PBeM: Terin Part 8

Hold Your Friends Close

Terin and Mikkelson entered the supply area, a cavernous chamber with high vaulted ceilings and arches that displayed a mix of ancient black stone and fresher white stone and mortared repairs. The crowded area was filled with rough wooden shelves built in among the support columns, their narrow aisles exposed to view, separated from the entrance by a massive wooden waist high counter. Dozens of young men and women in dusty green overtunics bustled among the aisles carrying gear of varying sorts, or pushing laden handcarts through aisles towards a large open dock in the far corner, a dock that apparently led to a complex lift capable of holding a full sized wagon. A pair of thin clerks manned the desk, both occupied with working through what appeared to be a thick bill of lading, casting frequent glances towards a pile of gear spread across three carts just behind the counter. Both clerks remained preoccupied with their work, paying no attention to the entrance of Terin and Mikkelson. The entire area was the most well lit interior that the pair had yet seen inside the Caer, with dozens of oil-burning lamps mounted high upon the walls, polished mirrors of beaten metal behind the flames reflecting their light in broad fans of shifting yellow.

In one far corner, Terin could see an enclosed area of rough wood panels, making a separate space that was set up as an office.

Craning his neck, Terin spied the fat form of Drummond sitting in the small office area just as expected, but rather than being alone, sleeping in a chair as Terin hoped to find him, he saw instead that the Quartermaster had company, and moreover he had company that was well known to Terin.

Sitting across from Drummond, an improvised table made from a barrel and a plank between them, dressed all in dark green leather, sat one of the few true friends Terin had, Arlen Finnegan, the Green Adder, Weapon Master and operator of the personal combat school that bore his name.

Master Finnegan sat with his back to one of the wooden walls, able to look out towards the main area of the storehouse, and as soon as Terin entered Arlen noticed him, and smiled, beckoning him to come back to the office.

Terin hastily took advantage of the situation, motioning to Mikkelson to stay close, and moved rapidly around the wide counter to walk straight back. Neither clerk busy at the counter looked up as the two passed. Quartermaster Drummond turned in his seat to see who Master Finnegan was waving to, and from his expression it was plain to see that he was very unhappy at the interruption.

Master Arlen Finnegan, Weapon Master, Teacher, the famed Green Adder, was a thin man that gave the impression of being short even while sitting down. His hair was all of a flaming red, and he kept it close cropped to his skull so that it looked almost like thin fur, the skin of his scalp readily visible.

Rare amongst borderlanders, he was completely clean shaven, but he would never be considered good looking by the ladies of the duchy. His nose was flattened where it had been broken many times, he was missing two of the upper teeth on the left side of his jaw, and had matching heavy scars around the left side of his face that twisted his grin and stretched his smile back towards his left ear. 

Faint scars from shallow blade cuts marred most of the rest of the left side of his face and exposed neck. The same kind of shallow scars covered the backs of both hands and his wrists.

Arlen wore the required public symbol of his mastery as a brooch with its eight pointed golden star on a background of sky blue, the little symbol of a sword shown within the star point down. To Terin’s eye, however, the dead giveaway as to Arlen’s chosen profession was the incredible thickness of his wrists and forearms, and the incredibly defined cords of muscle in his shoulders. Despite all the physical signs of a trained and master warrior, the man radiated a rather calm, quiet bookish manner.

In contrast, Quartermaster Drummond was a large man with a florid complexion, his once stocky frame running heavily to fat. Sweat perpetually beaded on his face, and the skin on his balding head was visibly flaking where the man rubbed it, a nervous gesture he made frequently when negotiating a personal deal. He wore a tailored uniform that completely failed to hide his fat, the sturdy cloth grubby with dirt, one of the few things that Terin was pleased to see, since it did show that the man worked when he had to instead of making all of his assistants do everything in his stead.

As Terin and Mikkelson approached the office, Terin could see that the two had been bent over a game board that showed a game of Thrones, about halfway through a match. Thrones is a game of strategy popular amongst formally trained military officers, and Terin knew well that Master Finnegan enjoyed it. Terin had played the game with him quite often, and knew that on a good day he was fairly evenly matched with the Weapon Master, but he had had no idea that Quartermaster Drummond shared an interest in it.  

Terin came to rest, standing in a non-threatening manner in front of the two, and raised his hand in a greeting towards Finnegan that could have been taken as a greeting for them both. Smiling, he said, “Good afternoon, gentlemen. I hope I am not interrupting your game at a particularly inopportune moment.”

Quartermaster Drummond scowled, but Master Finnegan only smiled broader, saying, “Ah well, I’m sure Jakob here is most displeased, but you’ve given me a bit more time to think on my next move, and for that I give you my thanks. If you’ve never played against this one, watch your back, for he is a most devious opponent in the back game.” Master Finnegan eased back in his seat and said, “Enough about that, tell me, who is your lad there?”

“Ah, my apologies, gentlemen. Allow me to introduce to you my new Squire, Lars Mikkelson. He has the dubious distinction of being the best swordsman from the entire current class of trainees at the Academy, and for his sins he must now endure my personal instruction. If you’ll remember, Arlen, this is the lad I was telling you about during my last visit.”

Master Finnegan examined Mikkelson with a great deal more interest, while Drummond twisted fully in his chair so as to better face the two intruders. Drummond eyed Mikkelson up and down swiftly, noting his attire and boots, and then broke into a gentle smile.

“Ah, Baron Trendel, a great pleasure it is to see you here amongst us supply types once again. I so look forward to your infrequent visits. Why, just the other day, an item came in that I imagine would be the perfect thing for a noble warrior with such exceptional skills as yourself in the sword.”

Terin looked with appreciation at Drummond, and said, “Well, out with it man, what treasure did your survey teams unearth this time?”

Drummond chuckled. “Ah, unearthed is the right word for it, milord. I have a team digging amongst the ruins of an old stone fort south of Lake Marmeluke, and they sent back a fine specimen of a sword, apparently untouched by the passage of years.”

Drummond painfully stood up, and moved past Terin and Mikkelson to a nearby shelf piled high with gray woolen blankets. Rummaging under them, he found what he was looking for, and made a pleased sound as he turned to face them, holding a broadsword sheathed in a  plain brown leather scabbard.

“Here we go, milord, just you take a look at this!”

Drummond grasped the hilt of the broadsword, and smoothly pulled it from its sheath. He turned it around, proffering the hilt to Terin, and said, “Just you take a look at the inlay work on the hilt. And the markings on the blade itself.”

Terin took the sword by the hilt, and examined the blade closely. He could see the markings, runic characters of the old Arkadian script, stamped into the flat of the blade, clearly marking the sword as being part of a supply issue of swords for the Imperial Arkadian Scouts. The markings seemed to be genuine, and if correct dated the sword as being forged during the times just prior to the first outbreak of the War of Darkness.

As Terin turned the blade over in his hands, he could see that the steel had a faint bluish sheen, and seemed altogether unmarred by its incredible age. Testing the edge gently against the skin on the back of his left forearm, he could feel that it was as sharp as if freshly over a stone, and when he held tip and hilt in both hands and flexed, he could feel that it remained as supple and as resilient as the best of the blades he had ever seen. Altogether, the sword was in perfect condition. Terin had seen Imperial Scout blades in the past, as they tended to last nearly forever if they didn’t suffer enough trauma to break them, and the ancient battlefields of Felwaithe had been strewn with the remains of the dead when the first borderlanders returned. This sword, however, was the first that he had seen that did not already have a claim made on it previously, and from what Drummond had said, it was possible that this one might still be open for haggling.

Terin glanced at Master Finnegan. “Arlen, have you already had a look at this?”

“Oh yes, Baron, the Quartermaster invited me here for a few games, and indeed, the subject of his latest find managed to somehow make it’s way into our conversation. Of course, I prefer the blade I carry, as I have had it for quite a long time and am well used to its idiosyncracies. But alas, as I run my own school, and am not actually in the Dukes’ command structure, I do not have the privilege of requisitioning from the Quartermasters’ supplies in any event. As our friend Jakob here was so deferential in pointing out to me.”

Terin looked to the still smiling Drummond, and said, “Does this mean that, as of yet, no one has claimed the sword? It is still open to request?”

Drummond deftly took the blade from Terins’ hands, and resheathed it in one smooth motion. He moved back to the chair in his office, and heavily sat down. “Ah, Baron, you are quite correct. This just came in yesterday, and I have not, as of yet, had the chance to post notice of its arrival to the household officers and staff. Perhaps it is fitting that I haven’t, as now I can make sure it is placed in your hands, that you might choose to use it to better equip yourself, or possibly your Squire.”

Drummond seemed to jerk, as though a sudden thought had just occurred to him. He looked among the papers strewn across his messy desk, before apparently finding the one he sought. Swinging back towards Terin, he reread the paper in his hands, and a sad frown crossed his face.

“Alas, Baron, it seems as though I will be unable to pass this sword into your keeping, after all. I had quite forgotten, this letter just arrived in the post this very morning! Apparently you have been replaced as Commander of the Academy by Captain Hennesy of the Border Guards! Well, that is a terrible shame, indeed, since that means that, as you only served in your post at the discretion of his highness the Duke, that you are not only no longer responsible for the supply chain of the Academy, but in fact, you are no longer a member of the Doneghal military system at all.”

Quartermaster Drummond looked closely at Terins’ face, and although he continued to appear sorrowful, there was a twinkle in his eye as he said, “In fact, I’m not sure why you came to visit us this morning, unless it was to see my friend Master Finnegan, here. I’m afraid there is simply nothing I can do to help you, as you are no longer in the supply chain.”

Terin maintained eye contact with Drummond, his face impassive. He reached into his pocket, withdrew Duke Arneghasts’ letter and unfolded it, and handed it wordlessly to the Quartermaster to read.

Drummond broke eye contact to glance down at the piece of cream parchment, staring at it as though it were a viper about to strike. Finally, he reached out and snatched it from Terins’ hand, reading it through. As he read, and then read again, his face got redder and redder, until Terin became convinced the man was about to have a stroke.

Terin said, softly, almost gently, “As you can see, the Duke has asked me to visit him, and to pick up a few things along the way. In fact, I only need a few things for the journey… a small notebook, a scout surveying kit, field rations and grain for two men and four horses for at least a three week trip, water-proofed saddlebags and two pack saddles, extra water skins, and good solid cold weather gear for both myself and my Squire. As you can see from the Dukes’ invitation, we anticipate hunting with the Duke during the winter season, and the cold weather gear must be sturdy, and adequate enough for stays of a week at a time in the deep snow. Oh yes, and additionally, I’ll need proper field load out appropriate for a scout, leathers, chain, helmet and shield, for Mikkelson here, as all he has that fits is training leathers.”

Quartermaster Drummond remained silent, his face red as an apple, looking as though he might faint, his eyes fixed on the text of the letter. As Terin paused, apparently finished speaking, a hint of color began to return to his features. You could almost see him daring to believe that Terin had finished his list of requirements.

Just as Drummond raised his eyes to look hopefully at Terins’ face, the Baron added, “Oh yes, and I do think that, as Squire Mikkelson does not have a sword of his own issued to him at this time, and shouldn’t be forced to continue his education with a lesser blade, perhaps I should see to it that he has the finest sword suitable to a young man of his rank. I think, in fact, that I could entrust his care to no less than a well proven blade with a long provenance of duty and success. He shall use the sword I have called my own for the last three years. It is in exceptional condition, and has been put to exceeding good use. Sadly, this would tend to leave me without a sword of my own with which to make the journey overland. It is fortunate that I have recently learned of a sword that would be well matched to a Baron, and Knight of the Order of Radiance, that served at the Dukes’ pleasure and was rushing to attend to the Duke at his command. I’m sure the Duke will agree when I speak to him in a few weeks.”

Terin reached forward, and gently pulled the sheathed broadsword from the Quartermasters’ unresisting grip. Drummond visibly sagged, and mumbling a few words about getting the staff busy assembling Terin’s gear, he stumbled towards the front counter as if in a dream. Terin, Squire Mikkelson, and Master Finnegan turned to watch him go, the Green Adder with a satisfied smile on his face.

“You know, you’re lucky he has a good sense of humor, Baron. I’m sure it hurts him most grievously just now to part with that sword, but give him a few days and he’ll come to appreciate the humor in your getting the better of him, especially due to his over-eagerness to brag when he felt you were a safe target. In the short term, you’d best watch him very closely if you care to have equipment that doesn’t fall apart or rust within the first five miles.”

Master Finnegans’ eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled. “I was going to send you a note, ask you to come up and visit me. Sounds to me as though you’re going to be busy. Wherever it is you’re going, do you know if you’re coming back?”

Terin grimaced and shook his head. “No, I don’t.”

Terin glanced around to make sure he was out of earshot of the clerks or Drummond, before he continued.

“The fact is, just between us, that I’ve been summoned by the Duke, as the kind of reward we both know best that a master will show when you’ve done a good job and are no longer needed where you are. The feeling I get is that I’m going to be gone for quite a while, and I have no way of knowing if the Duke will send me this way again. You know the Duke retained me specifically to build the Academy and apply my experience directly towards getting it up and running as fast as possible. He told me he wanted me to give his men a taste of the hell I went through, and prepare them for when the war with the Orcs spread our way. You know the principle, you teach your students the same way. The more you bleed in training, the less you bleed in battle. Nothing he ever said indicated he intended to keep me on as the Commander of the Academy forever, though.”

Master Finnegan nodded his head in agreement, but he had an annoyed scowl on his face when he glanced at Terin. He shifted his attention to the efforts of the clerks, scurrying to fill orders. In a distracted tone, he said, “I don’t suppose you have the time in your schedule to head back down south and spend a day at my school, do you?”

As Terin started to shake his head no, Arlen interrupted him quickly, “You see, I have a book that a student sent to me, that I know you would be interested in reading. It fills in some of the empty spaces in what we were discussing about the Elven influence on Arkadian infantry tactics. I was hoping to have the chance to hand it over in person.”

Terin just continued to shake his head. “The Duke may have phrased his invitation as a request, but you know me well enough to know that the request of a commanding officer bears the same urgency as a direct order. So long as I have been assigned to assist him by Knight-Commander Geoff, I must look upon him as my commanding officer. Therefore, where my master calls, like a good hound, I shall come running.”

Master Finnegan sat back in his seat in the small office, grumpily slapping the armrest with his hand. “Damn it all, Terin! This really irritates the hell out of me.” He cast his eyes pointedly at Mikkelson, standing patiently at Terins’ shoulder, and said “Considering Drummonds’ state of mind, don’t you think it would be a good idea to have your Squire keep an eye on the supplies?”

Terin agreed readily, seeing that his friend had words he wished to keep private. “Lars, supervise what the Quartermaster is doing. Check the inventory of the equipment yourself, make sure everything is there, and verify the quality of it all with care. Once everything is gathered, get it staged with the rest of our gear in the stables. When you’re done, come find us, we’ll be at the Golden Gecko having a mead or three.” Terin fished around in his belt pouch for a minute, and came up with some silvers. Handing them to Mikkelson, he said, “Make sure you ask the stable boy politely to look after the gear when you’re done there, and tip him well.”

Master Finnegan grinned at the idea and got smoothly to his feet. As the two warriors turned to leave, sheathed broadsword still gripped in Terins’ hand, Squire Mikkelson said “Milord, beggin’ yer pardon, but what’s a gecko?”

Master Finnegan answered for Terin. “There is a stall in the courtyard very near to the supply exit that bears a green flag with a yellow lizard embroidered on it. That lizard, my lad, is a gecko.”

“Yes,” said Terin, “And I assure you we’ll be having our meads, ‘without’!”

With that, the two men left the well-lighted supply area chuckling, headed for a leavetaking that Terin had hoped to avoid.

IV.

Baron Trendel and the Green Adder strode swiftly up the dark stone passage, neither of them speaking as they passed the horse drawn carts and foot traffic, most of it headed the other way. Only once the two had reached the daylight of the open courtyard did Master Finnegan remark, “That lad of yours has a likely way about him. It looks like the Scout bloodline still breeds true.”

Terin grimaced as he let his eyes adjust to the sudden light. “Yes, he does, but it makes training him a problem. His reflexes and natural ability are better than most well trained swordsmen, and he has no drive to push himself to be better. He only enlisted in the first place for ready money to support his families’ farm, and he has shown no pride in his heritage, no desire to compete, and no fire of ambition beyond earning a wage. It was only by trying to overwork his abilities that I was able to draw him out of his shell at the Academy, and all that succeeded in doing was proving that, when his back is against the wall, he has an excellent instinct to do whatever he has to, to survive and win. Unfortunately, just yesterday he had his most challenging match, against a pretty well coordinated team of boys. He won, but one of the boys took offense to a groin blow, and called challenge.”

As the two men made their way across the dung littered sand towards the patio area of the Golden Gecko, Master Finnegan spat in the sand and asked, “Is that why you finally took a Squire? To get him out of the camp after he had to kill a boy? I wondered what would cause you to change your mind about taking a lad into the kind of hell you grew up in.”

“No,” said Terin, “it’s worse than that. The boy who called challenge had a brother there with him, it was the two of them and a friend that Mikkelson fought. I said nothing at the time, but from the way the brother acted, I get the feeling that the one had a habit of keeping the other hothead out of trouble, and had been a bit protective. Maybe over-protective. We were supposed to hold the duel this morning, but it turned out that the boy took his own life in the night.”

They reached an empty table with three stools at it, and each took a stool and moved them a bit to get comfortable before sitting down. It occurred to Terin in passing that both of them had naturally moved their stools so as to be able to have a clear view of the half of the courtyard area just over the others’ shoulder.

Master Finnegan shook his head, and said “A bad business all around. But I understand your decision to take Lars out with you. If he’s as good as you’ve said he is in the past, he’ll be a good one to watch your back for you, no matter how lacking in motivation he is to learn.”

Terin raised his hand to a waitress, and when she came over, ordered a mead for himself, and another for Arlen. He waited until she returned with them, the thin head overflowing the top of the rough wooden mugs, before replying.

“I felt better about the thought of training him before this morning, in truth. The whole ride from the Academy, the boy kept silent, he said not a word or gave sign of any feelings at all. I don’t know exactly what is going on in his head, but I would have thought there would be some sign of sadness, or anger, or something, at least over the boy dying, or having to leave the Academy so suddenly, or something. Mayhap it’s nothing, and he is just working things out for himself, but it makes me uneasy when I see someone unaffected at all by the death of one who had been a comrade, of sorts. I’ve seen far too many of the sort that kills as easily as he rides, and with less feeling. I want nothing to do with training one that has no conscience or remorse.”

Master Finnegan took a draught of mead, and then eased back on his stool. “The trouble with you, Terin, is you’re a thinker. And sometimes you think and analyze too damn much. He may be a heartless killer, or maybe he may just be quiet, or maybe he respects you and looks up to you, and just thinks that if he shows emotion in front of you that you’ll think him weak or a coward. Give him a week before you start inventing troubles. I’ll offer you a caution, though. If you start suspecting him of being untrustworthy, expect him to notice that you’re treating him different. Scout bloodlines are touched by magic, and Scouts have been known to see small changes in behavior and interpret them as clearly as they read what an opponent will do next. It’s all in the body language, whether in relationships or personal combat.”

Terin snorted into his mead, and drained it off. He signaled the waitress for another, and said “Well, you know I’ll take your advice seriously. But in the meantime, what did you have to say that you didn’t want to share in front of Mikkelson? If he is so sensitive as all that, he can’t help but to have seen you shuffle him off for a reason.”

Master Finnegan, surprisingly, looked embarrassed. He refused to meet Terins eyes, pretending to be focused on watching a pretty maid in a bright green dress crossing the courtyard amongst the crowds. After a few moments, he finally ventured, “Well, frankly, the Dukes’ timing sucks.”

He turned to look at Terin. “You know I’ve told you how impressed I’ve been with your performance the last few months in our little sparring matches. You really have improved a great deal in your fine control, and you absorb my instruction like a sponge.”

Terin felt his ears get red at this unexpected praise, but knew better than to get a swelled head. If Master Finnegan started out with a compliment, then it was only to make the pain of the lesson sting all the greater to last the longer later on.

Master Finnegan snorted at Terins’ discomfort. “Oh yes, you’ve gotten better, and you weren’t all that bad before I met you. For all that you spend most of your time training on your own while struggling with running that Academy, you’ve improved more than most of my full time students since I’ve known you. You take your skills seriously, and you work hard, and you are blessed with a great deal of natural talent.”

“That is why I had wanted to surprise you, by arranging for your testing.”

Master Finnegan laughed at the startled expression that sprang to Terins’ face.

“That’s right, for the last week I’ve had my students constructing the testing structure and outlying framework for a formal Master of Combat evaluation. Your next visit I was going to surprise you by running your ass through it. You bastard.”

It was just at this moment that Squire Mikkelson walked into Terins’ field of view. He approached the table, and motioned towards the open stool. Terin distractedly waved for him to sit down.

Mikkelson announced that the supplies had been gathered up, packed securely, and were in fine shape. They were at the stables with the rest of their gear, and they could be ready to continue on at a few minutes notice.

At Mikkelsons’ arrival, the two warriors sat silently for a few minutes, finishing their mead. The companionable moment they had shared seemed lost, as though, like a thick glass, it had felt strong and enduring, but at a sudden blow had shattered and changed his impression of things.

Master Finnegan interrupted his thoughts with a question that Terin failed to hear the first time. Shaking his head as if to cast off a fly, he looked inquiringly at Finnegan.

“I said, it’s about two weeks ride from here to the Dukes’ Hunting Lodge. Are you planning on riding straight through, or are you going to take the time to head north a few days and visit Father Arkanos at the Church? You know there aren’t any actual Priests at any of the chapels east of here, and as far as representation of your Order, I think you’re about it this side of the duchy line.”

Looking at his recently acquired squire, then to his mentor and friend, Terin let out a quiet sigh.  There was no frustration in it, just a wistful longing for more time in the day.

“No, I’ll not tarry here, head south to visit you despite the attractiveness of your plans, nor will I bend aside to take trips that might delay us, no matter how much my soul needs counsel.”

“As Drummond has kept his reputation for being quick and efficient, I’ll keep my own for being a stubborn headed fool and pushing on ahead.”

Baron Trendel reached across the table and clasped his friends’ arm for a moment, before letting his hand slip back to his side.

“Arlen, I too have felt my improvement these last several months, and though I greatly desire to visit you and prove myself worthy of the praise and honor you give me, I must do as my oaths require.  Timeliness is of the essence on our journey.  I give you my word though that I will return to the academy and take you up on that offer when I can.  And don’t forget to hold that tome for me!” he said, with as much of a grin as he could muster.

Flagging a waitress, Terin ordered a last round of drinks, as well as a bite to eat for all three of them.  As they ate in silence, the conversation touching only on light things of the moment in consideration of Mikkelons’s presence, Terin knew that he was going to miss Arlen greater than he had expected.

For a moment, a cloud passing over the keep cast a shadow that chilled Terin, and left him feeling a sense of foreboding, and his stomach felt cold and heavy with the meal he had just finished. Looking both at Arlen and at Mikkelson, he wondered as always when the Duchy of Doneghal would fall under the inevitable flame and steel of an Orc invasion.

Filled with a sudden need far stronger than mere desire to be moving, to do something active, he stood up and said his final farewells to the master of the Green Adder.

“I do appreciate your consideration and kind thoughts, Master Arlen. It is a fine thing that you intended to have me tested, and I know why it was important to you that I earn the title and rank that would accompany a success. You are a good man, and I am honored to call you friend.”

“But I mean to be on the road while the light is still high and there is traveling that can be done. My heart calls me to go south with you, but my duty carries me east. You can be certain I’ll be giving thought to you, and I’ll be keeping up my training on the road. But for now, it’s best time I be gone.”

Master Finnegan stood up, and reached out to shake Terin’s hand. “Aye, I’ll not be keeping you. I know that look in your eye, when a sudden thought having to do with your duty has caught you and there is nothing for it but to go rushing off to see to it right away. But keep in mind I’ll be expecting you to darken my door as soon as you’re back from your business to the east. Now go on with you, and get yourselves on the road.”

“And fare you both well and may Tyr keep you safely in His hand along the way.”

Terin sketched a sharp salute to Master Finnegan, who returned it and then sat back down to the remains of his meal and signaled for another mead. 

Turning around and heading for the stables, Terin lead Mikkelson to retrieve their gear, and took the time to check over the lads’ efforts at preparing it for the jjourney.

To his satisfaction, he found that everything was fastened securley and required only to have the saddles and bags and other gear placed upon the horses and strapped down, and they could be on their way.

Mounting, the sun riding high in the sky, Terin took one last look around the courtyard bazaar of Doneghal Keep, before nodding to Mikkelson to get a move on. Clucking gently to his horse, he rode out of the gate for the start of the long journey to the foothills of the east, and his meeting with the Duke.

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Partially Awesome!

Since it’s getting towards the end of the day, here I am again, plugging one of the many webcomics I enjoy.

If you are having a slow afternoon, and want some witty biting evil fun in your browser, why not pop over to Partially Clips by Rob Balder.

When he’s a genius, he’s a genius.

You want originality? One man, a single image from clip art repeated three times, and a brilliant imagination.

I DARE you to try this at home.

An example of his fun? Try this one!

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Edited: And one just for Cassie!

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Marshall Windsor can kiss my big furry butt!

The day of the Big Dragon Beatdown fast approaches, when the Sidhe Devils will smack Onyxia around a little, and many, many quotings of our favorite Youtube flash video WILL be heard.

Hell, we heard a ton of quotes from it last night in BRD. Anticipation is rising fast.

We have a bunch of folks attuned with their Drakefire Amulets already, but many more aren’t. And the guild has several tanks besides my Druid that will be going, so I figured I’d see if I could get my Shadow Priest through the attunement process before Saturday.

Cue last nights events.

I went flying out to Burning Steppes to talk to the quest giver that gives the first step of the chain, killing lots of Dragons and Whelps.

Whelps!

Anyway, hey, guess what? He didn’t have a quest for me. Uh oh.

So, now I’m lost. I know I’ve done part of the quest chain now, but how much?

Well, Cassieann helped me to figure out that I needed to talk to Marshall Maxwell, and he would send me to Ragged John. After that, I was ready for BRD.

We put together a 5 person team, most of us needing some stage of the Windsor BRD chain, and in we went!

Cassie was going to go on her 53 Paladin, but she wasn’t done with the Dragon and Whelp (Whelps!) preliminaries yet. So, now that she IS, and has 8 quests to do in BRD, I’ll be looking forward to heading in with her later. It just didn’t happen last night. Instead, we had all 70s except for a poor, lowly 66 Hunter. For BRD. Lolz.

We had a lot of fun, but I feel Doozie the Warlock did most of the work of clearing the trash out of our way. We romped around, blasted everything everywhere that we might need to go, talked to Windsor, and then I had to Hearth out, port to Ironforge, fly back to Maxwell at Burning Steppes, turn in the quest and get summoned back into BRD so I could find the Crumpled Up Note. 

Always nice to leave a party sitting around, right?

So, off to kill the General and the Mech-dude for their info. It almost took less time to DO it than to type that.

Back we go to talk to Marshall Windsor… and time to begin the long, slow escort.

That boy is in no hurry, that’s for certain. A nice, calm, leisurely stroll through BRD. What, rush? nahhhh.

We follow him along, killing the occasional spawn, and finally, FINALLY, he is sprinting for the exit.

Hurrah!

Hijinks ensue.

Wait, what? Yes, yes they did. Le’me ‘splain.

When I am online on a main toon, I get whispered. A LOT. And not just from strangers, from guildies too!

Why guildies whisper me with things that are perfectly appropriate for guild chat, I have no idea. Ishvi, I’m looking at you, bub.

But it does mean that I generally have at a minimum two conversations going on in whispers all the time. Plus, of course, random comments whispered in from guildies every now and then, plus guild chat.

I feel loved, I must say. 🙂

The Bear has a secret to share; I do not multitask well.

I can either be paying attention to, and responding to, all those whispers and guild chat, OR I can be paying full attention to playing my character.

When farming, it does get annoying sometimes to have to stop while in my mad rush across the zone gathering to respond to whispers, but hey, it’s a social game.

What’s more important, responding to friends, or herbs and ore?

Don’t make me answer that.

In raid mode? Let’s just say that either I ignore the whispers and most of guild chat entirely, or I pause in the middle of the damn raid to ask everyone to hold on while I answer someone’s whisper.

Don’t get me wrong, I like being whispered by folks that just want to say hi or by friends or whatever. 

It just means that I get distracted while in the middle of what seems to be easy stuff sometimes, because once the intense parts are over I take a quick chance to answer people that got ignored for the last 5 minutes whilst fighting.

So to return to last night, where there was more than the normal amount of whispering going on.

Marshall Windsor is in the clear, running for the exit, and I follow along happily, looking forward to marching through Stormwind. I hop along while scrolling back through messages to see who needs a return shout.

I hop through the instance exit just in time to hear “Don’t leave before you get the quest complete message” over vent.

OH HOLY ZAPTHROTTLE!

I instantly hop back through the instance entrance. Elapsed time zoning out and back in? About 5 seconds.

Nope, missed it. I literally jumped out of the instance and back in, and during that 5 seconds, everyone else got quest complete and I missed it.

Son of a….. what a zapthrottle I am.

Okay, so everyone else says they’re okay with resetting and running the jailbreak escort. Again. Just for me.

Sigh. Thanks guys. Sorry!

So we go back in, and right off the bat I encourage Doozie to aggroing the entire room to Seed them all up… and then I get healing aggro off of him and die and he goes down moments later. Wow, 30 of those dwarves plus doggies packs a punch, don’t they? 

Yay, run backs! I get to practise my patented ‘ghost jump into the wall and slide down onto the landing in front of the entrance to Molten Core missing the lava entirely’ technique.

Not to brag, but; I was successful. Doozie? Not so much. Can you say lava bath?

We clear everything on Marshall Windsors path. Again. And we do Jailbreak. Again.

We get all the way towards the end of the second pass, things are hopping along, Doozie is kind of leapfrogging ahead to clear the path and coming back and I’m getting whispered and I pause to respond to the whisper and then make a comment in guild chat, and I look at my chat box and see “Jailbreak: Failed” at the same time someone says in vent “hey, Windsor just faded out!”

WTH? Are you serious?

Yep, I paused to do a /reply at theexact same time as Windsor started his final home run sprint, and when he got too far away from me he despawned.

I failed Jailbreak AFTER the full completion. Twice in one night. Back to back.

My poor guildies. My poor, poor guildies.

You know what?

I’m thinking I might be seeing Onyxia on my Druid, after all.

WTB the ability to function when more than one thing is happening at a time. PST.

Older Science Fiction I heartily recommend

Had a few conversations in vent with Wulfa and Grandorr and others, over the last couple weeks, and wanted to mention it here.. to help them find the books if they so desire.

There are some science fiction I truly think is epic quality, that has sadly faded from view. They can be quite hard to find, although used bookstores and online retailers have opened up the possibility of successful searches more and more.

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The first series I would recommend to those that love Science Fiction is the Sten Chronicles by Allan Cole and Chris Bunch. (Holy cow, they’ve been re-released! Amazon carries them! Woohoo! I know what I’m getting for Christmas… a second set of the books as backups!) Probably my favorite schience fiction series of all time, it blends serious military experience, wild imaginings, fun recognizable story settings, humor and awesomeness together in one perfect jewel. Plus, it has recipes for barbeque and beef jerky. How can you go wrong? By far and away I would recommend this series to anyone that loves military sci-fi, or science fiction in general. In fact, I think it is fair to say that this is, in my opinion, the greatest, most entertaining science fiction military high adventure series of all time. Yeah, I went there.

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Next, a stand-alone book, Armor by John Steakley. (Link from Amazon) In essence, it takes the alien bug versus armor suited infantry concept of Starship Troopers to the next level, with a cynicism and idealism mixed together that I found amazing. It is not only a very powerful book in terms of action, but also in it’s emotional pull of how much someone can possibly take of the horrors of war. The balance of the first half to the second half, although jarring, ends the story with such a satisfying conclusion that you literally scream for a sequel. It really is that good of a book. And it’s still in print!

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Next, the Timewars series by Simon Hawke. (Sadly, this is NOT available new, and that’s a crime). This was a series of 12 books in the mid 80’s that still reads very, very well. The entire theme concerns time travel being made real, and then the battle that explodes as Temporal Soldiers try to maintain the stability of the flow of time as terrorists try to make serious changes by interfering with already established events. 

The series has incredibly solid history, mixed with historical fiction taken as real events. If you are shaky on your grasp of history and are unfamiliar with historical romances such as the Three Musketeers, Ivanhoe, The Prisoner of Zenda, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea and the Mysterious Island, and other such novels, it can be very hard to keep straight in your own head what was real and what was playful fun by the writer…. but if you DO enjoy your history and your fiction… oh boy. Is it incredible!

One last one, which is techically not just Sci-Fi but Fantasy as well.

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Do yourself a favor, and read Grunts! by Mary Gentle. (Link from Amazon)

I won’t ruin it. Just read it. You’ll laugh so hard you’ll pee yourself.

I consider all of these to be on my ‘must reads’ list… and also would be on a list of books I would HAVE to have with me on a desert isle.

You already know about my obsession with Terry Pratchett, so my work here is done!

Karazhan is srs bsns

I was reading a bit in the Sidhe Devils forums this morning, and I came across something in a thread that made me a little sad.

One of our mighty Sidhe Devils, Dangirl, had been talking about how she started the game late, after her husband and her other guild members were already well established. She got into the game, and leveled up, but it always felt like everyone else was further advanced and had little time to play with someone undergeared or underleveled… until she finally was 70 and fairly well set at the same time as their guild finally got organized enough to tackle Karazhan.

As Dangirl said;

They started to get into kara casually and I thought that this would be my opportunity to play occasionally with my friends who I had been in guild with but never really played with.

But they early on decided if you could only make one night of our two night roster then you were deprioritised for runs (even though most members had multiple toons that could make up the numbers on other nights). 

Due to work I couldn’t commit to raid on weeknights and so would only get to go if they were really desperate or someone else didn’t turned up.  Other than that it was just hours of looking at empty gchat while all of my guildies concentrated on their raid. 

Because I was honest about my play time and ability to commit, the raid leaders were less inclined to invite me. 

I didn’t really mind not going to kara but it was pretty disappointing that most core people in the guild weren’t prepared to take a noob like me and chance the possibility of wiping on content that they considered easy. 

Anyone else out there been in this position? I know I have before, and I’d bet a lot of folks can relate.

There is a lot of meat on this to chew on, but it all comes down, fundamentally, to what the guild leader, officers or raid leader have as their ‘mind set’ for raids.

You want to succeed. Every raid leader does. When you plan on your team for a raid, you want to make sure that each critical aspect is at least minimally covered.

Tanks? Check. Healers? Check. CC? Check. Okay, let’s stack the DPS and get a move on!

That leaves SO much room for wiggling around, depending on how well geared healers or tanks are.

There are, I think, three different things raid leaders are usually thinking about when they get ready for Karazhan as a guild’s first raid. And it is relevant, because we have solid 10 person raids coming in WotLK. Those guilds that have never thought of raiding because they lacked the numbers for 25 person content before will now have the entire game opened up for them. 

  1. Kara is a large place for lots of gear upgrades and Badges.
  2. Kara is a stepping stone to prepare for future raiding.
  3. Kara is an awesome place for fun with guildies.

It is natural for a raid leader to want to maximize the chances of success, in order to make sure people get gear upgrades by downing every boss. The tendency is to pick those folks that are available that have the best gear and most experience first, to ensure that during the run things will go as smooth as possible. No worries, no stress, a fast in and out, loot and Badges and go to bed.

If you’re starting with a fresh guild that has never seen Kara before, you’ll get a feel for who can do what, and the more experience everyone gets, the more you enjoy playing with them, and the more you trust them. And naturally, those are the folks you look for first each week.

I think there is nothing wrong with that in the learning stages. In fact, I think that a team that has run together before, and works at refining their teamwork and coordination and individual play so that everything moves smooth as silk is excellent practise for future raids, and is damn fun as well.

My concern with this approach is that only ten people can go each time, and if you have enough interest in the guild from more than ten people, then someone or even several someones are sitting out and NOT having fun. They feel left out of your reindeer games. They’re not getting experience in the fights. They’re not learning how to work together with the rest of the team. They’re not having shared experiences with everyone else. 

And, as your group’s gear level improves, the ones sitting out will quickly feel that they aren’t even well enough geared to start with you anymore.

Hey, if you are a raid leader, and you have been trying to get more guildies into raids and are frustrated as to why you don’t get more sign ups… you might want to look at those players that are either farming mats all the time, or are running a lot of PvP. They might not be signing up because they feel they aren’t well enough geared to be an asset on the run… and they’re trying to get crafted Epics or PvP rewards to make them seem more useful to you. Or, they have just given up ever trying to catch up, so they log in, do their own thing, and never sign up for group activities.

If so, ask around… maybe let folks know, if you do have a minimum gear level to start running in raids, just what that is and to make sure they know they are welcome in your runs.

I hear this a lot…

“Would you be interested in Karazhan?”

“My gear isn’t good enough for that yet.”

“How do you know? You never asked me to check it out… hey, looks fine to me.”

“Really? Okay, sure!”

Having a ton of shards at the end of a run is a terrible thing, when you have other folks in the guild that would like to be having fun too. And if you take the same ten people each time, that’s what you’re going to get. 

Sure, there are tons of rare drops in there, and people will want to go over and over in the hopes that, for once, not only will you get Romulus and Julietta in Opera, but you will ALSO get the Poison Vial to drop… AND you will win the roll. 

Or, of course, you want to do Illhoof every single time, because you are sure the very first time you skip a run, the Stranglestaff will drop… with no Druids on the run.

Yes, there is an agony to that.

But other players that haven’t been going at all deserve their fun too.

I’ve heard it said sometimes, that some people don’t deserve a place on runs before others, because they weren’t there when the guild was learning the fights, or struggling with a very difficult boss.

Well, while it’s true that only ten people can have been there for the learning experiences, what exactly do you think that experience grants you? You were there at the time, you had the excitement, the challenge, and the fun. You were there when loot dropped.

What more do you want, a special trophy? A saved position at the head of the line?

A wise raid leader wants to take the hard earned lessons of the past and share them with others in the guild, so that all might benefit from the hard work in the future.

And it can be hard to shake things up. Some players will try to hunker down and reserve their own spot. You see it every once in a while, someone that thinks that if they are the only ones that ever do a job, like main tank, or make the decisions, like be the raid leader, then they will have a lock on that position. They will have a secured place in the team for all future activities. 

Here is a surprise for those kinds of folks… if you aren’t willing to work with others and give other people an equal shot at playing and having fun with their characters, then many folks won’t want to play with you anyway… and they’ll go find someone or something else. 

The goal shouldn’t be to have, out of a guild of 20+ people, 10 who are maxed out on Kara upgrades and experience to the point they are bored, and 10 that are still at pre-Kara gear levels and have never seen Attumen.

I understand that the more you run with friends, the more you enjoy the same team composition. It gets hard to break up a winning team of fun friends to bring a new member into the group. But that is the very urge you need to fight. You need to be open to bringing new people in, and giving everyone a fair chance.

I think that once you have a strong group of reliable, friendly folks that know the fights and have decent gear upgrades, it’s time to open things up and bring in more folks. Spread the fun.

Take a chance on that brand new healer with crafted gear, blues and Auction House BoEs.

Bring in that Retribution Paladin, and when the time comes that tanking gear drops, if your normal Paladin tank already has it, hey! It didn’t get wasted.

Just because you know that, when you started out at first, the stats of a new member wouldn’t have made it, don’t forget that every time you run, someone is getting a little stronger, AND everyone is getting more accustomed and expert at their role in the fights.

You might be shocked at how well you will do when your tanks AND healers AND DPS are all getting stronger all the time. Your limitations are not gear levels, it is knowledge and preparation for the fights.

I know that the fights can make you think you are worse than you really are. You are used to blowing through Prince, and thinking about taking a few new members in on your next run, and then you go take on Netherspite for the very first time, and mass confusion ensues. You have three or four wipes in one night, and suddenly, the raid leader wants to circle the wagons, and bring in only the very best geared players.

It’s not necessary. The problem was that everyone knows the other fights, and what to do and where to go, and now you are right back to having to learn a new, complex role for a new boss. It’s cool. Sure you might need to have decent gear in the party, but don’t let it trick you into thinking you’re not geared well enough. It’s just a new learning experience. 

Now, this is all fun as long as we’re talking about guilds that are starting out fresh, and want to have fun playing.

But some raid leaders use Karazhan as the training ground for future raid habits. It’s the place where ground rules are laid down for the first time, DKP systems are tested, sign ups are done and raid leaders get to see who comes to raids prepared, repaired, on time, with consumables, and ready to rock. If the raiding guild has been around the horn at all, then they run Kara to get Badges, and to gear up alts… and to test new players’ abilities to act responsibly in raids and work together as a team player.

As a player, guess what. If you do not sign up in advance, prepare your character, be repaired or on time, or bring consumables, then what yo are doing is telling the raid leader and officers that you are not dependable… and your future participation in raids with those leaders is highly unlikely… unless they are desperate for bodies to throw at the fight. And as soon as they get more responsible players? Your butt gets benched.

That is probably one of the things that the developers had in mind for Karazhan in the first place.

The thing to remember here as the raid leader, is if you are setting up Karazhan runs to prepare your guild for higher raiding, it’s even more important to mix up your teams so everyone gets play time. You don’t want one team to get fixed in a groove, to outgear others, and to get complacent about fights and start to get lazy.

You should want to mix things up all the time, continuously bring in different people, and if you run two teams, mix them up with each other a lot. It will keep gear levels more even, reduce the chance that loot will be sharded from a run, and will keep everyone fresh and paying attention to what everyone is doing.

You want everyone to know who they feel they can and cannot count on in a raid. You don’t want there to be the one main tank that is your only ‘go to’ guy. You don’t want there to be an elitist inner circle within the raid guild, the ones that will get geared first from drops because they’ve been there longer and have been part of the core group longer, and are ‘better healers’ so they should get geared first.

You want a solid team that knows each other, and can play with each other, and trusts each other. NOT two seperate teams that have never run with each other before, meeting for the first time and butting heads in Gruul’s Lair.

Karazhan is, for many guilds, way beneath them now. Sure.

But not for most. And the hardest challenge isn’t to organize and run a Karazhan group in your guild. The hardest challenge is trying to make sure that no one feels left out, excluded from the guild activities, or that they’ll never be welcome in the runs if they are only just now getting to 70.

It can be very demanding to try and change things up so that everyone that wants the opportunity, and is willing to try, gets that chance to have fun, and take full part of your guilds activities.

But isn’t that what it’s all about? Playing together and having fun? Just because you’ve only got 14 people that can go doesn’t mean the same four should get hosed week after week after week.

If you’re the raid leader, try and find ways to encourage more people to sign up, and at least give people the opportunity to go. If time schedules don’t permit people to go all the time, be open to letting them go when they can. If they just don’t have a shared schedule at all… then maybe a guild whose players are more in line with their time zone is a better fit. There is only so much you can do.

Likewise, if you are a player in a guild that WANTS to take part in guild activities, but you feel like you’re not ready with gear or experience, or that raids or groups are closed and you aren’t welcome, but you’ve never said anything about it… take the initiative. Talk to your raid leader or guild leader. Tell them you want to do something or take an active part, and ask them specifically what you need to do to be included. And see if they will work with you.

Dangirl has gone into Karazhan with the Sidhe Devils a couple times now on her Shaman, and I can tell you, her old guild?

Idiots. Bunch of stone idiots. They didn’t know the treasure they had while she was there, and now that she’s gone… all the better for us.

Suckers.

Hey, any other guilds out there that like to exclude your members from having fun?

Thanks in advance!

Dang it, I want adventure!

I feel like I’m totally in the blahs in the game right now.

I have lots of piddly little stuff I can do, but nothing that sounds exciting. Nothing thrilling.

Nothing to get that ‘oh my God the brakes are out’ feel of adrenaline flowing.

I think it’s a consequence of playing in brief periods of time.

If you have lots of time to play in one sitting, there is a feel that you can get involved in an instance run, or helping folks do a chain of quests, or something else big.

If I log in late, and only have a little while to play, then I know that I can’t do much that involves a lot of time… so like last night, I dropped out of the conversation and ran back and forth from the Great Anvil to the Engineering Trainer to the Auction House for an hour or so.

I swear it’s how I remember the game when I first started playing. If all you can do is sneak in an hour of play time here or there, do you start to feel overwhelmed by the depth of the game, since there is so much you know you can’t get to do in the time you have to play?

I hadn’t realized how much I’ve come to count on the few times we do Karazhan, or dart into Zul’Aman, to help me feel like I’m being active.

When I know that I’ll be playing a lot later in the week, I tend to play less the rest of the week to kind of balance it.

Take that day of Kara away, and suddenly I feel like I’m not playing much at all, and I feel out of the loop.

I log in and sit there, looking at the character select screen, wondering, “What the heck was I going to do, anyway?”

I don’t know how much of it is summertime, how much is a sense that with the expansion coming out soon, everything we know and do now is worthless or about to become totally obsolete, and how much is just crankiness.

I do know that I am NOT looking forward to all aspects of the expansion.

You study, work hard, learn everything you can about your class… and the encounters are designed to force you to do it to have a chance.

And then, once most people are well on top of things… it’s expansion time!

Yahoo! Time for every piece of gear you know about to be obsolete, every profession to now have different values and mysterious unknowns, new consumables to study, new talents to try and figure out to balance, new skills and spells to have to learn, new factions and quest chains to worry about not choosing the right reward for, and above all else, new prejudices to deal with as to whether your class will be desired in groups after the great expansion shakeup.

Are people going to want my Shadow Priest after the expansion if they nerf the utility of mana regen like it’s looking? Are Druids going to be welcome in parties at all anymore after Paladins and Warriors get Death Knights added to the mix?

After a while… I’m just starting to not really care. I was having fun the way things were… I didn’t really need to have 10 new levels come along to change everything I knew about the game.

Am I the only one that thinks that having ten more levels, and all the new gear and specs and talents and gear and profession levels and gear and reputation factions and gear will make things just that much more complicated? I might be cranky, but complicated isn’t sounding like a lot of fun right now.

I do want adventure. The new quests, zones and storylines will be very awesome, I can’t wait to get started and have fun.

But I’m serious when I say I am NOT looking forward to having to analyze all the damn gear, available from every damn instance drop, crafted profession, BoE auction house world drop, Badge reward, quest reward or faction reputation level that we can get at level 80 to figure out what the best tanking or DPS gear for Druids will be, all over again, in light of new talents and abilities.

Plus of course the best enchants, the best Inscriptions, the best gems, the best consumables, the best Idols, the best choices for gathering professions for our chosen role… oh lord, just trying to determine if the Herbalism HoT would be better for tanking than the flat Stamina buff from Mining? Or should you go for the Crit bonus from skinning if you want to DPS as well as tank? But wait, what about an extra Inscription slot? Or BoP Enchants, or BoP weapons or leatherworking armors? Or Engineered goggles?

No. No, I don’t look forward to doing it all over again. I’m tired of analyzing a game, I just want to have fun, and not have to think about the inevitable ‘you noob, didn’t you know to pick x reward or faction’ that will come three days after the expansion is out.

I wonder if Hello Kitty Island Adventure is starting soon. I might switch games. It sounds more my speed.