Thursday, February 29, 2024

Terra Povos: A Game Of Musical Wagons

Amergin, male dwarf druid
James male-presenting dwarven stabby thief
Pythia female dwarven cleric
Whisper male dwarf rogue
Lithos male goblin wizard
Archibald male human bard

As we’re walking out, Leaf is like: “You guys really saved my buns in there, you’re my friends.”

Archibald: “Why were you locked in the basement?” 

Leaf: “The Senator’s son and I were like brothers. And now he’s dead, so I ran to Dane’s place, and he was worried I was going to get him in trouble so he threw me in the dungeon.”

Archibald: “So, who killed him?”

Leaf: “I have info! But it’s back on my ship.”

We go back and forth a couple of times, but he insists that he needs to give us this information on his ship.

Ambergin insists on going with him. Leaf is now really excited about us coming with him “to meet the crew”. Archibald tries to convince him to come back to the inn with us first, to have a drink before we head for the ship. He agrees.

We get back to the Shattered Golem, and Leaf is like, “Oh, this is your inn? It’s kind of lame. But very nice!”

We get him a drink and he sips it slowly; Lithos pours a cup of tea. Whisper spikes his drink and we put him a room, and take the opportunity to sleep and restore our spells. Leaf suggests that we should probably wait until evening before heading back to the ship. We know he’s a member of the crew.

We spend some more time talking to him. He can help us, but he needs us to help him. He has this treasure map. It’s on the boat. If we help him get the treasure, he’ll tell us everything. We keep discussing: there’s this place called the Crypt of Trickery, also known as Durest’s Funhouse… and it’s built by a fan of Durest Inglorian. Leaf has a coinage problem, A bad one.

We decide to help him out by giving him some of Balin’s gems. Alderman Thunderbrew has stupidly posted two guards out front. They are not privy to what’s going on, and they are not at all smart. Archibald puts them to sleep with Lullabye, and Whisper slips into the house and retrieves the moonstones.

They have basically bullshitted his way through retrieving the moonstones.

Lithos: “How likely is Rose to try to kill us?”

“Not at all! Rose the Unmaiden? She would never–”

Yeah, she would. He starts laying out ship’s defenses, and where the map is (in the bow). Baldy: “This isn’t your map, is it?”

“Rose took it from me!”

So if we go at night, there’s a bar in the back. The bow has the lieutenant’s quarters, Rose’s quarters, and the brig. The brig doubles as the treasure chamber. Leaf is very enthused about his plan. He’s less enthused about our plan, but he agrees.

So our plan is basically that James and Whisper will break into the vault, while the rest of us come and be a distraction. Amergin leads the way, and one of the guards nods at him. Leaf is right behind him. One of the archers spots Leaf and looses an arrow at him: “You motherfucker It misses, but the archer calls: “It’s him! It’s the guy!”

Archibald moves up behind Leaf. One of the two city guards watching the customs house steps in and trips Leaf and puts the blade of the halberd to his throat: “Don’t you dare move!” 

Pirates: “Hey! That guy’s ours!”

Amergin: “We got him, we brought him, we got this.”

Leaf: “You motherfucker! You brought me here to steal the treasure map!”

Pirates: “Bring him here! Rose wants to meat with him! She’ll meet with you too!”

We march Leaf forward, and Amergin looks at Leaf: “You have one more chance.”

Meanwhile, another guard and a sorcerer emerge from the customs house. The sorcerer says that Rose laid a charge against him. He’s not that interested in the whole thing. Rose isn’t really a pirate or a smuggler, just a somewhat unsavory businesswoman.

So we all go marching forward, and Leaf keeps trying to hint that Archibald should raid the vault in the customs house. We walk into the party, and four or five of the dwarf pirates grab Leaf and drag him into a corner, where they restrain him. The two archers on the top and the two guards on the bow return to their posts.

Rose is clearly a swashbuckler type; she’s wearing very nice leather armor, probably magical. She’s got this fancy jeweled rapier, which she calls her thorn. The rest of the crew have either axes or bows. She leads with, “I must apologize that this pathetic excuse for a dwarf is the first introduction to the crew of my ship.” She seems super-nice. “So how did you get involved in his shenanigans?”

Baldy begins to tell the tale, and they’re just enraptured. Rose is impressed with the strange human. And, well, she wants help getting the treasure.

Meanwhile James and Whisper have reached the abandoned warehouse and slip past it to the shrine. They wait for a few minutes to study their movements. Then Whisper makes a distraction and James dashes across the final stretch of the dock and vaults through the porthole. He lands on the bed, where two of the lieutenants are going at it. One of them leaps up and grabs an axe, and James right back out the porthole. He climbs back up on the dock, then tries to sneak over to Whisper.

He fails and gets captured.

So we renegotiate a little bit, and Baldy gets with Rose. It’s a very… give-and-take sort of event, replete with marvelous devices and an Enlarge spell. Rose makes sure Leaf sees how Archibald comes limping out there, looks at Leaf, and says: “Tonight.”

Leaf collapses completely. “So Balin was in contact with this deep dwarf trader, a lady named Brinja: standoffish, with orange hair in a ponytail, no beard, pinkish skin; carries a short sword, a buckler, and a crossbow. The cargo was some huge wagon, but I didn’t see what was in it. Must have been heavy, because it took two large cave lizards to pull it. Balin was going to use it to win in the pits. So they went in with a thousand gold each, and they tried to offer Brindja 3,000. This trade came from the deep road, so she wouldn’t have gone through customs here, she’d have gone through customs in Deepwatch. She supposedly had a duergar bodyguard.” That would explain the extra set of tracks at the crime scene.

Archibald lays out what we know.

Alderman: “Oh! She went through customs at Deepwatch?”

“Can you send word?”

“And spend MONEY?”

Us: “YES.”

Brindja had declared a load of magma stone, and apparently her goods were inspected by a junior inspector, who marked her down as a large block of magma stone. She’s from Blackstone, which is an area that exports these sorts of stone. So either the inspector was on the take, or she has a stone cage, or an illusion.

We do some asking around, but nobody seems to be selling huge quantities of food. The main source of food around here is fish. Whisper is listening for anything that might be pertinent while tending the bar for a bit. Amergin checks the fish markets for large purchases, but learns nothing. Baldy checks with the road guards, but they don’t remember that wagon going out. We do hear a little about a weird red-headed dwarf woman with no facial hair.

Lithos talks to a wagonwright and learns a bit about how the big stonehauler wagons operate. After some checking, we find that there was another inn where a dwarf lady stayed with a big wagon, but she left two nights ago.

Our best bet is that it’s down by the water somewhere, so we go find Rose and Archibald asks her about wagons and transports. This dock has the customs house; we should go look at the other docks, the ones the smugglers use. We head over there and ask them. On the way there, we pass a side-passage. Someone has ditched a very large wagon there.

We go investigate. There is definitely a big square imprint in the back of this thing, like a stone block was sitting back there. There is no trace of food there. It looks like maybe a smaller cart was used to pull the slab down to the smugglers’ docks. Looks like a whole lot of people were involved in making the transport. We head down to the dock where it was taken.

Most of the vessels here are small, so they’d maybe take it out to a larger ship. So Jorin took a large stone out last night; Calaman told us. He was taking it… out to the Tainted Rose. We head back to find the Tainted Rose sailing away.

We go report to the Alderman and ask for a coast guard ship to carry us out. He has… one small local craft that he uses to deal with pirates and bandits. We’ll pick up there next time. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Challenge: Waiting Rooms

(This post is part of the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. You can find links to other writers' answers over at Long and Short Reviews. I have not been following along as reliably this year as I did in previous years, but I'm still participating! Sort of.)

Prompt: How I amuse myself in waiting rooms.

"I read books," he said, surprising exactly nobody, "or I tell myself stories, think about the stories I'm working on now." He patted the pouch on his belt. "And I turn off the television in the waiting room if I find it too annoying."

"...You do what?" she asked. 

"Turn off the television. There's always a television, it frequently has the volume up, and often there's nowhere you can reasonably escape it." 

"So you just... walk over there and turn it off?" 

"Sometimes," he admitted. "If nobody else seems to be watching it. But, well, a while back I stumbled on a mention of TV-B-Gone, and I ordered one. And it works on everything I've tried it on so far, including that one Wendy's that just won't turn off Fox News."

"But that's-- Okay, that actually sounds handy."

He shrugged. "It's situational, but it sure has been nice to have the option."

"Okay," the interviewer said, glancing down at the notepad in her lap. "Do you always write about yourself in the third person?"

"Only when I'm being interviewed in a waiting room."

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Lost Girl, part ten

"Hey, wolf?" 

Chris turned to see Morri walking over to him. "Yes?"

"I need a punching bag," she said. "You're supposed to be tough. You game?" 

Chris looked down at the his bag, which he'd tossed beside the thick trunk of a massive white pine, then looked back at her. "I was going to gather firewood," he said, with a slight shrug.

She glanced at Elyssa, then at Agatha. "Let the other two handle that," she said. "I need to work some energy off, or it's going to be a problem later."

Chris frowned, and glanced at Peter, who was in the process of setting up a small, hexagonal tent. 

"I'll spar with Peter if I have to," Morri said, more quietly. "He has phrases for it so I don't hurt him and he's almost enough of a challenge, but..." Her expression twisted. "...that isn't a real fight."

He looked to Antoinette, who met his eyes and lifted one hand, turning the palm up in a gesture that he took to mean that she wasn't sure what was going on but had no particular objection. 

"All right," he said. "Elyssa, Agatha, are you okay with finding firewood without me?"

Elyssa quirked a grin at him. "Is that even a question?" Agatha just nodded. 

Chris shrugged and turned back to Morri. "All right, you're on. Rules? I'm assuming no claws, no biting."

Morri shook her head. "No, that's not going to do it. I need a real fight. I want you try to kill me -- claws, fangs, whatever. No firearms, but anything else goes."

Chris frowned at that. Morri was nearly his own height and more heavily built, with a square musculature that carried no excess bulk. She wasn't a wolf -- there was no hint of animal musk in her scent -- but she was a registered outsider and likely had her own tricks. This whole thing could get completely out of hand frighteningly quickly. "Can you give me a better idea of what to expect?" he asked. "I don't mind bruises, but I don't want anything broken -- or anything else that might screw the assignment."

She smiled hungrily. "All right. You're going to attack me -- as yourself, as a wolf, as something in between. I don't care. I don't have claws, but I'm strong and I'm tough. I'm going to punch you, kick you, grab you. I might take you to the ground. Does that give you enough of an idea?"

Chris nodded slowly. "We should move outside of the camp for this."

"Can I watch?" asked Agatha. Elyssa looked curious as well; for that matter, so did Antoinette and Peter. 

"Fine," said Peter with a shrug. "Fighting first, campfire later."

Monday, February 26, 2024

The Lost Girl, part nine

Chris drew a deep breath and then released it. It was good to be out in the Grey again; he drew it in, let it fill him. He'd grown up in places like this, at one with the Grey or storing it inside himself to use inside the Mundus.

Beside him, Elyssa tasted the air, then shook her head again. The forest was rich with scents, but none of them indicated the way the caravan might have gone. Morri had dropped back, guarding their rear and leaving the two wolves to lead the way while the magi remained in the middle. 

They walked that way for over an hour, until the dirt road ran into the side of an ancient stone road and stopped. The shadows of the trees were growing darker; wherever they were, night was falling. 

"Any chance it failed to rain here?" asked Peter. 

Chris exchanged a look with Elyssa. They both shook their heads. 

"No wagon tracks, either," added Morri from behind him. 

Peter cursed softly. "All right. Follow me." He glanced up at the trees. "We'll probably have to make camp before too much longer anyway."

He turned left, his expression set as he passed them. Concentrating, Chris thought, but he didn't understand how that might work. Was Peter just focusing on Tammy Carterhaugh? Or...

Peter stepped off the road, and Chris and Elyssa followed him. What had seemed a mere break in the trees became a path, and then -- as they circled an ancient oak -- an extension of the stone road. It was definitely night now, and while that didn't bother Chris or Elyssa, Peter pulled up short. "We make camp here," he said. He glanced at Antoinette. "Can you lay down some wards?"

She spoke the word for light, shaping a glowing ball over her head. "Give me just a minute," she said. 

Friday, February 23, 2024

Dark Armor: The Emissary of the Second

They came out in the same receiving room where the scroll had deposited Pallian days earlier. He paused for a moment, orienting himself. Then he turned to Ashmiren. "I trust your judgement, Princess. Will you stay hidden until I have the Emissary's attention?"

The shadowy figure nodded. "If you can buy me a few minutes to get into position, I will take out everyone I can." She turned to Ember, and the nightmare gave them both a nod. "I will wait, I think, and follow your lead. I do not wish to destroy your troops by mistake."

"Our troops," said Dakrin Eld, "may be living or dead, wearing livery or not. Word on the Emissary and its troop is that each has two rubies decorating their armor: one on their forehead, and one over their heart."

Ember made a sort of awkward bow. "I will look for such enchantments," it said. 

The ghostly ancestor drifted to its side. "I'd like to stay with you for this battle," she said. "I can offer some guidance, and I suspect you'll afford me some protection."

"Guidance would be welcome," Ember told her, "and protection is easily provided."

She reached out and scratched it behind its ears in a manner that suggested that she definitely thought of the nightmare lord as some sort of half-feral pet cat, and Pallian was suddenly very glad that the helm hid his expression. 

"Very well," said Dakrin Eld. "We're inside now. Let's go find a battle. You lead, lad."

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Lithos: Something Almost, But Not Quite Entirely Unlike Tea (part one)

"What are you doing?" asked Pythia, with a puzzled almost-frown. 

Lithos didn't turn and yell at her, but it was a near thing; he was very frustrated. He was also very aware that his sister had no way of knowing that. He took a deep breath and sat back, looking at the cup on the table in front of him. 

The cup was small, even by his standards. And the brownish liquid inside it was... not what he'd had in mind. "I'm trying to make tea," he said, and scowled at the cup, "and failing abjectly at it."

Pythia looked, if anything, even more puzzled. "You're trying to cast a spell to create a cup of tea?" 

"There are no spells to create a cup of tea!" Lithos snapped. "I was trying to stretch my Prestidigitation into producing one."

Pythia's expression softened slightly. "May I?" she asked. 

"You'll regret it," Lithos told her. "I did. I mean, it's not poison, it's just..."

Pythia reached down, took the tiny cup, raised it to her lips, and took a cautious sip. She set it back down immediately. "You're right," she said. "That is nothing like tea." She frowned. "Well, almost nothing like tea."

"I know," he said mournfully. "I don't think Prestidigitation can do it."

"Well," said Pythia, then paused. "Have you considered a more... alchemical approach?"

"...You mean with boiling water and tea leaves?" asked Lithos. "I mean yes, if all I wanted was a cup of tea, that would of course work perfectly well. But what I want is to be able to conjure a cup of tea. Or a whole tea service."

Pythia dipped her head, accepting that. "You're clever," she said. "I'm sure you'll figure something out."

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Challenge: Pets!

(This post is part of the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. You can find links to other writers' answers over at Long and Short Reviews. I have not been following along as reliably this year as I did in previous years, but I'm still participating! Sort of.)

Prompt: Pets I used to have (or wish I could have)

Well... The pets in my life have generally been dogs or cats, with the notable exception of the Yard Turtles. (The yard turtles weren't really pets as such; they were a pair of turtles that we rescued from the road and relocated to our back yard, where they lived long lives of reptilian luxury. At least one of them had been hit by a car when we found it; possibly both.)

But if I could just wish for a pet and get it... I'd want a miniature dragon. Or, heck, an actual baby dragon! It could ride around on me while it was small, and then when it got older I could ride around on it.

...Might be a little hard to keep it fed, though. Hm. Okay, fine, miniature dragon, but I want it to breathe fire and ice and lightning and stuff. 

House insurance? Why would you be asking about house insurance?

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Lost Girl, part eight

"Well, this is certainly something," Antoinette remarked quietly. The tunnel had emerged through another arch, depositing them at the foot of a surprisingly solid dirt road. Old, heavy trees surrounded the road on either side, and from out here the arch was just an arch: a free-standing arrangement of mortared stone in a small forest clearing. "Someone's putting some work in to maintain this road."

Peter chuckled. "They are, but that's not going in our reports."

Antoinette looked puzzled. "Isn't this sort of thing illegal?"

"Discretion is the better part of legality," Peter replied easily, and Morri grinned hungrily at Agatha. "Having a passage to the Grey is legal. Trading with outsiders may or may not be, depending on exactly what's being traded. Bringing unregistered outsiders into the Mundus is illegal, but unless it causes a problem the Ministry generally ignores it; we don't have the resources to stop all of it, so we save our efforts for fairly egregious -- and public -- violations."

Antoinette considered that, then nodded. "All right, I can see that." 

Chris could, too. He didn't like it, but he could see it. No wonder the old snake asked if I planned to bind it... That had been more than a year ago, nearly two, and he hadn't really understood at the time. It was only after he'd come to the Ministry and seen just what could be done with a geas that he'd begun to understand. 

Peter turned to Agatha. "Do you know which way they went?" He glanced at the road, and then amended the question. "Do you know where they were headed from here?"

Agatha looked momentarily panicked, then shook her head. "There's a seasonal pattern," she said, "but I don't remember much about it, and I don't know what season we're in, here."

Antoinette turned to look at Chris. "Scent?"

He'd already been tasting the air; now he shook his head. "I think it's rained since they departed." He glanced at Elyssa, but she shook her head as well.

"All right," said Peter. "Then we'll do it the hard way. We'll start by following the road, though." He shook his head. "Before we do... I want you to look around this place. Study it. The Grey is malleable, and even if you're not a pathfinder it'll sometimes take you to a particular place if it's important to you."

Antoinette frowned. "So Seekers are just... better at bending it to their will?" 

Peter considered that, then nodded. "Something like that. Pathfinders can command the Grey to shape itself to our will as we move through it; everybody else has to ask and hope it responds. It takes practice, and it's a matter of sensitivity as much as will, but if we get separated... well, even if none of you have that particular talent, you can still try to picture this place, start walking, and focus on avoiding everything that isn't here until you return here." He paused and looked at Antoinette. "Your Arcana will still work out here, so you could also get back to the Mundus through the cards." Then he looked a Elyssa, Chris, and Agatha. "If you can't find your way back, find someplace safe to stay and just wait until I can collect you."

They nodded, and then started looking around. Peter gave them about five minutes before he said, "All right, let's get moving. We'll stick to the established paths for now; I don't want to have to force my way through the Grey this close to the Mundus."

Monday, February 19, 2024

The Lost Girl, part seven

"Wait," said Maggie Hargrave, as they descended into the cellar. "Mother, let Agatha go with them."

Amelie Hargrave paused, considering that, then opened the door at the foot of the stairs and motioned everyone through. "That is... not the worst suggestion I have heard. Was it your idea, or hers?"

"Does it matter?" asked Maggie, sounding acutely exasperated. "We both want her back, and safe." Chris hadn't really focused on her before, but this was definitely the other girl from magus Frummelt's slideshow: brown-haired, lean, and intense. 

"Hers, then," sniffed the materfamilias

"Ours," Maggie countered. "I was about to suggest it to her when she suggested it to me." She broke off from locking glares with her mother and turned to Peter instead. "Agatha can help. She may be able to help you find the travelers, and she can definitely help you talk to them."

Peter looked to his companion, who shrugged her broad shoulders; then he looked to Antoinette, who nodded without hesitation. "As you wish," he said.

Agatha came forward then, but stopped alongside Chris and Elyssa; she didn't place herself beside the magi. "Thank you," she said. 

"This way," said Amelie Hargrave, suddenly impatient. "The stone arch will take you through a short passage, and then out into the Grey. Bring Tammy back intact, and the Hargraves will owe you a favor."

"With our shields or on them," said Peter, which caused Amelie to quirk a grin at him.

Chris was already staring at the stone arch; it was crude and roughly mortared, large enough to drive a truck through, and the passage on the far side had the look of some sort of underground roadway. It was the sort of connection that a family would use if they were engaged in regular commerce with the Grey, rather than just stepping out to recharge their magic. 

Peter turned to regard it, then motioned them forward; they followed him through.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Dark Armor: Violations

"Put your mask back on," said Pallian, as the carriage shifted again and its wheels bumped against the ground. He lifted the helm and let it once again enclose his head. 

Beside him, Ashmiren nodded and slipped her mask into place. 

"Both of you seem to be skilled at blending into the shadows," he continued. "Can you conceal yourselves when the doors open, and follow unseen while I return the armor to its place and try to uncover what exactly just happened?" After the Grandmother's work, Pallian was no longer certain that he didn't possess such talents himself... but even if he did, this was neither the time nor the place to invoke them. 

"I can certainly try," said Ashmiren, while Ember responded with, "I will keep us hidden."

"All right. Stay secret; stay safe. I'll let you know when it's safe to show yourselves."

The carriage rolled to a stop, and a low boom -- more felt than heard -- indicated that the gate to the crypt had closed behind it. The carriage door swung open, and the Black Knight stepped out. 

He was not surprised to see Tybben, hairless and dog-headed and dressed in an ornate red robe, waiting as his boot touched the ground. He was surprised to see a double-dozen dead ancestors gathered behind the disfigured servant. Still, this was the crypt and these were his people; even in his role as the Black Knight, he was not forbidden to speak to them. "What has happened?" he asked. "What brings you all here?"

Three of the dead started forward; four more pulled them back. Tybben said, "The Emissary has arrived at the Obsidian Citadel. It has forced the gates, and battle rages within. The Wizard-King remains absent, as does first-prince Ravaj. The Amedin commands the defense, but without the royal family or their champion..."

The Black Knight nodded. "My friends," he called quietly, "I need you."

Ember and Ashmiren stepped out of the coach as if they'd never been hidden inside it. The long-dead lords and ladies drew back as they came to stand beside him.

The Black Knight looked around at his dead ancestors. "We will need someone to carry us to Obsidian Citadel," he said. "Someone who can pass its defenses, and doesn't fear death. If you can hide yourself and be ready to bring us back afterwards, all the better." 

There was a brief moment of stillness and silence; then one figure, who was very nearly a skeleton, hawked and spat. "I'll take you in, lad. Dakrin Eld, your great-grandfather's brother. I can carry your friends as well, and I might even be a bit of help myself." He grinned, or at least Pallian thought he did; the movement of that nearly-fleshless jaw might mean anything. "And if I die at this, it's a good death in defense of the realm."

"I'll follow your lead," said another, whose bones were still clothed in flesh. "If you can get us there, I'll protect you as best I can."

"A third," said a woman's voice, firm and solid despite the nearly insubstantial figure who spoke. "I haven't dissolved anyone into mist in centuries. Let me help." 

"Uncle," said Pallian, before this could get out of hand, "How many of us can you carry?"

Dakrin Eld looked around. "The six of us," he said. "It gets too risky after that."

"Then come forward," Pallian said, trying to sound certain and commanding when he was uncertain and even utterly baffled. "Let us counter this threat." Please let that sound inspiring, and not like something from a tale for children...

Dakrin Eld stepped forward. The other two ancestors followed him. Pallian, Ashmiren, and Ember stepped forward to meet them. "Let's do this," said the ancient skeleton, and lifted a hand. 

The world swirled away around them.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Terra Povos: Pit Fighting

Amergin, male dwarf druid

James male-presenting dwarven stabby thief

Pythia female dwarven cleric

Whisper male dwarf rogue

Lithos male goblin wizard

Archibald male human bard

Max arrives to grab us in the middle of the night. The Alderman’s outside: Senator Ragnus Goldbeard’s son is dead! In his town! We have to help! Balin Goldbeard (middle child) has a place that he rents out here to do his carousing. One of the neighbors said she heard a disturbance, and saw a strange dwarf she didn’t recognize so she called the guard; the guards called Nori, and Nori called us. 

Whisper: I need 25 pounds of quicklime and a steel basin to make this go away. 

Nori: “I can get rid of a body by myself! The guards won’t say anything, but if word gets out there’ll be quaestors crawlin’ straight up me butt! Give me an update in twenty-four hours.”

Whisper checks the lock before we go in; it doesn’t seem like the door was locked at all. There’s another dwarf, not so well dressed, over by the book case. There’s a table in the middle of the room with three tankards on it, spilled; there’s a book case toppled near the second dwarf, he might have been knocked into it. 

Whisper starts by looking at the footprints. There is more than one pair of bloody footprints leading out of the door. In the mess of footsteps on the ground there are four total footsteps. Amergin starts looking over the bodies, starting with the unknown one; he was stabbed in the gut, probably with a sword of some sort. Balin’s head was bashed in from behind with a large blunt object. Amergin attempts to detect poison; he finds nothing. Amergin and Lithos both detect magic; neither of us comes up with anything. Lithos looks at the fallen bookcase; the books there seem like they were chosen more for decoration than reading material. James checks the cabinet, and finds plates, tankards, and things like that. He finds a book that fell behind the cabinet; it appears to be a bestiary with several pages marked: black bear, crocodile, wolverine. 

Archibald heads across the street to talk to the neighbor. She immediately adopts him and is serving him tea and crumpets and introducing her cats. He asks about what she saw and if there was any distinguishing about the dwarf she saw. She spends about ten minutes complaining about Balin and the company he keeps. “Definitely wasn’t from around here. Pinkish skin, maybe orange hair. Looked very mean, up to no good – had a sword, shield, and crossbow. But… she’s emphatic that she only saw one person. Archibald puts her back to sleep and backs out the door.

Whisper checks the bodies for valuables. Balin has nothing of value other than his outfit, which is quite expensive; there are marks on his fingers where he clearly wore rings, and a moneypurse has clearly been cut away from his belt. A key has tumbled to the ground and is laying next to him. Whisper marks the key with a chalk arrow. He moves to the second dead guy, who has ten gold in a pouch a writ of admittance to the Lion’s Bane under the name of Riley. It’s about a mile outside of town; it’s a pit-fighting place, for Vat Fights in old brewing vats. 

Since this kind of establishment is borderline illegal, you ned a writ of admittance to get in. 


Amergin goes looking for animals that might have witnessed the murders. He’s going to use Detect Animals and then use Speak with Animals to interview them. 

Mouse: “Hello human! Where’s the food?”

Amergin: “There was food here?”

Mouse: “Lots of food! Always has friends. Sometimes food over there.”

Amergin: “What happened to the other two food-carriers?”

Mouse: “One of them didn’t eat. That was weird.”

“Do you know where he went?” 


“Do you know when?”

“Before the last food.”

Lithos, meanwhile, goes over to check the sleeping bags. One of them has faux fur inside it, which kind of matches what the second dead body is wearing. There are also some weird crunchy patches in the cloth. The second one has 60 GP and a pouch of Jafreese’ Breeze. 

James goes to check one of the doors to the back; he starts by checking it for traps. She doesn’t find any. Then she checks the lock; it’s unlocked, Then she opens it very carefully. It’s a bedroom, and there’s 100 GP and 100 SP sitting on top of the counter. We take the money and the writ, and Whisper goes to inspect the chest at the end of the bed. It is locked. The bed is not made; Whisper attempts to open it and sets off an alarm. So now it’s screeching at us. He races back for the key, and uses it to open the lock; the alarm stops as well. He stops to examine the lock, which is a good quality lock. Inside are fifteen hundred GP in gems. 

Whisper locks that back up. James goes to check the keg in the front room. It has wine in it. It’s actually pretty good wine, and apparently not poisoned, and there’s about 40 bottles worth in it. Lithos checks the middle of the room; the table was definitely shoved aside. 

Archibald comes in and looks at the bodies as well. Balin was definitely bashed in the back of the head with something heavy. His rings were basically ripped off his hands. The other guy was stabbed from the front, and then fell back against the shelves. James checks the dresser and finds a flask of alcu’ul, 15 GP in change, and… it’s obvious that this wasn’t searched. So this wasn’t the robbery that it was half-assedly rigged to resemble. The bottom drawer has a bong, another bag of Jafresse’ Breeze, and a flyer for the local distributor. The nightstand has a book of Jensenian poetry and a writ of credit for 1000 GP at the Lion’s Bane. Whisper swaps his mundane dagger for the masterwork dagger in the chest. 

We close up the house, leaving the key inside. Amergin is taking the mice with him so they don’t gnaw on the bodies. We also take the noble outfit and its jewelry. The description of the dwarf sounds like a deep dwarf – which would definitely not be local – to Lithos. 

We make our way out to the Lion’s Bane. Lithos and James knock on the door. 

Massive Orc: “Closed.” He’s wearing a surcoat that says Thing #1 on it. 

Whisper, acting as the footman, shows the writ.  We manage to bluff our way inside by promising Thing One 500 gp. The pit boss looks over at us: “Who the hell are these guys?” 

Thing One: “They Riley!”

Pit Boss: “You’re not Riley! Get over here.” His name appears to be Dane.

Whisper looks around for somebody with pink skin and orange hair. There’s some humans who look like pirates. There are two armed and armored dwarves drinking up by the front of the place. On one side of the pit, a necromancer and a couple of skeletons are watching the action in the pit. 

Dane: “Who the fuck are you?”

We explain about where we got the writ. Amergin discreetly shoves a bench into the pit, but the wrangler emerges and hauls the wolf back. 

Dane: “You’re not starting shit in my place.” 

Amergin: “Ye started it by keeping wild animals trapped in here.” 

Dane starts expounding on how his place is the only place underhill where you can see animals from overhill. He yields a bit, and tells us that Balin hung out here all the time with Leaf and Riley. He doesn’t know about any deep dwarves. He’s willing to let us hang out a bit as long as we partake in some of the activities. We pull out Balin’s writ of credit. Archibald: “Perhaps a wager?”

“Not the dire wolf, not for children. For you… rats.” 

Amergin hops into the pit. The rules are that you can only send down two people. If we win the first round, we win 300 gp and can continue the challenge. Whisper jumps down there with Amergin, and a couple of dire rats come out. They attack immediately, one missing Amergin and the other biting Amergin. Whisper tumbles around to flank, and taking more damage on the way. He stabs a rat. 

It goes down, and Amergin curses loudly. He then casts Calm Animals, and the rats suddenly settle down. Amergin gives it scritches. “All right, next?” We’ve won 300 GP. The wrangler carries the injured rat back to the bat. He thinks Amergin is his friend now. Amergin: “Think on your sins.”

Garg retreats back to the cages. Amergin bolts in after him. Dane: “Wait! Stop them!”

Thing 2 jumps into the pit and follows him. They make it through the door and spike it close behind them, blocking Thing 2 out. The wrangler knows a secret, but Aergin misunderstands him and thinks that there's a door that Leaf used to get out.  Thing 2 starts to force the door. 

There is a dwarf imprisoned in cell three… it’s Balin’s other companion, Leaf. There’s no secret exit. Whisper frees Leaf, and moves on to a human prisoner and a kobold family. They're armed, since they were going to be made to fight in the pits. 

Up top, Thing #2 swings and hits Archibald. He goes down. Lithos fires off Color Spray and takes out Thing 2 and Dane (temporarily). Pythia heals Archibald, who pulls out his whip and trips Dane into the pit while he’s stunned. Lithos steps back and casts Shield on himself. James moves for the back door. Archibald tries to trip one of the guards, but the guard grabs the whip and tries to trip him; he drops his whip and backs off. 

James opens the back door and finds the kitchen; he goes inside. Pythia heals Lithos enough to pull him back from the brink of death. Archibald sings one of the guards to sleep. He then moves back over next to Lithos. Lithos uses the last of his spells – grease – and causes the other archer to fall into the pit. Archibald uses the wand of healing on Pythia and sets himself beside her. 

The archer in the pit stands up and backs up. 

Meanwhile, downstairs, Whisper tries to release the kobolds but fails. Thing One smashes through the door. Glarg the wrangler is not happy with this. Amergin: “We’re going to save the animals together. We’re going to get them back overhill.” 

Glarg is convinced. He hands Amergin the keyring and steps in front of the door, holding his halberd. Amergin tosses Whisper the keyring. He pops the kobold lock and moves over to the badger’s door – off to the side – with the intent of opening it next.Steve the Gladiator Prisoner charges straight down the hall and attacks Thing One, but misses. The family of kobolds charge down the hallway, right past thing One, who swings at them as they pass but misses. Leaf moves up next to Glarg. Amergin is still Speaking with Animals. 

The dire wolf isn’t having it; he just lays down. The rats have a mixed reaction: the injured one runs out and starts gnawing on Dane. Glarg smacks Thing One with his halberd and damages him badly. “To the happy overhill!” Glarg yells. Thing hits him back, and now they’re both damaged. 

Whisper opens the badger’s cage as well, and it runs out into the pit; Thing One ignores it. Leaf attacks Thing but misses. Amergin throws some jerky on top of Dane. It comes out of its cage and eats the jerky, then starts licking Dane. Glarg and Thing try to hit each other; both miss. Whisper opens the Hyena door, and Amergin’s persuasion works much better this time. They run out and swarm around Thing One, who attacks one and hits it, Steve the Gladiator swings and misses. The kobolds get to the top of the pit, and one of the pirates pushes him back down. Leaf smacks Thing One with his warhammer, and Thing one goes down and starts getting gnawed on by hyenas. 

Dane stands back up too, draws his rapier, and skewers the rat. James comes back out of the kitchen and throws a spear at Thing Two but misses. Amergin emerges back to the pit and swings his club. Glarg runs out, looks at Dane, then moves over next to the wolf without attacking him. Pythia attacks Thing Two but misses. Archibald steps back and puts a crossbow bolt in his back; the archer in the pit promptly puts an arrow in his back, and Archibald goes down. Steve runs past Dane. Dane attacks Amergin and hits him, James moves up a bit and throws another spear, then misses. Pythia takes a five foot step and collects the wand, then Heals Archibald with it. Leaf attacks Dane but misses; Amergin moves to flank with Leaf and attacks Dane, but misses. 

Glarg leads the dire wolf over to the ramp; the necromancer and his skeletons retreat into one of the rooms. Archibald puts another crossbow bolt into Thing Two’s back. Whisper emerges from the dungeon. Thing Two hits Lithos, and he goes down. The kobolds manage to climb up and swarm the pirates. The barmaid has retreated into the kitchen and is bitching to the halfling cook. 

Leaf attacks Dane but misses. James puts a spear into Thing Two’s back. “Ha-Ha!” Pythia steps in and jabs Lithos with the wand of healing; the second archer wakes back up and tries to shoot Archibald; he misses so badly that he hits Dane instead. Whisper takes a shot at Dane from the doorway; the archer doesn’t see him, but Dane probably remembers that he’s back there. He shoots again and takes down the archer in the pit. 

Steve the Gladiator races out the front door and disappears into the darkness. Thing Two takes Lithos back down. (OOC, James' player: "Again?" Me: "Yeah, well, despite all my rage I am still just a wee goblin mage...")


Leaf: “This is for putting me in a pit! Like an animal!” He attacks Dane. Dane attacks Amergin and hits, and Amergin goes down. James pulls out his pickaxe and charges, flanking Pythia; he misses. Pythia hits Thing Two with her greataxe and takes him down. 

Archibald shoots at Dane but misses; he moves in close to the remaining archer. Whisper slides along the wall and tries to take a shot with his hand crossbow. He misses, and hits Amergin’s prone figure instead. Leaf hits Dane again, doing a bit of damage. Dane attacks Leaf, doing similar damage. Amergin and Lithos are both still bleeding out. 

James throws himself off the edge and takes a hit on the way down before slamming into Dane and smashing him into the ground. Pythia restores Lithos to consciousness. Baldy takes a five foot step back and shoots at the archer, who shoots back at him. They both miss. Whisper advances on Dane and tries to stab him with a dagger. He makes a perfect hit. 

Lithos throws an Acid Splash at the archer, but misses. Dane surrenders, and James knocks him out. Pythia jumps down, and pulls Amergin back from the edge of death. Archibald steps in to keep Leaf from killing him. Leaf is very, very impressed with Archibald. He explains that he came by the house, found Balin dead, and went to tell Dane what happened. Dane promptly threw him in the dungeon. We throw Dane in one of the cages, cantrip him back to consciousness. 

“Who killed Balin?” 

Dane: “You guys just busted in here to find out who killed Balin? Look, I just locked up Leaf because he was going to bring the heat down on us! Balin had been losing, but he had some kind of plan to come back with some kind of creature that he was sure he could win with.”

We leave him in the cage and walk out. The pirates and the kobolds have bonded over brawling, and they’re now swapping drinks. We are now down by five charges on the wand of Cure Light Wounds. We’re commandeering the rest of Dane's fortune. We loot the dead bodies; we take Dane’s Masterwork rapier for Uncle Baldy, and +1 leather armor for Ambergin. Dane is very sad about this.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Challenge: What's New?

(This post is part of the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. You can find links to other writers' answers over at Long and Short Reviews. I have not been following along as reliably this year as I did in previous years, but I'm still participating! Sort of.)

Prompt: What's new in my life lately?

Well, the big one is that Firstborn is getting ready to go off to college. 

Hang on, I need to stop and sit with that one for a moment. 

...Okay, I'm back. Yes, right: college. Firstborn. He's been accepted to a couple of places, and we're sorting through costs and scholarships as they come in. This is complicated by the fact that the standardized scholarship form -- the FAFSA -- got revised this year and so everything involved with that is going out late. 

But mostly it's just weird to think that we'll only have one kid in the house most of the time. 

Beyond that... we're starting a new D&D campaign, which (if you aren't familiar with the game) means that we're all back to playing weak, newbie characters. This is fun, but a bit jarring. We'll have to strategize more, and we'll have to be a lot more careful. 

I have added another patch to the Patch Jacket. 

I have ordered more teeth in anticipation of Halloween this year. 

How about the rest of y'all? What's new with you?

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Lost Girl, part six

"Nothing," Chris told Antoinette quietly. "She's not here, or if she is she's well hidden. Maggie's friend Agatha showed us around a bit, and she seems to think that Tammy left with a wagon train that sometimes comes by to trade with House Hargrave."

Antoinette nodded, then glanced over to where Peter was reading back through a hand-written journal. "Kidnapped?" she asked quietly.

"Maybe," said Elyssa. "Maybe lured away. Maybe just decided to run off. Nobody seems to be too sure."

"Maggie didn't seem too sure, either," Antoinette admitted. "I don't think we get any answers until we get out there and locate the girl. Are you two doing all right?"

Chris glanced at Elyssa, who lifted a hand. "So far, so good," he said. "We can work together."

Elyssa nodded. "I know you didn't plan to have another RO, but... this is good. I can work with this." She met Antoinette's eyes. "I'll make you proud if I can." 

Antoinette swallowed. "Don't make me proud," she said. "Just do the job. We're here to watch out for each other and do what the Ministry requires. They don't pay you twice if you do double the work."

Elyssa smiled, then stepped forward and pressed her cheek to Antoinette's. "Thank you."

Peter looked up as his partner returned; the older woman -- named Morri -- wore a grin that made Chris think she'd been out terrorizing the staff. She exchanged a few words with her magus, then stopped as he added a few more notes in his book. She noticed that Chris was watching her, and her smile widened as she looked over at him. It was not a reassuring expression.

"Lady Hargrave," called Peter, standing up and closing his notebook. "We'll need access to your passage now."

Lady Amelie Hargrave was standing in the doorway. "Of course," she said. "This way."

Monday, February 12, 2024

The Lost Girl, part five

"Agatha, was it?" Chris asked gently as they ascended the stairs. 

The girl nodded. She still looked to be about two years younger than he was, but her movements were graceful and precise; he thought she could take care of herself. Her skin was milk-white, and her hair a pale gray. "I can't speak against the family, you know." 

He nodded back. "I know. Speakers and Binders. Are you happy here, at least?"

"Yes." She didn't hesitate in answering. "I'm not just Maggie's companion, I'm her friend. They treat me like part of the family, and I get to have my lessons." 

"What do you study?" asked Elyssa, sounding curious. 

"Dance," Agatha answered, "and gymnastics, and martial arts, but dance is my favorite."

Chris nodded, considering that. "And if I loosed you from the geas?" he asked casually. 

Agatha stiffened, but she didn't hesitate. "I'd keep doing this," she said. "The Hargraves... they've given me a home."

"All right," said Elyssa, shooting Chris a Look. "What can you tell us about Tabitha... Tammy?"

"She goes by Tammy," Agatha said. "She's nice -- maybe a little too nice, but not so as it's a problem. She's a good mage, even if she sucks at fencing-- sorry." 

Chris waved it off. "It's fine." He had a moment of insight and asked, "You and Maggie fence pretty often?"

Agatha nodded. "Maggie's good. I can't do it the way she does it, with the offhand magics, but I have my own tricks. Tammy is decent enough with a blade, but she doesn't have the magery committed to reflex the way Maggie does. She did try, though."

They reached the top of the stairs and turned on to the second floor. It was, if anything, even fancier than the first floor had been: wood-paneled walls, a painting that Chris was pretty sure was a genuine Goya, light fixtures that were works of art in themselves. "Her room is down here, across from Maggie's." 

The room was rich with scent, from the sheets to the pillows to the suitcase set back in the closet. Chris breathed it in, tasting it, and knew that Elyssa was doing the same behind him. All right. I can find her now. "Can you tell us what happened?" he asked. 

"I can't speak against the House," Agatha repeated. 

'You can count on our discretion," he said, borrowing the line from Peter. 

"It was going well," Agatha said after a moment. "Tammy and Maggie had their differences, but they were well on the way to being friends in spite of it. Tammy was better with magics that influenced the world, while Maggie was trained in magics that influenced people, so they were learning from each other and... I think we were all friends." She swallowed. "Then the wagon train returned. It's... It's people like me. They trade with the Hargraves." 

Elyssa frowned. "So the Hargraves go out into the Grey to trade with them?"

"Sometimes they allow them through the passage and into the house, when they want even more privacy and security than usual," Agatha admitted. "This was one of those times. I don't know why. But Tammy was quite taken with one of younger ones, and... when they left, she left with them."

"Was she kidnapped?" asked Chris, who had serious opinions about people doing their own things for their own reasons and why they should be left alone. 

"...I don't know." Agatha looked, sounded, and smelled troubled. "She might have just run off. Arguil's a handsome lad, and I wouldn't blame her for wanting to lock him down-- even if her family would be absolutely scandalized."

Chris leaned his head back. Why couldn't anything ever be simple? Then he straightened and said, "You're protecting Maggie. Generally, I mean, not in this situation specifically." 

Agatha met his eyes and nodded. "That's my duty, and I don't mind it a bit."

He nodded back. "Was Maggie ever hostile towards Tammy?"

Agatha shook her head. "No."

"All right." Chris glanced at Elyssa, but she shook her head; she didn't have any further questions either. "We'll look around a little bit, but I don't think we're going to find anything until we get out into the Grey. What can we expect from this wagon train, if we catch up to them?"

Agatha hesitated. "I mean... they're just travelers. They move around, buying and selling and doing odd jobs. I don't know what else to tell you."

"You said they were like you," Chris said. He hesitated. "Meaning what, exactly? Your people have some particular magics of their own?"

"Yes," Agatha said, and there was a momentary pause while she waited to see how he would react. He kept his face still, and she said: "Yes, we're shadow-walkers." 

Chris stiffened, then forced himself to relax. "Shadow-walkers," he repeated. "Not nightwalkers? Not blood-drinkers?"

Agatha looked taken aback. "No." She shook her head. "No, that's completely different."

"Thank the dark and forgotten gods," Chris muttered to himself. 

"You've met blood-drinkers?" asked Agatha. 

Chris nodded. "It was... It nearly ended very badly. I'm glad to know your people are different."

"No, I'm..." She swallowed. "I can call up shadows. I can even give them a physical presence. I can step through them to other, nearby shadows, if I have enough on hand. I don't know what else to tell you. Some of my people might be able to do more, but I don't know what."

"Then that will have to do," said Elyssa. "Thank you, Agatha. You've been a big help."

Friday, February 9, 2024

Dark Armor: Reintroductions

The figure on the floor of the carriage groaned, then shifted its position slightly and went very still. "Ashmiren?" he asked again. "It's Pallian. You're in the flying carriage of the Black Knight -- which is me, so please don't stab me or throw yourself out the door. I'm on the rear bench, and I have..." 

He paused, and looked across at the nightmare lord. "...I don't know how to refer to you. Do you have a name? Pronouns? A name for your people?"

The nightmare lord looked back at him. "I cannot give you my name. I cannot risk it."

"Then don't. Choose something else that I can call you by."

There was a momentary hesitation, and then it said: "I have been the flame's shadow, and the shadow's flame... but I am free now, and need not do those things. Ember, perhaps? A spark waiting to be extinguished, or grow into something new."

"Very well, Ember." He set the rest of his questions aside as the Shadow of Edrias stirred gently, then eased herself up into a crouch and looked around -- at least he thought so; it was hard to tell through the eyeless blankness of her mask. 

Very well, said the Shadow of Edrias, and her voice was a whisper on the night wind. How did I end up here? 

"My friend Ember rescued us both," Pallian told her, through the deep, slightly-distorted voice that the mask gave him. 

The Shadow of Edrias tilted her head in a way that made Pallian think she was studying him dubiously. "I didn't know the Black Knight kept company with a demon. That would explain a lot."

Pallian shook his head. "It's a new development, and something of a long story."

There was a momentary pause, and then the Shadow of Edrias drew herself up and seated herself on the seat beside him. After a moment she reached up, and drew the mask off her head to expose her face. "Fallen lords, Pallian," said Ashmiren. "You really will make friends with anyone, won't you?"

He put a hand to the Black Knight's helm, willing it to release him so he could place it in his lap. "Not just anyone," he said, once his face was exposed and his voice was his own. Not my family, certainly. "It's not like I've had a lot of practice at this."

Ashmiren studied him a moment longer, then turned to look at Ember. "And you... Summoned but not bound, I take it? But you helped us anyway."

"This is so," said the nightmare. "Pallian spared me and released me from my binding. I thought he would appreciate it if I... rescued... someone who had helped him similarly."

Third-princess Ashmiren chuckled at that. "Then I owe you both. Where are we bound?"

"Wherever the carriage takes us," Pallian said, trying -- but probably not succeeding -- at keeping the bitterness out of his voice. "My father has always set its path for me. At a guess, we're likely bound for the Crypt." Even if his father hadn't issued such a command, it might have been built into the carriage's enchantments as a default.

"Well," said Ashmiren, "I supposed that's definitely one way to go to ground."

"You'll be safe there," Pallian said quietly. "I lived there for several years, before my father dragged me back to the court." It would be a temporary safety, if the Second carried through on his threats, but even temporary safety and a chance to regroup would be welcome.

Ashmiren frowned. "So you were just... stranded there? Being the Black Knight?" 

Pallian nodded. "Whenever my father called. At least until you murdered my sister; then he condemned me for failing to save her. He rescinded the sentence when he realized that he would need me to help deal with the Emissary."

The third-princess looked away. "You attacked one of our cities, broke our defenses, murdered its champion, and stole the Spear of the First. You and your sister set all of this off."

Pallian hesitated for a long moment, then nodded to concede the point. Still... "I wasn't accusing you. I barely knew my sister. I was just sharing some very private and painful personal history."

"Oh." Ashmiren leaned her head back against the rear of the carriage. "Well, that's awkward. I'm... sorry?"

Pallian chuckled. "It's weirdly easy to forget, but our nations were bitter enemies until about a week ago. It was always going to be awkward."

Ashmiren chuckled back. "I suppose it was."

Across the carriage from them, Ember leaned forward. "If it helps to know this," it said, "this is no less awkward for me."

Ashmiren turned her head, studied those inhuman features, and said: "Ember... you saved both our lives, I think. If Pallian released you, then you've certainly repaid the debt -- and you don't owe me anything. You're free to do as you wish."

Ember nodded in a very definite fashion. "I wish to stay with the two of you. You will not try to bind me. You will show me how to live in this world."

"Ember," said Pallian carefully, and Ashmiren shut her mouth and turned her head to listen. "We're both in very great danger. If you stay with us, you will be too."

The nightmare lord shrugged. "Then I will help you to deal with that, so that you will not be in danger and we can all be happy."

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Lithos: After The Contest of Strength

"That was a terrible trick to play on your father, Lithos. Also hilarious, and a delight to behold." 

Tara Foundingstone paused to lean against the bar and look down at her son. Lithos was mopping the stone floor of The Shattered Golem and didn't look up. "He wanted to see me be strong," Lithos muttered. "Me! Being strong. I don't see why that's so important to him. I get things done."

His mother chuckled. "Well, you certainly got that done. Beat your father in an arm-wrestling contest! That took some nerve." She looked around, making sure her husband was still a-bed. "It was very clever."

"Have to be clever when you can't be strong," Lithos said, trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice. "Will he be angry when he figures it out?"

Tara foundingstone shook her head. "He'll think it was clever, too, once he stops to think about it. Your father and I didn't get where we are without learning to value other people's skills, and I guarantee you that we have never once considered Flyleaf Windborne lacking because he relies on magic instead of arms."

That actually was reassuring, now that he thought about it. Lithos sighed and kept mopping. "Why is he always on about it, then?"

There was a long pause in which the clink of rearranged bottles and the steady swiff swiff of the mop were the only sounds to be heard. Then Tara said, "I think your father is legitimately disappointed. Not in you or any of our other children, but just in general. He wanted a big, strong child that he could raise to be a fighter, and he never quite got that. Pythia's the closest physically, but she followed me into the clergy. James is closest to him in outlook, but James isn't big enough for your father to wrestle around with. Amergin went his own way, and you and Whisper and Archibald are all doing your own things -- and doing them well." 

She paused, then started hanging a row of pewter mugs along the back of the bar. "Your father isn't disappointed in any of you," she continued after a moment. "He's just a little disappointed that none of his children turned out more like him, and he's not always good at expressing that without sounding like he's accusing somebody."

"So he is going to be disappointed when he realizes that I'm not actually some super-strong goblin prodigy that he can teach to swing an axe," Lithos said, lifting the mop and swirling it around in the bucket of water. 

"Well, yes," his mother admitted, "but he's also going to be very proud that you found a way to win a contest of strength anyway."

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Challenge: Stormy Days

(This post is part of the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. You can find links to other writers' answers over at Long and Short Reviews. I have not been following along as reliably this year as I did in previous years, but I'm still participating! Sort of.)

Prompt: Things I like to do on stormy days

I love stormy days. I love them dearly. Give me a dreary, wet, grey, misty day or a full-on thunderstorm and I just relax. There is no finer feeling than being warm and comfortable indoors while the weather rages outside, except possibly for going out and standing in it just because I can. 

So, things I like to do on stormy days include, well, everything

Make tea! A cup of hot tea is extra comfortable when the weather is being horrible outside. Write! Nothing puts me in the mood to write like the sound of falling rain. Go for a walk! If I'm dressed for it and it's not just miserably cold, a walk in the rain makes me feel alive. Crafts! Sewing patches on the battle jacket while it storms outside is extra satisfying. 

I love stormy weather. 

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

The Lost Girl, part four

The Hargrave estate was tucked back into the trees, discreet and authoritative behind its metal gates. Peter slowed the rental van and pushed the button, looking up at the camera mounted on the stones of the pillar that flanked the gate. "Ministry," he said simply. 

The gate rolled open, vanishing behind the stone pillar, and Peter drove them across the metal track that supported it. The driveway beyond was composed of interlocking stones, and the van was filled with a vague rumbling as it crossed them. They circled, and pulled up in front of the manor. 

Two figures were standing at the foot of the steps that led into the house. They moved forward as the van doors slid open, and were already extending hands as Peter came around the front of the vehicle. 

"This is Hargrave House," said the taller, older one, distinguished in her pantsuit. "I am Amelie Hargrave, and you are welcome here."

Chris looked around, taking in the two-story house, the separate garage, and the flower gardens that surrounded both as the introductions continued. Antoinette had moved up beside Peter, and was making polite noises at their ostensible hosts; nothing looked out of place. They wouldn't have been here if nothing was wrong, but nothing he observed gave him any sense that the Hargraves were doing anything shady. The estate was more soothing than anything else.

With identities settled and the niceties established, the two Hargrave women led them into the house. 

The outside of the house had been neat but plain, cut stones polished smooth and neatly mortared together, windows narrow on the first floor but wider above. It was large, but not especially showy. The Hargraves had evidently been saving their decorative impulses for the inside of the house: hardwood floors, expensive rugs, oil paintings with gilded frames, an elaborate chandelier in the front hallway, antique furniture... 

Chris didn't have a good sense of what constituted real wealth, but everything here looked both expensive and carefully arranged. He made a mental note not to touch anything. "I've arranged the sitting room for your use," said Amelie Hargrave, "since I assume you will want to interview us before you venture out in search of our little lost lamb." She gestured to a doorway just a little ways down the hall.

"Thank you, Materfamilias," Peter said easily. "Yes, we would be grateful for the opportunity to gather whatever background we can."

"Then take a few minutes to arrange yourselves, and I will send in my daughter Maggie to answer your questions; after that, I will seat myself to answer anything that remains. If you need speak to anyone else in the household, do please let me know."

Peter offered a slight bow. "I see you remember your own time in the Ministry," he said. "May I have your permission to let our ROs check things over as well? It will mean giving them the run of the house, but you can count on our discretion."

Amelie Hargrave hesitated, then sighed. "I suppose you must, and I assume that your pets will be well-behaved. Very well, set them loose; we have nothing to hide here."

Said none of the old houses, ever, thought Chris, but he nodded and glanced at Antoinette for permission. She nodded back. 

"If you'd be so kind..." He glanced at Elyssa, then looked back to Amelie Hargrave. "...could you have someone show us to the rooms where Tabitha is staying? A sample of her scent could prove extremely helpful."

"Of course," she answered graciously. "Agatha? Please guide the beasts to Tammy's room."

The girl who melted out of the shadows looked to be about sixteen years old, slender and pale and strange. She regarded Chris for a moment with large, dark eyes, glanced briefly at Maggie Hargrave, and then said: "This way, if you would."

Monday, February 5, 2024

The Lost Girl, part three

"All right," said Peter, as they emerged from the van and gathered behind it. "We're going to need to pass through metal detectors before we get on the plane. What are you carrying that might set them off and attract unwanted attention? I'm mostly looking for weapons, here."

"Pistol," Chris responded immediately. "Ammunition too, I'd imagine."

The older woman who was Peter's partner chuckled. "Yes, that would do it."

"Same here," said Elyssa. 

"The usual," said the older woman with a smile, and handed a bundled package over to her partner. 

"I've got mine covered," Antoinette said clearly, and Peter nodded. 

Chris opened his pack and handed over his pistol and ammunition; Elyssa followed his lead. Peter took all of it, and dropped it into his bag with a muttered word. "That'll keep it hidden while we go through security," he said. "You should have boarding passes on your phones. Once we're in Pennsylvania, I'll hand you your weapons back."

Elyssa nodded; Chris just waited. 

"You all understand the concept of airplanes, right?" Peter's voice wasn't condescending; he sounded more concerned with making sure that everybody was on the same page. "We're going to walk into the airport, which is kind of a giant dock for airplanes, pass through security, and then shuffle through the line and find our seats on the plane. It's going to carry us through the air, and land at another port in Pennsylvania."

Chris nodded, and Elyssa swallowed. "We can do that," she said.

Friday, February 2, 2024

Dark Armor: Escaped Prisoners

He triggered the countermeasure, and the stone around him cracked but didn't fall away. He triggered it again, and the stone shattered further, but being buried in gravel was little better than being buried in solid stone. He still couldn't move. He tried the left-hand gauntlet's missile, let it build, then loosed it...

I supposed that's marginally better. He could now rotate his wrist and wriggle his fingers. The armor's perceptions informed him that he'd drilled a passage to the open air, but it was only two fists wide and the gravel had already collapsed to fill it. Well, fine. He tried again, and then again, trying to remove as much stone as he could. He kept expecting it to close back around him, subject to the will of the Second, but it didn't. 

He still couldn't get himself loose. He couldn't turn his wrist far enough to free himself -- not and maintain the missile. If he could get the gauntlet off, he could escape as smoke; but the gauntlet would not come off by itself, and the rest of the armor was still pinned in place around him. That's a design flaw, he decided, not that he could do anything about it now. 

He triggered the countermeasure that was supposed to keep him being overwhelmed by a swarm of enemies, and it shoved enough of the shattered stone around him into the hole that he was able to return to using the gauntlet's missile to clear more of it out. He shoved more out, giving himself more room to move, and returned to blasting it away. The process was painfully slow, and probably doomed; all it would take was a moment of attention from the Second to undo all his work. 

Until that happened, he was determined to proceed. If he could remove enough stone to escape in the armor, he would. If he could make enough space to remove the armor, he would use his Smoke initiation to escape and leave it behind. 

He stopped, stiffening involuntarily. Something was approaching; the armor gave warning. It was a something the armor recognized, a being of darkness and fire...

The world went dark and Pallian felt himself moving, dragged through impenetrable shadows. Then he was loose, and he staggered at the sudden release. 

"Run," said the voice of flame and shadow. "The carriage is just ahead, but he is just behind. He must have felt me..."

"Later for that," Pallian ground out, before he remembered that he wasn't supposed to talk when he was wearing the armor. He caught his balance and found the carriage door, then flung himself inside. "Let's move." There was something soft on the floor, and he would have stumbled over it if the armor hadn't been watching for him. He slapped the wall, desperately hoping that his father had left a contingency in place... or that the carriage had one of its own. 

The thing appeared on the bench across from him in a burst of flame, and the carriage door slammed closed. The carriage itself began to move, gaining speed and rising into the air. The bundle on the floor stirred and groaned. 

"I took her too," said the nightmare lord. "She stabbed your enemy, so she must be your friend. I think she was hurt when the building collapsed on her." There was a momentary pause, and then it asked: "Was that the right thing to do?"

Pallian's head was still spinning, but the further the carriage went without anything assaulting it the better he felt. He looked down at the carriage floor. 

What he'd taken for an inconvenient bundle was, of course, a body: a woman, tightly clothed beneath a loose cloak and hood, armed with various short blades and a wide variety of enchantments. 

The nightmare lord had rescued the Shadow of Edrias.

The Shadow of Edrias was a woman.  

He considered that for a long moment, and then he swallowed. "Ashmiren?" he asked. "Is that you? Are you all right?"

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Terra Povos: Dwarven Citizenship

Cast List:
Amergin, male dwarf druid
James male-presenting halfling stabby thief
Pythia female dwarven cleric
Whisper male dwarf rogue
Lithos male goblin wizard
Archibald male human bard

It’s late and the evening is slow, and we are attending to our duties around the Shattered Golem inn. This is located in the town of Stoneshore, on the underground shores of Lake Opreto, not far from Silverkeep. Because there are people from a variety of races here, there are lamps with continual light along the streets and inside the buildings. Nori Thunderbrew is the Alderman, and Max Glibbergab (a goblin) is the Quaestor’s contact here in town; the Quaestor lives in Silverkeep proper. Max is also buddies with the Alderman. 

The inn is also where we live, and there is a back door to the tunnels (kind of like a mall). The second level is adorned with a woodlike facade, built from fungal planks, as a sign of a successful establishment. We all share a room. 

Max Glibbergab has come bustling in because Amergin is back in town. He’s like, “Man, business is booming, like when you figured out why Lady Gleamstone’s jewely was missing.” He’s feeling nostalgic and recounting our past discoveries. "Or when you found that guy Karl trying to purchase fake steel!" There are a lot of humans in this bar, weirdly. "I ran into some more humans in the square, and it turns out they're Karl's brothers, and boy are they pissed!"

He just finishes saying this when they all stand up. Pythia moves to intercept two of the guys. Another one casts Flare on Pythia, but it fails to affect her. Lithos puts the two guys on the ground floor to Sleep. A man comes down the stairs, and utterly fails to notice Whisper, who promptly blackjacks him, leaving him swaying on his feet. 

Archibald – “uncle  baldy” since he can't grow a full dwarven beard – casts a lullaby spell on two of the enemies upstairs; one of them falls asleep. The human wizard looks down the stairs at Whisper and Pythia and hits them both with Flaming Hands. Lithos looks at the wizard and casts Grease, sending the wizard tumbling down the stairs into the guy at the bottom, who is now out. The wizard takes a little bit of falling damage. 

James steps over and swings his trusty pick at the wizard, burying the sharp tip in his chest. The wizard is now dying. The bowman on the balcony sees this, curses, and fires an arrow at James, putting it through his shoulder for a fair amount of damage. Amergin, who prepared magic stones, slings one at the archer but misses. Whisper realizes that the stairs are covered in grease and not usable. He gives Lithos A Look, but Lithos shrugs; what else was he to do? Then Whisper starts climbing up the wall. Archibald drops his lute and pulls his crossbow, and shoots the archer in the back. Lithos throws an Acid Splash at the archer but misses; James ducks under the table. The archer shoots at Archibald and puts an arrow in him. 

Archibald: “You shot me!” He shoots back, but misses. 

Pythia grabs the guy on the floor, heals him back to being stabilized, and puts an axe to his throat: “Do you want to lose another brother?” Unfortunately, the archer doesn’t hear her. Whisper is still trying to climb. Archibald finally manages to shoot the guy, and he goes down. We stabilize him, too. Our first battle, and nobody actually died.

A few weeks later Max is back, along with Nori the Alderman. It turns out the two guys on the floor and the wizard were Karl’s brothers. Quaestor Hammerheart has been getting congratulations because apparently these guys were causing trouble across multiple delves; they were wanted men, and we took care of them. Max has a nice new vest, with silver buttons. Our father is positively glowing with pride in us. 

Alderman Thunderbrew comes around and congratulates us each, personally; he's looking pretty good too, after all this. 

Our father stands up and makes an announcement: it’s time for us to take our citizenship tests. Well, three of us: Archibald, Lithos, and James. The test is in two days! And he’s been saving up a bit for each of us, 250 gold apiece, as soon as we pass the test. The citizenship test is a written test, and then there’s a test of dwarvenly might afterwards. 

The woman who will proctor the test is named Ilva Sternbrow. She’s going to use the Shattered Golem as the testing location. Ilva has a written test that keeps with her; she’ll take rooms here, along with her two guards. 

We start preparing: oiling hinges, checking for what might be on the test, figuring out how to get the information we need. Yes, studying would have been easier. No, we aren't going to do it that way. Yes, it's vitally important not to let Amergin figure out exactly what the rest of us are up to.

Ilva arrives, accompanied by her two guards. Mom & Dad have hired a few extra servers. She goes up to her room with two guards and comes back down with one. She has her very fine quality dinner. Archibald attempts to schmooze, and offers to play whatever she wants. 

Archibald summons a lute, and begins singing. Ilva is not impressed. Whisper is hiding in the back. One of the guards came downstairs and took something to the storage room and locked it in; the key is no longer on the wall. Whisper is the only one who knows this. Pythia takes a plate up to the guard in the room. He’s pleased to have food, and chats with Pythia for a bit. 

There’s a chest at the foot of the bed, and a chair that he’s using to sit on. She doesn’t manage to get him drunk -- neither of them will risk Ilya's wrath by drinking on the job -- but she does gather some information. The guard doesn’t really like this assignment, because Ilva is a pain in the butt. She has a whole setup and she’s very particular about it. She knows every trick in the book. If she catches you cheating you’ll never in your life be a dwarf. 

He is very much in a hurry to get out of this gig, and he's getting short; three more months and out.

James is dancing on one of the tables, and Archibald is encouraging her. Ilva, suspecting trickery, demands that James get down. Archie just goes with it, and they do the Dirty Dancing lift. The crowd is going nuts. Meanwhile, Whisper breaks into the storeroom, and sees a satchel sitting on one of the barrels. This is new, and probably what the guard brought down.

He wedges the door shut behind him, and examines the bag. 

There are a dozen variations of tests, and different numbers of each – an average of six of each, but with a lot of variation. He takes one from each sheaf, stashes it elsewhere in the storeroom, and then put it enough blank pages to make sure it isn’t immediately obvious. Then he slips back out. 

Pythia heads out as the guard she was talking to is about ready to go to sleep.

Ilva retires, and the guards are in the room with her. 

We head back to our room. Lithos naps, then Whisper wakes up Lithos, James, and Archibald, and leads us quietly down to the storeroom. He makes his way to the room and pops the lock. We grab the tests, head back upstairs, and do our best to cheat. 

The time of the test arrives. Ilya walks around and starts announcing questions. Amergin drops Guidance on Whisper, who is trying to help us cheat. Whisper sneaks back out from our bedroom. He is extremely subtle, and she doesn’t see him. 

Ilva: “Today we will be using Test Form number four! What is the name of the Gard you live in? Question numbert two: What product is your gard most known for exporting? How many legions are there in Deepterre? Where are the majority of the legionnaires in your province deployed? What are the majority of the emperor's property taxes used for? The Legion is controlled by what? And the laws are enforced by whom? Who nominates candidates for consul? Who elects the consuls? Who appoints Praetors?”

James hands his test over and throws up on her. She releases the scores that night, and we pass; next up: the physical tests. Eight of us move on to those. The events include: a stone toss with a five pound rock; a bull rush; a grapple; a crate smash; an obstacle course. 

Archibald immediately bribes the other contestants to throw the contest. First one: Bob 20 gp. Second one: Jason wants 30 gp. Gary wants another 30 gp. So Lithos ends up wrestling a human to the ground, and he’s just blown away by how strong he actually is. Well, he decides, or humans are just weak compared to dwarves.

We are the beneficiaries of full dwarven citizenship, and also (OOC) we’ve had a basic introduction into skill use. We now have 1420 GP between us.