sciolist: http://magggg.deviantart.com/gallery/24017469 (Drow4)
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Black Dragon Blues - (Day 17)
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The faint hum of something nautiloid going past the window pulls me back to the room, rather than the trance. It's dark, but that doesn't matter to us high level Adventurers, oh no. It's cold, because we don't want to look like we're here in the abandoned tower where Jaik and Laura had an apartment. Miles and Laura, maybe. Jaik and Kitteran, perhaps. We had a chance, but we blew it. No, c'mon, positivity. It's not my fault... is it? So who else's then?

It started out so well. Deliver the refugees to a town, met up with Varla for mutual admiration and back-slapping for the glory of the Autok Empire. Yes, with Renaba Shahan we can call it an Empire once more. 'Oh my fellow agents!' Col. Morgrus would spit his coffee at that. But how else would you hide an Autok Agent except so deep in a veneer of uselessness and chaos that no-one would think the Autok could have produced or set us in motion. We saved the world and we may yet get a nice little awards ceremony. Renaba Shahan can pin a medal on us, Drenak the wookiee can growl, the crowd cheers, a circle wipe to the credits and happy ever after. Thank you Mr Lucas.

Except it's not A New Hope. It's Jedi. We've shut off the shield generator and now we need to face Darth Vader. Helpfully the scrying shows Gareth and Tess gleefully chucking people into a draconification pond so we know they're bad guys and we can go spooning in to save them. Prep. Prep. Prep and JUMP!

Into darkness and mist, the effulgence of some big dragonshards gives us eerie crystal caves effects. The gigeresque array of large leathery eggs arrayed against the back wall of the chamber shows... 70, maybe a hundred of the mall-dwellers have been turned and we're barely in time to save the last. Chop, chop, chop go the axes. Stab, stab, stab go the rapiers. 'Splutch' goes some hapless security guard, now looking scalier than he'd have believed possible 2 days ago. We scatter, like the plan, some lifting, some managing the melee and arrows start to drop out of the shadows of the cave into us. The rescued woman, some sort of muslim maybe from the scarf, hides amongst the eggs and we cast about for the last attacker.

Gareth. Beth says it's Gareth. I really wanted to believe he was some lovestruck thrall of mind domination. I've been to his house, gone to the pub with him and Fatty on occasion. He's really going for it, though. And he's not some dweebly guy from a mall, he's streaking about like he knows what he's doing. The fucking Munchkin's rolled himself up some Vampire Lord-Werewolf-Fey hybrid of stattedness to kick our arses if what he's doing to Beth is any indicator. I wanted him to be a victim we could rescue. I wanted him, at the very least to be unwilling. Instead, he's rolled over for a quick chance of easy power - all that's needed is a bit of casual evil. And he's trying to kill us. None of this three wishes stuff. No conversation. Maybe we could have looked more like we wanted to parlay, but even so... he's going for broke a bit. So I glitter the space where Beth's bolts're falling and he leaves. Great. A teleporter. I can't blame him, really, for the rapid exit. I can blame him a lot for being an evil arse. Rachael's idea of a blade barrier seems pretty attractive right now, but I bet he's no longer affected by Hold Person.

It goes quiet for a few seconds and we take stock from our various hoverpoints around the cave, staying out of the nasty liquid and its vapours... What are we missing? Oh yes, the dragon. The cave fills with inky darkness and I've picked the wrong place to stand again. Should have been up on the ceiling, flying and invisible instead of cowering near the eggs. Stupid stupid stupid. We're screwed. We're not going to do this. All the top end spells that might have made any difference to this fight have pissed off out of my head and left a chilly certainty that this will not end happily. I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total... Oh fuck it... I may as well chuck myself in the pool and join team dragon, for all the good I can do standing around here and singing. Tess isn't even here for us to fight, just breathing crap on us from down that tunnel. I haul myself up to near Rachael and try not to wail despondently over the Message system. What are we going to do, now? She shrugs, and we watch as the last Dracominion starts to help some of his new-hatched brethren from the eggs.

Drenak hacks off down the corridor where the breath came from and it all goes quiet for a moment. We get the muslim woman up onto a ledge and Laura starts to heal her. I must look pretty sorry for myself as well since Laura restored me. Joy! spells again. Woe. Drenak reports an empty chamber much larger than this with a hurricane in the middle of it. A couple of ledges and an abandoned and much depleted hoard. Still no Dragon. Probably some vortex of air movement, he says, like he'd know being a bloody History Professing Dwarf. He returns and we watch the Minions arm up with fallen scimitars. One of the dead ones looks a bit like David. Oh, Gareth, you little shit. We're going to have to kill you and raise you and kill you and raise you a lot to get you down to a level where you'll offer no harm for many bloody years.

Splash! a wave thunders down the tunnel and washes perilously close over the ledges where some of the static people are. I think Laura manages to Remove Curse Jaik before he eggs up on us. Muslim woman succumbs, starts to hunch and tips off into the liquid. Total score? Zero people saved. Zero bad guys vanquished. Heroes, oh yes, that's us. Drenak heads back up the tunnel again to get a faceful of cold, thankfully mostly billowed out by the time it gets back to us in the cave. And this is it.

This is my fault.

Drenak says Tess and Gareth are flying around in the hurricane. He says it's a very large room. I can see in my head a cyclone in Wembley Stadium, a storm that rips rooves off and throws cars around. I can see us barreling round the corner and out into the wind and half of us'll get sucked down and shat off the bottom of Xendrik like tiny airborne turdlets into the thin upper atmosphere.

And so I say 'Is our best plan just to charge them, then?'. Not 'Yaaar! Up boys and at 'em!'. Not 'Cry God for Harry, England and St George!'. Not anything like that... So we stop, to think. Maybe Drenak feels the general unwillingness of the supporting cast behind him, or maybe he does feel tactically that the terrain is unfavorable. But it doesn't matter. He thinks, and he says 'No', or something like it.

And that's it, really. Sure we dodged some minions and looked at the other stairwell and another cave with slightly different air turbulence, but a swirling mass of MirrorImage dragons. Rolling waves of despondent darkness lap occasionally at the walls of the upper cave as we try and picture a fight we'd win and fail. I certainly don't want my Legend Lore to say 'Helped heal the Divine Flame, saved the world, personally blessed by Katala, died ignominiously doing fuck all'. I want to live in the world I helped to save. I want to bask, thankyouverymuch in a little of our success. And maybe we could have carried it. Maybe she'd have made some stupid errors, maybe we'd have killed Gareth.

Coulda.

Woulda.

Shoulda.

It was probably Musashi, or Clausewitz, or Sun Tzu or someone that said something about committing to a fight and willpower. We stopped to think about it, and ha ha, it kind of unmanned us, me certainly. That in mind, we start to look at the options. No more dragominions to save now, they're turned. Laura reports that even the ones in her Circle of Prot were maddened or pained beyond reason even if not directly dominated, so we can't go back and fireball them. They're who we're trying to save. Neither of Tess' chosen sites for a 'fair' fight seem do-able. So... we've lost this fight, maybe before even starting it, we've lost. But! As wisdom has it, when winning the fight is no longer on the cards, our thoughts turn to surviving the fight - and a quick Word of Recall back to Jaik's apartment.

Scijaarn. Home of Cthulhoid brain horror. Thoon. Thoon. Thoon. Whatever happened while we were schlepping through a jungle with a whiny toddler, it included the organised defeat and subversion of almost all of Scijaarn's defences. It's dark, and cold and figures in hooded robes march about chanting 'Thoon'. It's been a long day. It wasn't even Jedi, as it turns out. It was Empire. We were lucky not to lose a hand or get Jaik encased in carbonite.

* * *

Here comes the Brain again, falling on my head like a memory - (Day 18)
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Drenak is miffed. His Message stone says 'Thoon' to him. Maybe he's swayed by the big picture idea of killing the Brain so that all those enthralled are released. He still looks like he'd rather just go and wade through the crowds of mind-flayers, axe swinging until he found Shayla. Laura is disgruntled by a cityful of naughty Outsiders. Rachael has turned into someone alarmingly focussed again, now we're within sight of the Brain. Still, how hard can it be? We just need to get close enough, kick its nasty brain head in and not plummet to our deaths. Oh for a rocket launcher. Or sentry guns. We have an artificer, it shouldn't be that hard. It's just time. And every day that Scijaarn is a manifest zone and open portal to Zoriat, the scary Madness is another day when the High King and Sapphire Empress may decide that the only way to be sure is to nuke the site from orbit.

So, we're on a clock, then. The city is heaving with nasty musclebound behemoth monsters as well as flayers, and thralls and nautiloids and some sort of eyebot spycam things. The Temple of Irrasha has been done over, leaving only a thoroughly intimidated junior monk behind doing some sweeping up and clinging to his faith in a desperate hope that it'll end up OK. Irraasha, meanwhile sends us. Go us. And the Warder of Dreadhold who seems to be pitching for a shot at redemption. Incidentally, my loyal friends? When you owe the Warder of Dreadhold a favour, and it looks like he's going to call it in... The correct protocol is NOT to say 'Hell yeah, we were going to do that anyway! She'd be more than happy to! That's not really paying off a favour at all! We'll all come, in fact!'. Bastards. If we survive this, I'd much rather not be owing the lovely Warder of Dreadhold a favour, thankyouverymuch.

His plan shows commitment! He wants to jump off a tower and hit it with a sword. We could have used that sort of can-do attitude back at a certain cave of our acquaintance. Heroism aside, I think we can add a little. I have a sudden thought of War Rocket Ajax bearing down on Ming the Merciless, and I know that could work. All we need is an Airship, and a Very Big Harpoon. The Warder is rightly awed by our ingenuity. We don our zombie disguises and chant 'Thoon' quietly as we walk the streets to pick up a Scijaarn Intelligencer (It says 'Thoon Thoon Thoon'). There's a dismal sort of unitarian Temple holed up with scattered survivors trying to keep together in the end times. Reports of resistance near Deathsgate prompting 'pacification teams' to be dispatched by the Brain Overlord. Good old Deathsgate.

The Lyrandar airship cradles offer a fond and nostalgic hope. Lyrandar Serenity and Captain Nanalto! And some tosspiece of a gnome administrator. If we weren't saving the city (hopefully) I'd maybe be inclined to be nicer to him, despite the little fucker's miserable attempts at racist humour. Instead, I was grumpy and he was mean, and we'll hopefully not have to talk to each other while we repair the Nanarik. A good ship, the Nanarik. I'll immortalise her in song if this works, and I live. No, Carl, stop thinking of Thunderchild from war of the worlds. War Rocket Ajax, yes. We tinker and mend and fix and build and sharpen spiky boarding planks and grapples so that once we get attached to this brain, we don't let go. Rachael's feverishly scribing out all she can in the way of mind protection, which does seem to stop the 'Thoon' influence, having walked past a few parties on the way.

I wonder if we can make the Elemental containment ring burst destructively? As a last resort, of course.
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November 2011

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