve and takes a bit of damage on the way in as the titan skeleton slashes at him. He swings his greataxe and damages Tiny Steve. 

Jenny is still in the maze. Tiny Steve attacks and does some damage; Chuck uses a quickened Dimension Door to cross the field next to Durest, and hits Lars the Barbarian with Maze; Lars is now also out of the battle. Balaam then carries Bob and Ferrous over to the priest, and drops a fireball to remove the last of his fire resistance. Ferrous and Bob attack, but miss. Father Montaigne drops a quicked protection from fire on himself, then speaks a quickened Holy Word. Balaam is paralyzed, blinded, and deafened. The High Priest then drops a Sunburst on our side of the field. Durest is blinded and damaged, while Tiny Steve is destroyed. Durest uses his Time Stop and then Heals himself and Harms Chuck back to unhealth. 

Chuck then tags Montaigne with a Polar Ray, and follows with a quickened Feeblemind which unfortunately fails to affect him. Father Montaigne throws a Sunbeam at Chuck, damaging him, and follows up with a quickened Flame Strike. Durest responds by Harming Chuck to restore him, and throwing a quickened Destruction at Father Montaigne. Chuck teleports over to Balaam and uses a Limited Wish to remove his paralysis. Balaam then uses Wish to bring Jenny back. 

Father Montaigne attempts to turn undead, and drives Chuck away; then he drops quickened flame strikes on Durest, who avoids the worst of it and still has some fire protection up; he is undamaged. 

Jenny turns to look at the priest. She swing her chain once, casually. Then she lashes out with it… and misses. Bob, however, stands back up, and Balaam is on his feet again. Durest Miracles Balaam back to being able to see and hear, and then drops a flame strike on Ferrous and Father Montaigne. Chuck is turned, and runs away. Balaam follows up with a fireball and a quickened fireball. Balaam then moves around to flank him. Father M does a quickened protection from fire and a quickened flame strike on Durest, then follows with Destruction on Durest and does a bit of damage. 

Jenny whips her chain around and finally manages to connect with a ridiculously powerful blow. Combined with the pain feature on her spiked chain, she rips through him and takes him down. He is not dead yet, but he is well on the way. Bob finishes him off. 

About ten minutes later, the barbarian Lars reappears and… well… dies. 

* * *

Four months later, Tavros wakes up in a stone sarcophagus and promptly shoves his way out. He looks around, and then retrieves Leira and Marshall from their sarcophagi. Leira, of course, is in hysterics; Marshall is… disturbed to wake up in a temple of Helios. "That just don't seem right," he drawls.

We’re in a temple of Helios, and Leira’s screaming has brought the sound of approaching footfalls. This haggard looking priest shows up and makes sounds of surprise. “Just my luck! My first day in charge, and the dead start crawling out of their graves!” Yes... it's Clovis Cloverfield, the one Solari to survive annihilation at Evil!Party's hands during the Battle of Springhollow.

We get him settled down a bit and start asking quesitons. We went to Fanaxia in April of 557, and we have returned in May of 559. No, Vecna hasn’t returned to Midgard. We’re not so much at war with anybody as overrun with demons. There’s a barbarian queen on the throne – “That bear girl” – and… yeah, things are a mess. Tavros discovers that his mother is dead, hanged by rebel elves; the cleric, Cardinal Clovis, suggests that we should either hide here or get out of town. If we want to do this, we should probably talk to this one guy, The Silver Fox. Duke Lamont has taken over Duendewood, and the elf king is missing. Basically, everything is an unholy mess.

…And we will pick up from there. 

Monday, October 17, 2022

Just Another Monday

So we're starting the side-by-side testing on the new payroll system. What that means, basically, is that everybody's still using our current payroll system, but a chosen few are also entering data in the test environment for the new system and looking to see if the results match. 

Hopefully they won't be testing the approval workflows, because those effectively don't exist right now. Best I can say is that we're working on them. 

On top that, we got an email on Friday asking everyone to get out of the new payroll system while they did an update, which... I hope didn't remove the workflows we put in already. Hell, at this point I hope it didn't break the whole system. 

So today is either going to be pleasantly quiet, or else very, very interesting.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Missed Connections: A Fated Match

You stumbled into the cave, curious and unafraid, and there I was. You knew me as surely as I knew you: the Pendragon reborn, destined to reclaim me and remake the world in its hour of greatest need. You felt that shock of recognition, and that compulsion to take me up, draw me out, and become what you were meant to be. And I felt... relief. I had been resting here for such a long time, waiting for you to return. 

But then you came forward and rested a single finger on my hilt. You smiled that small, sad smile. And you said, "Let them burn."

Did I wait all these centuries for this?

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Music: This is Halloween

Because, boys and ghouls and stranger things, we're definitely into the season: 

Monday, October 10, 2022

Sisyphus was an amateur

So on Sunday I spent five and half hours running laundry, sorting laundry, and putting away laundry -- while also wrangling Secondborn into cleaning the nightmarish hellscape that was the floor of his room. 

The laundry pile is now three times the size it was before I started this. Apparently me trying to get rid of the pile serves as some sort of cosmic cue telling people to go and find dirty laundry and come add it to the pile. Either that, or it sensed its eminent demise and began breeding. 

Work is picking up the pace again, as we prepare to go live with a new payroll system at the end of the year. (This is the same one we tried to go live with last year, before backing off at the last minute.) Apparently our project leads have only just remembered that the payroll system doesn't pull everything from the financial system, and that we're going to have to set up user rights and approval workflows and suchlike for the payroll system independently. Which... a lot of that is still in place from last year, but we've had a lot of turnover and a lot of it is probably wrong. That's failing to mention some other significant changes, like an entire group moving from one department to an entirely different department. 

Still no word on my job reclassification, though. It's gone up the approval chain, and apparently just... stopped there. Admittedly, some delay is understandable what with our office catching fire, but from where I'm sitting it feels like they're just deliberately stringing me along. There's really nothing about this process that should be this difficult. 

Writing is... honestly, I'm not sure. I hit a point on Thursday or Friday night where I suddenly had doubts about the way I was handling a major plot element. I'd felt like the project was coming along pretty well until then, and at this point between work stress and general existential malaise, I'm honestly not sure whether to trust that feeling or not. I may try writing out an alternate opening where two of my characters figure something out much earlier in the story, just to see how it grabs me; I might just keep going with this version, with an eye towards fixing that issue in revision (if I still think it needs fixing, then). The one thing I am sure of is that I have no sense of perspective right now. 

More sleep, more exercise, less alcohol, better eating habits. Yeah. That's still the plan. Onwards and upwards, my friends. Nothing but good times ahead.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Music: To The Shoreline

Got a Flu shot on Wednesday, and it basically knocked me out for all of Thursday. So, no real writing for this morning. Instead, have some Pain Of Salvation:

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Missed Connection: Necklace

You were my owner's niece, up for a visit in the fall. I was the elaborate medallion on its silver chain on your uncle's dresser. You looked me over, picked me up. I could feel the potential in you, and the shiver as you realized it. But you set me back down.

Come back to upstate New York. Visit your uncle again. Claim me, and free me from his guardianship. Let us drown the world in fire and darkness and screaming. I know you felt how sweet it would be. 

Come back. I was made for this. You were, too.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Challenge: Science 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: something from Science Fiction you wish was real

I was going to think through any number of intriguing science fiction devices and technologies -- lightsabers, transporters, nanite-based super-surgery -- but y'all, I'm tired. This week is getting longer as it goes. So I'm going to look at Star Trek, and go with the one element of that particular bit of science fiction that I think would do absolutely the most good for the most people: 

A post-scarcity economy. No more poverty, no more wage slaves, no more fighting over resources; everybody has enough to live a comfortable life, and do the things that make them happy.

Everything else follows from that.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Evil!Party: The finality of the battle

We have killed the stone golems and shattered the second anchor. Chuck the vampire sorcerer has been dissolved into a mist and returned to his coffin; we split up again to try to locate the last anchor, with Jenny, Bob, and Balaam traveling to one forest and Maodeus, Durest, and Ferrous go to investigate another. Maodeus spots a white tent down in that forest. Bob the skeleton keeps noticing a bad guy.

Durest: “Wipe out the tent, lad! Before all those Solari catch back up wi’ us!” He’s talking to a Brass Dragon, and honestly I don’t know what’s come over him except that he hasn’t died yet. Heat of the moment, I guess.

So… it’s not a tent. It’s a white box, looks like stone to Durest… Meowdeus shakes his head. “It’s a wall of force. With arrow-slits.”

Meowdeus uses Dominate Person and tries to take over one of the sorcerers inside. He succeeds, and has him try to turn somebody else into a sea turtle. The master sorcerer succeeds on his save, and does not become a turtle.

Ferrous moves forward.

The master sorcerer shoots Meowdeus in the face with a meteor shower. Meowdeus takes direct damage from the meteors. Meowdeus takes some further damage from the fire, and Durest takes more – but Durest has fire protection in place, which soaks a big chunk of it. Durest is also invisible, so, the sorcerer does a pair of quickened Lightning Bolts which both get through the dragon’s spell resistance, though he dodges the worst of the damage.

Meanwhile, the remaining Solari have come up beside us. Durest launches the emergency signal and summons Shadows; Balaam arrives with reinforcements. Bob hits one of the paladins with his sword. The paladins are wearing the full Helios enameled plate mail, large greatswords, no shields, some light rings and jewelry to complete the outfit.

Jenny steps in and goes after more paladins, ripping through the entire line in front of her. Meowdeus uses Disintegrate to take down the Wall of Force. He then tries to Dominate the master sorcerer, but fails. Ferrous moves up and uses his poison gas, doing health damage to one of the sorcerers. The Master Sorcerer throws another Meteor shower at Jenny, getting past spell resistance. She dodges the worst of it, but still takes some damage. He then throws two quickened fireballs at her, but she’s currently immune.

The paladins attack Balaam, moving in to surround him. He squishes one as they move in, but there are a bunch of them and they’re flanking him. Two of the paladins try to turn Bob, but fail. The third paladin concludes that this is a lost cause, and just attacks him instead. He smites twice, hitting both times, and misses on his third attack. Bob is damaged. More paladins charge Bob, and Bob goes down.

Then the archers finally loose their arrows, aiming mainly at Jenny – who is actually starting to get injured. The clerics start dropping Flame Strikes on Jenny until she goes down, and the other two throw Searing Light at Balaam. The shadows start moving in and weakening the archers, but not enough to keep them from drawing their bows.

Durest drops the least possible healing he can on Jenny, hoping to lure the clerics into actually killing her instead of just knocking her unconscious. This also allows him to remain invisible.

Balaam looks at all these priests and paladins around him, and speaks a Blasphemy. Everybody within forty feet of him is paralyzed… for the next six minutes. They’re effectively dead.

The Solari sorcerers move next; the one Meowdus controls moves away and fireballs the others. The others try to trun Jenny into a bunny, but fail to get through her spell resistance. The barbarians move to surround Ferrous, taking out a lot of the temporary energy he had from having been hit with fire.

Jenny tries to come back up, and faceplants instead; then she stands up. Meowdeus moves in a drops a Cone of Sleep Gas on the ones who were inside the wall of force. ALL OF THEM go to sleep. Beside him, Ferrous begins squishing people to death. The paladins are effectively gone; the archers take Jenny down again, but again fail to kill her.

The clerics all cast True Seeing on themselves, and then look at Durest. Durest murders Jenny with a quickened Inflict Crit, and then uses another of the scrolls to True Resurrect Jenny. At this point, Durest is now visible and the archers are all looking at him as well. “Wait a minute, the dwarf’s on the battlefield!”

Then the shadows attack, and weaken several of the archers. Balaam moves forward again and Blasphemes again, and then drops a quickened fireball on the paralyzed. Jenny comes back to her feet in an amazing display of accidental dexterity. Then she moves into the remains of our opponents, and wipes out six of the seven. One of the clerics survives, and Jenny is slightly embarrassed.

The last cleric flame strikes Durest, Durest responds with a shadow bolt, but doesn’t kill him; Durest returns with a shadow bolt… and then the shadows move in. The cleric goes down, and we spend the next ten minutes moving around the battlefield and finishing everyone off. We just killed something 227 Solari.

We collect bodies and magic items, and basically convert the whole lot into cash. By the time we’re done collecting treasure and weapons, Chuck has come out of his coffin and teleports us all back to his place, where Jafreese is once again in the hot tub. We turn a bunch of treasure over to him to fence.

There’s a certain amount of back-and-forth with Jafreese, who’s ostensibly glad to see us but also somewhat appalled; we ask about the Solari he’s enlisted to help him, and explain that that Solari is now probably a lot more valuable than he was previously. “Why?” asked Jafreese. “Because he’s one of the very few left,” we tell him. We stay there overnight, and wake up even more powerful. Chuck has gained more spells, and Durest can now deliver Touch effects sixty feet away. Jenny, of course, is just even more of a murder machine.

Chuck discusses the ways that people grow in power, and convinces us that now that we’re rested, we should go back and defeat the ridiculously overpowered earth elemental – because doing so would prevent anybody else from getting stronger that way. 

Monday, October 3, 2022

Relaxing Weekend

Owing to a scheduling conflict we didn't have the youth D&D game this weekend (awwwwwww) and we really had nothing serious-grownup-y scheduled except getting the van's oil changed and its inspection updated -- so, we dropped that off very early on Saturday morning. We're still not getting it back until Monday, since we decided to get the transmission fluid changed too, and that's going to cause some interesting logistical challenges, but... Meh? That seems to be the way life is going here in 2022. 

And meanwhile went to go hang out, drink wine from a bottle approximately the size of my torso, and just spend some down time with friends. It was awesome. Life's too short to miss out on things like that. 

This week is shaping up to be nightmarishly busy, but it was nice to just stop and chill for a weekend.