Friday, May 17, 2024

Music: Thunder Rolls

Okay, so the song was originally by Garth Brooks, and you probably remember it. But when I added it to the Country Music Road Trip mix, it turned out that... it wasn't the whole song. There's a whole verse missing. The dude comes home, she smells strange perfume on her husband and knows that he's having an affair, and... 

...nothing. The song winds down, and that's it. 

This was deeply weird to me, because I distinctly recall her shooting the cheating sonofabitch. So I started pulling up versions of it on YouTube and... nope, it's just not there. I was seriously starting to think I'd imagined it. 

...And then somebody pulled the lyrics for me, and yeah: that really was part of the song. I wasn't hallucinating, and it wasn't some sort of weird Berenstain Bears split-multiverse event. Armed with that knowledge, I went looking again, and found this version, which I rather like:

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Debriefing, part one

"Ah, Chris." Magus Frummelt looked up as Chris entered his office. "Do close the door, if you please."

Chris closed the door, then turned back and waited until the magus motioned for him to take a seat. He was learning. 

"How would you say that your last assignment went?"

Chris settled into the lone chair in front of Magus Frummelt's desk and considered that for a long moment. "Successful, obviously. The young lady Carterhaugh is back with the Hargraves, and no harm appears to have been done. There were things that we could have done better, but for a first outing in dealing with one of the old families and a venture into the Grey..." He hesitated. "Well, it wasn't a disaster."

"No," said magus Frummelt. "It wasn't. Antoinette and Elyssa conducted themselves quite well, and Peter and Morrigan... well, they aren't your concern except perhaps in how they report your actions." He paused, studying Chris for a long moment; Chris, curious, returned his study. "RO Morrigan recommended that we make more use of magus Gillespie and her team, and magus Saldivar largely supports that recommendation. They both think that you're more... assertive than is strictly proper for one of our ROs, but neither of them seemed to think it was a problem."

"Assertive, sir?" Chris thought he had a pretty good idea of what they meant -- that he was stubborn and prone to trying to do what he thought was best -- but this was an area where he didn't trust his own impressions of the situation. 

"Materfamilias Amelie Hargrave made sure to express her concerns that you didn't 'know your place', though she didn't specify any particular events or circumstances. Coming from her, that sort of complaint could mean anything..." Frummelt put on an inquisitive expression and raised his eyes to meet Chris'.

"I'm not sure, Sir," Chris told him, which was honest enough. "She seemed worried that I might be intending to form some sort of attachment with Tammy Carterhaugh; she also said I wasn't afraid of her the way I should be."

Magus Frummelt chuckled. "She would think that, and by her lights she'd be right. Still, you must have done something right, or I'd be looking at a much more specific complaint-- or a demand for action. The old families need to be handled very carefully, even -- or especially -- when they're wrong."

"I do know how to shut up, Sir."

Frummelt's smile widened, so that had been a good answer. "That's an excellent skill, and I recommend you cultivate it around the families. Let your magus do the talking; even if she's uncouth, it'll be more acceptable to them."

"I understand," Chris told him. He really did; it was just that he was still, despite his best efforts, having trouble adjusting from what he'd been to what he was now. "Antoinette and I talked about it too, and she plans to start us training to work as a group. It's her decision, of course, but for whatever it's worth I support it."

"She mentioned that, and I approved it." Magus Frummelt sat back and relaxed. "You'll see it reflected in your training schedule in the coming weeks. I take it you aren't looking for a transfer, or unwilling to continue venturing into the Grey as needed?"

"That's correct, Sir."

"Then that's all for now. If you have any questions or concerns, you know where to find me."

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Lithos: The Rival in Repose

"Um... Lithos?" asked James, stepping aside so he could see. "Why is there a kobold sleeping in your blankets? Is there something you need to tell us?"

"Darkstabber's sacred vulva," Lithos muttered, and Archibald shot him a look. "That little shit."

Lithos wasn't usually so vehement, so he immediately had the others' attention. "You know them?" Whisper signed. 

Lithos sighed and then nodded. "Lissorkalkin. Kalkin for short. He's... His family are tinkers. They come into town in their wagon train maybe once a year, looking for work. Kalkin's different, though. He's got dragon blood. He's a sorcerer." Lithos sighed again. "And he's been trying to prove that he's better at magic than I am ever since we met."

"Okay," said Amergin slowly, "but why's he sleeping in your bed?"

"He was probably trying to steal my grimoire," Lithos admitted. "Like I said, he wants to prove that his way of doing magic is better than mine. That's one of his arguments: he doesn't need a book to do magic."

"Okay," said Archibald, even more slowly, "but why is he sleeping in your bed?"

"Because I trapped it," Lithos admitted. 

"You what?" asked James, looking at him. 

"Magical trap," said Lithos. "I'm a wizard, I can do that. Master Flyleaf showed me how." 

Whisper was scribbling on his slate, and they all waited for him to finish. When he turned it to Lithos, it said: You can set magical traps? 

"Sure," said Lithos. "It's not hard. Kalkin could too, except his magics don't include the right spells. Which is why my way of doing magic is better."

"Should we report him?" asked Archibald. 

"Or kill him?" asked James. She was smiling the sort of calm, imperturbable smile that had always made their classmates take a long, involuntary step back.

Lithos shook his head. "No, we'll do something worse."

Amergin, almost reluctantly, asked: "...Worse?"

Lithos nodded. "Yeah. Muzzle him and tie his hands. Then I'm going to make him listen while I explain how much his sorcery sucks compared to my wizardry. Dumbass thought I'd keep my grimoire hidden in my bed, and that he could sneak in here invisibly and take it. Instead, he gets to listen to me lecture."

"Diabolical," Archibald said, in a tone of soft awe.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Writer's Block

So yeah, writing -- even low-stakes writing for the Blog o' Doom here -- hasn't been going well lately. This is not a huge surprise; I've mentioned before that May is basically the worst month of the year for me. Sometime I cope with that by writing more, but I've been trying to take a sensible, low-stress approach this year and...

...Well, frankly I think I'm just extremely burned-out. I think I have been for some time, and when I finally made a real effort to slow down it all caught up with me. And there's not much to be done about that except keep trying to take things slow and sensible until I get back to feeling like myself. 

Things are going to be a little slow around here, is what I'm saying. They should get better -- I should get better -- once we're done with May, but in the meantime I'm just going to try to get through without burning out completely the way I usually do. 

See you on the other side, friends.

Friday, May 10, 2024

I think I'm broken again

May, as usual, is trying to kill me. 

I'm back to having sinus drainage and a persistent cough/upper-respiratory tickle again, and it's making me kind of crazy. On the plus side, I'm still negative for both covid and flu, so it looks like this is just the worst allergy attack I've had in years. Which ::gestures around at everything the weather has been doing:: I am perfectly willing to believe. I've got some more medications, which should be enough to keep me on my feet through the next two weeks; after that I can afford to collapse. 

Work has also been making me crazy, mainly because I've been trying to work out a schedule for a big event that's coming up at the end of next week, and everybody has decided that they need a piece of my time for something. (Often fairly critical somethings, like the fact that the document attachments don't display correctly in our financial/ERP software, and the tech support for that is... slow to respond. This is not a good combination.) On the plus side, Facilities just replaced a belt that had broken on the air conditioning and fired up the fan motors again, so we're coming down to a reasonable temperature inside the building here. 

The plan for this weekend is to rest up as much as possible, and try to stay sane next week. There may be writing; there may not. There'll be a lot more sanity if we manage to play D&D. There'll be even more if I can shake off this cough. 

Wish me luck, y'all.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

More Wholesome Children's Songs

Following up from the Weekly Blogging Challenge two weeks ago...

Don Gato: 

And, if you'll indulge me with a couple of... atypical arrangements...

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly:

The Itsy-Bitsy Spider:

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Lithos Foundingstone: Mornings

"Wake up, Lithos." One of his siblings was prodding him, but at the moment he wasn't even sure which one. 

"No," he said, and curled up tighter in his blanket. The blanket had been made for dwarves, of course, so there was plenty of it to burrow into. 

"Lithos, come on," the voice repeated. That would be Amergin, which... Still no. Amergin usually knew what was going on and what to do about it, but even mostly unconscious Lithos was completely certain that he wasn't working the inn today. If he wasn't working, then he didn't need to wake up. Q.E.D.

The caves were smooth-walled and comfortable, and he had his own little nook with just room for himself and his blankets, very cozy once he'd warmed it up. Nobody would bother him all the way back here, not even the other goblins...

Someone was tugging on his blanket. Whoever it was wasn't saying anything, just pulling the blanket up and letting gravity do the work of unrolling Lithos. "Hey! Hey! I'm slee--" That was as far as he got before he tumbled loose, unwilling awake. 

Rubbing at his left butt-cheek, where he'd landed on a stone floor, he looked around. Oh. Right. They put us in their jail. It made sense, after a fashion. The Senator was dead, after all. Though the idea that the group of them would just walk in to accept the Senator's dinner invitation, poison the man -- if it even was poison -- and then just stand around afterwards beggared belief. Still, he supposed the Lictor had to be thorough, even if the Senator's idiot son had been inclined to execute them on the spot. 

"Do I really need to be awake for th--?" He finally focused on the door of the cell. "Oh. I guess I do."

Monday, May 6, 2024

Quiet weekend, busy week

Well, it was mostly a quiet weekend. We played D&D for the middle school group on Saturday morning -- we're breaking in a new player -- and then went by the local comic book shop for National Comic Book Day and Star Wars Day (May 4th - so, May the fourth be with you) and out to lunch. So that part was busier than I'd expected, but it all went really well and nobody was taken prisoner by the Inquisitorius. 

I'm still kind of broken -- I swear, the more I try to take care of myself the worse I feel -- but I'm starting to feel like I might someday have the energy for writing again, at least. Monday, meanwhile, has returned with its usual load of Having a Job and needing to Plan All The Things, and also needing to make sure that Secondborn is keeping up with his work so that he can actually finish the year. 

Meanwhile I have tea and food, so I'm going to dive in and see how much I can get done if I stick to a sensible, steady pace... which may or may not happen, since timesheets are due this morning and there's usually some last minute panic. Still, I hold to the hope.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Terra Povos: Tying Up Loose Ends

So Vinny used to be a dwarf, before he was a floating magic skull with green gem eyes and green gem teeth that glow. He became a wizard and a lich, was living out in the west caverns and then Durest put necromancy on the map. Vinny’s a big fan of this, and then when Durest ascended Vinny decided to shrug off his body.

Turns out the dwarves are still racist against necromancers, so Vinny takes over the crypt of trickery, renames it to Durest’s Funhouse, and it helps spread the word around.

We manage to get back to the dock, and go ashore. We get the stuff for Mom to do spells with, and then Vinny pots  nice fox-fur handbag and he wants it. Well, okay, we buy it for him. He snuggles in; he’s very excited about this. We had back over to the Shattered Golem, bringing Mister Pibbles the carrion crawler into the stable. The Alderman and our goblin contact Max Glimmergab are at a table, and they’re pretty drunk. 

Mom comes out and hustles into the back before the two drunks really focus on us. 

We hand over the spell components and break down who needs help with the restoration. She thrilled that we’ve returned with enough money to get Pythia resurrected. We’re going to have to make the journey to Silverkeep to get it done, though. 

The conversation that ensues is someone awkward, especially after Vinny teleports up to our room and starts offering to reanimate our dead sister. As an undead. Which… NO. Lithos goes upstairs to try to head him off, which cues up a whole Benny Hill scene complete with Yackety Sax for the background music/

The rest of us eventually recount the story… well, most of it. 

Then we get the story of why Alderman Thunderbrew is drunk: the “investigator” talked his way into questioning the prisoners and then killed them. Mom thinks we should go check the jail and release the two guards that Thunderbrew locked up after that. The Senator is pissed and the Quaestor is coming to investigate the crime scene in person. 

The Senator isn’t here yet, and apparently we’re still invited to dine with him. He's also in Silverkeep, so we can do that and resurrect Pythia all at the same time.

We stop and talk to the two drunks. Alderman Thunderbrew has left Grimgor (the head of the Guard) to watch the jail; the Alderman explains how the investigator just came in, and went to talk to the prisoners. Also he had a package for us “from the quaestor” to “thank us for solving the mystery.” He seemed so official, the investigator did, in the colors of Silvergard with the logo on his back. Short-trimmed beard, jet black hair, kind of thin – for dwarf. Looked like a good underhill soldier – chainmail and  a tabard. 

We wait until morning, when we get our Wisdom restored. At some point Amergin comes out to use the restaurant and finds Vinny floating in the air with a spellbook in front of him and a pair of glasses on, reading. 

Elderman Thunderbrew is sleeping on the table, and Max is curled up in his lap. We have breakfast, Mom restores us. 

We head over to the jail. Grimgar looks up from the desk. “Oh thank God! Can you do something about the Alderman?” 

Baldy: “Marduk and Tara are taking care of that.” 

He takes us over to where we can look at the crime scene. Grimgar: “I wasn’t here when the ‘investigator’ came. So the evening this happened I was at home, and one of the guards called me back to the jail, where Alderman Thunderbrew. Scori and Ulfgar were the two guards on duty. They let the investigator see the prisoners, using the standard protocol. So there are keys on a latching ring in the main room. They go in with the visitor with the keys, so once they’re in they can’t get out. There’s a rope inside that the pull that rings a bell in the guard quarters and that guard comes in to bring the prisoner in.”

James: “Has anybody ever hung themselves on the rope?”

Nobody has.

So, the prisoners are in there and manacled to the floor. Which means that their corpses are now in there manacled to the floor. To find out what happened that night we need to talk to Skoli and Ulfgar. There’s also another prisoner who’s been locked in here this whole time. There are bloody footprints going back and forth across the floor because they’ve been feeding the prisoners while trying to not to touch anything. 

We send a note to the captain of our boat and tell him not to talk to ANYBODY until we get back. James and Lithos stay behind, while Amergin casts Pass Without Trace on the other three. Whisper checks the package for traps and finds nothing; there appears to be a cloak of resistance +1 inside. We open it up and look at the nice writing on the expensive paper: from the desk of the Quaestor’s office of Silverkeep. It thanks us and offers the cloak as a reward. Embroidered on the back of the cloak is the Silvergard emblem. We hand that off to Whisper. 

We are not, at this point at all sure whether the “Investigator” maybe was an impostor who killed a legitimate investigator, or whether for some reason the Quaestor actually wanted the deep dwarf and the duergar smugglers killed, or if something even weirder

Amergin goes sniffing around the outer room; Grimgor doesn’t think that anything much has changed in here. We think Grimgor is basically competent. 

We release Scori and Ulfgar. Grimgor has been using a second key ring; the one they were using is still on the floor. Archibald starts questioning Scori and Ulfgar. Scori is a little slow, but after talking to Ulfgar their stories seem to line up: they brought the investigator in on Thuderbrew’s orders. Red hair, long braided beard. Nice noble clothes. Had the Silvergard logo on his cape, just like the one Whisper is now wearing. 

So they unlock the door, then lock themselves into the holding area. Then they bring the prisoners out from the cells, shackle them to the floor, and they stand with the guest to flank him. Then the Investigator turns around to ask a question and then the guards wake up in the cell. Scori dreamed he was a unicorn. The investigator has a mannerism where he strokes his beard, but this is the third physical description we've gotten of him and aside from being a male dwarf, none of them match. 

Scori and Ulfgar leave with effusive gratitude. 

We move to Gondrin, a drunkard who’s been sitting there in his cell smelling the corpses rot. He’ll tell us the same thing he told Grimgor: there he was in the cell, “drying out”, Then there’s this visit, and they bring the prisoners out, and then things got quiet – really eerie quiet. Magically quiet. Then, out of the corner of his eye he sees the investigator walking back to the holding door. He can’t give us a very good description. And a bit after the guy left, Gondrin could make noise again. 

We agree to let Gondrin go. 

Whisper checks over the holding area, with Amergin and Archibald to help him. The key ring is on the floor, the corpses are still manacled to the floor. Amergin looks over the bodies; they’ve been expertly tortured, probably with tools; it was time-consuming and methodical. Based on what Gondrin had to say, it was something like half an hour before the silence ended. 

Lithos says, “I wonder why none of the bones in their right hands were broken?” Apparently they were writing answers while the silence was in place. There isn’t much sign of struggle, despite the blood on the floor. 

Vinny informs us that the corpses don’t have souls. It’s like the fat on the ribs, he says. He has no idea how that might have happened; he says it wasn’t him, though. Also, he’s too much of a soul snob to have eaten these two. Lithos doesn’t come up with much, except that it’s probably a wizard, sorcerer, or cleric of considerably higher level than us. Archie tells Grimgor that we’re going to have to go to the capital to investigate further and ask for additional support. 

Grimgor is actually pretty favorable towards his idiot boss, the Alderman, and hopes we can help him out. He then falls asleep because Vinny wants to come out and talk and Vinny knows the Sleep spell. He’s not worried about the tarrasque; he thinks this is awesome. He learns that it’s a baby and now he really wants to keep it as a pet. “Ohhhhhh,” he says happily. “This is getting good.” He slips back into his bag. 

We decide we need Mom to come Gentle Repose these corpses, but after that we need to lock the place up to make sure nobody else stumbles into this. We bring Mom over. “Huh,” she says. “That’s weird. It’s not working the way it usually does.” We don’t enlighten her about the missing souls, but it doesn’t matter: she’s our mom. “Amergin Gregory Foundingstone, don’t you lie to me!” 

So we tell her about the missing souls.

“Oh,” she says, “like the Caminante.”

Those are the secret police for the Empire; powerful people – like Senators – would be able to use them. They have this rod that they carry that they can use to eat souls – the rod is called the roubama – to silence witnesses. Brinja and Durak had smuggled the tarrasque baby in, and that means that the Inquisitor – um, investigator – almost certainly knows what they had and who took it from them.

It is definitely time to head for Silverkeep. We can take our boat, fortunately, which will only take about half a day – not that we have days, exactly, down here. We find a room, send word to the senator, and find the Temple of Shiva and get Pythia resurrected. She’s definitely not at full strength, so she’s just going to stay here and rest. We catch her up on the less… incriminating… elements of subsequent events. 

We leave Pythia behind and go back to await word from the senator. We head out to the market to get the lay of the land and do some shopping. There’s news of a customs agent who was killed in Deepwatch – which is where the two smugglers came into the kingdom. None of us think that's a coincidence.

We get back to find a scroll from the senator's butler welcoming us to Silverkeep; he's has a small barrel of fine wine sent to the inn, wine which is neither poisoned nor magical. Not that we're paranoid. The senator is honored that we accepted his summons; he's prepared a supper for us this very evening. 

We head over to the senator's house. We get an immediate introduction to the Senator, his older son Throg, and his lictor (a distinguished warrior who serves as a guard to important personages). Senator Goldbeard is a very polished man. He's polite, he's pleasant, he toasts us as the ones who discovered who killed his son. He's pissed that the ones who killed his son will never face justice-- he collapses onto the table, silent and unmoving.

Vinny says, "Uh-oh. Bad place to be." He disappears from the bag. 

Amergin approaches the senator, looking at Throg and the lictor.

The senator's chest is not moving. 

James spits out his wine. Archibald sets down his food and starts reassuring folks that it'll all be okay and nobody needs to panic. Whisper is taking stock of the situation. Lithos starts casting Detect Magic, and the Lictor draws his sword: "Stop!" 

Throg (the son) calls for us to be arrested as assassins. The lictor pulls him back a bit, but we're still going to the dungeon while they sort things out. Amergin yells for them to seal the house, and Lictor Bjorn acknowledges that as a good idea. We're still going to the dungeon, though.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Music: Come Along

 A catchy little tune from Titiyo: 

I have no brain, so this is pretty much what we get for today. D&D notes will go up tomorrow.