Friday, October 10, 2014

Microscope on: The History of the 4th Corporate War – COMPLETE

This past Monday we finished running Microscope for the backdrop to our next campaign.  With five players (six actually, due to a sit-in player who missed the first two rounds), we filled the table with 3x5 cards.  Six is really too many for Microscope as it becomes difficult to come up with enough characters to believably run a scene without it seeming crowded.  Five players is on the edge, but do-able, and four seems optimal, especially when learning the game.  The phrase “I don’t know what to create” came up often.

Also, I introduced mechanical teleportation to the Shadowrun world, which I may seriously regret later.  That’s on me, wanting to wrap a scene up and grasping at straws.  It has significant repercussions in the last two periods.  We also learned how necessary it is to NOT create events that are open-ended when you are trying to establish something.  Saying someone hires shadowrunners to do something is NOT the same as saying hired shadowrunners did something.  BIG difference there.

Items added in the last session have [NEW] at the end of the entry.

So here is the final version of:

The History of the 4th Corporate War

Period 1: Two corporations vie for control of a third corporation (Dark).

Event: Zenith AstroTech starts investigating technological teleportation, labeling the effort Project: Burma. [NEW]

Event: Freeman Health Manufacturing (FHM) decides with some effort that they must acquire Alvarez Integrated Power Equipment (AIPE) and dominate their industry (Light).

Scene: Why did FHM need to acquire AIPE?
AIPE manufactures a micronized power cell used in all FHM cyberware and it is a significant percentage of the cost of the cyberware.  Recently, AIPE introduced an upgraded version of this power cell, but eliminated a historical discount on sales to FHM.  Alexandria Crowe, CEO of FHM, called a meeting of FHM’s VP of Procurement, FHM’s majority stockholder, and a representative from AIPE to discuss the situation.  In this meeting, AIPE’s representative confirmed the discount had been eliminated and that next year prices were likely to rise again.  At this point, Ms. Crowe decided that in order to control costs and preserve FHM’s profit margin, FHM needed to stage a hostile takeover of AIPE, immediately. (Light)

Event: After the takeover of AIPE, FHM raises the costs of the entire AIPE product line to external customers in order to recoup the cost of the takeover.  Internal customers, like FHM’s cyberware division, get the power cells at cost instead of the pre-takeover wholesale prices.  This allows FHM to keep their own retail prices low while sticking it to their competitors. (Dark)

Event: Tom Riddle, CEO of Riddle Netics – a FHM competitor, is outraged at the major price hike for AIPE components, components which are vital to their own products. (Dark) [Note: In hindsight, this event was not so much of an event and should have been expanded on, but it worked at the time.]

Event: Riddle Netics hires shadowrunners to steal samples and schematics of critical AIPE products. (Light)

Event: FHM uses new AIPE profits to bid on Aquamatics, a water purification company in need of a cash infusion to update and expand its facilities.  Getting wind of this, Riddle Netics enters a competing bid. (Dark)

[Arguably, this action completes this Period, but I think there is still room for shadowrunning shenanigans to happen.  There should be some good room to maneuver here in the campaign.]

Period 2: The initial corporations start calling in allies. (Light)

Event: FHM hires shadowrunners to plant evidence that Riddle Netics is using poor people as test subjects. (Dark)

Event: FHM spurs a class riot at the HQ of Riddle Netics. (Dark)  [This was probably a shadowrun of some sort.]

Event: Zenith AstroTech announces they are forming a joint venture with Riddle Netics to raise the bid for Aquamatics. (Light)  [This spikes the price of Aquamatics stock, increasing the cost to purchase the company.]

Scene: Why would Zenith AstroTech support Riddle Netics?
At a public gala, representatives and CEOs of Riddle Netics, Zenith AstroTech, Rosa Digital, Diagnostic Radiomation, and the Bank of Burma fell to talking over drinks and hors d’oeuvres.  Riddle Netics and Diagnostic Radiomation were being directly hurt by FHM raising AIPE prices, as were friends and associates of Zenith AstroTech and Rosa Digital.  Discussion turned to the possibility of taking some sort of direct action against FHM.  The representative of the Bank of Burma excused herself at this point.  The CEO of Zenith AstroTech suggested raising the cost of the Aquamatics purchase.  The representative of Diagnostic Radiomation then suggested removal of Aquamatics critical equipment right after the purchase was finalized would also cost FHM.  The group agreed to put some off-budget resources together to make these things happen. (Light)  [Yes, this is the beginning of a shadow war.  Why do you ask?]

Event: Riddle Netics sends shadowrunners to silence the representative for the Bank of Burma. (Dark) [NEW]  [This is very open-ended and should have given the actual result of the event.]

Event: In order to fund the escalating conflict with Riddle Netics, FHM borrows money and opens several lines of credit with Spanish Brokerage, a corporate bank headquartered in Hong Kong. (Light)

Event: FHM agents start infiltrating the corporate governance of Zenith AstroTech. (Light) [NEW]

Event: FHM infiltrators hire shadowrunners to start slowly eliminating Zenith AstroTech executives, creating openings for the infiltrators to move up into. (Dark) [NEW]

[These last two events created a whole new wrinkle in the FHM-ZAT conflict and changed our perspective on events already established later in the timeline. Hail Hydra!]

Event: Just before the bidding war for Aquamatics completes, Zenith AstroTech publicly announces it has rethought its position and no longer supports Riddle Netics’s bid for Aquamatics. This allows FHM to purchase Aquamatics (albeit at a significantly elevated price from their original bid) and causes Riddle Netics stock to plummet. (Dark) [NEW]

Period 3: The Conflict Escalates. (Dark)

[We discussed the need to change this to a period and not an event and then did so with full agreement around the table.]

Event: Shadowrunners hired by Zenith AstroTech raid the Aquamatics manufacturing facility in Egypt and it gets out of hand. (Light)

Event: The Aquamatics manufacturing facility in Egypt is completely destroyed.  Prices of water purification tablets and filters immediately skyrocket in Egypt, leaving the poor masses without affordable potable water across most of the country. (Dark)

Event: Lack of affordable potable water among the poor causes class riots across Egypt. (Dark)

Event: Shadowrunners hired by FHM successfully eliminate all Riddle Netics executives. (Light) [NEW]  [This event benefited from our realization of how to write more concise and less open-ended events.]

Event: Spanish Brokerage, seeing FHM hemorrhaging money and not wanting to lose the large amounts of capital loaned to FHM, decides to call in all loans and credit made to FHM. (Dark)

Event: Zenith AstroTech buys the remains of Aquamatics in Egypt at a cut-rate price, allowing FHM to just barely pay off the loans. (Dark)

Event: To recoup costs, Zenith AstroTech shuts down all Aquamatics operations in Egypt, lays off all remaining employees, and ships out anything not nailed down to sell as scrap, causing an immediate recession in Egypt. (Dark)

[The last two events were put on one card as I allowed the player to dictate more than I should have, but it was late and I had to work the next day.  After discussion this session, we all agreed it was best to split the single card into two events.]

Event: Zenith AstroTech diverts funds from scrapping Aquamatics into Project: Burma. (Light) [NEW]

Period 4: The conflict goes orbital. (Light)

Event: FHM offices in Burma targeted by shadowrunners – an entire city block is destroyed when the building collapses. (Light)

Event: FHM hires shadowrunner to get proof/evidence Riddle Netics and Zenith AstroTech were responsible for the attack on their Burma office. (Light)

Event: FHM releases evidence showing Riddle Netics and Zenith AstroTech were responsible for the attack on their Burma office. (Light)  [Whether or not it is true is a matter for some discussion…]

Event: Zenith AstroTech moves its headquarters to a newly finished orbital facility. (Dark) [NEW]

Event: Aztechnology sends shadowrunners to attack the Zenith AstroTech orbital facility. (Dark)

Scene: Why did Aztechnology send shadowrunners to attack the Zenith AstroTech orbital facility?
The scene takes place after the attack on the orbital facility.  In attendance are: the Assistant Head of Projects, Local Head of Station Security, The Lone Survivor (of the attack), the Lead Investigator, the Insurance Claims Adjustor, and a Reclamations Expert.  After asking many questions, some things are determined: the shadowrunners hacked into the isolated Projects Mainframe, the Head of Projects is missing, and the X-9 prototype is missing.  Station Security shows the Head of Projects last tracked entering a shuttle at the conclusion of the attack on the station, along with the attackers.  The prototype is located floating just outside of the station – telemetry shows a successful (if unscheduled) teleportation as a result of a short to the system (caused by the attackers shooting up the place).  The conclusion is that the attack was a data theft of the teleportation design specs and extraction of the Head of Projects, probably planned by the (now ex-)Head of projects. (Light) [NEW]

Event: Government(s) send in troops. (Dark)  [The specifics were never determined.]

Period 5: The conflict goes teleportational. (a.k.a., The Burma Wars) (Light) [NEW]

Event: Zenith AstroTech holds a tech conference to unveil the Technological Teleportation Device (TTD).  In the shadows, however, rumors swirling about the ZAT orbital attack tag the device with a different name: the Burma Drive. (Dark) [NEW]

Event: FHM stages a failed attempt to steal the TTD technology as part of their long-term strategy. (Light) [NEW]

Event: Aztechnology uses the data from the ZAT orbital attack to reverse engineer the Project: Burma technology. (Light) [NEW]

Event: Aztechnology uses Burma Drives to attack Amazonia, renewing the war between Aztlan and Amazonia. (Dark) [NEW]

Event: The other AAA corporations use front companies to secure Project: Burma technology from either Zenith AstroTech or Aztechnology as the opportunities arise. (Light) [NEW]

Event: Corporations that are not able to buy, beg, or borrow TTDs hire shadowrunners to steal them. (Light) [NEW]

Period 6: One side wins the corporate war. (Dark)

[Renumbered due to the introduction of a new Period.]

Event: The last remaining original Zenith AstroTech executive hires shadowrunners to eliminate the FHM infiltrators. (Light) [NEW]  [I was sloppy creating this event – I should have said the hired shadowrunners eliminated the infiltrators.  This led to the next player creating a counter event, below.]

Event: The FHM infiltrators, under attack, hire shadowrunners to eliminate the final Zenith AstroTech executive. (Light) [NEW] [Luckily, the next player made the same mistake as I did, allowing me to create a counter-counter event.]

Event: ZAT shadowrunners eliminate the last of the FHM infiltrators. (Dark) [NEW]  [Thus ends the bloodiest boardroom battle for control of a company.]

Event: Zenith AstroTech purchases controlling interest in FHM. (Light) [NEW]

Event: Zenith AstroTech petitions the Corporate Court for extraterritoriality status. (Light) [NEW]

Event: The Corporate Court heavily restricts use of Burma drives as they threaten the stability of just about everybody. (Light) [NEW]

Event: Zenith AstroTech granted extraterritoriality status by the Corporate Court, ending the corporate war.

Afterword

That should provide a solid backdrop for a Shadowrun campaign.  My only regret is the introduction of the teleportation technology, which is on me.  I shouldn’t have forced things and come up with something more in the Shadowrun genre.  

While it came about because of my poor wording, I like the resulting battle royal between the last of the original ZAT executives and the FHM infiltrators via shadowrunner proxies.  The FHM infiltrators job was to secretly take control of FHM, wait until FHM sabotaged its own stock value, buy up FHM as a “hostile” takeover, and bring over all of the FHM executives in on the plan.  This would have given FHM a new, favorable face as ZAT and access to all of ZAT’s cutting edge tech, jettisoning all the negative baggage FHM had accumulated.  It almost happened, too.

Later!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Microscope on: The History of the 4th Corporate War

My Monday night group is looking to put together a campaign to run when a player is missing from the regular game.  In the past we defaulted to board games when a player (or the GM) was missing and we could not progress the story.  After missing almost all of June and July this year to that, we decided to do something different and start up a second game for those emergencies.

After some discussion, we decided we wanted to run “something  cyberpunk-y”.  We looked at the several systems available and settled on Shadowrun 5th Edition as available and I’d heard good things about it from a friend actively running it.  I would have preferred Cyberpunk 2020, but it’s way out of print and I don’t recall hearing positive reviews of the 3rd edition release.

So having settled on a game system, we decided to use Microscope to generate a background story for us to run against.  The time scale we envision is technically too short for Microscope, but we decided to give it a spin and see what we get.  So far we’ve been enjoying the game.

The first session was me explaining the rules and going through the start-up, selecting the first Focus, and the Lens adding an Event and a nested Scene to show everyone how it works.  This past Monday we went through two complete rounds around the table and started the third Focus.  Next week we’ll finish that round and get through the last two players having a turn as the Lens.  That should give us enough background to run a short campaign in and add extra frisson when we perform runs that are events in the timeline we created.

In order to keep things straight in my head, I’m converting the notecards into a text-based timeline and I thought I’d share it here.  This isn’t an actual play as I’m just going to run down the timeline, not what was added each round (mostly because we didn’t make note of that).

Microscope has the players set up a Palette, a list of things that should be in the timeline and a list of things that are not allowed.  For this timeline, we selected the following:

Yes: Orbital action, Government intervention, and Class riots

No: Dragons do not get involved, no nukes, Organized Crime does not choose a side, No wanton environmental destruction

So without further ado: 


The History of the 4th Corporate War


Period 1: Two corporations vie for control of a third corporation (Dark).

Event: Freeman Health Manufacturing (FHM) decides with some effort that they must acquire Alvarez Integrated Power Equipment (AIPE) and dominate their industry (Light).

Scene: Why did FHM need to acquire AIPE?
AIPE manufactures a micronized power cell used in all FHM cyberware and it is a significant percentage of the cost of the cyberware.  Recently, AIPE introduced an upgraded version of this power cell, but eliminated a historical discount on sales to FHM.  Alexandria Crowe, CEO of FHM, called a meeting of FHM’s VP of Procurement, FHM’s majority stockholder, and a representative from AIPE to discuss the situation.  In this meeting, AIPE’s representative confirmed the discount had been eliminated and that next year prices were likely to rise again.  At this point, Ms. Crowe decided that in order to control costs and preserve FHM’s profit margin, FHM needed to stage a hostile takeover of AIPE, immediately. (Light)

Event: After the takeover of AIPE, FHM raises the costs of the entire AIPE product line to external customers in order to recoup the cost of the takeover.  Internal customers, like FHM’s cyberware division, get the power cells at cost instead of the pre-takeover wholesale prices.  This allows FHM to keep their own retail prices low while sticking it to their competitors. (Dark)

Event: Tom Riddle, CEO of Riddle Netics – a FHM competitor, is outraged at the major price hike for AIPE components, components which are vital to their own products. (Dark) [Note: In hindsight, this event was not so much of an event and should have been expanded on, but it worked at the time.]

Event: Riddle Netics hires shadowrunners to steal samples and schematics of critical AIPE products. (Light)

Event: FHM uses new AIPE profits to bid on Aquamatics, a water purification company in need of a cash infusion to update and expand its facilities.  Getting wind of this, Riddle Netics enters a competing bid. (Dark)

[Arguably, this action completes this Period, but I think there is still room for shadowrunning shenanigans to happen.  We’ll have to see if this period is returned to in the next session.]

Period 2: The initial corporations start calling in allies. (Light)

Event: FHM hires shadowrunners to plant evidence that Riddle Netics is using poor people as test subjects. (Dark)

Event: FHM spurs a class riot at the HQ of Riddle Netics. (Dark)  [This was probably a shadowrun of some sort.]

Event: Zenith AstroTech announces they are forming a joint venture with Riddle Netics to raise the bid for Aquamatics. (Light)  [This spikes the price of Aquamatics stock, increasing the cost to purchase the company.]

Scene: Why would Zenith AstroTech support Riddle Netics?
At a public gala, representatives and CEOs of Riddle Netics, Zenith AstroTech, Rosa Digital, Diagnostic Radiomation, and the Bank of Burma fell to talking over drinks and hors d’oeuvres.  Riddle Netics and Diagnostic Radiomation were being directly hurt by FHM raising AIPE prices, as were friends and associates of Zenith AstroTech and Rosa Digital.  Discussion turned to the possibility of taking some sort of direct action against FHM.  The representative of the Bank of Burma excused herself at this point.  The CEO of Zenith AstroTech suggested raising the cost of the Aquamatics purchase.  The representative of Diagnostic Radiomation then suggested removal of Aquamatics critical equipment right after the purchase was finalized would also cost FHM.  The group agreed to put some off-budget resources together to make these things happen. (Light)  [Yes, this is the beginning of a shadow war.  Why do you ask?]

Event: In order to fund the escalating conflict with Riddle Netics, FHM borrows money and opens several lines of credit with Spanish Brokerage, a corporate bank headquartered in Hong Kong.

Period 3: The war heats up. (Dark)

[I’ve changed this as the original text was more appropriate for an event.  I’ll note where that text gets re-inserted.]

Event: Shadowrunners hired by Zenith AstroTech raid the Aquamatics manufacturing facility in Egypt and it gets out of hand. (Light)

Event: The Aquamatics manufacturing facility in Egypt is completely destroyed.  Prices of water purification tablets and filters immediately skyrocket in Egypt, leaving the poor masses without affordable potable water across most of the country. (Dark)

Event: Lack of affordable potable water among the poor causes class riots across Egypt. (Dark)

[The riots are the re-inserted text.]

Event: Spanish Brokerage, seeing FHM hemorrhaging money and not wanting to lose the large amounts of capital loaned to FHM, decides to call in all loans and credit made to FHM. (Dark)

Event: Zenith AstroTech buys the remains of Aquamatics in Egypt at a cut-rate price, allowing FHM to just barely pay off the loans. (Dark)

Event: To recoup costs, Zenith AstroTech shuts down all Aquamatics operations in Egypt, lays off all remaining employees, and ships out anything not nailed down to sell as scrap, causing an immediate recession in Egypt. (Dark)

[The last two events were put on one card as I allowed the player to dictate more than I should have, but it was late and I had to work the next day.]

Period 4: The conflict goes orbital. (Light)

Event: FHM offices in Burma targeted by shadowrunners – an entire city block is destroyed when the building collapses. (Light)

Event: FHM hires shadowrunner to get proof/evidence Riddle Netics and Zenith AstroTech were responsible for the attack on their Burma office. (Light)

Event: FHM releases evidence showing Riddle Netics and Zenith AstroTech were responsible for the attack on their Burma office. (Light)  [Whether or not it is true is a matter for some discussion…]

Event: Aztechnology sends shadowrunners to attack the Zenith AstroTech orbital facility. (Dark)  [Why this was done has yet to be determined.]

Event: Government(s) send in troops. (Dark)  [Again, the specifics are still to be determined.]

Period 5: One side wins the corporate war. (Dark)

[Nothing added here yet, but this should probably end with the Corporate Court handing down a ruling, ending the war.]


That’s where we are now.  I’ll provide updates after the next session.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Maps for a Friend's 8-Year Old Son

A friend of mine's 8-year old son spontaneously decided to draw a map of a fantasy world.  He asked on G+ if anyone could make it "professional".  I like making maps.  A lot.  But I'm not a professional at it - I just like dinking around with it.  So I said "yes."

This is the Raw version.

I'm using Illustrator 10 to create the new version because A) I own a copy and B) I want to de-rust my skills with it.  So I traced all the lines and added the country names.  (Yes, there is a "Kingdom of Pron" on the map.  The 8-year old probably doesn't get the reference.)

Then it needed rivers.  And a couple things on the map looked significant, so I named them.  Then I needed to show why some of the political boundaries existed (rivers, forest edges, defensive works, etc.), so I added a few more rivers.  And some mountains.  And some forests.  And some more mountains.  Now it looks like this:
Updated Version

Then I wanted to have a basic map without all the colors of the political divisions.  Luckily, Illustrator has layers, so I could do this easily.  The terrain map looks like this:
Terrain Only Map

The next step is to do a hexagon grid overlay and a few other tweaks required by my perfectionism.  Then I have to find a way to export it to .SVG format that keeps the fonts.  That way they can zoom in and things won't be pixilated.

The end result will be a map my friend can used to teach his son RPGs, a map his son designed and will know all the names.  That is a great dad.  How could I not help?

Later!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Epikydes Underground and Maturation Rates Among Fantasy Rates

Having finished the introductory short story and started outlining the next story (which will be longer, but not Robert Jordan-longer), I'm thinking over things in the short story.

Right now I'm thinking about Epikydes's age.  He is half elven (on his father's side), which traditionally means he has a longer lifespan than humans, so he should look younger than his age.  That said, does a longer total lifespan mean an equally longer amount of time to reach physical maturity?  I don't think so.  If it did, elf children wouldn't have the "Terrible Twos" but the "Terrible Twenties".

That said, I could see childhood up to puberty being developmentally similar across the standard fantasy races with a differential not appearing until puberty.  Put another way, the longer lived races would be teenagers for a longer period.  This time would be no longer than twice human standard (who reach physical maturity between 21 and 25 years of age) and proportional among the other races based on total expected lifespans.  So elves wouldn't reach total physical maturity until roughly 35 years old and dwarves somewhere between 28 and 30 years of age.  So in my story, Epikydes claims to be 18, but looks 15 or 16 to Fadeyka.

Thinking about some of the backstory I want Epikydes to have, I'm not certain that's enough time.  In my mind's eye, Epikydes "ended his apprenticeship" around age 12, just before puberty (although the numbers in the text imply 13-14, or just after puberty).  Medieval and Renaissance children (especially in the working classes) grew up quick, even if physical maturity lagged, so Epikydes was able to "learn what I had to in order to…do what I had to do."  After that, he would have wandered several years, learning from the School of Hard Knocks, until he started his adventuring career properly around age 16 or so.

This means Epikydes had only about 2 years of adventuring, including the couple of months to decipher the dagger script in Aurelius's journal and then do the research to locate the places mentioned in it.  I really want this period to be 8 months or so, leaving about 16 months for adventuring and achieving his current level of competence.

I think the next round of edits will move Epikydes's age to 20 and clean up the implied time since he "ended his apprenticeship".  (Which wasn't pretty or pleasant and marked Epikydes in several ways.)  I think this will make some of the scenes in the next part flow better, particularly the introduction of the paladin.

That part's going to be fun - I'm looking forward to writing it.

Oh! Also, I'm switching posting date to Wednesdays.  It works better for my schedule and I should have done it a while ago.  It will still post in the morning at 7:00 CST.  This week will be an exception - this is the post for this week.

Later!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Epikydes Underground - Chapter Five

After that, Fadeyka conceded my point and apologized for laughing at me.  While I appreciated the apology, not having to keep that particular secret anymore was much more of a relief.  We pulled out a couple bags of coins (I had promised Fadeyka there was treasure here), a magical rope (which we used to get back down to the laboratory), and Thorn, a dagger that, in addition to being magical, was part of a set eight daggers and my entire reason for traveling here.  I then retrieved my Guild badge from a resting place inside the door and we reclosed the vault.  Despite the thickness and age of the stone door, it still swung easily and silently.

As we were climbing back down to the laboratory, we heard the sounds of the approaching dwerro.  I retrieved the rope (it can untie itself on command) and we started heading towards the surface exit as quietly and as quickly as we could.  We eventually lost the dwerro, but stayed as silent as possible until we reached the surface again, just in case.  This meant we had little time or opportunity to talk along the way.

We were bone tired by the time we reached the surface and it was night, but our sense of security was greatly replenished.  “OK, Epikydes, it’s ‘later’ now,” Fadeyka started.  “Tell me about the badge.”

We were walking through the surface ruins above the dwarven halls.  The ruins were a mixture of old human and dwarven architectural styles with trees and shrubs growing rampant around them now.  The old dwarven roads resisted the grass growing through them, but anyplace the road had been damaged was now a thick clump of shrubbery.

“I found it with Aurelius’s remains, along with his journal, this coat, and the star blade,” I answered.  “A group of us were dealing with a goblin uprising that turned out to be a front for a cult working out of an old keep, something Aurelius had been looking into as well.  Apparently Aurelius was discovered and heavily wounded in a fight, but escaped, only to die in a side passage under the keep, where we found him.  I didn’t know what the badge was at first, but held onto it until we dealt with the cult.”

“Afterwards, I started reading through the journal and found all these extra notes and passages written in a dagger-script.  I was curious and spent time deciphering the dagger-script.  It took a while, but it was worth it.  Aurelius was the last surviving Guild-Captain, entrusted with the continuation of the guild.”

“Then why was he traveling up here in the north?” Fadeyka asked.  “Why not use one of the guild vaults and establish a new guild hall somewhere where there are plenty of people?”

“I don’t know,” I answered.  “The journal starts with his travels north, but never gives a reason for them.  I think at some point he either had to or wanted to leave the south, but he never states why.”

“Hmph,” was Fadeyka’s reply.  “What about the dagger then?”

“Somehow they either grant access to or lead to the main guildhall, I’m not certain which,” I replied.  “I do know there are eight of them and they need to be together to do whatever they do.”

“So you plan to find all eight?” Fadeyka asked.

“Yes.”

We walked a bit further while Fadeyka thought something over.  She seemed to come to a conclusion and then said, “Count me in.  This is exactly the sort of thing Armea Gris would assist in.”

“Really?” I asked, somewhat hopefully.  “You don’t have to.”

“No, I don’t have to,” Fadeyka replied, “But I want to.  Until now I haven’t really found my calling here in the north and was starting to think I’d have to return to the temple having merely traveled.  This is much more of a real adventure and Armea Gris is the Adventuring Goddess of Magic, not the Traveling Goddess of Magic.  So,” she turned to look at me as we kept walking, “Where to next?"

I thought about it before answering.  "As far as I can tell, Aurelius's journal places the next nearest dagger in the tombs at Upal Molotok," I replied.

"In the tombs," Fadeyka said.

"Yes," I replied.

"At Upal Molotok," she continued.

"Yes," I replied.

"The closed dwarven city of Upal Molotok."

"Yes," I replied, drawing out the syllable a bit peevishly.

"In the tombs at Upal Molotok, home to the ghosts of Upal Molotok, the undead citizens of the closed dwarven city of Upal Molotok."  Clearly Fadeyka was skeptical about this plan of action.

"Yes, all of that," I said gesturing my hand to indicate all of what she had said.

"And how do you plan on entering the sacred district of a closed dwarven city?  I suspect they will take exception to us telling them we're only there to desecrate a crypt and take a long buried dagger."  There was clearly sarcasm and disbelief in Fadeyka’s voice.

"I know a paladin who can get us in," I said lightly.

Fadeyka quickened her step to get in front of me and then turned and stopped in my path, one hand out.  "Wait.  You know a paladin who...no, never mind that.  What kind of paladin would help us break into a crypt?"  She put her hands on her hips.

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  "He's a paladin in the service of the Queen of Winter Twilight."

"The Queen of Winter Twilight..."  Fadeyka said half to herself while looking down, mulling over the unusual attribute.  It took her a moment as I had translated the goddess’s elven name into the common tongue.  Then Fadeyka took in a short breath and looked up at me.  "That's Marsuda Wasala, Goddess of the Underworld," she said accusingly.  "There are no paladins in Her service.  Paladins tend to fight people in Her service.  Just thinking about a paladin in Her service makes my head itch."  She was actually scratching her head.

"Actually, there is at least one," I countered, holding one finger up in lecture mode.  "He was part of a group I worked with last year."

Fadeyka stared at me, arms still on hips, clearly trying to determine if I was making this up.  After a minute or two, she looked down and said to herself, "Travel takes us to new places to learn new things."  I'm pretty certain she was quoting scripture from her faith.  She sighed, looked back up at me, and said, "Fine.  Let's go meet your friend.  The paladin.  Who serves the Goddess of the Underworld."  She turned and we resumed walking to the edge of the ruins where (hopefully) our horses were still corralled.

After a couple of minutes, she turned and asked, "Where are we going to find this paladin?"

"If he's still in Aldmerrow, he’ll probably be at Markel’s Taphouse," I answered.

She stopped again.  "We're going to find a paladin in a tavern."  It wasn't really a question, more of a statement of disbelief.

"Yep," I said, a bit of glee in my voice at her reaction.  "In a tavern."  I did my best to hide my grin as I caught up to her, but I could tell it was leaking out a bit.

"You're buying the first round," Fadeyka said as she resumed walking.  "And if there is no paladin of the Goddess of the Underworld there, you're buying all the rounds."

"Agreed," I replied.  "But if he is there, you buy all three of us the steak dinner."

"Deal!" she said, stopping walking just long enough so we could shake hands on it.  We then continued walking to get to our horses, each satisfied with the bet we had just made.

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four

Copyright Patrick J. Walsh 2014. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Chapter 5 Posts Tomorrow after the Wife Reading

Part of my editing process (for this short story at least) is that I read each chapter out loud to my wife.  This helps me find awkward phrases, missing words, or other common editorial issues found in the draft of any text.

Chapter Five of Epikydes Underground is written - I just haven't had a chance to read it to my wife yet.  Seeing as she's the reason I chose to post this story rather than keep it as a personal writing project, I feel she should be the first to hear all of it, not just most of it.

I'll read it to her tonight, enter the edits and her comments, and then upload it to Blogger.  It will be scheduled to appear tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM Central like the majority of my posts.

Chapter Five will be the final part of Epikydes Underground.  I'm working on the outline for the next story.  I don't know if it will be a short story of something longer yet, but I suspect it will be longer, probably a novelette.

I'd love to hear what folks think so far.  What's your favorite part?  What would you have changed to make better?  Specific is best.

Thanks!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Epikydes Underground - Chapter Four

The revenants did not pursue us outside the cluster of chambers.  This was good as we had to dodge a couple dwerro search parties and a torch is not the easiest light source to hide.  By the time we reached an area we started to recognize, the first torch was close to burning out and we had to light the second (and last) torch off of it.

We entered the laboratory through the side door the dwerro had ambushed us from.  Aurelius referred to the room as a “Laboratory” in his journal, but never mentioned what they were researching – I’m guessing magical weapons.  There were two large furnaces at one end of the chamber and something Aurelius referred to as a “cold forge” at the other end.  It looked similar to the two main forges, but was empty of ash or anything else.  There were several anvils of various sizes and made of different materials around the room.  In the center, right next to a prominent lever was a large pile of debris and crushed or collapsed stone.  Somewhere under that eight-foot tall pile was my everburning torch.  Twenty feet above the floor the pile of debris rested on was a circular opening about ten feet in diameter, leading to the collapsed upper chamber.

“So,” Fadeyka said, “How do we get up there with debris on everything?  And will the treasure still be accessible?”

“I’m not certain yet,” I said sitting down on one of the larger anvils.  “The falling debris caught me by surprise at first and then the attacking dwerro kept me from taking a closer look afterward.”  I took off my haversack and started pulling some food out of it.  “I think we should take a break and eat while we think it over.”

Fadeyka thought about it and then said, “Let me close and brace this door and I’ll join you.”  She closed the door we had just entered through and used a broken beam from the rubble to brace the door.  It wouldn’t keep the door permanently closed, but we’d get some warning if anyone tried to force it.

It had been something like eight hours since we ate breakfast, so we were both hungry.  Fadeyka sat on the lip of the forge next to the anvil I was leaning on.  The forge lip looked easier to set food out on, so I joined her.  Plus, she might still have an apple left and I was hoping to talk her into sharing it or trading for some of the cheese.

While we ate, we both looked over the problem before us: how to get up into the upper room.  “How stable do you thing the edge of the hole is,” I asked.

Fadeyka looked closer at the lip of the hole in the ceiling.  “Seems stable,” she replied.  “But we can’t see the debris on the upper lever clearly.  It might be loose.”

“Fair point,” I said.  “Think we could use an improvised grappling hook and pull ourselves up?”

“Probably.  I take it you don’t have an actual grappling hook in your haversack?”  There was some amusement in her voice.

“Not this trip – I was planning on using the lift.”

“Hmph,” she said.  She looked at where the lift was buried by debris.  “What about the lift?  Might it still be working?”

“That’s a good question.”  I looked over at the lever.  “I only pulled it to open the ceiling – I never actually engaged the lift itself.”  I thought for a moment.  “But there’s no way it could lift all that debris.”

“Epikydes, it’s dwarven-made.  If it’s still functioning, I bet it could lift twice that weight.”

“Really,” I said, drawing out the word.  “Willing to bet that apple on it?”

Fadeyka looked at the apple she was about to eat and then looked at me, one eyebrow raised.  “Are you serious?” written all across her face.

“Hey, you’re the one with all the dwarven knowledge,” I stated.  “I’m just wondering if you’re willing to put your apple where your mouth is.”  It sounded much better in my head than after I said it out loud.

Fadeyka snickered and then laughed at me.  I shrugged at her – what else could I do.  “I’ll see your bet and raise you,” she countered.  “If the lift works, I get all the apples for the next two days, otherwise you get them.”

“Hmm, I don’t know – that’s a lot of apples,” I said, trying not to grin.  “Throw in that apple and you’ve got yourself a bet.”  This was silly as the apples were part of the food provided by the traveler’s feast ritual and we could always get more.

“Deal,” she said, sticking out her hand.  I shook it and then we both chuckled.

We finished eating the rest of the food (minus the bet apple) and then went over to lever by the pile of debris.  We both looked around at the debris and the opening in the ceiling.  After a couple of minutes, Fadeyka said, “Debris falling off while the lift rises doesn’t invalidate the bet nor cause me to lose.”

“Agreed,” I replied.  “Nor does clearing out a place to stand while operating the lever,” I conceded.

“Thank you,” she answered and we moved some of the debris near the lever so we could safely stand on the lifting platform and operate the lever.  Once that was done there was nothing left to do but stand on the platform and move the lever into the lift position.  We were both a bit hesitant after the disaster of the last attempt to operate the lift.

I sighed.  “I’ll operate it.  Do you want to be on the platform or off.”

“On,” she said while stepping into place.  “I only bet that it would lift once, not twice.”

“Fair enough.”  I stepped over next to Fadeyka and prepared to move the lever.  “Here we go,” I said and then moved the lever in the way described in Aurelius’s journal.

At first, nothing happened.  I looked over at Fadeyka with a raised eyebrow, but she held up a hand and said, “Wait.”

Shortly after that I felt a tremor in the floor and a circular portion of the floor started to rise.  Slowly.  Pieces of rubble started shifting and spilling off the side, raising up a cloud of dust.  Then there was a grinding noise and the platform jerked suddenly and we both started wind-milling our arms to stay standing.  The platform was ten feet up now and only rising in fits and starts, while the grinding sound from below the floor was getting louder.

“This is going to call the dwerro,” I half-yelled to be heard over the noise.

Fadeyka looked up and half-yelled back, “Just a little farther and we’ll be OK.”

I looked up and saw the ceiling slowly approaching us.  Then the platform slipped and fell a foot, nearly shaking me off.  A lot of the debris on the platform bounced and crashed and slid off the platform.  There was metallic tearing sound and then the platform started rising again, the whole thing shaking.  “I have a really bad feeling about this,” I yelled.  It was difficult to remain standing while holding onto the torch.  My grip on the lever was rapidly becoming a liability as the whole apparatus shook and rose in short jerks.

“I think you’re right,” Fadeyka yelled back.  She put the nightvision goggles back on and then unhooked her chain sickle, looking up at the gap in the ceiling.  Just as the platform suddenly tilted to one side, she spun the sickle in a short arc and cast it upwards.

I was suddenly holding on to the lever for dear life as the platform tilted away from me and dropped two feet, all the debris sliding towards the far edge.  Fadeyka was dangling from her chain sickle, the sickle end caught on the lip above.  “Hang on,” she yelled at me over the din as she started climbing.

I said some choice words under my breath and then stepped back, doing my best to balance on the edge of the now-empty platform, which was still trying to rise from the floor.  Unstable didn’t begin to describe the situation as whatever the platform was part of started to rotate as well as rise and shake.  With the top now off center, I was starting to get a very close look at the ceiling.  If this thing kept rising while I wasn’t under the opening, I could learn how a bug feels when it gets stepped on.

Fadeyka climbed up out of my line of sight, through the opening in the ceiling.  The platform started shaking a lot and I decided I couldn’t wait any longer.  I dropped the torch into the room, away from the debris so it hopefully wouldn’t get smothered.  I caught my balance just enough to get my feet under me and jumped at the dangling portion of Fadeyka’s chain sickle.  My timing was good twice – I leapt just as the platform cracked and fell to one side with a thunderous crash, filling the room with rock dust, and I caught the chain.

Fadeyka called out, “Epikydes?”

“Still here,” I answered in a tight voice.  I was trying not to breathe in too much of the rock dust.  A coughing fit while swinging on the chain would only lead to an uncontrolled fall onto a broken surface.

“Try not to swing the chain so much – you’re working the sickle loose,” Fadeyka called down.

“Well I’ll just flap my wings a bit to steady myself then, won’t I?” I called back sarcastically.

“Wait.  You have wings?  Why didn’t you mention that earlier?  You could have flown up here and not messed with the platform at all.”  Fadeyka was also being sarcastic, but it also sounded like she was doing something while talking.  I did my best to dampen the swinging I was doing, but there is only so much you can do when hanging at the end of a chain.  After a moment, she called out, “Hold on tight!”

The chain suddenly jerked sideways a bit.  If she hadn’t warned me, there is a very good chance my grip would have slipped right then and I would have fallen.

“OK, I’ve steadied it as best I can,” she called out, some strain in her voice.  You need to climb up now.”  After a pause she added, “Quickly!”

Remember that huge chain I was climbing down to rescue Fadeyka from the dwerro?  It had these huge links, each the size of my fist.  This provided plenty of very usable grips along the entire length.  Fadeyka’s chain sickle?  Small little links, barely the size of a peanut.  Plus they were periodically oiled, so pretty slick.  While I’m very acrobatic, climbing is not my stronge suit.  On the other hand, a 20-foot fall into sharp broken rubble as the alternative is an excellent motivator.  I took as deep a breath as the rock dust allowed and started climbing.

Climbing the first three feet of chain was slow.  The chain was slightly slippery to begin with, my sweaty hands were now making the climb…challenging.  At the three-foot mark, I reached the point where the chain touched the ceiling.  I pulled my body up under me and bracketed the weight on the end of the chain with my feet, allowing me to support my weight there instead of with my arms.  I paused a moment to catch my breath and rest my arms a bit.

Looking up, I could see the three more feet of chain pulled taut against the rock surface that separated the chamber above from the one below.  At the top of that was the hand-sickle part of Fadeyka’s chain sickle.  A strap was wrapped around it, holding the sickle against the stone face.  It took me a moment to recognize it as the arm strap from Fadeyka’s backpack.

It also caused a different thought in my head.  The falling debris should have knocked out the torch and yet I could see.  I looked down for the source of the light and saw a small, guttering light peeking out from one of the rubble piles.  I looked back up and called out, “Good news!”

“What?” Fadeyka asked, some strain in her voice.

“I found the everburning torch!”

That got a snort from Fadeyka.  “Congratulations.  Now finish climbing up here.  I can’t hold the sickle in place forever.”

Using my tenuous foothold on the end weight, I straightened my legs and stood up on it, gripping the chain above me as best I could.  This left my head just below the lip of the floor above.  I put my arms over the top and started feeling around for a good grip to pull myself up with.  There was a lot of loose debris.  At one point I found Fadeyka’s foot, braced against a slight lip around the opening.

“How are you doing that?” she asked.  “You don’t really have wings do you?  I thought you were being sarcastic.”

“I was,” I replied.  “I’m standing on the end weight.”

“Ah, that explains it,” Fadeyka said.  “Any chance of you getting up here soon?”

I had finally found a good grip and planted my hands.  “Yes.  Hold on to the sickle for just a bit longer.”  I then bent down slightly and vaulted up and over my hands, flipping over onto my back, right next to Fadeyka…and onto several very sharp and painful pieces of rubble.  “Ow,” was all I said.  I may have said it several times.

Fadeyka sat forward, unhooked her backpack strap from the sickle and pulled the chain sickle up.  She had been sitting, bracing her feet while leaning back and pulling on the backpack strap to keep the sickle from slipping free.

I judiciously rolled over to one side so I could at least sit upright.  The debris pile I was on shifted slightly as I moved and smaller pieces and dust slid down and over the edge, dropping to the floor below.  While my back hurt from being jabbed in multiple places by the debris, my armored jacket kept any of it from puncturing me.

As we were catching our breath, Fadeyka looked over to me with a grin and said, “I win the apples.”  This caught me off-guard and all I could do was laugh.  She joined in.

~*~

The noise of the platform failing and collapsing did draw the dwerro.  Luckily for us it had all collapsed right onto the door, blocking it.  We could hear them banging on the door for a while, trying to force it.  There were two other doors to the laboratory, but it would take a little while for the dwerro to circle around.  Once it sounded like they were doing that, Fadeyka and I quickly explored the chamber we were now in.

At one point in the past the dwarves must have used it as storage for forge materials.  There were coal hoppers for several grades of coal (according to what Fadeyka could read on the labels) and various metal ingots on shelves.  When the ceiling above collapsed, it crushed down on the upper portions of the shelving and hoppers.  Debris had filled the spaces between the shelves and the open space for the platform, but there were some relatively clear areas in the corners and on the lowest shelves where chunks of the ceiling failed to completely crush the vertical shelf supports.

This was lucky on our part as the entire reason we were here resided in one of those corners.  We carefully climbed over the debris to one of the sheltered corners and I consulted Aurelius’s journal, one of the pages with extensive notes in dagger-script.  There was just barely enough light here for me to read by.

Satisfied we were in the correct corner of the chamber, I turned to Fadeyka.  “This is the correct place,” I said.  “The next question is: do we get the treasure now or rest for a while and then get the treasure?  I favor resting first, so if the dwerro get up here they won’t know there’s treasure.”

Fadeyka thought about it a bit and then said, “You’re concerned they may have a way up here and we may have a repeat of the last time.”

“Actually, I’m more concerned with them learning there’s a hidden safe up here,” I replied.  “Keeping that secret is almost as important as what’s in it, especially if any of the delft are going to show up.”

“Why,” Fadeyka asked.

“Because…,” I started and then stopped.  I had good reasons, but I also had good reasons for keeping them a secret.  “Because it’s guild business,” I finally answered.

Fadeyka leaned back slightly, one eyebrow raised.  “Guild business,” she stated with a tone of skepticism in her voice.

“Yes, guild business,” I repeated.  I was unhappy keeping the secret from Fadeyka, but I wasn’t certain how much I should tell her.

Fadeyka was looking at me in a considering way.  She was still wearing the goggles, but I had the definite impression she was looking at all the throwing stars and daggers I carried on my person and the kinds of magical gear I carried.  “What kind of guild do you belong to, Epikydes?”  She seemed to have come to an answer of her own, one she did not like.

And that was a question I was not ready to answer.  At least not just yet.  So I decided to defer.  “I can’t give you all the specifics, but it’s an old guild that requires members to keep all of its secrets.  I can’t say more than that right now.”

Fadeyka clearly did not like that answer but decided to not push the point anymore.  “Then I think we need to get the treasure and get some distance from here.  Secret or no secret, if we wait until the dwerro get organized or just get larger numbers, we’ll be trapped up here and they will eventually work out a way to get to us.”

I was very relieved to get past the issue of what kind of guild I belonged to.  I trusted Fadeyka and did not like keeping secrets from her.  “OK, I’ll open it.”  I paused, realizing how bad my next words were going to sound.  “Um, I need you to turn around and face the other way.”

“What?”  Fadeyka’s voice went up in volume on that word.

“I need you to turn around and look the other way while I open the vault.”  I had a definite sinking feeling.

“Why, Epikydes?” she asked with some definite wariness in her voice.  “Why do I need to turn my back to you?”

I sighed.  I wasn’t past the point of which guild after all.  "I can't tell you," I said.  "Guild secrets are involved."

Fadeyka was clearly angry now.  "Which guild," Fadeyka demanded.  “Which guild do you belong to?”  When it was clear I wasn't going to answer, she crossed her arms and said, "Epikydes, if we are going any further on this, I need to know which guild you are working for.  If you won't tell me, then we are done here."

Looking at her face, I could tell she was angry about this and was really serious about not turning around.  I sighed again and reflexively looked around to see if anyone else was listening – a pointless thing to do here, but some habits die hard.  "The Imperial Cartographer's Guild," I said quietly.

Fadeyka blinked several times, clearly surprised by my answer.  "The who?"

"The Imperial Cartographer's Guild," I replied slightly louder in a more disgruntled voice.

Her crossed arms came down slightly and her head cocked slightly to one side.  "Epikydes, the Empire fell over 400 years ago and there hasn't been an Imperial Guild of any sort since the fall of the False Dynasty 150 years ago."

I stared at her for a moment and then reached into an interior pocket of my vest, under my armored coat.  I withdrew a small bundle wrapped in soft leather and then unwrapped it, exposing a silver badge of office.  I held it up so she could see.  "You are mostly correct.  Virtually all of the remaining Imperial Guilds were destroyed or abolished after they backed the False Dynasty's bid for power.  But NOT the Imperial Cartographer's Guild."

Fadeyka nearly laughed at my pronouncement.  "Look, Epikydes" Fadeyka said, barely containing her mirth, "Just because you found an old guild badge somewhere doesn't make you a member of that guild."

"Maybe, maybe not, but it will when I re-found the guild."  I was slightly nervous when I said that – it was the first time I had voiced my desire to re-found the Imperial Cartographer's Guild out loud.

Fadeyka outright laughed at my statement.  Loudly.  For a while.  I could feel the blush burning my cheeks while she laughed at me.

After a while, she was able to catch her breath enough to ask, "What...what makes you think it's a real badge?"

Rather than try and explain it to her, I simply turned to the wall and slid my guild badge into a concealed slot.  Once it was inside, several mechanical sounds could be heard and then a four-foot square section of wall was outlined in light.  Slowly and silently, that section of wall swung open, revealing it to be three feet thick.  Behind this door was a small vault containing a couple chests, several bags of coins, and some glowing gems set in niches on the sides.

I turned back to Fadeyka and said, "Because it opens Imperial Cartographer's Guild emergency vaults."  She was no longer laughing.

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three

Copyright Patrick J. Walsh 2014. All rights reserved.