A Scene from my Phone

Hiram looked over his shoulder.

The rain was thick, falling in sheets and pelting the edges of his hood, but he saw a figure standing in the distance. It stood on the road, slumped but not seeming to mind the downpour or mud. It wore a cloak of reeds draped over massive shoulders, a dark cowl, and a mask over its face with shadows obscuring the eyes.

Hiram looked back to his companions, to tell them of the strange figure on the road, but they had walked far ahead of him, too eager to leave the rain to idle as he had. He looked back and saw the figure, while while it remained still, was now much closer than before. Here, he could see the thing’s shoulders heaving with the rhythmic breath which froze in large clouds beneath its mask. The head slowly lurched, revealing two hollow, ghostly white rings in place of eyes.

Feeling for the hilt of his sword, Hiram wanted to posture, to shout at the figure in the road and drive it away. He was thinking of what he might say when the figure began to change. The shoulders quickly ratted and grew, the skirt of the cloak lifted as black, spidery legs worked their way out into the mud. Hiram watched arms the weight, depth, and speed of shadow shot along the sides of the road, and the creature flew at him. Hiram drew his sword and shouted.

But another sheet of rain fell and erased the figure from sight like a blemish of dust wiped clean from glass.

Hiram spun around on the spot, to see where the thing had gone, fruitlessly. He was alone.

END

“Mhurren’s Mansion” – A Riddle

‘Sup, y’all.

[If you wanna skip the hooplah about all the context and “social experimenting,” there’s a fun riddle to solve a few paragraphs down. Enjoy!]

Had the wonderful opportunity to run a D&D one-shot game for a good friend of mine’s bachelor party (yes, you read that right) over the weekend.

In true Evan Fashion, I found myself far busier than I thought I’d be in the run-up to Game Day, and so I had way less time time to prepare than I thought I would. My solution: roll out an oldie, but a goodie.

I wrote a one-shot game back in January of 2018 from scratch, built from the ground up and inspired by the Jindosh Lock from Dishonored 2, and so far I’ve run the game three times, each with a different group. Y’all, I feel like I’m running a social experiment and it is awesome.

The first group was with a group consisting of my girlfriend Mandy and two of our other female friends (that’s right, Girls’ Night). I was so excited to see the riddle and puzzles I’d designed come together just as desired – not too easy as to be blown through, but not so difficult as to expect grand leaps in logic, and most of all: not broken (ie – missing pieces of information, incomplete). It was awesome watching them each read their own portion of the riddle, then pass pieces around until each had had a turn, then come together with their findings and hypotheses.

The second group was composed of three guy friends (one being Pierre, mentioned previously), and they handled it SO differently. Rather than pass their portions around, they each clutched their paper tightly and shared what they knew, but not what they were given. Despite this approach seeming much less cooperative, they took down the riddle in about the same amount of time.

Then, finally, this weekend’s group consisted of several good friends, though ones that left me the youngest at the table by a margin of about ten years (just meant some good 80’s references I didn’t get). THIS group was far more roleplay-focused than the previous two, and that made communication about their clues a bit foggier, but 100x more fun. They wound up silently electing a member of their group to essentially play the part of riddle-master whose job it became to, well, solve the riddle while the rest explored.

There’s more we could get to, but the main meat of the message is that puzzle-designing is kind of a lot of fun. Below, I’m gonna put the riddle in its entirety, but just know the players were each given a fragment, then had to put it together from there, plus solve the mansion’s other puzzles that depended on knowledge gained from dissecting this correctly.

But that’s besides the point.

Point is, can you figure out which sibling held which item at the end of Solstice, and the order of their birth?

Good luck.

“Four siblings once lived in this house, and all of them were thieves. Over the course of the Solstice of the Elements, they each stole one another’s treasures.

Arthur would not do much with his days save for laze on the sandy shores and hum his favorite tune. On the first day of Solstice, he saw the youngest sibling with Veronica’s treasure and later heard she traded it for his Jade Figurine. Upon hearing the news, he simply yawned and let them be. After all, on the fourth day of Solstice, he found Amelia’s treasure discarded in the dining hall, so he took it to his music room and was content.

The third child had a bitter heart and was envious of the firstborn’s special treatment. While she would swim, she also quietly resented her brother, who was older, and on the second day of Solstice, she stole his prized treasure, but later could not find it. On the fourth day, she saw the youngest come to her lake holding an Opium Pipe and trade it to the firstborn for the treasure she’d lost. While she watched her siblings deal in secret, she contented herself with a taunting tune in her bath house from her sister’s treasure she taken earlier that morning.

Veronica, hot-headed and avaricious, was spoiled by her parents with more riches than her siblings, but still she craved more. She stole Amelia’s Crystal Decanter on the first day of Solstice, filled it with brandy, and offered to share a drink with Lisbeth a day later, who had far too much. Two days after that, she got her treasure back and retired to her treasury with it. As she sank into the satin cushions, she mused on her own reflection to the end of Solstice.

The youngest child was flighty and impulsive. She loved her Pan Flute and would use it to play ‘The Fletcher’s Son’ for her brother, but on the second day of Solstice found it missing. She heard its soft sound on the beach that afternoon. On the third day of Solstice she used her sister’s treasure to dull a terrible headache, but gave it back to her a day later for a lovely stone bear. She put it with the rest of her chimes, which hung where feathers told the direction of the wind.

On the fifth and final day of Solstice, none of the siblings stole or traded anything.

Brave the four Elements and their dangers, return the stolen treasures to the Vault in the proper order, and find your worth inside…”

Easy, right?

Catch ya’s later.

Non-Lucid [Horror-ish] Dreaming

Hey all,

Since this has become- I just realized the greeting looks like the beginning of a letter. That’s how you know I was writing emails just before doing this. Let it serve as a reminder that this whole thing, this whole “The Light of Day” project is basically the raw milk of online blogging. I edit embarrassingly little. It’s mostly just a stream of consciousness that I type out as I think it – like these words are talking to you. Which…which is sort of how words…are supposed…to work…

ANYWAY.

Since this has become a bit of a dream journal as of late, I think we’re gonna roll that out again. This time, though, I can kind of track where the dream came from, which won’t make it any less fantastical once we get into it, but that’s beside the point.

Two things we should probably highlight before we delve into this:

  1. I have a warm fondness for the scoundrel archetype. That doesn’t necessarily mean troublemakers, pranksters, or ‘yee-haw!’ wildcards. Scoundrels, to me, are the characters that exist for themselves. They can be the main protagonists, but serve better as part of the auxiliary cast. Their motives serve themselves entirely. They might help the heroes, and might hinder the villain, but mostly as part of happenstance, coincidence, or convenience. They aren’t mean-spirited, they’re just sort of selfish survivalists.
  2. These past few weeks have been rough. I’m not going to use this to bitch, bark, or “woe is me,” cause that’s annoying for all included. Just letting it serve as context for how said stress wound up personified in the dreamscape.

I was standing on the rain-slick battlement of a castle during a stormy night (because of course it was). Around me was a small gaggle of faceless knights who I presume were supposed to be my friends, family, and/or securities (as opposed to “insecurities”). In a Battle of Helms Deep fashion, across the murky field stood an absolute army of vampires.

Why vampires?

Good question.

I don’t know, but they were vampires. And none of that nonsense, sparkly, Twilight vampires. Good, classic Magic: the Gathering-style vampires. Fangs, claws, black armor n’ shit.

Anyway, the vampires charge, all screaming obscenities for some reason (that part seemed excessive even to me as the dreamer), and we clash on the field of battle. Pretty quickly, it turned into one of those scenes wherein, one-by-one, the heroes slowly fall to the insurmountable numbers of the enemy, but I stood there on the battlement cleaving away, just, bushels of vampires.

I’m ducking. I’m dodging. I’m slashing with my sword. I’m getting bit. I’m getting punched. I’m throwing expert Muy Thai knees like a fuckin’ ninja in medieval-fantasy armor.

But the whole time, no matter how much success I find, the horde of vampires just keeps coming, and I realize that going at it, fighting them all off myself – no matter how expertly I feel I’m doing it – just won’t suffice forever.

So I keep at it, fighting like a choreographed badass, until an idea strikes me.

I shout orders to my few remaining knights to line the grates by a nearby looming castle wall with some sort of explosive. What came next when I gave the order to light it, was the deus ex machina-style victory, wherein the hero remembers that the big fuck-off wall in the background was some kind of long-forgotten damn, and in demolishing it, we flood the valley with running water that drowns out the vampires and saves the day.

I think…I think it’s supposed to be some kind of metaphor for how the power is within you “all along,” and you just need to know how and when to tap into it.

Or maybe it was just a killer dream about vampires.

I leave it to you.

Happy Thursday.

Peace.

A Hootenanny with a Hoedown, to Boot!

Happy Tuesday, y’all – how ya doin’?

Continuing on from Thursday’s stories, we’re gonna dive on into the rest of the chronicle. Bonus points if you can spot the work that inspired how they get out.

Crevarius & Bindalar Gearforge

Narrator: (The stockades and dungeons of High Bluff, particularly the Crag Cells, were held in infamy for their creative design, the torment the echoing stone was said to have play on the mind, and, moreover, their record for being inescapable. Normally reserved for fugitives and miscreants of great trespass, two unlucky individuals had found themselves on both the wrong side of the law as well as the sore temper of Keeper Falion, leaving them to commiserate in the dark, damp cave-cells of High Bluff’s harshest prison.)

(One, a man, lithe of form and bearing a curled, blonde goatee sat with his elbows upon his knees and his back against the cave wall. He was dressed in a green jerkin, trousers of blackened leather, and high soft boots of the same. Currently, he worked away, whittling a piece of stone with a tiny iron blade.)

(The second, a gnome, short but not stout, with sharp facial features and an almost perpetual smirk adorning his cheeks. Clothed in dark leathers riddled with pockets which confiscation had emptied, only his blonde hair was apparent against the black of the cave wall. He sat cross-legged sorting a small mound of various bread scraps, fatty meat pieces, and stale nuts.)

(Each young man shared his cell with a cellmate who each young man considered very boring company.)

Crevarius: “I’m so hungry.” (He groans.)

Bindalar: “Yeah? Well that’s your own fuckin’ fault, innit? Raisin’ a cat n’ all.”

Crevarius: “Do you really think it the time to-”

Bindalar: “Oooh, mate, all’s we got is fuckin’ time. Your ass ain’t goin’ nowhere! And thanks fuckin’ to it, neither is mine! Ah, good boy.”

(A small, white rat scurries up to the gnome and delivers a bread scrap.)

Crevarius: “Me? YOU are the career street thief. I’d counted on a bit more professional expertise from your end.”

Bindalar: “Ah, yeah, and who’s the bloody fuckin’ fancy archer who missed his fuckin’ shot and left me on the fuckin’ roof without a fuckin’ rope!?”

Crevarius: “I told you to just toss down the bag first! How hard was that?”

Bindalar: “I don’t trust fuckin’ cheats.”

(Crevarius prepares a retort, but jostles his eyebrows in recognition of points made.)

Crevarius: “Can you spare some food?” (He says finally.)

Bindalar: “Wait, what’s that you’ve got there?”

Crevarius: “What? This?”

Bindalar: “Yes fuckin’ that. That what’s in your hand! Is that a knife?”

Crevarius: “Yes.”

Bindalar: (In a harsh whisper) “You’ve got a fuckin’ knife and you didn’t fuckin’ say anything?”

(Pause)

Crevarius: “I didn’t think it important to mention.”

(The gnome stares dumbfounded from under the brim of his hat.)

Bindalar: “Give it here.”

Crevarius: “What? No.”

Bindalar: “Give it fuckin’ here, ya cock-sneezin’ shit bag.”

Crevarius: “Give me the bread and nuts.”

Bindalar: “For fuck’s sake!”

(The gnome shovels all the scraps in front of him through the bars at the archer.)

Crevarius: “Now, what’re you going to do with that?”

Bindalar: “You have no idea how people come and go from this fuckin’ place, do ya?”

Crevarius: “I…uh…”

Bindalar: “Suck a donkey’s tit and call it maple.” (sighs) “Just follow my lead. Oi! (calling through the bars to the distantly attending guard) we got a stiff over here! (whispers) Sorry, bruv.”

Crevarius: “You’re pretty despicable.”

Bindalar: “Ah, sad fuck was hangin’ by a thread anyway. You’s best do the same. We’ve about five minutes ‘fore they come back with sacks for the bodies. Hope your ass knows how to swim!”

Narrator: (After what may only be described as the completion of selfish, depraved, perhaps villainous, but admittedly clever and survivalist actions, two body bags are sung their last rights and cast from the cliffs of High Bluff into the ocean. The first is deftly cut open shortly after sinking below the water’s surface to reveal a very much alive and swimming adept gnome, holding a soggy white rat. The second, upon hitting the salty water swells to a plump, buoyant state and coasts calmly to the shore with the kicking gnome following hotly in pursuit.)

Crevarius: “I have to hand it to you,” (stepping out of his deflating body bag, dressed in the clothes of his former cellmate, and holding a fluffy gray cat) “that WAS a pretty great idea.”

Bindalar: (sloshing his way up the beach) “What the fuckin’ hell was that? And where the fuck did you get a cat?”

Crevarius: “Tala here? She was the brooch on my cloak. Couldn’t have a cat walking around in a prison like that. A rat, sure, but an unfamiliar tabby? Nonsense.”

(Bindalar and his rat stare at him hard for a long moment.)

Bindalar: “Well, that’s fuckin’ brilliant.”

(Together, the two set out into the evening dusk-mellowed streets to resupply themselves the best ways they knew how. Reconvening at the caravan park leading north out of town, they heard the bells of alarm ringing at the end of the peninsula and thought it best to make camp outside the city bounds that night. Regardless, the daring duo was arrested a short week later, hunted by a contracted Justicar of the Taldastius Order and her ward, a prodigal young witch.)

(To this day, no one knows what was said between the opposing camps that fateful night, but the separate two’s became four. Their forces joined, they set off to investigate the call of a priest of The Returned in Hallendren, the Jewel of the East.)

END

The Take: This was fun. I loved having the guys read this at the table, got a fair bout of laughs, and set the mood pretty well. And reading it back now, it still hits me with some chuckles. However you read Bindalar’s voice, I guarantee you got it exactly right.

And last but not least, introducing…

Nisha

Nisha had spent the majority of her life watching the sands. In them, she could read the songs of the wind and in them she could read the news of the world. Raised in the Channelers’ Fold as she had been, that life offered no freedom to explore beyond the walls of Meir and its towering spires could only extend her vision so far. Her early hopes were to distinguish herself with her talents, boast through display the connection with her chosen djinn, and bullishly earn place to be groomed for the Inquisition. But life rarely bears fruit as sweet as the yearnings of our youth would dream it to be. Nisha’s life as an Acolyte of the Inquisition was more difficult than she would ever have thought it could be. The schooling was as demanding as it was constant; the consequences for dissatisfying expectations were severe; and the closer she grew to her djinn, the more deeply she regretted her bond. Try as she might to conceal these thoughts from it, the more it pried into her mind, tormenting her with commands it hadn’t the authority to give and with violent thoughts not her own. The young, olive-skinned, golden-eyed girl would deny the shade its triumph by robbing herself of that for which it doggedly assailed her mind.

On the eve of her Conjoining, the final marriage with her chosen spirit, Nisha stood in the window sill of her spire-top room. She looked over her shoulder for a final sight at the cage that had housed her for so long and cast herself from it. She fell, feeling the wind tear past her on her descent, fill her ears, and lurch her stomach into her throat. With a slow tranquility, the girl closed her eyes and awaited that final silence, a wry smile curling her lips.

*

For years later, Nisha would ponder why it was her silence never came. When she would search the shattered memories of her fraying mind, she only knew that next she woke on a road stretching through unfamiliar sands, far away from the towering walls of Meir. Panic had hit her first, spinning this way and that but seeing nothing more than rolling dunes across an encompassing horizon. When her breath returned to her, she took to her training and with an eventual calm resolve, set herself to reading the sands. The wind carried news of ports, strange dressings, and dye fields on rainbow’d hills. Nisha knew now, she was north of Albe’lar an Tsecht, the Duskset Jewel of the Returned.

She removed herself from the wind’s song and wiped the dust from her face to see an odd group approaching, but took less notice of them than her own hands. With an eerie calm, she observed the wrinkles in the skin of her hands and with them felt the deep grooves of her withered face. Nisha reacted with muted shock as the woman in armor of lacquered silver stepped from the group and approached her (hushing the gnome making a comment about Nisha resembling a robed raisin). The woman spoke but Nisha heard not a word as she came under a much deeper revelation. The woman’s countenance turned worried as she asked with concern, “Old woman, are you alright?”

Nisha looked up to her with tears running down her cheeks and a deep smile on her lips as she replied: “I’m alone.”

The Take: Nisha’s my favorite. Of the five characters presented here, Nisha’s my favorite for sure. Not necessarily for her personality or abilities she went on abuse use to great effect, but just her intro. When asked to do up a backstory, Amanda, the player in question said something along the lines of: “I dunno, something cool. I wanna be a crazy lady.” Well dammit, a crazy lady you now have.
In case I lost you somewhere in there, the short version is this: Nisha is being reared into the Channeler’s Fold (mentioned back in Stella’s portion), a sect/temple/whatever of mages that play host to djinn for power. She was being prepared for her permanent bonding with her chosen djinn, but couldn’t take it, and tried to commit suicide by leaping out of a tall spire’s window. When she woke up, she found she’d somehow not died and was now instead an old wrinkly woman, but the djinn who’d resided in her mind was (equally mysteriously) gone.
Mark my words, here, today, the 24th of September of the year two-thousand nineteen, Nisha will feature prominently in a future novel of mine.

Anyway, Abidee-Abidee- that’s all for now folks (Porky Pig voice definitely intended).

Ciao.

Fantasy Dim Sum: Ainsley and Stella

What’s up, everybody. Happy Thursday!

Today we’re at it again: serving up a couple short scenes that wind up tying together in the end. Rather than overdoing the intro, I’m just going to let them speak for themselves.

Without further adieu…

Part 1: ‘Ainsley, Justicar of Taldastius

Ainsley stood still at the edge of the forest glade, loosing the deep breath with the slow, practiced control her work demanded. Her eyes took in the scene with that same calm measure as her plated boots clinked their tread through the soft grass. A gentle wind danced through the muted green, brushed her cheeks, tossed her hair, and carried the scent of blood – the scent of a haunting life she’d left behind.

While her task required attention, Ainsley’s focused mind would not carry the nightmares of that life. For a time, she would not be molested by thoughts of the clans her brother-and-sisters-in-arms had scattered; she would not burden herself with the memories of their screams; she would not shudder at the knowledge she held of that which corroded the earth, shattered rock, and sundered the skies. A “dishonorable discharge” it had been called, but a system of mock honor that burns and destroys the undeserving to protect its own interests held no place to judge her. No longer holding station among the zealous Elves of the Iron Fang, she had found the freedom to wander. Unwelcome by many, hated by some, Ainsley turned Nameless – finding work and a place in the darkest recesses of Mundas, thanklessly facing the nightmares that plagued its people.

And this way she lived for many years until came such a time as any for those that live the Nameless way, and she found herself ready to die as such. She had stood in a moonlit glade then as well, slowly kneeling ready to dash the lunar-gray grasses with the crimson of her life’s blood. As she had held the blade high and saw in its reflection the pale of the moon, the sight of it filled her mind and heart with a vision:

We that follow are the light that stands amid the dark and guides the helpless through its shroud.”

The Oath and its Moon Strictures now decorating the flesh of her back, her life as a Justicar of Taldastius had begun only weeks later; her stride now set with a righteous purpose beyond murky survival.

As her footfalls strode quietly through the glade, shield at her side and sword gleaming brightly in the moonlight, Ainsley heard the choking, strained gasps more clearly the nearer she drew. The girl was young, no more than twenty winters behind her, with raven black hair and eyes with blue that pierced the pallid night. The acrid smell in the air, the jagged, raking marks down the girl’s arms, and the thick, speckled quills that perforated her petite form told Ainsley more than enough: Howlers.

Normally cowardly, netherplane-dwelling beasts, something had brought them here. The girl looked up at Ainsley, lips quivering, dark trails streaking from the corners of her mouth, and unable to speak. The Justicar held the young girls gaze for a time before turning her own to a rustling in the encompassing treeline.

They were coming.

END

The Take: So, there are a couple of lore points from the larger world at work here to address that might help, might not.
Ainsley is a Justicar (or paladin-variant, basically) of Taldastius, Steward of the Moon, Keeper of the Scales, Lord of Justice, n’ all else. The Moon is the Order’s totem and it represents them in the way Ainsley’s vision outlines: they fight against the dark by living in it, but without becoming it (if that makes sense). I could go on for pages, but that’s the gist and we have more to get to (this is supposed to be bite-sized, after all).
The Iron Fang are essentially a state-funded volunteer corps of defense against the dragon nests north of the Continent. They’re comprised of zealots, desperate sods, religious nutters, social outcasts – anyone and everyone. It’s members are highly revered, though, normally only after they’ve died – being criticized and berated in life by society at large. They’re organized strictly, and when one falls out of their ranks (is insubordinate, flees, or otherwise shows cowardice), they become “Nameless,” the world’s equivalent to Witchers, basically; only finding work as mercenaries and monster-hunters.

On to the next!

Part 2: Stella Fairbay, Heiress of Shale

Stella watched the diminutive ceramic dancer slowly twirl in its place within the open music box. A slight smile spread across her narrow lips as she listened to the soft chiming sung by the inner springs and coils. She watched the last of the day’s warm sunlight glimmer and reflect off its polished curves, and these feelings left her mind awash in memories – though they now seemed so distant.

The years of her youth were of gilded halls and ballrooms, long hours in formal court, and a deep-rooted yearning to part with it all, though never once betraying her family’s storied lineage. As with many of the women in her ancestry, Stella held a particularly strong sway over the magical forces of Mundas, and nothing interfered with that secret more greatly than the life of royalty. Her potential was held captive by the very privilege which provided for her, so she stole away one night to walk the wanderer’s path and develop her talents. Her only farewell: a letter addressed to her grandmother, the ruling Duchess of Shale, mentor to Stella in her youngest years, and, moreover, only living family-by-blood left in the Duchy.

Stella fluttered her eyelids to blink the memories away and she found her vision focusing beyond the now silent toy dancer to the reflection of her own eyes in the mirror of the box’s lid. She held the sight for a breath then looked up to behold the moon, feeling now that it was almost time. It had taken many months to find this place and Stella would be damned if she’d spent that time tracking down the proper charts, conferring with members of the Channelers’ Fold, and preparing the necessary charms only to miss her window distracted by nostalgia.

The young witch carefully closed the music box and stowed it within her black, silver-laced robes. She stood sharply and grasped the spear-staff at her side, an heirloom from her late grandfather. Stella marched with conviction to the edge of a summoner’s circle she’d constructed when the sun had been high, looked up to see the moon nearing its zenith, and an eager laugh escape her lips as she began her incantation, ready to open the way. Her eyes whited over with a milky paleness to mimic the moon and the ground beneath her feet felt as if to hum in harmony with her low tone.

Slowly, like fireflies drifting in the veil of night, glowing sigils began to form out of the cold air and weave together in the bounds of her circle. A complete silence took the glade before a loud snap broke the air and a bright font of light burst forth from the ground. In a matter of moments, Stella knew, if she had done her work correctly, she would be face-to-face with an angelic archon.

As the last of the arcane light faded from the circle, an unexpected darkness shrouded the glade. Stella rubbed her eyes so they might adjust and whispered a word to her staff for light. As she did so, a horrible sense of dread fell upon her like a cloak and she heard a clicking, guttural snarl. The moments of Stella’s life to follow would be remembered only as a panicked blur.

A haunting, shrieking howl pierced the still quiet.

Her chest and arms pained by slashes of unseen claws.

She was knocked breathless against the cool, damp grass.

Stella awaited the death knell from whatever infernal creatures her tragic mistake had summoned, though it never came. She could hear them, feel them encircling her, as her vision slowly darkened until a vibrant silver light beamed from the edge of the glade and the creatures retreated from it. A woman in silver and blue plate armor stood over her, beautiful and scarred, she peered down at Stella with a look of sympathy. A noise from the glade’s edge stole the woman’s attention for a moment, and when her gaze returned to the young witch her eyes burned a brilliant silver that shone against the dark backdrop of the stars.

The woman whispered a soft, chiming tone and Stella coughed. While still in great pain, she could feel a relieving warmth spread across her body where there had been agony moments before. Seeing the young woman stable, the paladin dashed across the muted gray forest floor, her blade shining white with fire. Stella craned her neck to watch as her savior cleaved down the first two beasts in a matter of moments and briefly wrestled with a third, a terrible fray of shouts and visceral crunches, while the remaining pack closed in around. With a desperate, heaving breath, Stella sat up and looked on as long, sharp quills like those that had pierced her struck the paladin between areas of her plate. Focusing through the tormenting pain and hurried anxiety of her circumstance, Stella forced herself into trance.

The paladin fought from her back, swinging this way and that to ward away the encroaching pack, when she felt the ground beneath her shake. The howlers seized the moment of her hesitation and moved to leap upon their meal, but could not feel the ground beneath their gnarled paws. She watched as the remaining pack was lifted above the grass and pulled, flailing viciously, over to the girl in black robes, now standing with spear in one hand and the other extended towards the creatures. Quills were shaken and shot forth in Stella’s direction, though they splintered to harmless flakes in the air around her. The howlers were forced to the grass, dragged by an invisible hand to the circle from which they’d emerged and, like water through cloth, disappeared beneath the ground.

From across the moonlit glade, the two women locked eyes for the second time and together shared a well-earned sigh of relief.

END

The Take: There you have it, a bad-ass, scarred up warrior lady and a reckless, mystical witch woman ruining a gaggle of otherworldly beasties. Always fun. I always liked Stella’s half for tying in and really showing off Ainsley’s badassery, plus alluding to some other world-bits we’ll explore a bit more deeply later.

Probably put up the others of this little “mini-series” tomorrow rather than waiting until Tuesday. Til then, you take it easy and stay beautiful, you.

Ciao.

“Karian Nimblefinger, the Baron’s Son” – Our First Guest Post!

Happy Tuesday, everybody!

About a month ago, I started waking up at 4:30 every Tuesday and Thursday morning to go running with my buddy Eric. I wouldn’t have voted for that start time, personally, but I asked, “What time are you consistently available?”
“In the morning before work,” said he.
“What time do you have to be at work?” asked I.
“Seven o’clock,” said he.
“In the morning?” asked I.
“Yep,” confirmed he.
“Okay,” sighed I.

That’s how it started, and I told him I refused to “bitch out” first, so now I’m pretty committed to those words, lest I eat them. It’s a thing I simultaneously think everyone should do, at least a little bit, and would not wish on someone I disliked greatly.

Anyway, on to the good stuff!

You all remember Pierre, right? (It’s kind of funny, because he initially asked to be kept anonymous when I mentioned I was going to put out his debut story, but has since become cool with using his name outside of that…but, nah. I like Pierre, so Pierre he’ll remain.) Well today’s post is both the last installment of the esteemed Amwren Chronicles series AND the first co-written feature on here. He wrote the first half, I finished up with the second to tie it into the campaign, and the result is the following beautiful literary baby.

Without further adieu…

Karian Nimblefinger, the Baron’s Son

Few men can trace their change of fortune to a specific event. Karian however can pinpoint it to a single hour on an otherwise uneventful August day. He was barely twelve years of age when he walked into his small one room home to see his father with a beaten face and his mother nowhere to be seen. He asked the question that any man of any age would ask, and was answered with a cold apathetic grunt from his father trying to drink his way out of a half full bottle of spirits. Unsatisfied and still not sure what happened Karian walked back outside to see what he could find.

Days went by before his father was willing to open up about what happened that day, and as the years progressed so did his story. The first time he told it he attacked the man he suspected his wife of sleeping with. By Karian’s thirteenth birthday his father defended her honor from a gang of savage militiamen with ill intent. Less than a year later, he was telling people the local lord challenged him to a duel for her hand. Two things remained consistent throughout his wildly growing stories: he always heroically faced overwhelming odds, and at the end she always left him coldly. He was the victim of a story that never ended, using his perceived misfortune as a crutch. He may as well have grown gills for all the time he spent drowning in a bottle.

Karian can trace his change of fortune to that mysterious day when his mother disappeared, because it was the first day he had no other option than to start believing his father’s wild stories. By the time he was old enough to start thinking for himself the damage was already done; he couldn’t trust anyone but himself, and women were nothing but backstabbing harlots. Eventually Karian got it in his mind to become a smooth-talking bard after seeing one visit a local tavern, and so he set off to join the Bard’s College of Stettin, and changed his family name from Tavistock to Nimblefinger. He dropped out after learning enough to play a lute, albeit poorly, and hum a tune. He survived by becoming a pickpocket and doing the odd job around a local inn.

These days he spends his time fast talking the pretty girls that pass through his inn. But through it all he can’t ignore the nagging in the back of his mind, the need to discover the truth about what really happened to his mother so many years ago…

*

It was the early morning crowing of a rooster that woke Karian, and he judged by the dizzying headache, lingering scent of perfume, and his utter lack of clothing, that the previous night had been a success. Rubbing his eyes to clear the dust, he looked around and decided that how he had come to wake in a barn, when he’d assuredly bed the lovely young lady in the tavern storeroom, was also best left to the imagination. He adjusted himself on the scratchy hay pile on which he was lying, folded his arms behind his head, and enjoyed the first rays of morning sun peeking through the parse planks of the barn’s walls. Anything but a typical man, this was, alas, a typical story in the life of Karian Nimblefinger.

What he was unaccustomed to, however, was waking to the presence of another man.

“Hello?” ventured a voice from the stall next to his.

“Ah, one minute, mate,” called Karian. Not that he held any shame whatsoever in the size of his manhood, or much shame to speak of at all really, he whispered a thanks to the sweet gods that left him with his bard’s bonnet, and covered himself with it. He cleared his throat with a cough. “You may approach, good sir,” he sang.

“Fair morning.” The man who rounded the corner was young, no more than twenty summers behind him, and dressed in robes of light lavender. A large medallion depicting two hands with intricately woven fingers laced with string hung low from his neck. “Are you Karian Nimblefinger?”

“My reputation precedes me. I am he, unique and true, friend. What’ll it be? Autograph or private performance? As you can see, I’m a bit without my equipment – well, my stage equipment.”

“Kindly appreciated, but unnecessary,” chuckled the priest. “I come on request of my master, as one of the Order of Bokonon. He requests your presence in Tallin in a week’s time.”

“Tallin…Tallin…Tallin…” repeated Karian tapping his chin. “Is that the one with all the…buildings?”

“A few, yes. Temples.”

“Ah, right! Well, as you can see, young master, I’m a man of professional…profession. I’m not accustomed to rendering services without payment. So, on that stricture, one of my very few, I would be remiss not to ask: will there be gold?”

“I would hazard to say yes, yes there will.”

“Then I’m in! If you’ll allow me a moment to fetch me pants, it’ll be off to the City of Temples.”

END

The Take: Not that I expect the world at large to closely follow this series, but after a few darker notes in the middle with entries like Aldis and Tsal, it felt appropriate to bring it back to a lighter note with Karian. Throughout the campaign, for his part in it (he eventually sojourned at one point to become a pirate – dope), he added to the comic relief, joviality, mischief, revelry, and unfiltered fun of the whole process, but he wasn’t without a humanizing darker side. In fact, he was the member of the group I least expected to learn, much less embrace, utilizing blood magic, but shit did he.

Anyway, it was good to see Karian again. Pierre, this one’s to you.

Take it easy, everyone. Catch ya Thursday.

The Window of War

Happy Tuesday, everyone.

No fancy run-up, let’s just do it. Time for some good ol’ fashioned fantasy.

Crixus, a Beginning

Grumlik watched the rocky dirt road pass under his feet as he doggedly placed one boot in front of the other. His march had been long and, wearied by war, his heart yearned for the warmth of his home’s hearth and the touch of his beloved. Aching, he blinked his tired eyes and shook away his exhaustion as he focused on the nighttime sounds: the moonbirds that sang their distant song, the wind that whistled through the tall grass of the plains, the rhythmic thud of his heavy boots, and the crunch of the gravel beneath them. He lifted his eyes to the star-riddled sky.

The song, the wind, the thud, the crunch.

As he thought, he heard also the soft rustling of what he wore: linked chains that gently chimed with each heavy step, bent plates bearing scars, punctures, and dents that rubbed against pads of leather, the shield that hung loosely to his side with its rattling buckles, and the sword on his hip with its muffled dance within the scabbard. His thoughts now upon the garments which had saved his life many times over, he felt their weight on his shoulders as he trudged onward towards home. In the stars he saw constellations and soon saw faces – the faces of comrades, those who wouldn’t see home.

He crested a small ridge and filled his powerful lungs with a deep breath and held it a long time. When he released it, it was accompanied by a tear in his eye. The wind carried the scent of smoke, not the black smoke of war he’d now become so accustomed, but the smoke of an home’s hearth. Grumlik paused. His mouth watered, his stomach twisted, and his fingers twitched.

The song, the wind.

As he stepped across the threshold of his home, a small cabin on the outskirts of town, the inside was aglow with the warming fire and the air smelled thickly of stew. Wordlessly, Grumlik cast his gaze slowly over the room.

It was good to be home.

He saw her sitting by the fire, but the sound of the door softly shutting behind him roused her.

“Faralda,” he called quietly. The sound of his voice surprised him, he’d been silent so long.

She turned to immediately to his call, her fair skin, wavy brown hair, and deep blue eyes illuminated by the fire’s light. She offered no words, but Grumlik could see the sparkle of tears paint from her freckled cheeks to her trembling chin. After a moment hung in the air between them, like a drop of rain frozen in time, she burst from her seat by the fire and flew to his arms. They embraced, they kissed, and they shed tears with one another. Faralda pulled away to speak, when a cry sounded from a crib Grumlik hadn’t noticed.

She smiled to her husband and stepped over to the crib to hush the awoken child. Grumlik approached and laid a hand on her shoulder. Inside the crib was a small babe, perhaps a year old, yet he bore the features unmistakably of his father and the softness of his mother’s eyes.

“What is his name?” Grumlik whispered quietly.

“After your father,” she replied.

Grumlik smiled with pride.

“Crixus.”

*

While it wasn’t a large town, Faraday saw its share of travelers. Known traditionally for its caravan park, it remained the crossroads of a large amount of trade as well as home to the Fenrici Caravaneers’ Guild base. Crixus would watch the roads, fingers laced over the end of his pitchfork, and gather tales from those passing through. In his meetings with these adventurous travelers, he heard stories of bandit attacks, monstrous ghouls, rescues from raging infernos, the weathering of frightful storms, and much more. Every morsel fed his own fire and thirst for adventure.

Today was time that thirst was sated.

“Ha! You’ve gotten better, boy! Your form is most improved!”

“It seems,” Crixus replied, finishing his parry and sidestepping to his opponent’s left, “you make a fair teacher!” The young half-orc feigned in with his shield and followed it with a boxing motion of his wooden sword’s point. The older caravan guard with whom he sparred was well experienced and dodged the tip of the blow, returning with one of his own, only to have it deflected by a shield. Crixus broke away to re-position and quickly stepped in with an overhand swing. The older man deflected not the weapon but the wrist holding it and, with Crixus off balance, kicked him to the dusty earth with a foot to his bottom.

“That makes it,” panted the older man, “eleven to three now, yes?”

“Calling it quits already are we, Regis?”
“Ah, you’re young, I’m old. I’ve earned the right to say when we’ve finished.”

“Only because you know I’d thrash you were we to keep going.”

“Exactly.”

The two shared a laugh and clasped one another respectively by the forearm.

“Crixus!” came a call from the cabin.

“You’d better go, boy. We’ll have another bout when next I’m in town.”

“Make it soon then, as I’ll have your hide next time.”

“Aye, that you will, I’m sure.”

Grumlik was at the table smoking his pipe and rubbing his knee – an old war wound – when Crixus entered.

“You needed me, father?”

“Yes, son. How was your bout with Regis?”

“He got lucky, this time.”

“Ah, well that’s because you go too easy on him,” Grumlik laughed. “Come, take a seat next to me. Good. Now, I’m no poet or bard. I’ve no way with words, so I’ll just come out and say it. I know that this farm holds no life for you, Crixus. You’ve my strength of arm, your mother’s wits, and the same adventurous fire we’d both had at your age. We do you no good now, holding you caged here any longer.”

“But, father, how will you-”

“We’ll manage here just fine, son. You’ve naught to worry there. No, no more. Just listen.” The old Orc stood up stiffly, motioned his son to follow, and walked over to a trunk against the far wall. He grunted as he leaned down and opened the clasps on either end. The smell of worked leather and redolence of old steel escaped the trunk as the lid was lifted. Inside, Crixus could see his father’s old belongings from his time in the war when the conflict was at its height. One by one, Grumlik removed the items and laid them out across the table. “Here, try them on,” he invited.

After some minutes spent adjusting fittings, belts, and buckles, Crixus stood in the center of the cabin, bedecked in his father’s old armor and his shield at his side.

Grumlik stepped around Crixus to his front after setting the final strap and asked, “How does it feel?”

Struggling equally for words, Crixus moved and shifted in his new garb. “It feels good,” he said, and with a chuckle, “if a little strange.”

“It will suit you well enough, at least until you replace it with something better.”

“Why are you doing this for me, father?”

“Because I am your father. What kind of question is that? Besides, you need not hide it any longer simply for the sake of your mother and I. We’ve seen you watching them, the caravans and guards, travelers and wanderers. You’ve done well by us to aid tending the farm, but it’s long time we do well by you and not hold you here any longer.”

Crixus held his father’s gaze with a hard, stoic eyes for a long moment before his countenance broke into a large, toothy grin with eyes wide and anxious. “I will find it, father.”

“Nothing cryptic, son. Find what?”

“My destiny.”

*

Crixus sat upon an old stump looking up at the ways the smoke from his campfire danced and writhed its way between the stars with the gentle wind. He took a deep breath and the crisp nighttime air filled his lungs in a way he’d come to enjoy, a new way, as for once it was the air of open country not tread by his boots. Thoughts of home had come to him often as he’d marched over the last week. In those moments, he looked to the sky and thought that while the ground he walked and the lands he would see would be strange, it was all under the same sky.

As he mused, there came the crunch of gravel and the snap of a dry twig down the road to his right. He knew the road to be dangerous and since leaving Crixus had defended himself from a wolf separated from its pack (that now found itself the subject of Crixus’ rations pouch) and frightened away a would-be highwayman. He stood and put a hand on the hilt of his sword. “Hello?”, he called out. “Who goes there?”

Wordlessly, a robed man approached his site and said, “a simple traveler wishing to share the warmth of your fire, young sir.”

“Hmm, yes. Come. I’d be glad of the company.” Crixus waved the man over to a stump near his own. The figure took his seat by the fire. In its light, Crixus could now see his robes weren’t the dusty rags of a simple traveler but a bright, vibrant lavender. A strange amulet depicting a pair of woven hands hung on a thin silver chain about his neck. Seeing no weapons on the man, Crixus assumed him to be a priest of some obscure order. “How has the road fared you, being as you’ve not a sword to defend yourself?”

“Safe enough,” he chuckled. “I presume many see the robes and think they would do better than tangle with a magician. That, or they are gods-fearing in their own right. Who’s to say, really? What is it that brings you out this way? Do you wander, or are you lost?”

“Neither. I seek something.”

“And what is it you seek?”

“My destiny.”

“Ah, a fine goal to be sure.” And after a breath of silence between them, he said, “You may well be in luck, then. Do you have a destination for the morning?”

“Not in particular. Why do you ask?”

“Come with me then, to the city of Tallin.”

Crixus paused and was slow with his answer. “What awaits us there?”

“Destiny, friend.”

Crixus stared long into the priest’s dark brown eyes as the fire crackled between them. He stared and he searched and in the end found promise in those eyes. The two laid down to rest under the stars and as the sun rose they rose with it. Cinching the straps of his armor, Crixus again breathed deep the morning air and with his new priestly companion began his march towards Tallin, the City of Temples.

END

The Take: Yup! We’re revisiting the Amwren-series. It’s been a while since we’ve put up one of these. I’ve always liked Crixus’ intro. It was short, simple, and none-too-complicated, but personally, I think this was one of the more elegantly written (or, at least, pleasurable in a literary sense) of these serialized shorts. He also went on to be a really beloved character and, in his own dorky way, a sort of central glue for the rest of the group. He had a way of lovably admonishing Revan and his plans, being admonished by Cerlina for his own goofy ideas, kicking impressive heaps of ass with Aldis (when he wasn’t busily selling himself into slavery), pulling ill-advised feats of courage with Tsal, and running schemes with the last member of the group who awaits his introduction next time…

Anyway, catch you Thursday, dorks!

Ciao.