Posts Tagged ‘Tabletop RPG’

In the Shanti Desert Pt. 3

November 5, 2018

A thin, spindly man slowly climbed out of the box. He had pale white skin and hair and he looked like somebody had wrapped a bundle of sticks in skin and hair. His striking appearance was the first thing that hit her but the man’s impossibly big smile surprised her. He looked sweaty and sore as he shifted on his feet after climbing out of the box but he still had a big smile on his face. His gaze scanned the room and when they fell on Saara, she saw that his eyes were a dark shade of pink. When he met her gaze, he winked playfully. It was then that the full realization that these people had been transporting a living creature in a box hit her.

Before Saara could object, Arana blurted out. “What are you?” Her eyes were wide and the words came out sounding awestruck.

“My lady,” The man said as he turned to her and bowed. The action made Sabri flinch slightly. “They call me Ba’as. As for what I am, I suppose you might call me one of a kind.”

“You’re Ba’as?” Saara asked. Her voice rose in pitch a bit in her excitement.

“Unless I’m lying,” Ba’as said. “Do I detect a fan?”

Saara nodded. “We didn’t think you were real, though,” she said.

“Sometimes I wonder myself,” Ba’as said. “Who is we?”

Saara pulled up her sleeve and showed off a stylized tattoo of a rat high up on her forearm. “The <>. Small crew. We heard stories from fences about you, though.”

Ba’as shrugged. “People do like to talk,” he said. “but I don’t like to brag in mixed company.” He gestured toward Arana, Adira, and Sabri. “It’s all true, though.”

Saara noticed a tattoo of a key and a question mark on Ba’as’ bare chest and she made a mental note to ask him about them if they were ever alone together. “Wow,” she said with a beaming smile.

Horseface Horu came in through the door and immediately reacted to Ba’as, a mix of startled fear and curiosity. When Sabri snapped his fingers, Horu was brought back into the moment. “Boss, we found the flag,” he said. “I can bring you there.”

“Are we to swing into action, ‘boss’?” Ba’as asked, turning toward Sabri with that unsettlingly broad smile. “Buckle some swashes? Locate some treasure?”

Sabri looked away and over at Saara and shook his head. “Not until daybreak when our sorceress should be healed up,” he said. ” Until then, I trust you not to try to escape.”

“It’s far too hot and dry out there, I’m sure,” Ba’as said. “Besides, I am curious about the job for now.” Ba’as then bowed low and gracefully for Sabri.

“Good enough, I suppose,” Sabri said. “Horu, get the man his clothes and then gather the rest inside.” He settled into a chair with one last glance at Ba’as and closed his eyes. He was either meditating or taking a nap. It was really hard to tell.

Horu started searching through chests until he found Ba’as’ gear. Saara watched Ba’as start to pull on black leather armor. “Ah, I felt so naked without my second skin,” he said. He chuckled a little to himself as if he had told a joke. When nobody laughed, he glanced around and raised an eyebrow. Saara could see that the armor had an attached half-cape with a heavily tattered edge. He went back into the box and pulled out a necklace, some rings, and a bracelet and slipped them on one at a time. He pulled out a white porcelain-looking mask with black braids dangling from it. He slipped the mask on and he looked somehow more ordinary, at least for a Kofrani city. He reached for two wicked looking daggers but Horu shoved him aside and picked them up instead.

“I don’t think we’re going to trust you with those yet,” Horu said. “If you need them, you’ll have them. Until then, I’d rather not have them sticking out of my back.”

“I’d love to disappoint you,” Ba’as said. “but it appears I have no choice but to wait.”

“What?” Horu shouted, outraged.

“Kidding,” Ba’as said.

Horu grunted and looked over at Arana. “I suppose I’m relying on you to help the boss keep things under control in here,” he said. “I wouldn’t put that burden on the healer.”

“I have my eye on all of them,” Arana said. “This is literally my house. I think we’ll all get along, right?” Ba’as simply smiled and Saara shrugged. Horu stepped back outside without another word.

“What is your name, witch?” Ba’as asked, moving slowly toward Saara, Arana, and Adir.

“I’m not a witch, I’m a wizard,” Arana said in a matter-of-fact tone with no anger but a tinge of nervousness. “My name is Arana.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Arana,” he said. “I promise I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You won’t or you don’t want to?” Arana asked.

Ba’as merely winked. Saara laughed. Arana frowned but then managed a fake laugh.

“And who is this young lad?” Ba’as asked. He gestured to Adir who was watching Ba’as with big eyes.

“This is Adir,” Saara said. “He’s a healer but he doesn’t talk.”

Adir gestured toward his throat, glancing at Arana.

“He can’t talk,” Arana said. “He was born that way so it doesn’t respond to healing magic.”

“Curious,” Ba’as said. “and also unfortunate. I’m sorry, Adir.” Adir shrugged and nodded and stuck his hand out. Ba’as was taken aback for a beat but shook Adir’s hand. “Trusting. I like that, sir.” Adir smiled and took his hand back.

Sabri opened one of his eyes. “I would suggest you rest your mouths and your bodies,” he said. “We will be working hard tomorrow and I do not want my investments failing on me.”

“Aye aye, boss,” Ba’as said with a mock salute. Saara giggled and mock saluted as well. Ba’as leaned over and ruffled her hair with his hand.

“Gross,” Arana said and she grabbed her spellbook and moved over to settle in a chair.

Adir slowly laid down on his back and closed his eyes.

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The Shield of Tau Pt. 2

September 17, 2018

“You should go back home to Lita,” Numa said. “You have a big day tomorrow.” She relaxed in her seat at the inn her family ran. She always felt safe and at home there.

“She is still doing her weekly component shopping, I think,” Jace said. “It takes forever and she knows how boring it is so she does it with her wizard friends.” He held out the bottle of Deneirian whiskey that he had been drinking from, offering a drink to Numa.

She pushed the bottle away gently and then thought better and took the bottle and set it back down out of Jace’s reach. “I’ll remind you that I’m on duty here and I can’t drink with you,” she said. “Besides, it’s unseemly enough that you are hanging out with a human. I can imagine the talk if you are seen drinking with one.”

“I’m not worried about that,” Jace said that, waving the question away with his hand. “Elves and humans are allowed to talk to one another. Besides, you’re my friend. Your family gave us shelter when the blink dogs came.”

“I remember,” Numa said with a shudder. “That guard shoved you and you and Lita through the door but that other girl didn’t make it.”

“Miza,” Jace said with a shudder. Even five years later it still felt bad saying her name. He was grateful that he had not looked back in the chaos and seen her shredded by the blink dog. It was bad enough hearing it. “The worst day ever.” As soon as he said it, it felt like an understatement.

“The silver lining is that it was the day you met Lita, right?” Numa asked.

“Of course,” Jace said. “It’s also the day that I first swung a weapon and hit an enemy.”

“Which led you to where you will be tomorrow,” Numa said. “The Grand Festival of Battle.”

“Yes,” Jace said. “Tomorrow. The Placements of the Tau. The final step toward my future. In front of the Lord of Tau himself and also everybody I have ever known.”

“You’ll do fine. Where do you think you will be assigned?” Numa asked with a smile. “Hopefully not the border.”

“I have no idea,” Jace said. “I just want to serve. I’ve always wanted to serve. The incursions have started to get worse again.”

“Do you think you might get tapped to investigate those?” Numa asked.

“I’m sure that won’t happen,” he said. “The incursions must be magical in nature and I have no aptitude for magic. I would definitely not mind protecting the city from the invaders.”

“You would be good at it,” she said. “and it would be good to stay close to Lita’s shop.”

“Those are basically the reasons I have for wanting that post,” Jace said with a laugh. “You’ve summed it up nicely.”

“The gift of speech is one of my best skills,” Numa said. “Oh! By the way, I might be able to watch some of your matches.”

“How are you going to manage that?” Jace asked with some surprise. “No offense.” The last was added in quickly.

“No,” Numa said. “I understand what you meant. My family was selected to help with the food for the event so we’re closing down our kitchen for the day.”

“Nice,” Jace said. “I will look for you in the crowd. You can stand with Lita.”

“I’d love to,” Numa said. “I so rarely see her these days since we are both so busy. But you need to go home, Jace. Sleep before your big day. Besides, we need to close for the night soon.”

“I have received your message loud and clear,” Jace said as he stood up. “I will try and spot you tomorrow.”

Numa walked him to the door with a smile. “Tomorrow,” she said. “Your destiny and my snacks.” Which earned her a laugh from Jace before she shut the door on him.

Jace walked down the street, briefly walking along a line of stones to test how drunk he was. He concluded that he was probably fine and he walked home through the cold air. He opened the door of what doubled as he and Lita’s home and her enchanting shop. He paused and sniffed and he could quickly tell that the shop was closed for the day. All he could smell were stale reagents and parchment. As he climbed the stairs to their small apartment, he could hear that Lita was home. He stepped through their front door and closed the door firmly behind himself.

“My husband,” Lita said, coming from the kitchen area. “Welcome home.”

“My wife,” Jace said with a smile. “How was your shopping?”

She shrugged. “It was routine,” she said. “It will be delivered the day after tomorrow. I’m in no hurry since I will have the shop closed tomorrow. I stopped by Marian’s to consult about an upcoming project.”

“And how did that work out?” Jace asked. He slipped his jacket off and hung it up.

“Do you really want to hear about mundane issues about my job instead of talking about your big day tomorrow?” She asked with a sly smile which drew a smile out of him. “Are you that nervous?”

“Yes,” Jace said. “I know how hard I’ve trained but I don’t know what I will face tomorrow and what I face determines much of the rest of my life.”

“Oh husband,” Lita said. “Whatever happens tomorrow, you will find a way to protect people. That is the fate you’ve chosen. And no matter what happens tomorrow, I will love you and I am proud of you.” She moved over to him and kissed him deeply. He kissed her back happily and pulled her close. When they had both had enough, at least for the time being, they broke the kiss and held hands. He looked down at his wife’s ink-stained hands and smiled. She was so smart and they had grown together so close.

“I love you, Lita,” he said with a smile.

“I love you too, Jace,” she said. “I am happy to spend eternity with you.”

“And I’m happy to spend it with you,” Jace said. “Shall we go to bed?”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Lita said. “Tomorrow is going to be a full day.”

The Panther Debate

August 18, 2018

Panther walked into the shadows where he knew his family was sleeping. He nodded at his son, Rock, who was whittling something and kept walking to find his wife Keeva. He could see her eyes glint in the night and he smiled in spite of himself. He was glad that neither of them was on guard duty as he had a lot on his mind. Keeva was his touchstone. There was nobody he trusted more these days.

“The girls are asleep,” Keeva said.

“Good,” Panther said. “I’ll see them tomorrow before we leave.”

“So you’re really going back there?” Keeva asked.

“Yes,” Panther said. “I have been ordered to go.”

Keeva shuddered. “So many bad memories there,” she said. “I do not envy you.”

“I can definitely understand that,” Panther said. “but everything I don’t want to do is usually for the good the tribe. Ash has ordered it and so it must be.”

Keeva watched her husband for a few beats. “He has given you more directives than that.”

Panther put a finger to his lips. “Shh,” he said. “For the good of the tribe.” He smiled and she smiled back and nodded.

“That is not the weight you carry then,” Keeva said. It was not a question, as she often had a knack for knowing his mind.

“No,” Panther agreed. “That is not the weight. They have asked me to bond with the Wood spirit.”

Keeva let that breathe for a moment, knowing how important that statement was. “And you think that this is a bad idea?” She asked, breaking the silence.

“Don’t you?” He asked. He looked a little quizzically at his wife.

“Yes,” she said. “Perhaps. But I asked you first.”

“Yes,” he said. “I think it’s a bad idea.”

“Why?” Keeva asked. “Why is it a bad idea?”

“You know the reasons,” Panther said. He had grown a little tense from her questioning even though he knew she was only trying to help. What sounded a little like betrayal was just an invitation to think out loud.”

“Calm, husband,” Keeva said soothingly and Panther did relax a little. “I know my reasons and I am sure we have some in common but I would like to hear yours.”

“Sometimes I forget that you don’t already know my mind,” Panther said. “Metalstone actually asked something similar earlier.”

“Your friend?” Keeva asked. “The one who made that beautiful vest?” She was teasing. It was obvious that she was teasing.

“Again,” Panther said with a mock sigh. “He’s not my friend and to refuse his gift would have been counter-productive. However, I am still trying to figure out what is wrong with it.”

Keeva laughed but nodded. “The reasons?”

“The first reason is the most obvious,” Panther said. “The spirits can be beneficial but they killed a lot of people at our naming ceremony.”

“That’s a fair point but was it a lot?” Keeva asked.

Panther took a deep breath. “My mother and father? Died. Rena? Died. Large parts of the three tribes? Died.”

“You attribute the skyfire to the spirits?” Keeva asked.

Panther shrugged. “I don’t believe in coincidences and neither do you. And then after the skyfire, the spirits attempted to kill more.”

Keeva nodded. “The bone spirit.”

Panther nodded back. “Exactly. More relevant than all of that is that the spirit they want to bond me to turned children into trees,” he said. “Perhaps it did not kill them but it may be a fate worse than death and they are dead to the rest of us just the same. That was one of the scariest things that I have seen.”

“Same here,” Keeva said. “Bonding with a spirit who thinks so little of human lives does sound like a bad idea.”

“The spirits do not care about us,” Panther said. “They take our worship and they use it to gain power. I think? I’m not sure yet what their new end game is.”

“We just have to do the best we know how to do,” Keeva said.

“Finally, I think the spirits twist those they bond with or come in contact with,” Panther said. “Metalstone was a fairly harmless orphan until he was given the power to exert his will on the tribe. Green was a compassionate girl who now has a snake slowly replacing her conscience. Ro was a smart but pushy person who has now allowed herself to be blinded to the dangers of the spirits. It is no secret what happened to poor Brand and why he can no longer be trusted.”

“It is grim, husband,” Keeva said. “Is there anything positive?”

“I can’t see anything on the horizon,” Panther said. “I keep trying to have faith.”

“There is another reason,” Keeva said. She had a way of getting to the heart of the matter. He had spent more time alone with her than anybody else in the tribe. They had learned and loved together and they had bonded into a solid team.

Panther sighed again. “When this started, I was a scared little child. I did what I could to help with the crisis but mostly, like you, I stood by and watched them spring into action. Now I’m not that helpless little boy. But what I am, what I have achieved, is all me. I was offered a spirit back then but instead, I did it myself. I’ve gotten this far on my own. Why can’t I go on under my own power?”

Keeva nodded. “We have accomplished a lot without magic but that is probably why you are the best choice for this bonding,” Keeva said. “You never needed magic so you would not abuse it. Your strength inside and out means that the spirits have less chance of dominating you or tempting you,” She said.

“Do you want me to accept the spirit then?” Panther asked. He was flattered by her words but a little taken aback.

“It is simply something to think about,” Keeva said. “The choice is still yours.”

“And what if I decided to do it?” Panther asked. “What if I bonded with a spirit?”

“I will support you,” Keeva said and there was so much certainty in her words. “Your family is behind you always and forever, no matter what.”

“Would that include stopping me if I become a monster?” Panther asked.

“Of course,” Keeva said solemnly. “You would never see it coming.”

“Something to think about,” Panther said.

The Strange Plot

July 9, 2018

Brande had the shovel tied to a loop of rope so he could carry it across his back at all times. He had not let the shovel leave his side since the funeral. In fact, the shovel was rarely not in contact with his body. He had personally dug his sister’s grave with that shovel. The dirt from the grave had finally fallen off completely after two days. it had been nearly a year since her death now and still, Brande could not let the thing go. The shovel was touched by death, connected with her death in particular. It was almost a totem of death in a way. And yet, it was linked to Jana. All of her other belongings and clothing had been sold off. Her magic books, in particular, had been sold first.

Brande sometimes wished he had those books, especially while he was working alone in the shop. He had given up the study of magic himself after Jana’s death. He had been too tempted to obtain those books and texts on necromancy to carry on. Of course, he continued to tempt himself by working in the family bookstore. But no, it was that her notes were written in the margins of her books. It was another little piece of her that was out there in the world. Maybe he would randomly encounter her again in that way some day. Of course, he felt the chances were small. The books could have made it to Eloria or farther with all the time since their sale.

Through the months, Brande’s mother had paid for two attempts at a resurrection spell. The local cleric, Father Pip, had no answer to why both attempts had failed. According to everyone in the know, they had observed the rites of Sarenrae and the proper offerings had been made. The Father had even returned the payment for the second attempt with sad confusion in his eyes. A visiting cleric had confirmed that nothing more could be done and that it was still a mystery as to what had actually happened. Brande had exhausted his own supply of books on the subject and the books he ordered had no answers either. Mother had gotten very quiet after that and eventually, she passed as well. Brande had used the shovel again.

His mother had left the house and the bookshop to Brande along with the remaining funds, considerably less than what was left when their father had died. The house sat on the very end of the central thoroughfare through town, looming over the surrounding houses. It had been far too big for Brande to live in by himself so he had it sold. He moved to live above the bookshop. The small apartment would have been cramped for a wealthy noble but it was just perfect for a humble merchant. That was all Brande wanted for the foreseeable future. He wanted to sleep in his bed and sell books and then sleep in his bed again. He had well and truly canceled his desire for adventure and all he wanted was a simple life. Which was what he had and he was content.

It was morning on Queen’s Day and the shop was empty. The local schools were all off for the day and the local wizards were also usually off for the day. Commerce was allowed by all faiths on Queen’s Day and was actually encouraged. However, most people were often too busy making their offerings, singing, and dancing to get any shopping done. Restaurants would be swamped but most luxury shops would be ghost towns. Brande had made his own offerings early in the morning and then had gone to open the shop to keep his mind off things. Even after so long, death was not something he wanted to dwell on. Regardless, it was expected that the place would be empty aside from possible tourists or maybe the odd adventurer. Neither of these two categories were presently in the shop. The vacancy did not press on Brande too much as he just tried to bury himself in his book. It was a newly arrived book of folktales and it was a pleasant distraction.

“Brande!” Doon yelled from the doorway. “We need you!”

“With what?” Brande asked. He almost immediately had a headache. Doon was one of the biggest rumormongers in town and he could get very excitable.

“There’s some sort of commotion,” Doon said. “and maybe a mystery is afoot. You’re a hedge wizard, right?”

“I was,” Brande said. “I’m not anymore. I’m sure you can find the help you’re looking for down the street. Try Haverford. He’s a brilliant wizard. His daughter is even better.”

“There’s no time!” Doon yelled. “Would you please come with me? We could at least use an extra hand in case things get out of hand.”

“What’s going to get out of hand?” Brande asked. He was standing up and getting ready to go. It would take less time to go help than to argue things up and down with Doon.

“Somebody is violating one of the graves in the graveyard!” Doon yelled. Those words stopped Brande’s heart cold and then after a tense moment, it started to beat again.

“Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?” Brande yelled. “Lead the way!”

The two of them ran from the shop. Brande only paused briefly to lock up but he only locked the one lock, not the triple. Hopefully, this was some misunderstanding and he would be back soon. He had given his sole employee, Teresi, the day off so there was nobody to tend to the shop if a miracle occurred and a customer actually showed up. The distance to the graveyard was not large but the two of them had to weave their way through the celebrations. There was music, dancing, fireworks, and food all in the streets on their path. It was hard to do in a hurry but somehow Doon’s panicky run cleared the way for both of them. As they jogged up to the wall around the graveyard, Brande saw a few people standing nearby. The way they looked at Doon, it was clear that he had summoned them too. Brande waved at people he knew and nodded at people he did not. He and Doon headed for the gate and looked in.

There was a dark shape hunched over a familiar grave and Brande was instantly incensed. “That is Jana’s grave!” He yelled. “They are digging up my sister!” Brande did not wait. He pushed open the gate and stormed into the graveyard, straight toward the offender. Doon trailed a little behind and the others sort of lingered at the gate, gathering their courage. The town constable had yet to arrive, apparently. “Get off that grave, you monster!”

“I am done with it anyway,” the man said as he stood up straight again. It was hard to make out his features even in the sun. Shadows seemed to cling to him. Still, Brande saw a long cloak and a broad hat and a face that did not match any of the races.

“What in the nine hells were you doing?” Brande asked. His hands were balled into fists and he was spitting mad for the first time in a long time.

“Well,” the man said. “that is sort of complicated. The short version is that I was here to seek Jana Ambertear and she is not here.”

“She’s dead!” Brande yelled.

“And yet, she is not in her grave,” the man said. “Very curious. We have need of her.”

Brande had had enough and he lunged, swinging the shovel at the man with a cry. “You leave her alone!” The man dodged the blow from the shovel and actually hissed and then his whole formed seemed to ripple and blur and he was gone. Brande was left to stare at the space where the man had been with confusion and wonder. He slowly stepped to the edge of the freshly dug grave.

Jana was indeed missing.

The Shield of Tau Pt. 1

July 7, 2018

Jace tossed his dice down into the little patch of an alley that the kids had cleaned out. He watched as they clattered to a stop and cursed. Then he looked around to make sure that his parents or grandparents were not anywhere around. If they heard him curse he would have a lot more to worry about than losing a game of Dragon’s Teeth. Still, when he looked up into the grinning face of Sachi, the anger rose and he could feel his face get red. He hated to lose and he had not yet figured out that he was kind of bad at Dragon’s Teeth. Now came the part that he dreaded. The part where he had to part with the money he had earned from doing his chores. This was the last of it, too. He suddenly felt very foolish and emotional but he put on a brave face, trying not to lose his cool.

“Pay up, Jacey,” Sachi bellowed, tilting his head back like a crowing rooster. “Time to pay up!” Jace clenched his fist and gritted his teeth.

“It’s only fair,” Karn said. Karn was always the peacemaker. “You owe him.”

“I know I owe him,” Jace said, accentuating each syllable. “That’s not the issue.”

“Then what’s the problem, Jacey?” Sachi asked with that horrible grin on his face.

Jace stood from kneeling one knee and got into Sachi’s face. He was a few inches shorter but he still stood so that their noses were almost touching. He glared into Sachi’s face and found himself breathing hard. Both fists were clenched and he felt like the dam, holding the waters of his anger at bay.

“What is the problem?” Jace said. “The problem is that my name is not ‘Jacey’. My name is Jace, Son of Tusa and Cole, Shield of Tau!” He glared up at Sachi and practically snorted with anger.

Sachi did not take the bait and instead just burst out laughing. “Shield of Tau? You? You’re in your tenth year, pintsize. You could hardly shield a sick dog.”

“I may be small,” Jace said. “but I have sworn to defend this city just as my father’s father swore.”

Sachi’s eyebrows went up. “You are too young for the pledge,” he said.

Jace shrugged. “My pledge was somewhat unofficial,” he said. “I swore in front of Karn and my sister.” Karn nodded at that, confirming the story.

“Your tiny sister, eh?” Sachi asked, musing over this new information.

“Watch what you say about my sister,” Jace warned.

“Calm down, little one,” Sachi said with a smile. “I would not badmouth your little sister and I respect your pledge.”

“We all do,” Karn said with a solemn nod.

“Thank you,” Jace said and he backed up but puffed out his chest a bit. He was proud of his aspirations of being a fighter like his grandfather. Not just a fighter but a defender, a true Shield of Tau.

“But that doesn’t stop me from collecting what you owe me,” Sachi said. “Pay up, Shield.”

Jace grumbled and reached behind his back. For a moment, both Sachi and Karn tensed as Jace could have been reaching for the stick he had tucked into his belt. Instead, Jace pulled out his money pouch and made a show of dumping out its meager contents and holding it out to Sachi. “I am a man of my word.”

Sachi smiled. “A boy of your word, at least,” he said with a chuckle. He reached out slowly and took the coins from Jace’s hands. He smiled and turned and left without another word.

Jace sighed and breathed again as he calmed down. Karn stood by shaking his head.

“You need to calm down, Jace,” Karn said. “That almost became a fight.”

“I will continue to prove myself,” Jace said.

“Picking unnecessary fights over legitimate winnings in Dragon’s Dice is proving nothing,” Karn said. “We’re still little, there is no need for anybody to fear you.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Jace said. His shoulders sagged a bit as he thought about that.

“You don’t want to get in trouble, right?” Karn asked.

“You are definitely right about that,” Jace said. “My mother swings a wooden spoon harder than most warriors swing a sword.”

Karn laughed at that. “Mine too,” he said. “Speaking of, we should go home. See you tomorrow?”

“Yes,” Jace said. The two shook hands and each headed towards their own home.

That is when the screaming happened. It was not the screaming of somebody chasing after a cutpurse or the screaming of a parent whose child took a tumble. This was screaming from all over the city. For a moment, Jace was caught in the middle of that screaming, not knowing which way to go. Then he pulled the stick from his belt and charged toward what he judged to be the nearest screams. As he rounded a corner, he saw little Lita and Miza running with tears in their eyes. Lita was in Jace’s year and he knew she wished to study the magic arts in the future. He could not see what threat they were obviously running from but they were definitely running from somebody or something.

“What is it?” Jace called out to them and they looked behind themselves and then slowed. There was nothing behind them so they looked around with wild eyes.

“A blink dog,” Lita said. “I don’t know where it went.” She and Miza were definitely out of breath.

Suddenly, the blink dog appeared out of thin air and its teeth caught the edge of Miza’s dress and she barely got away. Jace charged at the thing, swinging his stick hard as he got between it and the girls. The thing vanished just before he made contact and he stumbled a bit as he lost his balance on the swing. He spotted the dog running a few feet away and then it vanished again. He heard Lita cry out behind him and he whirled around just in time for the thing to reappear, lunging for Jace this time. He barely had time to wind up his swing but when he let loose he put everything he had into it. This time he heard the impact and then he felt and heard the stick break against the dog’s face. However, the force sent the stunned dog sprawling. Lita uttered some words and gestured toward the dog and a candle-sized flame arced out and lit the dog on fire. The dog panicked and lunged again at Lita but Jace moved fast and tackled her out of its path. As he did, two crossbow bolts hit the thing in its side and its neck and then it slumped to the ground, still burning. Jace looked and saw two Shields of Tau approaching.

“You saved us!” Lita cried out and then both she and Miza were hugging Jace and he was grinning from ear to ear.

Of course, that smile faded when Jace looked at the two Shields who still looked worried. “I’m not so sure.”

The Night of the Fire

June 9, 2018

Panther had seen the fire firsthand, standing there for a moment and looking into the hypnotic movements of the flames. The heir had shaken him from that brief moment and then they had returned to warn the tribe. They had time but not much before the fire would spread and burn the tribe’s land. It still struck Panther as odd that the lost child they had found in the shuffle was still asleep in a tree by the water. Things in the tribe had never worked so well but things were still strange. Magic was awake and, although they had seen similar forest fires for a long time, Panther could not help wondering if the magic caused the fire. The presence of magic had him jumping at shadows and doubting everything. The interference of the spirits may have reassured others in the tribe but Panther was nervous. Still, he had a job to do and a tribe and family to protect. The fire was at their backs now and they would soon cross the river.

Panther walked along with the tribe. He and his family walked on the outside in case there was trouble and within shouting distance of Blaze or Ro. Ro’s radius was arguably much larger. That thought made Panther smile a little to himself. Keeva gave him a questioning look but he shrugged and shook his head, it would take too much to explain. Little Kyri clung to his back, still sleeping. It should have bothered him since she was pressed against the fresh wounds from his midnight fight with the sabertooth tiger. Instead, he soldiered on and accepted the pain so that Kyri could sleep. Like her siblings, she would be strong but she was not there yet. She still had time. Panther remembered how small and weak he had been as a child and how that had all changed. Besides, he would be around for a long time before his children needed to stand in his place.

“You still have its blood all over you,” Keeva said. “Although, I am used to seeing you covered in blood by now.”

“I’ll wash it off when we get to where we’re going,” Panther said.

“I’ll tend to your wounds then as well,” Keeva said and Panther smiled at her. “What? We don’t need the snake in the grass medicine woman for this. I can tend to cuts. It’s easy enough.”

“Yes you can,” Panther said. “You’ve had enough experience.”

“Ah yes,” Keeva said with a smirk. “The bravest warrior in the tribe always charging into battle. Limping back to his wife for help.”

Panther laughed. “You are just jealous that you did not get to be in the fight.”

Keeva shook her head. “No. I’m jealous that you got the killing stroke.”

Panther laughed again. “Yes, there it is. The claws come out.”

“Cease laughing,” Keeva said with a smile. “Or I will steal your tongue.”

“I would like to see you try,” Panther said.

“When you least expect it,” Keeva said.

“Daddy always expects everything,” Kyri said sleepily.

“Go back to sleep, child,” Keeva said. “And who do you think taught your sister to move so stealthily? Nobody sees me coming.”

“Speaking of awareness,” Panther said, tossing a small pebble at the back of his son’s head. Rock looked back annoyed. “How is the new man doing? Sobering up?”

“I’m fine,” Rock said sullenly. He was carrying a spear over his shoulder but Panther was not sure if his son was up to a fight at the moment.

“Are you sure?” Panther asked. He smirked, enjoying lightly teasing his son. “We didn’t interrupt anything with our emergency?”

Rock turned and walked backward for a bit so he could look at his parents. “As a matter of fact, I was interrupted. Well, almost.” He turned back around to face forward.

Panther and Keeva shared an amused look. It was not every day that a coming of age afterparty was interrupted by a forest fire. “Well, I hope you treated her well,” Panther said.

Rock huffed. “I treated both of them well, mother.”

Keeva laughed. “Slow down, little one. Who were you entertaining?”

“Taya and Spider,” Rock said.

“A dangerous combination,” Panther said. “How did you manage that?”

“At the same time,” Rock said matter of factly and walked further down the line to get away from his parents for the time being.

Panther smiled a little to himself. His family was thriving. His youngest, Kyri, was on her way to being just as strong as her siblings. Yuna would have her own coming of age ceremony in a year or so. Until then, she was the leader of a squad of stealthy spy children. Rock had come of age and was well on his way to becoming his own man. Soon, he would be going on his own hunts and Panther would be taking Yuna instead. Keeva was a deadly force herself.  Panther was proud to have her as a wife. As for himself, Panther had somehow become a trusted lieutenant to the leadership of the tribe. It probably had to do with the Stone Group being particularly touched by magic.

“Thinking too hard again?” Keeva asked.

“Just thinking about what path this tribe is on,” Panther said. “The future.”

“We survived the end of the world, didn’t we?” Keeva asked.

“We did,” Panther agreed.

“We have survived the awakening and the arrival of the spirits,” Keeva said.

“So far,” Panther said. Even after ten years, the situation still seemed like it was in flux and there were things even the experts did not know yet. The motivations of the spirits were still a bit mysterious, especially the spirits who had not made themselves known yet. Panther had a feeling that the events of ten years prior would come back to haunt the tribe.

“We have weathered the storm and escaped the fire,” Keeva said.

“And yet there is still the water,” Panther said. “If we are not careful, we might drown.”

“Not us,” Keeva said.

“I hope you’re right,” Panther said.

Panther and Keeva

May 26, 2018

Panther walked back to his sleeping area. The matter between Ro and Metalstone had been stabilized but not settled. He had not been present for most of the arguing over what to do to punish Metalstone but he had been present for the pronouncement. He was not sure if it was the right choice but it was a choice that he would have to abide by. He had watched Metalstone with some curiosity over the years but the two of them had never been friends. All of the direct contacts with spirits still troubled him and this ‘magic’ stuff was beyond his understanding. He had relied mostly on his own personal strength and it had worked out so far. He always kept an obsidian knife close in case the spiritual threats from years past returned. He was far from the frightened little kid who had watched his companions succumb to magic one by one.

“Stand down,” Panther said without looking. His wife Keeva stepped out of the shadows along with his daughter Yuna. They were both carrying large, sharp knives. Little Kyri was digging in the dirt a few feet away. His son, Rock, was nowhere in sight but he remembered what it was like in the time after you become a man. Panther bent down and rubbed Yuna’s head affectionately before giving her a gentle push toward her sister so the adults could talk.

“Everybody heard the noise Ro was making,” Keeva said. “Were her fears warranted?”

“I think so,” Panther said. “The monkey is always worth watching. He keeps a lot of their intentions to himself.”  However, Panther had been convinced of the man’s humanity after watching him with Minnow.  Clearly, the man was a puzzle.

“As do you,” Keeva said with a smile.  “You are my silent predator.”

He smiled and stroked her cheek.  “The difference is that I have no grand plans,” Panther said. “But to answer your true question, I do not think he hurt the children.”

“Then did our son make it safely into manhood?” Keeva asked.  She had been busy attending to the children and had not attended the rest of the festivities.  Truth be told, Panther had not watched the tent his son had slept in and had gone off to celebrate.  Rock had done well in the fighting tournament but Panther sensed something strange had happened during it.  Next time, his students would beat Blaze’s students for sure.  He had been surprised by Tam’s child but their mother was formidable in combat.  Of course, Panther had lost in the first round in his ninth year but the kids were trained a lot better now.

“He did,” Panther said. “I observed Metalstone long enough to believe that. He fell asleep in the sweat and passed the night peacefully.”

“So he did not bond with a spirit?” Keeva asked.

“Thankfully no,” Panther said.  “There were four who conversed with spirits and he was not one of them.”

“Just because you rejected that snake spirit from the Snake Woman when we were small it does not make it an aberration to bond with the spirits,” Keeva said. “Many after our year have done so.  It has given some great power to help our tribe when it needed help the most.”

“I know,” Panther said. “I just don’t trust it.”  Things had been quiet for ten years but the tumultuous time during and after their naming ceremony still haunted him as he imagined it haunted others.  Panther had been helpless against things nobody had ever seen before and yet he had survived.  Only that last fact gave him strength.  Keeva had also been there for some of it, part of the same group during the naming ceremony.

“I know,” Keeva said. “But someday we might have to trust it.  Especially if one of our daughters should be chosen.”

“That might be true sooner than later,” Panther said. “Part of Metalstone’s bargain is that we will go back and appease Wood.  They are going to do some more magic back at the old land of the trial.”

“The spirit that turned some of the other children into trees out of spite?” Keeva asked. “And you’re going with them, I suppose?”

“They could use my help,” Panther said. “I’m not that little boy like last time.”

“You really aren’t,” Keeva said with a proud smile. “They would be lost without you. See how they lost their heads until you took the monkey captive.”

Panther smiled. “You’re kind, my dear.”

“You know how skilled you are,” Keeva said. “I just wish I could go with you.”

Panther made eye contact with his wife and lover. They had fallen for each other when they played hide and seek years and years before. They had conceived their first child, Rock, out in the woods during a hunt. Since then she had given birth to two more children and both daughters were just as fierce yet kind as their mother proved to be. Panther looked forward to training Kyri and Yuna the same way he had trained Rock and other children in the arts of hunting and fighting. He placed his hand gently but firmly on Keeva’s belly. The fourth was on the way. Panther did not want the unborn child to be exposed to whatever magic was back in those cursed woods.

“You can stay here and hunt,” Panther said. “Rock will want to go too but I’ll tell him he should accompany you and learn a few more things.”

“I’ll make sure he listens,” Keeva said. “I’ll make sure he does not brood about not going. Though, with the noise Ro made, I’m not sure if there will be hunting for days.”

Panther laughed. “That gives time for our son to celebrate becoming a man. Keep an eye on the rest of the clan. Last night was different in ways I don’t really understand yet.”

“Something changed the night of our trial,” Keeva said. “Something that is not finished yet.”

Panther nodded. “You’re right,” he said. “It’s a new world.”

Gaming Chronicles: PlanetFall

April 7, 2018

(When last we spoke, we talked about the very first campaign I took part in The Frozen Star Among Us. Today I will be continuing the series chronicling the games I have taken part in so that I can remember them.)

When the Frozen Star ended, I had been playing with the group for months and I had started to figure out the dynamics of this tabletop roleplaying game thing. I felt like I was slowly making friends with the group and I was gaining courage with my choices. When we decided to move to the next campaign, I knew that I had to do better. My earlier characters felt more like cardboard cutouts than actual characters. I looked back at what they were and realized that they barely wanted anything beyond “to save the day”. I needed to reach back to the brief training I had in acting. It would help me focus on what my character wanted at the moment and also overall.

The new campaign was helmed by a different Game Master. This gamemaster had been a player who had previously pushed me to do better in my disastrous first character. I had thought that he did not like me but I now know that I was projecting my fears. But back then I was nervous to start a new campaign with him in charge. This new campaign was another science-fiction story. It was about people who lived on space stations who did not conform to society and were banished to an alien planet as a prison colony. This was immediately an exciting idea. My character would have a life before and after his fall from grace.

I started to try and figure out who I was going to be. I started with how my character fit into the society on the space station which would also shape his role among the other player characters. The background information we had been given had mentioned that the planet was littered with alien technology. I thought I could be useful as a repairman, a guy who worked in an appliance repair shop and fixed things people brought him. This was later shifted to being an engineering worker as our world changed and we reimagined the space station a little bit. So what was the fatal flaw that got my character banished? I knew that he was a good guy. To support his family, he had started to fight in an underground fighting club and he had been arrested when it was raided.

Later, as we played more and I thought about it more, I came up with more of the backstory. He and his sister had been orphaned when their parents died of a drug overdose. He was the only one captured in the raid because he lost the fight and was knocked unconscious. He was deeply troubled by being banished to the planet because his little sister had been left alone on the station. He felt that he had been betrayed by the government that he had respected but he also felt that he belonged down below. All that was left was a name for my character. I decided to name him Phillip Brooks, stealing CM Punk’s real name. This started the trend of me creating characters with pro-wrestlers’ names but this one was the most egregious.

On arrival at the planet, my character teamed with a ragtag group. There was a thief, a computer programmer, a fashion designer, a mad scientist, a religious zealot, and arms dealer. (Later, the arms dealer was replaced by a soldier). Not long after getting to the camp that would be his new home, my character was propositioned by the mad scientist. It was mindless, meaningless sex but it was a comfort in the new situation. Later, on an expedition to explore their surroundings, the group found foreign berries. Before the scientist could taste test them, my big strong character volunteered with the belief that he would survive. The berries were basically a strong narcotic and my character became an addict. Phillip became angry and sullen and eventually, he nearly died. The scientist saved his life, bringing him back from a coma.

The combination of her saving his life and their brief sexual encounter made Phillip want to protect her. That became my character’s prime directive and he often hung around her, making sure she was safe and practically became her pet. He became dedicated to proving that he was actually a good person and that he was not the monster that he had become. He wanted their community to thrive even if he and the rest of them probably did not deserve to do so. Along the way, they fought the planet’s natives who were strange cat people who may have had good reason to fight the new invaders. The group also discovered a race of sentient trees which were later used as part of a water filtration system for the camp.

In the end, Phillip and the party were sent out on a mission to reestablish contact with a mining operation in the mountains. Phillip was starting to feel better about himself and when they arrived, he was pointed toward a busted radio. The radio was the reason that contact had been lost. Given the opportunity to fix something electronic unlocked something in Phillip and for the first time in a long time, he felt happy again. Unfortunately, an explosion went off in the mines where the rest of his party was and we left the campaign on a cliffhanger on whether everybody else survived or not.

This game was my first experience with the FATE system. For those who do not know, the FATE system is an attempt to simplify the usual D20 system of play. Players role four six-sided die with pluses and minuses on them. A failure on a roll would be mostly negative dice and a success would be mostly positive dice. There were also many skills that characters could have. In addition, characters had abilities and character flaws that responded to “fate chips”. These chips were used to help to reroll or alter rolls to succeed where a player might have failed because of a bad roll. It was an interesting system to learn and, so far, it is the system we have used the most in our group.

Game Soundtrack:

The Pretty RecklessHeaven Knows

I still think this is the perfect song to describe the ragtag group that Phillip became a part of. They were a group of criminals and misfits (for the most part) and they probably all deserved the punishment they got. It was best to just own it. It also described Phillip’s guilt at being banished to the prison planet in the first place.

The Pretty RecklessMy Medicine 

I heard this song and I instantly thought of Phillip’s battle with addiction. He thought he was eating some berries that would at worst make him feel ill but ended up an addict like his parents had been. He felt so hopeless.

Avenged SevenfoldBat Country

This was one of my jams during the time that we played this campaign and it just seemed to reflect where Phillip was. “Too many doses and I’m starting to get an attraction”, “My hand is on the trigger”, “Nobody can save me”, and other phrases just seemed to reflect who Phillip was becoming from the addiction. But what really sold me is the quote “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”

Mercer Holliday

February 26, 2018

Mercer Holliday was an android assigned to cleaning up sector 7G of the Haverford Complex for the Titus Corporation. Of course, that was not something that he had any interest in doing. Mercer was loyal and would never abandon his duty but he had different ideas. He knew that he had been constructed for this purpose or a purpose closely related to it. He knew that he owed his manufacturers his life. He had been happy to be a janitor for a long time, never doing a bad job and never leaving a single spot uncleaned if he could help it.

The question was posed a long time ago that if androids dreamed, what did they dream of? The cute answer had been electric sheep. Mercer could tell you that he dreamed of being a hero. After an efficient cleaning of his area of the facility, he would go back to his small home. He was an android and he did not need much which was good because he had very little. Still, when he returned to his abode, and before he powered down to recharge, he always watched a movie. He watched a lot of different genres but he had fallen in love with the ‘Western’ of the American Southwest of the planet Earth. He had never been there but he loved the tales of gunfighters who took on crowds of ne’er-do-wells with nothing but their grit.

He wished that was him. He did not want to be a war machine like those war droids who had been programmed for fighting. He wanted to be a defender, a seeker of truth like the gunfighter, the superheroes, and the knights from the stories he liked so much. He did not know if it was possible but he spoke of it whenever he had the chance to whoever would listen. He wanted to be the guy that people called on when they needed help when nobody else could help them. The dream burned within him and it perhaps once again raised the question whether androids had a soul and what that soul might be imagined as.

“Mercer!” A voice called out that broke Mercer from his reverie. He had been mopping on autopilot, an ability that made it obvious why you would utilize androids as workers instead of biologicals. It was Dr. Toma Wright, the young rebellious prodigy who had arrived a few months earlier. Unlike many, Toma did not ignore those around her and excitedly discussed whatever with the menial workers in her sector. That included Mercer.

“That’s my name,” Mercer said. He tried to blink realistically and Toma laughed, appreciative of his efforts to appear lifelike.

“Yes it is, Mr. Holliday,” she said. “I’m glad I caught you.”

“Holiday is not part of my official designation, Dr. Wright,” Mercer said. His official designation was Mercer-2547 after the scientist who had designed him, Victor Mercer. Most androids had no need for an original name.

“No, of course not,” Toma said. “However, I think it suits you after you recommended Tombstone to me. Doc Holliday was one of the most famous historical gunfighters of Earth.”

“I am aware, Dr. Wright,” Mercer said. “I admire him very much although he had many ethical failings throughout his life. In the end, he was very loyal to lawman Wyatt Earp.”

“That’s what you want, isn’t it?” Dr. Wright asked. She watched Mercer as if his face would give away some emotion. Of course, he did not even blink.

“Yes,” Mercer said. “If I had my way, I would be a hero like Mr. Holliday or Mr. Earp or Mr. Eastwood in his many roles.”

“Yes,” Doctor Wright said, cutting off a rant she knew might be incoming. “I’m aware you prefer Mr. Eastwood over Mr. Wayne.”

“I just find Mr. Wayne’s dialogue so stilted,” Mercer said.

Toma choked back a laugh and shook her head. There was something profound there perhaps but it was not worth pursuing. “Maybe I can help you achieve your dream.”

“How so, Doctor?” Mercer asked.

“Come with me,” she said. She led him back to her lab and she pressed a button and opened a few compartments. She pulled out a few chips and loaded them into a gun-like device. “Please expose your upper port.” Mercer trusted the Doctor and so he reached up to his neck and worked loose a panel and exposed a communication port.

Toma took up the device and plugged it into Mercer’s neck and pulled the trigger on the device. Information flooded into the construct that was analogous to Mercer’s brain. He suddenly knew how to operate weapons. Guns, knives, and hand to hand combat were suddenly second nature to him. He also suddenly knew more about computers and he had the first inkling about how to perform a ‘hack’, something he would never have even thought of previously. If androids could smile, Mercer would be grinning ear to ear. This was indeed a great gift.

“I’ve also included a program that modifies your hazardous materials containment device,” Dr. Wright said.  “It will now create a protective shield that will allow you to protect yourself and others.”

“Why have you given me these things, Dr. Wright?” Mercer asked.

“I want you to go out there and find some way to protect people,” Dr. Wright said.

“But my position is here,” Mercer said. “I must clean Sector 7G. Forever.”

“Somebody else will fill your position, Mercer,” Dr. Wright said. “I think that your passion will help you be a better hero. I think there are heroes out there without half of your passion. Besides, I have another gift for you.” She opened up another compartment and there hung a long brown duster. Mercer instantly grabbed it and put it on, a little unaccustomed to wearing actual clothes instead of panels that simulated clothes to make humans more comfortable.

“Thank you, Dr. Wright,” Mercer said.

“You’re welcome,” she said. “I have a few contacts that I can hook you up with and soon, you will be on your way. Meet me back here tomorrow and I will have your ticket to your first job. Once you have your foot in the door, nothing will be able to stop you.”

“I will be here as you say,” Mercer said.

Gaming Chronicles: The Frozen Star

February 10, 2018

(This is going to be an ongoing series where I describe the Tabletop RPG campaigns that I have been a part of and the characters that I chose to play. There are already some short stories and descriptions on this blog but I have not really gone in depth about what the game was actually like. At the end of each description, there will also be a short song playlist that will attempt to capture how my character felt about their situation)

The first actual in-person tabletop gaming game I joined was at my friend’s house and it was a real awakening. You see, I was not actually friends with any of the people I still play with yet. In fact, I had only met two out seven of my new companions. I petitioned to be part of the group through my cousin’s brother in law who said he would ask the group. I was nervous as hell because I had never played at the table before and I really wanted to impress these people. When I arrived, they briefly interviewed me to gauge my experience and desire which came from listening to D&D podcasts and studying Vampire books in high school. They allowed me to join their campaign.

The campaign was a space opera-type adventure already in progress when I arrived. The Frozen Star was a spaceship crewed by a ragtag group of mercenaries in the tradition of a lot of science fiction stories. The ship was captained by a being made of pure energy. The crew also consisted of a computer expert who was of an insect race, a deadly birdperson sniper, a lizard-like engineer, a turtlewoman, and a speedster human. I first joined as a charismatic new “Faceman” but I was too shy and new to pull it off. Instead, I joined the crew as an ex-soldier human who had super strength powers. As James Garen, I wielded a laser longsword and prized loyalty above everything else.

My character had attended academy with one of the crew so that was my “in” so that I trusted them and they trusted me. As soon as I joined, we were off and running. We were dodging a galactic government, dealing with a crime syndicate, and also with terrorists. Along the way, my character got to show off his immense strength and prowess in battle but I was still green when it came to actually roleplaying. The simple character helped as I was still getting the hang of things and I was able to watch the other characters. I also got to know everybody in the group a little better and everybody seemed to become more accepting and relaxed about the new addition.

I saw my first player character deaths as the turtlewoman and the insectman argued until both were brutally killed by a hacker sabotaging the lab they were in. I became enthralled as I watched our story unfold. I learned how to deal with my first Game Master, learning what he was into and also what our group liked to do. We like to advance the story a lot but we also take time out for comedy and a little character progression. Roleplaying is something we do not always actually engage in. However, even if we do not talk out every conversation, we do write full backstories for our characters. Having a backstory really helped me to immerse myself in the story. I had to play catch up but I eventually started to figure things out.

Disturbed – Indestructible

James Garen was a soldier like his father before him and his grandfather before that. At the time, I was drawing on my own family’s history in the military (which thankfully stopped before it got to me). Also, this song hits as hard as James could.

Black Sabbath – Neon Knights

After choosing that my character should be human and that he should have super strength, I was given the choice of what his chosen weapon would look like. The weapon I chose was a laser longsword that I poured some of my energy into to make it ignite. Also, at one point, I hit a space dragon in the face with it.

John Entwistle & Alice Cooper – Space Pirates

James was briefly part of a crew that was killed by space pirates before running into the other player characters. It was also at this point that I learned that you do not blurt out your entire backstory the first time you meet the other characters. I totally blurted out that my former crew was dead which did not inspire much confidence in my character’s abilities. Oh well.


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