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

Aug 31, 2007

Psionics Game: Session 3

With a final sad glance, Olena stepped around the corpse of the dire boar, following Kyrian as he led the way to the waterfall. La’ss’a looked around at the woods a bit nervously.

“Are there any more of those creatures on the way?”

“Boars?” Kyrian asked. “Only the one as far as we’ve seen.”

As they approached the falls a tall, handsome man emerged from the rushing water and watched them, a drawn bow in his hands pointing vaguely downwards. Sam eyed the drawn bow skeptically. Olena noticed his expression and waved a hand reassuringly.

“It’s all right, Dougal, these people helped us in the clearing.” The fossergrim nodded and lowered the bow a bit more. His face was drawn with an expression of suffering.

“It would be best for you to leave quickly, whoever you are.”

“Is there something coming?” Fa’ss’th asked. “Maybe we could help you with it.”

Dougal shook his head. “I do not know what is happening. I am going inside; if you need me, call and I will come.” He turned and vanished once more beneath the waters. The adventurers looked up at the top of the waterfall, where an ugly purple glow reflected from the rocks.

“Shall we take a closer look?” Fa’ss’th asked. Kyrian unfurled his wings and darted up the rock face.

“Kyrian! Come back down here! It’s safer if we stay together!” Olena cried to no avail.

“Is there a path to the top of the falls?” Barak asked. Olena hurried towards a narrow trail that seemed to lead in that direction, gesturing for the others to follow her.

Sam sighed. “I guess we take the slow boat to the top.”

On reaching the top of the cliff they found Kyrian examining an immense growth of purple crystal. It seemed to have sprouted, like a plant, from the rocky bottom of the stream, dividing the flow into many separate channels. The running water made it sing faintly, like a wet finger on the rim of a wine glass.

Fa’ss’th and Barak approached, extending their psionic senses to examine the crystal. After a while in meditation, they turned to regard the group again.

“Oh, this is not good,” Fa’ss’th announced. Barak blinked at the lizard’s dire expression.

“No, this is very good.” He eyed the crystal, biting the inside of his cheek thoughtfully. “We should see if we can extract several shards and seed the forest with them!”

“Seed the . . . what?” Olena asked, dumbfounded.

“You realize this is probably what is hurting the fey; it’s feeding off the local magic and converting it to psionic energy!” Fa’ss’th declared.

“If we can spread it out, we can expand its influence! Of course, that assumes that the local magical field is fairly uniform, and strong enough to support it . . .” Barak began.

La’ss’a interrupted him. “Olena, how long has this crystal formation been here?”

“It wasn’t here yesterday. Only a few hours, I think.”

Kyrian nodded. “Dougal trained me here for years and I promise you it’s new.”

Sam frowned. “Have any other strangers come through in the last day or so?”

“None,” Kyrian affirmed. “We’re quite isolated here.”

“None that we know of, at least,” Olena corrected. “If seeding the forest would ease the pain, then perhaps we should try it.”

Sam scowled into the distance. “Sulveig, that little weasel . . .” Fa’ss’th pulled a piece of crystal from his belt pouch and held it up, comparing them. The winged twins drew closer to see what he was doing.

“What do you want to bet that Nymbus took Sulveig to that cave at some point in the past?” Sam asked.

Fa’ss’th made a noise under his breath. “I bet the attack on Nymbus was coincidental. The elemental’s job was probably to destroy that crystal and spread it. See, they’re the same. As I said, this crystal formation is feeding off the magical energy in this area. The fey are connected to the energy, so the crystal acts like a disease to them.”

“Then what can we do to stop it?” Kyrian demanded.

“I’m getting to that,” Barak announced, appearing to have returned temporarily from his reverie. "Olena, when you first noticed that something felt off, what did you think, what did you do?"

Olena looked bewildered. “Mother disappeared under the water, and animals gathered around Hypatia’s tree.”

“Mind adding a little context for the outsiders?”

“Forgive me. Our mother is a Naiad, a water spirit, and Hypatia is a Dryad.”

Barak nodded. “They retreated to their traditional sources of power, water or a specific tree.”

“Hypatia cried out that Dougal was suffering—he’s a fossergrim.”


“A waterfall spirit,” Kyrian explained. “I came here to help him, but he was out of his mind. He attacked me—only when my sister wounded him did he return to his senses.”

Sam rolled his eyes and tapped a foot impatiently. “Is there a point to all of this?” He blinked and nearly toppled over as the earth under his foot rose and crumbled, revealing a woman’s face. Her skin was gray and looked hard, like granite, and her hair shone whitely even through the dirt.

Olena giggled. “Well met, Kefirah.” The woman climbed out of the hole and surveyed the group. Barak stared at her in delight.

“Is this another local ‘spirit’?” La’ss’a asked.

“Why are you trespassing on my mountain?” Kefirah demanded.

“She’s an oread, a mountain spirit,” Olena affirmed. “Stay your hand, Kefirah, these people are here to help us. Sam rolled his eyes again dramatically and groaned.

“Greetings to you as well, child,” Kefirah added belatedly. “I was not aware I was in need of ‘help’.”

“My sister means the two of us, I think,” Kyrian explained.

“Ah. Well, if you must.”

“You haven’t felt any distress for the last day or so? No weakness, headaches or the like?” Barak asked. The Oread shrugged.

“The world felt strange to me for a moment, but I let it pass through me and I am not harmed. Such is the way of nature . . . bend to change and you do not break. The hard stone is brittle and shatters.”

Barak nodded, breaking out in a pleased grin. “See, that’s what I thought. She’s used to drawing her power from the earth, so she adapted easily. The crystal isn’t actually harming your mother, it’s her resistance to the new power that’s the problem.” He waved his hands excitedly, emphasizing his words. At one point Sam was forced to grab his belt to prevent him from toppling into the stream.

“We’ve all been fighting it,” Kyrian mused.

“Then the new power is not evil, just different?” Olena asked.

“I get it,” Fa’ss’th said. “It’s like a poor man used to turnips and barley suddenly being given a feast of goose liver and caviar. It doesn’t make you sick because it’s poisonous, but because you aren’t used to it. There’s a hierarchy of energy in the world: natural power, divine power, arcane power, psionic power. Psionic is the ‘richest’ form of power, the most refined. So it would make sense that something like this would happen.”

“Right!” Barak enthused. “See, you have a psychological resistance to accepting the psychoactive refraction matrix and it’s causing a mechanical feedback effect . . .”

“Whoa, stop, Barak, stop!” Sam yelled.

“What?” Barak asked, looking hurt and perplexed.

“We don’t have time to listen to you and your ‘explanation’. We get the general idea. So, how do we fix it?”

“They need to release their concentration in accordance with Darylix’s absorption law.”

Sam massaged his forehead tiredly and turned to Olena and Kyrian. “Allow me to translate. You need to do a relaxation and meditation exercise to clear your mind.”

Olena gazed at the two humans a little uncertainly. “That’s it?”

“Well, if you want to be simplistic about it . . .” Barak began. Sam booted him in the shin pointedly.

“That’s it.”

“But . . .”

“Barak, it is three in the morning, I’ve been marching all day, my back hurts, my feet hurt, and instead of sleeping I’ve been attacked by tiny idiot fey, charged by a dire boar, and now I’m standing here listening to you babble about refraction matrices or whatever the hell it was that you said. Enough!”


“Just shut up and let me take care of it from here, okay?”

“All right, all right.”

“Academics,” Sam muttered. He gestured for Olena and Kyrian to sit down, then guided them through one of the simplest meditation exercises he knew. They were resistant at first, but as they focused themselves and relaxed, the buzzing diminished to a pleasant, energizing sensation.

“Thank you, Sam,” Olena said happily.

“And thanks to you, Kefirah,” Kyrian added. The Oread nodded and disappeared once more into the ground.

Barak beamed over them. “As an added bonus, your mother and the others will no longer be tied to specific places or things. Of course, I think that’s only within the crystal’s radius of effect, so they’re still somewhat limited . . .”

“Let’s go explain things to the others so we can get some sleep,” Sam cut in. Fa’ss’th looked at the long climb down the mountain and sighed.

“Once more into the breach,” he muttered, and then began trooping back down the path.


In the morning, Nymbus’ students awakened to find Aviana the Naiad standing nervously outside their rough camp, holding a large bundle wrapped in oilcloth in her arms. It seemed she had been standing there for some time, waiting patiently for them to awaken.

“What have you brought, Mother?” Kyrian asked gently. She smiled; the smile seemed a bit sad.
“I have brought gifts to these people for helping us. I bring them because I have learned something important. We may be small and far away from everything, but this does not make us safe. Only understanding can make us safe. So I think the time has come for you, my children, to leave this place and seek understanding in the world.” She took a deep breath, then continued. “So, I have also come to ask the strangers if they would take you with them and protect you until you are wise enough to protect yourselves.”

Olena’s lip trembled and she fought back tears. “We always thought this day might come.”

“We didn’t always believe it, though,” Kyrian muttered. Aviana set her bundle on the ground and embraced her son tightly. He sniffled and buried his head in her shoulder.

Fa’ss’th chuckled. “If you only knew how far from home we already are,” he said, grinning mischievously.

“You are fey, but human also, you cannot reject part of your nature,” Aviana told her son sternly. She let him go and bent to unwrap the oilcloth. Inside were three bows, two quivers full of arrows, and a bag of gems. “It is not much, but it should help you on your way.” She retreated a few steps, clasping her hands together. She looked at Nymbus’ students as though unsure what to do next. Barak began to fumble for something diplomatic to say and froze in horror when Sam abruptly stepped forward. The tall, lanky blond bowed formally to the Naiad.

“I will watch your children as though they were my own.” Aviana’s nervous expression transmuted instantly to a delighted smile and she kissed Sam on the cheek before pattering away to dive into the lake.

“You mean you’re actually capable of being diplomatic?” Barak whispered.

“There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me, friend,” Sam replied, grinning.

“Thank you, Sam,” Olena said softly.

“Hah. Just don’t make it a hard promise for me to keep, okay?”

“Of course,” she murmured, looking at Kyrian, who was still watching the ripples on the lake. Silence fell.

“Great,” La’ss’a said finally. “So we are still back to square one on figuring out how to fix our teacher.”

“Yes, but now you have our help,” Kyrian announced.

"Well after this nice family moment, it probably would be best not to talk to our teacher's daughter, it probably won’t be worth our time.”

Fa’ss’th poked La’ss’a. “She may be able to shed some light on what Nymbus was doing. I’m even less sure now whether these crystals are a good thing or if Nymbus had reason to hide them.”

La’ss’a appealed to the humans. “Sam? Barak? Think a change of mind is in order?”

Barak shrugged. “He may have tried to talk with Demaris about them. She might know something. At the very least she’s known Nymbus a lot longer than we have.”

“And besides,” Sam added, “If Sulveig was so interested in Nymbus’ work, he might pay Demaris a visit, too.”

The group, larger now, set back out on the strangely empty road and continued traveling west, encountering no living creatures. After a few days getting mildly turned around in the mountains, they discovered a high grassy plateau where someone had built a sturdy log house.

“With any luck, this is it,” La’ss’a remarked, continuing down the path.

Every inch of the plateau was given over to some productive activity. There were elaborate tiered gardens, long rows of unfamiliar plants, some of which grew tall and straight, some which crawled in vines along the ground. Fences enclosed tidy pastures, and a still near the cabin sent a thin thread of smoke into the air. Fa’ss’th looked at the pastures a bit skeptically, wondering where all the animals were.

As they approached, the door to the cabin opened and a woman came out, her dark hair pulled back under a farmer’s straw hat, her clothing workmanlike and unremarkable. She glared at them and thumped her fists onto her hipbones. “Who are you and what do you want?” she demanded

Fa’ss’th coughed. “Uh, we’re loking for Demaris to bring her some news.”

“And your point is?”

“Would you happen to be Demaris?”

“That is my name but I don’t know you.”

“No, but we do know one person in common. We bring news of your father, Nymbus.”

The only sign that this affected her in any way was the slight quirk of one eyebrow. “Maybe you’d better come inside,” she suggested, turning back to the cabin and holding the door open. Fa’ss’th approached, only to be assaulted by a horrible stench; the woman smelled like she hadn’t bathed in months. He thought it was strange, considering how otherwise orderly and tidy the homestead was. He hesitated on the doorstep and heard something . . . something big, shift its weight inside the house.

“Um, no offense, but maybe outdoors is the best place to discuss this,” he said brightly, retreating several steps and bumping into Kyrian. Demaris scowled.

“Screw this. Get ‘em, boys!” She shifted into an arcane pose and held up a hand, wild, crackling power gathering in her palm. An immense manlike creature squeezed through the narrow doorframe, roaring and swinging a club. It had an oversized head and jaw full of misshapen teeth, and it was so hairy it was difficult to tell where the crude hides it wore for clothing ended. Fa’ss’th squeaked in alarm and darted backwards between Kyrian and Olena.

Kyrian drew on the psionic power that lingered in his mind; his swords appeared in his hands in a flash and he slashed at the Ogre, but it’s thick hide turned the blows. It laughed at him, grinning evilly. Olena darted forward and launched herself at Demaris, her greatsword slicing into the gap between neck and shoulder. Demaris roared in pain. Her body began to swell and change until she stood nearly ten feet tall, her skin a deep hideous blue, the straw hat dangling from one pointed horn. Black eyes with glowing red pupils glared at the wound, which began rapidly sealing itself together.

Barak pulled fire into his hands and hurled the bolt at the towering Ogre Mage. For a moment it was wreathed in flames, screeching, then it beat itself out on the side of the house. Its skin sizzled where the fire had marked it, and the wounds did not heal of their own accord.

Sam’s energy blade exploded uselessly into fragments on the first ogre’s chest as another one forced its way through the door and swatted at Kyrian dismissively. The blond fey snorted and dodged the blow while the first ogre tried unsuccessfully to line La’ss’a up with its club. The little female lizard leaped in, landing on the ogre’s face and giving it a few nice gouges before she dropped to the ground again.

The Ogre Mage, it’s disguise penetrated, waved and muttered for a second and vanished from sight. Fa’ss’th’s keen ears heard it move away from the battle. He pulled a scroll from his belt and looked at it sadly. He’d hoped to learn this spell later, but sometimes battle upset your plans. “Oh well,” he sighed. “There will be other scrolls.” The Ogre Mage howled in fury as a cloud of glowing dust appeared around it, destroying the spell that kept it invisible. It gripped its eyes, blinded by the tiny glittering particles.

Barak whooped happily and shot another flaming ray at the Ogre Mage, it burst into flames and burned, casting a pall of foul-smelling smoke over the scene of the battle. Kyrian, Olena and La’ss’a succeeded in dispatching one ogre and injuring the other badly; it hurled its club away and shouted, “I surrender!”

Sam wandered over to the Ogre Mage and jabbed a blade into its eye socket, pinning it’s skull to the ground. He began methodically searching the corpse for valuables. La’ss’a held up a claw at the remaining Ogre and hissed.

“I’m not sure how long I can keep my friend over there from doing the same to you. You best tell us where the girl is if you want to keep your worthless life.”

“Hobgoblins took the girl! We just stay to loot!”

“Where did they take her?”

“I don’t know, mountain stronghold probably.”

“Where is the mountain stronghold?! Directions!”

“West along the road, in the mountains north of Murann. Path is hidden behind dead tree!”

Olena leaned down and whispered to La’ss’a, “Should we have it lead us?”

“Um, excuse me?” The voice came from behind them, towards the road. “May I be of assistance?”

Very slowly, everyone turned to stare at the newcomer. A tall, swarthy-skinned young man with black hair stood awkwardly on the path, his left hand gripping the reigns of a large chestnut warhorse. He was wearing a well-made suit of chainmail with a dull green tunic over it, a longsword sheathed at his side.

“What happened?” he asked, recoiling a bit from the attention. “Where did these ogres come from?”

“That’s what we’re trying to find out, friend,” Kyrian said quietly.

“Ah, forgive me, my name is Oren Falscar. I have been scouting this road, I heard the commotion and came this way. Do these monsters live here in this cabin?”

“No,” Kyrian explained. “We were hoping to find someone here, but this ogre claims that hobgoblins have taken her.”

Oren’s expression went hard and cold. It didn’t suit him, his face looked built for joviality. “Then we should seek her out at once. I offer you my assistance in this task.” He hesitated then and looked slightly abashed. “I am sorry, perhaps I should explain further. I am a paladin in the service of Tyr, sent to scout the mountains with two of my brother knights. We have seen evidence that the monsters are gathering their forces, so my brothers left to return to Athkatla with the news. I remained as is my duty, but it would be nice to have some company in these dangerous mountains!”

The ogre began attempting to crawl away surreptitiously—or at least as surreptitiously as something nearly twice as tall as a human can crawl. Sam cleared his throat noisily and it froze.

“Stay, brute,” Olena said, “your fate is not yet decided.”

“It isn’t?” Sam asked.

“Are you going to kill it?”

“You have another idea?” Sam asked her incredulously. He grinned, glancing at the paladin. “I mean, ahem, of course I had absolutely no intention of killing this creature. After all, he surrendered fairly!”

Barak gave Sam a skeptical look. Oren shifted his weight uncomfortably. “In truth, I do not care what you do with it. If you let it live it will simply return to its masters and swell the numbers of their army. But one wounded ogre probably won’t make much difference anyway.” He sighed.

Sam blinked. “Are you sure you’re a paladin?”

“Never mind that,” Olena interrupted. “This ogre said some hobgoblins took the woman that lives here to their stronghold. Do you know where that is?”

“No, but I have some small skill as a tracker. Perhaps I can assist you.” Sam shrugged and began bullying the ogre into dragging the corpses of its companions away. Oren surveyed the rest of the group a little helplessly. Fa’ss’th took a few steps towards the paladin and met his gaze squarely.

“Greetings. I am Fa’ss’th. And yes, the ogres seem to be gathering strength in this area.”

“Ah, well met, Fa’ss’th.”

Kyrian butted in. “Let’s get some rest. If the hobs wanted Demaris dead, they’d have just cut her throat here.” Olena gave him a dirty look and he flinched slightly.

“May I join you?” Oren asked.

“Sure,” said Fa’ss’th. “We’ll make camp and chat about what to do from there.”

Aug 29, 2007

Obsidian Portal

Obsidian Portal is a resource for RPG gamers to track their campaigns online. It's primarily focused on maintaining the story of your game, with a blog of sorts for your adventure log and a wiki where you can store basic information in an organized structure. It's still in beta so some of the features are buggy (like the one that lets you assign NPC's as "GM Only"), but thus far I've found it to be rewarding.

If you'd like to check out my game, it's in the list under Brave New World. As an added incentive, you can see some of my actual drawings there, as I figured out how to use Sprint Picturemail with my poor sad abused little cell phone, so I've been sketching like mad over the past couple of days. And yes, I know the pictures are strangely . . . orange. I think the effect doesn't look so bad, but it has made me desperately desire a real camera with a FLASH.

And before you tell me how bad my art sucks, none of those drawings took me longer than 15 minutes. So there. I may be updating them as I become more familiar with using the camera, though.

Aug 28, 2007

Psionics Game: Nymbus' Journal Stone Entries

Stone 1:

“Ga’an is making a great deal of progress towards integrating his powers with his martial skills. I wish he were more focused on studying, though, but he never seems able to move beyond the desire to fight.

“Today I overheard him telling Sulveig that he plans to use his new training to lead his people out of the deep tunnels where they have been slaves to the drow, illithids and other Underdark inhabitants for centuries. Certainly he is allowed his ambition, but I find the prospect of a psionic war in the realms below somewhat troubling. It is fortunate that the illithid here are a weak and paltry race, not like their cousins that ruled so many planes long ago.

“It is probably a needless concern, as my students will have little time or opportunity for pursuing Ga’an’s goals if things happen as I expect.”

Stone 2:

“I traveled to Amn today for supplies and encountered a young rowdy that nearly made off with my money. He has some small potential for power, although I do not think he will make a true psion. Still, as they say here, any port in a storm, so I attempted to engage his interest. This proved more difficult than I had anticipated and it was only through demonstration of my own considerable abilities that I was able to convince him to accept my tutelage.

“Within half an hour of his arrival at the school he’d already discovered my cache of psychoactive crystals. I suspect that I would discover several of the most valuable missing were I to conduct an inventory. It is hardly worth the effort; he will no doubt have use for them himself in the coming months. Still, I had best move everything important to the Observatory before retiring for the evening.

“I still have a nagging desire to ask him where he came by that preposterous name, however. What mother names her child ‘Sam’? It sounds like something you’d call a small dog.”

Stone 3:

“Baugetha was not pleased to discover I was engaging more students. I think she is used to enjoying the full attention of her trainer and does not look forward to watching me train novices while her own more advanced studies are neglected. This was exacerbated, I think, when she attempted to be friendly towards Athur and was rewarded for her efforts by being referred to as a ‘child’. Granted, he calls everyone that, but I think he will learn better soon.

“She was still further displeased when I revealed that it was my intention to have her teach the newer students, at least for the most rudimentary portions of their education. She accepted my explanation that I consider teaching to be part of the advanced study course, but it was a near thing. Dwarf women certainly are ferocious.”

Stone 4:

“Tendwis believes I need to keep a closer watch on Sulveig. I have counseled her before about her paranoia; it is an unusual failing for a githzerai. I wonder whether it might be best to return her to her people before something untoward occurs as a result. I wonder also if the time she has spent on the Prime has unsettled her mind somehow. She has pursued odd directions for her studies and I confess it is somewhat alarming to see how her feet fail to touch the ground when she is not paying attention.

“On a more positive note, she has succeeded in prompting Ga’an to take a more strategic approach. In time, this will likely bear fruit.

“Zerth Namoblix sent me a message to, as he said, ‘remind me of our agreement’. I hastened to assure him that Tendwis continues to learn and will be returned to him in due time. I have been able to use the chaos-stuff he provided to great effect; it would be unwise to allow him to become dissatisfied with me.”

Stone 5:

“I find it strange that Barak and Sam appear to have become good friends in the short time they have lived here. Neither speaks very much and Sam seems to be unpleasant towards other people as a matter of principle. Perhaps it is only because they are of similar ages and isolated from their former lives. It hasn’t harmed Barak’s devotion to his studies. I wish I had encountered that young man years ago. Of course, if I had my other students would likely have corrupted him, so it is perhaps best that I have him now. I wish there was more time. He has the potential to be truly great if he applies himself.

“What is it about humans that makes them able to cram centuries of life into a few short decades? If we could all learn this trick, what progress could we make? Or, perhaps I should be asking, ‘what disasters could we wreak?’ Humans seem sane only when they are isolated from their fellows. In large numbers they are horrifying.”

Stone 6:

“Would someone please explain to me how a half-giant manages to break his ankle in a gopher-hole while walking to class? Tobrin is by far the clumsiest creature it has ever been my misfortune to encounter. Luckily he worships Athur, although I’m not sure Athur benefits from the worship, and their relationship gives Tobrin a measure of self-confidence and even dignity. I dread to think what the school would look like otherwise. Enormous holes in the walls or some such.”

Stone 7:

“And lo, I have discovered . . . lizards. They seem harmless, actually, although I’m not yet sure which of them is which. It’s a pity the one has already learned the rudiments of wizardry, it may make him—I think that’s the male anyway—resistant to my tutelage. The female—I think—disapproves completely of my furniture arrangements and has taken it upon herself to displace everything in the student quarters. Is this some kind of nesting behavior? I must confess that I don’t know very much about lizards, especially the kind that live in a dragon-infested swamp created by a portal into the elemental plane of Water. I thought of going into the city in that peculiar country and doing research, but the fact that even the peasants were hesitant to speak of their strange unnatural terrain feature dissuaded me.

“The look on Sam’s face when he discovered his new roommates was quite amusing, however, and makes up for whatever trouble they may cause while they are getting settled in. I think they were amused in turn when Barak complained that my new pets had gotten loose. Clearly my new students are going to get along like a house afire.”

Stone 8:

Krrik’tchuk caught some kind of small winged woman while he was exploring away from the school. It took some work, but eventually I was able to understand the creature’s speech and reassure it that we did not mean to harm it. Then I was forced to explain to the giant bug that we don’t eat sentient creatures because paladins would show up and beat us to death. Well, not me obviously, but certainly anyone else. This argument did not go over very well with him. I will have to speak with Sulveig, he was obviously egging Krrik on.

“I returned the small creature to its valley and met the other inhabitants. These ‘fey’ are not uncommon in this part of the world, possibly due to the large elven forests elsewhere in this country. They were quite friendly and I took advantage of the opportunity to study them at some length. The females especially seemed lonely and urged me to visit again soon. Perhaps I will oblige them, I doubt any harm can come from it. Humanity wears on me and what Demaris doesn’t know can’t hurt her. It will be ten or fifteen years before Prodeclas is finished with her anyway. Strange to think that Krrik might be dead of old age by then. Thri-kreen do not live very long. Then again, humans don’t ordinarily live much longer.”

The Bourne Ultimatum

It occurs to me that I might want to post something that isn't a.) gaming-related and b.) seven pages long before I lose 100% of my readership. This gaming thing occupies WAY too much space in my brain. I haven't even been working on my novel, although I think that will change once the game settles down into a regular thing.

Anyway, I did go see The Bourne Ultimatum, and my review of it is going to be curiously similar to my review of Live Free or Die Hard, namely that it was cool but not really memorable. I've been told the movies don't resemble the books very much, but I don't really like the spy-thriller-drama genre of books, so I'm just sticking with the movies.

The general plot is that a newspaper reporter digs up some dirt on a nasty government assassination project that involved Bourne. So, the scary government guys that want to cover up this information assume (stupidly) that Bourne must be involved in this somehow. Then he actually *shows up* and confirms this hypothesis because he'd like to find out what the reporter's source knows. It kind of gets crazy from there.

I think the primary reason this movie is not memorable is that it doesn't really dig into the character's motivations. Ayn Rand (in The Art of Fiction), mentioned that this was characteristic of Naturalist art works: that they only go as far as surface motivations without really digging into the underlying premises that drive people. In other words, that they only go "one onion skin" deep. There are myriad opportunities in The Bourne Ultimatum for people to say something really profound about the premises behind government coverups and murder, but it winds up amounting to things like:

Jason Bourne regrets killing people. He's sad.
Nicki Parsons likes Jason.
The CIA deputy director Noah Vosen is a bad man.
Pamela Landy is a nice lady.

So, the big dialogue scenes are lackluster and you find yourself saying, "yeah, whatever. Let's have an action sequence!" The trouble is, what's the point of having an action sequence without motivation?

Aug 25, 2007

Psionics Game: Second Session

La’ss’a checked to make sure Sulveig had left the premises before turning to Athur again. "I have some more questions for you, now that he is gone, specifically about this group you belong to. You wouldn’t happen to have a place where we could research some recent events, would you?”

“What kind of recent events?”

“You said you monitor psionic activity, and the most recent psionic activity was a Psionic Storm sent after, I would assume, our teacher.How many people does that take, and did you at least track anyone involved?”

Athur sighed. “It’s a little more complicated than that, and I have no reason to trust you with information that may prove dangerous. I can at least tell you that we cannot detect individuals using psionics very well, only large concentrations of power, and even this is only possible because Faerun is all but barren of psionic energy.”

“Dangerous as in we would know some of the people you might be interested in following?” La’ss’a asked.

“Dangerous as in you would know the number and power of my allies, as well as the location of our base.” Sam squinted at Athur, trying to follow the logic of this.

“Do you have any local contacts? I’m not asking to visit your main stronghold, just a library or something.”

There was a long pause while Athur visibly considered the alternatives. Finally, he spoke, indecision evident in his voice. “I don’t think I can help you with what you request.” He gestured to the locked door of the observatory. “Our activities on this plane have been extremely limited because Nymbus previously did most of the monitoring himself.”

“Ah,” La’ss’a began hopefully, “Then maybe you know how we can get in with Nymbus being indisposed?”

“I do not, Nymbus always guarded his secrets carefully." He looked at the door.“It is possible I can . . .” he murmured and attempted to walk through the wall, but there was a flash of light and he was knocked sprawling to the ground. His expression was extremely chagrined. “So much for that idea. I don’t know what the lock is on the door, but even a latch is enough to prevent me from opening it. I can’t handle solid objects.”

La’ss’a sighed. “Well, thank you for the assistance you provided with Sulveig. We will take it from here.”

Athur bowed politely to the little female lizard. The students looked at each other, then at Nymbus lying on the ground. Athur eyed them askance as they picked up their mentor and attempted to use his hand to open the door. After some awkward flopping around they got him in position, but the door did not open. La’ss’a jiggled the doorknob a bit but it was quite thoroughly locked.

“I can try using a power to open it,” Barak offered.

“You know that power?” Fa’ss’th asked, startled. He cast a spell and wandered around the building, muttering.

Barak considered the door a little further, then closed his eyes and manifested his power. There was a loud clunk and the door creaked open about an inch. Athur stared in shock as the bearded human cautiously pushed on the door and entered the observatory. The transparent man attempted to follow but was rebuffed by the same shocking effect. The other students approached and peeked inside.

The interior of the observatory looked like one enormous machine. An architecture of polished brass rings, each one at least fifty feet in diameter, supported metal and crystal orbs of varying colors and sizes. Wide stained-glass windows in the domed ceiling above filled the room with a rainbow of light. The floor was a complex mosaic of interlocking tiles that seemed to spiral in towards a simple but beautifully-made desk at the center. The desk was made from a dark reddish wood and polished to a high gloss.

Barak approached the desk slowly, gaping in wonder at the silent and motionless machinery. He guessed that it was some sort of enormous calander, tracking the movements of the moon and stars. At the center of the room, he could look directly up into the heart of the engine; it was a bit dizzying in its complexity. The desk had a few semiprecious stones scattered over its surface, but was otherwise bare.

Sam, Fa’ss’th, and La’ss’a moved forward to stand around it as Barak examined the stones. They were smooth and rounded, as though they spent long years washed by a river, but otherwise unremarkable. He thought that there was some sort of pattern or organization to their placement on the desk, but could not immediately discern what it was.

Bored, Fa’ss’th began examining under the desk, discovering a single drawer. He pulled cautiously on the knob and it opened easily. Before he could poke his nose inside, something whipped out, hissing, and wrapped itself around his left arm. Meanwhile, Barak reached out and touched one of the stones. It hummed faintly and began to speak in a tinny voice that he recognized instantly as belonging to Nymbus. Startled, he stepped back and nearly knocked over Fa’ss’th, who was struggling silently with the thing on his arm. It looked like a piece of jewelry, a snake carved from ivory and inlaid with gold, but it moved as though it were alive, and it even appeared to be breathing. Its grip on the little lizard’s arm was very strong.

Two more snakes slid out of Fa’ss’th’s clothing, one an ordinary living viper, the other seemingly made from crystals. They investigated the ivory snake, touching noses with it briefly. The ivory snake flicked a dark purple tongue at them, then the three creatures lost interest in each other, Fa’ss’th’s familiar and psicrystal returning to their respective hiding places. Looking up at Barak, Fa’ss’th shrugged and ceased his vain attempts to remove the ivory snake.It didn’t seem immediately threatening.

Nymbus had continued quietly speaking throughout this exchange, in a language unknown to any of the students. Their mentor sounded peculiar: tired and sad, almost defeated.

“If we wait until morning, I could try to understand that language. I just have to study a scroll,” Fa'ss'th offered.

“I don’t mind that,” Sam said. “We’ve had a long day.”

“Good enough,” La’ss’a agreed.

The four students closed the door politely but firmly in Athur’s furious face and went to sleep on the floor of the observatory, Fa’ss’th writing furiously in his spellbook book before turning in. He was glad he’d thought to bring scribing materials with him. Barak examined the smooth stone again and managed to decipher its activation mechanism and replay the message. Content, he waited for the morning as well.

Fa’ss’th cast his newly-learned spell upon awakening and gestured for Barak to replay the message.

“My daughter . . . I never meant it to come to this. I did not understand what it meantto be young and human until too late. I hope you can forgive me some day for the pain I have caused you, but please believe me when I say it was all for good reason.

"I thought I had gone far enough to escape, but the evil lives still so I remained vigilant even though I learned I could not use you to regain my former place. I thought I could dwell here undisturbed, and watch over you so that you could do the same, but those fools crossed the waters . . . they do not know what they will awaken
there, and I am so old now--

“I have tried to train students so someone would understand what to do when the disaster came, but I was a fool and tried too hard to dominate the first group . . . in my pride I only drove them away.

“I chose poorly with the second group . . . I could not bring myself to destroy them but perhaps it had been better if I had. Now I fear it is too late. I am training a third group now, but they are so young . . . I only hope they can learn quickly enough.

“If you are listening to this, I am dead or close enough . . . you must decide what to do. You can trust these young students of mine, I think . . . they can help you
achieve whatever destiny you decide is yours now. I hope you choose well, I begin to believe that I am not capable of such a thing.”

"What did it say?" Sam asked when the message had finished playing. Fa'ss'th frowned thoughtfully.

"It's a message for his daughter, all about evil coming and the students he trained; there were three groups originally. We're the third group. He ran the first group off by being a jerk, and the second group was evil so that just leaves us."

“So, Sulveig and Athur . . .”

"Second and first groups, I bet.”

“So what do we do now?” La’ss’a demanded.

Sam shook his head ruefully. “I didn’t want to get the daughter involved, but if she already knows something about this we may have to go see her anyway. I don’t trust the other groups of students, they have their own agendas.”

“All right, so let’s hit the road,” Barak said.

“Wait, how do I get this thing off my arm?” Fa’ss’th demanded.

"Is it hurting you?”


“Just leave it for now, then,” Barak decided. “We’ll worry about it later.”

Athur had taken Nymbus inside when the students cautiously opened the door, so they snuck into their former quarters and gathered provisions for a long journey, then left before Athur noticed them again. The small trail leading out of Nymbus’ personal valley connected, before long, into a major highway running, roughly, east and west. After a brief pause, they followed the road west.

The world seemed empty and abandoned. After a full day of walking they encountered no one and nothing on the road; when it finally began to get dark they camped in a pleasant glade in the shadow of a particularly large mountain.

* * *

Olena and Kyrian sat by the shore of a clear, placid lake, listening to their mother sing. Aviana, their mother, was a Naiad, a water-fey, and bound to this lake. Some years ago she had trysted with a human and produced two children, in appearance unlike either their mother or their father. Olena and Kyrian were short and slender in stature, with vast butterfly wings sprouting from their backs granted by their half-fey blood. They had lived all their lives in this valley with the many fey gathered there. The valley was impregnated with magical energy that shielded them from outsiders.

Aviana’s song was cut off abruptly as the Naiad cried out in pain. Olena and Kyrian felt their minds fill with a hideous subliminal buzzing . . . it seemed to rattle through their bodies, shaking loose their ties with the world. It was a painful and terrifying sensation. They watched their mother dive into the lake and vanish.

“Mother’s safer down there,” Kyrian told his sister, holding his hands over his head in a vain effort to block out the noise.

They turned to look at the ancient tree growing beside the lake, the home of another type of fey, a dryad. Animals were crawling through the underbrush towards it, gathering in a silent congregation. The crowd grew larger with every moment that passed, first smaller animals like snakes and raccoons, then deer and foxes and even a bear. Then the brush shook and the massive, hulking shape of a dire boar, larger than the largest horse and more ferocious than a maddened wolverine, joined the gathering. The two siblings drew closer together, alarmed.The animals stood as if listening, then turned to look at the two half-fey. Then the dire boar snorted, breaking the spell, and the animals vanished into the brush once more.

“Hypatia? Can you hear me?” Olena called a bit timidly. “Are you well?”
"I’d wager not,” Kyrian said.

The Dryad’s voice rattled through the valley, overpowering even the terrible buzzing for a moment. “Leave me! I need you not, half-breeds!”

“We felt a . . . disturbance . . . maybe an attack. Do you feel it too?”

“I feel it, all the Valley feels it! Oh, Dougal, it will destroy you!” Hypatia shrieked, her voice full of grief and despair.

“Dougal must be in danger!” Kyrian cried and set off towards the nearby waterfall, splashing heedlessly through a shallow creek.

"Kyrian, wait!” Olena cried, chasing after him.

Kyrian reached the base of the waterfall in a matter of minutes. A vicious purple glow, the color of bruised flesh, lit the dark sky at the very top of the falls. Before Kyrian could get a good look at it the Dougal stepped from the rushing water. His eyes stared at brother and sister, vacant with madness.

“What is this?!” Kyrian demanded.

“Dougal!” Olena cried. “What is happening to the Valley? To us?!”

Dougal’s eyes focused on Kyrian and he bent, pulling a longspear from the waters. Quicker than thought, he lunged at Kyrian, sinking the weapon into the young man’s chest. Kyrian shrieked, even though the weapon was not cold iron and hurt him only a little, drawing his swords and lunging at Dougal, the crazed fossergrim. His enraged blows missed the mark and Olena darted forward to protect her brother, striking with her greatsword. The fossergrim staggered back, injured, and seemed to come to himself, dropping his weapon. Kyrian scrambled in the water and retrieved it, keeping it well out of Dougal’s reach.

“No! What am I doing?!”

“Dougal, you must fight this . . . this poison in your mind!” Olena cried.

“I . . . what is happening?! There was . . . I can see into the world, and it is like . . . machinery! Like iron!”

“I had no such vision, but this attack is harming us all!”

A piercing shriek rang through the valley. Dougal turned in that direction, his eyes going distant. “There are humans here!”

"Humans? Really?” Kyrian asked.

Olena looked startled as well. “I’ve never seen one before.”

“They are close,” Dougal said. “That way! They . . . some of the little ones are near them!”

“They must be behind this!” Kyrian announced.

“You don’t know that. But you should lead the way,” Oleana told him. “Will you be all right, Dougal?”

“I do not know, but I do not wish to attack you again. Go quickly, child.”

Brother and sister crept silently into the woods.

* * *

Barak took his watch without complaint. After an hour or so he began to feel very drowsy and was tempted to wake La’ss’a early. His psionic senses shivered and he realized this was no natural drowsiness: some power was affecting him. Snapping out of it he booted Sam in the ribs, attempting to rouse the younger man, but Sam merely rolled over and began snoring again. Cursing, Barak tried the lizards and was only able to rouse Fa’ss’th.

“What . . .what’s going on? What’s that singing?”

“What singing?” Barak frowned and listened . . . now that Fa’ss’th had drawn his attention to it he could hear the music as well. It was so high-pitched as to be almost inaudible, and filled the air with a weakening of the will.

“It’s some sort of attack,” Barak whispered. They dove on their comrades with renewed vigor and managed to bring them to wakefulness. Barak shot a ray of fire into the trees, starting a small blaze that gave them light to search by. La’ss’a noticed a plant moving and dove into the bushes.

“GOTCHA!” she shouted, claws and teeth extended. There was a high, piercing scream and she was abruptly holding a tiny woman in her hand, claws piercing it. The little woman appeared to be some sort of fey, with flower petals for hair and wings. All around there was a violent rustling and the singing stopped.

Sam and Barak said in unison: “Uh oh.” Barak hurried over to La’ss’a and manifested a power to transfer the tiny fey's injuries to him. He sucked at the small cut appearing on his finger.

“Don’t let go of it yet,” he instructed.

“Ask your friends to come out and I shall let you go peacefully,” La’ss’a said.

“Squee squee squee!” the tiny fey said, its voice too high-pitched to make out. Fa’ss’th tried repeating the offer in the elven tongue.

"Squee squee ee ee squee!” Small faces peeked out of the wood, watching carefully.

Barak nudged La’ss’a. “They stopped. Let her go.” La’ss’a nodded and dropped the sqeeing fey. The tiny woman tumbled to the ground and began examining her crushed wings. Five more tiny women joined her, looking up at the adventurers nervously. “Squee?” Sam made a series of high-pitched squeaky sounds at the fey, stopped, shook his head resignedly, then grumbled low in his chest and smiled. The fey consulted each other briefly, then one rolled up a leaf to use as a bullhorn.

“Can you understand me now?” Sam nodded. “We were only trying to help. Please don’t eat us!”

“Trying to help how?” Fa’ss’th asked. “And no, we don’t eat people.”

“You look tired, we thought you would sleep well if we sang for you. That’s what we do, we sing people to sleep. You didn’t have to be mean!” There was a faint noise in the trees nearby, as though someone was trying to sneak closer.

“Is this another friend of yours coming?”

“Yes! And they’re bigger and stronger than you! So there!”

“You there! Why have you attacked us!”

“Kyrian, wait!”

“I only jumped on something that used magic on me without asking first,” La'ss'a corrected sternly.

Kyrian and Olena emerged slowly from the forest. “They’re mean!” the tiny fey cried helpfully. La’ss’a rolled her eyes. “I only nicked you and we healed you and let you go. If I were mean, I would have finished what I started.”

“You Petals should know better,” Olena said reprovingly.

“Or try harder,” Kyrian added snidely.

The Petals looked chagrined. “We’re sorry.” Then they glanced up at the adventurers like sly children. "We said we’re sorry, can we go now?”

Olena looked down at La’ss’a. “Is that good enough?” La’ss’a shooed the Petals away; they vanished. Grasping her brother’s arm, Olena forced Kyrian to sit so that she could examine his spear wound. “Are your heads buzzing?” She asked the adventurers.

“Not that I notice,” Sam replied. Barak also shook his head.

“Why do you ask?”

“Something is affecting us . . .my people. It is diminished here.”

Barak frowned, testing the air with his psionic senses. “It does feel . . . energetic . . . here. Like there’s a lot of ambient psionic power.”

“Are there a lot of fey here?” Fa’ss’th asked. Olena nodded uncertainly. “There should be a lot of ambient magic, then, but I just feel . . . psionics. It . . . it might make the fey ill, the magic sustains them.”

“Well, it HURTS!” Kyrian announced.

“Does it seem to hurt worse anywhere in particular?” Barak asked.

"It’s like a buzzing in our heads. One of our friends went mad near here, at the waterfall.”

Kyrian nodded, agreeing with his sister. “He seems all right now, but the pain was worst there.”

Sam chuckled. “Looks like we should go explore near the waterfall.”

Kyrian looked suspicious, but yielded when Olena glared at him. “This way,” he declared, striding off into the bush. He nearly walked into the side of the dire boar; it had somehow come up on them unawares. Dire animals were strange and twisted. Occasionally they evidenced abilities that seemed unnatural. Olena squeaked and pushed her brother out of the way as the boar slowly turned its enormous head to look at them, its rumbling squeal shaking the ground. Foam dripped from its mouth and its little piggy eyes gleamed redly. Olena held her hands up before the beast and knelt on the ground. It regarded her for some seconds more, then lunged towards her.

“Silvanus forgive me!” She whispered and drew her sword. She struck its shoulder but the angle was all wrong and the sword did not dig into flesh. Kyrian drew his swords in a flash and struck as well, slashing flesh and sending a mist of blood into the air. The boar shrieked and rounded on him, dodging a beam of energy from Barak’s hands.

Kyrian went flying from the boar's assault, skidding over the ground to land in a crumpled heap. La’ss’a dove over him, psionic power charging her claws as she ripped into the squealing animal, doing surprising damage for such a small lizard. Trying at least to show willing, Fa’ss’th poked experimentally with the short spear he had taken from Vist, but had little effect.

Olena grabbed her brother and hauled him out of the way while the boar struggled and failed to reach the nimble La’ss’a. Barak reached the injured half-fey and transferred the boy’s wounds to himself. The human grimaced in pain while one of Sam’s thrown soul blades found it’s mark in the Boar’s side. It staggered, blood pouring from many wounds, but amazingly remained on its feet. Snarling, Barak manifested another power and struck the beast with his fist. It shuddered one last time and stumbled to its knees, finally falling to the ground, where it lay still.

Kyrian regained consciousness and looked up at the human woozily. “What . . . what happened?”

“He just saved your life,” Olena informed him.

“Oh. Um, thanks.”

Aug 20, 2007

Psionics Game: 1st Session

The workroom looked strange cleared of its usual paraphernalia: the psychoactive crystals, the vials of ectoplasm and ferroplasm and quicksilver caught in a matrix of glass hard as iron. In place of the working machinery of psionic power there was instead a small mountain of traveling gear.

Nymbus stood on the far side of the table from his students, regarding them through his wispy white eyebrows. He looked ancient for a human, but healthy and strong if not robust. His hair had long since gone white with age, but his skin retained a darker, faintly reddish hue, and his eyes were brilliant black beads that revealed nothing.

His students eyed each other a little warily. Although they had spent the past six months living in the school, they had different schedules and studied different subjects, so they had not spent a great deal of time together. It didn’t help that they were different species, either . . . La’ss’a and Fa’ss’th were barely waist-high on the humans, and they were, well, lizards. Scaly skin, pointy teeth, claws, tails, the whole bit. They glanced at each other with large yellow eyes and then smiled disarmingly at Barak and Sam.

Next to the coordinated lizards, the human men looked a bit mis-matched. Sam was tall enough, but there was no extra meat on his lanky body anywhere, and his hair was a bright cheerful blond that didn’t match his cold-eyed expression. Barak was more solid, with trim brown hair and beard that matched his sober brown clothing.

“My students,” Nymbus finally spoke, “You have come a long way since you arrived in my little valley. I would like you to journey outside with me now, and assist me with my researches . . . toward this end, I have assembled gear for you all. Prepare yourselves, and meet me outside in half an hour.” He smiled at them, more absently then benevolently, then left them to their own company.

Fa’ss’th stepped forward and immediately began sorting through the piles of gear, pocketing a few magical scrolls as he did so. He didn’t feel particularly guilty: no one else was studying magic to bolster their psionic power, so it wasn’t like they could use the scrolls in any case. “Can you big fellows take some of this heavy stuff?”

Sam examined the pile. “I’ll take the sneaky stuff if you lizards do the cooking,” he offered, handing La’ss’a a pot as big as her head.

“You may have to explain human cuisine to me, but I’ll try.”

“Cook the meat, THEN serve,” Barak replied urgently. Eventually, all the gear was stowed away.

Nymbus led the group deep into the Small Teeth, to a tiny valley hidden between great granite walls. It was a pleasant place, with small trickling streams and wide pools: plants grew thick and short there, protected from the weather by the surrounding stone, but also hidden from life-giving sunlight for much of the day.

“Be wary of the left-hand fork of this valley,” Nymbus remarked as they walked. “A great carnivorous lizard dwells there. It is no threat to me, but you may find it troublesome if you disturb it.”

At the end of the valley was a narrow hole drilled directly into the rock: barely three feet in diameter, it appeared to run eighty feet or more straight through solid granite. Nymbus bent easily and shimmied through the hole, followed rapidly by the lizards who hardly had to bow their heads, but Barak and Sam had difficulty, laboring to transport the majority of the gear through the tunnel.

At the far end was a tiny grotto, a lava bubble once, perhaps, that had cracked open admitting light and rainwater. A tiny pool gathered beneath the crack in the stone, reflecting the brilliant crystal that grew from its center. The crystal was immense, tall as a human and twice as broad, but it appeared fragile. Nymbus waited a moment for them to rest after their exertions, then motioned for them to approach the crystal.

Then the light overhead was abruptly cut off and a rumble of thunder shook the grotto. Nymbus stared up into the crack and muttered under his breath, then turned and cast his arm in a sweep over his students. A wall of viscous liquid sprang up around them just as a bolt of light, or lightning, zagged impossibly between the rocks, striking the crystal and setting it ablaze. Then it exploded.

The cacophony was terrible, a discordant tone that seemed liable to shake the world apart, and a terrible light seemed to follow in its wake. It was some time before the students could see and hear again, and then they wondered whether it was worth it. The grotto was peppered with tiny shards of crystal; sharp pieces that jabbed even booted feet. Nymbus lay unhurt on the grassy earth, but he was unconscious, eyes open and staring.

Barak swept crystal shards away and bent to examine their teacher while the others explored the grotto. Sam, examining the tunnel mouth, heard strange coarse voices echoing in the passageway outside. He waved to the other students and scrambled down the tunnel, taking refuge in some rocks on the other side just as the speakers appeared. They were orcs, four of them, brutish humanoids that infested the mountains with their other uncivilized kin. Sam spoke their tongue well enough and listened while they argued over who should enter the tunnel. Finally one was chosen and began forcing his wide frame through the confining rock.

Sam concentrated and a black radiance formed in his fingers, coalescing into a blade. He fed his will into it and it began to hum faintly; creeping closer to the orcs, he drove the ethereal blade into the creature’s back. It screeched in pain and he struck it again, leaving its corpse to topple to the ground. An orc drew sword and charged him: he dodged the slow, clumsy metal blade and cut it nearly in half with a flash of the psychic knife. The other fled.

In the tunnel, La’ss’a confronted the crawling orc. Her eyes widened as it reached out a hand and formed a blade of will and spirit . . . she had never seen anyone but Sam perform this trick. She stepped back, hardly having to dodge the clumsy blow, and punched the orc ferociously in the nose with one little fist, snapping its head back. It struggled, finding that it could not turn around and could not back up, until Sam’s blade penetrated its spine and left it dead as well.

“How is he?” Fa’ss’th asked Barak in concern. They stood looking over Nymbus while the sounds of fighting echoed weirdly down the tunnel.”

“Not good, he’s alive, but his mind . . .”

“Can we move him? Humans are so heavy.”

Barak frowned in concentration for a moment and then pulled on Nymbus feet . . . his body slid effortlessly over the ground, as though he lay on greased ice. “This will serve for a short time.”

“Good enough,” the lizard wizard grinned, scampering down the tunnel after La’ss’a. He examined the orcs at the end of the passageway.

“That one summoned a soul blade,” the female lizard remarked casually. Fa’ss’th blinked at her.

“Really? I thought we were, well, unique! It seems odd that we’d run into them now. They’re probably here to collect whatever was left after that ‘storm’.”

“Agreed. If you can manage Nymbus with Barak, I will go scout ahead.”

“They probably have friends,” Sam added. “I doubt they caused that storm all by themselves.”

“Together, then?” La’ss’a asked, and when Sam nodded she set off silently along the valley, moving slowly and staying out of sight. Just around the first bend they discovered a large group of orcs, speaking in low tones with some small creature concealed in their midst. When the orcs shifted position, it was revealed as a goblin with oddly blue skin. He gestured with a spear at one orc, bigger than the rest and garbed in heavy chainmail. The axe slung over the orc’s back looked like it could fell a tree in one blow.

“Thoughts?” Sam asked quietly.

“If we had all four of us, we might be able to take them . . . except for the big guy. We . . . could try luring Nymbus’ big lizard down here, it’s just up that path there.”

“I like it. Who gets to act as bait.”

“Fa’ss’th, of course, he’s beaten me in too many footraces.”

The lizard wizard grumped a bit at being volunteered, but he climbed over the rocks until he could look down into the other side of the valley. There was, indeed, a large beast of some sort sleeping in the sun. Without stopping to think about it too much, Fa’ss’th threw a beam of energy its way. It woke with an outraged snort.

“AAAAAAAGH!” Fa’ss’th screamed and took off running, his magic granting him additional speed. It was a good thing, too, as the lizard was preternaturally fast, running on its long hind legs with great scimitar-like dewclaws on each foot. It followed him directly into the mass of orcs, which scattered at the onslaught. The big orc buried his axe in the monster’s neck and it was all over from there bar the screaming. Within moments, the only creatures remaining alive were the lizard, studded with javelins and bleeding from many sword wounds, and an orc that had fled back towards the stone tunnel.

Barak pointed a hand at the lizard and loosed a beam of red light full into its face. With a last gurgle it collapsed and lay still, smoking. Sam chased after the fleeing orc. He rounded the bend just as it slipped back down the stone wall, falling in a pathetic heap at his feet.

“No kill! No kill!” it gabbled in barely-coherent Common.

“Fine, then talk! Why were you here?!”

“Me talk! Big man send! Big man send look hu-man!”

“I speak Orc you cretin,” Sam growled, switching tongues. “What big man? What human?”

“I don’t know! Vist paid us to come along.”

“Who was Vist?”

“Little blue goblin. He’s a wizard or something.”

“So all you know is that the blue goblin paid you to come out here? Nothing else, like what you were going to do or what you were looking for?”

“My tribe allied with Sythillis, he has a human mage or something that brought a bunch of weird goblins and orcs with him to Murann. That’s where the goblin came from.” Sam tapped his blade against his leg slowly and the orc blanched.

“See, that’s better.”

“I don’t know any more than that. We were supposed to take the old human to Sythillis in Murann.”

“Who is Sythillis?”

The orc laughed contemptuously. “If you don’t know of Sythillis then you will die quickly, human. He’s a great Ogre mage! He rules the once-human city of Murann now! Soon he will rule Athkatla as well!”

“You picked the wrong time to gloat,” Sam declared, slashing upwards with the blade. The orc stumbled back, barely avoiding it, and then launched himself at Sam in an attempt to grapple. Sam lashed out with the blade again and the orc fell gurgling. Returning to the group, Sam recounted what he had learned. Barak shook his head.

“We need to get Nymbus home.”

“Or at least someplace safe,” Fa’ss’th muttered.

The journey to the school was not difficult, but upon arriving the students had yet another nasty shock: a man was standing in front of the doors to the observatory, apparently trying to get in. Sam and La’ss’a exchanged glances, then fanned out and approached in silence. Sam attempted to adopt a friendly look without great success.

“Can I help you with something?”

For a moment, the man did not respond, then he sneered, “Do you know how to open this door?”

“Of course I know how to open the door.”

The man looked shocked. “You do?!”

“Of course.”

“How? Are you a student here?”

“It’s quite simple, really, all you have to do is talk to THE MAN WHO OWNS IT!!”

The man did not appear alarmed. “I can do better than that, friend,” he said, his eyes taking on a distant cast. La’ss’a dove forward and felt the terrible pressure of some power fly through her . . . she shook it off and looked at Sam. The human’s mouth worked for a second without sound, then he turned and looked at the female lizard.

“I think you should get out of this guy’s way, huh?” Sam’s expression told of some terrible struggle going on beneath.

“What?” She asked, dumbfounded. She snarled at the stranger and held up clawed hands, preparing to fight.

A bright flash illuminated the school grounds for a moment, followed by a scouring blast of wind that came close to knocking everyone from their feet. A man coalesced out of the wind, speaking angrily, “What is the meaning of this?!” He was tall and lean, with long red hair full of gray threads, and wore a heavy, ornate robe. He was also slightly transparent, and his feet did not disturb the grass where he stood.

Sam felt the mental bonds holding him loosen and summoned a soul blade, but the new arrival forestalled him. “Strike any blow before I have my answers and you will not live to regret it.”

“These . . . persons attacked me without cause!” The others stranger spoke, his voice filled with rage. He was, if anything, even taller than the transparent man, with long black hair and golden skin that sparkled faintly in the sunlight.

“And you are?”

“I am Sulveig, a former student at this school. I came to visit, only to discover the place abandoned and the master nowhere to be found. Then these ruffians appeared!”

Sam began to utter an angry retort but La’ss’a held up a cautionary paw. The transparent man looked down at the lizard monk. “And what is your story?”

“Thsss, I would know your name and your purpose before I explain further.”

The transparent man frowned, but then nodded respectfully. “I am Athur Arronnan, although I doubt you have heard of me. I belong to a group that monitors psionic activity in Faerun. Normally we avoid this place; the master of this school is known to us and we have no direct quarrel with him. In the past few days, however, there has been a suspicious increase in activity, so I came to reconnoiter.”

La’ss’a looked up at Sam, who shrugged.

“We are Nymbus’ current students. We were helping him with his researches in a location a few days’ travel from here when he was struck with some unknown malady. We returned to find this individual here, and when we accosted him he used some sort of power on us.”

“Bah! How do you know they didn’t just dispose of Nymbus themselves?”

“Be silent, Sulveig or whatever your name is.” Athur crouched to look the lizard in the eye. “Did you bring Nymbus back with you?”

“Ahh . . . yes, he is nearby, with one of the other students.”

“How many of you are there?”

“Four, total.”

“Very well, fetch Nymbus and your friends, if you will, and I will take a look at him.”

In short order Nymbus’ stretcher was laid on the ground before the observatory, with Sam, Barak, La’ss’a and Fa’ss’th all gathered around him. Athur examined the old psion while Sulveig made a show of impatience in the background.

“He is not hurt, but his mind has gone beyond our reach. I do not know if he will ever recover,” Athur said finally. “What happened to cause this?”

The four students looked at each other. Finally Barak volunteered, “Nymbus took us to a site in the mountains where a great crystal was growing. Lightning struck the crystal and it exploded . . . there was some sort of power backlash. Nymbus shielded us from it, that’s why we’re still here.”

Athur snorted. “I can only guess that he assumed it would not harm him.”

“You believe this ‘story’? From the look of them I’d say they attempted to do away with him! I’ve tolerated this nonsense long enough! I demand that Nymbus be turned over to me for protection, as his former student I’m . . .”

“You demand?!” Athur snarled. “Nymbus has many former students . . . I am one of them! I am quite capable of ascertaining the truth for myself, and I detect no lie in these young people.”

Sulveig stepped close to Athur, waggling his finger under the Uncarnate’s nose. “You would do well not to try my temper, old man.”

Athur swept his arm out in a backhanded blow, sending Sulveig sprawling across the grass. “You are a joke,” he said. “Be glad I suffer you to leave with your life . . . provided you leave now.”

Sam took a step forward. “Well, I’m not suffering it!”

“No!” Athur ordered. “I will not have you fighting over the scene of this tragedy.” Sulveig heaved himself to his feet and stormed away.

“You’re just going to let him go?! He . . .” Sam began again.

“Is a cretin, I know. And he wants something, that much is obvious. You are a young man, with a young man’s conviction that the thing immediately in front of him is of greatest importance. In time you will come to understand that one weasel is not so important in the grand scheme of things.” He sighed. “Now then, I can care for Nymbus while he is incapacitated and guard the valley well enough, I think, but I do not have the right to make dispositions regarding his welfare. That should rightly devolve to his heir.”

“What heir?” Fa’ss’th asked.

“I doubt any of you know this, as they have been estranged for some time, but Nymbus has a daughter. She lives not too far from here, I believe, a hundred miles to the west or thereabouts. I have not visited her myself, so I do not know the exact location.” Athur considered for a moment. “I do not think it wise to allow you to remain here while Nymbus is indisposed. You are in a position to be of assistance to me, should you desire. You can take a message to Nymbus daughter . . . Demaris, I think her name is. Tell her what has occurred and we should be able to resolve these unfortunate events soonest. I would happily reward you for your trouble.”

“You’re throwing us out?” La’ss’a wailed. “Can we at least re-provision for the trip?”
“I do not think Nymbus would begrudge you some rations and waterskins, whatever you decide to do.”

Aug 15, 2007

Rush Hour 3

The fate of this franchise kind of reminds me of what happened with the Austin Powers series. The first one was cute and funny and made a lot of money, so they decided to make another one, then another one, but unfortunately they realized that there just wasn't that much new territory to explore with their concept, so the later movies wound up being more than a bit lame.

Even the *jokes* in Rush Hour 3 were trite. Jackie Chan was his usual bouncing-all-over-the-scenery self, only older, but the *acting* was non-existant.

Instead of seeing Rush Hour 3, I recommend hitting Blockbuster or Netflix and watching the first one again. You won't miss anything, and you might actually laugh.


If you read Acid-Free Paper you may be aware that Toiler and I both enjoyed Neil Gaiman's novel, Stardust. You may also know that the novel was made into a movie, and it came out in theaters this past weekend.

Well, I went to see it, and I was not disappointed at all, which is unusual indeed for me. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a great movie, but then it wasn't a great novel, either, just a fun adventure.

There were a couple of tough points in the movie, though: it is *very* rough getting started. So, if you go see it, don't get frustrated and walk out in the first 15 minutes or so, it gets better. I have no idea why they even had the scene at the Royal Observatory, it has no bearing on the rest of the movie at all.

The movie also departs significantly from the events in the book, but I think it made for a better movie. A lot of novel elements are difficult indeed to convey in a movie (they didn't convey just how bizarrely different the world beyond Wall was, for instance, making some elements of the adventure seem a little prosaic). The ending of the book, particularly, would have seemed confusing and anti-climactic in a movie, so I'm glad they exchanged it for a slightly more conventional happy ending.

So, it was an enjoyable fantasy romp and I recommend it, provided you're into that sort of thing.

Aug 8, 2007

Reports of My Demise Exaggerated

No, no, I'm not dead, I've just been busy and I haven't had much to blog about. Part of this is that I finally cleared my backlog, part is that I got two books in a row that were so bad they weren't worth finishing (two in a row! sheesh!), and part is that I'm preparing to run a game for some of my friends, so I've been working on that.

I'm really excited about running a game again, and I've put quite a bit of thought into this one so I think it will go well. I will be blogging our sessions as we go, so that should be fun for anyone who actually *reads* the fiction I post here. I will try to find something interesting to blog about, too!