Wednesday, March 29, 2017

From the Internal Narrative of Callidus Igni

Strolling through the deep shadows of moonlit night was something I always found relaxing and peaceful, but all that changed with the Winter Lady at my side.

For one, I strode carefully, my footsteps measured, careful, precise; she was literally skipping. For another, I kept my silence to respect the world of the woodland; she was more chatty than my understanding of Faerie Queens had led me to expect, not that I held claim to a lot--or any--firsthand experience.

-

We spotted lights out in the distance, flickering between the trees.

"So..." she dragged me to a halt. "How do you want to play this?"

"What?"

She glanced at me askance. "You know, the fun. The game. The leading astray." She paused. "How do you usually do it?"

"If it's spontaneous like this, I follow for long enough to see if they know where they're going. If they do, I slip ahead of them and treat them as if they don't--"

"Though if they weren't going the right way, they wouldn't have stumbled over you."

"Quite. If they are actually lost, I approach them from the rear--"

"Offer to help and then lead them further astray."

"Yes."

She stomped her foot. "How boring! Don't you ever want to mix it up? Try something different?"

"Every case is different. They react differently, resist differently, if they resist at all. There are some lines I hear a lot, and some I never hear twice. But other than that, no."

She pouted.

"Unless I know enough to plan ahead. Set up some illusion magic, put a good scare into them, maybe even do the whole nine yards of devouring the souls."

"You don't just, you know, improvise?"

"Improvisation leads to mistakes. Mistakes lead to failure. Failure diminishes reputation."

"Oh." She sighed. "That sounds boring. Not fun at all. It sounds like--"

"Work."

"Yes!"

"It is work. We can't all be Faerie Queens, you know. But I like the work. And sometimes something unexpected happens, like somebody stumbling across me when I'm resetting my gear--"

"After a planned ambush?" Her eyes lit up.

"Exactly like that."

-

I strode up next to the gal at the back who looked like a rogue or archer, trying to keep an eye on the rear but failing. It might have been easier if she hadn't been holding so close to her compatriots' torchlight.

"Are you sure this is the right way," I leaned in to whisper.

"If Ody says it's the way we go, it must be, or the right way is wrong."

"Huh. And if it's the wrong way?"

She shrugged. "What Ody says goes. -Hey, who are you?"

Before she could wonder too deeply, I picked up the pace again, sowing a little doubt on my way to the front.

"Excuse me, it's Ody, right?"

He stopped and stared at me. "Who are you and what are you doing?"

"Who I am matters little. I'm just concerned because you seem a ways off the beaten track. I don't often see many folk this far out."

"We're fine, old man. Move along."

"Your friends don't seem to think so."

"My-- Look now." He stepped closer to me, trying to get into my personal space and stare me down. "This is MY adventuring party, one which you are not a member of. And we are most definitely not lost."

"Hey now, calm down. I'm not trying to cause you any trouble. But I do know these parts pretty well, and I can say that some fairly nasty fae live in the direction you're going, and you'd do well not to tangle with them. If that's your plan, don't let me stand in your way." I stepped aside, gesturing for him to walk past me.

He took the bait, striding into the darkness I'd indicated, at a right angle to his previous head. I waved politely as the rest of the party tromped by, and slipped a card of my identity and skillset to their narrator.

Not twenty minutes later, they were back, and I hadn't moved.

"Not look here." He got into my face again. "I don't know what sort of game you're playing, but it ends here and now."

I stepped out of the way and gestured again, this time down their original heading.

"No. We're not falling for that a second time." He led out opposite to my first direction, now in the other right angle.

-

Half an hour passed and they were back.

"You! It's your fault! What did you do?"

"Stood here, mostly." I shrugged. "I've barely moved since you first confronted me."

"You're a liar."

I grinned suddenly. "I can't lie."

Ody jerked back a step like I'd slapped him, and glanced at his narrator, who nodded. "Faerie," he spat, "I loathe faerie. Attack him."

"It's too late. You're lost and your party is too tired to fight me with any chance of winning, let alone crawling away afterward."

"I'm not lost. I always know what direction I'm facing." He thrust a ragged piece of paper at me, presumably his character sheet.

"That doesn't do you any good if you don't travel the direction you're facing, or perform regular checks. Or if someone uses illusion to throw you off track. Just because you know which way you're facing doesn't mean you know where you are."

The party narrator steps up beside us. "Sorry, Ody, but he's got you dead to rights."

"You are fired," Ody hissed through clenched teeth.

"That's not for you to say." She crosses her arms, her smile dripping saccharin.

"Fine, fine. What's the toll?"

I tilted my head to the side. "Toll?"

"What's your price? What do we give up to get you to let us go."

"I'm afraid it doesn't work like that." I reach under my robe and retrieve my lantern. "I have no need for your trifling trinkets."

"Then what do you want?"

"That's the wrong question."

"What's the--"

The rogue from the rear pushed to the front, shoving Ody aside. "What sort of fae are you?"

"There's the right question."

"What are you? Enough of your games," Ody shouted impatiently. "What. Are. You?"

I bowed before them, sweeping my lantern arm wide. "I am a will-o-wisp, and my price is your souls."

--
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Monday, March 20, 2017

From the Internal Narrative of Callidus Igni

Mature Content
--

"Well now, what do we have here?"

I looked up from my work resetting my rigging to see a woman in blue and white step out of the darkness of the night. She was attractive and walked like she knew it, and was utterly unknown to me.

I set aside my web of puppet-strings and bowed respectfully to her. "Good evening, my lady."

"Oh, and a gentleman to boot. I like you."

"Thank you, ma'am. --Pardon me, but may I ask--"

"Don't worry about me. Continue with your work." She smiled deliciously and leaned against a tree.

I glanced down and then up again, and she had leaned forward eagerly. "I'm sorry, but I can't do that." I reached under my robe and pulled out my lantern. "Do you know what I am?"

"A creature of the night, I suppose, else you would not be out so frivolously inattentive at this hour. Beyond that, I can only speculate. Do you know what I am?" She pranced closer to within my lantern's glow.

"All I know is how you look."

"And how is that," she preened.

"Lost. May I help you find your way?"

She laughed, and it was no mere chuckle; she leaned back and roared, and the action did nothing to draw the eye away from her supple curves. "Oh, you are good. That's very good. Yes, I like you very much."

"Ma'am?"

"I see you for who you are. You bear a friar's lantern, you can only be a will-of-the-wisp."

I smiled. "Very good." I took a step back, pulling the shadows over her once more. "But knowing what I am and resisting me are two very different things."

She danced back into my light and closer still. "Wyldfae." She tasted the word slowly. "I love wyldfae. Unaligned and unconcerned about it. Tell me, Wisp, have you ever lain with a scion of Winter?"

"I can't say that I have."

She touched my cheek, her hand very cold. "Would you like to," she purred.

I raised my empty hand to stroke her face, her cheek, her neck, before wrapping my hand around the soft, pale flesh, applying some pressure and pinning her back against a tree. "I care not for your writhing flesh save to separate it from your grasp on this world. Were you mortal, I would devour your soul while you begged me to save you from the darkness; but a faerie, servant to a Queen who is ignorant of my work-- I will break you and drink your power," I trailed off into a harsh whisper.

"Harder."

"What?"

She grabbed my hand. "Squeeze harder. I love it when they get rough."

I smiled grimly. "Never let it be said that I disappointed a lady."

She moaned as I tightened my grip. "You're wrong. I do see. It is good work that you do, Wisp. Let me reward you. She writhed eagerly.

"What! Who are you?"

She moaned louder, struggling only to tempt me.

"Who are you, who walks in the night alone and unafraid of being led astray?"

She locked her eyes on mine and ground her body against the tree, unable to do so against mine.

"Thrice I say and let it be done. Name thyself," I thundered.

The forest quieted at the command, and I could hear her choked whisper without leaning closer: "Maeve, the Lady Winter."

-

"Wait, please! Come back here! Where are you going? At least tell me your name."

At the last request I stopped, turned, and stared at her. "Not my name, given from my own lips, to a faerie, let alone Lady Winter herself. I am not so gullible."

"But--"

"I am the only wisp in these woods, you may call me such until you can find one to make introductions."

She put her hand on her head--out of character. "But--"

"Thrice I say. No."

She looked at me askance and dropped hew arm, slightly wowed, then skipped up to me. "Ah, you're one of those then." She looped her arm within mine. "I like you even more now." She pouted and leaned into me.

"Can I not be rid of you?"

"Why would you want to? Strolling around with a Lady on your arm, what could be better? Unless you are beholden to someone--" she unlaced her arm from mine. "It would place a burden on me to interfere with your duty,:

I growled, and she warily took a step back. "My only duty is to lead others astray, and I have fulfilled that obligation once already tonight. Any more is- is-"

"Fun?"

I sighed. "Yes my lady. Any more is for my satisfaction alone. Fun, as you say."

She leaned in and kissed my cheek. "Then let's go have some fun."

--
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Friday, March 17, 2017

FINCI: What Happens When You Fail

At the dawning of the sun, The Lady Winter strode through her forest and scowled. The null field still stood, and while it wouldn't stop her from doing what needed to be done, it was an inconvenience, and she didn't stand by and let those who inconvenienced her get away with it. The insult was dealt.

-

Secondus woke groggily at the shaking, and found one of his NPCs standing in his tent, scowling. He squinted in the early morning light. "I'm up, I'm up. What's this-- oh."

"You know what needs to be done."

"Yes, my Lady. And you need a witness, which means you need me."

She said nothing while he scrambled out of his sleeping bag and pulled on his somewhat worse-for-wear storyteller garb, marking him to all others that he was not to be messed with. When he was at last presentable, he led her out of his tent--holding the flap for her fully in-character--and hunted down those shelters from his party.

Continue reading on DreamCruder

--
Index

Thursday, March 16, 2017

From the Internal Narrative of Callidus Igni

Admittedly, most of the wailing emanated from concealed speakers shielded from the electrostatic burst, but Succus contributed her own shrieks at it and the sudden dowsing of the boys' lamps.

Umbo and I caught up swiftly, dragging Secondus along with us as he clenched my shoulder tightly.

"What Happened?"

"I don't know, Umbo. The lights just went out and they won't come back on. And that ghastly noise." Succus shivered.

"Null zone?"

I nodded.

Umbo frowned. "No magic."

At these words, the satyrs pulled out small skins and took sips of the liquid within. Succus tried to share it with them, but they held them close and tight.

"Any other time, love, but not in the middle of this. Speed and Dexterity."

"We'll need the boost, though I'll be half-impaired, love. Strength and Magic."

Secondus whispered, "Libita, your boost is enough to overload the zone slightly. You have one point of magic while boosted."

"So light up!"

"Sorry, Suc. I need three for illumination."

"What can you do with one?"

"Perceive. Secondus?"

"The wailing is an illusion, but what is creating it is concealed from you. The sound alone can do no harm, but what it bodes can and will."

Libita glanced at me. "Callidus?"

I reached out my fingers like stroking hidden strings on the wind.

"Callidus has no magic within the zone."

I winced. Pulling back my hands, I mime wiping my eyes clear and peer around us.

"I thought you said he had no magic," Succus reminded.

Secondus smiled. "He gets a sight bonus in darkness. The darker it is, the higher the bonus." He cleared his throat, and resumed his narrative voice. "You see nothing amiss. The forest is still, and appears empty."

I grunted, somewhat annoyed. Secondus was good--he told me only what I needed to know, even during the setup. Aside from my vision, I was as much in the dark as the rest of them.

--

A regal figure stepped out of the wood.

Secondus whispered to Umbo, "You recognize her and kneel."

Umbo's face pales and he quickly lays himself supine. "My Queen."

 Succus gasps.

"Thank you, sir." She stares down the satyrs, and they scramble to their knees. "Callidus?"

I bow my head but nothing more. "My Lady."

The boys gape at my insouciance, but she only smiles at me. "It is good to see you again."

"I hope to say the same. How may we aid you?"

"First, you can turn off that obnoxious sound. I think they get the point."

"Of course. Secondus?"

"Spiritus Nocte, close your eyes. To you, no time will have passed between closing them and reopening them." He nodded to me. "Go."

I brushed back my hood and flicked on a shielded flashlight, then oriented myself and stepped behind a particular tree, locating the cables for the speakers. I disabled them, and in another moment, returned to my previous location and position, the flashlight disappearing into a hidden pocket once more. Before I dropped my hood back down, Umbo caught my eye and smirked. I nodded to Secondus.

"Spiritus Nocte, open your eyes and if you have only blinked, and indeed, that's all you have done."

Succus puts her hand on her head--declaring herself out of character. "What was that about."

Umbo duplicated her gesture. "The man who never steps out of character stepped out of character." He dropped his hand.

Succus glared at me before doing the same, disappointed.

I repeat in the same tone as if nothing had happened, "How may we aid you?"

"First, you may introduce me," the woman smiles.

"Spiritus Nocte, may I have the pleasure of introducing you to The Queen Who Is To Come, Lady Winter. Lady Winter, my companions are Umbo, Succus, Libita, and Laetatio."

"Thank you, Callidus."

I bow quickly and succinctly, before straightening once more.

"Umbo. Fetch." She smiles. "Oh, but I so do love a nice strong fetch." She extends her hand and allows him to kiss it. "I don't need you tonight, but it will do you no harm to tag along, I suppose. And your apparent care from young Succus is quite precious.

"The young ones now... Supple. Flexible. Unaligned." The Lady spoke slowly and deliberately, finding each word more delicious than the last and not eager to spit them quickly out. "Yes, you are what I need." She walked up to Succus, still frozen awkwardly between her brother's supine pose and the satyrs' kneeling position, and caressed her face.

Secondus narrates, "The Lady's touch is colder than the coldest thing you have known, as befitting a Queen of Winter, and as sensuous as a young and ancient Queen Who Is To Come. She is Daughter to Mab."

Succus gasps at the touch, but leaned into it hungrily.

The Lady ran her thumb across Succus's lips, and she parted them, breathing heavily. Umbo growled.

"Yes, she is perfect. Do not worry, little fetch. If she performs well, she will come to no harm. Nor the satyrs. I have a quest that needs doing before the dawning of the sun, and time already grows short."

"Why should we take your quest?" Libita asked.

"Why indeed. Callidus?"

"Profit if you do, insult if you do not."

She smiles broadly. "Harsh but true, expect no less from you."

I grunt.

"What do you need us to do?"

"It's very simple. Find the source of the null field and deactivate it."

"And what do we get out of it?" Libita continues.

"Favor in my court." The Lady smiles down at Succus, still at the mercy of her touch.

Secondus clarifies, "That's worth more than iron at the heart of Arctis Tor, and will keep you alive longer too."

"Quite." The Lady turns suddenly and strides back into the darkened woods. At her withdrawn touch, Succus collapses.

"Where's she going? We didn't accept," Laetitio interjects.

"Choice is an illusion."

"Quite," Secondus repeats to me, his tone grim.

--
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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Party of Four

"Look, I'm not saying it's a character building thing, but--"

"No, you're not saying it isn't. The fact of the matter is that I packed my gear one way and you do it another. Just because your way was taught by your peers and superiors in the field doesn't mean it's inherently better or worse than my way, discovered and decided by what works best for me. If you want to train yourself to tolerate what worked best for someone else--though they or their students may have too much ego to realize we're not all built the same way--be my guest. I'm making the conscious choice to find my own way, and that may mean that I suffer through more trials of error than you do learning to love someone else's method, so be it. --I'm sorry, I didn't mean to go off like that."

We walked in silence for a few dozen paces.

"Don't sweat it." He patted my shoulder. "Logically, I know that doing things differently doesn't mean doing them wrong, but emotionally, it's harder to recognize that. We good?"

I nodded.

"Good. --Well, it looks like the guys have found us a place to call it a night. Shall we pick up the pace a bit and join them?"

"Sure."

Tim and Tom, the other two gents in our party, had found a small clearing and were setting up their tents under the sheltering boughs of a great evergreen. Phil paced out a section for his own shelter while I took a look around. Ten feet was the closest I could find a reasonable pair of anchor points, with an ideal set twice as far out.

"Well?" Phil watched me expectantly. He'd brought me in on this little expedition, and was already finding my methods a little eccentric.

"Hmm?"

"What? Surely you're not shy about setting up your gear. For all your talk of trial and error, I'd at least assume you'd done this before. Go on, I left you plenty of room."

I scowled and turned away for a moment, before spinning back. "I'm not shy," I countered, before sauntering off to my more distant ideal. The brush was thick enough I could only smell when they got the fire going, and though the woodsmoke was pleasant enough, their raucous chatter intruded on the green song around me--the reason I did this.

As dusk gave way to dark and the fire burned down, Phil wandered out to find me.

"Well, that explains a few things," he said, drawing my attention away from watching the sky and the woods. "You should have said something, we could have moved."

"No, Phil. If I were sleeping on the ground, a bed of needles is exactly where I'd want to be. They chose well. I tried sleeping on the ground for many year--one of my schools did camping trips and it was practically part of the curriculum--but I was never comfortable; I could never get comfortable." I looked at him. "The first night I spent in a hammock, I slept better than in my bed at home. That was it for me. I was never gong back to a tent after that."

He got quiet, than let out a small chuckle. "That explains your packing attitude. How much space does it take?"

I reached down to the gear between my legs, grabbed a drybag, and handed it to him. "Two more of those."

He gaped openly, handing the bag back. "You might make a convert out of me yet. Sleep well."

"You too."