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?))