Archive for the “PBeM” Category

Don’t remember Baron Trendel? I don’t blame you. See his last appearance in the story here.

Terin heard the words Duke Arneghal spoke, but they barely registered as his eyes took in the sight of the careworn hound on the low pallet before him.

Mind racing, Terin tried to grasp the implications. If only his damned head would stop hurting and let him think straight!

Whatever Redwulf looked like, what was it the Duke had said? The Duke claimed he started as a normal hound. So, magic, natural, accidental or intended. A problem that came from Mordant, with a breed reknowned for their loyalty and obedience, two things Duke Hope was known to demand even more than competence and skill. An obvious assumption as to intentions, there.

No. Look beyond the surface, and challenge the underlying assumptions. The Duke may have claimed what he believed to be true, but he knows less about magic than I do. So, who would advise him on matters magical? Who would have been the one to investigate, to study, and to present these ideas as fact? Who would, looked at from a different perspective, be in a position to cast blame on a rival wizard?

Hah, who else?

Terin pulled his attention from Redwulf, and gave his undivided attention to Duke Arneghast.

“You know that you need but ask, and I’m yours to direct, my Lord Commander.”

Duke Arneghal smiled, a tight smile that showed no teeth through his thick, bristling brown beard. “Ever one to cut through to the meat, eh Baron? Come, attend me in the signals, and it may well be there will be a command at the end of it.”

The Duke moved briskly through the narrow doorway, and as the wizard moved as if to follow, called over his shoulder, saying “Stay you here, Malvoris, and attend to Redwulf. He needs to be strong enough to travel by morning, come what may.”

The wizard had been caught already in motion towards the door, but paused only for a moment, before turning gracefully towards the golden furred figure laying upon the pallet with a murmered, “As Your Grace commands.”

Terin followed the Duke back down the stair, and passed through the mud room where the pages sat in waiting, before moving into the Duke’s study, where the great sand table was still lain out.

Duke Arneghal waited until Terin had entered the room, before drawing the twin doors solidly closed. The Duke paused in place, his eyes searching Terin’s face for a brief moment, before striding straight to the heavy table that dominated the room.

Terin moved forward to join him. Gazing upon the table and the mountain features carved into it, he started by mentally identifying the flags for the supply and reinforcements that were networked along the trails cut to lead to this ‘hunting lodge’, and then worked his way out into the mountain passes, searching more for the density of flags and markers along the passes, and how deep they went, then for any real grasp of the terrain.

The first thing that Terin noticed with approval was that the Duke had scouted far deeper, and far more regularly into the high mountains than could have been expected. It was a point that Terin hammered home to his own students whenever the opportunity presented itself; the more you knew, the fresher the source, and the more eyes to see, the better your decisions could be. In the mountains, nothing was worse than ignorance. Ignorance of where to find water, food, shelter, paths, villages, flocks and hidden fields, and blind gulleys where a hundred Orcs could hide just the other side of a tree.

When it came to that, where to run to that wouldn’t leave you trapped in a box canyon with a hundred screaming Orcs chasing you, hungry for blood and revenge. And wasn’t that a bad morning, just.

As Terin’s trained eye searched for greater detail among the colors and shapes of the small flags stuck into the various mounds of sand and wooden carvings representing the mountains, he came to realise that the Duke was preparing for more than a push into the mountains. Signs were clear to see that the area just to the eastern side of Tor Baldwin, far to the south and east of Arneghast lands, were being scouted far heavier than even those just a league from the shared border with Mordant.

Tor Baldwin was a massive mountain, the largest peak of a chain that stretched out and away from the main chain, cutting into the lowlands a bit west and angling north for many leagues. The chain itself was long thought impassible, with Tor Baldwin anchoring it’s center, and it’s stone weight formed the base and back for Mordant Keep, the largest city in all the Borderlands, capital of Mordant and the center of Duke Hope’s power.

Laid out on the sandtable before him, Terin could see that on the eastern side of the chain, a series of canyons and gulleys fed into one another, deep into the valley formed between the main network of mountains and Baldwin’s western offshoot. More interesting to Terin, the entire valley and all of it’s branching canyons and wide spaces were cut off from Mordant. The first paths marked as passable on the terrain started well into Arneghast land.

And all along that wide valley, dotted here and there, were small scouting flags.

Terin looked up and caught the Duke staring at him. “Your Grace, is this right? There’s really an entire valley on your lands that leads behind Torr Baldwin and Mordant Keep, a valley that isn’t in Mordant hands? An inhabited valley?”

The Duke smiled that tight, grim smile again. “Aye, and as I said, you’ve got a damn fine habit of cutting to the meat. Yes there is, and yes it’s mine, or marked as, anyway.”

The Duke began pacing the length of the sand table, hands clasped tightly behind his back, eyes unfocused, looking down at the mud stained carpet. “It’s deceptive when you see it for yourself, but there’s only the one way in to that damn valley, without having to ford one hell of a stream that gets bloated with runoff three seasons of the year. Despite that, if you look close, you’ll see that no less than five steadholdings have been settled there, and each of them has, over the last decade, taken it in turn to survive their steading and claim their rights in our court to what they’ve taken and held.”

Terin looked closer, and studied the layout of the small valley nestled in the much larger mountains all around it. It was very nearly the southernmost area represented on the sandtable, which was focused more on the range of mountains directly bordering the eastern edge of the Duchy of Arneghast. The entrance to the valley, where the western chain began on it’s northern end, came quite close to the main foothills, close enough to make it narrow and easily held if fortified. Deeper in, the valley opened up, but the terrain stayed broken with massive outcroppings of stone and rockfall, especially towards the east. Several canyons cut into the eastern mountains there near the entrance to the valley, canyons that were marked as being plentiful in water runoff, streams and falls and the like, and good dense wood. It was among those canyons that four of the flags marked in clan standards were planted.

Past that point, however, and heading deeper south into the valley, it opened up and flattened out into a heavily wooded area roughly a third the size of Madrigal itself. And in all that immensity of land, marked as rich, tillable land heavily forested in old growth, there was but one flag that bore a clan standard, an unfamiliar tartan in black and green. While the four clan flags in the canyons furthest to the north end of the valley were all of a size to indicate the steadholders were decorated veterans, or other worthies among the common folk of the Duchy that had earned the right to have and hold, this one flag was marked as that of a Lord or Lady, or of a Knight of one of the Orders Duke Arneghal respected.

As Terin had noted, the valley itself was dense with scout flags, but they weren’t so much in the valley itself, as along the great eastern mountains. The valley itself, and the peaks to north and south of Tor Baldwin were nearly bare of sign. 

Terin thought hard on what it all meant, and how it related to Redwulf up above, trying to concentrate through the pain in his head, which was settling slowly into a persistent ache in the muscles of his neck and shoulders. One thing Terin was sure of, was that if it didn’t all tie together, the Duke would have cut him off when he first made comment about the valley. And a heavily scouted valley backing onto Tor Baldwin, taken as a piece with a runaway magical experiment from deep within Mordant lands, somehow making it’s way to Duke Arneghal couldn’t be a coincidence.

Terin thought hard, and then decided to wait and hear what the Duke had to say. With what he knew, there was no reason for the scouting to focus on the eastern ridge rather than the Baldwin chain. And the Duke never wasted time or resources without a damn good reason.

The Duke continued his pacing, his heavy brown boots catching on the carpet occasionally when he pivoted in step. “You need to watch your eyes more, Baron. They give away what interests you from one moment to the next.”

Terin turned his attention away from the sand table and back towards the pacing Duke. He had let himself get caught up in the sand table, reading it’s flags and sign. He knew he had a bad habit of getting lost in studying and playing battles and movements across terrain in his mind in such situations, and such behavior was dangerous in the presence of any nobleman, even one as well disposed towards Terin as the Duke.

The Duke stopped his pacing to advance on the sand table. Picking up a pointer carved of thin, polished ash, he indicated the five clan flags, each in it’s turn. “Here are the steadholdings of Clans Treadwell, MacReady, Brudegaard, Mandagant and MacQuarrie.”

The Duke then used the pointer to pick out seven different clusterings of flags along the high mountains that formed the eastern wall of the valley. “These are where various Orc clans have made lasting camp in the high mountains there over the last two years.”

The Duke then indicated fifteen more areas, each higher into the mountains than the first seven, and each having significantly fewer flags. Terin noted that there were four solid black flags, indicating the last known reported position of a lost scouting party, near to those high positions. “These are also Orc camps. These reports are my most recent, reports that I’ve just received during the last month. What you may find interesting, is that these camps were noticed and reported a long time ago by my first scouting parties into the area, but at that time they were listed as empty and long abandoned, not even used as base camps when the Orcs pasture nearby sheep. But now, each is active. Aye, alive, and so active that I know for a fact that at least one of my scouting parties was taken by them.”

“What’s more, and you may find this of particular interest, Baron, is that these camps are not occupied by greenskins. These new camps are occupied, so the scouts report, by grayskinned Orcs. Orcs that are said to be bigger, stronger, and more cunning in laying traps and snares. They’re also, so I’m told, skilled at posting sentries that stay awake, and use scouting patrols of their own.”

At this news, Terin felt as though his head were being crushed, crushed by a steel band that tightened down harder and harder, until he was sure that blood must soon come pouring from out his ears. He felt dizzy of a sudden, could not tell if he was standing straight, or if he was leaning. Terin lurched just a bit and grabbed hold of the heavy, rough oak that framed the sand table, clutching it for support as he tried to regain his balance.

The pain was intense, and he focused on just one thing; to not look weak before his Lord and friend.

The Duke paused for a moment while Terin held on against the pain in his head. Then he spoke softly, while indicating one of the high camps of the greyskinned orcs with his stick, “I’m told that this camp, this one here, bears a clan standard of a red flag. Blood red, it is, with a black bear face, wearing a chain of wolf fangs around it’s neck.”

With that, the pressure in Terin’s head was gone, washed away in a flood of sweat that brought a sudden chill to his skin. The sudden release was so strong that he swayed where he stood, and despite himself, a low moan escaped his lips.

Terin stood up straight, feeling filled with a blazing fire within his heart fit to burn him alive while at the same time his skin shivered with the chill of sweat rush upon his back. He stared directly into the Duke’s clear, hard black eyes, searching for any sign of deception, any trace of mockery.

He whispered, almost to himself, “You know full well I hunted the Bleeding Bear for two years, Your Grace. You know that, and you know the why of it. And never could I find them, no matter how deep into the southern passes I searched. Tell me you brought me here to your lodge for the hunting, Your Grace. I beg of you, tell me I’m here for the hunting.”

The Duke reached forward, and placed his hand on Terin’s shoulder, a sign more of kinship than that of a Lord to his vassal. “Yes, Baron Trendel of the Mosley Vale, Captain of the 9th Company, and Knight of the Order of Radiance. Yes, I asked you here to hunt. But the Bleeding Bear is not to be your prey.”

Terin stepped back , letting the Duke’s hand fall from his shoulder. His eyes burned in his skull, and the fire in his heart threatened to consume him. Threatened, but hard though it battered, hot though it burned, Terin was a Knight and a man of his word first. He would not shame himself before Duke Arneghal.

“Your Grace, you know how long I hunted the Bleeding Bear. And you know why. M-m-Milia….”

Terin’s voice broke, despite his rigid control, but he firmed it and continued on, “Milia my wife, my father, my sisters and family. My d-d-daughter.” Terin’s voice broken again, and it took him a few moments longer to make sure he had complete control over himself before he felt able to continue.

“The Bleeding Bear took them, took Mosley Vale, took everything that I had and that I was, everything I finally knew I cared about in this world, and burnt it to the ground. No survivors, and no mercy. You know that, Your Grace. I daresay every man and woman in your service knows it. Aye, and knows the story of what I did after, which is why there’s not a noble born officer among your forces that will willingly serve under my banner, whether you order them to or no.”

The Duke didn’t try and step closer to Terin, but instead stepped away and turned to the sideboard, where heavy stone flasks with wax stoppers lined the shelf. He selected one at random, and pulling the plug, raised it and took a long drink.

Lowering the flask, the Duke offered it to Terin, but Terin just stared into the Duke’s hard black eyes with eyes gone cold, and waited to hear the impossible. Waited to hear what the Duke could possibly say that would prevent him from leaving at once for that valley, and the high mountains that cast their cold, dark shadow over the land.

“Baron, I told you you’re here to hunt for me, and I meant it. But I’m after bigger game than any amount of Orcs, gray skinned or otherwise.”

The Duke moved closer to the sand table, stone flask still clutched in one hard hand, stopper forgotten in the other. He pointed towards the higher flags with the stopper, the ones indicating fresh Orc camps.

“There is a reason I had my scouts range so far and deep into the mountains about that valley, rather than spending their time closer to here, where routes still need to be marked.”

“I had word from one of my agents among Mordant’s forces engaged in their war to the south of Mordant Keep. Never mind how I got ‘em there, but you know my feelings about Mordant, and where this war will drag us.”

“What word I had was that a Legionnaire was seen in the thick of the fighting between Mordant and greyskin, during one of the early fights where the penal battalions were first used.”

Terin started at that, despite himself.

“Yes, that’s right. A Legionnaire. And what’s more, she was fighting on the side of the Orcs.”

Terin had thought, with all seriousness, that there was nothing, nothing that Arneghal could say that would touch the fire in him after hearing of the closeness of the Bleeding Bear and being told he was denied his rightful prey.

He was wrong.

Terin sank slowly down into one of the rough framed chairs that lined the nearby wall, and felt the fire within him turn to ice from sudden fear.

Looking up, he sought out the Duke’s eyes, but this time it was for reassurance he badly needed.”Your Grace, do you mean that the Legion has chosen? They’ve taken sides with the Orcs against us? Wouldn’t we have heard of the fall of Mordant by now if that had happened?”

The Duke pointed once more at several of the higher flags ringed above the valley. “No, good Baron, the Legion has not formally declared against us. At least, not yet. But one seems to be living with the Orcs, here, in one of these newly occupied camps.”

“What I have gathered is that there was definitely one of the Legion amongst the new greyskin clans that Mordant faced, and that she fought, provably fought by their side against the humans of the penal battalions.”

“When I heard that, and heard as well that the Orcs had pulled back into the mountains to winter, I sent my scouts around and into the valley, to scout out those old camps. I sent them there to find for me where the new Orcs chose to winter, and find as well signs of the Legion standing by their side.”

“My scouts have told me that, while they didn’t see any overt sign of the Legion, the greyskinned Orcs mostly bear arms and armor of cunning manufacture, and most of it of well wrought, hardened steel custom made to their size. This, when they’ve shown no signs of mining, or of working metal with any greater skill than the greenskins we’re well used to.”

“Somebody is supplying them with the means to wage war upon us, weapons and armor at least, and from what I’ve put together, they’ve shown a far more frightening sign.”

The Duke sat down himself, not far from Terin, and looked with sudden surprise at the stone flask he still held in his hand. Lifting it, he sniffed, then threw it back with a long hard swallow before tossing the empty to a corner, where the stone broke with a sharp sound.

The Duke looked Terin directly in the eye, and then said, softly, almost too softly to hear, “The Orcs, the grey skinned ones, they don’t just fight clan to clan. They don’t stand blood to blood. They fight as we used to, side by side, clan beside clan, with trust that the others will scout, or secure their flanks, or hold in place as other clans manuever behind their lines.”

Terin found himself shaking his head in denial, even as the Duke continued on. “Even as we Borderlanders are losing the strength that kept us together, one united front, the Orcs are pulling together into groups beyond simple blood ties.”

“That’s right, damnit! We’ve always been smaller, weaker one on one than the Orcs when we fought, but always we had the one strength they lacked. We fought as one people, trusting in each other, strangers together but united in a common goal. We are borderlanders, and before that we are the last of the Diasporadic Guard, the last true remnant of the Imperial Army of Light, and we by Tyr won’t let some damn blood clan of green skinned barbarians stand between us and taking back the land that is rightfully ours!”

Duke Arneghal was almost spitting in anger, but Terin could see, behind the blood rising in the Duke’s cheeks, he was speaking almost as much to remind himself as he was to proclaim what had been.

“Yes, we were, and we had the strength of our skills, our stronger weapons and armor, our use of mounted tactics and especially heavy cavalry and the lance on the open plains, and we stood together without breaking, even though it was not blood of our own blood that might be holding the line beside us. That was always the greatest weakness of the Orc, and our greatest advantage. When the Orcs fight as a clan, blood with blood, they are the fiercest and bravest warriors I’ve ever seen, and that’s the truth, but their trust extends only so far as their blood ties bind them, and no farther. They have united against us many a time, but they have never trusted each other enough to truly work as one large force to make it matter. Once engaged, no matter how many clans they bring, it has always been the same, we stand united while they break into small clans and fight, each in their own small part of the war.”

“Yet here we are. You know better than most exactly what I mean. We took this land from the Orcs by being united, working together, and doing what had to be done to win. But now we’ve stopped our advance. We reached the storied mountains in my own grandfathers time, but while there is still land to be taken and held, what is left stands before us, the mountains rising across our world like the spine of a great dragon, promising nothing but pain. And of the land we have already reclaimed, it will be many generations before any man brave and bold enough will fail at finding his own place to plant a banner and call a steading.”

“In just two generations, we’ve begun breaking up into smaller groups, by Duchy, by province, by village and by clan. We’re on the road to becoming little better than the Orcs we faced, trusting ourselves and our blood kin, and showing a face of stone and a lack of trust to any stranger not known to us by a lifetime of close living.”

“I’m telling you all this, even though you’re the one that pointed the trend out first, and helped me see it clear what it could mean to us. And that’s why I’m telling you, the Orcs are learning to trust beyond blood ties and close kin. You’re the only man I know learned enough in the history of war to know what that could mean to us. And now this, the thought that the Legion may be the reason behind it, uniting them.”

“I told you above I wanted you to take Redwulf, and track back to the place he came from, and work that out. I said it in front of Antonin, and I meant it. That’s important work that I need done, even though I doubt me greatly that Hope is wasting his time trying to make an army of loyal dog warriors like Antonin is making out.”

“But I’ve got scouts that know that general area, scouts I could trust with a mission like that. The one thing I don’t have handy is a man that is brave enough to head into Orc territory on a fools mission, wise in the ways of the mountains and the Orcs to be able to beat them on their own trails, and at the same time learned enough in Legion history to know what signs to look for that will tell us if we’ve really got the might of the Legion against us, or if it’s just one lone Elven Guardian or Warden gone native in the back of beyond. Either one is bad enough, but the not knowing which is which… that’s got to stop. I have to know how bad this might be.”

Terin sat back, resting his weight againt the wooden wall of the lodge. The pain still hadn’t returned, not since the moment the Duke had revealed the Bleeding Bear had been found at last. But the fire, that fire that always burned somewhere inside him, still felt cold.

The Legion, here. And of all things, on the side of the Orcs. To have the weight of Ricardo’s Doom finally fall, just when Fellaria was once more within their grasp. So many years, so many thousands of years the Elves had stayed their hand, and to think it might happen now, the fall of humanity, here within his own lifetime…

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I know that some of you folks have actually read the fiction I’ve been writing, the fiction that I’m calling “Converging Forces” and to which I link on the BBB sidebar.

Most of you probably go “oh, it’s a wall of non-WoW text, pass”, and that’s perfectly fine with me. Especially considering how much time passes between new chapters.

What can I say? It’s a lot easier to get distracted by current events that would make a quick, topical post than it is to write continuing fiction. Good intentions, and all that.

I’m finding having a blog to feed posts into tends to eat my “let’s get writing” impulses. I sit down to write story, and write a post instead. Blogs. My personal creative writing nemesis.

Regardless. The more time that passes, the more serious I’m getting about wanting to put my creative writing ahead of blog posts. I think about the story, the characters, and the flow of events quite a lot. I’m constantly writing the story in my head, to the point that it always feels current to me. When I check to see the dates on my last updates, it always comes as a big shock.

“It’s been HOW long?”

Anyway, this goes out to any of my readers who have read the Converging Forces story (as it stands now), and still read the blog.

Could you give me feedback on the story?

I’m wondering how someone outside my head sees the story in terms of;

  • Complexity (too complex and hard to follow, too simple and easy to anticipate).
  • Character development.
  • Character likeability (It’s not a goal, the characters are who they are, but I’m curious to see if either of the main characters are simply unlikeable, and people wish they were gone, or if they are interesting or intriguing, or if, even better, they’re in any way original).
  • Pacing – no, not how often I’m posting updates, but just the pace of how events are progressing and building.
  • Story – Is this story interesting to anyone else out there at all? When I break down the events, there really hasn’t been a lot of action for the sake of action, you know? How interesting WAS the exchange in the supply section of the old keep, anyway? Was it just, “Good lord, blah blah blah”.
  • Action – my descriptions of combat… good, bad, horribly confusing, okay, etc.

I’d just like some actual feedback, honest feedback for what works and what doesn’t in the story,  because I really am writing creatively for the first time, and trying to translate the images in my head into words. How things look on paper to me are undoubtedly drastically different from what you might think, because I know what it’s supposed to be like.

The biggest challenge I’ve been giving myself is to try and be as realistic about the emotions and personalities of the characters as possible. I’m not looking to write about cardboard cutouts of character archetypes, I’m actively trying to get into their heads. I’m taking the character descriptions Manny and James gave me, and the actions they want to take, and I’m trying to translate that into real people.

I often wonder if I’m being too ambitious, when I don’t have any previous writing experience for doing stories like this.

Any observations, your impressions, what works and what doesn’t, what you like and what you don’t, what rings true and what falls flat, would really help me out in growing as a writer.

Thank you very much in advance.

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I honestly can’t believe how quickly time passes.

Ttwo things.

I’m stunned by how fast time moves when you’re busy, and I’m also shocked at how easy it is to slip into a pattern.

Specifically, after I posted the last chapter of Jessie’s story arc in Converging Forces, I knew that the story focus was going to be shifting to Baron Trendel for a while.

I’m learning about story cliffhangers.

Jessie was at a point in her story where it was clearly going to take a lot of writing to establish where she was after her internal meltdown, what some of the potential consequences were, and what was going to begin happening next. With Baron Trendel having sat for so long in the story, it seemed to me that it was a good spot to make a break from one to the other, and gain some emotional seperation. To shift the intensity of the story away from immediate emotional despair or grief and into a more measured, determined searching. 

Jessie’s story had been a very intense time of writing for me. I found myself really getting caught up as I wrote it, and while I have no idea what it reads like in someone else’s head, it shook me up a bit. I think that’s great, hopefully some of that actually made it out of my head and onto the page, but it’s impossible to know what someone else will get out of writing like that.

But okay, Jessie had her time in the sun and went out with a bang that Manny should have seen coming, and will have interesting consequences in her immediate future. Now it was time for Baron Trendel to show why he is an important part of the story, and to bring an emotional balance in with a little fun on the side. 

I’ve had things bouncing around in my noggin about both story arcs and where they fit together, and I sat down to refresh myself on where exactly we left off before I began the next chapter.

Looking at the time stamp, OMG, it’s been four and a half months since I posted the last chapter of the story.

It feels like three weeks, tops. It’s crazy.

At this rate, the damn story is going to be done when I’m in a nursing home!

It’s shocking. I write on the blog almost daily, so it’s not that I’m not writing. It’s just that I wake up, there’d be something about the game going on I was inspired to write about that’d be a quickie, and then after writing something I’d be done for the day, time to move on.

Oh, but I’ll write a story chapter the next day.

But the next day there is something else small to write about, so how about the day after that. No worries, it’s only been a week. Or two.

Four and a half months.

I don’t know what to tell you, obviously my writing isn’t a full time job, or even a paid gig, it’s for fun. It’s not like I’m blowing deadlines.

This irritates me because I find the story writing to be more personally rewarding, long term.

I enjoy writing on the blog very much, I love our ongoing conversations and the talk about WoW. There’s a reason I keep writing here all the time. 

It’s just jarring to look back and see that I’ve spent four and a half months writing regularly, day in and day out, but I’ve advanced the story that I feel is the best part of my writing not a line nor word.

I can look back over the years of the blog, and I can say to myself, “Boy, 1139 posts, over 20,000 comments, ain’t that something. That’s a lot of writing, right there, yesiree Billy Joe Bob, ayuh. Dadgum. We’ve had ourselves a lot of fun along the way.”

I can’t go back over 1140 posts and reread them for fun or idle amusement, though. I can’t point other people to it as something to read for a quick laugh, or to check out a story that might be worth checking out. 1139 posts is a ridiculous number.

I’m sure there are individual posts that would be fun to read again, or that I could point to as being interesting. I had some linked on the sidebar for a while as “classic BBB”, and I still keep the “Storytime” ones linked there so it’s easy for me to find them without digging around.

But the regular posts aren’t, well, a consistent story that holds together as anything other than daily fishwrap.

They’re words written for the moment, about a briefly relevant topic, and then quickly forgotten by all.

The Converging Forces writing, however, is something that I could someday wrap up with a ribbon and give to my son to read, if he was so inclined. Something I could share as a story that should be rewarding to read, in and of itself, for anyone that likes a solid story, and not just for those of us interested in WoW.

As inept as it may be, the work of an amateur writer, the Converging Forces story is something that I’ll keep and take with me and cherish over the years, no matter where my other interests may fall.

In that context, I feel very wistful about the last four and a half months. Each day represents potential writing that I’ll never get back again. 

A week or two is fine, but taken all at once like that, wow. Blink and it’s gone.

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Jessie leapt forward in a long, low dive past Raktar’s left flank, sword shining, speeding towards the ankle. There was a sharp sound of metal meeting metal as Raktar blocked the swing with the head of his axe, fast, impossibly fast. Jessie kept moving, tucking into a roll and springing away. “Faster, hear his breath, in the air, time to look, time, time it, now, glance back now, here he comes, measure his pace, time it, ground’s coming fast, fast, he’s too fast, too fast for so much bulk, almost on me, lose the blade, lose the drag, here it comes, hands wide, grab in, take it in the arms, ease it forward, steady, now up, up, now push, push, push back NOW!”

Jessie let go of her sword, let go of her focus on weapons and steel, and while still in midair, glanced back once as she soared in a long, low arc over the ground. Raktar had followed his parry around, and charged in pursuit after her, nearly within reach of her heels as she descended towards the ground.

As Jessie’s hands touched the ground, she remained in a perfect line, the force of her body flowing into and being caught by her coiling muscles, arms and shoulders drawing in, absorbing the energy. Just at the last moment, as her forehead came near to touching the ground, she allowed her balance to shift just slightly so that the last of her momentum carried her legs forward, up, up, just until her body poised for a moment in a perfect handstand perpendicular to the earth, leaving her looking, from upside down, directly back at Raktar as he rapidly closed the gap between them.

With an explosive shout of rage and fear, Jessie threw all of the strength in her coiled muscles into launching herself straight up, straight up in front of Raktar.

“My world, my rules, you bastard!”

The sword appeared again in her hand just as she knew it would, stabbing forward unerringly at Raktar’s face. With the impossible speed of a cat, Raktar stopped his pursuit in it’s tracks, and parried the lightning thrust with a cross body swipe of the axe.

As the axe head met the sword, Jessie flowed with it, adding her own desire to spin, to move, letting herself be carried with the push, letting Raktar’s blow send her spinning like a top, blade arcing with a flash to his right flank, where the axe should be out of line for another parry.

Raktar backhand parried it anyway.

The shock of it drove Jessie out of her calm center, and she lost her grip for a moment on believing she could float in midair.

With a crash, she fell to the ground headfirst, head spinning, but regained her calm in a flash and spun away again, sword gone, rolling fast, rolling away, getting some distance, the pounding of Orc feet hot on her ass.

“This isn’t happening, it’s not possible”, she thought, “He can’t be that fast, not here damn it!”

Jessie stopped her forward roll, spun around and in one smooth movement leapt to meet the charging Raktar head on, forgetting in her moment of panic and growing anger all that Fergus had taught her.

Sword appeared in her hand, silver and light, flashing in a straight up frontal attack on high line, but as Jessie leapt, so too did Raktar, leaping to meet her, his own weapon swinging in line.

Sword met axe as both twisted at the same time, moving past the other on their off sides, and kept on going, each pushing off of the other, edge to edge. Jessie touched lightly on her heels and spun around, only to see Raktar stop as well to face her.

Both of them were breathing hard, and for the first time, as Jessie scanned her opponent’s brow and eye and neck and chest to watch for signs of the direction of the next attack, she caught the unmistakable look of anger and confusion and even worry cross Raktar’s face.

All along, Jessie was taking a mental inventory of what she attempted, and what the results had been. It was starting to dawn on her that, no matter what she expected, and no matter what Gavin kept telling her, she hadn’t caught on in her gut that the dreamtime was not reality. No matter how big Raktar looked or how massive the axe should be, the Orc was almost as fast as she was, and moved as though nothing weighed him down. But at the same time, she met his blows and felt his parries, and there was no more force behind them than that of equal on equal.

Here, size and muscle did not translate to greater strength or power, bulk did not interfere with movement, mass did not hinder, steel did not slow.

“Dear Fergus,” she thought, “I’m not the lightning to his mountain. We’re just two rams butting heads in the forest, and it’s all about who can adapt the fastest. Can he learn to fight quick on his feet faster than I can learn to meet him toe to toe?”

Raktar looked back at her across the clearing, and his expression changed to a wide, fierce, delighted grin. Beckoning her to him with the axe, he called out to her in her own tongue, mocking her, cheering her on. “Come along, girl, what are you waiting for? Come and face me now. Come on!”

Jessie darted forward, all her senses, real or not, focusing down until all that she saw or knew was the massive Orc in front of her, his gray skin running slick with sweat around the leather.

She felt as if she were running down a tunnel towards the Orc, and knew that she was losing it, felt herself lose control on her center, knew that she should never let herself ‘tunnel in’ as Fergus called it, but she couldn’t help herself. Trick or not, she couldn’t stop herself from responding, her anger rising, the rage within her fueling her to move faster and get to grips with him, to cut that sneering smile from his fat gray face, to shut him up, to close him out, to get him out of her mind.

Raktar stood and waited for her to bring the fight to him, and met her sword with his axe, head to edge, blow for blow, moving his feet in a shuffling dance, always in balance, always in tune with the rhythms of his swinging arms, moving the axe in ways that an axe should never go as he blocked and parried her strikes.

It wasn’t effortless, it wasn’t silent, and it wasn’t easy. Both of them were trying as hard as they could to get their blade in the other’s flesh, and make it count. The clearing echoed to the sound of their harsh breathing and grunts of exertion.

Raktar chose to stand his ground, turning and twisting but holding his place, letting the fight come to him, while Jessie flowed around him, darting and rolling around, always trying to catch him off balance on the flank. No matter how they tried, neither could move faster than the other, and neither could overpower the other. Raktar spent more time on the defense, while Jessie was clearly more comfortable with the low lunge and distracting feint, but the more they fought, the better they learned the other’s style, and the clearer it became that they were evenly matched. Too evenly matched.

Jessie knew her focus was too narrow as she kept up the attack, as she tried to keep the pressure on, but the chance moments where she glimpsed the face of Raktar gave her hope. The Orc was clearly uncertain, emotionally off balance. Whatever his intentions, he wasn’t bringing the fight to her; he wasn’t in it nearly as much as she was. Maybe he didn’t have the heart, or maybe whatever shreds of his soul that had caught up in the axe weren’t enough, but Jessie could feel herself coming closer and closer to getting through his guard.

He was definitely weakening faster than she was. And damn it, he was getting closer to her own size as well! Hah!

As the Orc blocked a low slash with his axe, he growled out, “Why are you helping Far Dreamer, girl? What are you getting out of it?”

Nice try, Orc. Distracting an opponent with bullshit nonsense was a trick older than Fergus, but that’s all right. Two can play that game.

“What do you mean, monster? She saved my life and brought me back from death itself. I didn’t see her freeing your ass from the axe, now did I?”

Raktar let loose with a terrible laugh, a deep, thunderous sound that chilled Jessie to the heart. He swung his axe to the attack with a great sideways sweep that Jessie deftly rolled under, and called tauntingly to her as she stopped just out of reach.

“Did she not? And yet here I stand, face to face with you! And more, can’t you feel it? Can’t you feel my power? I was bound to the axe for four full seasons, and with each kill, the axe drank deep, but my soul drank as well. Look upon me! Do you not feel my strength?”

Jessie leapt once more to the attack. As she swung her blade in yet another futile blow, she had to admit, the presence of Raktar was different from both Gavin and the Katarese. He didn’t just feel more powerful, he felt wrong, twisted. His presence sickened her. Just being near him was akin to the feeling she once had had when breaking open a pastry to find it rotten and filled with worms on the inside.

That wasn’t going to stop her from kicking his ass, though. Swollen on stolen souls or not, he didn’t move any faster or hit any the harder.

“Wasn’t any of Bane’s doing, grayass. All she did was break you free to steal your power, and give it all to me. How’s it feel to be cast aside?”

Raktar seemed honestly amused, the grin from his black chuckles still wide upon his face.

“Hah! I’m not trying to distract you, fool, I’m trying to get through your blind, stubborn  anger! Shut up and listen to me!”

“You say you hate me, you hate Orcs, and you hate everything about us. Isn’t that right,  girl? You set yourself against us, against my entire people! You say you want us all to die, you want to bathe in a sea of Orc blood!”

Jessie laughed in delight and charged in, blade slashing high and low. “Damn right, grayskin! I want to see you, your clan and your whole people dead, from one end of the mountains to the other!”

Jessie paused for just a moment, locked eye to eye with Raktar. She whispered, as if to herself, as if to a lover; “Oh yes, Orc.  Oh my, yes. I want to see your people burn.”

Raktar lunged forward, pushing hard, sending Jessie spinning backwards, off balance, half trotting, half running to regain her footing. Raktar pursued, axe swinging low, and Jessie deftly hopped back rather than risking a diving leap. She was becoming well aware of how fast Raktar was able to change directions of his axe in mid stroke.

Raktar growled as he chased after her, breath coming in great rasping wheezes. “Orcborn or not, Far Dreamer is one of my people, blood of my blood, clan of my clan. Even now, she fights to save my people, to free them from their chains. And you’re helping her. You’re helping us. You help the blood of my blood to survive!”

Jessie was so overcome with rage, blindsided with a burst of fury from her soul, that she lost all sense of what she was trying to do. In mid-block, she shifted direction with her blade, and sought to cut the sneer off the gray skinned bastard’s face. She forgot about distractions, about playing her own mind game. Raktar had gotten right to the heart of her own misgivings and fear.

As Raktar blocked, he twisted the haft of the axe to shift her reach on her hilt, and grabbed her wrist with his massive left hand. The sword edge stopped within a hair’s breadth from his eyes, and he held her there, axe to sword, holding her fast, both straining against the strength of the other. Both tried to get their blade through the others guard by sheer force of will, and crush their enemy completely.

The two strained against each other for a long, hard moment, and then Raktar sneered in Jessie’s face. “You hate us? Scream your hate to me, little girl. I know you hate. I feel it now, burning within you. It’s all around us, lighting the sky the color of blood and death. I taste it with my every breath.”

“Tell me, little traitor. How can you make yourself aid Far Dreamer? How can you pledge to help her in her quest to free my people, if this hate in your heart is true?”

Jessie clenched her jaw, feeling like her teeth would break off from all the effort she put into pushing Raktar’s axe aside and sliding the edge of her blade across his leering, grinning, mocking face.

She spit her hatred in his eyes, Raktar now somehow reduced to a size to match hers. Her need to get to grips with him, to cut him, to kill him, to shut him up was driving her into a frenzy. Nothing existed in the world but the need to destroy him. “I’m not helping her to free your people! I’m helping her to free mine! If the Orcs are freed of the Dryad’s false rage, then the war might stop someday!”

Raktar continued to hold fast, staring her directly in the eyes, face close enough to slap. “Ha! Bullshit! I know hate, girl, I know what real hate is. Real hate is a burning fire in your gut, a roaring, wrenching, savaging blaze that feeds on every thought of inflicting pain on the enemy, of making them suffer, wanting nothing more than the cursing, whining misery of your enemy, NO MATTER WHAT THE COST. So what if some humans you’ve never met will keep fighting forever, so long as more Orcs get to die?

“You hate, I know it, I can feel it, you bleed black venom from your heart, but still you help us, you help my clan, you help my blood sister on her quest to save my people.”

Raktar pushed back at her, releasing his grip on her wrist, a sudden shove that broke their stalemate and sent her staggering back across the clearing, a perfect moment to take advantage of her distraction and flash of sudden terror.

Instead of chasing after her and exploiting his sudden break, he stood there and screamed back at her as the veins pulsed in his throat. “Admit it! You don’t hate us, or you’d never be here having your guts cut open and your flesh set on fire to save us! You’d find some other way! So, who is it you really hate, girl?”

“Who do you really, truly hate?”

The question echoed inside Jessie’s head, and she tried to throw it off, to focus on protecting herself, on fighting. She had to keep fighting. It was all a trick, a distraction.

But the longer Raktar stood there, unmoving, watching her with a strange mixture of anger and frustration on his heavy face, the more time the words had to echo, and they continued to build in strength within her mind rather than fading away.

Who do you really hate?”

Who do you really hate, Jessie? He’s right, it’s not him, the sight of him sets my blood to boiling, but it’s not a touch on the real rage in my guts. Who do you hate, Jessie, come on now, damn it, cut through the bullshit and lies, who do you hate with all your heart?

WHO DO YOU HATE?

Jessie felt her doubts, the rage and pain and confusion that had been in her mind all along, whether she recognized or admitted to them or not, finally stand out stark and clear.

She did hate. She hated with a black, terrifying intensity. Even now, as she broke free, blindly, recklessly, knowing not what she did or how she was doing it, she felt the hate coiling and beating within her heart.

She opened the eyes of her mind to truly see what was there to be seen, and saw the horrifying results of her self-deception.

The clearing of her youth, of training sessions and successes, was long gone. In it’s place was revealed a plain as black as a moonless night, and the black sky above was lit only by the constant pulsing of red and purple arcs of lightning forking across the heavens, like the flashing lights seen when she would close her eyes and press upon her eyelids with her fingers.

They stood facing each other within the true nature of her soul, surrounded by the terrible storm of her rage. All along, she had been lying to herself, denying the rage, pretending it was gone, claiming to have found peace, to be at ease, to be centered.

She was utterly filled with rage. Filled with hate. No more lies. No more denial. She couldn’t pretend anymore, no matter how hard she suddenly tried.

And Raktar still waited for her. 

Jessie felt herself at a moment of choice; to fight the hate and rage, to deny it’s having any strength or control over her, or to give in, give herself over to it, body and soul, to take the rage and become one with it, and let herself go.

She chose.

Jessie released her fear, and opened herself fully to the hatred within her soul. She saw, finally, with open eyes, exactly what was within her, and knew that it was fully and completely her own. No outside agency, no strange workings of magic within the axe, not even her time among the dead could be blamed. The hatred, the rage, every stray thought and feeling she had ever repressed and pushed away, they were all hers and hers alone. And she would deny them no more.

She tore her heart wide open and accepted it all, and along with the hatred came a dark power, and a feeling of almost boundless, endless space.

She was no longer trying to ride the lightning, she was the lightning, and she exulted in the exhilarating freedom of being swept away, out of control, without restraint or any possibility of being stopped. 

Jessie’s entire being erupted towards Raktar in one overwhelming, unmatchable wave of fury.

Even as she swept, all hatred and power without form crashing directly into Raktar’s face, she felt herself unravelling, and although she had no idea what would happen next, although she desperately feared what was on the other side of this release, she let everything she had ever restrained or feared within her soul out, and shoved it all down Raktar’s throat in one final, primal scream that could no longer be contained.

“Damn you to hell, you bastard, the thing I hate most is myself!”

All there was in that moment was a woman filled with grief and rage, a woman that had tried to learn to be a warrior, who had dreamed of being a protector for her family, a woman who had been far away with her friend practicing the sword when her family needed her the most. A woman of great heart and passion who had been too far away to do aught other than scream in rage and helplessness as everyone she had ever known or loved died in the blackened remains of her only home.

All this rushed against the soul of a being that represented all the death and hopelessness and despair she had ever known in her life.

There was no contest.

As the essence that was once Jessie crashed fully against Raktar’s soul, the flashes of red and purple dimmed, muted, and mixed with the endless black, surrounding, engulfing, consuming.

And then, all that is or would ever be of Jessie erupted in one final, blinding burst of soul-shattering light.

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While running any role playing game, be it a tabletop live game, a play by email (or blog) game, or whatever, there are players, and there’s the GM.

The guy with the script.

There WILL be a script.

Whether the game he intends to run will be relentlessly structured with little room for wiggle (or originality), tight as a railroad…

Or whether it consists of no more than a written paragraph to kick things off; “You all meet each other, friends of long standing, at your usual table in the Pig and Whistle Tavern. Suddenly, a passing stranger gives out a groan of misery and collapses onto your table, knocking beer tankards aside in disarray. A knife is stuck in his back hilt deep.” and that’s actually all the GM knows, and plans to make the rest up as the night goes on.

Either way… there is a script. Even if he’s making it up on the fly, the GM is still making up a script as he goes, moment by moment, trying to take the actions of the now and see how he can fit them into something fun. “Something fun” meaning a story of some sort.

It’s the same as writing a story… but when you say the characters develop a life of their own… by God, you mean it!

Most GMs I’ve known lament over the destruction innovative players will cause to their carefully laid plans.

They’ll wax nostagically, wistfully over their carefully laid plans, their subtle undercurrents and subplots, their dramatic theme and awesome backstory that makes this the BEST STORY EVAR… if it weren’t for those damn kids.

Me, I come from the chaos school of role play. In California, we called it the Surfer Style RPG Kung Fu.

Come up with a story you think is awesome, spend lots of time on it, knock yourself out. But as soon as you start playing,  always keep in mind, the players’ characters are what the story is really all about, those self centered little bastards, and when they do something completely unexpected, don’t just sit in shock and brainlock at them bringing in the Spanish Inquisition (nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!), take it as a direct challenge to see thier introduction of derailing ingenuity, and raise them a “What the hell? Holy shit!” shocking plot twist.

That’s why, when I see a comic strip like the one here at DM of the Rings, while I’m laughing I’m thinking “Oh, what a glorious bunch of bastards those players are… and how I would make them pay. And they’d thank me for it.”

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