Thursday, August 31, 2023

Good!Party: Like Rats in a Maze

We enter the next room. Martini springs into the room and annihilates a barbarian bodyguard. One of the far doors open, and another pair of the guards are outside. This is a small room, and we arrange ourselves around the door. One guard steps in, rages, and hits Tavros; the other one tries to charge past Tavros to Mashall, but Tavros takes his head off. 

Leira throws out a magic missile, and Martini steps up behind the first barbarian and perforates him. He goes down as well. Tavros attempts to use Lay On  Hands on himself, and discovers that that doesn’t work either. 

We search the room, then Martini checks over the locked door to the north. It’s not trapped, and it’s only loosely locked; it opens onto a pantry. We pause to eat the food on the table in the middle of the room, and then head down the hallway that the bodyguards came out of. There’s a door halfway down, and Martini stops to listen. She can hear something like an extraordinarily large suit of armor clanking around inside. 

We set up around the door, and Martini attempts to look through the keyhole… There’s an iron golem inside. We decide to bypass that room and try the next door; it opens into a bath, magically warmed. We check the far door, and find the linen closet… we think. Geddy and Marshall have already dipped into the bathtub. Martini finds two chests in the closet, one of them not trapped and one about six traps deep. Martini starts disabling, and keeping the ones she disables: mass hold monster, energy drain… she disables the Wail of the Banshee trap but cannot keep it. We have found Vecna’s chest of jeweled sex toys. She shows one to Leira. 

Leira: “Is that a golden cucumber with jewels on it?” 

It’s 69,000 GP worth of stuff, unsurprisingly. We swipe the hoard and plan to sell it later. Well… we keep one as a trophy. 

We continue on and find the the throne room again, and clear out another pile of treasure. 17,000 in coins and 81,000 in art objects. We continue on, to the last obvious door, which is very ornate; Martini checks it for traps and then unlocks it. It’s an extremely tricky lock, and very difficult to open silently, but Martini seems to manage.

There are definitely people on the other side. Maybe two people? Hard to be sure. Tavros opens the door, and Marshall moves in and attacks a bodyguard. Martini follows, and attacks another bodyguard. Leira moves up to the doorway and fires off a magic missile with the Formorian weapon. Geddy moves up and fires with his crossbow, also adding some damage. 

Martini attacks with the Vecna dagger, and the guy – badly wounded already – just dies of its magic. She shifts over and attacks the other guy and takes him out. Martini is so done with this shit. We start checking the room, since there are desks and tables with things on them. 

The far door opens and an iron golem lurches out. 

Martini moves to flank the thing, and switches to just fighting with her buckler and Vecna’s dagger. She stabs it a few times, doing a bit of damage. Leira walks in and hits it with her quarterstaff. “You leave my friends alone!”

Marshall moves in and attacks, but doesn’t get past its damage reduction. “Over here! Attack me!”

Geddy shoots it with his crossbow and tries to attract its attention, but fails. 

It attacks Tavros, and he – already badly wounded – goes down. Martini attacks it again, doing a pretty fair amount of damage. She moves around as she attacks, and manages to convince the thing that Marshall was actually the one attacking it. Marshall attacks again to reinforce that impression. Tavros is out cold on the floor, and about to actually die. 

The golem attacks Marshall and hits him. Martini takes it down. 

Geddy tries to stabilize Tavros and fails badly. Leira tries as well, and also fails. Marshall elbows them aside and manages to stabilize Tavros at the very last minute. He’ll live, but he’s out. 

We finish searching the room and find a ring of Freedom of Movement, a pearl of power for a six level spell, three Flesh Golem manuals which we add to the pile, a potion of water walking which we’ll sell, dust of appearance which we’ll also sell, a scroll of Wail of the Banshee which we’ll keep. We move into the bedroom, where they ensconce Tavros to recover. It’s clearly Vecna’s bedroom, but it has been taken over by Kas Luthien. He’s left a bunch of his stuff in there. We nick about 3,000 GP worth of his stuff. 

She finds a secret door, and disables the traps on it. She manages to open the lock, and finds two chests inside. She checks them over, and concludes that this is Luthien’s treasure: 53,000 GP in platinum coins, 123,000 GP, gems and art worth 210,000, and somewhere upstairs Luthien is cursing, plus 90,000 worth of miscellaneous magic items, and a ring of telekinesis that we keep. 

There’s also a giant, gift-wrapped package in the middle of the room. 

Marshall: “This is obviously a trap, and we’re going to open it.”

Martini checks it over, then motions for Leira to open it; Leira is very excited to have a present. 

It’s a badly charred elvish corpse. Leira: “This is a really bad present.”

Marshall grabs the book off of it and unwraps it. 

It’s Azrael’s journal. 

A little note falls out. 

It's from Kas Luthien.

Marshall grabs it and reads it, then reads it out loud – carefully. Because’s Martini’s expression has gone full homicidal. 

“A gift for you to show my appreciation for all the fine work you did getting me to this point. Whatever happened when Lilly destroyed the Staff of Magus sent his soul somewhere else.” The archdemon tried to search for his soul; Behemoth was badly scarred and his army destroyed. 

Martini manages to act unaffected by this. She takes the note and the book and looks at them herself, noticing a strange little string hanging out the back of the book. It definitely looks like a tampon string. She pulls on it, and… it’s Azrael’s entrance to the Nine Halls, his Magnificent Mansion, and it’s so metal that it will still work in the Tower of Vecna. 

We go back and gather Ruin, Tavros, and Ruin, and pull them into the Nine Halls. It’s a ridiculously goth mansion, staffed with invisible servants. Our magics still aren’t working, but at least we have a safe place. In Azrael’s room, in his personal collection, six Cure Light Wounds wands carved with demons and skulls and whatnot… and they’re so dark and macabre that they still work. 

We start healing people up. 

It uses 2 ½ of the six wands, so we pass the three full wands to Geddy, Ruin, and Marshall, and hand the half-full one off to Tavros. (He has 20 charges, everybody else has 50.) 

We decide not to rest, and move up the stairs to the fourth floor. Ruin and Martini scout ahead, coming up on a balcony on the outside edge of the tower. There’s a hulking corpse on the balcony, but it completely fails to notice us. 

We slip over to a door, and listen; there are things shuffling around inside, most of them medium sized but at least one large; we can also hear thumps that sound like books being knocked off shelves. 

Martini drops a Mass Hold Monster trap – the one linked with the Incendiary Cloud –  on the door. 

We’re pretty sure that what we’ve heard so far is all Undead. So… as we circle around and find another door and another door, and another hulking corpse beyond; Martini drops Mass Hold Monster on that door, and we retreat before the Hulking Corpse can find us. 

We bring the whole party up the stairs, as quietly as we can, and then Ruin moves up and attacks the hulking corpse. Geddy steps up and just fires over the railing at the back of the stairs; he fires off three bolts and hits once; the hulking corpse attacks Ruin, hitting once and trying to grab him; he tears loose. 

Ruin attacks again, but to much less effect; then he fumbles and drops his sword. Tavros hits a couple of times and does a ton of damage, then drops his sword as well, possibly in a show of solidarity. Martini tumbles past and stabs it; it is wobbling on its feet. 

We have been deliberately loud; a dread wraith phases through the wall behind Ruin, and another emerges behind it. The corporeal undead in the nearest room throw open the door, triggering the linked trap that Martini left for them: Mass Hold Monster, and Incendiary Cloud. 

Marshall is still in range of the spell, but shrugs off the Hold Monster effect; some of the undead ignore it as well, but none of us can really tell as the Incendiary Cloud kicks in immediately afterward. The cloud begins to spread outward, and Marshall moves to the center of it as it spreads out in a ring. He attacks the Morg that opened the door. Leira uses her staff to cast a super darkbolt at the un-held Dread Wraith. 

Ruin picks up his sword, and the Hulking corpse tries to hit him but misses, trips, and falls over. It is now prone. Ruin finishes it. 

Geddy also moves to the center of the cloud of fire, and tries to shoot the morg but misses. 

Tavros moves up to the next Hulking Corpse and slashes at it, which is not the most effective form of attack – it’s more vulnerable to bludgeoning – but does a pretty good job anyway because Tavros has specialized in Falchion and is ridiculously strong. Martini tumbles past the thing. 

A Devourer shakes off the Hold effect and tries to drain his essence. He takes some damage from an Angel of Decay, but he thinks he’s just shedding his skin and he’s okay with that. The Morg tries to slam him and then tries to tongue him, and succeeds but fails to do any damage. 

The hulking corpse bites Tavros, claws him, and tries to grapple; Tavros catches his hand on the way in and shoves it back. A hulking corpse moves up behind Geddy. The incendiary cloud continues to spread, and Ruin, Tavros, and Leira find themselves enveloped by it. Leira blasts the Hulking Corpse behind Geddy, and very nearly kills it. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Challenge: Loving Weird 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: The Weirdest Thing I Loved As A Child.

This is another one of those prompts where I -- and I suspect it won't be just me -- immediately start second-guessing my answers, because weird is relative. 

French fries, for example. As a child, I really enjoyed eating my Long John Silver's french fries with sugar on them instead of salt. Not McDonald's fries, or (shudder) Burger King fries. Nope. Just Long John Silver's fries. But... my brother loved that too. So maybe it was normal? 

But here's the thing: I grew up mostly in the 1980s. And 1980s children's cartoons were truly, deeply weird. And I loved it. By the time I hit my teens I was deep into reading horror novels, but before that... well... 

Let me introduce you to a cartoon show (and its associated toy line) that I loved: 

How weird was it? You might wonder. Well... it included things like this: 

It was Cosmic Horror for grade-schoolers, and I adored it. I would love to see this one given a more modern reboot... or a new franchise with a similar concept. How about you?

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Dark Army: An Exchange At The Top Of The Ghost Tower

The feathered beast rolled to the floor with an anticlimactic thump, its large, black, bird eyes clouding over as it stared up lifelessly. From underneath, Martini Dwint’lithar stumbled to her feet. She looked around frantically for another foe, and finding none, closed her eyes and swallowed. With both hands, she grabbed the broken talon of a harpy and wrenched it out of her mid-section with a scream that was as much rage as it was pain. A ripple passed over her image.

“Oh-oh-oh, this is even better than I hoped,” Luthien practically giggled, “And I’m already up one platinum!”

Grinning ear to ear, he reached toward Malafar’s stack, but a buzzing filled his ears. Flies swarmed around his arm, forming a ribbon of living creatures that extended back to the outstretched hand of Hierophant Malafar.

“He is not dead yet,” the Hieophant intoned in a low, powerful voice.

Kas Luthien’s brow furrowed in anger, “He will be soon! They left him behind like the dragon, and they press on with ever diminishing numbers. Look for yourself, they’re practically crawling through this floor!”

In the dark obsidian bowl, the snake priest was indeed, very nearly crawling. If one just attuned to the dark waters, one could hear as well as see. There was a background of constant, pitched screaming by a teenage girl, while the others debated their next steps.

“I must declare,” Marshall huffed, leaning heavily on his scythe, “I am not used to all this walking!”

“Me neither,” the gnome added, “my bunions are aching and I’m missing the Andy Griffin play!”

The half-dragon entered the frame, wiping blood from his rusty falchion, “Come, we haven’t much time. Take solace, friends, the end of our journey is nigh.” He did his best to set an example of confidence as he strode onward, but his injuries were obvious: He carried his sword in one hand as the other arm hung uselessly at his side, drenched in blood, and he limped from a serious wound in his thigh.

“Nevertheless,” Malafar’s voice echoed through the chamber, “dying and dead are not the same thing, and this is not the first time you’ve confused the two.”

Kas Luthien glared hatefully at Malafar, “They were well and truly dead, how would I know they would come back!?”

Malafar sniffed, “I must attend our mistress and her manifestation. I leave you to your playthings.” He dematerialized into a swarm of flies that swarmed in a vortex and then was gone.

Luthien felt like he should be angry, but he wasn’t. The erstwhile heroes were struggling, and he wasn’t even sure they’d make it to the end of this floor. That, at least, was a shame – he’d left them quite a present. Still… he waved his hand over the pool and the halfling appeared.

“Almonda,” Luthien greeted her.

“Kas Luthien,” Almonda replied. She could be seen with her retinue of bodyguards.

“Our plan is going well. Lady Vecna has snuffed out any magic – or magic beings – in this tower that are not instruments aligned to her purpose.”

“That is good, Luthien. Why are you calling me?”

“If they should make it –“

“How far have they made it?” Kasadya Almonda asked urgently.

“They haven’t left the third floor,” Luthien replied, “but just in case –“

“Don’t worry,” Almonda replied, “I stand ready to pounce the moment they arrive.”

“Good,” Luthien said, “that’s very good. At this rate, they will either die on this floor or somewhere in the library, eaten by our minions. But it never hurts to be thorough. I just hope that you serve me better than you did Duke Lamont.”

Almonda narrowed her eyes, “Lamont dug his own grave, and you don’t own me, you bastard. We both sit on Malafar’s council.”

“Yes,” Luthien replied, “but some of us sit a little taller than the others.”

Almonda rolled her eyes, “You really are a piece of shit, you know that Luthien?”

“No, my dear, you will be the one knowing: You failed your master and now you don’t have a powerful duchy to rule. What do you do? You come crawling back to the order, where I have been dutifully and successfully serving. Do not mistake yourself for anything but my lapdog now.”

“What is it you want?”

“Kill them!”

“If they make it this far,” Almonda said, “I will end them with puissant magic and hordes of guards. They will receive no quarter, but know this, you rat bastard: I don’t do it for you, or even for our dark mistress. I do it for my much-maligned former employer, Duke Lamont.”

The pool turned to solid darkness and then back to an image of Martini on her knees, a spring steel tool in each hand as she worked on the lock to the next room. Next to her, Marshall leaned against the wall, his face white and legs trembling, and Geddy seemed to be asleep on a nearby couch. Tavros Fontaine, to his credit, was doing his best to stand proudly but had clearly lost substantial amounts of blood.

“That’s right my pretty little rats,” Luthien cackled maniacally to himself, “that’s right. Through the maze with you!”


Monday, August 28, 2023

Ruin: Hierophant Candidates, Part Six

Zoriel burst into the sacred grove, close behind his armored bear Spike, who howled loudly enough to shake the tainted trees around them. For all that he distrusted the man, he was counting on Ruin to do his part; the situation was too desperate for the druid to indulge his bitterness and mistrust. But if he betrays me like he betrayed my teacher, I will kill him.

There were four robed figures gathered around the massive kapok tree in the center of the grove, and they all bore the sigils of Apollyon. None of them paid the least attention to the new arrivals, but the half-dozen barbed devils standing guard around them turned and shrieked a warning. 

Spike reached the first of the barbed devils and tore into it. Zoriel had done everything he could think of to make the bear stronger, so it was satisfying to see Spike make use of those extra gifts. Still, he couldn't afford to get distracted...

Lifting a hand, Zoriel called for a storm. 

The devils were spreading out,  moving to surround Spike and envelop him, when the wolves charged out of the brush where Zoriel had summoned them. They were no match for the devils, of course, but for a moment the grove was filled with chaos...

...And that was exactly the distraction that Ruin had been waiting for. He appeared behind the devils, beside one of the priests, and took a brief moment to get his bearings. Then, as Spike again clawed the barbed devil and shifted back to avoid being trapped, Ruin cut the priestess apart. 

Thunder rumbled overhead, and a bolt of lightning lanced up, piercing another priestess as it reached to touch the clouds. The woman staggered, but didn't go down and didn't stop her chanting. That's not good. Whatever they were doing, Zoriel needed to disrupt it: keep them distracted and off-balance.

Ruin crossed the buttress roots of the Kapok as if they were flat ground, and cut her down. One of the devils suddenly realized he was there and turned on him, but the summoned wolves were still harrying it and it wasn't as fast as it should have been; none of its attacks managed to touch him. 

Two of the barbed devils managed to surround Spike, and cut into him with their claws; a couple of blows connected, but they couldn't take hold and try to impale the cave bear.

Zoriel put the next lightning bolt behind one of the devils harrying his bear, and wrapped a wall of fire around the Kapok, with the flames facing out. It wouldn't affect the devils, but he doubted that the priests were immune to fire. Ruin was still there, too close, but there was no other way... Zoriel felt a certain mixture of guilt and glee at the thought.

Ruin stepped out of the fire unharmed, and cut into the approaching devil. It staggered back, but didn't fall. It tried to grab Ruin but failed; Zoriel's spell kept Ruin free to move. It snarled as the two remaining priests scrambled out of the flames, robes still scorched and smoking. One of them looked at Zoriel, straightened, and sneered. "A momentary interruption..." She cast something, and blossomed into a towering, powerful figure. "Behold the might of Apollyon." 

She pushed one of the devils aside and came forward, swinging a massive mace at Zoriel. He'd applied his own magical protections, of course, but he still felt it glance off his shoulder with shattering force. Had he prepared any less thoroughly, he would have been flattened.

For a moment, the battle hung in the balance. Spike was surrounded, Ruin occupied, and Zoriel very possibly outmatched by this priestess and her magics and her weapon. The wolves were being shredded by the devils they were attacking, and...

The remaining priest screamed, and the priestess whirled around to behold her fellow religious with his feet six inches off the ground, impaled on a spiral horn. 

The unicorns had arrived. 

Zoriel had only intended to summon ordinary unicorns, but here -- to protect this place -- a celestial charger had answered his call as well. With a unicorn on either side, it tore into the devils and took them apart, taking the pressure off Spike while Ruin carved his way through the devil attacking him. 

"No," said the priestess. Zoriel put another bolt of lightning through her but she shrugged it off and came at him again, swinging the oversized mace. 

"Yes," said Zoriel, and turned his skin to stone. He didn't like to fight hand-to-hand, but he positioned his shield and drew his scimitar. "You can't have our forest. It isn't yours."

"It will be," she snarled, "by right of conquest!"

She swung again, and his shield shattered under the impact; again, and he staggered back. He turned her next blow with his blade, just far enough to feel the air stir as it slammed past his face and buried itself in the ground. One of the unicorns tried to impale her, but she brushed it aside. 

Then Ruin was there, cutting into her from behind as Spike ripped through the last of the barbed devils. She staggered, and Zoriel cut with his scimitar and opened a line of blood on her forearm. Then the celestial charger speared her through, and that was it. She sagged and fell limp. 

The forest went quiet around them. The last of the summoned wolves disappeared; the two unicorns did as well. Ruin offered a hand to the celestial charger, watched it shy back from him, and muttered: "Right, I should have remembered..." 

They'd won. It didn't seem possible, but they had.  Ruin sat down abruptly, and Zoriel watched as the warrior's wounds closed on their own. He swallowed, then turned to the Celestial Charger. "Noble cousin," he said, "I am grateful for your aid."

The unicorn regarded him. Then its mouth moved, and despite the impossibility of an equine throat producing human speech, its voice came rich to his ears: "I am grateful for yours," it said. "This is my place, after all. Or did you think that only druids watch over the wild places of our world?"

Ruin chuckled, and Zoriel felt himself flush. "I would like to send further aid..." he began cautiously. 

The unicorn studied him. "You are welcome here," it said. "The Circle of the Bounteous Forest is welcome to return, if any of them yet live." It turned its head, regarded Ruin. "You are welcome as well, for all that you reek of blood and conflict."

Ruin lowered his head. "I am grateful for your welcome," he said. 

"Then let the druids come, and find their places here, and learn from us as they did before. I will see you again when it is time." With that, the Celestial Charger turned and trotted off into the forest. 

Zoriel had his mouth open, and it stayed open as the unicorn departed. This wasn't how this was supposed to go. This was one of the sacred groves, cultivated and protected by the druids of Duendewood... and that beast had the arrogance to--

He sighed, suddenly, and sat down. Spike came and stretched out on the ground beside him, eighteen feet of fur and claws covered in the metal armor that the smiths had worked so hard to craft. "You may be right about me," he admitted. 

Ruin lifted his head and studied his expression. "How do you mean?" he asked. 

"I think... I think perhaps my master was right not to pass his insight on to me. I... I have been too concerned with my position and what I felt I was due. My concerns have been... petty. Unbecoming of the Druid Hierophant. Have the unicorns always had the charge of this grove? I didn't know, don't know, but this one seemed very sure of it. And here I was, assuming that naturally the druids would be in charge, as if only we knew the best way of doing things." He sighed. "You were right to despise me."

Ruin shook his head. "I didn't despise you," he said. "I thought you were angry, and grieving, and bitter, and that's a place I know well in my own mind. And you were foremost among Saladhel's apprentices for a reason, probably many reasons. A confluence, as the old man might have said." 

He was silent for the space of a breath, and then another and another, but Zoriel didn't interrupt him. He was learning, he thought... And Ruin really had known his teacher, somehow, well enough to have some genuine insight into how the ancient druid thought -- even if he did refer to him as the old man.

At last Ruin said, "And not ready yet is not the same thing as unworthy." 

Zoriel felt his heart race, and forced it back to its usual pace. "Don't give it to me," he said, and couldn't believe that he was speaking those words -- and more, that he actually meant them. "Not yet, at the very least. Talk to the others. Talk to all of them. Even Elendor." He swallowed. "Find the best candidate, even if it isn't me." 

Ruin nodded solemnly. "You have my word."

Friday, August 25, 2023

Dark Armor: Courtly Guidance

"Lady Vathira," said Pallian, having finally tracked the Royal Steward down in the servants' quarters, where she was organizng a half-dozen liveried servants for an expedition into town. "May I have a moment of your time?"

She turned around as the servants departed, studied him for a long moment, and then made a small but decisive nod. Vathira was taller than Pallian by nearly a full head, pale of hair and eye, with a narrow face that emphasized her cheekbones. She offered a graceful courtesy, then acknowledged him: "Prince Pallian. It is good to see you still serve the Crown."

...As opposed to having been executed, he filled in silently, but offered a bow in return. Vathira was not one of his father's advisors, but it would be a mistake to think of her as any less important. "It is my honor to do so," he said, choosing propriety over any attempt to acknowledge her unspoken words. 

"And how may I assist you in your duties?" Vathira's voice was polite, her expression carefully interested. 

Pallian drew a breath. "My father has asked me to entertain our guests; he bade me have you arrange it, and accompany us." 

Vathira tilted her head, studying him. "Well, that helps settle a rather thorny issue. What did you have in mind?"

"I'd thought to conduct them to the garden, unless you think that inappropriate." Pallian paused artfully, then added: "It occurred to me that they might appreciate a bit of sunlight."

Lady Vathira nodded. "Yes, that seems likely to be a welcome suggestion. Very well. Return to your chambers, and I will make arrangements -- and send someone to summon you when they are ready."

Pallian bowed. "I await their pleasure," he said, and departed feeling as if she'd just organized him as thoroughly as she did any of the servants. It wasn't an uncomfortable feeling, though he would have had to play along even if it had been. Instead, he was pleased; Vathira appeared to appreciate both his arrival and his suggestion.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Good!Party: Onward Through The Tower

We find another door to try; there’s a Bugbear Chieftain inside. Martini runs in and stabs him. He is hurt. Tavros comes in and stumbles over a chest. Ruin comes in and attacks as well, adding some damage. The bugbear rages and attacks with a pair of handaxes, hitting Ruin several times and doing significant damage. There’s another roar, and the door on the opposite side of the corridor opens behind Geddy, revealing a second bugbear. Geddy steps away from it and fires one of the Formorian weapons, doing a bit of damage. Marshall steps up and attacks the second bugbear with his scimitar. 

Tavros rips his foot out of the chest, repositions, and cuts into the bugbear. Martini is now flanking him; he dies. Martini then moves out into the hall. Leira adds another magic missile to the remaining bugbear, and Ruin gets his bow out and gives the guy four new nipple piercings. The bugbear, raging, attacks Marshall and cuts him up badly. 

Marshall returns the attack, slicing into the bugbear with his scythe (which remains mysteriously magical despite Luthien’s curse). Martin tumbles past the bugbear and stabs him from behind. Injuring him. Leira blasts him with an enhanced Darkbolt and finishes him. 

We pick up 15,000 GP out of the first Bugbear’s room. Martini locates some extra loot (60,000 GP worth) and a Pearl of Power for an 8th level spell. The other bedroom is much more of a mess; it looks like a teenager’s room. 20,000 GP in artwork, and a trapped chest that Martini promptly disables. She adds the Wail of the Banshee trap to her collection. She opens the chest and finds an additional pile of looted art: 148,000 GP worth. 

Martini starts checking the hallway and finds more secret doors. She checks for traps, finds none, and motions for Tavros to get his sword out and get in front. “I say, there appears to be a door there.” He scrambles into the room as another, very large ogre stretches and roars. Ruin tumbles past him and gets into a flanking position as well; he cuts the ogre in the back. The ogre attacks Ruin, doing a huge amount of damage. Leira positions herself and does a magic missile. 

Geddy walks in, sees the thing, and walks right back out. 

Martini moves in and attacks, taking advantage of the fact that this thing is thoroughly flanked. 

It dies. 

Another ogre opens the far door and tries to smash Tavros, and hits him; Tavros is injured but not flattened. Leira moves into the room and fires off a magic missile.  Geddy climbs onto the bed and then falls over and settles in. Tavros steps up and cuts the ogre down; it dies. 

We search this room also. It’s… pretty rank in here. The chest is broken, and the ogre keeps 19,000 GP in there. The other bedroom is in equally bad shape, and has 20,000 and a bag of 25,000 GP worth of diamond dust. This will be used for resurrections if we ever get our damned magic back. 

We check the two ogre rooms for secret doors. We now have two remaining secret doors and one regular door. We head back to the secret door we bypassed, and come in behind a row of Thoughts of Vecna that were waiting to ambush us if we’d come in through the other door. They die. We collect 33,000 gp and depart. We bypass the regular door since we’ve already searched that room, and head on to the next secret door. Ruin can hear people on the other side, whispering their arrangements as they get ready to ambush us. 

Martini opens the door. Ruin charges past everybody and tries to push through the shield wall and fails. The shield wall is a trio of bodyguards, who are protecting a Thought of Vecna and a Secret of Vecna. The bodyguards pile on Ruin, and he goes down. Tavros rushes the guards and pushes right through. The Thought of Vecna hits Tavros with Magic Missile, doing some damage. Leira blasts the Secret of Vecna with an intensified Shadow Bolt and kills him. Marshall Mercy moves into the room, and Martini follows. 

The bodyguards attack Tavros, doing some damage. He kills two of them outright and injures the third. The Thought of Vecna casts Confusion, but we all shake it off. Marshall cuts down the last bodyguard, and Martini moves in and stabs the Thought of Vecna. Tavros moves in and finishes him off. 

Leira moves in and applies pressure to Ruin’s forehead, which does nothing to staunch the bleeding. Marshall moves over and stabilizes him, but Ruin is pretty well out of the fight. They tuck him into the bed and put a Hold Monster trap on the door. 22,000 gp on the the table; there’s also a locked, trapped chest with 68,000 worth of items. 

Martini traps the door to protect Ruin, and everyone else crosses the hall to the next door. Martini opens the door and beholds a room full of harpies. Geddy fires off a Formorian magic missile rifle. Harpy archers shoot at Tavros, who’s beginning to look a bit like St. Sebastian. The other harpies start their song, and Leira is entranced. Tavros charges two of the harpy archers, murdering one and injuring the second. Marshall moves in and takes out a harpy. 

Geddy shuffles up with his crossbow and takes several shots at the harpy archer who dropped his bow; he hits once. Martini gives Geddy a look, then tumbles forward and murders a harpy. The harpy archer reaches for his bow, and Tavros cuts him down. The remaining archers attack again, hitting Tavros once and Martini once. The other harpies continue singing. 

Tavros moves and murders two more harpies. Marshall moves over and kills another. Geddy takes shots at another harpy, doing a bit of damage. Martini move over and stabs a harpy archer, but doesn’t do any sneak attack damage. The archer moves back and shoots Martini at close range. The other archer shoots Tavros; both hit. The regular harpies move in and attack with claws. Tavros murders two more harpies, then crosses to a harpy archer. Geddy fires off three shots at the other archer, then fumbles and drops his crossbow. “I just have butterfingers,” he says in his elderly, quavering voice. 

The archer next to Tavros disengages; Tavros gives chase and cuts him up. Marshall moves on the other archer, and cuts him; Geddy fires off a magic missile with the Formorian weapon. Martin adds another bit of dagger stabbing. The archer attempts to shoot, and Marshall and Martini both stab her. She shoots at Marshall, and hits him. Tavros finishes his archer, and Marshall finishes the other one. The harpies are dead.

We collect 34k worth of gold, and also the room smells like a birdcage that hasn’t been cleaned in years. Our heroes have important decisions to make now: will they rest and heal, with two more floors between themselves and the wicked Kaz Luthien? Will they press on, trusting to luck and skill? The return of Fanaxia and the arrival of Vecna are set to occur in only two days, so they need to get as far as they can; but without their magics they face dire danger if they fall.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Challenge: Three Fun Facts

(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: Three Fun Facts About Myself.

Well, for starters, I've never broken a bone -- and this despite a brilliantly misspent youth that involved a lot of climbing. I do kind of feel like it's tempting fate to say so at my age, though: the gods might take it as a challenge. Still, for as long as it's lasts I'm happy to have it. 

Second, well... I talk to electronics: computers, credit card consoles, street lights, my car... I feel like they generally respond well to encouragement. And even if that's not really true, it passes the time while I'm waiting to see if {the update is going to succeed/the charge is going to go through/the light is going to turn green/I'm going to make it to gas station before I hit Empty}...

And finally, I have a tendency to collect things. Some are things I use, while others are more... whimsical. Romantic. Frivolous. Some examples: 

  • Swords. I used to justify them by the fact that I was studying martial arts and writing Fantasy stories, but the first one isn't really true anymore and the second one more aspirational than regularly practiced. 
  • Ceramic mugs. These, on the other hand, are both enjoyable and practical. I served Beautiful Wife a cup of tea in a mug shaped like an octopus this morning, and it did a fine job of simultaneously holding the tea and charming my wife.
  • Dungeons & Dragons figurines: we use these when playing the game, of course, but also I just enjoy looking at them. Fires the imagination...
  • Books. Duh. 
  • Tarot decks. This was actually inspired by the current Dark Fantasy writing project, and I do sometimes use them for inspiration when I'm stuck in my writing, but like the D&D figures there's just an element of "I like to sort through an interesting deck and let the images tickle my brain."

There is a point at which collections start to exceed available space, which is why the Imaginext toys were occupying my desk at work. That one also started out as a project back around 2016-2017, but even trying to do it as simply as possible it was just too much to keep up with. And we did get rid of a lot of it, I just haven't managed to bring myself to get rid of the rest... even after the office caught fire and I had to move them back home in a box.


Anyway, very much looking forward to reading everyone else's fun facts about themselves. And if you aren't taking part in the challenge, feel free to drop your own answer in the comments. Or just wave and say Hi. Whatever tickles your fancy, really.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Dark Army: Luthien and Malafar, Part One

"You risk too much," said the Hierophant Malafar, regarding the darkwater pool and the images that formed therein. "You should have destroyed them the moment they were weakened."

Kaz Luthien smiled as one of the girallons slammed a fist into the Dwint’lithar girl. "After all they have done and learned? After they took the wheels off our plans again and again? After they made us look the fool, time upon time?"

"Perhaps they made you look the fool," Malafar said. In the pool, the heretic priest swung his scythe and felled one of the four-armed apes. "Do not become a fool in truth."

Luthien shook his head angrily. "I have not and will not," he said. "They are trapped in my game, now. They follow my path. I will not give them a valiant death. They will press forward because they have no choice, facing only servitors, until they are worn down to nothing. They will fall in ignominy and despair, knowing that they have failed even to truly threaten us." In the pool, more girallons were gathering.

"They are still dangerous, even without their magics." The pool showed Martini shoving her dagger into a girallon's eye, and riding its body down as it fell. "They are resourceful."

"I have taken their dragon and their magics," Luthien said quietly, still watching the battle through the darkwater pool. It was a simple enchanted pool, three feet across and shaped from unbroken obsidian, but the waters that filled it had been brought from the darkest depths and never exposed to sunlight. "I have closed off their path. They will--" He watched as his prey threw open a door and swarmed over a pair of Thoughts of Vecna and their two bodyguards. He swallowed. "They will fall before they reach this floor. And if they do arrive, any of them, they will have earned the death I give them... and everything that comes after."

"You weaken our forces needlessly," observed the Hierophant. "Judge carefully the price of victory on your terms."

 Luthien scowled, still watching the pool. "In two days our mistress will reunite the sundered realm and return to Midgard to claim it for her own. What matter a few servitors in the face of such power?"

The Hierophant Malafar considered for a long moment, then reached into his purse and drew out seven platinum coins. He rolled them in his hand, then stacked them beside the pool, halfway between himself and Kaz Luthien. "A wager, then. A coin for each one that falls. And a coin from you for each that doesn't."

Luthien swallowed, then reached into his own purse. To be challenged by the Hierophant himself, and now... there were more than coins at stake here. Still, he would not back down. He would see this finished. He found the seven coins he needed, and placed his stack opposite the Hierophant's. "I accept," he said, and turned his attention back to the pool.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Ruin: Hierophant Candidates, Part Five

It was the trees that nearly defeated them, tearing at their skin and catching on their clothes, even digging into the cave bear's fur. Their limbs were tangled and their leaves were curled closed into hooks, impossibly sharp. The pine trees launched needles at them, and various animals lurched out of the brush to attack them. 

Spike led the way at first, shouldering limbs aside and ripping plants out of the ground, mauling their attackers with teeth and claws; but after a time, when the bear stood panting in the wake of the latest attack, Ruin touched it on the shoulder and said, "You've done well. Let me lead now."

The cave bear made a sort of gruff honking noise. 

"Call directions," Ruin said, and started cutting his way forward. 

For half an hour he pushed on, clearing devil-tainted brush and slicing through grasping roots and reaching limbs while Zoriel kept him on track. A corrupted deer charged him and died; a bat-winged jaguar did likewise. He was a smaller target than Spike, and the cuts on his cheeks and hands closed almost instantly. A swarm of something that had once been mosquitos but now were enlarged and horribly changed swept over them, but Zoriel called an ice storm and took them down. 

"We should go back," the druid said at last. "Return with reinforcements."

Ruin shook his head. "No time," he said. "It won't be long before they open a portal here and the effect begins to spread rapidly. It has to be us, and it has to be now."

"They?" asked Zoriel. 

Ruin stopped, and the druid straightened. Beside him, his cave bear whuffed loudly. "There's someone up ahead, and they're about to repeat what was done to Sol Povos. If we don't stop it now, everything around us will be overrun with devils -- and twisted into diabolic new forms."

There was a long pause. Zoriel regarded Ruin with no particular expression, and Ruin waited. Spike gave a soft, honking moan. "How far ahead?" Zoriel asked at last. 

"Another few minutes at most."

"Let me know before we crash into them," Zoriel said. "I'll do what I can to make us as strong as possible." He pointed, and Ruin turned and began to cut his way forward again.

Friday, August 18, 2023

No Dark Armor this week, just music

I've been very tired this week -- and it's gone back to being murderously hot here in Texas -- and I have not managed to pull together the next scene for Dark Armor. Instead, um... music? Music. Have some Morgan Wade: 

You know what? Let's add a follow-up:

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Good!Party: The Death of Magic

We’re still in battle, mainly with the Colossus. For which reason we’re moving rapidly into what Ruin is certain is The Wrong Room. Martini goes in first, and immediately steps on some symbols. She shakes off the effects.

The Colossus smashes Tavros again, for a big chunk of damage. Eva slips into the room and lets loose with a blast of flame. The ogres take damage, Cardinal Baroque is okay, and several priests die. The ogres rage and attack, hitting Eva twice. Geddy runs into the room and promptly steps on the symbols again, but shakes it off.

Tavros takes that opportunity to run for the stairs. Leira’s magic sword attacks the colossus but doesn’t get through. She attempts to disintegrate Cardinal Barague, but he resists; he still takes damage though. Cardinal Barague casts Invisibility on himself. He then casts Implosion on Geddy, who is visible. Geddy is smashed into a fine mist.

Marshall grumbles, then flies up to the balcony, heading for Geddy’s corpse.

Ruin heals a bit, then runs up and smacks an ogre chieftain, ignoring the symbols and cutting it down while sucking a bit of its life away to protect himself with some false life. Martini drops off the very high ceiling, lands flawless, and murders the remaining ogre chieftain. Cardinal Barague makes himself invisible.

Ruin: “So, are you a little bitch?”

Somebody comes stomping loudly up to Martini and shoves past her. It’s Cardinal Barague, and Ruin swings and cuts him without even being able to see him. The Colossus smacks Marshall for another massive chunk of damage. Ruin: “The console controls the colossus! Smash it or some shit!”

Eva drops a fireball on the console, and fails to damage it… but an unseen person beside it suddenly catches fire and loses their eyebrows. Leira felt somebody brush past her as well… she has no idea where they went. She screams in frustration -- Wail of the Banshee -- but fails to kill them.

Cardinal Barague attempts to implode Ruin and fails to get past his spell resistance. Marshall heals himself and then casts Dispel Magic on the control dome, trying to break the console. The machine warbles but keeps operating. He throws another one, but fails to get past spell resistance at all. Ruin rushes up and attacks the chair in front of the console, connecting with somebody.

Martini casts True Seeing and then moves up, elbows Ruin, and points at the target. The clerics continue to try to move silently, and are still pretty bad at it. Tavros gets hit by the colossus and goes down.

Eva heals him with Cure Critical. He crouches behind the balcony. Leira, meanwhile, hears the clankety-clank person and wails again. Cardinal Laroche becomes visible and melts like a Nazi at the Ark of the Covenant. Cardinal Barague attempts to Implode Eva but fails. He then drops a quickened Cure Critical on himself.

Marshall drops a Cure Serious Wounds, Mass, helping everyone except Geddy. He again attempts to Dispel Magic on the console, but fails. Ruin attacks the chair again and just annihilates the chair, but fails to damage the cleric behind it.

Martini goes to try to stab the guy, drops a dagger by accident, and then connects with the other dagger twice. Despite the difficulties, she manages to finish him off. The console is still active, however. The Colossus moves in and flattens Tavros again, then punches Eva for good measure.

Eva slides into the room, taking damage on the way, and finds herself confronted with a weird control panel. She promptly turns it off.

For the moment, everything here is dead or deactivated. Martini goes to check the room across from us, and promptly collects a Mass Hold Monster trap off the door. She then starts finessing the lock, and pops it open. There is a square barrier of Walls of Force in there, and also a big gelatinous cube. We… close and re-lock the door, and Ruin and Martini head down to check out the other downstairs room. It’s trapped, of course, and Martini collects a Wail of the Banshee trap. She tries the lock, fails, tries again, and still fails. She keeps at it, and after a while the door comes open.

It’s some sort of laboratory, with a pair of beholders in tanks at one end. There are some interesting-looking books and whatnot on the table. We yank four flesh golem manuals off the table, two scrolls of Mass Heal and two scrolls of Mass Harm. and a philosopher’s stone. Nobody steps inside, though.

A bit of additional searching reveals some broken cages, a variety of magical tools, and a bunch of potions and oils. There’s also a table that was clearly using for collecting organs and dissections. We pull a bunch of stuff out of the golem assembly room.

We move into the control room, set the colossus to guard us, and go to sleep.

We sleep through the night uninterrupted.

We wake up again, and resurrect Geddy. We Death Ward everybody.

Then we all go downstairs. Marshall walks into the room, pulls the Luck Blade out of our supplies, and uses its last remaining wish to banish the gelatinous cube. Geddy dispels the Walls of Force, and then…

We come up the stairs, which double back, and come into a long hallway lit by sconces on the wall; it’s about 90’ long. We see light streaming out of a central archway, and also a sort of sitting room to the side that also has doors open. Off to one side, on a sort of throne behind another wall of force, is Kas Luthien – the former High Provost, whom Ruin badly wants to murder.

So this was clearly the Dark One’s old throne room.

Luthien: “So, did you find the kings?”

Tavros: “Kings?”

Martini: “Only Mythrandril survived.”

Tavros looks at Ruin, who shrugs. As far as he remembers, that's true.

Luthien monologues that in two days Fanaxia and Sol Povos will be reunited, this tower will become the new center of the realm, and my queen Vecna will rule. “In fact, it’s too late already…”

He turns to a mirror, and the image of a woman appears. He introduces us as her enemies, come here to stop her plans.

Geddy starts trying to sell Vecna on the idea that A) we;re here to help, and B) Luthien has failed completely, as evidenced by the fact that we’re right here.

An anti-magic field settles over us. Eva starts writhing in pain and passes out. Luthien just looks at us: “I’ll be waiting for you on level six.” He teleports away; this divine anti-magic doesn’t affect Vecna’s servitors.

As he departs, more servitors arrive. They’re Girallons, the four-armed apes. They rush in and attack, pounding on Leira, missing Ruin. One of them hits Tavros. A couple more of them show up at the door. Martini: “Hello. My name is Fartathren. You killed my brother. Prepare to die.” Also, her primary dagger was a dagger of Vecna, and it still works just fine.

She moves to flank a Girallon and shreds it. Ruin does the same to the one next to him. He moves between Leira and the Girallon. Tavros charges the beast and attacks, damaging it. Geddy takes five foot step and fires off a bunch of crossbow bolts.

A girallon goes after Marshall, hitting him twice. Another one goes after Tavros, hitting him. Marshall starts slashing with his scythe and wipes out a girallon. Leira takes a step back and shoots her own crossbow at one of the girallons, hitting it. Martini finishes off another one.

Ruin clears out the two in the doorway, and Tavros finishes off the last one in the room. Geddy moves up to the door, notes a Girallon in the corridor, and puts a bolt in it. A girallon attacks Martini, hitting and doing a bunch of damage. Another one moves up and attacks Ruin, injuring him. Marshall charges and smacks the girallon; Leira’s staff still has some magic; she could use her 3/day Dark Bolt, possibly using the intensify ability. She decided to wait on that, though.

Martini is still in another room, dealing with another girallon, which she stabs a lot. It dies. Geddy calls us over and we make a quick inventory of our equipment. Leira has her staff, which still works; Martini’s dagger still works; Marshall’s scythe still works – we’re not sure why; and the formorian weapons we took earlier are functional. We pass out some of the arquebuses and flame blades.

There’s some people shuffling around inside the room. They’re waiting for us to open the door.

Martini: “Everybody get your weapons ready, they’re going to try to surprise us.” She unlocks the door, then looks around to make sure everyone is ready.

Geddy reaches out and opens the door. Martini comes through and murders the absolute shit out of the guy standing there. There are screams from behind her. Tavros enters the room and murders one of the Thoughts of Vecna; Ruin follows and swings at another, but misses. That one turns invisible. Leira decides to hang back.

The bodyguard rages and attacks Tavros, but misses. Marshall steps in and attacks the bodyguard, hitting him with the evil scythe and cutting him up. “Ha! That was nothing!”

Martini tumbles past the rest of us, then stabs the bodyguard. Geddy fires off the arqebus, and Tavros finishes the bodyguard off. Ruin finishes off the second Thought of Vecna, because his Tremorsense is still active. Ruin nabs a mithril chain shirt off one of the bodyguards; so does Martini. (That’ll give us each an extra +4 to AC, so remember that…)

We grab a bag of 11,000 gold and a Ring of Wizardry 3 which is useless to us now but still could be kind of cool if we ever shake this effect off.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Ruin: Hierophant Candidates, Part Four

"Here," said Zoriel. He gestured ahead of them. "The grove is this way."

"Where are we, exactly?" asked Ruin. 

"About three miles east of Sabertooth Lake, southeast of the Fey Grove." The giant bear moved forward, sniffing cautiously at the air, and Ruin drew his blade. 

There was something profoundly wrong here. Ruin lacked a druid's sense of the way things should be, but he could see the way the trees were unnaturally twisted, the leaves turned thin and hooked, the roots pulsing against the ground. Oh, this is not going to end well. He took a moment to look around, then ducked aside as something half-glimpsed came hurtling towards his head. 

It was, he thought, some sort of nut. Or it had been, before something had rendered it gray and withered, almost more like stone... or old bone. He looked up, and after a moment spotted the black-furred beast with the glowing red eyes sitting on a tree branch, studying him silently. Small, black horns curled up from its head, and there was something about its back... vestigial wings? 

On a squirrel?

"This is a bad place," Ruin observed. 

Zoriel snorted. "You're just noticing? I warned you it would be like this."

The bear glanced back at them and grunted, and Zoriel nodded. "We should get moving."

"We should," Ruin agreed, and started forward.

The air was heavier here, almost too humid to breathe, and hot. For Ruin, it was merely uncomfortable; he wondered how Zoriel didn't find it disabling. "How far to the shrine?" 

"Not far," Zoriel told him. "Half a mile, maybe. But we'll have to go on foot; ever since it was corrupted, it... started hiding itself. Or moving around, I'm not sure which."

Wonderful, Ruin thought. Aloud, he just said: "You have some way to find it?"

Zoriel nodded and cast a spell. Ruin didn't recognize it, but then that was well outside his area of expertise. "This way," Zoriel said, and pointed. 

They'd been walking for about ten minutes, with Ruin pausing periodically to study the ground and the forest around them, when something burst out of the bushes and slammed into the side of the bear, sinking massive fangs into the base of its neck. Its fur was red and its configuration was feline, though heavily built through the chest and shoulders. It managed to slip past the metal barding that protected the bear, which howled and reared up in pain. 

Ruin slipped forward, cutting, and connected. He could feel his connection to the realm of death take effect, reaching through his blade to take extra life from the sabertooth and give a false semblance of it to him. The tainted beast wrenched loose of the bear, and turned to snarl at Ruin, but he only met its eyes and shook his head. He knew how deep his blade had cut. 

Then the bear turned and fell on its attacker, an avalanche of gray fur that ripped and tore and took the animal apart. Ruin stepped back, checked their surroundings, and then looked to Zoriel, who had gone pale. "I take it this is why you wanted company?"

Zoriel shook his head. "It wasn't this bad, the last time I came to check. How...?" Then he stepped forward, and laid a hand on the flank of his massive bear, murmuring under his breath as he did so. The animal shook itself as the wounds on its neck closed. "I... Thank you. Spike could have taken that thing, but..." 

There was a long, fraught silence. 

Finally, Ruin said: "I don't think you and I are ever going to be friends... but I do like your bear."

Zoriel whuffed a surprised laugh. "Yes, well... the two of you have a lot in common."

Ruin decided to let that one go. "Let's go find this grove and end this, before it gets any worse."

Zoriel paused to consider, then pointed again: "This way."

Monday, August 14, 2023

Ruin: Hierophant Candidates, Part Three

"Of course it should be me," Zoriel said. "I was first among his apprentices, the conclusion is obvious, and the decision should never have been left to you."

"That part," Ruin said quietly, "was not my choice."

Zoriel glared at him, but when Ruin only looked back he dropped his eyes. "My teacher did have his quirks," the druid admitted. "And with his foresight, he didn't always explain things in ways that made sense to the rest of us. I still don't know what he saw in you, though."

"I don't either," Ruin admitted. He remembered a brief visit to his campfire, but decided not to share that with Zoriel. Perhaps even back then, Saladhel had known... "What of Elendor? I'm  told she's the strongest of the remaining druids."

Zoriel sneered. "She's weak. She turned to the worship of Jensen, and forsook the Circles. She's strong again now, but she doesn't deserve to be Hierophant."

Ruin hesitated, then nodded. He wasn't yet ready to rule out Elendor, but it was a fair point. "You kept faith, at least. So did Saladhel's other apprentices, as I understand it."

"They did, but..." He cut himself off and looked away. "Damn it, this is not your business."

Ruin didn't answer. 

After a long, uncomfortable moment Zoriel sighed. "You're really serious about this, aren't you?" He sounded vaguely surprised. "You mean to make as thorough a search as possible."

Ruin nodded. "And to choose the best possible candidate," he said. "Even if it's someone who hates me."

Zoriel considered that for a long moment. Then he said, "Show me. You want what's best for the druids? Help me to help them. Help us."

Intrigued, Ruin  asked: "What do you have in mind?"

"The priests of Apollyon were trying to uproot us in a lot of ways," Zoriel told him. "It wasn't just forcing us into diabolical contracts. A small group of them corrupted a grove well to the east of here -- another of their attempts to cut us off from the forces of the natural world. In better times, that grove marked the point where forest gave way to rainforest; now it corrupts everything around it. Help me restore it, and I'll give you my honest evaluation of my teacher's other apprentices -- and tell you where to find them, so you can see for yourself."

Ruin made a quick calculation. "I can spare four days before I need to get back," he said. 

"I can take us the same way we traveled to the High Grove, plant to plant, to the edge of the corruption." Zoriel was half-grinning, now; his expression was a challenge. 

With a small shrug, Ruin gave in. "Very well." He considered the equipment he had on him. "I'm ready."

Zoriel gave a sharp whistle, and the largest bear Ruin had ever seen lumbered over to them. "Very well, then. Come with us."

Oh, thought Ruin, this is such a bad idea. Still, he couldn't think of any better way take the measure of Zoriel. And if the druid tried to murder him, well... that would definitely count against him as a candidate for the position of Druid Hierophant.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Return and Collapse

So I've been away at a software conference all week, which has been both educational and stressful. Naturally, we've had some ongoing issues with another piece of software while I was away, and also school started, and also I missed the tour of our new office space. I'm sure it's possible for that conference to have been scheduled for a more inconvenient time, but it's difficult to see how. 

Nevertheless: a lot of good information, several things to follow up on (in my copious free time), and a relatively trouble-free bit of travel to and from. I even managed to participate in the weekly D&D game; the Internet is truly a thing of beauty. 

Today, of course, I'm exhausted and not good for much of anything. I have a work project that I need to look at again, but I think it's going to have to wait until next week; I don't have the brain for it right now. 

Meanwhile I'm reading L.J. Smith's The Forbidden Game trilogy, which I can best describe as a YA horror take on Jumanji with hints of Labyrinth here and there. It's amazing, not only for the writing and characterization but also for the sheer amount of fucked-up shit that the story just leans into. These books go hard, as the kids say these days. (I think. Maybe. I don't actually know what the kids say these days.) Anyway, would definitely recommend if YA horror is your thing.

How are the rest of you holding up, Dear Readers?

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Good!Party: The Colossus In The Tower

We take advantage of this post-explosion moment to loot the ground level. We start with the Ogre Chieftain room.

This used to be stables; we find valuables worth 17,000 gp. Martini heads for the locked room and checks for traps: there are traps. She disables the traps, then opens the door. There’s a big pile of treasure. She checks it for traps. She promptly claims a linked pair of traps: Mass Hold Monster and Incendiary Cloud. This appears to be Maodeus’ treasure hold. There’s a ring of wizardry and a manual of gainful exercise; we keep the manual and sell the rest, for a total of A Lot. So what was that pile of treasure the Maodeus was sitting on? Fake treasure. On the other side, we find a bunkhouse for the bodyguards; 12,000 GP there. On the right hand side was a desecrated temple from a long time back – there were altars to various gods, but they’re screwed over now. Finally we find a training room with ancient formorian weapons, with six magic missile rifles and six fire swords. There’s a side-room; it’s trapped, and locked. Martini unlocks it and we have stairs up to the next level.

We use the wand of Lesser Restoration to cure the Con damage that a couple of us have taken. Then we restore our buffs: Haste, Death Ward, False Life, and like that. We head up the stairs, with Ruin slipping up in the lead. He hears six people moving around on the far side of the door at the top of the stairs. So it’s probably a large, cavernous room with big things in it. Martini follows Ruin and casts Greater Invisibility; she positions herself behind him, but on the ceiling. Eva resumes human form, and Geddy checks for magic; there’s a circle of magic far above us, and various others; he thinks our big problem area is going to be inside the door and to the right. Marshall moves up and casts Freedom of Movement on Tavros; Leira moves up and takes a position. We also cast Light on Tavros’ armor so people can see. Ruin uses Clairvoyance and sees a large statue with scaffolding around it and tools scattered around; Martini looks in and sees blood on the floor; she tells Tavros. We hear a voice from the next room: “Please come in, we’ve been expecting you. My name is Cardinal Laroche.”

We’re coming out under a balcony that runs around the edge of a very large room with a statue in the center of it. There’s a workshop where the Dark One created horrible things, and the balcony level overlooking it. Dominating the room is an enormous, mostly-finished statue of a woman, presumably the Dark One herself. Eva slips in past us and enters the room; she spots six Nightwalkers in there.

Geddy walks in and starts playing music: Call Me Alice, to be specific. It gives us a +4 to attack, damage, and saving throws.

Two nightwalkers move in and attack Eva, doing a chunk of damage. Four more appear, and… Tavros has sword out, so they’re immune to fear at least. Tavros attacks the nightwalker in front of him and rends it to nothing; he steps out beside Geddy.

Leira uses Disintegrate. Marshall casts Holy Aura, giving us all spell resistance. He follows up with two instances of Searing Light at the first nightwalker he sees. Ruin charges and attacks the same nightwalker, doing it some damage. Martini finishes another one. Up on the balcony, priests of Vecna assemble to fuck us up; they move around the balcony, trying to get an angle of attack. They drop seven fireballs, and immediately hit our spell resistance. One gets through on Leira; one gets through on Geddy. The Vecna-ites exchange thoroughly nonplussed glances. A higher-level spellcaster attempts Dominate Monster on Eva, but fails… barely. Dominate person on Tavros fails also. Cardinal Laroche casts Implode on Geddy, gets past spell resistance, and succeeds; Geddy implodes. “Start the apparatus!” he yells.

Eva takes to the air and uses her breath weapon to spew fire all over the Vecna-ites. They follow up with a bunch of cones of cold. Tavros completely ignores this. Ruin basically does too. (OOC: He takes 1 point of damage.) Marshall takes a chunk of damage, and Leira takes some damage as well.

Tavros finishes off two more Nightwalkers. Leira looks at the nghtwalker next to her and drops a quickened Magic Missile, and finishes him as well. Then she calls an acid meteor swarm on the balcony and the mages up there. They… don’t have spell resistance. That’s going to be a difficulty for them. There are suddenly a lot fewer Vecna-worshippers on the balcony.

The giant statue in the middle of the room turns and attacks Eva, doing a bunch of damage.

Marshall drops a Mass Heal, healing us and damaging the last remaining Nightwalker.

Further magical fuckery occurs. Ruin resists.Cardinal Laroche casts Time Stop, then casts True Seeing and Spell Immunity vs Meteor Shower, Disintegrate, Fireball, and Destruction. He follows up with a quickened Inflict Serious on Martini, but she evades it.

The statue attacks Ruin and does a bunch of damage, despite his damage resistance. Eva has been possessed and attacks Ruin; nicking him. The one remaining Nightwalker throws a Cone of Cold.

Tavros moves in, taking a hit from the colossus, and finishes the nightwalker. Leira moves up and opens the door, revealing… another workshop.

Marshall considers the statue, and decides to cast Miracle. He plans to use it to attempt a Temporal Stasis to freeze the thing in place. Ruin has a vision of trying to freeze a golem and yells out a warning; Marshall changes his mind and drops True Resurrection on Geddy instead. He follows it up with a couple of Searing Lights at Cardinal Laroche.

Ruin passes through the door and across another old workshop, then opens another door and finds stairs leading up. Martini walks up the wall, though she can tell that Laroche can see her now. Martini murders another Vecna-ite; the others cast Magic Missile at Tavros, who is definitely hurting. Somebody on the balcony targets Leira with Disintegrate. She takes a bunch of damage, but is still on her feet.

Cardinal Laroche laughs. “Fools!” He casts Implosion at Martini and gets past her spell resistance. Martini implodes.

Marshall: “For fuck’s sake!”

The colossus goes to smash Tavros, but he’s still on his feet. Eva attacks him, and does a bit of damage. Geddy, freshly resurrected, casts Song of Freedom; Eva shakes off the control and looks embarrassed to have her teeth in Tavros.

Tavros races away from the colossus. He takes a bit of damage, but gets clear. Leira also steps out of its range, and drops some acid balls on the two spellcasters on the balcony. She follows Ruin towards the stairs. Marshall Mercy casts Mass Heal, restoring the bunch of us – except for Martini.

Ruin notes that whoever’s controlling the colossus will attack anybody on the ledge; Ruin races across the ledge and throws some Martini-bits down to Marshall. There’s a Cassadia up here somewhere, and she tries another disintegrate on Geddy. He takes some damage, but doesn’t disintegrate.

Laroche tries to implode Ruin, but doesn’t get past his spell resistance. He drops a quickened Cure Critical Wounds on himself. The colossus attacks Ruin, hitting for a bunch of damage but not taking him down. Tavros charges the Colossus but fails to connect. It misses him, also.

Leira drops a Time Stop, and goes up to Laroche. She drops a Mordenkainen’s Sword next to the colossus, then shields herself, and then prepares to drop a Wail of the Banshee. Cardinal Laroche doesn’t die, but Cassadia does. Marshall resurrects Martini.

Ruin charges Laroche, and the Colossus smacks him on the way. Ruin attacks LaRoche and backs it with Vampiric Touch, doing extra damage and giving himself some temporary hit points. Martini double-moves to get over beside Laroche. Laroche drops another Time Stop, and takes advantage of the opportunity to disappear -- and likely heal himself as well, though it doesn't look like he had time for anything more than that.

Laroche is suddenly gone, and the stone colossus smacks Tavros a couple of times. Tavros carves some chunks off the colossus, which is suicidal but at this point so is trying to run away. Leira makes herself invisible. Marshall moves in help Tavros, and Heals him.

Will our heroes triumph? Will they be reduced to a fine paste on the walls of Castle Fanax? Will we find Cardinal Laroche? And what about whoever is controlling the colossus? How much bloodshed will we face before we cut loose and bring the whole tower down?

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Challenge: Strange Dreams

(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: The strangest dream that I've had recently.

Okay, so... this one's going to need some background. 

I play a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. And I like playing weird, non-standard characters. So when one of my groups offered to run a one-shot adventure for low-level clerics, I jumped in. 

The hook is basically that the priest in this one small town has called for help from nearby temples to deal with a plague of undead, and your character's temple has responded by sending, well, you. Not terribly experienced or powerful, but advanced enough to turn undead and drive them away. They felt it would be safe enough since it would be an interdenominational venture and there would be other clerics around, and this way you could gain some experience out in the world.

So I pulled together a character. Only this character is a kobold -- one of the weakest races in D&D, generally speaking -- whose clerical focus is on Arcana. Moreover, because he's a kobold, he doesn't belong to any of the temples that were asked for aid. So he's just going to show up because some of his people overheard that there was a thing going on, and he wants to make the Big Folk think better of his people and his temple. 

And then I wrote a whole page-long introduction for him, with him being given the job and accepting it, and the clan chief making it clear that his presence hadn't actually been requested by the other temples. 

Meanwhile, in my actual job in real life, I'd been coordinating with our network group to get the website for our local golf course switched over to its new hosting, which holds the updated Wordpress site instead of the antiquated HTML site on our outdated web server. This has been a much bigger project than it ever should have been, because the golf pros care about two things: playing golf, and teaching golf. They want a dynamic, up-to-date website that will bring in new players; they do not want to have to update that website or even have to think about it at all. 

So, y'know, it's been A Process. Mostly, and I am embarrassingly relieved by this, accomplished by a colleague in another department. So all I had to do, really, was make sure that we switched over from the old site to the new one. Which I did. 

And then I went home, wrote out the kobold cleric intro, and went to sleep. 

...And dreamed of changing over to the new golf website and the vital necessity of making sure that the site was accessible for kobolds. Apparently kobolds actually play a lot of golf, and they need to have the accessibility measures in place on the website so they can select their tee-times and schedule their practices or sign up for training. And by the lost god (don't ask, it's a kobold thing) in my dream we got it done. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Alliances Offered: An Aside

Lady Tabitha Andiras shifted on cushion and turned her head to look at her mistress. She was supposed to be stitching, as they were currently working on something that would either be an ornate robe or an extremely fancy dress, cut from some pearlescent cloth that their host had provided, but she couldn't help wondering...

Lady Jacqueline Bouvier was humming as she worked, looking cheerier than she looked or sounded in... well, months, really. Possibly for as long as Tabitha had known her. And this was despite the fact that she'd rejoined her ladies to help with this project after a full day at the temple. 

There were other things, too: the fact that this cloth, this magnificent cloth, had arrived this morning from the bald chief servant of the lady Emiliana Fontaine, in whose manor they were currently housed; the fact that Jacqueline had not, so far as Tabitha knew, made any effort to contact her father; the news from Welfort, which seemed to indicate that everything there had changed with the arrival of the True Heir, Tavros Fontaine. Changes were afoot, and a good lady watched for them and was ready when they arrived. 

A good lady did not let them distract her from her sewing, of course, but nobody was perfect. Lady Jacqueline would understand."Mistress..." she said, putting a touch of inquiry into her tone. 

Lady Jacqueline Bouvier looked up from her work. "Oh?" She looked around. "Oh, it's late, isn't it? Cawthi, would you go and fetch us a night-tea from the kitchens. Lissia, go with her and help her manage the trays and the doors." 

The two women exchanged a momentary glance, then set their sewing aside and rose together. "A night-tea does sound good," said Lissia, but Cawthi glanced speculatively at Tabitha before they departed. 

When they'd had time to get well out of earshot, Tabitha said: "I take it things went well." 

Jacqueline made no effort to deflect her. Tabitha hadn't expected her to; her mistress had left her to impersonate her and watch her father's movements; if there was a higher trust than that, Tabitha couldn't imagine it. "Things went... yes." She hesitated, and Tabitha thought she was skipping over some things, but that was fine. "Are you worried? The three of you will become the first of our household, and you foremost among them."

Tabitha smiled shyly. "I am concerned, but not for that. Supporting you in your father's court -- even being  you in your father's court -- was not so difficult, especially with things so unsettled. But being a lady-in-waiting to a possible princess is... I suspect it will be very different from being foremost among the ladies-in-waiting to a queen."

Lady Jacqueline's expression suggested that she didn't think that Tabitha's impersonation of her to the court at Welfort had been as easy as all that, which was encouraging. She considered for a long moment, then said: "Go on."

"You know I don't have your talent for magic," Tabitha said. "I was only able to make the scroll work and get the three of us out of there because I'd studied it for so long trying to see how it all fit together. So... I would like to pursue further studies with someone who could help expand my skills. I'd thought perhaps Vigo himself, if he could be bothered or persuaded; if not him, then perhaps the lady Martini D’wintlither might be willing."

Her mistress raised her eyebrows. "You'd study under an elf?" 

Tabitha shrugged, and Lady Jacqueline smiled. Even with that reassurance, Tabitha continued: "I'd study under this elf. Lady Martini D’wintlither is a legend. She has -- and I have confirmed this with three different people -- assassinated a pit fiend, among other things. And while I doubt I'll ever be doing anything like that for you, she could teach me much about gathering information, determining people's true goals and beliefs, and all the messier sides of life at court. All the things that I might do to help you, Mistress."

Lady Jacqueline looked up, clearly expecting her other ladies to return with tea at any moment. "If that's what you want to pursue, and if you can do it without compromising yourself, I'll see what I can do to help. You're not so much seeking an advantageous marriage, then?"

Tabitha let herself smile, and spoke honestly. "If something comes along, I won't ignore it. But even with a household of my own, I would be loyal to you... and I would like to have options, if a hypothetical husband proved less than worthy." She hesitated, then added: "Not all of us can have a paladin who seems somewhat smitten with us."

Her mistress swallowed, her expression a mix of happiness and hope and worry, and said: "I hope we all can, or something very like it."

Monday, August 7, 2023

Alliances Offered, Part Seventeen

Evening had finally come, and despite everything that was still unresolved, Tavros was glad of it. He could spend a few minutes in peace and quiet, watch the sunset, and gather his wits...

Anica nodded to him as he stepped out onto the balcony. The stone bench was already occupied; lady Jacqueline Bouvier was seated at one end, leaving the rest of it open. Tavros glanced at Anica, but she just shrugged and said, "I'm pretty sure she didn't come here to murder you, Your Majesty."

Tavros rolled his eyes and started forward again. He seated himself on the bench. "Rough day?"

Jacqueline looked over at him. "You didn't happen to bring that bottle along, did you?"

Tavros shook his head. No, but maybe I should have. 

She swore, in Dwarvish of all things. It wasn't a language Tavros spoke; he only recognized it because he'd heard Sister Tiva use that particular phrase in that particular tone before. "Maybe we should just keep one out here."

"That bad?" asked Tavros. Between Dante being an ass and the inescapable fact that they were not going to be able to drive the demons out of Sol Povos without even more loss of life, he thought his own day had been rough. But Jacqueline looked... drained. 

"Not..." She hesitated. "Not bad, exactly. But I am absolutely prepared to believe that the devotees of Demeter really do count every single bean that gets harvested, that they number every single grain of wheat, and that they keep thorough, years-long records of their worshipers so that they can calculate exactly the best way to distribute the goddess' largesse."

"I'm sorry," Tavros said immediately. "I've asked you to--"

"No," said Jacqueline. "Don't. You asked me to do something important. If it wasn't work, you wouldn't need me for it. And I... I like being needed. I like being valued." She hesitated. "Tavros... would you consider--"

Tavros glanced at her, and was just in time to see the masked figure walk up over the stone balcony, crossbow in hand. Snarling, he threw himself forward and yanked Jacqueline down, half-shoving her under the bench. 

Three crossbow bolts slammed into him; a fourth one skipped off his shoulder and shattered against the stone of the ledge. They burned where they struck -- probably poisoned -- but he shook it off and drew his blade. 

To his right, Anica had her sword out and was charging the figure on the balcony. It turned, surprised, trying to fumble another bolt into its crossbow; Anica buried her sword in its thigh and raised her shield. Tavros spun. He knew from the impacts whence the attacks had come: two from above, one from behind, and one from the assassin that Anica was about to take apart. 

A quick glance up confirmed it: two of the would-be regicides were standing easily on the stone wall of the temple, held in place by magic. The last was on the balcony opposite the first; both of them had been positioned to come up just outside of his peripheral vision. If he hadn't been looking at Jacqueline...

He reached the balcony. His blade met the assassin and cut her in half. 

The other assassin had drawn a blade and was dueling with Anica despite the wound in his or her leg. Good, thought Tavros. I hope that hurts. But the two on the wall above them... They were going to be a problem. If he retreated inside, the assassins would likely escape; but if he remained out here, they would continue to shoot at him and sooner or later something would connect. 

Then Jacqueline shoved her head and arms out from under the bench. Her face was frozen with concentration, and her hands moved with a studied precision. The chunk of ice that formed in front of her open palms catapulted upwards, struck the stone wall, and erupted into a burst of cold that staggered one of the assassins and sent the other one tumbling loose to land hard on the balcony. 

Tavros swallowed and reversed direction, moving to put himself between her and the remaining assassin. He was distantly aware of Anica punching her blade up through her opponent's ribcage before dumping him onto the balcony. He got there just in time: the bolt slammed into him as he threw himself in front of Jacqueline. It nicked him through his scales, and again the wound burned; but again he ignored it. 

Jacqueline came to her feet behind him, raised a hand, and spoke three incomprehensible words. 

This time, Tavros didn't see what happened. He only saw that the remaining assassin jerked, and then fell. It was hard to tell, but Tavros thought this one was a man and he was dead before he struck the stone of the balcony. 

He stopped, sword still raised, then lowered it and turned back to face Jacqueline. Jacqueline Bouvier, daughter of one of the few men he truly, instinctively disliked. Jacqueline Bouvier, who'd just destroyed two assassins without a hint of hesitation, and hadn't taken the world's best chance to stab him in the back. Impressed didn't even begin to cover it. "Marry me?" he asked, tentatively. 

She whuffed a graceless laugh. "I was about to say the same thing."

"It's..." Tavros swallowed. "It's not going to be easy."

"Tavros..." Jacqueline shook her head. "You know I would have been willing, just to escape my father. But this... I want this. Let me be part of this."

"Dearest Amun, yes, please be part of this." He was all too aware of Anica moving around the edges of the balcony, looking up and then back down, casually hunting for more assassins. "I'll give you a proper proposal, something even Vigo and my mother will approve of, but please tell me you'll say yes when I do."

Jacqueline stood still for just a moment. Then she reached up, curled a hand around the side of his head, and kissed him.She didn't say I'll say yes, but by then she didn't have to.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Dark Armor: Morning Answers

"Ah, there you are." Ravaj was sitting at the table, with a half-empty plate in front of him and a recently-filled mug of kalf in his hand. He'd selected dark gray robes for the day, decorated with jewelry of sapphire and topaz; a rather elegantly-carved cane leaned against the chair beside him. Its length was lacquered black, and its head was pewter or something similar, cast in the shape of a demon's face. 

Pallian gave him a nod and took a seat, and one of the servants appeared beside him with a warm plate stacked with food. Either Ravaj was still watching out for him, or the kitchen staff had noted his appetite on their own. 

"Kalf or tea?" asked the young woman, and Pallian turned to look up at her. He only managed not to look startled because he wasn't awake enough for that yet; but this was the first servant since his return to the obsidian citadel who'd actually shown the capacity to speak. 

"Tea," he answered after a moment. "But make it strong, and add a lot of honey if we can spare it."

Across the table, Ravaj shook his head. "You heard him. Strong tea, with a lot of honey."

The servant slipped away, and Ravaj said softly, "You're my royal brother. Speak forcefully. Demand what you desire, and assume it will come to you. Don't hesitate." He paused, but none of the servants were near. "Don't make us look weak."

Courtesy is not a weakness, Pallian thought, but kept his reaction silent. Even with Counselor Barias elsewhere, that was not a sentiment that should be considered loudly, or at all. Not here, and not now. "Let them think me weak, until it matters," he said. "It will only make you look stronger, and me better suited as a prospect for the Heir of Edrias."

His brother considered that for a long moment, then made a gesture that was half acknowledgement and half dismissal. "For the Royals of Edrias, yes," he conceded. "But here among our own subjects, be strong."

Pallian nodded back, making his own concession. "Fairly taken." He looked down at this plate, and then reached for his utensils and started in on it. 

For the better part of a minute, Ravaj fell to as well. Then he straightened, regarded Pallian, and asked: "So, now that we're alone: what do you think of my future bride?"

"She's clever," Pallian said immediately. "A quick wit. Likely quick to react in an emergency. One of our hereditary enemies, of course, but treat her well and win her to your side and you'll have an ally that, honestly, I don't think I'd care to face."

"You admire her?" Ravaj sounded surprised, but he sat back, considering. 

Pallian shrugged and shoved down his misgivings. "I'm promised to her eldest sister," he said by way of reminding his brother of the fact. "But House Edrias would not have survived as our enemies for so long if they lacked in quality. I'm not suggesting you go witless, but... be kind, listen to her, make her a friend if you can. I think you will find the rewards well worth the effort. But your efforts will have to be sincere."

"That is... not the advice I would have expected from the Black Knight," said Ravaj. 

Pallian straightened and cut the air with his hand. He had enough food in him now to be more certain of his thoughts and feelings, and his immediate feeling was that his role as the Champion of Teregor should never be mentioned aloud. "That is a topic better left undiscussed, O my brother."

"Quite right," answered Ravaj, looking faintly discomfited. "It shall not happen again."

Pallian shook his head, letting the matter go, and attacked his plate again. As he was finally starting to feel that body might have what it needed, he paused and looked across the table to his brother. "Have you been given a direction for today?"

"Yes," said Ravaj, and for a moment he looked... frustrated? Resigned, at least. "Father and I will be meeting with Barias, Paledes, and Amedin to go over the proposed treaties and prepare our counter-offer."

That was interesting. Either Ravaj disagreed with something that he expected their father to do, or he simply disliked the business of running the kingdom. Or perhaps he resents being forced to listen in while any thoughts or advice he might produce are ignored or claimed by the others. "Do you think he would object if I entertained the royalty of Edrias, to keep them occupied while you meet?"

"I would not," said their father from the doorway. "In fact..." He studied Pallian suspiciously. "...that would be an excellent use of your time. Have Vathira arrange it... and have her accompany you."

Pallian nodded. Very well, he wouldn't be telling Ashmiren anything important about Ravaj just yet; but at least he would be seeing her again. And he would be excused from his father's councils. 

The faint shadow of a scowl crossed Ravaj's face, there and gone before their father could see it -- or at least before he could take notice. Jealousy, Pallian thought, and wondered if Ravaj thought he had been scheming to have things turn out this way. He hadn't, but he could easily see how Ravaj might not believe that.

That, at least, was a problem for later. For now, he needed to eat as much as he could manage and then go find Vathira.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Ruin: The Coming of the Bard

Ruin reached the doorway of the dining hall just as the song began. He hesitated immediately, and might have just left, but he was carrying his son Rune -- and Aesa was right behind him, carrying their daughter Rose -- and Anica, Tarric, and Werendril were already seated at one of the tables, waiting for them to arrive. Vendril, at least, was nowhere to be seen.

"What is it?" asked Aesa, slowing automatically to match him and looking around for danger. Then she focused on the song and said, "Oh."

Come now and sing of Ruin's worth
And of the god that called him forth
From Duendewood his place of birth
a'roving would go he

For Ruin was a hero bold
His rage was fearsome to behold
He swore to cost them blood and gold
'Til Duendewood was free

Ruin, Ruin, brave child of Corellon!
Ruin, Ruin, will fight until he's won!

Grandfather, you utter bastard, he thought immediately, which was the second-closest thing to an actual prayer that he'd ever offered in his life. Somewhere, he was sure, the All-Father of the Elves was looking down on his circumstances and laughing His divine ass off.

The elf was young, only a century or so old -- loosely equivalent to a human just coming into their twenties. He'd turned one of the small tables into an impromptu stage, and was playing this... thing... at the priests and paladins and others who'd gathered for their morning meal. 

"Oh," Aesa repeated, and then added: "Oh, my."

But then at last he chanced to die
Was slain by Vecna's evil eye
But he refused to merely lie
And rose again as bone

And with companions just as brave
Swift justice to the priests he gave
The four returning from the grave
Were known as the Twiceborn

Ruin, Ruin, brave child of Corellon!
Ruin, Ruin, he'll see the god's will done!

"So this is what he meant," Ruin said absently, half-frozen by the mixture of amusement and dread that swirled within him. 

"What who meant?" asked Aesa. 

"Corellon," said Ruin, and glanced at her. "I... I kind of prayed to him last night. Just to let him know what was going on."

"Really?" Her face lit up. "That's..."

Ruin shook his head, fondly exasperated at her enthusiasm. "You know my relationship with the gods is more... adversarial... than yours. I'm beginning to think that I might know how I came by that."

But Corellon had more in mind
A plan to help restore our kind
A mission Ruin soon would find
In Amun's sacred shrine

Eight maids or more by now he's laid
Of children he is unafraid
He's come to clean the mess he made
And bring back Elves' bloodline

Ruin groaned. Annnnd of course he went there. There was a looming presence behind them, and Tavros said, "Pardon me." Then the half-dragon paused, listening, and looked over at Ruin.

"Oh, good," he said. "It's not just me anymore." Aesa stepped aside, and Tavros strolled off towards the counters where the acolytes were serving the food. 

Aesa started laughing, and in fairness he couldn't blame her. Anica's face had gone red with (he thought) a mixture of humor and embarrassment, but Werendril had sunk down on the wooden bench and was laughing almost too hard to breathe. Tarric was laughing too, but his expression was half disbelief. 

"Hold the toddler," Ruin said. "I'm going to murder him."

Aesa turned to him, still laughing. "Come on," she said. "If you're going to be punished by the gods, it's best not to do it on an empty stomach."

And at that point Ruin gave in and laughed as well. "Fine, fine, I won't kill him." But I might ask Geddy to make fun of him, if this gets too bad...

And soon by Corellon's great grace
The dark one of Fanax he'll face
To keep the sacred seal in place
And cast the dark one down

Ruin, Ruin, Corellon's Champion!
Ruin, Ruin, he'll cast the Dark One down!


Honestly, I'm not 100% sure whether this is actually a bard, or whether the young man is a charisma-focused cleric with a solid perform skill, or some mixture of the two. I'm sure at some point he'll tell me.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Challenge: Job I'd be bad at

(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 job I wouldn't be good at...

So this one is obviously following up from last week's challenge, which asked about a job that I'd be good at. And last week's reply... rambled a bit... but it did come up with some interesting possibilities. 

As for jobs I wouldn't be good at, well... All right, how do I narrow down that list? I mean, I wouldn't be good at being an accountant or an architect, but that's mainly because I have absolutely no training in those areas. I've already mentioned that I'd need to really work to try to get back in shape for anything with a strong physical component -- which I believe I could do, but it wouldn't be easy and I wouldn't be good at any of those sorts of jobs until I got there. Any kind of management position where I had to be a hardass about things... I mean, yeah, I'd be bad at that, but also I'd hate it so why would I put myself in that position? A management position where I had a good team under me, well... that would be something else altogether. I could (probably) do that. Any job that required sycophancy is right out, too: I have a very strong tendency to say exactly what I'm thinking, and I can't control my expressions at all.

But those are all just general categories of things, and the prompt specified a job. So here we go, I'm going to pick one single job that I wouldn't be good at. 


As much fun as the word is to say, I would not be good at conducting the souls of the dead to the afterlife. It's not that I would mind interacting with dead people, even dead people who might feel deeply salty about, y'know, just having died. I worked in customer service, I can deal with that. I wouldn't have an issue with crossing to the next world, glimpsing otherworldly wonders or terrors, perhaps even dealing with eldritch monstrosities. I'm not completely unfazeable, but I'm pretty good at taking things in stride while they're happening (and then possibly panicking afterwards, if needed). 

No, none of that would be the problem. 

It's the ADHD. I'd just... I'd get distracted, and then there'd be these souls wandering around waiting for me to remember that I'm supposed to come pick them up and get them sorted out. Next thing you know, the living are reporting sightings of ghosts and the heavenly bureaucracy is backed up because the recently deceased aren't where the paperwork says they're supposed to be and it's causing delays in the whole system... 

Yeah. Never put me in charge of getting the dead to the undiscovered country. 

Sooner or later, all hell would break loose.