Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.
Aug 20, 2007
Psionics Game: 1st Session
The workroom looked strange cleared of its usual paraphernalia: the psychoactive crystals, the vials of ectoplasm and ferroplasm and quicksilver caught in a matrix of glass hard as iron. In place of the working machinery of psionic power there was instead a small mountain of traveling gear.
Nymbus stood on the far side of the table from his students, regarding them through his wispy white eyebrows. He looked ancient for a human, but healthy and strong if not robust. His hair had long since gone white with age, but his skin retained a darker, faintly reddish hue, and his eyes were brilliant black beads that revealed nothing.
His students eyed each other a little warily. Although they had spent the past six months living in the school, they had different schedules and studied different subjects, so they had not spent a great deal of time together. It didn’t help that they were different species, either . . . La’ss’a and Fa’ss’th were barely waist-high on the humans, and they were, well, lizards. Scaly skin, pointy teeth, claws, tails, the whole bit. They glanced at each other with large yellow eyes and then smiled disarmingly at Barak and Sam.
Next to the coordinated lizards, the human men looked a bit mis-matched. Sam was tall enough, but there was no extra meat on his lanky body anywhere, and his hair was a bright cheerful blond that didn’t match his cold-eyed expression. Barak was more solid, with trim brown hair and beard that matched his sober brown clothing.
“My students,” Nymbus finally spoke, “You have come a long way since you arrived in my little valley. I would like you to journey outside with me now, and assist me with my researches . . . toward this end, I have assembled gear for you all. Prepare yourselves, and meet me outside in half an hour.” He smiled at them, more absently then benevolently, then left them to their own company.
Fa’ss’th stepped forward and immediately began sorting through the piles of gear, pocketing a few magical scrolls as he did so. He didn’t feel particularly guilty: no one else was studying magic to bolster their psionic power, so it wasn’t like they could use the scrolls in any case. “Can you big fellows take some of this heavy stuff?”
Sam examined the pile. “I’ll take the sneaky stuff if you lizards do the cooking,” he offered, handing La’ss’a a pot as big as her head.
“You may have to explain human cuisine to me, but I’ll try.”
“Cook the meat, THEN serve,” Barak replied urgently. Eventually, all the gear was stowed away.
Nymbus led the group deep into the Small Teeth, to a tiny valley hidden between great granite walls. It was a pleasant place, with small trickling streams and wide pools: plants grew thick and short there, protected from the weather by the surrounding stone, but also hidden from life-giving sunlight for much of the day.
“Be wary of the left-hand fork of this valley,” Nymbus remarked as they walked. “A great carnivorous lizard dwells there. It is no threat to me, but you may find it troublesome if you disturb it.”
At the end of the valley was a narrow hole drilled directly into the rock: barely three feet in diameter, it appeared to run eighty feet or more straight through solid granite. Nymbus bent easily and shimmied through the hole, followed rapidly by the lizards who hardly had to bow their heads, but Barak and Sam had difficulty, laboring to transport the majority of the gear through the tunnel.
At the far end was a tiny grotto, a lava bubble once, perhaps, that had cracked open admitting light and rainwater. A tiny pool gathered beneath the crack in the stone, reflecting the brilliant crystal that grew from its center. The crystal was immense, tall as a human and twice as broad, but it appeared fragile. Nymbus waited a moment for them to rest after their exertions, then motioned for them to approach the crystal.
Then the light overhead was abruptly cut off and a rumble of thunder shook the grotto. Nymbus stared up into the crack and muttered under his breath, then turned and cast his arm in a sweep over his students. A wall of viscous liquid sprang up around them just as a bolt of light, or lightning, zagged impossibly between the rocks, striking the crystal and setting it ablaze. Then it exploded.
The cacophony was terrible, a discordant tone that seemed liable to shake the world apart, and a terrible light seemed to follow in its wake. It was some time before the students could see and hear again, and then they wondered whether it was worth it. The grotto was peppered with tiny shards of crystal; sharp pieces that jabbed even booted feet. Nymbus lay unhurt on the grassy earth, but he was unconscious, eyes open and staring.
Barak swept crystal shards away and bent to examine their teacher while the others explored the grotto. Sam, examining the tunnel mouth, heard strange coarse voices echoing in the passageway outside. He waved to the other students and scrambled down the tunnel, taking refuge in some rocks on the other side just as the speakers appeared. They were orcs, four of them, brutish humanoids that infested the mountains with their other uncivilized kin. Sam spoke their tongue well enough and listened while they argued over who should enter the tunnel. Finally one was chosen and began forcing his wide frame through the confining rock.
Sam concentrated and a black radiance formed in his fingers, coalescing into a blade. He fed his will into it and it began to hum faintly; creeping closer to the orcs, he drove the ethereal blade into the creature’s back. It screeched in pain and he struck it again, leaving its corpse to topple to the ground. An orc drew sword and charged him: he dodged the slow, clumsy metal blade and cut it nearly in half with a flash of the psychic knife. The other fled.
In the tunnel, La’ss’a confronted the crawling orc. Her eyes widened as it reached out a hand and formed a blade of will and spirit . . . she had never seen anyone but Sam perform this trick. She stepped back, hardly having to dodge the clumsy blow, and punched the orc ferociously in the nose with one little fist, snapping its head back. It struggled, finding that it could not turn around and could not back up, until Sam’s blade penetrated its spine and left it dead as well.
“How is he?” Fa’ss’th asked Barak in concern. They stood looking over Nymbus while the sounds of fighting echoed weirdly down the tunnel.”
“Not good, he’s alive, but his mind . . .”
“Can we move him? Humans are so heavy.”
Barak frowned in concentration for a moment and then pulled on Nymbus feet . . . his body slid effortlessly over the ground, as though he lay on greased ice. “This will serve for a short time.”
“Good enough,” the lizard wizard grinned, scampering down the tunnel after La’ss’a. He examined the orcs at the end of the passageway.
“That one summoned a soul blade,” the female lizard remarked casually. Fa’ss’th blinked at her.
“Really? I thought we were, well, unique! It seems odd that we’d run into them now. They’re probably here to collect whatever was left after that ‘storm’.”
“Agreed. If you can manage Nymbus with Barak, I will go scout ahead.”
“They probably have friends,” Sam added. “I doubt they caused that storm all by themselves.”
“Together, then?” La’ss’a asked, and when Sam nodded she set off silently along the valley, moving slowly and staying out of sight. Just around the first bend they discovered a large group of orcs, speaking in low tones with some small creature concealed in their midst. When the orcs shifted position, it was revealed as a goblin with oddly blue skin. He gestured with a spear at one orc, bigger than the rest and garbed in heavy chainmail. The axe slung over the orc’s back looked like it could fell a tree in one blow.
“Thoughts?” Sam asked quietly.
“If we had all four of us, we might be able to take them . . . except for the big guy. We . . . could try luring Nymbus’ big lizard down here, it’s just up that path there.”
“I like it. Who gets to act as bait.”
“Fa’ss’th, of course, he’s beaten me in too many footraces.”
The lizard wizard grumped a bit at being volunteered, but he climbed over the rocks until he could look down into the other side of the valley. There was, indeed, a large beast of some sort sleeping in the sun. Without stopping to think about it too much, Fa’ss’th threw a beam of energy its way. It woke with an outraged snort.
“AAAAAAAGH!” Fa’ss’th screamed and took off running, his magic granting him additional speed. It was a good thing, too, as the lizard was preternaturally fast, running on its long hind legs with great scimitar-like dewclaws on each foot. It followed him directly into the mass of orcs, which scattered at the onslaught. The big orc buried his axe in the monster’s neck and it was all over from there bar the screaming. Within moments, the only creatures remaining alive were the lizard, studded with javelins and bleeding from many sword wounds, and an orc that had fled back towards the stone tunnel.
Barak pointed a hand at the lizard and loosed a beam of red light full into its face. With a last gurgle it collapsed and lay still, smoking. Sam chased after the fleeing orc. He rounded the bend just as it slipped back down the stone wall, falling in a pathetic heap at his feet.
“No kill! No kill!” it gabbled in barely-coherent Common.
“Fine, then talk! Why were you here?!”
“Me talk! Big man send! Big man send look hu-man!”
“I speak Orc you cretin,” Sam growled, switching tongues. “What big man? What human?”
“I don’t know! Vist paid us to come along.”
“Who was Vist?”
“Little blue goblin. He’s a wizard or something.”
“So all you know is that the blue goblin paid you to come out here? Nothing else, like what you were going to do or what you were looking for?”
“My tribe allied with Sythillis, he has a human mage or something that brought a bunch of weird goblins and orcs with him to Murann. That’s where the goblin came from.” Sam tapped his blade against his leg slowly and the orc blanched.
“See, that’s better.”
“I don’t know any more than that. We were supposed to take the old human to Sythillis in Murann.”
“Who is Sythillis?”
The orc laughed contemptuously. “If you don’t know of Sythillis then you will die quickly, human. He’s a great Ogre mage! He rules the once-human city of Murann now! Soon he will rule Athkatla as well!”
“You picked the wrong time to gloat,” Sam declared, slashing upwards with the blade. The orc stumbled back, barely avoiding it, and then launched himself at Sam in an attempt to grapple. Sam lashed out with the blade again and the orc fell gurgling. Returning to the group, Sam recounted what he had learned. Barak shook his head.
“We need to get Nymbus home.”
“Or at least someplace safe,” Fa’ss’th muttered.
The journey to the school was not difficult, but upon arriving the students had yet another nasty shock: a man was standing in front of the doors to the observatory, apparently trying to get in. Sam and La’ss’a exchanged glances, then fanned out and approached in silence. Sam attempted to adopt a friendly look without great success.
“Can I help you with something?”
For a moment, the man did not respond, then he sneered, “Do you know how to open this door?”
“Of course I know how to open the door.”
The man looked shocked. “You do?!”
“How? Are you a student here?”
“It’s quite simple, really, all you have to do is talk to THE MAN WHO OWNS IT!!”
The man did not appear alarmed. “I can do better than that, friend,” he said, his eyes taking on a distant cast. La’ss’a dove forward and felt the terrible pressure of some power fly through her . . . she shook it off and looked at Sam. The human’s mouth worked for a second without sound, then he turned and looked at the female lizard.
“I think you should get out of this guy’s way, huh?” Sam’s expression told of some terrible struggle going on beneath.
“What?” She asked, dumbfounded. She snarled at the stranger and held up clawed hands, preparing to fight.
A bright flash illuminated the school grounds for a moment, followed by a scouring blast of wind that came close to knocking everyone from their feet. A man coalesced out of the wind, speaking angrily, “What is the meaning of this?!” He was tall and lean, with long red hair full of gray threads, and wore a heavy, ornate robe. He was also slightly transparent, and his feet did not disturb the grass where he stood.
Sam felt the mental bonds holding him loosen and summoned a soul blade, but the new arrival forestalled him. “Strike any blow before I have my answers and you will not live to regret it.”
“These . . . persons attacked me without cause!” The others stranger spoke, his voice filled with rage. He was, if anything, even taller than the transparent man, with long black hair and golden skin that sparkled faintly in the sunlight.
“And you are?”
“I am Sulveig, a former student at this school. I came to visit, only to discover the place abandoned and the master nowhere to be found. Then these ruffians appeared!”
Sam began to utter an angry retort but La’ss’a held up a cautionary paw. The transparent man looked down at the lizard monk. “And what is your story?”
“Thsss, I would know your name and your purpose before I explain further.”
The transparent man frowned, but then nodded respectfully. “I am Athur Arronnan, although I doubt you have heard of me. I belong to a group that monitors psionic activity in Faerun. Normally we avoid this place; the master of this school is known to us and we have no direct quarrel with him. In the past few days, however, there has been a suspicious increase in activity, so I came to reconnoiter.”
La’ss’a looked up at Sam, who shrugged.
“We are Nymbus’ current students. We were helping him with his researches in a location a few days’ travel from here when he was struck with some unknown malady. We returned to find this individual here, and when we accosted him he used some sort of power on us.”
“Bah! How do you know they didn’t just dispose of Nymbus themselves?”
“Be silent, Sulveig or whatever your name is.” Athur crouched to look the lizard in the eye. “Did you bring Nymbus back with you?”
“Ahh . . . yes, he is nearby, with one of the other students.”
“How many of you are there?”
“Very well, fetch Nymbus and your friends, if you will, and I will take a look at him.”
In short order Nymbus’ stretcher was laid on the ground before the observatory, with Sam, Barak, La’ss’a and Fa’ss’th all gathered around him. Athur examined the old psion while Sulveig made a show of impatience in the background.
“He is not hurt, but his mind has gone beyond our reach. I do not know if he will ever recover,” Athur said finally. “What happened to cause this?”
The four students looked at each other. Finally Barak volunteered, “Nymbus took us to a site in the mountains where a great crystal was growing. Lightning struck the crystal and it exploded . . . there was some sort of power backlash. Nymbus shielded us from it, that’s why we’re still here.”
Athur snorted. “I can only guess that he assumed it would not harm him.”
“You believe this ‘story’? From the look of them I’d say they attempted to do away with him! I’ve tolerated this nonsense long enough! I demand that Nymbus be turned over to me for protection, as his former student I’m . . .”
“You demand?!” Athur snarled. “Nymbus has many former students . . . I am one of them! I am quite capable of ascertaining the truth for myself, and I detect no lie in these young people.”
Sulveig stepped close to Athur, waggling his finger under the Uncarnate’s nose. “You would do well not to try my temper, old man.”
Athur swept his arm out in a backhanded blow, sending Sulveig sprawling across the grass. “You are a joke,” he said. “Be glad I suffer you to leave with your life . . . provided you leave now.”
Sam took a step forward. “Well, I’m not suffering it!”
“No!” Athur ordered. “I will not have you fighting over the scene of this tragedy.” Sulveig heaved himself to his feet and stormed away.
“You’re just going to let him go?! He . . .” Sam began again.
“Is a cretin, I know. And he wants something, that much is obvious. You are a young man, with a young man’s conviction that the thing immediately in front of him is of greatest importance. In time you will come to understand that one weasel is not so important in the grand scheme of things.” He sighed. “Now then, I can care for Nymbus while he is incapacitated and guard the valley well enough, I think, but I do not have the right to make dispositions regarding his welfare. That should rightly devolve to his heir.”
“What heir?” Fa’ss’th asked.
“I doubt any of you know this, as they have been estranged for some time, but Nymbus has a daughter. She lives not too far from here, I believe, a hundred miles to the west or thereabouts. I have not visited her myself, so I do not know the exact location.” Athur considered for a moment. “I do not think it wise to allow you to remain here while Nymbus is indisposed. You are in a position to be of assistance to me, should you desire. You can take a message to Nymbus daughter . . . Demaris, I think her name is. Tell her what has occurred and we should be able to resolve these unfortunate events soonest. I would happily reward you for your trouble.”
“You’re throwing us out?” La’ss’a wailed. “Can we at least re-provision for the trip?”
“I do not think Nymbus would begrudge you some rations and waterskins, whatever you decide to do.”
- ► 2014 (26)
- ► 2013 (84)
- ► 2012 (26)
- ► 2011 (26)
- ► 2009 (92)
- ► 2008 (71)
- ▼ August 2007 (9)
- ► 2006 (177)