Kelsey turns the car off. She stares off into the darkness for several seconds. The air is tense. The frustration is real.
James: Talk to me.
Kelsey: I just. I don’t understand.
James: What don’t you understand?
Kelsey: I just. That model of the solar system. You know. That one.
James: I know.
Where does the Kuiper Belt fit into all of this????
Kelsey: I just can’t reconcile it with the old system, the one I grew up with.
Pluto? How old is this image?
Kelsey: One just goes ffffsssvvvvvhhhhhh and the other goes vsssssddddhh. You know?
James: I know.
Kelsey: And why do they orbit around the sun? What’s keeping them there? Are the planets trying to escape?
James: Well we all started out as a disc of dust spinning around the sun. Then some of the dust started crashing into each other. And now here we are.
Kelsey: But why did they crash into each other? And why did they start spinning?
James: I don’t know. Let’s go inside and find out.
Anyway, the other day I was perusing Pinterest on a wedding-related scheme, and came across this image:
Both the color and the style struck me as beautiful, so I Pinned it. Then I went and posted the Etsy site on Facebook. Just because look at it.
You can have them in white or whatever color like red and you can do flowers instead of a bow which I admit a bow is risky:
We should be in awe over the poof of that dress but all I see is the droopiness of the bow
But do you see the contrast on that one shawl
You thought I forgot this reaction image didn’t you
Anyway this thing is classy and elegant and gorgeous and everything that I am not, and so I totally want it but it’s not at all what I had in mind for my wedding? I don’t even know what I want for my wedding like
This is what I had originally planned for the bridal party. But we all talked about it and like
This is what they would rather have
Or would an all-white sweater be best I don’t know
What do I want
James: You were talking in your sleep last night.
Kelsey: I did? What did I say.
James: Ah, man, I can’t remember now. I almost wrote it down. You said something like you were talking to me. Then you said something like I had said something back. Then the last thing you said was “Okay, okay.”
I am disappointed.
Anyway, the weather has been consistent lately. Really, really hot, leading to thunderstorms in the evening. Yesterday it was raining buckets when I walked out of Home Depot, so I booked it across the parking lot. Splashed water all over my butt, but the rest of me was surprisingly dry. Maybe I ran so fast I dried off quickly. Or maybe it was so warm I didn’t notice I was wet. Who knows.
Because it’s been so hot, the new rules for dog-walking at the shelter have us walking the dogs early and quickly, then taking a break during the heat of the day, then walking them later in the evening. When I came in at 10:30 on Tuesday, the dogs had already received their morning walk. I took out the dogs who had been walked first (and who were under 60 pounds).
Dogs who are not desperate to go are really nice to walk. It was too warm for them to walk around a bunch anyway. I ended up walking them over to a shady spot near trees and just sitting with them. I gave them a good back-scratch to get rid of shedding hairs. One dogs, Kendra, desperately needed it. Another dog, Nila, didn’t need it as much, although she had a skin condition of some kind and clearly needed regular attention. Her reaction was to lean into me, and then just plop herself next to me and offer her belly for rubbing. I was happy to oblige. Rocky was too energetic and wouldn’t sit still long enough for petting. Eventually he grabbed onto the leash and started pulling. So I spent ten minutes with him playing tug-of-war.
I actually felt like I had helped these dogs with these interactions. I know that they need to get out and stretch their legs. But they seemed happier when I put them back in their kennels. They looked like normal, happy dogs. Less stressed.
Over at Starbucks, there was a customer sitting in a skirt and a nice ruffled blouse, clearly waiting. Finally a dude showed up, wearing a Big Bang Theory t-shirt and baggy pants. They greeted each other and hugged, and then went to get drinks. They sat in the corner by the door to the back room. They talked for hours.
They appeared to be on a first date. So whenever I had to use the door to the back room, I would take note of what they were talking about.
He: We were playing The Old Republic.
She: I like video games. I play them.
He: Apparently it bothered her that I kept beating her. So finally she yelled at me about it. I was like, why didn’t you talk about it the first time?
She: I do that too.
About an hour later:
He: I’ve had two girlfriends attempt suicide. One of them successful. I had to call the cops on them.
I went on headset and reported that this guy had had two suicidal girlfriends and that this woman ought to run away as soon as she could. My manager made me take out the trash because I clearly didn’t have enough to do. I continued to keep an ear out when I could. Finally they left — together.
I went on headset. “No, don’t leave with him! You can do so much better!”
Dylan replied via headset. “I think they’re related.”
“What? They’re on a date.”
“No, they were talking about family drama.”
I wouldn’t put it past the guy to talk about family drama on a first date. But maybe they were related. Who knows.
When we last left off, our party had a disastrous encounter with a yeti, but we did find the diamond. We ticked off the mysterious Eldritch Society some more. And most importantly, Sariel’s mother had been kidnapped and was being held ransom for the diamond.
And now on to the adventure!
After some discussion, the Scooby Gang took Sariel’s mule-cart and headed down to the Warrens (Narcisse refused to use the cart, and walked the whole way). We wanted to case the joint, see what the place looked like. We didn’t even bother making a replica of the diamond or anything. Just headed down there. We passed through the nice part of the city, then a less-nice but still-nice part of the city where the merchants lived, and then literally headed downhill, into the windy Warrens slums. We arrived at the place, Shillelagh.
We didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves. Morthos suggested that he and Sariel enter the pub together and check the place out. We didn’t want to split the party, since that was usually disastrous. But we stuck out like a sore thumb, particularly Narcisse, with her fine clothing and finer attitude. So Rollin suggested that the others could enter one-by-one, staggering their entrances.
“Literally,” said Vibe.
“I am not a loiterer,” sniffed Narcisse.
So Sariel suggested that we could go back to the Adventurers Club and change into something a bit more…slummy. We all agreed. So Vibe lead the way back to the Adventurer’s Club (as he had grown up in the Warrens and therefore knew the way back best). Once there, we summoned Jobbins and said that we wanted to disguise ourselves. He was delighted, as the Costume Closet hadn’t been used “in ever-so-long.”
Narcisse hesitantly put on plain clothing, and even more hesitantly put on two small dabs of soot.
“If I may be so bold,” said Jobbins, “Just do what Master Vibe does.”
“What?” said Vibe.
So the Scooby Gang went back to the tavern. We agreed along the way that since Morthos had an established disguise as a criminal, he could pretend to be a criminal looking for work. Vibe would be his bodyguard, and the rest was just…his gang?
It turned out that we had overplanned the whole thing. When we entered the Shillelagh, there was only the bartender and two lowlives, hunched over, nursing their drinks. The bar covered an entire wall, but there were only a few bottles behind it. The air was filled with stale smoke and the scent of stale beer. The bartender was ancient and coughing.
We paid two gold pieces for five pints of warm, thin, tasteless beer.
“You look familiar,” said the bartender.
“I’ve been around a bit,” said Morthos.
“I’ve been around a lot!” laughed the bartender. The laughter turned into coughing.
We sat at a table and looked around. Vibe started drinking. There were eight tables in total, and one unused fireplace. The only doors were the front door and a second door. We had no idea what was behind the second door.
Morthos used Speak With Animals to ask Rufus if he smelled anything familiar. “Well there’s you,” mused Rufus. “There’s her. There’s him. There’s her. And there’s him. And the door smells like Mistress.”
“Does it smell like Sariel’s mother or does it smell like the crime lady?”
“Oh! Oh it smells like Mistress. But it also smells like the bad lady, yes. Yes it does.”
So Narcisse decided to check out the door. She stumbled over to the door.
“Is this the way to the privy?” she asked the bartender.
“No, no, just a dirty cellar! You’d be better off using the alley! Cleaner!”
We decided to check out the alley. About halfway down the alley was the wall of another building. We returned to our warm beer. There was only one way in and out. The Crime Family had chosen this place well.
We approached the bartender. We handed over a drink and asked him what was behind the bar.
“Nothing, just more tanks of beer and ale!”
We gave him another drink.
“Oh, it’s a secret passage!”
We gave him another drink.
“The crime family uses it as the entrance to their hideout!”
We gave him the last drink, since Vibe had finished “99 percent” of his.
“I’m going to take a nap!”
Once he was good and snuggled onto the bar, we went downstairs. First our tank, Vibe, then me, Morthos, Narcisse, and lastly Rollin, holding up the rear with his bow and arrow. The stairs were narrow and twisty, and stank of stale alcohol. At the bottom were five men standing in a semi-circle, wearing armor and carrying crossbows. They looked confused that we were there.
“Have you seen Aunt Primrose?” Vibe asked. “We think you kidnapped her.”
“What?” said one of the men.
“Where’s the privy?” asked Narcisse.
“Not here,” said another man.
“Can she just go down here?” asked Sariel. “It’s not like it can make it smell any worse.”
“Did you just come down here to insult the cellar? Who are you people?”
Narcisse cast Web, entangling and trapping them.
“Where is my mother?” Sariel yelled.
“Close by!” said one.
“Where is close by?” Sariel demanded.
They didn’t answer. So Sariel managed to dodge and side-step around Web, and then slash-stabbed one of the crossbow men. Her sword was bloody, and the man bled out at her feet.
“Where is my mother?” Sariel demanded.
Narcisse used Mage Hand to smack one of the living men around. She wanted to intimidate him into telling us where Sariel’s mother was.
“Ouch! It’s! Ouch! Behind the! Ouch! The Cask! Ouch! Over there! Ouch! Turn the knob! Ouch!”
We had what we wanted, but what should we do now? Vibe answered that question. He jumped right into the Web, reaching angrily for a man’s throat. He turned into a bear. The man screamed.
“Who’s that guy next to you?” Rollin asked one of the men.
“Brinx,” said the man.
“Do you like him?”
“I don’t…I don’t hate him,” said the man.
Rollin knotched his arrow and prepare to shoot it. He aimed it for Brinx.
“Oh no,” said the man. “No no no no no.”
Rollin let loose. The arrow landed squarely in Vibe’s bear-butt. The crossbow men all laughed. Three of the remaining men managed to struggle out of the Web. Now only one was left in the Web. That was the man facing Vibe. The three free ones went to attack us. Morthos turned into a direwolf and snatched one of them up, snapping his neck. Another tried to run for the door, but Sariel slashed his legs and down he went.
“Can I roar as an action?” asked the eight-year-old.
“What do you want to say?” asked the DM.
He managed to free himself from the Web and finally attacked the now-brown-pantsed dude. He bit his head, tearing off his skull and revealing the brain.
“This is the worst day ever!” sobbed the man.
“It’s also your last!”
“I figured that!”
Sariel tried to leap into the fray and instead got caught in the Web. She screamed and flailed against the Web, staining blood against it. Rollin shot an arrow into the poor dangling brown-pantsed man, but it bounced uselessly against his armor. So Sariel crossed her swords and cut the man’s head off.
It was all her first kills. Sariel walked into a corner and started silently weeping.
“You really care about your mom,” said Narcisse.
Everyone sort of stood around while Sariel cried and Vibe mauled one of the dude’s bodies. Finally, we unlocked the secret door and moved on. The doorway lead to a narrow hallway. It was dark, but fortunately most of us had darkvision. We were still surprised when two arrows sprang out of nowhere and hit Vibe square in the chest. He screamed in pain — they were poisoned!
As the rogue, Sariel would be best and dealing with traps. So she leapfrogged over Vibe and Dashed down the hall — only to trigger a trap in ten feet. The floor collapsed beneath her, and she only barely managed to catch the edge of the floor before falling into giant, goo-covered spikes.
I hissed, “Yessss, dungeon-crawling.”
But she was that much closer to the end of the hallway. Her darkvision could see the wooden barricade at the end, with two small heads poking out of it.
Morthos Direwolfed again and rescued Sariel from the pit. Sariel reported to the others about the barricade. So we kept covering fire, with Magic Missile, javelins, and arrows, as we made our way down the hallway. Vibe triggered another collapsing trap like the one I had encountered, but easily leapt out of danger. By the time we got to the barricade, both snipers were down. We leapt over the last trap, raided the bodies of the shooters, and moved on.
We had three doors to choose from. From behind one, we could hear arguing. So Vibe kicked down the door, and found himself in the barracks. Four men were arguing over a dice game. He tried to throw a javelin into the fray, but it landed in between the floorboards three feet in front of him. It vibrated heavily as the four men stared at him.
And so now we got involved in another fight that wasn’t anywhere near Sariel’s mother. The others leapt into the fight, but Sariel sighed. She prepared her lasso. Her intention was to tie up the men and then move on. In the time it took for her to prepare her lasso, each member of the Scooby gang had found an opponent and was trying to wale on them. They were all missing. It was pretty pathetic. Sariel tried to rope one of them in, but she missed as well.
Vibe tried to intimidate the biggest one, who was 6’3. He failed miserably. “Ohhh, look at the big scary man!” said the men. “Oh, he’s such a good shot!”
“I’m bigger than you!” roared Vibe.
They attacked with clubs. One smacked Narcisse, getting hit with her Armor of Agathys. She pointed her finger and him, bringing on Hellish Rebuke. The air around him burst into flames. Equally frozen and charred, he was finally finished off when Narcisse stabbed him with a poisoned arrow stolen from the snipers outside.
Vibe punched the 6’3 dude. “Who’s short now?” he shouted.
The guy hit him with his club, and down went Vibe. “You,” spat the dude.
Sariel jumped at him and surprise-stabbed him in the gut. “I’m short,” she said.
Vibe is 6’9 and Morthos is 4’11 by the way.
Rollin had been struggling in his fight; he finally gave up on the bow and arrow and began dual-sword stabbing like Sariel, becoming much more effective. He and Narcisse teamed up and defeated the guy, using swords and magic.
Morthos, despite being a direworld, was getting his wolfbutt kicked by his dude. Or more specifically, his wolfhead. He kept getting smacked upside the head. After Sariel finished off the tall guy, she jumped in and finished off Morthos’ dude.
It had been several long, drawn-out fights, but we were finally alone in the enemy territory. Our wizard had run out of spells. Our fighter was out, stabilized but unconscious. The rogue had killed five dudes and injured another, but was down to only 6 hit points. We had no idea when anyone would enter the room and find us. And we still had no idea where Sariel’s mother was.
Dad: You called me?
Kelsey: I did! It’s Father’s Day! Happy Father’s Day!
Dad: Oh, okay! Thank you!
Kelsey: Did you do anything to celebrate?
Dad: I did. We had a meal. It was fun. It was fun. We played Family Stories.
Kelsey: What’s that?
Dad: It’s when you sit around and tell family stories. Like we would tell the story of the cow in California.
Kelsey: Oh, the Basic Cow?
Dad: Yes, the cow that Mom almost hit.
Kelsey: Oh that cow! I remember now!
Dad: Everyone remembers but Katie.
Kelsey: She stayed asleep the whole time.
Dad: Or we would tell the story of — I didn’t actually tell this story — the story of the outhouse. Do you know that story?
Kelsey: I’m not sure.
Dad: It’s the one where Grampa pushed over the outhouse.
Kelsey: It’s this the George Washington one?
Dad: Yes, and this isn’t a real story, but he learned in school that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and his father didn’t punish him because he didn’t lie. So he pushed over the outhouse and his grandfather — this was his farm — his grandfather started beating him, and Grampa said, “Why are you beating me, I didn’t tell a lie!” and his grandfather said–
Kelsey: He was in the outhouse!
Dad: Yes, George Washington’s father wasn’t in the cherry tree.
Dad: It’s not a true story. It’s a joke.
Dad: What are you up to tonight?
Kelsey: Well, I sat down to write, but I’m not sure what to write, so I’ve just been staring at the screen for a few hours.
Dad: What are you having trouble with?
Kelsey: Well, these characters are ghost hunters. And this woman walks into their apartment, and she wants them to look for vampires. But they don’t hunt vampires, they hunt ghosts. So one of them says that they don’t hunt vampires, but the other one says that she knows where the vampires are and they can help her.
Dad: Are vampires real?
Dad: Are they famous ghost hunters?
Kelsey: No, they just started out. They’re trying to get people to notice them.
Dad: How did this woman find out about them then?
Kelsey: There was a bank that couldn’t sell this house because of the ghosts. It was falling into disrepair and whenever they tried to fix it the ghosts kept breaking their tools. So the bank got desperate and finally hired them to get rid of the ghosts, so they did, and this woman found out about it.
Dad: How old are they? Are they in their thirties?
Kelsey: No, they’re pretty young.
Dad: So she can comment that she thought they would be older.
Kelsey: I suppose.
Dad: What part are you having trouble with?
Kelsey: Well, the first part. She just walked into the apartment. They’ve all said their hellos and now I don’t know what to do.
Dad: What does the apartment look like? Is it a nice apartment?
Kelsey: It’s a very tiny apartment. It’s a very small kitchen overlooking a living room that’s just big enough for the couch and the desk that’s the center of operations for the business. And there’s a big window, like at Katie’s old apartment, and two small bedrooms, just big enough for a twin or maybe a full-size bed.
Dad: There’s a big window? What does it overlook?
Kelsey: The street, I guess. They overlook a commercial center, with shops and stuff. There’s a movie theater across from them — no, it’s down and around the corner. They live across from a bar.
Dad: So they’re downtown.
Dad: How big is the city?
Kelsey: Small. Like 30,000 people.
Dad: Where is the city?
Kelsey: I don’t know. Somewhere in Virginia or North Carolina. They’re starting to become conflated in my mind.
Dad: Is it near a big city?
Kelsey: I don’t think so.
Dad: If it was near a big city then there would be more business.
Kelsey: But I associate ghosts and hauntings with rural areas. It’s why it’s a smaller town.
Dad: Is it a walk-up?
Kelsey: Yeah, it’s a third-floor walk-up.
Dad: That’s a pretty big walk-up. Maybe there can be a guy on one of the floors who smokes a pipe all day.
Dad: They call him Captain and he keeps explaining that he’s not a captain, he was just a — a navy officer, you know. Not a captain. But they call him Captain anyway. And he tells stories from his time in the navy.
Kelsey: I’m not really sure…
Dad: He can just be some atmosphere, some filler. He smokes a specific kind of tobacco, a sweet-smelling smoke. And he tells stories. He’s a salty guy, he worked on a ship for 40 or 60 years. Does the apartment smell?
Kelsey: It doesn’t smell good. I guess it smells like…carpet cleaner?
Dad: The apartment should be a refinished hotel. I’m taking over your story, I’m sorry.
Kelsey: It’s fine. I think you have a really strong character. You should tell a story about him. A guy who lives in a refurbished hotel and stands in the hallway and smokes a pipe and tells stories to passerby. The stories can all be random things, but they all have something to tie them all together. There’s a story-within-a-story. Not all of them relate to that story, but it can be there.
Dad: Yeah, maybe. I’ll think about it. You should have your characters drink tea. They should offer them tea, like the English do. They’re just starting to talk, and then the kettle goes off. “Oh, excuse me! I left the kettle on. Would you like a spot of tea?” They should say that, just like they say it in England.
Dad: When are you coming to visit?
Kelsey: I should be up in July. James wants to see Old South Mountain, he hasn’t seen it yet. And I want to spend some time with Katie and Lacey. And there’s a board game party we want to go to.
Dad: I miss you. I wish you lived half an hour away, not six hours away.
Kelsey: Yeah, I miss you guys too. But it’s better than when I was 18 hours away in Dubuque.
Dad: And you’re not over two mountain ranges either.
Kelsey: Two mountain ranges? Really?
And the conversation drifts to geography and eventually we both agree that we are tired and say good night.
When last we saw our heroes, they found out that their rescuer was a salty old pirate that had mutinied and murdered his former crew, and was using them to get off the island. So they murdered him. Then they returned home and became the toast of the town. Narcisse, in particular, was invited to join another society: the Eldritch Society, of High Elves looking to restart the old Elven Empire. Narcisse turned them down.
Thus ends our recap.
After a few weeks of max chillaxing and horse-buying, the Epsilon Society sends the Scooby Doo gang on another mission. This time, they’re going to retrieve the Eternal Ice Diamond from the very top of a high mountain, so high that dwarves don’t go that high.
After a two-week journey that was skipped over in exposition, we climbed to the top of the mountain, where there was a giant dome. We entered the dome; the icy passageway was windy and expanded from about 20 feet to forty feet, then stopped suddenly. So we stuck a stake in the ice cliff and climbed our way down, noticing along the way that there were gigantic claw marks all over the cliff, from an obviously gigantic creature. Nothing we could do about that, so we continued climbing down.
The dome was held up by gigantic ice pillars, which could act as cover. This was good, because they could act as cover, but they were also bad, because they could act as cover. Morthos turned into a giant spider and crawled across the ceiling. He returned and reported that the diamond was embedded in a pillar, out in the open, completely unguarded. However, nearby was a gigantic mousehole-type hole.
You know what I’m talking about.
Well obviously there was a monster in that mousehole. So we talked it out, and decided that Morthos would turn back into a spider and crawl across the ceiling and wait above the diamond. Narcisse would use Web to block the hole, then Mage Hand to lift the diamond to the point where Morthos could use spiderweb to lift it up. Vibe and Rollin stood on either side of the mousehole. I hid behind a pillar, to act as further cover. Thus prepared, Narcisse cast Web and then Mage Hand.
As soon as the diamond moved from its perch, the monster that was obviously inside the mousehole let out a terrible roar, shaking everything. A twelve-foot-tall Abominable Snowman burst into the Web.
“Apparently she’s female,” I said.
“It’s cold. There’s bound to be shrinkage,” said the DM.
Vibe shot the yeti with his crossbow, and Narcisse tried to cast Sleep, but neither did much good. So it became every man for himself; everyone took off running immediately. Sariel is the fastest and made it to the wall first, but that didn’t help. The Snowman managed to tear open the Web and went straight for Rollin. It looked him straight in the eyes, chilling his blood. Rollin tried to run; Vibe and Narcisse tried to provide cover and beat their own hasty retreat. But the Snowman was not to be deterred. Vibe roared; the Snowman would roar. Narcisse could distract him momentarily with a Firebolt, which seemed to cause pain and fear, but the Snowman was determined.
Sariel managed to climb up the ice cliff, where she discovered something strange: someone was coming. A lot of someones. She ducked behind and overhand and got her swords ready. Morthos hopped down from the ceiling a moment later, diamond in hand. Down below, they could see Rollin finally fall to the Snowman’s Chilling Gaze. Vibe ran and picked him up, but Rollin was paralyzed. Another Firebolt and a Moonbeam from Morthos left the Snowman injured, and he lashed out at Vibe, knocking him out cold.
Sariel came up with a daring plan: Morthos would turn into a direwolf, and Sariel would hop onto his back. Then they would ride down, and Sariel would lasso the Snowman and pull him to the ground, so he couldn’t strike so easily.
Sariel readied her lasso. Morthos transformed, tossed her onto her back, and they leaped.
None of you will understand how badass I felt, riding a
direwolf down an ice cliff while swinging a lasso
But through sheer willpower, Rollin managed to emerge from the frozen slushiness of his body and hit the Snowman with a mighty stab, twisting it into his guts. The Snowman let out a terrifying scream. His dripping blood quickly froze. Sariel managed to lasso him into place, but she was too weak to do anything.
Narcisse got another Firebolt on him. Screaming, he swiped at her, triggering her Rebuke. She pointed sternly at him, and flames sprang up all around him, melting his skin. He collapsed, screaming in pain. Rollin stabbed him in the neck, finishing him off.
We heard clapping. We turned to see Zariel, that asshole from the Eldritch Society, standing with a large group of fellow High Elves, dressed for the winter. “Congratulations,” said Zariel. “You won. You defeated the snowman and got the diamond. Use your scrolls, Gentlemen!”
The High Elves lifted up their scrolls and canted. Firebolts shot all over the place, knocking down the giant ice pillars. Morthos snatched up Vibe by the scruff and ran for the mousehole. Rollin followed close behind.
Narcisse shot out a magic missile at Zariel.
“That stings!” says Zariel. He laughed, but he was kind of hurt.
Narcisse stuck out her tongue and blew a raspberry, then retreated into the mousehole with her comrades.
“You seem to be in a spot of trouble,” said Zariel. “We’ll be leaving now. Goodbye.”
The grotto was unaffected by the crumbling ice dome. It was, however, dark and smelly. Narcisse cast Dancing Lights, but nothing could be done about the smell of animal waste. We had a full rest and recovery, then used the excrement to set a fire and melt the ice. Once outside the ice dome, we discovered that the Eldritch Society had slit the throats of our sherpas.
“We had sherpas?” I asked.
“What are sherpas?” asked the eight-year-old.
Once we finally got to town a few weeks later, we became the toast of the town again. Everyone knew we had gotten the Eternal Ice Diamond for the Epsilon Society. Parties were hosted for us again. Sariel’s family was proud of her again. The Epsilon Society took the diamond away to investigate it. We recuperated. I hung out with my horse sometimes.
One day, we were sitting in the Epsilon Society headquarters, having a drink and talking shit about the Eldritch Society. A halfling servant named Jobbing entered with a package for Sariel. She thanked Jobbing for giving it to her and offered to tip him, but he declined and left.
Everyone was convinced that it was about to explode. There was no writing on it. The box was plain and shut with an unadorned wax seal. Narcisse and Morthos hid in the corner while Sariel gingerly broke the seal and opened the box. Nothing happened.
She looked inside and found two things: a business card and a signet ring. The ring belonged to her mother. The business card read:
Bring us the Diamond
23 Blunt Way
There was a spot of blood on it. It probably belong to Sariel’s mother.
The Family was a crime organization that ranked itself with family names. An Aunt was a mid-range executive, as it were. The Warrens was a bad neighborhood in the city.
“I’m not carrying that diamond into a bad neighborhood,” said Sariel.
I had to describe the relationship out loud. Sariel is the illegitimate child; she doesn’t know who her elf father is. I decided on the spot that her mother was really the only member of her family who was ever kind to her. We decided to go look at my family mansion, to see if Sariel’s mother was really gone.
When we arrived, the door was busted down. City guards were interviewing the servants. I asked an available servant what happened. They explained that some thugs in dark clothing burst into the house, tied everyone up, and kidnapped Sariel’s mother. They were very quick about it. Real professionals.
“Why is the door still open like that?” Sariel asked.
“The guards said to leave it that way.”
Sariel went upstairs and found her grandfather sitting in his study. She asked what happened; he corroborated the story. She confessed that she had received the ransom note from the Family.
“We can give them your mother’s jewelry.”
“No, you see, they want a specific diamond. I joined with the Epsilon Society, they have me steal things. I had to go and steal a diamond for them.”
“I thought you just…retrieved them.”
“Yeah, it’s called stealing, Grampa.”
“So can you just steal it back from the Epsilon Society?”
“I’m not taking a giant diamond into a bad neighborhood.”
We took a piece of Sariel’s mother’s clothing and brought it to the dogs. Morthos transformed into a direwolf and spoke with the family dogs. They explained that the strange men smelled like garbage, but their leader was a woman and she smelled like soap and candles. We asked if one of them wanted to come with us. We took Roofus with us.
We headed back to the Epsilon Society to weigh our options on what to do next.
When last we saw of our brave heroes, they had been rescued from an incoming Tyrannosaurus Rex by an old salt, Old Yob. That T-Rex was interrupted by King Kong; they rolled out of sight. Old Yob offered to take us to see his “friends” and we agreed.
Thus ends our recap.
Old Yob took us to his “friends”, a group of about 50 elf-like creatures with seafoam-colored skin called the Sylvani. He introduced us to Ellara, the Shaman/Queen, wearing a cape of feathers and a golden crown. Old Yob explains that the crown came from Yob’s old ship, and that in order to stay safely with them, you have to give them presents. Some lizardfolk stole it from Yob’s old ship, so he and a friend of his stole it back.
Old Yob asked us if we could use Sending Stones. The Professor said that he supported himself through college by being a Sending Stone magewright (that guy is so helpful). Old Yob explained that he used his navigational tools to figure out where this uncharted island is, but he can’t use the Sending Stone, which is still sitting in the Captain’s Cabin on his old ship. If we could go retrieve the Sending Stone, the Professor could use it, and then we could call for help.
Sounds like a quest to us!
“Can you come with us, guide our way?” we asked.
“Oh, no, no,” said Old Yob. “Me back, and the memories, and me back is so bad. So bad.”
“Memories?” asked Narcis. “What happened to your friend? The one who helped you get the crown back from the lizardfolk?”
“Oh, she died a long time ago,” said Old Yob. “When we went to get the crown, we had trouble getting out again.”
There were two paths to the cove where the ship was: by the beach, where we would risk getting attacked by a T-Rex and a bunch of Pterodons, or the river, where we would sail right through hostile lizardman territory.
“I vote that we take the river,” I said. “We could just use thick wood to make armor and cover up the boat, so the arrows can’t get us.”
Everyone agreed that that was a wonderful idea, so Old Yob helped us get a canoe from the Lizardmen.
“They’re not like us,” said Old Yob. “They don’t give anything without getting anything shiny.”
“I throw ten coins over his head,” said Vibe.
“Oh! Me back! Oh, I have to pick that off the ground.”
“I help Old Yob pick up the ten coins,” I said. “And I pretend that five of them came from my pocket.”
“That’s very generous.”
We got broken trees from leftover T-Rex rampage, and made a hutch over the ship to protect us from incoming arrows. In the dark of night, we slipped through the water so they wouldn’t hear us.
“Do we encounter anything?” we asked the DM.
“No,” said the DM. “You took away the encounter I had planned.”
So we arrived at the cove.
“It looks like this, but obviously your boat’s different, and you see the front of the boat, not the back.”
We rolled Perception checks. There was nothing to see except for the ship, and the ghost of a young man floating above the water by the boat. We trudged up to him.
“Avenge me! Avenge me!”
“Avenge you?” asked Narcis. “What happened to you?”
“My name is Danny. I was a cabin’s boy on the pirate ship King’s Terror. There was a mutiny. I would have complied, but they slit my throat before I ever got a chance! Avenge me!”
“Who did it?” asked Narcis.
“Old Yob! Aveeenge me!”
We glanced around. All of us had suspected as much. Rollin called a group huddle. We agreed that we wouldn’t tell the Danny ghost that we knew Old Yob, and we wouldn’t agree to do anything.
“Bye, we’re going up to the ship now.”
We figured that we could tie a rock to a rope and toss it up to the top of the ship. I realized that I only have 9 strength and probably couldn’t make the climb, so we figured that Vibe carried me up somehow.
We were immediately greeted by seven skeletons. I figured that all that I had were four various slashing instruments, not the most helpful in combat with a bunch of skeletons. So I decided to book it to the Captain’s Cabin to complete the quest while all my companions handled the skeletons. Should be easy, right? Four adventurers against a bunch of skeletons, with one magic user, a direwolf, and a werebear? They could handle it, right?
I entered the Captain’s Cabin and was greeted by a “Captain-shaped spectre wearing a Captain’s hat and otherwise shaped like a Captain.” He pointed his finger at me and said, “Mutiny!”
“Oh, I didn’t have anything to do with that,” I said. “I don’t know anything about that, really. I wouldn’t mutiny.”
I decided to sneak around the room, sticking close to the walls, so avoid touching the spectre. He moved, though, and touched my forehead. It turned purple and I felt weak and woozy; I stumbled out of the room and to the other side of the ship. I looked at how the fight was going.
Vibe, Rollin, and Narcis were laying unconscious and bleeding on the ground. There were two skeletons still standing, looking very much healthy (for skeletons). Morthos was changing constantly from tiefling to direwolf just to keep his hitpoints up. I considered going and attacking, but I was feeling very, very weak. The spectre had stolen ten hit points from me, permanently. I would likely die if I got into combat. I stayed where I was, readied my weapons, and hoped for the best.
Over at the Captain’s Cabin, the spectre tried to follow me out the door. It hit an invisible wall. “Mutiny! (bonk) Mutiny! (bonk) Mutiny!”
One of the skeletons turned and ran to attack me. I knocked some of his ribs out of place. Then I attacked with both my swords, and severed his spine. Direwolf!Morthos snapped the spine of the last skeleton. At long last, combat was over. The skeletons had devastated us.
We spent the day healing our wounds to the ever-present chorus of “Mutiny! Mutiny!” I took a nap and, when I woke up, had all my hit points back. Narcis, Vibe, and Rollin each made a full recovery from nearing dying of horrible wounds.
“Alright, how do we get the Stone without bumping into that guy?” asked Narcis.
“Don’t you have Mage Hand?” I asked.
So we used Mage Hand to get the Stone.
We returned to the village in our covered canoe by cover of night, once again avoiding combat with the lizardmen. Old Yob was waiting for us when we returned.
“How did it go?” he asked.
“We met an old captain who kept saying mutiny, mutiny!” said Narcis. “And a kid who said that you killed him.”
I said, “But we weren’t interested in-”
Old Yob pulled out his sword and attacked Rollin. He swung, and missed by a mile. Narcis cast Sleep.
“Your witches’ tricks won’t work on me!”
“If we kill him while he’s Asleep, does he still wake up?” asked Narcis’ player, whose name I realized I don’t actually know.
“No, he’s just dead” said the DM (Jim, I know that guy’s name, it’s Jim).
Morthos turned into a direwolf and nipped him, and I managed to get two solid hits on him. “You’ll have to do better than that to take down Old Yob!”
“Eat axe!” said Vibe, who turned into a bear and attacked him with his paws, because he’s played by an eight-year-old so nothing makes sense sometimes.
Narcis tried Magic Missile on him.
“Oh,” said Old Yob. “Is it fair to attack Old Yob?”
“You don’t have to do this,” said Narcis. “We won’t kill you. You can’t win.”
“But you’ll turn me in!” said Old Yob.
“No we won’t,” said Narcis. “You helped us out. We were going to take you with us!”
“But I’m a pirate! A murderer! A scallywag! A thief!”
“We don’t care!” I said.
“You helped us,” said Narcis. “You helped the elves. You’ve redeemed yourself.”
Old Yob struggled with indecision. “I don’t care!” he burst out.
Morthos dove for the attack, tossing him into Vibe’s bear paws. Vibe started to choke him. I swung at him.
“I surrender!” said Old Yob.
“What?” I said, turned my swords away at the last second.
“Hahaha you fell for it!”
Rollin fired an arrow into his bad eye, and Narcis finished him off with a Magic Missile. Old Yob slumped in Vibe’s hands. “Old Yob,” he said, “Regrets nothing.”
“I’m going to jump up and down on his body,” said the eight-year-old.
“That would be a terrible idea,” said the DM. “The elves saw he attacked you, that would be mean to do and they could attack you next.”
“Then I’m going to eat him.”
“I’m not going to allow cannibalism in my game, although I suppose you are a bear.”
The Professor managed to use the Sending Stone to alert the Epsilon Society of our location. We considered what to do with Old Yob. Clearly Vibe couldn’t eat him.
“Let’s push him down the river in the canoe we bought,” said Narcis.
I protested. “I bought that!”
“No you didn’t, Vibe did,” said Morthos.
“Details,” I said.
Twelve days later, the Epsilon Society arrived by boat. We were taken back to the Capital City from which we came. Due to our discovery of a heretofore-unknown island, we became the toast of the town, and a magnificent party was thrown in our honor. My family said publicly that they were proud of me, leaving me conflicted as to whether or not I really wanted their approval. Vibe and Morthos felt awkward being the center of attention. Narcis was in her element, wearing a pretty dress and being flattered by everyone.
At the party, a High Elf approached her. He was wearing a military uniform, but it was a uniform she had never seen before. His name was Zariel.
“Would you like to join our Elvitch society?” he asked. “We are rebuilding the Elvish empire and think you would be a perfect fit for our society.”
“I make no decisions without the input of my friends,” said Narcis. “They may have questions I wouldn’t think to ask.”
So Zariel met all of us.
“There were Elvish empires?” I asked. “Also, your name is Zariel, and my name is Sariel!”
“That’s nice for you,” he said.
We asked a few more questions about what the society expected of us.
“Oh, this offer is just for Narcis,” said Zariel. “We don’t deal with half-breeds and demons.”
“I won’t join then. I’m not racist,” said Narcis.
“Very well,” sniffed Zariel.
“I’m hairy because I’m half-bear,” said Vibe.
I’m not big into musical theatre, but one of my followers on tumblr is, and so I heard all about the big performance at the Tony Awards. That was Your Keys, and it was sung by a twelve-year-old girl, standing by herself on the big stage. At the Tony Awards. When all the other performances were big dance-crazy ensemble numbers. She nails it. It’s pretty impressive.
That little girl is playing a young Alison Bechdel. She’s singing about the moment she realized that she wanted to dress in a butch way. She’s sitting in a diner with her father, and she sees a woman dressed the way she wants to look. It’s a big moment.
There’s a concept in Christianity called Providence. The Pilgrims and other Puritans were big believers in it. It’s the opposite of Free Will — you have no choice in everything that you do. God has already decided everything. He’s even already decided if you’re going to heaven or not. Some people on this Earth are the Elect. They have been chosen to go to Heaven. They will always act in the most perfectly correct Christian way because God made them Elect and so they can’t sin. God would have decided if you had sinned or not.
In order to prove that you are the Elect, you always act in the most perfectly Christian way, because the Elect would never want to act any other way. And so you follow the harsh set of rules laid down by the Puritan lifestyle. It’s a very stressful way of life: in Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates, she mentions an anecdote about a woman drowning her children in a well, and coming out happier in the end. If she were the Elect, then she wouldn’t have killed her children, because that’s evil. But now she knew she wasn’t the Elect and so she knew she was going to Hell. It was a real load off her mind.
It’s a fascinating idea. It goes completely against everything that I believe — that we’re all stumbling through this life making it up as we go along. No one has any idea what they’re doing. If there is a God, then that God is too far away, taking care of an entire universe, to notice what we small individual people are doing.
Yet I find myself pondering Providence at random moments. What if everything is God’s plan? In that case, what were we put on this Earth to do?
This is the panel from Fun Home that inspired the Your Keys song. Look at that woman. Alison Bechdel clearly remembers, after all these years, what that butch woman looked like. Who was that woman? I’ve never seen nor read Fun Home so I have no idea if Alison Bechdel talks to her or finds out anything about her. But she made a big impact on her.
In this Providential way of thinking, if we have no free will, then what if the entire point of this woman’s life was to be seen dressed like that in that diner? That small moment, triggering an entire little girl’s life? That woman would have no way of knowing that. What if the entire point of entire people’s lives is to just be seen, briefly? What if you spend your entire life building up to one big moment — you finally win a big lawsuit or get your art put on display at some gallery or you take a big trip to see all seven continents — and in the end the entire point of your life was to hold the door open for someone when you were 23?
In case you’re wondering, yes, Alison Bechdel is a butch lesbian.