“The Ranger of Smylt” – Book Announcement!

New book time! If you’re a fan of this blog, you already know Elwyn the Paranoid Ranger, my character from our AD&D campaign. Well, I’ve written a short story (if 50,000 words is “short”) about a side adventure he has a few years from now (Flanaess-time).

The Ranger of Smylt

Fourteen-year-old Jarin finds a badly wounded man in the woods, and takes him in. Little does heThe Ranger of Smylt - Kimia Wood Author suspect the stranger is a Level 12 Ranger Lord, and his simple act of kindness could be the key to saving his entire village.

If you like fantasy adventures, especially “LitRPG,” you might like this book. If you like the world and lore of the Flanaess (home of Greyhawk), you might like this book. If you like slow-burn stories that build to dramatic climaxes, you might like this book. If you like memorable side characters and stories that make you laugh, you might love this book.

If you like father-son dynamics and stories that honestly portray the differences in how men and women see the world, this book is for you. If you like friendships that grow realistically from little moments, this book is for you. If you like raw battle scenes, and heroic moments – this book is for you!

SmashwordsBarns&NobleKobo

(I’m trying out Smashwords’ feature for letting readers choose their own price, so if you visit their site, you could get it for free…or pay $20, if you decide my work has really enriched your life, and you want to encourage me. Whatever you like. I think this story is really great, and I want as many people to enjoy it as possible.) Continue reading

Dear Diary…enemy of my enemy is worse enemy?

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Descent Into the Depths of the Earth”

I always say the adventuring life is days of soft boredom punctuated by moments of sheer panic. Today made up for our couple days of toiling along ledges beside blackness.

First off, we heard a group of rats running somewhere. Unfortunately, the echoes of this underground space made it so we couldn’t tell where they were coming from. We thought if they were running from something (unusual for so many to travel together, after all) we wouldn’t like the something, either.

I was assessing our rear to make sure nothing was sneaking up on us when It happened. “It” being that I had a feeling that the ghostly elf lady from the Temple of Elemental Evil was standing right behind me – so I whipped around, but it was just Clatrial, so then I felt better. But almost at the same moment, Ezekiel started yelling the most vile things and ran off into the darkness ahead of us. Raven also ran off, while Agnar and Heiron stood still, shaking their heads a little – clearly shocked at what Ezekiel was saying. That was “It.”

Then the two-legged, hairy rat-men charged us. Master Oaklock and I fired at them while the paladins held the line, but the arrows didn’t seem to do anything. Lydia took out most of them, then Tressarian and I helped Clatrial finish them off. But rat-men can’t mess with people’s minds like that…and Ezekiel and Raven were still missing, somewhere up ahead (we saw Ez’s light flashing here and there. Good thing there weren’t any pits in this cavern).

Aliana advanced to find Ezekiel, and when the rest of us came up to them, she and Raven were holding him down while he screamed things that I’m not even sure what all of them meant. Also there was a drow in a cage. Sometimes Ezekiel yelled about the drow, but mostly about Raven’s mother (who I don’t think he’s ever met).

We searched the rat-men while they were busy. Each had a ring with a moonstone, so it seems they were an organized group. Crates and packing materials stood in one corner…mostly metal ingots, some funguses that I think they eat down here.

We also found the bodies of two squid-faced humanoids like we fought before. It seems they can mess with people’s minds. We are certainly not endearing ourselves to their race, but the feeling is mutual.

Once Ezekiel felt better, he apologized for all the things he called people…and he and Aliana questioned the drow prisoner, with Mikael listening in.

The drow (calls himself Dripzt) was a member of a merchant caravan that was captured by the squid-men. He called them…something in drow/elvish that I can’t spell. Apparently the were-rats were working for them, too. They ate the brains of everyone else in his party, so he is formally polite to us (for saving his life and all). He seems much struck by Aliana, as usual.

Once we knew what to look for, we found his broach of allegiance in the effects of the squid-men. He says our map leads to the great city of the drow – Erelhei-Cinlu – and it’s possible he will lead us the next checkpoint. I think Ezekiel will have trouble containing himself…he has a thing about slavers.

I think he’s still having issues, since when he looked over the loot we found, he was much struck by a particular cloak. It wasn’t magical or anything, but he kept looking at it through the gem of seeing, re-looking, and gagging. Aliana says nothing was there, but Ezekiel is rattled.

As I understand it, the drow can introduce us at the next outpost. If we make “friends” with the drow there, maybe kill some things that are Evil anyway, they can direct us toward House Alserv, which is who we’re really after anyway. This is outside the experience of all of us (except maybe Agnar), and Clatrial is very free with her reservations about the whole thing (hopefully Mr. Dripzy doesn’t speak Common)…but the black sphere over Istivin isn’t getting smaller.

If this is the shortest distance between us and Alserv, this might be what we have to do.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…the echo of water dripping in a cave pool

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Descent Into the Depths of the Earth”

Had a bit quieter afternoon. The path continued without any passable off-shoots, eventually opening out into a vast cavern. The ceiling was so high our lights couldn’t reach it, and ten or twelve yards to one side, the slab of rock we walked on dropped into a chasm. Off in the distance, things glowed – like some of the sea creatures we’ve seen in murals…likely one of the strange fungi they have down here.

On the edge of the drop-off sat a pyramid of black stone, probably 120 feet tall. Some kind of worn-down path led to it, but I’m sure it hadn’t been used for centuries. I’ve never seen so much dust piled up in one place…there’s no wind down here.

Mikael had summoned his rock elemental for extra manpower, so Ezekiel insisted we investigate the pyramid. He said it smelled like vampires…although all I smelled was something like dry, dry animal leavings.

We disturbed the dust on the path to the pyramid, and hesitated outside the black, yawning doorway to check for traps. Ezekiel finally stepped forward with his cleric senses up, and cast light into the central chamber of the pyramid. We all jumped a little, I think, when a cloud of bats – millions, probably – swarmed out of the pyramid. They poured out of the door, and from some opening on the opposite side, rising like a dark cloud above the pyramid and disappearing into the invisible space of the cavern.

Once the evacuation was over, Ezekiel and Agnar could examine the interior of the pyramid. The entire floor was coated with guano – probably a foot deep or more. I didn’t see any lumps that might indicate furniture or anything else under it, but a dozen or so yards from the entryway, the floor dropped away into the chasm below…and a dozen or so yards beyond that, the far wall of the pyramid came down and hung in mid-air. All over the ceiling were symbols of some kind, but even Aliana couldn’t read them.

Raven waded through the dusty debris, belayed with a rope, and said a second floor jutted out below the first one, the one we were standing on, and there might be another door underneath us leading back into the pyramid, to ankther level. He didn’t recommend anyone else come see, because besides being gross, the floor also sloped gently toward the bottomless abyss.

Ezekiel was so eager, though, that Mikael suggested his earth elemental could clear a path through the guano so we could reach the edge and lower ourselves on ropes. (I guess the elementals can “wade” through the stone, so they can’t exactly fall off the edge like we can. That worked great, except that I hope whoever lives at the bottom of the abyss never finds out who we are.)

We secured some ropes and rappelled down (although Lydia used her staff, I think to show off). The shelf below is much like the floor above, except the guano is concentrated in a pile directly below the drop-off (I’m glad most of it is centuries old, and just smells musty).

As Raven had said, there was a second door. It led to a room with an altar before a stone sarcophagus – both piled high with dust. Ezekiel pointed out that any blood from the altar would flow into a channel along the side, which I guess means the owners were very tidy…and also capable of flight or climbing, unless there used to be another side to the pyramid.

Ezekiel told us to hug Clatrial, while Aliana and Raven helped him open the coffin. Agnar said if he hugged Clatrial, she’d stab him, and Ezekiel was explaining that if we found a vampire that’d be the least of our problems, but I told Agnar it wasn’t just him, and she’s just not a feelings-kind of woman, so then he consented to wait back with us, provided Ezekiel saved him some of the fighting.

Turns out there wasn’t any fighting to be had. The sarcophagus had nothing but dirt in it, which Ezekiel said was prepared by a vampire for “reasons.” He sprinkled holy water in it, then we asked the earth elemental to kindly dump it and chuck it down the bottomless abyss.

I told Ezekiel, vampire or no, nobody’s been here for years…and he said a vampire with multiple coffins would be powerful indeed. He explained a lot more about it to Raven, and they compared stories they’d heard, but I was busy helping everyone back up the ropes.

We finally continued following the path, which is fine with me, as I’m not eager to tangle with vampires.

Had an uneventful few hours’ walk. A group of something big and winged flew overhead, too fast and too dark for us to see what they were. Other than that, we haven’t seen anything…which kind of bothers me all by itself. This place is huge.

Spending the night in the fortress. Very thankful to have it, even if it does have some dents in it.

****

Slow, uneventful day, yet exhausting for all that. When we got up in the morning (what I assume is morning), I found 75 distinct foot-marks, not all of them feet I could easily identify, plus some groups of creatures that passed by together. It seems we’ve been traveling during the off-hours, while “rush hour” was while we were sleeping. Odd that none of our sentries noticed anything. The denizens of this place are sneaky indeed, which disturbs me. They could have been all around us all day without us knowing it!

Raven said that 75 creatures meant he and Agnar each got 35, with some “extra” for the rest of us, and Clatriel was not amused. Just because Aliana could take that many, doesn’t mean she wouldn’t be a lady and share with someone else. But we got distracted from that argument when Agnar shook down each of the sentries demanding why we didn’t wake him up for the scuffle, and we had to assure him there was no scuffle actually.

The day has been grating on several of us. The path keeps dropping in large steps, up to my waist or more, and we have to climb down each time. Sometimes the ground is wet from a trickle through the cracks of the earth, or from the passage of some slimy beast. Lydia has her staff of levitation, which helps for her, of course, but Aliana was getting slower toward the end of the day. I don’t think anyone else noticed.

Worst of all is when a chasm opens up beside the path, on one side or another, and we have to slow to a crawl as we move past. Even Raven couldn’t survive a fall like that. I asked Agnar if they had treacherous pits where he was from, and he told a long story about his uncles who liked to trip the kids into shallow pits and then laugh.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…the first outpost

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Descent Into the Depths of the Earth”

I’m not sure how but I convinced Clatrial to a tactical adjustment. We are heading into places that make all my demon and undead memories resurface, and under those circumstances it can be very helpful to have a paladin nearby…say within ten feet or so. But Aliana is an elf and therefore intimidating (and besides she and Ezekiel like to stay together), so I suggested to Clatrial that we could use her help to bodyguard the rear. She make some remarks about that squid man taking me out like a punk, and agreed that if Aliana agreed, it did seem like we needed her…and I was just glad I didn’t have to bring up the lurker that just about ate her whole, as that might not be the most diplomatic thing to discuss.

I also made sure Heiron and I have our cotton wads ready…in case we run into harpies (or harpy-clones). We might be beyond places where such protections help, though.

We started cautiously following the tunnel (fortunately there was only one at this point) until we approached a darkness that was not driven back by the light of our shields. Continue reading

Dear Diary…the elves were pulling the strings

Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure “Against the Giants”

Lydia spent some time studying the magic rings – and sure enough, they have the power to grant wishes! We took some time to discuss the possibilities, and finally we all agreed to save them except for two things:

  • That if Aliana ever died, Raise Dead would work on her (wouldn’t help if she’s incinerated, but Raven points out that’s the same for the rest of us), and –
  • If whoever is carrying the rings dies, that they be transported safely to the vault at Haven (much discussion about that one, but we’ll all be fine if it never comes up).

Raven spent quite some time training with his disciples (there’s quite a passle of them now) and he says the God of gods has increased his knowledge, and that his body is even more under his control than it was before (whatever Monk-ishness that means). Glad he’s in a good mood, and so are Keom and Ronhass.

Keom says Ragni and Agni have yet to nail him with any over-ripe fruit, but poor Brother Muloy got a persimmon in the face. Sirion offered him a paste to protect his bare head from the sun, but he had to wait to check with Master Raven that it wouldn’t be “taking the easy road” or something. Madam Whinney says the monks keep them in produce, and they in return catch deer and cougars in the mountains. Keiran seemed struck by the story of the dragon that was actually a gorgon…but then again I could be completely wrong…

****

Back in the giant fortress, we spent some time following footprints. Some slime creature has been cleaning up bodies, but fortunately we didn’t meet it.

The giants had a camp, and a pen for their hellhounds, in one of the loops of these twisty, turny passages. But I dont think they’ve been there today.

There’s a little staircase tucked in a corner, with light footprints…I can hardly tell anyone’s used it at all. If the map is right (and Raven hasn’t been messing up my drawings again (!)) it should lead behind the guardroom where we theorized there are wererats. None of us feel the need to bother them, so unless we run out of other options, we won’t go there.

**

This part is a little confusing. Everyone says we fought some ugly, bald guys with tentacle-faces, but I really don’t remember that. Ezekiel says they remind him of a creature he and Aliana killed on their honeymoon trip to the Astral Plain. Maybe I do remember him having a long conversation with some creatures like that, but then I sat down for some reason, so I must have passed out. Also Heiron was making me stay sitting, and he took away my bow, and the Sword of Lyons, and Aliana was borrowing Tressarian to check things for magic! I told Raven he shouldn’t have let them take such advantage of me, but he just told me to eat more cheese and be a good boy, which was not helpful at all.

Ezekiel finished whatever chant he was doing, and said now that I was healed, we could move on. I have never in my life passed out for that long, and I was going to tell Ezekiel about raising the feet above the level of the head so the brain can get proper blood flow, but Aliana and Clatrial were already charging for the cavern exit, so we had to hurry up and follow them.

Agnar says he must have blacked out, too, since he didn’t get any of the action, but he figures those slimy squid-face-men were pretty dangerous. Ezekiel gave me some notes on his conversation that he wants me to keep safe:

The squid leader called himself Inspector Slythe, and said they were there to “observe” the events, especially the drow, I think. They didn’t seem to be friends with the drow – called House Alserv’s quest to serve and summon the Elder Elemental Gods “foolish” – but they weren’t about to just hand us useful information. They suggested we could pay for information with slaves, and I can just imagine what towering rage that sent Ezekiel into. He has a tender spot about that.

They had something we’d never seen before. Raven says it was with the squid-man who seemed to be the leader; he says he was messing with it right as he died. It’s an amulet (which, we’ve seen an amulet before) but its form is a sphere, but with points and connections all over it. Tres says it’s magical, but not Evil, so we can investigate it later, perhaps. Lydia feels it has something to do with travel, but she can’t tell more without some in-depth study.

**

Continuing on, we followed the elf footprints past several off-branches (a quick scout showed most of these to be dead-ends) until the air got heavier, and hotter, and a dull light glowed up ahead.

A turn of the corridor, and the passage opened up to a larger cavern with a river of lava oozing down the center. On the near side, fire giant bodies lay in the contortions of death. On the far side, we caught glimpses of dark elves in black cloaks – they ducked into the cover of boulders as they saw us, brandishing one-handed crossbows. Some wooden posts on the banks showed where a bridge used to be, but now it was just debris dangling above the lava.

A couple salamanders ducked in and out of the lava, seeming to throw glances at us – but I don’t really think they cared that we were there (as opposed to Tressarian, who really wanted to fight the salamaders).

We ducked back around the corner for a moment to strategize. Then, Lydia blew black powder toward the drow, and Ezekiel ran out to a stretch of the cavern that was big enough and threw up the instant fortress.

Heiran and I climbed into the fortress and did our thing…while Master Oaklock and Raven helped. The others had a rough time of it until a vrock appeared on our bank out of nowhere (that vulture-looking demon like we fought in the Temple of Elemental Air) so they finally had something to fight. Ezekiel and Agnar went after it while Mikael summoned his earth elemental and sent it through the cavern rock to attack the surviving drow on the far shore.

Lydia raised up a bridge of stone over the lava, and we started across. But first, the drow had cast darkness all over the place on their bank, so Ezekiel and Mikael had to dispell or override it. Aliana took the lead, Fetafencer glowing, neck-and-neck with Clatriel and Agnar. I brought up the rear, bringing the fortress with me. By the time I got to the far shore, everything looked pretty dead.

The paladins took off to follow the only passage the survivors could have retreated down. Before we got far, though, something “whomped” from the ceiling, and Clatrial disappeared – into a stone-colored lump on the floor. Raven and Mikael were close enough to help Aliana bludgeon the thing until they could peel it off Clatrial, but she was still much flustered.

Aliana said, by the time we killed the ceiling-beast, the last trace of the drow had vanished down the passageway, so there was no urgency to keep us from searching the bodies.

Agnar said the drow commander-lady looked like an umberhulk, until she died. She wore a broach with a black mace symbol on it, so she must be part of yet amother house. She also held a strange staff carved of some leathery horn material. It was covered with runes and icons, with the face of a female drow on top (no one we recognized). It was both magical and Evil, so after trying to bash it a couple times, Ezekiel chucked it into the river.

Fairytales are always trowing artifacts into rivers or seas to dispose of them, and it never works – lava river notwithstanding. What he should have done was hold the end so he could make sure the fire actually consumed it before it was out of our reach, but no one asked me. Now when a High Priest salamander comes after us with a scorched staff, I’ll just know it’s what we get. (Speaking of, the salamanders kinda disappeared during the battle.)

The drow had a camp in a side cave away from the lava, and Ezekiel took a moment to scan it with his gem. One of the stalagmites was actually a chest, so Raven checked and opened it, revealing a whole pile of coins and precious stones. Surely if the drow who fled knew this was here, they would have tried to take it with them?

It also held two scrolls. One interested Lydia very much…the other looked like some kind of map, with “points of interest” marked and linked with lines. While Ezekiel was trying to figure it out, Lydia looked at some documents we found on a couple of the female fighters. They all used a paper we’re not familiar with (probably fungus-based), and the papers from the drow bodies appear to be contracts. After Lydia translated them, they describe mercenary bodyguards contracted from a female fighter society to protect Lady Nedalene of House Despona (we suppose that’s the commander we killed here.)

Ezekiel wants to question her spirit, but that means waiting until tomorrow. So we piled the bodies into the fortress to protect them from carrion-eaters and Lydia took herself, Ezekiel, and Raven back to Haven. They’re going to try to visit Master Algorthas separately from the king’s agent, and ask him about the drow. The rest of us will guard the passage so we have no unwelcome surprises.

Agnar has been telling us stories he heard from his uncle, and they’re not very encouraging.

****

Here’s the summary of Raven’s report from their visit (Ezekiel’s version included a lot more speculation and theological details).

Eclavdra seems to be a high person in House Alserv, and she might have been orchestrating Edralv’s operations woth the Slave Lords (so it seems they are different people after all).

House Alserv is the one breaking from the drow’s traditional loyalty to the Spider Queen, and pursuing the Elder Elemental whatever (I guess the way Ezekiel pursued the God of gods at the beginning…what if the Elders actually answer?!).

House Despona are opposed to them, but that doesn’t mean they fight on sight. Master Algorthas says drow are very mercenary, and might work with people they disagreed with to further their own ends.

He also said there are Merchant Guilds, in addition to the noble houses, that hold political power and pursue various ends. And they all have symbols their followers use to show allegiance. They all seem to attack us on sight, though, so this might only be useful for the post-mortem.

Master Oaklock says drow are good for nothing, and ever since their pact with the Spider Queen they can’t even comprehend any other path. Like orcs, I guess. Maybe it’s something to do with not having souls…except that regular elves can choose to be kind or selfish.

**

Ezekiel gave his report on his conversation with the drow commander. He says she seemed to believe Eclavdra is dead, which would surely shake up House Alserv…and that she (Lady Nedalene) was in the giant fortress to keep an eye on the Alserv…to “hold their leash” maybe. Makes Despona complicit in whatever trouble Alserv stirred up.

And the sphere over Istivin is still growing…Master Algorthas says it will soon reach his house. We’ve taken the pressure of the giants off the forces of Sterich, but there are still more answers to unbury.

Don’t like where this is heading.


Find the previous entry here.

Read the next entry here.

Meet Author Mara Tran

Meet Author Mara Tran

Indie author Mara Tran asked me to help celebrate the publication of her new book, The Ward. Please enjoy my Q&A session with her – and at the bottom you can find out more about her book and where to find her online! Welcome, Mara!


Family is a huge part of my life, and has had a profound impact on my writing. Tell us about yours. Are they supportive of your author ambitions?

I always tell people that I probably wouldn’t be the writer that I am today without my family. I grew up homeschooled, and my parents were always very encouraging of my siblings and I developing our talents. My elder sister, who illustrated my book The Ward, also has a gift for writing; she and I were always close, and for sure her interest in writing helped cultivate my own. She always took even my silliest story seriously, and we held Author Meetings constantly to talk craft and stories. My dad was also a huge support; he had every faith in my ambition to become a published author, giving practical business advice and never once doubting that I could do it. One of my fondest childhood memories is when my dad would bring home his work laptop and he would let me spend hours typing on it, and he gifted me a USB to keep all my documents on that I still use to this day to back everything up. The support and encouragement has definitely continued as I push through the process of getting my now-published book into people’s hands, always expressing interest and telling their friends all about it. I don’t know that they always understand the eccentricities of a writer, but they accept it – and I think my parents, at least, are used to it by now, because they simply have eccentric children. XD

That’s so great to hear 🙂 (And major kudos for backing up your work – so important!)

What are three things about you that are interesting, unexpected, or unique?

Ahh, that’s a hard question to answer; I don’t know that I’m all that unique. I think one thing that surprises people is that I practiced the martial art Kendo for six years before other priorities took over.

My level of stubbornness when I feel like I’m being peer-pressured is probably unexpected because I’m a relatively quiet, keep-myself-to-myself kind of person and a lot of times that’s mistaken for being a pushover – and I’m extremely difficult to push. XD

And an interesting tidbit might be that I used to have hedgehogs as pets. My first, Bilbo, was my pocket buddy and I’ve never quite gotten over losing him; my second, Despereaux, loved to explore. I never got a third after him because living situation didn’t really allow for it. But someday I might get another one!

I’ve learned to not ask for a Most Favorite Book…but name One Of your most favorite books, and WHY you like it.

Meet Author Mara Tran - Kimia WoodNaming one favorite is almost as hard as picking a single favorite – haha! But the first book that jumped to mind was Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. This was the first Dickens novel I read, and really introduced me to Victorian writers, and ignited my love for the genre and era. I feel like Nicholas Nickleby offers a good balance of humor and drama, it has some hysterical characters, and honestly how can we not love Nicholas when he beats the evil schoolmaster Squeers for abusing the boys? It has so many wonderful moments and characterization, and the way the plot comes together and Dickens connects his characters is really fun.

Your bio says you’ve had a number of jobs, including librarian and medical office assistant. What are some things you liked about those jobs? Did any of your experiences help you on your path to being an author?

I’ll start with the easiest one, and with a little bit of background. I worked as a Youth Services volunteer at my local library for 9 years – though unpaid, it was every inch a job to me and I was trained in a lot of librarian-level duties because I had plans to become an “official” librarian down the road. Life had other plans, but I still learned so many skills and had the best two bosses in the world who were also extremely supportive of my writing ambitions and provided me with a ton of information and resources in learning about the publishing industry.

My time as a professional Irish musician taught me public poise, and also taught me that for some people stage fright does not get better with experience. Being a bookseller helped me along my path to being an author by teaching me that retail is not for me. XD But I’ve maintained good relations with the bookstore and they’ve become my first bookseller supporters for The Ward!

And in fact, because two of my characters are doctors, working as a medical office assistant was actually very helpful in terms of research. While modern medicine has come a long way from 1888, there’s still so much about policy, attitude, and procedures that has not. Neither of my doctor characters are eye doctors, but I have every intention of putting what I learned about eyes to use in future volumes.

But of course, my ultimate job – being a housewife – has helped the most in my pursuit of being a writer. I finally have energy to devote to my writing, and I really am at heart a homebody, so being able to spend time at home, create my own schedule, pace myself as I need, has been infinitely helpful to my creative mind.

Yes – I could spend every day at home, too, and be perfectly happy! But it’s true we learn so much from being pushed out of our comfort zones 🙂

You say your book is “CleanFictionApproved”. Please tell us what this means, and why it’s important to you.

#ProtectCleanFiction is a small organization that is working to promote books that are free of blatant sexual content and authors who have made the decision to write stories that parents and mindful adults don’t have to worry about. I’ve been a lifelong reader of Middle Grade and YA fiction primarily because I like stories about kids, and it’s rare to find adult fiction that doesn’t revolve around adult content. I’ve noticed the increasing trend to make kid/teen fiction more and more content-heavy, until in some ways adult fiction is almost safer to pick up these days! As a Christian, I hold a strong belief in not only raising kids/teens with age-appropriate content, but also filling our adult heads with good things and not the world’s interpretation of what’s normal and acceptable. I used to run a book blog that a lot of people who were content-conscientious enjoyed, so now as a writer I would like to provide books for adults and teens that they can be assured has no sexual content and implied violence only.

<h4p”>One of the best things about meeting new people is learning what they’re passionate about, and sharing about our deepest held beliefs. Thank you for sharing with us!

If people wish to discover me on the Wide Web, they can find me on my website msha.ke/maratran – and on Instagram under @thereadinghedgehog [and on Goodreads]. Though I’m not nearly as active as I once was, I do still maintain something of a book blog called The Bluestocking Biblio Buttery Blog, where I give short reviews, sometimes longer reviews, book-inspired recipes, and minor life updates. People can purchase The Ward on Amazon.

Thank you so much for hosting this interview, and if anyone wants to drop a line, you can email me from the website msha.ke/maratran.


The Ward

Spring 1888. . . .The Ward, Mara Tran - Kimia Wood

TUYA PAZNIC was left by her father one dark winter night and now, seventeen years later, is plagued with night terrors from something that happened that day—something she can’t remember.

BRAMWELL DEVRASI, a recent medical graduate, is eager to follow in the footsteps of his guardian in heading medical reformation and the treatment of psychiatric patients.

GIDEON PAZNIC thought he lost his wife twenty-five years ago, in childbirth, until a mysterious note arrives one night which drastically alters his opinion.

LUC MONTAGUE is ordered by his master to investigate a series of bizarre crimes in Venisia, whose ritualistic nature is peculiar and suspicious.

When Bramwell and Tuya go to Venisia for the Season to witness the renowned revelries of the Black Masquerade, wherein they are inadvertently drawn into Luc’s investigations, and Gideon searches for his wife—paths cross that spark memories best forgotten, dredge up terrors in the dark, and family conspiracies stretching generations are brought to light.

In the spirit of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens – family secrets, lost legacies, murder and intrigue abound in THE WARD – the first book in THE BIRTHRIGHT CHRONICLES.

Author Bio

A Pacific Northwest native, Mara Tran has been pursuing the written arts since she was little and would type on her dad’s laptop for hours on end. In her lifetime, she has been a musician, librarian, bookseller, blogger, medical office assistant – and now a fulltime housewife and author. She’s a summer girl, but has learned to appreciate each season for what it brings, and she’s passionate about everything Victorian. Her top hobbies are reading, baking and cooking, swing dance, junk journaling, tea and cheese sampling, and embroidery. Her favorite authors are Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen. THE WARD is Mara’s first published novel.

Dear Diary…you meet such interesting people in dungeons

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Against the Giants”

Ezekiel went with Aliana and Princess Shallaria to Gorna, since he wants a professional’s opinion on all our potions we’ve amassed over the years, and I suppose it’s true we’re rich enough to afford that. He hopes someone can recommend a professional in Gorna.

Miss Dree had some exciting news to share with us. She says she and Miss Lysa and the super-energetic guy whose name I forget have been casting Cure Minor Wounds this morning. She says she felt “a stirring in her spirit” yesterday, and after her prayer time this morning (where she always asks for spells, since Father Ezekiel says just because you don’t receive is no reason to not ask) she tried the chant on Miss Lysa’s scraped knuckles, and the power was granted. I have never seen Miss Lysa so excited and forget herself so much that she explained the whole story to us again herself.

(Ragni and Agni have set up a sort of little catapult in the tree house, and have been chucking over-ripe fruit at the druid grove. Madam Moonwhisper assured me they grew some protective boughs and no one could actually be hit, but Leomas said she’s been knocked unconcious multiple times and showed me a broken pumpkin to prove it. I said the pumpkin must be what she used to think with, since it was too big to fit in the catapult, and she was half transformed into a panther when Madam Moonwhisper said Leomas was the one who told her about the ring of truth, and she should have known she couldn’t pull my leg (makes sense that’s why I actually said that out loud…). I asked Ragni and Agni to take it easy on the druids, and besides it’s the pass that enters the valley that we need to defend, and Ragni got very red and said Sirion and Usin made strict rules about firing at the pass after some pilgrims came to be healed of a disease and also needed baths once they got to the fortress. I’m so glad I warned Sirion about the Frost Giants that will be moving in nearby…I can just picture the entire mountain sliding down into the valley, with a sound of soft explosions, strewing rotten apples in its wake… Ezekiel would probably tell me that’s beyond Ragni and Agni’s capabilites, but I’m really not sure.)

Anyway, when Ez and Aliana get back, we leave for the giant fortress. Might not exactly be an early start, but we’re making the effort.

**

We started big, by investgating the wall opposite the illusion that led to the temple. Ezekiel hadn’t seen anything specific while looking at it through the gem; it just made his skin crawl, he said.

We started off by just looking at it…it seemed made of brownish purpleish stone, which really gives the impression of fungus – but not any normal kind of fungus. I wanted to poke it with an arrow, to see if the surface was really solid, but I was invisible…so I asked Heiron to do it, so we could actually see the results.

The wall reacted by spitting out a purpley tentacle, grapping Heiron’s wrist, and trying to pull him toward a gross, clicking, beak-like mouth. No one touches our Heiron – we all sprang into action. But it was the weirdest, grossest thing we’ve seen in a long time. Even Aliana’s sword seemed to bounce off it, like the wall was a giant rubber sheet. I pelted it with arrows, but again, they seemed to not so much as tickle it.

Agnar managed to do something to it…and it lashed him with a couple more tentacles. I think there were ten or twelve flailing about, with unnerving movement patterns. A couple of them grabbed Oaklock and smashed him against the floor, but Ezekiel pulled him away.

Nothing seemed to bother it much (although Tressarian worked better than my bow – maybe it was something to do with magic weapons) until Lydia muttered something and threw out her hand…and the whole thing collapsed and faded. Agnar says in all his uncle’s stories of the underdark, he never heard of anything like this. Lydia thinks it was partly enchantment, since Dispell Magic is what killed it, but she admits it was a shot in the dark, since she’s never seen something like it before.

Once it was dead, we saw the wall was actually a “curtain” of sorts, concealing a suite behind. Maybe those Evil rings the drow had would have let them pass it, like the statues and the violet fungus in the Temple of Elemental Evil, but I for one am not interested in experimenting…even if we hadn’t already killed it.

The cleric types passed around healing, since those tentacles were deceptively strong, and I think they even had hooks or suckers on them that left little welts, so the front-line fighters were pretty hard-up. When we felt up to it, we moved in to the suite, checking for enemies and traps as we went (meaning, Raven checked for traps).

There’s a two-room suite, with a sitting room full of black candles (unlit), ebony couches inlaid with silver, jasper basins, black carpet and purple wall hangings – yes, when they pick a design theme, they commit.

Behind a tapestry is a bedroom…strangely, the candles there were lit – again burning with that eery purple fire – but everything else looked abandoned. We found some pouches still full of money and gems, and even a couple cleric scrolls (one of them locked in a trapped coffer). The bedroom also has a large silver mirror, a dressing screen, a cabinet, bed, and side table – all the furniture made out of ebony or black stone. Also some tapestries, but by the time I got to the bedroom Aliana had sliced and shredded them into fine strips.

Ezekiel is probably right that some of the drow are still alive, but if so then they haven’t ransacked this suite. They even left the priest-garments in the wardrobe (Ez pointed out that these were embroidered with gold and gems, while the drow we killed yesterday were dressed in silver-trimmed robes. All of them a bizarre mauve color, of course. It’s like shades of purple are the only colors Drow like). I wondered if these rooms were always here for guest quarters, or if the giants carved them out specifically to host the drow. Probably doesn’t matter too much.

Finally, there’s a secret door and spy-hole at the back of the bedroom. Ezekiel thinks there’s a fire giant on the other side. We’ve decided to go the long way around, and are returning to the corridor. This black-and-purple room has me on edge…

**

Rescuing prisoners has been a mixed bag today.

Just as we left the drow suite, a boom seemed to shake the whole fortress. We didn’t know what it was yet, of course, but we wanted to find anyone who needed rescuing before the fortress collasped or something.

The first cell we came to that was locked gave no trouble to Raven’s lockpicking skills, but it did prove beyond us to pull it open. The inhabitant of the cell, however, kicked the door open and turned out to be two centaurs. They were somewhat discombobulated at seeing us, but Mikael spoke centaur to them and Raven offered them rations, and when we convinced them we were the good guys, they offered a prayer to Beori and ate the rations before we gave them directions to the stairs up and out (possibly also telling them about one of the armories on their way, but I’m not sure). They were anxious to not spend any more time in the fortress than necessary.

The next cell was more…disappointing. It was the cell behind the drow’s secret peephole, and as Ezekiel had supposed, it held a fire giant. But he didn’t let us kill it. The giant said he was a disgraced lieutenant of Snuri’s, and Ezekiel offered him a deal – open the doors for us in exchange for food.

Well the next cell held a maddened troll that jumped on Ezekiel as soon as the door was open…but Mikael told our giant he could eat it, so he bit its head off about that quickly. I think Mikael and I have some different understandings about the natural order of things.

In the next cell, we found a gnoll that had been taking liberties with his cell mates, also gnolls, both deceased. We kept the fire giant from eating the live one, though he snagged a leg of gnoll after the survivor ran off. I wanted to throw up in my mouth about that time, but then the hall shook with another booming crash, and that effectively distracted me and we hurried on to open all the doors.

Next door held some human corpses beyond even Ezekiel’s help. The door after that opened to reveal a human woman chained to the wall. I finally got a pay-off for lugging Markessa’s clothes around in my bag for all this time, and I let Ezekiel and Clatrial take care of them. The young lady (Gareth, from the Yeomanry) is not a demon, and seems pretty well-adjusted for being captured and imprisoned by giants and gnolls. Ezekiel talked to her for a bit, and we convinced Clatriel to stick by her side. Clatrial would make anyone feel more at ease, and besides…once bit, three times shy.

Finally, finally, we found the cell door that Raven thought the booming noises came from. Our “pet” fire giant seemed to think so, too. He asked Ezekiel if his obligation was fulfilled, and so as soon as he cracked the door open, he took off down the hall.

Inside was a figure like a man, chained to the wall…only what a man. He had to be 19 or 20 feet tall if he was an inch. I’ve heard of his kind…Titan. They’re a type of giant that lives on the Upper Plains, and much more magical than the standard kinds.

Once I told Ezekiel that’s what he was, he got very excited. The Titan didn’t seem to be feeling well, so Mikael cast Neutralize Poison…and the effect was almost instantaneous. The Titan introduced himself as Kendar, and chuckled a little when Ezekiel introduced himself as the “Arbiter” of the God of gods. Once he was unchained and came out into the hall, he could stand up straight and stretch a little. He asked if anyone needed healing, but even he couldn’t do anything for the desiccated human corpses in the one cell. He did agree to come with us to help open doors so we could rescue any more prisoners that might be here.

The guardroom was at the far end of the hallway. It held assorted furniture – large and small, so maybe the gnolls were sometimes guards as well as prisoners – plus some kegs and unlit torches. Ezekiel’s gem found a loose stone in the corner, which uncovered a chute of some kind…maybe more of a narrow tunnel – too narrow even for me – that wound back and forth into the darkness and stank of rats. Mikael crawled a little way along as a bat, and said something was squeaking in there – and sharpening a knife. We decided maybe some kind of humanoid rat could use tools, but we also decided they probably weren’t connected with the giants and the drow, and we needn’t waste any more time on them.

The giants had a torture chamber in a huge natural cavern to the south. The only vaguely interesting thing was a couple pieces of jewelry somebody dropped next to a knucklebones game. I guess when we came stomping downstairs and killing everything yesterday, the guards abandoned their game. Don’t have time to destroy all the yucky, pokey things in there.

The next room was…I guess a tomb. The walls were lined with huge (giant-sized) sarcophagi, all carved with images of kings or queens. They were all different materials, too – stone, bronze, iron… On the floor lay four stone sarcophagi, two of them still blank. It could be those were for the current king and queen, but we didn’t disturb them to see if we recognized King Snuri. Fire Giants are Evil, and a menace, but I’ve nothing against them being properly buried.

A smithy, in the room with the open lava, and a barracks equipped with straw and hides, rounded out the rest of the floor. We weren’t ready to call it quits for the day, so we headed down the stairs across from the morgue – with Gareth toward the back, to keep her more safe. I don’t like dragging rescued prisoners around the dungeon with us, but sometimes there’s no better option.

As we descended, the workmanship of the passage changed. Above, it is smooth and clearly worked…below, the walls are rough and irregular, like natural cave formations. At the bottom of the stairs, Master Kendar helped us open a pair of enormous iron doors, and then we were confronted with three branching passages…again, all looking more like natural cave tunnels rather than something built by people.

We picked the right passage on principle, and followed it along, past stalactites (not alive this time), and water dripping quietly into pools, until we reached a cavern so tall our lights just barely reached the ceiling. A thick pillar supported the roof in the center, while between it and us – we saw a huge pile of coins, with a red dragon coiled on top, apparently asleep.

We held a quick whispered counsel, and arranged ourselves so that those least resistant to fire would be behind it, and those more resistant would hold its attention. Tressarian let me loan him to Clatriel, so he could protect her while she charged with the front line. I suppose we should have known something was up, when the dragon didn’t seem to notice all our loud whispering, and our attempts to tip-toe in full armor (Aliana is a remarkable person, but she doesn’t tip-toe).

Well, Mikael gave the signal by starting to cast his spell (he had a spell he thought could kill the dragon that he wanted to try), so as he waved his mistletoe and chanted, the rest of us sprang into action. Lydia waved a wand and shot a flurry of ice shards at it, while Oaklock swung his sword at its tail (I think it bounced off the scales, but I couldn’t see very well).

The dragon swung its head around (precisely what we didn’t want it to do) and blew at Oaklock…only it didn’t blow fire. I don’t know what it blew, but it looked like sparkles or grey dust or something, and Oaklock threw up his arm to shield his eyes. Ezekiel shouted something about that not being fair – but before he could do more, Aliana stabbed it so that it died.

We circled the pile a few times, trying to figure out what felt off about all this…until Ezekiel used his very most favorite magic item, and told us it was actually a gorgon (not deceased) hiding under an illusion of a red dragon (complete with hoard). Lydia and Aliana say a gorgon is a creature of fae that can turn people to stone with their breath, so we’re all really lucky that it didn’t take on Master Oaklock. (I think it’s redundant…we already have medusai, and basalisks, we don’t need yet another thing that turns flesh to stone! But they didn’t ask me.)

Master Kendar said it was about time for him to leave – the passages were getting cramped for him, and we hadn’t found any fire giants for him to fight, so he would take his leave. But first he pointed out the ring Ezekiel was wearing – the ring with a fish, a star, and a whirlwind carved on it – and said it reminded him of the fisherman who fished up the Prince of Fishes, and the child who wished on the first star of the evening, and king who met a jinn in the desert. And he said that another gold ring we had found was magical had a “similar power” in it, though he couldn’t tell more just by looking at it.

We agreed that information was a princely reward for letting him out of the cell, and after he vanished we set those rings aside in a separate pocket to take a closer look at them later. But the day was not quite done yet.

The floor of the cavern had enough sand and dirt that I could pick out footprints – mostly giant, though a few of them were elf-sized. Most of the footprints through this cave led on through an open doorway, but a handful led up to a huge boulder sitting against the wall…almost as though it were blocking something in the wall.

Ezekiel and Mikael with their gauntlets of strength, along with Agnar and Aliana, managed to scoot the boulder out into the room a few feet…and immediately a blast of flame exploded in our faces. I’m glad Clatrial was still holding Tressarian…and so is he, because it means they were able to stab the actual, real, legit red dragon as it shoved its head out through the hole in the wall. Agnar and Ezekiel hit it, too. It seems anti-climactic to say we killed a dragon in under a minute…but when you consider it could kill us in under a minute, too, if the tables were just slightly turned, I think it’s perfectly fair.

After Ezekiel and Mikael healed everyone’s burns, we poked our noses past the dragon’s body into his chamber. It was barely big enough for him, and the floor was strewn with coins, gems, and various other expensive things. With that, we agreed it was time to go home for the day – so Lydia opened the portal, and summoned some disciples to help ferry the treasure to Haven.

Gareth says she came here for Snuri’s treasure, but didn’t get that far…but surely we must have a vault in our fortress, right? I was gratified Ezekiel didn’t offer to show it to her, but he did assure her we could get her safely on her way home, and provision her appropriately. She mentioned some pirate king who’s supposed to have an enormous hoard of treasure…I really don’t know about that girl. Not sure her sense of self-preservation is functioning properly.

The most interesting thing from the hoard so far is probably an ancient longsword, etched with runes. I don’t recognize the make, but the scabbard seems to be from a red dragon hide, and adorned with gems. Ezekiel says that when he held it, he got a distinct feeling of satisfaction about the nearby dragon corpse. It doesn’t seem magical, but there’s more to quality than magic, I guess. Tressarian would be anxious if he heard me talking like that.

Found a note to myself – collect the magic silver mirror from the quarters upstairs. Lydia says she can adjust the portal once we finish clearing out this collection.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…ruining the moment, it’s what we do

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Against the Giants”

We found the kennel room where they kept the hellhounds, and a couple barracks – one of them equipped for juvenile giants. I don’t remember seeing any of those here yet.

Also found a kitchen with a fire pit that seems naturally heated…as in, maybe a volcanic vent. Ezekiel would have a better idea. The fortress definitely sits on lava in some places – they used a natural vent as a garbage chute. Someone very unhelpfully cast darkness at the mouth of the opening, so if we were not so careful and thoughtful, we might have slid in the grease to a sudden and crispy-fried death in the lava below. Even Raven needed a rope while checking that the chute didn’t lead anywhere interesting.

According to our map, there’s nothing else on this level to explore, so it’s time to take the stairs down…

**

How to begin? For starters, splitting the party always makes things confusing.

When we reached the bottom of the stairs, we heard chanting…it could have been giant voices, but it was too far away to be sure. Almost at once, though, we heard hellhounds barking, much nearer – perhaps they scented us.

Ezekiel told me to take my invisible self and run the other direction to check for prisoners that might need rescuing, while the others dealt with the threat at hand. After taking a moment to swap for my ring of infravision, I headed up the north passage.

I passed a room lit with lava (probably the same lava we saw from the kitchen chute), and a couple trolls – but they had no prisoners, and seemed to be minding their business, so I kept on. Not too much farther along, I turned a corner of the passage and found a giant guarding a door. The sound of chanting came much louder from the other side of the wall – right by me – but I didn’t think I could take out the guard and still be sneaky…and I didn’t want to take on the whole group by myself.

So I returned back down the passage – toward the crackle of lightning and the crash of boulders hitting stone, and various other shouts of battle. When I came up to the others, giants and gnolls glowed with faery fire, mostly on the far side of a blade barrier that sliced across the corridor just above our heads. Raven and Agnar were on the front line, while Ezekiel stood to the back with Lydia.

I was trying to explain the situation to Ezekiel, in between shots with my bow, when a scream ripped down the corridor…from behind us. Let’s just say it didn’t sound like a giant scream.

Aliana and Oaklock looked at each other, then she pivoted, told Clatrial to guard Ezekiel, and charged. Ezekiel and Mikael were already heading toward the scream, and Raven was trying to bring Agnar…but Agnar was having too much fun fighting fire giants beyond the blade barrier. So Heiron and I let the paladins do their thing, and waited to back him up until Raven got through to him.

It didn’t take too long…Lydia zapped the remaining giants, and that pursuaded Agnar the good fighting was behind us. When we caught up with the others, they had killed the giant on the door, and Ezekiel was healing an elf in ripped clothes.

Moments later, Ezekiel announced that the wall at the turn of the passage (the wall that the chanting came from) was fake, and he and Clatrial charged through the apparently stone surface. Aliana left Master Oaklock talking to the rescued elf, and followed them while Mikael was still trying to figure out how it worked (staring at the wall and poking with his staff). Agnar arrived in time to see Aliana disappear, and charged after her, yelling something like, “Save some for me!”

Meanwhile, Master Oaklock and the other elf found the giant’s keys in his pocket, and started unlocking the doors right near us – there were actually a couple doors there that turned out to be cell doors. I stood guard with my bow, since Raven and Heiron still hadn’t returned from securing our rear down the south passage. It sounded like plenty of giants were beyond the wall, though, so when Raven and Lydia arrived (she can keep up because she’s wearing boots of speed), I left them to guard the elves and found my way through the illusory wall.

The first thing I saw was steps going down – and a blade barrier spinning and slicing through the air at the foot of them, about the height to take off someone’s head if he were coming down the stairs. From the way people were moving, though, I could tell there was another doorway over to the left, so I circled around and came down a staircase that only had dead giant weasels to trip on, no deadly blades.

Ezekiel and Aliana were on the far side of the room, battling more drow. Lightning crackled, arrows flew, fire giants died. (I found out later some of the lightning came from the pillars lining the room.) One of the fire giants was an ugly, hairy female wielding a scepter – and on examining her body afterwards, we think she was Snuri’s queen, “Frupy.” Which means the giants’ leadership is mostly destroyed, now, we hope…and we’ve killed another dark elf. Aliana killed a male with another of those gross tentacle-staves, and it seems the drow were heading up this ritual in this “temple.”

We took a moment to take in the creepy atmosphere and the gross murals, then went to check on the prisoners Master Oaklock had released. In the “temple,” strange light swirls through the air – blobs of mauve and violet, which you’d think would make you think of spring flowers, but it really doesn’t. The pillars supporting the roof are creepy, and not just because they zapped Aliana with lightning. The left-hand (western) wall shows giants bowing down to a black stone, and making sacrifices of humans and giants. The opposite (eastern) wall is painted with creatures of various kinds all crawling up to three tentacle-beings and being eaten. I don’t get what the food-creatures get out of the deal. I’m also not sure what the tentacle-abominations are supposed to be, but I really don’t need Ezekiel to explain…I know they’re bad, and I’ll hopefully never meet them.

The front of the “sanctuary” has that burning eye symbol that we’ve associated with King Snuri, along with a Y superimposed on a triangle, with I feel we’ve seen before, but I’ll have to consult my notes. [Margin note: the shrine underneath the Hill Giant fortress had a double-triangle made of copper in the floor, which Ez has connected to House Alservs, which are the Drow worshiping the Elder Elemental Gods. I think that was a different triangle, though.] Also some braziers burning a green flame that looks like someone threw up snot, and some fat black candles burning lavender flames (again, the color makes you feel like death and fungi, not like flourishing herb gardens. It’s a disturbing thing…).

Aliana says the rescued prisoners said their companions were being sacrificed here, but there’s no sign of residue here now (not even a pile of ashes and bones). It’s tidy, but somehow that’s one of the worst parts of this. When we finally rejoined Master Oaklock, he had five other elves with him – including a lady that Aliana embraced and called “Princess Shallaria.” The princess says she and her retainers were traveling through the Jotens for fae reasons, when the giants captured them. She says several days ago something happened that shook up the giants, and the ceremony today was almost an act of desperation. I guess losing the Fire Giant king and most of his warriors would do that…

Ezekiel says there’s still one female drow at large, and we don’t know how many more giants. The elves didn’t know of any more prisoners, but we couldn’t very well wander around with most of our spells used up, and with trying to protect the rescued prisoners.

We moved everyone into the “temple” to finish looting the giants’ bodies. Ezekiel took the drows’ gear, presumably to safely dispose of anything Evil. The Fire Giant Queen had some jewelry (and of course her huge iron scepter), but nothing else seemed important…except the whole room felt vaguely magical (Tressarian said the altar was the strongest, but it definitely resonated through the whole room.) The longer we stood around, the more I noticed everyone (not just me) looking over our shoulders and twitching…so it’s just as well we got out of there.

Lydia brought us through the mirror back to the Haven fortress. Tomorrow, she will send the princess and her party to Gorna, which should make it easier and quicker for them to make their way back home. That will also give someone (probably Aliana, since she volunteered – and she has the manners training) to deliver a report to His Grace’s people, so they know everything we’ve found so far. I suppose we should send a report to King’s Agent Lashton, but strangely enough no one volunteered to handle that.

I need to copy out some of our maps, and some of the documents we’ve found, to send with her…and I also need to warn Sirion and Ragni and Agni and the centaurs (and Keiran, if he’s still hanging out) about all the giants Ezekiel has invited to come over. He would be mighty cross if they all got killed as soon as they arrive. Honestly, I don’t know what he’s going to do about those ogre-mages, but I guess one worry at a time.


Find the previous entry here.

Read the next entry here.

Dear Diary…”I am not a demon”

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Against the Giants”

I guess we finally got smart. After a couple more giant stone doors that we couldn’t budge, even with the Power of Teamwork, I said, wasn’t it a shame we couldn’t just get bigger. And Lydia dug through her bag until she pulled out a wand and did just that – she made Heiron over twice as tall as Mikael. (Fortunately she made his clothes and muscles match, too.)

At that size, he could open doors all by himself, and he let us into an armory, and a closet-type room full of foul-smelling hay. The prevailing theory is that is where they kept the chimera…I guess even freaks of nature need to sleep and eat somewhere.

I’m pretty excited about the armory – Tressarian and I snooped around in the corner and found a bow that tingles magically. I need to remember to try it out…hopefully it will let me hit things that are resistant to normal weapons. Haven’t met any of those recently, but you can never be too prepared.

Worked our way around until we connected with the passage leading north from the other barricade (we assume, from the patch of darkness floating there that refuses to dispelled by our lights). Seems to be another passage leading west, on our side of the barricade, but the darkness makes it hard to be sure.

**

Well. So we found a room bolted from the outside, and opened it. Inside seemed to be a nicely furnished guest suite of some kind, along with two men and a woman. They looked normal enough, armed with swords at their belts.

Ezekiel questioned them a little, and they said they were mercenaries from the Iron League who came to work for the giants, but the king didn’t trust them and kept them locked in that room. That’s not an unreasonable explanation – I mean, working for (Evil) giants might just come from poor judgement – but given how events played out it shows you can’t trust anyone you just run into.

Ezekiel told them there were still some drow somewhere, and to watch out, but when they were ready to leave they didn’t seem to want to approach the door…and we all noticed that Aliana and Clatrial were standing in the doorway, and most normal people would kill to approach Aliana (and Clatriel has her own qualities, don’t misunderstand).

Anyway, that got our neckhairs up (trying to learn from past experience), so as I tried to sidle close enough for Tressarian to scan them for magic, Aliana slipped Fetafencer out of the sheath about an inch, and he was glowing bright red.

She and Clatriel stared at the strangers for a moment, but couldn’t sense anything, so Ezekiel looked through his gem of seeing (I think he loves it slightly less than Aliana). Don’t know what he saw, but it rattled him for sure and he asked the trio if they were human (like a demon would confess to being one…but Ezekiel is an optimist).

Raven whispered in my ear to switch to the ring of truth (don’t know how he found me, since I was invisible, but maybe it’s to do with his blind-fighting), and joined Ezekiel in asking the strangers if they were demons. He even led the way himself, saying, “I am not a demon,” so then everyone went around the room and said, “I am not a demon.” Maybe the strangers had some kind of resistance, because the ring told me they were telling the truth…but everyone could smell something fishy was up (except maybe Agnar, who was mostly bored, I think).

Well, we had to either attack them, or let them go… Ezekiel moved the rest of us away from the door, with just the paladins standing to each side, and told the strangers they could leave. They said they had to gather their luggage, and began busying themselves with all the chests and furniture in the room.

Ezekiel found me (maybe Raven helped him) and whispered to me to check the trio for magic, and then he would cast Protection from Evil on them, and I could check them again. He told them this spell would protect them from the Drow as they were leaving, so the stranger spokesman sounded agreeable…but he deliberately didn’t touch the holy water as Ez was sprinkling it around. Worst of all, they were already glowing with magic (to Tressarian’s “eyes”) so the only question was, what kind of unnatural thing were they.

Heiron had shrunk down to normal size by now, but he casually positioned himself by Lydia and prepared an arrow on the string. Aliana and Clatrial were both toying with their hilts, and I think even Agnar noticed something was weird.

The stranger trio kept dumping their packed bags onto the floor and picking through the contents, then goibg back to the dressers and chests to sift through more things. Someone had to make a move…so Ezekiel flicked holy water at the nearest stranger.

No one was surprised, so everyone flew into action. The woman, who happened to be the sprinkled one, whirled on Ezekiel…though her sword left strange clawing marks on his exposed skin. Raven rushed in with his daggers, and Mikael waved his hands with the familiar incantation for faery fire…yet nothing seemed to happen to the trio.

Lydia drew a shimmery bubble in the air around herself, and almost immediately one of the men threw a fireball with his bare hands. Tressarian snickered as he sucked up the energy, and then we cut at him. Then the same man threw out a murky cloud that smelled like Lydia’s stinking cloud, but I didn’t see him toss an egg. Fortunately, with my necklace of adaptation, it didn’t make a difference.

Heiron launched several arrows – but they seemed to bounce off the strangers’ bodies. Ezekiel didn’t have that trouble, though…he bashed one of the enemy with his mace, and purple lightening crackled up it as the ram’s eyes glowed briefly. It’s been so long since that happened, it almost threw me off my rhythm.

The last surviving stranger made a run for it, dodging between our blows as he went. He didn’t get far, though, as Agnar and Raven chased him down and tackled him, Ezekiel following behind shouting, “Let me finish him with the mace!”

Once they were dead, their forms changed and we could see they were actually humanoid tigers…very much like the two we passed in the Astral Plain. Ezekiel says they’re “rakshasa,” which are technically fiends, not demons, so that explains that, I guess. Aliana says she’s glad we didn’t let them get away. I guess we all knew there was no other good outcome…it just had to play itself out.

Searching their room, we found a carpet woven with a picture of one of those dark elves, and a footstool that was actually a disguised chest (disguised with magic; actually building a chest to look like a stool would be pretty cool, too). Tressarian and Schakka searched the room for magic and gems, and we found four potions and a cleric scroll, plus a sizable haul of gold and gems, and a scepter decorated with jewels that doesn’t seem to be magical. I wonder who it belonged to originally?

The healers passed around healing, and we’re all happy it wasn’t worse. Shape-shifters can be very dangerous. So far all the ones we’ve met have been both magical and Evil…except the assassins, which as far as we know weren’t magical.

Hopefully just a few more rooms to search up here.


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Dear Diary…knowledge is power…magic items are also power

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Against the Giants”

We returned to the giants’ fortress after Mikael made an unnecessarily long speech to his people. Clatrial insisted on coming, since she says she’s Aliana’s bodyguard, and clearly Ezekiel has not done an adequate job of safeguarding her ladyship.

As Sirion and I had noticed before, when we stepped into the hall, the bodies were gone (except for the chimera-three-headed-monster-thing). Ezekiel tells me you don’t usually turn gnolls into zombies, but I like to be prepared for anything.

We did a little looking around in the great hall – pillars of obsidian and red stone support the roof, and the east end holds a throne atop marble steps inlaid with colored stone. It forms pictures of a giant king – we assume King Snuri, whom we killed – conquering things (I didn’t spend too much time looking at them). The wall behind the throne holds a picture of a flaming skull surrounded by fire giants with clubs. Ezekiel wracked his brain for religious symbology that involves a flaming skull, but nothing is for sure yet. It could just be Snuri’s self-image.

The two main corridors out of the hall – to the north and north-west – are blocked by sharpened wood barriers, so we’ll have to do some problem-solving to get over them. Meanwhile, though, Schakka and Ezekiel’s gem of seeing found a secret door behind the throne, and Raven opened it by finding the torch cresset that moves it. Continue reading