Monday, December 27, 2010

Yay for artsy presents!

I know I'm not even close to finished posting Raff's story (and I've been meaning to work on Cyn's...) but it's time to unlock another character mostly because I need a change from all these male protagonists. For a Christmas present, my awesomely talented friend Niere offered to draw me a character of my choice. I asked for Meren, one of the elves who has been hiding over on the sidebar of my blog. :)

Thank you so much, Niere! I just love those tattoos, by the way. :D

Meren is going to be the next character I write about, so I'll probably start alternating her with my Messenger boys' writing next month. She's a wood elfling, which actually makes her half-halfling, but she generally thinks of herself as a wood elf. Very few people would be able to guess the hobbit half of her background; she's the same height as a wood elf and usually keeps her furry feet covered in boots. The only features she has that give away her hobbity heritage is the fact that she smiles a lot (wood elves are not generally friendly people) and her face is a bit more round than elves generally have. Like the rest of her kin, she's covered in tattoos and usually wears greens and browns, even when she's garbed as a wizard. (The only time she doesn't wear those colors is when the weather is cold; then she'll wear white and browns to blend into the forest.)

By default and preference she's a fighter- a border guard, archer, and scout to her tribe- but somehow she's able to sense and use magic, despite magic not generally being something either halflings or wood elves use. Because of this she's a rather reluctant wizard and ... well, she's had some interesting magical results. These are what I'm most looking forward to writing. ;)

Another odd thing about her is that she has a centaur for a brother. Okay, so they're not actually related, but this fact will most definitely pop up in her writing, as well. There's a lot of contradictions and strange things surrounding this elfling.

I'll be posting her introduction and creating her bio page in the near future; I want to get more of Raff's story up first.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rant from the Goblin Mines

((One of my friends was curious about the long rant Cyneric spewed in a recent D&D game, so I figured I'd share so she could read it. I wrote half of this and my fiancé, the DM, elaborated, apparently enjoying the fact that my poor character is slowly losing his marbles. This took place right after this journal entry and involved Cyn yelling at the top of his lungs at the rest of the party of adventurers. Never before has my usually-stoic cleric freaked out like this...))

"You are all a bunch of brash and recklessly addlepated twits! Morons! Complete and utter idiots! Do any of you have an iota of common sense? Don't any of you lot ever think? What a sorry bunch of so-called adventurers! Smart- get yourselves in a position where you have to be rescued. That will really help those we've come to help. I'll say it again- morons!

"I don't know what in the gods' names came over Ghost, but the rest of you... Why did you join in that madness? What are we, throwing a kegger out here? And don't get me started on the whole 'stealth operation' thing. What part of 'don't let them see you under any circumstances' was so difficult for you to wrap your heads around? AIIIIIGH!

"I don't believe this! I was under the impression that I was adventuring with a seasoned and experienced platoon of elite mercenaries, but APPARENTLY 'watch out for the goblins' wasn't in the curriculum! I've got half a mind to... RRRRRRGH! Hey! I've got an idea! Let's go in and get us all killed this time! It worked so well on the first attempt, I figured we'd take another shot at it! When they were handing out brains, you must have thought they said plains, and yours got burned up in a brushfire! I don't believe this! I thought my family was bad, but... my family! I have a family to feed! AIIIIIIIGH! ... I'm going for a walk!"

((At which point his rant quickly turned into utter nonsense and he stormed off in slightly-insane fury [like I said, some marbles have gotten loose] to spend the next few hours alone in the woods, talking to animals and praying to try to calm himself down. Messengers are rather eccentric to start and there's a reason for this extra level of... well, oddness. He's not "crazy" so much as distracted and out of sorts; to say he's not feeling like himself right now would be an understatement.))

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Acolyte's Map - Story, Part 4

Banner art by Artmetica.
You can find the whole cover art here- the art is gorgeous!
There's also a mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

The Acolyte's Map, Part 4
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 5)

A red bird flew through the window and landed on the desk right on top of the paperwork Kendric was reading, startling the dark haired man. About to shoo the cardinal back outside, he caught sight of a tiny scroll attached to its leg. A courier bird wasn't an unfamiliar sight in the barracks so he untied the green ribbon attaching the paper to its leg. Assuming it was meant for someone else, he was surprised to see his own name on the outside of the paper; generally if something was important enough to be sent by bird, it was meant for a higher ranking officer.

As he unrolled the small parchment an even smaller piece of purple ribbon fell out. This he placed aside as he read the short message:
Meet me at Old Hamish's Inn tonight. Important situation to discuss- need your assistance. Neru will wait for reply."

He smiled to himself despite the seriousness of the wording; the only two people who called him that were his little brothers, and the color of the ribbon informed him that it was from the honorary brother rather than the one by blood, which was useful because the message was vague and not signed. He assumed the purple one was inside because two tied ribbons wouldn't fit on such a small bird.

He'd laughed at this color-coded idea originally, thinking it just one of the bizarre ideas his real brother was known for, but he'd come to realize that, although strange like most of those ideas, this one actually worked... Well, he was optimistic about the idea for vanishing paper, but his brother hadn't yet gotten that idea off the ground. In this case, though, it was a good way of saying a lot in a small space, or being secretive if that were needed. Green string or ribbon meant that the message was from Raff and the purple meant "disguise" or "be extra sneaky", which, coupled with the wording, meant both this time. A lack of bright red string told Kendric that this was sent in some sort of unofficial capacity; were that color there, it would mean that it was from Raff-as-Messenger, not Raff-as-brother- or more appropriately, Raff-needing-favor. Still, the cleric never asked for help if it wasn't needed, and even then often didn't notice until too late that he was in a situation where help was warranted, so Kendric wasn't about to turn him down.

Distracting the bird with a piece of bread leftover from breakfast, Kendric fastened two bits of string onto its left leg: one blue, one white. Blue was his personal color and white meant "yes" or a positive answer of some kind. If anyone noticed the random pieces of string he had laying around, no one had ever commented on it.

He picked the bird up gently and carried it to the window. As he watched it fly away, he wondered what trouble the half-elf had gotten himself into this time; trouble always seemed to follow him, although generally it became other peoples' misfortune. Yes, this is bound to be interesting, he thought, grinning as he stroked his short beard, I wonder what he wants me to do to help?


The inn was full of patrons when Kendric entered that evening and he hoped that the large crowd would mean that no one would recognize him. He'd tried to garb himself in cheaper clothing than he was used and nothing he wore bore any insignia of his rank, but he knew he wasn't the best at hiding who he was. And, truth be told, he wasn't entirely comfortable around all these boisterous working-class people. He always tried to see everyone equally, but it's hard to fight your upbringing, especially when you're feeling rather overwhelmed. This is why, when he felt a hand tap him on the arm and he looked down to see a raven-haired youth of that aforementioned class trying to get his attention, his first thought was Why is this kid trying to bother me? His annoyance fled when he caught sight of the bright green eyes under that large hat and he grinned as the "kid" embraced him quickly before beckoning to follow him upstairs.

Once in one of the small rented rooms with the door firmly locked, Raff gestured for Kendric to keep silent; the man watched as Raff brought his hand to his chest and quietly began chanting and gesturing with his free hand, his focus seeming to be on the door. Once done, the half-elf noticed Kendric's confused expression and shrugged. Taking a seat crosslegged on the bed, he explained in a quiet voice, "I can't keep anyone from listening in, but if they put their ear to the lock at any time in the next ten minutes or so, they'll be in for a nasty surprise." When the confusion didn't lessen, he continued, "It's going to get gradually warmer and if anyone is touching it, we're bound to hear them start yelling."

"Isn't that rather cruel?" Kendric asked, raising an eyebrow.

Raff grinned. "Then they shouldn't be listening."

The man eyed the door uncertainly. "Do you think anyone would be listening? I had hoped no one would notice us."

The priest shrugged again. "If they did, I doubt anyone would care enough to even remark on it."

"Ah, good."

"They probably just think that you've taken on a young lover." Raff said, keeping his voice flat and impassive.

Preoccupied, it took Kendric a second before he exclaimed, "I've taken- what?"

Raff grinned impishly. "Just kidding, brother dearest. That's why I picked this particular disguise; if anyone happened to notice us or caught on to who you are, they'd probably just assume I'm your son or nephew or something."

Kendric felt rather skeptical about that. He did have a nephew about the age Raff was trying to pass himself off as, but... it was just strange to think of his honorary brother as being able to appear that young, even after he himself had already fallen for the disguise. On the other hand, Raff's age had always been a bit of a mystery. Kendric had thought the two priests had been playing a trick on him when they'd explained that the half-elf was actually four years older than he was because he knew for a fact that Raff had entered the Messenger's mosque not even a year earlier than his younger brother- so Kendric now had an older little brother. Why was everything so confusing when it came to elves? It was enough to give someone a headache.

Shaking his head to clear it, Kendric changed the subject to something that was randomly bugging him, "How did your hair turn black, anyway? Some of that mischievous magic of yours?"

Raff wrinkled his nose. "I wish. It's soot. Well, mostly soot. It ends up being a sticky mess, but it works for a while." He glanced at the door before continuing in a softer voice, "Kenny, I need your help."

"So I figured." Pulling over the room's only other seat, a rickety old wooden chair, Kendric sat close to the bed so the two could plot quietly. "What did you do this time?"

Raff pouted indignantly. "Why'd you assume I did something wrong?" Noticing the look on his brother's face, he remedied that comment before Kendric could give them away by breaking into laughter. "Okay, so it was a good guess. But I didn't, not really. We- that is, the Messengers- have a problem. A very large problem. Someone is attacking us and is stealing a good portion of the messages we carry."

"So why the secrecy if it's a large scale religious predicament? Or have you priests just become overly obsessed with costumes and charades?"

It was a sure sign of the gravity of the situation, Kendric noticed, that Raff neither stuck out his tongue nor fired back a quip. Instead the half-elf just looked troubled and remained oddly quiet. Finally he answered, "Because we can't be open about this problem, even with ourselves; the Head Messenger here in Rinos fears that the attacks and thefts have something t'do with a Messenger, or at least someone who was once a Messenger. At the moment only a few of us are aware of who- or rather what- this criminal might be. Edward wants us to keep this as quiet as possible, in case he learns of our plans."

Kendric nodded, following most of this except... "Why tell me? You know I'll gladly help what I can, but I'm no priest or mage. I cannot track him down or anything of that ilk."

"No, but you are someone important." Raff saw that his brother was about to deny this, so he hastily added, "Ken, listen. What we need is someone in on the plan who isn't one of us because we need that person to send what is, to all intents and purposes, a real letter or message. An important real letter because it has to be enough to attract the attention of this renegade so he goes after it himself, rather than sending a lackey."

"Is he likely to do that?"

"He already has." Raff explained the attack and the minimal plan the few Messengers had come up with the night before, omitting nothing and hoping that Kendric would be able to contribute to the plan.

"I follow and of course I will help, but..." Kendric had a good idea what the answer to this would be, but still couldn't help asking, "Would something I send be that appealing? I'm just a lieutenant." That last part came out more resentful than he'd intended.

Raff sighed. "Stop playing modest. You're the best possible accomplice for this- a noble officer with no apparent ties to any priests in the area."

"But what about you?"

Raff eyed his brother- his muscular, tall, tanned, aristocratic, and above all human brother- and did his best not to laugh. "Be serious. If anyone caught on to the fact that you even know me, they'd have t'be a mind reader and then we'd be caught in an even more difficult mess."

"Ah, right." There was a time when his connection to the Messengers had been obvious, but that had been more than a decade ago and half the kingdom away. No one here knew that he had family and friends in the order, so why could he never remember that fact? Trying to redeem himself from his brief absentmindedness, he supplied an idea. "I believe I could pull both rank and class fairly easily- would a letter going to a knight suffice?"

"Of course. Osric, right?" Raff asked, naming the oldest brother in Kendric's family. At the man's nod, he went on, "But can you trust him? I know you've said he's short a few marbles- and that was one of your nicer comments- and I'd rather not let anyone in on this who we can't entirely trust."

"But there's no need to tell much, correct? It just has to appear to be a real message," Kendric plotted, "I think for that we can trust Os, and if the letter slips past this thief and he winds up actually receiving it, well, I'm all for confusing and vexing him. We can straighten it out later if we must."

Raff bit his lip as he thought about this. "There's so many ways this could go wrong, but I don't see any other option. We'll just have to hope that it does get waylaid. Try not to fill it with too many outrageous lies, okay?"

"If you must insist. I'll do my best to make it befit your grand schemes," he assured with a smirk.

Now Raff stuck out his tongue. "Ye know, you'd have made a good Messenger. You have sarcasm and roguishness well-honed."

"And be stuck wandering backwater lands at the whim of whoever desired a message to be sent? No thank you." He chuckled at Raff's expression, then turned serious. "One thing is bothering me about this situation, however."

"Only one? I would have thought there'd be several."

"You were going to leave the city without bothering to say hello, weren't you?"

"That's what's bothering you about this whole thing? And they say my priorities are askew." At Kendric's glare, he sighed. "Look, I forgot what town I was in."

The man raised an incredulous eyebrow. "It's the biggest city in the kingdom. Next to a lake. How did you forget?"

Raff shrugged sheepishly. "It's a city, Kenny. They all look the same after a while; huge buildings, too many people, distracting noises, not enough trees-"

"All right, nature boy, I get the point." He shook his head and wondered aloud something he'd never understood about his brothers. "I don't know how you and Cyn can be so comfortable outside city walls."

"I was going to be a ranger, remember? Being outdoors obviously goes with the territory, no pun intended. Not so sure about him, but that happens to most Messengers, I think; when you spend most of your life traveling, you become as comfortable outdoors as in." Raff answered, then figured this was a good a time as any to ask what had been on his mind for a while. Trying to keep his voice steady and not sound too hopeful, he inquired, "But speaking of Cyn, have you heard from him lately?"

"Not in over a month," Noticing the half-elf's face fall, he asked, "Why? What happened?"

"Nothing's happened, which is the problem." At Kendric's blank stare, Raff sighed again. "I haven't heard from him in even longer than that. I'm worried. Possibly his letters are being stolen, but..."

"I'm sure he's fine, Raff. One of us would have heard if it were otherwise."

"You're probably right. But if this thief does have those letters, he'll regret it. I swear."

Kendric nodded, knowing that he wouldn't want to be on the bad side of the Messengers, particularly this one. Messing with people who have perfected practical jokes to a career is never a bright move. "Then we'll just have to do what we can to catch him. Assuming you priests have this sorted out on your end, I'll bring the message by in two days."

"Perfect. If anything changes, I'll send my bird again." As the two rose, he added gratefully, "Thank you so much, Kenny- with your help we just might be able t'pull this off. The Messengers- well, the ones in on this- will be very thankful for your assistance."

The man reddened, feeling abashed but pleased. "Pah, you know you only had to ask. You don't have to twist my arm for me to admit that I miss spending time with you crazy clerics."

Before Kendric could say anything else, he was startled by his brother unexpectedly hugging him tightly with a muffled "Love ye." It shouldn't have surprised him since he knew that, despite being half-elven (elves, in Kendric's knowledge, were the epitome of stoic and bland), Raff always wore his heart on his sleeve, but it was something the man still couldn't become accustomed to; he was from a society where everyone- particularly the men- hid their true feelings and avoided showing any kind of passion or emotion. He could count on one hand (and still have a finger or two left over) the number of times his real brother had told him that, and Cyn was a self-proclaimed rebel of their caste.

Kendric's awkward return of the embrace seemed to satisfy the half-elf, though; Raff grinned rather waggishly before bounding out of the room. He does that on purpose, doesn't he? Kendric asked himself, shaking his head.

The next part can be found here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Acolyte's Map - Story, Part 3

Banner art by Artmetica.
You can find the whole cover art here- the art is gorgeous!
There's also a mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

The Acolyte's Map, Part 3
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, Part 4)

The head priest, who Raff had learned was named Edward, and two other lower ranking priests, who he was assured were of use in a fight (although he was a bit cynical about that after his scuffle earlier), followed the half-elf's lead. They made it there far faster than Raff's trip out, but still the sun had set by the time they reached their destination. Leaving his bird resting on a saddlebag (his mouse already safely nestled in his hood), he swung himself down from his horse and walked towards the tree while the others fumbled through their packs for a light source. Expecting to see heat radiating from the unconscious man and the dog, he was surprised to find neither. Thinking that maybe the man did get away and the dog had changed position to wait elsewhere, he moved to scan the area. Still nothing.

He waved to his traveling companions to get their attention, forgetting that they couldn't see him in the dark as anything other than a pair of glowing green eyes. Right, humans. No wonder humans are so good at not noticing things right in front of their noses, he thought as, not for the first time, he wondered how they got by with such a limited range of vision. He began walking back to the group, but unfortunately one of them managed to get a large lantern lit at just that moment- and since he had been looking in that exact direction, the sudden light blinded him. His companions located him this time by the string of muttered Elvish curse words involving the inconsideration of humans and their blasted need for light.

Hand covering his eyes, he brought the mumbling to a close and said, "They're gone."

"Are you sure? It's rather dark," the one younger Messenger replied, forgetting who (or rather what) he was talking to.

Raff removed his hand and blinked, trying to bring his vision back to the visible range. "Dark isn't a problem. Half-elf, remember? Yes, I'm sure they're gone." A thought occurred to him and he added, "Although... I know I didn't hit the thief hard enough to kill him, but maybe something else got to him after I left? Then he wouldn't be radiating any heat."

The head priest handed his lantern to the female cleric. "Charity, Tomas, circle the area and see if you can find any sign of them."

The two set off, taking the light with them. Raff blinked again, infravision returning as his headache began to fade. "Thank you for passing over the lantern. But now you can't see, which doesn't seem fair," he said to Edward.

The older priest shrugged and sat down on the side of the road. "We only brought the two lanterns so no more than two could search. To tell you the truth, I'm not entirely surprised to find the man and dog gone. … What have I just sat in?"

"Whatever it is, it's neither alive nor emanating heat or cold, so you're probably fine," Raff said without thinking, his ranger training taking over. Catching what he'd said, he blushed, glad that his superior couldn't see him, "Sorry, sir, I didn't mean to be curt." He realized that the man was chuckling and grinned in relief. "But what did you mean? You expected them to be gone; but one was unconscious and the other seemed well-trained by someone, even if that someone wasn't me," he couldn't help adding that last part in, figuring that this particular head priest didn't mind frankness.

"Tell me- did the man appear out of nowhere?" Edward asked as Raff sat next to him.

The younger priest looked embarrassed again, and once again was glad that he was talking to a human who couldn't see in the dark. "I don't recall. I wasn't really paying attention; he could have just been silent and snuck up on me. But thieves don't generally have the ability to just appear, do they?"

"Not normally, no. I ask because the records we've received of the thefts frequently involved the Messenger either being surprised by the attacker catching them unawares, or the man vanishing after the delivery was stolen. At first we just attributed that to head trauma from the attack, but too many stories have matched up for it to be anything so simple."

The half-elf frowned unseen. "There have been many attacks, then? Has anyone been seriously hurt or killed?" Please say no on that last one, he thought silently. He'd never forgive himself if he'd let a killer escape to hurt more of his innocent brethren. Stupid, that was stupid. I should have found a way to drag him back with me, regardless of what that dog said. It's not as if the dog even did what he said he would. That bothered Raff more than would be expected; humans may be good at lying, but previously he'd always been able to trust an animal's word, even if that word generally was blather about cheese.

"Yes, there have been many; as far as we can tell, they span back more than a year." Catching the worry in Raff's voice, he answered the next question in a reassuring tone, "We've received no word of any Messenger being killed. Yes, some have been more injured than others, depending on how hard they fought back, but no one was gravely harmed."

That helped ease some of Raff's apprehension, but he was still upset. "I just wish that I'd done something more t'stop him. Now he's free and the gods only know where." This was likely an incorrect assumption considering how confusing the gods were making everything, but Raff wasn't to know that. "And I wish I knew where the dog vanished to!"

The mouse, possibly disturbed by his raised voice, climbed out of his hood and scampered down his arm to the ground, then darted away. Raff jumped to his feet, not hearing Edward's next reply. Calling "Rhy! Get back here!" in Elvish, the stress of the day causing him to revert back to his native language, he chased after the small glowing shape until it finally came to a stop and began chittering. Raff knelt down next to the mouse and cast the spell needed to speak with animals, assuming that his pet had something to tell him. Sure enough, after he'd waved his hands around and completed the chant, the chittering turned into coherent words in his head. "Teeth-growler was here. Pointy big thing here. Small pointy thing from wind not-mouse here."

Coherent, but not necessarily understandable. Such was having a mouse for a pet. Raff tried to get him to explain further. "Pointy things?"

"Pointy things. Big and small. Wind mouse sheds like small." That made a bit more sense; it occurred to him that Rhy called the cardinal "wind mouse", presumably because there was some sort of camaraderie between the pets. So "wind not-mouse"... another bird? "Wind mouse sheds"... a feather, of course! So the mouse was telling him there was a feather and... something else pointy.

The half-elf reached around, trying to locate these objects; his one hand found the feather laying in the grass at the same time he felt his much-abused robe acquire yet another tear, this time at the knee. Ah, "pointy big thing" would be a sword, then. About to grab it lightly to try to locate the hilt, he suddenly heard a thought echo in his head, "Don't touch that!". His hand shot back as if the air around the sword was a half-elf repellant and he wrinkled his eyebrows in confusion. His first instinct was always just to grab something; why would he tell himself not to? And, come to think of it, that voice didn't sound like him... he looked around to see if someone was nearby watching, but located no other heat source than the mouse, and that voice was far too … powerful to be a rodent. He shook his head. It's been a long day. I must be hearing things. Still, he quickly shrugged out of his robe, carefully using it to wrap around the sword while taking care not to touch it and doing his best not to snag the fabric. He'd surely catch some flak for being out of uniform, but wasn't as though he was technically on an assignment at the moment.

"Where is the dog now? When did he vanish?" Raff asked, mostly to himself, as he tucked the feather into his belt pouch. Sure enough, the reply he got back from the mouse was, "?" Too complicated. It's not like the mouse would have known this, anyway. He sighed and picked the mouse back up.

"Teeth-growler went away." The mouse chimed in again.

"Yes, I know that."

The mouse wrinkled its nose. "Went away! No trail. Went away." Raff had managed to teach the mouse what to call the path of another animal, even if he hadn't been able to teach it better grammar. But... "no trail"? That didn't make any sense. Everything left a trail. Beginning to feel overwhelmed, he figured it would be a good time to head back to the group; maybe they could figure out what was going on. Before standing up he said softly, "Thank you, Rhy," and handed it a piece of grain rations from his pouch, then put his pet back on his shoulder. As the mouse nibbled on its treat, Raff received ramblings of his hair being a secure den- and another of cheese, for some reason- which he always assumed was its way of showing affection. Or possibly the mouse wanted a better snack. It was hard to tell with mice.


This time Raff made sure to let his eyes adjust to the brightness of the lamps as he approached the rest of the group now waiting by the horses. Before they could voice confusion at him carrying a bundle of robes in his hands, he explained, "I found the discarded sword but didn't want to touch it." Turning to the head priest, he elaborated, "If the man can appear and disappear, maybe it's magical."

Edward nodded. "That was wise. Perhaps we can track him or whoever he's working for using the sword. Truth be told, there's something I didn't tell you about this thief earlier; I believe that a renegade Messenger is involved."

The younger priests looked incredulous and rather offended. "The one who attacked Raff couldn't have been one of us. We don't know swords, for one thing," Tomas pointed out.

Here Raff quickly shook his head, his braids whipping around fast enough to cause the animal on his shoulder to squeak in protest and, since the spell hadn't worn off yet, Raff heard a mental "No shaking den!". Absentmindedly petting the mouse to calm it, he corrected, "We can't wield most weapons. Some of us may possess the knowledge or training." That was one point that had irked him when he'd entered the priesthood as a teen: having to give up the weapons he knew how to use in order to learn far less potent ones. "But you're right. That man certainly didn't seem like a Messenger, renegade or not."

"I think you're both correct." As the three looked confused, Edward continued, "My belief is that he's a thug hired by the renegade Messenger. The first reports were of a weaker opponent who seemed to always know where to find the most important deliveries; I think this was the Messenger."

"But that doesn't make sense," Charity chimed in. "We don't... well, renege! There's never been an instance of one of us going bad, right? Hermes has never made a mistake in the people he's Called." Raff reached up with a free hand to touch the feather-in-amber pendant now visible over his tunic, noticing the other three bring their hands to their chests to grab theirs still hidden under their robes. Despite the gravity of the situation, he couldn't help feeling amused that in times of spiritual crisis a Messenger would reach for that particular holy symbol, not the one that the rest of the world knew about; having two holy symbols certainly came in handy whenever they had to go undercover where the quarterstaff would be conspicuous. Not that I could grab the staff now if I wanted to. Hmph.

"You've hit upon the major flaw in my theory," Edward said, then sighed. "Perhaps he was forced into this or is being influenced by someone stronger. There is no way of knowing, unless..." The older man looked thoughtful as an idea struck him. "Maybe we could set a trap to draw him out?"

Raff grinned mischievously at that idea. Tomas still looked rather confused but the half-elf noticed Charity's smirk that mirrored his own grin- she, too, must have realized that this would be the perfect time to work some playful treachery.

Sure enough, she already was plotting something. "If there is a Messenger involved, how about we try to lure him out with an innocent and solitary piece of bait, possibly spreading a rumor that he or she is carrying something of great importance?"

Here Raff had to shake his head again. "That might not work. To all appearances I was an easy target, and that possible hired thug was still used."

"That is true. Hmmm..." Edward paused in thought, then went on, "If one person serving as bait would not work, what if there were several? Surely he wouldn't be able to acquire more than one or two lackeys or accomplices to assist him."

Finally caught up to speed, Tomas added his two coppers, "And with multiple targets, if there is a renegade Messenger involved, he'd go after the weakest of them."

Raff noticed three pairs of eyes simultaneously turn his direction. One time I could milk innocent and weak for my own enjoyment and it wouldn't work, he though and shook his head ruefully. "Sorry. I'd love to be this bait, but I have a feeling whoever is in charge of this scheme has already received word about a half-elf with a demonic dog. There aren't enough half-elven Messengers even without canines for this person to not realize that they'd be going after the same target, and a disguise would make me even more oddly conspicuous." The downside of being a half-elf: even good with disguises, there was nothing he could do about his height. He usually had to settle for either human adolescent or full elf, neither of which would work in this situation; no full elves were Messengers and teenagers weren't sent on important assignments, which a rebel cleric would know.

As the other three mused silently, probably wondering who else they could throw under the wagon, a flaw in the plan occurred to Charity. "But what if he found out that this delivery was a scam? The ideal would be an actual message from someone important who needed to send something important, right? Where would we find someone who fits that description?"

Here a plot contrivance fell into place as Raff recalled in just what city he'd ended up. "Don't worry about that part. I've got it covered."

"I thought you said a disguise wouldn't work?" Charity asked, eyebrow raised.

"Not me personally- I just know someone who fits the bill." He grinned impishly, knowing the person he had in mind wouldn't be able to turn down this opportunity. "Trust me."

The next part of the story can be found here.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Acolyte's Map - Story, Part 2

Banner art by Artmetica.
You can find the whole cover art here- the art is gorgeous!
There's also a mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

The Acolyte's Map, Part 2
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 3)

The sun was beginning to lower on the horizon by the time Raff made it back to the Messenger's mosque in Rinos and he idly wondered if he'd be able to borrow a horse for his next assignment. Backtracking was boring. Once inside he was unable to locate the head priest, so he looked around to see if anyone of a high enough rank to help wasn't too busy. Spotting someone who looked to be both his own rank and currently staring into space, Raff walked over to him. Still not able to get the man's attention, the half-elf was beginning to wonder if someone had charmed this cleric into not moving (it wouldn't be the first time a Messenger pranked one of their own in that manner) when he blinked, finally noticing the shorter priest standing in front of him. "Ah, Brother Rafion, you're back. And looking more unkempt, I see," he said, all but tsking.

"It's Raff," he replied automatically, thinking at least he didn't use my surname, too. I'm really not in the mood to be laughed at right now. Not that this guy looks like someone with a sense of humor- what kind of Messenger doesn't have a sense of humor, anyway? Then the rest of the comment made its way from his rather large ears and he looked down at his carnelian-colored robe. With a shrug, he added, "That's unimportant. I got into a fight and it got torn." Well mostly from the fight, he told himself, crossing his fingers behind his back, but surely he doesn't know about the frayed hem and a few stains it already had. That's one thing that never came easily to Raff as a priest- keeping himself as neat as their deity apparently required. He'd been training to be a ranger long before being Called by Hermes and was so used to ending up rather disheveled that he rarely noticed unless someone pointed it out. And he still couldn't understand why a mischief god was so concerned about clothing, anyway. Seemed silly and a waste of time, but maybe deities had a lot of time on their ethereal hands.

The other priest frowned at that comment. "If you plan to get into fights, that really should be on your own time, not when you're out on an assignment."

Raff blinked. Is he serious? I had one person underestimate my fighting abilities today and then would have killed me if it wasn't for my quarterstaff, and now this one thinks I go looking for scuffles? So much for appearing harmless and innocent. Part of him snorted at that and chimed in, Riiight. Harmless. Perhaps he's heard stories about us? The rest of Raff chose to ignore that inner voice.

Great, even I'm ganging up on myself now. Can I get a retry of this day, please? "No, look, I was attacked and someone tried to steal the message I was carrying." He had been holding the staff together because it didn't feel right to have it in two pieces, but now he separated his hands to illustrate this fact.

The man glanced at it and asked, "What, did he try to steal the staff, too?"

Raff rolled his eyes up to stare at the ceiling and wondered if hitting him with one of the pieces would knock some sense into him. How, in the name of Hermes, did this dunce ever reach full priesthood? "No," you stupid man, he silently included. "He tried to hit me with a sword and the staff blocked it. What would he want the staff for?" Realizing this was a dumb question to ask as the man probably didn't understand rhetorical, he quickly added, "Wait, don't answer that. A cloaked man tried t'steal the letter from me and I got into a fight to defend it. Like we're supposed to, remember?" Yes, this was coming off snarkier than Raff had intended, but he was rapidly running out of patience.

Before the man could do more than open his mouth to spout another inane comment, Raff went on, "I knocked him out and the dog said he'd guard him while I got help."

"A dog said that?"

"Yes. Some stray dog came to my assistance and told me to get help." Please tell me he's not going to harp on this small point.

"But dogs don't talk."

Oh, for the love of- "You're a Messenger, aren't ye? You should be aware that some of us can speak with animals." Not that Raff knew how that particular animal had talked to him, but he wasn't about to bring that point up here.

The other priest looked sheepish, which was an improvement on simple. "I never quite believed that was possible."

"Well, we can. Now will ye please find me the Head Messenger? I don't know how long my attacker will stay unconscious." It was finally occurring to Raff that he probably should have tied the man up before he left, the dog obviously not possessing hands to be able to do that itself.

"He's busy-" the clueless cleric started to reply, but was interrupted by the voice of an older man.

"Not for something this important, Geoffrey. Please return to what you were doing," the high priest, a dark haired man just entering middle age, said. The moronic priest bowed his head and walked away as the Head Messenger turned his attention to Raff. "If you'd follow me to my office? I think I have some important information for you before help can be sent."

The half-elf wanted to comment that they should go now, but knew better than to backtalk to his superior. With a nod, he followed. Once in the office, the Head Messenger took a seat behind his desk. Noticing Raff's preoccupation directed at the quarterstaff pieces still in his hands, he knew what was bothering the younger cleric- or was at the top of the queue of things bothering him, anyway. "Do not worry about the staff; it served you well and we can reattach the symbol to a new piece of wood if you'll let it go for a short time. Hermes would rather have you in one piece than what you carry."

Raff looked up, surprised that he'd been able to catch what he was thinking. "I figured, sir, but... it doesn't feel right for it to not be together. I've carried this for fifteen years and it's never broken." Frowning, he placed the pieces on the desk.

The older priest gave a reassuring smile. "Sometimes things have to be broken so you can see what the risks really are."

Profound, but not particularly helpful, Raff couldn't help thinking. Trying to ignore the broken staff, he changed the subject, "We really need to catch that thief who tried to attack me. Shouldn't we?"

"Of course, but that's what I wanted to tell you away from … rather senseless ears." Well, at least he agrees with me about whatshisname, Raff thought as the man continued, "We've received word about attacks like this, but assumed at first that they were isolated events, targeting specific important letters that somehow someone had gotten word about. But they've picked up in frequency and range and two things bother me here: your attacker seems more skilled than the ones we had previously known about, and that message you're carrying isn't anything vital."

Raff shrugged, "I figured as much about the message, but he wasn't that good. I mean, the dog and I were able to take him out-"

"A dog that the man likely did not see until too late, correct?" At Raff's nod, he continued, "And skilled as you may be with a staff, a piece of wood is no match for a sword, as you learned. What happens if the man attacks someone without a trained pet or who isn't very good with weapons?"

Raff froze at that last comment, then brought his hand up to briefly clutch the jade and gold pendant always worn at his neck outside his robe. Raff's beloved was a Messenger who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with any weapon, assuming that he was persuaded to even try; he'd have been no match had he been the one attacked. What if he was the next target? But he did usually travel with a group of mercenaries... Right, mercenaries. Like they'd be willing to risk their skin for a piece of paper; they have no regard for a Messenger's duty. Panic was starting to rise in the back of his throat. Trying to keep his voice calm but wanting only to run out of the room and take that would-be thief down before he could do any more harm, Raff tried to focus on the first part of that last sentence. "But that dog wasn't a trained pet. I'd never seen him before."

The older man saw that he was fidgeting and biting his lip, but only raised an eyebrow in response, which Raff was too preoccupied to take any notice of. "But you mentioned speaking to animals? I'd assumed it was one of your pets."

"I just have a cardinal and a mouse," Raff pointed to the mouse that was still perched on his shoulder, mostly screened by his long hair. "I've spoken to other animals before, as well, but only after casting a spell. That was another odd thing; the dog spoke to me first."

The high priest paused in thought for a moment. "I'm not going to belittle you by asking 'are you sure he spoke?' because I've heard of your bond with animals." As Raff opened his mouth to question this, he continued, "Head Messengers have to know things about the followers of Hermes, or at least the ones who work through our mosques."

Oh boy, Raff could just imagine the information his record included. Probably something along the lines of "Rafion 'call me Raff' Goldenstrings: half-elf. Hails from Woodland City and for some reason keeps trying to get sent there despite being a Messenger errant with no home base. Older than he looks, but is apparently younger than his years (says he's thirty-five, but we're not convinced; surely no more than twenty-six? See: half-elf). Often disheveled. Rather impulsive with a tendency to get into fights, frequently after someone comments on his name or stature (also see: half-elf). Good with animals, though. Also good with disguises and music; bets are on if he'll end up smacking someone with his gittern if irked while in minstrel disguise."

A knock sounded at the door, breaking Raff's reverie. The head priest stood up. "The horses are ready now so we can set off. We can worry about the dog later."

Yes, let's leave now, please! Raff thought, then felt rather embarrassed. Not for his enthusiasm, as protective enthusiasm was a normal reaction for him, but he should have known that a high priest would be smart enough to not waste time just chatting and would have already put a plan into motion. He just hoped, in vain, that the man hadn't noticed how jumpy he'd become a few minutes ago.

The next part of the story can be found here.

((I really have to learn how to write chapters rather than scene chunks. This story wasn't written to be particularly split up, but it's far too long for one blog post since I still have another 29 text pages to post....))

Monday, November 29, 2010

Raff's (Delayed) Introduction

Hullo! Nice to meetcha! The name's Raff. ...Okay, if you're insisting on my full name it's- don't laugh- Rafion Goldenstrings. Please just call me Raff, though. My full name is the unfortunate result of being the offspring of an elf and a bard. Oh, and tack on "of the Order of the Fleet Fox", and you have a name that's far too long for any one person, even the ones with pointy ears where long names seem to be compulsory.

Right. Moving on. As you can probably guess from the fox thing, I'm a Messenger. A priest of Hermes. I know, I know- that's a human god and I certainly don't look like someone who'd fit into that priesthood. I'm not the only half-elf, but there certainly aren't many like me in the order. But, hey, Hermes is a Trickster, right? An almost-ranger-bard was probably a requirement to add more chaos to the ranks. Yup, you heard me right. I'm a priest with both warrior and minstrel training and was well on my way to becoming a ranger when I was Called by Hermes. Now that was an entirely unexpected, drastic change, let me tell ye! Unexpected and drastic, but absolutely amusing and different, so I was quite fine with the sudden change of plans. Well... except for the "no harmful weapons" thing. That irked me- it still irks me, really. But the mischief, magic, and traveling more than make up for the fact that I can now wield little more than a stick. A stick with a silver fox on the end, I'll give you, but still a stick. Which now has teethmarks in it from my dog trying to fetch it, by the way.

(... oh, hush. You did so try to fetch it. ... Just sit, would ye? ... No, you can't play with the mouse- you scare him when you chase him around.) Sorry, the shaggy mutt is annoyed that we're ignoring him and is reminding me that I should introduce my companions, too. ... Yes, I can talk to the dog, but no, I'm not crazy (shut it, Jack). That goes with being a priest of Hermes- most of us can speak with animals, although usually they're not as vocal as Jack here. The mouse hiding on my shoulder is Rhy and that cardinal perched in the tree yonder is Neru.

Okay, now that I've got all the introductions finished, I can continue. I'm a Messenger errant- this means that I don't work out of a particular mosque and instead travel from place t'place with whatever delivery I'm handed at the time. My home, as well as my heart, is back in Woodland, though; that's where I had my training as a youth. I'm not really sure why that wasn't chosen as a home base for me. Maybe the higher ups thought I'd do the most good always traveling? Maybe they needed a token non-human traveling out there openly? Who knows? I'm pretty happy with that decision, whatever the reason was.

Do I mind being a half-elf around humans? Nah, that's never been a problem. Personally, it's never bothered me and I'm all for being unique (and, okay, strange). I did spend the first half of my life mostly around elves before joining up with humans, so I've had the best of both worlds- 'though that does mean that my speech is a mishmash sometimes, ye ken? Anyway, as for outside forces... well, people don't generally mess with Messengers. Only the very stupid would insult those literate people who carry important news and correspondences, and the wisest recall that we're tricksters as well as letter-carriers. It's never a good idea to mess with practical jokers. Trust me on this.

I'd stay and chat, but I really haveta get going. I have a message I must deliver that's already been delayed too long. Maybe we'll meet again in another city someday... although I'll warn ye: you may not recognize me if our paths cross again when I'm not on an assignment- and even if you do, I'll likely answer with a different voice to a different name. There's a chance it'd be more unusual than my real one, but I doubt it.

((I realized as I was writing up an introduction for my next character that I never posted one for Raff before I started putting up his story. Whoops! The next part of his story will be posted soon- I wanted to get this finished first.))

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Acolyte's Map - Story, Part 1

Banner art by Artmetica.
You can find the whole cover art here- the art is gorgeous!
There's also a mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

The Acolyte's Map, Part 1
(Prologue and Part 2)
Spring, 708CC

The new pawn- sorry, chosen, of the gods/dice/whatnot was a slightly older, half-elven priest named Raff. Assuming by now that he was safely a minor character in his own story, and thus immune to the random encounter generator or the flailing Epic Plot, he was surprised when a hooded figure appeared from behind a tree brandishing a short sword and demanding that he hand over the message he was carrying. Raff raised an eyebrow as the man scowled at him; he was aware that sometimes Messengers were ambushed for the important correspondences they carried, but he also knew that since he'd been sent on this errand alone he was carrying something harmless, so why was this person going after him? Besides, no matter the value, no Messenger would voluntarily hand over what they carried without a fight... Huh, he must be aware of that, Raff thought to himself as the would-be thief, not waiting for a reply, leapt at him to attack.

Bringing his quarterstaff up to block, Raff was able to push the attacker back a few steps, making him stumble slightly. A retaliated downward swing with his staff was barely blocked by the sword as the man regained his balance, and the cleric realized that, once again, he'd been underestimated. Anger burned in Raff's green eyes; this irked him, as it always did. This certainly wasn't the first time someone had taken "slight, elven-looking priest" to mean "weak, easy target". Spitting out an Elvish curse (and wishing he knew Dwarvish because that language was so much better for that purpose), Raff swung again.

All seemed to be going well for a while, despite the man recovering from his shock and having begun attacking in earnest, until fortune decided to favor the bandit. The half-elf was just barely able to bring his staff up in time to block a well-timed attack, and the power behind the swing snapped the wood in half. Raff stared at the pieces in his hands, momentarily distracted; that was my quarterstaff! How dare he break part of a priest's holy symbol! He placed the pieces gently on the ground, not wanting to just carelessly drop the winged fox icon atop the piece in his right hand, and said a quick, silent prayer.

This was a pious, but not very bright, move and could have been the end of the priest had he been truly alone; before the man could hit Raff while he was distracted, a bird gave an angry chirp and a streak of red flew at his face, giving Raff time to get to his feet and draw his mace. Rare is a Messenger without an animal sidekick and the cardinal was expected, but the bird's shriek was followed by a growl sounding behind the attacker, who froze in place. Having only a mouse and a bird currently trained, this surprised Raff almost as much as it did his enemy, but since the ... dog? Wolf? Raff couldn't really tell since it was staying behind the other man, seemed to be focused only on his opponent, the canine was a welcome surprise. With the attacker obviously distracted, it finally occurred to Raff to try what he should have done in the first place. Rather than attacking, he said in a calm, but forceful voice "Your bootlaces are untied. You should put your sword down so you can fix that before you trip over them and land near the teeth of that large wolf behind you."

Coming from almost anyone else, this would have resulted in the intended target either being amused and attacking or just plain attacking, but here it worked as the fate-seesaw tipped slightly in Hermes' favor. The man dropped his sword and fell to his feet, hastily trying to retie laces that weren't actually there in the first place. Raff kicked the sword out of the way, where the dog (definitely a dog, Raff saw; some sort of shaggy, medium-sized mutt) picked it up by the hilt and dragged it off, fetching instinct apparently taking over. Checking out of the corner of his eye to make sure that the dog had dropped the sword out of sight, Raff turned up the not-so-charming Charm to keep the man occupied while he tried to think of something. "Goodness, you're fumbling. You're all thumbs, aren't you?"

Flustered and now fumbling even more at his shoes, the man replied, "I don't know what's wrong with me today."

"Perhaps your boots are on the wrong foot and that's why you're fumbling?" Raff grinned as the man promptly began tugging at his shoes, still unable to do much about them. I love being a Messenger, the half-elf thought to himself.

As the victim of his mischief unsuccessfully tried putting the left boot on the right foot while muttering “Which is left again?”, the dog returned to Raff's side and began whining. Raff made shushing noises and was silenced by a voice in his head that said, "Man under the tree. Can smell him".

Still trying to keep his glamour going, the cleric told the man "Yes, you've definitely mixed right up with left again. Left is the other one" before reacting to the voice. Most people would have balked at a strange voice in their head, but Raff was well aware that it had the tone of an animal, and since it wasn't his mouse or bird, he figured it must then be the dog, unless someone was playing an extra cruel trick on him. Trying to appear nonchalant, he whispered to the dog, "I don't see anyone."

"Use your snout."

"I don't have a snout-" Raff shook his head. Why am I arguing with a dog? Must be the stress. "Forget it. Guard this man, okay?" At the dog's assent, he made another dumb mistake, not being at his error quota for the day. Rather than doing something bright to sneak up on that invisible person, he took a few steps towards the lone tree by the side of the path and called "Hey! You! Show yourself!" It didn't take the dog's immediate observation of "Man is gone" for him to realize that he'd forgotten to cast the Charm first. He muttered another Elvish curse.

The dog growled and he exclaimed a stronger one when he saw that with his concentration lost, the kneeling man was shaking off the mind-control. This is not my day. Reacting rather than thinking, Raff snatched up a piece of his discarded quarterstaff and brought it down over the man's head, being careful not to strike too hard; killing in cold blood obviously not being acceptable for Good.

"That man not a threat now. Good. Get help. I'll guard," the dog advised as the man slumped unconscious to the ground. After the day that Raff had been having, taking advice from a dog seemed perfectly reasonable. With a shrug, he dragged the prone man off the road and behind the tree, then picked up the rest of his quarterstaff to began the trek back to Rinos. So much for this message getting to Westwatch on time, he grumbled to himself, And I'd love to know what's so great about it to cause all this mess.

It wasn't until he was halfway back to the city that the thought that had been poking at the back of his mind for a few miles finally got him to listen. I never cast a spell to speak with animals... how did that mutt reach me? He absentmindedly reached over to his shoulder to pet the brown mouse that was currently nibbling on one of his long brown braids. Even my pets can't speak without a spell, and when they do talk, they're not nearly as articulate. "And would you quit that, Rhy? Do ye see me chewing on your tail?" The mouse chittered at him in response, then went back to its task, ignoring Raff's laughter. Maybe I should train a dog- they seem to be slightly less bossy than mice.

The next part of the story can be found here.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Acolyte's Map - Info and Prologue

Banner art by Artmetica.
You can find the whole cover art here- the art is gorgeous!
There's also a mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

(Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5,
Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Deleted Scene)

Story info:
Word Count: 23,207
Rating: PG
Warnings: There are passing references to the main character being in a relationship with someone of the same gender, but that relationship is a very minor plot point (and said significant other isn't even in this story), so it shouldn't be a problem unless you're very easily offended. This is a harmless comedic adventure, not a romance. (The main references to this are in the Deleted Scene, which is rather sappy, hence why it was deleted.)
Summary: A powerful magical artifact has been unleashed! Unfortunately it has fallen into the unlikely hands of a hapless young priest who is now bound by its bizarre curse. This is the tongue-in-cheek tale of a half-elven cleric who is trying to locate and free the unwitting victim from said item's grasp with the help of his mischievous (and not always competent) brethren. Along the way there will be magic, intrigue, mischief, and a talking dog. And a dragon, of course.


It is a much overlooked but well-established fact that in order to excel at world domination, overlording, or even to just be particularly irksome in a fantastical setting, you need to get your hands on a magical item- if you can create said item, this is even more effective. This theme pops up so frequently that perhaps Magical and Evil Artifacts 101 must be a requirement to graduate from ODU (Overlords and Despots University, of course), with Item Invention as an optional lab-based minor. This certainly would explain why evil minions are so inept: they haven't gotten their tasseled hats yet.

Or perhaps there is some deity out there who gets his or her kicks out of sending out a telepathic memo to their flock, demanding some useless doodad, then laughing as the Plucky Hero subsequently Overcomes Adversity and those rather inept minions to destroy the "insert flavor of the week bauble name here", likely under the jurisdiction of an opposing god. Presumably this deity enjoys assigning the Good Guys mutually time-consuming quests to balance things out; there must not be a lot on television in the Great Halls of Whatever. They say that gods play games with the fates of men, which may be true, but there has to be a balance between the alignments so the entire world doesn't implode. ("Men" here doesn't necessarily mean "male" or even "human"; likely there's a kobold deity who sends his pawns on prolonged quests, as well, but since kobolds are too inept to be more than Haphazard Wicked, no Methodical Righteous have had to balance them out... which is fortunate, because that sounds more like a battle of the bands than a good plot point.)

Whatever the reason, artifacts end up in the hands of the bad guys nine times out of ten (but don't trust my math on that one; I may have forgotten to carry a one. My original calculation was twelve times out of seven, but surely that can't be correct) and it will always fall on the individuals of reverse alignment to achieve balance.

This is a story where that equilibrium has been knocked off-kilter.


Centuries ago, well beyond memory of any human but within range of the longer-lived races if they cared about such things, there was one such baddie. He was not a king, or an overlord, or a dictator, but he did desire power and knowledge; knowledge so he could usurp power, to be exact. He was also an adroit mage under the disguise of a harmless courtier, and, having a degree in Item Invention (or perhaps catching the eye of the deity on the Evil side of the seesaw), decided to forge an item of epic proportion to aid him in his endeavor- or, rather, penned an item of portable size since he was more scholarly than anything else. What he created was essentially a map, but not just any map. No self respecting would-be villain would be content with just a piece of parchment; can you imagine an antagonist trying to get himself situated and holding the map upside down and cursing at a compass because he thought Cartography was a boring subject? Of course not. This was a map made from the finest parchment, written with a feather of a gryphon and imbued with power, stored in a protectively magical case; not content with just a mere town-and-river affair, he crammed it with magic, the core spell giving the map the ability to tell him where to find the information he desired for blackmail and gain. This ability was assisted by spells allowing the bearer to coerce anyone into telling him the truth and locate any object, as well as any other spell the mage thought interesting at the time. Since he was a show-off with a lot of time on his hands, these were a lot.

With the help of this map, the sorcerer was able to wreak his particular brand of evil by drawing out information from the unsuspecting public. During this time many an innocent farmer or townsperson awoke with a bad headache after being tapped on the shoulder by a hooded figure, unaware of the knowledge they had just passed on- and those were the lucky ones. The truly unfortunate were the ones who knew something vital to the mage, who were able to block the mental assault to some degree, or who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was never said that this spellcaster was a nice person, if you recall.

Unfortunately, the more he learned, the less satisfied he became; he found that the knowledge he acquired was never enough to reach his goal, was never enough to give the necessary blackmail for his plan. He became careless and began sneaking into places he shouldn't have entered and demanding information from individuals too high ranking, which is always just about where plans start to go awry; it's never smart to mess with people possessing power or wealth lest they take notice of you. Word began to get around that a wizard of some sort was looking for uncomfortable information regarding the king, and the mage was eventually caught and imprisoned, his prized possession seized. No longer possessing the map, tied to his soul as it had become, the mage quickly lost what was left of his mind and spent the rest of his days convinced that he was invisible- which, since he was ignored in case his insanity was contagious, turned out to be somewhat accurate. The scroll case was carefully labeled as dangerous and it and the artifact it contained were added to the royal treasury for safekeeping; the court's wizards weren't sure what it did exactly or what was in the case, but were smart enough to toss it into a neglected corner of the vault rather than trying to explore it further. The possibility of going mad is frequently a good deterrent for curiosity.


Time passed, the throne changed hands (well, regal behinds), and no one noticed when this particular item eventually went missing. What's one more scroll case to monarchs who have a collection of them?

Here enters Jonathan, the helpful novice of a good (but mischievous) religious order, whose career would have continued rather normally had the dice not rolled a critical miss, the balance not been tottering madly, and a sudden rainstorm not caused a particular cart to get stuck in a ditch, sending its contents flying. Yes, chaos caused by a lack of paved roads; one of those time-consuming quests for a passing Good Guy should have been to invent concrete, perhaps by combining a fireball spell with a stone giant. (It makes one wonder why magic doesn't get used for useful purposes. Do wizards have to take a vow of eccentricity rather than practicality?)

The cart hit the unfortunately-placed ditch and some of its cargo of old scrolls, books, and various written works spilled into the- for lack of a better word- road. The young man jumped off the cart and began gathering up the dislodged items, completely forgetting that this delivery was going to a wizard's college- he was lucky to not have anything blow up in his hands. Most priests are wise enough to know not to touch anything related to those eccentric spellcasters without a pair of tongs, some gloves, and possibly a passing clueless person to happen to do the poking about for them; word gets around when singed eyebrows are the most pleasant of results. Despite the risk, this recently ordained Messenger, whose only thought was to impress with his helpfulness, appeared to have remained unscathed.

...Or so it was assumed, even by the priest himself, for quite a long while.

The last scroll case of the scattered collection had fallen open and the parchment it was protecting was now exposed to the rain. Quickly rolling the paper back up, Jonathan gently shoved it back into the metal case, missing the warning of "-ot open, for the love of-" just barely legible under the mud. He also failed to notice that rather than having tossed the case into the cart with the rest, he had instead tucked it into his belt, hidden by his cloak, before climbing back onto the cart. This story would have been far shorter, or at least drastically different, had the older priest he was traveling with noticed this. Thankfully for this particular narrative, he did not; he was too busy trying to get the horse to drag the cart back onto the road to pay any attention to his fellow Messenger, trusting that the boy had his side of the problem under control. That inherent faith and confidence these particular priests have in each other turned out to be the youth's undoing- as can probably be guessed, that piece of parchment was none other than the mage-wrought map, which had already begun to place its control over the hapless cleric. If you hadn't guessed that yet, more fantasy reading is needed; horribly powerful items always fall into the hands of the most innocent and harmless.

The lad, upon later finding the map in his possession after the delivery was completed, was unable to hand it over to another Messenger to remedy the delay; he found that he could no more part with it than hand over a hand, and, as the months passed, the map steadily gained more and more control over him. It started with simply just reading all the messages and letters that he was tasked to deliver- certainly forbidden by both the priesthood and their god. Then it shifted to him erasing the writing on the scrolls he didn't like and keeping the juicy, secretive, or important ones for himself; why should anyone else have this information? he (or rather the map) reasoned, if it's in my hands, it's mine. Finders keepers. He made sure to never work out of the same mosque or any in a near proximity to the last one, always convincing the higher priests assigning the deliveries to give him one that would take him far away.

From there, it wasn't a large leap to hoarding all the mail that came through him, even the most dull bits. Possibly at first the small part of Jonathan that still remained in his head imagined this was keeping them safe, but after a while even that part was silenced.

A Messenger's chief and imperative duty is to deliver and protect the messages he or she is assigned; to not do this meant that the young priest quickly fell out of favor with his god. Hermes sent warnings, but they remained unheeded as the youth lost control over himself and the evil influence of the map took over. Being a lower-ranking deity than the one empowering the artifact, there was little the god could do to shift the balance away from Evil other than forsaking the fallen Messenger and removing all the divinely granted abilities the boy possessed (largely out of anger, but perhaps thinking if his once-devoted follower was no longer god-touched and instead was normal, the map might loosen its hold on him). This, too, the youth did not catch on to; whatever reasoning hadn't jumped ship assumed that his god-granted Charm ability had actually improved and that was why he could now convince all those higher priests to do what he wanted them to, little knowing that it was the map allowing him to do this. Hermes' last-ditch effort failing, this proved that even deities are fallible when it comes to that cursed balance that plagues mortals.

Soon the map/boy (the two being utterly entwined by now) decided the information he was getting wasn't enough; he wanted to know everything about everything. His reasoning changed to "if I can have all of the information, I can control all of the information" and just stealing his own deliveries wasn't giving him what he desired to fulfill this. He began disguising himself and tracking down and attacking other Messengers in the hope that he could steal theirs, as well. Luckily for them, this was not initially effective because of the combination of the once-priest being fairly physically weak coupled with a Messenger's extreme aversion to giving up their deliveries even under coercion. This was the one place where the map failed him; the boy found it impossible to coerce his once-brethren to do something so entirely against their nature- or perhaps Hermes was able to work through his loyal followers to give them some extra immunity. This plan failing, the boy/map retreated to create a new one.

At this time the map or whatever knowledge remained in his head realized two things: 1.) that there were a surprising amount of copper and silver pieces making their way across the country via the mail, and 2.) that the Messengers were eventually bound to notice deliveries going missing if they always occurred around the same person. He sneered at this realization: how unobservant and naively Good those priests were to not have caught on, and how equally trusting of the general population to send money though them! This would play to his advantage, though- if he couldn't charm his way into getting the priests to give him their letters, why not use that coin to hire a thug or two to forcibly take it from them?

If nothing else, this was the thought that proved that the young man had fallen so far down the alignment chart that he'd barely had time to bang his head against anything neutral before hitting the ground hard at the bottom. Had the young man still been getting the letters directly from a mosque, surely someone would have noticed by now that, hey, that kid emanates evil! Alas, this was a continuation in the series of bad luck for the good guys- he wasn't, so they didn't. Good isn't always the most observant; the bad guy could be be living in a black tower, wearing a mask, laughing maniacally, and raising an army of misshapen beasts and the hero would still go "Nice to see you again! Care for some tea?" or if they were feeling particularly perceptive that day, "Say, did you change the paint in here? Something looks a bit different." Good's gullibility is on par with Bad's ineptitude; they tend to cancel each other out, which is why Neutral is able to get anything done when it's the weakest of the three.

Finally realizing that something had gone terribly wrong and was causing even more chaos as the balance had become even more askew, a new tactic was formed. The deities (or the dice or the seesaw- someday we'll know what makes the world tick), in the hopes that this time there would be better luck or that the target would be less stupid, decided to focus once more on the Messengers; perhaps either Hermes had lost a bet or was being given the benefit of a second chance.

The next part of the story can be found here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A letter to Kendric, Cyneric's brother

Kenny (oh, stop rolling your eyes; you should be well aware by now that we're not going to cease calling you that),
It is unfortunate that you are not nearby because I could really use your good sense and knowledge of military strategy. Yes, you read that accurately; I'm sure I've piqued your interest since I loathe military matters, so I should amend that to say that my traveling companions could use that expertise. They certainly won't listen to my reasoning. However much I've always avoided learning about martial tactics, even I realize that running into a battle where you're outnumbered in enemy territory after the warning alarm has been sounded is a bad idea. I like my friends, but gods, if there's an iota of rational thought in any of them, I'd be surprised. What's the use of charging in as a rescue party if you're just going to need to be rescued in turn? Times like this I look forward to the day when I'm in charge of a mosque and no longer have to deal with stupidity or recklessness. Oh, all right, that's naively optimistic; I see what complications Armand has to deal with on a regular basis and know that it will just be a different kind of asininity and stress. Let me have my moment of daydreaming, okay?

I know it irks my traveling companions that I'm not any sort of fighter and will avoid doing harm unless I have no other choice, but... I'm no adventurer. (I'm not even a normal Messenger, when you think about it, which would at least make me some help to the party...) If I must fight, I prefer to go into it with a carefully thought out plan and an escape route ready. For that matter, I prefer to go into anything with a plan and a means of escape, and I don't understand how people can just throw reason to the wind and hope for the best. But this is a rant I won't get into; you are already quite aware of my feelings on the subject.

Speaking of brash individuals, have you heard from Raff lately? Perhaps his correspondences haven't caught up to me, but the last one I received was well over a month ago and that's rare for him. I've sent a few letters in that time but I have no idea if he's getting them or not because surely he would have replied by now. I've heard some rumors while passing through Woodland, but... if they are true, I certainly cannot go into them here, so suffice it to say that it could explain this delay.

I'm going to try not to worry because I'm sure I would have heard word if something was amiss, but please let me know if you hear from him; last I knew he was traveling west, so you'll likely get in touch with him first. It's just my luck that the two people I hold most dear are to the west when that's the one direction I have never been sent.

If only the Messengers had a way of sending word over vast distances in a more expeditious (and secure, if my above speculations turn out to be correct) manner. The Gates are a step in the right direction (pun intended), but I can't help thinking that there could be another way- preferably a way that didn't involve things exploding. Sound travels well so perhaps there could be a way to harness that, or perhaps something involving telepathic magic... well, it's something I shall ponder.

Your exasperated little brother,

((Look at me, sneakily tying together two of my plotlines and three of my characters. ;) I had originally planned on posting this after the D&D group finished our current adventure, but since we haven't been able to play, it turns out I'll end up posting Raff's story before that happens. And why does that matter? Because this letter ties into that story, which I'll start posting here on the 13th. Ye gads, do you know how hard it is to keep a story secret for five months?))

Friday, September 24, 2010

Story updates to come soon!

I know I've been neglecting this blog, but I haven't actually been neglecting my writing. I'm working on a long story for a writing challenge with Raff as the main character, but I'm not allowed to share it until the due date. So look for more story updates in early/mid-November. :)

If you're curious about said challenge, you can find out more information about it here.


Friday, July 2, 2010

Speaking of Cyn's best friend

For a birthday present my awesome and incredibly talented friend Niere told me she'd draw me whatever character I wanted her to; after much thought (I love her art so much that it was hard to pick!) I decided on Raff, Cyn's best friend:

(Isn't Niere an amazing artist!)

Raff (his full name is Rafion, but he never goes by that) is a half-elf Messenger (the same rank as Cyn; they're basically the same age now, but half-elves age rather slowly, so that'll change; this is going to be a plot point for Cyn when he eventually realizes it) who shares Cyn's skill with animals; instead of a fox, though, Raff has a pet mouse. (He likely has trained a different animal or two, as well, but he always has a mouse.) His robes are always travel-worn (he gets yelled at by the higher priests for that- Messengers aren't supposed to look unkempt) because he just doesn't notice when they start to fall apart; he's one of the Messengers out on constant delivery assignments (rather than working from a home mosque, like Cyn does), so he's bound to look more travel-worn, anyway. Raff was originally training to be a ranger before he was Called by Hermes, and, charismatic as he is, he hasn't quite grasped all that goes along with civilization, such as tidy clothing, lol. Oh, and don't ask him to hide his ears to pass as a human- he prefers to look elven (that is, unless he's planning some sort of mischievous disguise, of course!) because then he can look more unique; there aren't a lot of elves in his part of the world.

I didn't pick him to be drawn because of Cyn's backstory (although Raff will be in that), but because he's going to be the main character in the next story I'm working on. Where Cyn's story is a kinda dull backstory (no wonder- I'm writing it mostly for myself so I can give him character development for the D&D game), Raff's is going to be an actual story not told from first-person point of view: it's a rather silly mystery involving stolen letters and a magic-possessed priest, and the shenanigans that ensue from the fact that Raff is more Charisma than Wisdom/Intelligence (ie more charm than brains; he's more inclined to try to influence people to get himself out of trouble than actually avoiding the trouble in the first place).

This is going to be a very fun story to write because I do enjoy characters with low Wisdom or Intelligence; they get themselves into so much amusing trouble. ;)


Monday, June 21, 2010

A letter to Cyneric's best friend

I hope this letter finds you safe and not getting into too much mischief, but I know you far too well to assume that wish to be at all likely. (That no one is catching on that you are the cause of the antics you wreak would be a more appropriate hope.) I have a great deal I want to tell you since my last letter, but much will have to wait until our paths next cross, partly because I don't want this letter to turn into a tome and partly because some of this information I do not feel safe sending even with our brethren. Yes, I know you are rolling your eyes and thinking me overly paranoid but I do have my reasons to be so worried.

I will give a vague warning here that I will elaborate on when I next see you: please, please be careful with a certain disguise. My party has become unfortunately high profile and as a result that disguise may no longer be safe for you to use on this side of the continent; in fact, it's probably not safe since being conspicuous means my group has made enemies. Once again, I am likely being unduly paranoid, but... well, please be cautious. And do not worry about me; you know I am not a risk taker, and traveling with adventurers has not changed that fact. I even have a bodyguard now who I trust to always have my back; he's an orc we met on the road who is bereft of his kin, so I'm hoping that traveling with my group makes him feel less alone. I know from experience that having friends can fill that kind of void, as you are quite aware.

So much has happened to me and my traveling companions lately that I can't possibly fit it into one letter, so I'll just give you a short summary. (Honestly, there are so many monster infestations around the area that I'm having some trouble keeping track of what's happening where and what the locations are that we're likely to be sent next; you know I have a horrible head for anything involving battle plans and fighting.) I mentioned earlier about being high profile; well, you know the dragon Khrom-Vel that I've mentioned before? We've become his champions (complete with uncanny wrist tattoo) after we helped heal him from a battle with two other dragons. I'm not entirely sure what this entails, but it seems like it means that we now can call on him if we have the need, and having a dragon on your side cannot possibly be a bad thing.

We've been traveling up and down the coast for a while; we were in Joven recently helping out Dwight, our old traveling companion, with a gnoll problem in that area. While there we also had an ill-fated encounter with a wizard that resulted in the death of one of our party members, the gnome Caleb. (I'm beginning to think that wherever we go, trouble is bound to follow close behind.) Our travels have finally taken us back to Woodland, but since the mosque has no assignment for me at the moment, I'll be going south with the rest of the group on a task set by the mercenary's guild. Between my duty and the tasks set by the guild, I'm rarely in Woodland anymore for more than just a quick stop over; I'm aware that sounds silly when you spend even more time away from there than I do, but I can't help feeling a bit homesick when on the road for an extended period of time. I know that soon enough I'll have permanent duty there, though, and will then yearn for all this traveling. Go figure!

Anyway, I've had an ongoing assignment for a while that you will find quite interesting. The Messengers in Port Town have developed a kind of magic... thing (I still do not completely understand it) that allows one to travel between mosques in a matter of moments, no matter the distance between them. It involves a stone altar-type thing and a canopic jar; the jar powers the Gate and allows it to function. (I think.) I have been dropping off the plans for this gate at each mosque I pass through and sending some along with those I deem trustworthy. Once every mosque has one, I'd imagine our assignments will be safer and quicker, but I'm still having mixed feelings about it since it means less traveling and that has always been what Messengers do. I can't say that I dislike being able to get home from, say, Joven, in seconds, though!

There is so much more I want to tell you, but, judging from the length of this letter, it will have to wait until I see you in person. Speaking of... do you think you could perhaps hint that you'd like some assignments that will take you back towards Woodland? I have no idea if the mosques you've been working through have any deliveries that have to come that direction, but I know you're quite good at persuading people to do things to your advantage. I'd like to give you a copy of the Gate plans to take back in that direction and have new information to give you for a disguise, but I'll admit that my wish to see you is not entirely (alright, not even close to entirely) duty or mischief-related; I miss you terribly. I'd joke that Hermes is having a good laugh over our assignments keeping us so far apart, but knowing Him, that's probably the truth. Hmph.

Sending my love,

((I'm still not quite done the next part of Cyneric's backstory, but Josh [the DM and creator of this world] mentioned that since Cyn has letters he wants to send to a few people in-game, I may as well start writing them up. This isn't quite up to date, since it's a few gaming sessions behind [because it's a letter, it's only up to date to the last place he was able to mail it from], but it's the most "now" thing I've written in a while.))

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Adventures of a Young Messenger - Breaking the News (Part 4)

Part 4 - Breaking the News
(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 5, Part 6)

I awoke the next morning to an unfamiliar weight on my feet. Climbing out of bed, I noticed that the fox had returned, likely through the window that was now slightly ajar. It's a good thing my room was on the ground floor, because otherwise the fox would have... needed wings... actually, that wouldn't be so strange, all things considered, would it? Anyway, determined to leave that day regardless of my parents' opinions, I got dressed and packed my belongings. Here was yet more proof that I was never cut out to be noble; everything important to me fit into one bag with room to spare. This I slung across my back, then headed to the kitchen to find some food to take with me, knowing that it would take me at least a day to get to Woodland on foot.

Leaving the fox in the hallway with my backpack, I found the kitchen bustling as the cook and her help put together breakfast, so I was able to grab some meat and bread and an apple without anyone taking particular notice of me. The kitchen workers were used to my coming and going over the years as I grabbed lunch on the run from my lessons or a few odds and ends to give to my animal friends, and an innocent expression usually got me out of trouble if the cook happened to catch me. This time I earned a raised eyebrow from said woman, but fortunately she didn't try to stop me as I hurried out. I was thankful for small favors there; my mother must have forgotten about me enough to not warn her that under no condition was I to be allowed outdoors, which, as the staff knew well by now, was always my intention when I entered the kitchen.

I figured that by now my family would be sitting down for breakfast and hoping that would distract them some (and counting on Kendric to come to my aid or, knowing him, cause extra distraction if necessary), I picked up my bag, and with the fox at my heels, headed for the dining area to tell them my intentions. Luck was with me because I arrived at the same time as my brother, who gave the fox a head scratch and me a reassuring smile before going in. I waited a few minutes, then followed him with the large fox close by my side. Unsurprisingly, even after clearing my throat a few times my parents failed to notice our presence until the fox made a little growl, at which point my mother and sister began shrieking about how there was a wild animal in the house and how dare I bring that dirty thing in. My brother and I exchanged amused looks while our father tried to calm the women down; the fox gave the scene a vulpine grin, seemingly pleased. Figuring this was a good time while everything was in chaos, I loudly (and with pride, I'll admit) stated above the din, "Just to inform you all, I have been Called by Hermes and, as I'm now under his jurisdiction, will be leaving for Woodland today."

That got everyone's attention. My father looked rather bewildered while my sister wisely said nothing and seemed to be concentrating far too hard on her breakfast. My mother, on the other hand, glowered and exclaimed with disdain something along the lines of "Hermes? Why would you ever pick him?" (Even from across the room, I saw that she was giving Him a small "h".) After my brother finally explained to our father what "jurisdiction" meant (I couldn't even look at Ken at this point, fearing that if I did, I'd break into laughter at the absolute asininity of this whole thing), my father frowned, but began to try to quiet my mother down lest she say something that would earn them dangerous attention from a deity (never a good idea). Looking from the fox to me and back to the fox, she finally lowered her complaints to an inaudible grumble. Before they could think of any sort of logical argument (unlikely as that would be), I then let them know again that I would be leaving now and not to worry about sending anyone with me (also doubtful, but to keep up appearances they might have) since Woodland was hardly a long trek away.

Trusting that Ken would handle his side of the plan, and not wanting to give my parents any time to stop me, I said a quick goodbye and walked out of the room. I later learned from my brother that the fox gave a long, unblinking stare to both of my parents in turn, leaving them speechless for quite some time, and then gave a sly grin to Ken before following me out.

(Part 5 can be found here.)