Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Deadlands - Tam's War Ends; Our Next Steps

The war spills across the streets. Armed with the key we'd worked so hard for, the one we'd broken so many morals to earn, we head to the ruins of the Explorers' Lodge. The watchtower is mostly intact, so I approach - and quickly step back, hands raised, as shots land at my feet. Pennignton-Smythe calls out an apology to me, and we scurry in. They explain they're there because they think Kwan's men will come for the amulet, and as they say it, we see them coming.

The fight is short and brutal, with ogres and martial artists... and a set of twins, who make me on my creepiest day look like some kind of angel. They cast a spell on the tower, coating it in some kind of sticky black fire that drags it down to hell. We start to flee, but realise Chin's still inside. I manage to grab his hand and pull him out as the tower sank below the ground, leaving a sticky, stinky pit. The twins teleport away before we can regroup to retaliate.

We set to work clearing the rubble over the vault. It's long, heavy work and by the time we're done, the fighting that had spilled through the streets of Shan Fan was over. We hear Kang making a speech and look over to the Heavenly Park to see Tam holding Kwan in chains. Tam and Kang are working together now - Kang wants Tam's help rebuilding the Lion's Roar Triad and in return will give Tam the support of the Iron Dragons. He - Kang - talks about being destined to rule California, then walks up to Kwan and, with his bare hand, rips out Kwan's heart. I gag.

We pause for a shocked moment, then hurry into the vault and start helping Pennington-Smythe and Dillenger clear the bits they need. As thanks, they let us each pick an item, Smith & Robard gadgets. Chin gets a new pair of shoes - soft and grippy, to help him climb and sneak around quietly. Tesla chooses an electric stun gun. I don't spot Carson's pick, but I get something they call a 'spirit camera' - they claim it can take photos of ghosts. Give me a few plates and developing fluid and talk me through how to use it.

As we turn to leave the vault, a large, damaged piece of stone catches our eyes. Despite the damage, it looks like a map of California. We peer closer: there's a few curious marks on it, like lightning bolts. There's one around about where the cave was, the one with the Wailing Horror and (I shudder) that pile of bodies. The cave where Pennington-Smythe had hidden the amulet. We'd seen a lightning bolt on the wall there. Thinking on it, there was a similar mark at Felheimer's Folly, too - and sure enough, there's one on the map there too. I reason these are important - Explorer Society mission important - but Pennington-Smythe and Dillinger don't know anything about them. They hadn't even spotted the marks before, or had only ever seen them as damage. The stone's too big to take with us, so Tesla takes a rubbing.

We head back to the Sunrise Lodge. Now they have what they needed to protect, Pennington-Smythe and Dillinger leave for New York, telling us to telegraph if we need them. We stay in town for a few days, and learn that Kang and Tam have, indeed, made peace. Neither is in charge: they've crowned Joshua Norton as the Emperor of California to be their figurehead. 

The nearest lightning mark looks to be on the Isle of Ghost Tears, and I want to find out more about the place. It's meant to be very haunted, and it's said anyone who goes there comes back mad - or dead. Story is, Chiang-Nu came to Shan Fan with his wife Meng to join him here later. Problem is, he found alcohol and opium before she got there. They argued and she ran - just as the Quake hit. It seemed to be centred on her, and she dropped dead on the spot.

I'm frustrated that no one else is interested in the place, but we spot a message in the Tombstone Epitaph telling us of a meeting in Perdition in 8 days. It doesn't give us long to get there: we leave immediately and make it in 6: All Hallow's Eve.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

What you don't see

Warning: talk of vomit and self-pity over pain and fatigue follows.

Here's what my weekend looked like:

Pretty exciting weekend away at a theme park, right? Lots of fun, lots of rides - even did the scare mazes, because I probably won't have a chance in the future (subspecies was great, the others ok).

When I set my out of office on Friday, I spotted that I had booked off Wednesday as well as Monday and Tuesday - a whole extra day off to write and have fun in! And you can see I had fun - check out the photos from last night!

Looks great, right?

What you don't see is that the only reason I was still walking by the end of the weekend was that one of my friends had disabled queuing and could queue jump 3 people with him. You don't see that I took loads of photos of The Smiler because I couldn't bear to queue for it, even though I really wanted to ride it, but sitting there waiting for the others had stiffened me so much I had to walk around. You don't see me nearly crying because the others aren't ready to go home but I've been wanting to leave for hours because I'm done. You don't see me waking up on Monday morning, falling out of bed and staggering to the kitchen to feed the cat, with a splitting headache that stayed until Wednesday evening. You don't see me crawling back to bed after feeding the cat, then crawling out again a few hours later to collapse at Husbit's feet, crying with the pain. He cooked me food and watched me pick at it, then went out to do the shopping and some other chores. You don't see me throwing up the food I managed to get down me, nor the dissolvable aspirin I drank after I finished puking the first time. This is something that happens to me when I either don't eat enough or otherwise exhaust myself. I threw up the aspirin so hard it was coming out of my nose.

You don't see me sleeping the rest of Monday.

You don't see me staggering around trying to prepare the flat for estate agent photos Tuesday morning, and making nice talk and helping move stuff around for the photos, while in so much pain I wanted to curl up and cry. You don't see me curling up and crying as soon as he left. You don't see me so fatigued I couldn't even watch TV.

You see me at circus. You don't see me seriously considering not going, but finally deciding I have to to keep the fibromyalgia pain away and hopefully reduce the headache (which you don't see still not responding to painkillers) - and also because I don't want to let anyone down. You don't see me failing at a basic move because I'm too fatigued to pull it off, and needing the trainee instructor to demonstrate it to the class. You don't see me collapse in the bath after, and struggle to get out.

You don't see the frustration when I woke this morning and the headache still pounded and I still couldn't move easily. You don't see me crouched in the kitchen trying to make food, grateful that the gabapentin and circus has kept the fibromyalgia pain at bay and trying to keep from crying with the headache and the exhaustion and the frustration that I'm not writing, like I want to be. You don't see me napping, and being woken from the nap by a noisy gardener so curling up to watch TV and crying at everything because I'm so damn tired, and then the gardener leaving and me trying to nap again, only to be woken again soon after by school kids running and screaming on my driveway. You don't see the internal battle that eventually sees me getting up and dressed and nearly crying again, when me opening the front door is all the catalyst it takes to get the gossiping parents to call their children to heel and go their separate ways.

You don't see the angry letters I'll never send to the school.

You don't see the affection the cat has given me all day. You don't see the relief that follows the kiss Husbit gives me when he gets home. You don't see the look on his face when he realises I'm still in pain.

You don't see the wonderful feeling that spreads as the headache finally lifts and I can write this.

You don't see the fear that friends and work colleagues will take what you do see to mean I'm fine.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Deadlands - Tam's War: Repercussions and Spying

When I come to in the morning (17th October 1879), the worst of the drugs have left my system. Blearily, I explain to Tam and the others what I learnt from the hostage: that despite the attackers all being in Kwan's colours, Kang was actually behind this; and it wasn't just about chaos, but an attack on Tam's life.

Tam's livid - partly because he didn't see it coming. He's angry because Ma and Woo, like Kwan, left before the violence as if they knew what was coming.

Tam's heard that Kang and Kwan are meeting in Dragon's Breath in 4 days time, and he wants us to spy on the meeting. Us, because now he doesn't trust his men. He'll help us however he can, including getting us there in time. He warns us that Kwan knows it was us who sank the Abysmal, to complicate things further, but says this will be the last task he asks of us: he won't hold us to the rest of the time he originally demanded. We can have the key when we get back.

He looks after us for the day, feeding us and tracking down things that should be useful for the task. He puts us up for one more night, and we leave early in the morning on a boat called the Sturgeon - Tam's ironclad.

Around noon, the temperature falls. A thick fog forms around us, and frost forms on the hull. The captain slows the ship and the crew looks anxious. I don't blame them. The shadows extend and contract unnaturally in what light we have. I start, then race to Carson when he starts screaming for no obvious reason. When he calms again, he explains the fog is supernatural. 

By now, it's so thick we can't see more than a few yards - which means we can't see what causes the screams at the back of the boat, nor why they end so abruptly. The captain's never seen anything like this. I head over, and there, looming through the mist, is a towering ghost ship. The Abysmal. I shudder, but remember something Dillenger told me about ghosts: they can only be defeated with magic. 

I send Chin to punch the boarding spectres, hoping the powers he displayed in the Kumite are magic enough. Tesla's freaking out, so sit with him and calm him and bring him round. He lends his lightning rod to Carson, who passes him a knife - he picked it up in the wizard's lair on Felheimer's Folly and thinks it's magic, but is as good at fighting hand to hand as I am. Meanwhile, I head to the ship's guns to strafe the ghost ship, to see if we might be able to board it in return, but it seems unlikely. Instead, I climb to the highest place I can find and sing, to keep everyone's spirits up.

There's chaos every direction I look, but Carson notices every time one of the lightning bolts hits The Abysmal rather than a boarding ghost, part of the ship fades away, so he turns his attention on that until eventually the whole thing is gone, the fog lifts, and the only sign anything happened are the spent shells and the missing crew members. Roughly half of the crew, gone. Less than a minute has passed.

The rest of the day is spent acting as replacement crew. We borrow a dinghy to reach Dragon's Breath after dark and manage to find a place to stay.

Explore in the morning. Most of the buildings are traditional-Chinese in style, except one which is red brick and surrounded by creepy statues - human/lizard hybrids. Chin says they look like tomb guardians, used to keep robbers out (or dangerous things in). There's a single door to the building, dramatically barred. This isn't Kang's fortress, though, which has crenellations, guards, cannons - but is low enough you could jump to the roof from another building, if there wasn't a clear gap all round it. The guards on the gate are busy with people and carts entering and leaving. Some people are interrogated or even searched on the way in, but everyone is ignored on the way out, so Chin grabs a box and follows a group in.

The rest of us look for another way in, and settle on the sewer. Not pleasant, but it'll do. We've still got a few days before the meeting, but figure if we can, we should break in tonight, before security is ramped up for the meeting. Chin rejoins us, having scouted the place, and he and Carson head out to set a very smoky fire to draw the guards attention. Tesla and I head to the grate we'd settled on, and use some of his acid to cut through the metal, and some of his other spare bits and pieces to rig it so it looks sealed but should still be easily opened. Chin leads us somewhere inside where we can hide, and we stay there for all of the following day into the next.

Chin acts as scout, so he's the one who sees Kwan's posse arrive on 21st October, and works out where the meeting will be held. He fetches us and we hide by a wall to listen in. Kwan's brought 'Emperor' Joshua Norton with him, so most of the conversation is in English, which helps.

Kwan isn't happy the attack was carried out in his colours and wants to know who was behind it. Kang doesn't say, instead pointing out Tam believes it was Kwan and will want revenge, so Kwan should attack first. They discuss plans: Kwan can't attack without naval support, which Kang will supply. They switch to Chinese and we struggle to follow (even Chin, whose parents raised him to speak more English than Chinese), when we hear a shout of "INTRUDERS!" and make a swift exit (the sewer grate functioning as hoped).

We get back to the Sturgeon and race to Shan Fan, but don't get back before dusk falls and the captain makes us stop for the night. None of us sleep well, and in the morning realise we got a little lost: we don't get back until mid-afternoon. Kang's fleet is already in place - much sooner than should have been possible. Kang's navy means the ship can't get through, so the captain drops us outside and we'll walk through the refugee camp again. Or what we thought was a refugee camp, but now realise is indeed an army camp, so they'd both been ready in advance. Ready to betray each other? We can only hope.

Carson takes out the sentries using sleeping darts we got from Tam and we creep through the camp, into Shan Fan and back to Tam. He's very concerned with our news, but is true to his word and gives us the key. We hightail it back to the Sunrise Lodge to get our stuff. Pennington-Smythe and Dillenger aren't there, so we head to the remains of the Explorers' Lodge.

Friday, 13 October 2017

FictionFriday - King Akwern's Levy

I heard you was out across the country lookin' fer local folklore, afore them temple-dwellers knock it all outta us.

Weeelll, I've no doubt ye've heard already of King Akwern, Lord of the Grey Ones, though as I hear it he has other names and other genders in other parts <he spits>, so yeh may not know 'im proper yet. And it bein' Harvest and all, tis a good time to know yer enemy.

So, you'll be seeing 'em all out (if yeh haven't already), collecting collecting their crops from tree and soil, and yeh'll be seeing them leavin' a great pile of it at the edges: every orchard, every field. And later, we'll all a-come and heave what's there to th'edges of the forest, what 'iz troops haven't tekken already. And if we don't, well, misfortune follows.

Tek little Bonnie. She was a friend of my Grammer's, though her huzbban weren't so kind as my own Granfer, as they tell it. But she married him and he got a son in her and carried on his drinking and shouting and lazing even after the babe was born and his parents had died and another babe on the way, when then he stops only for he drops himself dead. And little Bonnie's all big with child and can't manage the orchard alone . Some of the crop makes its way to market and some to King Akwern, but most finds its way nay further than the floor. Well, King Akwern don't tek kindly to this. And ye may be wundering why, when he had his tithe. The thing is, see, he doesn't just want his share  of the crop, he wants that share to be the very best, and what he got from Bonnie, it weren't the best of what'd grown.

So he sends his black-and-white birds as lookouts, and the dust-tailed lieutenants swarmed their house, them chittering ones tided in like water turned grey, and when they ebbed away, sure and her son was missing.  

Now, Bonnie was a brave lass for all her huzbban had done. This'd be reet when she'd jowst hadden the new babe, a girlie, and she wasn't going fer that babe to lose it's brother so, so she traps herself one of 'iz lieutenants, bound it to her mekking it swear thrice that it would aid her and not mislead her afore she let it out of that trap, fer all the good that did her, and off she set with the babe at her breast, her cloak round her shoulders and that squirrel on her shoulder.

And nehver was she seen again, at least, not in these parts. Mayhap she got the better of King Akwern and married herself a prince and lived happily ever after, but I think he et her. 

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Exalted - Farewell Derren's Ford

The tree was not comfy. Mummy and Daddy hadn't come back by the time we woke up. We stayed hiding in the tree but it wasn't nice and we were hungry. I convinced Kito we should go back. I pretended I wasn't scared or else he wouldn't've come.

When we got to the village, there was no one there, except there was a big fire in the distance. Kito didn't know if there was some special celebration going on that we were too little to know about yet. Everything was messy in our house and no one was there. Well, Roxy was in the barn but she was asleep so I put some oats down for her and made Kito and I some food and we looked around again after we ate and our friend's daddy had gone to sleep outside their house. He must have been drinking something red when he went to sleep and spilt it everywhere. He was lying on his tummy and it didn't look like a nice way to sleep but we couldn't wake him and he was too heay to move so we found a blanket and wrapped him up and it was late and we were tired too so we went to bed and he was still there when we got up in the morning so he must have been really tired.

Roxy was still asleep too and she hadn't had her oats so maybe there was some big party we weren't invited to and that's why everyone was so tired. Only then Kito thought maybe we should look in Daddy's cellar where we're not meant to go and Daddy was in there but Han was too and Han said we shouldn't wake Daddy but we should go to Thorns and find Mei and get Mei to take us to our Uncle Chow of House Cathak. Han didn't look very well but said he was ok really but had to look after Daddy. There was a big sword by Daddy that I couldn't lift but Kito could, just, so Han said we could take it with us and he said we should look under the floorboards in the kitchen and there would be a pouch with some jade in it and we should take that to. So we did, even though we're not supposed to have jade because we're peasants, and the jade was all different colours and there was a piece that had a picture on it, like a stamp. And I found some food and Kito wrapped the giant sword. And Han stayed behind to look after Daddy and Kito and I went into town because we thought finding a boat to go to Thorns would be easier than walking. And in town there was a big bonfire which I thought maybe was where everyone was partying but Kito got closer and said it wasn't and said I mustn't go any closer and he looked very pale and wouldn't tell me what was wrong. It did smell funny. 

Anyway, we got down to the dock and it was all damaged but we managed to find a little boat that wasn't and then we set out and we went the wrong way but Kito didn't believe me only later I saw him turn the boat around when he thought I didn't notice and I didn't let him know I'd seen because I didn't want to make him sad.

It was tiring and I am bad at sailing. Kito's better because he wants to be a sailor like Song and every time Song visits he makes him teach him all about boats and we have to play boats and that's ok but I also want to play other things so I don't always pay attention and now we were out on the water and I couldn't help very much. 

We found a harbour one night, with all these fishing boats and after everything we were too scared to meet any of them but it was dark when we got there. I made some bowls out of the clay there while Kito made the boat safe and we left in the morning before the fishermen were up and I dried the bowls and fished while Kito rowed and sailed and the same the next day and after that we could eat more easily because we had bowls. And then another night we found a clearing and Kito went for berries and stuff while I prepared fish and food and then he got attacked by a whole pack of giant tiger-wolves - the size of tyrant lizards!* - and I wanted to run back to the boat but he wasn't fast enough and they bit him so I jumped on its back and hit it with a stick until it let go and it shook me off and that's when this huge cartwheel of fire rolled through and it fell in half! And we looked around and saw this man and his name was Hak and he saved us and looked over Kito and it turned out even though he'd been bitten nearly in half he wasn't actually hurt and Hak cooked us yummy food with a fire from a gem and watched over us as we slept and when we got up he'd painted all these symbols over our boat and then he had to leave us because he was going the wrong way and when we carried on the boat was really easy to use and really fast and we think that was the night we turned 8.

And then we made it to Thorns and steered our little boat into the harbour and docked it up and Kito was too scared to get out so I got out first and helped him out and that was how we got there.


* It was one normal-sized, normal wolf, but we can forgive an excited young girl for her hyperbole.