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

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.”

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