Thursday, June 20, 2024

Driving Needs, Part Eight

"Which direction?" asked Antoinette. 

Right, said the voice of dark flames and screaming silence.

Damn it, Chris thought back, let me do this. But he said, "Right."

"Then we'll take left," Elyssa replied, and turned with Antoinette to follow the scent. 

Chris followed the other trail. The scent was fresher to the left, he thought, wondering if it was worth focusing some of his stored Grey into the word for Connection in order to get clearer answers, or whether that would just wake the dark heart further and make it even more difficult to manage.

It was, the voice replied, rich with weight of its own cold fire and divine certainty. Your prey went to the left after it departed the killing-room, and those two will kill it. We have other duties.

Chris swallowed. He'd known when he absorbed the dark heart that it was too much, too powerful. Even if he could have absorbed it forcibly, it would would have overwhelmed him. He would have become part of it, rather than the other way around -- if any part of him had remained at all. It was only because it gave itself up willingly that he was able to take it in, but that meant now that it retained an individuality, a will of its own, that none of his other captured essences possessed. I thought Vengeance was your duty. 

It is. I am the killer of killers, the avenger. But the one your friends hunt is only a little killer. Ending him will be a minor vengeance. You wish to be worthy of me? Show me you can find, and end, the ones who brought him here and loosed him on these people. 

The scent was still clear, but Chris slowed for a moment to sort it from everything else hanging in the half-stale air of the hotel hallway. No blood, no terror, just that rancid, half-rotten scent. Either the hall had been empty when the skin-stealer passed through, or nobody had recognized it as inhuman. 

All right, he replied. Watch me hunt.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Challenge: Childhood Misunderstandings

(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: Things I totally misunderstood as a kid...

I grew up with a large-ish wooden chest in my room. It sat under the window, and we kept stuffed animals, sheets and blankets, and toys in it at various points. It had a lovely little cushion on top, and it was very solid and a good height for sitting on. So, naturally, we called it the seater chest, 'cause it served as a seat. 

Seater chest. For years, I genuinely thought that thing was a type of furniture known as a seater chest, in the same general way way that a small, two-person couch is a love seat. Made perfectly good sense. 

It wasn't until I was sixteen and getting ready to leave home, and we were rearranging the room, that I discovered it was called a seater chest because it was...

...made...

...of...

...cedar

It was a cedar chest, made of cedar wood, and my parents had put a cushion over the top for no better reason than that it seemed like a good idea at the time, not because that sort of chest was supposed to be padded for seating. 

I would not have been more surprised if I'd discovered that my mom had been a cephalopod this whole time. Absolutely mind-blowing. I don't think I've ever recovered.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Lithos Foundingstone: Arcane Limitations


"So we're going to have to pull the warden out of his room," Amergin said, looking at the guard they'd taken prisoner. 

The monk nodded reluctantly. 

Well, all right... Lithos considered what spells he had left to help out with that. Damn it! He was down to one prepared spell: Silent Image. It was a good spell; he liked illusions more than necromancy, to be honest, though he wasn't going to admit that with Vinnie around. He'd even considered specializing in it, but... no, he still wanted access to everything

One spell. And it wasn't going to help them here. 

"Vinnie?" he asked tentatively. 

"Yo kid! What's up?" The skull was, of course, floating beside him -- still wearing its hat and sunglasses -- and just waiting to see what they'd all do. 

"So I know we've used most of the spells that you prepared for us," Lithos said cautiously. He wasn't sure how he felt about that; the choices offered to them seemed more whimsical than practical, like they were designed to entertain the demilich more than actually help the group escape. "I was just wondering if you had anything ready that could help restore some of my spells."

There was a momentary silence, and of course it was impossible to read the expression on a skull; all it did was grin. Constantly. Then Vinnie said, "Kid, you've done good here. I liked that Enervation you hit the berserker with. But the thing you've got to learn about being a wizard is this: it's all about planning. You gotta conserve your resources, know what you're gonna need and when you'll need it. A bit of divination woulda helped you with that."

Lithos raised an eyebrow -- an expression he'd practiced because it was so effective when his mother used it on him. "You think I should have been doing divinations from inside an anti-magic field?"

"Oh. Right. That. Okay, maybe it wouldn'ta helped you now, but it's somethin' to remember for next time. Anyway, kid, the answer's no. I ain't gonna restore any of your spells."

"So you can't," said Lithos.

"I didn't say that!" The green gems affixed to some of the skull's teeth suddenly flared brighter. 

Lithos swallowed. "What if I said you could raise one zombie for each spell I got back? That's not permission," he added quickly. "I'm just asking."

There was a momentary pause as the skull spun around in a full circle. "All right, kid, ya got me. I actually can't restore your spells. That's gotta be you, and it takes rest and study. But damn that was a tempting offer, kid."

Monday, June 17, 2024

Driving Needs, part seven

"This door?" asked Antoinette. 

Chris and Elyssa inhaled, looked at each other, and nodded. 

Antoinette rattled off a phrase, and Chris felt the Grey gather around her and settle into place. Luck? Armor? Some kind of protection, anyway. She'd muttered it under her breath, so he wasn't sure what she'd actually spoken. 

"I'll take the door," Elyssa volunteered. She glanced back at Antoinette. "Chris should go through first, with you ready to speak against anything that comes at him."

Antoinette nodded. "Sounds good. Do it." She muttered something else and the lock clicked.

Antoinette reached forward and opened the door. Chris slipped through, gun out and angled to cover everything he could. He was relying on sight and sound now, but nothing moved and the only sound was the very faint hum of the ventilation and the slight dripping of a leaky...

He'd expected a faucet, or something similar. It wasn't. The blood was soaked into a king-sized bed ahead and to his right, and dripping onto the tight weave of the carpet. A suitcase was open on a small stand to his left, beside the set of drawers with the large hotel television on top. A memory tried to push its way up, but he shoved it back down. 

The bathroom door to his right was open. "Cover front," he said automatically, and turned into it. Practice at working as a unit had definitely paid off. 

There was nobody on the toilet, nothing in the bathtub, no surprises under the counter. He came back out, stepped deeper into the room. 

"Closet?" asked Antoinette.

He stopped, turned to his left, and slid the door aside. Coats and slacks hung on the hangers, and there was a small metal safe tucked up onto a shelf above them, but otherwise the space was empty. He still couldn't hear anything, and so far he hadn't seen any movements. The scents, though... blood and urine and emptied bowels, the body-scent of terror still hanging in the air, and something else... something that smelled like rotting meat. He'd smelled it out in the hallway, too, but it was better to start here and be certain...

And now he was. This was definitely the place. He stopped and looked around again, but the only tracks in the room were traced in blood and emerged from the far side of the bed, racing out towards the balcony. 

"Following," said Elyssa calmly, letting him know that she'd moved into the room behind him. 

He nodded without looking back, and finished circling the bed. Lowering his gun at last, he said, "Yeah. This was the place. We missed it."

"You smell that?" asked Elyssa. 

"Same as the hallway," he confirmed. "Problem is, the scent goes both ways out there. Which way did it come in, and which way did it go out?"

Antoinette had come into the room behind Elyssa; he turned just in time to see her swallow as she focused on the bed. "So the victim was skinned here, but managed to throw himself off the ledge. We have no idea what the killer was doing when that happened, and there are two possible paths it might have followed when it left." She swallowed, then looked at Chris. "Can I trust you not to get yourself killed if we split up?"

Chris considered that for a long moment, then nodded.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Music: Seven Days to the Wolves

Nightwish:

No dark armor today, sorry. This week took a turn for the surreal (and also very busy) and I simply haven't had time or energy to envision the next scene.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Terra Povos: A Prison Break Most Broken

Whisper has pulled the Sleep lever in the Safe Room, and pretty much everyone is asleep except for Whisper and probably the warden and a couple of guards who had retreated into the guardroom. At this point, Whisper is the only person still conscious. He’s in the same room with some of our treasure as well as some utility items: pipes of the sewers, elixir of vision, 2 tanglefoot bags, 2 smokesticks and some miscellaneous weapons and armor. There’s also some food and water. 

Whisper leaves the sleep gas on, and hears some voices coming out of one of the tubes, labeled guard’s quarters. 

Warden: “I’m going to retreat back to my room with a couple of guards. You take the tunnels and go pry them out of the panic room. We’ll get this all wrapped up."

Whisper opens the trapdoor and looks down into the tunnel system. There are actually two trap doors, and they appear to go into different tunnels. Can hear feet coming down the tunnel; three people, he thinks. He spikes the trap doors closed, starting with the one with the footsteps. He then grabs a bunch of weapons and heads down the stairs. He comes to a side-passage whence he can turn left or continue on straight. 

He comes up a set of stairs that apparently end in a blank wall… but there are wisps of gas still slipping through the cracks. He hears a smashing sound down the tunnels; it’s probably guards trying to get through the trap door. He waits. They continue smashing at the trap door and finally get through. Whisper stays silent where he is. 

One of the monks-guards arrives in the passage with Whisper. Whisper opens the door and slips through, finding Baldy on his back on the stone. He move and kicks Baldy awake, leaving the secret door open behind him, and drops the pile of weapons on Baldy. 

Baldy scoops up the light crossbow and loads it. The monk runs into the room. “They’re in-- ugh!” Baldy shoots him with the crossbow. It doesn’t do that much damage, but it brings him to a momentary halt. Whisper stabs the monk with a dagger. Baldy shoots him again. Monk: “Fuck! Shit!” He backs up as Whisper stabs at him again, and shuts the door behind him. 

Whisper tries to open the door, but the monk is holding it closed. Baldy gets up and charges the door and manages to smash it open with his body. He and the monk both go tumbling down the stairs. The monk tries to grapple Baldy, but Baldy manages to slap him away. Whisper slides next to them and stabs the monk again. Baldy is still slap-fighting, but the monk manages to grapple him. Baldy: “Oh, yeah, pin me Daddy!”

The monk has called for somebody to get back to the sleep lever, and Whisper hears steps. The monk attempt to slap him into unconsciousness, and Baldy opens his mouth to absorb the blow. Whisper runs for the lever room through the tunnels. He’s sprinting, but he’s a dwarf; he’s not that fast. He runs up the stairs and finds one dwarf by the levers and one looking surprised. These guys are *not* monks; but one of them pulls the gas lever. The other one pulls a weapon and starts toward Whisper, but misses him.

The monk attacks again, but Baldy manages to avoid the attack through sheer carnal flexibility. (His favorite class in school was mouthmatics.) 

Whisper throws himself on the guy with the lever, knocking him away. Baldy is getting himself tied in knots. The guy that Whisper tackled manages to throw him off. The gas is now creeping down the stairs. Baldy: “Oh! We’re going to wake up in each other’s arms. Now *that* take me back.” 

The monk finally manages to land a blow, and Baldy is stunned. 

Whisper stabs the guy in front of him. One of them slices him, but not badly. The monk grabs Baldy, take a deep breath, and runs up the stairs to drop Baldy just inside the secret door. Whisper is still fighting the two guys; Baldy is back to being asleep. 

The monk slams the door and then crumples against it, also unconscious. Whisper continues fighting, but nobody hits anybody. Whisper manages to hit one of the guys, then smashes the glass and grabs the red lever; he looks at the two guys threateningly. They attack him. 

He pulls the lever. The anti-magic field goes away. Vinnie: “Awwww, yeah. That’s the stuff.” Whisper stabs with his suddenly-magic dagger and takes one guy down. He fights with the other guy, taking a bit more damage in the process, and takes the second guy down as well. 

He shuts the gas off, and starts counting down waiting for it to dissipate. While he’s waiting he flips the emergency doors open, then goes to finish off the monk. He gets about halfway down the passage and hears footsteps running towards him. Vinnie hasn’t got much left for us in the way of spells, but he drops Phantom Steed in the passage, and the horse charges the monk. “Oh! Fuck! Shit!” The horse runs over him and he takes damage. 

Whisper follows the horse around the corner and stabs the absolute *fuck* out of the monk. The horse attempts to stomp on him, forcing him to dodge and preventing him from getting to his feet. He tries to sweep Whisper’s legs out from under him, but Whisper resists and stabs him again. 

The horse promptly tramples him to death. 

Vinnie: “You know, I was thinking Fireball, Lightning Bolt, and then I thought… horse!” 

Baldy wakes up to see Whisper coming past on a ghostly horse, tossing weapons around. He decides to shake Monster awake and have him come with us. 

Lithos wakes up to mouth-to-mouth from Vinnie. This also wakes up James, who is only slightly less appalled than Lithos is. 

We still need to finish getting people out, and Monster accepts a greatsword though he seems a bit reluctant to use it. 

The riot in the yard has resumed, now on somewhat more equal terms. Baldy rushes over and grabs Lithos’ and Amergin’s stuff. Baldy also grabs the Pipes of the Sewers, grins maniacally, and starts playing them. He also grabs Roetta Blackwood’s spellbook: Scare, Cause Fear, and Chill Touch. 

Whisper gallops back to Solitary, pops the lock, and gets James and Lithos out. We should go. But first: tunnel to the guards’ quarters. We start routing people down into the tunnels. Whisper jams the sleep lever. We disable the lever labeled “gas” too. 

Leaving the riot to fall as it may, we take to the tunnels and head for the guards’ quarters, with Baldy playing the Bagpipes of the Sewers . We come to the stairs leading up to the wall. Whisper charges through the door on his phantom steed, smashing it open; Whisper tumbles off and lands neatly beside it. The horse fails to trample anybody. A monk tries to tumble over next to Whisper, but whifs it; Whisper tries to stab him but misses. He attempts to punch Whisper and hits him. 

Amergin throws Entangle into the room. Various guards attack, mostly missing. Monster lumbers up the stairs and swings at the monk but misses. James races up behind him, jumps across the horse, tumbles, and lands in the back. Lithos fires of Glitterdust, blinding a couple of enemies, while Baldy sends his rat swarm up the stairs to assault the blinded glitterdust victims. 

Whisper takes out a blinded scrub. The monk attacks Monster with a stunning fist; Monster is stunned. The rats are on the monk, the legion fighter, and one of the scrubs. Amergin moves up and heals Whisper. 

The legion fighter turns around, looks at James, laughs… and turns around and attacks Whisper, hitting him very had with a dwarven waraxe. The battlerager, however, attacks James and hits once, doing a bit of damage. The blind scrub misses, and the other scrub misses the horse. The horse, meanwhile tramples the scrub and moves further into the room. 

James swings his awesome mace of awesomeness and hits the battlerager with a sneak attack. Lithos hits the battlerager with a Ray of Enfeeblement; his target loses a significant portion of his strength. The rats continue working on the legion fighter and the monk. Baldy moves up, still playing his bagpipe, and and puts a crossbow bolt through the throat of one of the scrubs. The scrub goes down. Whisper stabs the legionnaire, doing a fair amount of damage. 

The monk attacks Monster again, hitting him critically but failing to stun him. The horse is basically rampaging at this point. Amergin heals Whisper again. The legion fighter attacks Whisper, but doesn’t do much damage. The battlerager attacks James again, doing a bit of damage. The remaining scrub is just attacking the stone wall. Monster attacks the monk, doing a chunk of damage. James hits the battlerager again. Lithos tags the monk with Scorching Ray, burning him badly. The scrub is still struggling on, blind and being eaten by rats. Whisper moves to flank the battlerager, stabs him, and watches him fall. Vinnie: “Oh, yeah! Hey, I should start turning some of these guys into zombies." 

Lithos:  "No! Not now!"

The monk hits Monster again, and stuns him. Amergin gives him a bit of healing to help him keep going. The legion fighter attacks Monster and takes him down. 

James is still caught in the Entangle and tries to move on the Legion Guy; Legion Guy takes damage. The monk manages to slip through the Entangle and attacks Whisper but misses. Amergin stabilizes Monster. Lithos renders Whisper invisible, and he takes out the legion fighter. The scrub finally goes down as the pile of rats swarms over him. The monk takes a bit more damage from Lithos throwing acid. Whisper attempts to shank the monk. The monk sizes up the room and surrenders. 

Amergin ties him up and starts asking questions. 

We use the warden’s keyring to open the vault. The place is absolutely full, and after ten minutes we’ve made a huge mess but we haven't found our stuff and it’s taking too long. The warden has the lever for the outer doors and a book that lists where things are kept in the vault; we're going to have to go dig him out of his hole.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Challenge: In A New Light

(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: Characters I see differently now than I used to...

Okay, so hear me out on this one. Back in the eighties, there was a Dungeons and Dragons cartoon. 

The cartoon featured a group of six teenagers who'd been magically transported into a fantasy realm and equipped with legendary magical weapons. Among the ongoing dangers they encountered were Venger -- "The Force of Evil" -- and Tiamat, the five-headed dragon of chaos. Their primary ally, guide, and mentor was the mysterious figure known as Dungeon Master -- the same one who provided them with their weapons. Dungeon Master would offer them advice and guidance, though often in the form of riddles. 

Of the six adventuring teenagers, Hank the Ranger was the most noble and heroic, always ready to face a new challenge and do the right things. Diana the Acrobat, Sheila the Thief, Bobby the Barbarian, and Presto the Magician were generally cooperative and supportive, following Hank's lead and trying to work together to solve problems. Eric the Cavalier was presented as the weak point of the party, the one you weren't supposed to like: a spoiled child, a grumbling complainer, mistrusting Dungeon Master's advice, and frequently advocating for the party to turn aside from their current quest and go do something easier. Basically, he was a horrible brat who still occasionally saved the entire team because his shield could project a force field. 

Yeah, well... I picked up a copy of that old cartoon on DVD a while back, and re-watched about half of it. 

Thing is? Eric was right. Frequently. Consistently. Maybe not always, but he saw right through Dungeon Master's fatherly facade and had no problem with calling him out on the fact that his "help" was frequently misleading in ways that deliberately led the group further into trouble. He was the one who spoke up when the group was about to do something mind-bogglingly stupid. He was presented as a coward -- and that was, to some extent, accurate -- but that was frequently the only sensible response to the situations the group found themselves in. 

And for all that Eric might have been a coward, he was also 100% a hero.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Driving Needs, part six

The rooftop was mid-summer hot, and smelled of warm tar and car exhaust. They made a quick circuit of it, with Chris and Elyssa in the lead and Antoinette following closely behind them, but there were no scents up here, and no traces of violence. 

"Have either of you ever seen anything like this?" Antoinette asked. 

Chris shook his head, but Elyssa said, "The text said 'suspected skinchanger'. There are stories of skin-thieves, beings who change their shape by stealing skins from other creatures. They're supposed to be able to mimic anyone whose skin they stole, at least while they're wearing it."

"True stories?" asked Antoinette, "or campfire tales?"

Elyssa shrugged. "I first heard them as campfire tales, but they might have been true."

"Chris?"

"I don't know, but it fits what we know so far. Magus Saintcrow said she found scuff-marks and blood on the third ledge down." He leaned out over the raised wall that marked the edge of the building. "I could get down there from here," he said, "or we could go back inside and take the elevator." 

Antoinette came up beside him, and Elyssa positioned herself to watch their backs. "You're sure?" she asked, sounding dubious. The balconies were arranged in neat columns, one for each room; there wasn't any obvious route down. 

"It's probably unnecessary," Chris admitted. "Whatever did the killing is probably gone, and even if it's still there it's unlikely to try to retreat off the balcony if we show up at the door." He paused, then added: "It has to know the body's on the ground."

"I hate to deprive you of a chance to risk death," Antoinette said drily, "but let's take the elevator."

Monday, June 10, 2024

Driving Needs, part five

Chris drove; it wasn't even a question. Antoinette, in the front seat, gave him directions. In the back seat, Elyssa sat self-contained and ready. It didn't take them long to arrive.

The crime scene was a chaos of witnesses, bystanders, and first responders.The body was covered in a sheet and blocked away behind long strips of yellow tape, with police officers to hold back the late-morning crowd. Antoinette led them through the perimeter, deploying discreet bits of glamourie to keep anyone from questioning their presence. 

The woman standing over the body was clearly Ministry, gray-haired and formally dressed. She was roughly average height, but had a stocky build that spoke of carefully-preserved musculature and a way of moving that suggested that she still knew how to use it. "Enforcement division?" she asked, raising her eyebrows.

Antoinette nodded. "Magus Frummel knew we were out here and called me in himself."

"Lilith Saintcrow," the woman said, extending a hand. 

"Antoinette Gillespie," Antoinette replied, shaking her hand briskly and releasing it. "These are my ROs, Chris Black and Elyssa Tannhauser. Both are wolves."

Magus Saintcrow looked them over for a brief moment, then nodded. "Wolves. Frummelt is a fucking miracle. I need scents: what came here, what happened, where it went."

Antoinette glanced at Chris, who took that as his cue to kneel, raise the edge of the blanket, and sniff at the body. He didn't want to expose it to casual view, but... 

Something stirred inside him. Something dark and burning, that wanted to spread its wings and seek its rightful prey. Chris was still staring at the corpse, which had been neatly skinned. No, he thought. Not here. Not now. They'll mark us both, hunt us, try to trap you again.

Let them try

Leave this one to me. This was supposed to be your rest, your release. 

As you wish. You would carry my essence? Prove yourself. Show me that you're worthy of it, and I'll release the burden of it onto you. 

Chris nodded. He looked at Elyssa, then looked up. "Can you check the roof?"

"I can," said magus Saintcrow, and flickered away as a cloud of black-feathered birds. She was back in a moment, the transformation hidden behind glamourie of her own. "No skin up there, but there are... scuff marks. And blood. Lots of blood. On the third ledge down. You're right; our victim fell from up there." She looked at Antoinette, then back at Chris. "Can you find me a trail?"

"It killed up there," Chris said. "It likely left from there as well." He glanced at Antoinette. "Call it."

"Let's go check," she responded. "I've got your backs."

"I'll keep a watch down here," magus Saintcrow added. "At least until the cleanup team arrives."

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Terra Povos: The Prison Break

We have – Whisper has – started pulling together a plan. We want to escape the prison *without* leaving a trail of corpses behind us. We’re pretty sure the local guards have keys to their areas, and there are a handful of guards that are dedicated to walking the yard. Whisper studies the guard’s keys and concludes that he should be able to pick those locks, but only with some time undisturbed. 

Sven and a couple of his lieutenants are out of their cells in the evening; they’re the brown-noser. The Gravelers have a dude who’s allowed to carve trinkets by himself in the yard, an activity which involves sharp tools. 

So Whisper’s ask is fo us to not eat or drink anything except the beer for the next two days. And he’s asking Amergin to bring him some truly horrible poop so he can cause a Listeria outbreak. 

Amergin roams the halls, collecting the nastiest poop he can find. He assembles a concoction and lets it ferment for a day or two. The guards blame it on some weird bit of obscure druidry. 

So now he’s got the lovely filth, and he just… swaps it out for Whisper’s bucket. The guard notices, but Amergin bluffs him about his bag being full. Whisper scoops out what he needs, and leaves the rest; and Whisper – using herbs to hide the scent as best he can – smuggles it into the yard. He then attempts to subtly mix it into the cleaning water in a sort of rosemary prison-shit reduction. 

The guards notice that he’s messing with the water, so he attempts to try to distract them by ripping a huge fart and then rubbing a bit of rosemary. They escort him back to his cell, and James manages to convince them that the water is fine for washing dishes. 

Unfortunately, that only take out about five people, and they isolate them in Solitary while they try to recover. We try again: Amergin collects more poop, and determine that Ulf – who helps Solvi – is definitely sick. We start spreading that as a rumor: he shouldn’t be working with Solvi right now. 

So Lithos picks a fight with James, and both of us get dragged to solitary… leaving Whisper to discreetly infect the bucket. 

…And now we have a good outbreak going. Two thirds of the prison – now including Lithos – is completely nauseated. Lithos is blind and he can barely move; what we actually produced here is Blinding Sickness. Lithos sends Vinnie to go talk to Whisper. 

The guards are grossly understaffed, and Whisper – now magically disguised as a guard, courtesy of Vinnie. Guard: "Oy! Jerry! Good to see you looking better!" 

Whisper tugs at his throat and sort of waves at the other guard. Once everyone else is in place, he slips over to the metal door to Solvi’s storeroom and looks at the lock, which looks… tough. 

Amergin, meanwhile, hears the guard outside his door complaining about how he’s feeling so poorly. They chat a bit, and Amergin heads out to do his work shift… pausing only to try to clock the guard and toss him in Amergin’s former cell. Guard: "What the fuck are ye doin’?"

Amergin: "I’m tryin’ tae help ye!" He hits the guard. The guard hits him back, but the guard is a monk and hits back really, really hard. They go another round or so, but the monk subdues him and drags him back into his cell. 

Whisper races over to the special holding cells. Monster and Thrain both sound okay. He starts on Monster’s door. "Oh, you open door! I never come out. It’s because I’m dangerous. I should probably stay." 

Whisper guides him out the door. He just follows Whisper along to Thrain’s cell. "Oh, no. He bad man. We shouldn’t let him out. You think we should let him out? We shouldn’t let him out." Whisper manages to convince him. He pops the lock on Thrain’s door. Whisper smiles at him, pushes the door wide open, and walks away. Thrain gets up, walks to the door, looks around… starts trying to open the door to the wizards’ area. He runs down the hall, finds another locked door and starts banging on it.

Whisper and Monster head down the other way, towards the divine casters’ wing. Thrain is making a commotion behind them. Thrain eventually busts the door down and charges past the guard towards the next door. Thrain throws him off and smashes a door. 

Lithos, fortunately, is in Solitary. 

The guard greets Whisper as Jerry, and after a few moments he looks back, pretends to see Monster, and books it over to the other side of the room. There’s a brief exchange of blows, and the guard is winning. 

Whisper finds Amergin, who is completely unconscious. Vinnie: "Zombie?"

He opens another door and releases the Priestess of Appolyon, who charges out and starts adding to the chaos. He releases the mute druid as well, then goes back and picks up Amergin. Vinnie offers to grant him Telekinesis, but he goes for Shocking Grasp instead and they manage to take the guard down. Monster: "He hurt me!" He starts crying. Darexis the priestess interprets what Whisper wants and agrees to start a riot. 

They take the keys off the guard, and head off to open the storeroom where the levers apparently are. There are still screams and cries in the magic users’ wing. He drops the Symbol of Sleep on the Solitary door and bangs on it while Darexis yells for help. 

Baldy, meanwhile, is distracting the guard in his area with made-up information about something that’s about to happen. The guard is so completely distracted that he comes into in the cell and falls asleep. Baldy sneaks out, pilfering the guard’s keys on the way. He locks the guard in the cell. He starts unlocking the cells for the Nomads and the Gravelers, leaving the guard safely locked in his own cell. He’s busily inspiring them – "FREEDOM!" – and they come surging out. 

Meanwhile, in the main room, Thrain the berserked and Rometta Blackblood the cannibal necromancer come surging out of the wizards’ holding area. At this point Baldy shows up with the rebellion, and that’s enough noise to draw out the remaining guards and the warden. There’s a wizard, a couple of guys who are actually armed, and warden Hammer M’Hole. There’s a guy with a masterwork greatsword and a couple of guys in plate armor with axes and shields. Quick assessment: they’re going to go right through the rioters like a scythe through wheat, 

We immediately have Vinnie shrink the guards to half their size. We then create a net and let it drop on the shrunken guards. 

The warden’s keyring has more keys than everybody else. The wizard tries to escape the net and fails. Whisper sneaks over to the side of the guards. Whisper motions to Vinnie and makes the Time Out gesture. Vinnie drops a Time Stop on him. Whisper takes the warden’s keys, heads to the first door, unlocks it, and heads down to the next door. Amergin calls for Telekinesis. 

Then he closes the door behind Whisper and slams the guards against the ceiling. Whisper opens the door to the storeroom, which has the gear for the mages and priests, some mundane weapons, and stairs down to the tunnels. He finds a secret door as well, and beyond it is a room with four levers: Sleep, Gas, Doors, and one in a glass box with a hammer, which is presumably Death. 

He pulls the one labeled Doors.  

A bunch of stone doors drop down. The warden yells: "They’ve gone to the panic room!"

Archibald: "Lay down and surrender or everybody dies!" 

The guards start cutting their way loose. 

Prisoners: "What do you mean we’re going to die?" 

Whisper pulls Sleep. 

Sleep gas fills most of the prison. Vinnie leans over to Lithos and starts trying to resuscitate Lithos with skull to mouth. The small goblin wizard tastes the funk of forty thousand years. This is the real magic mouth, right here, and Lithos learns a new spell on the spot: Lithos' Telekinetic Tongue.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Driving Needs, part four

"Heads up," said Antoinette, as they stepped out of the pizza parlor. She stepped to one side of the doorway, cupping one hand over her ear and raising the other as if talking through an earbud.

Chris' phone and Elyssa's buzzed almost simultaneously, and they exchanged a glance as they moved to flank their magus. 

"Really?" asked Antoinette. "Jesus. We just can't catch a break, can we? All right, we'll be over there as soon as we can."

Chris nodded to Elyssa, who looked down at her phone, then back up at him. She nodded, and he looked down at his own screen: 

Alert: murder of a mundane by an unregistered outsider. All available Ministry enforcement required on-site ASAP. Cleanup team is en route. Body is public and police are present. Captain Saintcrow will be on site in three minutes. Skinchanger suspected; take all appropriate precautions.

 "You saw it?" asked Antoinette, pulling out her own phone, tapping the screen, and putting it away again. 

Chris and Elyssa nodded, almost in unison. Give me a target, Chris thought. He didn't know what Elyssa was thinking, but she looked every bit as focused as he felt.

"All right," said Antoinette. She drew a deep breath, held it, released it. "Let's go find this thing."

Monday, June 3, 2024

Terra Povos: Life Advice for Wizards

"Ya know, kid," said the skull floating in Lithos' prison cell, "you really should have specialized in necromancy. It's a great school of magic, plus it's got so much style. And you know what you need more of, kid?"

Lithos hesitated, but only for a heartbeat. He really didn't want to offend Vinnie, because at this point he was absolutely convinced that the floating skull with the hat and sunglasses really was the demilich he claimed to be, and while Lithos was proud of his own progress as a spellcaster, a demilich was just this side of being an actual god. If Vinnie ever turned on them, they were all dead. So the choice was really between humoring him -- tempting, since Lithos considered himself an ethical coward at heart -- and playing along as if he didn't recognize the threat, which Vinnie seemed to enjoy. "Is it style?" he asked. 

"There ya go. I knew you was a smart kid. I'm tellin' ya, a little more training and a lot more death magic, and you'll be unstoppable. You're the mage, you should be runnin' this party. And you should definitely look the part."

Lithos, who'd been trying to review the structures of the spells that he still had prepared so they didn't fade out, suppressed a passive-aggressive sigh. He couldn't use any of them -- the anti-magic field that covered the prison saw to that -- but he didn't want to lose track of them, either. If he'd ever given the matter even the least bit of thought, he would have expected a demilich to be much more evil. More demanding, more threatening, more terrifying. Instead, what Vinnie was could more accurately be described as exasperating. "So you don't like my hat?"

Vinnie considered that. "Naw, the hat's cool. But ya need a better outfit. Fitted black robes. A dark cloak with an actual fingerbone for a clasp. An onyx amulet, or maybe a brooch. Ya know, actually we ought to go better than that. Forget the robes, kid. We need to set you up with black leather pants and a long coat, some hardcore stomping boots, and sunglasses. Definitely sunglasses. We need ta make ya look dangerous."

"Dangerous?" asked Lithos, giving up and turning his attention to the floating skull. "I'm a goblin. I have the height, physique, and overbearing presence of... I don't know, possibly some kind of small rodent. At best. There isn't a tailor in the world who could fix that."

"And that's why you need more style, kid. You've got magic, the most powerful stuff around. Forget big guys with lots of muscles and ridiculously oversized axes; you're the one who can point at something and make it die. You're the one who controls the battle so all your siblings look like they know what they're doing." 

"...Go on." 

"Look, when you come floating into a room -- because you're too important to just walk like all those losers who don't do magic -- your outfit needs to warn people that you're the one to watch out for. You're the one who makes this group succeed. You're the one in charge. And hey, if you don't feel like casting a spell to make yourself fly, have a group of undead servitors carry you in on an palanquin. Nobody's gonna look down on you after that. But when you step out, you gotta look the part, ya see what I'm sayin'?"

Lithos paused, struck by the image. It wasn't that he didn't know what it was like to be accepted, even respected. His mom was great that way. His dad wasn't quite as good at it, but he did his best. Even a couple of teachers had been very open with him about recognizing his intelligence. And once his initial testing was complete, Master Flyleaf hadn't hesitated at all to accept him as an apprentice. 

It was just that day to day, a lot of people treated him as a goblin. The people who knew him mostly accepted him, and they only ever slipped up occasionally, but Stoneshore saw enough trade that there were plenty of people who didn't know him. The memory of Warden M'Hole blithely assuming that Lithos could be nothing more important than a camp helper was fresh in his mind, and it was only the most recent of an endless list of slights that he simultaneously resented and knew would be considered too unimportant to object to. 

It was enough to wear a goblin down, even if he was legally a dwarf. 

"So..." he ventured. "Death magics and style?"

"Let me teach ya, kid." The skull had drifted over towards the locked door of the cell. "We can do this. Trust me."

"Apprentice," said Lithos. 

"What?" 

"I'll be your apprentice," he said. "I'd love to learn from you, even if I'm not... not devoted to death magics the way you are." He swallowed. "But I won't be your minion."

"Sure," said Vinnie. "Apprentice, not minion. And now you gotta prove yourself by gettin' yerself and your family out of this prison. And if you need some zombies on your side, you just lemme know."