Bandit Queen: One

A cacophony of buzzing insects, chirping birds, and screeching beasts assaulted the weary travelers from all sides. They walked without a word—neither the tall woman with spear in hand nor the older woman with bulging satchel on back mustered the energy to shout a conversation over the din. Above the twisted road and the hot, damp miasma that clung to it, massive trees stretched skyward with smooth trunks surging up from their broad, twisting root-mounds. Although their upper branches fell short of the firmament, their thick canopy of leaves served as a second sky, mottled green and brown with specks of dazzling white light. This leafy roof kept out the hottest of the sun’s fiery glare, but also trapped the noisy, thick, damp air within—the forest’s vast expanse feeling as close and sticky as the tiniest of rooms.

Many parasangs had Sabit and Verdandi walked, and many lay before them on the road ahead. Of such length was their journey that the twisting, punishing, seemingly-endless road itself had become a sort of home. Each morning, the road offered them a fresh vista with a familiar challenge. Each day their nourishment awaited the hunt along the road’s broad ribbon. Each night, the road guided them to their bed—or a stretch of ground that would serve the purpose. The spear woman, Sabit, could remember no other place that had so welcomed her footfall. If wise Verdandi knew a better home, she spoke not of it.

A dense knot of trees lay ahead—trunks and roots nearly growing together in verdurous congress. Dense ferns screened the base of the trees, casting shadows deeper than those of the canopy far above. The roadway narrowed between the trees, making a sharp turn to squeeze between two solid, curved trunks. With every step, the forest grew quieter. From the stand of close knit trees there came neither a buzz nor a chirp. It was silent in the midst of the noisy forest.

Verdandi made the turn first, her walking rhythm carrying her swiftly into the deepest shadows. Her head down, the older woman was nearly on top of the the figure in the middle of the road before she stopped her pace. Calloused bare feet, caked in mud stood before Verdandi. She slowly raised her eyes over well-muscled calves, thick thighs, and a skirt of antelope hide.

As she raised her gaze further, Verdandi saw only the stranger’s drawn bow—its obsidian-tipped arrow aimed right at her heart.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Bandit Queen is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters are posted on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon, https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller, or at http://ipressgames.com/fiction/.

Road of Woe: Fourteen

Sabit pointed her spear at the heart of the stranger that had approached her from behind. Older than Sabit, the woman wore simple traveler’s garb, with a bulging satchel hanging from one shoulder.

“Who are you?” Sabit barked.

The woman smiled. “I am no one of consequence. Merely a wayfarer passing along the road to my next destination, much like you.”

“You do not know me,” Sabit replied. She rested the butt of her spear upon the ground, crimson sap still oozing from the red wood that was the only earthly remains of the Prince of Ghabar. “How can you say that we are alike?”

“I meant no offense, proud warrior,” the older woman said. “I merely thought that as no one lives in these badlands, you must also be on your way elsewhere. Isn’t that so?”

Sabit furrowed her brow. Where was she going? Where had she come from? The memories of her life before facing the ruinous plant-thing were elusive. The more she cast her attention upon a recalled image or a half-remembered sound, the more quickly it evaporated, like mist beneath the sun’s morning glare. The memory of the place called “home” did not even merit a mist—it was a featureless waste in her mind.

“I know no place that I belong,” Sabit muttered. The silver horn rested at her hip, as still in its repose as the dead warriors who had once answered its call.

“You are greatly blessed,” the woman replied with genuine warmth. “For if there is no single place where you belong, then, indeed, you belong everywhere. The world is your home.”

Sabit pondered the older woman’s words as she surveyed the the landscape before her. The morning sun had painted the badlands in vivid hues of pink and orange. A single flowing stream glittered like silver as it danced between columns of weathered stone. In the far distance, a great city rose from a hilltop, its delicate spires caressing the morning sky like an attentive lover. Surely a world that boasted such beautiful vistas must have a place for all its sons and daughters.

“I suppose you are right,” Sabit said. “Every place I lay my foot is as much my home as any other. Let us see what this home has to offer.”

—END—

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Road of Woe is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters are posted on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Road of Woe: Thirteen

The eastern sky grew warm with the first blush of dawn by the time Sabit had finished her work. Using the sharpened edges of her spear point, she trimmed the leaves and cut the branches from the powerful, main trunk of the dead husk that had once been the prince of Ghabar. All that remained was a tall, sturdy length of wood. Whorls and knots squatted in the wide grain of the wood, but as Sabit mounted the spear point upon the blood-red shaft, she was certain it would serve her well.

But serve her to what end? The future lay before her like the rising sun—beautiful and full of potential, both unspoken and unspeakable. The valley around her sported a vibrant covering of greenery, far more than the arid climate would normally support. The wide leaves sprouted most densely from hundreds of mounds the size of a fallen human body.

Sabit stooped at the foot of one of these mounds. A single arrow-shaft stood tall upon the mound, its length wrapped in ivy and topped with a blood-red flower. From the ground beside the leafy grave, Sabit lifted a horn of finest silver. She could not recall ever seeing the fine craftsmanship of its noble curve. Yet, its heft felt true in her hand. Without a thought, Sabit lifted the horn to her lips.

“Wouldn’t you agree that these troops have earned their rest?” asked a woman’s voice from behind the spear woman’s back.

Sabit spun to face the new arrival, spear lowered and ready for a killing thrust.

 

———

Wayfarings of Sabit: Road of Woe is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters are posted on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Road of Woe: Twelve

Although the ground and the sky would not stay in their places, Sabit’s eyes were locked on the implement of her death. A jagged tip of broken bone hung in the air above her, the plant-prince ready to drive it into her heart.

The throbbing pain in her head kept Sabit trapped on the ground. Her legs twitched dizzily, but she could neither stand nor kick. Her arms flailed at her sides, but could find neither cover nor support. The life that she saw all in a single moment was a pitifully short one: A name. A spear. A man’s soulful brown eyes. The sound of cheering voices. A woman’s touch on her shoulder. The heft of cold iron in her hands.

Her fingers held metal! Without thought, Sabit thrust the fragment upward just as the plant-prince drove downward with his jagged arm bone. The iron bit deep into the thing’s chest, the force of the blow jolting her arm painfully. Cool blood and warm sap covered her hand.

“My heart … again,” the plant-prince sputtered and then moved no more. Its waxy leaves drooped under their own weight. The circlet of silver and jade dropped from its head, clattering to the ground.

Sabit worked to slow her labored breathing, as the world righted itself around her. First the lurching ground beneath her resolved to a mere wobble. Then, the white-blue sky agreed to remain overhead.

With a mighty heave, Sabit tossed the stump of the plant-thing to one side. It landed with a woody thump. She examined her sap-covered hand. The piece of iron she held was nearly the length of her forearm, but as narrow as two fingers. Its sharp point dripped thick blood from the two sharp edges. The solid tang felt thin and awkward in her hand. Although she could not remember the first time she had ever seen this spear point, Sabit knew immediately what it lacked: a shaft.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Road of Woe is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters are posted on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

DEXCON 2017 convention summary

DEXCON 2017

Still exhausted from the best five days of gaming in my year. As always, Vinny, Avie and the entire Double Exposure staff put on a great show every year and I thank them for their tireless efforts.

 

Wednesday night, I taught four people how to play Joshua’s _The Bloody-Handed Name of Bronze_ which was pretty impressive, as I wasn’t certain I knew how to play it myself. But together, Sean, Blair, Misha, Will and I unveiled the secrets of the infamously opaque text to find a very fun, functional, and evocative game within. One of the heroes lifted a river to rid himself of pesky crocodiles. The spear that never misses hunted a sneaky name-dealer, but was duped into killing a mighty king. It was a grand spectacle and a grand game.

 

Thursday morning, I got to sit in as a player for a session of Monsterhearts 2. Kat was the MC for Jeff, Brian, JC, Daniele, and me. I played Zed, a ghoul who fed on fear. We were all part of a group of “regulars” in after-school detention called the Bad Pennies. Two of our own had been found dead and no one in town was lifting a finger to find out why. I found some incriminating evidence in an NPC’s locker and tried to get him to confess by zip-tying his hands behind his back, duct-taping one of his own fireworks into his hands and threatening to light the fuse. He didn’t do it, but the fear tasted lovely. Zed ended up getting killed by one of her oldest friends while others had traveled to the realms of faerie and made dark deals with darker powers. All in all, exactly what you’d expect from Monsterhearts.

 

Thursday afternoon, I ran a Games On Demand session of The Sundered Land with Hamish and Dana. We faced wandering seas of giant, flesh-eating beetles, reanimated skeletons, raiding bandits, and our own checkered pasts along the Burnt Road. I really like The Sundered Land, but I don’t think I teach it very well. Every game I’ve run is very stilted and filled with half-steps. I’ll have to think about ways to address that before I run it again.

 

Thursday evening I ran TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes from the ‘80s. Despite having a full sign-up sheet, only one player showed up. He was keen for a nostalgic trip, so he ran She-Hulk and Wolverine as they defended Four Freedoms Plaza from an onslaught of villains bent on opening the portal to the Negative Zone and unleashing Annihilus on the world.

 

Friday morning was the first session of my first-ever KristaCon event, a three-session game of With Great Power. I had five great players: Joe made The Gold Shadow, a police detective who had taken a supervillain’s darkforce-projecting gauntlets from the evidence locker and was using them to fight organized crime. Amber made Orchid Guide, an escapee from a secret quasi-government laboratory with telekinetic and telepathic powers. Misha made Seraphim, who had been raised by Authurian enthusiasts, and been given feathered, angelic wings by Nimue herself. Unfortunately, she couldn’t fly, only fall with style. Cassie made Omen, a time-slowing alien observer who had broken the non-interference directive when a dangerous alien presence was going to kill millions. She contained that presence in the head of Phil’s character, the Drifter, who was just an everyman thrust into this bizarre world of superheroics. In the first session, they faced the threat of Nightbringer, an alien who wanted to hide Earth from the massive alien Armada. His plan was to force the world back to a 19th-century level of technology to avoid detection. They stopped him, got the team together, and Seraphim learned to fly.

 

After washing out of the pun contest, I took some time in the afternoon. On Friday evening played in the game that so many of my friends rave about: World Wide Wrestling. Joe ran “the Comic Book Wrestling Alliance” where our in-ring personas were comic book characters. I was the main heel, playing Annihilus, Lord of the Negative Zone. Other players played The Toxic Avenger, Catwoman, The Mask, She-Hulk, and Deadman. I ended up kidnapping Lois Lane and transporting the entire ring into the Negative Zone where there were no rules! It was fun, but I don’t feel as though I have the wrestling vocabulary to meaningfully contribute to the wrestling scenes. It felt like trying to tell a joke in a language I didn’t understand. It didn’t help that I wasn’t feeling great on Friday, so maybe it was just that. Regardless, it was a fun game and I’m glad I played.

 

Saturday morning was the second session of the With Great Power KristaCon game. Our heroes faced down the evil Mayfair industries. They were the quasi-governmental evil corporation that had experimented on Orchid Guide. In the aftermath of Nightbringer’s attack, they were trying to increase their manpower by taking over several of the local mobs. We also had great development of the personal lives of these heroes, with Golden Shadow’s secret identity partner being a detective who thought Golden Shadow was behind the crime throughout the city. The personal phase in WGP are so fun, they threaten to consume the entire game. Seraphim’s chat with her patron, Nimue, resulted in the lady of the Fae coming to Omnidelphia, where she initiated a revelry of Bacchanalian proportions. Seraphim agreed to return with her to the lands of faerie to save the city from her influence.

 

I didn’t game Saturday afternoon. Saturday evening, I got check a game off my bucket list: I played no-frills Swords Without Master face-to-face for the first time. I generally start my convention games by going around the table and asking people to introduce themselves and why they chose to sign up for that particular game. This time, Shane, Clark, Christo, and Kirk all gave versions of “I’ve heard great things about this game, but haven’t figured out how to play it.” I got to show them the magic trick that Swords does so very, very well: Taking disparate bits of fiction from multiple people and merge them into a single, unified story such that it seems like they belonged there the whole time. We began with a monolith covered in runes amidst the snowy wastes (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/503629170810087027/). We ended up with an ancient fire god locked inside the mountain, a twisted master trying to dominate his old apprentice, an ill-advised wager, bubbles of summertime tossed on an avalanche, a buff human sacrifice, and roiling trails of smoke that possess people’s bodies. A great session, and everyone walked away impressed by the game. As am I. I really love this game.

 

Sunday morning was the concluding session of the With Great Power KristaCon. Because Misha had to travel, we had written Seraphim out at the end of the previous session. Richard joined us and made The Blur, a social worker who had made a deal with dark powers to save his own life. Together, our heroes faced down the arrival of the alien Armada. Gold Shadow fought back-to-back with her archnemesis who was a crime boss, but at least a human crime boss. Omen started a splinter group within her society of alien observers that takes action as well as study. Orchid Guide crashed a spaceship into the ground with the power of her mind. The Blur and the Drifter faced waves of alien invaders like heroes. It was a great game. I’m very grateful to Joe for suggesting a KristaCon in the first place.

 

It was a great convention! Thanks to all who made it awesome!

Road of Woe: Eleven

The plant-prince shambled backwards, stumbling over rocks and bones to get away from Sabit. She watched it move away for a moment, her eyes darting erratically with mental effort. Forging the patchy remnants of her memories and the scoured chambers of her heart into some shape that might make sense of the world kept her rooted to the spot for several long moments.

Taking advantage of the respite, the plant-prince slowed its retreat, then stopped. The armless collection of vines and rotting flesh searched through the detritus at its root-like legs. Finding an arm bone, the plant-thing laid the severed stump of its shoulder next to it. Vines grew quickly from the broken ends of wood, twining around the bare, white bone. As leaves unfurled their dark, waxy covering over the bone’s length, the plant-thing moved its new limb back and forth, testing the strength of this stunted, makeshift arm.

The movement brought Sabit from her reverie. Letting forth a bellow from deep within, Sabit moved toward the thing, picking up speed with every step. Like a charging bull, the spear woman crashed into the tangle of vine and meat and bone, sending it sprawling to the ground.

Sabit leapt atop its supine form. With a blood-thirsty roar, she tore leaves and vines and branches from the torso of the plant-prince. The rough bark left deep cuts in Sabit’s hands, but she persevered in her destruction. Pushing deeper into the plant-thing’s chest, Sabit felt the rapid pulsing of a still-beating heart. She reached for it.

With a crash, the plant-prince swung his new arm bone, striking Sabit’s brow. The spear woman toppled off of her foe, landing hard, like a discarded bit of marrow. The ground beneath Sabit seemed to lurch and spin in every direction as the plant-thing loomed over her. Her arms flailed uselessly at her sides as she sought some solid purchase amidst this topsy-turvy world.

For a moment, Sabit’s gaze locked on a single object: the arm bone wrapped in vines that hung from the plant-thing’s shoulder. The force of its blow had broken the bone, leaving a jagged point on the end of it.

The plant-prince raised his bone-spear for a killing strike.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Road of Woe is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters are posted on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Road of Woe: Ten

The thick finger-stalks of the plant-prince wrapped around the woman’s throat, the rough bark pressing against the tender flesh of her neck. Her head swam as her body ached for breath. The finger-stalks split and forked and grew, spreading to cover the whole length of her neck. Each moment, they reached lower—

—until a tender sprout grazed the braided silver chain around the woman’s throat.

The stalk blackened, its leaves shriveling into desiccated wisps of brown and gray. The black rot spread from the necklace with the speed of flame. One stalk after the next sickened and died, twisting into gnarled shapes of dry, brittle twigs.

The plant-prince leapt back, desperately tearing the trunk of its torso from the branches of its arms. In horror, it watched its arms shrivel and fall, clattering across the woman’s body, now covered in a blanket of dead, dry leaves.

Slowly, the woman sat up. Twigs and leaves rustled as they fell from her powerful arms and broad chest. A single, unrotted white petal stuck to the woman’s lip. Without thinking, her tongue sought out the morsel and she swallowed it.

Rising to her feet, the woman shook the crunching mass of dead vegetation from her boots. She glared at the armless shape of the plant-prince before her and said, “My name is Sabit and I bear no love for you!”

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Road of Woe is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters are posted on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/

Road of Woe: Nine

“Ishum is dead,” Sabit said to the collection of leaves and wood that wore the circlet of the prince of Ghabar. Her voice was steady and her cheeks wet. “I have heard many tales of those who love the dead. I refuse such a dark fate.”

The leafy figure threw its head back. A despairing cry like the creaking of a tree trunk in a violent storm issued from the hollow of its throat. Its rage rippled through the vines that wrapped around Sabit’s limbs, stalks flapping to and fro, although there was no wind.

“Deathlessness does not suit you, Ishum,” Sabit said as the echo of the plant-thing’s cries faded. “Even as a boy, you were not so consumed with rage. I remember a time when you stared down a pack of larger boys without making a sound.”

“You remember?” the plant-thing said, bending low over Sabit’s supine form once more. “If your memories fuel your defiance, then I shall rid you of their burdensome weight.”

Reaching forth with finger-like stalks, the plant-prince touched the brown flesh of Sabit’s brow. Tiny shoots crept from its hands, slithering their way among the black, wooly strands of Sabit’s hair. Pale, tender rootlings burrowed into her scalp, drinking deeply wherever they touched. From each stalk there bloomed a flower of purest white, its large petals covering Sabit’s head like the snow of every winter in her memory.

Sabit struggled against the infestation, but the finger-stalks rooted themselves deeply into the ground. The woody fingers became as strong as oak, encasing her head like a helmet.

Opening its maw, the plant-prince bent low over the mass of flowers. Like a horse at the trough, it sucked down petal after petal, chewing each one between its woody jaws.

“So many memories,” said the plant-prince, like the whisper of an evening breeze. “Such adventures you have had, my love. Perhaps one day I shall tell you the stories of a great warrior who went on such adventures.” It locked its white flower-eyes on Sabit’s confused gaze. “What do you remember of me?”

“I … I do not know you,” said the woman. . A single white petal had escaped the plant-things grazing and clung to her lip.

“Good. What do you remember of you?” it hissed.

“I am … I know not what I am,” she replied

“Excellent,” it said. “I tell you that you are my love. I shall make certain that we are together forevermore.”

The plant-thing pulled its hands from the woman’s head. She made no response. It wrapped the thick stalks of its fingers around her throat. She did nothing as it began to squeeze.

 

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Wayfarings of Sabit: Road of Woe is copyright (c) 2017 by Michael S. Miller. All rights reserved. New chapters are posted on Monday and Thursday. You can support this and other stories on Patreon: https://patreon.com/michaelsmiller or http://ipressgames.com/fiction/