Behind the Scenes: My Ideological Struggles with Graenas

Hello dear readers! I’m back with another real-world post peeking behinds the scenes at the creative process for writing the main story on this blog. I will note that today’s post may get a tiny bit spoiler-ish, as I might have to talk about choices I know my characters will face in the future. The good news is, while I know what choices they will have to choose between, I don’t really know what choices they will make. But at any rate, if you don’t even want to know that much about what’s yet to come, you might want to skip this post.

At some point last week, as I got thinking about Graenas, his story, and even his relationship with Urizenya, I started getting a troubled feeling. To put it succinctly, Graenas is not exactly a nice guy. He’s selfish. He’s learned to get what he wants through manipulation and often has little problems with that. And while he wants to resist (for now, at least) the complete evil that being a true champion of Auril would involve, he also makes a lot of excuses for the things he does.

Now, I have no intention of rewriting Graenas to make him the model citizen and goodness and sunshine. I think his flawed nature can and will make him an interesting character. But I also find myself wondering if I’m doing enough to make it clear that he really is a deeply flawed character. I mean, it’s one thing if Graenas makes excuses for his less ethical choices, but I don’t want to be making those same excuses or endorsing them.

In some ways, I’m glad I chose to narrate the this main story entry from Urizenya’s point of view. That way, when Graenas started making excuses for doing Auril’s bidding, Urizenya was able to express her concern about just how far Graenas might take those excuses and just what he’s willing to use them to justify. That hopefully helped to cast doubt on Graenas’s “innate goodness.”

In some ways, I think I need to use Urizenya’s point of view — and possibly Danny’s own comments (so glad Deb plays him as such a straight shooter) — to make sure that Graenas’s questionable behavior is seen as exactly that. Questionable.  I may end up doing quite a number of story installments from Urizenya’s point of view to help with that.

Of course, that brings up problems of its own. Urizenya needs a life, personality, and purpose beyond just attempting to mitigate her brother’s bad behavior. The last thing I want is a codependent Druid whose life is consumed by saving her brother. That’s one reason I’m actually glad I wrote the short story where she met Aurora, as it gives her more personality and something that’s all about her. And I trust Joe will work that and more into the overall campaign, which means it will show up in the main story at some point.

I also want to think about what happens as his story continues. Specifically, if Graenas eventually manages to get free of Auril’s influence, I need and want to take care that it doesn’t appear that any seedy shit he did before that point is magically forgotten and everything thinks he’s a great guy. There still has to be consequences, such as justified mistrust of those he swindled, manipulated, and otherwise hurt. And there has to be a sincere realization, acknowledgement, and remorse for what he’s done.

I still think Graenas is a great character and I think he offers great story-telling potential. But I still need to think about how I want to write that story so that it relays messages I’m comfortable with in the end. That may become and interesting journey in its own right.


Short Extra: Mama Comforts Graenas

(Author’s Note:  This short story is not a part of the main story, but occurs approximately seven years before the main story begins.)

SewingKitEleanor Taylor had just put the final pin in place to mark the hemline for the dress she was making for Mirna Stewart when she heard the commotion outside. She thought she heard Graenas’s voice protesting.  “Would you excuse me for just a moment, Mirna dear?” she said, then stepped out the front door of her small home.  Sure enough, there was her thirteen year old son resisting the adult woman who was dragging him toward her.  “Would you mind telling me what you’re doing practically dragging my son around, Clara Baumhauer?”

The other woman let go of the boy’s arm and straightened herself. “I caught your devil of a son beating the crap out of my Steffan, Eleanor! I thought you might like to know so you can decide whether you should do something about it!”

Graenas ran to his mother and clung to her side. Eleanor reached out and gently touched the bruise that was already turning purple beneath his left eye. “It would seem to me that it was not a one-sided fight, Clara. And don’t think I haven’t noticed that your own son isn’t present for me to assess his injuries.” She forced herself not to smile as the other woman huffed indignantly.

“Do you plan on doing something about your child or not?” Clara demanded.

“Indeed.  I plan to help him get washed up and apply an ointment to his eye and any other cuts or bruises I might find. Then I will talk to him about what happened and discuss how he should behave around other children, regardless of how they treat him. And I will talk to him frankly about what I think of grown women who demean him and call him a devil in his presence and how he deserves better than that.”

“Well, I never!’

“I wouldn’t know. But I will tell you now that it would be better for you if you never talk to or about either of my children that way again. Unless you want to mend all of your family’s clothes yourself or travel to the city to have it done.”

Clara clenched and unclenched her fists at her sides multiple times. Eleanor simply looked on, knowing she simply had to maintain her resolve. “Fine! But I mean it! You better have words with your child about fighting.”

“I will have the exact same conversation with him that I’d expect you to have with Steffan. Good day, Clara.” With that, she put her arm around her son and guided him into their home. She glanced at Mirna, who was still standing there in her unfinished dress, then spoke to Graenas. “Why don’t you rinse that bruise with some cold water in my bedroom. I’ll be with you in just a moment.” As he disappeared, she turned her attention back to her customer. “I’m terribly sorry about that Mirna. I think we’re done for today.  Let me help you out of the dress so you don’t poke yourself with a pin.”

“Thank you Eleanor,” Mirna said as she waited for the seamstress to undo the clasps on the back of the dress. “I imagine that it must be difficult raising such…different children in a village like this.” She paused, then quickly added. “Because of the way people treat them, that is!”

Eleanor sighed. “No, there’s still a lot of prejudice toward half-elves among a lot of humans, I fear.”

“Have you ever considered moving to the city? I would think they might find a bit more acceptance there, given all the different races that spend time there. Plus, I’d think it’d mean more business for someone as skilled as you.”

“Oh heavens no. My customers need me here. Besides, Urizenya and Graenas would see their father even less than they already do if we moved to the city.” She paused as she helped Mirna step out of the dress, then continued as she began to spread it out on a table. “Besides, Graenas really does have a mischievous side and I worry that he’d manage to wind up in real trouble in the city.”

Mirna finished putting on the clothes she arrived in. “I suppose that’s true. Anyway, what do I owe you today?”

“Two gold pieces if you have them.”

Mirna looked crest-fallen. “I’m afraid I only have one today.”

Eleanor nodded. “If you can spare it, I’ll take it.” She took the coin as Mirna handed it over. “That makes your outstanding balance six gold pieces. You can bring that when you come back for the dress. I should have it ready in–” She glanced around the room at the various projects she had in progress. “–two weeks.”

“I’ll see you then. Thank you Eleanor.”

“Thank you for your business. You’ve always been a good customer. And something of a friend.” The two women hugged and Mirna left. Eleanor took a few deep breaths, collected her thoughts, and went to her bedroom to find her son. Graenas was sitting at her vanity, studying the bruise beneath his eye in the mirror. “It looks like it’s going to be quite the shiner for a few days,” she said as she sat at the foot of the bed, just a couple feet from where he was perched.”

“Am I in trouble?” he asked without turning to look at her.

“Not as much trouble as when you were exchanging punches, I imagine. So do you want to talk about what happened?” She reached for the small jar of ointment on the corner of the vanity and he turned to face her.

“Well, Steffan called me a name and punched me. So I jumped on him, knocked him to the ground, and started hitting him in the chest.”

Eleanor nodded and considered what question to ask him first. “Just so I get a full picture, were you doing anything before he hit you?”

Graenas shifted a little and lowered his eyes. Quietly, he said, “Well, I was trying to kiss him.” Eleanor nodded, already guessing the name the other boy had called him.

“So why did you try to kiss him?”

“Well, I was curious what it would be like to kiss him. I mean, he and all the other guys are constantly going on about kissing various girls. Especially Uri.”

“You realize she’s going to threaten to make your right eye match the left one if she hears you call her that, right?”

He grinned impishly at that. “Okay, Urizenya. But was it wrong to try kissing him?”

Eleanor again chose her words as carefully as if she were threading her smallest needle. “Well, you should have asked him if it was okay first. I mean, most boys prefer to kiss girls rather than other boys.”

“Is that why he called me a…I think the word he used was fa–”

Eleanor cut her son off. “Yes. And that was a very cruel thing for him to say. Just as cruel as his mother calling you a devil. You should never call anyone either of those names. Unless you’re actually talking about a literal devil.” Graenas stifled a giggle.

“But that other word means a boy who likes kissing other boys?”

Eleanor began to wonder if there was some wisdom to Mirna’s suggestion. At the very least, it seemed like it might be a good idea to take Graenas to Albion City every now and then so he can get to see different people and the diverse relationships they form. “Yes. They also fall in love with other boys.”

“Like how you and Father fell in love?”

“Yes, just like that.”

“But what if I fall in love with a boy that doesn’t like kissing other boys?”

“Well, then you cry for a bit and then try to find someone else to love. Someone who can and will love you back.”  She finished tending his bruise and said, “I need to go work on Mirna’s dress.  Would you like to help?”

Graenas grinned. “Oh can I? I’ve been practicing my stitches, just like you showed me!”

Eleanor nodded and led her son back out into the front room that served as both a family sitting room and her work shop. She knew it would give him something to focus on and soothe him. “Why don’t you work on the bottom hem? I need to fix the bodice a bit.”

“Yes Mama,” he said as he walked over to the spools of thread. He carefully sorted through them for a couple minutes before returning with one. She beamed with pride as she noted how closely its color matched the garment he’d be working on. He threaded his needle and began to work. She followed suit, gently humming one of his favorite songs as they worked side be side.

After a few moments, he broke the near-silence. “I don’t think I should’ve jumped on him like that. I did it because I was hurt and angry, but I don’t think it was right. I mean, he punched me once. I pummeled him several times.”

“What do you suppose you could have done instead?” she asked, her needle never stopping.

He thought about it, “I could have tried getting away from him.”

“That would have been a good idea.  Assuming he didn’t chase after you to keep hitting you.” She placed her hand on his, taking care not to jab him or herself with a needle. “Remember. He was wrong to hit you too. Don’t forget that.”

“Even though I shouldn’t have tried kissing him?”

“Yes. That was another bad choice on your part. And he had every right to be upset. But he still shouldn’t have hit you or called you that name.”

“Thank you Mama.”

“You’re welcome. So, what have you learned?”

“I shoudn’t let my anger get the better of me.”


“Always ask a boy if I can kiss him first.”

“Good boy.”

“Just…do I have to wait for an answer?” he said, an impish grin on his face.

“You are your father’s son, you little smartass. Do you really need me to answer that question?”

“No Mama. I know now I have to wait for their answer and respect it. Even if it’s a no.” He sat there for a few moments, staring at his handiwork. “You know, the way the boys talk about kissing girls, I don’t think they ask the girls if they want to be kissed first.”

“I suspect you’re right.”

“That isn’t right either, is it?”

“No, it’s not. Have you ever heard your sister complain about stupid boys who won’t leave her alone?”

“Yeah. Is that because they do that kind of stuff to her?”

” A lot of times, yes.”

“Wow, they’re lucky she doesn’t haul off and punch them. She punches hard.”

Eleanor laughed, thinking of the conversations she’s had with parents who were angry about how hard their sons had been punched by Urizenya. “Yes, I suppose that’s true.”

After a few more moments, Graenas said, “Mama?”


“Have you ever been so angry that you had to resist the urge to hit someone?”

“Yes, I have.”


She didn’t answer for a long time. “Most recently, Clara Baumhauer.” Graenas hugged her and the two went back to working on Mirna’s dress, humming Graenas’s favorite song in unison.


Behind the Scenes: A Handy Online Gaming Resource

Hello, readers!  This is Jarred.  I’m afraid that I won’ t be posting the next installment of the main story today per my usual schedule. I was feeling rather off yesterday and did not feel I could be an attentive, involved, and creative player. I asked Deb and Joe if we could cancel yesterday’s D&D session, as I really didn’t want to engage in shitty role-playing, which would have then resulted in shitty writing today. It seemed better to postpone advancing the story for a week rather than disappoint Joe, Deb, you, and myself with substandard playing and writing.  So hopefully Urizenya, Graenas, and Danny will be able to stomach the stench of the gray-skinned gnome’s corpse for one more week and no random monsters will attack them in our absence.

Since I don’t want to leave you completely empty-handed, I thought I’d take a moment to share and talk about a gaming resource — one which does not sponsor or endorse this blog in away way (I doubt Guy even knows this blog exists) — that both Joe and I have personally enjoyed.  And that’s the site and the underlying YouTube channel.

Guy, the public face of GreatGM, does videos categorized into a number of series.  The two series that Joe and I are most interested in are How to be a Great GM (which I find interesting, but of somewhat limited value to me as a mere player) and How to be a Great Player. The thing that I like about Guy’s videos is that he focuses almost exclusively on the story-telling and character development aspects of role-playing. He’s not interested in game mechanics and frequently points out that there are other channels that cover game mechanics. As someone who is trying to turn his own gaming sessions into a narrative story, I appreciate his focus, as it helps me think of ways to put enough story elements into my game play to help flesh out the narrative afterward.

One (old) video from the Great Player series that I particularly liked was Guy’s discussion of player character quirks:

I haven’t actually developed any quirks for my characters (though Graenas’s love of sewing might turn into one, as it’s something I see him doing whenever he’s upset or stressed). But watching this video reaffirmed my idea that characters need little traits that go beyond just helping them in the next encounter or make them a better combatant. After all, I’m trying to tell a story and my characters need more depth than “I successfully collected the required number of bear rumps and am ready to receive the next quest.” Otherwise, it’s going to get awful boring for you, my readers. Not to mention terribly boring for me.

At any rate, that’s all I have for you today.  I hope to get back to sharing the twins’ and Danny’s story with you next week. In the meantime, do you have any favorite role-playing and story-telling resources? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

May all your adventures be compelling!




Short Extra: Urizenya and Aurora

(Note:  This post is not part of the main story, but takes place roughly six years before it begins. Enjoy and feel free to leave your feedback in the comments!)

Urizenya dashed past the last few remaining hovels in the outskirts of Shadeville and toward the Whispering Forest. She could hear the shouts of the boys behind her.  “Come on, pretty elf girl! We just want to kiss you!”

“Maybe caress your skin a bit, too!” Their calls strengthened her resolve and she redoubled her efforts, pouring more strength into her already tired legs.  She moved from tree to tree, hoping to make it harder for her pursuers to spot her. Soon, she found she could run no further and leaned against a spruce tree to catch her breath.  She could still hear their calls — some of them getting more obscene about their intentions as time went by — but many of the voices seemed much fainter now, as if she had put enough distance between them.

“Stupid human boys,” she muttered to herself. “Why can’t they chase after my brother like this? He’s the one that so desperately wants their attention.”  After a few more minutes, she crept further into the forest, going more slowly in order to hide her presence.  She found a fallen log near the stream several hundred feet into the forest and sat on it.  She pulled off her pack to see what snacks her human mother might have prepared for her. She pulled out a bit of cheese and rabbit meat and began to pick it apart, eating it quickly. She jumped in surprise when a hand grabbed her left shoulder. “Aha! I knew I could track her!” a void gloated. Uri turned to find fifteen year old Jacob Hirsch standing immediately behind her. His usual buddies, Edmund, Simon, and Hektor approached from several feet away.

Jacob said, “Now seriously, little elf girl. Why did you have to make us chase you like that? Don’t you want to play with with us?” Simon leered at her when Jacob said “play” and Hektor chuckled.

Urizenya bristled. She was only a year younger than Jacob and was actually a year Edmund’s senior. She found their constant taunts of “little girl” infuriating. “No, I don’t want to play with you. You’re a nasty bunch. And quit calling me ‘elf.’ I’m half human, you know.”

“Like my pa says, half a human is no human at all,” Hektor snickered.

“Really. You should be flattered we take any interest in you at all,” Jacob said as he caressed her right cheek.

Urizenya flinched, then brought her fist up to connect with the boy’s nose. Jacob screeched in pain and she turned to run, but Simon tackled her to the ground. “You’re going to pay for that, you little whore!” Jacob snarled as he picked up a nearby stick and approached where she lay.  He raised it overhead and was about to bring it down on her when he suddenly heard a snarling sound.  He paused for just a second and went to turn to his right when a large furry shape crashed directly into him. Urizenya blinked as the scene before her registered in her brain. A dire wolf had pounced on Jacob and was now clenching the boy’s wrist between its teeth.  The boy screamed and all the other boys backed away.  After a moment, the beast released Jacob’s wrist and got off him.  The boy immediately scuttled several feet backward.  The wolf snarled, and all four of Urizenya’s attackers fled, almost tripping over one another in their haste to escape.

Urizenya remained on the ground, watching this giant wolf, who now stared back at her. “If you can understand me, I’d like to thank you,” Urizenya said, shifting a bit uncomfortably.  She wished her father or one of his fellow druids was here right now. She wondered if this beast in front of her was one of them in wild shape, but did not recognize them. “Besides, if you were one my father’s colleagues, I’d think you would have transformed back and introduced yourself by now.”

After another moment, the wolf approached Urizenya, it reached out and pawed at the girl’s left shoulder, leaving three shallow scratches. The wolf backed up a few feet and sat down. Urizenya tenderly touched the injury and said, “Ouch. That hurt.”

The picture is not mine. I found it in the public domain.

“Boys would hurt you more.”

“I suppose that’s true.” Urizenya blinked, realizing she had just understood the wolf’s guttural noises. “Wait, how can I understand you?”

“Want it. You stink of village. But smell…Lucan on you also.”

“He’s my father. You know him?”

“Know all druids here. Bless some too.”  With that, the wolf stood up and padded a few feet away and let out a long howl.” She waited a minute, standing perfectly still. A wolf howled in the distance. “Good. Lucan come.” With that, the wolf returned and sat in front of Urizenya again.

“Do you have a name?”

“Druids call me…Aurora.”

“What does your own kind call you?”

“Queen. Or mean names.  If we enemies.” Urizenya almost laughed. “Most don’t call mean names for long.”

“Because you become friends?”

“No. They quit talking.”

“Oh.” Urizenya shifted uncomfortably as the wolf’s full meaning came to her.

“Druid here,” Aurora said as she stood. Urizenya followed the wolf’s eyes. A tall elf in green and grey leathers approached the pair. As he approached, he glanced briefly at Urizenya before bowing his head to the wolf.  “You called, Aurora, Queen of wolves?”

“Found girl. Boys attack her.  Saved her.”

“I thank you for that.”

“Saved her. Marked her.” The elf’s head shot back up and he raced to his daughter’s side. His eyes focused on the red marks on her shoulder. What little blood that had been flowing from the scratches had stopped by now.

“She is only fourteen!” Lucan said.

“That your law. Not mine. Marked her.”

“I understand. But you must understand, my circle will want to wait quite some time before inducting her into our order.”

“Silly rites. No care. But you train her.”

“I will teach her what I can in the meantime.”

“Good. When time right, bring her.”

“I will, gracious Aurora. Thank you for your blessing.”

“Bless the girl. Not you. You no thank.” Urizenya wrinkled her nose, confused by the smile that crept across her father’s face.

At that the wolf turned to Urizenya. “Talk later. Bless.”  With that, she turned and ran into the woods, quickly disappearing.

Urizenya sat there for a few moments. Finally she took her father’s hand and stood. “What just happened?”

“Think about what you just heard.  Relay the conversation back to me as best you can.”

“Well, you got here. Then Aurora- That is her name, right?”


“Well she told you about the boys chasing me and attacking me. Then she said that she marked me, which you seemed to think i was too young for.”

“Go on,” he pressed.

“She said she didn’t care about that, I think. Then you said something about your circle wanting to wait-” her voice trailed off. She blinked a couple times as understanding began to roll over her. “So I am to become a druid now? Like you?”

Lucan nodded. “Aurora just blessed you, making herself your first animal guide, just as Sandor, the leader of the panthers, became my first animal guide. Though I will note that Sandor did not offer me his blessing until after I was inducted into my circle. Aurora’s choice to bless you before you even declared any intention to join our circle is…peculiar.”

“She made it sound like it was a done deal. Like I couldn’t say no to it. And neither could your circle reject me.”

Lucan sighed. “In a sense, it’s all true. Yes, you can still refuse to take up the druid path. But you cannot undo the claim that Aurora has made on your life. You will always have certain obligations to her, no matter what else you do.”

“I see.  And the druid circle?”

“Technically, the circle still has the right to accept or turn down anyone seeking to be inducted regardless of whether they have an animal blessing. I suspect brother Keldan will make much noise to that effect. But in the end, no one in their right mind is going to ignore Aurora in this matter, let alone go against her wishes.”

“Because she might go to war against you?”

“Oh, I doubt even she would go that far.  But she could certainly make it more difficult for us to perform our duties in this area. I don’t even want to think about the position those she’s blessed would find themselves in.  But that’s not the only reason it won’t come to that.”

Urizenya stood quietly, waiting for her father to continue. He appeared to be choosing his words carefully. “To be blunt, refusing to train you would be cruel. It is a great honor to receive a blessing from Aurora, but she can also be one of the more demanding animal guides, too.  To be honest, if she’s picked you, you’re probably going to need all the training you can get to handle whatever she might want of you.”

“So, will you train me? She seemed to expect that.”

“I’ll definitely teach you what I can before you officially join our circle.  I suspect I’ll at least be involved with your training after that, though other members of the circle might also participate to teach you those things I’m not as skilled in or knowledgeable about.  Then of course, there will be time you spend with Aurora and her clan.”

“When time right, bring her.” Urizenya said, remembering the wolf’s command. “That’s what she was talking about.

“Precisely. But now I must ask you. Are you sure that you want to walk this path?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“As I said, to a degree. But if you start down this path, you will have not only obligations to Aurora, but obligations to the circle and to the rest of the green world. You don’t have to take those particular obligations on if you don’t want to.”

“I see,” she said, then paused as she considered everything. “I’ve always been curious about your work, father.  The natural world fascinates me. And if it gets me away from those pushy, self-centered boys in the village, I’m all for it.”

“I’m not sure those are good reasons to choose this path if they are your only reasons.” Lucan looked at her almost expectantly. She searched her feelings, then searched for the words to express her deepest desires.

“I’m not sure how to explain it, but since she scratched me, I’ve felt like I’ve been changing.” She looked at her father whose expression was interested, but otherwise neutral.

“Go on,” he prompted.

“I feel like everything around us is more real.  And my sense of it is more intense.  Especially my sense of smell. I can smell what I’m pretty sure are blackberries fifty feet west of here. And the breeze against my skin stirs something deep inside of me.” She looked to her father, who merely nodded in encouragement. “I feel like I want to run through forest and explore every inch of it. Look in every hollowed out tree trunk. Check out every hole in the ground. Feel the earth beneath my feet. I feel there’s something I will find there.  I don’t know. Peace? Freedom? The thrill of living? All of that?”

Finally, Lucan broke his silence. “All of that.  And more. That is part of the blessing. Both the circle and your animal guides — you will gain more as you travel this path — will teach you to explore and embrace that. You will become bonded with the wild places in ways that no non-druid will ever know.”

“I want that. With every fiber of my being.”

“That is reason enough to take up this path. Provided you are willing to accept the responsibilities that come with it.”


“Very well. In that case, I think we should travel to the village and talk to your mother and brother. And you should pack a few things. You will be traveling with me for the next couple weeks.”

“So you can start teaching me?”

“Yes. And to spare you from trying to sleep in Shadeville the first night after receiving the blessing.  Even as close to the edge of the as village your mother’s house is, you might find it a bit too much for your newly heightened senses.” With that, he picked up her pack and helped her shoulder it.  The two of them turned toward the village and began walking, soon matching one another’s casual pace.


One Statue Down

I moved toward the giant spider and swung my sickles in an attempt to catch and damage its legs.  Graenas continued to tear at the spider with a necromancy spell, his eyes showing no signs of thought beyond a desire to kill this thing.  I heard Danny struggling to free himself behind us. It took him several seconds — not helped by the fact that the spider managed to catch him in more webbing at one point — but he finally broke free. As he rejoined our battle he swung his warhammer with precision and incredible force, connecting with the spider’s head.  The creature’s exoskeleton cracked loudly as its head caved in from the impact. The whole creature flopped to the ground and twitched briefly before becoming utterly still.

The dungeon of the second statue as explored so far.

I turned to my brother who was still lost in icy hatred.  I could feel the crackle of energy as he raised the power to lash out once again.  I strode to his side and placed a hand on one arm.  “Graenas?” I said softly and pleadingly.

He stood staring at the corpse for a second or two longer before finally blinking. He looked at me as more reasoned thoughts returned to him. “I’m here. Sorry about that.”

I nodded and hugged him. Danny shifted uncomfortably and began to look through a pile of various items in the room. I suspect he was discomfited by what he saw in my brother’s expression as well as our moment of tenderness. I could certainly understand being disturbed by my brother’s murderous trance-like focus.  It bothered me too. As for our sibling affection, well, the human would just have to learn to deal with that.

After a few moments, we joined our fighter companion in sifting through the pile. We found quite the horde of coins, a leather talisman, some perfumed candles — I could only imagine what use Graenas might find for those — a vial of perfume, a pewter rod which Graenas identified as an enchanter’s rod, a lute, a hunter’s cap, and an idol.  We took it all.

I watched as Graenas studied the idol for several seconds. It had the general shape of a man, though the legs were reptilian and the head was that of a wolf.  Also, the arms looked more like octopus tentacles. Finally, Graenas said, “it’s clearly some sort of demonic god, though I can’t identify him or anything about the worship of him.”

“Perhaps we can find out more later in Albion City,” I suggested.  Graenas nodded as he dropped the idol into his bag.

“Any idea how we get back out of here?” Danny asked.  He had barely finished his question when we felt the dizziness of being magically teleported. When the sensation passed, we were once again in the first room into the mine.  The four remaining boulders were still there.  The passageway we had opened to find the contraption was gone, however.  In its place was a small alcove with a beautifully crafted statue.

Graenas sighed and stepped toward it.  As he approached, a magical force appeared to cover the statue in a layer of Adamantine.  Graenas reached for the statue with his right hand.  As his hand approached the surface of the protective layer, it began to glow with an icy magic, surely another gift from his abominable patron.  His touch caused the protective layer to melt away and then caused the stone statue to shatter. Danny coughed and said, “‘Tis a shame to destroy such a thing of beauty.”

Graenas stepped back before replying, “I suppose it is. But until I’m in a position to fight back against Auril, I have to basically do her bidding.” Once more, I wondered just how far my brother would take that defense. I hoped there was still a line he wouldn’t cross no matter what, though I agreed that destroying these statues wasn’t an unforgivable offense. I might prefer Tatiana to her frigid sister, but I still wouldn’t call her a grand chum. Graenas pointed to the boulder immediately left of where the statue had been standing.  “Shall we get on with the next one?” Danny and I stood behind him and each grabbed a shoulder as he once again pushed through the boulder and led us into the swirling vortex behind it.

When our sense of reality solidified again, we found ourselves in a fifteen foot square room with a stone door in the west corner of the south wall.  In the opposite corner sat a destroyed siege weapon and in the southeast corner black and white tiles made up some sort of labyrinth pattern.  Graenas tried to open the door, only to find it was locked.  Danny and I went to investigate the siege machine while Graenas checked out the tile labyrinth for clues.

After a few minutes of looking, Danny and I figured out that while the machine was mostly unrecoverable, there was a battering ram that seemed to be in good shape.  “Do you think we can pull it free and use it on the door?” Danny asked.

“I think it’s worth a try,” I said.  We worked together to pull at the strong shaft of wood.  It took several attempts, but we eventually were able to pull it free.  We heard several connecting pins crack as our hard work finally paid off. “Graenas, are you ready to help us get this door open?”

“Just give me a few,” my brother replied distractedly. “The black tiles turn white when you touch them.  I’m trying to turn them all white to see if it reveals a message.  Or maybe it actually controls a labyrinth beyond the door.  It would be a lot easier if it was just one big empty room instead.”

“Not if it means that every monster in the labyrinth can see us all at once and gang up on us,” Danny muttered. I stifled a laugh. I could see both their points. “Anyway, no disrespect to your brother, but he doesn’t seem like the brute-force type.  I suspect you and I can manage this without him.”

I shrugged and followed the fighter to the door.  We held the battering ram between us and gave it a few practice swings.  Once we were satisfied we had our timing worked out, we begin to drive the ram into the door.  The door reverberated each time we hit it. After a couple hits, a crack formed in the door.  That crack grew each time we hit it.

After a few moments, we began to notice that the light in the room kept getting dimmer.  “Hey boy,” Danny said to Graenas.  “Stop what you’re doing.  I think changing the tiles is affecting the light.”  Graenas stopped.  We waited a couple minutes and the light level remained the same. Graenas abandoned his task and rejoined us.

Danny prepared to make another assault on the door when I waved him off. “Let’s see if we’ve caused enough damage to the latching mechanism.” I reached for the handle.  As I pulled, the door crumbled. We were now looking down a long hallway into the darkness.  A pair of glowing red eyes stared back at us from the darkness.  Graenas lit a torch.  The extra light was enough to let us know that the red eyes belonged to a ghoul that was charging toward us on all fours.  Graenas cursed and hit the advancing creature with an eldritch blast.  The creature faltered briefly, but then continued toward us.  Once it reached the doorway we were gathered around, Danny and I began to attack it.  After we each delivered a couple of blows, I managed to tear open the ghoul’s midsection with my sickles.  The ghoul stood in what might have been astonishment as its rotting entrails spilled to the ground. Then it collapsed.

I poked at the remains with my boot, disgusted. “That’s one less undead thing in the world. I will consider that a great service tot he natural order.” Danny grunted in what I assume was agreement. Graenas made no response.  We slowly made our way down the hallway, checking for traps.  After 125 feet, it finally ended at another stone doorway. This one seemed to be sealed around the edges with some sort of metallic substance.

Danny glanced back toward the room we had just left. “Perhaps we should go back for the battering ram.”

Graenas shook his head.  “The corridor’s too narrow.  I doubt the two of you could work it together effectively in such a tight space.” I nodded my agreement.

“Well then, let me see if I can push this thing in,” Danny said as he leaned all his weight into the door.  After a few seconds, we heard creaking and saw as the metallic sealant appeared to be losing its cohesiveness.  A few seconds later, the door collapsed and Danny stumbled forward. We followed him into what turned out to be another room fifteen feet by fifteen feet in size.  This one had two archways, one in the east corner of the north wall and another immediately south of the first.  There was another siege weapon in the room, this one even more destroyed than the last.  On the wall behind the siege machine, someone had inscribed the phrase “beneath the statue.”

A loud voice came from the archway in the north.  “Hey! Whoever is out there, turn out that light.” The three of us glanced at each other wondering how to respond when the voice continued, “Oh yeah. What’s the password?”

We again looked at one another, unsure what to do. I glanced at the inscription on the wall, but decided against it. While the drawl in the voice suggested we were dealing with someone rather unintelligent, I doubted they were stupid enough to write the password where any intruder could just read it.  Eventually an eight foot tall half-ogre walked into the room brandishing a battle axe.  “I said, ‘What’s the password?’ Now are you going to give it to me or do I have to smash your faces?”

After a moment, Graenas plastered a cheery smile across his face and stepped toward the beast. “Hey there! You must be the front door guard. The boss told us to expect you. ‘Great guard. Great at smashing faces of people who go snooping where they don’t belong,’ he said when he hired us. That was just this morning, in fact. But you see, here’s the thing. He was in such a hurry that he forgot to actually tell us the password before sending us on our way. Easy enough mistake to make. I’m sure you understand.” I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. My brother was insane, but if anyone could fast-talk us past this idiot guard, it was Graenas.  I decided that if he succeeded, I’d have to buy him something special. Maybe even treat him to a tavern visit myself.

“Uh? Which boss?” the half-ogre said, momentarily confused. I could see Greanas trying to figure out how to keep the ruse going. Unfortunately, the creature wasn’t quite stupid enough for our purposes. “Hey! You two are half-elves. I’m gonna have to smash your faces now!”

It was worth a shot, I thought to myself as I rushed forward with my sickles.  The half-ogre managed to catch me with a swing of his battle-axe and I flew through the air a few feet and landed hard on the floor.  I was blacking out fast. As consciousness faded, I heard Graenas shout, “That was my sister, you fucking bastard!”

When I eventually came to, Graenas was kneeling over me, with my medical kit in his hands.  “I thought we had lost you.” He said, the concern in his voice palpable.

“Me too,” I said, taking my kit back from him.  I spent a few minutes taking care of my wounds, as my brother’s clumsy attempts had merely stabilized me and allowed me to regain consciousness. I glanced at our companion, who looked like he had taken a nasty blow himself. “Let me patch you up, too,” I said. Danny came over and I cleansed, salved, and bound his wounds.

Once we were in a better state to continue, we followed the archway back the way the ogre had come from.  We found ourselves in another room which expanded twenty five feet to the north and fifteen to the east.  There was an iron door in the west corner of the north wall, a stone door in the north corner of the east wall, and an archway in the center of the east wall.  There was yet another ruined siege machine in the room.  Danny and I decided to check it out while Graenas investigated the doors and archway.

“Doesn’t look like there’s much use for anything here but some extra tinder,” Danny said.

“That may be useful for fires,” I offered.  The fighter nodded and we set to work salvaging what wood we could.

After several minutes, my brother rejoined us and gave us a report. “It sounds like there’s someone or something behind each door. I’m guessing whatever is behind the iron door is another ghoul or some other kind of undead creature.  I don’t think anything living would make the wheezing and moaning sounds I heard. Whoever is behind the stone door is intelligent enough to speak. I heard it talking to itself, though I couldn’t make out what it was saying.  As for the archway, there’s definitely another room that way, but I didn’t notice anything coming to investigate or patrol.”

Danny tore another piece of wood from the machine before saying, “So what do you recommend?”

Graenas thought for a moment. “I worry about intelligent enemies. I say we deal with whoever is behind the stone door so they can’t sneak up on us if we end up facing an onslaught of zombies from the north.

“Seems reasonable to me,” I said.  “It should only take us a few minutes to finish up here.  Of course, it’d go faster if you’d give us a hand.”

“And damage my perfectly manicured nails?” Graenas said, his face showing look of horror that I couldn’t be entirely sure was in jest. I just swatted at him and went back to work.

When we were done pulling apart the weapon, we went to the stone door.  I carefully reached out to open the door.  As I touched the handle, a rune flashed on the door.  I quickly leaped backward and tumbled across the floor to the opposite wall as a burst of energy was let loose.  I stood back up and dusted myself off to find both men lying on the floor.  A voice came from beyond the door “What happened? Who’s there?” I realized I was alone if the owner of that voice came to investigate.  I crept over to Danny and examined him. I sighed in relief as I confirmed he was alive and even conscious.  But he appeared to be paralyzed.

I silently thanked my father for convincing me to study herbalism as part of my training as I pulled out my herbalism kit. I took my time recalling and following the formula to make a tonic I knew would negate even most magical forms of paralysis.  It still took me a half dozen attempts to successfully make two doses.  I poured the first one down Danny’s throat, figuring that if I was interrupted, his warhammer would be better back-up that my brother’s magic. After I saw that the human was regaining the use of his limbs, I walked over to tend to my brother.  In minutes, they were both ready to go again.  Danny said, “That may have been the worst thing I’ve ever experienced.”  Graenas nodded as he returned to the door. Danny interrupted him, “Are we sure that the same thing won’t happen again?”

Graenas paused before answering.  “That was a rune-trap.  Usually, they dissipate once they’re sprung, just like a physical trap.  All the same, I’ll understand if you want to back up a bit.” The fighter grunted and backed up ten feet. I joined him. I trusted my brother’s judgment, but I wasn’t a gambler either. After all, if I was paralyzed this time, who would create the antidote?

Graenas carefully opened the door, only to be confronted by a gray-skinned gnome holding what looked like some sort of mechanical weapon. The gnome spoke quickly and harshly, “Who are you?  Speak fast or I’ll put a bolt clean through ya.”

I felt a tingling sensation as my brother began to exude some sort of fey power. He spoke kindly to the gnome. “Hello there.”

The gnome’s face went expressionless than took on a more welcoming looking. “You’re kinda pretty,” he said. I covered my mouth quickly. I prayed that Graenas would not be too tempted to look for the love — or whatever he frequently mistakes for love — he desperately wants in the middle of this dungeon. That would surely spell doom for us all.

Fortunately, Graenas managed to control himself as he continued to work his charms. “That’s so sweet of you, old friend.  Hey, can you tell me a bit about the guardians we might find here?”

The gnone blinked.  “Guardians?  What guardians?  What are you talking about.”

Graenas paused for a moment.  “Well, I suppose you don’t think of them like that.  Who else is down here, behind all these doors?”

“Oh, there’s all sorts of people and things down here,” the gnome replied almost cheerfully.  “There are a few ghouls and skeletons, the occasional cultist, and who knows what else.”

“And how can we find the main chamber of this complex?” my brother pressed.

At that, the gnome became more agitated.  “Hey, why are you are you asking all these questions.  Who are you again?”  Graenas seemed about to respond again when I stepped forward. It was clear to me that my brother was losing this gnome and I wanted prevent any more near-death experiences, I slashed at the gnome and his weapon in an attempt to disarm him. I was successful only in ending the conversation. “Hey! I’m going to have to kill you for that!”

Graenas groaned, “I know she can be annoying, but all of you need to quit trying to kill my sister.”  With that, he blasted the gnome with his power.  The gnome managed to get a couple shots off with his bolt-throwing machine.  One missed and the other seemed to suffer some sort of misfire. I began to suspect that the device was still too experimental to rely on in battle as I slashed at the gnome.

Danny quickly ended the battle with a swing of his warhammer that turned the gnome’s skull into a small explosion of bone fragments.  The rest of the body collapsed.  Graenas sighed, “I tried to keep this from turning violent.” I wasn’t sure whether he was regretting having to kill another sentient being or just preferred to avoid a direct physical confrontation. I comforted myself on the possibility that it could actually be both.

Graenas picked up and stowed the bolt-throwing device, then searched the body.  He found a small platinum key, and a parchment.  He held out the parchment for Danny and I to inspect.  On it was a drawing of a statue.   The drawing showed what looked like might be a a keyhole in the rear part of the base, and once again the words “beneath the statue” were written on the parchment. It seemed obvious that we now knew where to use the key.  We just had to find the statue.


Behind The Scenes: Giving Birth to the Twins

Page one of Graenas’s character sheet as printed from The D&D Adventurer’s League (not a sponsor).

Hello, dear readers!  Here’s your friendly blogger and author, Jarred, with another look behind the scenes of this blog’s main story. In the previous Behind the Scenes post, I talked about my choice to turn the sessions of the Dungeons and Dragons campaign I’m currently participating in into a fantasy fiction story. Today, I want to go into the mental processes and discussions I went through while creating my characters, Uri and Graenas.  (I should warn you, this post may give you insights into my characters that yet have to be revealed in the story itself. If that kind of information ahead of time bothers you or you think it might ruin your enjoyment of the story, I suggest you skip this post.)

When Joe, my husband, suggested we start a new D&D campaign, I told him that I wanted to focus more on building up the role-playing aspect of the game.  I wanted to act out dialogue more and give more character development. I also realized that to do this, I needed to do a better job envisioning my character. So rather than create a character and then try to fill in their backstory after the fact, I decided to build the character up with some sort of backstory from the beginning.

With that in mind, I picked up our print version of the Player’s Handbook and flipped through the classes, trying to decide what kind of character I wanted to play.  I’m a fan of spellcasters, so I decided to start looking at the warlock class. I immediately got thinking about my warlock’s patron. What kind of a patron would he have?  What kind of relationship would he have with that patron. I knew that i wanted him to have an uneasy relationship and I was leaning towards a fiendish patron. I also decided that I wanted my warlock to be a half-elf.  It seemed like a good choice, and gave him some extra characteristics. It also provided me with material for further developing the twins’ backstory, though i would realize that until later.

As I mentioned on the about page of this blog, I thought that we were going to need a tanky character for the campaign.  Rather than make Joe create an NPC for the party to take all our hits for us, I offered to play two characters. As a result, I decided that character would be a druid. Yes, poor Uri started out as little more than a utilitarian character and I actually still worry that it shows.  I don’t feel she’s quite as fleshed out as a full individual as Graenas is, though I keep trying to think of ways to improve on and more fully develop her character.

At any rate, as I considered my half-formed druid character, I thought it might make for some interesting storytelling and character development if these two characters were siblings, possibly with a competitive rivalry between the two of them.  I talked it over with Joe, who agreed it was a good idea and through our conversations, we decided the pair would be twins.

At some point, I had an epiphany.  I had already known that my warlock (neither character had been given a name at this point, mind you) would be gay and had considered making the siblings compete over romantic interests. Then I realized that some sort of fight between the twins over a boy would be the reason the brother would become a warlock. I spent twenty minutes writing a quick story about how a broken-hearted teen, Graenas — this is the story that also forced me to go the an online name generator and name the twins — ran off in tears because the boy he was crushing on had kissed Graenas’s own sister, Urizenya.  A fey deity (whose name was “XXXXX” in the story, I kid you not) found young Graenas and offered to help him gain his crush’s attention for “the occasional favor.” Out of love-sickness and youthful foolishness, he accepted and the pact was made.

As I wrote that story, I realized I needed to change my plans slightly.  While I had originally planned to have Graenas make his pact with a fiend, it seemed to me that an arch-fey patron made more sense for his backstory now.  It also got me thinking of how Graenas’s relationship with his patron would cause him to favor illusion, trickery, and persuasion as a means of getting what he wants and getting things accomplished.

I showed this very rough story (which I hope to polish someday and post to the blog as an extra) to Joe, who loved it.  We sat down to start doing some research and agreed that Auril would make a great patron for Graenas. She seems to both of us like the type that would latch onto a love-sick youth and give him what (he thinks) he wants in exchange for his servitude.  And it gave Joe all kinds of ideas for how that relationship might play out in the campaign. We’ve talked about it at a very abstract level. Let’s just say that we both agree that there will come a point in the campaign where Graenas is going to have to make a Very Big Choice™.  I’m honestly not sure what Graenas’s decision will be when we reach that point. It depends on how Graenas’s character develops over the course of the campaign and possibly what decision I think will make for a more interesting story when we reach that point.

At that point, i tried to think a bit more about Urizenya.  As I said, it’s been more difficult and tentative with her. At this point, I had decided that the twins would have grown up among the humans.  I recalled that both humans and elves are distrustful of half-elves and treat them as “the other,” so I pondered on that for a bit. I realized that humans may distrust and other half-elves, but young human boys might still find a half-elf girl their age very pretty and “exotic.”  So, it made sense to me that the human boys in their village would be constantly trying to pursue Urizenya. Uri, who would get the sense that these boys were only interested in her as an “exotic prize” to win, wanted nothing to do with it. She would cope with this by avoiding the village and the boys as much as possible. I realized that this meant that she would spend much of her time with her father, who was now an elven druid and her teacher in my mind. The boys’ treatment of her (and the men who would treat her the same way when she became an adult) gives her an extra reason to be distrustful of humans (especially human men) and much prefer her time among the plants and creatures she loves.

Joe and I are still working on figuring out what Uri’s personal quest in the campaign is or what motivates it.  We’ve toyed with the idea of giving her a malady of some sort for which there are rumors of an old druidic remedy that she can seek out, though we haven’t finalized that. For now, she’s just serving to maintain the natural order of things and make sure her brother doesn’t become a total tool for Auril.  But like I said, I hope her own voice and life story becomes stronger as we continue.

Anyway, that’s a look at what went into the creation and evolution of the twins before they even started their adventures at the virtual D&D table.  It’s not a full picture, mind you. For example, I haven’t even mentioned the significance of the sewing kit that Graenas carries or Uri’s relationship with and affinity for wolves (I haven’t fully figured that one out myself, but know it’s a thing with her).

Now it’s your turn, readers!  What are your experiences with character creation?  It doesn’t matter if it’s for writing fiction, playing RPG’s, or both.  Do you have a preferred process? What are the questions you ask yourself?  How important is backstory to you? Do you come up with first or fit it in later around your story and/or character sheet? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments.

May your adventures be epic!


Out of the Device Chamber and Into the Spiders’ Den

The human and I stood there for a a few moments after dispatching the previous round of rats as Graenas gathered up the handful of coins our attackers had left behind. “That was a nice workout, but I’m not sure it got us anywhere,” I said casually.

Danny nodded and said, “Perhaps it’s a timing thing.  What if we were to pull the levers at the exact same time?”

My brother joined us as he slid our latest gains into his bottomless magical pouch. “I think it’s worth a try.”  With that, he reached up to the lever on the left and turned his head to Danny.  “You call it and I’ll match time with you.”

Danny nodded and reached for the other lever before beginning his count. “One. Two.  Three.  Go!”  At that, both men pulled down their levers.  The levers made a clicking sound, then there was a sound like an inrush of wind coming from the ceiling.  I glanced up, but saw no ventilation shafts or any other openings.  We still seemed to be in a completely sealed, perfectly cubic room.  The levers returned to their resting places.

“Try that again,” I said.  “I want to watch the ceiling this time.”  I stilled my mind and put my sight and senses at their fullest alert as the fighter repeated his count.  I heard the sound of the levers once again being pulled and latching into place.  Once again, I heard the sound of in-rushing air, but saw nothing.  No door opened.  No other opening appeared.  No dust or other particle gave any indication of a source of new air entering the room. Despite the complex mechanical nature of the contraption, there appeared to be a highly magical aspect to it as well. I supposed this was to be expected, given the involvement of the fey.

“Well, this isn’t getting us anywhere,” Graenas said impatiently.  “I say we try the next position on the dial. I silently worried that my brother’s impatience would one day get him into deeper trouble than he already was in.  In this case, however, he was right. It was time to try something different. I nodded and turned the dial back to the previous direction indicator and watched as the numeric display reset to 2.  Graenas and Danny each took a lever and pulled on Danny’s mark.  We instantly heard the same fog horn sound and shuffling sounds behind us.  We turned around to confront five spiders, each the size of an adult rottweiler.  Graenas let out a string of Sylvan profanities. I suspect that he had learned some of them from Auril, as I couldn’t make a few of those words out enough.  But my lessons with our father allowed me to understand enough to know that Mother would be reaching for the soap dish had she heard the things my brother had just sputtered.  He launched a blast of eldritch energy at the southern-most spider.  He just barely grazed it, though it was enough to make it mad.

Danny moved to engage the two spiders in the north and was immediately attacked by both of them and the spider in the middle.  The spider Graenas had attacked launched itself at him and overshot onto the contraption.  That left me to approach and attack the one remaining spider.  I hooked the sickle in my right hand around one of its legs. I heard the leg crack and tear as I used it to pull the creature towards me.  Once its body was in range, I drove the point of my other sickle between the spider’s eyes.  There was a squelching sound as more of the curved blade sunk beneath the surface and the spider screeched and shook violently for a moment then went completely still. I pulled both sickles free.  The one dripped with blood as I joined Danny to take care of whatever spiders had not yet gone still beneath the fighter’s warhammer.

Graenas soon turned the spider he was fighting into dripping bits scattered across the contraption and he began to attack those Danny and I were engaging with his bolts of power as well.  When the final spider had been almost perfectly bisected by the long sword in Danny’s off hand, I wiped the blood off my sickles and said, “I hope we figure out how this damn contraption works soon or we’ll be able to ride a wave of our attackers like they were horses. The human snorted in what I assumed was agreement and we returned to the device.

“Three?” Graenas asked.

“I feel like we’re just doing the same thing and hoping for different results, but I have no better suggestions,” Danny said gruffly. I shrugged.  Graenas reset the dial so the number on the reading was three.  The men executed their choreographed lever-pulling routine once more. We instantly knew by the sounds we heard that it was time for another battle.  This time, we were faced off against five of the largest rats I have ever seen and three iron chests that somehow managed to drool and snarl.  I had heard of mimics before through the tale-swapping that takes place in taverns at Albion City, but I had never seen one.  Their unnatural and surely magical construction unnerved me.

Graenas shot another blast of eldritch energy at one of the mimics, which immediately descended on him.  It bit him hard and my brother shrieked, “That hurt, you diabolical piece of luggage!”  Danny was instantly busy with three of the large rats.  I saw another rat headed my way, but one look at the fighter informed me that he would soon be overwhelmed by his wounds if I didn’t intervene. I silently hoped that my attacker wouldn’t inflict too much harm on me as I extended a hand palm forward toward Danny and intoned a healing incantation Father had taught me.  I smiled in grim satisfaction as the gashes on the fighter’s skin began to close and his bruises began to fade.  The renewed health and strength clearly reinvigorated him as he continued his assault on the rats now surrounding him.

I found myself splitting my attention over the next several seconds between fending off the rat attacking me and applying my knowledge of field medicine to keep both Graenas — who seemed to be getting worn down by the rat and mimic that were tag-teaming him — and Danny from succumbing.  I finally managed to kill my attacker when one of the two as-yet uninvolved mimics caught my scent and moved forward to attack me.  I quickly tucked away my sickles and drew my wooden shield and mace, figuring that a blunt weapon might do more damage to the wood and iron that made up the strange creature than a pair of small curved blades.

Danny manged to turn the small group of rats attacking him into  piles of goo and sliced meat as the third mimic attacked him.  Somehow, he managed to get the rat attacking my brother as well as the mimic engaging me to redirect their attention to him.  This allowed Graenas to focus on his mimic.  My brother shouted, “Enough!  Let’s try fire!” Then he  blasted a whole through the top of the chest that served as the mimic’s body with a firebolt.”

“Nice shot!” Danny called out as he smashed the mimic we were both attacking, sending a few more splinters into the air.  The mimic finally went still and he turned his attention to the final chest.  I came around beside him to help, smashing dents into the creature with my mace.  Graenas began attacking it with frosty rays of magic.  Soon, the final enemy quit moving.  Graenas took out his medical kit and tossed it to me, saying, “Thanks for keeping us alive, Uri.  This will make sure you can keep doing it.

Danny reached into his own pack and began to pull out another such kit, but I held up my hand to stop him.  “Hold onto it for now.  This will allow me to keep attending to all of us for the time being. And if something happens to me, one of you might need to be able to quickly stabilize me. You’ll need the means to do that if it becomes necessary.”  Danny thought for a moment, then nodded as he repacked his own kit. I continued, “At any rate, after that intense battle, I think we should rest for a bit.” With that, I undid my pack and set it on the floor, sitting down beside it.

“Sounds good to me,” Danny said as he followed suit.  “And maybe you can tell me a little bit more about what exactly is going on here.”

I glanced at Graenas, who had just finished gathering up the coins left by that last wave of attackers as well as three pieces of parchment he apparently found in the remains of one of the chests..  He shrugged as he sat a few feet from us and pulled out his sewing kit and some sort of needlework project.  I paused, then said, “Graenas’s power comes from an evil fey deity he made a pact with four years ago.  She’s the one who sent us here. We’re trying to destroy an unknown number of statues erected by her sister.”

“What?!” Danny said, his face twisting with anger as he glared at Graenas. “Why on earth would you do such a foolish thing?!”

Graenas’s needle stopped moving as he looked up. I could see the frustration and embarrassment on his face as he spoke.  “I was young and foolish at the time.  Plus I thought I was in love and my heart was breaking.  When Auril appeared, she told me that if I just agreed to do some favors every now and then, she’d make it so William….” His voice cracked as he spoke the name of one of our few childhood friends, the one Graenas had so desperately wished would see him as more than a friend.  My brother fell silent, staring at the piece of cloth in his hand.

After a few moments, I spoke.  “He made a mistake.  A foolish and costly one, but one that’s easy to make when you’re a teenager struggling with emotions and hormones.” I willed myself to accept that defense, myself.  I also hoped I was speaking the truth as I continued. “I think he’s learned his lesson.  Now he’s just trying to make the best of a bad situation until he can find a way to fix it completely. I’m trying to help him.

The fighter huffed.  “I guess I get it.  I still say it was a stupid thing to do!” I inwardly bristled. While part of me agreed with our human companion, I felt very protective and defensive of my brother. I knew what that moment of desperate folly cost him, and not just in terms of being bound to the fey Ice Queen. Graenas really had cared deeply for William, and I suspect their friendship had been ruined forever. I knew the pain of that reality weighed on my brother, along with the knowledge of how deeply he had wronged and hurt William.  I hoped his regret and anguish would remind him to make better choices in the future.

We fell silent after that and I closed my eyes, leading my mind through the exercises that would draw me closer to the natural world around me.  I briefly wondered how well that would work while we were sealed in this chamber that I suspected was separated from the rest of our world by strange magics.  Assuming it had ever been a part of our world in the first place. It must have worked to some degree, however, as I felt much more refreshed when I stretched and opened my eyes.  A glance at the rows of new stitches Graenas had made suggested that two or three hours had passed. He had a slight smile on his face.  I guessed his needlework had brought up memories of helping our mother with various sewing projects.  It was the one thing that would always soothe his troubled spirits after he had a negative encounter with other residents of Shadeville while growing up.  Granted, he also tended to cause a lot of those encounters and exacerbate even more of them. But Mother would always get him calmed down, then gently reprimand him for his own actions a few hours later. He always took her criticisms far better than he reacted to the times I would scold him.  Then again, I had neither Mother’s patience nor her compassion.  At least not when it came to childish antics.

Danny looked at both of us and said, “I can’t sit here any longer.  Let’s get back to it.”  I think he just wanted to get away from the weirdness of this place and back to something simple and straightforward, like chasing after orcs and splitting their skulls. I nodded, stood, and returned to the contraption along the east wall. I reached out and turned the dial so that the numeric display would reset and turn to 4.  As it did, I noticed a slot that opened on the front of the machine. “Wait,” I said as I pointed to the narrow opening that must have been just a couple inches long. “Did anyone notice this before?” I feared I would have to apologize to Graenas for criticizing his failure to notice the dial earlier.

“No, can’t say as I have,” Danny said, running his finger along the slot.

“I think I did briefly, but thought nothing of it at the time,” Graenas said.  But now that we have four pieces of parchment….”  He shuffled through the four square pieces of parchment and attempted to slide the one marked with the number four on it inside.  Some unseen mechanism whirred as he got the edge of the parchment started just inside.  That mechanism pulled the entire square inside.  The slot then closed and the button on the contraption began to flash.  I tried pressing it, but it woouldn’t budge.

“Perhaps the levers unlock the button,” Danny suggested.  Graenas nodded in approval at the suggestion, then reached for his lever.  The two men pulled the levers in unison and I pushed the button as the levers clicked into place.  We heard a rumbling sound behind us.  We turned to see a large set of double doors now filling most of the western wall.

Graenas walked over and examined the doors.  “There appears to be a four keyholes.  Two embedded in each door,” he said.  Danny and I were investigating the dial, which now had a piece of metalsticking out of it.  It was thin and roughly a couple inches long.

“Do you think it’s broken?” Danny asked.

“I don’t this so,” I said as I leaned over to get a better look.  “It looks like the other end is actually sticking in a socket in the dial. Let me just,” I said as I pulled on it.  I stopped mid-sentence as the piece of metal came free.  Now free of the contraption, four small teeth popped along one end of it.  “Well, there’s one key,” I said.

“We need three more and there are three more major marks on the dial,” Graenas said as he rejoined us by the contraption. “There’s an obvious hypothesis there, I think.”  Danny grunted his assent. Together, the three of us worked through the process of turning the dial, inserting the proper piece of parchment, and working the device to retrieve all four keys.  Once we retrieved the final key, the contraption pulled all of its controls inside of itself and then folded itself back into the wall.  In seconds, we were facing a blank stone wall.

Once they were in hand, Graenas took the keys over to the door and examined both them and the keyholes. He said, “There’s a face-plate containing each keyhole.  They’re all different colors: yellow, green, blue, and orange.  The thing is, each key has four teeth, each tooth being one of those colors.”

“So it’s not going to be obvious,” I said, a bit annoyed.  “Why couldn’t each key be all one color?”

Danny thought for a moment then said, “Is the first tooth on each key a different color when compared against the other keys?”

Graenas looked each key over.  “As  matter of fact, yes.”

“So let’s line the keys up so that we put them in the keyhole whose color is the same color as the key’s first tooth,” Danny suggested. I nodded, appreciating the fact that our new companion had more brains than many weapon experts I had met in the past.  While I was thankful for his skill in battle, I was also glad he had other ways he could contribute to our collective efforts.  Plus I hoped it was a sign that I wouldn’t have to worry about him leaping headlong into an unwinnable battle without any thought.

We got all the keys lined up as proposed.  Graenas said, “I think we should try turning them all at once.  Danny can you manage two keys at once?”  Danny nodded and placed his hands on the two keys nearest him. Graenas and I each grabbed the key in front of us and turned to Danny.  He counted us down and we turned all four keys in unison.  We were rewarded with a resounding and promising click.  I pulled on the doors and they swung out and open, only to reveal another set of doors behind them.  They were identical to the previous one.

Graenas grinned.  “I can see where this is going.  Sort them according to the colors of their second teeth.  We did so and repeated the process to open this door and the two behind it.  As the final door swung open we found ourselves looking into a giant chamber.  As we entered we saw a dreadful sight.  There were three more spiders the same size as the last wave we had fought scurrying toward us. The thing that caused the blood to briefly drain from my face, however, was the red spider that was approximately the size of a small hovel that stood behind them.

The three of us began to attack the middle spider of the three smaller ones, who had all descended on Danny.  Graenas, who had moved thirty feet away so he could attack from a distance, managed to strike the same spider with a blast of energy before the giant red spider managed to hit him with a stream of webbing.  My brother cursed as all his limbs became entangled and he fell to the floor. I redoubled my attack efforts with Danny, hoping I’d be able to get free to help Graenas in time.

The giant spider ambled over and was just about to attack my defenseless brother when Danny brought his warhammer down on the badly bleeding spider we had been wearing down.  The giant spider heard the crunching sound its diminutive companion’s body made and turned its attention and anger toward the fighter.  It began to shoot streams of webbing at Danny but missed, covering the wall behinds us with a white sticky mess.

Graenas struggles paid off as he finally broke free of his sticky bonds.  “That’s enough!” he snarled and I glanced at him just long enough to see the icy hatred in his eyes. I cringed at how much he seemed like Auril at that moment and longed for the day that we could free him from her influence.  Hopefully it wouldn’t be too late.  He uttered an incantation I had only heard him use a couple times before and I once again cringed as I began to smell the now-dead, rotting flesh that hung from parts of the giant spider’s body.

Graenas continued to use his power to instantly destroy the giant spider’s cells as Danny and I each killed one of the two remaining smaller spiders.  We finished our work and turned to help my brother put an end to the red monster. At that moment, the creature finally managed to hit Danny with a spray of webbing.  The fighter went down.  I stepped forward, hoping Graenas and I could hold our own with the creature long enough for the fighter to free himself.


Behind the Scenes: Role-Playing and Storytelling

Hello, readers.  This is Jarred, your loyal blogger and the person who gives voice to the beloved (or at least I hope they’re beloved) Graenas and Urizenya.  The next D&D session, which will then move the main story on this blog forward, is only a few days away.   In the meantime, I wanted to reach out and share my thoughts on this writing project.  As a matter of fact, I’m hoping to establish a pattern where every Wednesday or Thursday, I add some sort of extra “goodie” to the blog that complements the main story, whose installments will be posted on Sundays or Mondays (depending on how much time I need to write and edit).  They might be a peek behind the scenes at my own creative process.  They might be a short story involving one or more of the characters. (For example, I will probably post a short story in which sixteen year old Graenas first meets and makes his deal with his patron, Auril.) I’ve even toyed with posting audio or video of me reading one of the installments.  (I read the first installment to my husband and dungeon master, Joe, while I was editing it and he loved the way I read it.)

These posts will be put in a special category according to their content type (Behind the Scenes, Short Extras, etc).  That same content type will also be part of the post title to make it easy to recognize.  Main story installments, on the other hand, will just have a title.  They will also be placed into the main story category, so you can easily find them if you don’t want to sort through the extra goodies.

Anyway, on to today’s topic.  I wanted to talk about my decision to turn our D&D campaign into a work of fiction and my thoughts and feelings about it.  I actually decided to do it at the recommendation of Joe.  He and I were originally planning to play a different campaign when he made the suggestion.  That campaign never got off the ground, and I think it might be interesting to explore the reasons for that and compare them to why I think things went differently this time in a future post.  Of course, I had heard of using role-playing for story-telling purposes before.  Most famously, I remember Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, authors of the Dragonlance Chronicles (and many of the books that came after the trilogy), wrote in an appendix (or was it an introduction?) of one their books a brief comment about how the character Raistlin Majere developed his identifying raspy voice because a friend (actually, as I looked up information for this post, I learned the man was actually a coworker at TSR) roleplaying him used the voice in a D&D session. I no longer have my copy of those books, so I don’t remember the full details.  But I was able to find an online post in which Hickman once again talked about it:

The first was Terry Phillip’s portrayal of Raistlin. Whenever Terry spoke ‘in character’ as Raistlin, he did so in a raspy, whispering voice. It was menacing and not just a little creepy to hear but what Margaret observed was that whenever Terry spoke in that voice, the rest of the room went silent in order to hear what he had to say. Margaret realized not only was this a quality that would have come from Raistlin’s background but it was also a manipulative technique of getting everyone’ attention and having them pay careful attention to him when he spoke. This, Margaret realized, was something which Raistlin would pick up on and use for his own gain. From Terry’s voice characterization that night, the essence of Raistlin drew life’s breath.

I recommend reading the whole post.  Anyway, as I created the twins, I thought back to both Joe’s suggestion and my recollection of the above anecdote.  I immediately became fascinated with the idea, and also saw it as a way of getting back into writing. It had been a few years since I worked on anything other than the rare writing exercise. Plus it already gave me an instant audience of two, as I was certain both Joe and my fellow player, Deb, would love to read how I narrate and interpret our adventures that we playe  at our (virtual) D&D table.

Since writing the first installment, I’ve been pondering (and impatiently waiting for Saturday to roll around so we can have our next session), and it occurs to me that for me, this approach to a fiction project works nicely for me because of my own strengths and weaknesses.  I’m great at character development.  I can generate enough backstory to understand how my character’s would act.  I can give them quirks and personality traits. My dialogue is pretty good, too, so if two (or more) of my characters get in a room together, I can make them talk with one another in engaging and interesting ways. I can even come up with some pretty cool “big picture” concepts.

The one thing I tend to struggle with is actual plot. My answer to the question “where are these fascinating characters headed and what’s going to happen to them along the way” is often “I’m not really sure.  It’s happened to a couple of my previous writing projects.  In one project, my main character went through countless scenes that were themselves pretty good, but I felt like it was going to meander forever and never really reach a conclusion.

Joe, on the other hand, is a plot-generating fiend (or maybe he’s an arch-fey).  It’s a skill that I think is one part natural for him and another part developed over two decades of creating and running D&D campaigns. The man has taken Deb’s and my character ideas and backstories and woven them into the campaign as personal story-lines in addition to the shared story-line.  That’s kind of cool, as it’s neat to know that the creation of my own characters have in turn shaped the story we’re going to end up telling.

But most importantly, it means that someone else is providing me the plot outline that I so often seen to struggle to figure out myself. I don’t have to come up with all the  situations and can focus on how my characters respond to each one, then turn the whole thing into a narrative someone might enjoy reading.  That’s something that has me very excited.

So that gives you, my readers, a brief glimpse into my own thoughts as I kick off the project.  I’d love to hear from you.  Maybe you’re a writer or a roleplayer who has an experience you share.  Maybe you’re a writer who has used roleplaying to help develop your stories (I get the impression it’s a rather common practice) and can share how that’s worked for you.  Maybe you can share you how make allowances for and/or overcome your own weaknesses in the writing and/or roleplaying experiences. I’d love to hear about it in the comments section!

Happy adventuring, whether it’s with dice, pen and paper, or a book and your own imagination!

— Jarred.


Getting pulled into a family feud

I sat with my back against a fallen tree in the small, secluded glade at the Falls of Serenity. My eyes were closed as I tried to still my mind as I waited for my patron to make her presence known to me.  It was not long before I felt the familiar icy chill on my skin.  I heard her cold yet seductive voice a few feet from me.  “Hello there, my sweet child.”  Did she call me a child just to annoy me?  I am an adult of twenty years, after all.  And I’ve certainly grown up a lot since I foolishly bound myself to her four years ago.  Being forced to work for an arch-fey goddess who wants to plunge the world into cold and darkness tends to have that effect on you.

I kept my eyes closed for a few more moments before saying, “Greetings my mistress.”  I reluctantly opened my eyes and looked upon her lithe, elegant, and almost featureless form. She was wearing her usual armor, made of some strange metal that I do not recognize.  All I know is that it seems more rare than even mythril and exudes power.  Everything about Auril exudes power.

“I have a task for you,” she said.

I sighed. “Am I going to have to kill someone?” So far, she has spared me from doing so, though she has made it clear in the past that I cannot expect that to remain true if I am going to continue to serve her and benefit from her blessings. I pray that I find my freedom from her before that days comes. I’m not sure my relationship with Uri would survive if I turn murderer for this ice queen.

“Not this time.  You may have to kill things. Nothing you’d likely consider a person, though.  Will you do as I ask?”

“Like I have a choice,” I muttered quietly, momentarily forgetting about Auril’s keen hearing.

“You can walk away any time you want, young one. You can simply break your contract whenever you’re willing to give up the power I have granted you.”

Therein lies the trap, I groaned inwardly.  “No, Mistress. I am yours to command,” I said, trying to sound subservient.

“That’s more like it,” she replied.  “My sister has started to gain a foothold in this region.  I can sense where her followers have erected her statues in the mine in the mountains northwest of the capital region.”

“And you want me to travel to the mine and destroy Titania’s statues, breaking her foothold.”

“You understand me clearly.  Fortunately, Titania’s followers just recently finished their construction, so their power is rather weak.  The guardians that shield and protect them should still be relatively easy for you to overcome.  Enter the spatial rifts that contains each statue and defeat the guardians you find there.”

I frowned.  “Spatial rifts.  Aren’t those usually deadly for mere mortals to pass through?”

Auril smiled as she held out  a frost amulet in her hand.  The amulet floated out of her hand and moved to hover near me. “This will enable you and anyone physically touching to pass through these rifts unharmed.”  I reached out and took hold of the amulet.  I felt a jolt of energy, as cold as anything that comes from Auril.  I brought the chain holding the amulet around my neck and, after a moment’s hesitation, engaged the clasp.  As the amulet now hung from my neck, I could feel the boost of power it gave me, both chilling and delighting me.  Auril smiled her dark approval, then continued, “You may take anyone you wish with you to complete this task.  Even that annoying sister of yours.”  She sneered as she mentioned Uri.  Those two have hated each other since the day Auril came into my life.  Not that I blame Uri.  This woman wants to turn our world into a ball of ice shrouded in darkness.  Any Druid would take issue with that, though Uri’s dislike of Auril seems to be a bit more personal than that, if you ask me.

“Not like you could stop her from coming along anyway,” I said.  Don’t poke the polar bear too much, I mentally warned myself.  You don’t to end up a ball of ice yourself. But I was right and Auril knew it. Uri and I were inseparable and the only way the frosty goddess could change that was if she actually killed my sister. And I think she knows I’d likely abandon her for sure if she did that.

“Just one more thing,” she said.  “Before you head to the mine, you should return to Albion City and pay a visit to my servant there.  He should have something you might find useful.”

“Thank you Mistress, I will. I bid you farewell.”

“Be careful, my young servant.  Return to me when you can.”

“Yes Mistress,” I said as I turned to leave our meeting spot.

It only took a few minutes to reach the tree where Uri was waiting for me.  She sat cross-legged with her back against it, her eyes closed and her sickles resting on her knees.  I suspected she had been listening in on my meeting through our telepathic bond.  She confirmed it as she said, “Taking on Titania’s forces, huh?”

“You make it sound like we’re going up against a grand army, Sis,” I said, slightly exasperated.

“I don’t trust that frosty wench,” she snapped.  “For all we know, that’s exactly what she’s sending you up against.”

I rolled my eyes. “She knows that would be a death sentence to me. She doesn’t want me dead, Uri.  She wants me to succeed.”

“That in itself should make you worry, you know.”

“What do you expect me to do, Uri?  Walk away?  You and I both know that’s probably a death sentence.  Yeah, she says she’d merely strip me of my powers and let me walk away.  But, as you just pointed out, she’s not exactly one to be trusted.”

“I know. But I wonder if you’d actually give up those powers even if she really would leave you otherwise unharmed.”

I clenched my fists for a moment, then forced myself to relax.  The truth is, I’m not sure she’s wrong to wonder.  “Can we not have this argument again right now?” I said, my eyes pleading.

Uri sighed as she stood up, “Okay. You know I just worry about you because I love you.”

“I know.  So shall we make our way to Albion City?” I said, hoping to change the subject.

“Oh right. First I have to deal with Auril’s crap and now I get to spend time in that oppressively crowded city. Could my day get any better?” I tried hard not to laugh at Uri, who would much rather spend her day running with the creatures in the forest than put up with the hustle and bustle — not to mention schemes — of civilization. I made a mental note to do something extra sweet for her in the future.

We made good time hiking to the city.  I looked over at Uri as we wound through the streets toward Twinkletoes’s Bazaar.  Every muscle in her body must have been tensed as she constantly scanned our surroundings. Neither of her hands were ever more than five inches from her weapons. By the looks of her, one would have assumed that a band of assassins would descend on her at any second.

Unfortunately, her hyper-alert state meant that she didn’t miss it when I checked out a couple of traveling merchants we passed by.  She glared at me and I shrugged.  It had been a while since I had enjoyed the company of another man. It only seemed natural to look around and consider the possibilities.

When we got to his shop, I saw the gnome, Oswald Twinkletoes, deep in conversation with a human wearing the uniform of the city night watch. He looked to be a decade or two older than my sister and I.  I’m not normally into the daddy type, but I have to admit that I found something about his rugged good looks appealing.

“You will most likely want to hire someone who can guide you through the mountains,” Oswald said to the man just before he glanced our way.  “Like a pair of half-elves who’ve spent many years wandering around these parts.  Hello there Graenas, Urizenya.”

Sis nodded curtly to Oswald, “Master gnome. How’s business?”

“Profitable,” the gnome smiled. “Is there something I can help you two with?”

I nodded. “I’m on an assignment from my benefactor.  She mentioned that you might have something for me.”

The gnome’s eyes twinkled. “Indeed I do!  Excuse me, Danny. I need to take care of this matter.”

“Indeed.  Thank you for your help, Master Twinkletoes,” the human said, then turned to nod politely to Uri and me.

“Please hold up,” I said to the man. “I hear you’re headed to the mountains.  As it happens, we are headed in that direction as well and would like to discuss the possibility of a mutually beneficial arrangement.”

The man paused. “Indeed.  Conclude your business with our merchant friend here and then we can talk.”

“Thank you,” I said before turning my attention back to Oswald. “Okay, what do you have for me?”

Oswald pulled out one of his most secure trunks and began to work at the complicated locking mechanism.  I suspect that it’s of magical construction, but can never tell.  Finally, the gnome opened the trunk and retrieved a small bag from the inside and presented it to me. “This pouch has no limit to how much it can hold, nor does it ever gain any weight.  If you can fit something through the opening at the top, the bag will hold it without expanding.”

Uri muttered. “How unusual, the icy wench actually gave us something useful.”

Oswald grinned.  “Actually, this gift was my idea.  I figure it will help you keep all the wonderful treasures you are likely to find on your journeys. And hopefully sell some of them to me.  I’m always looking for new merchandise, you know.”

“I suspect that will be a relationship that will be beneficial to both of us, Oswald,” I said as I took the bag from the gnome.  I no more than grasped the bag when I felt a sudden jolt of power.  The bag was gone.

“And that would be your benefector’s contribution to your gift,” Oswald said as he reached out and tapped the bag, which had reappeared hanging from my belt.  “It’s now bound to you.”

“And there’s the catch,” Uri said, grimacing with disgust. She then turned to address the fighter.  “So tell me, stranger, what takes you into the mountains?”

“First, allow me to cease being a stranger,” the man said.  “My name is Danny Thorsson. I have reasonably reliable intelligence indicating that members of the orc clan that destroyed my village have been spotted in that area. I’m hoping to find them and find out more about their clan so I can repay them for the atrocities they committed against my people.”

“A personal vendetta, then,” Uri said, nodding.  “I can certainly appreciate it.  Though if you’re going up against orcs, I hope you know how to use those weapons at your side.”

“Are you looking to find out first-hand?” Danny said as he narrowed his eyes.

“Maybe you shouldn’t antagonize someone who could have us thrown in prison, Uri,” I said, exasperation creeping into my voice.  Normally, she’s worried about me getting us into trouble when we come to the city. “My apologies, Danny.  My sister here spends too much time among her beloved animals to get much practice in her manners.  Her name is Urizenya, by the way.  And I am Graenas.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” Danny responded.  I smirked at the word “pleasure.”

“At any rate, I have a benefactor who has asked me to pay a visit to the same mountainous region you are headed to.  I need to…destroy some statues and whatever nuisances near them.”  I ignored Uri’s snort.  Surely she thought I should be a bit more forthright about what we were doing and why. I didn’t want to scare the guy off right away, though. “Perhaps we can travel together and help each other out.”

Danny rubbed his chin for a few seconds as if he was considering the offer.  I began to suspect he would refuse my proposal when he finally spoke. “I could certainly use the help. I accept your proposal. I just need to return to the guard barracks, return my uniform, and collect my personal equipment and belongings.

Uri spoke, “Very well. When you are done, you can meet us outside the northern city gate. I’ve endured this place as long as I can stand it for one day.”

I pouted.  “Dammit.  I was hoping to swing by one of the taverns for a couple pints of ale.”

Uri scowled.  “Absolutely not.  We have miles to travel and no time for you to have a couple drinks.  And we certainly don’t have time for what you usually get up to after you’ve had a couple of drinks.  The stable hands will simply have to survive without your carnal talents today.”  I stuck out my tongue at her.  I knew she was right, but a guy has needs, dammit.

We had been waiting beyond the city walls for only twenty minutes when Danny approached.  Uri was looking much more relaxed.  She was still on constant alert, but her muscles did not appear to be as taut.  I stood there, casually stroking my new amulet and enjoying the feel of the strange metal against my fingertips. Uri straightened her studded leather armor as our new companion reached us.  “Shall we get going, then?  It’s a long hike to the mountains, and further still to the mine.  Don’t worry, human, we’ll keep an eye out for your quarry. While I do not share your desire for revenge, I have no love for most orcs either.”

“Yes, let’s go,” Danny said as he checked that his equipment was secured. I straightened my own posture and fell in line.  The walk to the mountain was rather uneventful.  I spent most of the time running through the incantations that I had learned.  I wanted to make sure i didn’t forget a single syllable at a critical moment, so I practiced frequently.  Uri occasionally stopped to check out some sort track or marking.  At least I assume that’s what her interest in broken branches and — gross — piles of scat were about.  Occasionally, she would make some comment about nearby wildlife that she gleaned from these investigations. Personally, I found her revelations rather boring.

Danny was fairly silent. Like Uri, he seemed to be constantly alert, looking around.  Occasionally, he’d ask about some landmark.  Uri or I would fill in what we had learned from growing up in this region.  Our companion clearly was not from here originally.

When we made it to the mountains, traveling got slightly more difficult, though not insurmountable. We took our time, trying not to dislodge a shower of stones to fall on the others. Uri guided us around some of the more treacherous areas and found places where the climb would be easier.  Still, I worked up more of a sweat than I would have preferred.  I hoped one of those stable hands might help me find a nice bath when we returned to the city.

After several hours of climbing, we came to the entrance of the mine.  As we approached, we noticed what looked like the remnants of a campfire near the entrance.  Uri approached it and began poking at it. “I can’t tell what kind of creatures were here or how long ago, but it’s clear that they were sentient.  For all we know, they could still be in the area.”

“Right,” said Danny.  “Don’t let our guard down. I’m right there with you. I have no desire to fall into an ambush unprepared.”

“Well, since no one’s attacking us out here right this minute, shall we go inside?” I said.  “Those statues aren’t going to destroy themselves and I’d really like to get this over with.”

Uri nodded. “Danny, I suggest that you and I take the lead together.  Graenas can bring up the rear.”

“Works for me.”  With that, we crept into the mine.  The entrance was a single long tunnel which we followed for several hundred feet.  I placed my hand on one of the timbers that held up the roof.  It was old and the surface was splintered in places, but it still seemed to be secure.

Eventually, we came to a small chamber with what looked like entrances to five different tunnels.  However, each tunnel was blocked by a boulder with a glowing symbol on it.  As I moved closer I realized that the symbols were runes of fey power.  The one on the boulder to the far right seemed particularly familiar, so I moved to get a closer look.  I realized it was extremely similar to Auril’s own sigil, a rune of ice.  I reached out my hand and moved my palms so it was much a couple of inches from the symbol.  I felt its power, which manifested primarily as heat.  I figured it must be Titania’s personal symbol — or one of them.  That would makes sense, since she’s the complete opposite of her sister.

I placed my palm directly on the rune and it seemed as if the whole boulder started vibrating.  As I applied a bit more pressure, the vibrations intensified and it seemed as though the whole boulder might shatter.  “Um, guys?  You might want to hold on to me.  I think we’re about to go somewhere and I’m your ride.”

Both of my companions came up to stand behind me. Uri placed her hand on my left shoulder and Danny followed suit, grasping my right shoulder with his well-calloused hand.  I kept pushing.  Eventually the vibrations became so great that the boulder shattered and the fragments disappeared as they fell.  Behind it, the tunnel continued for just a few feet before it seemed to disappear in a shimmering field.  I said, “keep holding on,” took a deep breath, and moved forward into the shimmering space.

True to Auril’s word, the rift did not harm me, but it was quite disorienting.  As we moved forward, I felt as if reality twisted and swam around me.  The sense of dizziness and vertigo built for several seconds before I pushed through.  Suddenly, it felt as if reality had returned and I found myself in a room that appeared to be a roughly 25 foot cube.  The floor, walls, and ceiling were all stone. I turned to verify that my companions were still with me.  Uri stood there, rubbing her stomach with a grimace.  Danny stood there stoically.  He looked at me for a moment before saying, “Remind me to question you about just what I signed up for later.” I smiled apologetically and nodded.

There was some sort of mechanical contraption along the east wall — assuming my sense of direction in this place was accurate — and I walked over to investigate it.  It looked almost gnomish in invention.  There was a button in the center and a lever on each side.  “Hey guys, would you help me operate this thing?” I asked.  Uri and Danny came over.

Uri pulled the lever to my left.  Danny pulled to one to my right. I pressed the button. The contraption let out a sound like a fog horn and we heard rumbling behind us.  We all turned around to find six rats and three spiders approaching us.  Uri drew her sickles and approached the rats in the southeast corner while Danny wielded his warhammer to deal with the rats in the southwest corner.  I got back-to-back with Uri as I began to cast eldritch blasts to dispatch the spiders along the northern wall.  My first shot completely missed the spider closest to me and exploded against the northern wall of the room.  a few stone chips went flying, but nothing more.

Most of the rats converged on Danny, though most of them could not get through his chain mail.  The two spiders had a little more luck though and Danny swore as they pierced his skin with their mandibles.  The fighter was too tough to be stopped by a couple insect bites, no matter how severe.

The third spider jumped at me.  I was able to dodge and it landed on the eastern wall.  Spinning, I hit it square with an eldritch blast, turning it into little more than a smear on the wall.  Meanwhile, Uri sliced up the rat that was closest to her and moved over to help Danny with the rest of our attackers, though many of the rats had already met their doom between the stone floor and the fighter’s warhammer.  I kept picking off spiders and rats with bolts of power.  Soon all the creatures had been destroyed and I searched for anything useful.  I manged to find a handful of coins, a parchment with the number one written on one said, and a healing potion.

“Do you have a problem if I hold onto whatever we find for now?” I asked Danny.

“Not at all, since you have the means to carry a dragon’s hoard.  Just don’t try to swindle me.”

“I promise,” I said.

Uri, who had taken the time to inspect the contraption further, spoke up.  “Brother dearest?  Did you notice this dial around the outside of the button?”

“Um, no.” I said sheepishly.  Danny and I joined her.  Sure enough, there was a dial with tick marks. As well as arrows pointing in each of the cardinal directions.  The dial currently appeared to be set between two of these arrows. “There’s a shutter at the top of the dial,” I said.  “Does it open if you press the button?”  Uri pressed the button. Sure enough, the shutter opened showing a reading that seemed to be halfway between two numbers.

Uri turned the dial clockwise so the arrow pointing north was selected.  The numbers behind the shutter spun briefly, then counted up from one to four.  Uri turned the dial clockwise again and the numbers repeated their performance, this time stopping at three.  She turned the dial again.  The numbers stopped at two.  Turning the dial to the final position gave us a reading of one.  “Well, that’s the number on the parchment I found, so let’s give it a try,” I said as I reached up for the lever on the left and pulled.  Danny was about to pull the other lever when we heard the same fog horn and rumbling sounds.

This time when we turned, we found ourselves facing much larger rats.  Fortunately there were only three of them and no spiders.  Again we sliced, smashed, and blasted them until they were dead.  It only took a few seconds and we were able find a few more coins for our effort.  But we still didn’t know what to do with the contraption.  We would have to think and possibly experiment a bit more.