Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Battle of Aphid Temple – Part 2

“Wise Aphid, before you leave… do you know what that tremendous booming sound would be?”, asked Storm Wizard as the old Holy Aphid-man was hobbling out of the Great Hall.

Pausing, he turned around and looking back, said dismally, “That would be the sound of the Locust Ambassador’s Horn.” He then turned about and continued out of the Hall, vanishing from view as the giant doors swung closed behind him.  He was now safe in the Sacred Precinct of the Aphid Temple.

Last minute arrangements were being made by the adventurous heroes as the Locust Ambassador approached the Great Hall through the Temple corridors. Should Storm Wizard pretend to drink out of the doctored Chalice before handing it to the Ambassador? It was decided not to risk any complications. The Chalice was a half globe made of translucent white stone, filled with a greenish liquid, and was carried by three sturdy aphids into the hall and placed on the table closest to where the Ambassador would enter. All of the adventurers quickly ran to their assigned places around the Holy Aphid's stone dias in the middle of the hall, even though the Holy Aphid was not present anymore. There had been no time to discuss the change of plans, and so everyone quickly prepared themselves, and began to pretend to be feasting.  Well, the aphids did not pretend.  A simple folk, when food was before them, they feasted, as they and their kind had done for many millions of years.

A crowd of aphids began pouring into the Great Hall from the main corridor, clicking and whirling as they were wont to do when excited.  Behind them came the Locust Ambassador, his red metallic skin glinting dully in the dim green light, his enormous muscles bulging, antenae swaying, and oblong eyes steadily searching.  Once he entered the Great Hall and stood before the congregation of feasters, his fierce eyes darted around the chamber.  He immediately demanded to know in a booming voice, “Where is the Holy Aphid?!”

He was angry. His antennae flicked around his head searching for a scent.

“Oh you are here! You are early!", said Juliette placatingly.  "The wise Aphid is old and is slow, but he will be here shortly!”, she said from her place at the lead table.

“I am not early! He is late!” shouted the Locust Ambassador vehemently into the hall.  He snaped his red cape around him and stomped his right leg on the ground.  All of the aphids began to make louder clicking whirling noises and some began to skitter around the tables nervously.

“Oh, we’re terribly sorry about this inconvenience,” said Storm Wizard standing up, and holding up the Chalice toward their unwelcome guest.

“This is unacceptable!”, yelled the Locust Ambassador fiercely at him.

“Here! While you wait, please accept this drink!”, said Storm Wizard, offering him the Chalice filled with the Elixir of Dreamless Sleep. Although Storm Wizard was a practiced liar, his effort was wasted as the Locust Ambassador ignored the Chalice.

“This is a DISGRACE!”, shouted the Locust Ambassador in a thunderous voice that echoed throughout the hall. Everyone stood motionless as the Ambassador, his shiny red skin began to drip with beads of sweat, and his right hand began fingering the hilt of his sword. There was a dreadful silence as the Ambassador looked around with his menacing glare.

“You’re absolutely right, it is a terrible disgrace,” said Storm Wizard. The aphids all began to chitter incoherently with a strange warbling sound. “You know how Aphids are, disgraceful creatures after all. Please, have some food, have some drink. It won’t be but a minute.”

The ‘Steel Wool Sheeps’ were very lucky at that moment.

The Locust Ambassador, at the mention of food, suddenly burst out in a ravenous shout, “I AM FAMISHED!”, and with that he leapt across the open space onto a table top, and with his body hunched over he began ravenously devouring every dish of food within his grasp. Plates and bowls went flying as he disgorged their contents and hurled the empty containers to the ground.  At one point he actually bit into the wood of the table itself, leaving a large gash in the table’s edge. The aphids fled before him and scurried away in a chaotic jumble.

Meanwhile, behind the Locust Ambassador, not far down the long winding corridor, Ben and the aphid wokers were furiously building the barricade, and piling high all of the materials the aphids had gathered into the Library shortly before.

Elsewhere, the Holy Aphid was in deep meditation deep within the Sacred Precinct.

In the Great Hall, there was a cacophony of noise as the Locust Ambassador leapt ten feet onto the next table, crashing it to the ground and devouring everything in sight. When he ran out of food there he grabbed a chair leg and furiously devoured it, splintering it into pieces with his massive yellow teeth, to the utter shock of everyone. He took no time for breathing between bites, and within moments every dish on a table was empty and shattered.

However, the one thing the Locust Ambassador seemed to have no interest in were the drinks. Those pitchers and flaggons went flying to the ground as soon as he leapt onto a table, and he ignored them completely, whatever succulent liquids they might have contained. And so, Storm Wizard, at Juliette’s behest, "accidently" tripped as he approached and so tossed the Chalice directly onto the next table that the Locust Ambassador descended upon, splashing the Elixir all over the food there. The Ambassador in his fury took no notice whatsoever, and devoured all the food there before leaping to the next table, crashing it into a wall with a shuddering thud, and began to devour everything there, too. It was at this point that he stopped for a moment to stand up and shake his head.  But then, without further interruption, he hoisted a huge piece of broiled bark into his ravening maw and devoured it, making a sound like a buzz saw. Everything else on the table followed, until there was nothing left, not even the table legs, which he’d also broken off and eaten. He leapt to the next table and made short work of it. Meanwhile the aphids had fled from the Great Hall and were so panic struck they could not even speak. They simply ran as fast as their little legs could carry them as far away as possile. As they did the heroic adventurer’s watched the Ambassador with anxious eyes.

Finally, all of the food was gone, and no table or chair in the hall stood intact.  It looked as though the hall had been hit by a tornado, the chamber filled with shattered splinters of furniture and broken pottery.  The Ambassador began to wobble on his stout legs. His red metallic skin was covered in a sheen of shining sweat. His antennae waved in the air frantically, his eyes rolled in his head. He picked up a chair, took a bite out of the side, and ate he entire bottom of the chair when he fell to one knee, and then collapsed onto the remains of the table before him.

Looking around frantically, his eyes rolling wildly, he screamed, “You have poisoned me!”

Reaching into his copper vest he pulled out a small metal rod, and aimed it directly at Storm Wizard who was standing close by watching intently. The rod had a small blue gem on the end of it, and when he pointed it at Storm Wizard, he uttered a strange word, and a flash a blue lightning shot out of the gem, which shattered with the execution of the magical blast.

It was fortunate that the Locust Ambassador was so drugged that he could no longer focus, and so the bright blue bolt went astray, blazing past Storm Wizard’s shoulder, singing his hair, and hitting the wall behind him, blasting a small hole through the stone. Had it hit him, Storm Wizard felt reasonably certain, that would have been the end for him.

Juliette took that moment to call upon Holy Minvar, Elkron of the Golden Grain, to Divinely Strike the Ambassador down. When she utters her prayer the Locust Ambassador happen to slip on some of the liquid that had spilled on the ground, and so slipping he fell hitting his head rather hard against the stone. Morgana took the opportunity to give him a whack with her staff, but it bounced off his copper vest and so did not harm him. Brian took a swing with his trusty sword from the side, cutting through the Ambassador’s defenses, but not by much. Laraby also struck with his sword, and also did additional damage, though a great deal of any damage was being absorbed by the Ambassador’s armor, and his metallic skin. Storm Wizard cast his own mystic Stun Beam, which hit the enraged Ambassador on the side of his head with a dim ray of blue light.  Just beyond the Ambassador, Brian, who had accidently maneuvered into the line of the Stun Beam, instantly fell down unconscious.

Meanwhile, the Locust Ambassador, still heaving with rage, managed to pull out a small glass globule from the inside of his vest. Storm Wizard’s Mystic Stun Beam put the already flailing warrior out of consciousness, but not before he dropped the globule on the ground. When it hit the stone floor it exploded with a loud 'Pop', and from it there emerged a cloud of blue gas which immediately began to fill the Hall. And so it was that the Locust Ambassador fell to the ground unconscious directly in the center of the blue cloud.

“Tie him up now!”, yelled Juliette, knowing that the Mystical Stun would only last for a minute or two. However, no one wished to enter the blue gas cloud to do so, and so everyone danced around the edges of the swirling vapors, until Laraby, holding his breath, jumped into the cloud with rope in hand and began to tie the unconscious Ambassador’s arms and legs. Daniel tried to help him, but caught a lung full of blue vapors and instantly fell back reeling, his lungs burning with a wicked searing pain.

“Wind Shield!”, yelled Storm Wizard summoning another of his Mystic Powers. The spell created a vortex of wind like a shield before him, and wedging himself between the floor and the gaseous cloud, he used the utmost of his mystic ability to thin the shield out and turn into a bowl-like shape. With all of his might and skill he lifted the bowl of blue vapors upward. And there Storm Wizard stood, his right arm raised high, a funnel of wind holding the swirling blue cloud against the ceiling.

With that Laraby quickly tied the ropes around the Locust Ambassador and tied a dozen solid knots. Everyone stood back and looked down at the unconscious Locust-man. His huge muscles were evident even through the rope bindings. Storm Wizard had wished they’d had time to remove the mystical copper vest that had undoubtedly been protecting the Ambassador from both weapons and magic. Nevertheless, he reached down and withdrew the black scabbard that held a long silver sword that was still sheathed at the Ambassador’s side. Looking it over, he recognized the excellence and quality of the weapon, noting briefly to himself that they were fortunate he had not had the wherewithal to withdraw it during the brief battle. He handed the fine silver weapon to Laraby, who wielded it appreciatively for a few moments before sheathing it in the polished black scabbard. A superior weapon, he thought.

Tinkin, who had been standing in the corner terrified, then came forward and chanted a mystical healing over Daniel who was curled up on the floor gasping for air, his face turning a vivid blue. By the time Tinkin’s chanting was finished Daniel stopped gasping and sat up. His color returned to normal, and with a few final coughs thanked the young Aphid Prince and got to his feet. He looked nervously at the ceiling where Storm Wizard was holding up the blue vapors in a bowl of wind.

Then, on the other side of the room behind them, everyone turned to see a large crowd of hideous looking creatures clambering along the sides of the corridor wall that lead into the Great Hall. These creatures, they realized immediately, were the same creatures that the 'Steel Wool Sheeps' had passed on their first journey down the Greaty Ivy Highway, and had their own tiny city of brown mud on a leaf. It seemed like years ago that they had passed by it. They were mites. Tiny, grapefruit sized creatures with sharp pointy fangs, bulging eyes, long bristles and stubby spring-like legs which they used to loft themselves into the air. The defenders ran forward to block the corridor, but it was useless. The mites lofted themselves high overhead with “beeyooing” sounds and landed in large numbers all around the Locust Ambassador, savagely biting everyone who stood near him. Though the adventurer’s were able to easy kill each one they hit, being as they are rather small, there were very many of them, and their savage fangs began to take a bloody toll. Juliette, more than the others, was surrounded by the horrid little monsters, and so wound up covered with lacerations that bled profusely.

Moreover, four of the mites landed on the Ambassador himself as they were all fighting, and began gnawing through his ropes. One, before he could be dispatched by a well aimed blow of Morgana’s staff, had bitten through the ropes, and now the Ambassador lay free on the ground. Fortunately the mystic Stun had not quite yet worn off.

“On the positive side, we can take his vest off,” thought Storm Wizard to himself with a wry smile. However, as it happened they never did have time for that. Everyone was engaged in fighting the horde of mites, while Tinkin kept busy healing people of their wounds as they fought. While he did so, Juliette was casting an invocation known among the Minvarians as 'The Hands of Awakening' on her brother, Brian, who was still unconscious from Storm Wizard’s Stun Beam which he had accidently intercepted earlier in the battle. He awoke with a start, and jumped to his feet. Morgana was still smashing mites with her staff, and the others were also swatting, smashing, slashing, and otherwise trying to kill the hideous creatures, all of whom had blood dripping from their vicious little fangs.

As it happens, it was a desperate battle, and mites, though tiny, turned out to be dangerous opponents en mass. It occurred to Storm Wizard that it was possible that the nasty creatures might even carry diseases, but he put that out of his mind and concentrated on the battle at hand. All the while holding the swirling blue cloud on the ceiling with his magical right arm. With his free hand Storm Wizard chanted off a series of Lightning Arrows, each one blasting a mite or two to sizzling charred cinders. Juliette swiped at them with her staff, smashing all those that came within reach. Morgana wearily smacked them with her staff, as Laraby pierced others with his shining silver sword. He was smiling all the while. The sword was very well balanced, and he was pleased to have such a rare weapon in his hands. Finally, the battle was over, and everyone heaved a huge sigh of relief. None of the heroes was dead, though everyone's cloths were in tatters and bespeckled with blood.

Morgana could not discern how to remove the copper vest from the Locust Ambassador, which had a confusing set of mechanisms that seemed to lock it into place. And so, Laraby tied up the Ambassador again as firmly as possible with their remaining rope. Just as he finished furiously tying the last knot the Ambassador awoke with a wild roar, and began to attempt to burst his bonds with the sheer force of his magnificent strength. Fortunately, the bonds were strong enough, and held.

And so Brian and Daniel Bellowick lifted the Ambassador on their shoulders carried him forth from the hall. As they left that august chamber Storm Wizard's spell was broken and the blue vapors drifted down along the sides of the walls and began to fill the enormous, ransacked, disheveled feasting hall. Ben looked over his shoulder at the blue vapors as they left, wondering how the aphids would be able to rid themselves of the menace.

“How dare you kidnap an Ambassador! It is an OUTRAGE!” shouted the Locust Ambassador with his thunderous voice. He was difficult to carry as he managed to use his strength and dexterity to wriggle and sway his body around, writhing in ways that made him very difficult to transport. Several times Brian or Daniel almost lost their footing.

“The Holy Aphid is a treasonous wretch! He is a betrayer!” yelled the Locust Ambassador at all the aphids as they carried him down the long dark corridor that led to the Grand Promonade, where the archways openned into the air overlooking the Black Forest far below.

Isabella was waiting for them as they exited the Promanade and clammered onto a leaf along the edge of the Great Ivy Highway. She made a strange whistling hum and a huge bright red ladybug came flying over the tops of the leaves and landed nearby. Everyone was positioned on the ladybug’s huge black legs, two people per leg which they held onto by hairy spurs. The Ambassador, still struggling, was positioned between two of the legs, his ropes threaded with a long pole that the aphids had provided for this purpose. The Ambassador maintained a steady stream of outraged denunciations of the Holy Aphid as they flew away downward along the side of the tower. The poor aphids looked unusually downcast. And eventually they turned and went back into the Temple slowly vanishing from view, anxiety and despair showing on their little faces. Last to be seen was Holy Aphid, who looked as sad and distressed as the rest. But he turned and speaking in low tones to his congregation gathered them together, and they entered the Temple in silence.

Down, down, down the ladybug flew until finally she landed in a huge forest of grass blades that towered over head like sky scrapers. She alighted on a small open patch of mossy dirt between the towering green blades and everyone disembarked. The Ambassador was unrelenting in his condemnation and threats.

As soon as he was placed on the ground the Locust Ambassador let out a massive blasting shout that was so great that it knocked everyone off their feet and made the grasses shiver.

A droning sound was then heard high above, and then one of the grass blades suddenly bent and snapped back into place. High above them the adventures could see that on the grass blade had landed a handsome and swarthy man with silver skin, large oblong eyes, silver antennae, and he was wearing a silver vest and a silver cape fringed with gold. He looked rather a great deal like the Locust Ambassador, except for the color of his skin and clothing. Down from above he shouted with a loud booming voice, “Unhand that man!”

“A grasshopper, or another locust?” asked Storm Wizard of Lady Isabella calmly.

“He is one of the High Royalty of the Princes of the Grasshoppers who transform into Locusts,” she answered with a bit of awe in her voice.

“What is the grasshopper opinion of the locusts?”, asked Juliette.

“When they are grasshoppers they are friendly, adventurous, and independent-minded poets. When they become Locusts they transform completely into the implacable foes of all the living. It is as if the grasshoppers do not know that the locusts even exist,” she answered gravely.

“I see,” said Storm Wizard.

The Locust Ambassador then shouted upward to his silver sibling, “Great Rohar! It was treachery! It was treason! The Holy Aphid has betrayed us!”

When he heard this the silver-man high above became very angry, and yelled, “It is impossible!” And with this the adventure’s could see him begin to transform, growing angrier every moment, his muscles growing larger, his silver skin shining brightly in the sun.

“It is impossible! The Holy Aphid can not lie!”, yelled down Rohar.

“He was not there!”, yelled up the Locust Ambassador. “We were BETRAYED!”

Juliette wished that she could somehow turn the heart of the silver grasshopper from his great and growing wrath, but she could think of nothing to say. No one could think of anything to say. And everyone became filled with anxiety.

Last Episode: Battle of Aphid Temple - Part 1
Next Episode: Down the Spider Hole - Part 1

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Battle of Aphid Temple – Part 1

And so it was that our courageous heroes had arrived at the Great Hall deep in the heart of the Temple of the Aphids and found there the Old Wise Aphid in deep meditation. He looked untroubled, though the weariness of ages had clearly descended upon his hoary head. He was in humanish form at this time, sitting silently on his stone chair in the middle of the Hall. All was shrouded in silence and gloom.

Storm Wizard (also known as John Bellowick), Juliette, Morgana, Laraby, Brian and Daniel entered the Hall lead by Ben who quietly lead the way. When they got within speaking range of the Old Wise Aphid Storm Wizard cleared his throat, and the ancient white haired priest opened his strange insectilian eyes.

Having explained that they'd returned on urgent errand, intending to capture the Locust Ambassador and bring him back to human lands that they might convince their fellow countrymen that the threat of a Great Swarm was real, and that they must all work together to prepare for it, the parties continued their discussion over a feast that had been summoned into the Great Hall.

“I see,” said the old Aphid. “Well, before we discuss it, I will remind you that I’ve seen the King of the Insects, and told him all that has transpired. He was very wroth, and agrees to our plan, and agreed to send help as soon as possible.”

“That is fine and well,” relied Storm Wizard, “but we have no time to wait for the King’s forces. We must act quickly while we have a chance. We wish to put up barricades within the Temple so that we can block all of the exists once the Locust Ambassador enters the Hall to speak with you. We intend to give him a draught of strong drink that will cause him to fall unconscious that we may bind him with ropes and bear him away. Thus he will be no threat to you ever more, and we may continue with the preparations of our Great Plan to burn the Locust’s Grand United Army in the Western Desert before they descend on the farms, pastures and forests of Glendale.”

“It is well,” said the old Aphid, “but what if he shall not drink?”

“We will overcome him in the Hall, whether he drinks or not,” replied Storm Wizard, grimly, and all of his companions stood firm beside him.

“He will not be easy to overwhelm, I think,” pointed out the old Aphid. “However, it is your will to do so, and you are our best defense against the oncoming disaster. The King has approved your plan to build a Great Fire in the mountains, and will send an army of Ants to help move the kindling from Glendale into the valley of Zin which is far to the North and East of here, between the Mountain of Zin and the edge of the Western Desert. To that place your people will carry the great lumber, which the Insects, though powerful in and vast in numbers would not be able to move all in a hundred years on their own.”

“It is well,” concluded Storm Wizard.

“There is one thing I must tell you before the Locust Ambassador arrives. I can not in any way lie on behalf of the plan. It would run against my priestly calling and Holy Office to do so, and so you can not rely on me for that.”

“Would you be willing to simply not speak out the truth if we lie to him in your stead?” asked Storm Wizard.

“No, that would also be a forfeit of my Holy Office. It can not be,” answered the old wise Aphid.

As this conversation was being had Morgana, Brian, Daniel and Laraby were inspecting the corridors that lead out of the Great Hall, and looked diligently for locations where the barricades could be set up, and how they might be hidden from view. They used for this a map that Morgana had made of the Temple Complex. She intended to sell the map one day to the Librarian at the Adventurer’s Guild in Hamfest, and thought she had outdone herself on detail and the quality of the map, which was quite precise, although not every area in the Temple was known to her. Therefore some areas of the map were left blank. The team quickly went to work with the help of thousands of aphids who assisted them.

The library along the corridor into the Great Hall was selected as the first barricade point. The second was the exit to the Western doorway, through which they were informed was the Sacred Precinct, and could not be entered by any save the Holy Aphid himself. A third exit from the Western wall of the Great Hall was also blocked as it too lead into the Sacred Precinct. What lay beyond those doors only the Aphids knew. It was decided that from within they could be blocked by whatever mysterious force controlled the Sacred Precinct and it was left at that. Hopefully, they thought, it would not come about that the Locust Ambassador would attempt to break through into the Sacred Precinct, as everyone was fairly sure that if he put his mind to it, the mighty Locust Ambassador could force his way through almost any barricade. It was hoped, further, that he would agree to drink the Elixir of Dreamless Sleep, and render himself unconscious without a fight. Certain of the aphids had already been ordered to work on this by the Old Wise Aphid, and so were already about the business of concocting the magical drink as the rest of the adventurers continued their discussion.

The barricade, the work crew quickly realized, needed to be piled from the floor to the ceiling and be sturdy enough to resist the powerful arms of the Locust Ambassador, and contain the far leaping warrior by baring any gap over the top of the barricade. It would be a lot of work that had to be done quickly, and quietly. Many hundreds of aphids would be required. Their plan was to wait for the Locust Ambassador to pass by and turn the two corners into the Great Hall before Brian and his crew leapt to work outside of the Library door, dragging their barricade materials from the Library into the corridor and piling it high to the ceiling as quickly possible. The aphids were already working furiously to gather massive amounts of bracken into the Library for this purpose.

“Ben will guard the corridor on the far side of the barrier, in case the Locust Ambassador should manage to break through,” said Juliette, as they all discussed this part of the plan.

“Me?” asked Ben incredulously, gasping. "... Stop the Ambassador?"

“Yes, it is very important that you prevent him from escaping if he breaks through. We don’t expect him to, of course, but just in case, you should be there to stop him. Don’t worry Ben, I have confidence in you. I know you can do it,” said Juliette firmly.

Taking inordinate encouragement from her strong words, Ben held up his staff and said, “I will do my very best!”, and walked off toward the Library with a determined glint in his eyes. After all, he thought, he had killed a wild wolf with one blow of his staff before! He could to this, he said to himself with conviction, and went into the Library to arrange things with the aphid workers.

A battle formation was planned, and the protection of the Holy Aphid was discussed amongst the planners. He would sit on his high stone chair and offer the Locust Ambassador a drink of Elixir to cement their deal. It was agreed that all of the members of the ‘Steel Wool Sheeps’ would stand in a circle around the old Aphid and protect him, as it seemed to everyone that he would be the most likely target of the Locust Ambassadors rage, should things go otherwise than planned. It was also decided that Morgana could cast a mystical power of 'Iron Skin' on the wise Aphid if any battle should commence, in which case it was decided that she should stand next to the wise old Aphid. They then positioned all of the fighters around the High Aphid in a circle, and Tinkin, who had the power of healing, was to remain in a corner, near the door to the Sacred Precinct. They also noted that the Great Hall had a very high ceiling which formed a dome overhead, which could give the far leaping Ambassador a distinct tactical advantage should he wish to leap onto the old Aphid. As they discussed their plans it became more and more evident that the old Aphid would be, in any event, in danger should anything go wrong. He became more nervous as the discussion went on.

“What shall I say to the Locust Ambassador when he enters and demands before anything else whether or not I agree to side with him before the King of the Insects against the Ants?” asked the Old Wise Aphid tentatively with raised eyebrows.

“Wise Aphid, we are here to protect you and make sure you are safe,” replied Juliette.

“Would it be possible for you … to omit the truth? Would you be willing to say, ‘I shall answer that question after we drink to our agreement.’?”, asked Storm Wizard.

“I think the Locust Ambassador has no sense of decorum. He may not respond to that request,” replied the old Aphid. “It would be better, I think, if you said these things on my behalf, as my representative,” he continued nervously.

“But I have no stake in this discussion, since it is between you and the Locusts,” responded Storm Wizard surprised by the suggestion.

“You were here before," reasoned the old Aphid, "and he will assume that you do, I think. Especially if you speak up. I’m quite certain that you will be more believable than I should be, if I might say so,” said the old Aphid, now openly jittering with a nervous twitch in his antennae.

“I see. I’m guessing that the Locust Ambassador shall enter the Hall as he did before, and demand an answer without equivocation or delay,” said Storm Wizard to himself.

“Indeed,” replied the old Aphid.

“We could tell him that he is interrupting our feast, and that he could at least have a drink with us, and that we would not speak a word to him until we finish eating. How do you think he would respond to that more forceful approach?” inquired Storm Wizard.

“It would seem to me that he may not respond well to that, and instead will get very angry,” replied the old Aphid.

“Is that a good thing, or a bad thing? I’m not exactly sure,” said Storm Wizard still thinking hard.

At that moment there was a loud boom that seemed to come from outside the Temple, and echoed loudly through the corridors into the Great Hall. Everyone stopped speaking and looked around pensively.

“Wise Aphid,” continued Juliette trying to come to a solution as time was pressing on them, “Would you be willing to hold your tongue if I were to lie to the Locust Ambassador on your behalf?”

“I can honestly say that I could not support your lying, my dear. It very much runs against my inclination. I understand that we may not always tell the complete truth in every situation, but any outright lie is wrong. I am certain of that. I could not condone it, nor support it, nor sit idly by if done in my presence. I’m sorry,” replied the Aphid.

“I think what we should do is when the Ambassador comes in, we should offer him the drink in a kind of servile way, to offer him food and drink as if we already agreed with his proposal. And that is all. When he enters I will do only that. Perhaps he will respond favorably and take the drink,” said Juliette.

“I could sit by in silence for that, since you will not be lying. Conversely, it occurs to me, that if John will speak on my behalf, and you follow the plan you just said, then perhaps I need not be here in the room at all. After all, it would be safer for your plan if I am not present, I suspect,” said the old Aphid, eyeing the door nervously. “After all, if your plan is to capture the Locust Ambassador, and take him away to the human lands… what has that to do with the Aphid’s in particular? That you may use the Temple to trap him within… shouldn’t that suffice your purpose?” asked the wise old Aphid finally.

“On the one hand, it would make the Locust Ambassador that much more suspicious if the Wise Aphid is not there. On the other hand, if the wise Aphid is sitting there behaving nervously, that would make him even more suspicious. What if when the Ambassador arrives we tell him he is early, and that the Wise Aphid is not here, yet, and then say, ‘Why not have a drink while you are waiting?’”

“It is plausible,” said everyone.

Another boom was then heard, closer in the distance than the last one. Everyone was silent as the sound echoed through the Great Hall ominously.

“You should go and hide, Holy One. We shall take care of the matter,” said Juliette. And the old wise Aphid hobbled off his stone chair and down a corridor and through a large solid doorway, and vanished from view with a number of his retainers. The room was filled with the silence of deep foreboding.

Previous Episode: Escape from Death - Part 4
Next Episode: The Battle of Aphid Temple - Part 2

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tarot at the River of Death

The River of Death scene contained a good deal of symbolism associated to the correspondences of the Elthosian Tarot, so I thought I would post the reading as it was played here. A picture is worth a thousand words, and my feeling is that this one may be worth even more than that to those who take an interest in such things. Note that the cards displayed are from the Tavaglioni set, and therefore are not representative of the Elthosian Correspondences directly. They do, however suffice for the purposes of demonstration.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Escape from Death – Part 4

The ‘Steel Wool Sheeps’ Adventure Group made their way along the wall of the Tower on Black Hill. Brian and Daniel led the way, followed closely by Storm Wizard and Laraby, with Isabella, her warrior Ferdinando, Morgana and Juliette following up in the rear. Storm Wizard was thinking to himself that the Locust Ambassador would not be so easy to subdue. He was armored with a copper vest, metalic looking skin, and from his impression it was likely that he had mystical protections as well.

“I think I could subdue the Locust Ambassador with my Stun Beam. We could tie him up, I suppose and take him back with us.”

“It would be much easier to persuade him to come with us somehow than to try to battle him,” said Juliette.

Isabella looked at her with a dubious gaze, raising one eyebrow.

“The Locust Ambassador is extremely fierce. He can jump fast and far, he’s armored, and skilled with his weapons. He possesses a copper vest that shields him from magic”, she stated.

“What if we get him drunk?” suggested Juliette.

“That could work. It’s an intriguing idea,” replied Isabella.

“Perhaps we could convince him to take a drink as part of the meeting with the Wise Aphid. We could make it part of the ceremony of alliance between the Aphids and the Locust people. But I was thinking of something stronger than alcohol,” offered Storm Wizard.

“We could ask the Aphids to produce such a concoction that would surely deprive him of his senses,” said Juliette. Morgana agreed, and explained that the Aphids were adept at creating potions of every concievable kind. The party then walked along in silence for a a while as they approached an area next to the wall well concealed by bushes.

"Do you happen to know where the Locust Ambassador is at this moment?" asked Storm Wizard of Isabella.

“Presently, he is battling ants along the Great Ivy Highway,” Isabella replied. “Unfortunately the ants do not stand much of a chance against him.”

“Yes, so we noticed,” said Storm Wizard ruefully.

“If we can find him now, would we be able to capture him in his tiny size?”

“Well, if it were easy then grasshoppers would always be caught by humans when they go out looking for them. But they aren’t, are they?” asked Isabella.

“Now that I recall, when we were tiny-sized all of the large beings seemed to move more slowly than normal, so I suppose it is a general rule that the insect people find it easier to leap away from large animals than we would think,” commented Juliette, half to herself.

“That is exactly how it is,” replied Isabella. “We insects at our tiny-size have that slight advantage over you giants. It makes life bearable for us, otherwise I fear we would never survive in a world of such enormous creatures."

“What magic is he protected against with his vest?” asked Storm Wizard.

“I do not know,” replied Isabella. “It would be unlikely for it to resist all forms of magic specifically, though it is possible that it is focused on one type of magic only. However, it is also possible that it improves his magical resistance in a general sense, but if so then it would not be a very strong protection. Such shields tend to either provide strong protection verses something specific, or a much weaker resistance against all forms of magic. It would be exceedingly rare for it to do both.”

“So my Stun Beam might hit him, but not necessarily,” considered Storm Wizard. Finally they came to the concealing bushes and everyone hoped that they had not been seen. Laraby, who had a keen eye for this sort of thing, thought they they remained undetected thus far.

“So our plan is that we offer him a drugged goblet of wine at the meeting with the Holy Aphid, and once he’s knocked out we tie him up and take him with us. Are we agreed?” asked Juliette. And all were agreed that it seemed like a good plan.

Having rummaged around toward the back of the bushes next to the wall, Laraby said, “I think it would be a good idea to slip into the Tower through a secret door that I found behind a rock near the ramp that you originally entered the Tower over. I found it while I was investigating the strange stone I found along the wall. It was this that caused me to lose track of where you were earlier, for which I again apologize.”

And so they crept along the side of the Tower in order to find their way inside. With her stone-eye Juliette saw that there was a secret door with a tunnel leading through the wall. She was able to see through the stone to look at the secret latch that held the hidden door closed, and watched as Laraby flipped the switch with a small metal pin he had taken out from his pocket. Within moments they passed through a narrow corridor into the open passage way between the outer wall and the inner Tower. They could see the tower rising three stories over head, and from where they were they could see both the portaclace and the door into the tower that lead up the stairs to the parapet. No guards were in sight.

Juliette looked around and saw that inside the Tower the men there were milling around, and that on the top of the tower there were two men standing watch, one at the top on the parapet and one at a window overlooking over the main gate into the courtyard. She noticed that now that the eye-stone was in her head the range of her vision had increased over what it was when she merely held it in her hand. The seeing-stone is a wonderful thing, she thought.

“We need to get small,” said Storm Wizard. “Climbing down the vine made us big, I don’t know however if that implies that climbing up the vine will make us small again.”

No one thought that was very likely, least of all Lady Isabella.

“You remember the red pearl I gave you?” she asked Storm Wizard. "It has many powers. It may be able to return to the Insect Kingdom again. You must hold it in your left hand and everyone must hold hands. Wish to be small and chant this song with me.”

As he sang the song with Isabella and wished as hard as he possibly could, the entire group got smaller and smaller until the grasses on which they stood became a towering forest of waving green blades rising high over their heads. They sky was a distant smattering of blue above the huge green blades swaying in the breeze. All around them shaded shapes were moving among the shifting shadows. Here an antenni poked out from behind a huge swaying leaf. There an ant, quite a bit larger than themselves, went marching along a path. Over there high up a crowd of mites were munching on a brown glob attached to the stem of a huge dandelion. A honey bee buzzed among the grasses passing overhead. Scores of insects could be seen. None took any notice of the tiny-sized visitors. Storm Wizard cast a flying spell on himself and began to fly upward.

“hmm… that’s good for him,” said Juliette. “But what about us?”

Isabella made a sound that was half way between a hum and a whistle, or a whistling hum as it were. Over the edge of a great green leaf waving in the gentle breeze came a rather large ladybug and lit into the air with her red and black dotted shell spread wide. Down she came and landed before the group in what amounted to a small glade of mossy ground between the grass blades. The ladybug was much larger than the tiny-sized adventurers, and they were able, at Isabella’s bidding, to take positions on each of the ladybug’s legs. With a single swift motion the ladybug launched into the air and they were aloft. At one point they almost hit a swaying blade of grass (to them the size of a fifty story barn) but the ladybug was adept at navigating her way through the hazards and suddenly they were above the grass-line and heading toward the Great Ivy Way. Up and up they flew in a spiraling zigzag course that seemed to swirl with the breeses, yet maintain a steady course toward the top of the Tower. To the top of the tower they flew. Most of them declined to look down, for the distance to the ground was, relative to their size, many thousands of feet. Brian grew quite sea sick, but managed to keep himself from swooning. The ladybug landed on a leaf at the top of the tower. Storm Wizard joined them there.

From that place it was a short walk to the entrance to the temple. Isabella and her warrior remained behind as the young adventurers entered the Temple by way of the outer arches, as they recalled that the doorway on the side of the stone was menaced by a great and terrible centipede. And who knew what else. So to the arches they went, and climbing down from the leaf they entered the the elegantly proportioned arches of outer promenade where they met Ben. He had been told that tiny people were riding a ladybug up from the bottom of the tower, and so he had quickly made his way to the promenade.

“John! Morgana! Juliette! Brian! Daniel! Laraby! It is good to see you!” exclaimed Ben, who was astonished, and delighted to see his friends. There were greetings and hugs all around, and everyone was happy to have found Ben waiting for them.

“I have learned such a great deal since you’ve been away. It is really quite astonishing what the Aphids are up to. You’d never guess it in a million years!” Ben was saying. “But that would be a long story. What is it that brings you back to the Temple, my friends?”

“We need to speak with the Holy Aphid, and we have little time to waste. Can you take us to him?”

“Certainly," said Ben. "He will be in the Great Hall.”

To the Great Hall they made their way, down the long corridors, around the bends and into the Hall they entered. There they saw the old Holy Aphid on his stone chair in the center of the Hall. He was sitting quietly meditating.

“Ahem,” said Storm Wizard when he deemed he had come close enough. The old Aphid opened his eyes.

“John Bellowick,” said the old Aphid, “welcome to you, and your friends.”

“Thank you. We haven’t much time, so I will be brief,” he said. “We understand that the Locust Ambassador is soon to arrive. We wish to take him back to the human lands to prove to our fellow men that there is a great danger afoot. We want to trap him in the Great Hall, and offer him a drink of such powerful elixir that it will cause him to fall into a deep sleep. We will then take him away and you will not need worry about him ever again.”

There was a long pause.

“We could do that,” said the old Aphid. “I have spoken with the King of the Insects, and told him what the Locust Ambassador has said. The King was wroth. I explained to him that the Locust Ambassador wished for me to side with the Locusts against the Ants and falsely accuse them of stealing the Locust's food and articulated the threat of a Great Swarm that he made. The King was very wroth. He will help us against the Locusts. He approved our plan. When the Ambassador comes he will demand an answer. I can equivocate if it may help, but I will not tell any lies. But I do have a question. If you take him away, what will you do with him after you have introduced him to your fellow men?”

“It depends on how angry he gets.”

“He is likely to be wroth,” said the old Aphid.

“If he can be safely let go, then fine. If not then I have no qualms about squashing him.”

“That may be more difficult than you think,” said the old Aphid.

“Not if I am 10,000 times his size,” said Storm Wizard confidently.

“What if he too can be 10,000 times his size?” asked the wise old Aphid.

“Ah… he can?”

“The Nobles among the Insects can take on a human appearance. They can if they wish be very much the normal size of humans. The Locust Princes are quite capable of that, I can assure you. If the humans are unaware of it, it is because the Noble Insects have hitherto avoided the circumstances wherein it would be advantageous for them to expose this secret, finding other more subtle means to their ends. The Insects are more powerful than you may realize,” concluded the old Aphid.

“Well, when he is unconscious we can take off his armor. He may still be dangerous, but less so, I should think,” said Juliette.

“Yes, that is true. However, it will still be dangerous. So you ought to think carefully as to what your plan is. That is my advice to you young people,” said the Holy Aphid with an air of great wisdom about him.

“Yes, well disarming and tying him up goes without saying,” said Storm Wizard. “As long as he serves his purpose then after that we have no need of him either way.”

“What makes you think he will be agreeable to your plan?” asked the wise Aphid.

“Hmm… what does it matter if he is?”, responded Storm Wizard. “He will have Locust features as we’ve seen. He will in all likelihood be wrathful, and declare his intentions. That should be evidence enough for my fellow men that the threat of the Locust Swarm is real. It will be easy to gain their support after that.”

“Presuming everything goes according to your plan. But then what?”

“I suppose I could untie him. He will probably attack us, and there will be guards who will help me to defeat him,” said Storm Wizard optimistically. He didn’t really think he had what it would take in him to kill a man who was bound and had not yet committed any crime. An Ambassador no less.

“I suspect it is at this time that you will be in the greatest danger,” commented the wise old Aphid with a foreboding tone.

“Yes. I’m sure you are right about that!”, said Storm Wizard. “Perhaps stabbing him while he is bound is not the worst choice after all.”

“Perhaps. It sounds like you’ve thought it through as best you can. Is there anything else you wish to tell me?”

“Not that I can think of,” said Storm Wizard a bit nonplused at the turn in the conversation. He hadn’t really thought of everything. It troubled him.

“Well, then, I imagine you all must be quite hungry. Bring the food!”, the old Aphid commanded. “Bring the drink!” And so a great feast was prepared and everyone ate heartily. It would not be long before the Locust Ambassador arrived at the Temple of the Aphids, in the center of a stone block along the parapet of the Tower on Black Hill. It would not be long at all.

Previous Episode: Escape from Death - Part 3
Next Episode: Battle of Aphid Temple - Part 1

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Escape from Death – Part 3

When Pamela awoke she was in the Monastery with Juliette, both of whom awoke on the slab of stone in the Womb of Minvar. Pamela felt she had awoken from a dreadful nightmare, and Juliette explained as best she could that the dream was over, and that they were safe and sound.

Penelope was overwhelmed with relief to see Juliette awaken after so long a trial. Next to her she saw Pamela, but she knew not who it was. Juliette, rising from the table feebly introduced her young friend. There was a great deal of joy in the Womb of Minvar that day.

All three of the young ladies were famished after their long ordeal, and so they summoned assistance and were richly fed, and then they went off to sleep in the Monastery chambers where they were laid down upon beds of straw and woolen blankets. They all fell into a dreamless slumber.

Meanwhile, a day’s journey away, Storm Wizard was contemplating contacting Lady Isabella after all. He was fingering the card she had given him. Tapping it three times, she’d told him, would summon her to him. He was thinking it could be helpful to confer with her.

In the distance the bell of the Monastery chimed 8 times. It was getting dark. They came upon the outer wall of the Estates, where Clarence and Storm Wizard were stopped by two guards at the gate.

It seemed quite improbable that the guards would allow Storm Wizard and Clarence into the exclusive township. The Estates were for nobles, and few others were allowed there. But in particular the most exclusive place of all were the Manors, where no one was allowed at all who was not invited. Clarence attempted to persuade the guards by explaining that he was on important business from the Monastery, but the guards were unimpressed, and barred their path.

Storm Wizard tried his wit against the guards, but they took little interest in the peasant boy. He tried to persuade them that he was baring a warning of a great threat to the land, but the guards looked mockingly upon him. They rolled their eyes and were entirely unconvinced. And so Clarence resorted to inquiring about the location of the Hunting Lodge, where they might be able to stay for the night, as that was a public Inn.

“The Hunting Lodge is down the road,” said the burly guard on the left and he pointed in the direction.

And so Storm Wizard and Clarence walked off in that direction, perceiving that they would not get past the guards without an invitation. Storm Wizard contemplated flying over the wall, as he had that power, but it would not do. Such an act would be more likely to invite derision than cooperation.

And so they came to the Hunting Lodge, and standing outside in the dark, they considered their options. Storm Wizard, taking a chance, took out the card again, and tapped it three times.

“John, you’ve called!”, said a lovely twinkling voice behind Storm Wizard.

“I have,” he said.

Nearby stood Isabella and her blue haired warrior, with his black vest and thin silver sword. Storm Wizard spoke to Isabella with a detectable note of affection in his voice, though he tried to hide it by stating things as factually as he could. He explained the whole of their circumstances to the Lady Bug Princess, and she listened attentively.

“I was hoping that with help from you, we might be able to convince the wealthy among my people that they ought to help to ward off the Locust plague.”

“What if you capture the locust Ambassador and brought him here?” she suggested.

“That is an interesting idea,” he said, “but isn’t he this tall?”, asked Storm Wizard making a gesture with his fore finger and thumb indicating the tiny size of their quarry.

“Aren’t I?” she replied. She had been quite tiny the last time they met, but now she was as tall as he.

“Good point,” he said. “Do you know where he is?”

“I do. We have been keeping an eye on him.”

“A wise precaution,” said Storm Wizard.

“We hope so,” she said.

And so it was decided that Lady Isabella would transport them all back to the Monastery through the roots of the plant kingdom, which was a very fast journey beneath the soil of the land, as the roots touch one another and transmit ideas and observations throughout their kingdom in this fashion. Upon those waves of thought and idea, far too complex for an ordinary human to imagine, the small group of people flew along until in a few moments they arrived through a doorway in a tree outside of the Monastery.

“Well done!” said Storm Wizard, and Lady Isabella smiled at him, gaving a little curtsey. She found herself happy to receive the praise of this young man. It was unlike her to care what any man thought, yet this boy was quite different than other men she knew. For one thing, he did not kowtow to her, but instead was often quite brutally honest. She admired that in him.

It wasn’t long before the entire ‘Steel Wool Sheeps’ was gathered together in the main hall inside the Monastery. Juliette’s return to the land of the living was a matter of great relief and joy for one and all, not least of all Ember who sat purring on her lap as everyone conversed and caught up with each other’s adventures thus far.

Pamela McFearson remained sound asleep, and was left in the care of Abbess Penelope while the rest of the Adventure Group took off for the far away Temple of the Aphids in the Tower on Black Hill as quickly as possible. There was no time to waste, as Lady Isabella explained there were but a few scant hours remaining before the Locust Ambassador was due to arrive at the Temple of the Aphids and demand an answer from The Wise Aphid.

And so they all ventured into a hole in an old oak tree and down through the roots they sped, and across the world they flickered, from vine to root, to branch, and through the dazzling myriad of ways that the plants have for communicating. In a few moments they came to a door in the flashing darkness, and going through exited a young elm tree at the base of the Tower on Black Hill. All the while, Juliette was astonished at the passage through the plant kingdom, as it afforded her views of things she had hitherto scarcely imagined. None of the others were able to see what she saw with her sacred eye-stone, but she kept her observations to herself. With it she could see the vast network of flashing ideas by which the plants communicated. It was a green network of electric-fire that covered the world across almost every region. It seemed to her that there were many species of plants, and the kings of the plants were the trees, and the trees had many races, and each race had it’s own way of seeing things, and that some trees were great and kind, and fruitful like the apple trees, while others, like the Holly trees, were rooted in darkness, quite dismal, and gave her a deep shiver for all the malice they held in their dark hearts.

“We are here,” said Lady Isabella stepping out into the light at the base of the Tower on Black Hill.

Previous Episode: Escape from Death - Part 2
Next Episode: Escape from Death - Part 4

The Escape from Death – Part 2

Meanwhile Storm Wizard and Clarence were heading off into the Estates, towards the Manors, where the wealthy denizens of the region lived. It was due east from the Monastery, over the long fields, passing the farmers, about a day’s journey by foot. As they walked, they came to the edge of the long fields. They were covered with a thin layer of dull gray dust.

“In the name of Minvar, greetings”, said a farmer as they passed.

“We haven’t time for the farmers today, I doubt they have anything important to tell us,” commented Storm Wizard as they passed by with barely a wave.

“You never know who might have something important to tell you until you ask, but I understand. Let me not deter you from your very important quest. We should head straight away to the Hunting Lodge, where you will have your best chance of meeting those who may be able to help you. But let me ask you a question. What is it you plan to say when you do meet the people you are seeking?”

“That… if they don’t want their farms to be devoured by locusts next summer they need to help.”

“I think they will ask, ‘How do you know this?’,” pointed out Clarence affably enough, yet with a piercing gaze.

“Ahhh… good point,” replied Storm Wizard. “I don’t suppose I can explain how I was informed of this in the temple of the Aphids when we were tiny-sized. I doubt they would believe it.”

“Indeed,” said Clarence.

Meanwhile, far away in the other world, Juliette was searching her pockets. She seemed to have everything she had left on the adventure with. She took some fabric and ripped it into a long wide piece that could go around her face. A makeshift eye patch. She then took a smaller piece, and she took out the dagger and shouted,

“Ok I’m going to do this!”

She then crouched down and pretended to cut out her eye out. Instead she covered the smaller cloth with the blood from her hand, and then the rest of her face as well.

“Ok!”, she shouted up at the bird. “I have an eye, come and get it!”

She was unlucky. The bird took no notice hardly at all, and gave a small caw. It then went back to pecking at the feather doll.

“Marriage, eh?” said Juliette to herself.

“And I will be able to go back to the land of the living and be your queen?”, she asked the black haired man despairingly.

“Yes, that is so,” he said.

“I think I’d rather give my eye. I am not ready for marriage,” she said grimly.

“Ok black bird, you can take my eye. Come down and get it,” she called.

And so the black bird dropped the feather doll and swooped down to Juliette and with his red talons plucked out her right eye and carried it off into the dark sky cawing. Juliette tried to catch the bird as it flew off, but the pain was great, and her luck was poor, and she was unable.

Juliette was utterly dejected. She wandered over to the doll. When she reached down to pick up the doll she noticed that it was not a doll after all, but a girl. A young child who opened her eyes as if from a terrible nightmare.

“Thank you,” she said finally.

“How did you get here?”

“All I remember is that I was in our house, and it was on fire. And felt a knock on my head as something fell, and then I was in the clutches of the terrible bird, and it seemed forever that he held me in his claws and pecked at my face!”, she sobbed suddenly.

“There, there, dear, it’s ok now. The bird is gone, and he won’t be back,” said Juliette looking wistfully up into the dark vault over head. “What is your name, little one?”

“My name is Pamela McFearson,” she replied finally. “What happened to your eye?”

“The bird took it, and flew away with it,” said Juliette.

“How horrible. It was forever starving, and it wanted an eye, I know. An eye for the sacred place. I think it had lost his eye at some time earlier, and he said it belonged in the Place of the Sun. But I could never understand what it was cawing on about. It seemed he was filled with hunger always,” said Pamela. “Where are we?” she asked.

“I hate to say it, but we’re kind of dead, and I’m trying to find a way back. If I can I will bring you too, but I don’t know if either of us can make it.”

“Look!” said Pamela, and looking Juliette saw the black bird land in the tree nearby.

“I shall attack it!”, declared Juliette. And with a deep solemn prayer to Minvar, she invoked the great power within her, striking upward at the bird with the palm of her hand. There was a tremor, and the tree shook, and the bird fell out of the tree. Juliette quickly ran over to the stunned creature, and covered it with her bag. The bird rigged inside the bag, and Juliette took Pamela to the salmon.

“Throw the bird in the river,” said the salmon. And so Juliette threw the bird into the dark waters and it floated down stream in the bag, and vanished over the edge of the roaring waterfalls.

“You have done well,” said the Salmon. “Behold, take the stone from your bag, and hold it over your missing eye.” And so Juliette took the sacred stone that she had obtained from Storm Wizard at the Tower on Black Hill, and held it over her lost eye. And through the stone she could see with great depth into the gloom, and saw for the first time all of the six stones clearly. The spiral design shone with a silvery light.

“This is a great stone!”, said Juliette. Each stone she looked at had a pattern. And the patterns represented constellations, and the signs of the Elkron who pertained to them. Against one was a sword. Against another was a man standing. Upon another stood a white crane on one leg. There was one that had the scorpion. Another had the golden Sun-Lion, and the last had the symbol of the salmon.

“Can you bring me back now?” she asked the salmon.

“Climb to the top most branch of the tree and find your way home,” he said.

“And Pamela?” asked Juliette, but the salmon remained silent and then with a 'plunk' disappeared into the black waters.

Juliette then took the sacred seeing stone and with her bandage tried to affix it to her where her eye had been so that she could see through it. However, when she did the stone fell into her eye, and took its place where her old eye used to be, and the silvery glyph faced outward and shone. With the eye she could see deeply into things clearly.

“My lady,” said the man with the black hair, “You can still marry me.”

“I’m too young,” said Juliette.

“I will wait for you,” he said.

“I don’t wish to marry you… I don’t know you,” she replied.

“You should reconsider before you leave this place,” he stated in a low tone.

“Is that a threat, good sir?”, she inquired.

“No it is advice. You will learn that great responsibility requires great power.”

“No thank you,” said Juliette and turned away with an inner shudder. What did he mean about great responsibility?

"As you wish. I will not forget my young queen by the River of Death," said he. And so he turned away and left that place.

Wishing very much to be gone from that grim precinct, Juliette carried Pamela on her back up the branches of the tree until they came to the branch on which the bird had been sitting. And there Juliette saw a script that had been pecked into the branch of the tree. And it said the following.

The land is without a king,
beset by many woes.
The sun and the moon
must be taken home
to their father’s kingdom.
When the champion of sovereignty
quests for the hollows,
And founds the Throne
Of the White Crane.
Juliette read this, and wondered what it might portend. She then continued upward until they achieved the highest branch and from that place they shone in the solitary ray of light, and fell upward and flew into the light.

Previous Episode: Escape from Death - Part 1
Next Episode: Escape from Death - Part 3

The Escape from Death - Part 1

Having left the Golden Sheaf Monastery to find backers for their daring plan against the Locusts, Storm Wizard and Clarence departed across the long fields towards The Estates, where the wealthy people live.

Meanwhile within the Monastery, inside the Womb of Minvar, Juliette was laying inert on a slab of stone in the dark silence. The Abbess Penelope then returned and chanted an ancient Earth-Song as she placed six candles, six sticks of incense and and six sacred gems around the body of the dead girl.

Juliette, her eyes fixed firmly in the other world, saw sacred stones appear along the shores of the cold black River of Death, which lapped around her ankles. On each stone she saw a fire. And off of each stone stepped a man. And the men came to her over the waters and entered the boat. And they took up the oars. At her command the silent oars men rowed her to the golden shield with the lion’s face on it.

“I’m not ready to die”, said Juliette, and at this the Sun-Lion smiled.

Juliette thought of the symbols of Minvar, but around the river none of the six stones seemed to have any correspondences to the Earth. She saw that there was a mist around the river in which were many dead trees. However, the tree that the Sun-Lion stood near was a living tree. The only living tree. When Juliette began to walk toward the Sun-Lion, she found that one of the oars men, a youth with blond hair and blue eyes, came with her.

“Can you help me to get to the other side?”, asked Juliette of the Sun-Lion.

“As there is night and there is day, I can offer two ways to return to the land from whence you came”, said the Sun-Lion.

“What are the two ways?” asked Juliette, mystified. As she waited patiently for an answer, she noticed a shadow fly over head and land on a branch in the tree. It was a black bird with a red beak and red talons holding a small feather doll. After it settled, ruffled it's feathers and cocked its head to one side for a moment, it began to peck at the little white feather doll.

As that happened Juliette heard splashing in the water, and turned around to see that on the other side of the river a rowboat-sized scorpion was manuvering into the cold black waters with a man standing on its back. The man had long black hair, an elegant purple cape with gold fringe, and beautiful silver sword. He was looking imperiously at Juliette. The scorpion made its way through the strong black currents of the river.

Then Juliette, heard another splash not far from where she was standing, and turning around she saw that this was made by a salmon swimming in the dark waters near the shore. It swam around and around a gray stone that was just below the surface. She thought she could see a symbol engraved on the stone, and it appeared to be a glyph of the constellation of the Fish, whom she knew to be Pisces.

“Do these represent my choices?” she asked of the Sun-Lion.

“Yes and no”, replied the Sun-Lion enigmatically.

Not wishing to be rude, Juliette remained quiet.

“As there is night and there is day, I can offer two ways to return to the land from whence you came”, repeated the Sun-Lion. “The right hand way, or the left hand way. Both of them require a sacrifice”, he added sternly.

“What sacrifice?”, she asked.

“I am forbidden to say”, replied the Sun-Lion.

Perplexed, Juliette answered, “I must think about this.”

Juliette decided to find out what the other stones had in store for her, and so she walked to the stone where the salmon was swimming. The blond hair youth, who had said nothing at all, returned to the boat, and another oars man stepped out of the boat and went to her. He had brown hair and gray eyes. She deduced that each of the youths in the boat were somehow associated to each stone along the sides of the river. But who they were, and what they were doing there was a great mystery. Where they her servants? Guides? Guards?
The salmon stuck its head out of the water and looked at her. She returned its gaze.

“What sacrifice must there be for you to help me return to the land of the living?”, she inquired of the salmon.

“If I help you, you will learn wisdom,” replied the salmon in a high burbling voice.

“That does not seem like a sacrifice to me,” replied Juliette, mystified.

“All roads back require a sacrifice.”

“Do you mean that someone else must die for me to return?” she asked.

“I am forbidden to say,” said the salmon.

Juliette returned to the oars men and asked them if they had any insight into the matter. But none of the handsome youths spoke.

At that time the scorpion arrived on the shore not far away, and the man with the black hair leapt off the back of the fearsome creature. He walked briskly toward Juliette with a powerful gait, and when he got to where she was he stopped and gazed at her appreciatively.

“You have come a long way,” he said.

“Yes, I have,” she replied. “And I wish to return.”

“I understand you wish to return. I can help you,” he said.

“You don’t happen to be a black bird of death?” she asked.

“Do I look like a black bird of death?” he asked.

“Not necessarily.”

“I can help you.”

“At what cost can you help me?” she inquired of the dark man with trepidation in her voice.

“At a very small cost,” he replied.

“Such as?”

“I shall give you power, and you shall be my queen.”

“I do not wish to be a queen”, responded Juliette. And so Juliette returned to the salmon and asked him for his help.

“Capture the bird”, said the salmon.

Juliette looked at the black bird that was in the tree. It was pecking at the feather doll on a high branch. There was one single ray of light in the entire dark cavern, and that ray of light landed on the tree, and in particular it landed on the feather doll that was in the grim clutches of the black bird.

“Hey, you, bird. Why are you eating that doll? It doesn’t look very tasty,” called Juliette. It cocked its head for a moment and stared at her. It then returned pecking at its prey.

Juliette then took out her knife and cut her hand so that the blood flowed freely down her arm.

“Hey bird, this is much tastier,” called up Juilette, holding up her bloody hand, trying to coax it down from the tree so that she could capture it.

“An eye,” croaked the bird, and then went back to pecking at the small white fluffy feather doll in it’s red talon.

“An eye?! If I give you my eye will you let me take you to the salmon?”, she asked.

“An eye,” it croaked.

It was the man with the black hair and the elegant cape who spoke next.

“I will give you one of my eyes.”

“You will? In exchange for what?”

“You will be my queen. I will give you power over men. I will be your champion. We will conquer the realm and rule together. With this power you can effect all of the great good in the world that you wish,” he replied in regal tones.

"I am too young to be your queen," replied Juliette firmly, and she turned away from the man with the black hair to look around the gloomy cavern again. The mists shrouded thousands of dead trees. There was no wind. No sound, except for the roar of the waterfalls in the distance, and the pecking of the black bird on the living tree.

Juliette looked around for a rock. There was black sand along the river’s shore, but in the river she saw that there were many smooth stones. But she didn’t wish to enter the river again. And so Juliette tried instead to climb the tree to gain a hold on the black bird with the feather doll. She climbed up the tree and found herself at the end of the branch on which the bird was perched, still pecking at the feathery white doll. She then remembered something, and pulled out a smooth stone that she had in her pouch. It was the stone with the strange spiral glyph that she had gotten from Storm Wizard at the Tower on Black Hill, with which she could see through walls.

“This is better than my eye,” she said. “You will see a lot better with this than with my eye,” and he held out the stone in her hand.

The black bird cocked his head, and then went back to pecking.

Juliette wished to take the doll. But the bird was too far out on the branch for her to reach it. She tried shaking the limb of the tree to free the doll, but she was not strong enough. She tried to coax the bird to her, but it didn’t come.

“The bird can not eat the stone”, commented the man with black hair wryly, and reiterated the offer of his own eye. Juliette felt that she was not ready for marriage, and so slowly made her way out onto the branch. The bird hopped further out along the branch away from her, with the doll in his beak. She stretched herself to reach further, and the branch began to bend. The bird was still out of her grasp.

Juliette climbed back down the tree, and looked around her. What should she do, she wondered bleakly.

Previous Episode: The River of Death
Next Episode: Escape from Death - Part 2

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Windmills of the Gods...

... grind slowly but surely.

Latest update on the technical front: I finally got the Elthos RPG Web Application switched over to the new hosting service. Hopefully this will vastly improve the site's performance. It will probably be a couple of days before I have all of the configuration work finished and the site back up and running, but for now, I'm OK with the switch. It was a bit more complicated to do than I expected, and the regestrar for the domain is still not switched over. For that I will have to wait two more months and try again. Not the most efficient infrastructure I've ever seen, but that's the Internet for ya.

On other news, I went to the Small Business Administration and found out some interesting stuff. My question was: What do I need a Patent for? This conversation went on for an hour. The upshot is that there are no clear answers. Making such decisions are the equivalent of being a commander in the middle of an ongoing war. You have to quickly size up the terrain, make a decision, run with it, adjust as you go, hope you didn't make a business-killing mistake. It's fun.

The questions around patenting Elthos RPG boil down to two things:

1) is it worth trying to protect the application from copy-cats?
2) is it essential to have a patent in order to partner with other companies later on?

In both cases the answer is (predictable enough): it depends.

For example, it depends on who you are trying to protect from copying your application. Is it a small company that could be deterred with a few legal notifications? Or is it Microsoft or Google, who have infinite resources to crush you in court?

The same "it depends" applies to the second question. Of course.

The problem with the Patent is that it can be enormously expensive ($200,000+) to go through the process of applying for it, it can take years, and it can in the end be denied by the Patent Office anyway - in which case you spent a fortune for nothing. On the other hand it could possibly cost as little as $3000. How do you know what the cost will be? You don't. Why? Because - it depends. How many times does your lawyer have to go back and forth with the Patent Office? It depends. How many billable hours will it take to create the documentation for the Patent? It depends. Etc.

Then there is the question of "What does a Patent do for me exactly?" ... Again... it depends. In some cases it might help to deter a small company from trying to copy your product, or it might encourage a mid-sized company to negotiate a deal with you. On the other hand, if the company copying your product is large and doesn't give a damn, then the Patent is only as good as the amount of money you have to spend in court trying to sue the offending behemoth. Others have tried to do the same, and died in the process. So, it depends.

Another irksome issue is the question of International Patents... you can get a Patent in America, but in the case of an Internet application... if the copy-cat is in China, then forget being protected by your American Patent. They won't care. And then again, if you do have a (much more expensive and time consuming to obtain) International Patent, which is really getting an individual patent in every country on earth that allows it (not all do), they still may not care. And when you go to sue the copy-cat in Bangladesh, their Authorities may just laugh you off the phone. So what protection does a Patent afford you? It depends.

Overall, the setup is fraught with perils. It's a war out there, and if you're going to head in that direction, you better be prepared to take your chances.

Which gives some idea why Entrepreneurship in the Capitalist world is so exciting, and so risky. You *can* make it big - but you are definitely spending your resources on a risky venture in which there are never clear answers. You just have to try it, and be prepared to be destroyed by the competition, and lose everything you put into it, and then be galled to watch others make their fortunes having stolen your idea. If you feel that you could not possibly stomach that outcome, then according to the powers that be - just stick with your day job, and forget about inventing anything and bringing it to market.

For me, I'm in the process of evaluating the options, and trying, like any good wargammer, to maximize my chances of success. Unfortunately, time is also a factor. The longer it takes for me to sort through all of this and learn the ropes, the more chance there is that someone else with better connections and understand will produce something close enough to what I'm doing to make all of my efforts in vain.

There is risk in every direction. Of course.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Cross-Post: Big List of RPG Plots

This is a pretty great list of RPG Plots, and some good thoughts / advice at the bottom, too.
What follows is a scrap of trivia . . . my collection of RPG plots, in abstract form. I built this by examining the premises of hundreds of published adventures for all systems (including those systems dear and departed from print), trying to boil them down to common denominators. The results are presented here: arbitrary, and sometimes redundant. Nevertheless, I turn to this list when I'm stuck for a fresh premise for next week's session of my campaign, whatever that campaign might happen to be about at the time. It helps me keep from falling into thematic ruts (my least favorite kind). With any luck, it might serve a similar function for you.
Big List of RPG Plots

Worth a gander. :)

Saturday, August 07, 2010