Diamond Cascade: Well, it was about time we had some pirates in this story

Posted in DC

Alturiak 16: Thus, Diamond Cascade engaged the most noble of the North Coast, those few who had not sunk into the depravity around them, to his cause…

Turns out that while me and the Knight Of Something were putting out the Wizard Daftboy’s fires and patching up those of The Monk’s victims who hadn’t been separated from any organs they couldn’t afford to miss, Wolfgirl had gotten back to talking the bloke who’d cause all the fuss in the first place. Turns out the captain of the White Wyvern is suddenly and unexpectedly short of a few hands, on account of some bunch of completely insane… Oh, wait, that was us. I don’t know how all this worked out. I was more than a little drunk, and then there was some other place and then another place and some more wine and some ale and maybe some brandy and some other stuff that frankly could have been anything and then there was the bawdy house with the mermaids, or maybe I made that up, and then something to do with the Halfgit and the discovery that three-foot-tall women can do things you really wouldn’t think of. Or maybe I made that up too. Possibly some mushrooms were involved. I’m not sure I had any sleep. And then there was supposed to be some other bar that was down the bottom of the cliff by the sea, only it turned out it was a ship and then I think I spent the rest of the day alternating between being passed out in a corner and throwing up over the side.

Apparently we’ve struck some sort of deal. In exchange for a ride to where Captain I’ve-Already-Forgotten-His-Name-And-Why-We’re-Looking-For-Him, we’re going to deliver his ship. There’s some sort of blah-blah about reefs and tides and secret channels and sharks and being back by a certain time and then there’s some rowing and all of a sudden we’re coming up to the shore and nosing our way into some half-submerged caves and there’s a ship in front of us, hidden in the cave. Can’t help noticing that the cave entrance is about twenty feet about the water and the ship has a sixty-odd foot mast. Maybe they take the mast down and row out? If any of us had a clue about ships or sailing, I’m sure that would help.

Mr sea-cave is suspiciously empty (apart from the sharks in the water), but that doesn’t stop us from  managing to smash our little rowing boat into a rock and sink it when a rather more appropriate course of action would have been to nose up to the ship and tied up gently alongside. Ah well. I know exactly how I’m getting back.

Mr sea-cave is also suspiciously devoid of other ways out. Mad Elf has a go at kicking something off by setting fire to the ship to see what will happen, but pretty much all that happens is that we watch our one and only remaining way out of here burn for a bit and then get the idea that maybe we should put the fire out. There’s some arguing and some searching and some shark-baiting, but I’m too busy sitting on a ledge making up a song.

There once was an elf, a very fine elf
And a very fine elf was he,
He sailed on a ship, went on a trip
And now he’s at the bottom of the seaaaaa
Playing with a shark?
Oh what a lark!

There once was an elf, a very fine elf
And a very fine elf was he,
By the light of the moon, he found an underwater tomb,
And now he’s an elf zombieeeeee
Eaten by a ghoul!
Oh what a fool!

There once was an elf, a very fine elf
And a very fine elf was he,
He said he was a wizard, now his home’s a whale’s gizzard,
What a sorry end for a fine fairyyyyyy
Don’t have a moan,
Just should have stayed at home!

There. See. Much more useful. Mad Elf Monk and Wizard Daftboy certainly seem to think so.

Actually, doing nothing at all would usually be more useful than anything we do.

Eventually the tide goes out and we get to figure out where the pirates went. On account of certain things not being underwater any more.


Diamond Cascade: Wolfgirl Says Something

Posted in DC

Alturiak 15

“The Valdas killed my parents.”

“OK. For some reason I’d been thinking it was a vampire. You said it was a vampire.”

“It was a vampire wearing the sign of the Valdas.”


Not sure if Wolfgirl is mad, delusional or simply immensely unlucky. My parents were killed in much more normal ways, involving swords, rape and burning, I imagine. Rather I was here and able to speculate than had been there to say for sure but only to a cleric with that still-conspicuously-absent-from-our-repertoire power to Speak With Dead.

The Monk drags us off to some diviner to try and find out something about the Valdas. She’s way too expensive for any of us to afford, but The Dwarf sort of lost his purse last night after I choked him out and so I buy a question from her anyway. Easy come, easy go. I ask here where the creature that killed Wolfgirl’s parents can be found. Bleedin’ miles away, that’s where. “Upon the earth of his home he rests, by a river that runs bright red.” Well the only river I know that runs bright red is the Crimson River and that’s over the other side of the mountains, not to mention all the orcs and the slimies and whatever else is crawling around the borders of Osmuld. So in short, bugger that.

Ah well. At least I get a good night out of the diviner’s receptionist and what’s left of the dwarf’s gold.


Diamond Cascade: Some Bandits When You Need Them

Posted in DC

Alturiak 14: Thus, Diamond Cascade engaged the most noble of the North Coast, those few who had not sunk into the depravity around them, to his cause…

Look, in the big scheme of things, in the grand world-spanning story of Diamond Cascade, greatest troubadour of the land, hero of the people, saviour of kings and crap like that, the whole sordid business of a visit to the North Coast will be a footnote. Diamond Cascade helped deliver a letter. Whooo-hooo. All the thieving and the drinking and the whoring and the less we talk about any of that the better, no one wants to know about that. Sure, there might be a little twinkle in the eye as I sing my made-up tale, but no one wants to know that what Diamond Cascade actually did was spend a month and a half so drunk he could barely remember what colour the sea was, routinely woke up in a pool of his own vomit, contracted several diseases and only left to seek his fortune again because he couldn’t afford to pay for a cleric to make them better on account of having spent half his money on strong drink and loose women and lost the rest playing dice. Even if that’s pretty much what I’m aiming for here. I don’t know why. I just want to forget the whole shitty business with Stalker and Holli. Wipe it all clean and start again. Gods know, I’ve done that enough times.

Ordinarily, that wouldn’t have been a problem. Stalker would have done the same and so would The Gnome, only with more sex and less drinking. But sometimes, when I don’t pay attention, when I least expect or, frankly, want it, my erstwhile comrades actually manage to achieve something. Maybe it comes down to having all this new blood around us. By the time I emerge the following afternoon, bandy-legged and a little sore around the edges, they’ve been up, had breakfast, tied their shoelaces all on their own and then gone to see someone who’s something to do with the ships about some of the stuff we’re supposed to be interested in and now, apparently, we’re looking for some pirate bloke called Serious who sails around on a ship named after a musical instrument and stole some treasure off the something-to-do-with-ships bloke, who will, in return for the return of said treasure, tell us some stuff that apparently we want to know. Or someone that we know wants to know. Or something. It’s all a bit confusing, and mostly what I pick up is the the Caleb, Knight Of Something doesn’t like the something-to-do-with-ships bloke one little bit on general principle. Can’t see pirates working out much better for him, but we don’t have time to get into that question, because by then it’s getting dark and (yes, look, I had a good night) we’re off to some place that has a name but which we’ll call Seedy Dive because that’s what it was. Seedy, loud, full of smoke and noise and the smell of beer and sex. And more naked people than you might have imagined.

My kind of place, if a little low-brow. I’m all for settling in and seeing whether I can score for free, but no, Wolfgirl has to go asking questions and find herself a pirate to talk to (given the track record of my companions, I make a big and generous assumption about the talking bit) and the next thing I know there’s half a dozen men moving in on her and Mad Dwarf is hurling himself at them like a rabid gerbil with an axe the size of a church and The Monk is right behind him, and I still haven’t got around to having the conversation with any of them that until one of them learns to Talk With Dead, launching into a homicidal mania at the first sign of… well, anything at all really, isn’t going to help us find things out.

So I try to stop them. As does Caleb, Knight Of Something and the wizard. Three against three. Admittedly with some pirates in the middle who are nominally in the fray too, but their role in this turns out largely to involve tripping over each other and getting serially stabbed and thumped, oft as not by accident, until they fall down.

It’s only later that I begin to wonder whether jumping on the back of a frenzied berserker dwarf and choking him out in the middle of a fight was such a good idea. At the time I’m too distracted by Caleb, Knight Of Something realising that the Wolfgirl he’s grappled to the ground is called Wolfgirl for a reason (two, actually), and Wizard Daftboy trying to stop the amazingly fast and agile Mad Elf by rolling an amazingly slow and cumbersome ball of fire about the place. And setting fire to the Seedy Dive.

Unfortunately, my dream outcome, in which Wizard Daftboy and Mad Elf have at each other, Caleb, Knight Of Something tried to separate them, ends up killing them both and retires to a life of sorrowful penitence somewhere far away, fails to happen.


Diamond Cascade: Shifty’s Friends

Posted in DC

Alturiak 13: Strong was Diamond Cascade’s desire to leave this sink of corruption and return to battling the vile hordes of darkness sweeping the land; yet as he prepared to leave, word came of one of Diamond Cascade’s most dire foes. No less than the wicked dwarf Durmijeron might be found within this place, for he is a servant of the seventh house of the city, the house of Valdas whose symbol is the two-headed serpent, and in matters of this house, many strange deeds are afoot. Diamond Cascade vowed to bear the stench of this City of Sin for as long as it would take to bring the “white dwarf” to final justice.

No hurry though.

So Shifty takes us to some place he knows, The Flying Goose or some-such, not that I much care apart from needing to know where to stagger back to once I’m done partying. I have to admit, I’d kind of thought the whole letter delivering business was Shifty’s problem, since he’s the one carrying it, and the rest of us would be left to our own pleasures (or whatever substitutes for them in the case of The Monk and the Knight of Something). But no, there’s a mad dwarf (can we meet a dwarf who’s not mad, please, one day? Or mad in a has-a-fetish-for-stamps sort of way, instead of mad in a has-a-fetish-for-severed-heads kind of way? Or do dwarves have the same social management principles as the elves and the reason we only ever find lunatics is because they’re the ones who weren’t allowed to stay at home)? Mad Dwarf recognises Shifty but not before The Monk has to kick his butt in an arm-wrestle and thus piss him off (because the loony social outcasts of elves and dwarves getting together is, like, a total recipe for social harmony. Not). The Mad Dwarf has a  friend (Karallis Fane? But I’ll remember him as the man who thought that wearing a deep purple cloak over dark red clothes mad him look cool instead of making him look like he’d just crawled out from under a bad accident involving several tuns of wine) who has to show up and we all have to walk off to some swanky house run by some Lord Smelly Arse (Aros Reekiel, was it?) who then proceeds to ask all sorts of questions that I, for one, would prefer not to answer, such as ‘who are you and why did it take so long for my letter to get here and what have you been up to on the way’? We tell him some bollocks, but here and there the odd bit of unguarded truth slips out. On the plus side, Lord Smelly Arse shares our dislike for Durmijeron. On the minus, well, now everyone knows about the stupid riddle the Gnomes left for us.

Afterwards, Shifty and I go to a pawn shop and offload the shit we lifted from the dark elves while we were busy pretending to help the Gnomish Kingdoms. Got to say, the plus side of having half your old friends killed: You get to keep their share. Never seen so much gold. Ever. Or so many pornographic paintings of dwarvish ‘ladies,’ but that’s another matter.

Downside of half your old friends getting killed? New friends. Yes, The Monk, The Mage and The Knight of Something, all still here. Come on bandits, where are you when I need you?

After that, maybe some more shit went down, but if it did, I was in an alcohol, sex and I-have-more-gold-than-I’ve-ever-seen related coma, and it went down without me. Unlike my temporary friends Romana and Tallulah.


Diamond Cascade: The Most Beautiful City in the World

Posted in DC

Alturiak 13: The cesspit of the north, they call it in the more civilised cities of Osmuld. The Strip. Those who live there call it the Beautiful City, yet it is to beauty as a whore it to a lady. The miles of unadulterated, undiluted vice that lie along the far cliffs of the North Coast. Yet here, amid this nest of corruption, amid the endless bawdy houses and taverns and drinking holes and gambling dens and smoke houses, all wreathed in gaudy faerie fire, brazen as the strumpets within them, lay Diamond Cascade’s destination. Delivered at last, the letter carried from Gammersbridge, was like a weight taken from Diamond Cascade’s back. An onerous and repellent duty, finally discharged. Outside, the kingdoms of the isle groaned under the crushing weight of the evil bearing down on them, yet here it was as if no such peril awaited; indeed, should an army of darkspawn approach this place, they would doubtless be welcomed with the same open arms as any other and fleeced of their worldly goods.

Ah, man, can I stay? Can I just live here? Like, forever? Why am I running about getting myself nearly killed when I still have gold in my pockets and a place like this exists in the world. I so don’t want to leave.


Diamond Cascade: What do you mean he’s not actually dead? Oh, he is now.

Posted in DC

Alturiak 12: It was with a heavy heart that Diamond Cascade and those of his companions that remained buried their fallen friends. Many a word was said in praising their honour, their courage and their virtue. Lord Corren had fallen in defence of his kingdom, and the valiant gnomish priest had fallen at his side, in defence of naught but the freedom of a people who were not her own, but who had fought for hers as she now fought for them. Toasts were raised in their memories, songs were sung and yes, tears were shed. Yet duty and honour still called, and all too soon, Diamond Cascade’s eyes turned to the north, to the den of vice and thievery that is the north coast, where Diamond Cascade had one duty left to discharge: To deliver a letter carried all the way from Gammersbridge to the dread lord of thieves that might yet issue a call to arms among those most lowly of fellows against the rising darkness. Inspired by the valour and the courage of Lord Corren and the righteousness of Diamond Cascade’s cause, many flocked to his banner and pledge their swords, yet to face the evils that awaited them, only the most noble were chosen.

Yeah. Many offered to clamp Diamond Cascade and what were left of his companions in irons and let them rot in some oubliette. Or else simply hang them and get on with it. Thanks, Stalker, my erstwhile friend. And thanks to you to The Gnome, in whatever afterlife you’ve found. Thanks a lot. Now even more people want to kill me. Dammit, all I wanted was a quiet life of wine and loose women and maybe some good music. And here I am, traipsing all over the place in the middle of winter, freezing my bits off because we can’t manage to stay in one place for more than a few days (or minutes, sometimes) without pissing off the locals so much that they try to have us arrested.

So. Right. New plan. No way am I hauling my frostbitten arse all the way up to the North Coast in the middle of winter with hordes of Slimeys and Thuggers and gods-know-what else rampaging about the place, not without some serious protection. And the last bit of protection (stalker, yet, this means you) turned out to be more of a liability than an asset. So don’t blame me for being picky this time. It’s not too difficult to convince some of the town magistrates (for ‘magistrate’ read, ‘occasionally useful enforcer of the law’) to up sticks and leave. I mean, who’d want to hang around in a town whose gates don’t fit properly when there’s an army on the march? Of course, we couldn’t be at all straightforward about it. Who do I want to travel with? Well, a posse of the Knights of Tyr, that would do. Hard as rocks and about as bright, too. Just the sort to stand in the way of all the arrows when we’re ambushed by bandits on the road and then be too up themselves afterwards to even notice any looting that might happen to happen. What do I get? Another elvish monk. Whoppee-Doo. Like the last one was such an amazing success. I become more and more convinced that the elvish race has a laudable and straightforward attitude towards those of their kind who don’t quite ‘fit in.’ They kick them out into our lands and hope they’re never heard of again. Just why they all have to land on me is a mystery. Maybe one day, when I meet an elf who isn’t either a blind swordsman on a quest to defeat some mystery monster that he can’t even describe (although presumably what matters is that he’d recognise the smell when he finally blundered randomly into its path) or a bloody monk, someone will explain.

Oh, and a wizard, which is so going to spoil all my fun. Crapsticks. Someone else who knows magic when they see it. I’d like to stab him in the back while he’s sleeping, but that’s not really me. What I’d really like it for someone else to stab him in the back while he’s sleeping.

After those two, when a knight does finally show up, I almost don’t care whether he’d a knight of Tyr or a knight of the Monkey-Headed God of Rhyming Gibberish. It has a sword and it can swing it. Good enough. With a bit of luck they’ll all last just long enough to not quite get to the coast.

So. Stalker killed half the town guard. I’ve taken the best men it can offer. The gates are broken and there’s an advancing army less than a day away. Gods. I don’t even know what the place is called. Doomed, probably, but I’ll remember it as Wonkygates.


Diamond Cascade: Things That Aren’t Supposed to Happen

Posted in DC

Alturiak 9: Stalker goes into the cells. I spend the evening talking to the magistrates. There has to be a way out of this, right? Stalker, maybe he was possessed. There’s something not right with him, I can tell. But all I get out of the townsfolk is talk of gallows. Give them half a chance, they’d hang us all. Except they can’t do that, can they? He’d the king’s nephew. King’s nephews don’t hang for merely murdering a few guards.

Murdering a few guards. As if they didn’t matter. That’s what he did. That’s what Shifty did to The Gnome, crazy mad bitch that she was, it was still murder. I’ve killed men. I’ve killed slimeys and thuggers and other things besides. I’ve done a lot of things that were wrong. But I’ve never murdered someone. Not like that. Not with no reason.

And then in the morning, when we go down to see him, when go down to the cells to shake our Stalker by the throat and demand to know what the flying FUCK he was thinking, he’s gone. There’s a dead guard in his cell, the night watchman, and Stalker’s gone. Just like that. And the gibbering halfgit in the cell next door is telling us that what we brought back out of the snow wasn’t Stalker at all, but face-eating shape-shifting monstrosity. Stalker is gone. The Stalker we knew was gone a long time ago, but this is what he’ll be remembered for. Not for the noble things he did, even if most of them were by accident or to fill his own pockets, but for the pointless murders of a monstrosity while the real man we knew is out stiff and cold somewhere in the snow.

No, I’m not having this. I’m a bard. A slayer of stories as much as a maker of them. I can’t bring him back, can’t even find where he fell, but I can change how he ended.

Swayed by the wisdom of Diamond Cascade’s words, the good soldiers of Osmuld quickly galloped away to sound the alarm and call forth the good swords of the north, but it is not before the mystery of Stalker’s memory is solved: It seems he is none other than Lord Corren, nephew of the King of Osmuld himself! This joyous news flooded our hearts, and as the sun set, we bent our knees to the noble lord of this land and pledged, as did he, that our blood would feed the earth before any evil would pass us that night; and so we steeled ourselves to face the orc once more.

Nor did they disappoint. Goblin wolf-riders came, drawn to our lures. Then foot soldiers. Orcs, too many to count. Long and hard, Lord Corren and his valiant company fought them off, slaying many. Many a wound was given, and many taken too, until in the dead of the night, under the glare of a gibbous moon, a great ogre strode forth, a mighty monster, a champion of champions, scattering Diamond Cascade and his friends aside. Yet Lord Corren, alone, had the courage to face him, and one against they other they fought, in a cataclysm of blows that shook the very earth and made all else seem futile. Around them, the victorious goblins paused, transfixed by the fury of their duel, and yet, in the end, it was the ogre who fell with a mighty moan, and Lord Corren who stood victorious, drenched in blood that was not his own. And the goblins and the orcs wailed and shrieked and slid away into the night, so many, yet so afraid of but one man whose strength and spirit would not break. And thus Lord Corren, blood of Osmuld, served and saved his land unto his last breath, as he stood, still like a statue, glaring into the darkness until every last goblin was gone before he too fell dead beside the monster he had slain.

There. Let that be the story we sing of him.


[In fact, Diamond Cascade will be taking a short break, but should be back, with luck, by the end of the month]

Diamond Cascade: Probably the Worst Thief in the World

Posted in DC

And another thing. The daft halfgit who thinks he stole the Scales of Tyr is languishing in prison here. Well, I say languishing. Languishing in the sort of nipping-out-to-steal-the-guards-supper-whenever-you-feel-like-it way. As far as I can tell, he sees prison as being a handy sort of free hotel. Obviously hasn’t been in some of the prisons up north. Well he’s in for a surprise tonight.


Writering and Gaming (30/6/2010)

Posted in News

A few weeks ago I was at the UK Games Expo, last stop on an unplanned and impromptu little tour of panelling events that was accidentally co-incident with the release of King of the Crags. Or at least, it appeared accidental to me. This involved, never mind getting in free to something I’d have paid to visit, but being actually paid my expenses to show up. This is immensely cool, so thank you, UK Games Expo for that fleeting moment of feeling important.

In most panels I do[1], the subject of role-playing games gets raised at some point. Questions like ‘how did you get started as a writer’ or ‘what was the first story you wrote’ can’t get an honest answer without straying into the land of Dungeons and Dragons. Anyone who’s spent much time on my website won’t be surprised (what, you haven’t been reading Diamond Cascade, The Chronicles of the Anti-Kvothe)? When I mention D&D, I’ll get a reaction that, broadly, is one of three:

  1. Wow! Cool! He’s one of us!
  2. Whut?
  3. Eeeiieee, he’s one of them! Someone please teleport me to another panel.

I’m not proud to be a D&D player any more than I’m proud to be a five-a-side football player or to be someone who drinks coffee. It’s not something I feel any need to stand up for or justify, it’s a just a thing that I’ve done for the last pushing twenty-five years and would be quite happy to do for twenty-five more. Still, that last reaction does surprise me. I know that, to people who’ve never gone near a role-playing game, the whole concept can seem a bit strange. Making up stories and pretending to be someone else? Isn’t that a bit creepy? But guys, gals, I’m a writer now. Making up stories and pretending to be someone else is almost what I do for a living[3]. Is Salman Rushdie creepy because he makes up stories? Writers get let off because, well, apparently simply because we’re writers. Somehow we’re allowed. So if you can make a living from it, that’s fine, but if you simply do it for fun, that’s creepy[2]? I don’t get that.

The strangest thing, though, is that I never get reaction 4)

4) Well, duh, obviously spending years and years designing and then road-testing story-lines that need to be robust the the incalculable whimsy of a party of player characters who are under no obligation to follow your nominated plot-line and indeed will frequently go to great lengths to avoid doing so, obviously that’s going to teach you a thing or two about story design, and don’t even get me started on how self-evident it is that having to build a consistent and believable game-world might, y’know, help just a tad. And as for characterisation? It’s like in the name, dude! Role. Playing. I mean seriously, bro, it’s so patently obvious that RPGs are the perfect sandbox for anyone with a passion for stories that it’s like totally an insult to my intelligence that you even mention it.

Roleplaying games won’t necessarily make you a great story-teller, but if that’s what you want to be, they’re a great sandbox to play in while you’re learing.

The last person to give me one of those ‘you just fumbled your charisma check’ looks for mentioning RPGs had previously been extolling the virtues of giving a page in your notebook to each of your main characters for a description and a few notes on their habits and personality. Or, as we call them, character sheets. I didn’t say anything.

[1] One might argue this has something to do with the panels I sit on and the events I attend, but hush.

[2] I am old enough to remember a time when, apparently, we were all satanists. Fortunately, the rest of the world largely grew up.

[3] About half a living.

Diamond Cascade: Finally, after so many tries

Posted in DC

Alturiak 8: For anyone planning a career as a thief, bandit or other profession that is likely to get you hunted by a posse of irate armed men whose treasure you’ve stolen, here’s a clue. Don’t run off into the night across open country after a heavy snowfall. It’s cold, the going is hard, and you won’t get very far. However, if you absolutely MUST go, then at least do SOMETHING about the monstrously obvious trail in the snow you’re going to leave behind. I mean, hello, fly spell? Pass without trace? At least a switchback and a false trail or two.

So Stalker and The Gnome. So good at running away and hiding that even we tracked them down before the middle of the next day. The fire and the thin little column of smoke were the biggest give away, at least after the trail in the snow and the fact that they’d basically followed the one road out. So we catch up with them. There’s a little bit of a ruckus for a moment as The Gnome kicks off and lobs a spell in my direction and I lob an arrow back and then we’re all like Stalker, dude, what was all that about? and Stalker is all, Ha HAA! I have a power you cannot imagine now, which was a bit odd and a frankly bit lame, and so we’re all what are you talking about, dude? I mean, could we at least talk it over next time before you do over half the town guard, and we’re not mentioning the fact that several of us would probably have happily joined in a night-time wealth-enhancement caper or two, but only not mentioning that because we’ve go a couple of town magistrates with us, and there’s a certain level of wondering whether we bring Stalker and The Gnome in like we’re supposed to or do we turn on the magistrates, only that would make us all outlaws in Osmuld, which wouldn’t be great, and anyway, Stalker is the nephew of the king now, apparently, so wouldn’t that be OK because they’d just let him go in the end and let’s face it, none of us liked The Gnome anyhow, and I’m paying a little bit of attention to all this talk but mostly I’ve got my eye on where Stalker’s loot bag is stashed. It’s all a bit uncertain where this is going and who might actually side with whom…

Until Shifty slips around the back and sticks a knife in The Gnome’s ribs and it’s all downhill from there.

Stalker goes for Shifty, the magistrates go for Stalker, I’m piling in trying to separate them, thinking… I don’t know what. That I might save The Gnome from bleeding to death? That Shifty is every bit as much a murderous bastard as Stalker? That I might stop anyone from killing anyone else? Could have done nothing and watched. Didn’t. All I can say as to the whys of that is that no one else did die and that somehow, in the confusion of the melee, Stalker’s treasure bag wound up on my horse without anyone noticing how it got there.

So now we’ve got him. Question is, what, by all the gods, do we do with him? He’s a murderer. He’s the king’s nephew (possibly) and he’s what passes these days for a friend.



Diamond Cascade: The Madness of Gnomes

Posted in DC

Alturiak 7: I’d really like to think it was some sort of dark magic, but it wasn’t. I’d like to say it was OK. All the stories of the epic heroes have gaps in them. And then Diamond Cascade got to wherever he was going. They all gloss over the dull bits where nothing much happens. And for some reason Stalker and The Gnome weren’t with him any more. That doesn’t smack of nothing much happening. I suppose I could make up something heroic for them, but there are too many people know the truth for that. A whole town of them. Don’t talk about it, that’s probably the way. And then Diamond Cascade got to wherever he was going. And spin something dramatic from whatever events occur there and never mention who’s dropped out of the story and why.

So what really happened? I’ve seen it before. Tired, bruised, bloody band of heavily armed wanderers come in to a small border town late in the day. Town guard take one look at them, don’t like what they see, and demand that swords are handed over, oh and by the way, that pair of wolves you’ve got, they’re dangerous wild animals and they’re not coming in. Now if you’re me, you’re thinking yeah, whatever, all I want is a tavern with some half-decent wine and a bed with a passable mattress and if I’m in luck, someone to warm it with me. Maybe, if you’ve got an old head with a bit of wisdom, you can see their point. There’s a war on. Band of strangers wander in. Could be anyone. Could be who they say they are, could be agents of the enemy, here to slaughter the night watch and open the gates in the middle of the night to gods-know what that’s out there. But then maybe, if you’re Stalker, what you’re thinking is that the sword you’re being asked to give over to some stranger is the one thing that;s kept you alive for the last week. You’re thinking that there are corpses of a dozen slimeys and thuggers out there, and that your sword still has their blood on it. So you answer back, no, you’re not having these swords, why don’t you have a couple of gold coins instead, go enjoy your evening and leave me alone. And then if you’re the town guard, you’re thinking no, that;s the sort of thing that a band of enemy spies would try, so no, actually, now you;d be much happier if this gang of over-armed strangers was locked up in the cells until you had a chance to find out a little more about them. And now you’re Stalker again, who’s stared at death one time too many in the last few days, and no, you’re not giving up your sword, not to anyone, not for anything. And then the next thing you know, before anyone can do more than stare open-mouthed in disbelief, someone idiot draws and there are five dead guardsmen lying around the gate.

The Gnome pitched in, warped the gates and the two of them fled back out into the night. There’s a span of snow on the ground and a lot more comes down in the night. Chances are they didn’t get too far. The rest of us, we had over our swords and meekly spend out night in the cells. So much for a bed and a bottle and a woman. In the morning, they kick us out. Chuck us back outside the gates and close them behind us. Surprisingly generous, really. Other places might have hung us simply for someone to hang. It’s pretty clear that we’re not getting back in unless it’s with Stalker and The Gnome in chains between us. I can’t even bring myself to ask what the bounty is fro bringing them back. Don’t know whether I want to or whether I want to let them go. But we’ll go after them, that much is for sure. Don’t know what we’ll do when we catch them, but we’ll go after them. They’ve got our loot.


Diamond Cascade: The Making of Kings…

Posted in DC

Stalker the nephew of a king? Hard to credit, all things considered, but the soldiers seemed to believe it. They called him Corren. Same name we heard in Neverrest. For better or worse, we’re in the game now. Stalker with a crown? King Stalker? The possibilities are endless . . .


Diamond Cascade: And My Other Name Is…

Posted in DC

Alturiak 5: Even as Diamond Cascade and his brave friends prepared the defences that would hold the orcish hordes for those precious few hours, a ray of hope descended. Soldiers from Osmuld, a small party of mounted men watching the borders. Appraised of the situation and of the desperate plight of the Halflings, these brave men at once offered to stay and add their swords to Diamond Cascade’s own. A fine offer, yet one that was refused. Let them ride, away to spread the word, let them rally the brave swords of Osmuld against the invader, let them spread the word of Diamond Cascade and his deeds so they might inspire others to follow in his path. Let the tale of one brave sword and noble heart that stands in the invaders way forge a hundred, and those hundred each forge a hundred more! Let righteous might and thunder rolls through these hills and scatter evil to the sea!

Swayed by the wisdom of Diamond Cascade’s words, the good soldiers of Osmuld quickly galloped away to sound the alarm and call forth the good swords of the north, but it is not before the mystery of Stalker’s memory is solved: It seems he is none other than Lord Corren, nephew of the King of Osmuld himself! This joyous news flooded our hearts, and as the sun set, we steeled ourselves to face the orc once more. Nor did they disappoint us. Goblin wolf-riders, drawn to our lures. Long and hard Diamond Cascade and his valiant fellows fought them off, slaying many. Many a wound was taken too, yet in the end, Diamond Cascade prevailed and the orc was turned away. For good? No. But for long enough for the poor beaten halfling wretches we had seen on the road? Yes. Tired, battered, bruised, bleeding, yet with soaring spirit, Diamond Cascade and his friends turned north once more to Osmuld.

We find ourselves a hill overlooking the refugee road. A place we can defend. We set some traps and some alarms and wonder why we are doing this. I don’t think half of us know. But I do.

I reckon I was fifteen years old. You lose track of time in the army, and what with half of us trying to make out we were older than we were so we could join the regular foot and the other half pretending we were younger than we were so we didn’t have to, it all got a bit confusing. We’d been fighting for most of the summer. We’d been pushing the slimeys and the the thuggers back. Didn’t know much about where we were. March here, march there, draw battle lines, a mad few hours of fighting, that was about it. Even the locals hardly knew whether we were pushing forward or pulling back, and I came from the other side of the island. But I’d say we were winning. We’d had a few skirmishes and one hard pitched battle and we’d come away intact. I’d seen a lot of dead slimeys by the end of that summer, a lot more of them than of us. Most with our arrows sticking out of them.

Late summer. We were on the march again. Hard and fast, off to some town called Barresford. Never heard of it. What I can tell you now is it’s a place you can cross the river that marks the border Osmuld. We’d pushed the enemy right back to where they’d come from. Didn’t know that then, though. Two days of marching, all the time being told we were up for the biggest battle yet, that this was going to be the end, we were going to trap the enemy and slaughter him, put an end to the slimeys and the thuggers once and for all. We’d driven them back, there was nowhere left for them to go and now we’d dam the river with their corpses. That sort of thing. We were ready.

We were a day late. They’d crossed the river already. Mostly. Twenty thousands soldiers, waiting for us on the other side. An advance force had arrived, though, a few days earlier. A thousand men. Freed the townspeople and told them the war was nearly over, that the last horde of the enemy was about to be broken, right on their doorstep. Whipped them up into a mad fervour. So when the horde came and the Osmuld regulars still hadn’t arrived yet, the townspeople and that one regiment of the King’s Guard, they stayed. Didn’t run away like sensible folk, but stayed and fought.

They were slaughtered. A thousand men-at-arms, as many again men, women and children. All of them. Slimeys didn’t have time to do much more than kill them and then set the place on fire; they knew we were coming and they knew they couldn’t face us. So they heaped up the bodies or just left them where they lay and torched the place and crossed the river. We caught up with them while the rearguard were still holding the town. Fought them through the ash-blackened streets, choking in the smoke and the stink of burned flesh. No battle lines drawn, no choreographed cavalry charges. No mercy, no remorse, no quarter, no pausing for breath. Just raw hate.

Barresford. It’s reek sank into our clothes. We stank of it for weeks. Burned flesh.

The slimeys, when they come, are cautious and disciplined. Not the sort of slimeys we’ve faced before. If they were anything else, I might even have some grudging respect for the way they fought. It was a long, bloody, brutal skirmish in the dark. I don’t know if we even killed any of them. Hurt a few, and they hurt us too. In the end they withdrew. Don’t know why. As soon as they were gone, so did we. We did our bit. Barresford or no, I’m not dying for bunch of lazy fat halfgits.


Diamond Cascade: An Outbreak of Virtue.

Posted in DC

Alturiak 5: The woes wrought upon the land by the hordes of evil were everywhere to see. Filled with righteous virtue and courage, from his victory, Diamond Cascade nevertheless knew that the blow he had struck against the villainous creatures of the mountains had been but a small one. A new war-leader would soon arise, and it was but one warband of many that had suffered Diamond Cascade’s wrath. Pledging his sword and his skill against the invader once more, Diamond Cascade and his brave band continued their quest north, to deliver letters and messages that would rouse the sleeping nations of good and seek out ancient sorceries that would batter the ancient evils behind this invasion back into their deepest darkest holes. But a day had gone by before the road ahead grew clogged with refugees, wretched Halflings, spirits broken, bodies battered, helpless prey, driven from their lands by the orcish terror. With orcish warbands but a few hours away, Diamond Cascade and his companions vowed to hold off the innumerable hordes for as long as it took for the last Halflings of the north to make good their escape and seek protection in the lands of fair Osmuld, even if it were to cost their lives . . .

And The Gnome turns the road into mud for no reason other than petty amusement, and she and Lena and Wolfgirl argue and fight and I can’t bring myself to much care. What do I do? I give Buttpoker to Stalker. Why would I do that? Fine, yes, I have a better sword now, a sweet peach of a blade stolen from the dark dwarf warrior who defended the drow priestess and got squashed by a falling roof, but still –  why do I give something away that could have bought me a winter in Neverrest with all the women and wine I could wish for? You’d have thought we might have learned, you really would, but oh no. I’d like to say now, for the record, that I don’t know what I was thinking. Carried away by my own stories, I think.

That or remembering Barresford again.


Diamond Cascade: The Thin Line Between Heroism and Stupidity

Posted in DC

Alturiak 4: After a well-earned rest courtesy of Diamond Cascade’s good gnomish friends, Diamond Cascade and his companions continued on their mission: To travel north and deliver a letter, long overdue, and to continue their quest for the noble priest of Tyr, their hunt for the devilish dwarf Durmijeron. But what horror awaited? Slipping out from their dark dwellings among the mountains, fiendish orcs and vile goblins had swarmed forth while Diamond Cascade and his friends had brought justice to the venomous drow of the underdark. In the green and pleasant hills of the Halfling tribes, normally so warm and welcoming, naught awaited them but scene after scene of vicious unspeakable slaughter. Overwhelmed by this ashen tragedy, this dire destruction, Diamond Cascade and his comrades set themselves upon the trail of the closest of these despicable warbands and descended upon it in a whirling blur of sorcery and steel and righteous vengeance. Many fell to Diamond Cascade’s sword, many vile orc and goblin, yet their numbers were of such magnitude that even the master swordsman himself could not defeat so many. Sickened by the slaughter of his own making, Diamond Cascade set to in single combat with the foul leader of this orcish band and brought him down with a single mighty blow. Leaving the orcs reeling in disarray from the terror wrought upon them, to lick their wounds and slink back to their vomitous lairs, Diamond Cascade continued onwards.

Actually, no. Actually, what happened is we saw this large orcish warband, kept well away from it as any sensible person would, then slunk into their camp while they were all sleeping and murdered their war-leader in an effort to sow confusion and dissent.

Actually no, not that either. Ok, so the plan was to swoop in upon the orcs and kill their leaders and swoop away again while disabling their pursuit with spells. With flaming spheres and entanglement spells and a hail of arrows and SOME SORT OF CO-ORDINATION, it was a plan that might even have worked.

OK, look, if there had been a plan, there are many things it would not have included. For example, it would not have called for The Gnome to fall off her horse, Wolfgirl to stand around wondering what to do, or for Shifty to curl up in a ball and hope no one could see him, even as they walked right over where he was and trod on him. It would not have called for Stalker to rider around in aimless circles trying to control his horse while thousands of goblins threw javelins at him. All of these things. Would NOT have been in the plan. If we’d had one.

Unless, of course, the plan called for us to get captured and for our amusing ineptitude to arouse a certain degree of orcish curiosity, thus preventing our immediate execution. If the plan we didn’t have had been that, then it would have worked quite well. Same for the part where we escape from captivity while all the orcs are sleeping, murder their chieftain in his sleep (thanks, Shifty) and slink out with as much of our stuff and theirs as we could carry. I’d like to say that my growing powers that allow me to shift my appearance to be that of an orc and speak and understand their language made some useful contribution to our escape, but they didn’t.

What I still don’t understand is why our plan wasn’t simply to slip around them in the first place. I can’t even blame the rest of them. It was me, urging us into this outbreak of stupidity. Could have got us all killed. Very nearly did. Even as we were making our escape, a part of me wanted to turn back, creep among their bloated sleeping bodies and slit throat after throat until we were awash in a sea of blood. Where did that come from?

After we were away, all I could think of was Barresford. Maybe that’s what’s got my thinking so cloudy. Barresford and what the orcs did there.


Diamond Cascade: Some Great Reward

Posted in DC

(aka Heroes of the Gnomish King)

Within the realms of the gnomish king, Diamond Cascade and his valiant band were welcomed and their every comfort tended. Treasures and wealth beyond dreams or reason were offered, but Diamond Cascade and his friends took only what they required: A little shelter, a little food to fill their empty bellies, a little rest while they tended their wounds. Gold and jewels they turned away, seeking nothing more than the knowledge that they had served the greater good of the land and brought peace back to their mischievous friends the gnomes. Other soldiers of fortune would surely have sought profit from their exploits, but for Diamond Cascade, virtue, as always, was its own reward. Despite the sanctuary of the gnomish city, though, Diamond Cascade was soon on his way. With his wounds healed and his fellows rested, there could be no rest, for in the world above, evil still stalked the land. With a fond and cheery farewell, Diamond Cascade returned to the surface, fresh and ready for a new quest!

In other words, we got nothing. Nada. Rien. Sweet zero. All that work, and for what? Not a gold piece to rub together between us. And you can add to that, I remember almost nothing about the gnomish lands. They must have got fed up with us and chucked us out, throwing in a little memory-muddling enchantment while they were at it. Thanks, gnomes. Next time you need saving from the hordes of darkness, find someone else. You and your little friends the pixies too (yes, pixies, I haven’t forgotten).

Still, when I wake up outside and the air is fresh and the sky is blue (or grey, actually, and raining, but never mind that), with the wind in my face and the sun on my skin (rain, but still never mind), I can’t tell you how good it was to be out of those stinking dark caves. Never again. Never, ever again.

One little thing we seem to have picked up while we were underground, though. A riddle. Scrawled on a piece of paper. Something about some great treasure. Some cryptic clue or other. Can’t work it out yet, but one or two bits about it make a creepy sort of sense. So maybe the gnomes weren’t quite the ingrates I thought. It would, I suppose, be a very gnomish sort of reward.


Diamond Cascade: Terminus Est

Posted in DC

Hammer 10: Stealthy as ghosts in the night, Diamond Cascade and his noble companions crept through the tunnels. The terrible sounds of battle drew close, and finally they emerged upon a scene of terrible blood and destruction. In a desperate last stand, the valiant gnomes had pitched their last hopeless defence against the underground gates to their hidden city. Crashing against them, legion upon legion of dark dwarves and elves lay waste to all around them. Without thought of their own lives, Diamond Cascade and his friends threw themselves into the fray, but was this some idle assault? No! For the gnomish priest had seen that the roof of the great cavern in which this battle raged was held aloft by massive stone pillars. With one mighty spell, the pillars were brought down, crashing among the foul invaders, crushing many beneath their stones. As Diamond Cascade and the mighty Stalker took the enemy from behind and gave battle to the wicked priests who led them, the roof followed down, further battering the enemy. Without thought to their own safety, Diamond Cascade and his valiant followers gave chase, laying into the enemy left and right as stones and boulders crashed around them, bringing righteous and bloody justice to these foes of all that is proper and good. With a  single blow, Diamond Cascade slew the dark elf priestess who led the army; with their fellows crushed among the stones and their leader slain, the dark legions crumbled and fled, racing away into the tunnels and shadows with their tails between their legs. Thus it was that Diamond Cascade and his band of heroes brought salvation to the gnomish people and earned their eternal gratitude!

Yeah. Might have happened something like that. Might be that Diamond Cascade and his noble companions stumbled into the edge of the battle with hardly a clue as to what was going on except that it was very dark and what little light there was really didn’t help very much, and for all we know the gnomes were kicking dark elf butt. It’s true that we brought the roof down. The Gnome did that, I think. And I think that probably killed more dark dwarves than it crushed gnomes. Probably. Anyway, it seemed to sort the whole matter out. As for finishing off the priestess, well, I couldn’t say now who actually landed the killing blow on her. Stalker certainly had a good go at it, but got taken out by the horrible snake-staff she was carrying. Might have been a stone from the falling roof that finished her, or maybe it really was me. Don’t know. As for having no thought for our own lives, well, I for one was paying attention when the dark elf wizard with whom we didn’t make any deal at all was telling us what magic she and her bodyguards were carrying, and I was damned if I was going to let that slide and end up buried forever under a ton of rubble. Snake staff isn’t much use, but I’m sure we could sell it. Nice cloak, though. Nice gloves, nice gauntlet, and a very, very nice sword. I might even give Buttpoker to Stalker…

Must find another way to describe my so-called friends. Noble companions is getting tired, I think.


Diamond Cascade: Magic Mushrooms

Posted in DC

Hammer 10: It’s amazing, sometimes, how life turns out. Take the psychotic dwarf, for example. He’s battled his way through the tunnels of the under-dark from the Mountains of Wherever to the Inn of Gnomish Mishaps to deliver his warning (apparently circumnavigating the entire gnomish kingdom in so doing, which, in hindsight, would explain his latterly apparent navigation and map-reading skills). He has followed his priest, joined with a band of strangely random sell-swords and misfits, travelled across the surface that he hates and has still, eventually, delivered his warning to the gnomish people. He has then followed his priest on a mission of almost certain death to deliver a crippling blow to the leadership of his enemies. He has watched his priest fall to goblin swords, and yet he has persevered. He has led a band of utter lunatics, stupid enough to follow him, yet querulous, argumentative and mocking. He has led them through tunnels he knows that are now riven with creatures he calls his mortal enemies (although in the case of this dwarf, ‘mortal enemy’ does sometimes seem to be a broad church that encompasses anything that breathes). He has faced dark dwarves, goblins, orcs, ogres and dark elves and he has spilt their blood upon the blade of his axe.  And then, almost within sight of his destiny, close enough to touch it, a bear sits on him.

Is there a lesson to this? Apart from not standing in the way of a bear that’s going toe-to-toe with a mushroom with tentacles? Yes. Life is futile, random and ghastly. Take what you can and get what you can get. Before the bear sits on you.

Bizarre, but the one person who seems to care about this (beyond the horrible realisation that none of the rest of us have the first clue how to get back out of here) is Shifty. Or maybe he was just looting the body in particularly dramatic style.

I hate this place.


Diamond Cascade: The Enemy of My Enemy

Posted in DC

Hammer 10: One thing Diamond Cascade won’t do in the epic tales of his exploits will be to blunder into yet another cave full of dwarves, get ambushed by them, get into a huge fight, kick their arses only to have a vast gang of mutant goblins, half of them with too many heads or too many hands or too many wings, mouths, tails, you name it, too many of anything, show up along with some flying dark elf wizard. There’s absolutely no way that Diamond Cascade and his noble mateys made some sort of deal with ANY DARK ELF WIZARD AT ALL, even one who’s lit up with magic like a candelabra in a Gammersbridge brothel. There’s no way at all that any of this happened, and no one was promised the magical-loot of the dark elf priestess if we happened to murder her. No bargain of any sort was made. In fact, no such wizard existed.

And if he did, he wasn’t called Ilkius Venaar.

Ah, crap, it’s not like we weren’t going to go and do exactly the same thing anyway.


Diamond Cascade: Lucky Fishing Magic Game

Posted in DC

Hammer 10: …until finally they reached the first scouts of the fiendish ARMY OF DARKNESS, the vicious DARK ELVES. With ruthless strokes, Diamond Cascade and his comrades stalked and slew these foul versions of the fair folk above and crept ever closer to the heart of the enemy.

Look, when you’re a human and you’re a mile under the ground and you can see jack shit, spotting a black-skinned elf wearing black armour, sitting on the back of a black lizard that happens to be hanging from a black ceiling with lots of black darkness in between you, it just doesn’t work, right. I begin to see why dwarves and gnomes live in these holes. Because they can. Because it keeps them away from us and us away from them. So we’re creeping along, bumping into walls and generally getting on each others’ nerves (The Gnome, it seems, has taken particular issue to the stories I sing of Diamond Cascade, back when we were in civilised places. Remember civilisation? Where a good bit of singing gets you a meal for a night instead of getting you attacked by an army of giant spiders and dire bats? I remember civilisation. Even my poet’s soul can’t find words potent enough to express how much I’d rather be there than here. Anyway, I keep telling The Gnome that they’re just stories, they’re not meant to be about us, exactly (well they are, and that’s pretty obvious, but The Gnome is a gnome and dim, right) but she just won’t shut up about it) when we hear the sound of rushing water. Great, a place to throw The Gnome and shut her up, but you know, the sound of rushing water turns out to travel an awful long way in a cave, and by the time we get there, I’ve temporarily forgotten about hefting people into rivers. So there we are, great big chasm, rushing underground river, long rope bridge vanishing into the darkness ahead. And I’m happily lollopping across when this fight breaks out, and all I know of it is there’s shouting all of a sudden from The Gnome and Wolfgirl (who can apparently see in the dark too) about something on the ceiling and then there’s people shooting arrows up at god-knows-what (hint for archers: don’t shoot arrows straight upwards, especially at a lizard you can’t actually see) and then the next thing is The Gnome casting some spell and the next thing after that is this huge lizard thing with a screaming black elf plunging past me and crashing into the river along with assorted bits of cave roof.

Now, you all need to know this: Not everything you’ve heard about dark elves is true. But I don’t know that. All I see is a falling magic shop plunging into the river, and so I’m out with the rope and grapple I keep handy (you would too if you were in these tunnels), trying to reel that sucker in before he vanishes into the inky depths. First throw was a good one too, got him nice and fast. Only trouble is, I guess I didn’t reckon on how strong the current would be and I’m still thinking too hard about how much magic this dark elf must have to let go of the stupid rope, and half a second later, that’s me over the edge and into the water as well. All in my chain shirt and sword and everything. I’m too busy trying not to drown to really listen in on the conversation behind me, but there was way too much talking and not enough throwing rescue ropes for my liking. I guess I could have reeled myself in to the lizard and floated off to gods-knows-where on the back of it, dark-elf treasure and all. The only one who does anything is the mad dwarf. Just as well it was a good throw.


Diamond Cascade: Aimlessly Wandering In The Dark

Posted in DC

Hammer 9: Through many perils fought Diamond Cascade and his noble companions, for the Underdark is a vile and wicked place where only the foulest of creatures dwell, those that cannot bear the light above, or have been driven to this place for there is no place above that will abide them. Through all these our valiant heroes fought, for no foe stood taller than they, and no danger could overwhelm their brave hearts and noble purpose…

Blah-blah, blah-blah blah-blah. There are a few reasons why not much of this is going to make it into the epic tales of Diamond Cascade and his heroic deeds. At least there’s a reason why there won’t be any detail. Can you guess? It’s because it’s all pissing dark down here. Have you tried wandering around an endless bunch of caves with nothing but a few lanterns? Can I see anything? No. Mostly what I see it rock, a few feet from my face. Don’t mind small cramped spaces, but this is like living in a coffin. Then there’s the constant tripping over stuff I don’t notice, banging my head, bashing my elbow. Yes, I got some light armour on which probably saves me from a concussion every few hours, but by the end of the first day I’m black and blue from bruises and quivering. I want out, back out. I want out bad. It’s fine for the mad dwarf and The Gnome, who can see in the dark and are used to living in holes in the ground. As for the rest of us, though… I’m surprised Wolfgirl hasn’t gone completely mad.

And then there’s the critters who live down here. The first lot we run into are a gang of dark dwarves trying to bring down a huge bear. Don’t know why. Don’t know what the bear is doing down here either. Looking for a place to hibernate? Largely we stand around and watch while the bear makes a mess of the dwarves (yes, it’s a seriously big bear). When it’s done. Wolfgirl makes friends with it and fixes it up. From that point on, half the time what I can see ahead of me is bear butt. Woo-hoo.

Then there was the half-cat half-octopus thing that seemed to shift about. In the dark. Which we could barely see in the first place. I don’t think half of us even had a clue there was something there, just lots of screaming. I saw a shadow or a flicker of movement and swung a sword at it. Not sure I hit anything at all. In the end, the bear sat on it, which made a right mess. Displacer Beast, I think. Heard of those back in North Horn Ridge. We take its skin. Which stinks and probably lures out every scavenger down here. At some point I think we ran into a couple of goblins, but the psychotic dwarf had them smeared across the stones before I even knew they were there.

About the only place where I can actually see my hand in front of my face without having seizures from all the lights bobbing about the place is some cavern full of glowing crystals. The dwarf gets all twitchy about moving on and not picking anything up, which is a red rag to a bull if ever I saw one, and anyway, it’s light enough I can see for once, so I hang around. True, there are piles of skeletons about the place, so maybe he had a point. Anyway, there are all these glowing crystals and some of them are broken, and so I figure, whatever lives here, it probably doesn’t care too much about the broken stuff, so I pick one up and mend it, figuring I might walk off with it, and that a glowing crystal might be a handy thing to have in a place that’s pitch black. Certainly doesn’t make my eyes sting as much as one of the lovely smoke-machines we call torches (and I think we might be running out by now). The next thing you know there’s this monstrous crystal creature rising up out of the earth and we’re all pissing our pants. Apparently I did a good thing, though, since it doesn’t smash us into pieces, so as soon as I recover my wits, I ramble on at it about our noble quest to save the underdark from crystal-smashing despoilers. It might have bought this, it might not, but it doesn’t seem to mind me helping myself to a rather nice-looking silver comb. It has some protracted conversation with The Gnome. Surprisingly, the result isn’t a dead gnome.


Diamond Cascade: Oh No, Not You Again (aka Ambush!)

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Hammer 9: Slipping in secret into the baleful dominion of EVIL that is the Underdark, Diamond Cascade had thought to enter unnoticed; but no, for he and his less stealthy companions had been FOLLOWED, and by none other than the evil servitors of the dark dwarf Durmijeron! Yes indeed, the servitors that Diamond Cascade and his companions had already once put to the swords! Against the swift senses of Diamond Cascade’s friends, however, these two creatures of wickedness could not long keep themselves concealed and were soon exposed. A mighty duel of swords and arrows and sorcery ensued, but Diamond Cascade and his companions were soon victorious. The foul troglodyte’s attempts to escape were quickly thwarted by Diamond Cascade’s mighty sorcery. Begging and drooling, the pathetic wretch offered Diamond Cascade wealth and power. He spokes of Axolim, the great green dragon whom they serve, who has brought them back from the dead and who grants his servitors tokens and favours to aid them in spreading their wickedness. Unrepentant, the monster left Diamond Cascade with little choice but to kill him for a second time.

So we go down some rickety starircase at the back of some cave that the mad axe-talking dwarf reckons is some sort of emergency exit. Presumably in case of fire or something. He claims to have a map and to know where he’s going, but he hasn’t a clue about the map and keeps contradicting his own directions. And yet we follow him. Why? WHYYYYY??? I suppose there’s some sort of underlying certain belief that he’s a dwarf in some tunnels and so he must know where he’s going. So we’re arguing about all this when Shifty hears something following us and slips back to investigate and yes, there they are, the two tits from the ruined tower north of Neverrest. Yes, the ones we killed once already, Troggy and Dogboy. There’s arrows and magic missiles between me and the halfgit and Troggy and Stalker and The Gnome have at Dogboy and his warg. Doesn’t take too long to bring them down. Troggy tries to hide, but here’s a clue for you thief-types: Trying to hide from a wizard (or in fact anyone who can do any magic whatsoever) who’s looking for you? DON’T CARRY MAGIC ITEMS! One Detect Magic cantrip later and he’s wriggling at the end of my sword-point and his magic scarab-pendant is in my pocket.

And yes, these offers of gold and gems and magic and territory if we were to join up with ‘the greens’ were all very tempting. Two slight little problems I have with this: Firstly, I think this whole malarkey about an eternal war between a pair of dragons is a pile of tosh (although that doesn’t meant here’s a bunch of people loaded with gold and gems and magic and stuff who are pretending to be a pair of evil dragon overlords). Secondly, if it isn’t, I can’t help thinking that butchering a baby green dragon and slicing it up for its saleable body parts might count against us. Anyway, apparently this pair of idiots have been tracking us ever since we killed them the last time to find out what side we’re on. It gives me some pleasure to think they might have had to suffer gnomish pranks and pixies too, and then Shifty, reading my mind, sticks a knife into Troggy. From the dead he came, and back he goes. If he want’s to tell his green scaly master whose side we’re on, good luck to him. I imagine he leaves as confused as he arrived. Do we know what side we’re on? Do we even know there are sides? Did we have to choose? We’re all on our own side – what’s the chances we’d even all pick the same one? Well, great green dragon, if you’re listening, I’m on the side of limitless wealth and power, of endless wine, women and song.

One thing: He seems to recognise Stalker. Calls him Boduku, who was apparently supposed to let the ‘greens’ into the dwarven stronghold of Dwarf Mountain (OK, OK, it has a proper dwarfish name that I can’t remember and couldn’t pronounce anyway). All this, of course, would have happened before Stalker lost his memory. Now this is probably all desperate bullshit in an attempt to sow bickering and discord among us (which just goes to show that he hasn’t been following all that closely to he’d know there was little more he could have done in that regard). But still, it does have an annoying ring of possibility to it.

Before we can question him any more, Shifty stabs him. I’m glad. It’s all very well having Stalker’s dubious past trotted out for all the rest of us to laugh at, but he’s not the only one with a history he’d rather keep to himself. Don’t trust Shifty, but boy is he useful to have around when you secretly want someone stabbed and can’t quite bring yourself to do it.


Diamond Cascade: Going Underground

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Hammer 8: Foul and vile as the enemy were, the army on the surface was not the true peril facing the noble race of gnomes. No, ’twas the vile legions of DARK DWARVES and BLACK ELVES, their souls twisted by evil, servants of DARK GODS and FIENDS and FOUL BLACK SORCERERS, every one of them twisted by the black magic that leaks from the lower planes of wickedness into that wicked place, the UNDERDARK! Finally Diamond Cascade and his brave champions of honour and good reached the edge of the MOUNTAINS OF EVIL and the forbidding caves that marked the entrances into the foul under-realms. Without pause for thought, sworn to save the kingdom of the gnomes from falling under the sway of evil, Diamond Cascade and his friends set forth into the darkness, into the heart of evil itself, set upon bringing death to the leaders of this ARMY OF DARKNESS. And thus began the first of Diamond Cascade’s Great Adventures

Yes, our band of self-serving thieves and anarchists did indeed follow a mad dwarf who spends more time talking to his axe than any of the rest of us and is set on dying a glorious death in battle at the earliest possible opportunity. Yes, we did follow him into the butt-end of a cave and happened to find some tunnels. Why? Why follow a deranged dwarf berserker into the under-dark? You know why? Because we couldn’t agree on anything else to do. How pathetic is that? Nevertheless, thus did indeed begin our great adventure into the under-dark, in which we were, largely by accident, of some small use to the kingdom of the gnomes and their bizarre monarch, Heapofcrapthatsitsontopovus. Or whatever his name is. And you know what? We’re right back where we started. Right back near the caves where we came for bat-shit all those months ago.


Diamond Cascade: These are not the orcish hordes you’re looking for

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Hammer 7: Bold and daring, yet stealthy as a shadow, Diamond Cascade slipped into the very heart of the enemy camp, intent on learning their numbers. With all the intelligence needed to defeat the foul creatures of darkness, Diamond Cascade slipped away, silent as the night, and yet he was not alone. Another creature has also taken it upon themselves to learn the foul army’s strength, a lady of unsurpassed beauty, with skin of scaly bronze – none other than one of the great dragons that protect the land! With a wink and a nod to one another, Diamond Cascade and the dragon-lady crossed paths and were on their way.

I forget when it was. At some point we took a slimy captive. Turns out our new halfgit friend can talk slimy. Don’t remember whether it was the slimies in the day or the slimies in the night when we took one alive. Slimies in the day, I think. Asked it a load of questions. I think we even had some idea of getting it to lead us to the army it came from (Why? Why would we do that? Why are we going towards the army or orcs and slimies and gods-know-what? Because last I heard, we were supposed to be following a homicidal dwarven priest who was going to lead us to some caves that would take us down to the Underdark where we could fight our way into the middle of an entirely different army. An entirely different army made up of grey dwarves and black elves, half of whom are priests or wizards. And it’ll be in the dark. And miles underground. In tunnels. Where we won’t have a clue where we are. And the dwarven priest has gone to meet his dwarven maker and now we’re following an even more homicidal dwarf who talks to his axe. Yes, you may wonder why we’re looking for this other army, or even for any army at all. But we’re certainly not looking for one made up of orcs and slimies. This is not the orcish hordes we are looking for). Eventually some sense prevails and Shifty sticks a knife in the slimy and sends it off to slimy heaven. If only he’d follow up with The Gnome.

Of course, seeing as we are so amazingly competent, we nevertheless find the army we’re not looking for anyway. Admittedly, I say this as though it was some sort of random accident, but I’m not really a woods and wilderness sort, so for all I know, Wolfgirl led us straight to them under the mistaken impression that this is where we wanted to be. Close run thing as it is, we spot the enormous noisy smelly army only just slightly before they spot us. Trouble is, we’re really stupid, and also cold and hungry. For some reason largely related to the presence of food and warmth within the army camp and the distinct lack of it anywhere else, Shifty and I have this daft idea of sneaking in for a closer look and maybe helping ourselves to some food and blankets. And then let’s not talk about what happened next. We’ll not talk about the being spotted well before acquiring any such warmth or food. Nor about being chased by a gang of orcs and slimies, nor about hiding up a tree and feeling really smug and clever about giving them the slip. Certainly not about the dead branch I happened to hold on to and the being shot at and having nowhere to run. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the dragon-lady showing up and scaring them all off, there’s a good chance that the epic poem of Diamond Cascade would have come to an abrupt end right there and then. As for useful intelligence about the army, well, it’s big and full of slimies and orcs and ogres, right. And it’s still not the army we were looking for.


Diamond Cascade: Sleeping in the Woods In Winter

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Hammer 7:  It’s getting rough out here. You’d have thought that we might at least have earned a good night’s sleep after slaughtering slimies. You’d have thought the gods might have smiled on us for that. But maybe they thought hey, there’s a band of brainless tits who think it’s a clever thing to camp down in a forest in the middle of winter in close proximity to a large army of orcs etc. Let’s remind them of all the oh-so-many reasons why they’re wrong. Yeah, there’s nothing like shivering down for a kip in the snow, shagged senseless from a hard day wandering across the icy wilderness and kicking slimy ass only to discover you’re so cold you can’t actually sleep even with enough blankets wrapped around you to look like a small hill. Other bands of wandering sword-slingers, I hear, have wizards or priests who can create magical shelters and can create food and water and warmth. What do we have? We have Holli. Fair play to her, though, she does try to keep people warm at night; it’s just that I’d rather be kept warm by mysterious arcane energy than by a randy gnome. Even the army had, for example, tents and hot food (maybe it was more mud than food, but at least it was hot). What do we have? We have, er… cloaks. And blankets. In the middle of winter.

So yes, maybe we shouldn’t have lit a great big fire when we’re well within the scouting range of an enormous army of orcs and slimies and gods-know-what, but before long it’s either that or freeze to death. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that I finally got warm enough to get to sleep just in time to be woken up in the middle of the night with someone screaming something about ogres and nine-foot tall monsters stomping about the place. They hit hard, too. I see Stalker and Shifty go down one after the other. Like everything else, though, ogres go down when you stick them with enough arrows. That’s what you get for wrecking what little was left of my sleep, you fat-bellied fuckers.


Diamond Cascade: Ogres and goblins and orcs, oh my!

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(aka Hammer 6: A Fond Farewell to Captain Liability)

…and then, of course, the scouts of the ARMY OF DARKNESS itself creeping across the land. Against these, Diamond Cascade and his companions fought battle after battle, slaughtering goblins, orcs and even ogres in droves. Diamond Cascade himself personally slew dozens of these evil soldiers of corruption.

Yeah yeah yeah, but not before we spent an entire day being annoyed to shit by some dumbass pixies. HELLO small helpless-yet-hard-to-hit annoying things? Does it occur to you to to go and bother the great big army of orcs and goblins and ogres and so forth with your intensely irritating little pranks? Does the thought cross your eeny-weeny little thoughts that maybe, what with orcs and ogres and slimies being a pretty foul-tempered lot, you might for once in your otherwise futile little lives actually even achieve something useful? A reminder, little pixie-folk: We’re talking about orcs and ogres here. Not slimies. Slimies, yes, well, I can see how you might like to let them in just for the fun of annoying them into killing each other other. But orcs and ogres are another matter. These are creatures who will smash your forest flat if no one stops them. You might get a giggle or two out of them on their way, but in the end they’ll leave you with nowhere to hide. And then they’ll pull your wings off to floss with and, eventually, stick you on a skewer, roast you alive and eat you. But no, no, little pixies, instead of sowing discord among people who would like to rape you and then eat you, you’d rather annoy the nine hells out of us, the only people you’ve actually seen trying to stop them.

So, pixies. You remember this day. Remember it well, just as I will. One day you can rue it.

This all started in the morning and just kept on going. By the time we ran into a gang of slimies, I don’t know what I was more grateful for. Having something to take it all out on, or that something as scary as – oooh – a couple of dozen slimies was enough to scare the little winged jackasses away.  Apparently there were a couple of other things, but I was mostly busy with the slimies. Man, a good slaughter of the little buggers was just what I needed. Cleared my head nicely. Got a nice bow off one of them too. Must have been quite a fight somewhere where I wasn’t, on account of how battered up everyone else seems to look. We’ve lost a dwarf (no great disaster), and the walking liability that was Tiarth appears to have blundered off into the woods. After an hour of searching, we’re pretty sure he’s not dead, on account of there being no body. We’re also pretty sure he doesn’t want to be found, on account of him being a blind elf with extra-acute hearing, and us making slightly more noise than the approaching army. Don’t know what we did, but frankly it’s all one great big sigh of relief all round that we won’t have ever have to experience the sheer jaw-dropping horror of watching a blind man throw a greatsword at a stuck-in-the-mud owlbear before then wading in to apparently try and wrestle it to death. No, bye-bye Tiarth Friend-bane and good riddance.

It’s an imperfect world, so of course we don’t get to butcher a band of slimies and ditch Captain Liability without there being some small price to pay. It seems the goblins had some lunch they hadn’t gotten around to eating yet, some doubtless annoying little halfgit woman. Gives us a reason to head south and abandon our current quest, but we’ve abandoned so many before getting very far that you know, just for once, I think we should at least get as far as the Underdark before we realise what a colossal mistake we’re making and run off to be ineffectual somewhere else.


Diamond Cascade: The Great Owlbear Fiasco

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Hammer 5: The Great Owlbear Fiasco

Even with the ‘blessing’ of the foul fiend that was the lich-king, Diamond Cascade and his companions still faced many perils in crossing the Haunted Wood, from such mundane creatures as snakes and mischievous pixies to the horror of a MONSTROUS OWLBEAR…

Snakes. I hate snakes. I hate these woods. What sort of dumb snake drops down on a man from up in the trees and tries to eat them in front of their friends. It wasn’t like they were that hard to skewer, but… EW! And then there was the whole trouble of trying to put an arrow through a snake while it was wrapped around someone who, as things go, is as close to a friend as you can be with someone who regularly steals stuff of you.

No, scratch that, actually I don’t think I tried that hard not to put the arrow through the snake and through whoever it was strangling. I can’t even remember who the snake was trying to eat now, but I think from my lack of concern about whether I shot them at the same time as the snake, I can narrow it down to… to… to being anyone I haven’t slept with. Not including The Gnome. OK, so not Wolfgirl.

Now look, here’s a little tale that tells you all you need to know about gnomes. Think about this next one, and then remember that their ENTIRE RACE is like this. Then ask yourself whether we were acting for the greater good by trying to save them from annihilation. Y’see, we found this cart, blocking the trail we were following across the forest. One cart, one broken axle, one chest, no owner. We call out, being good-spirited folks and not wanting to be caught red-handed in any looting that might follow. No answer. So, hey, finders-keepers we figure, and Shifty sets to opening up the chest (locked of course). I don’t know what we’re expecting, but something worth having, for sure. Not a cloud of gas that did nothing more than make everyone nearby fall about helpless with laughter. In the middle of nowhere. WHAT, EXACTLY, WAS THE POINT OF THAT?  That’s a sane question, right? To a gnome, though, it’s a dumb question with an obvious answer. What do you mean what was the point? The point was obvious. Or else what do you mean there has to be a point of some sort? Yeah. Gnomes. Why are we saving them, again?

Maybe the answer is in the owlbear fiasco. Yes, we fought an owlbear. Yes, I largely took it down. Me, largely on my own, keeping well away and sticking it with arrows. Of course, we had no idea what the hell it was at the time, just some great massive bear thing with an enormous beak the size of my arm, waving its arms and squawking and hooting and acting all leery. I suppose you would, if you were the relic of some mad wizard experiment to mix an owl and a bear together. What next? The mosquito-wolf, who hunts in packs and sucks your blood and kills you with strange tropical diseases? No wait, whoever brought us the Stirge probably already did that? OK, the stoat-bat? The ant-fox? A cross between a caterpillar and a cheetah, vastly over-engineered for the lettuce it calls its prey?

Anyway, it come shambling through the woods at us making a fuss and clearly means to eat us, and we all fly into a panic. Scatter and run away is the first thing that comes to my mind, on the grounds that all these short stumpy non-humans and Stalker in his heavy armour are more likely to get caught that fleet-footed me, and maybe by the time this horror has finished eating them it’ll be full and fancy an afternoon nap. What’s it doing out here anyway? It’s the middle of the day and the middle of winter. Bears hibernate! Owls are nocturnal! Shouting its contradictions at merely seemed to enrage the beast, and I was all for riding away, until the Gnome did possibly the cleverest thing I’ve ever seen anyone do. She threw a spell at the monster, turning the ground underneath it into thick mud, miring it down. Bogged down as it was, and with me being the expert archer that I am, you’d think it’s fate was sealed. You’d think that everyone else would have the sense to stand back and pepper it with arrows too until it fell. That or run like buggery and be gone before it hauled itself out. You’d really think that no one would be SO STUPID as to throw themselves into the mud in an attempt to go toe-to-toe with a nine-foot bear armed with a two foot hooked beaked while up to their waist in heavy mud. Or, if you’re a dwarf, up to your neck. But no. Its first one dwarf, then the other, then even the blind elf (sweet gods, how did he ever live even this long) are throwing themselves at the monster, getting stuck, smashed to bits and, in the case of the Blind Elf, nearly drowning. In fact, if I remember rightly, Blind Elf threw his sword at the Owlbear first. I am, truly, at a loss to explain the behaviour of non-human races sometimes. All we humans did the sensible thing and stood back.

So maybe that’s why we’re saving the gnomes. Because, daft as they are, they’re no worse than any other non-humans. And for being, for once, the only other person with any sense, I shall try to remember that The Gnome has an actual name. Holli. Which is probably short for something with about twenty syllables, but it’ll do.


Diamond Cascade: Back-Talking The Lich King

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Hammer 4: Back-Talking The Lich King

The quickest route from the gnomish lands to the mountain tunnels that would lead Diamond Cascade into the nest of evil that was the under-dark led straight through nothing less than THE HAUNTED WOOD OF THE LICH-KING! Without flinching from this most unnatural of terrors, Diamond Casade left without hesitation, riding straight for the heart of this cursed land. Others might have skirted around this evil place, but Diamond Cascade knew that every day lost would mean innocent gnomish lives sacrificed to the slaughter-machine of the under-dark; instead, he and his companions struck for the centre, riding swiftly and directly to the black heart of the Haunted Wood. They found the lich-king’s very tower and burst through its blackened doors. Dark were the things they found there, things not to be spoken of to any but the bravest hearts, yet with courage and fearless resolve they prevailed and, not succumbing to the lich-king’s terror, crossed the Haunted Wood untouched by the supernatural horrors that dwell within its depths.

Yeah. Fearlessly and boldly and without a damn clue where we were going. We’re supposed to be finding the Gnome King and of course, the only person who knows where to go is The Gnome. So we blindly follow as she leads us deeper and deeper into the Haunted Wood. Deeper and deeper and deeper. Until it starts to get dark. Thanks, Gnome.

Did I mention we have a couple of Mad Dwarves. Grimoril and Kiljerk or something. Hurrah. More non-humans. Remnants from the gnomish cellar. With a bit of luck they won’t last too long. Kiljerk. There’s a jerk or two within throttling distance I wouldn’t mind stabbing, that’s for sure.

Yes, she would get us turned into drooling undead monstrosities just for a laugh. There is, therefore, and for a little while, a certain amout of shitting ourselves going on before we begin to realise that all is not quite as it seems. Wolfgirl doesn’t seem bothered either, and Wolfgirl isn’t very high on the party jerk list. By the time we reach the tower of the lich-king (and reach it we do), I have an idea I know what’s going on. And it turns out I was right. Which is just as well, because we really did go to the lich-king’s tower, and we really were pretty fearless about it and we really did kick his door in and face him down, and if he’d really been what he was pretending to be then we’d be undead minions by now, cast into perpetual pain and torment. I’ll say no more, but for those befriended by the gnomes of the Haunted Wood, the undead there are not so terrible. The lich-king, you see, is a gnome and subject to all the whims of foibles that brings, and more than that I shall not reveal, save to remind those who are not friends of gnomes that a lich-king with a twisted sense of humour is still a lich-king.


Hammer 2: The Inn of Remorseless Arguing

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Weary from battling the wicked dwarf and his fiendish friends, Diamond Cascade rested his head in a nearby gnomish inn, filled with jolly japing gnomish friends. A fine place it was, where Diamond Cascade and his brave friends were able to rest and refresh themselves and take stock of the many urgent quests that justice and righteousness called them to do. Should they pursue the wicked dwarf and seek the second missing letter? What grains of truth lay behind his mad ramblings? Should they begin their search for the Scales of Tyr and restore them to their rightful place? Or should they race to Osmuld, to seek the fell creature rumoured to stalk the land, or solve the riddle of Stalker’s birth? All these things they pondered with grave intent and common purpose, yet before they could set their minds, their quiet respite was set upon by battling dwarves! Diamond Cascade and his friends raced at once to defend their valiant gnomish friends. But worse was to come; for the dwarves were none other than a brave band from the far-off mountains who had battled through the tunnels of the underdark for three days to bring warning: The forces of darkness were on the march, intent on crushing the kingdoms of the gnomes and after them the little folk of the hills. Dark dwarves had fought and bested these bold messengers throughout their journey and they were at the end of their strength; fortunately, Diamond Cascade and his friends were able to turn back the last of their pursuers, and with a little rest the dwarves were quickly back to their strength. With this news, Diamond Cascade’s duty was clear: The invasion must be stopped, and only Diamond Cascade could do it! And so Diamond Cascade and his companions set forth at once, bound for the very heart of the deadly HAUNTED FOREST.

Not that Diamond Cascade particularly wanted to. In fact, Diamond Cascasde was thoroughly enjoying himself in the gnomish inn, thank-you. Don’t imagine for a moment that my opinion has changed and that gnomes aren’t generally irritating dicks because it hasn’t and they are; but one thing I’ll give for them is that they throw a good party. Annoying in the day when you actually want to get anything done, but when you want to let your hair down afterwards, they suddenly become a lot more bearable. And that’s the Vale way. Work hard, play hard. Preferably without too much of the work bit.

So we’d showed up to this inn I’ve never seen before. I’ve been up and down the road to Osmuld several times. The last time I was on my own and on foot and I reckoned I’d stopped in every inn on the way to Nerverrest, but apparently I missed this one on account of it being disguised as a tree. If you crawl into the hollows among its roots, however (and I do mean crawl if you’re human), then underground there’s an inn for gnomes. It’s a bit muddy and dingy, but a damn sight better than sleeping out in the open of the haunted wood with winter coming on. Anyway, they’re welcoming enough and they obviously know Wolfgirl. We have a few drinks to relax and ease our aching muscles and distract ourselves from the rantings of that idiot dwarf. Dragons, coppers, greens. Bollocks, all of it. I might have a look at the books Shifty pinched, but I’m having much too much fun with The Gnome and Wolfgirl. If there’s one thing I’ll say for The Gnome, she has a talent for leading others astray. No need for cards and strip-poker today; a few beers and we’re off for a three-some. Scoring with The Gnome is hardly a challenge (she’s gone through at least two other gnomes by then and to my certain knowledge had the Blind Elf and at least two other gnomes later, although they were all doubtless a disappointment), but Wolfgirl is another matter. Most satisfying. More uses for a Mage Hand spell and a few bits of feather and fur than you’d care to imagine. By the time we’re done, Blind Elf is so drunk he’s tottering. Didn’t think elves get drunk, but there you go. It’s so tempting to try and swipe the armour he took from the ruined tower. I wonder if he even knows it’s magic? In fact I might even have snuck into his room to try. Memory is all a bit hazy. That’s my excuse, anyway, when I deny it.

And the morning, and we get to do what we always do when no one’s trying to kill us. We argue.
And argue
And argue
And argue
And argue
And argue.

Yes, morning brings the usual hangovers and endless debate about what we should do next, although this is somewhat sidelined by a no-holds-barred catfight breaking out between The Gnome and Wolfgirl (I can only assume they’re fighting over me). Frankly I can’t see why we don’t go back to Neverrest with the stupid letter we recovered from the mad dwarf and give it to the priests like we said we would and get the money they were going to pay. Shifty is adamant that we take it north and there will be even more money, but I kind of think that a gold coin in the hand is worth two in the bush. Wolfgirl and I go off for some more practice with Mage Hand and one or two shapeshifting tricks we’ve both apparently been working on. I have no idea what’s going on here: I’ve been trying to get into Wolfgirl’s pants for weeks, and now she’s practically tearing my clothes off. Getting one over The Gnome maybe? Marking her territory like a wolf? But hey – do I care why? And it’s vastly more pleasant than arguing on and on about where we’re going and what we’re doing. By the time we come back a couple of hours later (hey – you know what they say about older women), surprise surprise, the conversation has gone exactly nowhere. In fact we’d probably still be there if it hadn’t been for the dwarves in the cellar.

It’s not like I’m desperate to put myself in the way of someone else’s sharp and pointy metal bits, but by the time Wolfgirl and I have run out of Mage Hand spells they’ve moved on from arguing to recrimination, and anything, anything is better than listening to Stalker and The Gnome and Shifty going on and on and on about who stole what from whom and who can’t be trusted and who’s a thief and who’s not (and let’s face it, the only one of us who isn’t a thief is Wolfgirl). Frankly, I’d rather fight a bunch of deranged dwarves than listen to that, and hey, lucky for us, that’s exactly what’s burst up out of the tunnels under the inn. We pile off down into the cellars where some bunch of dwarves are bashing up some other bunch of dwarves and pitch in. I’m not sure I even knew which ones I was supposed to be thumping or why, so I just take my lead from the gnomes. Stalker is so slow in his clanking metal that by the time he gets there, it’s all over and done and we have a couple of deranged dwarves babbling on about armies of dark dwarves and dark elves and orcs and slimeys and all-sorts, all pouring out of the mountain tunnels like some great underground river of nasty, all heading towards the gnomish kingdom.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no love for gnomes. Where I want to be is in Neverrest, drinking beer in the Silver Dragon, tending to the delicates of the luscious Arbelloa and the feisty Wolfgirl, not to mention every other lady of that fair city who’s a sucker for a pretty face, a head full of platinum blond curls, the voice of a whole choir of angels and a mind as dirty as a goblin’s undergarment. I’ve done my share of fighting up in Osmuld and it wasn’t pretty and doing it in tunnels is hardly likely to be an improvement. But since the alternative is to stay here FOREVER arguing about where to go next, and who stol;e what from whom, and since Shifty isn’t going to give me the letter and I’m not ready to be stealing it from him, I’ve got nowhere better to go, and since Wolfgirl wants to go and help the gnome king and I want to keep her hot for me, that’s what Diamond Cascade will do. It’s not like I don’t owe the orcs and the slimeys a stabbing or two.

Oh. Might be worth noting that Stalker is dumb enough to blow the dodgy whistle we found (with a bit of prompting) and hey-presto! Raises a zombie dwarf. Oh how we laughed, especially the dead dwarf’s bruised and battered friends. Yes, they laughed lots.


Diamond Cascade and the Second Quest for a Quiet Night In

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Nightall 30: Bird

Do I have to mention the stupid talking bird? Yes I suppose I do. What is it about me that attracts every bizarre misfit? You know, I thought Elfboy was bad enough but now he’s gone and I’ve got The Gnome and Elfboy II traipsing around at my heels and now this? A talking bird. A parrot, it seems, who was once a pet of a wizard and ended up being able to think and talk. It is a truly annoying creature, but one with possibly many uses. It might, for example, annoy various hangers-on into buggering off and leaving me alone – perhaps it’s just a matter of stamina, to see which of us can tolerate it for the longest before we crack. Or else, if it could somehow be persuaded to be in any way useful, a talking bird might be a valuable ally as a spy. If nothing else, I suppose it would keep starvation at bay for a day or two. Anyway…

Nightall 30: Neverrest, City of Friends

Foul thievery! Arriving at the great metropolis of Neverrest, Diamond Cascade and his comrades befriended another fellow traveller, a jovial and generous chap of dwarvish nature, only to discover that he was nothing but a foul thief and had stolen the message that had been entrusted to them. Nor was this the only thievery afoot, for the great priests of Tyr had finally brought to justice the master criminal responsible for the theft of the Golden Scales of Tyr, only to have him escape from under their very noses in their very own dungeon!

The search for these thieves within the city led to a wonderful re-union with Diamond Cascade’s old friend and alchemist Norch, whom he’d last seen at the Fat Cockerel. All were delighted to renew their friendship and to know that old friends prospered. Diamond Cascade could honestly say that he’d missed the little man.

Yes indeed, welcome to Neverrest, city of gouging. Last time I was here, this was a happy-go-lucky trading city where the money came and went as easily as the whores. Now it’s got religion. Priests of Tyr have pretty much taken over the place as far as I can see, and what’s their idea of justice? Gouging everyone who comes to the city gates with this tax and that tax and the other tax. And then some tax. I’m amazed they don’t have a tax on paying tax, but I’m scared to mention this in case it turns out that actually they do. So we’re queuing up at the gates to get fleeced along with everyone else and I’m still thinking this isn’t so bad, I’ve got plenty of gold in my pockets, I can stand a winter of this and be drinking and whoring until spring before I’m flat broke again. And yeah, there’s this dwarf and we start talking to him and we end up drinking with him in the Silver Dragon and hey, look, I’m singing songs and raising a crowd and doing my thing and the innkeeper is pretty and giving me the eye and then this arsehole dwarf turns out to have nicked our letters. Nicking them off Shifty, which ought to have been no mean feat.

I guess I should come clean about the letters. There’s not just one, there’s two. Shifty had one to deliver to his master in the north and that’s what the shenanigans under the table was back in The Fat Cockerel. I’ve known about this for a while, because Shifty happens to mention it as soon as we get the one from Klengerford. We have no idea what either of them say, but that’s not for want of trying. Have we opened them? Course we have, and they’re blank. No magic, no nothing. Not a sausage. So I’ve fixed up the seals with a little trick I learned up on North Horn Ridge and we figured on delivering them anyway. Except now we can’t. The only thing I can come up with is that they’re written in invisible ink, and since I reckon mister thieving-bastard dwarf is having the same troubles with them as we were, that’s the first place to be looking. We don’t find any dwarves, but we do find plenty of alchemists and one of them is our old friend Norch. I guess I didn’t ever have too much against Norch, and now I don’t have to put up with him every waking hour, and have The Gnome and Elfboy II to put up with instead, well… But missed him? Yeah, maybe. Once. With a crossbow.

Nightall 30: The Thief of Tyr

Unable to bring the dwarvish message-thief to the swift justice he deserved, Diamond Cascade and his friends presented themselves to the great temple of Tyr and to the noble priests who defend the cause of justice through the world. At once he was taken straight to the grand priest Brother Grythan. The thief who has stolen these letters must be found, says the great priest, for nothing less than the fate of the whole island depends on it. What could this message be that carries such weight? Naturally, Diamond Cascade swore to dedicate his every effort immediately and at once to apprehending this wicked fellow.

Diamond Cascade was also aghast to discover that the supposed thief of the Scale of Tyr who had escaped was, in fact, perhaps not the real thief at all but merely some deranged dupe who had taken to claiming it was him for the ‘prestige’ it would bring to him and never mind the headsman’s axe that would surely follow. Not only this, but the true thief, the real foul genius mastermind of this notorious crime, it seems was none other the Brother Grythan’s own brother! Diamond Cascade offered to pursue this wicked fellow, but Brother Grythan politely declined this generous offer noting that his brother was ‘best left buried’ and so is perhaps now dead. After so long, it would seem that even the priests of justice would prefer simply to have their scales back. Naturally Diamond Cascade vowed that he would search for both the scales and the thief during his travels.

Oh. Shit. Big. Fucking. Shit. So, yes, this master-thief, the one who stole the Scales of Tyr. What in the name of the nine hells do I do? I mean, I know he didn’t do it, so what the fuck? Some halfgit who used to leave calling cards after he swiped stuff. Anyone leave a calling card after the Scales of Tyr went a-wander? I don’t think so. It’s kind of a relief that the daft tit has escaped, because if he hadn’t, I guess I’d have watched him hang knowing that it wasn’t true. Knowing it wasn’t true and knowing that Grythan knew it wasn’t true. Not sure which would have been worse. Amazed that Grythan didn’t recognise me too. Or maybe he did, maybe he just didn’t say anything. Strange thing is, this is something I actually really do want to put right. I mean if I could, I would. I’d even go out of my way to do it. I just don’t have the first idea where to start.

If there’s any consolation to be taken from this big sorry mess, at least the general belief that nicking the Scales caused the the Time of Troubles that followed isn’t shared by the priests. Fat lot of use that’ll do the thief, if ever anyone catches him.

He isn’t kidding about getting that dwarf though. We get a sack of platinum out of him and that’s just a down-payment. Dwarf stew coming up!

Nightall 30: Knights of Torm

Having undertaken to quest for the Priests of Tyr, Diamond Cascade was delighted to discover that his quarters in the Silver Dragon were now home to a group of knights from Osmuld, noble warriors of Torm and Helm with whom Diamond Cascade had fought in the wars of the previous years, side by side against the vile orcish hordes; delight that could only be matched by his dismay at hearing that the dead had begun to rise from their graves in this valiant kingdom. Without hesitation, Diamond Cascade swore to travel there and join his former comrades-in-arms in their fight against darkness as soon as his quest for the Priests of Try was done. Most peculiarly, the knights at first mistook one of Diamond Cascade’s comrades for one Master Corren, a missing nobleman from Osmuld, third nephew to Lord Ostmar no less, who was last seen heading for the High Peak of the dwarves to be an ambassador for his king there. Of course, this cannot be and much hilarity ensues from such an entertaining case of mistaken identity, leaving Diamond Cascade with many new and valuable friends. Diamond Cascade’s newest comrade in arms, the valiant elf Tiarth, was particularly overjoyed with this coming together of noble purpose, as his own quest takes him to the lands of Osmuld and the north in search of some fell beast so dire he cannot bring himself to even speak its name.

Or say what it looks like. Or sounds like. Or smells like. Or does. As even the knights of Torm observe, Tiarth is a right jerk. Thing with Stalker fits his story though. There’s an opportunity here, a real big one. Right after we get this dwarf shitbag thief and get the other half of our money from the priests of Tyr. Right after.

Nightall 30: To Catch a Thief!

Without pause for breath, Diamond Cascade and his comrades set upon the trail of the foul dwarf Durmijeron. Few dwarves resided in Neverrest and so the trail is easily followed, and Diamond Cascade soon learned that this Durmijeron is a known villain, a wicked and cold-hearted killer who had been seen leaving the city on foot and heading north that very morning for the ruined tower a days ride to the north that the black-heart called his home.

I have a horse now. I’ve never had a horse. No, that’s not true. I used to have a horse a very, very long time ago. And then all that shit happened and I didn’t have a horse any more. Not for a long time. I’m not sure I even rode on a horse again after Gammersbridge. And now I have a horse of my own. A good, trained war-horse. Makes me feel like I’ve arrived somewhere. This is a special day, a coming-of-age moment somehow. I might have felt even better about it if The Gnome hadn’t bought herself a war-pony at the same time, put pink ribbons in its mane and called it Princess.

Hammer 1: DIE, DIMWIT, DIE

With a mere day’s start and travelling on foot in the winter snows, this Durmijeron’s fate was sure to be both certain and swift. It came as no surprise, then, when a gang of ne’er-do-wells slipped into the Silver Dragon over breakfast and barred the door and set upon separating Diamond Cascade’s head from his body! Naturally they failed and met a swift and final end for their troubles. Not wanting to leave the blameless keeper of the Silver Dragon with her business in ruins, with swift vigour, Diamond Cascade and his noble friends repaired what damage they could before leaving the matter and the few remaining survivors in the hands of the noble warriors of Torm and Helm and set off with all haste and vigour to find the renegade villain Durmijeron.

Boldly and valiantly, Diamond Cascade and his hearty crew sallied forth from the comforts of the great city of Neverrest and into the freezing winter snows. As the cold light of the sun began to fade, the hideous silhouette of the dark tower rose from the horizon. Without thought for their own safety, Diamond Cascade and his friends strode into its dark shadows and in to the murky depths of the old dungeons that still lay beneath the shattered stone. The fiendish Durmijeron had laid many a trap to guard his lair, but these did not daunt Diamond Cascade’s brave quest for justice and were quickly overcome and the beastly fellow and his gang were soon cornered. It quickly became clear that the dwarf was possessed by some foolish madness, believing himself to be a part of some great conspiracy that reached across the island. Perhaps they thought they would be safe when their HIDEOUS STONE GUARDIAN attacked and were doubtless dismayed when Diamond Cascade SHATTERED IT WITH ONE MIGHTY BLOW of his enchanted sword. Or perhaps they thought their MONSTROUS GELATINOUS MASS would thwart such heroes before it burned in magical fire. Dismayed and knowing they had no escape, this gang of villains threw themselves upon Diamond Cascade and his comrades. They were no match for Diamond Cascade’s swordsmanship, but – horror of horrors – in the madness of throwing away their lives they gave the wicked dwarf a moment of respite and with foul magic the wicked fellow vanished and made his escape. All was not in vain, for a band of brigands now lay dead at Diamond Cascade’s feet and one letter was found among their paltry loot; yet the dwarf himself had evaded the justice he so ripely deserved and so Diamond Cascade’s quest would go on!

Score again! Alright, alright, I was a little bleary that morning on account of having spent most of the night attending to the insatiable desires of Arbelloa, our delectable innkeeper hostess. Yeah, the fight did actually happen but I pretty much sat it out, since they were after Stalker for some reason and not the rest of us, and frankly he seemed to be quite capable of taking care of himself. I think maybe the only person I hit was The Gnome who got a punch in the face for threatening Arbelloa. I don’t know where The Gnome gets her ideas.

Of course, the Torm/Helm show arrived after Stalker and Tiarth (largely) had scattered body parts across the Silver Dragon. Maybe it’s worth knowing that the men who attacked us were armed with saps, like they wanted to take Stalker alive and ask him some questions somewhere in private later. Who knows, maybe they would have let him go again. Anyway, they have saps, which don’t generally leave a great big bloody mess behind them, while Tiarth and Stalker have great-swords, which generally, um… do. Oh and not forgetting that Tiarth is blind and can’t tell friend from foe. You want to get into a fight when one of your allies is a blind guy swinging a six-foot blade about the place? Particularly in a confined space filled with furniture, I hope it’s pretty clear why I sat this one out. Yeah, and I was keeping half an eye on Arbelloa in case anyone got any ideas. Anyway, so the Torm/Helm show arrive to see body parts and blood pretty much everywhere and Stalker and Tairth drenched in gore and they’re not best keen on letting anyone leave, and even I can see their point. I mean it’s not like we couldn’t have kicked their asses in a slightly less making-a-mess-all-over-my-girlfriend-for-the-night’s-inn kind of way. Bloody inconsiderate, like most sword-slingers. So we’re all waiting for the guard to arrive to sort everything out and we get to trying to tidy up the mess as much as anything for something to do. I don’t quite know why Wolfgirl and The Gnome felt it necessary to strip down to their underwear to scrub the floor, but it made the Torm/Helm show somewhat uncomfortable, which was amusing enough, and Wolfgirl is certainly easy on the eye that way. Good legs. Comes from all that walking I guess. Anyway, I’m not minding watching all this at all while I cast a few Mending cantrips where I can. Naturally the guard show up and tell us we can’t go anywhere, which means we can’t leave the city and chase the dumbass dwarf which is something we’ve been tasked to do by the priests of Tyr which means the guard can take their control order or whatever it is and use it as a butt-plug. Takes an hour to sort that out though and we’ve already cleaned up as much of the mess as we can clean. Obviously the thing to do when kicking your heels with a bunch of tight-arsed paladins around is to settle down next to them with a deck of cards and a bottle of lamp oil and start playing strip-poker. I don’t know – maybe all that floor scrubbing was somehow a turn-on for the girls. Anyway, I’m not going to say no to Wolfgirl because she’s pretty enough that I’d like to see more. It’s kind of disturbing, but ever since the business down with the Green Dragon hatchling, I kind of have this fascination with The Gnome too. I keep wondering what she really does look like naked.

Yeah. Well. Takes about fifteen minutes and I know exactly what she looks like naked. And with lamp-oil all over her. I need to get better at cheating at cards, too. They keep catching me. Anyway, seems to me this is a most excellent way to pass the time, far better than chasing off after dumbass dwarves. Sadly we get our letter allowing us passage out of the city before I can get Wolfgirl down to her birthday suit. Ah well, next time.

So we get to the tower. Don’t quite know how we know that’s where the blasted dwarf is going to be, but Shifty seems to reckon that’s where he hangs out, and Shifty probably knows about that sort of thing better than any of the rest of us. If nothing else, it’s getting late and it’s as good a place to stop as any. The tower itself isn’t much – a few broken walls and a lot of tumbled stone, but we find the trapdoor down to the dungeons quick enough when Stalker falls through it and lands on the pit of spikes underneath. Lucky for him he wears a lot of metal. By some fluke we find most of the rest of the traps without walking into them and even the ones we find by setting them off we manage not to set off multiple times. Progress!

I don’t know whether we might have made more progress with the dwarf. He ranted on at some length about dragons and the ‘coppers’ and the ‘greens’ and how we are ‘pawns’ (sad but true) and how he was a ‘bishop’ (sorry – bishops have daft-looking hats, not daft-looking beards. Nul points, dwarf) but frankly none of it made much sense and eventually Stalker just laid into them for something to do (or possibly because this was the dwarf who clocked him round the head with a war-hammer and left him so pretty-looking; Stalker claims this is the case, but for all I know this is bullshit. Stalker can be a lying bastard when he wants to be, as we were all about to find out…). Ah, they had it coming, him and his bad-smelling cave-man friend and their dog-faced cohort. Pity he managed to teleport away, really (isn’t there a clue here? The dwarf teleported away. Didn’t occur to me at the time, but later it strikes me that teleporting away isn’t a particularly mundane thing to do). I suppose the interesting part, aside from the room whose walls were embedded with gems were a stack of books that Shifty found. Not that Shifty can read them, but I can. We don’t find much else. Tunnels leading into the underdark (no thanks), and Stalker manages to find a shit-monster living in an underground cesspit and for some reason decides to jump in and have at the thing instead of leaving well alone. He smelled pretty bad under all that metal what with the several weeks worth of stale sweat; now he smells rich enough to set dogs howling all the way to Osmuld. And we get to find out that he’s a lying bastard too. Thieving git found himself a magic wand at some point and refuses to admit it. Hello? It’s called Detect Magic, dimwit? You think I trust you or any of the rest of them to ‘fess up to what they find about the place? Takes days before he admits what he’s got.

Damn dwarf got away but not before he threw one of the letters at us. Shifty reckons it was the letter for his master, but I say that since they were both the same, we might as well go back and give it to the priests of Tyr because they’ll give us MONEY for it. Down-payment, dudes. That’s what Grythan said. Or maybe it was the dwarf himself he was wanting. Can’t remember. Wasn’t listening. Too busy thinking about, er, other stuff.

Also, I’m not quite sure I want to see that particular brother again in a hurry. My heart says maybe I should, but my head says run, run away. Either way, it’s getting dark and Wolfgirl and The Gnome reckon they know an inn around these parts. Must be a new inn because I’ve never seen one. And that, my friends, is where the fun truly began…


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