Dear Diary….one wild morning

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

We had barely finished our conversation when there was a knock on the door.

This derni’s magic fortress thing has a roof you can access, with battlements and everything…so they sent me up to the roof to scope things out. An old man in rags was knocking at the door, wearing a battered hat and cloak.

Ezekiel opened the door enough to ask him his business, and the old man dropped to the ground and started whining. When Ezekiel brought him inside the fortress, I came down from the roof.

The old man had about three brain cells left, it seems. He kept calling us “Great Master of the Abysal Fires” and begging us to send him home “to the Orth”…and offering us “thousands of gold pieces and my eternal service” if we would help him.

When he said his name was Sargin, Ezekiel winked at us, and I guess he was mentioned in the little book from the High Cleric’s room as a Temple official who got condemned to the nodes.

We did get kind of uncomfortable at him calling us “demon or devil,” and Mikael tried to explain that we’re not Evil (“I’m a Master of Trees, not the Abyss!”) but it was like talking to a sneaky child…Sargin just kept agreeing with everything we said, and insisting that he would serve us faithfully – no matter what kind of monster or weird being we were.

Even after Raven fed him (he gobbled it so fast he crumbs in his beard, which was full of twigs and stuff anyway), Sargin didn’t make much sense. Ezekiel tried asking him about the Air Node, but he just gabbled about “no way home” and the dragons were “guarding, guarding, always guarding something – maybe a way home? – but I couldn’t…couldn’t…” He couldn’t even face the puddings (says he hid from them) which makes sense, being a magic user with no spell-books.

Wonillon asked him where this gold was that he offered us, and Sargin said “back home,” in the Kingdom of Erdi. Wonillon and Ezekiel kind of rolled their eyes at each other…I gather it’s something to do with the Great Kingdom, which at least tells us that the Temple gathered acolytes from all over the place – but nothing more useful than that.

Finally, Ezekiel seemed satisfied that nothing useful would come of prolonging the conversation. Raven convinced Sargin to give up his weapon – a dagger was all he had left – and then we signaled Lydia (Ez told Sargin to “carefully obey everything Mistress Lydia says”). A few minutes after Raven drew a chalk circle on the ground, a wooden crate popped out of the air.

Raven stepped into the magic spot to explain everything to Lydia – and offered Taki the chance to leave the node, but Taki said he had some things to collect first.

While Raven was gone, we opened the crate and discovered enough flasks of oil for each of us to take a couple…which is nice, because it felt like I was the only one who prepared for that. Also nice to know Lydia can help us out with supplies — having an on-demand portal back home is sure useful!

When Raven came back, he said some men-at-arms took Sargin off. S seemed calm enough, so maybe he can get the “help” he needs.

Sobering to see what could happen to a man in a place like this…without Taki’s strength and skill, and without the back-up of the bandit band (whom we haven’t seen yet).

Taki says he’s willing to spend the night in here with us…an impenetrable fortress sure comes in handy. In the morning, Ez says he wants to work around the feet of the central spire, exploring as we go, and try to find the way-point to the Water Node that Taki mentioned.

****

One cave down. Taki took off on his own not long after we started. We spotted a cave mouth above us as we headed north (what I’m calling north) along the ravine floor, and went to investigate.

At the first fork, we headed right, and found a couple spacious caves. The strangest thing about them was the glacier walls along the north side — don’t know if the cave butts up against something icy, or if something covered those walls with ice.

We did meet a half-dozen ice toads – so maybe they covered the walls with ice (but then, why only the north side?). Mikael and Wonillon held the front line (Mikael was wearing the ring of warmth, after all) while Heiron and I peppered them with arrows. I’m getting faster on my draw…if Father could just see me now.

Once they were all dead, they didn’t suck in heat so viciously – so we could approach without being hit with biting, finger-numbing cold. Ezekiel patched up the wounded (he gets such a kick out of that) while we searched the bodies.

Apparently some other travelers weren’t so lucky, as we found some remains inside – mostly gems and jewelry, that wouldn’t digest, and a couple magical items (Tressarian confirmed that they were magical). One was a decanter with a stopper – though Ezekiel couldn’t figure out how to work it. The other was an ordinary-looking hat…but once Raven put it on (he didn’t mind all the toad juice, I guess) suddenly he could look like me – or Ezekiel. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this…but Heiron pointed out that maybe Lydia would like it, and I suppose if she wanted to assassinate us, she doesn’t need to disguise herself as us to do that. (I think we all agreed that the hat would be safer with her than with Raven.)

Ezekiel did some poking around the ice wall, but couldn’t find out anything else. He said maybe the different nodes “border each other paraphysically” (whatever that means), but from what I see, that doesn’t change our strategy much.

(Speaking of strategy, Heiron whispered to me to ask if maybe he should have used his flame-tongue sword on the toads instead of his arrows, since they were ice, and so would have been vulnerable to fire. He made it sound like he was at fault for what he did, but I pointed out he’d be risking frostbite in his fingers to get that close to them, and even though that’s what Wonillon did, there’s no accounting for gnomes…Anyway, I told him that next time we face something like that, he can try a new approach if he wants. We’re the archers of the party for a reason, but it’s true we have various different tools for a reason.)

Exploring the cave near the entrance, we found something weird. It’s a metal tube with some kind a lever mechanism on one end, but it doesn’t seem to do anything (Tres says it’s not magical, though of course he didn’t notice Druid Kela’s shape-shifting periapt).

Raven and Ez think they hear some kind of whirlwind on the other side of the wall – which Ezekiel is convinced means some kind of air elemental, so we’re going to check that out next.

(At the cave mouth we met a huge, grey ball – taller than Mikael! – rolling past. When it started rolling toward us, Heiron peppered it with arrows, and it started deflating like a giant bladder. Mikael calls it an “askamoyd,” and says we should stay back until it finishes deflating so we don’t get hit with any spores. Apparently it’s some kind of mushroom, and pretty poisonous.)

****

New journal. Hope the old one dries out all right. Some of the pages are kinda smeared…Lydia says my handwriting could hardly get more illegible, but she’s just in a mood.

It all started with the second cave. Shortly after leaving the toad cave, we found a slope leading to another cave that we assumed would abut to the last one (and contain the elementals Ezekiel was sure he heard). When we got about forty feet above the ravine floor (Wonillon said that’s what he figured), we reached a plateau in front of the cave mouth.

As we cautiously approached, we spotted a cluster of foggy clouds drifting about inside. With their strange misty tentacles and their three glowing red eyes, they fit the “Wind Terror” name that Mikael gave to them (I guess it’s a druid’s job to know all about the things that go on in nature, and what can go wrong).

With the howl of a windstorm, the elementals charged us – and battle was joined.

Mikael threw faery fire on them right away. Heiron launched an arrow – but when it passed right through one of their misty bodies, we both switched to our magic swords.

I think Tressarian liked getting some action. I don’t know if “sliced” is the right word, but he sliced right through one of the beasties (he says “beasties” isn’t the right word) and it vanished with a shriek.

Mikael whacked one with his rod (I saw the fog or whatever billow and recoil) but Ezekiel wasn’t having the same luck, and his mace seemed to whiff right through the Terrors without dispersing their bodies at all.

Heiron moved up to the front line – and he must have been a really attractive target, because the Terrors kept flinging sharp debris at him and lashing him with their cold, clammy tendrils. They hurt more than you’d think, so Ezekiel kept busy touching Heiron with healing spells.

Wonillon stabbed a Terror with his dagger, and when Heiron and I carved up enough of the others, the last two fled over our heads, sounding like a blizzard on a mountain or something.

Mikael stopped Heiron’s bleeding (he really took the brunt of the battle) while the rest of us looked around. First thing we noticed was that Raven was gone – but then his voice told us that he just drank a dose of his invisibility potion, so everything was all right.

Next thing we noticed was the nest of trinkets in the corner. I wouldn’t have thought elemental fog clouds were interested in collecting treasure…and I guess it could just be the remains of other unfortunate travelers who have come this way. We looked over the pile while Ezekiel scrutinized it for traps, and Tressarian sniffed for magic.

Magic axe (which is mine now), magic mace (which Ezekiel pounced on, as a “back-up,” he says), magic ring, magic potion, magic scroll in scroll tube (protection from all elementals – now Mikael has a second one), and…a pile a gems, one of which was magical.

Ezekiel declared the pile safe from traps, and picked up the magic aquamarine.

And then – I spluttered as I found myself underwater.

I was holding Tressarian, of course, and good thing he understood that I wanted to levitate, because then we were out of the water (turns out it was only ten feet deep), hovering above some kind of sea.

A rocky, coral-covered island lay not far away, so I used my feet to paddle toward it. By the time I got there, Ezekiel and Heiron were pulling themselves ashore, coughing and spluttering. Raven, of course, wasn’t wearing any armor, so he leisurely tread water along behind them, and helped Wonillon find the island. Moments later, a seal flopped up onto the island, and turned into Mikael.

Naturally, we assume this is the Water Node. The whole place was dim, like moonlight on a humid night, and mists rise from the water in all directions. There are more islands scattered everywhere, and the water tastes brackish. Mikael supposes that both fresh- and salt-water creatures could live here, though the salt-water beasts might not be super happy about it…and from what Taki said, the node has been stocked with the most dangerous and deadly creatures.

Ezekiel set up the fortress, and we all went inside (well, all except Mikael, who turned into a dolphin and made laps around the island, just to show that he could, I think. He does say there’s a coral ridge a few yards away from the island that plunges into deeper water, so I guess we can be grateful we didn’t pop into the node over there).

When we got into the fortress, we found the crate that Lydia gave us still sitting where we left it – which I guess means it got shrunk along with the fortress, so that’s nice! It means we can stock the fortress with a little furniture and stuff – or at least with some dry firewood – and not worry about it getting atomized when we shrink the fortress. (That’s a fun word Ezekiel used…”atomized”…)

Wonillon built a fire from the crate and we all huddled around it while Raven drew his chalk circle (he says the chalk was a little smeary, but it worked). Mister Whisker wasn’t too happy about going swimming without warning, but I think he was pretty well protected in his special traveling pocket, and his attitude improved after I gave him some cookie (soggy cookie, but he didn’t care).

It took quite a while for Lydia to answer us, and Ezekiel spent the time swinging our new weapons around. He seems to admire the axe (which makes sense when I remember that he grew up in a temple of Heironious), but he’s not allowed to use sharp weapons anymore…and besides, it’s mine. One of us has devoted his life to dealing pain with all manner of weapons, and that one is not Ezekiel! I don’t care how many disciples he thinks he’s going to get one day, he can’t just hoard all the magic weapons. One of us spent weeks banging on an anvil to build the muscle tone necessary to wield a hammer or ax in combat (that one is not Ezekiel).

Anyway, Lydia finally poked her head in through the floor, and she seemed mighty ticked. She demanded to know what we did, and after we all blamed Ezekiel, she told him to “put the stone in something,” then get rid of the fortress.

Ez put the magic stone inside a pouch in his backpack, and then we left the fortress and shrank it. Mikael joined us as himself, and when Lydia’s arm waved at us through the ground, we all stepped over to the spot – and stepped out into her room in the tower in Homlette.

She shooed us into a corner where there wasn’t carpet, and lectured us a little bit about how hard it was to find us again after we all disappeared. Raven tried to soften her a little by giving her the hat of face-changing, and Ez asked if she could send us back to the Air Node, now that she’s seen that.

She grumbled a little, and sat in front of the mirror, and I used the time to check my bowstring. Looks like I’ll have to switch to my spare one, but fortunately that one was wrapped up well enough and buried deep enough in my pack that it wasn’t bothered by our momentary dunking.

After a bit, Lydia gestured us toward the spot to the side of the mirror that I guess would let us pass through it again (I don’t know how it works, but it does work, so that’s what matters).

We filed out, and eventually recognized the brisk air and chiseled rocks of the Air Node…and Taki, who looked kinda startled at first. We’d never been to this particular part of the node before, but I guess Taki gathered up his other belongings (he has an extra backpack now) – and seemed amenable to joining us in the fortress when Ezekiel set it up again.

Lydia’s still a little grumpy, because as Ezekiel stepped into the fortress, he tripped over a crate that appeared in the air underneath him…but it’s full of firewood, so it’s plain she’s looking out for us.

Mikael distributed all the healing he had left for today, and Ezekiel explained our morning to Taki (not sure why he feels the need to go into so much detail, but there you go).

As he was explaining the mysterious node-transferring gem, he pulled out the pouch and opened it – just enough so that we could see what he was talking about…and Mikael and Wonillon both spoke up and said it looked like the depressions in the skull!

Don’t know how much Taki knows about the Key – or wants to know, or needs to know – but Ezekiel is very excited that it seems we’ve found one of the rocks-in-boxes on our first day inside!

I can’t imagine the rest of the Key-stones being this easy… Of course, “easy” is a relative term, since we had to kill half-a-dozen fog fiends that could easily have killed Heiron in return, if we didn’t have clerics to back us up.

It’s barely noon (in our biological time – not in node-time, since it’s always the same in this fake-sky) but both Mikael and Ezekiel have used up their healing for today. It seems a shame to wait out a whole afternoon, but we don’t need to take unnecessary risks. Besides, we have to dry out our gear, and I have to swap out my bowstring…and I think Taki is still deciding if he wants to help us on our “mission” for a while, or if he’s had it with the nodes, and wants to make his escape while he can. He seems at ease enough, since Raven was so nice to him…but we sure seem like a crazy party to people outside.

Also, I’m not sure Ez should explain everything about what we’re doing, and what we want in here. Rescuing trapped people is good enough…the whole “Key of the Fungus Queen” is complicated, and even I don’t understand all about it. It still seems like “repairing the Key so we can get to Her and kill Her” is, like, giving Her exactly what She needs to be free and wreck havoc. Maybe that’s just me…


Read the next entry here.

Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary….the bug-man and the badger-stags

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

Starday, 15 Planting

Before calling it a day, Ezekiel said we should check out the room where “the queen’s pet” was supposed to live – still going off the map that assassin gave us. So we headed there (opposite the passage is a fountain on the wall…ugly stone faces vomiting water into the basins. I for one won’t be drinking any.)

Very curious set-up in the “pet’s” room. After the turn of the hall, the floor abruptly drops probably sixteen feet – except for a narrow ledge that runs around the entire room; Raven could probably move on it, but anyone else would probably fall. The whole lower part of the room – walls and floor – is coated with bronze. There’s also a grill or ladder of some kind attached to the ceiling, with a chain hanging from the end into the room. Bone fragments and other litter was scattered sparsely on the floor, and the whole place gave me a decidedly creepy feeling. Continue reading

Dear Diary…why you make friends with spellcasters

After successfully dragging Ezekiel out of the Temple, we decided we might as well take the treasure from the Water “Sanctuary” back to town.

Sir Rufus bought the ogre-sized bone armor just because it’s something you don’t see everyday, and Master Bern said he might have a use for the hydra heart.

I didn’t ask about what it might be.

Turns out it’s just as well we came back, because Raven disappeared to the tower for a few days to ask some questions of the monk master there. He says he’s been experimenting with his moves, and wanted guidance from someone more experienced. Continue reading

Short Fiction: The Prayer of a Paladin

In the absence of a D&D summery this week, please enjoy this short story I wrote, inspired by the world of Greyhawk!

My brother is clamoring for it to continue to a better resolution…What do you think?


Marcius woke, shivering the whole length of his body. The back of his tattered tunic stuck to the stone wall, and his legs and arms had long passed the point where he noticed their throbbing.

By all rights, he should have been surprised at being able to sleep at all…but he couldn’t ignore the pressure of sheer exhaustion.

The clanks of armor and the flap of feet snapped his attention back to what had woken him.

Marcius peered through the bars of the cell, fighting the surge of panic that shot up through his heart.

He recognized the figure that led the small party — though Gorm, as he called himself, shared the ruddy skin and dark robes of a human cleric, the fangs sticking up from his lower jaw betrayed his orc parentage.

The green-skinned grunts behind him were dragging another prisoner — human, and dressed in something brown, though that’s all that Marcius could see underneath the mud and dried blood.

The orcs in chainmail dragged their prisoner to the wall opposite Marcius and began shackling him in the same way – locking his wrists in manacles just above the head…at just the right angle to prevent him from hanging his body in a comfortable resting position.

Gorm, the so-called cleric, approached Marcius.

At his smug smile and squint, Marcius felt the bile rise in his mouth.

“Good morning, holy warrior,” Gorm croaked past his fangs, giving a smile that revealed all their jagged glory.

Marcius tried to lick the roof of his mouth, and failed.

“I could tell you that Pelor has brought the sun back to the skies outside,” said Gorm. “And that in the peaceful lands of your home, the green fields wave back a welcome to the light.”

Marcius said nothing. There was no answer.

He knew as well as Gorm did that he was not out there, raising his sword against the invading hordes to protect his master and his people.

No, he was here, buried deep in a dungeon where the only light were the torches of his enemies…or their sickly green orbs placed at the foot of the stairs.

“You must long for it,” said Gorm, with another smile. “The holy warrior misses his brothers-in-arms – misses his polished armor and his sharpened sword. Perhaps we should have let you watch as we melted it down.”

Melting Marcius’ blade would negate the enchantment on it. It was just the sort of thing they’d do, though, as Quintus had been outspoken about his loathing for foul humanoids.

Thinking about it would do no good…but at the memory of his enthusiastic sentient sword, Marcius choked.

The two foot-soldiers, finished with their work, glanced at Gorm. At a nod from him, they passed through the cell-gate to head for the stairs.

“Have you spoken with your god, holy warrior?” asked Gorm. “Surely his light could do something for you here. Surely he would send aid to you…if he knew you were here, of course. The mighty master of light is strong enough to reach these halls, is he not?”

When Marcius didn’t answer, Gorm reached into his cloak.

“No,” he said. “Surely he would not abandon his child like this – would he, paladin?”

With the final sneer, he pulled something out of his cloak and shoved it into Marcius’ face.

It was a mask – worked to resemble a bear, or a wolf — it was impossible to tell which, exactly.

A red teardrop painted on the forehead was almost obscured by the crusty stains of real blood.

Marcius screamed, lunging to the side. The chains snapped metallically, bringing him to a halt; the manacles bit into his wrists and the fleshy base of his thumb.

The sores in those places broke open – warm blood trickled down his arms in well-worn patterns.

But he noticed none of that. Darkness clouded his vision, as the cleric’s taunting laugh echoed in his ears.

Pelor should hear him. Pelor was his Master, the Lord of Light. Pelor was the name he carried when he defended the widows of homesteads, and the orphans of besieged towns.

Yet here he was.

Marcius slumped, hanging in the chains. They were placed so high that he couldn’t kneel on the ground…either his swollen and aching legs must support him, or his shredded arms and wrists would.

How long had this gone on? How many days had this fiend with the shape of a man, who worshiped an obscene and vile god, come down here to taunt him?

How often had he been forced to face that thing – that symbol of all that was twisted and murderous in this castle?

That reminder – in physical form – that he had failed…that the patrol had been slaughtered…that he, Marcius Farin, had been dragged from his company and his duty, and locked up here…perhaps to die, perhaps worse –

Worse? To renounce his oath. He was no ignorant blade-for-hire…He served a higher authority, and dedicated himself to the cause of his master.

From his sword to his speech to the manner in which he passed his free time, everything was a reflection of that greater light – the great Pelor, whose sun shone on the just and the unjust, and whose will was the protection of the helpless and oppressed.

And now…where had that brought him?

Marcius realized he was sobbing. A fiery pain stabbed through his limbs, raising them above the constant ache that racked his whole body – and making them worthy of his mind’s notice.

But there was nothing he could do. He could no more protect the innocent than he could keep himself alive. No more than he could make the sun rise.

He was nothing.

Gorm laughed again — for as human as his face was, his voice sounded like a pig fused in an unholy union with a bear.

“We’ll talk again tomorrow, holy warrior,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll find something more to talk about. You must tell me all about the wonders of Pelor, and how he takes care of his faithful servants.”

Gorm turned and strutted out – locking the cell with the keys at his belt before climbing the stairs.

In the sickly green light of the orbs by the staircase, Marcius huddled against the wall at his back.

Sweat coated his face and ran into his eyes. With a shaking arm, he drew his hand far enough over to wipe the hair out of his eyes.

Across the way, the new prisoner was watching him. He twisted his hands in the manacles, as though testing their tightness…but Marcius knew there was no way to slip out of them.

How often had he tried? Even with shredded skin and blood-slicked arms, the metal was sized just right to keep his bones pinned.

How often…? How often had this happened? How long had he spent in this hell-hole?

And could Hell itself possibly be any worse?

A part of him rebelled at that thought. Ever since he was a child in his father’s house, he had trained his body and disciplined his mind for service to Pelor…and, by extension, as a symbol of Good and comfort to all innocent people who depended on him.

And that had brought him – what?

Was this, then, to be his end? This dim, stinking dungeon would be his grave?

Or would one day…one black-as-night morning…would his resolve break? Would the torture of his body and mind become too much, and would his mouth speak words that he himself would never dream of?

At the horror of that thought, Marcius sank into a revery that eventually led him to sleep…or rather, the shifting consciousness that served him as sleep in that place.

Once or twice, he started awake, straining his ears for an unfamiliar sound…

A soft crunching – like the chewing of flesh and bone…accompanied by stifled gasps of pain.

But his blurred eyes could see nothing in the dimness – and even if there were undead in the shadows beyond the cell, preying on some helpless victim, it wasn’t like he could do anything to help them.

Finally, he heard the familiar alarm of morning – the thump of the cleric’s boots, and the jingle of his chainmail and keys.

Gorm reappeared – this time alone – and placed a torch in a bracket along the wall before unlocking the cell door.

Marcius already felt the tears coursing down his face. His heart pounded. He had no more blood to bleed, no more strength to stand –

“Morning has dawned yet again,” said Gorm, with another of his hateful smiles. “Or do I need to tell you that, holy warrior? A devoted acolyte of the sun-god surely knows when the sun rises and sets. Who am I to tell you differently, my righteous friend?”

Marcius could think of nothing to say. Instead, he squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his cheek against the wall, steeling himself.

“I hope you have enough light to see, you little human weakling, you,” said Gorm. “I have something to show you. Open up and look, now. I think you’ll find it very interesting–”

Something clanked and gurgled.

Surprise overpowered Marcius, and he instinctively looked.

First, he noticed Gorm’s starting eyes and pale complexion.

Next, he noticed the other prisoner, pinning a metal bar from the prison floor against the cleric’s neck with his elbows – and hauling back for all he was worth.

A moment later, the prisoner raised his knee to Gorm’s back, and convulsed backward with a jerk.

Gorm gave an explosive cough, and crumpled to the ground, a little trickle of blood darkening his mouth.

The stranger exhaled, and straightened up, letting the bar drop.

As he straightened his arms, Marcius saw that his hands were entirely red. Now that they were closer together, he could see the pulpy stubs were both his thumbs had been.

From the blood around his mouth, the stranger had chewed them off.

Marcius felt oddly sick – but as he hadn’t eaten anything in several days, nothing happened.

“Oy,” said the stranger, and stepped forward, holding out his hands. “Do me a solid, man?”

Marcius continued to stare.

“Snap out of it, greater-goody,” said the prisoner. “You’re a paladin of Pelor, right? Can’t be all bad, right? So lay it on me before we blow this.”

After all this time…how long had it been, again?…surely the power of Pelor had left him.

Surely, in this vile place –

Marcius reached out — he couldn’t lower his hands below his head, so the stranger stepped forward and raised his arms. Marcius cradled the strangers’ hands in his own, closed his eyes, and started mouthing a prayer.

If Pelor heard him…if Pelor regarded him…then surely it was Pelor’s will that he help someone else…

At the long sigh of relief, Marcius opened his eyes.

The stranger examined his hands, turning them over as he opened and shut his new fists – complete with new thumbs.

“Feels good enough to function,” he said. “Now—”

He bent over Gorm, and within seconds was unlocking Marcius’ manacles with the keys.

As soon as his arms were free, Marcius sank to the ground. At the sudden relief, every nerve in his body seemed to fire, and every tense muscle collapsed.

The stranger busied himself rooting through Gorm’s body.

Yes, the cleric that had tormented him for time without measure was well and truly dead. And so easily. It made him wonder– But he was too tired to wonder. Besides, there was no time for it.

Marcius forced himself to crawl forward and join the hunt.

While his new companion stripped off the chainmail and pulled it on, Marcius detached the cleric’s small hammer — Gorm’s main weapon, a mace, was hanging from a loop on his other side.

Good thing he’d done some practicing with maces. They couldn’t compare to his old sword, of course, but at least he’d have an idea what he was doing.

He looked up at the stranger.

His new companion was standing again, and muttering something.

“Well, been worse,” he said at last, and looked down at Marcius. “Can you stand, paladin?” He held out a hand.

Marcius honestly didn’t think he could…but he said nothing. Instead, he took the offered arm and scrambled upright – letting the stranger pull him to his feet.

“Marcius Farin,” he panted. “Do you have a name, my generous friend?”

“Generous is new,” said the stranger. “Call me Benj.”

He picked up his length of metal and hefted it a moment. “Nope. I’ll trouble you for the hammer. Hope we meet some grunts soon. I don’t do much with blunt trauma. Needlessly delays things, if you ask me.”

Dark spots washed before Marcius’ eyes. “You realize we have no real chance –” he began.

“Stuff it, city boy,” said Benj. “Is that any talk for a paladin of Pelor?”

He headed for the door of the cell.

Marcius said nothing and followed.

Benj took the torch from the bracket and held it in his off-hand. He glanced up the stairs, then along the wall that led farther into the dungeon.

When he looked back at Marcius, he smiled. “Guess you can’t do another number on yourself, eh?”

Marcius shook his head.

“Ever been down that way?” He pointed into the darkness. “Is there another stair you could find for us?”

“Sorry,” said Marcius.

Benj glanced up the stairway again. “Known impossibility,” he grunted, and turned toward the darkness, “Or unknown possibilities.”

He shrugged. “Come on, man. We’ll stick together, that’s all.”

He headed off along the wall.

Who knew what they would find over there? On the other hand, could it be more threatening than the full guardhouse at the top of the prison stairs?

Marcius followed close behind.


Kimia Wood lives somewhere in the American Midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing…and other excuses for not gardening.

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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. Continue reading

Dear Diary….the drama of Ezekiel (and Lydia)

Lydia and Yeti worked together to sell our magic items. She brought me a huge pile of gold and gems for everybody’s shares, then disappeared, saying something about a “question” for Master Bern.

She did admit to selling the wand of paralyzation and the stockpile of reagents we found in the Temple – she says the pile she gave me is the shares for the rest of us – but she wanted enough liquid cash for some reagents and parchments Master Bern has.

Anyway, she’s off, and so are Ezekiel (to the chapel) and Raven (to the tower…there’s a monk master there).

Mikael is teaching Corby and Cuddles some new tricks, but he won’t let us see until they really have them down.

Which works out, because Heiron asked me to show him how I do “that thing with my sword,” so he can “be even more help for you, Master” (which I’ve never been called before – it’s new and different) and Yeti and I are showing him drills until we find the right “thing” he’s thinking of. We’re also doing push-ups and laps and practicing forms because Father always said that built character (although it didn’t work on Reginald for some reason). If Heiron gets good enough, he could use my spare sword I’ve been storing at the inn, now that I have my magic one. We’ll see what the others think. Continue reading

Dear Diary….food and floorplans

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

Mikael healed Ezekiel while the rest of us organized the loot from our fallen enemies.

Many of the men had bronzed plate mail, with bronze rings that had a triangular setting of jet. Several others had brown surcoats with the black triangular device on it, or medallions with a black triangle. It certainly seems like we’ve cleared out most of the Earth Temple people. Continue reading

Dear Diary….the whole rest of the party

We opened a door in the east of the corridor, and discovered an ogre preparing to come out. That’s as far as he got, though, as my arrow caught him through the throat and he fell backward with a shocked look in his eyes.

He wore a copper belt with a purse, and the room beyond was obviously living quarters…with cracked plaster walls, a some couches pushed together to make a huge bed, and a large cheese and sausage on a table. (Raven took the cheese.) There was also another store of weapons here…as long as the Temple had hands to wield them, they’d have plenty of weapons for defense – or attack. Continue reading

The Blonde in Room 128

Todd checked over his shoulder both ways so no one would see him at the alleyway entrance. So far, his buddy at work had been correct.

The address appeared to be an apartment building with heavy curtains in all the windows.

He drew a long breath, winced at the shooting pain in his temple, and checked the surroundings once more before heading inside.

The small lobby was empty except for a guy behind a desk at the far end, like in a motel.

Todd swallowed again and crossed the room.

The attendant looked up as he approached, but said nothing.

Todd felt like a fool, but his wife had insisted he come here. He swallowed again and tried to smile.

“Hi, I’d like a – an appointment,” he said.

“Right,” said the attendant, opening a big ledger in a blue three-ring binder. “What’s your pleasure?”

Todd double-checked the little brochure his work-buddy had given him…the one with head-shots of a dozen attractive young ladies.

“I’d like a – uh – blonde? With a…pretty face.”

He felt stupid saying it, but that’s the way it worked – according to the brochure.

“Right,” said the attendant again. “That’s $200 up front.”

Todd pulled out his wallet, and wiped his hands on the front of his shirt so he could pull out the cash.

The attendant took the money and slipped it into a little metal cash-box.

“Down the hall, room 128. Wait there.”

And with that the man pulled out a copy of New England Journal of Medicine and ignored him.

Todd shuffled down the hall. At least it was well-lit. Strange thumps and hums came from behind the closed doors.

At number 128, he hesitated…but he was committed now. Stroking his throbbing temple again, he slipped in and closed the door behind him.

A bright fluorescent white bathed the whole room, where a spotless white table the size of a gurney stood in the middle of the room – in front of an enormous white machine like a giant donut. It looked just like the photos on the internet.

Behind a curtain in the corner, Todd changed into the hospital gown he found in a plastic package on top of the table…then stood watching the machine, rubbing his head and licking his lips.

There was a knock on the door, immediately followed by a young man in a long white lab coat. Todd noted, with a desperate instinct to find humor in the situation, that the young man was blond.

“Head trouble, eh?” said the stranger, making straight to the LCD screen on the side of the machine.

“I got a sudden headache last weekend,” said Todd, tip-toeing up to the table. “My wife thought I should get it checked out, so I went down to our local medical clinic.”

The young man tapped away at the screen, and Todd licked his lips.

“They told me I should get an MRI scan, but the wait time would be –“

“Let me guess,” said the man in the lab coat. “Three months.”

“Five, actually,” said Todd.

“Ha! I’ve heard six months to a year. Colonoscopies are even worse.”

Todd licked his lips again. “Are you a doctor?”

“Nah, I just run the machine.” The stranger gestured at the table. “Take a load off. When we’re done, it’ll take fifteen minutes or so to load your results on a CD…and then you do whatever you want with it. If you want a doc to give his opinion, that’s another 150, and you have to come back in a couple days; we’ll give you the CD with a doctor’s notes.”

Todd lay down on the table. The stranger flicked a switch, and the whole platform started moving, until his head was inside the hole of the donut.

“A-Aren’t you afraid I’ll turn you in?” he asked, just to make conversation.

“Do you want to do that, or do you want an MRI?” asked the technician with a chuckle. “Think about it — you can either get us for practicing private medicine…or you can actually get the benefit of our services.”

“And you have real, registered doctors who work with you, too?” asked Todd.

“Face it: the National Medical System doesn’t pay peanuts. Plenty of qualified, university-trained diagnosticians are happy to make a little extra analyzing test results.”

“And if they’re wrong, the patient can’t complain — we don’t know who the doctor is, and we can’t admit where we got the test.”

The technician peeked into the donut and smiled. “You wanna live dangerously? Or you want to wait a year for an X-ray? By that time, if it’s cancer or an aneurism or something, you might be dead anyway.”

Todd held up his hand, anything to delay the strange machine from making noises. “What do you get out of it?”

The technician shrugged. “A little pocket change – and I get to make a difference in people’s lives. I actually run an ultrasound machine in normal life, but the pay – plus the regulations – are murder.”

He patted the machine. “Right, I’m going to warm up our lovely Blondie here. There’ll be a humming noise, but you won’t feel a thing. Just take it easy –“ He grinned. “Blondie will treat you well.”


The Blonde in Room 128 — Kimia WoodKimia Wood was raised by an aspiring author, so spinning words and weaving plots is in her blood.

She 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.

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Dear Diary….what I’m made for

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

The corridor to the west split – south and north. We headed south first, and a doorway branched down to two little rooms. They might have been kitchens at some point, but now they’re full of garbage and disgusting.

That passage probably joins up with the corridor by the stairs, so we returned to the crossroads to explore the north passage.

It turned to end up in a door…and as soon as Ezekiel opened that, I was hit with a familiar stench – and Ezekiel was hit with gnoll throwing spears. Continue reading