Friday, April 28, 2023

Dark Armor: Catching Up

The room was empty, though the map was still in its place on the table. The wisp that Ravaj had promised was waiting, which surprised Pallian somewhat; he had thought that his brother might feel it advantageous to force Pallian to spend the time to search them out. He glanced briefly at the map, then touched a finger to the wisp. 

The bright-blue ball of heatless flame darted away, and Pallian followed, down corridors remembered and corridors half-forgotten. The light from the wisp glimmered strangely on the obsidian walls.

It burst into a brief shower of sparks at the doorway to the easternmost dining room. This one was used for small family meals, and the table within -- while laden with food -- was empty save for the Wizard-King and the Heir. 

"Father," said Pallian. "Ravaj. May I join you?" 

"Yes," said the Wizard-King, without looking up. Pallian took a moment to try to gauge his mood, but his father was expressionless and seemed completely focused on his food, which might mean anything from general contentment to hidden fury.

Ravaj nodded as well. "Come, sit, eat. No doubt you still need nourishment, and will need more yet."

The Wizard-King of Teregor speared a sliver of meat, chewed it, and swallowed. Then he asked: "You chose an initiation?"

Pallian nodded as he seated himself in one of the elegantly-carved chairs and set his pack on the ground beside him. This set of furniture was carved with snakes, twining around each other, fangs exposed; but then, this was one of the family's dining chambers. "Amedin suggested that it would be best to let him tell you of it, but if you ask I will answer."

"Of course," said the Wizard-King, as if he'd never had a doubt of it. It was better this way; Pallian did not want his father to think he was being difficult, either deliberately or accidentally. Certainly not after such a close escape from his scheduled execution.

Pallian filled a plate with food, and set to with an appetite; he had been locked in the Tomb of the Living for a full five days, and Ravaj was right: he needed the nourishment. He would owe his older brother for reminding their father of it, whether Ravaj had intended to help him or not. 

He had just emptied the plate and was reaching to fill it again when one of the servants rushed in, stopped abruptly, and then prostrated himself. 

"Rise," said the Wizard-King drily. 

The man rose to a kneeling position. "I was sent to carry the prince's bags to his chamber. Forgive me, Majesty: I sought him in the library, but the half-dead told me he had already departed."

The Wizard-King eyed Pallian across the table. "You should have left that in the receiving room," he said, eyes narrowing slightly. 

"So I see," Pallian replied. "Forgive me, Father. In my hurry to attend you, it did not occur to me."

His father waved it away. "A minor matter. The arrival of the House of Edrias must be our foremost concern now."

Pallian glanced at Ravaj, but his older brother seemed disinclined to speak. So, "How do I help?" he asked.

"Be present, but do not speak unless called upon. Much will depend upon how the House of Edrias conducts itself. Do not react, no matter what is proposed, and be obedient to any order I give." 

"Yes, Father." He kept his voice even by an effort of will. You do remember that you were going to kill me for something I couldn't have prevented even if I'd known about it, don't you? "I understand and obey."

"There's the respect I am due." The Wizard-King of Teregor looked, for one brief moment, satisfied.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Good!Party: The Battle of the High Grove

Looking forward to September (in game): Tavros, Leira, and Geddy went south and recruited the Wildlanders and got Sacha turned into the Avatar. Up north, Lamont has made agreement with the followers of Appollyon and has been harrying the druids and turning them into demonic zombie druids. He’s also been deporting the more militant anti-human elves. We have also saved the refugee mages. Meanwhile, Giles is also trying to declare himself King in the East and has recruited one of the solari forces and the LaMarke merchants and some wildlanders that were down in Sander’s Reach. We have the crime lords on our side, and the Iron Company. Jenny, meanwhile, has Maodeus’ old army: wildlanders and beasts and like that. The order of Vecna remain missing, along with Maodeus, Hierophant Malafar. Durest is holed up in the Elemental temple. The Tarrasque has destroyed five towns but is still somewhat contained by the landscape; he can move into the larger Sol Povos if it can get through Summerwind. 

In September, the Tarrasque finally does smash through Summerwind, and can go more or less anywhere; that has also destroyed one of the unaligned Solari forces. The Elvish Revolutionaries branch out and take Esterpond, and a group of Solari defeat them Drisnan spring but essentially sacrifice themselves in the process. Giles destroys the Elvish revolutionaries in Brookmarsh, and recruits another band of Solari. Meanwhile, Lamont strikes a deal with the centaurs and convinces half of them to join his cause. The other half head back south towards their homeland. 

Vigo and Dante point out that we now have one of the largest forces left in the kingdom, even if they are a bit spread out. The tarrasque is going to be a huge problem, and we probably need to kill it. Meanwhile, Ezra Cardon has shown up at Caristhium, and says he has a way to find the Dark One’s true name. He said there would a storm in eight days and he’d meet us down by the lake when that happens. 

So the plan is to send Thierry (bard), Sacha (Avatar), and Clovis (High Priest of Helios) will go north and deal with one band of Elvish revolutionaries and then try to recruit the nearest batch of Solari; Tavros, Ruin, Leira, and Marshall will go try to take on the Tarrasque; Geddy, Eva, and Martini will go seek the True Name of the Dark One who calls itself Vecna. We’re also going to turn the magic engine over to the wizards to try and replicate, but not until next month. Right now, they’re heading down to reinforce the Solari in the southern cities and keep them safe from Tarrasque – or help them evacuate. 

So, with all that planned for the future, we return to our heroes and the druids. A few days after the party, Zoriel introduces himself. He was one of Saladhel’s old apprentices. He thinks that Septimus is going to try to destroy the Altar in the High Grove. All of the Hierophants are buried there; destroying the altar would destroy many of the elder druids and weaken the magic of the others. Also, the Altar could be used to summon all the druids, not just the ones we have here. Septimus stopped sending out his murder parties a few days ago, so he’ll probably be coming soon and probably in force. 

We gather the rest of the druids and prepare to depart for the Grove. 

Zoriel pulls Ruin aside. Saladhel had foresight, and knew that he would die, and told Zoriel that he would only have a short time and that there was a message that Zoriel must share with Ruin:  “There is throughout the cosmos a balance in all things. At some point Ruin will have to face his choice.”  

He departs, and after a bit of preparation we tree-walk to the Grove. There’s a circle of sacred trees so giant that they basically make a sort of tree-cavern. At the center of the area is the altar, which is… glowing. On the altar is a glowing gemstone, and hovering above it is the old Hierophant Saladhel, doing the force ghost thing. He was the one that Ruin chose to sacrifice to retain the other Hierophant in Fanaxia. The altar is surrounded by an invisible barrier, and nobody – including Ruin – can approach it. 

Martini convinces Marshall that it will break if he just runs through it. It seems like maybe enough power might be able to break through this barrier, but if Marshall in snake form can’t manage it then the druids definitely can’t. Ruin tries to Dimension Door through it and also fails. We stay here for about a week.

After a few days, Septimus shows up with his demonic zombie druids and some other followers, who seem to be priests of Appolyon.  

We start painting our forces with Death Ward. The druids start summoning animals.

Septimus comes up, and he has brought devils with him: four horned devils at his side, and a pit fiend leading the other half of his forces. He’s monologuing about how he’s going to destroy the altar and subjugate the druids as the druids once did to his people. Long ago, the druids drove the dark elves out of Duendewood. The High Priest An’drow brought them back out, but there’s a lot of remembered anger there, which is probably why they were willing to side with Lamont. 

The pit fiend, along with a bunch of priests and one of the zombie-druids teleport over to one of the trees and begin a ritual to start draining energy from the tree and corrupting it. It may be about to become an evil zombie treant. The horned devils move up with three priests and a zombie and start the same process on another tree. Ruin teleports our three heroes over to the pit fiend and its buddies, and Martini promptly disintegrates one of the priests. Zombie Druid tries Finger of Death, but we’re warded. Marshall casts Banishment at the Pit Fiend, gets past his spell resistance, but the pit fiend laughs him off. The two lower-lever Appollyon-worships… one casts Righteous Might and other keeps working on the tree-eviling ritual. The one who broke off grows to twice his size. The Pit fiend casts a quicked Fireball, which Ruin ignores; Marshall shrugs off the worst of it. It then casts Mass Hold Monster, which paralyzes Martini momentarily. He then flies over to Martini. 

Ruin carves through the Righteous Might priest. The undead druid calls a lightning bolt on Martini. Marshall turns into a colossal snake. The Pit Fiend does a double-take that you have to see to believe. The Pit Fiend and drops a meteor shower on Ruin and Marshall, targeting Ruin with the meteors and hitting them both with the flames. Ruin takes the brunt of the attack in meteor impacts. The meteors then explode, and Martini dodges the damage completely; Ruin would have taken some damage, but he’s very resistant to fire and doesn’t. Pit Fiend: “Impressive.” 

Martini starts stabbing with the Dagger of Death, but misses. Ruin zips out of reach of the pit fiend and attacks the other priest, damaging him but not killing him. Marshal the Colossal Snake grapples the pit fiend and winds all the way around him, to his surprise and disgust. Marshall immediately starts constricting him. This is VERY CLEARLY a new experience for the pit fiend.

Unfortunately, the tree just turned into an evil Elder Treant. The druids immediately start trying to calm the thing down. 

Ruin, it should be mentioned, is pissed. He kills the priest and the zombie druid both. 

Ruin and the Pit Fiend both heal a bit. The Pit Fiend, while shocked, is no dummy. He tries Power Word Stun and zaps Marshall for a couple of rounds. The elder treant attempts to smash Ruin, but Ruin dodges aside and is not smushed. Then it slams down again, and Ruin is badly smooshed. He heals a bit, though. The Pit Fiend tries a quickened fireball on the group. Martini and Ruin ignore it, but Marshall is stunned and takes all the damage. The Fiend then turns on Martini with claws and teeth and tail and stumbles, and misses. Ruin moves in and the fiend takes a swipe at him but misses. Ruin counterattacks and does some damage. Martini stabs several time, doing good damage now that Ruin is flanking the thing with her. 

The Elder Treant is about to smash Martini, but one of our elder druids has dispelled some of the evil; it turns back into a tree. Marshall is still stunned. Ruin heals a bit, and the Pit Fiend straightens. It casts Mass Hold Monster again, stunning Martini but not Marshall, and then drops a Fireball on everybody. Ruin shrugs it off; Marshall and Martini take damage. She shakes off her paralysis and stabs him again. 

Unfortunately, the Horned Devils and their crew have evilified the second treant and it is now marching towards the altar. This appears to be Septimus’ whole plan as far as smashing the altar goes. Septimus and the troops have moved in, but they’re engaged with the druids and the current real threat is the damned elder treant that the other demon-team animated. 

Also, Septimus appears effectively invulnerable; when someone attacks him, the zombie druids take the damage for him. 

We’ll have to take out the second team of demons and priests, and the go after the zombie druids to clear the way to Septimus.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Challenge: Bad Day, Good Films

(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: Films to watch when you're having a bad day

Okay, I kind of love this prompt. So let's see, where to start? Ah. Yeah, here we go:

Last Holiday, with Queen Latifah. It's just... such a sweet and fundamentally kind movie. 

Big Trouble in Little China, with Kurt Russell. Because sometimes what you need is just to watch Kurt Russell beat up the bad guys. And of course, the absolute genius on this particular film is that the protagonist, Jack Burton, has no idea that he's actually the sidekick.

The Fifth Element, with Bruce Willis. Sometimes what you need on a bad day is a grand, silly, outer-space adventure with gunfights and explosions and flying car chases and a chance to face off against the Ultimate Evil. 

Better off Dead, with a very young John Cusack. The humor here is a little darker, and it's very much a product of its time, but... I don't know, the absolute absurdity of the whole thing just cheers me right up. 

John Wick, with Keanu Reeves. Because sometimes you just need to know that somebody is having a worse day than you... and everybody else is about to have a worse day because of them.

The Muppet Movie, with Kermit the Frog. Hey, sometimes you just need something fun and funny and musical and sweet instead.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Duendewood: Late to the Party

Alnira Berris led her pack of wolves through the forest, trotting steadily to keep ahead of the hunters. They moved under the cover of Pass Without Trace, but somehow the hunters kept their trail. They were bound for Calisthum, where the druid Elendor was gathering the remaining druids; she hoped they would be safe there. Surely a gathering of druids would be enough to repel the false king's hunters. 

With a dozen druids in her charge, they should have been able to turn and fight... but these were young druids, new recruits, and not yet comfortable with their powers. If the hunters could track them despite magical interference, then they had at least one or two puissant individuals with them, and someone like that could cut through her refugees and possibly even herself. 

Somewhere behind her, somebody screamed. It took her a moment to realize that it was a horse, but the next voice definitely was not. One of the wolves following her whined, but she growled back: keep moving

The woods behind them were filled with screams now, and a muffled whump that sounded like magic and shook the ground. Then there was more screaming, and then silence. 

Someone appeared ahead of them, and Alnira slowed. It was an elf, though, and he was gesturing. "That way. Into Calisthum." 

She stopped, released her wolf form, and stood. "You're him, aren't you? With the--" She gestured. "--gelatin on your belly." She'd seen him in a vision a week before; so had some of the others. Apparently the image had affected her more than she'd realized.

"I will put more gelatin on my belly if you will just get to Calisthum while we finish dealing with your pursuers," the man said, and Alnira nodded. 

"If you get us all to Calisthum safely," she told him, "I will do anything you want." 

He looked her over, then nodded. "Deal."

Alnira Berris dropped back into wolf form and led her new-formed pack onwards. Behind her, a woman's voice asked: "Wait, did she not even see me? Does she not know that I was the one who killed all those--" 

"We have work to finish," said the man, quietly. 

"Fine," the woman sighed. "But you owe me for this one, Ruin."

Alnira was too busy guiding the other wolves and their companions to process this; she looked back and growled: Keep moving.

Monday, April 24, 2023


This is one of those weapons that I find utterly fascinating, in spite of the fact that it looks like it should be completely impractical. You slice in order to stab; you stab in order to slash. It's a weapon that's very compatible with Northern Praying Mantis Kung Fu, and in particular the Long Fist movements in the system, which -- as I may have mentioned -- I kind of cut my teeth on. 

Take a look: 

Friday, April 21, 2023

Dark Armor: A Selection of Gifts

The Wizard-King straightened, glanced at him, and then turned his attention back to what looked like a map on the table in front of him. 

"You'd best get down to the library," said Ravaj. "No doubt Amedin has been laying out suggestions for your next initiation. Come back here when you're done -- if we're not still here, I'll leave a wisp to guide you."

Pallian nodded to him, bowed to their father, and then departed. The library was easy to find once he reached the central hall; a quick glance to ascertain which end held the great double-doors, and he was off. 

Amedin was indeed waiting, but unlike the Wizard-King the half-dead never seemed to grow impatient. He looked Pallian over, then said: "Prompt. Very proper of you."

Pallian offered a respectful bow that he didn't feel at all, then crossed to where the ancient priest stood. The table beside him held books, several of them open, but many more piled upon each other, particular pages marked with strips of cloth. "Ravaj said you would have suggestions."

"Indeed yes," said Amedin. "Let us see what we can make of you." He gestured to the open books. "These are the ones I felt most fitting."

Pallian glanced over them. "Tell me."

"This first one," said Amedin, "would render sections of your skin tough as armor. That will be little use in your role as Black Knight, I admit, but here in the palace it might turn an assassin's blade or help you survive a duel. The effect is not visible, but you would lose some sensitivity and some flexibility; anyone pushing against your skin would be able feel it."

It might also be a real help if I have to face something like the Spear of the First again, thought Pallian, but for the moment he just nodded. 

Amedin tilted his head. "This one would allow you to summon steel wings, though you would be marked with twin lines of steel down your back. It would allow you to fly, and could still be summoned within the armor -- though I doubt they could lift so much as that. Still, the wings themselves can serve as shields or blades."

That was interesting, but Pallian again nodded for Amedin to continue.

"Here is one that would allow you to assume the form of a beast-man or even a beast. It would not protect you as well as the armor, but it would give you added strength and improved senses... and, of course, claws. It would be a powerful addition to the strength and endurance I have given you already." 

Pallian kept his face still, and nodded. 

The half-dead gestured towards another open book. "This is a very different sort of option. It would enable you to feel your surroundings, all of them, for about five paces in any direction. You could not be approached unseen; you could make your way in darkness; and unlike some of the others, it would work from within the armor perfectly well. It is said to be disorienting in the beginning, though, and the wizard who first devised it eventually carved out a bedroom in the rock deep below his house so that his sleep would be uninterrupted."

Pallian raised his eyebrows, but nodded again. 

"The blackened hand," said Amedin, gesturing to the last of the open books. "You would need to wear gloves to hide its mark, but your chosen hand would be sheathed in flames at your command, and those flames could be shaped in various ways. Consider, perhaps, a lance of fire as an off-hand weapon... and you yourself could no longer be harmed by flames."

Not bad, but... Nothing in that list particularly inspired him, either. Initiations tended to strengthen over time, which was probably why Amedin hadn't offered anything to help Pallian heal faster or be more resistant to damage: those initiations were already in place, they simply weren't developed enough to act as quickly or as well as Pallian might hope. And truly, he needed something...

"Do you have one that would allow me to transport myself, as my father's scroll did in bringing me here?"

Amedin considered. "There is such a thing," he said after a moment, "but it would not work here in the Citadel, nor would it carry the armor with it."

...Which means that were I to choose it, it would be completely obvious that I intended to use it to avoid being trapped in the Tomb of the Living. And it might not even work there; the tomb is protected as well. He sighed. With the bracers on his forearms, he was not very interested in turning his skin into armor -- especially with the physical changes that would bring. The bestial form... he took the book and skimmed through the notes in the margins. They hadn't changed, and he set it back down. The wings were tempting, though he disliked the idea of anything that might be identified just by someone looking at him -- and the hand carried the same problem. Full awareness of his surroundings could be useful, but this was no time to be disoriented. He made a note of which tome contained it, however.

"I would like something that leaves no mark -- or a mark subtle enough not to seem unnatural. Is there something that would allow me to move quickly across short distances? The armor protects with its strength, but without that it seems that it might be advantageous to be able to move elsewhere, quickly. In or out. The effect would need to carry clothing and weapons with it, of course."

Amedin studied him for a moment, the expression on that withered face unreadable. Then he tapped his chin twice and said, "You were trained in Tan-Si, as I recall. Yes?" 

Pallian nodded. "Durlek Anh for the armor, and Tan-Si without it." Tan-Si was a courtly style, intended more for dueling and personal defense than for the battlefield. It taught sword and dagger, individually and together; it was what he was dressed for now. Durlek Anh was a style intended for heavy armor and shield, and taught the use of sword, spear, and lance. Where Tan-Si was light and mobile, focused on positioning body and blade for advantage, Durlek Anh oriented the body to let armor and shield offer their best protection.

The half-dead fell silent -- it wasn't quite a pause when Amedin went statue-still like this -- and then sprang to life again, sorting through books and setting some aside, adding others to a new pile. 

"Mobility," the half-dead intoned at last. "Very well. This first one leaves no visible mark, and would work with everything you carry already. It would allow you to scramble up walls or ceilings as if they were floors. With time to season, you could walk on any surface as if it were the natural ground."

Pallian raised his eyebrows and nodded. That sounded promising, though it wasn't quite what he was looking for. 

"This next one might make your eyes a little more silver, and prone to glowing when there is lightning nearby. It offers an affinity for storms. In its early stages, you could do little more than stir the winds and perhaps listen through them, but there are later additions that would allow you to call storms and target lightnings. I do not know how your father would take to you becoming a storm mage -- especially with your sister dead -- but there are later initiations for riding the winds and moving as a lighting bolt yourself."

Darkest gods... That sounded appealing, but it also sounded like a long-term investment, and Pallian wasn't sure what his long-term prospects would look like if he wasn't able to survive now. On the other hand, listening through the winds sounded like a good way to spy, and there might be advantages to be found there. He tucked that one away.

"This one..." Amedin frowned. "Smoke is not as strong as storms, but there is an initiation that would let you race from one place to another as a cloud of smoke, and it would carry your clothing and equipment with you. The armor, I suspect, would be too much for it... but in the armor, you wouldn't need it. You couldn't pass through solid walls, but a portcullis or grating would be no obstacle. Its range would be limited, particularly at first, but it should serve."

"How limited?" asked Pallian. 

Amedin turned and consulted one of the books. "Four strides, the notes suggest. Later, with the initiation more developed and your control improved, you could travel longer distances -- and apparently at least one initiate was eventually able to prowl the halls of his manor as a cloud of smoke, drifting slowly, with this initiation alone."

If my choices weren't limited... But of course they were; his father would have it no other way. "And undertaking smoke won't weaken my physical abilities or anything like that." 

Amedin shook his head, looking vaguely irritated. "None of these will. There is nothing in the records to indicate such a danger. And smoke is as subtle as you could wish: your eyes might turn a darker gray, but who would notice?"

Pallian considered for a moment longer. Storm? Or Smoke? But in truth, only one of them met his immediate needs. "Smoke," he said. Each warrior trains to win the last battle he fought, he remembered. A line of caution from Valorian Chour's Book of Strategy, and it was certainly true here. Still, Smoke seemed versatile enough to have applications beyond his immediate needs.

"It will be done," said Amedin. He consulted the text, paused, and then appeared to re-read it. "Meet me in the small retiring hall at the northwest corner of the second floor, just after dark tonight. I will have everything needed."

Pallian nodded. "Should I speak to my father of my choice?"

"Permit me to address him first, Prince." Amedin's tone turned more formal, more respectful. "The House of Edrias arrives soon, and he will have other things on his mind. You should return to him now."

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Good!Party: Druids Gone Wild

Ragheera comes bounding out of the bushes and comes rushing towards Ruin, and is about to pounce on Ruin when all of a sudden… she dies. 

Martini, invisible, has killed her.

Marshall: “Oh, are you fucking kidding me?” He comes striding over towards the corpse. 

Glanduil comes out of the grotto: “What did you DO?” 

Ruin is just standing there, aghast, hand on his sword. 

Glanduil starts berating Ruin, who’s still shocked speechless. 

Marshall rolls up and prepares to resurrect the paragon ape. Glandular: “She was a paragon creature. Your priestly magics won’t work on her. The only thing that can bring her back is a circle of druids.”

Ruin, who has teleported to the far side of the village. “Yes! We should do that!”

Marshall explains that Artemis is still here for him, and then turns into the world’s biggest snake. Valdur the Mayor has emerged, and is flustered and angry that Marshall is still there. Marshall casts Animal Shapes, and turns Martini into a bunny and Ruin into a bat. Then he just starts turning townsfolk into happy little animals. Valdur the Mayor winds up as a billy goat. There are now animals everywhere, frolicking. Except for the snakes; they’re slithering around and making little heart shapes. 

So the druids are watching all this Nature and looking baffled. Elendor: “It’s a test! The great and mighty Jensen has visited us again, and this is a test of our faith!”

Marshall: “No! No it isn’t!”

Elendor remains convinced. She comes over to the tree and cries out for Jensen to reveal what to do. Lyren and Tyriel have gone over to Glanduil, and see this as a sign of a different kind; the power of nature is stronger than they’ve seen it in a century. Elendor is still rattling on about Jensen, and Marshall finally runs out of patience and implodes her. 

Lyren: “Holy shit! You killed Elendor!”

Tyriel: “You bastards!”

Glandular: “I do not understand, but… I haven’t drawn upon the source in months. I do not know if I still can.”

The others: “You must try, brother.” 


He tries to cast speak with animals, but fails. The power sink that they once used is dormant. Ruin is flapping around, and Marshall frees him from the spell. Ruin drops thirty feet and does a superhero landing. (It’s very hard on the knees; fortunately he heals.) 

Ruin: “Okay, so what did you do to restore the tree before?”

Tyriel: “Well, we would gather druids around and pray to the Elder Treant.”

Ruin: “So try that again.” 

They try it, and Glanduil comes back able to cast Speak With Animals. 

Marshall speaks to them and claims that he speaks for Artem-hiss. He convinces the former druids that the death of the gorilla was their fault, and they must restore the tree and resurrect the gorilla. Also, the non-believer has been dispelled. 

They are terrified, and Marshall proceeds to convince them that the Druidic Bacchanalia is the way to go. The druids are reluctant, but Ruin points out that they could summon other druids, women, and Martini gets enlisted to locate some druidic womenfolk to take part in this. 

We work out a particular set of images to project to the other druids. Think Girls Gone Wild: jello shots off of Ruin's abs, skimpy outfits, all that sort of thing. We convince the townsfolk to take part in creating this image. 

Druids start showing up the next day. Ruin has never seen so many skimpy outfits made of leaves. We get the bard in the inn, Cillarin, to provide party music. Gwyren the merchant has a pony keg of alcu’ul which he sells to us. We set the date of the party for the end of the full moon, in about five days. 

We get about two dozen women, but also about three dozen men; and since the full moon is over, Martini goes and pulls Nym out of the casket where she’s passed her war-bear time. Nym’s a bit thrown by this whole thing; like, the world changed completely while she was locked in the dark. Ruin hands her a drink to take the edge off, and then Martini starts talking her up on her own empowerment. She’s also encouraging Nym to take her pleasures with other women so as to avoid pregnancy. Martini then puts on her Slave Leia outfit, and orders Ruin into his Slave Leia outfit. (Ruin is secure in his masculinity and just goes with it.) 

Martini opens with a very successful welcoming speech. Then we introduce the alcohol, including Jello Shots and Elvish beer with a bit of aclu’ul mixed in to give it some kick. Next up is the dance-off in the cages, and Cillaron uses his song to Inspire Competence, so the dancing is a lot better than it might have been otherwise. Then we lead everyone in a prayer to the tree… except that Glanduil runs forward, rips his robes off, and yells: “Earth-Serpent, come down!”

Marshall comes down, and the druids climb up on him and start going to town with each other. Near the back of Marshall’s tail, Nym has started biting other women. Martini sits her down to explain about the importance of consent. Ruin would help, but he’s busy having jello shots licked off his abs. 

Martini puts her to sleep and carries her into the inn and up to the room; Loris is in his room, muttering to himself. She leaves Nym in the room, tells Loris to look after her, and leaves again. 

Next up: Karaoke. Cillaron eases back to instrumentals, and Martini opens with a song. Ruin follows up, and does a decent job. On his way down from the stage, Kattur again tries to grab him and Ruin teleports away; she misses and hits her head, so he returns and uses a wand to heal her. Kattur: “You saved me!” Ruin teleports away again. 

Cillaron is panicking before his actual set. Martini gives him a pep talk, and he gets up there and gives a very successful performance to a crowd of very drunk elves. 

Marshall has now been a snake for five days; he’s feeding himself with Create Food and Water and Heroes’ Feast. Constantly. Marshall can’t change back yet; his milksnake brings all the druids to the yard.

It’s a very successful party. The next morning, the sun comes up, and Marshall is draped in naked bodies. Martini has gone back to the room, kicked Ruin out, and gotten a solid night’s sleep. Ruin has slept in Kattur’s bed, because it’s the one place she wouldn’t look for him. 

Ruin come stumbling into the room and asks Martini what she did with his clothes. Martin looks a challenge at himi: “Find them.” 

She then goes downstairs and finds Glanduil. He’s passed out on Marshall’s head. Martini pins a note to his hair and then goes to eat breakfast. He shows up about noon, and he’s brought flowers. “Are you doing anything for lunch today?”

Martini: “Yes. We’re having a ceremony, to rejuvenate the tree. And as the manly head druid, you’ll need to lead them.” 

“Oh. Would that impress you?” 

Martini: “That would impress everyone.”  She settles in to help him with his speech. 

Ruin, meanwhile, has found Nym and pointed out the obvious way to avoid ever having to be the Jensenian Virgin again, so they’re down in the crypt making good use of the sarcophagus. (Note: Apparently one of Ruin’s children is now going to be a warbear; DM says of course she becomes pregnant.) 

Glanduil gathers the druids and starts a set of prayers, restoring some of the natural power of this place. 

Martini finally admits that she hid Ruin’s clothes in in Kattur’s room; he sneaks in and retrieves them. 

So the tree is partly recovered, and Marshall chooses that moment to resurrect Elendor… in his throat. He promptly spits her newly-revivified body onto the pavement. 

Martini starts clapping, and after a moment everyone else does too. Elendor finds herself looking around at a crowd of druids praising Artemis, the Earth Power, and the elder treant. Martini drops Deep Slumber on Elendor before she has a chance to say anything or start praising Jensen again. We take her off the stage, and Ruin and Martini wait for her to wake up. 

Martini convinces her that she was brought back by the power of nature, and that she absolutely 100% was not destroyed by Marshall. Then she casts Modify Memory so that Elendor suddenly remembers being led astray to undertake the worship of Jensen. Elendor now remembers being killed by the tree, just as the vampire was. She was brought back by the tree as well, because she was in the prayers of the people reviving the tree. And as she awakened, she was told that she needed to arise and lead the druids again. Also, while she was dead she saw the souls of other druids being tortured, and demons inhabiting their bodies. 

Elendor is much more of a leader than Glanduil, so with Martini’s help she returns to the courtyard and makes her Unite The Druids speech. It’s successful, and the druids begin to reassemble. Better still, if we just stay around here, the evil priest Cardinal Septimus is likely to show up. So, we want to lure him here and murder the shit out of him. 

Marshall slithers off into the wilderness, and returns as himself a few days later. He leaves behind the legend of the Sacred Earth Serpent.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Challenge: Memorable Advice

(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: A piece of advice I'll always remember

I'm not sure this technically counts as advice, but at one point I was sitting with a Tai Chi instructor in a living room in Australia... Okay, right, maybe some background is in order here. 

Ages ago, I got involved with an online writing/roleplaying site for Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time called The Grey Tower. At the time, I was still doing a fair amount of martial arts, in particular Tang Lang (Praying Mantis) Kung Fu. (Northern Praying Mantis, if you're enough of Kung Fu geek to be curious.) So one of the things I did was help help people develop their ability to write believable fight scenes. And, as a result, periodically I'd get asked for advice about studying martial arts in real life. 

I'm actually weirdly proud of being able to help with that. One kid was asking about learning swords, and I suggested a couple of things including Aikido, since I thought that it would be an easier sell for his single mom if he could find a good local teacher. He did, and a couple of years later I got a nice email back as he was finishing high school saying that he and his friend had gotten as far as brown belts in Aikido, and thanking me for recommending it. 

And this was similar, except that it was an adult woman in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, and Tai Chi, and an American instructor that she'd convinced to fly in and hold a seminar on using the jian, which is commonly referred to as the "Tai Chi sword". And, of course, as the person who'd helped her make the connection, I was invited also. So Beautiful Wife and I flew down, and I attended a lovely and very educational seminar on swordsmanship while Beautiful Wife (who was pregnant with Firstborn at the time) mostly played tourist. 

So that was how I ended up sitting in someone's living room in Australia watching unrelated swordsmanship videos with a very accomplished Tai Chi instructor. And I forget exactly what it was that prompted it, but at one point I wound up saying, "With no offense meant to your wife, I married the best woman ever." 

He said, "Every man should feel that way about his wife." Which isn't advice, exactly, and I suppose could be stated more generally, but still: it's stuck with me over the years.

Everybody should feel that way about someone in their life.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

The King and the Heathen, Part One

Mythrandril looked at the man across from him, taking in the balanced stance and the drawn blade, and said: "Very well. Let's do this." His double-scimitar was in his hands a moment later, and he shifted back, waiting. 

Ruin grinned. "Die, Your Majesty." He came in with a probing thrust, then shifted to the side when the True King deflected it, letting the impact push his blade upright and then dropping it down from overhead.

Mythrandril was mist and shadow, fading back from the blow and tapping it from behind to send it further on its way, then stepping in. Ruin let his blade's momentum carry him back, and caught all three attacks with the strong of his falchion. He pressed in with a series of cuts, but Mythrandril danced back. "At least you still acknowledge your king," he said, and tried an attack at Ruin's fingers. 

"Always," answered Ruin, and shifted over to a stop-cut as Mythrandril's blade rose again. 

Mythandril withdrew his blade far enough to catch the counter, then tried a quick thrust to prevent Ruin from moving in. Ruin didn't fight like any other True Elf that he'd ever known, but that made for good sparring sessions. "Your friend Tavros--" he began. 

Ruin shook his head and stepped back, pulling his blade up so that his hands were beside his right shoulder and the falchion was edge up, the tip slightly lower and in front of him. Hanging Guard, Mythrandril recognized, for all that the last time he'd seen it he'd been training with a two-handed grip on his longsword, in his distant and almost-forgotten youth. "Tavros acknowledges your claims," Ruin said quietly, holding back in a way that Mythrandril suspected was not at all typical. 

Mythrandril shifted his footing and came in again, this time spinning the double-scimitar sawblade-quick. "Then why all this ceremony?"

Ruin slid under the spinning blades, lifted them with his own, and then made a vicious chopping attack that drove Mythrandril back three full paces. "Vigo," he said. "Tavros thinks we need the man's help, and you can see how he's brought the nobles in line." 

Mythrandril hesitated, stepped back, and then lifted a hand. Ruin nodded and lowered his sword. "Then why have they not addressed me... one way or another?"

Ruin looked around. The practice yard was all but empty, but Mythrandril already knew that. It was still reassuring that Ruin looked as well. Ruin stepped forward, extended a hand; Mythrandril clasped it.

The world went strange for the blink of an eye, and then they were standing on a stone path. Ruin held up a hand, then reached for Mythrandril again...

They were standing in a graveyard. Is this really necessary? It might be, actually. It wasn't so much the place itself, as the sudden movement that would make it hard for a listener.

"Vigo wants Tavros to appoint you to rule Duendewood," Ruin said quietly. "Tavros refuses. It's only the second time I've seen them fight. But as far as Tavros is concerned, the ancient treaties are upheld and your rule is unquestioned. I don't think he's thought through what it means to have another king in what is technically Sol Povos, but since you don't seem to want to rule the whole nation..." 

Mythrandril shook his head. "I'll have enough headaches from our own kind, at this point. And as much as it pains me to say it, I couldn't take the throne of Sol Povos from the Warbear Queen. Tavros might manage it."

Ruin nodded. "Tavros won't see you claiming kingship of Duendewood and the elves as a challenge to his rule. He'd welcome the aid and advice of a friendly co-king. That will make difficulties for him among the human nobles, but they'll be difficult enough when they realize he intends for them to act honorably regardless."

Mythrandril nodded. "There might be ways to smooth that over, or obfuscate it." A king among my own people, and a duke in the rest of Sol Povos? History had seen stranger compromises. "You surprise me," he admitted. "I hadn't expected you to take an interest in politics."

Ruin shrugged. "I don't," he said quietly. Then, after a moment, he added: "But I pay close attention to power."

Monday, April 17, 2023

Writing and More Writing

Have I mentioned recently that I've been participating in Friday Night Writes? I might have mentioned it. At least once. 

The timing is a little odd -- and it perhaps helps that I only have a social life at certain odd points in the week -- but it works for me and it's allowed me to get some solid writing done. In fact, I really need to do more of this: set some other times during the week to be dedicated writing time. 

That said, exhaustion is still an issue. It's the end of the week -- usually a long week, lately -- and that isn't a time that generally lends itself to having a lot of energy to concentrate. So this week, I figured that even if I didn't make any real progress on the Dark Fantasy story, I could work on some supporting material, specifically a bestiary to look at when I need to threaten my characters. I don't want the usual sorts of vampires and werewolves and whatnot, so having a list of other sorts of beasts to deal with will be helpful...

And apparently that did the trick, because I was about five beasties in when my brain kicked over and I went back to the story. So the second half of the first writing session and both the following sessions were Dark Fantasy, plus I now have nine monsters/categories of monster to menace my characters with. Doubtless I'll add others as I go along. 

Then, on Saturday, I sat down with some thoughts and drew up the central pantheon for the D&D campaign I'm running for Secondborn and his friends. (The one for Firstborn and his friends has, unfortunately, fallen victim to the vicissitudes of Junior Year and is probably permanently defunct.) This will probably become the default for my campaigns, and it definitely needs to be fleshed out further. Still, the core pantheon of the High Gods is there, and I can fill other lesser/later gods later. I've also established the relationship between the High Gods and certain other entities, like Hadar, that the High Gods defeated and destroyed or locked away during the Dawn War. 

Somewhere in there, I also wrote a short scene for the D&D campaign I'm playing in, featuring my favorite True Elf, Ruin, and his king, Mythrandril.

Sunday was devoted to running laundry and playing Hades, which has certainly stimulated my thinking on the topics of divinity and pantheons. This blog post was pretty much the whole extent of Sunday's writing.

Hopefully I can put in another hour or two of devoted writing time tonight (Monday night, when you're reading this, not Sunday night when I'm writing it) and get my characters another step or two closer to their destinies. 

Onwards and upwards! Nothing but good times ahead...

Friday, April 14, 2023

Dark Armor: Preparations

"Father said we were to meet with House Edrias?" Pallian asked as he followed Ravaj down the corridor. 

Ravaj glanced back, and for a moment Pallian thought his brother wouldn't answer. Ravaj could certainly be cruel enough for that, but after a moment he said, "I suppose I owe you for letting Rebka die."

I didn't-- Pallian forced himself not to protest the unfairness. This was his father's court, and if the wizard-king said the Pallian had let Rebka die, then Pallian had let Rebka die. If the wizard-king said that Pallian could have had two new initiations if he'd been more respectful, then that too was true even if Pallian knew full well that his father had never intended anything of the sort.

"An Emissary has emerged from the First Palace," continued Ravaj. "We make alliance with Edrias so that we can stop it before it learns enough to awaken one of the Second. Faindrun has offered assistance also, though it's likely to be minimal unless they become convinced that their own lands are threatened."

"Ah, said Pallian. "And with Rebka dead and you the heir, I've been spared from execution to show that the dynasty remains stable." They had other siblings, of course, but none yet old enough to be out of the nurseries and teaching-rooms. None who'd reached their first initiations. That made more sense.

Ravaj was half a head taller than Pallian, almost as tall as their their father but more strongly built. He was dark of hair and eye, pale of skin, and dressed neatly in black with just a touch of red here and there: cuffs, collar, and a bloodstone brooch pinned over his heart. The blade he wore was shorter than Pallian's, single-edged and curved, meant for fighting indoors. "You didn't think it was sentiment, did you?"

Pallian sniffed, amused. He no longer knew Ravaj as well as he had; three years of living in the crypt and serving as the Black Knight had left him unfamiliar with most of the living court. The Heir might have been trying to hurt him with those words, or he might simply have been making an ironic comment about their father's disposition. "Never."

"A king cannot afford such luxuries," Ravaj said, and Pallian heard the tight pride in his voice. Ravaj expected to have no trouble casting aside any such weaknesses.

Before he could think of a reply, Ravaj stopped at a doorway. There was no masonry, merely a shaped hole in the polished obsidian wall, lights and voices on the other side. He heard his father's voice among them, and drew a breath to calm himself. 

"Father," said Ravaj, and then gestured to Pallian. "He's arrived."

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Good!Party: Calisthum

We set to questioning the druid, who insists that he’s Razzia the Druid, local boy. He’s still obviously possessed. Meanwhile the mayor has shown up, and has some feelings about the smashed houses from the Earthquake spell. Marshall casts Zone of Truth and we start questioning the druid, who is not Razzia and is instead Arkthinveriflorgh the devil. 

The mayor Bes’re is willing to give us half of the treasure that Gosbeck collected; Martini does some math, and that’s way more than the town will need to rebuild, even taking into account the cleaning-up-shit portion of the job. Martini talks him down to one quarter. 

We bind the druid, and blind him, but note that he can apparently see us anyway. Bes’re informs us that the Appollyon-worshipping Adros priest reported to Septimus, who is probably the senior Appollyon priest in the area. Marshall detects magic, and picks up high-level Necromancy but can’t really identify it. 

Marshall: “What master do you serve?” 

Garglesnort: “We serve Appollyon. So do you, even if you don’t know it.” 

Somebody brings in the stuff from the bodies. Adros has all these wrapped-up scrolls on his belt; each one has the name of a druid, and the name of a devil. Marshall: “I’m an export in contract law, and this guy signed a really shitty deal.”

Bes’re wonders why they didn’t make him sign a contract, seeing as he is a hedge druid. He wants to know if we’re going to try to help Razzia. 

Ruin: “So the plan is we murder Septimus, and work our way down through the ranks of the priests.”

So, Calisthum used to be a druidic gathering place. The head of the Circle there had a way of summoning the other druids. Bes’re thinks we could either go after Septimus, gather the druids, or try to break the possession spell. 

Marshall suggests that we could kill Razzia and resurrect him. We decide to try it with the other druid from the square before we kill Razzia, since we killed the other druid already. Marshall casts True Resurrection on her corpse, but the soul is unable to return. The spell fails. 

Marshall goes to rest, and comes back with Greater Scrying prepared. He goes looking for the demon. He gets this vision of a room full of stone plinths, and enrinyes walking around – a bunch of very attractive winged devils. They’re just laying unmoving on the plinths. Chain devils pace around the edges of the room. There’s some rumbling around them, and a lava field visible in the distance. The carvings salute the great master Appollyon, and look to his coming again to claim the throne of the world from the usurper, Anubis. He lives in the Obsidian Fortress in Baetor. Appollyon believes in strength in all things; might makes right. A few of the plinths are empty. 

So we might be able to reverse some of this, but not easily. Our best bet is to prevent it from going any further. Since we don’t have a good way to locate Septimus, we’re probably heading for Calisthum. 

We get directions and head off to Calisthum. The tree in the center has lost all its leaves and its bark has turned black, but it may not actually be dead. The townspeople are over by the grotto, and there are raised voices. We head over, and they are retelling the story of the Holy Dragon Jensen

Apparently the monthly ritual of the Jensenian Virgin is tomorrow. Two ladies are walking away from the group, and one of them spots us and pulls us along to the inn. “Welcome to Calisthum! I’m Mirren, and this is my partner.”

Glandular is the guy who was just preaching. He used to be a druid, but now he’s the high priest of Jensenianism. Which… is going to complicate our mission. Wyeth the Merchant and Cyralin the Bard starts playing to entertain us. Kather the barmaid comes over and tries to flirt with Ruin.

Martini: “Be careful. He’s already impregnated no less than two people.”

Kather looks at Martini, then at Ruin. “In that case…” She turns to Marshall, and then trails off. “Um… would you like a drink?”

We get food, and yeah: all the druids here are now Jensenites. Martini suggests that they should summon all the druids and then have them convert to Jensen worship. The Innkeeper suggests that we should attend the ceremony and talk to the former druids there. 

The mayor Valder shows up, and we find that Artemis is also no longer welcome in their town. They drove out the worship of Artemis after the priest Ilsinor attempted to persuade Jensen to the worship of Artemis. 

Marshall: “I think it’s time for the holy fire.” 

Ruin: “Not yet!”

Wyeth comes over, still wearing his golden scarf. He’s a trader, charismatic, “So, guys, what brings you to Calisthum?”

Ruin: “We’re trying to save the druids from getting possessed by demons.”

Marshall is quietly going full-on crusader. Ruin suggests that Martini should check in on the Vestal Virgin Nim; he should go see about finding the giant ape. We head up to our room, and the murals are… Jensen stepping on an Artemis worshipper, and the fortnight of a thousand beds. Marshall is incandescent with fury. 

Martini goes to find Nim; she seems to have rooms in the grotto under the hill. Martini turns invisible and strolls over there. There is a priest walking around in the grotto, but he doesn’t notice Martini. The entire temple is decorated in golden tones, and the altar is a bed. Martini stays to the ceiling and walks silently to the back, where there are four smaller rooms. 

Martini starts knocking on doors. The priest comes and looks down the hall. “Hello? Glanduilar? Elendor? Nym? Did you wake up?” She uses Ghost Sound to distract him, and finds Nym’s door. Nym refuses to open her door, citing the need to spend the night in prayer and also the fear that if her time comes too soon she might eat Martini.

Martini picks the lock and goes inside anyway. She introduces herself as a women’s advocate and starts chatting sympathetically with the Jensenian Virgin, who is very happy with her lot. (She isn’t. She’s locked in the temple all the time now, and she’s not allowed to drink, celebrate, or have guests. And now the whole locked-in-a-box-for-her-lycanthropy-once-a-month thing has gotten weird. It didn't use to be a ritual, just a quiet necessity.) Martini promises to come back for her.

She pops back to the room. Marshall and Loris the scholar are in there, sharing a gristle loaf. (Don't ask. It's disgusting.) Loris has been commissioned by Mayor Valdor to write the history of Jensen. Loris, however, isn’t quite buying it, and Marshall encourages his skepticism. 

He also tells Marshall that Zagheera has turned wild and mean, and is even meaner now that she’s pregnant. Marshall spares a thought for Ruin, but decides he doesn’t need to bother to warn him. Ruin can take care of himself, after all, and also that would be work. Interestingly, the departure of the legendary paragon ape coincides with the decay of the tree. 

Martini shows back up, looks at the conversation in the room, and heads back downstairs. She hangs out in the common room and listens to the drunk people. 

Ruin heads outside of town and locates some gigantic monkey footprints; he continues ghosting through the trees until he comes to an area rich with monkey prints. After a little bit there’s a knocking behind him, and Ruin whips around to find a giant, hugely pregnant gorilla. On the plus side, she is every bit as surprised to see him as he is to see her. She screams and raises her arms, then attacks. Ruin Dimension Doors up into the trees and hides until he’s healed. 

Then he pops back down to the ground and yells, “I don’t want to fight you!”

The gorilla snarls, charges, and misses. Ruin turns and runs. She slaps him on the way out, doing some damage. He’s healing now, and sprinting at the same time. She takes off after him, comes around and blocks his way. Ruin: “I don’t want to fight! I’m trying to reunite you with your druid!” She snarls and claws at the earth, ripping up trees. Then she slaps Ruin again. 

Ruin spots a burned-out tree with a hollow and dives into it. By the time Jagheera finishes ripping it open, Ruin has used Dimension Door to escape. 

Ruin returns to the room. “Martini?” 

Marshall: “Downstairs.”

Ruin heads downstairs. Martini: “The ape?”

Ruin: “Berserk.”

Marshall passes out, and in the morning wakes up. “Oh, hey, Ruin. Important information. Apparently that ape is pissed.” 


Ruin: "I noticed that." 

Marshall decides to sit out the ceremony, and Navis the hermit joins him up on the hilltop. Martini and Ruin go down into the vault with everyone else. Valdur: “Just put your clothes in a cubby and head on down.”

Martini: “What?”

Ruin: “Let’s get naked.” They strip down (except for Martini’s slippers of spider-climbing, which she keeps on) and head downstairs. 

The priest is preaching about how they’re going to enclose the Jensenian Virgin that she may not hurt anyone in her monthly beast-time. Then a massive orgy breaks out. The barmaid offers herself to Ruin, who takes a moment to read the room before diving in. Martini hooks up with one of the merchant’s guards. 

Then, as we’re emerging, we hear a couple of branches crack on the other side of town. A giant monkey head peers out, looking at Ruin. 


Zagheera has found him. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Challenge: Best Home Remedy

(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: Best Home Remedy for the Common Cold

Okay, so bear with me because this one is complicated. What you're going to need is: 

  • A tea infuser
  • Two cups of boiling water
  • A teaspoon of cinnamon -- real cinnamon, not what commonly passes for it in America
  • Ginger root, sliced thin
  • Wildflower honey, gathered locally
  • A shot of good Irish whiskey
  • A strupe waffle
  • Two grapes
  • Two teaspoons of ground chilies -- chipotles are best for this
  • A slice of lemon

Got all that? Okay, good. Now you're ready for the actual recipe, which is this:

Leave it all on the countertop, safely out of reach of pets and/or impressionable children, and go to bed. 

You need sleep. Sleep is the best home remedy for the common cold.


Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Good!Party: More Important

"Does it bother you that Tavros is so much more important than we are?" asked Anica sleepily, curled up against Ruin on the narrow bunk in his cell. "It bothers me a little, sometimes."

"Would I prefer to be more of a target, do you mean?" he replied, nuzzling the back of her neck. "No, not particularly."

She pressed back against him, solid muscle under silky skin. "I just feel like we should be doing more to help." 

Ruin felt himself respond, and shifted his hand from her belly to her chest. Anica gasped, and he said: "You know who watches me undress for bed? You and Aesa. Sometimes. If I were marched into a room before the eyes of every available noble the way Tavros is, I'd have to murder all of them... starting with Vigo."

"Fair point," said Anica, and reached back to grasp him. "And it's not like you don't have things to keep you occupied." She managed to make the observation sound lascivious, and Ruin groaned. 

"We have a child," he observed, as Anica shifted her position in front of him. "That's more responsibility than anyone should ask." 

"Put another one in me," said Anica. "Please. In case... In case you don't come back."

"Anica..." Ruin sounded hesitant, but he was already moving inside her. He wondered again, briefly, about Tavros and how the paladin could possibly have made it this far without apparently so much as kissing anyone, but perhaps his half-dragon heritage discouraged things more than Ruin realized. And Anica...

...She was right to worry, he decided, and that was his last conscious thought for a very long time.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Ugh. Monday.

I'm taking the car into the shop and the house is a wreck as the boys finish up a four-day weekend, so I just took today off. Which, I think I desperately needed -- turns out I'm tired. That sort of tired: the kind of tired where, when I finally slow down, my whole system just wants to collapse. So, a lot of sleep Saturday night and last night, and this morning to try to deal with all the Not Work crises. 

(Yes, "crises" plural. Troubles may walk single file to hide their numbers, but they never come alone. Firstborn is very probably sick -- either that or his allergies are very bad right now -- but he isn't running a fever so I probably can't keep him home from school tomorrow; fortunately, he masks. And the back toilet -- but not the front one -- seems to have a partial clog, which means whatever it is, it's in a very specific stretch of pipe and it's almost, but not quite, closing off the pipe entirely. So I may be calling a plumber, or just borrowing/renting one of those metal snakes. Plus there's laundry to sort, dishes to run, and counters to be cleaned so that they look less like a demilitarized zone.)

This is not an auspicious start to the week.

Friday, April 7, 2023

Dark Armor: Another Departure

Pallian bathed quickly and then dressed himself, this time in dark gray pants and a crimson shirt, with heavy black boots and a wide black belt. He hung sword and dagger on the belt, tucked a second dagger into his boot, and slid the bracers into place around his forearms. After a moment he selected the plain bloodsteel ring that his mother had left him as a birthing-gift, and slipped it onto the middle finger of his right hand. That should serve well enough for his arrival at court, at least. 

Tybben sorted the last of a pile of outfits into a simple travel-pack, and handed it to him. "It seems disrespectful to have you travel without retinue, my prince, but your father left word that you were to follow him with all haste. He left you this for the journey."

Pallian nodded to the dog-faced man, and accepted the rolled scroll that Tybben held out for him. A momentary glance at its half-unrolled surface revealed a complex tracery of lines and angles, pulsing with power. "At least he means for me to come directly," he observed. "Did he say anything about the armor?"

"He did not."

"Then I'll leave it here, and gratefully."

"My prince--" Tybben swallowed. "Watch yourself. More princes have died in the wizard-king's court than ever did on the field of battle."

Pallian nodded. He knew that already, but the warning was meant kindly and it was a welcome reminder -- especially following the events of the last week. "I will be as careful as I know how to be."

"Then we will have to hope that is enough," said Tybben, and stepped back. 

Pallian slung the pack over his shoulder, then unrolled the scroll. The glyph upon it grew momentarily bright, burning blue-white with the power it contained. Then the scroll burned away into ash, and the world went utterly black for the space of a single heartbeat.

Pallian had long thought that it might be possible to move just as that darkness surrounded him, but he had never been curious enough to try it. It might make no difference at all; it might throw off his arrival by inches or miles; or he might find himself falling forever in the dark-between places. Some curiosities weren't worth satisfying, and it didn't bode well that he found himself tempted to try it this time.

Then light and location returned, and he was standing on a carved glyph in the stone floor of the Obsidian Citadel's Hall of Greeting, the only room in his father's keep where such travel was not blocked. 

"Pallian," said his brother Ravaj. "You hurried. Good."