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Jul 22, 2018

Poem: "A Seasoned Part of the Country"

I normally hate free verse poetry, but I forgot I wrote this and how decently written it is, theme-wise and in terms of diction, metaphors, and flow.

A Seasoned Part of the Country
by Austin Ballard

It’s a fact in anyone’s book
That iced roads can swipe an unwary tire
And direct its path to a ditch
(The place every driver dreads).
I have furrowed a disgruntled brow, too,
When the thick, heavy flakes
Pile up like bricks on a wall
To blockade my shoveled driveway once more.
And yes, even when winter is over,
The trickling, drippy brown water
May seep and soak the dead grass,
Forming flat heaps that linger to the last.
All this while we stay inside,
With wet gloves, sick of hot cocoa
And weary of making snowmen,
Bored, and longing for the color green.

Such are the common laments in this town,
And they are valid.
But yet my address stays the same, and I imagine the pitiful opposite.
In other places, to the south or southeast,
—What a pity—the children know not the color white.
Just ice in iceboxes, snow on the old T.V. screen,
And water trickling out as sweat,
With nothing but sweltering more or less to look forward to.
At least I, in my chilly basement,
Can look forward to a change greater than mere temperature:
A revolving wheel of colors, smells, and pastimes;
Rather than just dripping with sweat or pool water day in and day out.

Jul 4, 2018

Heroes of Silvermoon, Chapter 1: The Cultist & Chapter 2: Arena Games

I recently switched jobs (from editing to coding! Woo hoo!), and possibly my only disappointment in doing so is leaving the first D&D group I was a part of, the weekly group I started with my coworkers about a year and a half ago. It was a slow storyline, since we only played for one hour a week during a lunch break, except for half a handful of outside-work home sessions. The campaign itself was extremely dynamic, since after each story arc, we switched the DM. It allowed the story to grow organically (albeit disjointedly), while giving each of us a chance to learn both DMing and PCing skills.

To preserve the story for my own enjoyment (and hopefully yours as well), below is a summary of the entire campaign of the Heroes of Silvermoon, from start to finish. I should note that I began the campaign in a Warcraft setting, and we later changed it back to a generic D&D setting since later DMs didn't know Warcraft lore, so there are some elements based on Warcraft names that stuck before the change and were kept in the story.

  1. The Cultist
  2. Arena Games
  3. Phoenix Sorcery
  4. The Half-Moon Crucible
  5. Castle Mistamere
  6. Bringing Back the Dead
  7. The Curse of House Lightwalker
  8. Captured
  9. Far from Home
  10. Through the Underdark
  11. A New Port of Kings

The Tale of the Heroes of Silvermoon

Chapter 1: The Cultist

Three heroes made their way to a barely-hidden doorway in the cliffside of the mountains north of Vandermar Village. The most talkative of the bunch was a high elf dressed a bit dandily, with a ponytail, tight trousers, and a coat with tails. With him was a human with very short hair, scarred skin, a large greatsword, and a holy symbol of the god Ilmater hung around his neck. The third was a beast of a creature—an eight-foot-tall minotaur wearing monk's vestments and wielding an immense log as a weapon.

The heroes broke into the doorway and found themselves in a cultist's hideout. They had followed the cultist's tracks from Vandermar after Vandermar's mayor, Faustus, had asked them for help dealing with what appeared to be a grave robber. After fighting some ghouls and finding some crates of skeletons that came to life when the heroes drew close, they trapped the cultist in his bed chambers. With a burst of determination and good luck, the elf, Julian Lightwalker, blasted the cultist with a well-aimed fire bolt, and the human paladin, Cristoff, finished him off by running him through with his sword before the cultist had a chance to act. With his dying breath, the cultist murmured "My life for Ner'zhul..." At that moment, the green pendant on the cultist's neck glowed brightly, and a minotaur skeleton on the table in the room's eyes glowed the same color. The skeletal beast rose from the table and attacked.

The skeletal abomination nearly killed the adventurers, but with quick thinking, the minotaur monk, Carne, smashed the cultist's pendant, and the skeletal minotaur fell to the ground, dead for good. They looted the room and lit everything of no value on fire, then left. Among the things they found were a letter written to a mysterious cultist leader named "Azulius," and Julian pocketed the cultist's holy symbol to Ner'zhul, deciding to use it as an arcane focus. Secretly, he had studied necromancy at the arcane academy in Dalaran, a forbidden art. He intended to show his teachers that they were wrong—that necromancy could be used for good. Hopefully this pendant would be able to help his powers in the school grow.

Chapter 2: Arena Games

They made their way back to Vandermar Village, where Faustus congratulated them and rewarded them for their work. He directed them to an awkward iron merchant named Eloy, who hired them to help him escort a cart of iron ore through a dangerous part of the woods. They agreed to set off the next day. Before they left, a mysterious street performer played a shell game with them, singling Julian out, and sold Julian some suspiciously cheapr health potions. During the party's journey with the iron merchant, they stopped to confront a group of gnolls who intended to waylay the party. In the middle of their battle, the entire group was ambushed and captured by trolls. Only Eloy escaped.

The trolls took them on a day-long journey to an ancient stone arena deep in the middle of troll territory, owned by a greedy troll named Bloodstone. The trolls took Carne away, and he was never seen again, but the others were enslaved as gladiators in the arena. Julian immediately proved to be a nuisance to the guards, insulting them and repeatedly calling a particularly sensitive troll "small." Despite Cristoff's efforts to rally the other prisoners to rebel, they had seen the power of the troll guards and didn't budge. What was more, children were being held in the arena, and the prisoners feared sparking the trolls' wrath and putting them in danger.

The group fought together with a grisly orc cleric named Gorthuk, who had strange voodoo pins thrust into his shoulders and reeked of death. They didn't know at the time, but this orc was Gorthuk Spinebreaker the Defiler, an orc of a hundred years of age who had killed with such bloodthirst and cruelty that the voodoo god Bwonsamdi enslaved him as a grave cleric, preventing him from dying until he had atoned for his savagery and learned the value of life.

The troll guards eventually grew tired of Julian's insolence, and one day they beat him unconscious in the cell as an example to the other inmates and confiscated his arcane focus to limit his spellcasting. Despite their show of strength, the inmates heard through Gorthuk's translation (he could speak Troll) that the guards were nervous of Bloodstone's ambition—he planned to transport a demon of the Abyss to do battle at the arena, something much stronger than anything that the combatants had fought before.

The demon arrived during one of the party's battles. The trolls hurriedly interrupted the battle and escorted the prisoners inside, as it became clear the demon had broken free from his restraints and was attacking the arena's guards. Guards went up for reinforcements, but due to Julian's goading, their cell's guards stayed put. Julian's classmate Jai'nora charmed one of the troll guards just as the other could take Julian's lip no longer and lunged to kill him. Though Julian was knocked unconscious, the rest of the prisoners were filled with courage seeing their captors' fear of the demon and all fought as one against the guard. After stealing some weapons and subduing the troll, Cristoff beheaded it, and freed the remaining prisoners.

Some prisoners went to go free the children, while others scrambled to get out of the arena, which was now collapsing from the conflict above. Julian and Jai'nora went to clear the way out through the way they came, while the paladin and cleric went to help with the rescue effort. Though the efforts of Cristoff and Gorthuk were successful, a collapse of the ceiling split the party. Julian and Jai'nora battled a troll and Jai'nora was beaten unconscious. The healing potion Julian had bought from the street charlatan did very little to help. Apparently it had been greatly watered down.

Meanwhile, Cristoff and Gorthuk made their way to the menagerie to exit the arena from the other exit. The menagerie had collapsed, killing most of the animals inside meant for fighting. They grouped up with a moon elf hunter named Nysae, who had come to the menagerie to save her pet wolf, Luna. With Nysae's and Luna's help, Gorthuk and Cristoff killed the gnolls who had stopped them in their journey and made their way to the arena floor up above. They dodged past some giant bestial lizards and a hippogriff and reunited with Julian, just as he was about to be eaten by timber wolves who had broken free from the menagerie. They encountered a young man named Ari, who was lifting coins off the bodies of the fallen.

On their way out, they noticed the source of the chaos—a hulking fel guard demon, who was battling Bloodstone. Exhausted and beaten, the group decided to take the coward's way and flee. They watched the battle from a distance as Bloodstone succeeded in taking his prize alive and subduing the demon. Rather than rush in and kill the sick troll who had enslaved children and would likely continue to capture others to feed his arena beast, they decided to leave. The only ones who decided to go back were Ari and Gorthuk. Ari began to loot the corpses of those the demon had killed, and Gorthuk began to, as was part of his oath to Bwonsamdi, mark them with his ritual dagger and preserve them from undeath. As they were doing this, the slavemaster of the trolls rushed out and attacked. They managed to convince him that they weren't worth the trouble and that the arena was crippled enough as it was having lost all its fighters. The slavemaster reluctantly let them go, though he promised that the arena would rise again in its greatness.

Jai'nora had managed to swipe a scroll of teleportation from the wreckage of the arena, which could teleport one more person along with her. Julian volunteered, and the two teleported to their home city of Silvermoon while the others pressed on.

Nysae, due to her knowledge of the woods, was able to navigate the remaining adventurers on their way safely back to Vandermar...