Friday, March 29, 2024

Dark Armor: Priorities

So... sometimes in the process of writing you pull together a scene -- maybe even one that you've been looking forward to -- and then when you go back and read it, it just... doesn't work. It's the wrong point in the plot, or it doesn't come together well, or both. (Usually both.) But the main issue here is that neither Pallian nor Amedin would allow the Black Knight to vanish just as second-prince Pallian turned up; part of the mystique associated with the Champion of Teregor is that nobody is supposed to know quite what it really is. So the Black Knight would need to either depart for battle or return to the Crypt, and then after enough of an interval to obfuscate their connection, Pallian could return. That being the case, the There's Only One Bed trope will have to wait.

"This is your room?" asked third-princess Ashmiren. 

Pallian looked around, trying to imagine how the obsidian walls and darkwood furniture would look to someone unfamiliar with them. "It was," he said. "I didn't get a lot of choices about the appointments. My room in the crypt is more mine than this is."

"I mean, it isn't bad," Ashmiren observed. "It's just... bland."

"Clearly you don't share my deep-seated appreciation for obsidian as an aesthetic in its own right," Pallian told her. He had the helmet off, and was willing the dark armor to assemble itself on the wooden training dummy that he'd used for practicing Tan-Si after hours. 

"Is it usual to have a room of one's own?" asked Ember. 

"It was usual for me," Pallian told it. He turned to look at Ashmiren. "Do you want to go look for your family?"

"I do," she said, but then she hesitated. "...But the Shadow of Edrias does not move quickly over long distances, and I have no good way to get back to Marinul. And I might be the last survivor of the House of Edrias, just as you might be the last survivor of the House of Teres. I am not eager to throw myself into battle against one of the Second without support."

She did not add, Especially after he dropped a building on me, but then again she didn't have to. Pallian nodded his understanding. He didn't think that the half-dead priest Amedin had realized that the Shadow of Edrias and the Nightmare Lord Ember had taken part in the battle and were still in the citadel, which was why he had them gathered in his room: he knew the wards here, had set most of them himself, and could tell if anything was out of place. Outside of the crypt, this was the safest place in all of Teregor for them to talk. 

"So stay with me," he said, hoping his tone remained casual. "Let us rest, and learn what Amedin has discovered come morning." The armor rebuilt itself around the practice dummy, leaving Pallian in only his pants and shirt. Without it he was nearly swaying with exhaustion, and the bed looked better and better. 

"You would have us lay with you?" asked Ember.

Pallian turned to look at the nightmare lord. "If you need sleep," he said. "If you do not, there are books and the chair at the desk is not uncomfortable." 

There was a momentary pause, as the pale figure considered. "It is not a large bed," the nightmare said, "but I would prefer to lay beside you."

Ashmiren had her mask and hood off, though the rest of her body appeared to be cloaked in shadows. She swallowed, then said: "I would, too."

 

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Terra Povos: Durest's Funhouse

We consider what to do with the tarasque; opinions vary widely, but the general consensus is that we need to keep it in some kind of stasis for a while, and not give it to anybody else. We head back with Stonebeard and Beerbelly the innkeepers, and their kid Queely. 

We load everybody back into the carts and arrive to a tearful reunion. Baldy soaks it up; the rest of haven’t quite gotten over nearly being poisoned. Astrid, the courtesan, seeks to reward us with 20 GP – which Amergin refuses – or her body – which we all refuse. We’re on a timeline after all. 

Lithos takes Mister Pibbles, the tame carrion crawler, as a reward. We get everybody back on board and just follow the wall around until we can get back. We keep our prisoners tied up in the cabin. Whisper will guard their unconscious forms. Archibald will handle the wheel; Lithos goes up front with his new mount, and Amergin will be keeping an eye on the tarrasque, which we have chained to the mast. We’re about a day out from stoneshore. 

Brynja and Durnek wake up once, and then we start just blackjacking them every time they stir. Then we look up and realize that the Tarrasque has ripped the bag off its head. Archibald attempts to fascinate it, but fails; he can’t make another attempt for a full day. 

Amergin tries to grapple it, and gets bitten as he approaches. The struggle, and Amergin gets ahold of its snout; Baldy gets the waterskin back in place, and we wait for it to drown again. Meanwhile it’s thrashing around, and rips the skin off; we get it fairly well tied down and get another sack on it. Meanwhile, we have to feed Mister Pibbles; Amergin feeds it some of our rations. 

We manage to navigate our way back to port (the respectable one) and greet the customs office and one of the guards. “Good day! What is it you have here?” 

We explain that we need to talk to the Alderman, and manage to explain that he needs to take the prisoners and put them in a very deep, very well-guarded hole. He rewards us with 100 GP, and a letter from Senator Ragnus Goldbeard; it’s a personal invitation to his house in Silverkeep for dinner, a far more valuable reward. 

Amergin and Lithos stay behind to guard the terrasque. The others bring Pythia’s body. Tara and Marduk are deeply upset; Marduk thinks he’s going to have to sell the inn. Archibald manages to convince him that the Senator will cover it. Once Marduk has passed out, Tara comes out and wants to talk to us about a couple of stray visitors. 

The first was Dane; he said we… stole from him? Marduk scared him off. She’s worried because he looks… dane-gerous. The other visitor claimed to be some sort of investigator into smuggling; apparently the customs officer back in deepwatch was taking bribes. Maybe a spy for the Quaestor? Mom told him everything before she got suspicious and he left. 

Meanwhile Amergin and Lithos spend the night fending off suspicious onlookers and hiding the tarrasque behind a sheet. 

They explain to Mom that we need to use Stone Shape to make a hole for this thing. We look over the Gunwale and our buddy Max the goblin is selling tickets. 

Amergin drops Obscuring Mist on us. “Please go away.”

Max: “And by the way I’m really sorry to hear about Pythia.”

Amergin: “This man does not have access to the turtle. Please get your refunds from him.”

Archibald tries to entertain the crowd as he, James, and Whisper return with Mom & Dad, and our new Pinnace Master who’s going to be sailing the ship for us; his name is Pubert Edward Addams. We sail out for an hour or so until we can find a proper ledge; Mom shapes a hole in the stone, and we take the thing off the mast and then put the whole thing – bag and chains and all – and then seal it over with a layer of stone. 

We circle and return to town from another direction to drop Mom and Dad off, then set off for Durest’s Puzzle Dungeon. We arrive at a stone landing with a small ledge; carved into the wall is an image of a powerful dwarven necromancer, with the words: “Crypt of Trickery“ and under that “Durest’s Funhouse”. Lithos brings out a ten foot long pole, and hands it off to Whisper. 

The door is in the shape of a face, and there’s blood all over it. The door itself has a large metal crank on outside. Mage hand is not strong enough to activate the lever in the mouth. After a bit of examination, the smaller bit in the mouth is a latch that allows you turn the lever, but turning the lever swings a blade around that will take off your hand if you're still holding the latch.

We jam the latch and then swing the lever around. The door clicks open. We go in slow and paranoid, tapping the floors and walls with the ten foot pole. 

Carved on the wall is a set of four dots with an upward pointing arrow and a four beside it. A bunch of bugbear skeletons start pouring around the corner. Skeletons are notoriously resistant to anything except bludgeoning damage. Lithos casts Shield; Uncle Baldy starts singing. James moves up and smashes one of them; it does not die. Whisper moves back and pulls out a sling; he whips a stone around and promptly hits the stone wall. The one in front of James swings his morning star and hits him for four damage. More of them move up, and James swings again, smacking the same one. Amergin has prepped his staff with Shillelagh, and smacks a bugbear skeleton; it goes down. Baldy drops Cure Light Wounds on James, healing him a bit. James swings and misses. Whisper tries another shot and misses; James swings again as they try to press past him and hits, while one swings and misses at him. One swings at Amergin and misses; another swings at James and hits. Archibald heals James again, this time to full health; James swings again and takes another one out. One attacks Amergin, but misses. Two attack James, and hit. Baldy heals James again, a bit. James swings at an injured skeleton, hits, and takes it down. The others move in and surround James; he hits one of them. Two attack James, and one hits him hard; James goes down. Amergin swings again and manages to connect, finishing another one. Baldy cures James again. James is on the ground beside two bugbear skeletons; he tries to tumble to his feet without getting attacked, and they miss him. He attacks again, smashes, and does damage. Whisper whips out another sling stone and does a bit of damage to one of them. Baldy continues healing James, and James smashes down another skeleton. The bugbear misses, Amergin misses. Archibald pull his whip out and tries to trip the skeleton. He hits James instead. James looks at him, and then bludgeons a skeleton into fragments. Whisper bounces a rock off its head. 

We continue tapping our way down the hall with the ten foot staff. There’s a door in the right wall, and an armoire at the corner; there’s another door past the bend.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Challenge: Interesting Story

(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! Mostly.)

Prompt: An interesting story about family or friends

Oh dear ye immortal gods, I have so many... 

All right, so:

I'm in my senior year of college. I'm rooming with one of my best friends. He's... I don't know how to describe him in a way that lives up to just how him he really was. He was quirky, incredibly smart, and a lot of fun; his sense of humor was both hilarious and surreal. He was one of those friends where we simultaneously got each other, and could still surprise each other. 

We'd gotten to know each other because I'd decided to run a roleplaying game based on Clive Barker's Cabal (later made into the movie Nightbreed, and expanded into a line of comics). Rather than the typical RPG setup, where the characters were human or nearly so and fought against monsters in a medieval fantasy setting, this would be a game where the characters were monsters trying to survive in the modern, human-controlled world where they were the last remnants of magic, myth, and legend. 

The group came up with some amazing character concepts. This particular friend decided that his character would be a werewolf -- the sort who tears out of his human skin in a berserk rage, does incredible amounts of damage, and then wakes up with no memory of what just happened. His denial was complete, absolute, and invincible. He spent the entire game thinking that he was on the run with some shady characters who had some weird ideas, while he tried to find out who murdered his wife. When we finally got the characters up to the Pacific Northwest to meet his parents and his own father slipped off his skin and emerged as a beast... he fainted. When he woke up, he didn't remember any of it. 

Anyway, I was rooming with the guy who played that character in a game that I was running -- a game that actually had a bit of an audience, which was unheard-of at the time.

It was very late at night. I forget what exactly we'd been talking about -- egotism and self-image, I think --  and he'd just laughed and said, "Well, you know, you're lucky because I'm the destined savior of the human race." He stood up, crossed the room, and flipped off the light switch. Then he crossed back to our bunk-bed -- he had the lower bunk -- and said, "The funny thing is, sometimes I really believe it."

Then he threw himself down onto his mattress in the dark, and missed by a good six inches.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

The Lost Girl, part nineteen

(I went back and revised the last entry, and added a chunk of new text. You may want to go back and re-read it before you continue here.)

"We weren't--" Elyssa swallowed.

Chris found his eyes still locked with Tammy's, and his mind filled with knowledge that he didn't want. It weighed his tongue down, pulled at his lips, and he knew it for a truth-speaking that Tammy had laid on them...

So he spoke truth. "You lost someone there," he said simply. 

Tammy nodded. Amelie was still busy bringing Peter and Morri through, and for this one moment they could still speak. 

"A brother? A sister?" 

"A cousin," Tammy told him. "Closest I ever had to a brother, though."

Chris closed his eyes for a moment, but he didn't try to push the truth-speaking away. "I'm so sorry. The wolves were a part of that, and I hate them for it still. I defended the ones I could--" His voice caught. "It wasn't enough." That was more genuine emotion than he'd intended to show, but he was committed now whether he liked it or not. He stepped forward and leaned in so he could drop his voice to the barest whisper. "If you'll grant me your card, I'll tell you what I can. And I am so, so sorry.

He stepped back just as lady Amelie Hargrave said, "Tabitha, dear? Are you quite all right? That beast wasn't threatening you, was it?" 

Tammy took a moment to study Chris' face as he shifted a step further back. He felt the truth-speaking charm unravel. Then she met the Hargrave Materfamilias' eyes and said, "No, he was most sympathetic. Could we perhaps host them here a day or so longer, while I reorient to the fact that it's now... April?"

Amelie Hargrave's expression suggested that she wasn't best pleased, but she nodded regally. "Of course. Your health and comfort are our foremost concern right now. Would you permit my brother Etienne to look you over?"

"Of course," said Tabitha Carterhaugh. "Though he'll find neither wounds nor indignities. The shadow-walkers treated me well except in the matter of time's passing, and the agents of the Ministry conducted themselves with admirable restraint."

"That is good to hear," said Amelie Hargrave, ominously. Or perhaps she only sounded ominous to Chris; he supposed it might be something in the nature of a guilty conscience, an awareness of all the thing that he wasn't telling people.

Monday, March 25, 2024

The Lost Girl, part eighteen

When they were well away from the town, Peter pulled his deck of cards from its spot on his belt. He drew a card, held it up, and said: "We have her. Timeslip in the Grey, mostly. Will you bring us in?"

There was a momentary pause, and then Peter said: "Tammy?" He stretched his free hand out. 

She approached him, took his hand, and then stopped and focused. When she stepped forward, she vanished, leaving only a rainbow outline behind her. Agatha stepped up next, and Peter handed her through. Morri was still behind them, looking carefully around.

Antoinette turned to look at Chris and Elyssa. "These are the Arcana. They create a connection between a magus and the person depicted on the card. Peter has borrowed a card for Amelie Hargrave, so we can go back directly."

Chris nodded at that. "You go first. We'll follow." 

Antoinette sighed. "Could you please just do what I say? For once?"

Chris shrugged and turned to Peter. He put a hand on the older man's shoulder, waited until he could see Amelie Hargrave standing in a hallway in her ridiculously well-appointed home, then extended his free hand to hers. She took it and drew him forward, and as she did the Grey faded behind him and the hallway became solid and real. He stepped past her, to where Tammy stood beside Agatha and Maggie Hargrave, making room for Elyssa as she followed. 

He watched as Amelie Hargrave extended her hand again and drew Antoinette through. He wouldn't sigh in relief or scowl at her for waiting behind, but he studied her for just a moment before he turned back. 

"So," said Tammy Lynn Carterhaugh, catching his eyes as he turned back, then glancing at Elyssa. "You're wolves?" 

Chris nodded, then flicked a glance at Agatha, who looked surprised and perhaps a little fascinated. 

Tammy looked them over shyly, then said: "You're not what I expected."

Chris offered an apologetic shrug. It was Elyssa who asked, almost diffidently, "How do you mean?"

"I mean..." She blushed. "I just... What happened at Pettibone... I thought you'd be..." 

The silence dragged out for a moment, and Chris asked: "More bloodthirsty?" He shouldn't have said it, he knew he shouldn't have said it, not where Amelie Hargrave could overhear them, but the weight of it was irresistible. 

Tammy Lynn Carterhaugh met his eyes and said, "Yes."

Friday, March 22, 2024

Dark Armor: Questions and More Questions

"Irksome," said Amedin, regarding the shattered obsidian fragments that had once been the massive enchanted gates of the citadel. "Your father makes peace with Idrias, gathers his army, and moves on Marinul -- and in that exact moment, the Emissary comes here, to Teregor, to assault us while the bulk of our forces are seeking it elsewhere. It is well he sent you back, though I have doubts about involving the Ancestors in this."

Since Amedin was old enough to qualify as an Ancestor himself, Pallian decided to ignore that. 

Instead, he turned his head and surveyed the area around the gates. There were corpses sprawled everywhere; those in decent condition would join the citadel's servants, perhaps even its guards, or be sent to the Crypt to serve there. Death was never wasted in the Obsidian Citadel; every drop of blood spilled here fed the throne and increased its power. If his father had remained behind, been seated on the throne when this invasion began... things might have been very different. He turned his head, looking around, but the helm showed no indication of anyone else listening in, except a very faint shadow that might have been Ashmiren. 

Was it treason to ignore that she might overhear this conversation? Yes. Did he care? No. No, he most emphatically did not.  Conspiring with the third-princess of Idrias against everyone else might not have been the smartest thing he had ever done, but so far it was very possibly the most satisfying.

"The Emissary isn't the threat," the Black Knight said, in its deep, distorted voice. "When we reached Marinul, we found one of the Second there."

"A Second?" asked Amedin. "Emerged from the Tomb?"

Pallian nodded. "It damned near killed me. Fortunately, the Ancestors had sent a demon to call me back; when the carriage returned to the Crypt, they were waiting to tell me of the invasion here."

"Your father and your brother? The royalty of Idrias?"

"I do not know," Pallian admitted. "I hope they live, and have triumphed."

Amedin hesitated. "Ordinarily, I would order you back to their defense. But it's not impossible that you're the last remaining heir of House Teres. I cannot risk it. You must remain here as the Black Knight. If you are the last, then I will find another to take the role and present you as the new wizard-king. The bloodline must remain intact."

"I trust to your guidance," said Pallian. Amedin, at least, could not read his thoughts.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Terra Povos: The Deep Dwarf Who Can Somehow Corrupt ANYBODY

We’re heading back to try to capture the Duergar who jumped ship. 

Ugly Kevin wants to take the Tainted Rose. Archibald is okay with this; Whisper is uncomfortable about it. We okay it, and we have now acquired a pinnace, which we plan to rechristen Pinnace McPinnaceface once we get back to the docks. We also inherit Bromilda, because the tainted rose is too large for her to haul. 

We have also leveled up. 

We sort out how to do this. We’re basically going to make the dinosaur do most of the work. We approach the spot where the lifeboat left off, and there’s a ship ahead of us that has smoke coming off of it. We suspect that this is our target, and that the egg has probably hatched. 

The boat is pretty well towards shore, and we have one bolt for the ballista that we pulled out of Rose. James is now using it as a spear; it’s his lucky bolt.

The boat is following the edge of the lake, and is drifting a little ways back from a tunnel. The boat has dead bodies on it. They died violently, but from stab wounds rather than fire; none of them are red-headed or duergars. We check it out anyway, and it looks like most of their heads were bashed in by a very large flail. It looks like food and water were taken, 

We can see a couple of braziers burning on the shore inside the passage; these guys seem to be regular sailors. 

We move as far into the cavern as we can manage. We leave Bromilda to guard the boat. In the distance we can see a couple of goblins, but nobody really out and about in the cavern

We arrange it so that it looks like Lithos is bringing in a bunch of prisoners. Whisper has rigged the ropes to look legit, but actually they can be shrugged off. The two guards come over and are very disturbed by the arrival of prisoners; Scrit and Scrat are alarmed at the mention that they were following Brinja. 

As we’re about to jump them, a door opens and a pretty dwarf lady emerges. She calls out a second dwarf woman, an exceptionally pretty one named Astrid. Astrid saunters over to check the ropes; she clearly knows from rope play. 

Whisper blackjacks her. Kelda and Gaird run inside. One of the goblin guards runs away. Amergin tries to clock him, but he gets away. Lithos looks at the other goblin and says, “Dude. Walk away.” He runs after the first guard. 

We tie up the courtesan. Amergin: “We need a hostage at this point.”

Pythia sighs. “I’ll go knock.” We follow her over to where the dwarves went. We talk them into opening the door. We show them that their friend is still alive. 

Whisper and James, meanwhile, have gone after the goblins. The dwarves introduce themselves as Gaird and Kelda, and the courtesan Astrid. This is their piece of shit tavern in the smugglers’ cove. They don’t want any trouble, and they hate “that red-headed bitch”. 

Pythia notices a bit of a mark on Kelda’s face, says something sympathetic, and heals it. 

Brinja came through her with her Duergar; they stole one of the carts and a couple of the lizards, fleeced them for supplies, and left. The Duergar didn’t look good; she doesn’t think they’ll go far before they have to rest. 

They calm down a little bit, and set out a bunch of drinks. They came in to port on a ship, killed all the sailors. She’s gone down the tunnel. 

Meanwhile, Whisper and James are outside the door the goblins retreated into. They try to kick in the door, but fail. They start looking for another entrance, but the stables are carved out of the side of the cavern. They start assembling a fire. 

Goblins: “We give up! You can have our best spear. Wait! No! You’re going to kill us.” 

They light the door on fire. 

Meanwhile, Lithos suggests that we should look around through the inn just to make sure that Brinja isn’t here. 

The goblins open the door, lay down their spears, and go cower in the corner. Simple Bof starts saddling up lizards to the cart. James takes the spears. Whisper sidles up to Simple Bof, who is albino and not that smart. Whisper gives him a platinum piece. 

He runs across to the inn, finds the tray of drinks, drinks all of them, and drops dead(ish). Apparently Brinja kidnapped some of their family members and told them to poison us. Barrelhand and Flintbeard are the husbands, and Astrid’s son Queely. There’s also a halfling cook named Cottur, who’s pretty broken-up about Queely being gone. 

We get better info this time around: they did go down the tunnel, about two hours ago. The Duergar really did look bad. And the main reason that Brinja took the cart was because they were taking hostages. 

We get on our new cart, promise the lizards extra mushrooms, and head out moving doubletime. About three hours later we come up to a bend with a little barricade, where they are camping. We stop 100’ out. 

We cast Obscuring Mist on Whisper; he and James move up very slowly, carrying the mist with them. One of the guys looks over the barricade: “I hear something!”

Brinja comes over and is looking out into the distance as well. They’re suspicious, but they haven’t spotted us yet. 

They come a little closer. Brinja says: “I do hear something. Wake up the duergar!”

They continue to advance slowly, and the rest of us follow about forty feet back. Brinja and the duergar are accompanied by two “guards” who are actually the husbands; there’s a child tied up at the back of the camp. Pythia casts Shield of Faith and Magic Weapon herself. She is ridiculously loud. 

Brinja pulls something off a necklace and throws it through the fog, targeting Pythia. It's a red gem that explodes into a fireball; she has a necklace of them. We take damage. 

The Duergar enlarges himself and comes stomping out, swinging a really large flail around. Lithos tries to hit him with a Ray of Enfeeblement. Amergin heals Lithos and then moves up. 

One of the husbands charges into the mist, sees James, and swings but misses. The other guy tries the same thing and also misses. “I’m sorry, they’re making me do it!” 

James: “So I’m not not supposed to kill you? Are you Brimble-Bramble and Fistbeard? Could you continue running that way and let us go get the boy?”

They don’t think we’re going to win. 

James: “I don’t want to stab him but he’s not making me not want to stab him…” He looks at Whisper. “Should I kill him?”

Whisper gestures. 

James tumbles past  them, and they swing but miss. Whisper is now flanking them. Whisper moves past them as well and goes after Brinja. Surprise! He tries to stab her but misses. She takes a step back throws another fireball. Baldy goes down, 

Pythia heals Archibald and then moves forward. If she can get to the Duergar, she can do some real damage. Durnak the Duergar attacks Pythia but misses. 

James tumbles past Durnak, and cimes up beside Brinja. She attacks with a spear and does a bit of damage. Lithos tags Durnak with Ray of Fatigue, and Amergin drops Entangle, hoping that the rogues can cope. Of our enemies, only Brinja avoids being entangled. Whisper and James avoid being entangled. Archibald convinces the two husbands that they should be on our side, and loads his crossbow. Whisper moves up on Brinja and tries to stab her; they miss each other. 

Brinja takes a five foot step back and throws another fireball. Durnak swings at James and misses completely. James steps forward to follow Brinja, but misses. 

Lithos drops Glitterdust, blinding the two husbands amd making both of them and the Duergar glow; if he turns invisible again it won’t do him any good. Brinja reaches up for her necklace, finds no stones. She tries to stab Whisper but misses.  Pythia heals Amergin. 

Lithos fires off a Magic Missile at the Duergar, and does him some damage. Amergin fires off Flare and blinds the duergar. Whisper attacks Brinja and does a bit of damage. She attacks Whisper and misses. Lithos drops Glitterdust and blinds the Duergar and Brinja, and also Whisper by accident. Amergin cures Archibald, who shoots the duergar. Whisper manages to stab Brinja, who goes down; Pythia moves in and attacks the Duergar, doing quite a bit of damage; he ripostes but misses because he’s blind. 

Lithos tags him with Acid Splash, doing a tiny bit of damage. Brindlebeard manages to break out of entanglement and hits the Duergar. Archibald moves in towards Whisper and James as the fog dissolves. Whisper (blind) feels his way over to James and makes sure he’s still breathing. Pythia carves into the duergar, who swings at her and kills her. Lithos throws another Acid Splash and hits. Archibald attempts to move in and stab the duergar, crits and takes the fucker down. 

We move to check on Pythia, but she’s legitimately dead. 

We collect a +1 Heavy Flail and a +1 Chain Shirt, Brinja had a +1 Mithril Chain shirt and and masterwork shortsword and masterwork light crossbow.James claims the Heavy Flail, since it’s magic and will adjust to his side. We now also have three hostages and an egg. Whisper takes the Mithril chain shirt.

At this point we’re standing on 1,381 GP. 

The egg has a leathery shell, and it’s kind of soft and pliable; something is definitely moving inside of it. We’re pretty sure it’s not the world turtle. Now that this thing has been freed from the stone, whatever’s inside is going to hatch… but it’s not healthy. 

Amergin heals it, and it starts to hatch. We get this little Bowser-turtle thing coming out. It attacks Amergin, doing a bit of damage. Amergin tries Calm Animal, but it is not an animal. Whisper stabs it from behind. It goes after Amergin again, but misses. Lithos tries Ray of enfeeblement, but the spell bounces off its shell. 

Amergin manages to hold it down, and Whisper stabs it again. Archibald stabs it as well. It’s healing, though – way faster than it should be. We beat it down, but we’re kind of stuck since it keeps healing. Whisper ties a water skin around its head, and we tie it up with a shitload of rope because while we can’t kill it, it isn’t all that strong… yet.

We are now in possession of  baby Tarrasque. 

May the gods help us all.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

The Lost Girl, part seventeen

"What was that?" asked Peter. 

Chris shook his head, and Antoinette said, "I don't know."

"I think we should trust Agatha," said Morri. "She knows Tammy, and she knows these shadow-walkers. We don't."

Peter looked at Chris. "Why did Egallon approach you instead of us?" 

Chris spread his hands. "I don't know. Possibly because Elyssa and I were leading, and then stepped aside to let you approach Tammy. She might have mistaken that for us giving you orders, but that's pure speculation on my part."

"What do we do if they don't come back?" asked Antoinette. She didn't sound worried, exactly, but there was something insistent in her tone. 

Peter looked at her. "There are bindings..." 

"And a giant who isn't all that pleased to have us here in the first place," Antoinette observed. 

Chris stepped back, placing himself behind Antoinette. Elyssa stayed where she was, carefully out of the way. Clarissa was still hidden in the amulet, but presumably aware of everything that was going on. Morri shifted her weight, then said quietly, "I don't think I could take that thing." She glanced at Chris, but he kept his expression blank. 

"So we're right back where we started," Peter said. "We don't want a fight. We just need a few minutes to talk, and then Tammy either comes back with us or chooses not to."

"It's very good to hear you say that," Egallon said, emerging from the shadows beside the booth. The shopkeeper, her skin touched with scales like glittering jewels, looked at the shadow-walker and hesitated. Her expression changed from anger to exasperation. 

With her were Agatha, Tammy, and Arguil... along with an older man, broad-shouldered and black-haired. 

Agatha stepped away from them immediately and went to stand beside Morri. 

"What are you all doing here?" asked Tammy. "Agatha said I've been gone for weeks, but it's only been an afternoon..."

"Time works differently in the Grey," Peter said quietly. "Different realms move at different paces. When we left the Hargraves, you'd been gone for almost two weeks. I don't know what day it is back home, but it's later than you think." 

Tammy looked shocked. "Truly?" 

Chris turned his attention to the market around them. They'd attracted a certain amount of attention, and down at the end of the lane beside the gate the giant was tossing a boulder back and forth between its hands. 

The shadow-walker Arguil said, "My lady, I thought you knew. I wanted the time to court you, but..."

"You said we would spend an afternoon in the Grey," Tammy said, turning on him. 

"As we have," he answered smoothly. 

"And it's been weeks back home," she answered angrily. "That's not an idle afternoon. I have studies, and a family who's likely worried sick about me!"

Egallon winced. The older man looked like he wanted to object, but held his peace. 

Arguil said, "Ah... I only wished..."  

Tammy sighed. "You're still cute, so I'm going to assume you meant no harm. But you've caused me a great deal of trouble, and I must go now. Or hours ago; that would have been better, it seems."

She turned to Peter, but Arguil said, "Wait. I could come with you..." 

"Could you?" she asked. "After all you spoke of how your people are so important to you?"

Chris watched with no small amount of satisfaction as Arguil turned his head to glance at Egallon, and she responded with a very definite shake of her head. "No," he said. "I suppose I could not." He sounded genuinely saddened by that, though Chris had his doubts. 

Evidently Tammy did as well, because she turned away from him and walked over to Peter. "Take me back."

Peter inclined his head, and then offered a slight bow to the shadow-walkers. He turned away, and Tammy moved with him. 

"Wait," said Chris, and crossed to Egallon. "I doubt we will ever meet again, but if we do then we will know you for honorable folk. I am... relieved... that this was no worse than it was."

Egallon, who looked to be three times his age and might have been centuries older than that -- time did funny things in the Grey, it seemed -- quirked a grin at him. "I am likewise relieved that you did not try to rip us apart. Will this... affect our trades with the Hargraves?"

Chris offered a thoughtful half-frown. "I doubt it, but I don't presume to speak for them."

"Then we will remain cautious, and learn. Safe travels, wolf."

"And to you as well." He nodded quickly to Arguil and the unnamed older man, then turned away and followed Peter as he led them out of the village and back through the Grey.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

The Lost Girl, part sixteen

The town beyond the gate was all dark wood, elaborate log cabins sealed with something that looked like tar. The roofs were gray stone -- slate? -- arranged in layers of tiles. Chris stopped once they were inside, looking over at the giant.

It was four times his height and three times his width, and looked like it could flatten even Morri with a single blow of a fist. It wore a twisted sheet of heavy cloth like a toga, and stood next to a sort of open-faced barn where it probably slept. Rows of boulders were set out on the open ground beside the barn. 

He looked away, and turned his attention to the rest of the town. The structures that seemed like simple dwellings had small gardens out front, tucked away behind light fences, while the larger structures had small planters in front of their windows, rich with flowers. The main road through the town pointed the way, and Peter turned to face the giant before they advanced any further. "We appreciate your indulgence," he said, and bowed. 

The giant inclined its head. 

Chris kept his place and his human form, stalking along beside Antoinette as they moved through the town. 

The market was the heart of the town. It was divided into four sections, placed around a central building. Each of the sections was roughly square, but with a little corner cut out of it where the building filled the space. The stalls here were mostly oiled poles supporting heavy canvas, with tables set inside; a few were more permanent, constructed of the heavy logs with solid roofing above. 

"Scent," said Elyssa, and turned to look to her left. "Tammy Lynn went this way, and recently."

Peter motioned for her to lead, and Chris moved up beside her, sniffing to confirm what she'd found. "Yes."

"All right," said Peter. "Antoinette, stay beside me. Morri, Agatha, you two watch our backs. Don't confront her; let Antoinette and me talk to her first."

Chris nodded, and let Elyssa lead the way. He was busy watching the crowd around them -- mostly human in appearance, though a few had more exotic features -- and spotted two more people with the same milk-white skin and pale gray hair that distinguished Agatha. One of them -- an older woman -- casually met his eyes; the other was busily haggling over wheels of cheese and didn't appear to notice them at all. 

There. He knew it before he saw her; he could tell from the way Elyssa shifted her stance, the way she turned her head. 

Tammy Lynn Carthaugh was standing with a young man beside a stall full of veils and scarves; his skin was milk-white and his hair was a gray so dark that it was almost black. He stood half a head taller than she did, and Chris forced down an immediate, instinctive urge to take him down. Instead, he made himself turn to Elyssa and nod. 

They stepped to the sides, letting Peter and Antoinette pass between them. "There," said Elyssa, pointing.

Peter nodded. "Well done. That's her."

Agatha spoke up from behind them. "Will you let me approach her first? She knows me."

Chris nodded, because that made sense. 

"What are you up to, wolf?" asked a woman's voice, and Chris turned to find himself face-to-face with the pale-skinned woman who'd met his eyes earlier. Somehow she'd come up beside him without him noticing; a cloud had passed over the sun, and he thought that might have had something to do with it. "How are you even inside these walls?"

Chris shrugged. "I understand basic courtesy," he said. "I'm called Chris. How would you like to be called?"

She studied him for a moment.

"Grandmother..." Agatha entreated.

"Be silent, lost one," the older woman hissed, and Agatha shied back. 

Chris felt a core of anger gather within him. He took a half-step back and to his right, putting himself between Agatha and the woman she'd referred to as Grandmother.

"Chris," said Antoinette. 

He ignored her, locking eyes with the shadow-walker. "That was uncalled-for."

She glanced at the sky, but Chris didn't look away. When she met his eyes again, she shrugged and settled back. "Perhaps it was."

Peter stepped into view in his peripheral vision, but made no further movement. 

Chris said, "Let's try this again. I'm called Chris. How would you like to be called?"

The older woman swallowed. "Egallon. I'm called Egallon. I am the safe-keeper of the Northtwist caravan."

"I'm a wolf in service to the Magi," Chris told her. "Specifically, the Ministry of Magic." 

He glanced at Peter, who said: "We're here to tell Tammy that it's time to come home."

Egallon settled herself. "And if she doesn't want to go back?"

Peter said, "We aren't charged to kidnap her, but there are some things that we'll definitely to discuss before we part ways. Agatha... why don't you go ahead and talk to her?"

Agatha said, "She's gone. Arguil shadow-stepped with her."

Chris still hadn't taken his eyes off Egallon. "You keep your people safe," he said slowly, and she nodded. "You can call them back here?"

Egallon hesitated. "Do you really think you can take us here? With the giant to keep the peace?"

Chris shrugged. "I'm not worried about the giant. Do you really want to risk your people? Any of them? When we could sort this out with ten minutes of conversation?"

"You're not--" Egallon hesitated, studying him. Peter was looking at him too; so was Antoinette, no doubt. "Very well. Will you trust me and remain here? It will take a dozen or two breaths to gather my people and your missing magus."

"Wait," said Agatha. "Let me come with you."

"You are not--"

"I have the skills needed. And if you hold to your honor, I will be safe with you."

Egallon considered. "If you wish," she said finally. "Your return with me will be my guarantee that I deal honorably. And if you are no longer one of us, you do at least honor us."

"Thank you, Grandmother," said Agatha and stepped past Chris to stand beside Egallon. They stepped back into the shadow of a trading booth and vanished.

Monday, March 18, 2024

The Lost Girl, part fifteen

The palisade was made of old growth: large, heavy logs a good three feet across, sharpened at the top and driven deep into the earth. They were woven together with something that looked like steel ribbon, gleaming and well-maintained. For all that the place had the look of a simple forest outpost, Chris was willing to bet that it could stand off almost any conventional attack. 

He padded along at Antoinette's side, watching as they neared the wall. If he'd held to his human configuration, the gates would have been well over three times his height; they were wide enough to drive a tractor-trailer through. They were also firmly closed. 

Someone called out, and after a moment there was a sort of distant groan. Chris watched as a massive head and shoulders heaved into view, looking out over the top of the wall. 

Peter, unexpectedly faced with a giant, slowed and called out: "Hello! We seek entry to your city!"

The giant frowned and leaned forward, fumbling a ridiculously large set of lenses into place over its eyes. It looked them over, then shook its head. "No beasts," it said. "No beasts inside these walls."

On Antoinette's left, Elyssa stood up. It wasn't an instantaneous transformation; her body resorbed fur and claws, reshaped bones and flesh, and returned the clothing that she'd taken with her into the change. "Better?" she asked. 

The giant nodded. "No turning back once you're inside. You wear a person's body, and you keep to that."

Chris shrugged his way back to a human configuration as well. "We understand," he said. "We mean no harm."

"Best that you don't," said the giant, then nudged the gates open from the inside. "Come inside, then, if you're willing to follow the rules. We had a caravan arrive earlier, and the market is yet open. There is plenty of time to find what you need, and seek a place for the night as well."

"We recognize your hospitality," Peter said, "and we are grateful for it."

The giant sniffed. "No need for gratitude that we meet our most basic obligations here," it said, but a small smile curled around its lips.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Dark Armor: Accepting A Surrender

The fighting was all but finished by the time they returned to the central hall. The captured invaders left their weapons where they'd laid them, and remains of the Royal Guard came forward to begin the work of collecting them. Pallian didn't stay to watch; he followed Amedin back to the hall. Once everyone was assembled -- more or less -- Kolpis raised his voice. "Who remains to speak for you, troops of the Emissary?"

The woman who had first offered her sword to the Black Knight stood near the front. She turned to the remnant of the troop and called: "Overcaptain?"

Nobody answered. 

"Captains?"

There was a brief pause, then two of the troopers made their way forward to stand beside her. She acknowledged them, then turned back. "I will speak for my soldiers," she said. "I am Dessa of Nordich, the most senior of the remaining captains. These two are Orelan and Barria."

Amedin whispered something. It was utterly silent, but with the helmet Pallian could see his lips move.

"You invaded our lands, our capital city; you laid siege to and invaded our citadel," Kolpis said.

"We served Kilas Irrighast, Emissary of the Second. All that we did was driven by his will, and now he lies dead."

Pallian wondered just how literally she meant that. Were they merely trained to utter loyalty, or had they been given initiations to bind their actions to the Emissary's commands? He couldn't ask, and Amedin -- and therefore Kolpis -- didn't seem to consider the matter important.

"You will swear your loyalty to the House of Teres and the nation of Teregor?" asked the young nobleman. 

Dessa of Nordich took a moment to regard the Black Knight. Pallian ignored the attention, holding still as he regarded the exchange. After a moment she said, "We were ordered into battle, not to sacrifice ourselves to the very last. Yes, I will swear us to you -- both myself, and on behalf of my soldiers." She held up a hand and turned away. "Our Master is dead," she called, raising her voice for her troops. "Our oaths are voided. I will swear us to the service of this place and these people if they will spare our lives. If any among you cannot hold to such an oath, step aside now. I will consider all who remain bound by the oath I speak on your behalf."

There was a momentary stirring -- mutters, movements, soldiers repeating the captain's words to other soldiers further back. After a moment, a man came forth and planted himself by the wall, across from the bulk of the troops. Another followed him, and then a woman. A heartbeat after that another man stepped out, and then another woman. 

"The Second will dissolve your bones for this, Dessa," said the first of the dissenting men. 

Dessa looked at him with something just short of contempt, and shrugged. "The Second would punish us for our failure here regardless. I feel safer among enemies who seem, at least, to be willing to take us in."

The man spat, and Dessa turned back to Kolpis. "I am ready to offer bond for those of us who have not stepped aside."

Amedin glanced at Pallian -- a slip, since he shouldn't have acknowledged the Black Knight as anything more than the Champion of Teregor -- then stepped forward. "Will you swear to serve the House of Teres and the Nation of Teregor?" asked the half-dead priest. 

"We so swear," answered Dessa. 

"Will you serve as soldiers and guards, to protect the court from its enemies and ensure the prosperity of its people?"

"We so swear," Dessa repeated. 

"Will you remain loyal for all of your days?" asked Amedin. 

"For so long as the House of Teres and the Kingdom of Teregor endures," Dessa replied. 

Pallian nodded at that before he could stop himself. He shouldn't have done it; it was another tell, like Amedan looking to him for guidance. Fortunately, Amedin was nodding also; most people would only see that. 

Dessa's eyes were on him, though. She wasn't most people.

"High Trainer Westrov, Lord Kolpis, would you and your troops see to getting our new soldiers settled? We'll need to know what remains of their command structure, whether they can be integrated with our existing troops, exact numbers..." 

Kolpis grinned. "Fear not," he said. "We'll make it work" He glanced back at the Black Knight, his expression momentarily speculative. 

"Excellent," said Amedin. "I'll see to repairing the doors and their enchantments." He glanced back. "Black Knight, attend me. Until some member of the royal family can be found, the defense of the citadel falls to us."

Pallian nodded, and Westrov and Kolpis went to confer with the three formerly-enemy captains. It was several minutes before they had the troops moving, and the dark armor was starting to feel like a prison, but Pallian managed to keep himself under control. 

"What of us?" asked the squat, dark-haired man who had been the first to refuse Dessa's oath. He and his four companions were standing together, unarmed, surrounded by a detachment of Kolpis' private guard. 

Amedin turned his head, but it was Dakrin Eld who spoke up. "You want a chance to face off against our Champion, Squad Leader?"

The man hesitated, and Dakrin Eld cackled with an old man's abandon. "A prison cell might be best, until things are decided. Or I could remove you from the city, leave you to find honest work, starve, or turn brigand. You could even try running back to the Tomb of the First. Perhaps your loyalty would save you there."

Amedin said, "Dakrin..." 

Dakrin turned on him. "You're no longer my tutor, Amedin. That time is well past. If you dislike what I do here, take it up with the Wizard-King."

Amedin sighed. "Very well," he said. "Conduct them to the gaol, until the royals return to make a decision or they themselves change their mind about swearing loyalty."

The chief of Kolpis' private guard inclined her head to the prisoners. "This way, if you would."

When they were at last gone, Amedin turned to look at Pallian. "Walk with me, Black Knight. I must consider the gates, and there are things I needs must learn from you."

Thursday, March 14, 2024

The Lost Girl, part fourteen

"Stay close," said Peter. "I'm going to push us through as fast as I can, so we may be cutting through some dangerous areas. Stay alert, and if you have to stop for something call out." He glanced at Chris. "Or snarl loudly. Whatever. Just make sure we all know."

Chris sniffed, and glanced across at Elyssa, who had also taken a full wolf form. She hadn't taken her necklace into the new configuration; she was still wearing it, like a slender silver collar as she paced along on Antoinette's far side. Morri had dropped back, and was taking the rear again; Agatha had fallen back beside her.

The landscape shifted as they walked: cloudy skies, clear skies, a brief drizzle, a momentary glimpse of daytime moon... trees shifted around them, appearing and disappearing as they passed certain points. At one point, something hissed from back in the underbrush, but it was gone again before Chris could even growl back at it. Peter was shuffling the landscape around them, moving them closer to wherever Tammy Lynn could be found.

There was a brief commotion behind them, and when Chris glanced back he saw Morri on one knee in the dirt, tugging something away from her neck. Beside her, Agatha shook her hand out, dispelling a bit of darkness that still lingered around it. Above them, something was retreating up into higher branches, whimpering softly as it fled.

Peter stopped and turned back. "Are you all right?" 

"Yeah," his partner replied, her voice rough and her tone disgusted. "It just reached down and wrapped around my throat. Pulled me right up off the ground. Agatha saw it and cut me loose." She finished freeing herself, and held out a length of something for the rest of them to see. It wasn't rope, but whether it was tendril, tentacle, or vine Chris could not be sure. 

"Oh, good," said Antoinette lightly. "Something else to have nightmares about." 

"Will you?" asked Morri, cocking her head as she regarded the smaller magus. 

"Not until this is done," Antoinette told her, and Morri nodded respectfully at that. 

"Keep moving," said Peter, but he had a pistol out now. Chris wondered about that; he wasn't certain that he would trust a pistol out here. A blade might actually prove more effective, especially when paired with magic. Then again, if something else attacked and Peter's pistol failed him, well... that was where he and Elyssa came in. Morri and Agatha as well. It was, he supposed, precisely why the Ministry made use of Registered Outsiders. 

"Here we go," Peter muttered to himself, as the path they'd been following resolved into the stone road they'd departed earlier. The road ran ahead for a hundred yards or so, cutting a straight line through the trees; then their way was blocked by the gates of a wooden palisade. "Tammy's in there somewhere, I think."

"I could--" Agatha hesitated visibly. The forest held its share of shadows, but the area around the palisade had been cleared, and the morning sun bathed it in light. "I could scout the place after dark."

Peter glanced back at her, appraising. "That's good to know, and ordinarily I'd wait and ask you to do it. I don't think we have that kind of time, though." He glanced at Antoinette. 

"Straight in?" she asked. 

Peter nodded. "I'll be our face, so I won't have my guard up. You'll need to be the one with magics ready, and the others should be alert for ambush or other treachery." He glanced past her, including the rest of them in his next words. "Don't start anything, but if it comes to violence then do what you need to do. We keep each other safe, we bring Tammy out of this, and we do it with as little drama as possible."

"All right," said Antoinette, glancing at Elyssa and then turning her gaze on Chris. "You heard him. Low-key, easy-going, and no violence if we can avoid it."

Agatha raised a hand, and both the magi turned to look at her. "If it does come to violence..." she said hesitantly, "...the two wolves should go to their halfway shapes. That was... I don't know, but when Chris did it last night it scared me. It might scare anyone else out here, enough to make them hesitate."

Chris cocked his head, and Agatha asked, "What? I'm not allowed to be scared by the terrifying half-beast shape?"

Chris shook himself and looked back at the heavy, sharpened logs of the palisade and the high, wide gate that gave passage through it. He could get past those walls without much problem, but not without attracting attention and not without turning an unknown situation into something definitely hostile. It was better to have Antoinette in charge here; on his own, he might just have gone in. 

"Wait," said Morri. "You're scared of them but you're not scared of me?"

Agatha shrugged. "I wouldn't like to fight you," she said carefully. She paused for a moment, thinking. "I especially wouldn't like to fight you without a lot of darkness to work with, because I'd need it to avoid having you hit me or grab me. But... you're a warrior. I know how to deal with that. When Chris suddenly went to claws and fangs and fur and tail and still somehow a human shape, I just... I don't know. It shook me. I'm not saying it was rational."

Morri shook her head, then grinned. "I'll allow it. Especially since I owe you for saving me from that hangman thing back there."

Agatha grinned back hesitantly, then turned to Peter. "I'm ready. If, um, you are."

"Calmly," said Peter. "Let's go see where Tammy Lynn is now."

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Challenge: Tropes I want IRL

(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: A book trope I wish happened IRL more often

Well, let me just put this out there: the one I want isn't a "book trope" so much as it a "comic book trope". Specifically, it's the trope of "something weird happens and suddenly somebody has superhero powers/somebody comes of age and discovers their mutant powers". Yeah, that would have incredibly messy effects on the current political and social order, but I hold to the hope that shaking up the entrenched interests with a bunch of super-powered plebes would be worth it. 

I got bitten on the face -- just to the left of my nose, in fact -- by a brown recluse spider a few months back. If this trope happened in real life, I could have gotten superpowers from that. I could 100% lean into The Brown Recluse as my superhero name: the fifty-something guy who mostly goes about his business until, I don't know, somebody robs the bank while I'm trying to use the ATM. Next thing you know, there are webs everywhere and some very confused bad guys who are missing their guns and their wallets.

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? I mean, at this point in my life I've got a pretty good idea. Most of it is tired and not even all that surprising. ("Original sin? What's so original about it?") I'd be fine using psychic powers to fight corruption at the highest levels of industry, state, and church. 

So, yeah, that's my answer: the world needs more superhero origin stories.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

The Lost Girl, part thirteen

"Hey, Wolf?" Morri called out as she approached. It was the most tentative that Chris had heard her sound so far, which wasn't very. "We good?"

He nodded. "We're fine," he said. He'd left the bruise on the inderside of his chin, after making sure that his jaw was intact and his teeth were all still in place. That one was too public; it was safer to let it heal at its normal rate. He'd healed everything else, though.

Morri leaned down, inspecting his face from below. "Damn," she said. "You really do heal fast. Do all wolves...?" 

Chris shook his head. "I seem to be tougher than most." 

"Well, I'm not going to argue with that," Morri told him. She studied him for a moment, her expression speculative. "Thanks for sparring with me -- I needed that. Glad I didn't do you any real injury."

"I'm going to be spending most of today as a wolf, I think," Chris told her. "Antoinette's still pretty angry with me, and the less I say the less likely I am to get myself into more trouble."

Morri glanced over to where Antoinette was breaking down her tent with quick, efficient movements. "I think you're going exactly the wrong way on that," she told him. 

Chris shrugged. "We'll see."

Morri shrugged back at him and then strolled away. Chris looked at his own small pack, then shifted down and forward until he wore a full wolf's body. It was a small magic, taking a bit of clothing and equipment with him through the change; easy to do out here. He circled the camp once, tasting the air and checking for scents; the forest was rich with them. 

He circled back to where Antoinette was pulling her pack on. She looked down at him and sighed. "You know what? Fine. Be like that. We can talk about this after we get the girl back -- but we will talk about it."

Monday, March 11, 2024

Fuck Daylight Saving's Time and Trying to Sleep

 It's twelve twenty-four in the morning, and I am awake. 

Beautiful Wife is trying to suggest that I should not be irritated about this because I have been asleep for hours. I have, in fact, been asleep since about six-thirty this past evening; this is true. But I could have slept straight through until morning; this is also true. 

I have also spent the last hour lying in the bed, sleep-mask on and CPAP machine wheezing gently as it did its job, paralytic with exhaustion and praying to Morpheus himself to let me sink back into the deep blackness and weird-ass dreams of REM sleep, while: 

  • Secondborn and Firstborn (newly returned with Beautiful Wife from a trip to tour a college) played with the dog, causing him to become loud and snarly in his enthusiasm. 
  • My alarm went off to remind me to remind Secondborn to take his meds. (Gentle Reader, I did no more than turn that alarm off and slump right back down on the bed. Fortunately, it's a distinctive ring tone, and Secondborn heard it and took his meds anyway.)
  • I got to listen to the thumps and clacks of people closing cabinets and drawers, oven and microwave doors, because nobody in this house knows how to close anything gently enough to be quiet about it.  
  • The screen door to the porch closed itself several times in rapid succession, with a gunshot-noise impact each time: Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! Thunk! Actually that may have been the actual door; it's not sitting in its frame quite right, and it takes a bit of effort to get it to latch.
  • Beautiful Wife hollered up the stairs to ask if the boys wanted scrambled eggs. Note: the bedroom door is at the top of the stairs, the boys' doors to either side.
  • Beautiful Wife hollered back down the stairs that Firstborn had, in fact, put himself to bed as well. (I dared hope that this would lower the overall volume level. Alas, I hoped in vain.)
  • My mother-in-law's two small dogs, barking and yapping, were taken outside to pee. 
  • My mother-in-law's two small dogs, barking and yapping and presumably done peeing, were brought back inside and put to bed. 
    • Both these trips were accompanied by full-volume -- by which I mean to say loud -- conversations.
  • The alarm system on this already-loud-and-creaky wooden house loudly proclaimed: "Open: Patio Door!" every time someone opened the door to take dogs out, bring dogs in, or just step outside while they waited for the oven to heat so that they could make cookies at twelve-twenty in the morning because they wanted a snack before bed.
  • A herd of hippos (I think) performed an impromptu tumbling routine (I think) across the second-floor landing just outside the bedroom door.
    • Possibly they were moose.
    • They might have been practicing the vault instead; gymnastics is an uncertain science.
  • Beautiful Wife and Mother-in-Law held some sort of conversation across the ground floor of the house. This did not involve text messages, intercoms, or carrier pigeons; they just talked loudly enough that they could still hear each other in different rooms. 
  • Crotchstomper McSnuggles went up and down the stairs several time. The stairs are wooden, and in addition to being creaky they provide a perfect sounding board for the click-click-click-click-click-click of the dogs claws. 

Y'all, I have been awake since six o'clock this morning -- which would have been five o'clock if the goddamned Daylight Saving's Time "spring forward" bullshit hadn't rolled through to confuse the issue. I have spent all weekend trying to get caught up on sleep, an effort which has apparently thrown my body for a complete loop all by itself. I have an amazing amount of shit that I need to catch up on at work this week -- not just like "I'm behind," but like, "I have been covering for another co-worker who was working part time and is now out on bereavement leave while I am keeping the boys on track for school and making myself available to help out my mother-in-law while she's recovering from back surgery and the City Manager's Office has just thrown another project my way despite the fact that it really shouldn't be my area anymore and -- while technically simple -- it's going to take a large amount of labor to implement and also it's one of those things that shouldn't be urgent at all except that it's coming from the City Manager's Office so it automatically gets high priority." 

So yeah, by the time Beautiful Wife and Firstborn got back from touring the college, it was about six o'clock, and I was barely on my feet to greet them properly. I put myself to bed because the alternative was to start drinking and just push through, a course which -- I'm sure you all know -- always ends well and carries no possibility of ill effects. 

It would really have been nice to be going into this week on the back of a solid ten or twelve hours of sleep. And I don't mean to insist that the entire house should come to a complete halt, with nobody moving or making any noise just because I went to bed when my sleep cycle bottomed out. On the other hand, I don't think it's unreasonable to hope for some slight, token level of reduced noise rather than the fucking cacophony I was subjected to instead. At least some kind of attempt at keeping it down? Some mild hint of consideration for the fact that I don't usually go to sleep at six-thirty in the fucking evening and maybe -- maybe -- the fact that I have means that I might really need that sleep?

Fuck it. I'm going into work. The boys are on spring break, and I have no obligation to get them anywhere. Maybe I can catch some shit up.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Dark Armor: The Heart of the Defence

The bulk of the troops had been pressing against the passage that led back to the nobles' chambers, and they were eager for action. They were not prepared to be assaulted from behind, or to be trapped against whatever defenses waited ahead. Desperate incantations shivered off the dark armor, no more effective than arrows or crossbow bolts, than blades or mace-heads. 

Pallian was ill-suited to be a Prince of Teregor. He knew this, because instead of feeling a rush of power he only felt regret. He trudged forward, restricting himself to gauntlet-sword and shield as he cut his way through. In addition to their captains -- who were better-equipped, though nowhere near well enough -- these troops had mage-ensigns assigned to them. 

The Shadow of Edrias located and eliminated them with a cold efficiency, often before the troops around them even noticed she was there. 

By the time the Black Knight was close enough to note that his old friend Kolpis stood to arms beside the arms-trainer Westrov and shouted commands at the guidance of the half-dead priest Amedin, the troops in front of him were throwing down their arms and backing away. 

Pallian kept the gauntlet-sword ready, but ceased cutting as he continued his approach. 

Amedin met his eyes through the helmet and asked, "The Emissary of the First has fallen?" 

The Black Knight nodded. 

"Mercy!" cried a woman's voice, not in pleading but in demand. "We served honorably, but our masters were defeated. Spare us, and we will serve you honorably as well."

Kolpis scowled, but the Black Knight raised a hand, then lowered it. He waited. 

The woman who had spoken came forward, stopped before him, and lowered her weapon to the ground. There was a brief pause, and then a scuffling as the soldiers behind her in their dual-gemmed armor did the same. 

The Black Knight didn't speak. Not where anybody beyond the House of Teregor might learn of it. He turned back to Amedin, Westrov, and Kolpis, and nodded. 

"We accept your surrender," said the withered, half-dead priest called Amedin. He knew what Pallian's presence here must mean. "Spread the word among your allies, and let us gather in the hall to discuss what comes next."

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Terra Povos: The Tainted Rose

We now attempt to catch up with The Tainted Rose and its cargo of murderers and very expensive potential gladiator.

Turns out the Alderman doesn’t have a coastguard, he has a bounty hunter. So that’s who taking us with him in pursuit of the Tainted Rose. The bounty hunter is Ugly Kevin, and his boat is the Kraken Bait. The front of our boat has railings that give partial cover. The ballista can be fired once every three rounds, or once a round if you put three people on it. His crew consists of “the heavies” and a couple of archers. Bromilda is his secret weapon; he has an Elasmosaur that he can hook up to.

The Tainted Rose has about an hour’s head start. The two boats have the same siling speed, but Bromilda can improve that for us. The Rose is a Caravel; our ship is, of course, a pinnace. He has some torture devices and a coffin for keeping captured bounties in (it has air holes). He also has magic stuff that he might be willing to sell.

We agree to split whatever treasure’s on the Rose 50/50. He’s got two Protection from Arrows scrolls, one Wind Wall. But our real plan is to use the ballista to knock out the rudder. As we’re following them, we see a couple of guys come out and dump an object into the water. About an hour after that, two more guys come out and do it again. That puts us about at the spot where they dumped the last one. We don’t see anything in the water, and neither does Bromilda. Three hours in, we’ve closed about a quarter of a mile. We consider sending Bromilda down to see what they’re dropping, but that would cost us a time and as long as the drops aren’t a threat, we don’t care.

We sleep in shifts. Once we get to the twelve hour mark, we get a better look, and it looks like they’re pouring something out of the barrel that flows into the water and sinks. It looks like they’re dumping barrels of rocks overboard. We get to hour 17, and the start lowering down a skiff with something on it covered in a big tarp. They kind of push it off from the ship. It doesn’t look like there are any people; it looks like something with a big tarp over it.

Amergin sends his owl to take a peek at the skiff. It takes about half an hour, and we’re still following the Caravel. Owl: “Looks like some big square thing with a tarp over it.”

Amergin is of the opinion that we should scuttle the skiff. Whisper asks Ugly Kevin about grapnels that could be fired by the ballista. He loves that trick! Yes, he has plenty of such items. We load up, and James does the aiming and firing. It spears the tarp and whatever’s under it and sticks, and we drag it along as we continue following the Caravel. We get to Maximum range for a ballista, and out of range for bows and crossbows. Whisper brings us in a bit closer. At 23 hours, we enter the outer edge of bow and crossbow range; we give Bromilda an hour or so to rest while we hold at this range.

The archers on the other boat are readying up. They aren’t reacting to the skiff at all. We get Ugly Kevin to offer parley.

Rose says we can negotiate if we can beat the opposing offer. How much? 3,000. Ugly Kevin is thrilled by the prospect of maybe claiming that 3,000.

We offer her the final treasure from Durest’s playground, plus half of what we find along the way. She signals back: You don’t know what we’re up against. Check the skiff first. We pull the skiff in a little closer, and Whisper goes down the rope towards the skiff. Nothing moves. There’s a big stone block with a tarp; it has a ballista bolt through it. It’s not Magma Stone; it’s just stone, but it’s been worked over real closely. Lithos detects magic, finds nothing. Whisper removes the tarp. The stone block was smooth, but it’s been hacked open to an empty space in the center; something has been removed from it. Maybe a dragon egg, maybe some other sort of magical beast.

Rose flashes back that her bargaining position is better than we thought; she has something hyper-valuable.

We signal back: we don’t care, she can keep it.

She flashes back: I don’t need to keep it but it limits my options.

Amergin: What’s your counter-offer?

She needs 10,000 GP. If we can’t supply it even after Durest’s Playground, we owe her. In exchange, we get the murderers.

Her: I can’t do that.

Us: One of the prisoners?

She says she can give us information.

Amergin: About a greater evil???

Rose: You saw what was in the skiff? I can help you apprehend them. I have information.

Lithos: Are they on your boat?

There’s a pause. Of course.

Amergin sends the owl over with a little note, but she signals him to keep the owl away.

Amergin: Drop your anchor to indicate agreement.

Rose: Information. And after you apprehend them, you owe me 10,000 GP.

Us: Okay. But it better be worth it.

Rose: How much can you pay me now?

Us: Nothing! That was our point!

We agree to all drop anchor while she thinks about it for an hour. Then she raises anchor and sails off without any further signaling.

So, fine. Aim at the rudder and fire the ballista to damage it. We take cover below the railing. The Archers on the Rose open up on the people loading the ballista. The archers shoot Uncle Baldy and one hits and manages to take him down. We drop back a little further, taking ourselves out of archery range, and get Archibald back on his feet; Amergin buffs James, who fires at the rudder again and hits. The crew of the Rose are very upset; they know what we’re doing.

James keep shooting, and hits with most of his shots. After a while, the Rose is rudderless. We’re currently closing, but we turn aside and circle, coming around the far side of the boat. We send Bromilda up from underneath the Rose, to bump it and hopefully scare the hell out of the crew.

She comes up and bumps the boat and comes back to us unscathed.

Amergin: Last chance.

Rose climbs up onto one of the crates and moons us.

James takes the shot, but misses. She scuttles out of the way.

We consider our options. After a while we circle around to the part where we have a skiff that we can build into a fire and send over there, with Bromilda to tow it from well underwater. We do. Fire comes up and grease and burning timbers coat the bow. Three of the crew fall overboard, burning and dying. Two of the crew on the foredeck escape, and the ship starts turning in a circle as Bromilda drags it around. Rose starts yelling for her people to haul the treasure out. Leaf gets hauled out too.

We begin moving in, and firing the ballista. We have four archers trained on us. Amergin drops an Obscuring Mist spell, and we turn in to engage them. Some of the sailors are trying to shoot at us, while others are trying to deal with the fire. Meanwhile, Ugly Kevin’s crew is als firing, and one of the archers in the crow’s nests of the Rose clutches his gut and falls into the water.

James is aiming the ballista at Rose, and finally hits her. The ballista bolt buries itself  in her gut and spins her around. Three archers shoot at Uncle Baldy, but miss. Lithos drops Protection from Arrow on Archibald. Ambergin casts Jump on himself.

The fire crew on the Rose is starting to get the fire under control. James fires again,  takes out another sailor, who dies. Three arrows would have hit Archibald, but he’s protected.

James fires off the last of the ballista bolts. He targets one of the lieutenants, but misses. Lithos throws Magic Missile at the lieutenant on the bow, and Pythia – who has been reloading the ballista – heals Kevin. Archibald sings to inspire courage… and also ducks behind the ballista. The archers on the Rose shoot again, but mostly miss; his protection wears down a little.

Archibald shoots at the Lieutenant in the bow, and takes him down. The guys in the stern start moving down onto the middecks, and Whisper humps across to the Rose and lands beside a sailor. He attacks and misses.

The remaining archers shoot at Archibald, but don’t damage him. The heavy makes his way across and takes a shot, taking down the Rose’s sailor. Our crossbowmen take down one of the archers. James steps across using one of Kevin’s Floating Disks and throws a spear, connecting with a sailor. He goes down.

Lithos goes across and drops Color Spray, taking out one of the lieutenants and three other sailors; they are stunned, blinded, and unconscious, and will be varying levels of that for a while. They will not live that long. Archibald shoots but misses. A sailor attack Lithose, damaging him but failing to take him down.

James attacks the sailor who attacked Lithos. Lithos moves around behind the guy, but goes fully defensive. Amergin heals Whisper. Baldy shoots the archer in the bow; Pythia heals Lithos. Whisper stabs the lieutenant…

James hits the sailor as the rest of the crew takes out more of their crew. He goes down. Lithos goes to coup-de-gras the nearest of the guys that he stunned.

The lieutenant holds up a hand. “Wait!” He drops his weapon, and motions for the others to do the same. “Rose! It’s over!”

The Duergar slipped off the boat five hours ago. The trader lady was coming to get him. The Duergar took the egg and turned himself invisible, then jumped overboard. He paid her 3,000 GP to waste our time. Brinja left after us, so if we turn back and race for it, we won’t be too far behind her. 

We commandeer the map, the treasure on the deck, and Rose’s Thorn; Archibald’ll give her the masterwork rapier as a parting gift. Baldy now has a +1 rapier. 15,000 silver in a chest; a second chest with 400 GP and a masterwork light crossbow. 2,300 silver, a potion of shield of faith +2 and treasure map and another masterwork light crossbow, 3,000 Gp in a cut purse with B.G. initialled on it – but that’s evidence and it should go back. Also, the escaped Duergar's name is Durnak.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Challenge: Non-Fiction

(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: Non-fiction books I've read lately

Confession time: unless you count online operating references, I haven't been reading any non-fiction books lately. So, instead, I'm going to mention a couple that were recommended to me: 

What about you? What non-fiction have you been reading?

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

The Lost Girl, part twelve

Eventually, there was a campfire. Chris was none too sure how it happened, who had gathered the wood, or how late it was in the night; he had let his body slide into a full-wolf configuration, and was enjoying the heat as he rested and healed. 

He cheated, of course. When he was certain that Peter and Antoinette were asleep, he shaped the words and phrases and healed himself. Here in the Grey, that was easy. But wolves were tough and they healed quickly, and likely nobody would notice. 

"Are you trying to get yourself killed?" Antoinette had asked again, and Chris had sighed. 

"No," he said. "If I wanted to die, I'd take care of it myself."

"But you... flirt with it. Tempt it. You like to see how close you can come."

Chris had closed his eyes. "Yes," he admitted. "But this wasn't close."

"She nearly took your head off, and this wasn't close?"

Chris shrugged. "Morri has her needs. I have mine. This wasn't close. Charleston was close. The bonetaker was close. This was... Morri wasn't ever going to kill me, or maim me."

Antoinette had swallowed. "That wasn't how it looked from over here."

"I should have warned you," Chris had said. "I thought you understood. Morri will be calmer, now. And I'll be fine by morning." He let his eyes close. 

Antoinette made a noise that was surprisingly close to a growl. Then she'd moved off to her own small tent and the sleeping bag inside. 

Later, and well after Chris had finished healing himself, Elyssa came and sat down beside him and Clarissa spilled out of the amulet and sat down beside her. Out here in the Grey, she was far more solid: dark-haired, honey-skinned, and studying him closely with grey-green eyes.

Chris twisted around, and put his snout over Elyssa's knee, looking up at her. The contact was a comfort.

"Who are you?" asked Elyssa, quietly and after a moment. "I saw how hard she hit you. She'd have killed me. How did you survive that?"

Chris pulled away and shifted back to human form. "I've always been strong," he said, which was true but admitted nothing.

"Chris," said Clarissa, reaching towards -- but not quite touching -- the amulet that hung around Elyssa's neck. Then she stopped and looked around, but Antoinette and Peter were in their tents. She lowered her voice to a breath of cold night air and said, "You keep doing things the rest of us can't. Even the Ministry is starting to notice."

Damn it. She was probably right. He was still angry, and he wasn't being careful enough. He'd need to keep himself under tighter control. "I've just been lucky," he said stubbornly.

Elyssa laid a hand on Clarissa's shoulder, then leaned down and brushed a hand across the top of Chris' head. "That's what we keep telling people."

He met her eyes for a brief moment, nodded, and then rolled over to go to sleep.

Monday, March 4, 2024

The Lost Girl, part eleven

Morri dropped into a fighting stance, and Chris settled warily into a matching one. He was still in his human form; a half-wolf configuration would be stronger and have a little more reach -- and claws -- but he was trained primarily as a duelist, not an infighter. Taking a half-wolf form would change the shape of his legs, and consequently the way he stood, balanced, and stepped. Morri didn't think he could damage her -- that much was obvious -- and Chris was profoundly reluctant to grapple with her. He was pretty sure that if Morri got her hands on him, he was finished. 

He moved closer, and she came in with her fists up, light on her feet... a boxer's approach. He dodged her first swing, then her second. He pulled back, then stepped in again, provoking a straight punch towards his face. 

He was already stepping offline when it came, and that was all that saved him. His attempt to brush it aside barely nudged it, and his simultaneous knuckle-strike to the inside of her upper arm felt like punching concrete. He stepped back immediately, barely getting his arms up in time to push aside her return blow. 

"Damn," Morri said, though her stance never wavered. "You are strong. I actually felt that."

He took another step back, slid into half-wolf configuration, and attacked with a series of light slashes at the edge of his reach. Morri pulled her arms back, shielding herself, but he'd expected that. If he had the range right... He was already moving back out when Morri's fist came at him like a meteor, and he still felt the bruising impact on his own forearm. She was definitely stronger than he was, and by a considerable margin. His claws had drawn blood from the backs of her forearms -- again she looked surprised -- but she hadn't been kidding when she said she was tough. Out here in the Grey, he thought she could probably shrug off bullets, at least anything short of a lucky shot. 

Then she came forward, pressing in, jabbing and swinging as he backed away. She was still using her arms, so he kept his distance and tried for a kick. 

His claws tore through her pants and drew three lines of blood just above her right knee. She stumbled briefly, but he couldn't follow through and backed away instead. He glanced around, looking for something to hit her with -- hopefully a good-sized tree, if he could lift it -- but saw nothing. 

She charged, going -- he thought -- for a tackle. He had a better measure of her strength and weight now, though, and managed to duck off to the side, cutting her ribs as she passed and tripping her into the fallen leaves. He spun and leapt, hoping to come down on her back, but she was already rolling out of the way and caught his ankle as he landed. 

He only had time for a brief moment of panic as she tried to yank him off-balance; he managed to come down straddling her, and punched down at her face. Maybe he should have used his claws, but he didn't want to risk taking out an eye -- or even damaging her features, really. 

Her head rocked back with the blow, but she still managed to catch his arm and yank him close, trapping it. Then she rolled them over so that she was on top. He tried to slide out as she repositioned herself, but she was faster and more practiced, and a moment later she had his arm and shoulder locked between her legs, his body pinned to the ground by the legs across his throat and chest. 

He could have tried biting, but she'd have dislocated his shoulder. Instead, he tapped her leg twice with his palm, and after a moment she released her lock. 

They climbed to their feet, watching each other warily. Morri looked at the slices on the back of her forearms; Chris rolled his shoulder and heard it pop. 

"All right," she said. "New rules. We take turns. I want you to hit me as hard as you can. I'll just stand here. And then you stand there while I hit you. We go back and forth until one of us can't get back up."

"You did just beat me," Chris pointed out. 

"Yeah," said Morri, "but it wasn't enough. It needs to be..." 

Chris frowned. "More brutal?"

Morri looked... Was that shame? ...but she nodded.

Antoinette said, "Chris..." but he ignored her. 

"If that's what it takes," he said, and stepped in. 

His first punch caught Morri in the diaphragm, and she wheezed but didn't quite double over. She straightened, and he nodded to her. 

She threw a straight punch to the chest, and knocked Chris about three feet back and onto his ass. He shook his head in surprise as much as pain, and got back up. Morri's eyes widened; then she lowered her head. 

He moved to face off with her again, seeming human again as he considered her. Then he spun a kick into the side of her thigh and watched her crumple over, clutching at it. She shook it off and climbed back to her feet almost immediately, though she seemed to be favoring the leg just slightly. 

Then she stepped in with an uppercut that would have broken a mundane's jaw and possibly removed his head, and Chris felt himself lifted into the air. He didn't feel himself land on his back, and for a moment all he could see was a field of faintly blinking lights. There were sounds...

"Aigh--" He swallowed, got control of his voice. "I'm all right."

"Are you sure?" asked Elyssa.

He blinked, focused. She was kneeling over him, one hand on the pulse in his throat. He shifted his head around slowly, then nodded. 

"He's all right!" Elyssa yelled. "Antoinette, back down! He's all right."

A moment later Antoinette was staring down at him, her expression blank. Then she turned and walked away without a word. 

Chris shifted his shoulders, rubbed at the bruise on his chest. 

Peter knelt beside him. "Sorry about that. Morri is--" 

"Don't apologize for your partner," Chris ground out. "I knew what I was doing. If you're going to apologize, go apologize to Antoinette for not warning her that this was going to end up this way." He lowered his head, let it rest against the ground for a moment, then added: "And give her my apologies, too. I know I'm a shitty partner, but I'm trying."

Peter swallowed. "All right."

Friday, March 1, 2024

Dark Armor: The Battle in the Obsidian Citadel

Battle wasn't hard to find. 

They'd followed the passages towards the central hall, and found it lit from the outside. The double doors had been smashed in, and troops in curiously antiquated armor were formed up in the hall, while others in similar armor were spread out to cover various doorways. 

"Oh, lovely," said Dakrin Eld, and gestured. A wave of frost flowed over their foes, and Pallian strode forward in his armor. Third-princess Ashmiren had vanished, but Ember had simply stepped to one side of the passageway they'd arrived through, standing next to the ghostly ancestor who'd chosen to accompany him. 

Pallian drew a deep breath, focused on his sense of third-princess Ashmiren, and projected a thought in her direction: Wait 'til the Emissary shows itself, then take it out. I'll cut into the troops, but your skills are wasted there.

A soft breath of the night wind came back to him. I'll be ready. 

He reached the first of the Emissary's troopers and cut through them as they stood stunned and half-frozen, then began carving his way into their ranks. A moment later there was a sort of muted growl, and half of them -- the ones not close to him -- were on fire. They screamed, but their screams were muted...

A lone figure, previously hidden by their numbers, spun and saw the Black Knight approaching. "You," it said. Pallian merely continued cutting his way forward. 

The figure was tall and heroically proportioned, dressed in a breastplate and a battle skirt, with sandals laced up to just below its knees. It held a cutting-spear, and screeched as it turned to face him. There. Pallian started towards it, but then it shrieked as it began to dissolve into mist. It pulled itself back together momentarily, but by then most of the enemy troop was on fire -- at least, the ones in the Entry Hall were. 

Pallian shifted slightly as it threw the spear, letting the Black Knight's shield turn it aside, and came forward as it continued to struggle against being dissolved. It pulled itself back together again and raised one hand; the cutting-spear reappeared in its grip. 

The Black Knight slapped the tip aside with his shield, then stepped in and drove the gauntlet sword through its torso. The breastplate was no impediment at all. The Emissary shrieked again, but suddenly the Shadow of Edrias was behind it, opening its throat before slipping away to dance through the remainder of its troops. 

Ember and the Ghostly Ancestor moved into one of the corridors, tearing through the suddenly leaderless troops. 

"We'll hold the hall," called Dakrin Eld, gesturing to the flesh-clothed ancestor beside him. "Clear them out!" 

Pallian smiled inside his helm, and started forward. Ashmiren was gone again, but he knew she was keeping pace; any surprises in front of him were likely to get a surprise of their own.

Notes for the next entry:
(Westrov the Arms-Trainer)
(Kolpis, Pallian's old friend, representing his House at court)
(Dakrin Eld, Ancestor, Great-Grandfather's brother; teleporter)
(Ghostly Ancestor, hanging out with Ember to guide it and be protected by it)
(Fleshly Ancestor, pledged to protect Pallian as best he can)
(Amedin Halfdead, Master of Initiations and Advisor to the Wizard-King of Teregor)
(Kareth Teres, the Wizard-King)