Thursday, November 30, 2023

Aftermath Part Two: Ruin and Eva

The nursery was crowded, but the three young half-dragons had been given a small room to themselves. With their claws and their strength, it was too easy for them to damage the other children -- accidentally, or in a fit of temper. 

Ruin paused in the doorway, swallowed, and then stepped over the short metal gate and went inside. Eva followed him in. 

The children were engaged in some sort of game that involved building a fortress with wooden blocks and setting the carved figures of human soldiers on its walls. He suspected there would soon be a moment where they went to tear the whole thing apart, but instead Scar looked up at them, focused on Eva, and said: "You're not Mother."

Eva nodded approvingly. "That's correct. I'm your aunt. Your mother was my sister."

The other two fell silent as well. Then Sun said, "Was?" She was Ruin's daughter, and frequently more perceptive than her brothers. All three looked obviously worried, but it was no surprise that Sun was the one who'd latched onto the change in tense. 

"Was," confirmed Ruin, watching them closely. "My children..." He seated himself, leaving Eva standing, and motioned for them to come over. Sun settled in front of him, and Scar sat beside him; Risk actually crawled into his lap. "Your mother..." He swallowed. "Your mother fell in battle yesterday. She was killed by a goddess, and we cannot bring her back."

Risk turned and tried to bite him; Scar tried to sink his claws into Ruin's arm. "You lie." Sun just sat in front of him, looking stunned. Fortunately, neither of the boys was able to do enough damage to actually break the skin. 

"I wish I was," Ruin said simply. "I wish it was just a story, and not something that happened." She died of knowing me, he thought, and squeezed his eyes shut. He knew the thought was wrong and self-important: Rita had been killed for being Eva's sister more than for anything to do with him. He knew it, but he couldn't shake it off. 

There was a momentary scuffle of movement as Risk tried to bite down harder and Scar tried again to claw him. Eva swayed slightly, but held herself back from trying to interfere. 

Then Sun leaned back and said, "But you killed the goddess, right?"

Ruin choked out something that was half laugh and half sob. "You bet your scales we did. Beat her down, destroyed her plan, wiped out her priesthood..." There was more to do on that front, he knew, but that could wait. They were still too bloodied and bruised for it now. 

"Good," Sun said firmly, and the two boys stopped trying to tear their father apart. 

Then Risk burst into tears, and a moment later all three children were sobbing. Ruin wept with them. Rita had never been destined to be his one true love, but he had loved her -- in his own idiotic, distracted way -- and he felt her loss keenly. 

When things had settled back down, minutes or hours later, Eva knelt down and put a hand on Ruin's shoulder. "Let me take them for a while," she said. "I know you have other business."

Scar studied her suspiciously. "You can't be our new mother."

"No," Eva agreed. "I can only be your aunt, but I can help to take care of you. Right now, all four of us need food; and your father has other duties." She glanced at Ruin. "We'll need to make some decisions before too long."

He nodded and looked down. After a moment, Risk scooted off of him, and Sun stood up and offered her hand to Eva. That seemed to settle the other two, and she was able to lead them out and off towards the dining hall.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Aftermath, Part One: Ruin and Eva

"They can't be brought back, can they?" Ruin stopped beside Eva, where she stood at the railing and looked out over Mar Dentro at the distant shore and the tall trees of the Duendewood rain forest beyond.

The gold dragon, currently pretending to be a rather attractive human woman, shook her head. "No. I asked Grandfather. He said that with their souls brought across that way, there was nothing that either mortal or god could do to send them back." Her eyes never left the distant line of the rain forest. There was a long moment of silence, before she added: "He promised to negotiate a place for them, a chance to become Celestials and perhaps -- eventually -- gods in their own right, if they can find enough worshippers here in Midgard."

"But for now, for us, they are dead and nothing more." Ruin's voice was flat. He didn't want hope; he wanted to understand.

"For now," Rita agreed. "For now, they are dead and we must look to the living." She tore her gaze from the forest and turned to regard him. 

Ruin had stopped with a full pace between them: close enough to talk, but no closer. No shared whispers; no intimacies.

"My sister had children by you," Eva said quietly. "My nephews and niece."

Ruin nodded. "Scar, Risk, and Sun."

"We should go to them."

"Will you take me?" That was why Ruin had come to stand beside Eva. He had no comfort to offer her; she had no comfort to offer him. But she could carry him back to the temple, and they could present the news together. It was the fastest possible way to get there short of teleportation, and until Marshall recovered enough to resurrect Leira there would be no teleportation. 

"Ruin?" called Tavros, from the far side of the deck. The half-dragon sensed trouble, though not as well as Ruin did with the crystal at his belt. "What are you--?"

"Yes," said Eva, and reverted to her dragon form, her wings beating hard to keep her weight off the deck. Tavros staggered back from the force of the artificial wind; so did several of the sailors. She snatched Ruin off the deck in one claw, and rose into the air. "Let's go find what remains of our families."

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Tavros Fontaine: Whispers, Part Three

"Tavros!" Jacqueline smiled warmly, then hesitated as she studied his expression. "You look worried." They'd met for an evening meal at his mother's house, with Emiliana's Steward Andraska to watch over them and make sure that all the proprieties were maintained, while ostensibly just directing the servants who brought the meal.

"I am," he said, quietly crestfallen. "You barely survived our battle with Vecna, and Tabitha... Tabitha is gone beyond recall. You could have been too. And now I learn that Vigo the Whisperer was once a Secret of Vecna -- something I should have discovered much earlier -- until the dark army threatened the kingdom and he betrayed them."

Jacqueline considered that for a long moment. It sounded like exactly the sort of thing that Vigo's political enemies -- and some of those still survived -- would spread around to discredit him. "First of all... you were fighting a god. There were always going to be consequences to such a battle. Second, it was not your choice to endanger us. The guilt for that belongs to Galvera, and Galvera alone. You didn't know Tabitha--"

Tavros dismissed that with an anguished shake of his head, and she loved him for it. "I know that she was important to you. I know that her aunt corresponded regularly with my mother. Had she lived, I would have known her better."

Jacqueline bowed her head. Tabitha's absence was an emptiness in her chest. She had been Jacqueline's closest, most trusted friend -- and now she was gone. 

She'd also been clever. If she'd been carried over to Asgard, she might eventually teach the Goddess of Secrets a thing or two about trickery. Jacqueline could at least hope. 

Tavros gave her a moment to be silent with her grief. When she looked back up, he was studying her face. "I'm sorry," he said. "I seek to justify myself, and cause you pain instead."

Jacqueline drew a breath, released it; drew another, and released it as well. Finally she said: "We are all grieving. Let that not rob us of whatever small joys we can find. What I was trying to say is that while you did not know Tabitha, you understand what a loss her death was -- to me, and to the world. We are poorer without her, but even so: it was not your fault."

Tavros nodded thoughtfully. 

"And this news of Vigo," Jacqueline said slowly, guiding them as gently as she could onto a different track. "Where did you hear this?"

"From Vigo," Tavros said. "He chose, I think, to let me know the terms of his service to the Crown and the limits of his loyalty to me."

Oh. Oh my. Oh, that is going to be a problem. Jacqueline made herself draw another breath, and then release it, while she considered. "Tavros... you will be the king. You cannot afford to have Vigo trying to run the kingdom for you, nor would you want to." She hesitated, as she followed her own trail of thought. "Tavros... How much do you trust him?"

"Not at all," Tavros said immediately, and with a certainty that she found welcome. "He carried out my uncle's will, but only as he chose. His Archons tortured and executed anyone of elvish blood. He is precisely the evil that I do not want attending my rule."

"Then you can't dismiss him," Jacqueline said slowly. "You can't count on him to accept it. He will continue to interfere; he might even move against you. I don't know how likely that is, but..."

"He would do it the moment he considered that it would damage Sol Povos less than leaving me in place would," Tavros said. "You are right. I'll have to have him executed-- not as a traitor to Sol Povos, but as an overzealous servant who overstepped his role and committed crimes against our own citizens."

Jacqueline thought about that for a long moment, then nodded. "You'll also need to make sure that the stories among the public mostly uphold this as an example of the new king bringing justice." Her expression turned thoughtful. "It wouldn't hurt to have word leak into Duendewood that his treatment of the elves was a large part of his betrayal." 

She wouldn't have said anything of the sort even six weeks ago, but conversations with Aesa and Emiliana and Hilda and Werendril had gone a long way towards informing her understanding. 

Tavros smiled, and she saw how he controlled it to keep his fangs hidden. "As it happens," he said quietly, "I know a few bards who move through that area."

Then the servants laid the last of the feast on the table, and Tavros Fontaine and Jacqueline Bouvier moved to opposite sides of it to lose themselves in the joy of well-cooked food.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Tavros Fontaine: Whispers, Part Two

"Ah," said Emiliana Fontaine. "You have come directly to your mother, with not even a stop for your future bride. It must be important. What troubles you, my son?"

"Vigo the Whisperer," he said simply, and waited. 

"You want him removed?" His mother offered a gentle smile. "I could arrange--"

"No." Tavros kept his voice under control. "How much have you arranged already?"

"Nothing. I only..." 

"Mother." Tavros kept his voice firm. "Don't lie to me. Don't even shade the truth. Tell me what you've done."

The lady Emiliana Fontaine sighed. "It was for your own good. I spoke with your friend Martini, and mentioned that Sol Povos might be better off without Vigo the Whisperer around, and that I had two hundred or so platinum pieces sitting on a table in a side-chamber that I might be willing to hand over to anybody who brought me a certain sort of news about the man."

Tavros sighed. His mother was a wizard and a noble, but not a paladin and no longer a princess. "Did it not occur to you to consult with me first?"

"A king must be able to disclaim any evil done in his name," she said gently. "No, it did not. I would not have you compromised in such a way."

"Mother..." Tavros forced his expression back to calm, hid his fangs, and held his mother's eyes. "You believe we should be rid of the Whisperer."

"I do," she answered immediately. "He is a subtle poison, certain of himself and his vision for the kingdom, and far too ready to be the power behind the throne."

Tavros nodded slowly. "He would support my rule, actively and effectively, until I took steps he disagreed with. Then he would betray me, with no more care than a craftsman discarding a useless tool. Even so, I will not have him assassinated, or have an accident arranged. Can you call off Martini? Or must I speak with her myself?"

"...It will be less awkward if I do it," his mother admitted. 

"Do so," he said. It was incredibly strange to be commanding his mother this way, but it was also desperately needed. "And don't try to go behind my back again."

His mother smiled, mostly sincere. "I am chastened. I will not."

Friday, November 24, 2023

Dark Armor: The Spear of the First

Tybben was waiting at the top of the spiral stair when Pallian finally came staggering back up. "Tybben?" He'd never imagined that the dog-faced man would come all the way down here.

Tybben swallowed. "She sent me a wisp," he said. "I didn't even know that was possible. I thought you just set them and left them behind."

"Well... good," Pallian said, trying to focus. "I think I might need some help getting back. Definitely a guide."

Tybben smiled. "My prince, I can definitely provide that. Back to your suite?"

Pallian thought about the Spear of the First, and his own current condition in the wake of whatever the Grandmother had done. "Yes. Please."

Tybben smiled, and it looked like a snarl. "My prince does not have to offer courtesies to me... but I appreciate and admire your condescension."

Half an hour later, Pallian was in his bed and snoring. 

Seven hours after that, he was awake again. He felt wrung out, but whole. There was another silver chalice on his bedside table, and Pallian swallowed down its contents without a hint of hesitation. He lay back, and let the liquid work its way through him, carrying the things his body needed to restore itself. He still wanted food, but this was enough for now; he could face the Spear of the First, bind it to his service. 

If Amedin checked his initiations again, Pallian was going to have to destroy the half-dead immediately, and deal with the consequences afterwards. 

The Spear still hung in its place in the vault. Pallian studied it for a long moment, then approached and wrapped a hand around it. 

It tried to lunge for him immediately, but he held it flat against the wall and extended his awareness. Come on, then. Fight me. It lurched again, but he got his other arm up in time to catch the haft on his forearm. He could feel it pressing back, trying to force him to release it, and then trying to force him to take it up and submit to its will. 

Its will was bloodthirsty and relentless. 

You know me, he reminded it. You stabbed me, and I lived. 

It screamed into his mind, furious at his escape, and whipped around and around in his hand. He rode with the movements, keeping his grip, asserting his will. I am Pallian, of the House of Teres and the nation of Teregor. I place my claim on you by right of conquest. You are mine. 

It tried to turn his wrist, but he held strong. It tried to turn his mind, but he held stronger there. Finally it settled, not loyal but at least acquiescent. It would require far more than this to truly bind the weapon to him, but they were acquainted now. 

He let it go and stepped back, refusing to let himself sag with the sudden rush of exhaustion. The spear remained in its cradle, waiting for the time when it would finally go to war once again. 

Pallian hoped that time would not be soon, but feared that it very well might be.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Tavros Fontaine: Whispers, Part One

"Why did you take him in?" Tavros asked, as somber as the Abbess Hilda Sturmgart had ever seen him. 

"Who?" she asked. She was fairly certain she knew, but it never hurt to be sure. 

"Vigo," Tavros said. "You know what he is. You know what he's done."

"He's been a valuable resource to you," Hilda observed. 

"He has," Tavros agreed. "Not trustworthy, but valuable. On the one hand, I doubt we would have made it this far without his knowledge and his ability to gather information. On the other hand, he is a torturer, a murderer, and a former Secret of Vecna."

"He was also," Hilda said gently, "a political refugee, at least when he came here."

"Is that why you took him in?"

"No," she replied immediately. "It was a whisper in my ear, an intuition, and if it did not come from Amun himself then it came from one of his own. I did not know then that you would return, but the moment I saw Vigo and Dante I knew that they needed to be here."

She watched as Tavros sat back. "Divine scheming." He shook his head. "I wish there was some way to be rid of it."

"You would have to change the nature of divinity," she said, "and I doubt even the Creatress herself could manage that."

Tavros nodded. "There are battles yet to fight, and there will likely be further losses, but I believe I can reclaim my uncle's throne and rid Sol Povos of its demonic invaders. What, in the wake of that, should I do with Vigo? He is loyal to his particular vision of the kingdom, and therefore tries to serve the kingdom itself, but... I do not trust him. I never have. And I am honestly amazed that the elves have not assassinated him already."

"Your friends trust you. They follow your lead. Still, with his immediate usefulness diminished, many who want him gone might see him as more dispensable. Whatever you decide, you will need to act before they do -- to protect him, or to have him justly executed. You should not allow others to act for you in this, especially if they act without your command."

Tavros nodded. He knew already. Did he think it would have been easier to let them? No, not Tavros. The boy hadn't been born to be a king, exactly, but he'd been born to try his best at whatever he turned his hand to. He wouldn't shirk responsibility that way. 

"The Temple of Amun exists to serve the good of all people," Hilda continued, a soft reminder of one of the catechisms, "through the application of justice and law.We seek first to understand the situation, to see what is actually happening, and only then to find what moral principles apply."

Tavros was silent for a long time. "Thank you, Abbess," he said at last, and rose. He offered a bow, not as deep as he had when he was purely a paladin, but deeper than anything she'd ever received from a king. Then he turned and departed.

Her office seemed emptier with him gone. Perhaps he truly was growing into his role as king. It would be good to see what followed from this.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Duendewood: Reclaiming Annon, Part Five

Caegar watched the world shift around him and shivered. "I never get used to that," he said, releasing his grasp on Darvinin's hand. The woman who'd first approached him had come with them; if anybody else had followed, they'd come on their own. Not that it mattered; the Bloodhunter was deep in enemy territory, and very much at the mercy of his hosts. 

They were in a camp in the forest. This was Duendewood; it could have been anywhere. From the way the light changed, he thought they'd moved east, but that did little to narrow down a specific location. "Over here," said Darvinin. 

A couple of armed elves, one a true elf only a little younger than Darvinin himself and the other an older regular elf, stopped what they were doing, rose, and approached. Each had a wolf with him, but neither offered any hostile words or gestures. They were just... there. 

"This way," said Darvinin, and led him into one of the larger tents. 

"Ah--" Caegar hesitated as he stepped inside, "Is this...?"

The interior of the tent was well-appointed to the point of a broad wooden desk and bookshelves that looked like they had no business being more or less outdoors like this, and that was leaving aside the carpets and hangings that almost completely disguised the fact that this was a tent

The true elf who turned to face them wore a double-scimitar on his back, but held a quill in one hand and a book in the other; he'd been pacing. His lean, elvish features were unfamiliar, but under the circumstances he nearly had to be--

"Majesty," said Darvinin, "This is Caegar. He is in charge of the remnants of Duke Lamont's forces, and wishes to bargain for a way to leave Duendewood with his soldiers."

"Ah--" Caegar said helplessly. He looked at Darvinin. "I-- that is-- should I bow, or...?"

Darvinin shrugged one shoulder. "Some display of respect would not be out of place."

Caegar decided that simply bowing wasn't enough, and dropped to one knee. "Your Majesty."

The Elvish king looked amused. "Caegar."

What in the hells do I say now??? Caegar drew a deep breath, swallowed, and shook out his hands. "Ah. Forgive me. I am not as well prepared as I thought I was."

The True King nodded. "Continue." He was speaking Common with the ease and familiarity of someone who'd been raised with it. That was good, because Caegar's grasp of Elvish was nothing more than functional. Still...

"T'an alvoreth ivoth li," he said slowly. I beg you to let us depart. I plead with you to let us leave. I ask that you release us. Elvish was a fluid language, and the precise meaning depended on tone and context. He hoped he'd come close enough. 

The True King smiled faintly. "Well said. And in return...?"

Caegar paused to think, then realized that his brain was frozen and made himself speak anyway. "If we try to fight our way out, we'll all die. The shadows take our people in the night. But we'll still do some harm, kill some of your troops, and... I'm hoping you've had enough of that. Let us walk out, and my men will harm no one else. Hells, I'll have them apologize to every elf they meet on the way. Let me go with them, and I'll do it myself. Or hold me here, try me for my crimes, and execute me as an example of the new king's justice." He swallowed, knowing that he was asking to die. "Your Darvinin called me one of Lamont's butchers, and looking back I don't think he's wrong." 

Kneeling before an Elvish king, Caegar made himself raise his chin and meet the elf's eyes. If he was going to die here, he could at least do it with a modicum of dignity. 

The king paused a moment, studying him. "You would die for your soldiers?"

"They're not even mine, really," Caegar told him. "I'm not a leader. I'm just the most senior officer left standing. I don't command troops."

"And yet you're here, trying to negotiate a cease-fire." Mythrandil -- yes, that was the name -- tilted his head, unreadable expression focused entirely on Caegar. "That looks like leadership to me." He paused, and Caegar decided that this was definitely the time to keep his mouth shut. 

"Will you swear yourself to me, Caegar Bloodhunter? Will you atone for what you have done by entering my service?"

Caegar settled back, aghast. "What? I-- Your Majesty--"

"This is the price of your life," said the True King. "You will spend the rest of it serving me, as part of the King's Own. Do it honorably, and you will retire with a comfortable stipend. Do it not, and you will be executed for your crimes. The choice is yours."

Caegar knelt there, staring up at the elvish king and realizing just what a shallow, petty, preening pretender Lamont had been. He swallowed. The things he had done in the service of that man, the things he'd thought necessary... "I will serve you," he said slowly. "Not to save my life. Just to have this chance to atone."

Mythrandril swept the saber from his back, approached, and laid the edge alongside Caegar's neck. "Caegar Bloodhunter, you are now one of the King's Own. You report to Darvinin, and your first assignment is to help him get the last of Duke Lamont's troops out of Duendewood without incident."

Still kneeling, Caegar bowed. "It will be done, Majesty."

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Duendewood: Reclaiming Annon, Part Four

"He just walked out there?" asked Darvinin. 

Mistra nodded. "No armor. If he has any weapons, they're well-concealed."

"And he's just sitting there, with his back to a tree, hands on his knees."

"Waiting," Mistra confirmed. Their son was back at the camp, being take care of by some of the druids. 

"Fuck it," said Amaranth, who was crouched on the tree limb beside them. "I'll go talk to him."

"Wait," said Darvinin. "It should be me."

Amaranth grinned at him. "My armor's better than yours. And you're the King's representative here. I should go down, and if he's safe I should bring him to you."

Mistra studied Amaranth for a long moment, then looked back at Darvinin. "I agree. Let her go." 

Darvinin scowled. "I don't like to risk an elvish warcrafter, especially one of your skill." He looked at Amaranth. "I'm trusting you to keep yourself alive. Go."

Amaranth smiled and stepped off the tree limb, vanishing before she had a chance to begin falling. A moment later she was standing on the forest floor below them. She took a few steps forward, then sat down opposite the human who'd left the camp and come unarmed into the trees. 

The human looked at her. "Ah, there you are."

"One of us, anyway."

"Apparently I'm in charge now," the human said. "Your people did a good job of taking out our officers."

"I see," she said. "Have you come to surrender?"

He shrugged. "I'd prefer not to, obviously. But I'm prepared to negotiate some sort terms that prevent you from slaughtering us and let my people get back to their families."

Amaranth hesitated, and for a moment Darvinin thought she was going to just slay the man and let the slaughter continue. Then she said, "You and your people have done a lot of harm here. Will you give me your word that you intend only to negotiate?"

He nodded. "I am Caegar, called the Bloodhunter, and I swear by my name that I intend neither harm nor violence. I intend only to bring my people back to safety."

Amaranth lifted her hand. They hadn't really decided on a code, but Darvinin had heard enough to know what she intended. "Cover me," he said to Mistra, and she nodded as if the words weren't entirely redundant. 

He used Dimension Door to bring himself down to the forest floor, arriving behind Amaranth's shoulder. This human, Caergar, looked up at him and nodded. "Darvinin," he said. Then, and in a tone that firmly conveyed that he intended no such thing, he added: "I'm supposed to be hunting you, if you can be found."

Darvinin froze. "Ah," he said after a moment. "You're one of Lamont's butchers."

Caergar looked faintly puzzled and almost shook his head, then settled back. "We don't think of ourselves that way, of course," he admitted after a long moment, "but perhaps it's accurate."

Darvinin nodded slowly. "And you're in charge of the forces here." 

The human shrugged. "Technically, we're officers. Your people have destroyed so much of the command structure that... yes, apparently I am." He paused to draw breath. "Execute me," he said flatly. "Do what you must. But permit my troops to live, and leave. Give us a way out, so that you don't lose any more people here either."

Darvinin considered that for a long moment. "Hold off on the attacks on the camp," he called. "Let me know if they try to parley further." He held out a hand to the seated human. "I must consult, and it will be easier if you are with me. Will you trust me, Human?"

Caegar hesitated, then extended his hand.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Duendewood: Reclaiming Annon, Part Three

"I'm what?" asked Caergar the Bloodhunter. 

"You're in charge now, sir," said the lieutenant, blinking nervously. 

"I'm a man-catcher, an enemy-taker." 

"Yes," confirmed the lieutenant. "I know. And that makes you an officer, and at the moment you're the most senior officer left in the force, technically at least. The elves have been... thorough, sir." 

Caergar hesitated. He knew the elves had been taking out officers whenever they could. He'd had no idea that it had been so bad that command now fell to him. It shouldn't have been possible. People like him -- Harvesters, they were called informally -- were given rank so that they could make decisions in the field, not so that they could lead troops. But everyone else is dead, and the elves are targeting anyone who leads. We're cut off from Annon, and we're dying by inches out here in the forest. The elves didn't have Solari as such, but they still had their elites and their champions... and from the look of things, those were the people who were taking the force apart. 

"Lieutenant," Caergar began, and then paused. "I'm sorry, what did you say your name was?"


"Lieutenant Margull, how long have you been an officer?"

The older man chuckled. "Seven years now. I'll retire as a lieutenant, if I survive that long. I know what I know, but I have no head for broader strategy."

"Could you hold the camp together?" asked Caergar, "Arrange the watch, see that the wounded are tended to, and hold here?"

"If we don't move, they might decide to move in and finish us," Margull answered quietly, demonstrating that in fact he did have a head for strategy, just not the tact to present it gently. 

"I know," answered Caergar, after a moment of thought. "Do you think they will?" 

Margull considered that for a moment, then said: "Not immediately. They'd keep trying to pick us off, but if we kept everybody in the camp and behind the picket lines we might gain a day... maybe two."

"Arrange it." When Margull hesitated, Caergar added: "I don't have any experience in organizing men. I need your help on this."

There was a long, uncomfortable pause. Then Lieutenant Margull said, "Very well. What do we gain by holding here for a day or two?"

"A chance to negotiate," Caergar told him. It was that or trying to fight their way out of Duendewood, and if they attempted that then the elves would pick them off one by one until their force was annihilated. Whoever was out there was among the best of the Elvish insurrection, not just in their ability to coordinate strategies and tactics, but in the power of the fighters being deployed. He and his troops could definitely do some real damage in the attempt, but they would never leave the forest. 

Captain Hedrick would have told them to turn back to Annon and retake the city, re-establish themselves in their compound... but that would be suicide, and Captain Hedrick was dead. The vows he'd sworn... were to Sol Povos, as well as Duke Lamont. With the Duke dead...  No, Margull was right. This was entirely his decision. "That will be my job," he concluded, looking at Margull.

Lieutenant Margull nodded. "I wish we'd never come here. If you can keep us alive... likely some in Sol Povos would consider you a traitor, but nobody here will offer anything but praise. I'll organize the camp."

"Good," said Caergar, "because you're in charge until I return. And if I don't return before the elves attack in force, then I'm dead and you -- I presume -- are next in the line of command." He paused. "Your understanding of strategy is more than adequate; what's held you back is a lack of understanding politics, and I can't help you with that. Good luck. I know you'll do your best."

Margull swallowed. "I will, sir. But I'm still counting on you to save us."

Caergar nodded back at him, feeling suddenly resigned. "I will do everything I can."

Friday, November 17, 2023


So apparently I've been so caught up in wrapping up the final bits of the GozarTD D&D campaign that forgot to write another Dark Armor episode for today. Which, um, oops? 

Have some music by Lenka instead: 

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Good!Party: The Vicious Victory over Vecna

While we still have all our buffs in place, we charge up the stairs to the portal at the top of the tower. Ruin has a premonition of death and destruction on a massive scale. We come up into a large, open area; the stairs are now gone. Vecna has gone full lich, and grown to twice her side; she’s floating in the air. She turns to us and uses a surge of energy. We all clutch our heads, and these tendrils start extending from the sides of our heads and spreading towards the wall. 

Vecna/Galvera: “Nearly a thousand years of planning, and you dare interfere with a single day left? But you mistake me. I am the goddess of secrets, and I know how to hurt you. Geddy Lee Geddy, I see that one already shares your suffering. One of the walls dissolves away, and we see Eva’s sister Rita sleeping beside a lake in Duendewood.  Vecna connects a tendril from Eva to Rita. Any damage he takes will now be split between the two dragons. 

“Leira!” She gestures, and the next wall vanishes and Sacha is there; Vecna connects a tendril from Leira to Sacha. Sacha can see us, but not reach us; he’s blocked by an invisible wall. 

“Ruin! I see within your soul, much deeper than you know. I see that you have many ties to this world. You will learn that those ties are a weakness, and you will bring them nothing but pain. Darvinin, Tarric, Aesa, Vendril, Anica, Werendril, and the children Rune and Rose. They see us; Vendril starts looking at their surroundings, but realizes that they’re trapped; Werendril and Darvinin come rushing up to the wall, but also can’t get through. 

She opens another portal, and Martini’s young brother Joseph R. Pious is there in the care of the druids. “Martini? Is that you?” Martini: “What are your thoughts on the survival of the elves?” Vecna continues to connect tendrils, and the druids gather around Joe. 

She gestures again, and the next portal opens to Fanaxia, where Lotan and the Bakunawa are worshipping in front of a statue of Marshall Mercy. Marshall: “You’ve made a mistake, Miss. I don’t actually care about them.”

Vecna: “You created a religion where there was none. Tonight, the worship of Artemis will fade from Fanaxia.”

She waves again, and another portal opens, this one to the Chapel of All, where Ameliana, Jacqueline, Tabitha, and about a hundred other assorted worshippers have gathered to pray. The temple closes itself up, trapping everyone inside, and they turn to see Tavros and the others. “Tavros!” 

Tavros: “Fighting a god! A bit busy now!”

Martini looks at Vecna: “You know, I’d be totally willing to join your side, if you want to make a pitch.” Vecna sniffs dismissively, and Martini pulls out a longbow and starts shooting arrows at her. “Galvera, Galvera, Galvera, Galvera, Galvera, Galvera.”

Joe: “Sister! Tell me it’s going to be okay!”

Martini: “No!”

Ruin circles around and attacks, and manages to hit once. A knockback effect blasts Ruin back, and Rune falls dead; a soul passes through the wall and starts heading towards Vecna. She then drops an intensified Meteor Shower. She drops the meteors on Martini, who dodges aside and escapes entirely. The flames hit everybody except Ruin; Tavros and Geddy dodge aside and avoid the worst of it. Secondhand, Sacha takes a bunch of damage; so do the two dragons; One of the snake-priests dies and his soul starts moving towards the center. Fifteen or so of the regular people in the Temple of All fall dead. Vecna attempts to disintegrate Martini, but fails. Eva throws Geddy, at his command, at the lich. He tries to hit her with Otto’s irresistible Dance, but barely fails to get through her spell resistance. Eva then lets loose with a blast of fire. Vecna avoids the worth of it, but it’s still damage. Vecna tries a quickened disintegrate on Eva, and does a bunch of damage; somewhere in Sol Povos, about ten innocent people die. 

Tavros charges and hits, and also gets knocked back; more people die in the church. Marshall casts a Mass Heal, healing us and damaging Vecna, though she again shrugs off the worst of it. Marshall now very much has her attention. Marshall makes himself immune to Disintegrate, Meteor Swarm, Finger of Death, Fireball, and Waves of Exhaustion.

She casts a quickened Disintegrate on Tavros, who shrugs off the worst of it. Marshall moves up towards Vecna; Leira moves away from the others and fires off an Empowered Meteor Swarm. She forces it past Vecna’s spell resistance, and delivers the whole thing as fire damage. Vecna again shrugs off the worst of it, but it’s still a lot of damage. Sacha yells for Clovis, who comes staggering into the room. “Oh, shit! I have the worst luck!”

Sacha: “You’re not attached to it!”

Ruin and Vecna heal up a bit. Ruin realizes that Martini’s about to care a lot more. Vecna: “I know what you fear!” Azrael – or some semblance of him – appears behind Martini. Martini charges and tackles him. Azrael attacks her on the way in with his sword, and misses completely. She tackles him and tries to take him down, but he throws her aside. “Good try, Farta.”

Ruin charges Vecna but misses. 

Vecna drops an intensified Disintegrate on Leira. Leira and Sacha both take a ton  of damage; Leira goes down and Sacha is barely hanging on. Geddy lets loose with a chord from the Richenbacher’s Electric Lute, but fails to get through her spell resistance. 

Vecna drops a quickened Time Stop. and drops two Maximized Delayed-blast fireballs. On Eva, Tavros, and Marshall. We take damage, and more people die. Eva goes and restores Leira, and Vecna hits Geddy with a quickened disintegrate. Eva and Rita take the damage. Tavros charges and smites. Tavros absorbs the knockback effect, but Ruin gets knocked back again… and Anica takes damage and staggers. Tavros rolls with it, and takes half the knockback damage, which again is spread among the people in the church. 

Marshall moves up next to Vecna, activates the Blade Barrier on his armor, and tries another Mass Heal. It heals us, but it doesn’t get through Vecna’s spell resistance. Sacha falls, but he has only lost consciousness. He isn't dead yet.

Azrael takes a five foot step, then drops a Meteor Shower on us. Ruin, Tavros, and Geddy all avoid the worst of it. He then shoots Farta/Martini with a quickened scorching ray, damaging both her and Milathyra. Leira stands up and drops an Intensified Meteor Swarm on Vecna. Three out of four meteors make it through her spell resistance. Clovis Cloverfield Heals Sacha. He follows it up with a quickened Cure Critical Wounds. Sacha rolls over onto his stomach. “Leira! Don’t stop fighting! I can take it! I’ll be strong.”

Ruin has a bad feeling about this. Alexej has appeared, and now approaches Geddy. “Geddy! My old friend!”

Fartathren moves in on Azrael. “Let go of me, Farta!”

Martini leans in: “Everyone you’ve ever slept with is a lesbian now.” 

Azrael: “What?”

Ruin charges but misses again; still, he’ll offer Tavros a flanking bonus.

Vecna drops another Intensified Meteor Swarm. Tavros takes the brunt of it. 

Rune’s soul is now with Vecna, along with one of the Bakugawa. Anica falls, and her soul begins drifting towards Vecna. Vendril falls as well. Geddy uses the Cube of Force to enclose us, leaving Martini and Azrael on the outside, and Alexej as well. Tragically, this will not prevent the souls from being drawn to Vecna. 

Vecna hits Tavros with a ranged Otto’s Irresistible Dance. Tavros begins to dance VERY badly, and will be dancing for five rounds. Geddy activates the Cube of Force that we’ve been holding in reserve, and Alexej circles to try to trip Martini. He connects, and trips her; she pulls Azrael down with her. Alexej: “Oh! What a mess.” Alexej follows up with an attack, and damages Martini. 

Vecna fires off a quickened Chain Lightning, targeting Marshall. It spreads from him to Eva and Ruin. Another of the Bakugawa goes down. Ruin absorbs the lightning and grins; he is undamaged. Tavros continues dancing, and he’s ridiculously embarrassed by it. 

Marshall turns into an incredibly large snake, and drops a quickened Heal on Leira. Vecna throws another quickened chain lightning, targeting Tavros, Marshall, and Eva. Eva avoids the worst of it, and Tavros is somewhat protected by his Ring of Energy Resistance. Azrael uses Dimension Door to escape the grapple. He drops a quickened fireball on us, and Ruin essentially shrugs it off but Tavros, and Marshall take damage. Leira drops another Intensified Meteor Swarm. Clovis heals Sacha again, and follows up with a quickened cure spell; Sacha’s looking a lot better. 

Ruin and Vecna both heal a bit. 

A silver dragon appears and attacks Tavros. Presumably it’s his dad? Yep, it’s his dad, or some semblance of him. He’s somehow convinced that he must stop Tavros. About ⅔ of the people in the temple are dead at this point.

Martini, on the ground, casts Disintegrate on Alexej. Vecna drops another Intensified meteor swarm, angling it to get Leira. The rest of the folks in the temple die, and so does Tabitha the lady-in-waiting. The souls of Anica, Vendril, and Rita are one round away from getting taken by Vecna. Geddy dismisses the wall of force and uses a Mass Heal scroll. This heals us, and damages Vecna somewhat. Tavros stops dancing. Leira is out of the range of the effect, though. 

Vecna responds with a quickened disintegrate on Geddy. 

Eva lets loose with another blast of fire breath, doing solid damage to Vecna. Alexej attacks Martini on the ground, hitting three times – one of them critically. Martini feels it, and Milathyra staggers. Tavros’ father – or his simulacrum – hurts Tavros some more. Emiliana and Jacqueline take damage as well. 

Vecna drops a quickened disintegrate on Geddy, and kills him. Geddy’s soul starts sucking out of his body and moving towards Vecna. Tavros attacks again and triggers the knockback effect. Werendril takes damage for Ruin, who is knocked back. Eva takes damage and is knocked back. Tavros takes damage and is knocked back into Marshall, who is also pushed back somewhat.

Marshall casts a quickened Cure Serious Wounds, Mass. He follows it up by using a Wish to cast a bard spell, putting a zone of silence around himself. He moves up, engulfing Vecna with the silence effect. She’s going to have to cast her spells silently, which is going to require higher-level spell slots; or else she’s going to have to cast spells that don’t have verbal components. 

Vecna, frustrated, fires off a quickened, silent magic missile at Eva. 

Leira drops another Meteor Swarm; two of them get through, again making the damage all fire. She tries a quickened Fireball but doesn’t get through spell resistance; she drops another, making it sonic, and get through, doing some damage. Again, and this one fails. Sacha calls encouragement. Clovis Heals Sacha again, his last one. 

Ruin and Vecna heal a bit. 

Martini hits Alexej with Power Word Kill and he dies. Ruin steps over to Azrael and takes him out. Vecna dispels the cone of silence, and then hits Marshall in his reptilian face with a Cone of Cold; Anica, Vendril, Rita, and one of the Bakanawa priests are gone now. Geddy is on his way. 

Eva considers trying to resurrect Geddy, but that wouldn’t work. She breathes fire on Vecna. 

Vecna tries a quickened disintegrate on Leira, who… avoids the worst of it. Tavros’ silver-dragon father damages him some more; Emiliana and Jacqueline are both injured. Tavros charges and attacks, as his mother calls for him to hurry. He misses. 

Marshall pulls the last Mass Heal scroll and drops it on the group at the center, including Martini; he then follows up with a quickened Heal on Leira. 

Vecna tries a quickened Disintegrate on Leira. She survives and drops a Meteor Swarm of sonic damage. Vecna takes damage. 

She heals as bit, as does Ruin. Geddy’s soul is absorbed by Vecna. Ruin foresees Tavros getting hit hard, as Tavros has actually done her a lot of damage. Martini stands up, but there isn’t much she can do; she casts Destruction and hopes she can push it through the goddess’ magic resistance. 

It gets through. (OOC: Her player rolled a 20.)

Ruin charges and attacks, but just barely misses. 

Vecna casts Time Stop and drops two maximized Delayed Blast Fireballs. They mainly affect Tavros and Ruin. They’re resistant to fire, but not that resistant. 

Ruin’s child Rose dies. Her soul begins moving towards Vecna. The same for Emiliana and Jacqueline. 

She throws a quickened Cone of Cold on Marshall. A few of the Bakugawa are still standing. Eva hauls out the Orb of Controlling SIlver Dragons, and takes over the summoned dragon that resembles Tavros’ father. The dragon turns on Vecna as she throws another Cone of Cold at Marshall’s face. 

Tavros hits Vecna again, and the repulsion effect knocks him and Ruin back. Tavros is taking the full damage now, and Tarric is splitting damage with Ruin now. 

Vecna tries a quickened Disintegrate on Leira. She takes the damage but survives. 

Then she casts Time Stop. She drops four Delayed Blast Fireball, setting them to be sonic damage instead of fire. 

Vecna shimmers, and then implodes. 

We saved Rose, Werendril, Emiliana, and Jacqueline. We’ll still have to resurrect them, but they aren’t taken by Vecna. Anica, Rune, Vendril,

The implosion blows the top of the tower off. Martini avoids damage. Tarric will now also need to be resurrected. Geddy’s soul is gone. Leira’s dead body is flying through the air and is going to land in the ocean. Martini is also flying through the air; she uses Dimension Door to get down to the ship. Eva fetches Geddy’s body; Ruin teleports down to fetch Leira’s body, then uses Overland Flight to carry her back to the boat. Tavros lands on the rocks, and the sailors pull him onto the boat. 

There are other things that need to happen, but the campaign is effectively finished.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Duendewood: Reclaiming Annon, Part Two

"You know where they are?" asked Amaranth, as she tightened a strap on her gleaming silver armor. 

Darvinin nodded. He was neither a great wizard nor a great warrior, but he was skilled in both arts -- and he was resourceful. "I scried for them just a few minutes back. I can take us there directly."

Amaranth pulled on a matching silver helmet, shaped to resemble a wolf's head. She picked up a shield and hung it in the air; it circled her, once and then again. She drew a two-handed scimitar, twin to the one she'd crafted for Ruin, but this one decorated with hunting cats rather than wolves. "Do it," she told him. 

They stepped out into the midst of a battle, and from the look of things it wasn't going well. Sherra was dancing from shadow to shadow, but as he watched the apparent captain called to his mage-assign for more light. Sam, her lover, was swinging a greatsword around in massive, cleaving arcs, cutting down anyone who came near her; a pair of saber-toothed tigers were guarding her flanks, darting in and out to take anyone who tried to get behind her. An unfamiliar True Elf -- Leander? --had a shortsword in each hand, and was causing almost as much chaos as Sherra was. 

For the moment they were holding, but the human troops were streaming out around them and it was only a matter of moments before they were surrounded and overwhelmed. "Shit!" cried Darvinin, and dropped a Fireball on the captain and his mage-assign. Then he drew his double-scimitar and waded in. 

Amaranth was already ahead of him, cutting through the human troops. In addition to the floating shield that helped protect her, she'd drawn a scimitar and released it; it danced through the air around her, cutting at anyone who came near while she used her own blade to cut down anyone who survived. 

"Sherra! Sam! To me!" Darvinin's shout carried, and elvish ears were sensitive enough to sort it from the sounds of battle and respond. Sam turned and strode forward, slamming her attackers aside with supernatural strength; her draconic heritage was even more obvious now. The two sabertooths circled behind her, keeping human soldiers at bay. Leander turned and circled in, though he'd been trying to get to the captain and had further to go. 

Sherra slipped up from a shadow behind the mage-assign, and cut his throat as he was lifting a hand to call magical light into the small clearing. Darvinin watched in horror as the captain turned, scowled, and planted his longsword in her guts, twisting it around for good measure. The human troopers surrounded them completely now, and for all that they were a mixed bag of fighting men there were just too many of them. Even the unskilled troopers were dangerous. 

Then, unexpectedly, the circle broke. The human soldiers near the edge of the clearing fell back, pressed hard by... a man and a woman, both fighting with steady determination. Dad? 

Sherra staggered back, clutching at the wound in her side, and Tamisira Eldrish vanished from beside Hirethal Moonshadow and appeared behind Sherra, catching her as she fell. The human captain stepped forward, attacking, but even with one arm tied up in holding Sherra, Tamisira parried him easily. She fights like Ruin, Darvinin realized. Not exactly, but... She fights like Ruin. Distantly, he heard Sam call, "Mom?"

A moment later she'd vanished again and appeared beside him, still clutching Sherra. Sam and the tigers reached her a moment later, and Hirethal and Leander a moment after that. They were cut off, thoroughly bloodied, and completely surrounded... but they still had options. "How many can you move?" Darvinin asked Tamisira.


"Take them! I'll get the rest." A spear slipped past his guard and stabbed into his thigh, but the blow was more luck than skill; it didn't do too much damage. 

Tamisira disappeared again, taking Hirethal, Sam, Leander, and Sherra with her. If Ruin was any basis for comparison, they wouldn't have gone all that far, so she had probably moved them as far away as she could...

A faint streak came from one of the trees, and the captain gasped at the arrow in his chest. 

Then he collapsed, dead where stood.

Not all of the human troops noticed, but many did. Darvinin fell back, parrying the ones who hadn't. 

One of the sabertooths cried out. A glancing blow only, but they were running out of time, and Darvinin would be hard-pressed to get them away with this many people attacking him. 

Then a ball of fire tore through the human troops, flinging bodies everywhere. "Go!" yelled a woman's voice -- one he recognized, though he barely believed it. "I'll cover as long as I can!" 

"Follow us!" Darvinin yelled. Mistra was more than smart enough to figure out which direction he'd choose. He took that moment to cast the spell, and carried himself,  Amaranth, and the two tigers to where he expected that Taminansa had gone. 

They weren't there, but they were only a dozen or so yards away. He waved and started walking towards them, and then a voice called out: "Darvinin?" 

"Over here!" he called back, and watching in awe as Shalmistra came sprinting out of the trees towards him. She was no longer rounded with pregnancy; there was child in a sort of pack on her back, where it couldn't interfere with her archery. 

"We should move again," said Tamisira, as everybody gathered together. "They might have heard that, even at this distance." Behind her, Sam was kneeling over Sherra, one hand over her wound as she healed her.

Shalmistra shook her head. "It won't matter," she said. "The southernmost clan sent help."

"Southernmost clan?" asked Darvinin, puzzled. He'd never heard of such a thing.

"It was your mother's idea. There's a clan of elves who live down in the far southeast, migrating around the coasts at the edges of the Forgotten Desert. We know of them because they send some of their youth to serve at Fort Dedo. They're loyal to Sol Povos, and when I finally found them I learned that they were loyal to Tavros Fontaine as well. Apparently one of them, some sort of champion, has been staying at the temple of Amun; I don't know the details. But they sent a dozen of their hunters back with me, and their hunters are..." She shook her head. "...impressive."

In the distance, somebody screamed. Darvinin didn't think it was one of these hunters. "Do they know there's an entire garrison of human troops stranded in Duendewood and now hunting for us?"

Mistra nodded. "We should withdraw," she said, "but not with magic. Keep ahead of them on foot, and give the clan time to do their work."

Darvinin glanced at Tamisira, and then at his father. Both nodded.

"I believe her," said Tamisira Eldrish.

"The True King's supporters are coming too," Darvinin said. "They'll position themselves to cut the human troop off from Annon. If we can keep them strung out..." 

Hirethal nodded to his son. "We can pick them apart like a poorly woven sock."

Mistra turned to look at Darvinin. "You'll need to be a mage for this," she said. "Keep your distance and use spells."

Darvinin smiled. "I can do that." He was not the warrior his brother was, not the mage that his mother had been; but he was... second-best at both, and that was nothing to dismiss. He'd always known his limits. He could do this.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Duendewood: Reclaiming Annon, Part One

"We've had word from Annon," said Mythrandril. 

Darvinin and Amaranth exchanged a glance. Neither was certain why they'd been summoned to the King's tent, though Darvinin would have gone there within the next three hours to begin his time as bodyguard. "The last of Duke Lamont's forces?" he hazarded. 

The True King nodded approvingly. "Your near-sister and her friends lured them out of Annon and into the forest. The gods alone know how they managed it, but it could save us from having to make a bloody siege or battle through the streets of the capital."

Bards, thought Darvinin, who had a pretty good idea of how they'd managed it. "You're gathering troops, then?" he asked. He was still puzzled, though: this should have been a much larger meeting. 

"Yes, and we'll have wizards helping us to move them into place. Right now, though, your friends are about a dozen miles south of Annon and Captain Hedrik is coming up on them fast. I want the two of you to get out there, get them out of immediate danger, and then hold tight while we cut them off from Annon."

Amaranth rose. "Please excuse my haste, Majesty," she said. "I'll need to gather a few things before we go." She took three precise steps back, then turned and strode out of the tent. 

"Thank you," said Darvinin. "My friends will thank you too."

"Your friends should return to the camp with you," said Mythrandril. "I could use the help of people of such talents."

"I will so inform them, Your Majesty," said Darvinin. Then he rose and departed as well.

Monday, November 13, 2023

Good!Party: The Tragedy of Vigo the Whisperer

This one's from our DM, who's been meaning to share more of Vigo's backstory and apparently also wants to complicate Tavros' life with more complex moral decisions. Honestly, I was pretty sure that Tavros' mother Emiliana was going to have Martini assassinate Vigo, if Vendril didn't get to him first. (Vigo spent the better part of two days torturing Vendril, and was responsible for the Archons who were arresting and torturing anybody with any elvish blood on suspicion of disloyalty.) Our DM, however, argues -- not unconvincingly -- that having someone else assassinate Vigo in an attempt to help Tavros goes against Tavros' whole story arc, where he's become increasingly responsible and increasingly willing to make his own decisions. So... for the moment, I'm posting this here while I think all that over. 

* * *

“A company of vrocks was seen on the Sun Plains, I need you to send word to Lady Bertrand immediately!”

“Yes sir!” The messenger was impeccably clad in the regalia of Tavros Fontaine. He nodded dutifully and flew from the room, almost knocking Clovis over.

“Where the hell is Paulo Carbone!?” The man speaking swiped his arm across the desk, sending a shower of documents toward a hapless, second servant.

“He is… on his way,” the servant stuttered, “I am assured he will be here soon.”

“You assured me he would be here an hour ago! Now get out of my sight, you feckless moron!”

The servant quickly bowed and ran from the room. He also almost knocked Clovis over; Clovis really did have the worst luck…

“Stingard: Fallen. Paras: Fallen. Our eastern front decimated by that damned tarrasque. We’re going to have to lean on our dear Grand Marshall Bouvier sooner rather than later. Good thing his daughter’s our hostage.”

Clovis edged his way into the room, “His majesty,” Clovis began.

The head of Vigo the Whisperer snapped around, consuming Clovis with his penetrating stare.

“He, uh….” Clovis cleared his throat, “he gave us strict orders not to make any move until he’s back from Sandorne Castle.” Clovis looked at the floor, somewhat ashamed.

Vigo got up and paced the room, continuing to count their many obstacles. He was now on his second hand, “Eastern front, destroyed. Northern front, ground to nothing by those damned elven revolutionaries. The western front… it at least is defended by our newly minted Supreme Marshall, but she hangs on by a thread. And may the gods have mercy if Suncoast becomes the center of our power…”

“Oh yes, I know what you mean,” Clovis said. It was a bit of a fib, “and I’m sure King Fontaine does as well.”

“Does he?” Vigo glared at Clovis, “He knows it so well that he goes in the opposite direction of all these troubles, prancing off to Duendewood on some fanciful quest for the God of Secrets – who, incidentally – is actually NOT one of our problems at present!”

“He –“

Vigo cut Clovis off, “Where is that other blasted messenger!?”

A young boy ducked into the room, looking sheepishly at the ground, “You already sent him to Magister Atrix with a message, m’lord.”

“And what are you?” Vigo bellowed, “You’re not mute, why can’t you carry a message? Must I wait for the first idiot to return!?”

“Oh, no no no, m’lord, I couldn’t –“

“Blast!” Vigo threw his wine glass across the room and it shattered on the wall next to the boy. who looked like he was about to melt.

Somewhere deep down, the part of Clovis that was a priest came to life, and he stepped between Vigo and the poor boy, “Lad, now is not a good time. Why don’t you wait outside, and please let us know the moment the official messenger returns? Alright, that’s a good lad.” He patted the boy reassuringly on the shoulder and closed the door quietly behind him, turning to face Vigo. The man was leaning over the table again, hands balled into white-knuckled fists, staring angrily at some paper.

“Vigo,” Clovis began carefully (he really did have the worst luck), “that was not well done.”

The spymaster’s body softened, and his shoulders slumped with a sigh, “I know, Clovis, it’s just… we’re a kingdom, which means we need a king. Instead, I’m left here to hold things together, and as you so succinctly put it, I’m not allowed to actually DO anything.”

Clovis’ face lit up – this was his area of expertise. “Vigo, good sir, you must have faith in our King. He is doing what he believes is best to protect the kingdom.”

Vigo snorted, “Faith? A lot of good that does.”

There was something odd about the way he said it, and Clovis, always one to stumble into the unluckiest situations, opened his big mouth before he even knew what he was saying, “What do you believe, Vigo?”

The spymaster regarded Clovis intensely, but with a degree of respect, as if he’d found something he hadn’t seen there before.

“I said,” continued Clovis, always one to dig his unlucky holes deeper, “What do you believe?”

Vigo might have grinned for a split second, but then he turned his head away, as if embarrassed, “Nothing.”

“What?” Clovis asked in shock.

“I said nothing.”

“Well,” Clovis stammered, “that doesn’t make any sense. Everybody believes something, at least sometime in their life.”

“Sometime,” Vigo laughed, without mirth, “yes I did, not that long ago.”

“Then what was it?” Clovis asked.

The man’s head snapped around, “Look at me, Clovis. I deal in secrets, I deal in knowledge, I deal in knowing that which isn’t supposed to be known. Do the math!”

“Oh,” Clovis stumbled backward, realization slamming into him.

“Were you expecting Helios?” Vigo asked sarcastically, “Or Amun? Or maybe some obscure harvest goddess? Who else would I worship!?”

“May the sun’s rays protect us from the night!” Clovis drew a circle in front of himself.

“Save it,” Vigo said, turning his head away again, “That is… no longer.”

Clovis was silent for a long moment. He didn’t know what to say, he really hadn’t expected the conversation to go this direction. He really did have the worst luck.

“Well,” Vigo sounded almost relieved, “now that it’s out there, should I tell my king? Get my head lopped off by that big, rusty sword of his?”

“Y-yes,” Clovis stammered, “but n-no…”

“Which is it?”

“Of course you should tell him,” Clovis stamped his foot fiercely, “but you should have some faith that he won’t lop your head off!”

“Faith again,” Vigo rolled his eyes.

“Yes!” Clovis walked over to Vigo, grabbed him by the shoulder, and looked him in the eye, “Faith!”

“In Tavros? In a king? I tried that, boy. It’s how I lost my faith in the first place, and I still ended up on the wrong side!”

Clovis blinked, his mouth moving wordlessly. It all made so much sense now: Vigo the Whisperer, the accomplished spymaster, pursued knowledge and secrets. Of course he was a follower of Vecna, perhaps even one of some import. But when it came time to choose between his kingdom and his god, he chose the former, only to have the ‘king’ in kingdom become a raving nutcase.

“That’s what I thought, boy.” Vigo seemed both pleased and pained to have won the argument, and turned back to his papers.

“Nothing,” Clovis whispered.

“What’s that?”

“You have nothing: You chose king over god and lost both.”

“Thank you for the diagnosis,” Vigo sneered.

“You have to stop this,” Clovis exclaimed, gathering a head of steam. Such a state always led him to an unlucky place.

“Stop!?” Vigo asked, incredulous, “Stop? As you so honestly put it, I have nothing else left!”

“No,” Clovis said, “quit trying to atone for whatever you used to believe, or trying to honor this office, if that’s what you think you’re doing. And definitely stop trying to tutor our king like a schoolboy! That is not the way to earn his respect and it’s getting you nowhere!” Clovis waved his arms around the room, indicating the various maps and papers, “Because look here, Mr. Whisperer, I know what you believe!”


“In this! In your kingdom!” Clovis tapped his finger on the map of Sol Povos.

“Sirs,” the boy poked his head in the room, “the messenger is back.”

Vigo nodded, his voice much more subdued, “thank you, please send him in.” After the door closed, he turned to Clovis, “Thank you, Cardinal, I will think on this.”

It was a dismissal if Clovis had ever heard one, and a good thing, too. As he ducked out of the room, Clovis was in the process of regretting every word he’d said. In the hall he buried his head in his hands and moaned, “How did I get myself into this!? I truly have the most rotten luck!”


Tavros stretched his aching back. The trials of Sandorne Castle had taxed him severely, and he suspected some of these pains would be companions for life. The three hour briefing on events since his departure was mercifully drawing to a close, and his retinue of advisors filed out until only Vigo remained. He stood in front of the desk, across from Tavros, with his hands clasped behind his back. Tavros groaned and drained his cup of wine, simultaneously reaching for the decanter to refill it.

“I’ve had confession with Cardinal Cloverfield,” Vigo said flatly.

Tavros spewed a mouthful of wine across the room in astonishment, “You what!?”

“I’ve had confession with Cardinal Cloverfield,” Vigo repeated patiently, “and he gave me some advice. Upon reflection, I concluded his advice was logically sound and I intend to act upon it.”

Tavros looked around the room like a caged animal, convinced this was some sort of joke. Was it his birthday? Were people about to spring out of hiding places with fireworks and sweets? Did Jacqueline put them up to this?

“I’m serious, Tavros.”

Being called by his name jolted Tavros’ attention. Vigo really was serious.

“You asked me a question once – one I didn’t really answer.”

Tavros narrowed his eyes, searching Vigo’s habitually unreadable face. That was a trick he could stand to learn. Then it hit him, “What do you believe?”

“Nothing,” Vigo said, “but I already answered that question, and it’s not what you were really asking.”

“Have you,” Tavros chose his words carefully, “ever believed?”

“I was a Secret of Vecna – the equivalent of a bishop – but only a membrum honorarium, not a priest. It’s an honor often awarded to important nobles, especially those who make financial contributions. They’re given significant influence and access to high-ranking clergy, but are not priests themselves.”

“Gods!” Tavros was aghast, “you bankrolled them!?”

“The king’s chief spymaster is a very well compensated, but as you can see, I have virtually no mentionable wealth. As king…” he cut himself off before finishing, pursing his lips.

“As king,” Tavros continued in a somewhat abashed tone, “I should have already asked myself where your wealth had gone, and I should have had someone independently look into it.”

Vigo nodded.

“What else have I missed, Vigo?”

Vigo was silent.

Tavros growled angrily, “What, no lecture? That’s a change. Fine. I’ll reason it out.” He drummed his fingers on the desk, “Let’s see, what should I desire to know of a member of my council. Are you loyal to me?”


“Excuse me,” Tavros choked, his eyes bulging, “if you’re not loyal to me, then who?”

“Not who. What. I am loyal to the kingdom.”

“Then why serve me?”


“Hrm, okay. Well, obviously,” Tavros reasoned out loud, “you currently believe I best serve the interests of the kingdom, so you support me. Then logically,” he paused to take a drink of wine, “the next question I should want to answer is what will happen if you cease to believe in my kingship, will you act against me?”

“Without hesitation,” Vigo answered.

“And you tell me this? Fear you not that I will string you on a questioner’s rack for saying such things?”

“Men torture for two reasons, Tavros. The first reason is simple: Cruelty. I do not fear that from you. The second reason is to gain knowledge, and since I am well aware that I would, under pain of torture, divulge every bit of this information, there is no reason to withhold it from you now.”

“How many men did you torture for my uncle, Vigo?”

“Hundreds. I can’t even count them all.”

“Personally? You were in the room?”

“For a great many, I turned the crank and asked the questions myself.”

“Amun’s mercy,” Tavros shuddered, “doesn’t that bother you?”

“In truth, I hate it. It’s one of the reasons I sleep so little, and when I do, it’s usually after secretly drowning myself in wine. My dreams are plagued with horrors I wish on no living soul, and will be to my end of days.”

Tavros threw his hands in the air, “Why, Vigo? Why… any of it?”

“There are times when the good of the kingdom – the many – outweighs the good of an individual, even an innocent one. In such cases, a sacrifice is logical and must be made.”

It chilled Tavros to hear Vigo speak of it so bluntly, as if it were as simple a choice as wearing a coat on a cold day. He wondered if he would ever be able to make such a sacrifice. If it was a choice between Aesa’s life and hurting an innocent, what would he do? What if it was Aesa and Anica and his mother and Jacqueline (since when was she in this list?), what choice would he make then? He shuddered and pushed the thought to the back of his mind. “I must admit, Vigo, bringing these things to me takes more courage than I realized you had.”

“Wrong again.”

Tavros frowned, and considered this rebuttal, “Fine, another puzzle. I will reason this one out as well. I will look at the converse.”

Vigo smiled, “I see you have been listening to Dante after all.”

“I listen more than you realize, Vigo. Now, as I was saying, the converse: Why wouldn’t you tell me? Well, I suppose the same reason as anybody else: Fear, specifically the fear of losing something. So, I must conclude you don’t possess this fear, or alternatively you have nothing to lose.”

“Very good, Tavros,” Vigo nodded his head appreciatively, “most excellent. Now, circle back to the beginning of our conversation, what is my purpose today? You must always be asking yourself, what is the other person’s purpose?”

“I thought I was reasoning things out for myself,” Tavros chided.

“Old habits, I’m afraid.”

“I’ll overlook it. Now, circling back to the beginning. You wanted me to know that you used to worship my mortal enemy – the very force that I, and everybody I love, have been fighting against these last three years. But you also wanted me to know that you have nothing to lose. I suppose this is all about understanding. You want me to know exactly, precisely, what you are.”

“Which is?”

“A broken man,” Tavros said, a full picture finally forming in his head, “One who gave everything to the Order of Secrets, only to have them betray and attack the only thing you cared about more – your kingdom. So, you abandoned them and backed a man you knew to be evil, presumably based on some logical calculation that he was the lesser evil. However, this turned out to be a poor gambit, so you betrayed him as well and now you have nothing. You attach yourself to me because I provide a means to help the kingdom, wherein you have some very specific ideas as to exactly what kind of help the kingdom needs. You’re like a broken and out of favor tool, each day hoping only to be picked up and used for its intended purpose one more time.”

Vigo was quiet for several long moments, before replying softly, “Well done… Your Majesty.”

Tavros took a deep breath, drumming his fingers on the desk again. “The only question remaining, that I should be asking, is why now? Because I don’t believe for a second that our dear Cardinal Cloverfield simply coaxed you down this path of confession.”

Vigo was silent again, seemingly committed to letting Tavros figure it out for himself, no matter how long it took.

“Well, let me take inventory,” Tavros began thoughtfully, “you’ve made it clear where your true allegiance lies, and that you don’t fear me. In fact, you don’t seem to fear anything, namely because you have nothing to lose. You are, in fact, quite exactly a tool. And why do you want me to know this now, at this moment? I would guess because you’re sensing that this conflict is starting to come to a conclusion, and when that happens, like an artisan finishing a project, I will start thinking about what to do with my tools – about what to do with you.”

Vigo stared at him intently.

“In fact,” Tavros continued, “a man of your experience would have already suspected, or perhaps even discovered, that I’ve already begun thinking about this.”

“I would be otherwise disappointed in you, Your Majesty.”

“So, it seems,” Tavros said, counting on his fingers, “you have laid out your terms neatly and quite immutably: I can turn you out, expecting not a shred of loyalty should our interests ever collide. I can use you for the tool you are, and only that tool – also without a shred of loyalty, I might add. Or, I can have you killed.”

“Quite exactly and well spoken, Your Majesty.”

Tavros’ face softened, “These are not compassionate choices, Vigo. Do you even want to stay with me, to be used as a tool, but never trusted, never loyal, never part of the family? Is that really an existence? Is that really what you want?”

“With all my heart, Your Majesty.”

Tavros signed and rubbed his temples, “Vigo, I know this doesn’t mean to you what it would mean to another person, but for what it’s worth… thank you for telling me the truth.”

“It served its purpose, Your Majesty.”

“I know. Now, you are dismissed. I have much to think on.”

As Vigo the Whisperer left the room, Tavros shook his head in dismay.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Dark Armor: The Grandmother's Gifts

"Demons-eye rubies," said Pallian, and extended his hand. "I'd love to know how you came by a supply of those." 

The robed figure shifted, then reached back; Pallian dropped the gems into her hand. She was working at some sort of stone table -- possibly an altar -- and had been standing in the dark until he'd arrived with the glowstone lamp. He could feel forces moving through the room, gathering closer as she leaned forward to place the rubies into whatever she was working on. 

Curiosity would have had him come forward and look, but caution held him back. Among other things, light was obviously an unfamiliar presence down here in the primary tombs, and he didn't want it to distract her. 

She continued working with her back to him for the better part of a minute, then said: "Disrobe and step onto the stone."

"Disrobe?" he didn't wait for an answer; the word had been startled out of him. He made a quick pile of clothing and boots and weapons, and stepped up beside the grandmother. The stone in front of her -- table? altar? -- was now covered in glowing lines that twisted and turned. The demons-eye rubies were placed to either side, and a handful of small stone shapes were set withing the ever-changing design, which formed a rough circle. 

"Try not to disturb the circle," the Grandmother said. "I'm told it's painful to living flesh."

Pallian considered that for a brief moment, then gathered his attention and used his smoke initiation to transport himself to the center of the stone. 

"Not the stone," she said. 

"I need it to see." 

"Toss it to me. It can't be in the circle."

He did, and waited. The Grandmother's face was bare, her features withered but otherwise human. Her skin was smoother than he might have expected, pale and gaunt but not rotted. "Can't even see in the dark," she muttered. "This is no fit state for a descendant of mine."

She spoke an unpronounceable word and gestured, and the bright, twisting lines of the circle began to rotate. The small shone shapes rose and began to orbit around Pallian, darting up and down as they circled. Glowing strands reached up to touch them. What...?

"That, and that, and -- oh, that one was well done. Did you mean to take the wolf forms? There are other options, you know."

Pallian shrugged. "That was the one I found in the books, and performed without my father's knowledge. It seemed like it wouldn't clash with any of my others."

"Smoke... frequently overlooked, easily underestimated, and new to you." She met his eyes. "You came to me for aid, Grandson. Will you trust me to give it?"

Pallian took a deep breath and pushed aside his misgivings. "I place myself entirely in your hands, Grandmother. Please grant whatever aid you can."

"I can't fight him, you know," the Grandmother said. "As I am now, the Emissary would destroy me with a glance. It must be you, the living ones who can still hold titles. But you are ill-equipped, for a prince of your years."

Pallian shrugged. "My father and his half-dead advisor Amedin prefer to keep me in the role of the Black Knight, wearing dark armor and making use of its enchantments instead of my own."

"Decadence," said the Grandmother. "They make the House weaker with their fear of sharing power.  Do they believe you might challenge them, given the chance?"

Pallian shrugged. "I don't know. I know that I might walk away, given the chance."

The Grandmother's sudden smile was cold, predatory, and amused. "But not until the Emissary is destroyed," she said. 

"Not at all, at this rate." Pallian studied her expression, then said: "You're serious, aren't you? You need the Emissary destroyed, but after that you'd let me walk away." He stopped, struck by the very possibility. "It all but annihilated the city of Marinul. I can't leave until it's dealt with. I won't walk away before that." There was also the matter of Princess Ashmiren, but he didn't intend to say anything at all about that.

The Grandmother nodded slowly. "Wise child. Ordinarily, I'd do this more slowly, but we -- you-- are out of time. I will add some things, adjust some things, and speed your adaptation to them... But you will not have the usual time to make peace with your new abilities. You will have to trust your instincts for the battle ahead. And when you are done here, you should go and make peace with the Spear of the First. That by itself will not attract attention, not unless one of the Second is watching the crypt specifically... and if that is the case then we're already doomed."

Pallian nodded. 

"Hold still," said the Grandmother, lifting a hand, "and try not to scream."

The circle at his feet grew blindingly bright. The stone shapes doubled, then tripled the speed of their orbit around him. The trails of light connecting them to the design below smoothed out into a glowing tube of pale purple light around him. He could feel the forces gathering as the Grandmother called for them. 

Then they began picking his initiations apart, and he clenched his teeth to avoid screaming in pain.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Good!Party: The Great Priests of Vecna

We begin with the Hierophant Malafar and Cardinal Marcion vowing to try to stall… no, hurt the heroes so that Vecna might manage to manifest. We start dropping preparation spells.

Ruin has a vision of swarms of bugs covering everybody. Martini turns invisible and zips up the ceiling of the stairs and begins studying Cardinal Marcion. Ruin charges Malafar and hits him; Malafar grunts and evaporates into a swarm of flies. There’s a brief flicker of nearly invisible movement, and a moment later the room is full of locusts… except where Marcion is standing. 

Geddy starts singing to Inspire Greatness. Eva carries him up to the room and exhales fire all over the swarms. Malafar avoids the worst of the damage, and drops two quickened Mass Inflict Damage (Light); we avoid the worst of it, but still take some damage. He then attempts to cast Implosion, starting with Geddy. He fails to get past Geddy’s spell resistance. Marshall charges, and promptly discovers that swarms are immune to weapon damage. Tavros charges in, ignoring Malafar, and attacks Marcion; he misses.

Leira comes up the stairs and steps into the cone of no bugs, stopping just in front of Eva. She decides that this is her cue to use Time Stop, and uses it to lay down four Delayed Blast Fireballs… except, she’s an archmage, so she can shape her attacks so as not to hit any of our people. She clears the swarms out of most of the room and strips the fire protection from Marcion and Malafar; Marcion stubbornly heals himself and Malafar. Leira hides herself with Greater Invisibility.

Martini moves over behind Marcion, who sees her coming. They’ve got some kind of countermeasures in place. Martini stabs him anyway, and barely manages to hit. Ruin decides that he can’t really hurt Malafar, and charges Marcion and attacks him, doing some damage. Malafar swarms over to Leira, Eva, and Geddy, and drops a quickened Cure Critical Wounds on Marcion. He then drops Energy Drain on Leira and tries to nauseate Geddy, who shrugs it off. 

Geddy hits him with a power chord, and while Malafar shrugs off the worst of it he still does some damage and also absolutely blisters the air. Eva also avoids being nauseated, and casts Cure Critical on herself. Marcion casts Heal on himself. Then he does a quickened Inflict Moderate (to damage us and heal Malafar) and a quickened Resist Energy, then does it again. He doesn’t get past everybody’s spell resistance, but he does do some damage. Also, because he’s a swarm of carnivorous flies and swarming over Geddy and Eva, he does them some additional damage. Marshall casts Cure Critical Mass, to heal us and damage Malafar. 

Tavros straight up murders Marchion. 

Leira takes damage from standing in Malafar’s swarm. She takes a step to get out of it, and drops a quickened Fireball on Malafar, and then casts Time Stop. She drops a Delayed Blast Fireball and a Freezing Sphere which she converts to fire, doing a bunch of damage. His wounds heal slightly, as do Ruin’s. 

Martini attempts to Disintegrate Malafar, but does not get past his spell resistance. She moves away from Tavros and Ruin, and Ruin follows suit. Malafar uses Harm to restore himself (he’s undead), then drops a quickened Greater Spell Immunity on himself. He also elongates his swarm to cover Leira again. 

Geddy plays another power chord, slashing through the swarm of flies with the power of Rock’n’Roll. Eva shifts position and then breathes fire all over the swarm of flies. Malafar again avoids the worst of it, but takes some damage. Marshall casts Searing Light on the swarm of undead bugs, then does it again. Leira steps back again and hits the bugs with Scorching Ray. She adds a quickened scorching ray that kills him. Geddy: “Take that, bitch-ass flies!”

We should really immediately charge up the stairs and take on Vecna, while we still have all our buffs in place. Marshall can heal us on the way.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

His Father's Axe

Lithos Foundingstone did his best to raise the heavy axe above his head, but his arms were shaking with its weight and the weapon wobbled dangerously. He shifted his feet, suddenly acutely aware that if he missed the log he was trying to split he could lose a foot. He was only twenty-seven, after all, not even halfway to the first mark of dwarven adulthood, and the two-handed axe was longer than he was tall.

The axe wavered, and he started to swing it down...

The axe stopped in mid-descent, and Lithos looked up to see his mother's hand wrapped around the haft, just under the upper mount of the blade. 

"Lithos," his mother said, and he felt his determination shrink."What are you thinking? Gutripper is no fit tool for chopping wood. How did you even get it down?"

Lithos considered the easy scrabble up the shelves behind the heavy wooden bar, and then the struggle to pull Gutripper from its mounting hooks and master its weight on the way back down. He'd been lucky the axe had landed with one side down; otherwise the enchanted blade or the back-spike would have gouged the stone floor of the inn. "It wasn't easy," he admitted, sullenly. 

"Lithos..." His mother sighed, then pulled the axe from his grip, holding it easily in one hand. Gutripper was a bearded axe, a Bardiche, with a blade that swept down along the upper half of its haft, and was mounted at both top and bottom. It was a heavy blade made for powerful, two-handed use. 

"I was trying to help!" he protested. 

"You have better ways to help than chopping wood." Tara Foundingstone laid the axe aside and sat down, putting her head slightly below her son's. "What brought you to this?" 

Lithos looked away, stubborn, and swallowed. His mother just waited. Finally he said, "A dwarf should be able to swing an axe."

His mother shook her head. "I never did."

"You're a cleric," Lithos protested. "You had a hammer!" It was no secret; the hammer was hung on the same wall behind the bar, just above the axe. It just wasn't any good for chopping wood, because... well... hammer... so he'd left it up there. "And I should be able to help out."

His mother frowned. "You do help out. Why are you suddenly concerned about swinging axes and chopping wood?"

Lithos felt himself close up. He wasn't going to tell her; he wasn't going to admit anything. This was his problem, and he was going to deal with it himself. 

His mother studied him for a long moment. At last she asked, "The kids at the school?" 

Okay, so maybe he was going to tell her. "They said I'm feycurst, not fit to be a dwarf. They said I was useless, and couldn't even help out around the inn."

"Mavis Deepriver," his mother muttered darkly, "and that troublemaking son of hers..." She shook her head and smoothed her expression. "I'll be having a word with that whole family," she added. "Honestly, just because they resent having to pay full price for... well, that's a matter for later. Lithos, you are not cursed. You are quick and you are clever, where most dwarves tend to tough and stubborn, but that is not a lack of merit on your part." She studied him for a long moment. "You're young for it still, but I think it's time to arrange for your apprenticeship."

"I don't want an apprenticeship," Lithos answered angrily, then caught himself. Did he?

His mother raised her eyebrows. "Are you certain? Your uncle Windborne is eager to teach you."

...Oh. Uncle Windborne was an elf, and a wizard. And an apprenticeship... most dwarves weren't offered apprenticeships until they were fifty years old, at least. Delver Deepriver would still make fun of him, of course, for studying under an elf... but Delver would also know that Lithos had been taken into a trade before he was even being considered for one.

"Is all well over here?" asked a deep, bluff voice. 

Lithos turned to see his father approaching, and felt himself blush. Gutripper was -- or had been -- his father's chosen weapon on the battlefield in the days before he was born, when his father still wore armor. 

"Mostly well," said his mother, and lifted up the axe. "Be a dear and put this back where it belongs. I'll explain later." 

Marduk Foundingstone showed them a puzzled frown for long moment; then he shrugged and took the axe. "I'll be inside," he said easily, and walked away. 

Lithos knew his parents were famous adventurers. He knew that was why Delver hated him and tried to tear him down: because nobody in the Deepriver clan could stand the idea that anybody might have more status than they did. But people, and not just dwarves, came to the Porphyry Bowl because they knew about his parents -- and many of them took an interest in their children. 

"Your aunt Velithra offered to teach you, too," his mother said after a moment. "It would be a very different curriculum, unusual for a dwarf, but we agree that you could do that too."

Velithra was the one who juggled daggers to amuse the children when she came to visit. She was a human, but graceful as an elf and full of tricks that she was happy to share with her nephews and nieces. Lithos thought she was nice, but maybe a little too busy for him to be completely comfortable with. Uncle Windborne was calm, imperturbable, and moved through the world as if he knew he had all the time in it. Of the two...

"I could..." Lithos swallowed. "I could learn to be a wizard."

His mother smiled. "Then I'll arrange it. And we'll see what Mavis Deepriver and her thoroughly spoiled son have to say when they learn of it." She leaned forward, looking serious. "Don't tell them anything until you have to. The longer you've been learning before they discover it, the better."

Lithos nodded, intent and serious. "I won't say a word."

So there's an opening. Tara Foundingstone was a cleric, and her husband Marduk Foundingstone was a classic dwarven fighter. They retired and bought an inn, and their children are growing up in the shadow of their exploits. They have adventuring companions, also retired, who are considered family: the elvish wizard Windborne Flyleaf and the human rogue Velithra, and possibly others. They have... three dwarven children of their own, and an adopted halfling child? We'll have to work out the birth order and the interpersonal relationships, but this is one way the new party can be tied together (even if this story is set well before the campaign starts). Honestly, I really like the idea of playing with the "children of famous adventurers" character concept. Not all the new characters have to be part of the same family -- the group could be something more like The Them from Good Omens, with Delver Deepriver and his friends forming a rival gang  -- but it's here if y'all want it.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

After A Week Off

I took all of last week and this Monday off, and I'm here to tell you that I am not ready to be back at work this morning. It feels like... I don't know, it feels like I was just finally getting relaxed, and now I'm going to have to sort through the previous week's worth of email and get back to work on some projects that were already behind. 

I did get a little writing done, though not as much as I would have liked. More importantly, I got to go camping this past weekend, and -- while this trip didn't work out quite the way we hoped -- camping is always good. But it's also true that some of my being tired and unenthusiastic may be down to me recovering from a bit of sunburn. I should have brought a hat. So hopefully the ennui is temporary, and I can get back into the swing of things fairly gracefully. 

...Though I suppose I'm also about to find out whether we're still in our Very Temporary Offices, or whether I need to move all my stuff over to the new Somewhat More Permanent But Still Temporary location. Hmph. 

I don't know. It was nice to be off work for a bit, but whenever I hit this point of having to come back in I always wonder if it was worth it.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Werendril: The Return of the One True King

The King lives! 

Darvinin made his way through the camp, watching as work gave way to celebration at the news of the True King's return. There were even rumors regarding the half-dragon, Tavros Fontaine, that he had had some part in this, and supported Mythrandril's rule of Duendewood. 

Darvinin had only met the Fontaine Heir in passing, but he thought that if the two kings were allied then that was all to the good. It seemed strange to think of Duendewood as a kingdom separate from Sol Povos, but... but honestly, if Tavros Fontaine does not object to the elves of Duendewood ruling themselves, then we are all much to the better, elves and humans alike. And Ruin was close to this new king, and no doubt that would have some influence. 

The most obvious influence was simply that the Mythrandril was back in Duendewood, albeit in an insurgent camp rather than at the head of the government. 

"Can I see him?" asked Tovarin, looking up at Amaranth. 

The true elf looked down at her apprentice, and nodded. "Bring him this blade," she said, and handed him a sheathed dagger. "It will warn the king of danger: of poisons, hostile magics, or ill intents."

Tovarin, who was barely out of childhood, looked up at Amaranth. He knew how much of an honor this was. He even, vaguely, understood that Amaranth was making a particular statement in sending the item this way. 

Amaranth straightened and looked his way. "So... back to being the King's Own." 

Darvinin nodded. "Somebody has to be." 

"And your brother?"

"Still alive. It came close, so close, but still alive."

Amaranth smiled. "And your own First Chosen?" 

Darvinin shook his head. "I hold to the hope, and some faith in my mother's wisdom. But I have no idea where Shalmistra might be, what her mission was, or when she might return."

Friday, November 3, 2023

Dark Armor: The Grandmother's Request

Pallian raised the glowstone in its metal cage and angled the lens so that its light fell on the crude map that Tybben had drawn, and the notations that the dog-faced man had scrawled in beside it. If I am where I think I am... 

He turned the lamp to scan the barren stone passageway. There. It was a bit further ahead than he'd expected, but there was a side-passage leading off to the right. He moved forward, turned, and started down it. It wound down in a narrowing spiral, making it impossible to keep his sense of direction, and it descended for a very long time. 

At the bottom, he surveyed the three passageways branching out, and took the one on the right. Something howled far away, filling the halls with its echoes, and for a moment Pallian froze. Then he continued on; he'd come too far to back out now. 

Tybben had refused to come with him; the loyal servant was not part of the royal bloodline, and feared that the Grandmother would destroy him if he intruded on her space. Pallian would have greatly preferred to be down here in his company, but he found that particular fear hard to argue with. The House of Teres was not known for being reasonable, measured, or in any way restrained. 

It was probably why his father was convinced that there was something wrong with him.  

Left at the intersection, right and down at the split, and then a left turn to descend the spiral staircase that led down to the center of the Grandmother's ancient suite. 

There was a wisp waiting for him at the foot of the stair, gleaming with a pale blue light that sometimes flickered into a sickly green. Pallian greeted it silently, and followed when it darted away. It seemed he was expected. 

It led him a short way, down clean and empty halls, to an arch-roofed laboratory where a robed figure stood with its back to him. "Grandmother?" he asked cautiously, as the wisp dispersed in a burst of glowing mist. 

"I'm just in the middle of something," the figure said, in a soft, sweet voice, "and I need a pair of demons-eye rubies. If you go out the door and to the left, you'll find my supplies two doors down on the left. There is, however, a bit of vermin that's gotten into the room and thinks of it as home. Be a dear and take care of it, will you?"

Pallian swallowed. "As you wish, Grandmother."

He ducked back out the door, turned left, and found the second door on the left wall. He paused for a moment outside, then tried the latch and pushed it open. 

The room beyond was dark, its exact dimension hidden behind rows of shelves. A faint whoosh, like a soft breath, rolled across the room. 

Pallian drew and released a breath of his own. He knew a test when he saw one. 

So he stepped carefully into the room, moving the lamp to his left hand and drawing his sword with his right. He nudged the door closed with the heel of his left foot, since he was fairly certain it was going to close itself behind him anyway. 

Trespasser...  The word was another soft breath, rolling through the room. 

"That's not how I heard it," Pallian said quietly. 

Come closer... Come near... Step into the trap... 

Pallian advanced cautiously, keeping his steps quiet so he could listen, trying to look every direction at once. The irony of having refused the initiation that would have allowed him to do that very thing was not at all lost on him. 

Seven steps later, he came out from the shelves and saw it: a design of salt and wax traced across a section of open flooring, a dull-red figure hovering above it, and the shaken-ember flicker as the figure vanished. 

He flung himself forward, towards the design, and heard the whish as the air parted just behind his neck. Too close. The light of the lamp jumped crazily, and he knew that whatever this thing was, it could kill him easily just by sticking to the shadows. The light from the lamp was a narrow beam, only showing one direction at a time. This enemy, this beast, could come from anywhere. 

Pallian dropped his sword and gripped the lamp with both hands, ripping it apart. The glowstone inside fell out, landed at his feet, and suddenly everything around him was brightly lit except where his own shadow covered it. There! Pallian rolled aside and scooped up his sword, and for a moment the red-skinned thing was caught in the light, oversized hands with their overlong fingers and talons raised to shield its eyes. 

It vanished again, but by then it was too late: Pallian fell on the design, breaking it with his dagger and sweeping it aside with his sword. There was a sort of shriek, but it didn't come from the beast; it came from the design itself. 

The bargain is fulfilled... said that same empty voice, and then the room was silent. 

Pallian kept his sword out but put his dagger away. He scooped up the glowstone in his left hand, and turned its light on the shelves. After a minute or so of cautious searching he found the basket labelled demons-eye rubies in the old-fashioned, looping script that the nobility had favored four centuries ago. He pulled two of the stones, the ones that looked best to him, and made his way back to the Grandmother's laboratory...