Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Sep 29, 2007

Psionics Game: Session 7

The elves walked tirelessly throughout the day, Jacynth in the lead. The pace she set was exhausting, particularly for Ligeia and Kyrian, who trudged along in silence, paying little attention to the rugged natural beauty surrounding them. Sam positioned himself in front of La’ss’a and began to subtly slow his pace until they were a good thirty feet from their companions. Then he paused and looked down on the lizard.

“What?” La’ss’a asked.

“What are we trying to accomplish with this, exactly?”

“I have no idea,” she grumped. “Find Sulveig and screw up his plans, I guess. We’re really just keeping ourselves occupied during Demaris’ little side-trip.”

“I don’t think anyone really appreciates what we’re walking into, here,” Sam replied gloomily.

“Yeah,” La’ss’a replied.

The coast appeared and everyone stopped to rest, looking down on the curved black smudge that was Murann. Ligeia smiled at the sight of the sea even as Jacynth scowled at the city.

“I mislike the sight of our destination,” the elven woman announced to no one in particular.

“Do not be disturbed by it. As with all things, it shall wash away in time and succumb to the soothing embrace of Ishtishia,” Ligeia replied. “Indeed,” she continued, eyeing the others for a reaction, “nothing we can do will hold back the sea forever. That is why it is best to make the most of each moment before it is washed away.”

Hadrilyn shook his head. “I care little for the words of your goddess. In time all will pass into naught whether we will it or no. What matter whether we vanish into fire or ice or a watery grave?”

Kyrian glanced over at Odran. The young fey’s disappointment was plain. “Do all cities look like that?”

“Most that I have seen, yes.”

“Hmph. You should see my home village some day. Granted, you may need to practice holding your breath. My people are amphibious so we skimp on the bridges and so forth.”

Kyrian continued to frown at the distant smudge. “Isn’t this a major trading port?”

“Yes,” Odran said. “It was the major port until the monsters took it over. Even now, the trade here remains brisk.

“Then there should be a lot of foreigners. Perhaps we can disguise ourselves? In any case, we may not attract as much attention as I feared.”

“We won’t know until we get there,” La’ss’a said pointedly. “Just don’t be all gushy goodie. Let’s get moving.”

Turtori chuckled. “At least we left the paladin behind.”

The sun was beginning to set by the time they reached the gatepost. A single hobgoblin with two ogres blocked the road into the city, but the towers above them bristled with hobs armed with crossbows. It looked like a solid defense. Ligeia, without thinking, rearranged her clothing to display a little more bosom and leg.

When they reached easy conversational distance the hobgoblin said, casually, “All right, halt already. I seen you. What’s your business in Murann?”

“We have stuff to sell,” La’ss’a replied briskly.

“Merchants? You don’t look much like merchants. Where’s your wagons?”

“Our valuables are more portable,” Kyrian explained.

Ligeia smiled and waved at the ogres. One bared enormous rotting teeth at her. It appeared to be salivating.

“These elfy people your guards or something?”

“Lackies,” La’ss’a corrected.

Kyrian rolled his eyes. “Something like that.”

“I don’t think we want any elfies in the city.” Jacynth sniffed angrily but said nothing. “I ain’t got no orders about lettin’ no elfs or humans or . . . things”—the Hob continued glancing at La’ss’a—“into the city.”

Sam stepped around Kyrian, muttering, “Let me handle this.” Kyrian shot him a blank look. “So, if there’s nothing in your orders, then we’re free to enter the city, right?”

“Well, I don’t know about that . . .”

“Of course, I’m sure your orders include the elf tax, don’t they? It’s all the rage out East.”

“Tax? What tax?” The hob blinked as his brain caught up. “I mean, yeah, the elf tax! Ten gold a head!”

“You sure?”

“Uh, yes?”

Sam grinned. “Tell you what, I’ll just pay and you can check the exact figures later, mmkay?”

“Um, okay.”

Sam dug into his belt pouch and pulled out a few coins. The hob accepted them eagerly and began to stuff them into a pocket when the ogre standing behind him growled and slugged him in the shoulder. Reluctantly, he shared the booty with the two ogres, who grinned and settled back. Sam began to walk around the hobgoblin when the monster abruptly grinned and shoved him back a step.

“Course, it’s an extra charge since you’re comin’ in after curfew.” Ligeia slipped up beside the hobgoblin and purred.

“Are you sure about that?” she asked. The hob examined her assets for a minute, then grinned.

“Well, maybe I can forget about the curfew . . . this time.” He flung out an arm and delivered a resounding slap to Ligiea’s buttock. She squeaked and barely managed to resist grabbing the hilt of her rapier. “Now get outta here before I change my mind. And don’t let me catch you makin’ no trouble. As for you, you stop by here later when I’m off duty, huh?”

“Oh, I’m sure you will see me again. Very sure,” she said, her voice dripping irony.

The interior of the wall was crowded with people and overhung by buildings that cast deep shadows all around. The shadows grew deeper by the minute as the sun continued its descent into the sea.

“Well done, Sam, remind me to buy you a drink,” Kyrian said quietly.

The blond human shrugged. “You just have to give them something they want more than harassing you.” He shot Ligeia a cautionary look. “Something you’re willing to give up.” She ignored him.

“Now that we are past the gates, our first step is probably to procure some accommodations,” Jacynth said. “Perhaps we should split up and meet back here in an hour?”

“Split up? You have a secret meeting or something?” La’ss’a demanded.

“No, I simply thought that your group might have more luck on your own, considering that we are a bit unusual and conspicuous.”

“All right, an hour then.”

Hadrilyn nodded to the female lizard. “If worse comes to worst, we can all camp in the Merchant’s Street, I doubt they have closed it down.” The elves turned off and made their own ways through the crowded street. The others clustered together against the pressure of the crowds and began their search, all except for Ligeia, who lagged behind, looking for humans in the crowd. There weren’t many, but after a short time she spotted a dark-skinned gentleman dressed in elegant silks dripping jewels. He walked alone, apparently unconcerned with the rough nature of the city.

Ligeia edged through the crowd and arranged herself to bump into him, but he stepped nimbly aside without so much as changing his balance and turned to grin at her. In his dark face, his eyes and teeth were very white.

“Might I be of assistance to you, madam?”

Ligeia put on her best helpless damsel impression and went for it. “I am so sorry, but I must ask . . . might you be a Calishite?”

His grin widened slightly. “But of course.”

Ligeia smiled. “It is a relief to me to meet a fellow-countryman among all these northern barbarians,” she explained.

“A pleasure it is for me to meet you as well, lovely lady. I see from your appearance that you have suffered some recent misfortune . . . ?” his voice rose, turning the statement into a question.

“Oh, yes, I have been very unfortunate of late.”

“Fascinating,” he replied, taking her hand. “It is a story I would like very much to hear.”

“I fear I have little time, for my companions and I are seeking a place to rest from our long weary travels . . .”

“What luck, for I am indeed the owner of a caravanserai here n the city. Perhaps you will collect your friends and join me in my humble residence?”

“Oooh, that would be lovely,” Ligeia cooed. The man tucked her hand into the crook of his arm and drew her along the street. They found Kyrian almost immediately: he was staring deeply into each shadow as he walked slowly back their direction.

“She was just here a minute ago,” he muttered. Ligeia waved to him and he threw his hands up in relief. “I think La’ss’a has found a place not far from here,” he yelled.

“Greetings to you, friend,” the dark man said.

“Ah, well met?” Kyrian said dubiously.

Ligeia grinned. “This kind gentleman has a place where we can stay the night,” she explained.


“Indeed, I hope it will be to your liking.”

“Great, let’s get the others.”

La’ss’a and Sam were not too keen on the idea, but they were too tired to argue so they followed along as the Calishite led them to a set of wide stone steps that led up to a curtained doorway. Beyond the curtain, they stepped onto a polished marble floor, covered here and there with thick carpets. Delicate wooden tables bearing silver bowls of fruit were scattered around the room. Women wearing little more than some artistically placed scarves played delicate musical instruments or lounged on silken cushions. All in all, it was the perfect picture of decadent Calishite splendor.

“Ooooh,” Ligeia whispered.

“Wow,” said Kyrian. Sam copped a bored expression, snagged some fruit from a bowl and began chewing.

“Before I forget, may I ask your name, kind sir?” Ligeia said.

“But of course. I am Hali al-Jazid ibn Zhud. Come, come, I have a suite that will be perfect for you.” He clapped his hands imperiously and a platoon of slaves descended. Within minutes, everyone had been politely but firmly escorted to other rooms, stripped, and ensconced in hot soapy water.

La’ss’a chased the slaves out and paddled around happily in her enormous bath for some time. Her psicrystal attempted to join her and promptly sank to the bottom, where it protested loudly and indignantly until she fished it out and put it on a towel.

“Just because you look like a snake, that doesn’t mean you float,” she told it severely. “Now sit there and behave yourself. I haven’t had a good swim in a while. I’m quite itchy.” She dove back under the water and settled on the bottom, her eyes half-lidded in pleasure. Long minutes passed while she looked at the world through a rippling circle several feet above her head. Then Sam appeared, looking down into the bath.
“La’ss’a?” he said, his voice distorted by the water. With a grin, she realized he couldn’t see her. Her scales had gradually shifted color until she matched the tile. “For crying out loud . . .” he said and turned away to look somewhere else. La’ss’a kicked herself hard off the basin and burst out of the water, latching onto the human from behind. Sam didn’t even twitch; he just glared at the grinning lizard for a long moment.

“Are you quite finished?” he demanded.

“You’re no fun,” she complained. “I gotcha good, though.”

“Uh-huh. You’ve tried this on me before, remember?”

“Oh yeah. It didn’t work very well then either, as I recall. Well, you can’t blame a lizard for trying.”

“At least you didn’t bite me this time,” Sam grumbled. “I came in here to tell you that I’m going to go pick up the elves, our hour is almost up.”

“Nah, I’ll go. I don’t have a bunch of clothes and armor bits and so forth to put on.”

“But you’re sopping wet. And so am I now, again, thank you so very much.”

“Bah, you’ll dry. And so will I, watch . . .”

“I’ve seen this trick too!” Sam said, scooting out the door just before La’ss’a shook herself like a dog, scattering droplets of water across the room. “Go get the elves, I’m getting some food!” he yelled from the other room.

“Yes, SIR!” La’ss’a bellowed. She threw a belt over her shoulder, tucked her psicrystal into a pouch, and trotted off.

Kyrian sat in the common room, wondering how exactly he should go about eating some of the peculiar food. Sam sat down next to the fey and helped himself. Smiling, Kyrian copied him, then choked.

“Wfgl!” he sputtered.

“Good, isn’t it,” Sam mumbled around a mouthful of food. Kyrian slopped water from a silver carafe into a glass and gulped it down.

“You must have a cast-iron tongue,” he gasped after a moment, beads of sweat forming on his forehead.

Sam shrugged. “It’s spicy enough, but hardly worth so much drama.” Ligeia put in an appearance wearing a dark silky robe that matched her hair. Kyrian stared and she preened a bit in his gaze.

“I suggest you relax and enjoy the hospitality here. I am going to consult with the owner and find out if he knows anything useful,” she said.

“Mm,” Sam responded vaguely.

Ligeia stopped at the door and turned back, eyeing Kyrian. “Watch out for those Calishite girls. You will find it hard to say no, and once you say yes, your soul is lost,” she said mysteriously and vanished.

“Don’t let her worry you,” Sam said. “You only miss your soul for the first few minutes. Then you forget allll about it.”

Kyrian blinked at him, mystified, and set about trying to find a dish he could actually eat. He’d just settled on what appeared to be potatoes in cucumber sauce when La’ss’a reappeared with the elves. All four stared open-mouthed at the accommodations.

“This . . . doesn’t look much like a hut, La’ss’a,” Odran said after a moment.

“Ah, but see, you are pleasantly surprised. If I told you that I found a mansion, you could only be disappointed. Still, I don’t understand why they put clothing all over the floor.”

“I thought it was grass,” Kyrian said, poking the carpet. Sam chuckled a bit.

“So,” La’ss’a continued, “where do we start looking for Sulveig?”

Jacynth shrugged. “I confess myself somewhat at a loss, but I’m certain something will turn up . . . in the morning.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Kyrian said cheerfully.

“It’s not a plan,” Sam corrected him. “What we have is a complete lack of plan. I might even go so far as to call it an anti-plan.” He yawned. “But right now I’m actually too tired to care. G’night,” he said, and wandered off to his room.

“Is he always like this?” Jacynth asked.

“Sam? Like what? Nonchalant? Sarcastic?” La’ss’a asked. “Tall?” She leaned towards the elven woman and lowered her voice conspiratorially. “It’s all on account of his trouble, you see.”

“What?” Jacynth and Kyrian said simultaneously, both looking worried.

“Yeah, see, I heard Barak explaining that Sam has”—La’ss’a’s voice lowered further—“personality. But you didn’t hear it from me,” she announced, resuming her normal posture. Turtori snorted into a cup of chai.

“That sounds bad,” Kyrian breathed, his face the picture of concern. La’ss’a fell over laughing.

“Have you been drinking?” Jacynth demanded of the lizard.

“No, no, I’m fine, just a bit giddy I guess. I’m going to get some sleep.”

In the morning, La’ss’a woke to find the common room empty and went back to the lobby. Jacynth, Odran, Hadrilyn, Turtori, Ligeia, and Sam were all leaning against the bar in various postures of boredom.

“Where’s . . .” she began, but Sam gestured over towards a half-hidden alcove in the corner. Several people were sitting around a round wooden table, eating methodically and silently. They looked human, although at least one had his head shaved and was covered with intricate tattoos. Their clothing was oddly uniform, in reds and oranges with large leaping-flame symbols. Kyrian was standing near them, observing.

“Well met, fellow travelers!” he said. As one, the humans stopped moving and fixed flat, hostile stares on him. Then one after another they stood and walked out, leaving behind a single tall woman whose long orange hair matched her tabard exactly. “I’m sorry,” Kyrian said. “Have I given offense?”

“Our business is our own,” she said, “And I would thank thee to leave us to it.”

“As you wish, lady,” he said and began to turn away. She frowned.

“I spoke hastily, perhaps, stranger. I would fain turn a petitioner from the True Faith.” Beside La’ss’a, Ligeia made faint gagging noises.

“Here we go,” she whispered.

“I am but a pilgrim in search of truth,” Kyrian said. “I’ve heard many lies along the way.”

“Then hear this Truth: all light and glory in this world spring from the Flame. Honor his name and thy life will be filled with all that is blessed. Turn from His face and sorrow will dog thy steps for all time! Thus is Truth. I must rejoin my companions, however. But I will meet thee here later and speak more to thee.”

Kyrian’s smile became somewhat fixed. “I look forward to it,” he said. The woman swept by him and left the room. He slowly swiveled around and looked at his companions at the bar. “What in the Nine Hells was that about?”

“They are devotees of Kossuth,” Ligeia explained.

“And that means what?” La’ss’a asked.

“That they are under the delusion that fire is everything. They worship it, pale flickering thing that it is, so easily snuffed out . . .”

“I knew a guy once who believed that fire was everything,” Sam muttered. “Of course, he liked to burn down warehouses and watch the rats scurry all over the place. I wonder what happened to him. I think he’s dead, actually.”

“Well, Dougal always sad those who play with fire should expect to get burned,” Kyrian offered.

“You can’t trust them, they’re from Thay after all,” Ligeia said. “Dangerous.”

“Yes, but perhaps we can use them to our advantage,” Kyrian persisted. “Friends to our enemies, perhaps?”

Odran shook his head. “If they are from Thay, they undoubtedly have their own sinister purpose here.”

“We would do well to find out what other factions are present in the city before we become much entangled,” Hadrilyn said.

“Well, this group said they would return here, so in the mean time we should be out and about.”

“Agreed,” Kyrian said. “Not everyone will be loyal to the ogre mages.”

La’ss’a trotted towards the door. “No time like the present.” The others followed.

“We’re staying together, right?” Kyrian said to Jacynth. “I don’t want to run into any more hotheads alone!”

“You have to learn sometime, kid,” Turtori said, smirking.

“It’s probably best,” La’ss’a said absently, peering down the street.

“We will follow you and stay out of sight in case we are needed,” Jacynth decided. The elves put up the hoods on their identical gray-green cloaks and blended into the crowd. A large owl soared out of the sky and landed on a rooftop above the party, watching them.

“Well, okay,” Kyrian said, looking at the bird.

“I suggest we start with the taverns at the docks,” Ligeia suggested. “No one gossips more than sailors.”

“Fine, let’s get this goose chase going,” Sam said, turning to stride down the street. The city was full of activity. A swarm of feral children flowed around them as they walked. They passed a black palanquin borne by enormous fleshy slaves. The curtains twitched aside and inhuman ebony eyes blinked in the light, watching. A squad of hobgoblin cavalry mounted on dire wolves thrust its way through the crowd, forcing them to bolt for the side of the street or be crushed.

They passed an outdoor kitchen where carcasses of nearly every description were cooked by sweating slaves. Gnolls, hobgoblins, orcs and ogres mingled freely. In one corner was a single dwarf with grayish skin.

The docks were a din: ships were loaded and unloaded by shouting sailors, while at the very edge of the water a vociferous open-air market carried on. In the middle of all this chaos, a single pristine building stood. It had expensive glass windows and a delicate pointed roof. Above the door was a painted wooden sign bearing a single scroll.

Kyrian fought his way to the side of the building, relieved to be out of the crush of bodies. He peered through a window and saw a tidy shop full of books, potions and scrolls. “Hey! Hey guys! This place may be worth a visit!” he said. La’ss’a ducked between a couple legs like tree-trunks, grabbed the door, and popped inside, followed by Ligeia.

Sam was about to follow when a hand plucked lightly at his sleeve. “Yes?” he said, turning to look around.

“I’m sorry, but I have to ask . . . oh my gods!” a woman’s voice cried. “Sam?! Is that you?!”

“Shhh, it is, but you have to keep it quiet,” he said, winking. It was a short, husky woman in leather armor. A two-bladed sword was strapped across her back. It was an unwieldy weapon, more showy than practical. “Hello, Elice,” he said after a moment.

“I thought you were dead. How did you escape?”

“Oh, you know, a little thing here, a little luck there. What about you? I thought you were gone for sure!”

She stuck out her tongue. “It’s a long story, and not very pleasant either. It’s good to see you again.”

Sam smiled. “Good to see you too. Here, let’s step into this shop for a bit and catch up. You always did like shopping,” he said.

“Eh, sure, why not. I’m sure Tom won’t mind, since he’s my new boss and all.”

Sam froze, struggling to keep his expression mild and friendly. “Really? You have a boss?”

“Yeah, he’s . . .” Elice stopped abruptly and shot Sam a distrustful glance.

“What, you don’t trust me?” he said, returning her gaze knowingly.

“No, nothing. Never mind.”

“Come on, you can’t just leave it at that. What’s going on?”

“Well . . . for a long time I thought you might be the one who turned us into the guards. There. I said it.” Her voice took on a challenging edge to it.

“I could say the same of you. Of course, maybe the real culprit is still out there, and we both think they’re dead.”

Elice sighed. “Tom is a Shadow Thief, or at least he works for the organization, which is pretty much the same thing. He bribed the guards to let me out of prison and put me into the pits to fight. I did pretty well for myself and paid him back, and now I work for him. It’s not a bad job,” she said.

“Hmm. Think he’d be willing to trade us some assistance for a favor?”

“Tom is always willing to trade,” she said somewhat dubiously.

“Tell you what, maybe you know. Some friends and I are looking for an ogre mage making a move in the area. Ring any bells?”

“Friends?” Elice asked. Then she shook herself and went on, “Do you mean Sythillis? Or some other ogre mage? There are a couple dozen in the city, at least. Let’s go inside and talk with Tom, he knows a lot more than I do. I’m just the muscle around here.”

“I just want to be sure Tom isn’t their partner or anything.”

“No, he’s not stupid enough to get involved like that.”

Inside the shop, La’ss’a peered around, looking for the proprietor. After a moment a man in neat, elegant clothes bustled forward.

“Welcome good, uhm, creatures,” he said, taken slightly aback by the sight of the lizard. He rallied magnificently however. “What can I do for you this fine morning?”

“Hail and well met, shopkeep,” Kyrian announced. “A fine establishment you have here. We’re new to Murann—have you been here long?”

“Oh, a year or three, it’s easy to lose track. I am Tom, purveyor of all that is magical,” he said, brushing his hair aside. He looked a bit elvish around the ears and eyes. His voice was deep and melodious, every word carefully shaped before being delivered to the world. The effect was oddly mesmerizing. “Adventurers, eh?”

“Well, I don’t know about ‘adventurers’, but we have seen a few things on our way overland,” said Kyrian.

“Do you buy as well as sell?” La’ss’a interrupted.

“Wonderful, I love to hear a good story. And yes, little one, I purchase nearly any kind of valuables for sale. Or, if you prefer, I can hook you up directly with a buyer.” La’ss’a chinned herself onto the counter and began rummaging through her pack, stacking an odd assortment of items around her. Tom slid around behind the counter and picked up a crystal snake, holding it up to his eye. It hissed at him and he started; La’ss’a snatched it out of his fingers.

“Oops, sorry, that’s not for sale.”

“Is everything you carry arcane?” Kyrian asked. “Or do you handle more unusual items?”

“Unusual how?” Tom asked idly, fingering the rings of a chain shirt.

“Well, perhaps you are familiar with powers that come from the mind instead of spells?”

“Psionics, you mean? Sorry, I don’t traffic with Underdark creatures, and you would be wise not to do so, either.”

“Like the duergar?” Kyrian asked.

“Indeed. And dark elves, illithid, svirfneblin . . .”

“We saw one on our way here.”

“Did you now?”

“Indeed,” Kyrian replied.

“Do you consider psionics bad?” La’ss’a asked pointedly.

Tom’s ‘friendly shopkeeper’ facade began to fade, replaced by the look of a very shrewd man that knew far more than he would ever say. “Bad? Is any power bad?” It simply depends upon who uses it and what they use it for. So now I’m going to have to ask: who are you and who sent you?”

“We have been honest,” La’ss’a insisted. “We just wandered here. And look, I have a very nice staff that I would not mind parting with. It is not magical but it should fetch a good price all the same.”

“No one sent us,” Kyrian said. “We came freely.”

“Hah. You sent yourselves, maybe?”

“Um, okay?” La’ss’a said.

“Let me see the staff,” Tom responded after a minute.

Sam slid in through the door, Elice following him. Ligeia caught sight of Elice instantly and frowned.

“Shh,” Sam told Ligeia. “They’re here.”

“Who?” Ligeia asked.

“Well, not here here, but in town here, anyway.”

“From the sound of it, this gentleman doesn’t like psionics much. He may be against the one we seek.”

“Trust me, that could change. But he may still be of use to us.”

“So who’s your new friend?” Ligeia asked venomously.

“She’s not a new friend.”

“My name is Elice Sandy.”

“Mm. I am Ligeia.” Elice nodded shortly. “What brings you here?”

Sam glared. “Do you ever just mind your own business?” He said harshly.

“I work for him,” Elice said, gesturing at Tom. Sam shook his head and watched the transaction going on at the counter.

“All right,” Tom announced. “I’ll give you 2675 in gold or equivalent trade for the lot.”

“Is that a lot?” Kyrian asked.”

“No, it’s not,” Sam said, striding up to the counter. Tom chuckled.

“It depends on who you are. Elice?”


“Why don’t you go clean up in back?”

She looked at Tom, confused. “Uh, if you say so, boss.” She skirted the counter and vanished into the back room.

“Let me just say that I think the Underfolk may be allied with the people we’re hunting here,” Kyrian said abruptly. Sam turned and stared at the fey, who leaned over and whispered in Sam’s ear.

“Well, he doesn’t like the Underfolk much, does he?”

Tom rubbed the bridge of his nose. “You are a curious bunch. Tell you what, let’s go in the back and have a drink together, shall we? You tell me your story and I’ll throw in some information to sweeten the exchange.”

“Fine, fine, lead on,” La’ss’a said, jumping down from the counter.

“Good, because frankly I think if I let you wander around the city you are going to get me killed,” Tom said, heading into the back room.

“Why would us wandering around get you killed?”

“I can think of a few reasons.”

Instead of the typical back room of a store, full of unshelved merchandise and peculiar things covered in dust, it looked more like an office shared by several untidy people. Elice was clearing the worst of the detritus away, but the tables, chairs, and various footlockers were still covered in miscellaneous papers and weapons. The room smelled strongly of old food and leather oil. Tom brushed off a chair and leaned back comfortably, propping his feet on the table. Sam stood, staring down at him, his arms crossed, broadcasting his distrust.

“I take it from your none-too-subtle questions and hints about psionics that you are here looking for a certain unpleasant person?”

“We are looking for some people, yes,” La’ss’a confirmed.

“Name starts with an S maybe?”

“Sure, why not.”

“So what do you want with Sulveig, anyway?”

“We want to find out if he had anything to do with certain recent events.”

“What recent events.”

“A psychic storm,” La’ss’a explained briefly.

“Crystals that turn magic into psionics, too,” Kyrian said.

“Well, this is the coast, we have storms here sometimes, but I hadn’t heard of one foretelling the future.”

“Cute,” Sam said.

“There are a lot of hobgoblins around here,” Ligeia remarked absently. “Almost enough for an army.”

“Yes, well, Sythillis does have military ambitions, always has.”

“Mm,” Ligeia said. “We are told Sulveig has ambitions, too.”

“There are those that would prefer he stay out of Athkatla,” Kyrian announced.

Tom laughed. “We’d all prefer to keep him out of Athkatla. Goodness, can you imagine what he’d do with the university at his disposal? I’ll be frank, although you have little reason to trust me. Sulveig is a monster. He came to this city by ship a few months ago and went straight up to the government building.

“He had about twenty assorted creatures with him, and they brushed Sythillis’ guards aside without blinking. He struck some kind of deal with the ogre mage for mutual assistance: Sythillis would put some of his military at Sulveig’s disposal, and Sulveig would, somehow, bring down Athkatla’s defenses and enable the ogre mage to conquer it.”

“We may be able to stop him,” Kyrian said, “but first we have to find out what he’s planning.”

“And where his base is,” Ligeia piped in.

“Well, while he was here Sulveig and his crew stayed at the government building, but he’s rarely been in the city two nights in a row. He’s been wandering all over the countryside doing who-knows-what.”

“Who’s in the government building now?” Kyrian asked.

“Sythillis is, and his guards. He doesn’t like campaigning much, he leaves that to his sister. Now, this last bit is speculation, but I think Sulveig is here looking for some . . . object. Now, I think I’ve told you enough. If you want to do business, we can do business, otherwise I’drather you not involve me any further in your little adventure.”

“Can you point us to anyone else who can help us?” Kyrian asked.

“Why would I do that? Or, more succinctly: what’s in it for me?”

“What do you want?”

“No, the question is rather: what do you have?”

“We’ve already shown you what we have,” La’ss’a shot back.

Tom clucked his tongue. “Information is infinitely more valuable than cash, my friend.”

“Uh, do you mind if we talk about it for a moment?”

“Not at all. Discuss all you like. Come Elice, let us adjourn to the other room.” She got up and they both left.

Sam frowned. “Well, we could offer to take out Sythillis for him.”

"What, assassinate him?!" Kyrian asked.


Sep 22, 2007

Olena and Oren

As they set out from the village, Olena caught Oren’s arm. The paladin glanced at her and let the others go on ahead a ways.

“Does something trouble you, Lady?” he asked, seeing her stricken expression.

“I just . . . I just wanted to ask you something. If you have a minute.”


“This is going to sound really, really stupid . . .”

Oren patted her hand encouragingly. “Do not concern yourself with such things. If we do not ask, how can we learn?”

Olena took a steadying breath. “All right. I wanted to ask you, well, because you don’t seem too upset, do you see this sort of thing a lot?”

Oren pursed his lips. “A lot? No, I wouldn’t say that. I do not think anyone could remain sane for long were their entire life filled with nothing but war and death. I have seen such sights before, yes.”

“You must know that I never have, before today. I’ve always known that there’s evil in the world, and I’ve heard stories of the horrors that are committed in its name. But today was the first time I’ve ever looked evil in the eye…” Olena trailed off, glancing back over her shoulder. Thinking of home, Oren thought.

He gave her a moment, and then squeezed her hand to recapture her attention. “Do you wonder how I keep from going mad with grief?”

Her reply lodged in her throat, but she nodded.

“That is a difficult question to answer.”

Olena found her voice again. “I know. I shouldn’t have asked.”

“No, no, Lady, I am just not certain if I can do the matter justice. But if you wish, I will try.”


He smiled. “Very well. I caution you, though, that my approach may not work for you. Everyone is different and it has always seemed to me that each person must seek their own method for battling their sorrows.” Oren nodded towards Demaris, walking briskly ahead of them. “Some bury themselves in rage, but it makes them reckless, rushing always into the fray to avoid the pain that haunts them.”

As Olena looked away again, Oren knew that his words had brought her brother to her mind.

“Some,” he continued, gestured at Barak, “throw themselves into repairing the damage and preventing it from occurring again. They may lose sight of the future by dwelling overmuch on the past. Some”—Yorick and Fa’ss’th—“just never seem overly concerned. They skip over the surface of the great sea of life like a flat stone, never attached to anything for very long. They avoid great pain, but they never seem to achieve great joy, either. Everything is an abstraction to them, instead of personal and immediate.”

With a sudden grin, Olena snapped her wings open, breaking the sunlight into beautiful beams of color. “That won’t work! I feel—well, I feel everything. I’m my mother’s daughter; the sea of life is my blood.”

Once Oren’s smile joined hers, she furled her wings, and seriousness returned to her face. “What do you do, Oren?”

“I welcome the pain, I consider it necessary. Not, I mean, that it’s good for things like this to happen, but if you do not hurt you will never know when you are wounded, and a tiny injury could develop into an infection that will kill you. In a world where evil exists, pain is vital because it guides us to know what we must fight. If you try to build up a shell to keep it out, the pressure will build until you drown in it. To deny pain is to make it your ruler. So, I grieve, if only in the privacy of my own head, and I work with clear vision for a world in which such things will happen no longer.”

“You make it sound easy.”

“It is not, sometimes the pain can be so terrible you feel you may die of it, and you feel like you might do anything to avoid having to face it. But you must face it, otherwise you will never be free of it.”

Olena smiled. “That’s very wise. Thank you, Oren.”

He grinned shyly. “It is little enough, just the poor words of a warrior.”

She shook her head. “If you ‘aren’t much of a paladin’, I will be awed when I meet someone that is.”

Psionics Game: Session 6

La’ss’a surveyed the elves as they packed their few belongings quickly and efficiently. The others were slowly rising and performing the usual early-morning adventurer tasks: checking to make certain all extremities were still attached, groaning at various aches and pains, and discovering the new and interesting places spiders had spun webs in the night.

“I hope your night went well, but I should warn you against going to Murann. You will probably find more than you like there.”

Jacynth nodded. “We are aware. But we cannot be so easily dissuaded from what we must do.”

“Then I wish you well, as you will find Sulveig there, probably.”

“If we do find him, we will send you a message.”

La’ss’a shrugged. “You will, unless Sythillis has sent him forth.”

“What will you do now?” Jacynth asked. Demaris cut into the discussion abruptly.

“I don’t know about the others, but I’m going to Athkatla, with Oren.”

“As will I, if you’ll have me,” Olena announced.

La’ss’a grimaced at Demaris. “Do you not want to see your father?”

“Mmph,” was Demaris’ response. “Eventually. After I find out what Sulveig is up to in Athkatla and put a stop to it. Whatever’s wrong with my father can keep for a few more days.”

“Even though it may be of significant importance to unraveling this mystery? Sulveig was there when we returned to the school, after all.”

“It’s possible, but I think thousands of people dying has a slightly higher priority.”

“Pardon,” Yorick added, “but if you are going to Athkatla, I can be of great use to you, knowing the city and its peoples as I do.”

“Fine, come along then,” Demaris replied. “The more the merrier.”

During the discussion, Barak crawled over to his blond friend and began examining Sam, who was still lying on the ground in a spectacular imitation of a corpse. A golden glow surrounded Barak’s hands for a few moments, then he pulled Sam into a sitting position. Sam resisted, then smiled slightly as he realized his terrible pain had dissipated. Standing, Barak turned to look at Demaris, his face stiff. She caught his gaze and raised an eyebrow questioningly.

“I should come, too,” Barak said softly. “With war brewing, you may need my help.” Demaris smiled slightly.

Noting her distraction, La’ss’a nudged Demaris impatiently. “Can you at least shed some light on whatever your father may have been hiding? Sulveig seemed to believe something in the observatory was important. We do have these talking stones, at least.”

“I can try, but it’s a long story.”

Kyrian laughed. “That’s all right, I hardly remember what a short story sounds like.”

Taking advantage of Demaris’ preoccupation, Ligeia sidled up to Oren and licked her lips suggestively. “Are you sure you want to go with her?” Oren blushed and avoided her gaze.

“I should report to the Order with what I have learned,” the paladin demurred.

Ligeia was not easily deterred, playing with her hair to make the silky locks ripple like the surface of the sea. “Are you really sure, Oren?”

“I am sure. ‘Tis my duty, and I would not be remiss in carrying it out.”

“You mean your duty is to run away from a fight with an evil man who might even be a demon in disguise?”

The paladin took on a perplexed expression. “Demaris believes Sulveig is in Athkatla. So, no, I don’t think I am running away.”

“Yes, but we don’t all agree with her,” Sam announced irritably. Demaris glanced over at where he stood with his arms crossed, his expression impatient as always. She gritted her teeth and drew herself up to her full height.

“I owe you an apology,” she spat, sounding not at all apologetic, as she clearly had to force the words out. “I know that’s not worth much, but it’s all I have.”

Sam matched her grim stare with one of his own. “Don’t be sorry, be better, if you have the wit to manage it. As you may have noticed, punching people without provocation tends to lead to unpleasant results.”

“Fair enough.”

After watching the discussion unfold for some time, Jacynth spoke again. “You will all decide your own paths, but the day goes on without us. We must seek the road.”

“I’m with your lot,” Kyrian said abruptly. Odran smiled hugely.

“We welcome the company. With help we may have a chance to succeed.”

“Well, we didn’t exactly have a chance to catch up,” Kyrian said, grinning. Ligeia, rolling her eyes and shooting Oren a disgusted look, sidled towards Kyrian.

“I will join you also, if you will allow it. I am well adept with a silent blade.” Kyrian looked at her, then at Odran, with a terribly puzzled expression. Odran shrugged as if to say: “women, who understands them?”

“That sounds . . . nice?” Kyrian replied a bit dubiously. “Be welcomed.”

Ligeia looked down at her worn and stained clothing. “Alas, I am without much in the way of equipment, but I have many . . . talents.”

“Well, I do have this extra rapier I found. Unless you prefer a longsword?”

“Oooh, the things I can do with a rapier would amaze you,” Ligeia murmured, winking lasciviously. Kyrian gave her a blank look. Everyone in the clearing found themselves watching as Ligeia cooed over the weapon, stroking it like a pet and examining it in minute detail. The spectacle was impossible to ignore.

“My sister has a couple of bows, too,” Kyrian said, entranced.

“Yes,” Olena said, stepping between Ligeia and Kyrian. “Would you prefer short, or long?” A lengthy pause ensued, filled with a great deal of coughing and throat-clearing.

La’ss’a poked Demaris a second time to recapture the human woman’s attention. “You were going to tell us a story.”

Demaris grimaced. “Jacynth is right, we’re wasting time here. Is it absolutely vital you hear my story this instant, or can we make a deal?”

“You do realize the hobs just let us go, so this is probably a trap?”

“You may be right, but if I don’t do anything, how is that better?”

Fa’ss’th grabbed his sister’s shoulder and hissed into her earhole at some length. La’ss’a growled and hissed back at him. “If there is a library of magical arts in Athkatla then we will go!” Fa’ss’th announced in the common tongue, ducking as La’ss’a tried to swat him.

“The Cowled Wizards have a large hall in Athkatla,” Oren offered.

“I’ll tell you my story and give you whatever assistance you request if you just let me go to Athkatla--without giving me crap about it, mind you—and find out what is going on,” Demaris pleaded.

“Grr,” La’ss’a said, “My brother has a point, curse him, the library might hold more information. But remember, you owe us twice now. Once for the rescue, once for this. You got it?”

“Yes. Believe me, I get it.”

“What if she’s wrong, though?” Sam asked. “Sulveig didn’t exactly strike me as a reliable source.”

“Mmph,” La’ss’a responded. “Some of us should go to Murann, then. I will go, Fa’ss’th will be better at the library. Kyrian and Ligeia are already going there, apparently. So what about you, Sam?”

“I think I’ll head back to Murann. Whatever she says, I think that’s where Sulveig is.”

“All right!” Demaris announced, relieved. “That’s settled, let’s not waste any more time!”

The two lizards nodded to each other and packed with great speed and efficiency. They did not seem perturbed at separating, but their expressions were difficult to read in any case. Sam pulled Barak aside to whisper a few hurried words, then stuck his hand out. Barak shook hands with him gravely and went to stand beside Demaris.

Olena looked close to tears and cast an appealing look at her brother. “Do you mind if we . . .” she said.

“No, no, go on,” Demaris said. The twins trotted off into the woods a ways. “Let’s get moving, they can catch up.” Jacynth gathered her elves, Kyrian, Sam, and Ligeia with a glance and led them in a southwesterly direction.

“Yes,” Yorick announced. “Let us return to the city of coin!”

“Heh,” Demaris muttered. “We need some equipment. Our very first stop should probably be a village on the way to Athkatla.”

“Do you know of one that sells the kinds of things we will need? Gear to repel an army is not usually found in your typical mom and pop village store.”

“It’s better than nothing,” Demaris said with a sigh.

“I know the country best, I’ll lead the way,” Oren said. He untied his warhorse and set off along the road.

The mountains remained eerily empty, but as the day ground towards afternoon the group heading towards Athkatla found themselves going downhill more often than not, and they passed from the realm of dark fir trees into the shade of birches and maples. Oren stopped in a clearing to glance at the sky and frowned.

“I think something may be amiss,” he murmured.

Olena nodded. “Yes, those are carrion birds circling.” The black shapes whirled and wheeled—like a slow ominous tornado—over something in the near distance.

“That usually does mean something has gone amiss . . . for someone else,” Yorick said helpfully.

“Shall we send a scout ahead?” the paladin asked.

“I could fly over, try to get a look,” Olena offered.

Demaris blinked. “You mean those wings aren’t just for show?” Olena smiled.

“No, I can fly.”

“That must be wonderful. But anyway.”

“So you are going?” Fa’ss’th asked the fey woman. Olena nodded. “Good, take this then,” he said, concentrating for a moment. A flash of light leapt from one claw and bathed Olena for a moment.

“What does that do?” She asked.

“It links our minds, so that I can see and hear what you see and hear. It lasts forty minutes, so be quick.” Olena nodded and took off in a flash of bright color. Oren looked down at the lizard wizard.

“That’s a very convenient tool.”

Fa’ss’th grinned. “Of course it is.”

Long minutes passed as the group waited anxiously. Yorick sat down on the roots of a tree, whistling softly. Barak peered at the sky and fingered his spear. Suddenly Fa’ss’th growled under his breath.

“Fire up any defenses you have, folks. Someone has murdered the entire village . . . Olena can hear something laughing. It sounds hideous. She can see an enormous pile of corpses.”

“Oh dear,” Yorick said, looking slightly faint. “This sounds . . . bad.”

Demaris looked around, then pulled out her sliver of adamantine and sawed through a long straight tree branch. She stripped the bark and lesser branches quickly and methodically, turning it into a roughly serviceable staff. “If there’s going to be a fight, I should have some kind of weapon at least. Let’s go.”

“Olena just saw some kind of dog-headed humanoid,” Fa’ss’th relayed. Oren frowned.

“Sounds like a gnoll or maybe a flind,” the paladin explained.

Fa’ss’th nodded and began walking towards the village, concentrating as he went. A shell of energy formed around his body. Barak concentrated as well and the same effect surrounded him. Fine whiskers sprouted from his face and his walk smoothed out, catlike.

They reached the village in minutes and found Olena hiding behind some rubble near what appeared to be an inn. The village was quite thoroughly destroyed: buildings were rent in half and many had dark burnt holes in them. The bodies of, presumably, the villagers were piled in a heap in the village square, a heap that writhed constantly with the dark bodies of birds and rats. The stench was so foul it was nearly a physical force.

Barak’s face had gone white. “Tell me someone can set the inn on fire,” he ground out.

“No!” Olena hissed. “I heard someone crying out inside.” Oren put on his helmet and drew his sword silently. Fa’ss’th jumped over the rubble and marched up to the inn door, swinging it open, Barak quickly following him. A macabre spectacle greeted the two psions’ eyes. Four immense, hairy dog-headed humanoids crouched over a table bearing a human corpse. The corpse was split open and the monsters had apparently been gnawing on it.

Barak lifted his hand and brilliant fire formed in his palm, lancing out at the nearest gnoll. So intense was the heat that it seemed to explode, falling to the ground without even a cry. The human spoke, psionic power rendering his words into the gnoll language.

“Don’t bother begging.”

Fa’ss’th crouched slightly in the door, holding his claws up, the thumb-claws together, all digits spread. He grinned at the gnolls, showing his teeth. Olena jumped through the window, tearing the oiled paper and snapping the fragile wooden frame, her greatsword slashing into one of the monsters. Two of them moved to flank her while the third charged the lizard in the doorway. Fa’ss’th’s grin widened and fire erupted a second time as he completed his spell and Barak sent another ray lancing into the room. The gnoll crisped around the edges but still came on, its axe delivering a painful blow to the small lizard.

Outside, Oren and Demaris found themselves abruptly engaged as another gnoll, this one wearing a chain shirt, barreled around the corner. It had two axes in its hands and attacked ferociously. Oren edged Demaris behind him protectively and raised his shield. The paladin winced as a line of crackling energy passed in front of his face and took his opponent in the chest.

“Am I supposed to be impressed?” The gnoll snarled, and came on, foul greasy smoke rising through the holes in its armor. Barak gritted his teeth angrily and tried to get into position for another electrical blast. Oren buried his longsword in its neck and bore it to the ground, nearly beheading it.

“Good job,” Demaris said from behind the paladin’s shoulder.

“You sound surprised,” Oren said, sighing.

“No, grateful. Thanks.”

Sighing in resignation, Yorick clapped his hands together and one of the gnolls inside reeled in agony from an unseen source. Olena cut it down and whirled like a dancer, her sword burying itself deep in her second attacker. In moments the other gnolls were down. Barak stepped into the room to survey the damage. One of Olena’s attackers was still moving feebly. Yorick joined Barak and looked down at the gnoll.

“Shall we take it prisoner? We could find out who they are and why they are here.”

Without even changing his footing, Barak put his spear through the gnoll’s throat. “I know why it’s here. To kill,” he said with finality. Shaking with rage, Olena turned away. Barak closed his eyes and slumped, suddenly appearing exhausted. It took him a couple of tries to free the spearpoint from the gnoll’s throat. Demaris looked him over while the others searched the inn.

“You okay?” she asked, her face incredulous.

“No, I’m not ‘okay’,” he snapped.

“I see,” she replied. “Bite my head off, why don’t you.”

Olena and Fa’ss’th discovered that the private rooms were more or less shredded. The kitchen was awash with a foul soup composed of beer from broken barrels and spoiled food, but they did locate a trapdoor that appeared to lead into a cellar. Fa’ss’th hauled on the door and Olena climbed down the wooden stairs. A crowd of beaten, bedraggled women shrank away from her, huddling into the corners.

“It’s all right,” she stammered. “My name is Olena. The gnolls are dead.” The women stared at her with blank eyes. After a long moment, one took a few stumbling steps forward, cringing lest Olena prove to be hostile. Olena sheathed her sword and extended a hand, causing the woman to cringe even more. “It’s all right, I’m here to help you,” The woman stood in silence, but suffered Olena to touch her and guide her up the stairs and into the light. Dried blood was crusted over the woman’s lower lip and ran in dark trails down her chin.

Barak’s face when white again on seeing the woman. He bolted out into the street and fell to his hands and knees, vomiting noisily in the gutter. Demaris rolled her eyes and Oren glared at her.

“What?” she said as the paladin followed Barak out into the street. He put his hand on Barak’s shoulder and wordlessly offered a water flask. The psion took a mouthful of water, swirled it around in his mouth, then spat.

“I keep remembering what Sam told me, just before we left.”

“Oh?” the paladin asked, taking the water back.

“He said, ‘Barak, you can’t fix everything. No matter what you know or what you learn, or what you hope, or what you do, there will always be things you can't fix’. He was right.” Barak looked over at the dead bodies of the gnolls, burned from the sheer power of will. Barak’s will.

“Is he okay?” Fa’ss’th asked, coming up behind the paladin. Oren waved the lizard away.

“Leave him alone. I know you mean well, but just give him some space.” Fa’ss’th shrugged and ambled back inside. With a last look at Barak, Oren followed him.

Olena wetted a cloth with clean water and began cleaning the blood off the woman’s face. The woman winced, clearly in pain, but did not protest, and the other women began slowly moving up the stairs.

Yorick glanced at them, then at the room. “Er, hello. Why don’t you just try to, er, not look at things. Um. Do you know how many of these vile things attacked the village?” One of the women turned to him and opened her mouth, displaying the fact that her tongue had been torn out. He winced. “Oh my.”

The woman in Olena’s grip moved away suddenly, searching the room. She fastened on a piece of charred wood in the fire place and began scratching at a relatively clean spot on the wall.

“I cn writ a litle”

“Good!” Olena said, pleased.

“Who you?”

“As I said, my name is Olena. My friends and I were on our way to Athkatla when we saw what happened here.”

“U sojers?”

“Sort of. What should I call you?”


“That’s a nice name, I like it. Do you know how many gnolls attacked your village?”

“Mani, they lft”

“They locked you down there?”


“We’ll find you a safe place to hide. The monsters won’t hurt you any more.”

Nan appeared to think for a moment. “Cav nerby . . . thy tak som wmen there”

Olena nodded and called to the others. “There are more woman hiding in a cave nearby.”

“Chldren too”

“Can you show us?” Nan nodded. Barak walked back into the room and picked up his spear. His face was still white but his eyes seemed clear. Determined.

“I can’t fix everything,” he said. “But I can fix some things. Will you lead us to the cave?”

Nan nodded again. “Then let’s go.”

Sep 21, 2007

No Need For Bushido

Via Schlock Mercenary, I find another excellent webcomic: No Need for Bushido. If you like comics, go check it out.

In case you aren't familiar with Japanese culture, bushido is the code of the warrior (i.e. samurai) class, full of "honor" and "glory" and a bunch of other ridiculous crap that leads only to death and misery. So if you are like me, you probably have no need for bushido, either.

Sep 20, 2007

Civics Test

Feel like testing your civic knowledge, Americans? Click on the post title to go to a 60-question quiz I found via Rational Jenn. I scored 88%, well over the average for even schools like Harvard. Not bad, if I do say so myself, especially since the quiz actually focusses on things you should be able to answer if you paid attention in Civics class. I can easily identify where I learned most of these things, and it wasn't in school. (Probably because I didn't pay attention, but it may be a result of the school at least in part.)

Sep 17, 2007

Psionics Game: The Plot Thickens

Demaris huddled a bit closer to the fire. The only clothing she had was a heavy work suit and it was not drying out quickly, and the mountain night—even in the armpit of summer—was chill. Her clothes itched and stank and she was forced to exercise iron self-control to avoid fixating on her desire to bathe. She would wait until matters were more settled before concerning herself with luxuries.

A heavy cloak settled around her shoulders and she looked up, startled. The cloak smelled of horse, but it was warm and dry. “Lady, you should rest.” The man sat down beside her, not so close that she would feel crowded, but not so far away that she could ignore him, either.

“I will, but right now it’s more important that I think. It’s clear that I can’t just go back to hiding in the mountains. So now I have to decide what to do, and how to do it and stay alive. Not an easy task.”

“No, but it is one best undertaken when you are not weary and distressed.”

Demaris looked at him. He was swarthy in the typical fashion of most native Amnians, but in place of the usual aura of degenerate opulence he seemed pensive and kind. “I don’t think I caught your name,” she said finally.

“Oren Falscar, paladin in the service of the Most Holy Order of the Radiant . . . yes, yes, I’m not much of a paladin, I know,” he finished irritably. Demaris was trying to keep her amusement under control, but ‘blank’ was not an expression she adopted easily. She gave up and laughed briefly.

“It’s not you, specifically,” she said when she regained control. “I don’t know anything about you other than the fact that you got knocked out by an ogre, which could happen to anyone, I suppose. I’ve heard of paladins, though, and I find the idea relentlessly comical.”

His expression was sour. “Ah, yes. People love to despise us, until they discover they need us, that is. What would your life be like if there were no paladins out watching the borders and keeping the forces of evil at bay?”

“Oh, I expect I would have been kidnapped by hobgoblins and have a monster threaten to make me his personal slave. Oh, wait, that’s what did happen.” Oren huffed angrily and started to get up, so she grabbed his arm. “Don’t get angry. Please?” He sighed and resumed his seat.

“It is true that we are spread woefully thin. We would do more, but we have no men. The merchants see only their coin and think not on greater matters.”

“So why don’t you tell them?”

“Why don’t you tell them just how much they depend on you? Why be a martyr to their shortsightedness? No, forget I said anything. You can’t cure a paladin of being a martyr any more than you can cure humans of being stupid. So, let me ask you a real question, then. Do you think Sythillis has any chance of conquering Athkatla?”

“Militarily? No. There are simply too many Cowled Wizards in the city to make that possible. The wizards found Murann too provincial to maintain a strong presence there, otherwise we would never have lost the city.”

“Depending on magic is usually a bad idea.”

“Why do you say that?”

“It’s a vulnerable point; concentrate your resources into a few very powerful people and all it takes is one clever . . . oh, no.”


“I think I figured out what Sulveig’s plan is. It’s just a theory, but if I’m right this could be very, very bad.”

“I don’t . . .”

“Come on, think about it. Sulveig is a master at taking over and manipulating the mind. All he has to do is get to one or, at most, a few key wizards and have them start taking down their own defenses or distract them. It’d be risky, they’d have to time it just right and move fast to prevent the country from organizing, but . . .”

“How is this Sulveig going to get to the wizards? They are not foolish, they have themselves well-defended.”

“From magic. Psionics aren’t stopped by magical defenses. Oh, I’ve no doubt that in time and with study they could devise some sort of defense. But they don’t have time and they don’t have any subjects to study. In the vernacular, their goose is well and truly cooked.”

“We have to warn them!” Oren cried and leapt to his feet.

“Sit yourself down. We’re going nowhere tonight. Sulveig is at least two days ahead of us, and we don’t even know if I’m right. What we can do, is go to the city with the possibility in mind and see if we can think of some way to combat it.”


“Yeah, we. Even if the others don’t agree, I’ll go with you. Sulveig has to be stopped, and, well, if I’m the one who has to do it, then so be it.”

* * *

“What should I do, Odran?” Jacynth asked.

“You are the leader, Lady, not I.”

“Yes, and ‘tis a poor leader that takes no council. I would hear your advice, should you choose to favor me with it. Two paths seemingly stretch before us: to visit Athkatla, which even now may be embattled, or Murann, a city which, I fear, holds only danger for elf-kin.”

“All this land holds only danger for elf-kin. We must keep strong and stay the course.”

“This much shines clear to me as starlight. Yet, I cannot decide which path of these two seems best.”

Odran considered gravely for a time. “Do you trust this Yorick, Lady?”

Jacynth tossed her head angrily. “Nigh as well as I would trust the fox with an unattended meat bone.”

“I meant, rather, do you believe his story?”

“Only those parts of it that are not speculation and conjecture. He is no goodly folk, yet I detect upon him no Abyssal stench which would otherwise lead me to believe he were indeed our quarry.”

“Then we should concern ourselves with him no more, and thus our concern leads us not to Athkatla, but away from it.”

“You are correct, my wise friend. When dawn comes, we will continue our journey to Murann.”

* * *

“Are they finally gone?” Magsaid demanded, poking his head through the trapdoor and looking around. Evergh looked up at the boss hobgoblin and nodded gravely. “It’s about time. I was beginning to think I’d have to go down there myself and throw them bodily through the hole.”

“What did you expect, my love? They are all inferior creatures.”

“Yes, Lorthane, but they have their uses. What about Sulveig’s critter?”
It’s dead, Evergh gestured, and vanished back into the depths of the cave.

“Excellent.” Magsaid stood with a grunt and looked at Lorthane, who was lounging idly at one of the tables. “Send a message to Yoag that we are ready, and have everyone begin packing.”

“I still don’t understand why we didn’t just end the beast ourselves.”

“Deniability, my dear, deniability. Besides, if we’d run off with Sulveig’s prisoners he would have been sorely vexed with us, and we really can’t have that right now.”

“Bah. Kill the prisoners, kill the beast, problem solved.”

“Yoag wants the prisoners alive, m’dear. It’s the tragic truth that when you’re trying to play both ends against the middle you sometimes have to do things that don’t make a lot of sense. Never fear, we’ll soon be rid of that Ogre Mage and his cronies. Then you’ll be able to do as you please.”

“I do as I please now.”

“Yes, I know you do. I mean you’ll be able to do it more.”

“I think I’ll nail one of them to the altar and cut the bones out of their feet one at a time. Do you think that would be entertaining?”

“I’m sure it would be absolutely ghastly.”
“Oh, I’m so glad you approve.”

“Just remind me to set in a good store of gin for when that happens, all right? And ask Evergh first before you do anything with his altar.”

“Yes, dear.”

* * *

“And the portal just . . . vanished?”

“Just gone, magister. We was afeared to go looking at first, because the terrible monsters was always a’roamin’, but when the water level started to drop we sent a couple of scouts. I don’t mind tellin’ you, but what they reported was plumb strange. I can’t make no heads or tails of it.” The little lizard kicked its feet, uncomfortable in the wooden chair sized for a human. “They said there was a blue crystal growin’ out of the swamp, big as castle and glowin’ somethin’ fierce. Didn’t seem no explanation other than magic for it, so they sent me off to palaver with you folks. We wouldn’t have nothin’ to do with no humans, usually, but one o’ our folks went off to university a time ago, so we figger’d you’d listen to us more’n humans normally would.”

Magister Kolles frowned as he tried to decipher the lizardling’s thick dialect. “You say there’s a lizard here at the school?” The lizard favored him with an old-fashioned look.

“Unless you done et him or somethin’. His sister should be hangin’ about, too. Just you go fetch ‘em and we’ll get this settled straightaway. I ‘spect with our own wizard we can be takin’ care of our own missin’ portal.”

“Ah, I . . . don’t know if we’d want you to do that. We’ve been trying to close that portal ourselves for a long time now.”

“What fer?”

“It’s dangerous and destructive, and created an unnatural swamp in the middle of otherwise habitable land . . . a swamp that kept expanding without limit.”

“Yep, that there’s our swamp, and if the water keeps drainin’ away we’re going to be mighty short on food and comfortable livin’ conditions mighty soon.”

“Yes, but you’re lizards . . .”

“So we don’t matter? We been farmin’ that swamp for a good long time now, I don’t see how no humans got better claim to it than we do. If you don’t want to help that’s yer own business, just bring out our wizard and we’ll take care of our ownselfs in the usual way.”

“Ah . . . I would, but you see, it’s not possible.”

“What? He too busy to speak with his own kin?”

“No, nothing like that . . . he’s not here.”

The lizard scowled. “What about his sister?”

“They packed up and left some time ago. It was extremely irregular, but since they were rather irregular students to begin with no one thought much of it at the time. It was assumed that they went home.”

“Can’t you do some kind of hocus-pocus and figger out where they are?”

“We could, um, we could try to scry them.”

“Right. You do that, I’ll wait here.”

“What are you going to do after we scry them out?”

“Go get ‘em, of course.”

“They could be a great distance away.”

“I got feet, I ain’t afraid of walkin’.”

“No, what I meant was, we could teleport you at least part of the distance. As a courtesy.”

“Sounds good to me.”

Sep 14, 2007

Psionics Game: Session 5

Sam approached the hobgoblin cleric, a friendly, disarming smile on his face. Evergh regarded the blond human coldly while maintaining his grip on Demaris, who was starting to struggle again. “Here, let me take that,” Sam said, grabbing a fistful of Demaris’ shirt while simultaneously delivering a snap kick to the side of Evergh’s knee. The hobgoblin grunted in pain and stumbled back, releasing the woman. Demaris stumbled to her knees, choking a bit as the collar of her shirt tightened around her throat.

Sam cut deeply across her shoulder with his soul blade and she cried out in pain. “That’s for punching me. Don’t do it again,” he said, hauling her to her feet and shoving her back into the prison chamber. The others watched the exchange in silence.

Then there was a loud metallic screech. The portcullis that had previously separated the prison chamber from the next chamber winched slowly upwards. Sam turned to look behind him and saw Evergh smile faintly before the hobgoblin made a mystic gesture. Everyone watched, horrified, as Sam screamed in agony and collapsed.

“Sam!” Barak yelled and moved forward to assist his friend. He managed only a single step before a hideous monstrosity burst from behind the raised portcullis. It was shaped roughly like a scorpion, if scorpions had stone plates for armor, legs that ended in blades of blue crystal, and a lamprey’s mouth in place of a stinger. Its mandibles opened and hideous purple tentacles flopped out of its maw.

The creature’s tail-mouth opened and issued a terrible multi-toned keen; the air rippled as an unseen force passed through it, striking Barak in the chest and blasting him off his feet. He skidded across the stone floor and was still. Humming to itself, the creature regarded the other people in the room, its mandibles clicking ominously.

La’ss’a was first to react, leaping onto the beast’s back and clawing at its stony hide, but her assault had little effect. Olena drew her greatsword and hacked into a leg, nearly severing it from the monster’s body. It uttered a pained squeal that made the room rattle. Then the others waded in, their blows clinking and clanking off the stony hide, doing little damage.

Yorick concentrated and sharp crystals sprang into existence, shattering off the creature’s hide. Cursing, he dodged out of the way as a crystal-clawed leg flailed at him. The creature scuttled forward and caught Olena in its jaws, lifting her off her feet. She screamed as venom filled the wound and began crystallizing her flesh, but she held onto her sword and struck again.

La’ss’a, meanwhile, found a weaker spot on the stony carapace and drew on psionic energy, ripping a hole in the monster’s back. It spun in place, attempting vainly to reach the lizard, still keening it’s maddening song. Ligeia matched her voice to the beast’s music and sang. It abruptly went silent and still—Kyrian taking advantage of the distraction to land a few blows—then it charged her, delivering a terrible bite with its crystalline jaws.

“La’ss’a!” Fa’ss’th cried, and tossed his spear to her. She growled and began thrusting it at the creature’s eyes. The lamprey mouth opened and began to issue that terrible multi-toned scream again Just as Yorick directed a vicious spray of crystals straight down the monster’s throat. A rush of ichor and bile spilled from the maw and it crashed to the floor, legs twitching for a few moments before it was finally still.

Fa’ss’th looked at Olena curiously, watching her flesh continue to crystallize around the monster’s bite. “That’s fascinating,” he said as she whimpered in pain. “It must be poisonous!” La’ss’a climbed nearly into the monster’s mouth, covering herself with slime in the process, and extracted a poison gland. Fa’ss’th hissed at her angrily, but she stuck her tongue out at him and stuffed the gland into a bottle. “No fair,” Fa’ss’th complained.

“I didn’t see you climbing onto its back,” was La’ss’a’s reply.

“I let you use my spear, though,” he wheedled.

“No. Now quit your whining and make sure the humans are still alive.”

It did not appear that Sam or Barak had sustained any real trauma. They were simply unconscious and did not rouse even after repeated prodding. Stymied, Fa’ss’th went to see what the other people were doing. Yorick, Kyrian, and Ligeia had all mysteriously vanished.

Yorick had wandered into the next room, which was full of strongboxes. He hadn’t gotten much further because on opening the chests, he’d discovered they were full of money. He was now engaged in trying to secrete as much cash on his person as physically possible. Fa’ss’th shook his head while palming a gold bar, then continued on into the next room.

This had been a guard room, but it was empty now. The next room was the armory, where Kyrian had already disarranged all the weapons. He had slung a rapier across his back and was examining a crossbow closely. Fa’ss’th shook his head again and started to leave the room when Kyrian spoke. “I already checked the storage room, there’s nothing in there that we can really carry easily. It looks like the hobs all went back up the ladder and closed it behind them.”

“Getting up there is going to be a problem,” Fa’ss’th remarked.

“No kidding.”

The lizard wizard sighed. “Let’s go back and get the others.”

“Yeah,” Kyrian said, “I’m done here anyway. Breaking out of this stronghold won’t be any easier than breaking in would have been.”

When they returned, La’ss’a was sitting on the floor with Demaris. “So why did you punch Sam, anyway?” the female lizard hissed.

“I thought you were with them. How was I to know?”

“We came here to help you, and two of our friends might have been killed.”

“I’m sorry! Sheesh. What do you want from me.”

“Help us get them out of here.”

“Easier said than done, little sister!” Fa’ss’th told La’ss’a jovially. “The hobs have gone back up their ladder. Trying to reach them will be hellish, and we’re already wounded and tired.”

“This just gets better and better, doesn’t it?” La’ss’a remarked tiredly.

Yorick returned from his treasure-acquisition and looked them over. “Well, we didn’t exactly have a chance for introductions before, but I am Yorick, from Athkatla. A pleasure to meet you all.”

Demaris grimaced. “He’s a merchant.”

“A psionic merchant,” Fa’ss’th added.

“Yes, well, we are what we are,” Yorick said smoothly, “and right now we are in a pit with a bunch of potentially angry hobgoblin warriors between us and freedom.”

Fa’ss’th chuckled. “Yes. I am Fa’ss’th, and this is my sister La’ss’a. I appreciate your assistance in the battle.”

“I do wish we were all met under different circumstances,” Yorick continued.

Demaris grunted. “Escape first, talk later.”

“Easier said than done,” La’ss’a said. “What do you know about our captors? Can we fight our way out?”

“After taking on that sergeant, I cannot even fathom tackling their boss,” Olena said.

“Magsaid?” Demaris asked. “He’s tough, but Lorthane is the one you have to worry about. She’s crazy.”

“Yes,” Olena replied. “She tried to get them to kill us the moment we walked in.”

Demaris shrugged. “I used to trade with them; that’s how they captured me. Magsaid made some kind of deal with that bastard Sulveig. Not sure why. Magsaid is actually kind of laid-back for a hobgoblin. He likes his food and his drink and his women. He doesn’t have much in the way of military ambitions.”

“He was very gracious to me,” Olena affirmed.

“That sounds like his style. Evergh is completely self-involved, doesn’t care about anything other than obeying his god.”

“Hmm,” Yorick said. “Perhaps we can negotiate our way out of here?”

“Do you know which god he follows, Demaris?” Olena pressed.


“Oh, ugh.” The fey woman shivered, her mouth drawing into a thin line. “I should have known.”

Ligeia returned to the room. “Does anyone have a light I can use?” she asked. Olena handed her a glowing sunrod.

Yorick said in a speculative voice, “Perhaps we can negotiate our way out of here, especially after we displayed our power in killing their pet.”

“Magsaid was impressed by how we handled the patrol, too,” Kyrian added helpfully.

“Why do you need a light?” the fey woman asked curiously.

“There is a crack in the room where the monster was imprisoned, and I hear rushing water,” Ligeia replied.

“What’s this?” Yorick asked. Olena heaved Sam up over her shoulders with surprising ease and carried him into the creature’s room. La’ss’a gestured for Demaris to do the same with Barak. Nymbus’ daughter sighed and lifted the scholar, bracing him against the wall while she got herself balanced to support the load. Kyrian helped her and after some struggle she was carrying Barak.

Ligeia poked her head into the crack and shone the light around. “There is a ledge about fifteen feet down, next to a stream or something. It is flowing quite fast.”

“Hmm,” Fa’ss’th murmured, digging out a piece of paper and doing a few rough calculations. “If I’m right, that stream probably feeds out into the pond.” He began securing his clothing while La’ss’a strung a rope down into the crack. “I’ll go first,” the lizard wizard announced, “and check it out.”

He climbed nimbly down the rope and onto the slippery ledge, where he balanced uncertainly for a moment. Then he took a deep breath, squinched up his eyes, squeezed his nose shut with one clawed hand, and jumped, disappearing with a splash.

The current seized him immediately and dragged him down between stone walls. He paddled furiously and managed to avoid striking anything large, then popped out abruptly into calm water. “Huh! Guess I was right!” he observed. A few moments later Ligeia popped up beside him. She looked slightly battered by her passage, but began swimming gamely to shore. La’ss’a appeared, bleeding heavily, barely able to keep her head above water. Fa’ss’th helped her and found that she was struggling to support Sam’s unconscious body.

“He’s not breathing . . .” Fa’ss’th said.

“Damn it,” La’ss’a snarled, dragging Sam to shore. She pounded the human on the back and blew into his mouth with little effect. Fa’ss’th pulled a long, slender crystal rod out of his pack and set it on Sam’s head. It glowed and a moment later Sam coughed up water and blood. The two lizards turned him onto his side to keep his lungs clear, and after a few moments he began breathing normally again.

“Close one,” Fa’ss’th remarked.

Olena and Demaris hauled Barak to shore similarly, followed by Kyrian and Yorick. Kyrian flapped his wet wings and grumped. “I can’t fly like this.”

Yorick wiped blood away from a gash on his forehead. “That was the easy way? We had best make haste away from here, we are in no condition to fight now.”

They returned to the dead tree, only to discover Oren lying unconscious on the ground, his warhorse nudging him in confusion. Demaris sighed in relief at the sight of the horse and slung Barak over its back with some effort. It tried to sidle away from her until Olena caught the reins and hushed it. It was a big, strong animal, so she laid Sam on it as well, helping Demaris lash them in place so they couldn’t fall off.

La’ss’a flicked water out of her clothing onto Oren’s face until he blinked, sputtered, and awoke. “Wha . . .what happened?” the paladin asked, staring about stupidly.

“Doesn’t matter,” La’ss’a announced. “Are you hurt, or can we use your horse to carry the unconscious.”

Oren felt the back of his head. “Um, I am fine, I think. That . . . ouch . . . I think the ogre hit me over the head. I’m a bit dizzy, but I’ll live. Um. Why are you all so . . . wet? And who are these people?”

Yorick snickered. “Imagine an ogre doing something like that.”

Kyrian grinned. “Yeah, he got hit with too much philosophy in one day.”

“We can talk more once we’re away from here,” La’ss’a said decisively. “Do you know somewhere quiet we can go?”

Oren thought for a moment. “Not too far from here.” He took the horse’s reins and led the way. After a little more than an hour, they reached a small clearing. It looked like a travelers’ camp: there was a fire pit and a crude shelter built in the lea of a boulder.”

Yorick looked around. “Well, it will do for now. Some of us can rest while the others stand watch. Although, I think almost all of us need to rest.”

“Agreed,” La’ss’a said. “My trip down that tunnel with Sam was back-breaking. Literally.”

“Yes, and this bite is all . . . crunchy,” Olena said, poking her fossilized flesh.

“I can stand a watch,” Demaris offered, shrugging again.

Oren reached out and put his hands on La’ss’a’s head, closing his eyes. A faint glow issued from beneath his palms, and La’ss’a felt some of her wounds begin to knit together. “Nice,” she remarked. “Maybe you aren’t completely useless after all.” Oren flushed angrily and looked away. La’ss’a sighed. “Sorry. I didn’t mean that.”

The paladin nodded. “I realize haven’t been much assistance thus far. I am happy to help.”

She nodded. “Yes, and thank you.”

Oren began chanting quietly, and touched a hand to Yorick’s head, healing the ugly gash. Ligeia eyed the young paladin speculatively and began singing softly, a familiar old song about a knight’s doomed love for a mermaid. She tossed her long, dark blue hair out of her face and combed through it with her fingers. Oren coughed, blushing again, and busied himself with starting a fire.

Kyrian and Olena smiled at each other and joined in the song. The three slightly ethereal voices intertwined, filling the clearing with strange harmony.

“I think I hear someone coming,” Demaris said abruptly. Yorick perked up.

“Yes,” he murmured. Kyrian and Olena stopped singing, although Ligeia continued, unconcerned.

“Travelers, I’d wager, coming to use this campsite.” Olena guessed.

“Or maybe an ogre who doesn’t know his place in the world any more,” Kyrian retorted snidely.

Fa’ss’th shook his head. “It’s a female elf . . . they are tracking something on the way to Murann.” The approaching noises abruptly ceased. The lizard raised his voice, “This campsite is free to peaceful travelers! If you’re looking for a fight, go elsewhere!”

A woman’s clear voice rang out, speaking the elven tongue. “We have no quarrel with you, we seek only to shelter for the night! Do not think that we will hesitate to defend ourselves, however.”

“Then be welcome!” Kyrian called out. A moment passed, then four elves emerged from the trees.

“Odran!” Olena cried, launching herself at one of the elves, her twin brother close behind.

“Goodness, children, whatever are you doing out here?” Odran, a moon elf with rather typical dark hair and skin, embraced both of them tightly. “You look hurt! What happened?” A badger poked its nose out of his backpack and sniffed Olena, then turned away as though offended. Olena laughed and petted it gently.

“It’s a long story,” Kyrian told him. “Come sit down!”

“Odran is a friend of ours,” Olena explained. “He visited the valley a few years ago.”

The female elf that had spoken smiled at the reunion indulgently. She was taller than most elves and stately, with short black hair and bright green eyes. Yorick stood and bowed formally to her. A large yellowish dog wandered over to sniff the merchant, its tail wagging violently. “I would be obliged, dear lady, if you would tell me how I might defend myself from your beauty.”

Fa’ss’th rolled his eyes. “What is it you seek in these woods?” The female elf bowed stiffly to the lizard.

“I am Jacynth, and these are Hadrilyn, Odran, and Turtori,” she began. Hadrilyn was lean and athletic-looking, his hair tied back in many slender braids. He snapped his fingers and the dog returned to him, lying down at his feet. He had two scimitars strapped over his shoulders. Turtori was dressed in crude skins, feathers and beaded leather cords decorating his hair. He carried a trident and favored the group with an excessively bored expression. All four elves wore identical cloaks and boots.

“A name worthy of such beauty, if any are,” Yorick announced. “I am Yorick Kam, Knower of Things, lately of Athkatla until I was roughly kidnapped by smelly hobgoblins.”

The elves froze, halfway to sitting on the grass. Jacynth stood again, slowly, staring at Yorick in shock. “You!”

He blinked. “Ah, I see my fame and renown have spread further than I assumed. How have you heard my name, if I may enquire?”

Odran stared at Olena and Kyrian in horror. “You travel with this creature? Why?!”

“It matters not!” Jacynth spat out. “Wicked one, you come with us!” She reached for an arrow.

“Creature?” Olena and Kyrian asked together.

“It . . . yes. It’s a long story.”

“Whatever he has done, you said you would not fight,” Fa’ss’th interjected mildly.

“Creature indeed! Perhaps I have not shaved or bathed properly in some time, but I hardly think that makes insults appropriate!”

Jacynth nodded sharply to Fa’ss’th. “As I said, lizardling, we have no quarrel with you. But we must carry out our mission. Do not attempt to stop us.”

“He helped us escape and deserves at least one night of rest,” the lizard wizard insisted.

Odran shot Jacynth an appealing look. “Let’s hear them out, lady.” Hadrilyn nodded.

Turtori spoke up suddenly, “Let’s just kill them and be done with it. We could be back in Suldanesselar in a week.”

Olena looked over at La’ss’a. “Why do people always want to kill us without explaining why?”

La’ss’a sniffed. “This is how my week started and it best not end that way.”

Jacynth shot Turtori a furious glance and appeared to make up her mind. “No, no killing.” Gathering her cloak around herself, she sat.

“So, does the condemned at least get to hear what he is accused of doing?” Yorik asked, sarcasm heavy in his voice. Jacynth began to make an angry retort, but Odran forestalled her with a hand on her arm.

“No. It is a shameful thing, and I would not speak of it until we decide what to do. Let me use my magics to heal your wounds, and we will listen to your story if you will tell it.”

Yorick drew himself up and struck a majestic pose. “I have known many elves in my time, and I have nothing but respect for their art, their wisdom, their virtues, but right now you are causing me to doubt the justice of the elves, for it is unjust indeed if one may be accused in secret, and condemned without trial!”

“It is not a matter of justice or of accusations, vile one!” Jacynth spat. “You are a . . .”

“Jacynth!” Odran shouted. She bit her tongue and looked away.

“You mean he hasn’t actually done anything?” Demaris asked abruptly.

“I am a merchant! A trader in goods and information! What evil is there in that?”

“None,” Jacynth returned, “unless that merchant is a demon!”

“Jacynth, be still!”

“I can bear it no longer! His kind are an abomination and a corruption of all that is elven! They . . .”

“My kind?! Wait . . . you think I am a demon?!”

Odran glanced over at Olena and Kyrian apologetically. “Some of the elves of Suldanesselar trade with the humanoids of Murann. It is discouraged, but there is so much wealth to be had that it is difficult to keep them away. One of these traders brought news that they had discovered a . . . a . . .” he looked ill, “a daemonfey, there, posing as a human.”

“A . . .a what?” Olena asked, bewildered.

Hadrilyn spoke, his voice quiet and musical. “A daemonfey. Some corrupt elves have given themselves to demons and produced vile halfbreed children. They can disguise themselves with great skill.”

Yorick laughed. “Well, I grant you I am pretty darned persuasive, but I bargain for baubles and stories, not souls. How do you even know when a human is a demon in disguise?”

“And what makes them so vile?” Fa’ss’th asked.

“You do not know, that is the problem,” Hadrilyn said. He sighed. “The talebringer seemed so sure. He said some orcs were bragging about capturing it. They used the name Yorick several times.”

Kyrian spoke up, “And you trust this source?”

Hadrilyn nodded. “We do not distrust the words of one of our own.”

“So, let me see, you are going to go around killing every human in the land because an orc, an orc, mind you, says so?” Yorick snarled, his voice once again dripping with sarcasm. Jacynth started to stand but Odran clamped his hand on her shoulder.

“You do not understand,” Hadrilyn said gently. “Even a rumor of this is so horrifying that it must be investigated.”

“I AM a merchant! I AM from Athkatla! I can show you my shop, my scrolls, my trinkets! Yet you are prepared to strike me down on the word of an orc! Is THIS elven justice?!”

“Do not mock us!” Jacynth shouted. “You know nothing of the elves! You sit there unharmed and dare to question our honor! Were we humans hunting a monster, you would already be dead!”

“I mock not the elves, the beings that bring so much beauty, art, and soul to this dirty little world. But I ask you, does the scenario you have outlined make any sense? Is it just to slay a defenseless man on the word of an orc?”

“Slay? No. Take captive to Suldanesselar. Turtori speaks of killing, not I. But Turtori is a beast, all know this.”

“We will help you if we can,” Oren spoke up, looking extremely uneasy, “but you must produce some proof.”

“Yes!” Kyrian announced. “Thank you, Oren.”

Demaris shook her head. “We don’t have the time to deal with this. We need to get to Athkatla and stop Sulveig from doing, well, whatever it is he’s doing.”

Olena nodded. “I think Demaris is right. That’s the most important thing we could be doing.”

“Wait!” Yorick shouted. “I think I know who you are looking for!” he snapped his fingers. “It’s so obvious. A being of tremendous guile, with strange powers, commanding an army of evil creatures . . . might not Sulveig be this demon you seek?”

“Who is this ‘Sulveig’?” Jacynth demanded.

“Sulveig is a Maenad,” Demaris announced, somewhat less than helpfully. Yorick pointed to Ligeia and Demaris.

“Sulveig was our captor. We have escaped his grasp . . . perhaps this is his way of making sure we don’t get to far. Spread stories that we are demons!”

“He may also be involved with the stone that changed the magic of our valley,” Kyrian added.

Jacynth looked utterly bewildered. “I don’t . . . it could make sense . . . I guess,” she flailed helplessly, appealing to Odran and Hadrilyn.

“Such an ingenious plot!” Yorick continued. “Just what a demon would come up with! And he has strange mind powers!”

“Except that Sulveig is a Maenad,” Demaris insisted angrily.

“Wait,” Odran said, turning to Kyrian. “What stone?”

Speaking quickly, Kyrian and Olena explained what had occurred in their valley. “Mighty Silvanus!” Odran exclaimed when they had finished. “Jacynth, this is far more important than one daemonfey that may or may not even exist.”

Jacynth’s mouth twisted sourly. “I am forced to agree.”

“You can seriously be considering just letting them wander off,” Turtori demanded.

“We must get to Athkatla immediately,” Oren said. Jacynth looked over at the young paladin.

“I don’t know. We are not on good terms with the humans in Athkatla.”

Kyrian smiled. “I’m sure if you were discreet, no one would bother you.”

“There must be some kind of acceptable compromise,” Hadrilyn said.

“I . . . yes. Let us get some rest and think about it some more, then we can talk in the morning,” Jacynth offered finally.

Sep 12, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

I would just like to state, for the record, that I have no idea why I went to see this movie. It was the weekend, I was bored, and I fondly remember "The Simpsons" from the earlier days when it was actually funny. You remember, back when the show was devoted to skewering stereotypes mercilessly and making fun of all kinds of irrational/idiotic behavior.

The movie, however, makes no sense at all. They got the bizarre element of humor down pat, but they never added another element to make it truly funny. (See Scott Adams' "two of six" rule.) Most of the bizarre-ness leaves you asking "where the heck are they going with this?" Then, when they get there, you kind of wonder why they bothered.

Everything that even tried to be surprising fell flat. Oh, Arnold is president. Like we couldn't see that one coming a mile away. You know what would have been funnier? Gallagher. Or something. Arnold was too obvious.



If I wanted to be amazingly trite, I might now sing (and aren't you glad you can't actually hear me, heh) That Song, but I'm NOT GOING TO DO IT.

Anyway, this movie isn't funny at all. Nor is it the high-flying wire-fu Hong Kong Cinema-fest that you may have come to expect from Jet Li after seeing him in, well, pretty much any other movie he's ever been in. This movie is more of shoot-things-a-lot film. Also, hack-things-apart-with-a-katana.

What it *does* have--something many other action movies lack--is an *excellent* plot. Yes, let me say it again, because it bears repeating: THERE IS A PLOT. IT IS COOL. IT MAKES SENSE.

The "War" referenced in the title is actually a battle between two Asian crime bosses; one of the Japanese Yakuza, one of the Chinese Triads. Both groups are portrayed beautifully in the movie as a bunch of adrenilin junkies drunk on their own testosterone with the good sense and morals of an alley cat.

Jason Stratham portrays an FBI agent whose partner is brutally killed early in the movie by one or the other of these crime groups. Three years later, Stratham has still not gotten over the murder. His wife has left him, his career is going nowhere . . . and the man that killed his partner shows up again in town.

There are a bunch of sweet twists from there, so I won't spoil it for you. Definitely one of the better action movies to come out this year, so go see it!

Funniest Reviews Ever

These are a series (ongoing) of computer game reviews that are so funny they literally made me cry laughing. There is some foul language, but it just makes them funnier. Click on the title to visit Zero Punctuation at The Escapist and laugh your socks off.

Sep 8, 2007

My Dad on TV

My dad was recently interviewed for a feature on CNBC's On The Money program. Check out the video segment by clicking on the blog entry title above!

Sep 7, 2007

Psionics Game: Sam and Oren

Sam added a log to the fire and sat down. He glanced at La’ss’a to make sure she was preoccupied watching their prisoner. Then he leaned back and regarded the paladin steadily.

“I’ve seen you before, you know,” he said. Oren blinked, startled.

“You have? When?”

“About eight months ago, in Amn, actually. I don’t expect you’d remember me, we didn’t exactly meet. But I remember you. In fact, I really should thank you. You’re at least partially responsible for my being here today.”

Oren shook his head helplessly. “I truly cannot recall anything I might have done to help you.”

Sam chuckled. “You didn’t help me. You were with the men that broke down my door and threw me out of my home. You arrested a bunch of my friends, and two days later they were executed for smuggling. I only barely escaped through a window, but it wasn’t much of an escape. I spent two months living on the streets before I tried to pick the wrong pocket and ended up, well, here.”

“I see. I am sorry for your loss.”

“Isn’t that kind of a weird thing to say? Shouldn’t you be lecturing me on how smuggling is a crime and you were only doing your job?”

“Well, both of those things are true; smuggling is a crime, and I was doing my job. But you already know that, so why should I tell you? It doesn’t make it, well, right I guess. It doesn’t . . .” Oren sighed. “I’m not really sure how to explain what I mean. I’m not much of a paladin, I’m afraid.”

“Hmm,” Sam said, staring into the fire morosely.

“If I may ask, how did you get involved in smuggling?”

“What? Oh, just sort of fell into it I suppose. It was work, it got me a place to sleep and food to eat, and my friends were there.”

“And you never thought that it was against the law and you could get caught?”

“It was better than starving. Where else did I have to go?”

“You could apprentice somewhere . . . you have skills, don’t you?”

“Hah! Clearly you’ve never tried to do anything like that. Besides, by the time I was old enough to think about that sort of thing, it was too late to think about changing tracks. If I turned on the crew they’d kill me.”

“Yet these were your friends?”

“Yeah, but it was their lives on the line, too.” Oren nodded, staring into the fire for a time, himself. “How’d you get into being a paladin, then?”

Oren’s mouth twisted into an expression somewhat resembling a smile. “Just sort of fell into it, I suppose. I was an orphan left in the temple, I was raised into it.”

Sam shook his head. “So we’re not really that different, you and me. What I don’t get is, how did I, who hurt no one and minded my own business, become the bad guy, while you, who broke into a house, trashed the place and sent people to the block, are called the good guy? It doesn’t make sense to me.”

“It doesn’t make much sense to me, either, to tell the truth. You know, I found out later, after that raid, that the informant that brought the smuggling charges before the order was a Shadow Thief trying to knock out the competition. I asked one of the senior knights whether we’d made a mistake and he said no, we ended a smuggling operation. Politics weren’t our concern. I kept asking questions, though . . . I think that’s the reason why I’m out here right now, in fact. So I suppose, in a way I have you to thank.”

Sam laughed. “I think both of us are better off out here.”

Oren smiled a bit hesitantly. “You are probably correct.”

“The next time I’m in the city, I’m taking a real close look at these Shadow Thieves, though.”