Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Epikydes Underground - Chapter Three

“This can’t be good,” Fadeyka said.

We were standing in front of the entrance to either servant’s quarters or a cluster of domestic repair shops.  It was difficult to tell due to the heavy soot on the ceiling and walls and the immense pile of ash in front of the melted metal doors to the cluster of chambers.  When the Doric Horde invaded these halls long ago, some of the dwarves apparently barricaded themselves in these chambers.  The attackers had created a great fire in front of the doors and made it hot enough that the stone softened and the metal bindings melted and ran.

“How would you even do that,” I quietly asked out loud, not really expecting an answer.

“They turned this courtyard area into a primitive blast furnace,” Fadeyka answered, equally as quiet.  “They forced air down the corridor we walked down to get here and it exited through this side passage.  Once it got started, the dwarves couldn’t open the gates to do anything about it or the flames and fumes would have flooded over them.”  I looked over at Fadeyka and raised an eyebrow.  “You’re not the only one who knows unexpected things, Epikydes,” she replied to my unspoken question.

“Fair point,” I replied.  “And it is one of the reasons I asked you to come here with me.”  I started pulling out my map to check it again, but it was tricky to do while holding the candle I was using as a light source.

“Yes, I do recall you mentioning that you wanted someone smarter than you to back you up.”  She stepped over to me and took the candle out of my left hand, allowing me to pull out the map and check it without struggling.  There may have been some subtext there, but I was focused on the map.

“I meant every word of it,” I replied, opening the map and then holding it so I could read it by the candle light.  Fadeyka moved the candle to help and so she could see the map as well.  “Looks like we are going to have to go through here,: I said.  “That side passage heads the wrong way and this is a dead end otherwise.”

Fadeyka looked up from the map and into the soot covered ruins we were going to have to transverse.  “I wish you hadn’t said it that way.”

“Why,” I asked as I started folding the map back up.

“Getting here was almost too easy.  The dwerro never came up to these passages, even though we could hear them searching down on the main level.  I’m concerned there might be a reason for that.”  She was still staring into the blackened ruins, a look of concern on her face.

I took the candle back from her, noting it still had another hour or so left on it.  “You mean like they remember something bad happened here and avoid the bad luck,” I asked hopefully.

She pulled out the jade moon medallion that was the symbol of her faith with one hand and then readied her chain sickle in the other.  “If that’s all it is, I think we will be very lucky.”

I thought back on the events that got us here and then started readying my weapons as well.  This had not been a trip overflowing with luck.

~*~

The inner courtyard was covered with soot, as were the side passages and shops immediately off the courtyard.  There were signs the entry doors had been subject to hasty reinforcement, but apparently it had not been enough.

We walked without talking, trying to make as little noise as possible.  This was easier for me than Fadeyka as the armored jacket I wore was designed to be quiet and I had training in moving silently.  Fadeyka on the other hand wore chainmail and as quietly as she tried to step, it still made slight metal-on-metal noises as she moved.  Anywhere else but here and it might not have been noticeable, but here the soft metal noises seemed to carry and echo.

We made it past the entry courtyard area and started walking along a ten-foot wide passage that led deeper into the cluster of chambers.  The walls were not as soot covered here, but the ceiling was streaked with it.  We were starting to breathe easier and slightly picking up our pace as we passed broken down doors to storage areas on either side of us.  Then we heard the sound – Fwoomp – followed by a soft crackling noise.

I turned to look at Fadeyka and silently mouthed, “What was that?”  She shrugged and pointed towards a storage area to the left and slightly ahead of us, indicating that was where she thought the sound came from.  A flickering light could now be seen lighting the open doorway.

I used hand gestures to suggest we move along the wall to the right, away from the now lit doorway.  Fadeyka nodded agreement and we resumed slowly moving down the passageway.

As we came even with the doorway on our left, we could see into the storage room.  It once had shelving on the walls and down the center of the room to hold small crates and maybe furniture.  It was now a fire-scarred ruin.  The source of the light was a short stocky skeleton of a dwarf, flames licking its bones, shuffling around the debris that now filled the room.  Everything it touched immediately caught fire.

Then it saw us.

It turned to face us and made to bellow, its exposed ribs creaking and popping as they flexed.  The sound that came out was the whistling shriek of steam escaping from a wet log thrown onto a roaring fire.  The small licks of flame along its bones bloomed into a full aurora of flames and I could feel the sudden wash of heat from over 30 feet away.  Then it moved towards us.

I’ll be honest – I was ready to bolt out of there and already taking my first steps.  Fadeyka, on the other hand, held out her jade moon medallion and said in a firm voice, “In the name of Armea Gris I compel you to back to your eternal slumber!”  Her medallion flashed with a green glow that slammed into the burning skeleton, cracking bones and driving it back into the storage room, where it collapsed and went out.

I’m pretty sure my mouth was hanging open at that point as I had to close my mouth before I could say, “Wow.”

The jade of Fadeyka’s medallion still glowed with an internal radiance.  Her eyes were also glowing as they did when she channeled the power of the goddess she served, the light leaking out around the goggles she was wearing.  “We need to hurry now,” she said as she started walking past me.

“Why?” I asked, stepping quickly to follow her.  “You just smacked that bag of bones down.”

“Two reasons,” she replied.  She held one finger up as I caught up with her.  “One, it takes a little bit before I can do that again.  Two,” she held up another finger, “There’s a very good chance that…”

Behind us we heard: Fwoomp, Fwoomp, Fwoomp, followed by a now familiar crackling noise.

“…There may be more of those burning revenants.”  Then we heard the Fwoomp noise several more times ahead of us.  “Many more of them.”

We came to a T-intersection and paused.  The walls down either passage had doorways spaced evenly along them; several now had firelight emanating from them.  I thought back to what was on my map and then pointed down the right-hand corridor.  “The laboratory is in this general direction, so there should be an exit this way.”

“Why?  I thought you had no maps of this area?”  We started moving in the direction I indicated.

“I don’t, but if there’s no exit this way…”

“…Then we get to join the burning undead,” Fadeyka concluded my sentence.

“There is one good about this,” I said.  Up ahead we could hear the steam-shriek of several revenants calling to each other and the temperature in the corridor rose noticeably.

“What’s that?” Fadeyka asked as we started running.

“When they attack, I won’t have to hold onto this candle in order to see.”

“Ha!” Fadeyka laughed as we turned a corner to the left.  Two burning revenants stepped out into the corridor behind us and started pursuing us.  “Always looking at the bright side I see.”

I groaned at her joke, but didn’t stop running.  Up ahead I could just make out another intersection with some piles of rubble in it.  Hopefully one of the branches led to the way out of this cluster of chambers.  Then two of the “rubble piles” ignited with a Fwoomp and started standing up.

We slowed from an all-out run, but kept approaching the intersection.  I willed the star blade into a throw-able configuration and flung it at one of the burning revenants.  The star blade clicked into the proper configuration in flight and then smashed the bones apart before the revenant could fully assemble.  After the strike, the star blade looped back to my hand and I caught it.  One of the many advantages of a magical throwing weapon.

Fadeyka once again held forth her jade moon medallion and a bright ray of green light leapt forth, lancing the remaining revenant, cracking bones.  The revenant staggered, but did not fall.  It’s aurora of flame rose up around it, but I noticed there were sparks of green amongst the flames.

“Yours is still standing,” I said, stating the obvious as it moved to attack me.

“I know, but I want to keep the channeling ready in case there are more.  Plus it should be easier for you to hit now.”

It swung at me with an arm like an inferno.  It failed to connect (barely), but the heat from the flames was wilting none-the-less.  The candle I was holding completely melted and went out and the air I breathed in seared my lungs.  I was much too close to it for comfort, no matter how you defined it.

“Easier to hit?  All I have to do is stand still and I can hit it with my face.”  I took a quick step back to give me enough room to throw the star blade again and did so.  The star blade smashed apart the remaining bones, which fell to the ground, flames quickly dying out (but not before I safely caught the returning star blade).  I slumped down to one knee with a groan I hadn’t intended on letting out.

“Epikydes?  Are you alright?”  Fadeyka asked.  I could just make out her silhouette as she moved over and crouched next to me, backlit by four burning revenants that came around the corner down the corridor behind us.

“Mostly,” I croaked.  “It’s a little difficult to breathe – I can’t quite catch a full breathe.”

“Let me help,” she said.  Her jade moon medallion glowed again, but this time, instead of striking an enemy, Fadeyka said a word and the glow enveloped me.  Immediately the tightness in my chest dissolved and I could breathe again.  The stinging in my hand where the molten wax had poured across it also eased to nothing as the green glow faded away.  I immediately started slapping at my belt pouches, searching them by touch.  “What are you doing?” Fadeyka asked.

“Looking for my flint and steel so I can light another candle and we can get out of here.”  I found and pulled them out and then went to the pouch containing my candles – it squished.  “Crap,” I said.

“Your candles are melted,” Fadeyka stated.

“My candles are melted,” I confirmed.

“Well I have a couple torches,” Fadeyka contributed.  “If you use them right, I think you could light one off of those fellows,” she said while gesturing towards the approaching revenants.

The light was now bright enough for me to see where she was gesturing and despite myself, I snickered.  “Sure,” I said.  “I’ll just go hit them up for a light.”  I stashed my flint and steel again and Fadeyka and I stood up together.  We were both looking at the four approaching revenants and grinning at them.  “Has anyone ever questioned the wisdom of the priesthood of Armea Gris?”

“Well, we are followers of the Adventuring Goddess of Magic,” Fadeyka replied.

“That would be a ‘yes’, wouldn’t it,” I stated, still grinning.

“Do you want a torch or not,” she asked.  She was still amused, but I might have been getting to the edge of this little comedy routine.

“Yes.  Yes I do,” I answered with a more serious bent to my voice.  I reached over to her backpack and removed one of the three-foot torches still strapped there.  I looked at the revenants and said, “We take down the first three and then try and light it off the last one?”

Fadeyka was about to agree when we heard the unmistakable Fwoomp sounds of more revenants activating off to our left.  We looked down the side passage and saw three more burning revenants forming in a courtyard down that direction.  We could also see the partially destroyed gates of the exit.  “How about we take out all four of these,” Fadeyka said, gesturing at the four pursuing us, “then two of those, and then light it off the last one.”

“That sounds like a plan, but we need to hurry before we fight all seven at once.”

“Agreed,” Fadeyka replied.  “Let me attempt to turn all four of these first, then you clean up any stragglers?”

I sheathed the star blade, stuck the torch handle-up in a bit of rubble, and readied my throwing stars.  “Deal,” was all I said.

By that point the intersection was fully lit from the four revenants almost on us.  Fadeyka held forth her jade moon medallion and again said the words, “In the name of Armea Gris I compel you to back to your eternal slumber!”  Again the green glow slammed into the revenants, cracking their bones and driving them back.  All four blew apart into an intermingled carpet of burnt bones and their flames blew out.

I blinked a couple of times and then turned to the second group.  They started to stagger closer to us, but were not fully moving yet.  “Change of plans,” I said.  “Let me weaken these instead and then you start picking them off,” I called as I moved forward.  I then started throwing a flurry of blades, filling the area and hitting all three revenants multiple times in multiple joints.  While clearly damaged, none were completely destroyed.  They staggered towards me, but did not catch me before I fell back to the intersection with Fadeyka.

“I will never again poke fun at you for packing so many of those,” was all Fadeyka said before lancing one of the revenants with a bright green blast from her medallion, destroying her target.

I grabbed the torch from where it was standing and readied it like a club.  “You take the one on the right; I’ll try to light this off the one on the left when I smash it to pieces.”

“Agreed,” Fadeyka said as the last two revenants closed on us.

I charged the revenant on the left, acrobatically rolling around behind it at the last second and swinging with all I had.  The heat near the thing was nearly unbearable, but I connected with the torch, shattering the bones.  At almost the same time, Fadeyka blasted the other revenant with a lance of green light.

I did my best to hold the torch head in the rapidly dying flames from the revenant and was rewarded by the crackle of the torch lighting.  I stepped back from the remains, pulling in some (slightly) cooler air as I caught my breath.

Fadeyka walked up to me, panting slightly herself and grinning.  “That wasn’t too bad,” she said.  “Want to stick around and clear out the rest of them?”

“Nope,” I replied.  “I’ve had enough of fighting the undead.  Help me find my throwing stars real quick and then let’s get out of here.”

She chuckled to herself as we picked up as many of my throwing stars as we could quickly find and left through the exit.


Copyright Patrick J. Walsh 2014.  All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Epikydes Underground - Chapter 2

After sleeping for several hours (I don’t know how many – we’re underground and I didn't bring enough candles to waste one while we sleep simply for timekeeping), we ate a quick meal and prepared to exit our little hiding hole.  While Fadeyka said her morning prayers, using the links of her chain sickle as prayer beads, I opened Aurelius’s journal to the section describing this complex of underground ruins, my own journal to the notes I had taken about the ruins while looking for Fadeyka, and the hand-drawn map I put together from various sources.  I started updating my map with the new information using a charcoal pencil.

By the time I was done updating my map, Fadeyka was completing her morning prayers.  Her eyes glowed a pale green as she finished, as they always did after she communed with the goddess.  The glow would subside in a bit and it unnerved many people, but I liked the look.  “You’re starring again,” Fadeyka said.

I quickly looked back to my map.  “Sorry.”  I could feel the blush on my face and was hoping that Fadeyka could not see it in the candle light.

She coiled her chain sickle and hung it on the hook on her belt.  She then stood up and walked over next to me at the table where the two journals and the map were laid out.  I was still pretending to look over the map, avoiding looking at her until I was more confident my blush was under control.  “You’re not bothered by the Light of the Goddess, are you,” she asked.  She was clearly talking about her eyes glowing.

I thought about pretending I hadn't noticed, but I obviously had, so I decided truth would be a better idea.  “No,” I said, and then quickly added, “I think it looks…”  I waved my hand a bit before lamely ending, “…Good.”  I looked up to see how she was responding to that.

She was looking at me with a contemplative face, the glow in her eyes slowly fading.  I think she was trying to determine if I meant what I was saying.  After a couple of seconds she nodded her head and looked at the map.  “Do you have a good path back to the Laboratory?”

I cleared my throat and said, “Almost.  These upper passages we’re in seem to be maintenance or servant passages.  They’re all full of dust, so the dwerro don’t seem to be using them.”

“But they might if they decide that is how I escaped,” Fadeyka added.

“Right,” I agreed.  “So we should be able to follow these passages along what Aurelius calls the Great Hall in his journal.”  I indicated the passages on my map.  “The problem is that I didn’t have time to go down there and look, so I don’t know what’s down there or if they connect to similar passages near the Laboratory.”

“There is only one way to find out and it’s better than going down to the main level where the dwerro are,” Fadeyka replied.

“My thinking as well,” I agreed.  “Shall we?”

“Yes.”  She started to pick up her backpack and then suddenly stopped.  “Wait!  How am I going to see once we leave here?”

“My goggles,” I said, handing them over to her.  “I only have one set, but I can see just as well by candlelight, so we’ll have to chance a little light.”

Fadeyka took the googles from me, looking at them and then at me with some concern on her face.  “Is that going to be safe?  Won’t it slow us down?”

“We should be able to move just as well as when we had the torch – it’s one of the few gifts my father gave me.”  Elves can see just as well in low light as in bright daylight and my father, whoever he was, was an elf and I inherited that ability.  I started packing away the journals and the map.

That seemed to satisfy Fadeyka’s concerns.  “I keep forgetting you’re half-elven – you tend hide it.”

“It helps people underestimate me, which gives me an advantage when I want it.”  I finished putting away my things and latched my haversack closed.  “Plus, strangers are less wary around a kid than someone with enough years to be an adult.  It’s gotten me the occasional hot soup and shelter from the rain that I might not have received otherwise.”

“You are entirely too young to be that cynical,” Fadeyka replied.  She was shouldering her backpack and putting on the darkvision goggles.

“I’m not being cynical, just practical,” I said, shouldering my haversack.  “I've spent a lot of time traveling alone and appreciate the kindnesses I receive.  I usually help out to return the favor, but try to get out before anyone decides I’d be the perfect husband for their daughter or niece or anything.”  Fadeyka snorted at that.  “No, really!  That was one of the first things I learned on the road.  Every farm is looking for another hand to work the farm and they think marriage is the best way to get one that you don’t have to pay too much because now they’re family.”

Fadeyka looked at me with a mix of curiosity and humor, mostly humor.  “Are you saying you’re secretly married somewhere and ran off from your new bride?”

“No, thank the gods,” I replied, “But I did once overhear secret wedding plans being made for me.  They were just waiting for the justice of the peace to arrive the next day before confronting me about ‘courting’ their ugly niece.  I left that night, hiking as fast and as far as I could.”

Fadeyka chuckled at that and then said, “Well on that uplifting note, shall we start?”

“Yes, let’s,” I answered.

Copyright Patrick J. Walsh 2014. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Epikydes Underground - Chapter 1

I would have asked myself how I got here, but I already knew the answer: wondering what the dagger-script passages in Aurelius’s journal said.

By “here” I mean carefully climbing (head first!) down a long length of chain to the cage where Fadeyka was locked up, prisoner of the dwerro.  The chain went up to the ceiling of a phosphorescent fungus-lit cave, through a pulley, and down to a huge winch (that’s “winch” not “wench”).  Sitting around that winch were several dwerro, ostensibly guarding it (but really playing Liar’s Dice for Fadeyka’s clothes – I think, my ability to understand degenerate dwarves with a tendency to babble is not high).  This is why I was freeing Fadeyka the hard way.  Luckily, I found a passage for servicing the pulley on the ceiling, which, by the way, had not seen use anytime recently as the caked dust was thick and I had to move slow to avoid causing myself to sneeze.

Now a bold man would call Fadeyka a comely wench, even with the extensive henna tattoo work, but he’d better duck quickly afterward or she’d knock the leer off his face with her chain sickle.  I call her “an excellent example of an adventuring priestess of Armea Gris, the adventuring goddess of magic,” which is to say: she’s very fit, has nice curves, and a chip on her shoulder about people who see only her body, not her well-trained mind.  Which is how I talked her into this expedition – I told her I needed someone smarter and more knowledgeable than me to back me up.  Well, that plus providing an opportunity to leave Coldpond right after she’d wrecked the village’s only tavern (due to some grope-y patrons).  The town guard closing in significantly helped make my case.  Timing is everything.

Me?  My name is Epikydes.  I’m half-elven, unlike Fadeyka who is full human.  Also unlike her long straight black hair and green eyes, I have shoulder-length brown hair and brown eyes with a little green in them.  I’m only a little taller than Fadeyka, but she’s tall for a woman in these parts (at least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it).

Right then, however, I was slowly climbing down this chain to free her.  Luckily the chain had not been oiled in quite some time, providing me with a much better grip.  Grip is important when one is climbing down a chain over a deep, wide, spiked pit.  The downside was that the chain creaked if I moved it too much, so I had to climb down slowly.  My arms were not happy.

While I was moving slow enough to keep the chain from making noise, I couldn't keep it from making any motion at all and the vibrations on the chain warned Fadeyka that something was up.  She spotted me in the gloom and adjusted her seating position so she could watch the dwerro guards and check my progress with minimal motion, reducing the chance of attracting the guards’ attention.  I wish she hadn't – it gave me a great view down her blouse.  Did I mention “curves”?  Very distracting.

When I (finally) reached the cage, I pulled a vial of oil out of a belt pouch and applied it to the hinge where the chain attached to the cage.  Fadeyka shot me a look when some of it dripped on her leg, but said nothing.

Once the hinge was oiled, I slowly let myself down onto the cage and let out a quiet sigh when it made no noise.  The cage was about five feet on each side, made of a grid of iron bars.  The pit underneath the cage was thirty feet in diameter.  A thinner chain connected the side of the cage to the edge of the pit, allowing the dwerro to pull the cage over when they wanted to put someone in it or take them out.

I reached into a different pouch and pulled out a jade medallion shaped like one of the moons, the symbol of Fadeyka’s faith, and carefully handed it to her through the cage bars.  She was clearly pleased to see it again.  One of the dwerro had taken it from her as a trophy when she was captured.  I later relieved him of it and any other burdens he might have been carrying.  I cleaned all the blood off of it with some holy water before trying this rescue.  Priests get finicky about things like that.

Next was the tricky part.  I climbed out over the side of the cage to get at the locking mechanism for the small door on the side.  Fadeyka moved back to the far side of the cage to balance the weight and keep the cage from moving too much.  It’s that kind of thinking on her part that makes me really glad to have her on this trip.

Long story-short, I picked the locks, oiled the hinges, and silently opened the cage door.  After a little careful climbing we were both on top of the cage.  We had a short pantomime conversation about climbing up and who would go first and then she started climbing.  I’d like to say something nice about myself here, but the truth is, my arms were tired and I wanted to rest them a little longer before making the climb up.  Once she was half way up the chain I followed.

There was a sticky bit when she got to the top and stepped into the service passage, which shook the chain a lot.  It caused the now unlocked cage door to slowly reopen.  I decided to speed climb the last ten feet rather than get caught on the chain by the guards – they had crossbows and my armored coat was up in the service passage.  This caused more movement of the cage and the cage door started to swing back closed just as I made even with the service passage.  Fadeyka grabbed me and pulled me to her and into the service passage (and out of sight) just as the cage door slammed shut, alerting the guards.

(Did I mention Fadeyka was stronger than me?  There’s a reason the adventuring priestesses of Armea Gris are called “Moon Amazons”, just like there is a reason they are rarely called that to their faces and never more than once.)

We stood in the shadows of the access passage, trying to quietly catch our breath while Fadeyka listened to the babble of the guards.  She understood dwarven-speak, which seemed to also apply to crazy-degenerate-dwarven-speak.  After a few moments she leaned over and whispered into my ear, “They’re trying to figure out whether I teleported or turned invisible and who has to pull the cage over to check.  We should be safe for a short while.  Did you bring any food or water?”

“Yes to both,” I whispered back.  “They’re about twenty feet back in my haversack.”

“Great!  I’m famished,” she whispered in reply before releasing me and making her way down the passage.  She took two steps and then stopped.  “You’re going to have to lead me,” she quietly stated.  “I can’t see in here.”

“What?  Oh, right!”  I had been wearing my darkvision goggles for so long I had forgotten about them and this passage did not have enough light for Fadeyka to see by.  I stepped over to her and placed her right hand on my left shoulder.  “OK, small steps, straight ahead,” I instructed quietly.  “There are no stairs, but it does slope downward and the dust is kind of thick.”

We made it to the niche where I had stashed most of my gear.  I pulled out some deer jerky and a waterskin and put them in Fadeyka’s hands so she could eat and drink while I put on my gear.  It had been something close to a day since Fadeyka had been captured and she quickly finished off the deer meat and drank much of the water by the time I was ready to move.

“So what’s our plan?” Fadeyka asked.

“The tunnels around here seem to be unused and I found a room nearby with a concealed door.  We can hold up there while we rest and get some sleep.  After that, we can do some real planning.”

“Are we going to continue on or find our way back to the surface?”

This was a fair question and Fadeyka had every right to an answer, but I…wasn’t certain yet.  I sighed.  “I haven’t decided yet.  I haven’t slept in over a day and have been scouting extremely hostile territory trying to find and rescue you.”  My voice was starting to get a little querulous from the strain so I stopped and took a deep breath.  “I’d really like to get some sleep before making that decision.”

Fadeyka was clearly not pleased with the answer, but nodded.  “OK.  We put that off until we both get some sleep.”  She took a final pull from the water skin before concluding, “But tomorrow we will discuss this until we reach a decision.”

“Deal.”

~*~

The hidden room was only a short distance away, but it was past a spiral staircase leading back down to where the dwerro were active.  We could faintly hear the dwerro guards starting to call out an alarm, which echoed up the stairs as we moved past them.  Fadeyka tensed up but continued walking, following my lead.

The hidden room was accessed through a door concealed in an elaborate geometrical wall carving.  I would have missed it entirely when I came this way earlier, but I noticed parts of the pattern formed the word “rest” in dagger-script and looked closer.  Now I knew exactly which part of the carving to lift on and the door silently swung into the room (I’d taken the time to oil the hinges earlier – handy stuff oil is).

I helped Fadeyka over the high step into the hidden room before climbing in myself and closing and bolting the door behind us.  I pulled a candle and my flint, steel, and kindling from a belt pouch (yes, I have several belt pouches) and said, “I’m about to light a candle.”  Fadeyka nodded and turned her head away while I lit the candle.  Once it was lit, I lifted my goggles up to my forehead and moved the candle to an old candle holder.  The room was once fairly cozy, with a writing desk, some bunk beds, and three small barrels that once held…something – they were dry now.  The table was rickety and I didn't trust the bunks to support any weight, but there was floor space to sleep on and the door was concealed.

“This is an interesting little place,” Fadeyka commented.  “How did you find it?”

“Dagger-script hidden in the patterns of the wall carving.”  I stepped over to the desk and set my haversack down on it and started pulling stuff out of it.  “I was able to rescue a lot of your stuff from the dwerro, but not all of it.”  I set out her backpack (heavily damaged as the dwerro tore it apart to get at the contents), her books (scuffed but still intact), and some of her miscellaneous gear, including most of her bedroll.  “They ate all the food they found and drank the water, but…”

“…seeing how I've been providing us food and water through a ritual, that’s not a major problem,” Fadeyka finished my sentence as she walked over to examine the items I’d laid on the desk.  “My books and gear are OK, if damaged, but my backpack is a loss and you don’t seem to have my weapons.”

I smiled mischievously and replied, “As is so happens…”  I reached into my haversack and pulled out her chain sickle.  She was suitable pleased to see it and eagerly took it from my hands.  “Unfortunately, they liked your daggers and crossbow so much they ditched their own and kept yours.  I can give you two of my daggers to replace yours, but I don’t have a spare crossbow on me.”

“Really?”  She smiled lopsidedly at me.  “You seem to have everything else in that haversack.”

I grinned back.  “It is handy.”  She groaned slightly at my pun.  Handy haversacks are appropriately named, being magically larger on the inside than they are on the outside and a fixed (low) weight no matter how heavy the items you placed inside were.  It was a solid investment, even though it had cost me nearly all the money I had at the time.  “I can fix your back pack, so that won’t be a problem either.”

Fadeyka looked at the torn remains of her back pack and then back at me with a raised eye brow.  “Oh I see.  That handy with a needle and thread are you?”  Her voice was full of doubt.

“No.”  I reached into my haversack and pulled out another book, one whose cover was made of leather tree leaves stitched together, vaguely suggesting a face.  “But you aren't the only one to know a ritual or two.”

This clearly surprised her.  “I know you have several magic items, including that star blade of yours, but I had no idea you had studied the arcane, Epikydes.  When did this happen?”  There was sly humor in her voice.

Fadeyka's question and the book in my hands brought back some unbidden and unpleasant memories.  I’m sure I made a face, because the humor dropped out of Fadeyka's expression.  After a moment, I responded, “It happened when I was young.  I learned what I had to in order to…do what I had to do.”  I barely got the last part out through clenched teeth.  I realized how hard I was gripping the book and took a deep breath to let out the tension.

Fadeyka looked at me with an evaluating face and then asked, “Epikydes, you’re only a kid…”

“I’m 18,” I interrupted.

“Fine, 18,” she conceded.  “How long ago was this and is there anything I should be aware of regarding your past possibly showing up?”

I smiled a grin that was not nice and said, “Oh no.  Nothing to worry about there – my timing assured that.  You are completely safe from that.”  I really should not have smiled like that at her, but it was difficult to keep that dark triumph under wraps.

Fadeyka was clearly not happy with my answer or the grin that went with it.  She decided to leave that alone and try a different tack.  “OK, then.  You still haven’t answered my other question.”

I had to stop and think a bit on the answer, remembering past all the adventuring that had brought me here.  “Um, about four, maybe four and a half years ago?”  I scratched my head.  “Something like that.  That’s when I, uh, ended my apprenticeship and came north.”  Fadeyka was still staring at me, which was starting to make me a bit nervous.  “So anyways,” I said, a bit too loudly, “I can fix your back pack good as new.”  She kept staring at me.  “I’ll, um, I’ll just get started on it then.”  I pulled a small satchel out of my haversack, gathered up the remains of her back pack, moved around her while she continued to stare at me, and then over to an empty space on the floor.

According to the notches in the candle, it took me about a half an hour to lay out the shredded remains of the back pack and get all the pieces properly marked for the ritual (damn those destructive dwerro, the ritual normally only takes ten minutes).  During that time, Fadeyka set her bedroll next to me to be repaired as well and then started a different ritual, Travelers’ Feast.  By the time I finished mending both the back pack and the bedroll, Fadeyka was finishing her ritual.  A green glow infused the space above a blanket she had spread out on the floor.  As she said the final words of the ritual, the green glow coalesced over the blanket, resolving into a day’s worth of food in the form of dried meats, some cheese, a few hard rolls, a couple apples, and a large skin of water.  I waited until Fadeyka offered thanks to Armea Gris before reaching for any of the food.

As we were both hungry, we ate in silence for a short time before Fadeyka restarted the conversation.  “Epikydes, thank you for rescuing me.”

I smiled, partly from pride at pulling it off and partly from embarrassment at being thanked.  “Um, sure.  I’m sure you would have done the same for me.”

“Probably.”  She smiled to show she wasn’t being entirely serious.  “But then I wouldn't have pulled that lever ‘just to see what it would do’, either.”

“That’s entirely unfair,” I started with a little heat in my voice.  “There’s no way I could have known the lever would release all that debris into the room.  It clearly was supposed to lift the center of the floor up into the next room – it’s not my fault that that room was full of debris from a collapse.”  This was a sore point for me – the falling debris had nearly flattened us.  As it was, the everburning torch we had been using was buried under the rocks and by the time we had recovered, the dwerro had arrived and attacked.  I had been lucky to escape, but Fadeyka was knocked unconscious in the fight and captured.  I spent the following day hiding from the dwerro and working out how to rescue Fadeyka.

“OK, OK,” Fadeyka held up her hands as though fending off my words.  “But I believe I did suggest we stand to the side the first time we pulled the lever.”

I really had no argument against that – she had.  “Fair point,” I conceded, deflating somewhat.

“So next time you’ll listen to what I have to say and actually give it some consideration?”  As lightly as it was asked, it really wasn’t a question.

“Yes, Fadeyka, I will.”  Suddenly I wasn’t really hungry anymore and felt very tired.  To give myself something to do, I started packing up the rest of the food, split evenly between her backpack and my haversack.

“Epikydes.”

“Yes, Fadeyka?”

“Stop packing for a moment and look at me,” she requested.  I did so.  She had an earnest look on her face.  “I want you to know that I don’t blame you for me being captured.  It was bad luck on our part that the dwerro were that close.”  She leaned forward slightly.  “If you had not left when I told you to, we would have both been captured with no one to rescue us.”

I bit my lower lip nervously before speaking, “Maybe so, but…”

“No ‘buts’.  If you had stayed and kept fighting we would both be locked in that cage,” Fadeyka insisted, pointing in the general direction of the cage.  A slight grin lifted one corner of her mouth.  “Instead, we have this lovely palace to rest in,” she gestured to the small room we were in, “and the freedom to plan where we are going next.”  She sat back a little before concluding more seriously, “You did the right and necessary thing.”

I still felt bad for leaving her to the dwerro, even at her insistence when the fight started going against us.  “I’m willing to accept it was the necessary thing to do,” I said quietly, “But I still don’t like it.”

“I know that and I’m glad that leaving your adventuring partner during a fight is not an easy thing,” she said with a note of humor in her voice.  “Armea Gris teaches us that the road is not always easy to travel, sometimes it is quite difficult, but if you pay attention and step smartly the trip is always worth taking.”

I wasn't certain what to say.  Fadeyka had switched into her role as priestess and I knew what she was saying made sense, but I still had trouble with it.  I felt deeply ashamed at nearly getting her killed twice and captured once and it was my sense of responsibility that drove me to rescuing her.  Now that I’d done so, I still had my doubts about my ability to make decisions and the wisdom of coming down here.

I think Fadeyka could guess what I was thinking from looking at my face because she said with a serious voice, “Epikydes, you came back and rescued me on your own and, so far, we've gotten away from my captors.  We have our lives, most of our gear, and a safe place to rest due to your actions.  You've done all the right things after some bad luck.  I agreed to this delve because you had done the research and had a good plan.  We may need a new plan now, but the original plan was still good.”

I thought for a moment.  “So…you’re still willing to continue?”

Now it was her turn to sit back and think, putting one hand on her chin.  “We’re deeper in the complex now than we planned,” she said, thinking out loud.  “The dwerro will probably keep looking for us for the next few days, which means we will need to avoid them and we have to be out of here in four days, maximum.”

I was puzzled.  “Why the four day limit?”

“Because in five days a delft slave trading group from the Deeps will arrive here, looking for a priestess of Armea Gris the dwerro promised them.  I don’t want to be anywhere in these ruins when they get here.”

A shiver crawled down my spine.  I had personal experience with how sly and vicious the dark elves could be and never wanted to repeat that experience.  “Four days it is,” I said.  “Three if we can swing it.”

“That would be preferred,” Fadeyka agreed.

Copyright Patrick J. Walsh 2014.  All rights reserved.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Update and...well...an Update?

OK. So that didn't quite work out how I thought it would.  The game I was going to provide updates for actually happened and we completed the first story arc.  I even took notes, but afterwards, it wasn't clicking for me as a writing exercise.  Don't know why, but it wasn't.

So I tried something else.  About four years ago, I had a story idea and wrote for a couple of hours for a couple of days to get the basic part down.  This got me most of the way through Chapter 1.  Then I wasn't certain where to go next, so I set it aside.  I've returned to that story idea several times over the last couple of years, even when working on The Speedwell War, but nothing clicked.

Fast-forward to this year.  I needed to get back into the groove writing-wise and chronicling the steampunk-ish campaign wasn't doing it.  So I turned back to the story idea, and suddenly I knew where it was going next.  So I resumed writing on it.  

After I got most of the way through Chapter 2, I decided I wanted some feedback on it, so I read it out loud to my wife while we (she) were working on dinner one night.  When I finished reading what I had, my wife asked what happened next (because it stopped mid-scene).  I told her I hadn't written that part yet and she suggested I do so.  Soonest.  Like, now.

With that encouragement, I got writing on the story.  I wrote a couple hours here and there as I had the time over the last 2 months.  Now I've got Chapter 4 half written and most of Chapter 5 done (I had an idea for Chapter 5 while working on Chapter 3 and wrote out the idea while it was fresh in my head) and I want to get some wider feedback.

As you read it, it will become apparent that I'm using some game stuff to provide character capabilities.  Any recommendations about distancing that would be appreciated as I'd kind of like to sell this short story on Amazon and Smashwords and not run into any IP challenges.

Also, being a writer, I love to hear what you thought were the strong points and the weak points of the story.  (Writers crave feedback.  CRAVE I tell you.)

The story will post Tuesday and Thursday mornings starting tomorrow.  There will be a total of five chapters, so two and a half weeks of posts, which will be enough time for me to finish the last chapters before I need to post them.

Later! 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Where Shadows May Fall – Prolog

[I'm getting back into the habit of writing campaign summaries and writing in general.  This is a prolog for a Victorian-style Alternate Earth Campaign my wife is starting.  We did a character completion session and the introduction of characters this past Saturday.  The game is slated to run once a month on a Saturday.  I'll be chronicling it from the perspective of my charater, Professor Detlef Strohkirch.]

Characters:

Professor Detlef Strohkirche
Professor Sappho Yaavne
Major Yevhen Voytko
William, Earl of Redstone, Esquire and Doctor
Ching Shih, Chinese Pirate Queen (ret.)
Dr. Samuel Wilkinson
Charles Cole, Consulting Detective

~*~
Diary Entry for: 11 January 1816

Dear Diary,
I attended a tea and dinner with the local heads of the Society of Ravens – the Marchioness of Brisital and the Marquis Raleigh.  This meeting indicated that my application to join the Society was accepted.  Now perhaps I can go about seeking some funding for my next Symphonium Automata – a social club for gathering knowledge with branches at universities across The Continent must certainly have members able to fund my work.

I was surprised to learn that I was not the only one being inducted this day.  Seven others were in attendance.  I started assuming this was the candidate class for this year, but as things unfolded I realized we were brought together as a group for a purpose by the Society.  Hmm.  I’m certain the real purpose will become known, but for now – I’m getting ahead of myself.

Also in attendance were:

  • His Royal Highness, Knyaz of the Transural Steppes, Major of the Tsar’s Imperial Guard, Yehven Voytko, Imperial Russ State Alchemist
  • The Right Honorable Earl of Redstone, William, Lord Temporal [means he sits in the House of Lords, NOT that he is a Time Lord], Fellow of the Royal Society, Esquire [means he is a lawyer], Doctor
  • Ching Shih, Petal (I do not know what this means, but it appeared to be a title of some sort)
  • Sappho Yaaune (one of the Sil*); Petal, Society of the Rose (this might be different that that owned by Ching Shih, but I never got around to asking); Cog, Lund Mechanical Inventor’s Society; Professor at Ros Sorcha University (a full professor!  I was only able to secure an associate professorship.  I wonder if her species had anything to do with it or if she just had better connects – I’ll need to ask around.)
  • Sir Dr. Samuel Wilkinson, Knight of the Realm, Doctor of Surgery (We've met before and knew his father by correspondence during the time Samuel was dead.)
  • [Charles Cole – the player had to leave before we did the introduction scene, so I don’t have all his titles, but he is a consulting detective living in Lundin (game world London)]
  • [Sir Not Appearing This Game Session – a player who had to miss the session due to work, but whose character was assumed to be in attendance]


We arrived at the Savoy precisely at 4:00 pm and were treated to a fancy tea party first.  This seems to be an Anglish social custom as I’ve seen it happen often since arriving in this country a year and a half ago.  A break in the afternoon is a pleasant enough thing, but the Anglish seem to waste time over the whole activity.  In Gotha we’d have a beer and a sausage if we were hungry and get on with things, but that is not the Anglish way of doing things.

I fell in with Professor Yaaune as she is an automail** specialist and she and I discussed the theoretical limits of automail technology and how much of a person could be replaced before they were no longer that person.  We proceeded to discussing possible designs and I was having difficulty getting a design concept across to her.  As she had two pocket watches and some spare automail parts on her, so I cobbled together a design to illustrate what I was discussing.  This was interrupted by a transition to an actual dining room for the actual meal, but we resumed work after getting seated.  I finished the little automata and ran it through a few exercises to verify it was complete by the time the third of fifth course arrived.  (I admit I lost track of which exact course we were on while completing the automata.)  Apparently our hosts also joined us during the transition to the dining room.

The rest of the dinner Professor Yaaune and I discussed some related topics and I will admit I needed Samuel to recite text from a couple of the books I know he has memorized to get past a few points.  Professor Yaaune approaches automail from a biological perspective whereas I work from the mechanical perspective.

Near the end of the dinner (right after the desert cheeses were brought out, which seemed to make Professor Yaaune a bit tipsy – something about the Sil digestive system reacts to cheese like humans react to alcohol), our hosts gifted us each a high quality carriage and Top Hat [high rank and quality coachman].  This seemed an extravagant gift for newly inducted members of the Society, but the Marchioness went on to explain the group of us (minus herself and the Marquis) were to act as a field team for the Society and we are assigned to travel to the town of Glassenbury in Cornwall tomorrow morning via locomotive transport along with a financial representative of the Society.  In Cornwall, we were to contact the Glassen family who own the lands there and verify the contents of a library they are selling to the Society.  Additionally, we are to arrange for the isolation of the library from the Glassen’s home, to which it is attached.

This is not what I joined the Society to do and I believe I could see similar sentiments on the faces of some of the others.  Miss Shih had some very pointed questions about what exact we were to do and what limits there were upon our behavior and options.  We are to not endanger the sale nor anger or offend the Glassen family as the Society was in negotiations with them for several other items in different locations.  This includes avoiding offending any of their peculiar religious beliefs – they apparently are some flavor of the Christian faith and view Angland’s Druidic faith somewhat poorly.  That said, we are to secure the library, including any of the hidden passages and rooms rumored to be part of the library’s construction.  Miss Shih has a very direct way of viewing things and I think I will be able to work well with her.

By this point it was approaching 9:00 in the evening and the dinner finished.  We received some final directions on where to be to ride the locomotive transport to Cornwall.  I’m somewhat curious to see what someone else did applying a steam engine for transportation.

I just realized it has been over 40 years since I built the steam-powered mobile Symphonium Automata in Zagreb.  I still blame the cobblestones for jostling the steam feed and shunting the entire output through the organworks.  I’m sure they've replaced all the glass in the city by now.

After that we all returned to our respective domiciles.  I informed Martijn we would be traveling in the morning and to pack for a trip of a week’s length.  I also informed him I had been granted a Top Hat by the Society and told him to find a room for her in the house and space for the carriage somewhere.  I then proceeded upstairs to make this diary entry.  Now I am going to sleep.  I hope Martijn doesn't make too much noise packing for us.

Guten nacht, Tagebuch.

Note to Self: Learn the Top Hat’s name.  I’m sure she has one – most people do.


* Sil - This world includes a race very like the Silurians from the Doctor Who television show.  Think "fine-scaled snake people" and you pretty much have it.  In-game, they used advanced technology to teach the monkey's to not attack Sil population centers or else, establishing the Pax Siluriana.  They don't generally mingle with Humans, but there is an embassy at most national capitols in Urope (the Europe equivalent).

** automail - Borrowed from Full Metal Alchemist, automail are essentially cybernetic replacement limbs.  I think they work because of magic, but they do need to be designed and built for each wearer.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Campaign Resumes

So I took November off for a couple reasons.  Primarily, I wanted to spend the month writing Draft 3 of my novel.  What actually happened was that work got crazy busy with the end of a four-year project and after spending 8 hours working on field study documentation everyday, I wasn't really motivated to sit in front of my laptop at home.

I did resume work on my novel.  My steering committee and I reviewed a new storyboard for the first three chapters and talked over the new scenes being added and the ones removed and why.  Mostly this was focusing on seven point of view characters (POV characters) to make the timeline that is Draft 2 into a story as Draft 3.

Talking out the storyboard and explaining what I'm thinking to my steering committee helps set the ideas in my mind and provides feedback on what works and what needs work.  It also helped clarify what the point of each scene was and how it progressed the story.  It also brought back two scenes I was planning on cutting as none of the POV characters were there.  The committee members argued that the scenes were important to show and provided greater impact than if I tried to relate them happening off stage.

We have another storyboard review scheduled this weekend to go through (hopefully) the rest of the chapters.

But first, the Blood, Gold, and Lizards campaign Friday Group meets (on Friday, natch).  I've reviewed my notes of what they were up to, but it remains to be seen if they pick up that thread or go off on a different tangent.  I'm looking forward to finding out.

That's it for now - Later!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Blood, Gold, and Lizards - Friday Group - Session 6

[This was a relatively short session as we started a bit late and there was a good deal of discussion during the first half of the session.]


Attendees
Hugo Underwood – Wood Elf shaman
Felix Lutsk – Human “acquisitioner”
Albrecht Artyom – Human Grey Wizard
Fritz Schmidt – Human scout
Alset Alokin – High Elf mage


Before heading out into the wilds again, the group spent time dealing with business in town.

Fritz became the patron of the owner/operator of a general store in town, Ditmar Lumm.  Fritz directed Ditmar to start growing contacts and a supply chain to support the colony (when established).  [Fritz spent experience points to buy a Follower.]

Uncle Felix’s Armor Shop opened for business and Felix started making plans to bring in weapons smiths as well as the high quality armor smiths he had hired.  [Felix spent experience points to purchase a base with "followers" of it's own - the employed smiths.  Note: the smiths are loyal to the shop, not Felix.]

The loot from the treasure closet was divvyed up*.  The sealed lead chest was investigated and determined to have no traps on it, but it was sealed with a lump of lead instead of a lock.  "Morrsleib" sounded familiar to the adventurers, but most could not remember why.  Hugo remembered it was the name of the green moon, but could not quite remember the significance.

After the lead lump was removed, Felix opened the chest.  Inside was an oversized skull made of glowing green crystal – it was pure warpstone!**  As it’s corrupting energies washed over Felix, he could feel it trying to change him.  Made of sterner stuff, Felix resisted its effects and slammed the chest shut.  He then set about resealing it immediately.  All the exposed skin on his front was red as though sun-burned.  This triggered Alset’s memory: Morslieb was reputed to be the source of all warpstone, so the symbol embossed on the chest was a warning.  [GM wearing an evil grin here.]

Alset commissioned two sets of three copper-covered iron rods from Felix’s smithy and was told they would be ready in a week and a half.  He has plans for them relating to his teleport spell...

Finally, Albrecht decided to bring two handfuls of the unmagic dust with him on the current expedition and Fritz chose to bring three.  The remaining three handfuls were left at F&A Holdings.

The next morning the group mounted up on their horses and headed east along Quarry Road.  At Watch Tower 1 they turned off the road and headed northeast across the plains, aiming for the southern of the two towers out on the plains on their map.  As they got near, their path crossed the fringe of the Wedge Wood, where the forest was growing around a barrier that only seemed to affect the forest.  The adventurers searched the area, finding an abandoned logging camp.  Hugo was able to determine that the camp had been abandoned for at least a year, but there was no indications as to why it had been abandoned.

The adventurers then continued on to the lone hill with a tower on it.  Just like its neighbor to the northwest, Alset was able to locate lines of force emanating from inside the hill.  One line headed to the northwest, directly towards the tower the adventurers had previously explored.  One line of force headed northeast, to possibly link up with one of the lines from the other tower, and the third line headed due east, where the adventurers theorized another tower could be found.  They deduced that there were a total of six towers with something at the center, possibly a seventh tower.

The adventurers examined the tower they were at.  Like the tower to the northwest, it had no windows or doors.  Albrecht teleported to the top of the wall and verified that the tower was completely hollow inside, just like the one to the northwest.  Searching around the hill, they did not find the illusion covered cave entrance where they were expecting it [on the "inside" of the area delineated by the lines of force].  They did find a one on the southeastern edge of the hill, set into a low cliff face.

As it was getting late in the day, the group decided to camp, but back at the abandoned logging camp three miles away.  They rode there and set up in the largest standing building [about the size of a barn].  The doors were long gone on the building, which was significant later, but the building provided cover for the adventurers and their mounts.

On second watch (Alset and Albrecht), Alset spotted a small group of creatures approaching.  The creatures looked similar to the Cold Ones that Dark Elfs ride and were directly approaching the camp.  Alset had Albrecht wake the rest of the group.  The adventurers clustered at the front entrance and readied for the creatures to attack.  All three wizards cast enhancing spells on Felix, increasing his Dexterity and armor protection significantly.  He stood in the front center, ready for the rush of the beasts.

The beasts had been making clicks and trills at each other while approaching and when the rush happened, it did not go as expected.  Two of the six beasts charged the front entrance, but the others broke off into two groups and moved around the sides of the building, heading for the wide open rear entrance.  Felix stood his ground and fended off the two attacking the front, barely scratched by their ferocious attacks thanks to the magics protecting him.

As the fight progressed, the four flanking beasts charged in through the rear entrance and fell on the horses stabled in an adjacent side room.  Horrible sounds of horses dying could be heard by the adventurers at the front, which angered the adventurers.  The group started peeling off from the front fight to stop the slaughter of their horses.  Felix cut down one of the two beasts at the front, driving off the other [who suddenly found its sense of self-preservation], ending the front fight.

The adventurers killed the rest of the attacking beasts, but not before losing all but one of their horses.  With one horse left, the group decided to return to town.  Alset could teleport the group back to town with the horse, but not if they found any significant treasure under the tower as the horse put him at the edge of of his teleportation spell’s capabilities.

Back in town, the group waited a few days until the full moon for the next monthly auction to happen.  They sold off several items they had been holding on to: the wraith crowns, the ceremonial gold bowl, and the gold torc.  They then split up the proceeds and made arrangements for Quetzal and Zoglug to get their shares.

End of Session


* The treasure consisted of:
1. Large dragonhide shield [50% resistant ED damage reduction to fire attacks, 11- Act.]
2. Pendant charm (minor magic) [2rPD hardened vs. missiles, 1 Turn per day]
3. Fingerbone charm (minor magic) [+5 DCV once per day]
4. Potion of Vitality [LS: aging, sleep, and food, plus 0 END Running and STR, lasts 1 hour]
5. Unmagic dust - took a while to identify [Dispel, 10d6 per handful of dust, bag of 8 handfuls]
6. Bronze torc with opals set in the caps (old-style Jicarilla work) - 350-450g
7. 10,000 copper coins, triangular in shape, with the face of an Elf on one side and the phrase "Through Darkness, Light" on the other.
8. 1000 silver coins, triangular in shape, with a skull on one side and the phrase "Through Darkness, Light" on the other.
9. 600 gold coins, triangular in shape, with the face of a Human wearing a crown on one side and the phrase "Through Darkness, Light" on the other.
10. Small lead chest with the Elf symbol of Morrsleib embossed on it.

** Yes, Kasey, the party just found a crystal skull.  ;)