Friday, December 30, 2022

Dark Armor: On the Field of Battle

The Black Knight stepped out of the carriage and put his foot down on frozen ground. The carriage had arrived in the middle of an armed camp full of men and women in the black-and-silver uniform of Teregor. The sky overhead was a dome of high, slate-gray clouds, and likely the air would have been cold and dry. Inside his armor, Pallian had no way of knowing. 

The woman who approached him wore black robes embroidered with silver and gold, which his helm informed him were every bit as powerfully enchanted as his own armor -- albeit for different purposes. Pallian knew her, but as the Black Knight he could not greet her. She was his older sister, and the Heir of Teregor: Rebka Teres. Pallian brought his other foot down and straightened, facing her. Behind him, the carriage stood and smoldered; the darkbeasts that pulled it snarled and writhed in their harnesses.

"Champion," she said. "The city of Marinul has refused to surrender the Spear of the First. Break their line. Shatter their gates. Make way for our troops to enter the city, and claim what rightfully belongs to the wizard-king of Teregor."

The Black Knight nodded, and turned. Marinul was a walled city, beyond the borders of Teregor and firmly in the lands of Edrias. It was easily visible from here, where the Heir of Teregor had encamped her army. Clearly, his sister and their father lacked the patience for a siege, and had sent for him instead. 

He drew his sword and began his advance. This was, after all, what the Black Knight had been created for. And when it was done, he could return to the things that mattered.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Duendewood Resistance: Amaranth's Escape

Amaranth Antithian shoved the smaller of her two anvils onto the back of the cart, which creaked with the added weight. It was already loaded down with her tools and the more valuable of the weapons she had forged, along with a careful selection of crafting materials and other supplies. Her mother had given up trying to help and was now sitting on the board at the front of the cart, waiting for her to finish so that they could depart. 

The True King was gone. The armies were defeated. The human Duke Lamont was on his way to Annun with a force of Solari, and word had it he was intent on crowning himself king. Amaranth might have opposed him, but she knew she couldn't stop him. And her shop would be far too obvious a target for Lamont to overlook: the chance to capture a proper Elvish Bladecrafter to make weapons for his troops, possibly even for himself, would be irresistible. She could still offer sabotage, but it would be far better to craft weapons for the resistance that was said to be spinning itself out under the guidance of Ruin's mother. 

Ruin... For a moment, Amaranth allowed herself to be distracted. Where in Hell had he gone? He and the other Twiceborn were supposed to be here, protecting the city, defeating their enemies. She'd seen the way he moved; she thought he could actually manage it. Maybe her mother had been right, and she should have locked him down when she had the chance. They could have been legends, the two of them, with him to handle the worst of the fighting and her to provide the best of equipment. Had she wanted that? She wasn't sure.

And that was why she hadn't tried to take it, and she didn't have any regret to spare for her decision. Ruin had always been his own strange self, even before the death of his sister. If he ever chose to stay with her, it would be -- simply and only -- because that was what he wanted. What they wanted, because he wouldn't force his company on her either. If anything, too much the opposite. 

Amaranth touched the blade at her hip and thought, Be like him. She stepped back into her shop, pulled the last of the frost shards from a shelf, and carried them outside. 

"Are we almost ready, dear?" asked her mother, Milathyra Antithian, sounding strangely uncertain. She'd been trained with blade and bow -- no proper elf came to adulthood without -- and knew her way with gossip and innuendo and politics, but perhaps she'd never truly considered that she might one day be in physical danger. 

"Yes," answered Amaranth flatly. She was leaving behind more than just her shop; the things she couldn't afford to carry with her, tools and ingredients and even a small number of crafted weapons, would cost at least a thousand golds to replace. The reputation as a bladesmith in the local community was, perhaps, even more valuable, but it must be left behind as well. 

"Are you going?" asked a child's voice, and Amaranth set the box of frost shards in the last open corner of the wagon before she turned. 

"I have to," she said, looking down at Tovarin. The child was old enough for an apprenticeship, if only barely; his father ran the tea emporium down the street, but Tovarin had spent probably one afternoon out of three watching her work. 

"I know," he said. "I had hoped that one day you would teach me."

"I would have," Amaranth said slowly, "but you'll be safer here, for now."

"Do you think so?" he asked, his voice rich with the suspicion of a near-adult for adult platitudes. 

Did she? 

No. No, she did not. "Go and ask your father. If he is not leaving, ask if you can leave with us. Tell him not to ask where we are going. But if he'll allow it, I will take you."

As the boy raced off, Amaranth strode forward and set a hand on the shoulder of the Ox that was hitched to the cart. She spoke to it, in the ancient language of trees and natural beasts, and it swung the cart around and plodded slowly into the street. Amaranth looked back at her shop, sighed, and then stepped out into the street herself. 

"Hey! Pretty lady! You want wine? Our best stock! You carry it out of town before the humans come!"

The woman looking up at her was a halfling, already holding two bottles. Her Elvish lacked the full nuance of an elvish upbringing, but she had obviously grown up here in Annun; her words might not be entirely proper, but her accent was perfect. 

And Amaranth laughed. "To keep it away from the humans? You bless me with your trust, and I will keep faith on that."

The ox plodded steadily along, and Amaranth and the halfling woman raced back and forth, adding bottles to the cart wherever they thought they might fit. Somewhere in the midst of this, Tovarin returned. "My father said I could come," he told her, and Amaranth motioned for him to step onto the seat even though she knew he was lying. 

At the last she turned back to the halfling and said, "There are still things in my shop. Take them. If you can't use them, hide them or sell them. Keep them from the humans."

The woman had grinned back at her. "You bless me with your trust," she answered steadily. "See how I repay it."

Duke Lamont was leading his army into Duendewood, intent on taking control of Annun. Amaranth would save whatever she could. And it seemed she was not alone in this.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

So they finally did it

Work actually managed to reclassify my job. I've read over the explanation and the new job description, both of which are... basically accurate, though they omit the part where this should have happened years ago. Still, they've done the thing that I've been complaining that they hadn't done. There's even a modest raise into the bargain, and it's retroactive to the 18th. (It may take a week or two, or more, to get thing processed.) 

The Christmas holiday has essentially been a four-day weekend for me, but I forgot that it's a weekend in which we have to prepare for Christmas and then actually, y'know, have Christmas. So my restful plans have been a bit less restful than I would have preferred. Still, some things got done... and some of those were just me taking a day to not do anything. 

Turns out that was sorely needed.

No D&D this week, so no D&D notes this week; I'm not sure what I'll be filling in with, but I'll come up with something for the next three days. Probably a bit of the Dark Armor project, and maybe just some music... 

And in the meantime, it's time to take a deep breath and dive back into the dark fantasy project I've been working on.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Dark Armor: The Joys of Travel

The Black Knight shifted on the padded bench inside the carriage, then shifted again. He had been riding for the better part of two hours; wherever the carriage was taking him, it must be near the farthest border of his father's lands... perhaps further. He hoped the journey would be done soon. 

In his early days as the Black Knight, he had stepped into the carriage with a sense of anticipation. Later, it had turned to boredom, and then resignation. Now, finally, it was dread. He wanted to get wherever he was going, defeat whatever enemy he'd been sent to destroy, and be done with this. For all that he trained in his time outside of the armor, Pallian entertained no illusions that his presence was necessary. The armor added to his strength and made him invulnerable; his blade cut through armor and flesh with the same ease that it would cut through grass. The gleeful sense of power in that sort of fighting had long since given way to boredom and eventually a sort of dull horror. 

A more sensible man might have resigned his commission and made his escape. Then again, that same more sensible man would very likely have been murdered by his father, the wizard-king of Teregor, within the space of a day. There were choices, and then there were choices. 

It was a faint shift in his balance that alerted him: the carriage had turned slightly, and was now descending. The black mares that pulled it would soon set their hooves to ground, carving hoofprints into soil and stone alike as they pulled the carriage along its designated route. 

Pallian had no idea what he would find when the carriage stopped. The wizard-king did not provide explanations. He merely called, and when the call came Pallian stepped into the armor and became the black knight. When the call came, the black knight stepped into his carriage and went to do battle on the wizard-king's behalf. It was, and had always been, as simple as that.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Unlikely Friendships 1

"How bad is it in Solstar?" asked Aesa, sitting back on the wooden bench. It was morning, and the stone balcony that held the bench was still in shadow, but that was fine. She'd needed a break from taking care of Rose, and her current companion seemed more comfortable in the relatively darkness. 

"Bad," said that soft, whisper-thin voice. "It hit like the end of the world. The only ones left are the ones who couldn't leave: the very young, the very old, and those bound to care for them. Or those detained; the remains of the Dark Army put a guard on a few of the prominent merchant families in order to make sure they had somebody to keep the troops supplied."

"But you've been getting people out," Aesa frowned. "Tavros told me. So did whats-his-name... Clovis."

The Silver Fox shifted on the bench. He was brooding again; Aesa could hear it in his voice. "Those we can. But it's dangerous; the demons will try to kill anyone they find, and the remains of the Dark Army will kill anyone who tries to leave. I lost the Boar to a Marilith: she broke the demon's neck, but died of her wounds, and there were too many Vrocks around for us to retrieve her corpse. The Hawk stayed behind to distract them, and died of teleportation -- her attempt at the spell brought one of the thunder worms, and that kept the demons busy while we escaped. I got separated from the Mouse and the Owl a week later; we were supposed to meet in Drisnan Springs, but they never showed up. Dead or in hiding, and at this point I'm not sure which might be more of a mercy."

Aesa shivered. Even with the elves taking over, they'd been sheltered from the worst of things here in Caristhium. "At least you're doing something," she said. 

Vendril shrugged. "And you think you have not? You have a child," he observed. "Small, young, vulnerable. That's not a failure, it's a responsibility." He looked away, then added absently: "And at least my people are safe."

Aesa cocked her head. "Your people?" Her people were here at the temple. Her mother ran a small shop and her father had been an itinerant worker and sometime hunter; she didn't really have a people beyond that.

"My clan," said Vendril, then turned his head to look at her. "I'm not a Duendewood elf, Aesa. My people come from the far southeast. We move from the Fomorian Peninsula to the western edge of the Hopeful Cove, and in between we cross the Forgotten Desert -- but it is not ours. We... My people are coastal people, and we live strategically and move as we need to. And we acknowledge our duty to the Throne, and many of us take service at Fort Dedo when we come of age and need the seasoning."

He shrugged, and she heard a small smile behind the mask as he added: "It was merely my misfortune to be there when the Dark Army and the Wildlanders turned everything on its head."

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Good!Party: The Heart of Vecna

We have improved our skills, and consider the best ways to use them. We are also currently exploring the side-room in the crypt. This appears to be the treasure chamber. There’s gold all over the floor. 

Martini checks over the altar. It’s not trapped, exactly, it’s just magically linked to something in the ceiling. Something is monitoring the altar – possibly from a room above us? 

Martini: “Hay Marshall, check out the book!” 

The book is a +5 tome of Leadership and Influence. We start by taking the money on the floor. They are protected by spike in the floor. We retrieve 70,000 GP and Martini disables the traps. Martini walks across the ceiling… and finds a secret door up there. It’s right over the entrance. 

Martini tries to open the lock, but it’s not effective here. We start checking the doors around the sides of the room, checking them for traps and disabling them. We start with the left front. Martini goes around disabling traps. Martini has also claimed the Word of Chaos trap. Then she opens the locks. We find a Helm of Brilliance, which is pretty awesome. 

6200 Platinum in the second room. Room 3 has a 10x10 flying carpet. The final room has 3 pearls of power, for levels 7, 8, and 9. Martini: “Azrael would love this.” A knife flies past her head. We hand a pearl of power (7th) to Martini. 

We arrange ourselves, and then Martini takes the book. 

A panel swings down out of the ceiling, and this thing pads down the ramp to try to kill us. It’s a Famine Spirit. Ruin steps up behind it and attacks, cutting it up a bit; Martini also attacks, casting Disintegrate, but the thing resists and takes some damage. This thing is this huge pile of heaps of flab and flesh, and doesn’t seem much affected by this. Marshall tries to implode it… and succeeds. 

It implodes, and then explodes. We are covered in destroyed undead flesh. Martini screams. Ruin wipes his face down and just says, completely deadpan, “Ew.” Marshall nods. “You’re welcome.”

We head up the ramp and look into the room overhead. Ruin takes the lead on this one. It smells… bad. It’s like a bilge that this famine spirit was living in. He finds a couple of its spawn, which Ruin summarily dispatches. At the back of the room is this pile of books, and also a lever. Ruin steals the books, then kicks the lever and throws himself out of the room before the ramp can swing completely closed. 

The books are magical; apparently the thing had taken them. There’s a manual for a flesh golem, a manual for a greater stone golem, and a +3 manual of gainful exercise. 

We head out into the main hallway, where we fought the fiery possessing spirits. We turn right, and continue into the vault. Martini checks the door for traps, even though it was battered open. It’s not trapped. 

Martini shoves through it. Inside is a larger room, with a walled-off inner sanctum inside, blocked with a portcullis. There’s another altar, and behind it is a painting of a boy in noble clothes. He’s sitting in front of a castle… and Martini recognizes it as Castle Orlock from back in Fanaxia. Which means the boy is probably the original Vecna Orlock. His soul was missing back when we sought him in Fanaxia. 

There were hellfire golems and some other things in here, but they were destroyed. Inside the inner sanctum, Ruin sees a tiara. There’s a place for a heart-shaped gem in the front of the tiara, but the gem has been removed and the tiara tossed aside. This gem must have been the heart of Vecna. 

A bit of searching reveals a winch that will open the portcullis. We do so, and retrieve the tiara. Martini thinks it’s pretty, and wants to put it on Tavros. Tavros will hate that. 

Martini moves ahead and stabs King Luc. Ruin is helping Marshall along, and so he’s hanging back. Ruin takes advantage of the opportunity to rescue Mithrandril. Martini and Ruin use a combination of Invisibility and Dimension Door to exit to the courtyard, and from there we use the teleport stone to return to Caristhium. 

Martini modifies Ruin’s memory (and Marshall’s) so neither of them remembers that we ever encountered King Luc. Luc is dead; so far as we know, he has always been dead.

So… in addition to freeing the mages and retaking Caristhium, the High Marshal Giles has taken Renfort and declared himself king of that area. Elvish revolutionaries have taken more towns, and Lamont’s Solari are tracking down the remaining cells of the druids – so they’re diminished in power. We spend a bit of time talking over our next moves...

Monday, December 19, 2022

How to Suck as a Manager

In recent news, my employer has apparently posted a job opening in the Communications department for a position that is... suspiciously... an extremely precise duplication of my current job description. To be clear, my current job description actually only covers about 1/5 of my current actual job. So at a guess, they're probably planning to remove those responsibilities from me so that they can pretend that they shouldn't have been paying me for the full range of my responsibilities over the last five years or more. Then, when/if they finally do manage to reclassify my job, they can set the salary to match that reduced set of responsibilities. 

Which is a remarkably shitty thing to do.

To make this even more fun: 

  • It looks like this got posted back in early November, meaning that it must have been in place and approved even earlier than that. Despite that...
  • Friday was literally the first I heard of it -- I found out because one of my co-workers said, "Hey did you see that position in Communications? It looks right up your alley. Are you planning to apply for it?" 
  • The new position pays (potentially) more than what I'm currently being paid for the same job title, which in my case -- I'd like to emphasize again -- doesn't even begin to do justice to the full range of my responsibilities. 
  • My immediate supervisor didn't know anything about it either. 
  • Apparently it didn't occur to anyone involved in the decision-making process -- not even the faintest hint of an inkling of a spark of an idea -- to consult with me about how I might feel about this. Which, right now, I honestly can't tell you how I feel about the idea itself, because I'm too busy being rightly pissed off about the sheer level of disrespect that infuses everything around it.

I like my job. I like my workplace, I like the rank-and-file folks that I work with in my department, I like the folks I work with in other departments. But our leadership is absolute shit. And, again, it's probably impolitic to say so -- this blog is not private, and I know damned well that some of my regular readers know who I am and where I work in real life. 

But God fucking damn it, if they don't want me to point out that our leadership actively sucks then they need to work at sucking less.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Ruin and Werendril: Paternity

"So..." Ruin let the word trail off, then followed up with: "You're raising my children. Or at least one of them."

Werendril nodded, raising the wooden double-scimitar that Akkora had carved for him and giving it a quick spin. "Both," he said. "Anica and Tarric and I are one thing... but Aesa and Rose are still dear to us." 

Ruin hefted the wooden falchion, then lowered it. "Have I failed, O my cousin?"

Werendril stepped in with a lightning-fast double strike, and Ruin parried and slipped back. "I don't believe so," the paladin said, soft and comforting. "You had little choice in leaving this world, and things..." He shrugged, holding his distance.  "...worked out as they did."

Ruin nodded. "But now we have to set things to rights," he said, and attacked. 

Werendril faded back, as difficult to hit as Ruin himself. "Better than hiding here and waiting to see what the Order of Secrets does to the world next."

"I'm wondering if I need to set things right here as well, with Rose and Rune," Ruin admitted, shifting his stance. 

"Maybe," said Werendril, and made a low lunge forward, sweeping up with the main blade of his double-scimitar. 

Ruin parried and stepped back, and Werendril said: "But I think they're both well-cared-for, and you shouldn't be as ashamed as you apparently are. And I would never have had this opportunity if you hadn't come through here." 

"I suppose," answered Ruin, and thrust forward, seeking a way past Werendril's defenses. The paladin was deft, thoroughly practiced, and not about to concede an inch. Ruin thought he was the better swordsman at this point, but Werendril had focused on the double scimitar and might actually be a match for him. "In any case, we're heading on tomorrow to try to free the besieged mages."

"Ruin..." Werendril stepped back, raising the practice blade and his training mask. "The babies like you. Not to mention the rest of us. So just for once, try not to get yourself gruesomely killed." 

Ruin grinned. as he lifted up his mask. "Do you know," he remarked casually, "that it's surprisingly hard to nurture a death-wish when you have children to take care of?"

Werendril shook his head. "I'm very glad to hear it."

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Tavros: The other side of the family

Tavros looked around the estate where he'd grown up, and sighed. It was mostly unscathed: the heavy stone walls still stood, and while gardens were somewhat overgrown they hadn't been damaged too badly. The smell of smoke still lingered faintly, and the manor was marked with black trails of soot that would take weeks to scrub away, but the structure itself was intact. The contingency spell that had activated upon his mother's death and the considerable quantity of lamp oil that it had ignited had turned the manor into a giant stone oven, radiating far too much heat for an ordinary person to approach even days later; Tavros wondered how exactly the elves had managed to keep his mother's body from being cremated. 

He felt a stab of guilt and suppressed it. If he'd been here... But no, he hadn't been and he couldn't afford to think like that. 

"Not too bad," said Lady Emilianne Fontaine, looking around. "I'll have Andraska re-gather the servants and start cleaning it back out. We'll need new furnishings, of course, but..."

"Can we pay them?" Tavros asked curiously. "The servants, I mean?"

"I doubt the elves had the chance to loot the place," his mother told him, "and in any case they'd have to know exactly where to look to find the treasury. It wasn't hidden with anything so simple as a secret door."

Tavros nodded thoughtfully. He hadn't lived with his mother for many years, but he'd certainly come to visit often enough and he remembered her ways. "Then why are we here?" he asked. "You hardly need my help to retrieve the family fortune or determine what to do with the estate. You could have sent Andraska for that."

Andraska was his mother's Seneschal, also a retired adventurer, and formidable enough in her own way: the servants, at least, both loved and feared her. Word was that she hadn't been there to defend Lady Emilianne solely because the lady had ordered her to get the servants to safety, which she'd done with a swift and brutal efficiency that included plastering one would-be elvish revolutionary across two walls of the dining room. 

"True," his mother observed, apparently pleased with his insight. "No, I brought you out here because I didn't want to do this where anyone would witness it. I brought you out here to meet your father." She raised her voice and called, "Earl Vonderton? Are you here?"

A tall, lean man stepped out of the open doorway of the manor, brushing at the cuff of his long coat and straightening his cravat as he turned to look at them. He was dark-haired and gray-eyed, with a touch of silver at his left temple. "Lady Emilianne..." he began, and then trailed off, looking at Tavros. "I see." 

Tavros glanced at his mother, who was nodding a graceful acknowledgement. "Our son," she said. "Tavros Fontaine. Tavros, this is your father, Rachim Starsbreadth, the Earl Vonderton."

Tavros sucked in a surprised breath, even as he watched his father do the same. 

"I KNEW IT!" screamed a voice from the sky, and Tavros stepped back just in time to watch a massive silver dragon hit the ground with enough force to shake the entire estate. It wasn't looking at him, though; its attention was entirely on the Earl. "I knew you fooled around on me!" That massive head swung around, and Tavros thought his mother might have run if he hadn't been standing there. "And you, you shameless human slattern! I should--"

"We were on a break!" roared the Earl, in a voice that was entirely too big for his human body. "What I did then was none of your business." 

"On a break, were we?" the dragon swung back to look at him. "When exactly were we on a break, you faithless--" 

"Your pardon," Tavros said quietly, "but I was born in 532, so that would have been twenty-five years ago... call it twenty-six, all things considered." 

Beside him, his mother nodded. "Your pardon," she echoed, sounding absolutely sincere. "At the time, I had no idea the Earl was mated. Or anything other than a rather attractive human, for that matter."

The dragon swung her head around and regarded the Earl again. "And we were on a break?"

"You should bloody well remember," the Earl ground out. "It was your idea. And who's taking care of the hatchlings while you follow me around, you distrustful--" 

"Whee!" said another voice, and a much smaller dragon plummeted past the dragon's head and stopped to hover in front of Tavros. "Hello. I'm Windfang. You look funny. Is my dad your dad too? Does that mean you're my brother? Who's this?" He was looking at lady Emilianne when he spoke, but he turned back to Tavros before the paladin could even process the question, let alone try to frame an answer. "Are you going to come live with us? Why don't you have wings? Are you really a dragon? How come I never met you before?"

"Windfang!" both the dragon and the Earl spoke at once, and the fledgling dragon fell silent, then slowly turned around. 

"Um. Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad. Uh... fancy meeting you here?" 

"Did you follow me here?" asked the dragon, a dangerous edge in her voice. 

"I just..." Windfang circled around to put Tavros between itself and its parents. "...I wanted to see what was going to happen. Especially if Mom was going to kill you like she said she was. Please don't kill him. I don't want to not have a father."

Tavros turned, reached back, and pulled the young dragon forward until it could settle on his shoulder. "Easy, there," he said. "Yes, it seems I'm your brother -- or half-brother, at least. I'm a half-dragon. My name is Tavros."

The dragon cocked its head at him. "Oh. Okay. What's the other half?" 


"Oh!" It looked past him. "Like her?" 

"Yes," said Tavros firmly. "This is my mother, the Lady Emilianne Fontaine. And I don't think your parents are going to murder each other, though it does sound as if they have some things to work out."

"I'll say," growled the dragon, still glaring at the Earl; but a moment later she twisted and shrank into the form of a rather attractive and completely naked human woman. 

"Wait," said Windfang. "Can I do that too?" 

"Not yet," said his mother, "but you'll learn." She looked at Tavros, then back at the Earl, and sighed. "Though it might be for the better if you didn't." She turned and looked at them again. "So you didn't call my mate back here to try to seduce him away with your mammalian wiles again?"

Lady Emilianne shook her head. "I thought the time had come for him to meet his son," she said gently. "That was all." Then she made an equivocal gesture with one hand. "Well, not quite all. I was hoping that he might be willing to aid in the defense and rebuilding of Caristhium. As you can see, we've had some difficulties here... and throughout Sol Povos, to be honest."

"Difficulties," observed the Earl, "is an interesting way to describe it."

"Absolutely not," said the dragon-turned-naked-woman. "Your place is with me and the hatchlings."

The Earl turned stiffly to face her. "I would never abandon you, or them," he said, "and I resent the accusation--"

Tavros felt Windfang's claws tighten on his shoulder, and said: "Your Graces, give us a moment to clarify. First, I believe this sort of exchange is best reserved for a more... private setting." He gestured -- subtly, he hoped -- at the young dragon riding on his shoulder. "Secondly, while it pleases me to meet you both, it does not please me to be the cause of this familial strife. Please understand that my mother and I both wish for the two of you to do what is best for your... clutch. You have no obligation to us."

He paused to draw breath, but neither of the dragons spoke. "That said, we are in need of aid. Aid, and allies. Sol Povos is in sorry shape, and if the priests of Vecna have their way then there may be worse to come. And it seems that I may be the last remaining heir to its throne. Our need is great, but I would not endanger fledglings, nor deprive them of their parents. So I thank you for coming, and I am grateful for the chance to meet you both, but I believe that should be the end of it. Though if you'd care to pass the word to any adventuresome dragons who might be interested in helping to restore Sol Povos and don't have anything to lose by it, I would of course be grateful. "

The naked woman furrowed her brow, then strode towards him. Tavros turned his gaze to look just past her so that he wouldn't stare, and kept his expression carefully blank. She stopped a pace away and asked, "You weren't scared of me, were you?" 

Tavros shrugged, feeling Windfang shift to keep its balance on his shoulder. "A bit worried, perhaps."

Her eyes went from him to Windfang and back. "You handled your half-sister well." 

Tavros glanced at the dragon his shoulder, then quirked a grin. "I didn't handle her. I merely offered her a place to set down."

"That's what I said," the woman looked him over once, then turned and gave Lady Emilianne the same close examination. "You raised him alone?" 

Tavros looked at his mother, curious. "Not entirely alone," she admitted. "My old adventuring companions stopped by from time to time, and there were servants and nannies and tutors. But until now, I never went looking for his father. And there wasn't anyone else in the picture."

The dragon-turned-woman regarded her in silence for a long moment. Then she gestured to Windfang. "Come, child. We need to get back to the others. Your granddam must be in a fine panic by now, not knowing where you are."

The young dragon's head drooped on its serpentine neck. "Yes, Mama." It crossed from Tavros' shoulder to its mother's arm in a sinuous leap.

The dragon-woman started to turn away, hesitated, and then turned back. "I am called Zelcha Coldstorm, the Countess Vonderton." 

Lady Emilianne nodded as if all this were perfectly normal, as if the woman in front of her was neither completely naked nor actually a dragon. "You should come and visit," she suggested. "We can brew tea, and talk of the faithlessness of men."

The Countess eyed her for a long moment. "Perhaps I should," she said. 

Lady Emilianne inclined her head. "The invitation is open."

Windfang turned her head to look at Tavros. "You're a good half-brother, Tavros."

Tavros bowed from the neck. "It was good to meet you, Windfang. Try to do better about obeying your parents, and perhaps we can meet again."

Zelcha Coldstorm took a few steps back, and a moment later she was a dragon. Powerful winds buffeted Tavros and his mother as she launched herself into the air, carrying Windfang with her. 

Earl Vonderton took a step forward. "I should really..." 

"Go," said the Lady Emilianne. "Get back to the ones who need you. And be better to your mate, you idiot." 

The Earl gaped at her for a long moment. Then he too was a dragon, and a moment later he launched himself into the air. 

Tavros glanced at his mother. "I imagine that didn't go as expected," he said. "Are you well?"

"It's one more thing settled," his mother told him, and began the words and gestures that would teleport them back to the temple.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Challenge: Crafty Activities

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

Prompt:Your favorite crafty thing to do

This one is easy. Aside from writing? All right. Back in High School, in an effort to be one of the Lost Boys or at least look that cool, I made myself a patch jacket. (I really wanted to be one of the Lost Boys.) It was... maybe not entirely representative, but it was extremely earnest. 

And I still have it. 

A year or so back, I decided that I really needed to go in there and remove some of the more ill-considered choices and basically rework the whole thing. This was not the worst idea in the world, but after removing a single patch I decided that no, I should really leave that one alone -- as a tribute and reminder of my teenage self -- and just start another. 

 So here we are. It's still in early stages yet:

This is my favorite crafty activity. It's slow work, and I've managed to stab myself in the finger about two dozen times so far, but it's coming along nicely I think.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

GoodParty: The Crypt

 We have brought the mages back to Caristhium, and there was a parade; Tavros managed to look suitably royal. Next up on the agenda is to investigate the vault. Vigo still isn’t sure why the dark army hung out at the capital for a couple of months. The vault might actually tell us something about what they were after. Vigo thinks the vault is probably empty, since the dark army probably looted it or at least took whatever it was that they were looking for.

The vault was researched countless times over hundreds of years, but nobody was ever able to get in. Small amounts of the king’s blood weren’t sufficient, and nobody ever got more ambitious than that. 

We discuss things a bit further, and Marshall suggests that we use True Resurrection to bring back King Luc Elfsbane; Tavros expresses his displeasure at the prospect of any sort of regicide to mark the beginning of his reign. 

Vigo mentions that the dungeons are still in use. The vault is in the lowest level of the dungeon, behind a secret passageway that leads into some ancient underground ruins. He suggests that we sneak through the upper layers of the dungeon, avoid the bear-queen at all costs, and take care of business at the bottom. He also hands us a small stone - a teleport stone that allows you to teleport twice a day. 

We turn invisible and teleport to the courtyard of the castle at Sol Star. It’s a very large courtyard. It used to be very busy; now it’s sparsely occupied, with stormclouds and thunder worms overhead. One corner of the courtyard has been turned into an arena, and it’s littered with broken corpses. They look like they’ve been ripped apart, either with claws or with brute strength. Marshall casts Speak With Dead. 

The ghost shows up screaming in terror. Marshall pats it on the head. The dungeons have their own doors, with guards going in out. Did the corpse work here? No. Had it been here before? Yes. Does it know its way around? Yes. The head was well-armored and was wearing nice clothes; probably a warrior of some renown. Did he fight the bear? Yes. Did he sleep with the bear? No. Are these patrols always here? Yes. Marshall shoves the head into a pouch and casts Silence on himself, and we’re ready to go. 

Martini slips through the doors; Marshall doesn’t make it in at all; and Ruin stumbles and collides with the captain. The captain grabs him, but Ruin uses Dimension Door and disappears into the guard room. Martini notices a locker room, and promptly slips inside. She promptly slaps somebody’s ass and takes advantage of the ensuing brawl to steal some uniforms. 

Marshall’s still standing outside the door. He tries to slip in again. This time he makes it, diving through at the last moment. Marshall heads towards the fight, but Ruin has Tremorsense and is able to locate him. We pull on the uniforms in case something goes wrong with the invisibility. 

There’s a door at the back; it’s locked, but probably not trapped. Martini picks the lock and jams it so the next person through will have trouble with it. Ruin Dimension Doors us past the door. As we come in, we get a brief tingling; we’re probably not going to be able to teleport back up. There are guards patrolling in the midst of a bedlam of passages and cells. We head down the hallway and find a set of stairs going down. The prison: top level is temporary prisoners. Second level is long-term prisoners. Level 3 is the King’s Inquisition. Level 4 is political prisoners, sometimes with larger, nicer cells and elite guards. The 5th level is theoretically abandoned, and that’s the one we’re trying to get to. 

Ruin stops to listen but doesn’t hear anything except the prisoners getting fed; we head down to level 2 and about that time invisibility and silence wear off. There’s a brief pause as we take in the sight of Marshall stuffed into an undersized uniform, which is currently under a button-popping strain. The prisoners on this level are in bad shape, many of them neglected and starving. 

We head down one of the hallways and turn the corner to find one of the guards smoking. “Hey, do I know you guys?” 

Martini: “You’re going to wish you didn’t. Did I just catch you smoking on the job?”

“Oh, shit. Are you from the Inquisitors level?”

Martini: “Yes.” 

He gets out of our way, promising to get immediately back to work. We continue on and find a door with the symbol of the King’s Inquisition. Ruin stops to listen, and hears screaming and calm questions. We’ve definitely come to the right place. 

Martini takes her time checking for traps but finds nothing, then sets to work on the lock. She gets the lock open, and we go through and Martini once again jams the door behind us. The screaming is pretty audible now; we’ve obviously come during work hours. 

One of the inquisitors is torturing somebody for the location of some stolen goods. As we’re coming down the steps, we hear footsteps coming up. It’s an inquisitor, and of course we’re wearing the wrong uniforms for this area. Inquisitors only.. 

Marshall’s too-small uniform also catches his eye. Just before he starts shouting, Martini casts Modify Memory. He never saw us, and also he heard that one of the doors was jammed and he was sent to do something about it. We pass on, coming down to an area with a central set of rooms for the torture and a hallway going around; offices and special chambers are on the outer perimeter. We resume being invisible. And then we attempt to sneak around the perimeter and find the next set of stairs going down. Which we find, but it has a big iron gate and huge padlock; it’s a fairly fancy gate. 

We check it for traps and open the lock, because Martini is really good at this. The steps beyond are dusty, with only a few prints. As we get to the bottom of the stairs, we hear the clopping of mail-clad boots, which is better armor than the other guards have. There’s a guard in full plate with a masterwork polearm. 

It’s actually a nicely-appointed hallway; it doesn’t look like a dungeon. The doors are polished oak, and spaced fairly far apart; the cells here are apparently pretty nice. Martini takes to the ceiling (slippers of Spider Climb) and goes ahead to scout for the next staircase. 

The cells are quiet; Martini looks in one and there’s a clawed-up corpse in there. Another has a man singing snatches of random songs. She’s also watching the pattern of the guards, but they’re either random or deliberately unpredictable. On the plus side, they don’t seem to be moving too fast. 

The singing guy is Baron Moreau, the one who got turned into a vampire. He’s not a vampire anymore, he’s just crazy. But he’s also the only live prisoner that we’ve seen down here. Marshall recognizes him, but the other two just keep pulling him along. While this is happening, one of the elite guards looks around and then sneaks down the stairs. 

Martini follows him, and Ruin drags Marshall along behind us. We head down the stairs, tailing the guard who went down here. Marshall’s lagging a bit behind, but we keep up. 

The bottom level really is abandoned; the guard slips around a couple of corners and goes to an intact cell and leans down and takes out something and slides it inside. Then he tries to head back upstairs. He’s coming right by us. 

We let him pass. 

Then we go to the cell, but on the way we pass a different cell and can hear someone eating inside. We look in. A poorly-cared-for elf is inside, which Martini attempts to ignore. Ruin thinks it might be Mythrandril. He immediately calls Martini back over. “We might need him! He may be the actual royal blood that can open the vault! What if the human kings failed because their claim was illegitimate???”

Martini: “Fine.” She’s made it as far as the other door, and she’s pretty sure the deposed King Luc is behind it. 

Ruin: “Mythrandril! What are you doing here?”

Mythrandril was apparently abducted by Chuck; they took some of his blood and threw him in the cell. Meanwhile King Luc is trying to order us to let him out. The guard comes rushing back down and starts trying to get Luc calmed down. 

After about five minutes he finally gets Luc to shut up and heads back upstairs. We move on and try to locate the vault. We look around for a bit and finally come to the end of the hallway. Somebody’s cleared some rubble out of the way, and behind the rubble is a hidden door that’s open. It looks like a lot of people have come through here. It leads into some ancient catacombs, and the room at the end of the hall has a full-on alchemical laboratory. It’s mostly been disassembled, but there were definitely some scholars down here. There’s a sort of medical table with straps and place to catch the blood. Beyond is another passageway that leads to a big stone door that’s cracked open; there are sounds from beyond. There are also some undead creatures decomposing on the floor: there may have been a bit of a fight here, and there may still be something big beyond the door. 

We listen. There are three very large creatures moving around. There’s also some kind of buzzing sound. Martini sneaks forward and looks to see what’s moving. There are three rather huge undead that are covered with pustulent sores that hatch into some kind of death locusts. 

Marshall looks around and identifies them as ancient undead from an unfamiliar tradition; they’re immune to electricity, but they can smell enemies and also force more wasps from their flesh. Turns out the real catch was that to open the door you need the blood of kings - plural. That’s why Mythandril is here. (OOC: To be clear, Martini's player figured that out; I did not.)

Marshall turns undead. Martini moves to the ceiling. 

Marshall does turn one of them, which retreats towards the back of the room. 

Martini heads up and across the ceiling, passing above the monsters. She gets about halfway across the room. Martini spots some flaming skeletons in the next room. Ruin tries to dimension door into the vault, but fails – such travel seems to work in the ruins, but not inside the vault. Marshall turns the other two, and moves behind us. 

Martini detours to check out a metal door off to one side of the room, and quickly cheks it for traps but finds nothing. Ruin circles around the giant undead and moves to cover Martini. Marshall moves forward and tries to turn the flaming skeletons in the next room; he fails. On the plus side, they don’t move to attack us. Martini now tries to unlock the door, but fails. 

After a couple of more tries, she succeeds and enters the side room. There’s an altar on the back wall, and an emblem of Vecna on the wall above it. There’s an amulet on the altar; it’s shiny. 

Martini takes the amulet. It’s an amulet of Mighty Fists +5. 

Ruin closes the door behind them, because the undead are starting to shake off the turning. 

Martini heads back up to the ceiling in the main room. “You guys deal with the slugs, and I’ll walk through the door.”

Marshall turns one of the undead, and Martini crosses the ceiling to the far door. Ruin sprints into the next room; Marshall turns the other two as well. 

In the next room are two skeletons who are A) on fire B) patrolling C) at least not giant or covered in death locusts. The skeletons move up and attack with incorporeal touch attacks. Ruin is, fortunately, fireproof, and largely made of Fortitude; he ignores the worst of their effects… physically. 

Martini crosses into the room, staying on the ceiling. Ruin flies up to the ceiling and attacks Martini. He doesn’t do a lot of damage, but… yeah. Marshall makes it to the doorway, right next to the two incorporeal flaming skeletons. He casts Mass Heal. 

Ruin is restored to health, as is Martini. One of the skeletons takes a fair bit of damage as well. One of them moves forward and attacks Marshall. Unlike Ruin, he manages to shake off the mental effect. Martini takes a quick glance around the room, then casts Mislead, leaving Ruin to attack her illusionary duplicate while she turns invisible and goes to check the side door. 

It’s trapped. 

Ruin shoves the effigy out of his mind and drops back to the ground, but tumbles as he lands and avoids taking damage. The Effigy that had gone still turns and looks at Ruin. Marshall drops another bit of healing, damaging the undead. They both turn on him, and afflict him with negative levels. (Restoration, he knows, will cure this.) Unfortunately, with the negative levels he also fails the will saves and his eyes begin to glow. 

Ruin kills the one that was possessing Marshall (despite the fact that it’s partly incorporeal). Marshall shakes it off; he steps back and casts Restoration on himself. The thing follows and attacks; Marshall takes a bit of physical damage, but shrugs off the really nasty effects. Martini just blithely keeps working on the lock while Ruin carves through the thing that possessed Marshall. 

The lock is beyond Martini’s abilities; we break down the door instead, and find an antechamber with a metal door on the far side. She checks it for traps and finds one. She attempts to disable it, and succeeds. This lock is much easier, and she gets it open. That brings us into another altar of Vecna, with a book on it; there are four alcoves around the edges of the room, behind closed doors. 

Monday, December 12, 2022


So I woke up Saturday morning and started cleaning, a nightmarish process which included dragging a huge amount of mess out of Secondborn's room. This took me all the way through to Saturday evening, when I had a very enjoyable D&D game, and then continued on Sunday until about 5:00 when I ran completely out of spoons and went to the back to play video games instead. I have sorted laundry. I have run laundry. I have run dishes. I have pulled old dishes out of hidden corners of Secondborn's room. I have pulled actual food out of hidden corners of Secondborn's room. There was, in fact, an entire meltdown because despite the Very Explicit Rule prohibiting food in his room, I went back in on Sunday and found more food and promptly took his electronics away. 

Y'all, I am beat. I am ready to have a nice, relaxing weekend now... except the laundry pile still isn't gone. Turns out, though, that there's a laundromat with some industrial-grade (and industial-sized) washers and dryers, and they aren't that expensive. So anything that's still in the laundry pile at the start of next weekend is getting hauled out there and run in one giant load. 

Still... trying to clean the kitchen spawned a whole bunch of related housekeeping, so now the living room looks nice, the fridge is clean, Firstborn has actually dusted his room, and the Things Behind the Couch have been vanquished. Plus, everybody has socks and underpants for the week.

This weekend officially kicked my ass. Adulthood is fucking relentless.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Tavros: Mother and Son

It had been the longest day that Tavros could remember, longer even than the hike back to the nameless village after his fight with the hill giant. He and his friends had defeated the elvish revolutionary Tauriel, who seemed to be preparing to set himself up as a noble or even king in Caristhium, captured the elf's lieutenant Rona who had set fire to a good portion of the town, and brought his mother's remains back to the temple to be resurrected. Then he had stood beside her as she pronounced judgement on the ones who had murdered her, and saw to it that they were properly hanged. 

And before all that he had tried to deal with the remaining nobles in the area: the loyal, the recalcitrant, and the contemptuously rebellious. He knew he wasn't done with them yet, either; he knew he was going to have to make an example out of at least one of them, and the very thought made him even more tired. He was not a subtle man; he was not cut out for court politics, let alone intrigue. He was very much not cut out for the necessity of state-sanctioned murder. 

But his mother was Her Ladyship Emilianne Fontaine, sister of the former King Luc II, and aunt of King Luc III, who had been king right up until the Dark Army and the Solari Hunters rolled through. An adventurer in her own right, Lady Emilianne had established her estates here in Caristhium, overshadowing the local lords. If anyone would know how to restore the city and the lands around it, it was she. 

So when she turned from the hanged bodies in the central square of the city of Caristhium and said, "Walk with me, Tavros," he turned and walked with her. They had a bodyguard of sorts, formed of priests and paladins from the temple and a handful of former elvish revolutionaries who had apparently pledged some sort of fealty to Martini. Possibly, Tavros reflected, out of sheer terror. Martini herself might be about somewhere as well, most likely monitoring the rooftops as they walked through the city. 

"It is good to know that you're alive, my son," she said casually. 

"Likewise, Mother." 

"What you've done here..." She paused, giving no indication of how she meant to continue, so Tavros merely waited. When there was nothing to respond to, it was best not to respond. 

After a moment she offered a small smile, and continued: "This is dangerous, declaring yourself the King in the East. It will make you the target of demons, elves, this werebear usurper, and even--" Her lips quirked. "--our noble allies."

Tavros nodded. "There is no one else," he said simply. "Unless--" and here he did his best not to sound too hopeful "--you would be willing to step into the role of queen."

Emilianne shook her head. "I foreswore that when I refused a noble marriage. My blood is royal, but I myself am merely noble. You, on the other hand..." 

"There is no one else," Tavros agreed. "Unless King Luc III somehow yet lives." 

"If he does, and if he returns to power, he too will try to kill you -- for presuming to ascend to his position."

Tavros shrugged. "If he returns, I will immediately renounce all claim to the throne and pledge loyalty to him, vowing that I only acted to preserve his realm. Which is, after all, entirely true. I... disagree ...with many of the things my cousin has done, but he is still the rightful king."

"Ah, yes.Your elvish friends. Easy enough here, in Caristhium, where elves are not uncommon and there is much commerce with the forest, but have you considered how this will look to the rest of Sol Povos?" She considered, then added: "And even here, after Tauriel and his supporters?"

"The land must be reunited," said Tavros. "That includes the elves." 

She waited. 

"I know that will make things more difficult with the human nobles," Tavros admitted after a moment, "but the elves can also be powerful allies. And in any case, it's the right thing to do." 

Emilianne chuckled. "You may know that in your heart, and act on it, but never speak it aloud except in strictest confidence among those you trust fully and completely. Do you have plans for how to pursue this campaign of yours?"

Tavros sighed. "It's already begun. The bard, Geddy Lee Geddy, composed a song..."

"Ah, yes. 'In his silvered helm, he'll rebuild the Realm; there's a new King rising in the East.'"

"You've heard it." Tavros managed, barely, not to sound sour.

His mother gave the slightest of shrugs. "It's catchy. It'll spread."

Tavros suppressed a shudder. "Ruin, Geddy, Eva, and Leira have gone to try to free the remains of the wizards of Springmage, who are currently trapped and under siege in the Starroads Inn."

His mother considered this. "It seems a sound strategy. Geddy I know, if only by reputation. Who are the others?" 

"Eva is a gold dragon, and Geddy's loyal companion. Leira is... my adopted daughter, a human sorceress of considerable power. Ruin is a true elf, a warrior of unusual abilities."

"Adopted daughter?" His mother raised an eyebrow. 

"The girl is sixteen, and already capable of... well. Multiple Meteor Swarms in succession, for one thing. She pines for a paladin named Sacha, but with her age and her looks we had issues with other men taking interest in her. It seemed easiest to claim her as my daughter, and--" He shrugged. "--it grew from there."

"This concerns me," said the Lady Emilianne. "Should you fall, any man who wished to claim the throne might strengthen his claim by wooing and wedding her."

Tavros shrugged. "It would concern me more if she had eyes for anyone save Sacha."

"And this Sacha? Is he trustworthy?" 

"A paladin of Helios, I believe," said Tavros. "So, yes. Especially now that his curse has been lifted." This was another thing his mother had taught him: how to sound certain when he was anything but.

His mother closed her mouth, opened it, then closed it again. Finally she said, "And does this formerly-cursed paladin return your... daughter's... feelings?"

"I believe so, yes. He claims that his love for her gave him the strength to fight against the dark spirit that tried to claim him."

There was another long pause, and then Lady Emilianne said, "You have given me much to think on, my son."

Tavros said, "There's more." 

"Of course there is." His mother shook her head, just slightly. "But I can only digest so much at once. We will speak again soon."

Author's note: We really need to have a fiction from Sacha's perspective, I think...

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Ruin: A Night With Anica

"So it seems like Aesa's been monopolizing you," Anica said. She'd found him on that balcony that he and Tavros both favored, the one that looked out over Caristhium and offered such an excellent view of the sunset. 

Ruin looked over at her and quirked a grin. "I thought you were fairly well occupied," he said. "I mean, the three of you..." 

Anica shrugged. "I talked with Tarric and Werendril, and... they understand the importance of unfinished business."

Ruin considered that. "I'm glad it still feels that way to you. It certainly does to me. I don't know if we might have had a future, but... I would have liked to find out."

She smiled back and stepped onto his lap, planting one knee on either side of his hips. "You still can," she said. "The three of us talked about it, and the boys are okay taking care of each other if you're willing to share a night with me."

Ruin swallowed. "Aesa and I haven't talked about..."

"Aesa and I have," Anica told him. "She knows I was looking for you tonight, and she knows why. I wish you'd come back sooner."

Ruin stared up at her face, then nodded. "I wish I had, too. We thought we were doing the right thing, but we lost so much time..." 

She traced a finger down the side of his jaw. "I think you could have been a paladin," she said. "You tried to do the right thing. You made the sacrifice, even if you didn't know how much of a sacrifice it was."

Ruin chuckled. "I'm not sure any sensible god would have me." Even as he said it, he remembered the storm the last time he was here, the thunder that sounded so much like laughter, and he wondered.

Anica sniffed, amused. "You underestimate them," she said, "but we're getting distracted."

"You're sitting on my lap," Ruin said. "That's a pretty big distraction." 

She reached a hand down, touched him. "Yes, it is." She grinned. "So let's go get distracted by that."

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Music: All For Metal

 Music by All For Metal, apparently, which is my new favorite eighties band that was formed in the 2020s:

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Goodparty: Mages Under Siege

 We do some more checking around to see if we can get some better information on the demons and what they’re using to create the dimensional anchors that keep the mages from escaping. Geddy finds a fellow bard. Once the fellow finishes his performance, Geddy joins him at the bar and offers to buy him a stiff one. 

Geddy starts chatting him up, and asks about the demons. The bard escaped from the capital and had some encounters with the demons before escaping to Lakemont. 

“On the sun plains, on our way to Starroads after the work in the capital dried up on account of that bear-queen–”

Ruin: “Wait, she’s really a bear?”

“So I’m told. Likes to train with the best warriors around, then turn into a bear and rape them.”

Geddy: “Okay, so did you ever run into a giant ball of fuck made out of hands?”

Bard: “Oh, yeah, they were scary. They’re always guarded, too. Like, the one we saw was guarded by a one of those big demons with the fire whips, and the sword-girl demons. Fortunately, they didn’t much care about us – just sent a couple of Vrocks after us.” He doesn’t know if they can prevent teleportation. He has heard that all of the baalors report to an even bigger baalor, one who’s hideous gnarled and scarred… almost as if he had been caught in an explosion cause by the breaking of a staff of the arch-magus. 

There was a mage with him called The Amazing Marvin, who’s at another inn here in town. Geddy offer to take him along and he jumps at the opportunity; Geddy asks if he’d be interested in running a couple of missions for us. The dude worships Geddy Lee Geddy. So we dispatch him to look for Sacha, under the theory that a bard should be good for that. The fellow is a gnome bard named Thierry P Thierry.

Then we go look up The Amazing Marvin. He’s very impressed with himself; he just learned to cast Fireball. And he’s absolutely sure that the Odipei (ball of hands demons) could produce a dimensional anchor. 

What we know about baalors: they’re hard to hit, they’re hard to kill, they carry vorpal longswords and flaming whips; if they tangle you, they pull you into their bodies, which are on fire. They have true seeing, fire storm, and implosion… and quickened telekinesis. Immune to fire and electricity and poison, resistant to acid and cold. 

Mariliths, aren’t as powerful or as tough; they cannot fly, and they basically have six arms and six longsword. Immune to electricity and poison, resistant to acid, cold, and fire. But, they can constrict and invisibility will not hide us from them. 

So, we start buffing: Death Ward, haste. Protection from energy, Displacement. Then we move ourselves over the Odopi and let loose. Ruin steps in and attacks, doing some real damage despite not having the best weapon for this. Geddy starts singing. 

Then Eva tears into the thing. She bites it twice, claws at it twice, bludgeons it with her wings, and then slaps it with her tail. She scatters pieces of eye-stalks and hands all over the place. Ruin attacks it again and it goes down. It’s not dead yet, but there are a couple of really pissed-off demonic bodyguards who attack Ruin and Eva. The one attacking Ruin is so upset that she misses. The one attacking Eva gets a couple of hits in, but not enough to be a problem. 

Geddy, meanwhile, is still singing and playing his legendary instrument, Richenbacher’s Electric Lute. He lets loose with a power chord, and finishes it. The Baalor trties to implode Ruin, but fails; it uses telekinesis to throw a pile of rocks at Ruin from behind. Leira teleports herself, Geddy, and Eva away; Ruin Dimension Door’s after them, far enough to get out of sight and out of reach. 

“Quick!” cries Geddy,  “Get the next one before they realize what’s happening!”

We teleport again.

Ruin immediately starts carving, doing some damage. Geddy looses another blast with the lute, and then Eva tears into this demon as well. Ruin follows up and annihilates it. The baalor roars: “MORTALS! YOU SHALL PAY FOR THAT!”

The baalor implodes Ruin – successfully – and throws rocks at Leira with his telekinesis. The two mariliths move, one of them missing and the other striking Eva for some damage. Geddy fires off a power chord at the baalor, and then Eva scoops Ruin up in her mouth. Leira teleports us back to Lakemont. 

The duke himself appears to congratulate us, as does Marshal Giselle. They ask about our next move, which is Rescue Wizards. 

The next day, Geddy guides us in on dragonback to the Starroads Inn. By the time we land, Ruin and Leira have both been imploded. 

Out comes Atrix the White, who asks who we are. Geddy explains that we’ve taken out two of the Odopi, so it should be relatively easy for us to escape. The necromancer Grimsor comes in, and Atrix waves him off. Other people start filtering into this courtyard area. With the arrival of the others, Atrix considers the possibility of getting a circle together to aid Atrix in dispelling the block. 

Geddy uses our remaining scroll of True Resurrection  on Leira, and they scrape Ruin into a convenient bucket. Atrix lays out the story of their intention to hold the tower at springmage… right up until Behemoth came. Behemoth is the same demon lord that we dealt with in Fanaxia, and he’s strong: bigger than all the other baalors, but also horribly torn and scarred. 

The plan is basically to break the remaining dimensional anchors, and then have everybody who can teleport get the children out. We’re going to relocate the entire group to Caristhium, though Grimsor the Necromancer still has an unhealthy interest in Durest, so he may go his own way. 

This will give us a pretty solid set of magical resources, and possibly also allow us to teleport without being noticed by the horrible things in the air. Caristhium is back under Tavros’ control, and some of the elvish revolutionaries have been hanged in the square. Everybody is proclaiming Tavros The King in the East, and singing that horribly jaunty little song that Geddy composed. We resurrect Ruin, and then buy some more scrolls because this is definitely going to come up again. 


Next up: the Royal Crypt.  

Monday, December 5, 2022

Busy and also tedious...

That was pretty much this weekend: busy, but also tedious. I got a little more work done on the patch jacket while watching Anna and the Apocalypse, and then Bullet Train. I got a lot done on the kitchen -- not enough, but a lot. Enough to feel like we're catching up, at least. And I got to play in a D&D game on Saturday night - a nice little one-shot in which we went treasure-hunting in a wrecked ship. That one was fun because it was much more problem-solving than most of the games I've played in recently. More D&D tonight, which will be fun; I expect we'll be trying to get a bunch of wizards out of the inn where they're currently under siege by demons. (The wizards themselves aren't really the issue; it's the students and servants and suchlike that are going to make this difficult.)

Not much progress on the writing project, but after this past week that's no great surprise. Hopefully I can get back to looking at that tomorrow. Rest and food and exercise, that's the key to it. Well, that and a spot of free time. 

Work is work, but I'm eligible for paid retirement starting in January. I couldn't actually retire on that, of course, but even so: it's amazing how much that knowledge takes the pressure off things. So... we'll see.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Ruin: Paternity, Part Six

Later, Ruin would remember little of what Anica had blithely referred to as family time. They had eaten at a shared table, and he had been given his time to play with the two toddlers, Rune and Rose, as they practiced standing and walking and exploring. 

It was only when Aesa gathered up Rose, and offered Ruin her hand, and said, "Why don't you stay with me tonight?" that Ruin realized that he might not be dining with two established couples, but with something else entirely. 

Aesa's chambers were across the hall from those shared by the paladins. Ruin followed her inside, and watched as she placed Rose into a simple wooden crib, which she then scooted into place beside her own narrow bed. "So..." he said cautiously. "Werendril, and Tarric, and Anica? And you alone?" 

Aesa shook her head. "Not alone. I have the three of them. But those three fit together romantically, and I haven't taken a lover since..." she blushed. ""

Ruin nodded slowly, feeling sad. "That must have been difficult." 

Aesa shrugged. "In some ways. But seeing my friends happy is not that great a trial. And it's not as if I've been unhappy, myself. Yes, I might have wanted more, but..." 

She gestured towards Rose, who was leaning against the railing of her crib. Ruin extended a hand, and Rose grabbed his fingers. He turned his head to look at Aesa. "I'm not sure I can offer what I think you might want," he said cautiously. 

She shrugged. "I know. It's the end of the world, and you have things to do. You might get killed-- or I might. I just want to know that our daughter is safe, and loved, and moving into her own life."

Ruin nodded at that. "Whatever I can do," he said. 

"Stay with me tonight," Aesa told him. 

Rose leaned in, smelled Ruin's hand, then tottered back and rolled over onto her side. Aesa looked down at her, then reached in and pulled a blanket over her legs. 

"It's a small bed," Ruin observed, but there was a hint of a smile around his lips.

"We'll fit," Aesa assured him. "We did before."

"You're not worried about...?"

Aesa shrugged. "Amun and Corellon have their own ideas," she said. "No, I'm not worried. There's an orison to prevent it, if you want to be sure, but I don't think whatever plans they have for the two of us include further children. Not for a while yet, at least."

Ruin nodded slowly, as his daughter settled into sleep. "All right."

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Ruin: Paternity, Part Five

The nursery was busy, and surprisingly full. The woman in charge -- a round-faced human with a kind expression -- looked up as they entered. "Time already?" she asked, then frowned. "No, you're early. Nothing bad, I hope."

Ruin watched as Aesa smiled. "Nothing bad," she said. "But we need to take ours back for tonight. There are introductions to be made."

"Oh?" asked the woman, glancing briefly at Ruin. "More of your true elves?"

"He's their father," Anica said, from Ruin's left, and the woman's expression went blank with surprise. 

Then she smiled, and approached. "Imara DuChamp," she said, extending a hand to Ruin. 

He took it, offered a gentle handshake, and withdrew his grip. "My name," he said, "is Ruin." It hadn't been, not really; Ruin and Regret and all his other moods had just been fill-ins, ways to call him while he decided. But Ruin had stuck with him, and Ruin was what everyone else used. And here he was, telling a human who likely hadn't the slightest clue about any of this that he was choosing it for his adult name. 

"Right, well, yes, first of all I'm terribly sorry it's so crowded in here, it's just that when the elves took over the city we had to close the orphanage and move all the children into the temple. Safer that way, but crowded."

Ruin made a vague gesture. "This is all new to me anyway," he said. 

Imara glanced at Anica, then at Aesa. "I'll fetch your children, then," she said, then stepped back and turned away. 

Ruin glanced at Aesa, then at Anica. "You keep them here during the day?" he asked. 

Anica nodded. "Sometimes overnight, if we're away on business. Mostly we all gather in the evenings, though, and let the children play together. It makes it easier, if one of us can watch them while the others prepare the meals and get everyone set."

"So it's the two of you," said Ruin, frowning slightly as he puzzled through this, "and...?"

"Tarric and Werendril," finishes Aesa. "They're--" She glanced at Anica. "--helping us out."

Anica sighed. "It's a bit more than that."

Ruin opened his mouth to ask, but at that moment Imara returned, holding a toddler in each arm. "See?" she said, looking from one child to the other. "I told you your mothers were here." 

Small, round-faced and pointy-eared, the two children twisted and lifted their arms, and Anica and Aesa stepped in to grab them. Ruin swallowed. 

"Come on," said Anica. "It's family time. We'll introduce you there." 

"It was a pleasure to meet you, Ruin," said Imara. 

Ruin nodded back, dazed. "Likewise." Being told he had children was one thing; seeing them was something else again. And he had no idea how Werendril and Tarric were part of this, though they obviously were... 

Still shaking his head, he followed Anica and Aesa back to their chambers.