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Sep 25, 2018

Heroes of Silvermoon, Chapter 5: Castle Mistamere

Contents:
  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 5: Castle Mistamere

After the long ordeal at the Half-Moon Crucible, the heroes decided to take a much-deserved break. They made their way back to Silvermoon City and parted ways for six months. Ari joined the thieves' guild and deepened her worship of Raksh, becoming his only blood cleric, Cristoff found new purpose as a guard, Xilmar resumed his work as a forger for the thieves' guild, and with the blessing of Guilden, Julian started a restaurant to raise funds for his waning political house. Nysae was the only one who didn't dedicate her time in the city, preferring to spend her time in the wilds communing with nature.

Just when the group was beginning to miss their life of adventure together, Cristoff received a curious letter from a messenger in the city. He recognized the crude attempt at writing as that of Gorthuk, and called a meeting of the remaining heroes to read it together. The letter spoke of Gorthuk's wanderings looking for his friends after he had been released from his debt in the Shadowfell, and his goal to honor his god by defeating a necromancer he had heard of near Waterbrink, a town about four days' travel from Silvermoon. The group (minus Xilmar, who was strangely absent and unaccounted for) set off for the town looking for their orcish friend.

They arrived in Waterbrink in the midst of a skirmish on the town by some golems that seemed to be made from sewn-together corpses. After defeating them and reuniting with Gorthuk, the group approached the paladin leader of the town guard, Leah, who attempted to arrest Gorthuk. She informed them that a band of orcs had infested the nearby castle and were likely the culprits of the flesh golem attack. They vouched for Gorthuk's character, and Leah reluctantly allowed him to be free, but under the watchful eye of the guard.

The group approached the nearby Castle Mistamere, an ancient mansion that had once been owned by a powerful wizard named Alteza. Sure enough, they found the castle infested by orcs who had sworn fealty to a necromancer named Azulius. Gorthuk recognized the clan of orcs as an offshoot of his own Bonechewer Clan, but didn't recognize anyone he knew. After defeating the castle's guards, the heroes entered the mansion, killing orcs and discovering many artifacts and old traps. In the basement, they encountered the chieftain of the orcs, Krakgrag, who had named his group the Black Hand Clan after breaking off from the Bonechewers. He had heard of Gorthuk the Defiler, and mistook his mission as overtaking his position in the clan instead of hunting Azulius. Gorthuk played along, hoping to recruit the orcs and form a new clan based on his own ideals and the ideals of Bwonsamdi.

The two orcs engaged in ritual one-on-one combat, and though Gorthuk survived blows that normally would have killed him three times over, Krakgrag eventually triumphed. The heroes attacked, finishing off Krakgrag and saving Gorthuk, but in doing so, they put into question his honor and worthiness to lead the clan. Gorthuk's own nephew, Krun, challenged Gorthuk, but he refused, saying that he wanted to lead with wisdom over strength. Krun called him a coward and bade the orcs follow him, a true orc based on the traditions of strength. Reluctantly and in confusion, the remaining orcs eventually followed Krun and left the mansion.

The group descended into an even deeper floor, fighting orcs, kobolds, doppelgangers and a succubus pretending to be a damsel in distress, all the while dodging traps and finding evidence of Azulius's atrocities in necromancy. They were stunned to find that, due to some nearby source of Azulius's power, their enemies rose from the dead soon after being felled, unless Gorthuk used his god's power to preserve their corpses. They even encountered the now headless undead Krakgrag, defeating him a second time. At long last, they found Azulius waiting for them in his throne room. They easily dispatched Azulius and freed a dwarf who appeared imprisoned, but the dwarf soon revealed himself to be the real Azulius. They had only killed a decoy in his place. Azulius engaged in battle with them, casting deadly necromancy spells of fear and necrotic energy and consuming the life force of caged kobolds to sustain himself in the fight. Seeing no other way to defeat the necromancer during the fight, Gorthuk used his staff of swarming insects he had gained from the Shadowfell to conjure a swarm of biting locusts in Azulius's room, then held the door shut.

Julian had been left inside with the swarm, and Gorthuk had been hoping to be able to revive him after the ordeal. However, after opening the door, Gorthuk realized in horror that Julian had been raised as a zombie, and Azulius as a vampire through the power of his cloak of the gravemaster. The group fought the vampire Azulius valiantly. Miraculously, and thanks to his studies in necromancy, Julian was able to break free of Azulius's will and fight him alongside his friends, even in undeath. Azulius attempted to transform into a gaseous cloud and flee, but Gorthuk finally landed the killing blow on him with his own divine powers.

As the group rejoiced in their victory, Gorthuk's god, Bwonsamdi, appeared before Gorthuk and demanded a chilling task of him: to destroy Julian, who was now an abomination of undeath and therefore not worthy of existence. Julian begged for mercy, and Gorthuk was reluctant, but not being able to disobey his master, he buried Krakgrag's battleaxe into Julian's chest, silencing him. Hoping to restore him to life again, he attempted to cast a raise dead spell on him, but Bwonsamdi's voice echoed in his mind, telling him that Julian's body was tainted with undeath, and could not be raised.

The group found many magical items and treasures in Azulius's chamber, and they destroyed Azulius's lab where his flesh golems were created. Gorthuk was deeply affected by Julian's death. Not only because he had sealed his fate in undeath by killing him for the final time, but also because he felt responsible for knocking him down in the first place with his swarm of insects. He felt that things could have been different had he acted with more intelligence. What's more, he questioned Bwonsamdi's black-and-white claims about undeath. He knew Julian's goodness and friendship despite his specialization in necromancy, and resolved to seek out some way he could prove his god incorrect that he was gone forever.

As they exited the mansion, exhausted, they were met by the orcs who had followed Krun. The group had seen Krun as a strong leader, but a cruel and selfish one. They realized that through their own combined strength, as they had seen Gorthuk and his friends do, they could overpower and kill him. They swore allegiance to Gorthuk, recognizing his wisdom and respecting it over the traditions of their previous clans. Gorthuk accepted their fealty, and declared them the founding members of a new clan, the Skullwarden Clan. He told them to avoid bloodshed and to subsist based on hard work rather than on plunder. Though these were foreign concepts to the orcs, they vowed to do their best.

The heroes also claimed Castle Mistamere as their own, and instructed the orcs to exterminate any remaining creatures in the castle and to plunder its contents to sell for the clan's use. They agreed. They also hired one of Azulius's doppelgangers named Haskill, who promised to help them cover Julian's death in Silvermoon by posing as him until they figured out what to do next.

Gorthuk sadly carried Julian's body back to Waterbrink, questioning himself and his bondage to such a strict god as Bwonsamdi.

Sep 22, 2018

Heroes of Silvermoon, Chapter 4: The Half-Moon Crucible

Contents:
  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 4: The Half-Moon Crucible

The group returned to the material plane, not knowing how much time had passed in their absence. They soon ran into Julian again, who had been looking for them. Unbeknownst to the others, Julian had been through horrific ordeals in the previous months. His entire household and family had been assassinated in Silvermoon, and he had taken revenge on them by murdering those of his rival house with his necromantic powers. The events had left him emotionally scarred, though he fought to conceal it from his friends. He was surprised and not happy to see Xilmar in the group.

The group traveled for some time, lending their services in towns along their path, when one day they went through a mountain pass called the Half-Moon Pass and discovered an immense valley in a bowl-like area of land. One half of the valley was cold and dark, the other half sunny and green. They followed the snaking road to the bottom of the valley, where they met two gnomes, Rosen and Guilden, who welcomed them to the Half-Moon Crucible. The gnomes said they were employed by a locally settled caravan called the Celestial Sellers & Sages. Rosen was the overly-positive, slightly naive barker, and his twin brother Guilden was the fry cook, bartender, watchman, and tough.

Rosen introduced them to his inn, the Sleep-Inn, connected to Guilden's eating establishment, the Eating Establishment. He also showed the hereos the caravan's leaders, seven mysterious beings who had set up shops in wagons in the valley:

  • Achyuta, an upbeat human monk interested in weapons and armaments who ran a wagon called Adventurer's Armaments.
  • Cygnus, a powerful drow sorcerer with eyes like galaxies of stars. His wagon was known as Cosmic Charismatics.
  • Hemat, the proprietor of Healer's Haven, an older man whose magical drawer in his wagon seemed to teleport wounded from other locations for him to heal.
  • Waldefreya, a beautiful wood elf with an emerald eye and a golden eagle with a matching emerald eye. Her wagon was called Forrester's Finds.
  • Wilhelmina, the owner of Wizard's Way, an elderly half-elf mage and tinker fascinated with gadgets.
  • Supplies, an automaton and failed experiment of Wilhelmina's who distributed simple general supplies, and
  • Raksha, a shadowy tiefling whose wagon, Rogue's Redoubt, was hidden from the others.
Weary from their journey and intrigued by the celestial sages, the adventurers settled at the inn for several weeks, forming bonds with the sage, learning from their wisdom and skills, and working for them to earn money for their adventures.

Julian learned fighting skills from Guilden to supplement his magic; Xilmar learned how to use the powers of the stars, sun, and moon from Cygnus to fuel his phoenix sorcery; Nysae undertook the same ritual Waldefreya did to bind her senses to her wolf Luna's, sacrificing an eye in both her and Luna's heads and replacing them with emeralds they could both see through; Ari got into trouble, but encountered the mysterious Raksha, who taught her some skills in shadow and blood magic; and Cristoff, still recovering from his exposure to such darkness in the Shadowfell, found comfort in learning healing skills from Hemat.

Curious about the sages' origins, the heroes questioned Hemat. He told them that the sages had once been heroes like them who had ascended into lesser deities known as the Apotheoses. After centuries of cosmic battles with a group of chaotic gods called the Veritas, one of their group, an Apotheosis called Apeiron, made a pact with a god named Vis to defeat the Veritas. In the process, however, he became a Veritas himself. The Apotheoses fled from his madness as he tried to destroy his friends, to the temple of Vis on the Material Plane. There, they tried to free him from his patron and his madness, but Vis attempted to command his disciple to finally end the Apotheoses. In a last moment of clarity, Apeiron instead trapped his friends in a bubble of force, preserving them in time.

The bubble slowly eroded the sanity of those within the valley. Luckily, the sages had magical duties to occupy themselves with, but they were especially grateful to have outsiders like them to teach and bond with. Hemat indicated that the temple of Vis in the center of the valley contained the key to disabling the bubble and restoring the sages—a keystone that must be placed at the top of an arch—but the bubble's border overlapped the church, making it impossible for them to cross and descend into the church's dungeons where the keystone was held.

Xilmar was interested in the bubble's properties, and when he ventured off alone to test whether he could cross its border, he did not return. The rest of the heroes also tested the bubble's border, realizing that in some cases, leaving it caused a loss of memory of the people and areas within. The heroes decided to investigate the temple, but inside they found only madness, awakening their deepest fears and turning themselves against each other through hallucinations and confusion. Xilmar returned, but acted strangely around the group, and in the culmination of darkness in the valley, an insanity elemental manifested itself, attacking the heroes and the sages. With the help of the sages, particularly Cygnus, who changed the time from night to day, they were able to overcome the ordeal. But seeing that the heroes had spent so much time in the bubble and had awakened some of its insanity for themselves, the sages made the group promise that they would finish what they started and free them from the bubble before they left. The group agreed.

That night, while the group was together in the Sleep-Inn, a magical cloud of darkness appeared inside the inn, and creatures of madness attacked the heroes again. As they fought to defeat the monsters or flee, a second Xilmar entered the inn. The group soon realized that the being they thought was Xilmar was a doppelganger, who soon transformed to appear like Cristoff to sow confusion among them again. Eventually, they defeated the shadows and doppelganger and explained to Xilmar all that had happened. Xilmar told them of his capture as he tried to leave the bubble. He had been imprisoned and hidden in a shed by the doppelganger, who kept him alive and fed on his fear. During Xilmar's imprisonment, a small satyr named Garmelie appeared and comforted Xilmar, ultimately helping him escape. Despite Xilmar's insistence that Garmelie was present during the fight and real, no one but he could see him.

Knowing that the madness would only increase from there, the heroes prepared themselves and entered the temple of Vis. They descended, finding sets of floating doors that led to many traps, rooms, monsters, mazes, puzzles, and riddles. Throughout the dungeon, Garmelie led Xilmar to secrets and past traps, being an invaluable resource and guide, to the rest of the group's surprise and confusion. At the end of it all was an armory with weapons of godlike power. The group equipped themselves, and in the next room found themselves in what appeared to be the Sleep-Inn. There, a gigantic mass of shadowy power attacked. Using the power of the weapons, the party easily destroyed the enemy, and went forward into a room that held much treasure, and at the top of a platform, the keystone they needed.

As soon as Julian grabbed the keystone, Garmelie became visible to all of the group. However, instead of helping the group further, he attacked. As his form shifted into that of the Veritas of Insanity, he screamed apologies and wept as he summoned powerful monsters and cast powerful spells. The heroes' newly found weapons seemed to have lost their As Cristoff fell, his consciousness was brought to the god he worshiped, Ilmater. Ilmater told Cristoff that he was not dead, and that he should go back and set things right. Cristoff awoke and tried to save the heroes, but amid tears of apology and regret, Garmelie killed each one in turn, ending with Xilmar.

The heroes awoke in town, alive and well, though shaken. They found with dismay that all the sages in the caravan were dead, their bodies lying on the floors of their wagons. The only one left in the town was Supplies, who was busy attempting to build an archway. The heroes helped him, and Xilmar and Julian used their mage hand spell to lift the keystone to the top. When the keystone was in place, brilliant light flashed and the bubble around the valley vanished. The sages, now gods again, awoke from their sleep, grateful to the heroes, and gave them each their blessing. The heroes also seemed to grow more youthful as the effect of the time bubble took years away from their lives. As the heroes left the now empty valley, they looked back to see what appeared to be the visage of the last Veritas in the distance with a grateful expression on his face, and then it was gone.

Sep 20, 2018

The Joy of Wanting

When I was a young teenager, I played a game called Runescape with my friends. It was one of the first MMOs available, so it was a real novelty to log in to my account (via dial-up), get together with my friends or other people playing at the same time from all around the world, and level up my character in a fantasy world. Runescape was a game that took a lot of time and work to be worthwhile. The old version of Runescape that I played back then has actually since become available to play, but I just simply don't have enough free time to get anywhere in the game anymore (if my old account hadn't have been hacked and then banned, maybe I could at least enjoy the level my old character had attained). Needless to say, Runescape was a big part of my early adolescence, and it's even the medium where I first used the name "Abelhawk."

Besides being a fulfilling pastime, a way to meet people (My first girlfriend, in a very loose sense, was met there), and a way to make memories with my friends, Runescape taught me a very important lesson about the value of money, work, and time. Since my parents limited my time on the computer, it took me weeks to level up to the point where I could use level-specific features like runite armor, or one of my most sought-after honors: the Cook's Guild. The very nature of the game was a focus on leveling up skills to make more valuable items for sale, venture into more dangerous areas, and gain more spectacular items, so each personal achievement I reached, from finishing all the quests to getting to a high enough level with crafting to make gold amulets, was very satisfying.

Money in particular was something that Runescape taught me the value of in the way only a video game can for a teenager. Since I didn't have to worry about rent and bills in real life, having to worry about saving up for powerful weapons and items in game taught me to save up my gold coins and not waste them on things I would consume quickly (like healing food and potions) or things I could craft for cheaper if I was trying to complete a quest. If I wanted to save up for that runite scimitar, I needed to walk all the way across the continent instead of buying a teleportation Law Rune for 1,000 gp to make it faster.

Then came a fateful day when I learned something very important. On my fifteenth birthday, my brother went to my dad's store (since it had Wi-Fi, back then called DSL) and told me to log into Runescape. I logged in, and when I found his character Flufhamster, he opened a trade window with me and gave me 100k coins! I had never seen such a sum of money in the game. I thanked him for his (technically illegal) purchase of in-game money with real life money from a gold farmer as I made my character do his "cheer" emote. From then on, life in the game was easy, I bought a full suit of runite plate armor, a dragonstone amulet, a dragonstone ring, a runite scimitar, and all the tools and items that I had been saving up for—all things that I had only dreamed of ever saving enough money to buy with my limited amount of time to acquire money. With pride, I set off into the world with all the things I had been saving up for, and with money to spare!

...and then I got bored of the game.

What's the point of playing a game like Runescape, a game of achievement and hard work, if all the work for you is done in an instant? I found myself easily beating monsters with my powerful gear, the quests no longer a challenge, and without any real long-term goals to be excited about. I had been robbed of my joy of playing the game because of a gift of money. Sure, I played every once in a while in the coming years. Money couldn't buy things like leveling up your agility skill or completing puzzle quests. But for me, the game's fun was largely spent, and I ended up lending the account to my friend, who wasted the rest of the money, and some time after that my account was hacked and banned for good.

Compare this with another game that I got a bit earlier than Runescape, Warcraft III. Obviously, you can tell I'm still a huge fan of this game, and thanks to it I have my one claim to fame on YouTube. I still love Warcraft III to this day, and I attribute my love of it largely to how hard I worked to get it. As a kid, I absolutely loved Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, so when I found out that a third Warcraft was being made, I was ecstatic. My brother and I immediately started saving money in a jar, doing chores for change, amassing all of the money we made winning a family reunion raffle into it, and otherwise just scrimping and saving for the big day we could get it. I'll never forget that first day loading up the game, playing through the tutorial, and trying out the map editor. It was the culmination of anticipation and hard work that paid off in the best possible way. I played that game for years, made hundreds of maps on it, planted seeds of my current programming career from learning its trigger-based scripting language, and of course, eventually leading a crusade of nostalgia via YouTube and meeting one of its designers.

Would I have appreciated Warcraft III as much if I had just been given it as a gift for my birthday? Possibly—after all, I've received many other games before and since it that I've loved and treasured dearly. And my Calvin & Hobbes collection is made up of books I bought myself and received as birthday presents. But I think the fact that I had to work to save up for it just sweetened its purchase for me and made it just a little bit more mine than my other games.

I've come to realize as I grow older just how much fun it is to want things. Obviously, lacking necessities is always a stressful thing. Runescape probably wouldn't have been fun at all if I had gained only a few gold coins a week while playing it. But all the time you hear about people reminiscing about "simpler" times of their life, or times when they had to get by by eating ramen every day or not being able to afford to wash their clothes. We grow so much more when we have things to want. When we have everything, or when things come easily, we tend to treat them as if they are of lesser value, even if they would cost anyone else an arm and a leg. After receiving a large tenure bonus in Amazon gift cards when I left my last job, I flippantly spent $60 on a board game that I haven't played yet, and possibly never will now that I've looked more closely at how it's played. If I had been intrigued by the board game and had saved up for it, that would have given me more time to research its rules and realize that it probably wasn't for me. The ease of having so many dollars to work with and the mindset of "It's such a small part of the whole" is extremely harmful. Whether I had spent all my money on the board game or $60 of $1,000, I still wasted $60. Think of the value of $60—with that much money I could've gone out to eat with my wife three or four times, making four different memories of dates. I could've saved that $60 for a game that hasn't come out yet on Amazon that would have given me much more satisfaction. I could've used the money to supplement games that I already know that I enjoy, like D&D, and enhance their fun, rather than trying to find something new I didn't need.

Wanting can be a big part of life even money aside. We always appreciate things that we go without, such as free time or proximity to a loved one. I feel sorry for people who refuse to have children so they can have all the money they want for vacations and lavish lifestyles for their whole lives. Where's the fun in that if you never know what it's like not to have it? That's where words like "spoiled" and "entitled" come from, and where judgmental people come from. The only thing I think it's not good to lack is experience. The more experience you have, the more you have to compare things with and truly appreciate them.

I think what this all boils down to most is family. What could possibly be more of a labor of love, more of a journey of unexpected results, and more of an effort full of wanting and lacking than having a family? I could have a lot more money right now if I hadn't had kids, but would that money have been well spent? Would I have learned the invaluable lessons I know today if I hadn't had to sacrifice? I could have taken my year-long coding certification instead of getting a Bachelor's degree years ago and be years ahead in my career than I am now, but at what cost? I wouldn't have learned so much about the subjects I love in linguistics, I wouldn't be able to basically understand German, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, and French, nor would I have memories of meeting illustrious professors and taking creative writing classes. Technically, I wouldn't have met my wife either.

There's nothing wrong with having, but wanting is so much more fun. It nurtures a feeling of lasting gratitude for accomplishments and helps us take things more seriously. It helps us understand and empathize with the suffering of others. It makes us better people overall. The next time you want something so badly you can barely stand it, look back at other things that you wanted and then got. Do you still appreciate them? Do you give them the respect they deserve after you earned them through toil, scrimping and saving, pain, or patience? Whether it's a spouse or a house, a career or a black belt, a certification or a state of sobriety, wanting is healthy, and we should relish the time we have looking forward.