Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Forgotten Family: Into the Temple

"This's ridiculous," whispered Morthros, tugging at the blue robe and cowl that disguised his silver armor.

"Aye," agreed Balos. "If'n ye want tae just stroll in and get yerself killed after all I did tae get hold of these, you go right ahead. Ainslyn and I'll wait 'ere, an' make our own attempt later."

"I didnae say that," Morthros objected, but he removed his helmet and dropped it into the bag along with his axe and Balos' crossbow. Ainslyn's morning star, buckler, and helmet were in there as well. "Ye're certain this'll work, though?"

"Nothin's certain, brother," said Balos. He glanced at Ainslyn. "Are ye ready?"

"As much as Ah can be, fer this," she told him. "Ah've a bad feelin', though."

"Aye," agreed Morthros, "but it has to be done. Our niece is a vampire now, an' her father has tae answer for that."

Balos rolled his eyes, but didn't object; Ainslyn just nodded. "Onward, then."

* * *

The temple had once been set with four towers, and filled with a staff of devoted worshipers. Now three of the towers were fallen, smashed into rubble by the power of Indra, and only the Tower of Wind remained. Balos led his brother and sister past the bones of the ancient gold dragon -- which stirred long enough to regard them, but made no move otherwise -- and into the temple itself.

It was raining, of course. It had been raining ever since Durest's... ascension, if that's what it had been. Balos had managed to track down Vandraka and confirm that she'd become a vampire -- of her own free will, she said, but when it came to vampires any such claim must be suspect. She'd even confirmed that her father Durest had become a lich, shortly after the Order of Secrets had disappeared. She and her human girlfriend seemed confused that Balos wasn't more happy for them. 

It was early evening, and the temple was settling down. Word had it that Durest spent much of his time in the sanctuary, and sent lesser priests out to host services and recruit new worshipers. Ainslyn had shaken her head at hearing that. Clearly, she didn't approve, though that might just have been because it made their work more difficult.

The guards didn't stop them, though it seemed to Balos that most of Indra's priesthood here was human. Their disguises were apparently good, even if their faces were unfamiliar... and Indra's worshipers had been growing in number. Strange faces might not be that noticeable just now.

The entrance to the Sanctuary was unmistakable, and Balos walked calmly up to it and ascended the stairs. A handful of other priests stopped to look at them, then hurried on about their business; evidently anyone summoned to the sanctuary was either important, or doomed. 

The doors were open, and the interior was lit with a perpetual, magical glow. There were rows of wooden pews, arranged around a central altar. And there, at the altar, was a stout figure in blue robes, with a rod tucked into the back of his belt. A giant skeleton with a gleaming ruby eye stood on the far side of the altar.

"Quick and quiet," said Balos softly, and started down the aisle towards the altar and the dwarf who stood with his back to them. Ainslyn and Morthros followed, their steps clearly audible in the silence, and Balos cursed silently. Still, Durest remained silent and apparently absorbed in the study of a large book that he had spread open atop the altar. It was only after they'd passed the last of the pews that he turned to face them. 

"And what can I do for you?" he asked. "Come to offer worship and praise? Seeking advancement in the way of our lord?" There was something terribly mocking in his tone and posture.

"Durest Inglorian," pronounced Morthros, "We've come to take you back to the clan to answer for your crimes." He pulled off his hood and dropped the bag beside him, then reached down and opened it up. 

Durest started laughing, a horrible sound that filled the temple. The thunder outside seemed to echo it. 

Morthros pulled his helmet on and passed the other one to Ainslyn. Balos knew he should have been attacking already -- he had daggers concealed in his sleeves, ready to go -- but he couldn't seem to move. Something was horribly wrong. Durest should already have been attacking them, or calling for reinforcements, or fleeing. Instead, he just stood there, contempt in every line of his body. 

Morthros pulled out his axe, while Ainslyn retrieved her morning star and buckler. 

Balos licked his lips. "Durest?"

"Not any more," said his brother, and then the screaming began.

* * *

"Go!" screamed Ainslyn, as another bolt of lightning tore through her and blasted towards Balos. He rolled aside, barely avoiding it, then turned and sprinted towards the nearest window. It was a lovely piece of work, stained panels in a leaden frame, and he smashed through it without even the smallest twinge of conscience. There was nothing but open air on the other side, a good thirty feet of it, but he hit and rolled and came to his feet. 

There were other people all around, watching the flickering lights and listening to the sharp cries from the battle inside the sanctuary -- if what was going on inside there could even be described as a battle. Ainslyn wasn't down yet, but it was only a matter of time -- and she seemed determined to buy that time for his escape. Meanwhile, a couple of the nearer priests had turned towards Balos and were raising their hands... I'm going to die if I don't do something. He stepped over, grabbed the nearest priest, and yelled: "HE'S GONE MAD! HE'S KILLING EVERYONE!

The human's eyes widened, and he stepped back to look up at the window. Balos dodged past him, still screaming his warnings, and charted a staggering course towards the entrance. He'd only just ducked through and tumbled down the steps when he heard Durest call out: "Where is he? Where is the last of these pathetic assassins?!"

Belrab, lend me strength. Amun, lend me speed. Demeter, lend me life! Balos ran. His brother and sister were dead, and whatever Durest had become, he would need far stronger allies to have any hope of facing off with it. He needed to get out of Solstar, at least for a while. He needed shelter, and time to recover. And after that, he needed to recruit more allies. 

An' nae from the clan, either, he thought. I'll nae get any more o' us killed. No, he needed the sort of heroes who might stand a chance against his brother: the King's Solari, or something very like. 

And somewhere in there, he needed a drink.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Could be worse...

So my plan to get my sleep back on schedule and just generally get things together has not been a shining success. On the other hand, it hasn't been a complete failure; I'll take that. I might not be as together as I'd hoped, but this is still better. 

Except that I've hit that weirdly inevitable point where I start trying to get everything together, and that seems to magically cause other things to come apart. Secondborn has developed a kind of whooping, barking cough that, well, I really don't like; we're treating it, but it's affected his sleep schedule and thereby made mine more difficult. The school band had a concert on Saturday, which I'm pretty sure we could all have done without; but we got there, Secondborn acquitted himself honorably, and we had Olive Garden afterwards. 

Work is, well, work; I have a little time off scheduled, at least, but I'm also trying to work through the process of fixing a fairly significant security issue; this requires a weird mix of urgency and patience, since we're talking about a production system and I don't want to get all our users in an uproar. 

The weather has finally gotten chilly -- at least by Texas standards -- but doesn't look like it's set to go into any sort of catastrophic freeze. And if it does, well, I did a bit of shopping this weekend and made sure we were pretty well supplied. 

Writing has been hit and miss, but I feel like if I can get everything else settled out a bit, well... that will probably fix itself. And I do have some time off; hopefully I can spend it on the writing and the patch jacket. 

So yeah, at this point we're all pretty much slogging along as best we can. And this could all be a lot worse, as I keep reminding myself. Let's start the week off with a bit of music. I'll let you figure out which narrative voice matches mine...

Friday, January 27, 2023

Dark Armor: The Champion of Marinul V2

This is the second version I'm writing of this scene. I liked the first version well enough for itself, but it didn't quite set me up for where I wanted to go after this. So, this is version two, and the one that's... official. (Congratulations! Now you see what an unholy mess my writing process is! Though honestly, I don't think this is really uncommon, it's just that when you read a published book all this sort of thing has already been ironed out...) If you want to compare, the two versions are identical right up until the first exchange of blows. The original version is here.

The figure that stood between the gates was tall and lean, wearing a suit of gleaming silver armor and holding a spear. The armor was impressively enchanted, though weaker than the suit that covered the Black Knight. The spear, however, was far more powerful than anything Pallian carried.  

The City of Marinul had equipped its champion with the Spear of the First.

"I offer challenge!" called the Champion of Marinul. "Will you accept?"

Pallian grinned inside his helm. The Black Knight nodded, and the Champion started forward. 

The Black Knight immediately loosed the ball of green flame from his hand, strong enough to shatter stone or splinter wood. The spear snapped up and across as if of its own accord, the long blade at its tip slicing the attack in two. The weapon whined as it cut through the sorcery, and the impact snapped the spearhead back behind the Champion's shoulder, causing him to stagger. 

That was about what Pallian had hoped for: it gave him the moment he needed to get his shield back on his arm. The Champion shook his head and started forward again, and this time the Black Knight came to meet him. 

The shield caught the first thrust, but it was a soft blow. The Champion -- or perhaps the spear itself -- was testing him. The Black Knight responded by lunging forward and slapping the tip of the spear aside with his shield. He cut down at the Champion's fingers, but missed as the man stepped back and spun, bringing the spear all the way around in massive, cleaving blow. The Black Knight dodged back as well, just in time to watch that ancient blade cut the air in front of his face. He had no doubt at all that the spear would have split his helmet had it connected. 

He was already moving in as the Champion pulled the swing in short, but the Champion moved back to match him, staying out of reach of his gauntlet sword. A quick jab of the speartip skipped off the bottom edge of the Black Knight's shield, but the Champion pulled it back before Pallian could try for a cut at his hand. I have to get in closer.

The Black Knight was designed to terrify Teregor's enemies by being relentless and indestructible, but the armor could move when it needed to. Launching off his back foot, Pallian lunged in with his sword extended, holding his shield in close. The spear lanced out, slapping his blade aside, and Pallian swung out with his shield. 

A thunderclap rolled over the battlefield. The Champion had caught the second blow across the midsection of the spear, but the magically-enhanced impact was still enough to send him flying back. He struck the heavy stones of the city wall with what should have been bone-shattering impact, but landed on his feet just in front of it. Either the spear was feeding him strength, or his armor had been enchanted against that sort of trick. 

Pallian was already charging forward, trying to finish the battle before the Champion of Marinul got his feet back under him. 

He was just a moment too late. 

The spear snapped up at the last minute, and the Champion, still kneeling, drove it into the Dark Knight's armor, just above his left knee. It tore through the enchanted black steel, the flesh and bone beneath, and the back of the armor as well. 

Inside his helm, Pallian screamed. It wasn't just the shock of the blow -- the pain hadn't even reached him, yet -- but a sort of shockwave that rippled out from it, trying to shatter his body in much the same way that he'd tried to shatter the champion against the wall. The armor groaned as its enchantments fought to contain the effect, and mostly succeeded. 

Then the spear pulled back out, dripping with his blood. 

The Black Knight was still upright, the armor strong enough to keep him on his feet and moving even with a hole punched right through his leg. The helm contained the sound of Pallian screaming, so that the Champion of Teregor appeared silent and indifferent to the injury. The Champion of Marinul hesitated for a bare moment, then attacked again. 

Pallian barely got his shield up before the spear stabbed through it. He was already twisting, trying to sweep the blow aside, and with the armor adding to his strength he managed to wrench the tip offline. Instead of piercing his heart, it sliced across his pauldron, opening a massive gash in the enchanted steel and scoring his shoulder. That horrible shockwave rolled through him again, and this time the armor groaned loudly enough to be heard atop the walls. 

But he was inside the length of the spear, and its tip was still tangled in his shield. With a desperate lunge, he threw himself onto the Champion of Marinul and drove the gauntlet sword through his chest. The Champion's armor wasn't anywhere near as strong as the Knight's, and the blade pierced it all the way through. Pallian called for levinfire and poured it out through the blade, watching with some satisfaction as waves of sparks rippled across the surface of the champion's armor. The Spear of the First lashed around, trying to free itself, but it was still caught and it was too late. By the time it ripped its way out of Pallian's shield, the Champion of Marinul had fallen to his knees. It struck him once across the back, but he was in too close for it to stab him, and the haft alone wasn't enough to damage him. The dark armor rang like churchbell, but that was all. 

Then the Champion lost his grip, and the spear rolled away. 

Pallian pulled the gauntlet sword out slowly, then shifted his shattered shield to his back. With his hand free, he lifted the champion's corpse... and then beheaded it, just to make sure.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Challenge: Something I'm Proud Of

(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 I'm proud of doing

Well, okay. I've got a solid answer for this one. Positively heroic, even. 

A few months ago -- just a bit before Thanksgiving, I think -- I happened to be in my local Target and I happened to be waiting in line to check out. There was an older man, white-haired but spry, buzzing around the checkout lanes. I'd guess he was in his late fifties to early sixties, but he might have been older and just very active. 

Anyway, he's moving around grabbing gift cards off the racks in front of the registers, and the nice woman in front of me (also a customer) is helpfully pointing him to where he can find more of them. He finally gets a nice big handful together, and turns back...

...At which point I catch his eye. "It's none of my business," I tell him, because he looks like the sort of guy who'd appreciate the sentiment, "but... you're getting those cards for yourself, right? For your own personal use? You didn't get an email asking you to rush out and buy a bunch of them?"

And he says, "Well, no, but my boss--" He stops. He looks at me. Then he says, "It's a scam, isn't it?"

I nod. "I would bet serious money that it's a scam. I'd get in touch with your boss and double-check before you pay for any of that."

He just shakes his head, looking disgusted, and sets the whole pile back on the little shelf. Then he thanks me and walks out of the store.

So there's something I'm proud of: I'm proud of saving that one random guy from getting ripped off. And I'm proud of making one scammer's day just a little more frustrating.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Horoscopes: As The Cold Settles In

The cold will be relentless. It will suck the warmth from everything, until no house or building can keep it out, no fire can keep you warm, no clothing can keep you from shivering. Our leaders tell us we must wait it out, even as their teeth chatter helplessly. And now night falls, taking with it even that faint and distant thing that used to be our sun...

There are things in the snow. You can hear them all around you: scurrying, burrowing, closing in. Keep moving. Do not stop. Warmth and shelter are your only chance of escape... if you can find them.

The snow is a beautiful white blanket across the ground, a sparking presence that seems designed to lure you out. Don't go. Don't let it touch you. Don't let it soak in and become part of you. Don't let it make you part of it.

It's all one in the end, isn't it? The cold, the silence, the darkness. It's all the inevitable triumph of entropy, energy bleeding away as the world winds down like a clock in need of winding. We make lights, spark fires for heat, shout at the top of our lungs. But how long can we keep it up?

You think it's just a dream, that endless frozen hellscape where you find yourself every night. You think those towering things that stride through it, shaking the ground with their steps, are nightmares. Maybe you're right. Maybe you'll wake up in your bed, shivering from a cast-off blanket. Or maybe you're already awake, and trapped here.

Let it come. Let the ash spread across the skies, let the world turn cold again. Let the famines begin, and the riots, and the chaos. But let the great ice sheets rebuild themselves, let them grow strong enough, heavy enough, to hold back the things that are far, far worse.

They come with the snow, drifting soft as breezes through the chill, taking whom they choose. Do not venture out, child. Those who are taken are never seen again, save perhaps as statues of ice that will melt away completely with the coming of spring.

Snow to hide your presence, ice to make the path treacherous, the frozen river to carry the body away... but none of them are as cold as that length of iron in your hand, are they? None of them are as cold as your heart.

Watch carefully. They're quick, are the Frozen Folk. They move like the wind, and never break the surface of the snow. So white and sparkling, they look like part of the snow itself. Give them half a chance, and they'll pull you into a drift and hold you there, stealing the heat from your body. The doctors will call it hypothermia, frostbite, accidental death. But it isn't. It's them.

Can you hear them? Can you hear their cries, so far overhead, just beneath the clouds? Stay still. Stay beneath the trees. The great raptors of the winter storms will steal you away in a breath and swallow you whole. Best to wait until they've passed.

It could be anyone. With the winter coat, the scarf, the hat, the gloves, it looks like anyone. Maybe it will look helpless and desperate. Maybe it will seem friendly, speak cold and empty words of friendship. Watch the left hand. That's where it holds the knife, the knife with the blade of ice.

Look, I know this comes as a shock, but you're not actually who you think you are. All that talking and singing and dancing? All that light and life and joy? It's not you. It's the hat. Take the hat off, and you're nothing but a lifeless pile of snow.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Good weekend

This was, in fact, a very good weekend: plenty of sleep, a date with my wife, a lovely brunch for the whole family... I even got some writing done.And, we managed to take the dog to the dog park without anybody getting eaten by coyotes. 

I've also picked up with a little bit of roleplaying over at The Grey Tower, which is basically a Wheel of Time roleplaying site. I used to be very active there, a long time ago, but eventually dropped out for lack of time; it's good to see that it's still around. I made some genuine real-life friends on that site. 

What else? I dunno. That's about it, I guess. So... have some music. A classic from 2NU:

Friday, January 20, 2023

Dark Armor: The Champion of Marinul (V1)

The figure that stood between the gates was tall and lean, wearing a suit of gleaming silver armor and holding a spear. The armor was impressively enchanted, though weaker than the suit that covered the Black Knight. The spear, however, was far more powerful than anything Pallian carried. 

The City of Marinul had equipped its champion with the Spear of the First.

"I offer challenge!" called the Champion of Marinul. "Will you accept?"

Pallian grinned inside his helm. The Black Knight nodded, and the Champion started forward. 

The Black Knight immediately loosed the ball of green flame from his hand, strong enough to shatter stone or splinter wood. The spear snapped up and across as if of its own accord, the long blade at its tip slicing the attack in two. The weapon whined as it cut through the sorcery, and the impact snapped the spearhead back behind the Champion's shoulder, causing him to stagger. 

That was about what Pallian had hoped for: it gave him the moment he needed to get his shield back on his arm. The Champion shook his head and started forward again, and this time the Black Knight came to meet him. 

The shield caught the first thrust, but it was a soft blow. The Champion -- or perhaps the spear itself -- was testing him. The Black Knight responded by lunging forward and slapping the tip of the spear aside with his shield. He cut down at the Champion's fingers, but missed as the man stepped back and spun, bringing the spear all the way around in massive, cleaving blow. The Black Knight dodged back as well, just in time to watch that ancient blade cut the air in front of his face. He had no doubt at all that the spear would have split his helmet had it landed. 

He was already moving in as the Champion pulled the swing in short, then stepped back and brought the spear back around in a tighter cut that shifted effortlessly to become a thrust at the Black Knight's foot. Pallian yanked his leg up and snapped it back down in a practiced motion that would have pinned or even snapped a lesser weapon. This one was too strong, though. Too strong, and too dangerous. 

So Pallian threw himself down on top of it, scooping his shield arm around the shaft to hold it against his armor while the tip was safely, if momentarily, buried in the cobbled stones of the gate. Before the Champion could wrench loose, the Black Knight stabbed  up from where he clung to the spear. It was a clumsy, desperate move...

...But it worked. The tip of his gauntlet sword went in under the edge of the Champion's breastplate, and Pallian triggered the levin-fire as he felt it bite into flesh.

The Champion of Marinul shuddered as sparks crawled across the surface of his armor. The spear jerked once, lifting the Black Knight bodily into the air. Then it came loose from the champion's hand and landed on the stones with a soft moan that Pallian would have sworn was a cry of regret. The Black Knight came down beside it, then rolled away and came to his feet. 

The Champion was, impossibly, still on his feet: smoking, staggering, but still standing. Pallian got a knee under him, and then a foot. Then, in a single movement, he stepped forward and beheaded the Champion of Marinul. 

With the spear, he had been a solid match for the Black Knight. Without it, and wounded, his lighter armor wasn't enough to keep him alive. His head rolled away, and his body collapsed. 

Pallian paused for a moment, looking down at the Champion's body. Though none of it showed through the armor, he found himself elated. He'd faced two worthy foes tonight, and even if they were both dead now, that was a rare challenge for him. 

A moment later his thoughts caught up with him, and he slipped his shield onto his back again. Then he bent down and took hold of the spear. 

For a moment, it fought him: tried to turn in hands, tried to drive itself through his armor and into his flesh. He kept a firm grip on it, using the armor's strength to hold it still, until at last it relented. Then he turned, carrying it, alert for it to make another attempt on his life.

The men and women atop the walls were silent as he passed beneath them. His own troops were silent as he passed through them, as he motioned for them to follow. Rebka was silent as she stood atop the earthworks, watching his approach. The Black Knight, of course, was always silent. 

He strode up the frozen soil and stopped beside his sister, hand out to offer her the spear. She placed both her hands on it, and he felt it try to twist again. So he stood, a metal statue, holding the ancient weapon still while his sister laid her will upon it. It was only when she finally nodded that he released it. 

Rebka studied him for a long moment. Then she turned to face the city. "The Champion of Teregor triumphs again," she announced, and her voice carried not just to their own troops, but to the defenders atop the walls and on into the heart of Marinul. "The Spear of the First returns to its rightful place with the heirs of Teregor. Had you given it over willingly, the City of Marinul would have been spared. Now, it is forfeit -- and you are all citizens of Teregor. I advise you to return to your homes while we put things to rights. Still, if any of you wish resist..." Her voice turned contemptuous. "...I suppose this is your chance."

She dropped the working that made her voice inescapable, and turned to look at the Black Knight again. "Clear the walls. Kill anyone who doesn't return home. Captain Mirlin and the heavy infantry will assist you. Then join me at the House of Governance."

The Black Knight nodded. Pallian would have far preferred to skip the sack of the city, but the Black Knight never questioned and never argued, not even implicitly. The Black Knight always obeyed. He turned his head in time to see Captain Mirlin bow and say, "It will be done, Your Grace." Then he was striding towards the gates once more.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Good!Party: Vacating the Vampire Villa

We continue our venture to the bottom of the house that the vampires built. We’ve cleared out the top two floors, including the vampire who’d been using Magic Jar to annoy us.

Tavros leads the way down the stairs, and we’re off and running again.

He descends into some sort of training area/barracks. On the far and of the room are four vampires standing by a door. The sorcerers immediately shoot Tavros, then retreat through the door. The fighters follow, and then close the door. Tavros takes strength damage.

He crosses the room and opens the door, leaving the handle in the hands of the two vampire fighters. He sets the door aside. Leira uses Sunburst on the room beyond, killing four out of six vampires and six thralls (Leira knows nothing about this, though). Geddy moves up to where he can see into the next room. He thinks Leira got all the vampires, so he drops a mass cure light wounds and burns the two vampires.

Eva moves behind Uncle Geddy, looking into the… seneschal’s office, maybe? There’s a door to another room beyond. She tosses a fireball into the office, and then moves to cover the stairs. The fighter in front of Tavros attacks him, but misses. The sorceress fires a lightning bolt, damaging us a bit.

The door to the lord’s study opens, and three more vampires move into the room. An archer fires at Tavros, and misses; the other one fires a multishot at Leira. Leira goes down again. A second sorcerer steps into the room and cast ennervation at Tavros, draining him. He follows it up witch scorching ray. Tavros cuts down the fighter next to him, then steps towards the vampires.

Geddy cast Cure Moderate Wounds on the entire crowd, healing us and damaging the vampires. Eva moves in front of Geddy and casts Glitterdust. The archers are blinded. The remaining sorcerer gives up on trying to disable Tavros, and instead tries to fry him with Rays of Enfeeblement, but misses.

The two archers turn into mist and retreat through the doorway… The big fighter who was holding the door moves in, flanks Tavros, and takes a shot at him. He connects once, but misses with the next two. The newer sorcerer fires off Chain Lightning, zapping Tavros and then chaining out to everybody else. Leira goes back down. The sorcerer tries a scorching ray at Tavros, but misses; the lesser sorcerer tries a Ray of exhaustion on Tavros but fails.

Tavros hits the greater sorcerer but causes a batch of Mirror Images to spring into being; he then turns to the lesser sorcerer and reduces him to mist; he turns again and tags the fighter, who definitely feels it.

Geddy heals Leira and gets her back to consciousness. Eva adds more healing for Leira. The vampires in mist form are heading towards the stairs. The fighter shifts so that he’s flanking with the big sorcerer, and hits Tavros for a bit of damage. The sorcerer adds Chain Lightning to the mix. Tavros is staggered, but he turns on the fighter and hits him again, then gets his sword wedged firmly in the ceiling. Leira drops Sunburst again, and annihilates everyone on this floor.

Eva casts Greater Invisibility on herself and then takes a peek downstairs. There appear to be two fighters and two sorcerers readying actions on the floor, just like they did before. In the dining room beyond she sees two more fighters and two more sorcerers waiting, along with a couple of swarms of vampire spawn. There’s also one more door off the stair area; it’s closed.

Eva comes up and tells us what she saw. We decide to go with Greater Invisibility, and try to sneak down… they hear us coming and throw a couple of fireballs at our end of the room, then duck back out through the door.

We’re immune to Fireballs, so Leira teleports herself and Eva into the next room and lays down another Subursts, taking out two fighters and three of the four sorcerers. Geddy uses a power chord on the electric lute to smash through the door. He moves to position himself. Eva casts Fireball, damaging the vampires a bit but failing to get through spell resistance for the swarms. The fighters move over and try to attack the source of the Sunburst; the first one misses,and gets his sword stuck in the ceiling; the second one manages to connect with Leira. The sorcerer tries Scorching Ray at Leira, hitting her once.

Leira drops another Sunburst. The fighter with his sword stuck in the ceiling dies, the second fighter take damage, and the sorcerer dies; the swarms take damage. Leira adds a couple of quickened Scorching Rays, and the fighter goes down. Leira walks out the door.

The swarms turn, making ready to swarm the area where Leira was. Eva is the only one still there. Geddy fires off another blast of music, and shatters the swarms.

Tavros goes down two floors, leading the way to the first floor. He opens a door and finds a kitchen; there’s a door for probably a larder, and a door that looks like it goes outside. Eva comes down the stairs and opens the other door, revealing an entry hall. Some mist comes out of the crates in the kitchen and form into four vampires in front of Tavros.

Leira moves downstairs, and drops a Sunburst on Tavros. Two fighters die, and one mage; only a single mage remains. Tavros smiles, showing a dragon’s mouth full of teeth.

Geddy fires off a power chord, tagging the vampire sorcerer. Tavros finishes him and moves to the back door. Eva moves into the kitchen and tries the door to the larder; Leira walks out the back door to go lay down in the sunlight. Getty shatters the larder door; this sets off a Power Word Stun trap, which fails to get past Eva’s spell resistance.

Leira opens the back door and sets off a symbol of pain, which affects her but not Tavros. Eva goes to open the front door, blithely ignoring the symbol of pain that she triggers. There’s one more room off the entryway, and she can hear sucking sounds from in there.

We gather around, and Eva opens the door. The sorcerers try Ray of Enfeeblement, which doesn’t work; the fighters move over to swing at the area just outside the door. They miss.

Leira stirs from her place on the grass and walks across the tower to use her last Sunburst on the room. Three of the four fighters die immediately; ditto sorcerers. Geddy steps into the doorway with Eva, and hits them with a power chord. Eva finishes the fighter with a Magic Missile. The sorcerer tries Fireballing the entryway, to no effect whatsoever. Leira finishes him with Scorching Ray, and goes outside to pout while we search the place.

We toss the coffins out and set them on fire.

We find a case of Cure Moderate Wounds potions (24 of them). In the kitchen larder there’s a secret passageway out to the barn in the courtyard. 500 pp, too. On level 2 the dining room has no magic, but there’s money and gems all over the floor; we take the time to collect it. Geddy checks the last remaining door, and finds a magical trap; he fails to dispel it, sets it off, and dies.

Inside there is a small chest with 2,000 PP and gems worth another 50,000 GP, plus another 30,000 in miscellaneous coins on the floor. There’s a manikin on the side has a +5 vest of saves and +6 cloak of charisma. Lastly, there’s a small box that holds two +5 rings of protection that can be used to shield other and get basic information about each other. Upstairs in the training areas, we find about 20,000 GP worth of magic weapons.

In the lord’s study, there’s a table with a pair of twins holding each other in fear and dismay. Tavros announces their freedom, puts them in some clothing, and turns them loose. We pick up more treasure here, about another $70,000 GP worth. Finally, an ornate box holds a ring of telekinesis. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Challenge: New Things

(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: New things I've tried recently

It's a little depressing to admit it, but I'm honestly coming up kind of blank on this one. 

About a year or so back I took Firstborn canoeing in a friend's inflatable kayak. I haven't done any sort of canoeing in decades, but that's still not exactly new. Likewise, in recent years I've gotten back into camping, and Dungeons & Dragons, and sewing patches on my progressively-more-awesome jacket, but none of that is really new

In fact, looking at what might be my Bucket List if I really thought about it that way[1], I find that there are an awful lot of things that I'd like to get back to doing, but not a whole lot of new things that I'd like to do. 

I'm, um, I'm feeling like kind of a boring person now.

[1] But I don't think of it that way, because I'm immortal. At least until proven otherwise.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Duendewood Resistance: A Proper Dance

The night was still beneath the trees, the darkness broken only by the light of a single campfire, the silence broken only by the soft chatter of voices, the crackle of the flames, and the soft calls of the nightbirds. Sherra sat by her friends on a small, collapsible stool, sipping from an elegantly-carved wooden mug and laughing softly. Much as she enjoyed performing in the towns, it was good to get back out where it was just the four of them. Well, five: Evrimon had finally acquired either a companion animal or a wife, and none of them were entirely sure which. 

Moonshadow was currently dozing beside the fire, dagger-like fangs visible and whiskers twitching. A short coat of grayish fur covered her muscular frame, and a flash of claws was briefly visible as she flexed one paw in her sleep. Most of the time she was like this, all fur and claws and apparently completely feral. 

And then, every once in a while, the saber-tooth tiger would be gone and there'd be an elvish woman tangled up in Evrimon's blankets. Sam and Sherra had been inclined to dismiss it as being solely Evrimon's concern, but Leander The Elf could never leave something that interesting alone. He was the one who asked Evrimon if Moonshadow was a fellow elf druid who just preferred to spend her time in animal form, or whether she was some sort of smilodon druid who sometimes chose to assume human form. 

Evrimon had just shrugged and said, "I'm not actually sure. I just know she wants to be with me."

Leander had opened his mouth to ask another question, then closed it again, and finally allowed that if that was good enough for Evrimon, it was good enough for him. So, one way or another, it was the five of them now. 

Well, the five of them and Darvinin, who had vanished into the night before they'd even made camp. The gods alone knew how he managed it; likely not even the gods themselves knew why. 

"Enemies of the King," pronounced a voice in the darkness beyond the fire, and they all froze. A moment later, their small clearing was flooded with light: three separate light spells, affixed to the trees around them in a rough triangle, banishing all but the faintest of shadows. Damn it, thought Sherra. Still, now she could see their captors: eight of them, in a careful ring around the camp, doubtless sent by the King in the North or one of his subordinates to capture them before they could spread the goat-fucking song any further. 

"Sherralitha Goldsong," the voice continued inexorably. It belonged to a True Elf, one wearing black robes marked with the sigil of Appollyon. "Saminansa Eldrish. Evrimon Broadleaf. Leander the Elf. You are all under arrest. Throw down your weapons and come with us."

Sherra stood up a little too quickly, upsetting her stool and putting a foot behind it to try to catch it. "Are you sure you wouldn't care to join us?" she asked, striving to keep her voice even despite the quiver of her nerves. "The evening is chill, and the spiced cider is very nice."

Beside her, Sam stood and drew her sword in a single, smooth motion. Leander gaped, and Evrimon remained frozen. 

"Your courage does you credit," said the priest. Empty words, Sherra thought, waiting for the next-- "but you are outmatched and outnumbered. Surrender now." 

He wasn't the only one wearing the robes of Appollyon; two of the others were as well. Of the remaining five, three were heavily armored -- two humans and an orc, she thought -- another human wore a red robe trimmed in gold, and one more True Elf stood ready in light armor, holding rapier in one hand and a dagger in the other. 

Sherra sighed, then carefully set the mug down on the ground beside her. "As you wish," she said, shoving her leg carefully into the tiny corner of shadow that she'd formed with her fallen stool. "Catch me if you can." She pushed herself down through the shadow and out into the darkness. Tight. She thought she'd have hurt herself, or failed completely, if the opening had been any smaller. 

The priest was still screeching in outrage when the first wave of arrows slammed into the red-robed human, staggering him. Sam crossed the clearing and casually removed his head, dodging past one of the human warriors to do it. Paladins, fighters, barbarians... she wasn't sure, and maybe it didn't matter. 

Then Darvinin was suddenly there, and the one with the rapier and dagger went down as the double-bladed scimitar cut into his back. Moonshadow came up from beside the fire as if she'd never been asleep at all, and sank her fangs into one of the priests of Apollyon; the woman disappeared under her shadowy bulk, screaming in pain and terror. The other one was mouthing the words to some sort of spell, but Leander came up with a pair of daggers and put them both in his torso, just below his ribs; he staggered, and the spell bled away. 

The first priest of Appolyon spun, looking for Sherra, just in time to find her standing in front of him as she drove a pair of daggers into his ribs. She stepped back into the darkness and disappeared. He didn't go down, though; instead, he gasped out a spell and let the daggers fall free. 

Evrimon rose and transformed as well, matching the shape of his... companion. He fell on the priest that Leander had stabbed, dragging him down; Leander leaned in and put a blade through his throat, finishing him. 

Sam had engaged two of the warriors. She hadn't taken either of them out, but she'd cut them both and neither of them had yet managed to touch her; what she couldn't dodge seemed to glance off her scales. Darvinin froze one of them in place with a word and a gesture as another wave of arrows slammed into the priest who seemed to be in charge; he grunted with the impact, despite his armor. 

The last of the warriors moved to protect the priest; he too bore the sigil of Appollyon, and was probably some sort of paladin. Sherra considered, then called for her shadow. 

It rose up beside the priest and touched him; he screamed as his strength fled, and Sherra stepped out of hiding and stabbed him again. The paladin cut at her and drew blood, but it was nothing she couldn't deal with. Still, two of them at once... 

Sam finished the fighter she'd been engaged with as Leander slipped in and finished the one that Darvinin had bound. Moonshadow was still casually ripping her victim apart, but Evrimon growled loudly and moved in, flanking the paladin that was worrying Sherra. He cut at Sherra, wounding her again, then turned to attack Evrimon but missed. 

Gleaming golden arrows struck the priest of Appolyon, once and then again. Sherra stabbed him once more, placing her blade for maximum effect... he went down. Then Sam was there, that massive sword of hers cutting through the paladin. 

The battle was over. A half-dozen archers emerged from the trees, looking expectantly at Darvinin. 

"Clean it up," he said, and they stepped forward and began shifting the corpses into a pile. 

"Wait," said Leander. "Can't we...?"

"Check them for coin," Darvinin told him, expression serious. "Anything else, anything they fought with or wore or that might be associated with them, leave it. They have to disappear, and that means that all of them and everything they possess have to be disintegrated."

Leander nodded slowly, brightening as he considered the idea. "Give me two minutes," he said.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Dark Armor: The Demon

Pallian landed hard on the dirt beyond the earthworks, and immediately began to sink. The demon slowed its approach, bemused, but the infantry captain must have been moving as well: a javelin went whistling through the air, aimed past the demon. The creature reached out to catch it anyway, but just as its half-formed fingers would have closed around the shaft, the javelin became a bolt of lightning.

The demon caught only air, and the sorcerer behind it staggered and went down. 

Pallian immediately stopped sinking, and took advantage of the opportunity -- and the added strength provided by his armor -- to kick his legs loose and step back up onto the surface of the ground. The demon grunted but didn't vanish, and Pallian suffered a brief pang of regret for the likely death of the sorcerer who had summoned it. He'd long since reached the point in his career as the Black Knight where he regretted the loss of a competent enemy, and any sorcerer who could summon something like this and leave it to exist independently...

Then it was on him, and he had no time for further thought. 

It was faster than it looked, and while armor and shield absorbed the initial blow from its fists, the impact drove his heels ankle-deep into the ground. If it got its hands on him...

He cut up, and the gauntlet-sword sliced across what should have been its wrist, opening a deep gash in the flesh. The demon yanked its arm back, mewling, and then swung at him with its other fist. 

Pallian took a calculated risk, stepping just far enough to the side and meeting the attack with a countercut. The thing's arm went past him, then pulled back -- like being punched at with a tree-trunk, or shot at with a ballista. Its hand continued on, landing somewhere well behind Pallian's back. 

The demon reared back, gaping at its severed stump as if surprised that it could be hurt at all. Then its eyes lifted, looking past the Black Knight, and it tried to lumber past him. 

Pallian didn't want to know what would happen it it got its hand back. He especially didn't want to know what the hand might be doing out there on its own, though he might not get any choice in that. Still, this was too good an opportunity...

He swept his blade through a passing knee, then back to cut through the ankle. Knee. Ankle. Dodge. He threw himself to the side as the demon mewled and toppled. Shoulder! He stepped in, made the cut, then made it twice again before he severed the creature's good arm, speared it with his blade, and flung it away. It sailed off over the earthworks and out of sight. 

Unfortunately, the demon's leg was already putting itself back together, flesh stretching like putty to reconnect. Pallian cut again, and then again: Knee. He kicked the limb aside. Ankle. He stabbed the severed shin and flung it up and over the walls of Marinul. Then he kicked the foot again, sending it further away. He was distantly aware that the severed hand had latched onto one of his heavy infantry and was crushing the trooper into paste, while a half-dozen other troopers smashed at its fingers with their maces or tried to cut it apart with side-swords. They were succeeding, but not fast enough to save their fellow.

The demon flopped over like a fish on land, and the stump of its left arm came down like a falling tree. Pallian got his shield up, but the sheer force of the blow knocked him four full paces back. It was still thrashing as he came to his feet, its one working leg digging in to push it towards him. 

But more of the armies of Teregor were coming over the earthworks now, including a handful of sorcerers. Two of them focused on fending off attacks from the walls above, but two more focused on the demon. They lifted ensorceled rods and gestured, tearing rents in its flesh and burning it as best they could, until the last of them finished his working and banished the monstrous thing. 

By then, the Black Knight was already at the gates. His helm informed him of the enchantments woven through them, outlined key points and made targets of them. Pallian took a moment to sling his shield across his back, then activated his left gauntlet. 

A small flame formed in the palm of its extended hand: a quick, stabbing attack, the magical equivalent of a spear or javelin. A heartbeat later it was brighter, wider: a flight of javelins, ready to take out a swath of enemies. A heartbeat after that it was a burning green ball the size of his head, ready to demolish wood or stone as needed: his own personal siege weapon.

There was a loud snap, and then a deep groan and a louder creaking. The gates began to open. The Black Knight of Teregor stood and waited, motioning for the others to stay behind him. 

A figure stepped into the opening, and Pallian nodded.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Duendewood Resistance: Music and Dancing

"You've ruined me," said the innkeeper, her expression completely devastated. She was a Grey Elf, nicely dressed, and the Quill and Goblet was a respectable two-story inn a half-day south of Annun, frequented by merchants and traveling bankers. It was not at all the sort of place where -- for example -- one might expect to find a troop of traveling minstrels singing about how Duke Lamont "as was his wont" had "become a laird" so the "goats were scared". This was especially so given that Duke Lamont had made it perfectly clear, despite all evidence to the contrary, that he would not be mocked. 

And if he was, then he and his followers would respond with unchained violence. 

Which made the evening's performance no small act of sabotage, especially this close to the capital. 

"I should hope not," said Shanna, as she drained the last of her cider. "I would think you a loyal subject of the King in the North, and not the sort of person who would accept any sort of lèse-majesté in her establishment. I would assume that you had sent a messenger north to the city to report this transgression already."

Avanielle Birven stood with both hands gripping the edge of her wide wooden bar, swallowed, and said: "With her standing here ready to kill me?" 

Saminansa Eldrish -- Sam -- smiled at her with a mouth full of fangs and gestured at the greatsword on her back. The scales on her shoulders were hidden under her doublet and sleeves, though the scales on the backs of her hands were easily visible despite their pitch black being only slightly darker than her skin. "What, this? No, it's just for show. I'm a performer at heart, I am." She tilted her head. "No, no, for such a disrespectful and ill-considered performance, we deserve to have the king's Solari sent after us."

The innkeeper swallowed again. "You... you do?"

"Oh, yes, absolutely," chimed in Leander, who was currently being a halfling but gave the poor grey elf woman a wink anyway. "We could hardly let you take the blame for this."

Avanielle blushed. "I... just... maybe you should go? For your own safety?"

"Oh, absolutely." Shanna set her glass -- very high quality, and carefully etched with roses -- back down on the bar and stood. "We should really get away from the city. Probably safer to the south, you know -- where the people's tastes are coarser."

"South," said the innkeeper. "Yes, of course. Do stay safe."

Leander held a hand out, took Avanielle's hand, and delicately kissed the back of her knuckles. "Of course," he said smoothly, "and you do what you must do to stay safe as well."

They walked outside, leaving the innkeeper looking thunderstruck behind them. 

"Well?" asked Darvinin, standing outside. "How did it go?" 

"I think it'll work," Shanna said judiciously, while Saminansa grinned fiercely behind her.

I'm not 100% sure where the Elvish Resistance stories fit into the timeline -- probably somewhat before Good!Party returned from Fanaxia -- because I'm trying to write about the characters while still leaving them open for our DM to plug in as he needs them.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Challenge: Resolutions

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

Prompt: What I think of New Year's Resolutions

I don't have much use for them. It's not that I think resolutions are worthless, mind you; I just don't see the point in tying them to a particular spot in the calendar year. Notice that you're not getting enough exercise? Resolve to do better. Want to get more writing done, or spend more time on crafting hobbies? Make a resolution. Don't wait for January; don't feel compelled to make a resolution or three just because January has rolled around again. 

Also? Once you do make a resolution, make a plan. Talk it out -- with yourself, your significant other, random online friends. Figure out how you're going to accomplish this. The whole point of making resolutions is to change your behavior for the better, and that's so much easier to do if you have a realistic roadmap for how to get there.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Good!Party: The House of Vampires

 So we get fixed up by Clovis, who is apparently now reporting directly to Helios. We also have him hit us with Spell Immunity, and Geddy covers us with Death Ward. 

We are now immune to death effects as well as…

Magic Jar, Fireball, Sunburst, Ray of Enfeeblement

We head back to finish the job, leaving Clovis to haul the unconscious buxom naked woman up to the infirmary. Clovis: “I have the worst luck EVER!”

We mount up on Eva and teleport into position in front of the house just above the fourth floor. Geddy casts Haste and looks around for enemies. Eva drops Glitterdust on the balcony, revealing nothing, but at least we know there’s nothing there. Tavros leaps across to the balcony and barrels through the curtain, ripping it down in the process; the room is suddenly a lot brighter. He also passes through a Symbol of Pain, which he doesn’t actually notice. There are three thralls on the bed making out, and beyond that there’s a wizard, a warrior, and two archers. 

Leira immediately hits the wizard with three Scorching Rays, then does it again, and then does it again. Vampires are ridiculously tough, but this is nearly enough to take him out. She remains on the dragon. One of the minions suddenly looks up from bed, and casts Waves of Exhaustion off the edge of the balcony. The vampires mist their way through the door and into the room behind. 

Tavros knocks out the three thralls and steps to the side. Eva lands on the balcony and becomes a human woman. Geddy has gone limp from Waves of Exhaustion, and Eva is carrying him. The door opens and there is a Thrall standing there. Leira tosses her prepared fireball, wiping out a room full of thralls and adding more fire damage to the four fleeing vampires. The wizard mists into his coffin. 

Tavros steps through the door, into a bunch of arrows, most of which miss him, but he still takes damage as the first one through the door. He attacks the warrior in front of him, doing a lot of damage. Eva moves up and touches Tavros, imbuing him with Displacement. 

Leira fills the room with a Sunburst. Several of them burst into ash from sudden-onset sunburn, and the others are badly damaged. Leira moves up to where she can see the wizard, then follows up with quickened fireballs. This does not actually take them down. There were coffins around the edge of the room, but they’re pretty well destroyed now. 

The wizard tags Tavros with Chain Lightning, then casts a quickened Resist Energy on himself. The archers shoot, but hit Tavros’ image instead of him. The fighters managed to hit him once for real. Tavros cuts down the remaining warrior, and then moves over next to the wizard. (“Ew! I’m stepping on burnt thrall!”)

Eva throws another Fireball into the room. The remaining vampires are still up, but Leira drops a Fireball and takes everyone except one archer. She adds a quickened magic missile to finish him. We do a little selective Lesser Restoration, and some healing. The wand of Lesser Restoration has four charges left; Eva blows her entire run of Cure Light Wounds on Tavros, who also Lays Hands on himself. We clear out one more bedroom full of thralls, sparing them again.

Once we’re ready again, Tavros heads down the stairs. There’s a thrall waiting on the stairs to cast Waves of Exhaustion on him. Also Ray of Enfeeblement, but that does nothing; a disembodied voice says, “Ah, clever! I shall enjoy playing with you.”

Tavros: “You’re cute, but you’re not my type.” He knocks the thrall unconscious. Leira has cast Greater Invisibility, and Eva renews Displacement for Tavros. Geddy starts singing, to inspire us to heroism. Leira pulls out a wand of Knock, and unlocks the door. Tavros hauls it open. 

On the plus: room with a pile of treasure in it. On the minus: a lot of thralls. There’s a very large bed with a lot of thralls on it; this was probably the lord’s room. There’s a mix of fighters and mages. One of them attacks with Scorching Ray, burning him a bit. Then it drops Horrid Wilting into the stairwell, damaging us all a bit. 

Tavros steps into the room and moves to stand beside the obvious spellcaster. The vampiric fighters move to attack Tavros and, um, fail. To hit. Completely. Leira fills the room with Sunburst, and suddenly the room is empty of life and unlife alike. Eva immediately enters the room and starts looking through the treasure. It’s about 60,000 GP worth. Then she stops, and turns, and looks at Tavros. Tavros is standing beside a shield on the wall which is decorated with the family arms. It is a +5 animated Heavy Steel Shield. Tavros immediately claims it. 

A mist comes out of the armoire and materializes into a vampire lord; we hear a door open out in the hallway. Tavros charges the vampire lords, but misses. Two more vampire fighters move into the room, and two more wizards appear in the hallway. One of the fighters manages to hit Eva, which he will probably regret in short order. The two sorcerers target Geddy with Lightning, catching Leira by accident in the path. They both avoid the worst of the damage. Leira goes down. 

Eva immediately drops Cure Critical Wounds on Leira, bringing her back to consciousness. Geddy follows this with Cure Moderate Wounds, Mass – healing us and damaging vampires. This also reveals the presence of a thrall moving into the stairwell outside. The vampire lord escapes the worst of it, but it’s a solid distribution of damage. 

The thrall steps into the doorway and hits us with Horrid Wilting. The vampire lord swings at Tavros, but only hits him once; Tavros hits him twice, hurting him badly. The sword hums in his hand, satisfied with its work. 

The two fighter vampires attack Eva, doing a bit of damage; the sorcerers Magic Missile Geddy, and he goes down to take a nap. 

Leira drops Sunburst, and fills the room with light – incidentally killing the thrall in the hall, which should be a Dr. Seuss book – and wipes everybody except one sorcerer, who’s still badly scorched. She follows it with a fireball, but doesn’t take him down; she follows with Magic Missile, and almost finishes him. Eva throws out another magic missile, and finishes him. 

Eva and Geddy hear someone else pad into the stairwell; they point, and Leira throws a fireball out there. Eva rips the armoire out, exposing a passage into the next room. Laying on the bed is a woman, and there are two more thralls standing by her bed. And alarm goes off when she does that, and the woman on the bed opens her eyes. A Power Word Stun trap goes off, but Eva ignore it. 

Geddy, still lying on the floor, throws Cure Moderate Wounds Mass again, and tags the woman on the bed. “My pretties, that was a mistake! You will rue the day!” 

Tavros: “What, like the base for a soup?” 

She drops Horrid Wilting in the room. Leira goes down, and Geddy is just barely on his feet; Eva takes part of the damage for Geddy, but shrugs off the attack on herself. Tavros charges and hits her, damaging her noticeably. Eva drops Cure Critical Wounds on Leira, and Geddy drops another Cure Moderate Wounds Mass. 

The vampiress sorceress turns into mist form and tries to slide away; Tavros follows and attacks, but catches his sword on the doorframe and comes to an abrupt, unexpected halt. Leira, also still on the floor, throws another Sunburst into the room. Eva follows and throws another Magic Missle at the mist, taking her down. Her mist starts moving back towards the coffin under the bed, and Leira turns the coffin into a bonfire. 

Sitting on the dresser is a darkskull, which was unhallowing the house. There’s an ornate goblet holding a gem, which she was using as a soul gem for Magic Jar. We also claim her cloak of Charisma +6, and 30,000 gold. We check over the remains of the Vampire Lord, and he had 50,000 GP. 

We stop there – with the two top levels clear, and treasure taken.

Monday, January 9, 2023

Back to School

What is it about the first week back to school that just wears me the heck out?

I mean, I guess that's rhetorical. It's exactly what it sounds like: resetting schedules, making sure everybody's back in the habits they need (eating breakfast, taking meds, wearing pants), and getting everybody out the door so that they get to school on time. And that means setting alarms, waking up, waking other people up... It also means I can't just go to sleep at, say, six p.m. -- no matter how tired I might be. It also (also-also) means working from home so I can make sure everybody gets out the door, but then working from home is as much a benefit as it is a trial.

Still, we made it through the "it's the first full day of work after New Year's Day, and judging by the traffic on the road everybody's still drunk" part of last week, and the "it's the first week of work after the Christmas/New Year's/etc. holidays and now everybody suddenly needs a piece of my time all at once" part of last week, so hopefully this week the boys will be more or less back on schedule and I can focus more on some extended projects at work instead of just spending my time responding to crises. 

How is the writing going, you ask? Well... Plenty of stuff for the blog, here. In fact, I've actually got some things written in advance for that. Other writing projects are essentially stalled, but that's usually what happens when the holidays roll through. Hopefully I can pick back up on some of that as we move into this week. I'm almost completely off of Twitter at this point, so I probably need to go and update my website, but aside from remembering how to log in to the editor that's fairly trivial. I'm trying to do a bit more on Tumblr, but that involved a little bit of a learning curve and I just haven't gotten into the habit yet.

Lots of D&D this weekend, all of it fun. Honestly, I think everything will get easier as we get back into rhythm, but right now I'm just kind of wiped

Friday, January 6, 2023

Dark Armor: High Walls and Siege Engines

He began his advance amidst a line of heavy infantry, shields forward as they marched into a hail of arrows. There were earthworks ahead, blocking the way to the gates and defended by sorcerers as well as archers and pikes. No wonder Rebka hesitated. At a glance, Pallian thought the numbers of attackers and defenders were close to evenly balanced. The forces of Teregor likely had an edge in enchantments and sorceries, but not enough to break the city's defenses without exposing themselves to counterattack. 

There was a brief movement to his left, a flicker of pale green light along the front line of the advancing infantry, and a dozen figures in heavy armor crumpled to the ground, choking as they died. A burst of fire exploded on his right, but the troopers there merely staggered a bit and continued on. The line closed up, and the advance continued. 

Then a flight of four boulders came hurtling over the top of the earthworks, plowing through the advancing troops and the ranks behind them as they landed. A moment later a lightning bolt flicked back and forth across the area between the earthworks and the metal-bound gates of the city, and Pallian knew that his sister was attempting to cover his advance. 

Another volley of arrows shattered against their shields, and Pallian led his troop inexorably on. A line of fire lanced out from behind the earthworks, but the black knight caught it on his shield, which groaned as it absorbed the sorcery. Good, he thought. Target me. The more sorcery his armor absorbed, the fewer of his troops would die. 

More than one of the sorcerers had noticed him now. A line of pale blue struck him from another raised position, trying to probe past his shield and focus itself on his armor; he tracked the movements as well as he could, and his armor absorbed what little the shield did not. 

Then, for a brief moment, the world turned to fire around him. 

In the Dark Knight's armor, Pallian felt nothing. He continued marching forward, despite a moment of blindness as his helmet went dark to protect his vision. He was at the edge of the earthworks now, and he could see that the captain of the heavy infantry was still advancing at his side. Behind them, a handful of troopers picked themselves up from the ground and quick-stepped to reform the line. One of them risked lowering their shield to make a quick throwing gesture, and one of the raised overlooks exploded into steaming mud. 

Risky, but well done, Pallian decided, and had his helm mark that trooper for a commendation. Beside him, the captain nodded and Pallian thought that she might have done the same. They advanced together up the dirt slope, stamping steps into place for the others to follow. 

Here. Pallian crested the top and looked down at the trench behind it. A trooper in the colors of Marinul tried to ram an enchanted spear up into his crotch, but he ignored it and reached for his blade instead. 

He slipped his hand into the sword's shaped gauntlet, grasped the handle inside, and felt the weapon connect with his armor. Its blade extended directly forward from his fist, and its gauntlet covered his armored hand and forearm, becoming part of his armor and adding additional protection there. With the enchantments combined, he brought the blade down and around in a slow line, sweeping the trench with a trail of levin-fire. 

Beside him, the infantry captain lifted a hand and sent a small ball of fire towards the troops in the next trench back. It exploded in the air, burning, blinding, clearing the path for them while the Black Knight murdered the foremost line of defenders in its entirety. The line of fire struck him again, but Pallian merely lifted his shield as he continued slaughtering troops. His own troops were atop the earthworks now, moving in and spreading out to slay anyone he might have missed. Two squads had leapt the trenches and were headed for a group of Marinulan soldiery who clustered around the only catapult that still looked serviceable. They moved quickly, despite their heavy armor, and in a matter of moments the defenders were down and the way was--

There. On the far side of the open space between earthworks and gates stood a lone figure, arms sweeping through a series of graceful gestures. No doubt it was speaking as well, but Pallian couldn't hear it over the screaming and roaring and the crackle of new flames. He lifted his blade again, just as the sorcerer stepped back behind something that hadn't been there a moment before. Damn it. 

It was tall and pale and misshapen, a lump of flesh given the faintest approximation of human form; it was also about nine feet tall. He sprayed it with a burst of levin-fire from his blade, but it merely shook itself like a wet dog and lumbered forward to meet him. 

Very well, Pallian thought. The hard way. He gathered himself, and sprang across the trenches.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Duendewood Resistance: Music, Merriment, and Mayhem

"Are they gone?" asked Sherra in a soft whisper. 

She was lying under a blanket of leaves in the forest outside High Grove, one Evrimon had been kind enough to call down over all of them. 

"Yes," answered Sam, sounding vaguely disappointed. "They're gone."

Evrimon paused to scratch his saber-tooth tiger, then raised his head above the leaves. "We should still go." 

"I could have taken them," said Sam. Her smile held more fangs than Sherra remembered from when they'd first met; she was growing into her draconic nature. Sherra didn't mind; Sam was still Sam. 

"Yes," agreed Leander the Elf, "but the rest of us couldn't have, and Sherra's shadowy escape probably threw them off our trail. Plus, if they think we're any sort of threat, they'll send a team of Solari after us." He was back in his halfling body, looking faintly disgusted as he brushed himself off. 

"Will they?" asked Sherra. "...think us a threat?"

"I don't think so," answered Leander. "You just stepped out of their reach. That's fairly typical bard fare, I doubt they think you're anything more than that."

"Damn it," said Sam. "I want to be murdering things, not just making up songs about the moral turpitude of the King in the North, no matter how catchy those songs might be."

Sherra shrugged. "The idea is to distract him, and cast doubt on his power. As quick as he is to take down anyone who mocks him, that doesn't seem like a bad -- or difficult -- strategy."

"...And the tune really is catchy," added Evrimon, whistling a few bars.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Challenge: Goals

(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: My goals for 2023

Honestly, my goals for 2023 aren't that much different than my goals for 2022 were: 

  • Sleep more, drink less, and exercise more
  • Finish a book and get it published or at least submitted. 

I also have some subsidiary goals, like: 

  • Put more patches on the Patch Jacket Mark II
  • Start up Duolingo again.
  • Make sure the boys stay up to date on school work and grades.

But mostly? Take better care of myself, and write. 

How about you?

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Good!Party: Crime Bosses

So, Ruin and Marshall and Martini have returned to Caristhium with King Mythrandril; Ruin and Marshall have no memory of Martini murdering King Luc, and Mythrandril isn’t about to mention. 

Tavros, Leira, Geddy, and Eva, meanwhile, headed off to Brightland to treat with the crimelords that took over there. There are three families in charge there. Paolo Carbone heads the biggest and most powerful family. Next up is the Sperito family, headed by Francois Sperito who run boats up and down the river. Third is the Benoit gang, headed by Julen Benoit: protection, hitmen, and the darker side of these activities. 

Geddy considers his bardic knowledge; these families are common knowledge and topics of theater. The Carbone family probably just wants more power and more control. They’re probably trying to position themselves as the new counts. They have the clubs and a lot of the nightlife. The Sperito family has probably taken a hit from the war, because the river isn’t as safe and the trade routes for smuggling are gone. The Benoit gang probably just wants to be able to have some stability and protection – maybe a respectable politician to hide behind. They have a lot of conflict with the other two, being more violent crime and less… disciplined. So the other two have been trying to keep them in line, which the Benoit gang kind of resents. 

The town of Brightland is pretty clean; it doesn’t look like the war has really come home here. There are some local militia and guards around, wearing simple but matching outfits – not Brightland, but somebody has bankrolled custom uniforms. Shops are open, and people are out on the street; there are even some merchants’ carts going back and forth. There are no beggars at all, which seems… wrong. 

We start looking around for an inn or tavern, and just generally sight-seeing; we’re obviously a group, but maybe not eye-catchingly purposeful. We step into a tavern at mid-afternoon; a bard is playing, a barmaid bustling. The barmaid brings us four mugs of ale. Leira manages to find someone who’s heard of Sacha. 

Apparently this guy talked to a merchant a while back, who was traveling through the Garamond area – which is lawless and wild. The merchant got jumped by a bunch of skeletons, when out of nowhere the guy with a flaming sword showed up and saved him. Told him to give thanks Helios for the help. 

Leira: “That must be Sacha.”

Tavros: “It does rather sound like him.”

We stop for an early dinner and listen to the chatter in the tavern. As we finish the first round of ale, a different server comes over and asks if we want more ale. 

Geddy: “Shift change?” 

Waitress: “No, Marsha just stepped out the back.”

Literally none of us believe that. 

Geddy sells the barmaid on the idea that we’re here in town looking for Sacha. She tells Leira that she’s seen too many people looking for lost loved ones. After a minute she comes back with our second round and some food. After about thirty minutes our first server returns and starts clearing the table like nothing happened. 

In the process, she knocks over a plate and stops to clean it up… and uses the motion to knock a note into Geddy’s lap. It’s an invitation to come to the keep and meet with the lords Carbone and Sperito. It’s addressed to King Tavros. It’s at exactly that moment that the bard begins playing Geddy’s song. 

“Well, I suppose we can hardly refuse,” observes Tavros. We finish our meal and head up to the keep. 

We head up to the keep, where we’re greeted by guards in that same simple uniform. “Please, come inside. They’re expecting you, lords and ladies.” 

Tavros and Geddy hold a quick strategy session, and then we proceed into the audience chamber. There’s a long desk inside, with several chairs; it’s covered with papers. There are a few people behind the table, and one of them stands and comes to Tavros, then bows. “My king. It is a pleasure to meet you when we have been administrating your lands.”

Tavros: “It is a pleasure to meet with such a loyal subject.”

He invites us to a more private setting. We follow him into a side-room, and take our seats. A servant comes in and places a book in front of Tavros. It’s a ledger of some sort. 

“It’s a gift: a ledger of all the transactions in Brightland since the death of the last lord of Brightland.” 

Tavros: “I am given to understand that the citizens are happy, and we could do far worse in terms of leadership.”

Basically, Paolo wants us to clear out Flowerhedge (vampires) and Rockdale (Iron Company, well-established mercenary company), so he can offer those as baronies. The Carbone and Sperito families are prepared to declare for Tavros if Tavros is willing to support him as Count of Brightland. Tavros is willing. Sperito would like to talk to us also. 

Francois Sperito is less polish, and brings his son Amboise in as well; he asks why we don’t want to recruit the vampires to our side. 

Tavros: “I have this horrible vision of us bringing a thousand vampiric foot-soldiers onto the field of battle, only to have them immediately turn their loyalties over to the solari-hunter known as Chuck. 

Francois: “You’re not a fool, then. Good. Perhaps Paolo was right about you.”

We spend the evening moving around the town. Geddy and Eva go to check off a few dens of iniquity. There are definitely some issues, but the families still sound like the best deal going. They haven’t really had to fight off the demons yet – there are too many easier targets closer to Springmage. The protection money is higher than the taxes were, but at least some of the shopkeepers feel like they’re getting more out of it. They’ve also opened up some hospitals, so they apparently believe in keeping illness off the streets. 

Geddy decides to not share all of this with Tavros. Tavros and Leira take the opportunity to shop for clothes, so they can make the proper impression. We blow about 7,500 GP getting proper clothing for everybody: royal outfits for Tavros, and noble outfits for everybody. 

We roll into Flowerhedge just after dawn. The town is a disaster: houses shuttered and windows boarded up. The streets are strewn with broken barrels and wagons. The central keep of the castle in Flowerhedge is still standing, but all the windows have been boarded up and the balconies have been covered with curtains. 

Tavros detects evil, and there’s a lot of evil. 

A woman walks out of the gate and introduces herself as Elvira. She’s completely naked, and buxom, and appears to be human and not undead. She also appears to be possessed by a vampire. She starts pitching us on the idea of recruiting a vampire army, and they have apparently been keeping their numbers in check and keeping the humans as herds. 

Geddy takes point on talking to her. He tries to sell her on maybe moving somewhere else. They’re… not that interested. 

Tavros runs out of patience and starts forward, and the possessed shell being controlled by Elvira casts Horrid WIlting on us, followed by a quickened Fireball. Tavros steps over and slaps her silly; she drops, unconscious. Geddy heals Leira with a Mass Cure Moderate, bringing the group back up. Eva casts Shield on herself. Angry screeching comes from the gatehouse. 

Something tries to push into Leira’s mind, but she shakes it off. Tavros strides forward and shoves the gate up into the gatehouse. Geddy casts Haste. 

Vampire Spawn can come out in daylight. They emerge from the pond, the fountain, the barn, the windows of the gatehouse, A bunch of them fall on Tavros, swarming him. Eva Springs up above the wall and looses a cone of fire over the ones coming out of the pond. Swarms of vampire spawn catch fire; many of them fall. Leira casts a quicked Fly, rises into the air where she can see over the walls, and then drops a quickened Sunburst to fill the entire courtyard with sunlight. She follows it up with a quickened Greater Invisibility. 

Helios would be proud. 

Tavros swings his blade around, but the vampires are crawling all over him; he is buried in a pile of vampires. One of the vampire swarms moves towards Geddy, who has started singing. Eva tries to intercept them, coming down from the air with a crush attack. Leira drops another Sunburst inside the courtyard, and then drops a pair of quickened fireballs on the ones outside the walls, taking out two of the swarms. 

Geddy stops singing, which seems… out of character for him. Tavros is still taking damage from the swarm, and it’s… costing him character levels, which is bad. Eva takes some damage and also some negative levels. Leira takes out two of the swarms with a fireball, and also burns Geddy a bit. Eva is absorbing half of the damage he takes, so he’s doing better than he has any right to do. Leira drops two more fireballs, damaging more vampire spawn. 

“Geddy” casts a fireball up into the sky, and then casts a quickened Greater Invisibility on himself and moves away. Tavros takes more damage and loses more levels. 

Leira drops fireballs on everybody. One of the swarms goes down, then another. A spell slams into Eva but fails to get through her spell resistance, then another. Eva takes more damage from the swarm of vampire spawn. She sets fire to  the swarm under her, then flaps up into the air. Leira kills the swarm on Tavros with Magic Missile, then hits the one below her with Scorching Ray and follows up with a quickened scorching ray… and, miraculously, finishes it. 

Tavros gets hit with Finger of Death, but manages to shake off the death effect and survives. Unfortunately the Ray of Enfeeblement hits him, for strength damage. Tavros staggers over to under Eva. Eva bolts over to where she last saw Geddy do things, and casts Glitterdust; a Geddy-shaped outline appears. Leira casts Greater Dispel at him. 

Geddy shakes back to consciousness. Everybody’s glaring at him, and Tavros looks like hell. We withdraw, and find an inn with a hot bath. Tavros takes the formerly-possessed human with him, with the intention of getting her away from the vampires and back into clothing. 

We’re going to need Restoration, We teleport to Clovis Cloverfield for it.