Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy’

Undead Reckoning Pt. 6

January 2, 2021

Talbot woke with a start and realized he had been leaning against the glass of the train window. He hoped he had not made much noise while he was asleep and having his dreams. It was not the strangest dream he had ever had nor was it the most frightening. He tried to grasp at the fragments of the dream as it faded away. The only thing that remained burned in his memory was the face of that young dark elf woman and even that was slipping through his fingers. He shook himself, letting the cobwebs drift away. He took out a flask of mead and took a long sip. The scenery was still moving by outside like it was supposed to be. This was when he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“Excuse me, is this seat taken?” A woman asked.

Talbot turned and looked up and was somewhat taken aback by what he saw. She was not very tall but she was wearing an extravagant light red dress with a corset. What through him for a loop was her red skin. He looked up past her smiling face and saw the black horns sprouting through her blonde hair. His drifted back ot her face which was covered in a stylized makeup design using a soft peach color around her eyes that almost made that area look human. She was absolutely gorgeous. She was also a tiefling.

Tieflings were rare. Extremely rare. Tieflings were those born from bloodlines mixed with either demonic or devilish heritage. There were a lot of legends on how that had originally happened and none of the stories were pleasant or appropriate for polite conversation. Whatever the origin, that bloodline was viewed by many as wicked. People thought that tieflings had been born evil and that danger needed to be curbed by any means necessary. That is why the cullings had started and many tieflings fell to the churches centuries ago. It was surprising to encounter one in the wild now. Yet here she was. Talbot had never believed any of the old legends and knew that people decided their own fates. He was not afraid.

However, Talbot did look up and down the train car and saw a lot of empty seats.

“Are you sure, miss?” Talbot asked. “There are plenty of seats.”

She smiled as politely as possible, showing just a hint of pointy teeth. “I hate to bother you but a woman like me should not travel alone and yet here I am,” she said. “You don’t need to protect me, I feel your mere presence will dissuade people from messing with me.”

“I guess I can manage that,” Talbot said, standing up. “Why don’t you take the window seat?”

“Are you sure?” the woman asked. “I wouldn’t be putting you out?” She smiled brightly, the idea obviously appealing to her.

“I’m not that put out,” Talbot said. “Be my guest.”

He moved out to the aisle and put his hands out to help her with her bag. She hesitated but handed it over but did and Talbot carefully put it up in the luggage rack next to his own small bag. He glanced back to catch a nervous look on her face. He shot her a questioning look in return.

“Just careful,” the woman said. “There are spell components in there.”

Talbot quickly withdrew his fingers from the bag. “Well, it’ll be fine up there,” he said. “I don’t imagine it will be a very bumpy ride.”

“I hope not,” the woman said as she flounced into her seat by the window. Talbot sat next to her, looking up and down the aisle to see if there were any objections. Not that he really cared, he just wanted to know if anybody would get in his face about being nice to a tiefling. He was not in the mood for an idiotic confrontation.

“My name is Talbot by the way,” he said, offering his hand.

“Charmed, I’m sure,” the woman said, taking Talbot’s hand with her own lace-gloved hand and shaking it only once. “My name is Clarity Havenwood.” She said it as if Talbot should have recognized the family which probably meant that she was rich, famous, or both. There were a lot of wealthy tiefling families. Talbot must have hid his confusion poorly because she added. “of the Silkspindle Havenwoods?”

Talbot shook his head. “Sorry,” he said. “I’m not familiar. You’re a wizard, though?”

Clarity shook off her disappointment and returned to smiling. “Yes,” she said. “I studied for years at Erolia University in Calliona. I’m happy to be back in country and headed west.”

“Not many people enjoy headed toward the magical wastelands,” Talbot said. “but I’m sure there are plenty of interesting phenomenon out there.”

“Oh I’m sure,” Clarity said. “I did my thesis on the gravity well of Karkown. I’m getting off before the wastelands, though.”

“Where?”

“Very forward, Mister…,” Clarity said, indicating a need for a last name.

“Hawkwing, and sorry,” Talbot said. “I’m just curious.”

“I’m getting off in Fallshield,” Clarity said with a smile and a shrug.

Thistlewhite Manor

December 26, 2020

“These are our iceboxes,” Marian Thistlewhite said with a grand gesture. “We’re one of the first to get them. They keep our food cold so it decays much slower. It is yet another reason that this would be the ideal place to hold the orphan’s fundraiser.” The young Thistlewhite was fairly proud of the acquisition. She had pushed her conservative parents to make the purchase, reasoning that it would be useful and it would help the mage who had invented the thing fund production. If the icebox was widespread, it would help Calla’s economy and general well-being.

“Very impressive,” Lucia Vostova said in her slight Ganarastav accent. “I am very sure that this will be an adequate location for the fundraiser. Your family has such a beautiful house.”

“Thank you,” Marian said with a smile. “We’ve done the best we could.” She was starting to be unnerved by the representatives of the New Light Foundation. There were six of them but only the one called Lucia spoke and the others never reacted to anything that Marian or Lucia said. Still, manor security had cleared the visitors so they were just strange.

“Will your parents be present today to talk?” Lucia asked, snapping Marian back into the moment. “I am such a fan of your mother and your dear father, I wanted to thank him in person.”

“No,” Marian said with a sigh. “My parents were unfortunately detained and could not make it today. They sent me in their stead. My brother was also supposed to be here but he has not arrived. I apologize that I am such a poor substitute.” She made it into a joke but Lucia and her compatriots did not crack a smile.

“Quite the contrary,” Lucia said with a smile. “You have been delightful. It’s just a pity.” Lucia’s smile disappeared.

“A pity?” Marian asked, confusion spreading across her face. “What do you mean?”

“We had intended to send a message to your government by murdering your whole family,” Lucia said, pulling out what looked like a large knife or a small sword. “We will have to settle with using your death as the message. The Light Beyond the Door Will Be Revealed.”

Marian’s eyes went wide. The Light Beyond the Door was a growing cult worshipping an unnamed god. She had never thought she would come in contact with them. “You’ll never get away with it,” she said. “The guards will take you down.”

“Your guards will have been compromised by now,” Lucia said. “Do not make this difficult, young one.” Lucia stepped forward and she raised her blade. Marian frantically tried to calculate her odds of survival and it did not look good.

Suddenly, there was a sharp and distant cracking sound, the shattering of the kitchen window, and then one of the men behind Lucia’s head exploded into a fine red mist. In the confusion, Marian grabbed the glass vial hanging from her neck and threw it at the ground. Her side of the room instantly filled up with harmless smoke and she quickly ducked into the pantry. Somebody had fired a gun at these intruders so she was not as alone as Lucia had thought.

“Find who that was and remove their head from their body!” Lucia shouted, keeping her head down. “Find the girl. She dies slow and painful!”

Marian tried to stay as quiet as possible but she could hear the remaining five moving around the kitchen. The pantry door was yanked open and Marian lashed out with her fist. Luckily, her target was male and she connected hard with his softest bits. He fell backward and as he did, bullets started flying through the kitchen and Marian flopped onto the floor ungracefully but safe enough from the gunfire in the pantry. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see a man entering the kitchen and executing the intruders with expert gunfire. The gunfire stopped and Lucia stood up from wherever she had been hiding.

“Well, mystery man,” Lucia said with a smile and leveling her own gun at the man. Marian now recognised Guard Peter Overbrook. “You are now out of bullets and I have you at a disadvantage with no time to reload. You have killed my men but the message will still be sent regardless.”

Marian crawled into the kitchen and the sound distracted Lucia enough that she missed shooting Peter. Peter started to reload his gun. Marian lunged for the closest icebox and tore the heart of an ice elemental that powered it. She lunged at Lucia desperately. Lucia did not have enough time to turn before Marian was shoving the heart into Lucia’s cheek. Marian felt her hand stiffen and sting before she pulled it away, the elemental’s heart stuck to Lucia and her head slowly froze over with ice. A bullet slammed into Lucia’s frozen head and it shattered and fell to the floor.

“Sorry I was so late, Miss Thistlewhite,” Peter said. “I was detained outside.”

“That’s quite alright, Peter,” Marian said, shaking feeling back into her hand. “You were here when it counted. Are the rest of the guards…?” She couldn’t bring herself to finish the question but she could tell Peter got the point.

“Some are dead,” Peter said solemnly. “but not all of us. Your brother arrived just in time to tip the scales in our favor.”

“Thank the gods that he’s always late,” Marian said with a sigh of relief. “As much as I would like to rest, there is far too much to do. We must alert my parents, contact the authorities, clean up this mess, and bury our dead with honors.”

“Right away, Miss,” Peter said. “I’ll rally the troops and we’ll get right on it.”

“Thank you, Peter,” Marian said. “Thank you so much.”

Hearth Day

December 19, 2020

The snow fell in huge flakes outside of Garrion Castle and it should have been warm inside but the castle had been abandoned recently. When Milla Coalberry and Guy Nightscar pushed their way through the front door, they were wearing thick furs. They had needed to board the horses at the stable first and that meant trudging across the snowy grounds in almost waist-deep snow. Guy hurried across the entry hall and hurriedly worked to start a fire. Milla threw off her fur cloak and grabbed her bow, nocked an arrow, and readied herself for any threats. She checked each entrance one by one and then repeated the cycle. Her attention was only momentarily drawn by the sparks and embers from Guy’s attempts.

“You didn’t even look around before you crossed the threshold, Guy,” Milla said. “There could have been any number of threats for each step you took.”

“If I had to choose between freezing outside for one more moment or getting maimed in here, I know what I’d choose and I chose it,” Guy said, shedding his own furs. “You could be a bit nicer seeing as how it is Hearth Day Eve.”

“If you didn’t want to go on this holiday mission, I could have gone on my own,” Milla said. “I just thought since neither of us has family we could do this together.” The two were the only orphans of their little group but could not be more different most of the time.

“Which is why I came,” Guy said. “besides, you would be lost without the greatest swordsman in the western continent.” He took a pull from his flask but only to warm himself or so he told himself.

“The self-proclaimed greatest swordsman,” Milla said, relaxing her bow when nothing immediately sprang from the darkness to maul them to death. “I’m constantly pulling your behind out of danger.”

“I’ve saved you just as much,” Guy said. “Maybe one or two fewer times.” One should not lie so close to Hearth Day.

“You’re reckless and undisciplined in any activity that does not include a bladed weapon,” Milla said. “but I’m happy you’re here. I’m happy not to be alone.”

“It wouldn’t make much tactical sense to tackle this one on your own, huh?” Guy asked with a smirk. “You’re far smarter than that.”

“Yes but I’m allowed to want company on a holiday,” Milla said. “I also didn’t want to be alone.”

“You’re always going off alone,” Guy said, raising an eyebrow. “The hermit monk only comes out of her hole when justice must be served.”

“Maybe I’m tired of being a hermit,” Milla said. “Maybe I want to be in the world now.” She walked over to the closest door and started hammering a metal spike under it to force it shut.

“Says the woman who decided to travel out to this manor in the middle of nowhere,” Guy said with a laugh. “Mixed messages there.”

“I’m serious,” Milla said with a frown. “When my parents and siblings died, I threw myself into my training at the monastery. I didn’t think I wanted to live anymore. I wanted to be a weapon for justice. When it turned out the monastery had duplicitous motives, I was lost again. Now I’m just trying to figure it all out.”

For once, Guy was shocked into silence for a bit. Milla had never said any of this in his presence before and was somewhat of a mystery to their little adventurer collective even though she was the de facto leader. “Well, you know we’re all here for you,” he finally said. “I’m free to talk whenever you want. I’ll buy you a drink sometime when we’re not in imminent danger.”

“I don’t drink,” Milla said. “but you know that. I can certainly just watch you drink as long as you promise not to be so disgusting.”

“No promises,” Guy said with a grin. “but we should probably start hunting ghouls. They really should have warded the family graveyard properly.”

“Not so fast, Guy,” Milla said. “We’ll have to start in the morning. Without a cleric along, we’ll have to start the hunt while they’re dormant.”

“Rina would have never gotten through the snow,” Guy said. “I barely did. Frankly, this won’t be my strangest Hearth Day morning.” He had never really had the traditional experience, adventuring, and carousing during most holidays.

“Nor will it be mine,” Milla said with a shrug and a smile. “It won’t even be my most violent.” Guy could imagine how she must have spent previous Hearth Days and knew that they were probably soaked in the blood of evildoers.

“That’s strange and possibly a bit said, Milla,” Guy said. “We’ll have to raid the larder after we finish to celebrate. I’ll brave the wine cellar on my own, don’t worry.”

“My hero,” Milla said, voice dripping with sarcasm but then she legitimately laughed.

“Happy Hearth Day, Milla,” Guy said.

“And to you, Guy,” Milla said with a smile. “Help me secure the doors.”

Undead Reckoning Pt. 3

September 26, 2020

Talbot arrived at the shop the next morning and was surprised to see a light already on inside even though the sun had yet to rise. He had thought he might have at least a few moments to himself to collect himself, but it could not be helped. He would have to tear the bandage off eventually so it might as well be right away. He pushed the door open and took off his jacket and hung it up. He turned and there was Cara Moonweaver standing there with a slight smile on her face. She always looked so fragile with her thin, willowy limbs but Talbot knew that she was sturdy and strong. She was the senior partner, having started the carpentry shop while Talbot was still in the military and before Silas had arrived from Corria. She was holding two cups of tea.

“Join me for a morning cup?” Cara asked. “It’s still a little chilly out there especially before the sun comes up.” Cara really did not complain about much but she did consistently complain when it was cold. She was very thin so it made sense.

“Thank you, Cara,” Talbot said, taking one of the cups. “It is a relief on an early cold morning.”

“It is early for you,” Cara said, narrowing her eyes. “Is something the matter? Could you not sleep?” Cara had always been extremely perceptive. There were times when Talbot wondered if she might have a slight psychic gift. Her keen insight was why Talbot often came to her for counsel.

Talbot sighed. “To tell the truth, I did not sleep well,” Talbot said. “I was wrestling with something last night.”

“Bad dreams?” Cara asked. “You haven’t had those since your early days here when the war was still fresh behind your eyes.” Over many years, Talbot had probably told Cara the most about his life. His emotions had been more raw when they met and her friendship and the routine and art of carpentry had eased his pain.

“Funny you should mention the war,” Talbot said. He rarely mentioned the W-word. “I received a letter yesterday afternoon that made my thoughts turn dark. My trouble continued into the night.”

“You’ll never truly be at peace until you leave the past behind,” Cara said. “time only heals wounds if you allow them to close.” It was something she had said many times.

“I know you’re not wrong and I thought I was past it,” Talbot said. “but some things tend to reopen those wounds. Like this letter.”

“Tell me about this letter,” Cara said and sat in a chair gracefully.

“Have you ever heard of a Lord Blackrance?” Talbot asked.

“I have not,” Cara said. “his influence has not spread down here. My family would have heard about them but I could put in some inquiries if you want.”

“Thank you but I don’t think that will be necessary,” Talbot said. “I’ll explain that in a minute. He sent me a letter trying to recruit me to take up arms again against a necromancer out in the wastes.”

“You’re not actually considering going out there are you?” Cara asked. “That sounds like a really bloody affair to get involved with.”

“I don’t plan on fighting anything or anyone anymore,” Talbot said. “but I do want to give this Blackrance a piece of my mind. I would like to do it in person. It only involves going to Fallshield so it would be a relatively short trip.”

“You feel that it’s necessary to turn this man down in person?” Cara asked.

“I do,” Talbot said. “If I simply turn away, I feel like I am running from my past again. If I go and talk to him, I will confront everything. It is not something I look forward to but, through our discussions, I think I need to do it.”

“A confrontation instead of merely sending a letter back, though,” Cara started, sounding like she was trying to be careful. “It is a big step. Do you think that it might be an inordinate response?”

“I don’t think so,” Talbot said. “You know me. I consider myself to be a man of honor. This Blackrance drug up a lot of dark things from my past but he also paid me several compliments. It is only right that I refuse him face to face. I could give him a few tips as well.”

Cara took a beat and then spoke calmly and even. “What would your brother think?” she asked. The question hung in the air. If it had been anybody other than Cara who asked, Talbot would have been angry. However, it was an astute question. Cara was incredibly wise.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Talbot answered. “Barrold was always seeking adventure. He would have jumped on a chance to hunt down a necromancer.”

“You would have jumped on it as well decades ago,” Cara said. “You have an instinct to protect people and a necromancer threatens society itself.”

“Those days are gone,” Talbot said. “Besides, I made a promise to Barrold’s grave that I would give that life up and I would live for the both of us.”

“He never asked you for that promise,” Cara said. It was true, Barrold would have never tried to control Talbot’s life. He would have supported any decision that Talbot made.

“I still intend to keep it,” Talbot said. “I’m done fighting. I’ll go and close the door and then I’ll come back. It should only take a week at the most by train.”

“Do you need my blessing?” Cara asked, a small smile creeping onto her face. “You have it if you want it.”

“I don’t need it but it is appreciated,” Talbot said with a smile. “All I need is for you and Silas to watch the shop. I promise to pick up the slack when I return.”

“I do not think he will be as understanding,” Cara said. “but you will have to explain things to Silas.”

The shop door opened during that last moment and Silas walked in. “Explain what to me?” he asked. Cara and Talbot looked at each other for a beat.

SteamWorld Heist and Quest

September 21, 2020

Steamworld Heist

I have always been a fan of the Wild West or at least the mechanics and look of the film Wild West. The genre is kind of defunct now but there are some great movies that belong to it. Firefly was the first thing I watched that linked the Wild West aesthetic with space travel. This game is about a gang of steam-powered robots who have formed a pirate crew made up of “Cowbots” in a world after the Earth exploded. You primarily play as Captain Piper Faraday, an expert sniper. At the start, all but two of your crew have been scrapped (killed). You must recruit a new crew and work toward raising your reputation as you progress from rascals to heroes. You spend most of your time trying to pull off heists which are really smash-and-grab boarding missions.

As you can see in the trailer above, the game’s combat is turn-based. Each character has a class and is able to use different weapons. Each character also has their own skills which add more to the strategy of the game. For example, Piper has the ability to inspire or heal the bots around her. Sally Bolt can fire again if her first shot kills a target. There are tons of weapons and gear you can get from shops (mostly bars and bodegas). The other main mechanic is that all aiming is done manually by the player. That leads to fun ricochet shots and trick shots that are fun to try and wrap your head around.

Steamworld Quest

Fantasy is obviously a huge genre for me but this game is one of the first I have seen to combine fantasy with steampunk. You play as Armilly a young steambot knight wannabe who has applied over and over to the Hero Guild with no success. She is joined by an alchemist named Copperina and a Handyman named Galleo. The trio sets out to rescue the entire Hero Guild and fight a new evil empire. They are later joined by a knight of legend, Orik, and two shifty rogues named Tarah and Thayne. You explore maps while engaging other bots in battle.

This is a turn-based system with an interesting card mechanic. Each turn you get a “hand” of cards each of which has a character’s skill or attack on it. You can play up to three cards per turn. If you play three cards for the same character, they do an additional fourth ability or attack. Additionally, some attacks and skills require “steam power” to be used while simpler skills and attacks build that steam power. It is a constant strategy problem of proper deck-building and resource management. You need to optimize your cards in order to make sure you always have moves to make.

Both Games

Both games obviously share the same art style and writing. The art is cartoony yet detailed which gives each character a unique look. The worlds both games travel through are full of little background details and NPCs that delightful. Both games are full of dialogue which is cute and funny as the characters are allowed to be weird, flawed, and somewhat real. The heroes are allowed to make mistakes and even the villains can be likable. Both are goofy games that are not that long but are infinitely replayable.

Poor Unfortunate Souls: Atlantica Pt. 6

August 29, 2020

The kitchen had calmed down by the time that Esmeralda dropped her off at the kitchen although it showed every sign of the work that had gone into the meal. Esmeralda had impulsively handed Belle a tarot card before they parted. Belle was studying it as she ate her late breakfast ravenously. She felt a bit like Adam the way she was shovelling food into her mouth. The card was labeled as The Hermit. She had no idea what it meant but the art was pretty. She supposed Adam had been a bit of a hermit before they met, though. In a way, she had been a hermit when she buried herself in her books and shied away from people. The card depicted a supposedly wise old man with a lantern. He looked solemn and maybe a bit lonely.

“She gave me one of those too,” Tiana said as she walked up, wiping her hands on her apron.

Belle quickly chewed and swallowed quickly, just barely avoiding choking. “Oh?” she managed to get out.

Tiana pulled a card from the waistband of her dress and held it up. The card said The Chariot at the bottom and depicted a long-haired man being carried on a litter. Adam had long ago given up most of his royal trappings and it looked absolutely extravagant. It looked much more lively than Belle’s Hermit.

“Any idea what it means?” Belle asked. “I’ve never read about the tarot.”

“I have no idea,” Tiana said. “I knew a man who traficked in such magicks and it turned me off of learning anything about it. I don’t think this is really the same thing. Esmeralda is a nice woman, I am sure it does not mean anything bad.”

“Sure,” Belle said. “I’ll have to look it up when I have a chance. When this is all over.”

“Tell me before we return to our worlds,” Tiana said with a smirk.

“You could just ask Esmeralda,” Belle said. “We could both do that, actually.”

“There’s fun in the mystery,” Tiana said. “The journey is just as worth it as the destination even if it is hard.”

“That’s true,” Belle said. “Most of my life I sat around waiting for change but it didn’t happen until I made it happen.”

“You’re my kind of woman, Belle,” Tiana said. “I think we might have a lot in common.” Belle was starting to realize that this was probably true. Though their personalities were different, they might have gone through similar adventures.”

Belle smiled. “Did your fiance magically transform leading you through a chaotic adventure where you learned a lot about yourself?” she asked.

Tiana laughed and tucked her card away. “Actually, he did,” Tiana said. “He and I both transformed into frogs and got lost in the swamp.”

Belle was intrigued. “My fiance was cursed and transformed into a raging beast,” she said. “He changed back to human, though.” The events still felt fresh in her mind. The fear, the curiosity, and the love were still all mixed together. She and Adam were just starting to really connect now that the chaos had stopped. Of course, the chaos had started again.

“With true love’s kiss?” Tiana asked. Belle was surprised. Was true love’s kiss a common thing? It was something to weigh in her upcoming studies, she supposed. She wondered if the research should go beyond books. Books were always a good place to start but there seemed to be a lot of magical experience connected to everyone involved in this crisis.

“More or less,” Belle said as she blushed. “Oh and all of his servants had been transformed into furniture.”

“Alright, you got me beat there,” Tiana said. “That is absolutely wild. We’ll have to compare notes at some point.” Belle was amazed at how easily Tiana could talk to other people. Belle was still working on that aspect of her life. She and Adam were both working on it in different ways.

“I get the feeling that this place is full of people with interesting stories,” Belle said. “I wish I had more time but I need to be in the library to study how to beat this thing.”

“Good luck on that,” Tiana said. “As much as I like cooking for all of this royalty and fine folk, I miss my husband, my mother, and my home.”

“I miss my husband and my father,” Belle said. “We’re still figuring home out. We’re still figuring a lot of things out.”

“So are we but we were settling in. Again, I tell you good luck,” Tiana said. “I won’t keep you here. It looks like you enjoyed your breakfast, though.”

“It was so good,” Belle said. “I hate to rush off.” She pocketed her tarot card quickly.

“We all have our jobs to do,” Tiana said. “You’ll prove your worth when you help solve this thing.”

Koshain

August 1, 2020

(I thought I would update information on one of the fictional lands of my fantasy setting which kinda sort of is still a D&D campaign setting.)

Koshain is a desert nation in the middle of the continent of Aldona. The land of Koshain is cursed with a desert climate due to the fallout from the events that occurred in what is now the neighboring nation of Khull. The magical fallout created a harsh atmosphere full of sandstorms and cloudless skies allowing for oppressive heat. Lesser nations might have been driven out but Koshain adapted their way of life several millennia ago. Many residents of the nation fell back to live in the more stable city centers where they could find shelter from the wind. Farming moved underground where magic helped sustain a lot of agriculture. However, in the transition, insects native to Koshain went on the menu and remain a delicacy for the rich and a necessity for the poor.

Others set up a system of nomadic life where people keep moving to keep ahead of the sandstorms. The constant movement helped in establishing a massive trade network that was needed to obtain foodstuffs and goods that were no longer readily available in Koshain. Dwarven stone-cut outposts set themselves up as outposts and shelters for trading caravans. The dwarves also found rich deposits of jewels and ore that became very useful for trading, allowing the nation to have a chance of survival and eventually led to success. However, the trade-based economy led to a large gap between classes. City trade barons and aristocrats (often the same thing) became richer and their workers were stuck under their collective thumb. This eventually led to a large criminal contingent who view themselves as freedom fighters and revolutionaries instead of villains.

At some point, the Koshani people adopted specially formulated face paint to keep their skin from burning. The lower class just slathered on one color while the rich often painted their faces in ostentatious multicolor art pieces. Face painting has evolved into an elaborate social status ritual with different classes and families following different patterns. A millennia ago, Koshain suffered from a horrible plague that killed many of its citizens. To combat this respiratory sickness, Koshani people adopted face masks as protection. The lower classes strapped on cheap masks and soldiered on. Once again, the rich went in an artistic and showy direction and had beautiful masks designed to hide their faces away from the world. When the plague subsided, the poor discarded their masks (except when traveling in sandstorms) but the rich kept their tradition. Criminal leaders adopted masks that are almost parodies of the masks of the wealthy.

Because of the large criminal population in the cities, the capital of Corren is also the home to the world’s greatest lock designers (and consequently the greatest lockpickers). The criminal element is broken down into different guilds who have each declared themselves as autonomous factions separate from the governance of the rulers of Koshain. The various thieves guilds compete with one another but are definitely also aligned with each other against the upper class. Alliances are common between the guilds and crews often encounter each other while out on the job. For example, a second crew might show up during a heist and would decide to distract law enforcement to obtain a later favor from a guild. The enemy of their enemy is often their friend.

Speaking of the rulers of Koshain, there is a Koshani King that passes through generations through biological children (legitimate or not). The King is the ruler, never the Queen although the Queen is revered as a celebrity. The truth is that it does not matter as much who is King. The King often consults a council in order to make decisions which is made up of the heads of the most profitable trading empires. Aristocrats often buy their titles and pass them down through the generations. These titles are much less restricted by gender as it is recognized that women and nonbinary people can be shrewd in business. The King rarely makes major decisions without economic input.

Poor Unfortunate Souls: China Pt. 3

July 18, 2020

Mulan was a little surprised when Yao hugged her when she entered the hastily assembled war room of the fort. The usually grumpy Yao pushed away after only a moment but was still grinning from ear to ear. Mulan found herself smiling even though Shang was still down in the medical tent. Mulan, Shang, Yao, Chien-Po, and Ling had been through a lot of adventures together. It made Mulan’s heartache and worry about Khan and Mushu who were still missing in action. Still, it was good to be in a stable environment with a friend in front of her although they were not always exactly friendly.

“Mulan!” Yao croaked out in his somewhat raspy voice. “I am so glad to see you. I was worried about a lot of our friends and the Emperor’s forces. I made it here with some of our soldiers but I am out of my element in command.”

“You seem to have done pretty well,” Mulan said. “The soldiers looked orderly and the fort is running smoothly and is fortified.”

“Do you know where Shang is?” Yao asked. “He could take over. He could even counterattack through this chaos.”

Mulan took a deep breath. “My husband is in the medical tent,” she said. “He is injured and unconscious but I am hopeful that he will recover.”

“I’m sorry,” Yao said. “I have great respect for General Shang.”

“We all do,” Mulan said. “Is that white healer really any good?” She instinctively looked over her shoulder back toward the medical tent. Her husband had been in pretty bad shape but she had thought him dead before and had been glad to have been wrong. Shang was a fighter and she had to count on that.

“Yes,” Yao said. “I wouldn’t have put her in charge there if she wasn’t. Rapunzel has magic when it comes to healing and she’s so damned perky it’s hard to beat her optimism. It kind of gives me the creeps. We rescued these foreigners and they have come in useful. They all claim to be royalty so it made sense to let them make themselves comfortable. In return, they have helped us operate more smoothly without trying to take over. Believe me, I tried with that Aladdin.”

“He seems capable but I’m not sure if we can trust them that far,” Mulan said. “As far as we know this is the last major holdout after the attack on the Imperial City.”

“Then you should take over, Mulan,” Yao said. “You’d be a much better leader.”

“I’m not even officially in the military,” Mulan said. “I don’t know if that’s proper.”

“You’re an advisor to the Emperor!” Yao said.

“I turned that post down. Remember?” Mulan asked. “I’ve helped out in an unofficial capacity but I don’t really have the skills to lead here.”

“Who cares?” Yao said. “You’re a hero of China. They’ll accept you. Your country needs you Mulan and I know you have always stepped forward.”

“That’s hardly fair,” Mulan said. “I’ll do what it can but I’m not sure if that isn’t too far.”

“It’ll work,” Yao said. “You’ll be better at it than I am.”

“Fine. If the soldiers agree then I will lead until Shang can take over,” Mulan said. “He is much better in command and I am much better at doing my own thing. It’s how we work.”

“It’s a deal,” Yao said excitedly. “I’m sure you won’t have to shoulder the burden for long. Shang will be up on his feet quick. Where should we start boss?”

Mulan sighed. “I guess I should meet with these foreigners and get the lay of the land,” she said. “I have to admit to being very curious. How many are there?”

“Only four so far,” Yao said. “Rapunzel is a healer and spends most of her time in the medical tent although she’s handy elsewhere. Anna is a really hard worker and apparently really well-read and is always there with a helping hand. Aladdin is an accomplished fighter and he and his carpet have been going on scouting missions to bring back more survivors.”

“What about the one up in the tower?” Mulan asked. “The one whose speech I can barely understand.”

“Merida is a wild woman but is a crack shot with a bow,” Yao said. “She’s better than anybody I saw in the military and that includes you, Mulan.” He caught a look in her eye. “But not by that much.”

“She needs to learn more manners,” Mulan said. “but it is good to have an accomplished warrior keeping a wary eye on anybody who approaches.”

Hesper’s Web Pt. 8

June 13, 2020

Mariel, Asher, and Luther walked into the light coming from overhead. Directly in that light was the black crystalline form of the Thing that Had Not Been Gwendolyn. It was wrapped in heavy chains. Each link of those chains was carved with warding runes that would guard against magic and would limit the shapechanger’s abilities. The three surrounded the Thing with Mariel facing it directly. She smiled peacefully pretty self-satisfied. The Thing regarded her with malice so strong that one could sense it even though it had no face.

“I think you will find that you cannot move,” Mariel said.

The Thing tried to struggle regardless of Mariel’s warning and confirmed it. There would be no easy escape from this predicament.

“It doesn’t like being told,” Luther said. “Listen to her, she’ll only tell you the truth.”

“I think this discussion will go a little more smoothly if you have a mouth,” Mariel said. She waved her hand and the Thing’s surface ripple and it changed shape. It became a young girl, one who had teased and bullied Muriel back in school. It gave her some satisfaction to see the girl in such a bad way.

“Where am I?” The thing asked with a snarl.

“You are in my mind now, Devilspawn,” Muriel said. “You’ll find it is a lot stronger than the mind of a child. My mental defenses were well-trained by good education and experience. You are at our mercy.”

“You think I am afraid of you?” The Thing asked. She spat. “I’m not afraid of you, little elf.”

“We’re not particularly concerned with how you feel,” Muriel said.

“We’re more focused on your boss,” Asher said. “Hesper.”

“Hesper would devour you in but a moment,” the Thing said. “Do not look for what you do not want to find.”

“Oh we’ll find Hesper,” Luther said.

“With your help,” Muriel said. “Whether you like it or not.”

“You’ll get nothing out of me!” the Thing screamed. It spat and hissed.

“Oh? Is that so?” Muriel asked and then she laughed. “We already have the information we need out of you. You’re in my mind. I whittled down your defenses hours ago without you realizing.”

The Thing looked confused. “Then why am I still here?” it asked.

“You tortured a little girl,” Luther said. “You took days of her life for yourself and tried to take over her body and make it your own.” Images of Gwendolyn and her suffering floated in the air around the Thing. It looked at those images and felt pride at a job well done. Rage flitted across Muriel’s face but she maintained control.

“We wanted to make sure you died,” Asher said.

“And not quick,” Muriel said. “Slow and painful.”

“Do your worst,” the Thing said softly, staring defiantly into Muriel’s eyes.

“I will,” Muriel said. She walked forward and touched the Thing gently on the forehead. The point where she touched burned with green flame. A single candle-sized point of combustion and the Thing shuddered but remained defiant. Slowly the flame started to grow, surface skin started to flake and blow away. As its false face floated away, the Thing finally gave in and started to scream. The sound quickly went from human into something more shrill and inhuman. Muriel waved her hand and Luther and Asher disappeared. Muriel stood there and watched for quite a while as the flame slowly consumed the Thing and then she disappeared herself.

Gwendolyn was out of bed two days later. Everybody voted to stick around and make sure that she was going to recover and regain her health. She was able to walk to the gate where everybody was waiting. She had thankfully forgotten a lot of her experience in her long nightmare but she remembered the more recent positive memories of Muriel and her friends. She had asked them all a million questions as she started to recover but now it was time to go.

“Where are you going?” Gwendolyn asked. “Will you be back?”

“We’re going to go find the devil that hurt you,” Muriel said.

“We probably won’t be back,” Dina said before being elbowed in the ribs by her brother.

“Never say never,” Asher said. “You just focus on getting better. Alright?”

“OK,” Gwendolyn said. “Please get rid of the bad thing. Make sure it can’t hurt anybody else.”

“I promise,” Muriel said. “I promise you we will.”

And then they got onto their horses and they rode away.

Hesper’s Web Pt. 7

June 6, 2020

They all held hands and Gwendolyn wished them back up to the castle. Gwendolyn’s little eyes sparked with hope and relief to see that castle again. The adventurers gathered around the little girl as they approached the gates for the second time. Mariel put her hand on the girl’s shoulder.

“Gwendolyn,” Mariel said. “Things are going to get violent. We are going to have to fight that thing in there and I want you to be prepared for that.”

“I understand,” Gwendolyn said. “You guys are adventurers. You fight the bad things.”

“We do indeed,” Luther said. “We are here to protect you and that means getting that thing out.”

“If we could ask you to stay here, we would,” Dimitri said. “It’s going to be too dangerous.”

“But we need you with us because you have the power here,” Asher said. “You’re our back up, kiddo.”

Gwendolyn nodded timidly and smiled. “Okay,” she said.

Dimitri and Luther led the way but Gwendolyn nodded at the gate and it opened easily for them. There were no preliminaries this time. No mermaids. No unicorns. They arrived immediately in the throne room once again. The Thing That Was Not Gwendolyn locked eyes with Gwendolyn and, to her credit, Gwendolyn did not back down. Asher played a little tune to bolster Gwendolyn’s confidence. Everybody readied their weapons and there was a stillness. Sir Buttonface stepped into the middle of it all with his huge weapon. Something passed over the bear’s face as he saw Gwendolyn.

“Sir Buttonface!” Gwendolyn said with a pout. “You stop that this instant! You are my knight.”

“Master Gwendolyn!” Buttonface said. “What is going on?” He looked back at The Thing on the throne and clutched his weapon a little tighter. “Traitor! Abomination!” He raised his weapon.

“Sir Buttonface!” Mariel called out. “You need to protect Master Gwendolyn. We’ll take care of that thing.”

Sir Buttonface nodded but looked sad. “I apologize for what I have done earlier,” he said. “I will make it up to you.”

“You have nothing to apologize for,” Dimitri said. He was a man of honor and understood how the knight must feel having been fooled and controlled by something so foul.

“Speak for yourself,” Dina said. “Ouch.” However, she was smiling because what were they going to do? Hold a grudge against a teddy bear?

“Protect the girl, Sir Knight,” Luther said. “Let’s do this thing.”

Sir Buttonface scooped up Gwendolyn and lept to the other end of the throne room. She clutched his fur and brought herself closer to him to comfort herself. He shielded her with his body. Gwendolyn was safe and now it was time to get down to business.

The Thing on the Throne stood up and turned into a black, crystalline figure before multiplying into several creatures. They had sharp claws and glowing green eyes. Nobody had seen anything like them but nobody hesitated. They attacked as one but this time there was not an over-sized teddy bear knight in their way. With Gwendolyn returned to her palace, the scales were balanced once again. The battle was not short but one by one the creatures were shattered until one remained. The remaining Thing gibbered and cursed in some dialect from beyond. Mariel focused and summoned a chest and Dimitri and Dina dumped the creature into it. Mariel locked the chest and it disappeared.

“We’re done here,” Mariel said to Luther. “It’s over.” The two of them exchanged a look.

“I guess we can wake up then,” Dina said, looking around.

“I don’t think we got much rest,” Fern said as she stretched.

“We’ll get some soon enough,” Mariel said. “Ironically we have to wake up first.”

“Because that makes complete sense,” Dina said.

“Dream magic is strange,” Mariel said with a shrug. “It’s why people rarely mess with it.”

Gwendolyn and Buttonface walked toward them. “Is it over?” Gwendolyn asked. “Is the bad thing gone?” She seemed to be growing stronger, gaining her footing again in her own mind.

“We’re taking it away,” Asher said. “You can wake up now. We’ll see you when we’re all awake.”

“Okay,” Gwendolyn said. “Thank you.” Her smile warmed the hearts of the adventurers, really the only thanks they needed.

A bright white started to fill the chamber and everybody covered their eyes.


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