“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!


(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…The Vault of the Drow

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

We reached the Vault of the Drow about midday today (I would guess). I wonder if Tomlin would consider it a sight worth seeing. The entance starts by raising the ceiling, until you feel as though you’re walking through a ravine in some windless, midnight mountains. Then the walls fall away to either hand, and the whole expanse of the plain rolls away into the distance.

Rather than absolutely dark, there are points of light in the ceiling high above us. I suppose they must be crystals like we’ve seen before, but what powerful ones! In the center of the dome lies a purple orb, something like a weak moon, so that we can at least see to walk around, although not much more than that.

Ezekiel put the strange red cups or glasses over his eyes, and they stuck to his face. He says he can see just as far as he could outside, and pointed out a tower like a pillar, directly ahead, even before Aliana did.

I wish I could properly describe the look of this place. There’s lots more important stuff to write about today, but I can’t get over the colors, the feel. It’s like walking on an alien world. Ez passed the glasses around, so we could each take a look. (Heiron remembered I was somewhere, and let me have a turn.) The glasses really do transform the landscape. The colors…the fungi and lichen growing by the road seem to glow, while veins of crystals that weren’t powerful enough to show up in thr dark suddenly gleam with all kinds of colors. No…not all kinds…mostly cool, fungus colors: blue, mauve, purple, sickly green or brown. Some red and gold, but not like a flower-red…like a mold-red.

I can’t quite explain. Maybe it’s because there’s hardly a sound, except the echo of our footfalls. No bugs, no birds, not even the wind stirring leaves. It makes me think of the lady in that play I got to see one festival, the lady who prodded her husband into killing the king. She was so pretty…but after that scene, you couldn’t get out of your mind what she had done, the blood on her hands. (Clarence had nightmares after that play.)

Anyway, it’s quite the sight to see. Any other place, I’d say it was worth the trip.

The clear road led straight for the tower, which sat on a plateau above the landscape. We assumed that’s where we had to get more of the cloaks (with the glasses on, the green really glows, almost like a light), so we headed there first.

It’s an impressive installation, with glassy smooth sides of stone, and a long gateway (to give you plenty of time to consider all the murder holes above your head). The guards let us through a side door bound with black metal, where we met the High Bailiff (sitting at a desk and sorting papers). He was also wearing the individual eyeglasses, so they must do something for drow eyes, too.

He spoke our common well enough, and after Ezekiel explained our business, he fetched some papers (and warned us not to go dusting other peoples’ undead without cause. That’s going to be rough for some of us).

About the invisibility. I’d been thinking it might be more trouble than it’s worth these days, since after all, elves (like orcs) can sense body heat or something (like the ring of infravision), and if we’re pretending to play nice, they might not appreciate us trying to have an edge on them. But I forgot to grab Ezekiel’s sleeve before the fact, and of course he doesn’t notice polite throat-clearing.

The drow solved the whole thing by noticing me anyway, and asking if our “invisible friend” wanted to be visible. A bit embarassing, but as I say, it was probably about time to mix up my tactics a little. Tressarian of course says I don’t need any sword but him (I hope the sword of Lyons isn’t offended; if it is, it can’t speak anyway).

The drow relaxed a little when I put the sword and its belt away, and I hope my own party notices me more easily now, too.

When Ezekiel asked to buy more green cloaks, the Bailiff said the price was 900 gold…but his voice changed, so I poked Ezekiel in the back (like he asked me to). Turns out the cloaks are free, one per person. The penalty for not wearing/having one is slavery…which means the cloak is how they tell slaves and visitors apart. The eye glasses were for sale, however, and Ez bought a few more pairs.

After that, the Bailiff seemed quite done talking to us, but Mikael got directions from a guard about finding the merchants we met earlier – House Gem.

We followed the road he indicated, and when it felt time, we camped beside the path. The lights overhead don’t seem to shift, so it gives the feeling of an endless twilight. Giant mushrooms grow here and there on the cave floor, and were it not for the lack of wind, it really would feel like exploring the surface of a strange, different world.

Ezekiel opened the portable hole with the ingots in it, to double-check what we have available for purchases. Clatriel and Master Oaklock spent time sharing reservations about the adventure, but of course Clatriel is not leaving Aliana, and I guess Oaklock is too gutsy to quit. Also the way back is no place for lone persons.


This cavern is beyond vast. We walked for hours and still haven’t arrived at the estate of the merchant group. We did pass a fortress filling a pass between two spurs of cliff, and from our intel and the symbology, we think it’s the/a Female Fighter Society. Mikael doesn’t need his heart broken again, so we moved on.


We ran into a growth of giant mushrooms so vast it really feels like a forest, cutting across our line of travel. There didn’t seem to be any kind of path through, not that I could spot, so we followed a trail around it.

That seems to have been the right call, because not too long after that, we spotted a walled compound with several buildings inside, marked with the symbology of House Gem.

Bugbears guarded the gate, but I controlled myself and they let us into the courtyard. A male drow came out of the main house, and he, Ezekiel, and Raven went off toward what looked like a barracks. This morning, Ezekiel shifted the silver ingots from the portable hole to a bag of holding, so that’s what he’s using to redeem the Good-alligned slaves…when they came back, he said he found thirteen. He paid half down, and the rest will be due when we pick them up…after our business in the city. Always assuming we’re around to collect, of course.

Ez looks rather grim, so I’m glad we’ve kept our dealings civil so far. Just before he and Raven rejoined us, a huge bat-like creature – much taller than Mikael, and walking on two legs like a humanoid – came out of the main house, seemed to exchange pleasantries with a drow, and flew off into the twilight sky.

I think we can reach the city tomorrow, according to the directions we’ve gathered (and the flight path of the bat thing), so long as we don’t lollygag. It may be very educational to visit here, but no one (not even Agnar) wants to stay longer than necessary.

Dear Diary…the light at the end of the tunnel is blue and purple

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

We stayed at this campsite for a couple days so Master Oaklock could practice a technique with Heiron. I think they both enjoyed thinking about “normal” things for a bit. Heiron’s come a long way since we’ve known him.

Unfortunately, there’s bad news, too. Ezekiel asked Lydia to teleport back to Haven with a note (perhaps something to do with the node-gems, but he didn’t say so). She meditated for a moment, and told us that there’s some kind of arcane interference that won’t let her through. It’s hard to say if this place is shielded, like the dragon’s lair was shielded from scrying, or if we’re just too far underground for it to work. Lydia says the distance shouldn’t make a difference, since after all you can teleport between different planes of existence. Ezekiel took the opportunity to curse the demons who made him vulnerable to clerical magic…I think mostly out of professional courtesy. Master Oaklock asked Lydia to explain some things in more detail, and they spent quite a lot of time muttering in the corner, and borrowed one of my spare journals.


We came across a pit with two bodies in it. Raven agrees with me that there was probably a loose cover over the pit at one time. The bodies were a human and a drow – the human wearing a cloak of the exact same bright green that we saw among the property of the squid-men.

Ezekiel asked Raven to climb into the pit to check things out, and he told us the two had been garrotted (within the last couple days), and plundered of their weapons, jewelry, and belts. By the number and size of footprints, it was a huge band of small, bipedal creatures. While I was scanning the surroundings for any such creatures, Ezekiel leaned over and raised the human to life.

Ezekiel has asked me to remember to switch to the ring of truth when we’re going to question someone, but it didn’t do much good at first. This poor guy was so beat up, and his throat was so mangled, that even after Raven shared some water he couldn’t talk. He seemed very disoriented, though he did tell us he got jumped by many, many knee-high creatures.

He looked Suluese, so I asked Lydia to try talking to him. He seemed to like her a bit more, and after I anchored a rope at the top of the pit, he consented to climb out (needing much help from Raven). Ezekiel helped his throat and most of his wounds, and the man (named himself Xoris) seemed quite disconcerted by that. After Lydia shared her story, he shared (in Common) that he was here on business, and the drow was his business partner. I’m glad Ezekiel didn’t try to recruit him; someone who willingly consorts with drow is not our type. I suppose he probably didn’t have much choice…he says there used to be eight more in their party.

He also gave us some useful information about the city of the drow. Every foreigner must wear these distinctive green cloaks, and he even gave us his, since he says he’s not going back. He also gave us funny red glass things – almost like a shot glasses – and said to wear them on our eyes in “The Vault.”

Once we’d told each other all we could, Xoris headed back the way we’d come. Wonder what the kua’toa will make of him. Ezekiel told him that Sterich is at war with giants, but he didn’t seem to care much. Maybe he’s not expecting to make it that far.

Ezekiel asked me if he was telling the truth. I’m not sure what he was suspicious of, but X sounded the same the whole time he could talk.


We passed through a guard post today – a spiked wall thrown across the passage, complete with crenelated ramparts and sentries. The escape route is getting longer and rougher.

Lydia spoke with the guards, and they told us to douse our lights. So we got out the fabric covers and made sure all our shields were wrapped up tight. At least they didn’t make us dispel them. There were crystals stuck in the wall that glowed a faint blue, so we weren’t completely blind, but it definitely strains the eyes and nerves. Agnar said it didn’t bother him, except that the crystals and fungus are all so depressing.

The guards also told us we’d need to acquire more green cloaks, and warned us that the elves wouldn’t be popular in the city. I think they mentioned a place called “the tower” that we should reach before the city, and they have cloaks there.

Master Oaklock has been a bit twitchy since then, but I’m glad to have someone watching the shadows as much as I do.


During our march today, a drow caravan came out of a side passage and overtook us. Besides the drow leaders, they had over a score of bugbears as guards, not quite so many slaves (humans, orcs, gnolls, and the like), and a handful of the big lizards bearing packs.

Even at my best, I could never take so many at once, so I got really worried when Ezekiel accosted the leader as they were passing. But he only asked about prices for slaves, and after some discussion, the drow showed him his affiliation broach, and told him to find him in The Vault for further discussion.

Ez says eight of the slaves are Good aligned, and after all we have some ingots we have no other use for. I’m glad he’s restraining himself. Clatrial looked ready to take on the whole group if Aliana just gave the word.

Between them, and Raven and Mikael having no fear (except perhaps the social kind), we’re in a very unique situation. We’ve never met something we couldn’t defeat by throwing ourselves at it harder, and then bringing each other back from it afterward. I tried to talk to Heiron about it, but I don’t think he realized I was there.

Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…there were rituals

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

We passed through an enormous cave, where we caught glimpses of windows and doorways opening off of ledges high above our heads. There must have been ramps or stairs somewhere…unless drow can fly, on top of everything else. On the cavern floor, on our level, we passed a half-dozen lizards – the size of horses, with tethers of their heads, and some kind of tackle lying beside them. They were eating fungus, so I guess some creatures find it palatable. Mikael wanted to make friends with them, but we didn’t want their owners mad at us, so we pursuaded him to move along.

I think Lydia is also homesick for some real food (though Ezekiel points out we’ve only been down here a few days). Rations are all fine and good (and Raven cooks them fantastically), but she was waving her fingers over her food to alter the taste or something (I didn’t know that was a thing). Raven tried some, and told us not to bother.


The path ran down into water today. Fortunately, before we examined it for long, a fish man came flapping out of the darkness toward us. Imagine a fish body dropped onto skinny little frog legs, with little flappy arms. Happily, it was much smaller than the slime trail we crossed yesterday, so we didn’t mistake it for an abalath.

Lydia spoke with it, and said it could take us across the water for payment. So she paid it money, and it climbed into a barge, and we all followed. When we were on the other side, Ezekiel asked her how much it was, and we realized she hadn’t paid for me. Yet here I was, on the other side (Raven poked me, to make sure I was still there). Not sure that’s fair to the fish-thing, but it’s not worth arguing about anyway. At least they didn’t just forget me. Agnar said, how could they forget the smallest member of the party? And Master Oaklock looked like he was about to say something, but then changed his mind.


Not far past the water, the passage branched into two tunnels. While we were deciding which way to go, I heard someone or something on the border of our lights, seeming to observe us. So I poked Ezekiel and switched rings so I could investigate. (It’s not the most convenient thing, but keeping the different rings in my pocket lets me use whichever one the situation requires. Raven and Ezekiel told me I should make sure to wear the ring of truth when we’re talking with someone.)

I’m sure I sensed something, but clearly the echoes messed with my sense of direction, because I checked the wrong passage. When I rejoined the others, they were (that is, Mikael was) speaking with a strange-looking gnome. His name was Trosli Garnetgetter. He speaks the kind of Common they use down here, but none of us could understand that, so the easiest way to communicate with him was just have Mikael speak gnome.

I’m not quite sure what Master G was up to. He warned us that fish people – that he called “Kua’toa” – lived up ahead along the road we needed to take. But he also said his group traded with them to obtain gems sometimes, so they couldn’t have been too unreasoning. They do live in vast numbers, though, so if you get on the bad side of them, it can be trouble. He says sometimes they mug people. He also said he and his friends were looking for gems. I get the impression he was feeling us out, to see if we might have gems. One of those statements made his voice go higher-pitched than usual, but of course by the time he finished talking, and Mikael was explaining what he said, it was hard to nail down which it was.

In the end, Mikael agreed to pay Master G to guide us past the shrine of the fish people (I get the sense they can be rowdier when they have a festival going on, but I’m not sure) and to the city of the drow.

Anyway, he led us down one of the branches of the passage, and before long we arrived at the shrine. It had an altar, and I think a couple pools of water or something, but honestly I don’t remember much because of the statue of a huge naked lady with a giant crab head where her head should be…and I’m trying my hardest to block that from my mind.

Ezekiel spent some time “communing” or something (which he couldn’t have done some place less “decorative”?) and then said he and Raven should pay their respects to the local goddess, since the shrine wasn’t Evil. Apparently the naked crab lady is the goddess (Ezekiel pronounced her name like “Blipdoolpoolp”, so I guess she just couldn’t get a break, but I think if I could choose my own form based on my personality, I’d do anything but that…but Aliana says that’s not necessarily how it works).

Ezekiel circled the altar a few times, and splashed water around I think (I was on guard duty) and prayed some more.

Master G was trying to pry one of the gems out of the altar, but Aliana told him that wasn’t polite, and gave him such a look that he stopped. Just in time, too, as a bunch of the fish-men flapped and squelched up to us (I think Master G just about choked when he saw them).

Ezekiel cast a spell, and spoke with the kua’toa for a bit. They led him, Raven, and Aliana into an alcove with another pool, while the rest of us guarded the exit. Master G fidgeted quite a bit, and Mikael kept talking to him to keep him calm.

According to Raven, Ezekiel helped a lobster into the smaller pool, and a voice asked them what they wanted. Ez said he wanted to talk, and the voice directed them back to the statue behind the main altar.

They touched the statue, and disappeared…just like the gems of the elemental nodes. Mikael barely kept Master G from leaving then…I guess he’s not used to this kind of thing.

The threesome reappeared before too long. Ezekiel said we (or at least they) have been marked “friendly” for the kua’toa, so they won’t attack if we don’t.

Still, all this monkeying around was too much for Master G. He gave us some final directions for the drow city, and accepted his payment and left. I hope we didn’t pay for me, since he didn’t do too much.

As for his conversation with the naked lobster lady (there’s no way I can spell her name again), Ezekiel shared that with us after G left. He said she seemed nice, contrary to the rituals of her followers. She warned him that the Spider Queen is moving pieces in the giant game, and her plays are touching the surface world. Madam Bibilop is not strong enough to stand against Her personally, but Ezekiel intends to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

The kua’toa followed us in formation for about a mile after we left the shrine, and they let us pass with much bowing and flapping. I think I like them better than drow, though that’s not saying a whole lot.


During his prayers last night, Ezekiel got a message in his mind. He says the gems for the elemental nodes have disappeared. I thought they were destroyed with the skull, but apparently not. The people of Mitrik did have them locked up, but they have disappeared now.

I would whine about things never staying where we put them, but there’s not much point. Ezekiel reminded us that the Mushroom Queen is who we fought in the Temple, but the Spider Queen seems to have a scheme afoot down here. So who might want possession of the elemental stones? They’re not connected to nodes anymore…are they?

I know whoever had them locked up would be no push-over, which means we have some ugly powerful players in the game. I hate how things keep escalating. Princess Jolene better keep a sharp eye on Prince Thrommel, and maybe six or seven bodyguards.

Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…a brush with undeath

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

We walked all day with Driptz.

He sticks to the back, where the light isn’t so intense, even though Raven made him goggles out of some cloth. I think there’s more than one reason our kinds don’t typically get along too well.

The way is treacherous, sometimes cut by two foot terraces or steps, sometimes slicked with slime or something worse. We came across the corpse of something humanoid, but it’s hard to tell what because the skin is totally transparent. Mr. Drippy says an “abalath” can do that – they’re a fish with tentacles that change skin to be breathable underwater. Apparently that’s not so great if you’re above water. He says they can also mind-control you, and unlike normal fish they can slide around out of the water. Sure enough, a few yards from the corpse we found a slime trail wider than I am tall, crossing our path to duck into a side crevice. Drippy led the way in wiping the slime off his shoes after we crossed it. I have no more words for the creatures down here…the crazy crypto-zoology of the underworld.


Everywhere we turn, there’s something trying to ruin my nerves.

We finally reached a larger cavern – so large we could only guess at its size from the faint glow of the luminous mushrooms off in the distance – when a handful of faint, bobbing lights floated around us. Lydia thought they looked like a simple light spell, so we pulled dampening cloths over our lit shields and brought Drippy to the front to meet whoever was examining us.

Three drow approached from behind a rock, and I guess we explained what we wanted (the leader spoke Common with a strong accent, and Ezekiel spoke in elvish to make it easier). The leader and Drippy gestured at each other, and they told us, if we really wanted to be mercenaries, we should take the passage straight ahead, and avoid the turn-off on the right.

Ezekiel told us to check our stuff before we left. Drippy looked quite smug as he stood with his compatriots and watched us leave, but everything seems to be here, so I guess it wasn’t because of that. Maybe he knew what was down the right corridor. Maybe nothing to do with us.

(Note: they already know that Eclavdra died. Makes sense, but it gives the feeling we are swimming in a very big pond indeed.)

Incidentally, I don’t actually know Ezekiel that well. We were given specific instructions, and what does Ezekiel do but want the direct opposite. He told me to take my ring of infravision and go invisibly investigate the tunnel on the right.

I figured either there was actually something dangerous down there, or the drow were watching us and would smack us with a, “Ha you can’t follow basic instructions!” consequence if we messed with it, but I seem to be easier to ignore when I’m invisible, so there didn’t seem a way to get out of it.

Anyway, we crossed the cavern, entered a narrower passage, and found the branch that left the main track, heading to our right. All these passages were still pretty wide, but we couldn’t see very far along because of the bends and turns.

I headed down the forbidden tunnel (as I’ve said before, I’m a team player). Not far along, a booming voice echoed around me, and said the tunnel was liable to collapse, and for my own safety I should leave. Whether that were true or not, I’d blown my cover, so I went back to report. Agnar promptly stomped down the passage a short ways, and announced that it looked safe to him.

Finally, Ezekiel lent me his gem of seeing, and Raven agreed to turn himself invisible and come back me up (with his moving-in-darkness skills) so the two of us went back down the corridor. This time we made it to the end, went down some steps, and found ourselves in a cave about the size of a large room. There was nothing to see with the naked eye (especially without infravision) but when I looked through the gem, I saw stacks and stacks of books…and a tall, skeletal figure in a robe, holding a book, that gave off no body heat.

I had never seen something quite like that, and I’d never heard of something quite like that, but I try to know when I am out of my depth. I turned and left, taking Raven with me with my momentum. I must have kicked over a book as we left, because we heard a voice behind us, echoing through the stony passage: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

The others were quite eager to hear the report when they heard us shuffle back. I tried to explain my perspective, but once I said, “Undead guy with lots of books,” neither Ezekiel nor Lydia could just walk by without investigating. Perhaps the drow knew he was there, and knew there is nothing so tantalizing to the neutral-tending-chaotic as a “Do Not” notice…and so hoped he (whatever he was) would deal with us. Perhaps they honestly wished to warn us. Perhaps they wished to gauge our skill.

Well, anyway. Speculation is free, I guess.

At least when we decide to do something, we usually take the time to do it right. Ezekiel cast a protection from Evil sphere, and then read a scroll over himself – since, he said, I had only seen the skeletal man through the gem. Meanwhile, Lydia cast a shimmery, transparent globe around herself, and Mikael used his stone to call up an earth elemental.

Finally, we advanced down the corridor- not really creeping this time; everything in a five mile radius knew we were there. Aliana called out that the thing really was Evil, and although most of us couldn’t see anything but a brightly lit cave, Ezekiel hit something that sounded substantial. Raven hit it with a cross-bow bolt, but I’m not sure that accomplished anything. What really did it in was the rock elemental, who punched the skeleton man into a pile of bone fragments. I guess even strong undead magic is undone by that kind of damage.

Once the undead person was dead-dead, the whole room jammed with stacks of books popped into the visible spectrum. It’s much easier to look around at something when you can simply see it, instead of squinting at it through a gem – as useful as that is. We spent a good bit of time poking around. I think the most exciting thing overall was a black handkerchief shoved into a crevice hidden under something – it unfolded to be another portable hole. This is very handy, especially with all the copper and silver ingots we’re still carrying around.

Some of the books were in Flannish, which was nice practice for me, but they were mostly political exchanges between ambassadors of countries I’d never heard of, and books of maps. Lydia spent a while reading through what turned out to be spellbooks, and some dry tomes about increasing lifespan and that kind of thing.

Tressarian and I went around checking for magic and Evil, and we found quite a bit of magical stuff (including some dust inside a leather bag). Three things showed up as Evil, though – a crown set with jewels, a scepter, and an ornate golden orb (they were in the portable hole when we opened it). It’s mighty handy being invisible sometimes, but it’s inconvenient when people ignore me when I speak. By the time Tressarian told me the items were Evil, Ezekiel was deep in examination of the scepter, and telling Aliana that she would look really regal in the crown. They finally heard me talking, and when Ezekiel heard the regalia were Evil, he spent some time praying over them to try to drive out any lingering spirits. He has not talked about wanting to dress up Aliana as a queen any more (today).

Raven found a ceramic or stone scarab, just like the last one. He pointed out the last one said, “Death,” with a picture of a skull – while this one is covered with runes to do with Protection and Evil. Well, without a preposition that phrase could go either way, and I am not about to take chances with any more of our party.

There are a few more things on the treasure list, but that’s everything of note so far. Ezekiel says, see it’s a good thing we investigated this. I figure it’s like a dragon – it could easily have gone the other way, like a boulder on a cliff edge. Anyway, onwards to more dark caverns…

Find the previous entry here.

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.