If you have come here from a work-related perspective (computing, semweb, bioinformatics, math). Perhaps you could go there right now and not read the gory personal stuff here.
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If you have come here from a work-related perspective (computing, semweb, bioinformatics, math). Perhaps you could go there right now and not read the gory personal stuff here.
Use the wordpress rss mechanism to follow categories:
The dreams again. Destruction. Fire. Judgement. Most of all, judgement. Oh it was hard, hard doing the righteous work, rooting out the evil. The wickedness.
Most recent had been the west quarter of the town of Esterven. A sink of depravity. Corruption. There, was the house of the demon alcohol. There, was the place of opium and sweetleaf. There, were there brothels of every orientation, even miscgenation – humans mating with non-humans. There, were the gambling houses, the fighting pits. There, were there rich and poor, male and female, human and halfling, elf and dwarf, their souls black, their spirits bowed low under the weight of their many, many sins.
There, there had been fire. Fire and judgement, and the screams of burning sinners. He had readied himself with the armour of God, he had strode up to the Welcome Arms – worst of the worst, he had kicked in the swinging doors. “Woe unto thee!”, he had cried. “Woe unto thee Apollyon – father of harlots!”
Before the bouncers had made more than a step, he had called down the fire of his god, the fire of cleansing, of purification. The fire of Jehovah. The whiskey exploded, setting light to the bar, filling the whole sink of depravity with the sweet smell of malt and alcohol. The fire had spread. It had been a dry, hot summer, and the west quarter was in disrepair, buildings leaning against one another, the wood dry with rot, alleys choked with tumbleweed. By morning, it had almost all been cleansed.
In his sleep, Reverend Josiah murmured, his hand clutching his hip flask, the whiskey in it untouched since the day of his first vision, the day of his own salvation. His talisman. His temptation. The fine engraving on it, “To Josiah, with love” was overwritten with the symbol of his God, the all-seeing eye inexpertly gouged into the silver with a horseshoe nail.
“Woe unto thee”, he murmured, and turned in his sleep. His faith was strong, his purpose unfaltering. In two days time, he would make Crystalwood. His god urged him along, eager and uncompromising, avid for justice and for kindling.
I’m thinking of building Rev. Josiah as a Hybrid cleric/druid (fire and mountain). I see him as a lanky old western preacher-man – string tie, spurs. The cleric/druid hybrid requires wisdom and strengh, and the mechanics of it just don’t work. Maybe I should just go with druid alone. I had intended him to have a little healing, but meh – less complicated. Or maybe we can just go “screw it – lets make it Wis and Con instead of Str”. Other possibility might be a druid/ranger, but we’d make his ranged weapons guns with the same stats as a crossbow.
Perhaps I should bring some extracts from the more bloodthirsty parts of the bible to go with him – there’s plenty to choose from.
If we are short of characters, someone else could play Badger and I could play the good reverend. Or swap around. Or whatever.
His one unique thing, of course, is that he personally and directly works for the volcano-god Jehovah. I believe that in other worlds, this entity is named Imix – prince of elemental fire.
The old man (no name yet) is James’ maternal grandfather. His paternal grandfather is deceased. The marriage between Ducalis and Frances is a fairly typical one: his name, her money. Both the Mallards and the Lancets get a fair bit of advantage. The Lancets get access to some of the more usually inaccessible halls of government; and the Mallards get – well – nobody really respects a coat of arms not backed by at least a little money. The more money, the better.
This is what the scene where grandfather pledges his aid to Ducalis’ faction is about: grandfather understands the nature of the deal that he has made with the Mallards. And in any case, his sympathies rather align with theirs. They are all good people, because this is a happy and positive campaign. As to what the big picture is, the war: heck, I don’t know. All I know is something big is going down and our characters will be in the center of it all.
I see Frances as being quite a bit younger than Ducalis – ten years or so. Again, quite usual for this sort of arrangement. Nevertheless they are – maybe ‘devoted’ is a little strong, but certainly very happy. I had intended for Frances to be a bit more quiet and shrewd, sort of counterbalancing Andy’s idea of what Ducalis is like. Maybe she is, usually. We saw her in an unusual state last post.
A lancet is a medical tool for drawing blood – if you’ve ever had a finger prick to get a blood sample, that’s what the tool that does it is called. The name sounded suitably posh and very appropriate for a family of moneylenders.
The three golden balls I believe originally came from the arms of House Medici. In the real world, it signifies a pawnbrokers.
James wrote for hours. He attended a banquet held in honour of the merry heroes of Griffinsheart, then he returned to his room and resumed writing. It had been only a few months, but he wrote it all. When he ran out of ink and parchment, he called a palace flunky and got some more. His transfer to Griffinsheart. Salty Bob, the Devil of the Sea. Smedley’s taxes and probable land scams. Mal Sheildglider’s ancient mace, that glows underground. Edmund the Marked, the necromancer Aeg Ilsa, the white dragon. The detonation of the Griffinsheart estate, and the uncovering of the ruins beneath it, and their settlement by the dwarves.
He wrote about their strange journey through the Wildwood, which had seemed like days but was probably weeks. The underground cavern in the woods, the phoenix. The grandmother’s cabin. He described Aeg’s gift at his camp in the woods, and his strange words: “The Archmage will be most … displeased”. The re-igniting of the Ebony Watch node and the sad fate of its captain, along with the problematic news that at least one node had been in the process of being claimed by a hostile magic user. He write about the stirring of the Eld, the baby giant, the closing of the southern hellmouth and the strange bleeding stone. (Did we see a Behemoth? He’ll put that down as well.)
He described their return to Chancer’s hope, and the orcish and giantish assault. His re-ignition of the dwarf node, the fight between Aeg and Edmund. Then the second attack, and his inadvertent turning of the node and the political fallout of that, including his own suspension from duty.
He wrote about the complete criminality of Newport, the obliviousness of the duke, the monk festival, the cage of people held to be food of the Chuul, strange portal to the plane of Darakuul – who waited for the end. The plane of ash, remnant of one of The Crusader’s wars. Finally, he described yesterday’s events: the great chuul and the portal.
In the end, I am not really sure what to make of all this. I see I have rambled more than I intended, but it’s probably best to tell you all I could.
Most of all, I am worried that matters between the empire and the dwarves may be turning sour. The empire cannot afford to lose an ally when giants and orcs are attacking cities, nor can we afford to acquire an enemy that can tunnel under our feet from one end of the continent to the other.
We continue west overland, as the ports are blockaded (I have no idea by whom, or why, or even how for that matter). From Santa Cora we should make quicker time. I will be able to head home, and Mal and the rest of my companions will head north to Forge, to whatever awaits them there.
The thick sheaf of parchment was dispatched by skymail next day – the skies over Newport not being blockaded quite yet.
The duke held a grand ceremony for their departure, throwing open his vault of useful magics. James chose nothing, feeling it would be inappropriate. However, he did refresh his usual complement of three healing potions in case they should run into Edmund again.
Then the party hit the road to Santa Cora with provisions, horses, even a carriage. They made a formidable party and for the first part of their trip, at least, were unmolested. A week into their journey they came to an unnamed roadhouse – an imperial outpost along the trail. There was a package waiting for James.
From his father, two books and a letter. One book was the standard third-circle text with a few useful additions; and the other was a short history of Sir Draper’s disastrous Bitterwood campaign, with commentary. The letter mentioned that aside from anything else, it was clear that James’s studies had progressed to the point where it was safe for him to begin working with these new magics. His father also wrote that Mal Shieldglider’s safety was of great concern, as he held a hereditary position of considerable importance, and that above all James should make every effort to come home to the family estate as quickly as he may.
From his mother, another letter and a small pouch. The pouch’s long drawstring bore a small seal with the Lancet family mark of three golden balls and had a heavy scoreline across the center.
The letter read:
Your father is more worried than he will admit about your letter. We are both greatly concerned about your safety on the road; but the political situation and the state of the empire is more dire than you or your companions know. Your father tells me little of his work, of course, but it is plain that magic is roiling from one end of the empire to the other and beyond. As dearly as we wish you to be here at home, in many ways a road out in the middle of nowhere might be the safest place for you at present, especially considering your current company.
One thing, however, I must deal with. A Lancet does not borrow money – we lend it, and a Lancet most certainly does not haggle with regional nobility for travel expenses! I have had a chat with your grandfather, and he has agreed that one of us should not wander about the wilds on some nag, starving, in rags, and incommunicado. And so I have sent you this pouch. It is a small one, but more easily concealed for that and more than large enough for the purpose. It will manage a few coins, small letters. As you are on the road, grandfather might ask you to act as something of an agent for the family concerns. Discrete, of course. There are not many that will connect you with the Lancet name, and that’s all to the good.
Do be responsible with it dear. Avoid using it regularly or at predictable intervals. Hide it well, and be sure to snap the seal should it look like it might be taken. As to how to operate it, I must leave that as a puzzle for you.
Though you travel as far as Julian, stay safe. Return to us as soon as you may.
“Dire”. Like the rest of her family, James’ mother was inclined to be shrewd and cautious. It wasn’t a word that she would use lightly. But there was nothing for it for now but to continue on to Santa Cora.
Which first? The books or the pouch? Well, the books would take hours just to get started with them. He was going to be spending the next few weeks on the road reading and practising, drawing circles, cajoling sprites, and doing new tongue-twisters. So: the pouch.
Examining it with his magical senses, he could clearly see how the interior was not quite present in this reality, or not entirely, and how the seal was some sort of keystone for the whole. It was activated by some sort of very elaborate ritual, probably, but there was no clue as to what it might be.
So he scanned the letter for clues. And it was obvious: Julian Lancet – his ancestor on the distaff side. Not nearly so ancient as Baron Geofrrey, but still a fair way back. It’s said he went out onto the endless sea to find spices, and then within 8 years parlayed the profits into a fleet and a counting house.
And then he recalled the childhood guessing-game. His mother played it with his brothers, and with him in his turn. You had to say a rhyme and them guess what was in a treasure-box. The game was mainly about getting the rhyme exactly right: it’s rhythm and patterns of emphasis, the secret knock on the box. On getting it exactly, exactly right, his mother would open the box, revealing a sweet, or a toy.
James looked about to confirm that he was in private, and recited the child’s rhyme:
“Ten silver pieces!”, finished James. After a moment the pouch … did something, and inside were ten silver pieces. James left them there. The pouch’s magic was depleted, of course. He put the long drawstring over his head and patted the pouch into place under his shirt. He then broke out his new textbooks and started reading.
That evening, at about the end of first watch, the pouch – well – “ping!”ed in James’ mind. James lit his magelight and wandered off away from camp for a private moment. In the pouch, the ten silver coins had been replaced by several coins of various denomination – even a couple of platinum – and an unsigned note in a neat masculine hand on onionskin paper. It read:
Well done James. You needn’t be quite so cautious in future when drawing minor expenses against the vault. Significant drafts are another matter. It’s best to clear the pouch after use. Now that you are bonded you can send items to other pouches by nominating the recipient, but for now you should communicate only with me or your mother and not mention your bond with the item to the rest of the family. Or indeed, to anyone.
Stay in touch, but do not over-use the item. Inform me when reaching Santa Cora.
Without needing to be told, James burned both letters with a Spark.
As for in-game effect, as well as being a handy plot hook and general Deus Ex Sacculum, I’ll ask for an in-game effect of the pouch giving in effect two background points in “Being from a banking family”. It’s the equivalent of a feat. Haggling, appraisal, that sort of thing but large-scale. Tarry might be better at telling you how much, say, a silver cup might be worth (ie: can be fenced for); but with the pouch around his neck James is the person to ask how much a ship might be worth, or a business. And either of them can probably make a decent stab at the gp equivalent of a gem. And of course, he can always ask granddad. Up to a point. Not that we’ll be actually working out the money in detail, because that’s dull. We’ll hand-wave it.
Quirk might be “keeps careful track of money”. James won’t tip out his money and count it obsessively. Well, at least not every day. But he will start tracking purchases and expenses.
I have no idea what work granddad might want James to do in Santa Cora, or elsewhere. If any.
Lancet House. A grand old building, on a grand old street, in the heart of the mercantile district of Axis. Its appearance belied the reality: the Lancets were not exactly nouveau riche, but neither were they old money. There’s a difference between a centuries-old coat of arms and a well-respected trademark. Neverthless, well-respected they were.
Let me set the scene – clerks bustling in and around, queues of well-dressed gentlemen and well-dressed gentlemen’s flunkies waiting to manage their quarterly business: paying off loans, taking them out. Out to the side, a cordon of a dozen armed guards manages today’s transfer of specie between Lancet House and the Empire Reserve bank.
Four floors above, in a very masculine and old-school office (oxblood leather and darkwood furniture, books on the shelf, gold pens on the desk, a world globe on a stand, cognac in the cabinet, two pairs of sound-muffling doors leading in and anti-scrying spells carved into sheet lead tastefully concealed behind handsome wood panelling. You get the idea) in this office, Frances was in the middle of very nearly a full rant:
“… wandering about the wilderness with some army people, I ask you – a halfling and a pair of dwarves by every account. No-one knows where he is. Ducalis managed to find him, thank heaven. He was supposed to be in Chancer’s Hope, instead he’s at Newport – Newport, for God’s sake! – haggling with some provincial duke for travel expenses. A Lancet! A Lancet reduced to going cap-in-hand to some regional noble for money to buy food! And of course Ducalis ordered him to come home as soon as possible, and so he has dutifully hit the road again. He’s somewhere between Newport and Santa Cora now, starving and in rags, on some ploughhorse or on foot I shouldn’t wonder, in all sorts of company, and no-one has a clue how to find him or how he might be, I’ve been worried sick …”
The terrible old man behind the desk raised his hand for silence, and Frances simmered down immediately. The histrionics were mostly an act, of course. But not without real concern beneath them.
“Very well, Frances, very well. You win. I will send him a pouch by courier.” He drew out from a draw a small, unremarkable-looking soft leather pouch. It had a long drawstring, intended to be worn around the neck, and a small seal which bore the Lancet mark of three golden balls.
Frances looked at the old man accusingly. “You planned this!” He shook his head, “Not planned, dear. Merely taking advantage of an opportunity.”
“There are so few I can really count on. Your cousin Phillip is a sot. Your niece Emma gambles. Frederick is simply an idiot. Oh, there’s enough of us that are reliable that I can run the business, but never as many as I would like. Young James seems a sensible sort, not too much of his father’s habit of crashing about. And he can go more-or-less incognito if he’s out in the sticks.”
Frances narrowed her eyes. “You are going to use him for business.”
The old man’s expression brooked no further nonsense. “The lad has other concerns at the moment, and I respect that. But a Lancet always draws a little blood. No more than people can afford. It’s that little draw that allowed us to match you with that fine husband of yours – you are still happy? Yes, I see you are. Splendid fellow. This pouch is one of the covert ones. Your son will keep it concealed and will break the seal rather than surrender or lose it. He will also need to work out how to use it. If he’s a Lancet, he will already know.”
Frances nodded. Even here, in this heavily-warded office, in the heart of their empire, the family secret remained unspoken.
“Well, that’s all sorted, then,” finished the old man. “Let Ducalis know that I am doing what I can to keep a lid on the current political business. “Gold is the sinews of war”, as they say, but our consortium is not the only gold around, and some of us are seeing a possibility of profit in backing the conflict. Nevertheless, I fully support your husband’s faction. I am doing what I can, dear.”
The pair finished up, they made their farewells, and Frances began her journey home. Even for the rich and powerful, Horizon to Axis is a fair way to come. Of course she had not come on her own. Of course her husband had sent her on a mission, too. “Politics, politics,” thought the old man. “Ducalis uses my daughter, and I his son. Well, it’s no more than a little draw. Nothing at all compared to the blood that gets spilled in war.”
Hester backed down.
The guest had given him a growl, a grunt, a wordless warning that said “Don’t try it. Just don’t.”, and had continued eating. He ate like … he ate with his hands like a person who doesn’t use implements much attempting to use implements. If that makes sense. He buried his whole face in the half-cooked joint of meat, tearing at it, barely chewing, gobbling it down and making little sounds of frustration at just how long this was taking.
Hester backed down. You see all sorts, here at the crossroads. This man carried no weapons, not even a dagger. His face, arms, neck, his chest beneath his unlaced leather vest, everywhere really was heavily scarred. So if he got in that many fights, unarmed, how come he wasn’t dead yet? His stocky, powerfully muscular frame told part of the story, but probably not all. The way he was eating told some more, as did his sheer lack of concern about the cleaver Hester had picked up. No, this particular guest was not to be messed with. Hester replaced the cleaver, left his kitchen, and went looking for the boss.
The boss was negotiating with the company captain. Room and board, a couple of nights, deposit for breakages. “Uh, boss? There’s a guest in the kitchen and …”. The company captain finished for him: “Short, half-dressed, silver hair, messy eater?” Hester replied “Yeah, that’s him.” The captain nodded. “You’d best leave him to it. He won’t be long, and he won’t break anything if you leave him alone. Unless – do you have any honey in there?” “Yes, but it’s under lock and key. It’s pretty safe. The captain shook his head, “Sir, he will find it. Pour a quarter-pint in a pot and leave him to it.” He nodded to the innkeep, “the company will cover it, of course”. The cook looked doubtful. “Couldn’t one of your men just…”, and was interrupted by stifled laughter from a few of the men listening. One of them explained, “Bloke could lose a finger trying to do that. Just leave him be, mate. Look, I’ll come into the kitchen with you while you fetch the honey, right? Don’t touch his food, and he won’t hurt you.”
They headed over to the kitchen. “Who is this person, anyway?”, asked the cook. “Well, we don’t really ask questions like that in zero company. Story is, a few years back, we were on the road. He wandered into camp, ate a leg of lamb, and curled up by the fire. Been with the company ever since.” “But, didn’t anyone ask?” The fighter grinned at some secret. “Mate, it didn’t occur to anyone for a few days that he could talk.”
In the kitchen, the wordless guest had finished the joint of meat. The shinbone had been cracked open and the marrow sucked out. The guest was looking for something. “Ah shit,” whispered the fighter, “he’s smelled the honey. Just give him the whole pot, and do it quick.” Hester, warned perhaps by the genuine no-nonsense in the fighters voice, unlocked the secure pantry and retrieved the pot. He offered it to the guest. The guest seemed about to take it, then paused – as though he had just remembered something important. He retrieved a metal cup from somewhere on his person and dipped that into the pot. Then he looked at the fighter, looked at the cook, and shifted into the form of a small weasel and ran up the wooden walls and into the attic.
Hester was – well, he’d seen all sorts here at the crossroads. The fighter raised his eyebrows. “He must like you, mate.” “So,” asked the cook, “zero company has a weasel?”. The fighter looked about to say something, then thought better of it. Instead he replied, “Well, he uses some other shapes when it comes down to a fight. Just ignore him. If you need to talk to him, call him badger. But I wouldn’t if I were you.”
As always, Andy kinda takes my stuff and tweaks and reinterprets it, so this isn’t necessarily Snot’s real in-game back story. Oh – and I see his actual name was going to be Jimmy.
But, this is kinda sorta the base character idea. As I mention at the end, I intended to make him a little bit lighter than now he turned out in this backstory. But: is what it is.
“Avast there! Walk the plank, ye survy dog! Brace the mainstay!” yelled “basher” Pete, waving his wooden cutlass. He and the rest of his cronies jeered as they pushed Jimmy, ‘Snot’ to his “friends”, off the end of the newport docks with an old broom-handle. Jimmy hit the filthy harbour water with a splash as they cheered and hurled more nautical-themed insults.
Jimmy swam away under the dock. He was a good swimmer – not better than the rest of them, of course, but for the moment protected from further malice by the smell of rotten fish and a thin layer of shit. He swam a bit further, then got out of the water and ran. The bullies didn’t bother following, and Pete didn’t run all that much: appearing around the end of an alley with five of his friends was more the cheerfully cruel little fat fucker’s style.
Jimmy’s bruises faded fast, anyway, and he never got sick – very few of the poor kids did – although sometimes his nose ran a little. Poor kids that get sick tend not to survive it, so by a simple process of elimination, all the poor kids were very hardy indeed. If painfully thin.
He didn’t hang around the other kids much. Their talk was all sailing and smugglers, pieces of eight, booty and (more and more lately) wenches. But Snot had a secret. Snot knew about a whole different world. Something way better.
He found a corner and wrung out his ragged clothes, and wandered the street for a while as afternoon wore on to evening. Found a quarter of a kebab: the dogs hadn’t gotten to it yet. Not a lot of dogs in Newport, really. Kids get hungry.
As evening fell, he began by habit to slip into his practice. Toe-heel, toe-heel, weight on the edge of the foot just like the book said. Jimmy knew every line, every figure and diagram of the book by heart. Land empty, move like the shadow – even in plain view. He was dreadful, but he didn’t know it. People who noticed him, and few did, wrote him off as a cripple. Not long for these rough streets.
He arrived home. No food, and in the next room behind the paper-thin walls, mother was already practising her trade, eking out a rough living at the world’s oldest profession. There had been more than one furtive skulker outside, avoiding each other’s eyes, queuing up. At least two already, and probably a third. Jimmy would be undisturbed for the rest of the evening.
He took the rags off his bed, and dressed himself. Shinobi, tabi, utility belt plaited from strips. Just like the book said. As best he could manage, he clothed himself in an unconvincing semblance of (although he did not know it) a kabuki stagehand, the outfit completed with a head wrapping. He had no mirror, but he knew that he was outfitted as a silent assassin, a bringer of swift, merciless death. He took up his splintery wooden tanto.
Oh yes. Booty and sailing and pieces of eight. Not for Jimmy. For Jimmy, there was something way, way cooler.
By the light of a flickering oil flame Snot practised the forms. Just like the book said. Posing against his shadow, until it looked just right. Earth stance. Water stance. Fire and wind stances. A bit wobbly, of course, but close. Pretty close, anyway. The most powerful of all was the stance of the void, the stance that was no stance. There was no picture of that in the book, but that made sense. How could there be?
He finished his practice, and fell into bed, a familiar hollow in his belly. He prayed once more, to the good gods first, the gods of The Priestess; and then furtively to the gods of death, the Crusader’s gods. But he received no further answer to the answer he had had three days ago.
“Let a thousand flowers bloom. Let a thousand schools contend.”
The book mentioned it: the ancient knowledge, the old, old secrets of the fighting arts. The Grandmaster of Flowers. Somewhere in this city, a master walked. A master! But first would come a trial. Jimmy knew what he must do. He must prove himself. He must find this master, and stalk him. Silent as the shadow, hidden. Only then would this master teach him the secret of the fifth stance.
Today, he had found nothing. But perhaps tomorrow.
By which we mean, actual sewerage. James inspected his nice new duds. High quality, expensive, hard-wearing, well-fitted travelling gear. Oh, his cloak was fine – magically unstained. Everything else though was a complete mess.
Not that there had been much choice – Elsbeth (was it Elsbeth? Probably) had told them that there were caged-up people in some godsforsaken pit somewhere needing rescue. So he, Elsbeth, Baisek and Tarry had rushed to the rescue. As you do. Oh, it might have been problematic of course if they had been legally imprisoned in some godsforsaken pit, but the empire would never do such without a proper trial and so forth. This was a pit run by the town criminals, which was mostly – well – the town. So, rescue.
Regrettably, the path to rescue had been almost knee-deep in unspeakable sludge.
Meanwhile, Cannis had remained outside with Mal, and Misthanar was elsewhere. In retrospect, advancing into unknown peril without their heavies was a grave mistake. Bad tactics, no matter how good the cause. It had nearly gotten them killed. Underground crab-people – of course it had to be underground crab-people. Nasty aberrant things. Misthanar had arrived during the fight inside, but apparently there had been a second fight going on outside involving Mal, Cannis, and some gnolls. Mist had joined that fight – those three were going just great.
James had fallen, and fallen again. One healing option later, and he was concious for long enough to put a Magic Missile into the final crab person. Satisfying, but Elsbeth had done most of the work, of course. Lightning and all that. Probably Toasten, as well.
The three heavies rocked up in a rowboat they had won from the gnolls. There was some issue involving an aberrant crab limb, or something. Mal put a spear through the bottom of the rowboat dealing with it. But a Mending cantrip fixed that, James being particularly adept with minor magics.
Further in, they found the pit/cage. Mal used his strange dwarvish power to shape stone, springing the bars free from the rock in which they were embedded. The people were in a dreadful state. But there was help for them, and a rowboat for the few whom even the hope of freedom could not stand on their feet. James and Mist’s attention was diverted by odd patterns on the walls. Mist saw scraps of old elvish. James saw more with his magic senses, but could not read the writing. A few minutes persuading a light cantrip to trace out the pattern, however, revealed it to Mist.
Ancient elven – something about the Darakhul, “to light the way to hold off the chosen people”. (or was that “the hold of the chosen people”?). This chamber was a place of power. Not a node, exactly. Perhaps a place that once was one, long ago. “What we need,” said James, “is a really good library. I was hoping to find one in Santa Cora or Horizon.” Left unsaid was that they had been refused permission to leave the city, for the moment, by the power in the shadows.
Which left James back at the inn, with his nice new duds completely impregnated with sewerage. Damn. Damn and several other words which a nice young gentleman probably should not know, but which anyone attending military school will earn. They were spoiled. Ruined.
The effect of that Mending cantrip on the rowboat had been interesting. Not only did the sprites repair the hole – pulling wood fibres back into place, filling what gaps remained with some sort of spiderweb – they had also bailed the water out. Faster than the eye could follow, a little arc of water emptying the boat. It seems the sprites could take “mending” pretty loosely, if you were creative with it. A boat is supposed to keep water out, ergo, water in the boat is something needing to be “fixed”.
Well, it was worth a shot. It took James Where’s my d4? Ah – here it is. Rolled 2, STG. an hour and three quarts to set up. A brazier, for fire. A couple of buckets of cleanish water. Another bucket of ordinary earth. And an open window for air. Clothing on a rack. Soap and wax. Spare thread for repairs. A pot of honey, some fresh cream, and a little jam – sprites loved anything sweet. The honey was particularly prized, as beehives are defended by bees who – thanks to the inevitable magic of evolution – are well equipped to deal with the occasional thieving sprite. A small pentagram for summoning. He needed sprites that could see and smell, and that were able to meticulously perform a fine task, all of which he specified in the circle around the pentagram. An enclosing binding triangle and circle for the whole setup. The drawings were just chalk and charcoal. The binding was probably not completely necessary, but this job was liable to take a while and sprites were prone to lose attention.
James was thinking the whole time that this was absurd overkill to get some laundry done. But, well, it was an experiment. Maybe next time this wouldn’t all be necessary, but better safe than sorry. What rampaging cleaning sprites might do – James didn’t know and didn’t really want to find out.
James concentrated on his intent and performed the summoning. The clothing was to be mended – fixed. Tears sewn, and bad smells and stains to be removed from the fibres. The sprites got to work. Water and earth sprites removed the poo, drawing it into the bucket of earth. Air and fire sprites dried. Others stitched the rents put into the clothing by the crab-men, waxed the leather, and imparted a fresh pine and slightly floral scent to the whole. It took a quarter hour of concentration, renewing the attention of the sprites when it flagged. By the end of it all, the honey, jam, and cream were gone – the jars licked absolutely clean. They hadn’t touched the soap – not necessary.
In the end, his gear was perhaps not quite as good as new, but certainly as good as it could be. Some stains (perfectly reasonable in travel gear), and some impossibly fine darning that plainly said to anyone who might notice it: “wizard”. He scuffed out his workings, and took the buckets downstairs to throw out. He had learned a fair bit.
I mentioned my blog on another website, and just spent a little time re-reading it. In particular, the events at the node in Ebony Watch.
Deep down in a layer of James’ mind he was not fully aware of, the cloak posed him a question: “would you die for the empire”? And in that same layer, his training and its cameraderie, the histories he had studied – stories of valour and sacrifice, his commitment to make the best of his father’s decision to place him in the army, and perhaps even his childhood storybook lessons that the noble must protect the common people, together formed a wordless reply: “I am a soldier of The Empire.”
Sort of reminded me what James is about. He’s been in a bit of a funk since being suspended from duty. The whole “screw it, let’s go to Anvil” is a bit of a sulk, and he needs to snap out of it. Seeing the politics has disillusioned him a bit, but ultimately there are illusions we all have to grow out of.
My goal for the character, of course, has always been that one day he would be archmage. It’s pretty obvious – that’s why I gave him the “One Unique Thing” that I did. Hidden, locked-away arcane talent. Duh. But he doesn’t plan to be archmage one day – that’s my idea. He will do what’s best. He will serve if he is called.
Which is why I refused the shortsword that the DM offered him (obviously it was for James – no-one else uses a shortsword). James actually is good, and loyal, and responsible and all that. Heroic, even. He’s not going to take some proffered shortcut to a goal that he doesn’t even have, and he’s intelligent enough to know that you are cautious with magic items. After playing a string of bad guys (I re-read Korgul’s stories: funny as hell, and I wrote them), I want James to really be the kind of person you would want in the job.
Having said that – this is not something that could possibly happen in the game. The way I see it, 10th level is when you start being a serious wizard. A bit like a black belt – all it means is that you have learned all the forms of your school. It’s after that that a martial artist starts getting serious.
So, there’s been politics, and he’s been relived of duty. He’s beginning to see what a tangled mess life mostly is. Nevertheless it remains the case that there being an empire is better than there not being one, it remains the case that the emperor is warden and guardian of civilisation and all the people in it. It remains the case that, as Hobbes suggested,
During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man.
“To this war of every man against every man, this also in consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the cardinal virtues.
“No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
Snap out of it, man. Being a soldier of The Empire is still the worthwhile thing that it always was.