Dear Diary…Ezekiel’s death counter

Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure: “The Temple of Elemental Evil”

Lydia has given Raven her cloak of protection – since after all, he is more likely to run to the front and hit enemies (although she showed us some techniques she’s been learning at the tower with her staff, and is excited that she might actually hit something if it came down to it).

By the way, while Ezekiel was fiddling around with the weird magic trident, he discovered it had a hollow handle, with a nice, big aquamarine inside – plus a long scroll covered with cleric spells. (He’s calling the trident a “Trident of Yearning” because when you touch it, it makes you want to get in water or take a bath or something.)

As for Mikael’s new rod of smiting, though, no one in town knows specifically what its deal is.

Mikael and Raven have recovered their supplies as well as possible, buying replacement clothes and boots for the ones destroyed in acid…

I guess that’s a danger of carrying around too much expensive stuff – but there’s not a good way to get around it.

Had a lovely time in the woods with my “friends,” if by “lovely” we mean lots of push-ups and obstacle courses and getting my butt kicked. On the other hand, I really feel like I can swing an ax without pulling my muscles – or hitting something I don’t mean to. Even Master Elmo said I was getting “pretty good” at it. If we come across another ax in the dungeon, I can try it out…but until then, I think I’m carrying enough stuff. Continue reading

3 Rules for Writing Comic Strips

The comic strip world is in shambles. Back in my day, we had good comics.

Call them the “funny pages,” do you? These simple line drawings are the touch-stone of our culture!

Or – they should be…if they hadn’t been infected by lazy writers who don’t know what they’re doing.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: it is I, knower of everything, who have come to share exactly what is wrong with modern comic strips (that even goes for classics like Blondie whose current strips are being written by contemporary wannabe hacks)…and how anyone can produce a quality comic strip with my three easy steps.

Listen to me. After all, I know everything there is to know…and I am here to offer my gracious instruction to all you young whippersnappers.

1. Look Pretty

In the good old days, comics were nice to look at. Maybe the characters weren’t beautiful, but they weren’t a pile a squashed polygons that look like a made-in-China Picasso.

The lines were clean…the shapes were pleasing… You could tell what the backgrounds were, and what the characters were supposed to be.

3 Rules for Writing Comic Strips — Kimia Wood

Image courtesy of xkcd

Even “ugly” characters were somehow cute – or at least funny.

Minimalism is okay, too. But even simple designs can still lead the eye smoothly and give it satisfying shapes to look at.

Bottom line – in the old days, you could stare at the drawings without going blind.

You want to be a real comic strip writer? (Of course you do!) Then draw characters you wouldn’t mind hanging full-size on your wall!

If the people’s heads look like a pumpkin had an unfortunate accident with a tall building, you need some more work! If you don’t want your characters attractive, or cute…at least make their designs funny. You’re a comic strip writer.

2. Be Funny

Listen, my friend. You hold a valuable piece of our republic in your hands.

The comic pages are the one and only reason my grandpa buys a newspaper at all…and then only on Sundays…

And only for Sherman’s Lagoon.

You’re not competing with paint drying, you know. Put in a little effort! Do you want your character’s face used to light the fire in the morning?

Or do you want to hang on the bulletin board at work, for all the coworkers to see?

3 Rules for Writing Comic Strips — Kimia Wood

Image credit: ComicsKingdom

Trust me, your fellow comic writers are scraping the bottom of the barrel. (The next person to invent a fresh joke about Black Friday sales is getting the Pulitzer.) You don’t have to reach that far above them.

We all get that social media is a thing, now. Unless you have a really, truly unique gag about that inane fact (or about wives dissing their husbands, or kids whining about school, or any of the other tired, boring stereotypes) then just leave it alone.

Make your characters do interesting things. Force them to say interesting things.

If they’re just floating aimlessly across the page – nobody is going to care.

I don’t! And I am the gold standard for everything. (I also know everything, in case you’ve forgotten.)

There are loads of hilarious things in the world! Use some of them! Like the time our goat got so snarled around a tree with her cable that she literally got her hoof stuck in her collar.

Yeah, I just had to chuckle while I was untangling her.

Be the strip we tape to the bathroom mirror so we can wake up happy. Don’t be the strip that we read – and then feel absolutely nothing.

3. Aim for Timelessness

I don’t think I’ve said this part yet, so let me be clear:

You’re writing a comic strip.

This is not your personal editorial column, or your MySpace page. (Though if you can’t get published anywhere but MySpace…there might be a reason for that?)

By the way, no reason but I saw this hilarious comic strip skewering President Ford the other day. I can’t decide if that, or the one mocking Caesar Augustus, is my favorite –

Said no one ever!

Look. Shakespeare made bank with Julius Caesar because he tapped into the emotions of pride, jealousy, and betrayal that span all humanity.

Hamlet is still performed because it speaks to the doubts and longings common to our shared human experience…not because the Danish royal court is “relevant” or anything.

Yes I just compared Shakespeare to comic strips no I’m not sorry.

Sure, everyone else calls you the “funny pages” and uses you for a coffee mug coaster. Is that who you want to be?

Close your eyes and imagine five years from now…ten years from now… You’re holding the anniversary collection of your strip in your hands.

Are all the jokes lame and nonsensical because you’re mocking political figures that ran out their terms of office before your kids were born?

Who’s going to be laughing then?

No one! That’s who!

And your job is to be funny, for Calvin’s sake. (Calvin and Hobbes, of course.)

If no one will be interested in buying hardcover collector’s edition books of your strips because they’ll be meaningless after the next election cycle – think about that for a moment.

Crafting the Perfect Comic Strip

My time as your muse is drawing to a close. Just remember these three crucial points:

  1. Draw pictures you can enjoy looking at…staring at…and coming back to.
  2. Write plots and dialogue that actually get a chuckle. Or a wry grin. Or an appreciative snort.
  3. Dig deeper, aim higher, and create something people will come back to again, and again…and again, to read to their kids.

Unless, of course, you’re just here to make sure Frazz still has newspapers to distribute his genius.

In that case, I bow to your sacrificial support of the greater good.


3 Rules for Writing Comic Strips — Kimia WoodKimia Wood currently lives somewhere in the American Midwest with her family…including the brother people mistake for her boyfriend.

She’s bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for periodic updates on her latest reading and writing exploits. You’ll also receive a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier!

Dear Diary….pool of perdition

Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure “The Temple of Elemental Evil”

Ezekiel sent Mikael and Raven off to find Cuddles. Turns out he was keeping an eye on the double-doors we came through to reach the “sanctuary.”

They’d just met up with him when Raven says he heard the wall beside the door moving aside.

A voice said, “Master?” – and then we all heard shouting in some other language. (I assume it was bugbear.)

Most of the temple-room was still dark, of course – Mikael had a torch, but it didn’t shed light like our shiny shields used to (and the humidity in that room made things difficult, too).

Simba charged off into the darkness, roaring, and I heard the squeals as he tore into something (again, it sounded like bugbear).

I think Cuddles and Raven both lunged at the same time and bumped into each other – but that’s just going from what I saw across the room, and Raven insists it went differently.

Ezekiel moved forward, and as soon as Lydia followed him far enough to light the enemy, he bashed a bugbear-head in with his mace.

I speared one through the throat before I even realized Lydia had thrown an egg through the doorway…the figures beyond were gagging and choking on thick green smoke.

Something bellowed, “Who make stink?” — I didn’t see what. One of the bugbears tried to get out of the cloud, bumped into Ezekiel, and promptly got bit by Cuddles…but the rest of them seemed to be keeping their distance.

By the time Lydia dispelled the cloud, there were no enemies to be seen.

Raven took a torch from Ezekiel and ran forward a few rooms to check things out, but the enemy had made tracks and decided not to face us.

Wonillon pointed out it was the sensible thing to do, from their perspective, since I killed two of them with one arrow apiece…but it still means I couldn’t properly finish them off, and I dislike loose ends.

We did find something interesting in the bugbears’ rooms…a chest with some ogre-sized clothing, a rusted saw, a candlestick, and a whole pile of money. Wonillon and I were busy for several minutes shoveling it into the bag of holding.

Raven checked the armoire in Bel-Sornig’s room, and found a fancy robe – watered green silk – with a gold embroidered octopus wrapping around the garment and kind of smothering the wearer. He also found a gold censor and twenty blocks of incense wrapped in paper (I hope they don’t get jostled into powder in the bag…I don’t understand the physics of bags of holding).

Ezekiel called us all over so we could “deal with” the big pool in the south room.

Did I say –? Yes, the south wall is covered with a mosaic octopus – red highlights with green orbs here and there (guess that’s where they get their special symbol from?) – which is clutching a sacrificial victim in each of its tentacles.

(Seriously, all these evil temples seem fixated on ritual murder. What’s with them?)

Mikael advanced first…he put his hand to his temple and said “someone” told him that there was a “triton” (apparently a good-aligned mer-person) chained up in the pool, and it wanted to help defend us against the “krakon” on the far wall.

Well, while I was worrying about the mosaic coming to life, Raven hurried forward, handed his torch to Mikael, and jumped into the pool (he says he saw a humanoid figure in there).

The lights in that room were very weird. The crystal ceiling and floor seemed designed to reflect and twist the light to make it as confusing as possible, and the pool (with its basin of lapis lazuli) seemed to suck up the light and glow in a very disorienting way.

Anyway, whatever Raven saw, he quickly jumped out of the pool again, yelping in pain, and announced there was nothing in there at all.

His magic cloak (was that the one we got in the crypt, maybe?) was all ribbons and holes now, and he pulled one of his magic rings off his finger and threw it into the corner, spitting (he says it was the ring of protection).

While Raven shook himself and tried to wipe his peeling skin, Mikael raised his hand and chanted some words I hadn’t heard yet. Apparently it was “purify water,” and while I couldn’t tell a difference, Ezekiel says the whatever-it-was didn’t like that.

Ezekiel ordered our two companions to get back to us, past the threshold of the room…but Mikael had been talking to the voice in his head, I guess, and said, “No, no, the pool can grant me my wish,” and jumped in.

He jumped out again even faster than Raven – crying out in pain – and as Ezekiel rushed in to help them, Raven pulled Mikael out and away from the pool.

As the left, Raven aimed his “ring of shooting stars” at the thing, but there were only some under-whelming sparkles. The pool didn’t seem disturbed at all.

Heiron shot an arrow into the “water” (if it was water) but that didn’t get a reaction, either. (I figured there was no point throwing good weapons after bad.)

Wonillon tossed a torch – which did what torches do even in normal pools, and went out.

Lydia told everyone to stand back, and tossed a little lump of something I don’t want to know about.

Even though she said, “Fwoom,” nothing seemed to happen…and she said the room must neutralize fire magic.

Well, Mikael had asked Obed-Hai for two “Purify Water” spells, so he chanted the words again – and this time something definitely happened.

Specifically, the crystal dome that formed the ceiling shattered, raining down shards that would be pretty painful if we weren’t all standing in the shelter of the corridor.

The lapis lazuli basin also broke into fragments, the “water” or poison or whatever it was spilling out into the room.

Wonillon recovered first of any of us – by pointing out that the lapis lazuli would be pretty valuable.

Ezekiel agreed, so Wonillon unloaded all his magic items and ventured into the room with a rope around his waist.

Raven put on a fresh robe from his pack and helped Lydia search the room of the under-clerics (poor Mikael was going around trying to straighten out the pieces of his staff of striking, but I think something vital was eaten away. Good thing Bel-S just “gave” us a new rod).

Well, when no voices were tempting Wonillon, I went out to help him – the chunks of lapis were big enough it took both of us to maneuver them into the bag).

Ezekiel tied a rope around me, too, but I wasn’t so worried since Raven (Lawful *cough*) didn’t hear any voices, either.

Can’t say the room was made worse by the mess. The few cressets along the walls gave off a pale green glow that made the whole room look sickly…the tapestries hanging at either hand were more of the same vile displays we’d seen in the rest of the temple, but somehow in the green lighting they made my skin crawl.

Ezekiel gave me permission to burn them. I can’t easily get rid of a fresco or mosaic, but I can rid the world of this filthy torture-porn.

Wonillon must not have been avoiding looking at the tapestries, since he spotted something shoved up in the ceiling.

Mikael grabbed it down and found it was a coral scroll-case with a parchment inside.

It wasn’t a scroll or anything…just a note in Common.

Ezekiel wrote down a copy of it. I don’t understand it…something about “Vile Good cloaked by Fair Evil” and “will you answer, Answerer?” and the “whelp of Mitrik”. The pool was pretending to be good – promising things to lure in its prey – but that doesn’t explain who would hide a note like this in the ceiling…and why.

Is it a message for whoever killed the pool and so broke the ceiling?

Well, while we were busy, Lydia and Raven found “club rings” on the under-clerics – gold rings cut like tentacled monsters set with peridots (that seems to be their favorite stone – that and lapis).

We ransacked the rest of the room – and Bel-Sornig’s – and found some extra clothes for Mikael so he didn’t have to go around in rags anymore (though I think I was more embarrassed than Lydia).

There was a lot of the standard: dishes (malachite for the underlings, gold for Bel-S). Lydia found a secret drawer in the desk with a scroll that only Ezekiel could read – and he got very excited. He says it’s got three different spells on it – including “resist fire,” which should come in handy for the next temple.

Bel-S had some good gear – plus a gold belt with malachite and lapis lazuli. His magic steel ring went to Raven for the time being, and he had an iron key that Ezekiel used to unlock his private chest.

A trident hanging on the wall is magical somehow…but it a “bad” way, since after Ezekiel touched it he quickly let go and told everyone else not to mess with it.

Oh, yes…Raven found a box of sugared fruits. After asking Mikael if he’d prepared Neutralize Poison today, he tried one…next time I saw him, he was singing to Merrika in the corner (not exactly on tune, which is weird because usually Raven is a good singer).

Ezekiel found a cloak in Bel-S room that he says is a “Cloak of the Manta-Ray,” which lets you turn into a manta-ray when you go into the water…which I guess is useful in you need to breathe underwater and stuff, but only works for one person at a time.

By the time we were done wrapping the trident in the cloak (so we wouldn’t touch it) and forcing it into the bag of holding, Cuddles was hugging Raven just hard enough to keep him in one place…and Raven had used his magic ring to cast Faery Fire on the two of them, and was busy giggling and saying, “Sparkles.”

Mikael cast Neutralize Poison – and Raven stopped giggling.

The under-clerics had several glowing green orbs about the size of Heiron’s two fists, so we took a couple of those to help light our way.

It was getting pretty late by then, and we’d had a full day, so we decided to bunk down in Bel-S’s room, since Wonillon could wedge the door shut, and none of us could find any secret doors (even sober Raven).

That doesn’t make sense to me, since Bel-S must have had an escape strategy…but perhaps it was more sophisticated than “run far and fast.”

****

After some discussion, Lydia studied up on one Continual Light and one Stinking Cloud, so she could put light on Ezekiel’s shield and give us crowd-control in case we ran into trouble on the way out.

As it all turned out, we were fine…although I was kind of worried about running into undead without a paladin’s oh-so-helpful shield.

We got an early start…which is good, because Ezekiel started out by trying to find a secret door from the under-cleric’s room to connect with the sloping passage by the hydra (according to our maps, and if we’ve been counting our feet right, the floors should connect about there).

Well, while we found their bedroom-proper, with some more jewelry and coins (and two identical little libraries on the “Secrets of Water Evil” and stuff like that…I guess they both had to get the same textbooks), we didn’t find any secret doors.

So in the end we had to return to where we came in – through the “great hall,” past the barracks, and to the spiral staircase.

Not only did we not meet those bugbears and ogre that evaded us yesterday, but we also didn’t meet any undead – which I think is just as well, all things considered.

Our horses took care of themselves nicely (especially considering Yeti’s horse Syphon wasn’t there). Nulb seemed about as quiet as normal (we made no eye contact if we could help it).

****

Reached Homlette with no trouble (we passed a caravan on the way).

This time we dropped our treasure at the tower, since the money-changer is getting a little overwhelmed. The lapis lazuli alone weighed a couple hundred pounds!

Mikael says he’s taking Cuddles and Corby to visit Master Geru in the morning. Ezekiel’s going to go talk with Canon Turjon…he has some questions for him, and more to the point he wants to show him the strange note we found in the ceiling.

I’m going to take Heiron to the practice yard and show him some dodging techniques. Maybe I can teach him some ways to roll with a blow, so that even if an attack does connect, he doesn’t get hurt so badly. Wonillon says he wants to watch, at least for a little bit.

Wonillon also says that lapis should earn us a huge chunk of change for our accounts.

****

So much has gone wrong I can’t even focus.

A messenger says all the prisoners we were keeping in the tower – have been assassinated.

I’m so mad I could spit.

We go to all the trouble of catching them, and keeping them alive, and bringing them back – whether or not they could (or would) give us any useful information, you don’t just slaughter prisoners.

Killing people in the heat of battle is different than offing caged birds.

Obviously our old assassin nemesis (or more like him) are still floating around. Sneaky, deceitful, disguise-wearing, lying, murdering… I just hope he gets a sheaf of arrows in his gut one day, that’s all.

(Raven says we’d better make sure to apply the arrows during battle, when they would lawfully apply, but frankly I don’t feel like waiting that long.)

Better warn Master Osler to take care of himself. He’s been so nice to us, I’d never forgive myself if something happened to him.

Anyway, Ezekiel is back from the Chapel of St. Cuthbert, and he says the Canon thinks the note has something to do with the missing princes. Specifically, the prince had a magic sword named “Answerer.”

They think it’s some kind of taunt.

I think we’d better get the hustle on and skewer some Evil things.

Raven says he paid someone who knows to reassure him the steel ring from Bel-S isn’t some Good-smiting thing. They say it’s a “ring of free action” (like Master Ramne got), which might come in useful to keep Raven from getting paralyzed quite so much (very helpful if he decides to punch ghouls again).

They’re saying I should channel my passion and go ask Elmo for advice (about killing things). Maybe they’re right…he always makes me do push-ups.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary….path of the paladin

Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure “The Temple of Elemental Evil”

In the morning, our healers did their magic. The prisoner asked if he got any, and Ezekiel asked him if he was planning to do any fighting.

We returned to the first dungeon without problems, but as we were passing through the barracks on that level, we smelled ghouls.

Everybody hugged close to Yeti so Ezekiel could hit them with his mace – and when he did, the runes around the ram’s head glowed and there was a flash.

A little further on, Raven warned us about some more undead – but not soon enough for Cuddles, who got clawed and paralyzed, and Mikael, who whacked the ghoul that hit Cuddles, and then got paralyzed.

Raven and I dragged them into the safety zone around Yeti, then Heiron and I shot down a couple ghouls that were too close for comfort.

Then we all held off so Ezekiel could use his mace. By the time I could pay attention to what he was doing, most of the undead were gone…leaving barely a film of dust behind.

So apparently this mace method is even cleaner than turning them. Who knew? The two bodies with arrows were already half-rotten – but they’re going to smell bad for a while before they turn into dust.

We reached the courtyard about mid-morning (lovely to see the sun again!) and collected the horses.

The rescued woman insisted that she wanted to leave right away – that she would take the High Road to live with her sister in the Wild Coast – and didn’t want any help. I think Raven gave her a ration or two to get her started, but I’m not sure.

I guess she’s got guts…or it’s all a plot to prey upon our compassion somehow.

We reached the campsite just fine (Nulb was thankfully quiet) and started making dinner and dealing out what healing we had left for the day.

Ezekiel went over to talk to Yeti – he says he doesn’t like all these neutrals clinging to him…that it’s not the company he wants to die in, and that he needs to seek guidance from Ula before continuing.

From what I caught of Ezekiel’s answer, he rambled something about being an insane party.

Maybe Yeti doesn’t like being taken for granted. Ezekiel sure lays it on thick about being off his rocker, serving a god that doesn’t exist, but it gets pretty old.

Back when he had the “hot meal” clinic in Ertuli, sure, he talked about his God – but he seemed to understand that no one knew what he was talking about, and just left it at that. But that was before he could dust undead…that was before having these visions (which I guess we have to take his word for), and getting the elf lady to cure his disease (Yeti tried to explain to me why that shouldn’t have happened, or something).

After all that’s happened, nobody’s calling him delusional…except maybe that priest he and Mikael met in Greyhawk, and nobody cares what he thinks.

Ezekiel does have some kind of understanding that a God above all other gods would also be over the Evil gods…which is kinda confusing. It doesn’t change my perspective, though, because Good is still obviously superior, since it exists.

After all – just the fact that we can have Good, and some people can be Evil (they’re allowed to be) shows that Good is the better, or the default one. If Ao (or whatever His name is) was Evil, then the whole world would be misery and blackness and those hideous pictures from the Temple.

I had a dream about one of them last night.

Just the fact that beauty and happiness and sunsets exist shows that they must be stronger than the anger and bitterness that oppose them. Winter is allowed a season, but not forever – Good insists on spring, when Ehlonna clothes all the trees and hillsides with life again.

All of which means, I guess, that some Evil is allowed to exist (for some reason)…but I also firmly believe that, if it must exist, it should have the decency to do it on its own plane.

So what we’re doing here is perfectly right and legitimate…not only are we upholding kindness and life and normal-ness (which is the better of the two), but we’re also spanking those perverted human-sacrificers back to the Dark Planes where they belong.

O— Heiron says he thought he heard something, but it’s nothing. He volunteered to patrol while we watch…when he gets older, he’ll learn how I can listen to my surroundings while also focusing on something else.

Anyway…I guess Yeti has to figure out his own path. Ula and Ehlonna might both serve the same Good (the same Good Person???), but they don’t hang out much.

And he’s also right that there are Right ways of doing Good, and Wrong ways of doing good. I think Ezekiel gets side-tracked by this idea of totality, of allowing the Evil gods to punt around – and trying to figure out how to serve Someone nobody else has ever approached before.

Also, none of us are any good at interrogation.

****

Got into Homlette just before sunset. Dropped the prisoner at the tower, and reported our latest findings to Sir Rufus.

Raven says he wants his magic dagger identified if possible (you never know…it might have a deadly magic trap against Good people on it). We’ll also have to get the treasure appraised and divvied up so we can give Yeti his share.

He never talked that much, but it’s sad to think he won’t be with us next time.

Am I also taking him for granted?!

****

Good treasure haul. Sent Heiron to buy us some more arrows (and paid him for the week, since after all he might need to buy something while we’re in town).

Ezekiel asked where he could buy some sheep, then left the inn. What’s he up to now?

****

The roads are still remarkable quiet. Maybe we’re just so loudly dangerous that anyone who might be trouble gives us space.

We returned to second basement of the Temple, via the same route and the same spiral staircase.

The minotaur body had become the home of some gross-looking eggs, so we squished all those. Not excited about dousing and burning all the bodies we make, but short of lugging them out for burial, I’m not sure how we can be any cleaner about our corpses. Cuddles can only eat so much…and he isn’t a dignified final resting place for a human, anyway.

Turns out, I really had noticed a secret door in the hallway by the Air Temple (y’know…the place where we almost died of poison gas thanks Raven). Inside, it was just a tiny L-shaped passage connecting the “sanctuary” with the corridor. Lydia supposes it could be a place to hide during a raid from the other temples…which makes sense given that they’re competing with each other.

… …

Well. Things got more interesting after that.

Wonillon checked the other double-doors in that hallway (the ones to the west), and when we opened them, we found a corridor basically the same width, with the same type of disgusting paintings on the walls, of death and destruction and oppression. The painted clerics organizing all this suffering and debauchery are dressed in green robes with the circle symbol.

The corridor isn’t very long, comparatively, and leads to more double doors covered with bronze bas-relief.

Wonillon checked those, too.

Beyond…so much of the rooms comes from the sensation of being there, that it’s hard to describe.

The floor and walls are azurite malachite stone, and the ceiling is vaulted with buttresses. The air is damp, and there’s a luminosity that doesn’t seem to come from any one place…it just floats in the air, giving everything the same sickly blue-green glow.

In the center of the west wall is a huge bronze plate in bas-relief of various sea life…but it must be all the ugliest of the sea life, with tentacles and fins and teeth, and one central fish-head acting as a fountain (there are 4 stacked basins below to catch the water).

Raven agreed with me that the one relief was that this hideous, fanged fish-head wasn’t the “fishy wave” one from Greyhawk. I suppose that much bronze must be worth something, but we haven’t discussed touching it yet.

A four-foot basin in the center of the room holds some coins, gems, and seashells – covered with a shallow pool of water. I suspect they’re the kind of thing Ezekiel says we should only touch one of.

Across from the doors was some kind of statue or idol, in front of a curtain made from seaweed and water. The idol was at least eight by eight, and…like if several bushels of eels, sea monsters, spiny fish, and other gross creatures had all been poured together and fused against their will into one monstrosity. You can almost pity the things that served as models.

While we were still all taking this in, Ezekiel put his finger to his lips and motioned each of us into position. Then he pushed the seaweed of the curtain aside and stepped through the doorway under the water.

(So we got at least one thing right.)

Beyond the curtain was a twenty-five foot corridor. A door stood on each side, and beyond lay some kind of big room with a huge oval pool (we couldn’t see much from there, but it was lit by cressets. Raven says the pool seemed to be absorbing the light or something, and the floor was blocks of crystal designed to reflect the light in confusing ways).

Heiron and I each took a corner to cover the doors, while Raven and Wonillon listened.

Then Ezekiel made a choice – pointing at everybody to get them where he wanted them – and Wonillon blocked the east door with those “crampons” that seem to work so well.

We didn’t have Yeti, of course, so Wonillon stood up near the door with Ezekiel…while Mikael and Lydia waited behind them to see if their spells were needed. Raven stationed himself at the corner leading into the room with the pool to make sure nothing snuck up on us from there (and he knows enough now to not attack any of the furniture without due preparation).

When Ezekiel opened the door, the first thing we all noticed was the man sitting in a green velvet robe on the couch across from the door.

Everything in the room was green – even the brazier in the center of the floor. Gossamer hangings from the ceiling gave the feeling of an underwater forest…but a haunted forest. Maybe like those paralyzing bubble-animals of death Raven told us all the scary stories about.

The man noticed us about the same time we noticed him, and he put down whatever he was reading and smiled.

“Well, hello, friends,” he said.

Ezekiel said, “Bel-Sornig, I presume.” (High Cleric of the Water Temple…pretty safe guess.)

The cleric smiled some more and said he assumed we were responsible for Cleric Kelno’s death, and that we should talk reasonably with him.

Well, talking is not something we do…but you don’t get good at something by not practicing. I guess that’s what Ezekiel figured, because he said, “Go on.”

Basically, Bel-S said he knew we were after the Greater Temple, and that he could help us against them, and the Fire Temple…but that in return we would leave his temple alone.

Of course, I thought what a precious deal that would be – help him to step into the shoes of the Greater Temple, and backstab us whenever he was ready! That, and of course we’re here to stop all the sacrificing-prisoners-to-demon-gods stuff, not just a majority percentage of it.

I was afraid Ezekiel would ask him to touch the magic mace or something, but instead he said we could accept info – in return for letting Bel-Sornig, personally, leave the Temple and not return.

I wasn’t too keen on that, either (bad guys don’t just retire quietly…they like to plot revenge and stuff), but it didn’t matter since Bel-S didn’t care for that deal, either.

So he put out all our lights.

I had an arrow on the string, covering his major organs…all I had to do was put tension in the string, and release, and I had a chance to hit something. (I had a chance to hit Ezekiel, too, of course, but nothing is fool-proof.)

I heard the arrow hit what sounded like a cushion – and then heard the twang of Heiron’s bow. Neither shot earned us a yelp, so all I could do was fumble in my backpack for a torch.

Why are they always at the bottom?

I heard the shuffle-pad-scrape of Raven’s dancer-like feet, and the doorway glowed for a second (he says he used his ring to case Faery Fire, but it didn’t do any good).

I had glimpsed a doorway off to the side while Ezekiel was talking, and I was torn between the fear that Bel-S would go through it, circle around, and hit us in the flank – and the fear that he would go through it, and just run away.

Maybe all the worrying is why I couldn’t seem to lay hold of a torch, even though I was carrying several.

While I was being useless that way, Lydia threw something and shouted, “Stink!”

Mikael and Raven both told Cuddles to “block the door,” and Ezekiel started banging on his shield, bellowing, “Light, light.”

All that, and I still heard someone moving around inside the room – maybe it was the soft chuckling.

Mikael cast faery fire, and someone huge and bulky started glowing in the doorway.

The someone had Ezekiel’s voice, because he told me to get out of the darkness so I could take a shot.

He must have remembered (though I didn’t at the time) that the pool-room and the fishy room were both lit in various ways – but it wouldn’t really have mattered because when I tried to make my way to the fishy room, I banged right into Heiron and wiped out on the floor.

Of course that is the moment Lydia chose to light her torch. She didn’t wait the three minutes for me to pick myself up…no, she didn’t. She lit her finger and set the torch alight while I was sprawled on the floor and wondering which sword I had fallen on.

On the bright side, I guess nobody noticed because Bel-S appeared, feathered with faery fire and in full plate-mail (probably green, though I didn’t notice).

Lydia summoned Simba – who promptly charged into the room, where her stinking cloud was still giving off sickening vapors.

Heiron stepped over me to take a couple shots (he must have been very excited, though, since he hit the couch) and the others crowded forward to attack. I heard the clang and caught a glimpse of the lightening from Ezekiel’s mace.

By the time I had untangled myself and stood up, Simba was dragging himself back into the hallway, gagging. I found an arrow and launched it, finding a chink between the plates of Bel-S’s armor.

That’s when Bel-S did what he probably should have done from the very beginning – made for the southern door to escape. He didn’t make it, though, as suddenly I heard a heavy clatter, and Wonillon appeared in the room – holding a bloody dagger and grinning from ear to ear.

(So if we wanted to question him more, we missed our chance. Not like he was very – persuadable, anyway.)

After all that noise, it’s no wonder someone had started pounding at the other door – but Wonillon’s wedges held.

Ezekiel got us into position again and threw the door open. Wonillon felt on a roll or something, because he pounced through the opening at once – stunning one of the guys in chainmail there.

Ezekiel took him out, and I took out the other one.

They were both wearing cowled green robes – kind of like Bel-S – but we didn’t really have a chance to notice that until they were dead.

(We’ll never know, of course, if they would have been more cooperative…because they’re dead.)

Ezekiel pointed out that they each had two hammers – so he says they were under-clerics (apparently there’s a cleric spell that involves a hammer as reagent).

That seemed to be everyone in the area…but we sure weren’t letting our guard down.

And we still had to find Cuddles, who seemed to have gone off somewhere.


Find the previous entry here.

Start at the beginning of the second level here.

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Prophecy—Messages vs. Theology vs. Smoke-and-Mirrors

Prophecy—Messages vs. Theology vs. Smoke-and-Mirrors

Whenever people start on a tear about “prophecy has ceased,” I usually dig my heels in.

Not because of any personal, emotional connection. I was born in a semi-liturgical denomination, and grew up in pretty rationalist circles.

No, I never bought the cessationist mantra because of what I see in the Bible.

Then I came across a new presentation of this theological ideology, and I think I’ve gained some perspective. Maybe we’re not so different, you and I, Mr. Apostolic Age.

I mean, I still don’t believe in an “apostolic age”…but I think if we narrowed down some definitions, you’d find I’m not such a flaming heretic as you think. And maybe we’ll both be able to agree over the Scriptures.

Smoke-and-Mirrors

The book is The Ever-Loving Truth, a group Bible-study book by Voddie Baucham, and the chapter in question is Week 4, Day 3 (pp. 104-107).

Prophecy—Messages vs Theology vs Smoke-and-Mirrors — Kimia Wood

I don’t think that’s what it’s supposed to look like… Image credit: torrilynn@hubpages

The chapter starts by talking about church-attenders who use the “God told me —” or “I’ve really prayed about this, and —” to excuse un-Biblical behavior.

That is baloney sauce, and these Bible teachers are right to call people on it.

(Y’know: “God has given me peace about leaving my wife.” No, He hasn’t.)

It is never okay to divorce your wife for un-Biblical reasons, or to pursue a ministry you are obviously unqualified for (like a woman as pastor), because you “feel at peace” about it or “really feel called.”

That is called “emotions” talking…sometimes called “selfish ambitions” or “evil desires,” and the Bible tells us how to respond to them.

Consider:

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.

But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (Deut. 13: 1-5)

To take the point and drive it into the ground, if your own heart tempts you and tries to draw you after other gods – sports, money, chocolate, nice vacations, Disney movies – any other god that doesn’t start with J- and end with -esus, then…cut it out and throw it away. (See Mark 9:43-45.)

“It is better to enter life without your heart, than with a functioning aorta to be thrown into hell.”

*another metaphor bites the dust*

God warned us that false teachers and prophets would try to drag us away from Him with lies and dreams and all kinds of false signs. The best way to tell the real ones from the fakes is to live in God’s word.

Messages

Another kind of “prophecy” is just personal, specific, time-sensitive messages.

Prophecy—Messages vs Theology vs Smoke-and-Mirrors — Kimia Wood

Image credit: ThisFragileTent

When the prophet in Acts (11:28) warned the church of an up-coming famine…they didn’t brand him as a “charismatic,” they didn’t accuse him of undermining their faith, and they didn’t chant, “The cannon is closed, the cannon is closed.”

They started raising money to send aid to their fellow believers affected by the famine.

This kind of prophecy doesn’t contradict God’s word. God is very serious that, if you say such-and-such in His name, it had better come true…otherwise you better like rock sandwiches.

(Okay, I am only joke – we can’t stone false prophets anymore. At least not dead.)

But you get the point…claiming “God told me —” is super, deadly serious.

And if you say, “God told me to divorce my wife so I can pursue my dreams,” I will be hunting for the nearest stone.

God does not contradict Himself!

Which is why I don’t believe prophecy has ceased. After all, the same God who taught us:

“All Scripture is God-breathed, and useful…” (see 2 Tim. 3:16)

also gave us:

“Some He made apostles, some prophets, some teachers, some pastors…” (see Eph. 4:11-13)

From this I assume two things. 1) That the second passage is still useful for teaching, correcting, and training in righteousness. 2) That prophets and teachers are not identical…and therefore prophets are still a thing.

I don’t get it, and I’m not actually comfortable with people standing up in worship services saying, “I have a word –!”

—But I’m not comfortable saying, “God’s word doesn’t apply to us anymore.”

We have to remember the prophet from the days of Judah and Israel, though. (Read 1 Kings 13.)

He went to prophesy against the wicked king of Israel, but God had warned him he shouldn’t stop and eat or drink anything on the way home.

Some other guy (whether he was a real prophet or a self-styled prophet, I don’t know – God knows) came and stopped the first guy and brought him home for a snack.

The second guy told the first guy, “God told me to tell you to come back and eat.”

Now, the first guy should have said: “God told me not to stop and eat, so I’m going to stick with what I know He told me.”

Instead, he had the snack – then Mr. Two told him he was doomed to die on the way home…and sure enough, a lion killed him on the way home.

I’m not exactly sure what the moral of the story is, but, “Don’t take some guy’s word over God’s word” is a pretty safe bet.

Theological Truths

Prophecy—Messages vs Theology vs Smoke-and-Mirrors — Kimia Wood

Image credit: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The Bible clearly teaches that the Holy Spirit living inside us guides us into all truth. Every time we read the Bible, new things jump out at us. In each stage of our lives, God prompts us and prods us to grow in the direction of His choosing.

Not all of us grow in the same directions at the same time. Not all of us are called to minister in the same places, or in the same ways. The same passage of Scripture can say two different things to two different Christians, depending on their own sin struggles, their stage of growth, their mission callings, etc.

Is this “prophecy”? Does this count as “God told me – in such-and-such passage – that I need to apologize to my neighbor”?

According to The Ever-Loving Truth – no. The author there says that this is the work of the Spirit through God’s word, and not actual “revelation,” and therefore not banned under the “prophecy has ceased” mantra.

So what is “prophetical revelation” according to this author?

Apparently it’s a “dream, a vision, a spiritual visitation”…something that claims spiritual authority because of its metaphysical appearance, and so trumps Scripture.

And with that definition, I totally agree with them.

As Paul said:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:8-9)

“…even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” (2 Cor. 11:14)

There are a lot of silly ideas floating around Christianity. Some of them come from reading too many “Sunday school versions” of the “Bible stories” – and not enough of the actual historical accounts in the Bible.

Some silly ideas come from listening to the culture around us, and not thinking hard about the things they say. A lot of our mental images of angels don’t come from the Bible (bright, terrifying, male) but from the world (pretty, winged, female).

You know – the world Jesus was talking about when He said:

“I have given [my disciples] your word[, Father], and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.

“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.

“They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

“As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (John 17:14-19)

The Ever-Loving Truth makes the case that God has given us everything we need to know Him and grow in Him.

After all, Jesus is the culmination of all history and prophecy (cp. Heb. 1)…the whole Law of Moses, all the prophets, the setting apart of Israel as God’s chosen people – all of it was a flashing neon arrow pointing at Jesus.

What more could we need?

I’d like to ask that question of the people trying to figure out how election works. Mostly to see the sparks fly, because I’m wicked.

(When I’m done there, I’ll go put the question to the people making timelines for Revelation.)

I’ve never been satisfied with the arguments that, “The cannon is closed; get over it.”

Revelation 22:18-19 is specifically talking about “the words of this prophecy” (and isn’t charting out the time-table kind of adding to the book, eh?).

I don’t see why new revelation would challenge our faith, cause us to doubt, or destroy the church. After all, the New Testament didn’t do any of those things.

It did tear down the top-heavy system of Jewish religion…but only because, with the Perfect Passover Lamb sacrificed, there was no need for all the rest of it. It was complete…fulfilled…

“It is finished.”

If God really had anything more to say, whatever He said would align perfectly with everything that went before, from Genesis to Jude and beyond. It wouldn’t just rhyme…it would harmonize.

He’s awesome like that.

But what more could He possibly add to the cap-stone and cornerstone that is Jesus Christ the God-Man?

How about, “I am Jesus, and I am the way to God. Find this Christian to find out more.”

This is apparently the message to many Muslim people in closed countries, who see Jesus in a dream so they can seek out believers and hear the gospel.

It’s not “the work of the Holy Spirit through God’s word” because they don’t have the word to read… And they’re not Christians yet, so they don’t have His Spirit living inside them to guide and teach them.

I don’t know about you, but when this “prophetic revelation” is driving people to seek Jesus, not “other gods they have not known,” I can but praise God and give thanks for more brothers and sisters saved.

Discernment Required

Prophecy—Messages vs Theology vs Smoke-and-Mirrors — Kimia Wood

Image credit: Pixabay

I don’t think I’ll ever take in stride people standing up in the middle of corporate prayer or something and spouting out a “message” they’ve been given.

Fortunately, God loves us all, and is big enough to take us all in.

As long as we’re matching everything against what God has already said, I can’t say, with my dispensational, cessationist brothers – “Prophecy has ceased, gifts have ceased, get with the program, you heretic.”

And I can call you my brothers as long as we can agree on these key things:

God never lies. He does not change. God cannot prove false to Himself.

Jesus Christ, Son of God – sent by God, crucified for our sins according to the Scriptures, buried, and risen again according to the Scriptures.


This post is approved by my spiritual head.

KimiaProphecy—Messages vs Theology vs Smoke-and-Mirrors — Kimia Wood Wood currently lives somewhere in the American Midwest with her family – including the brother people mistake for her boyfriend.

She’s bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures! You’ll also receive a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier.

Dear Diary….we get steamed

It’s only noon, but we’re already wiped out. We need to work on pacing or something.

After our little rest, Ezekiel led up through the hall to the north of the cleric’s bedroom. It leads straight up to what I’m calling the “great hall” – although there’s a short corridor that splits off and leads to a room full of bugbears and goblins.

When we first opened that door, Wonillon charged straight in (ignoring the wound on his arm, apparently) before Ezekiel had a chance to shout for everyone to hold back.

I nailed two bugbears through the throat, and then Lydia tossed her egg – and the room filled with a thick green cloud. (She’s been wanting to do that all day, you know.)

I could just see Wonillon on his hands and knees, puking – but then Mikael threw faery fire on the rest of the humanoids, and I was busy filling them with arrows.

A goblin tried to flee the cloud, but ran right into Ezekiel, who turned it into paste on the wall. I think that was satisfying for both of us (though not for the goblin).

Raven has been practicing with javelins, and threw a couple into the room – but apparently he didn’t have the range down, because his first throw lodged the javelin between the chinks in the stone wall opposite us. (Good thing he didn’t use the lightening javelin, eh?)

By the time the cloud dissipated, the enemy was all down, and we could search the room for valuables. It reeked of goblins, the floor was filthy, and the tressel tables were littered with food scraps. There were some sausages hanging from the rafters, but none of us trusted them (unless Corby was interested; Cuddles was still pretty full).

Raven found a pantry with millet, beets, and flour…so if worst comes to worst and we need food down here, we have options. But I don’t find anything a bugbear has been pawing very appetizing.

The bugbears all wore grey cloaks, which fits in with them serving the Air Temple.

Ezekiel wanted to charge off and get the next cleric before we called it a day, so we returned to the “great hall.”

The next passageway that led south had gross paintings on the walls: worshippers of Evil leading their sacrificial captives after a cleric in grey robes.

Ezekiel figured we’d already dealt with Air, so led us to the next passage down.

The paintings there were much the same…although the despicable cultists were being led by three different clerics in different robes: grey with a square, green with a circle, and red with an eight-sided thing.

[sketch]

Ezekiel decided we weren’t ready for all of that, and made us turn around and head down the other corridor.

We killed an ocher jelly in the “great hall” (meaning Raven, Heiron, and Yeti splatted it while the rest of us watched) and moved on. (I really hope it’s not the same one, because that would be annoying, not to say disturbing.)

This corridor ended with a set of double-doors to either side – east and west. According to the map, there should also be a secret door leading the Cleric Kelno’s quarters. (I think I saw another secret door, but I’m not sure…and we haven’t had time to check it out.)

Wonillon thought the doors to the west were trapped…but Raven said the doors to the east were clean.

Ezekiel said that worked out, because according to the map, that was more in the direction of the main bulk of the Temple, anyway.

He and Yeti opened the doors…and now comes –

the creepy part.

The room was huge – steps led down to the floor, fifteen feet below us, and the domed ceiling soared at least forty feet above. A strange, milky glow seemed to come from everywhere…messing with the shadows and looking very unnatural. Maybe like a dull, overcast day.

There was a mist swirling on the floor, too, that made it hard to tell what was in the room. We did notice a pit in the very center of the room, directly underneath a shaft in the middle of the ceiling. I wonder whether it’s the same mysterious shaft we spotted on the level above – but we haven’t put the maps on top of each other to test the theory, or investigated the shaft.

There’s also an alabaster altar in front of the pit. Two braziers on silver chains hung on either side of the pit, as well, giving off a sickly sweet smell. Don’t ask me why, but it made me think of fresh blood.

Ezekiel told Yeti to come with him, and they advanced very carefully down the steps.

Another set of steps led up from the floor to the north, but they stopped at a door covered with horrible runes that none of us could look at. Doors and stairs led away to the east and south, too, all positioned around the central square where the altar and pit were – and forming the outer walls into a big octagon.

Ezekiel and Yeti reached the floor, and didn’t seem to be harmed by the mist (you never know, of course…). They reached the center, and they say the pit was only five feet deep or so (plenty deep for some of us), and there were two crystal knives and a crystal bowl on the altar.

Ezekiel, as we all know, is always grabbing death by the horns – so he picked up one of the daggers.

A weird tinkling – almost a chime, though it set my teeth on edge – rang out, and then a cyclone or something seemed rise out of the pit and smacked Ezekiel and Yeti. I saw them almost fall over — and then we all saw a misty shape, not quite cloud, not exactly human appear on the far side of the room.

Heiron is either gutsy, or just figures the plan you don’t try will always fail. He fired an arrow at the thing – but either he was too excited, or the wind spinning around the pit knocked it off course…anyway, it didn’t hit.

The shape charged our friends and made a slash at Ezekiel, but shrieked and seemed to shrink away from Yeti.

Raven and Heiron both fired missiles (Raven a javelin) before I sent an arrow right through the thing (I can’t call it a creature, because it didn’t seem to even flinch at my arrow).

Mikael cast faery fire on it, and it looked quite strange – glowing and sparkling in the strange luminescence of the room. Parts of it were glowing brighter than others, but I don’t really know if those were its vulnerable spots…I don’t even know if a thing like that has vulnerable spots.

Raven ran down into the room (the cyclone or whatever seemed to be staying in the pit, so didn’t hurt him – just flapped his ropes a little) and he punched the figure.

I saw him shake his hand a little before shouting, “Don’t punch it.”

That’s when Yeti got his hit in. It’s hard to tell whether a figure of vapor has a “head,” but when his hammer connected with the “head,” the cloudy form billowed a little, and it snarled – perhaps in pain, perhaps in anger.

It seemed reasonable to me then that only magical weapons could hurt it…so, (since Raven had gotten down there fine without being carried off by the whirlwind) I told Heiron to help Mikael protect the prisoners (along with the animals), and drew my sword.

Wonillon ran past me, and stabbed the thing in its side (I don’t know if it was its side, you know, but it was the side of what we were looking at – anyway…). It didn’t like that, and snarled again – so that when I tried a cut, it swirled and pulled its misty limbs away.

Ezekiel said, “I think it’s a wraith — it’s mine.”

Fair’s fair…he wants to try using his magic mace on undead…but if that’s his goal maybe he shouldn’t try to hit Yeti, behind him.

I hadn’t even noticed that Raven had left – I was more concerned about staying near Yeti while fighting the apparition – but then we were all reminded of his presence.

Abruptly reminded.

He says that he was irritated by the smell of the braziers, and wanted to put them out. So he dumped his waterskin on the nearest one.

Next thing we knew, dense smoke rolled out of the brazier and covered the floor…more than that, it piled up on the floor until we couldn’t breath and could barely see the people right next to us.

While we were all gagging at the burning pain, I heard Yeti mutter something about, “Ula heal…”

I didn’t stay longer though, since I figured my usefulness had come to an end, and besides I couldn’t breathe without feeling like I was inhaling boiling water.

I headed for the last place I’d seen the stairs – which wasn’t quite where I remembered, because I almost banged my face on the wall of the room.

While I recovered myself, I heard footsteps patter off to my right – and then a much more leaden sound…the clatter of someone in armor collapsing to the ground.

Ezekiel yelled something about, “Begone, foul creature!”

I shouted for Yeti and Ezekiel to say something – but by that point, I heard the scraping and clanking of someone dragging someone in armor – up steps.

I followed the sounds, found the steps, and managed to climb onto them – gagging the whole time.

When I got high enough to actually see things again, Wonillon had reached the top of the stairs, and Raven had Yeti laid out on a step, dripping a healing potion into his mouth.

(It’s sure lucky he had that. We have Keoghtem’s Ointment, of course, but they’re all in the bag of holding…on my back.)

As Yeti sat up – coughing and rubbing his throat – Ezekiel charged up the stairs after us…followed by that hideous floating apparition that seemed to be blending with the cloud of poison gas.

Yeti fumbled for his hammer, and threw it — maybe Ula guided that throw, because it caught the figure smack in the middle, and the mist or vapor or whatever it was made of evaporated into the air with a whiny groan.

Ezekiel told us, while desecrating strange temples, make sure you only touch one thing at a time.

That’s all the “learning opportunity” he had time for, since we had to crawl out into the corridor to get away from the rising smoke. (I wasn’t afraid the smoke would flood the whole dungeon…but being anywhere in that room certainly didn’t feel safe.)

In the corridor, we found our companions weren’t having a dull morning, either. A huge, green, humanoid creature with ugly tusks (I knew it was a troll from my studies, but it’s the first I’ve ever seen in real life) was attacking Cuddles, and Heiron was having trouble firing at it through all the friendlies.

Raven and Ezekiel charged into battle (Raven with a javelin that caught the troll square in the shoulder) while Cuddles gave an angry-sounding hiss and bit him.

The troll took another swing at Cuddles, smacking him so hard he flipped over and gurgled on the floor…but by then I finally had my shot lined up, and nailed it through the throat.

Mikael ran to Cuddles, while Ezekiel pounced on the troll and pinned it to the ground with his mace. He called for someone with oil, and Wonillon (after searching it for anything interesting) doused it with a flask.

Lydia lit it up, and we watched the green pile of limbs turn into charcoal.

Well, the others agreed with me that that was quite enough excitement for one day, so we limped back to the guard quarters to heal up.

(I wonder what our captured guard thought of us. Not like my pride hangs on his opinion, but it does seem to be true that we are not prepared for some of the things here.)

The woman we rescued was shaking a little bit, and said she didn’t want to die. A reasonable sentiment…I for one was never keen to go off exploring and fighting with an innocent civilian along.

Whatever else, this turn of events has convinced Ezekiel that we need to return to town for a bit. We can get the woman to safety, heal up a little, and turn our captured guard over to someone responsible (although I admit he’s been a valuable resource to explain what we’re seeing down here. That’s the trouble when we kill important people too fast).

Wonillon had these skinny little knives he calls “crampons” he can use to wedge shut the door into the western guardroom. We should be able to sleep a little better, and with all of us in the same area, whoever’s on watch will have an easier time of it. (Lydia and the woman, of course, have the private room.)

Hard to believe that just this morning, we were eating this same cold mutton for breakfast. At least when we’re spending some serious time recovering, we can light a fire and warm it up.

Maybe Ezekiel will use this time to get more info out of the prisoner? It’s not what we’re good at…but hey, neither is breathing in smoke.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary….steamrolling (whatever that means)

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “The Temple of Elemental Evil”

After questioning the prisoner, we had a quick consultation in Lawful Good (if he’s an assassin, I’m going to be very mad).

The problem was what to do with the prisoners, while we went after the Head Cleric of the Water Temple before he was alerted. Ezekiel decided to put Heiron, Raven, and the animals in charge of keeping the prisoners (one rescued and one captured) safe, while the rest of us tried dealing with the cleric (to leave the Water Temple leaderless, you see).

That worked out, because Cuddles will be digesting for quite some time, and moves much slower at the moment…and also I don’t want Heiron on the front lines for a bit. We’ll be fighting some dangerous people, and I just can’t risk someone else’s life like that.

While we were having our discussion, someone discovered a door behind a tapestry on the wall – a door with no handle and an iron shutter. That was no problem for Lydia, who still made it open by snapping her fingers or something.

On the other side, just as my map had indicated, there was an angular room – basically a pass-through to the smallest barracks (the first one we cleared, with a zig-zag shape). There’s a stool for a sentry, and a line of twine running through eyebolts into the barracks wall. I think it’s obviously some kind of trap (or alarm), but we haven’t investigated what it does yet.

It also fits into my theory about what the guards were doing – they were fleeing up this way to get help from the barracks…not knowing that we had already killed them all.

[quick sketch]

Ezekiel led us back around to the minotaur room and into the passage that opens to the south. This corridor is very long, which he hoped meant it was leading us around the main body of the temple to bring us to the cleric’s quarters.

After 150 or 160 feet, we reached a door at the end of the corridor. When Ezekiel threw the door open, I could see bugbears – for once in our lives, we surprised them.

They wore grey kilts and cloaks with a big black square emblazoned on them, and carried spears and battleaxes. That’s all I saw before I shot one through the throat.

Wonillon charged into the room, and Lydia tossed an egg – then swore, because she couldn’t create the cloud with our team in there.

Ezekiel and Mikael followed his lead (Mikael getting in some good smacks with his staff) and I took out another bugbear before they had time to react.

We’d killed a couple more when the last one standing started howling. Of course that meant reinforcements, so I slid along the wall just inside the door to cover the door across the room.

The reinforcements were some gnolls (chainmail) and a few more bugbears (scale mail) – all in those same grey uniforms. I shot down a couple of them, and they tried to return fire – but the arrows went over my head. Raven says they expected me to be taller, but I don’t see his point.

Ezekiel shouted for Lydia, and she raced into the room…but she couldn’t do Stinking Cloud with such a cluttered battleground. She did stand in front of me, though, so I missed two shots.

Mikael and Ezekiel both bashed their opponents to the ground, though, so that’s good.

I think I counted twelve bodies when we were done. They had some decent money on them, but I haven’t bothered to pile the bodies somewhere. They’re just bugbears and gnolls, after all…and smell pretty bad.

Their room was stuffed with odds-and-ends of furniture – couches, cushions on the floor, tables, a barrel and a cask –and the wall-hangings were plain solid colors – grey, ivroy, white.

In between the hangings were plaster paintings, and these were also different than in other parts of the Temple: scenes of tornadoes and such ripping homes apart (so the violence thing was still a motif).

It makes sense in retrospect.

The door across the room led into a hallway, and we advanced carefully – with the prisoners in back, so they could be protected. Yeti volunteered to help with that job, which freed Raven up to come to the front lines if needed.

While I stood in the hall to watch for enemies, Ezekiel opened the very next door – it led south.

This room had a grey carpet, and a cabinet with a number of things…including some wax candles, some old clothes, and some honey.

Raven helped himself to the honey, so I helped myself to the candles (he says he already has candles, but you never know what you might need)

There were also piles of tapestries, rugs, and such on the floor as bedding, so I guess the bugbears and gnolls also slept in here sometimes.

Ezekiel called me into the room before he opened yet another door to the east…so when he did, I could clearly see a man in heavy armor beyond.

The man said, “How many times, Garosh?” – and then my arrow glanced off his armor. (Good thing I restocked from the gnoll archers.)

Wonillon, Raven, and Ezekiel charged in to confront him – but Ezekiel’s mace bounced off the man’s armor and whacked Raven.

I shot again, and somehow speared Wonillon through the arm. Raven told me, “The bad guy was taller than that, Elwyn,” but I feel no need to take archery lessons from a monk (even if he can catch arrows from the air).

Mikael must have been surprised to see me do this, because he ran forward and swung at the enemy, then dropped his staff altogether.

By the time we were done with all that slap-stick routine, the man in armor was fleeing behind a curtain at the back of his bedroom. Raven and Mikael dashed after him, followed quickly by Wonillon.

I’m not as fast as they are…and the last thing I wanted was to be surprised by a flanking enemy in the hallway behind…so I stayed where I could hear any cries for help from our rear forces, and could hopefully hear if anyone was coming down the hallway at us.

Ezekiel said something like, “Wait for me!” (or was it, “It’s pointless to flee”?) and disappeared through the curtain.

I called to the rear forces to move into the room with me, and with them less “in the open” (couldn’t be flanked so easily) I moved into the armored man’s bedroom.

I had no idea  how far the chase had gone, or whether they could catch him at all – but before I had too long to wonder, Wonillon showed up…carrying Raven, who seemed frozen with his arms in that weird stiff-fingered position he calls a “stance.”

Shortly after, Ezekiel showed up, lugging the armored cleric with him – dead.

While he searched the cleric’s bedroom (they tell me the deceased was a cleric because he cast some spells on Raven…they didn’t work on Mikael somehow), Lydia detected that the cleric’s chainmail, mace, dagger, and cloak were all magical.

We gave her the dagger, since she didn’t have a magic one yet, and once Raven de-stiffened and could move again, we gave him the cloak.

The bedroom wasn’t super fancy – a few pewter dishes, some books and scrolls on a shelf, plus some human and demi-human skulls on display (wouldn’t you like to not know where those came from!). Ezekiel also found a cassock of silver cloth with that same black rectangle beaded with jet…apparently the official vestments.

Lydia asked our prisoner about the dead man, and he told us it’s “Kelno,” the Cleric of the Air Temple (thus it makes sense that the motifs all changed).

He explained that Air, Fire, and Water are all on this level – but the Water Temple is the “Lesser Temple”…and they’re all fighting over that position.

Makes sense…the Greater Temple is on the level below (I think?) and the Lesser Temple is the favored spot right after them. The elemental temples have something to fight over, and the Greater Temple has a reward to offer those who are most loyal.

The prisoner (he has a name, right?) also laughed at us for not knowing any of this…but it’s pretty hard to learn things when we keep killing anyone who could talk to us (and also when we’re so bad at questioning people).

Mikael had been investigating the hallway Cleric Kelno fled down. It had a stockpile of weapons and armor, a chest, and a fountain with a gargoyle head spitting milky water into the basin (I won’t be drinking any of that!).

There’s a secret door off an alcove here, and the passage curves around to a staircase leading further down. That will have to wait until later!

Lydia got the chest unlocked (that is really coming in handy!), and we took a bunch of money for the bag of holding.

Ezekiel says he wants to return to the hallway by where we killed the gnolls, and follow it around north.

After a little bite to eat, though. The prisoner at least can’t march all day on an empty stomach, and killing bugbears is hungry work.

[sketch of involved area]


Find the previous entry here.

Start at the beginning of the Water Temple here.

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“Space Station ICE-3” by Bruce Coville

In revisiting old reads, I picked up this sci fi tween mystery (the protagonist is sixteen, so I’d call it YA…except that it’s much closer to a Hardy Boys than a Hunger Games).

Young Rusty has discovered a dead body in the disposal vat on the colony space station…but no one believes him except his earth-bound grandpa, and his grandpa’s “old friend” – the legendary genius scientist who basically invented most of the space station.

Dead bodies…space…check, check. I enjoyed it as a tween/teen, and I enjoyed it now…though I also noticed more of the author’s secular, exploratory worldview peeking through.

Rusty: Teen, Researcher, Detective…Talking Point

The first thing that struck me about our teen protagonist is something I missed when I was a teen myself.

The voice is masterfully done – actually sounding like a real sixteen-year-old might – and the first-person perspective acts like he’s recording these events for posterity.

Thus, when Rusty opens his book by describing the colony space station he lives in floating about the Earth, he notes as an aside:

I realize we all know these things, but my grandfather [an author] “keeps reminding me that just because we all know something now, it doesn’t mean people will know it ten years from now. He says I should never underestimate the human capacity for ignorance, and if I want people to read this book ten years from now, I’d better make everything clear.”

Cute way of introducing us into this world while still maintaining a realistic perspective for the characters in the world.

But…did you pick up on what I picked up on?

There’s a slight condescension, the hint of a “some people are just so ignorant” – and this permeates the whole story.

This fits right in with the thesis of the story.

After reading the story with an adult perspective, the “message” of this little novel could well be phrased as: “Smart people should be allowed to ask any questions/study any problem they want to.”

All fine and good, as far as it goes…but how far does it go? And besides that, Rusty repeatedly complains about stuffy gate-keepers, thick-headed authority figures…basically anyone standing in the way of Science! because of foolish misgivings.

Interesting for a “scientific researcher” to be so dismissive of other viewpoints…

(I’m also never a fan of the “adults don’t take me seriously!” trope.)

Aside from that…

Rusty is a great protagonist. He has normal, understandable faults – that actually tie in to the plot. He sees problems, and digs around for a solution. If someone is in trouble, he races to help (against the better judgement of people who have that).

One of the biggest elements in my original read was his soft romance with a girl he meets in the course of his adventures. Now – as then – I appreciate how it’s crafted realistically (an awkward yet hormonal boy wants a suspicious yet intelligent girl his own age to like him)…while also not pushing it beyond where the plot could take it (they do run off in the middle of the night to do investigating by themselves, but in the last chapter they’re about to have only their first date).

The first-person record is also handled expertly, with little asides from time to time as Rusty explains things we need to understand this part of the story, or reminds us that he wasn’t thinking clearly in the stress of the situation, so don’t be too hard on him.

Mystery and Smarts

Part of the difficulty with writing – especially writing mysteries – is making your characters look smart, not just claim to be smart.

For having so many PhDs in the story – and placing so much of the action on a floating research lab – the author does a pretty good job of painting a picture of actual scientists doing actual research (test tubes, microscopes, computer banks, literal lab mice).

This goes for the characters, too.

The legendary reclusive genius – who helps Rusty investigate the disappearing body in the disposal vat – is introduced to us with an ego the size of the moon…and the smarts to match.

After telling us this, however, the author then goes on to show this character making logical deductions, extrapolating from incomplete data, and doing other mental detective work. With just the right amount of detail, we can watch the genius being a genius without needing a Robert-Ludlum-sized conspiracy to unravel.

As for the actual murder…

I can’t say too much without getting into spoilers and a discussion of the Science! theme…

But I can say the villain’s motive isn’t super strong or clear.

Most of the side characters are fleshed out enough for their roles – and some of them border on the complex – but while the villain has touches of nuance, they don’t have enough screen-time to really explore why they do what they do.

On the other hand, they aren’t laughably “evil for the sake of evil,” nor a “twist villain for the sake of shocking the audience.” The clues that lead to the mastermind are subtle, but there…especially on this re-read.

Except for one forehead-slapping incident, the teen-detectives in the book act pretty smart.

Sure, they run off in the middle of the night to do investigating, but when they get in trouble they at least try to call for help. (They apparently don’t remember that doors open from either side, though.)

I have a couple other quibbles (especially about the “twist”), but I don’t need to go into them here.

Everything Comes Down to Science!

The author clearly had fun building his dream colony, where everything is recycled down to the last atom (except human bodies, which get sentimental burials-in-space), every occupant pulls their weight (whether in scientific research, supporting the running of the station, or both), and everyone has been background- and personality-checked for maximum harmony.

A big thing in the beginning of the book is that the station has no police force – just the entirely different “Office of Dispute Management” – so Rusty doesn’t know who to report a murder to.

And yet, for all that the colonists were screened to avoid “explosive personality combinations” (yes, really) and live in a rational, scientific paradise…Rusty still gets in heated arguments with his parents. Some individuals are still skirting the rules – and willing to commit violence to cover it up.

For all their advanced technology and scientific exploration, the characters still yell at each other, make mistakes, and have all the real, human problems people have always had.

I’d call this deliberate…except for the novel’s thesis.

I think the author was just too good. He knew what human beings were like, and so wrote them with all the flaws and weaknesses we have in real life.

Meanwhile, his intellectual, humanist worldview insists that humans can improve ourselves, screen out “explosive personality combinations” (unless a couple has a kid they’re not compatible with…), and push the boundaries of the physical – and moral – world.

Rusty closes out his little book by insisting scientists should be allowed to “follow any question,” no matter where it leads.

Even after watching one scientist use gene-splicing to accidentally create a deadly rage virus…realizing there’s a black market for scientific discoveries – and genius scientists…

Even after seeing all the ways this could go wrong, Rusty still thinks that “repressing” the scientific mind only encourages more risky behavior in the pursuit of the answers.

Are people more likely to create human clones if you tell them it’s too morally risky to do so? Will some people just gene-splice, no matter what you say, so you might as well let them gene-splice “safely” – in the open?

In some ways, these are two different questions:

Should Bureaucracy A dictate what Scientist B does in his lab?

If they’re paying for it, absolutely. Otherwise, my libertarian side says, “No way.”

But – Are there some things that shouldn’t be explored? Some questions that shouldn’t be answered?

Are clones human? Or replacement-organs-on-demand? If we can protect some babies from some disease by altering their genes, does that give us the right to change their actual DNA – theirs, and that of any kids they might have…through all time?

My Christian, trans-temporal worldview tells me, “No. Some things should not be grasped. Some answers should not be given.”

God has put a lot of things into the creation to help us and heal us…but we shouldn’t pursue those things beyond their proper place. Whether we’re chasing Science! because we want to see new things, or because we want to cheat death and suffering, we must be pursuing Jesus first and foremost.

Imagine if Adam had been content with not being God.

Find Answers for Yourself

This little novel is about as squeaky-clean as they come. There’s some light descriptions of death and decay, and some even lighter description of Rusty’s adolescent crush on the girl.

The science is solid – but not heavy enough to scare off non-nerds.

Really, the most problematic thing about it is the worldview…and we should be discussing that with our kids about every book we read.

So – whether you’re a Christian homeschool teen looking for something fun (that you won’t be embarrassed to read)…or you’re a parent looking to keep your voracious reader busy with things that will feed his brain…this is a solid story with decent characters, a mystery that will engage the brain, a dash of outer space – and enough questions about the morality of Science! that will keep the whole family talking at the dinner table!


Space Station ICE-3 is available on Amazon, eBay, and Albris (though they don’t have an image or description, just the metadata). Finding old, discontinued books is hard, apparently! Here is its Goodreads page.

You can also find out more about the author at his Amazon Author Page and on his official site: BruceCoville.com.

Dear Diary….good and evil are different

After dinner, I dragged all the dead bodies into an alcove in the second barracks, and covered them all with some sheets. They may be evil, and kidnapping innocents, and serving dark deities, but we can still treat their bodies with respect.

I’m sure they wouldn’t do the same for us, but that’s why we’re different than they are.

Anyway, I must have been really tired after that. When Ezekiel got me up for my watch, I was dead asleep. Thankfully, nothing exciting happened at that time – but when Yeti and Wonillon took over, they did encounter something. Continue reading

Dear Diary….killing people and taking their stuff

While Mikael cast healing on Ezekiel, and Ezekiel sawed off the horns of the minotaur, the rest of us searched the fallen guards and the bunk-room where they died.

The guard room, past the spiked beam trap, kind of zig-zagged north and south. Bunks lined the walls, with boxes of personal effects, but nothing really interesting.

The guards were all dressed in black under their chainmail, and I’m assuming this is the color of the Water Temple.

There was a “main” door leading out to the east, but Raven discovered that a torch on the south wall activated a secret door. We packed into the cramped space and prepared to sally out.

When the front men opened the door, I could see a medium-to-large room, with a blazing fire in the fireplace across the way.

As Ezekiel charged in and beaned a man-at-arms with his mace, I quickly examined the lay-out: bunks and chests along the walls, table in the middle, and two doors along the west wall.

Wonillon did very well for himself before the enemy could recover from their surprise. He charged in, stabbed a guard, and rolled under the table to slash at another one. Unfortunately, I think he must have been over-excited, because he didn’t take that one down.

Raven threw a javelin into the fray, Mikael cast faery fire, and Cuddles was apparently so excited that he charged a guy and ended up striking his nose against the wall.

Heiron did pretty well for himself, although he kept fumbling his follow-through. Not like I can talk about that, of course.

As our front-liners advanced, the two doors to the side of the room flew open, and men in fancier armor jumped into the battle. I use “men” loosely, as one of them had the bad teeth and greenish complexion you only get if one of your parents was an orc.

I think it was that one who started throwing darts, and Raven was still slumping to the ground when a dart clanged against Yeti’s shield.

That was the end of that – as Ezekiel vaulted over the table (yelling something about a holy sheep) and smacked the half-orc soundly with his mace.

Even Mikael got in on the action, dealing a guard a cracking blow with his cudgel.

Meanwhile I was checking for a crack in my bow because it made a weird creaking noise…but it seems all right.

Mikael bent over Raven to neutralize the poison (handy skill, no?) and I glimpsed Heiron shoot one of the officers between the armor so that he staggered backward.

Ezekiel had disappeared through one of the doors by that point – turns out it led through a tiny bedroom into yet more living quarters – and while the rest of us were mopping up in the first room, we heard the heavy clang of his mace connecting with something.

Yeti ran up to the door to get a better angle for his magic flying hammer.

I spotted more green skin, and aimed for major blood vessels.

By that point, Cuddles was feeling better, and swarmed (can snakes swarm?) through Ezekiel’s legs to bite the enemy.

I swung myself up onto the table to get a clearer shot, and speared the guard’s throat. From there, I also had a good view of Raven punching a guy so hard I think he broke his neck or something.

With all the enemies dead, we could breathe and examine our surroundings.

I turned around to catch Corby with an eyeball in her mouth. It makes me feel a little ooky to let her do that, but I guess she is just a bird, and doesn’t have the same rules of living. Like Cuddles using poison when he bites. I wouldn’t go around without clothes on, either, but animals think nothing of it.

I must be more tired than I realize.

Anyway, the room with the fireplace had rush mats on the floor. The fighters wore a mix of leather, chain, and scale armor, but all with the same black underneath.

A sheep was still cooking over the hearth, so after helping us search the bodies, Raven busied himself taking care of it (since he’s so fussy about food).

The two leaders had little bedrooms behind the two doors, and the southern room led into yet another suite that was probably fancy at one time. It has plastered walls, paintings, wall-hangings, and braziers for light and warmth.

Ezekiel found a door behind a tapestry, with a peep-hole in it so the inhabitants can keep an eye on the corridor outside. It’s only evening, not night yet, but this will be a good place to hunker down – if anyone comes looking for us, we’ll have a door between us and them.

Wonillon and Raven investigated a chest in the northern bedroom – the one with only one exit – and apparently set off a gas trap. Raven was standing in the doorway, since the room is so small, so he wasn’t affected…and once Mikael came and cast his second Neutralize Poison, Wonillon was able to crawl out of the room – coughing.

After all of that, the chest had some clothing, a big sack of money, some jewels and jewelry, two potions, and a scroll in a scroll case. Lydia says it’s illusionist, so none of us can use it…but it’ll be worth something, anyway.

When we searched the two leaders who had private rooms, Lydia told us that the man’s cloak, broadsword, and leather armor were all magical…and so was a pouch on his belt.

The cloak is…really a fashion statement, since it’s black – with red horned skulls embroidered all over it. The leather armor is worked in the same way.

Not the kind of thing we want to walk around town in…but as Lydia pointed out, we don’t need to worry about fashion down here, so we’re having her wear the cloak – we assume it’s got some kind of protection magic – and Mikael has changed into the leather armor (he’s also wearing a magic ring from the half-orc leader…we figured it was about time he got some goodies).

Speaking of being fair, Ezekiel pointed out Wonillon hadn’t gotten anything yet, so we offered him the magical pouch (we assume it’s like a bag of holding, although I don’t think we’ve tested it out yet).

A magic broadsword is nice, but none of us really needs it right now. Maybe if Heiron keeps practicing and ages out of what he’s using now.

As for the half-orc leader…besides a ring, he had a magic dagger (Raven got it), a gold earring (no one offered to wear it), and a special shield – with the same horned skull in red emblazoned on it, and a compartment to store his poisoned darts.

I don’t think we’ll be using that.

With the secret door to the north closed, our position looks pretty defensible. We dished out our healing spells on hand, and prepared for a quiet evening.

Raven has certainly done wonders with that lamb.


Find the previous entry here.