Spear Gate — Chapter Seven, Pt. 1

Varra’s sword was out in a flash. Bolting out of the infirmary and into the thoroughfare, she was met with a battle of dark and light. The streets were cloaked in darkness due to the Shadow, but several torches illuminated doorways and signs, carts and wagons. Most people stood stock still, a wreath of horror painted over their face. They all looked up, towards the direction of the palace. When Varra turned around to see it, it was hard to mask her own fears.

A pillar of blue light shot directly upwards, impossibly high as it faded into the distance. The ground was still humming, but it was accompanied now by the sound of murmurs of trepidation and shouts of worry.

“Stay calm!” she shouted to nobody in particular. “Get to shelter immediately!” Few noblemen would be out during the Shadow, Night Seal or not, so most of these people would be servants, but they were still her people. It was the Hand of Defense’s duty to protect all of Tebrein.

She ran through the palace gates and then into the entrance hall. She passed no guards on her way, which didn’t ease her fears. The council would be meeting upstairs in a room overlooking the courtyard. The council she should be at. If anyone was hurt, the blame would be hers alone.

When she stepped back outside into the inner courtyard, nearly two dozen palace guards were surrounding the Spear Gate, which glowed with a brilliance rivaling the sun. The entire courtyard was bathed in a dull blue light, illuminating the otherwise dark garden. The long shadows of the guards shifted slightly back and forth as they shuffled around, prepared for anything. Varra shielded her eyes as she approached. The humming was loud now. It was the tone of an enormous bell that didn’t quiet with time.

“What’s happened?!” she yelled towards the nearest guard, a grizzled man with a beard that didn’t meet regulation.

“Don’t know!” he replied, fumbling a salute before returning to his defensive stance staring at the Gate. “It just started glowing and making that sound!”

“Go g—” as soon as she started voicing her command, she recognized Eathe ahead of them, moving purposely and directing guards with hand signals and shouts. She brushed past the guard without another word and ran up to him.

The guard captain stood a strong contrast of everyone else in the courtyard. He was calm and calculative. His sword remained in its scabbard.

“Exalted One!” he bowed as deep as always in greeting. “I suppose you’ll want to take command of the situation? I believe I have it mostly handled, already though.”

“I’m… uh…” Varra found herself speechless. “I thought you were still on the perimeter running checks on the constructors?”

“Not really necessary for the Guard Captain to be doing something like that. My being here was actually a happy coincidence, actually. I had been looking for you, and then… Well, this happened.”

Time and time again, he had more than earned his title. She swallowed and nodded, sheathing her own blade, despite her fears. A leader should always be in control, and even if danger did come, there were still plenty of guards here. “Very well,” she stated. “You’ve sent for reinforcements from the outer wall?”

“Yes.”

“And you’ve made sure the civilians in the perimeter are safe?”

“That was my first order,” he smiled.

“What about the other Hands?”

“Half the palace guard are protecting them as we speak.”

“Good. Your assessment of the situation?”

Eathe frowned, glancing in the direction of the glowing obelisk. “Hard to say. It doesn’t seem to be threatening anyone, but I’ve never seen anything like this. I was planning on pulling double duty and making sure security is tight everywhere until we figure out what’s going on. Do you have any ideas?”

Right. Eathe had no idea what the Spear Gate really was. Nobody did, outside the Hands and their seconds. That information was locked tight.

But at the same time, that put the city at even more risk. Eathe had already handled the situation exactly as she would have hoped. Better than she could have dreamed. How much better could he do his job if he knew the real threat? For all anyone knew, a thousand men could come pouring out of that brilliant light at a moment’s notice. Tebrein would fall within hours.

Even as she thought about telling him everything, though, the light seemed to dim. The humming began to subside. The two of them turned to the Spear Gate to watch as the pillar of radiance weakened into a beam, and soon it was dim enough to see the obelisk itself, now impossibly shattered into a dozen shards, levitating into the shape of a doorway. As the humming faded, the shards gravitated towards each other and snapped back into place and reforging the familiar and unnerving form of a large spear pointing straight up.

The courtyard was left once more in stillness and shadow.

Spear Gate — Chapter Six, Pt. 3

The Shadow began just as Varra reached the infirmary, where the boy was kept. The quicker she was the better.

“Exalted One!” a woman a measure older than herself greeted her as she entered. Her name was a mystery. “A pleasure, as always. What’s your business, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Varra slowed her step, but kept purpose in her gait. She didn’t have time for conversation. “Is Xan here?” she said, voice curt.

“I’m afraid not,” the lady replied. “He stepped out just a while ago to go fetch some supplies. He wasn’t more specific than that. You know how he is.”

“That’s fine. I won’t be too long, I’m just here to see the prisoner. If I don’t see you again on my way out, make sure to tell Xan I stopped by.”

“Yes ma’am.”

The infirmary wasn’t a large building. It was directly attached to the palace, though it had no connecting doorways on the inside. Really, it was an afterthought. Everyone in Upper Terrace could afford to have a doctor come to them. The infirmary was designed to be useful on a larger scale, expanding a wing of the palace into a sick bay in times of war, which had never been brought straight to the capital, for all Varra knew. This meant that the infirmary was a glorified storage facility for medical equipment. Few people were actually treated here.

As such, she had no trouble finding the boy, who had been left right where she had last seen him, except now he was kept in shackles, which chained him to the bed post behind him. He wasn’t quite lying on his back—a few pillows elevated him into something approaching a sitting position. He was no longer covered in so much blood. A change of clothes and a fresh bath had ensured that the moderate amount of blood on his chest and legs were recent, and that his condition hadn’t improved.

Varra approached him cautiously. Xan had assured her that the disease, which he had called Red Teeth, wasn’t contagious. Still, blood wasn’t the most sanitary thing to be around. Nor was it easy to clean.

“Boy,” she muttered, prodding his shoulder. “I have a few questions for you, most of which require your consciousness.”

He stirred, but didn’t open his eyes. He seemed to be muttering something, but it was too incoherent to make out. She prodded him again, and with a wet cough he became more lucid, eyes fluttering open. His eyes glazed over the surroundings, focusing slowly once they found Varra, and then widening. “M… mother…” he croaked.

The Hand of Defense frowned, taken aback. “Excuse me?”

“We’ve been… looking all over for you…”

“You must be mistaken,” she said, regaining her composure. “I’m no mother, and even if I was you’re far too old to be any child of mine.” As she thought about it, they were of very similar age. Within a few years, to be sure. But she didn’t want to tell him just how young she was. Too many people pointed that out often enough. “But you seem awake enough. Can you understand me?”

The boy started to say ‘yes’, but it turned into another cough, and Varra had to sidestep to avoid getting any blood on her.

“Very well. What’s your name?”

“…Maelys.”

“Good. You’re safe here. For now at least. You’re in Upper Terrace, if that clears anything up.”

He started coughing uncontrollably at that. Varra found a nearby pitcher of water and poured some into a small cup on the table next to him. She had to help him drink it, since his hands were bound, but he seemed grateful at the gesture. Beyond that, she needed him to think she was a friend.

“Did you come here alone?” she asked.

His eyes lost focus for a few moments before he shook his head.

“How many other people did you go into the Meadows with? Just one?”

He nodded.

“His name was Rozire, wasn’t it?”

Again, Maelys’ eyes grew wide. He nodded again. “…staff?”

“I have the staff, don’t worry.”

At that moment, she became aware of a low, deep humming sound. Far lower than the horn blaring of a constructor. It even sounded like it was coming from beneath the ground. The humming grew louder and louder, until the very walls seemed to resonate with the tone.

“Wha…?” the boy sounded.

Varra didn’t bother with any explanation, or even any words of departure. She left the boy, racing back through the building as quickly as she could. Her mother had told her about that sound. It was something she remembered vividly, even though she had heard it only once nearly two decades prior.

It was the sound of her nightmares coming to life.

Spear Gate — Chapter Six, Pt. 2

Later, she sat at the desk in her room, doors locked but curtains wide open. She was exhausted, but there was too much going on to get any rest. She doubted the meeting would alleviate any of that. The other Hands never listened. Varra was just an ignorant girl in their eyes, just a shadow of the Hand her mother had been. Her mercy to the boy this morning probably did her no favors. She was not weak. As soon as he was well enough to tell her what she wanted to know, it would be off to the gallows. In fact, it was in her best interests to make sure he didn’t leave Upper Terrace alive, but now was not the time.

Varra turned around from her chair. Resting against the curtains in that small space between the window and her bed was the boy’s staff. It was no coincidence that she had placed it there where she could look at it and the obelisk simultaneously. It was a simple thing. Nondescript wood that wrapped around a small stone at the top. If she hadn’t seen the rune, she would have thought it a typical walking staff. Of course, then the boy had activated the rune once they got back into the city. A security risk, even half dead as he was. She had instructed Xan to bind his wrists so that he couldn’t etch any new ones.

But his use of magic proved that there was more going on. Magic wasn’t practiced anywhere in Tebrein. Anywhere on Asamos, even, as far as she knew. But Eranos… The sister-planet had many secrets.

The problem was, the Spear Gate hadn’t been opened in over a decade. Maybe two. That situation had been handled, though her mother had never told her what had happened to Rozire. Most likely he had died, but even if he didn’t, she made one thing clear: he didn’t open the Gate again. Perhaps he didn’t even know how to do it from this side.

Which led to the question of the boy. He wasn’t old enough to have been around during the incident. Even she was too young to remember it. How, then, had he gotten access to magic?

The most simple explanation was Rozire.

But no, that was impossible. She could believe that he had escaped Upper Terrace somehow, perhaps even without the knowledge of the Hands, but teaching a boy magic and bringing him back to the capital of Tebrein, so many years later? What purpose would that serve?

Still, Varra knew she was onto something. And with the boy alive, it was easy to verify, too. That was one mystery solved, at least. But it raised more questions than it answered. If he was alive, where was he? Why bring the boy, only to leave him for dead in the Meadows? Perhaps Rozire wasn’t at Upper Terrace at all, and the boy had ran here of his own volition? That made a certain amount of sense, too.

Either way, there was no use dwelling on it now. She would have her answers when she conferred with the boy. That was probably best done sooner, than later, given his condition.

Standing from her desk, Varra walked across the room to the window. The shadow left by the obelisk told her she didn’t have much time before the meeting with the other Hands. Traditionally, such meetings happened during the Shadow. But they couldn’t have the meeting without her, either. They would have to wait for her to start, and since the Hands already had a low opinion of her, it wouldn’t make much difference.

Life — Brief Hiatus

I’m going through a few things right now, and it’s not worth the time and energy to be keeping up with daily posting. I’ll be taking an indeterminately long hiatus on the majority of this blog! The Spear Gate story will continue as normal, though. And let’s be honest, it’s really the only reason to be on my website, anyway.

Meanwhile, have a great some amount of time until I get back, and we can all once again be miserable and grumble about society together.

-Kollin

Spear Gate — Power Core

Tasina stood at the edge of the skydock, staring out into the fog below that always crept up when it started getting late. In the distance, just at the edge of the horizon, she could make out the few hazy spires that marked the Needled Flats. Lex and Neda had left just after sunrise, and there had been no word. Neda was only supposed to borrow her son for a few hours, yet the entire day had passed. Some time ago, a hulking mass of a Third Empire battleship flew overhead, straight for the Needled Flats. It would have cast an enormous shadow if there were no clouds, but there were always clouds. She just hoped that it didn’t signify anything bad for the two of them.

“Hey, Booker,” she called, glancing into the power core that functioned as a house. Where was he? “Booker?”

“Optimal Efficiency, ma’am!” The robot’s voice startled her as he replied from directly behind her. She held a hand to her chest to catch her breath.

“You really have to stop doing that.”

“[STOP]. Command received. Powering down.” Booker’s arms tucked into his chest as he bent down, collapsing into a ball.

“Gods above, Neda said she fixed that,” she muttered as she manually turned the robot back on. A few small blue flashes of the systems rebooting as Booker’s limbs extended once more, his headpiece scanning the immediate area.

“Greetings, friend Tasina. How may I be of service?”

“I need you to run diagnostics on Tink. Neda’s scanning drone. Designation M-80.”

“[RUN DIAGNOSTICS]. Command received. System link initiated. Would you like me to send it’s compacted data?”

“Just the most recent two hours. But I’d like the audio, too.”

“Affirmative.”

Tasina climbed into the power core and turned on the water heater. She had barely gotten anything done today. With the combination of the expedition Neda and Lex went out on this morning and the ship that had flown over head, it was hard to stay focused. Besides, she needed Booker for her current project, but he wasn’t as reliable as he used to be. Maybe all that rust was finally getting into his head. Neda was supposed to fix all that. She was much better at programming than Tasina, anyway.

As the water heated up, she started brewing coffee, then ascended the stairs to the second level and laid onto the bed. The reactor at the core’s center gave a soft orange light as it hummed and warmed the room. That was one perk to the tiny room, at least. You were never cold. She smiled as she remembered the time when she told Lex what the power cores really were: the dead hearts of Centurions, the first generation mech to be mass produced in the Third Empire’s army. As much as Lex hated the scrapyard, that had brought a smile to his face. They quite literally slept in the hearts of giants.

A harsh explosion came from outside. Tasina bolted up. No time to think, just move.

She vaulted over the ledge and onto the first floor of the re-purposed core. Rushing outside, she saw Booker standing stock still. Another explosion sounded, but its source was much closer than she had expected.

It was the sound of the audio file Tink had recorded. A sigh of relief was followed by an immediate inhale of panic. Tink? Explosions? What of Neda and Lex? Were they alright?

“Pull up a visual of Tink’s data storage from today.”

Booker didn’t respond, as it would disrupt the audio feed, which was mostly static and more explosions. Occasionally, though, a human shout could be heart saying something indistinguishable. At recognition of her command, a blue, holographic screen appeared before him. There was a short list of data samples. It didn’t take long for Tasina to find it. The answer she was looking for.

A confirmed reading of a specimen that weighed over 700 cubens. 96% of it was aenendium.

At least she had some answers. But the fact that she now knew exactly where that behemoth of a battleship was headed was no comfort.

“Booker, stop the audio file.”

The sound cut out. “[STOP]. Command received.” Again, Booker folded back into a ball with little ceremony. Tasina scooped him up and headed towards their spare hoverbike.

 

Prompt:

D&D — Curating 5th Edition Pt. 2

(This is temporarily being published today. I don’t quite have this week’s prompt story ready, but I did have this. I’ll switch the two tomorrow.)

 

Last week I talked about how the basic rules, The Player’s Handbook, should not be taken as Gospel. I mentioned how all games of Dungeons & Dragons are homebrew to some extent, because it’s all about making calls in circumstances nobody could have prepared for.

But really, one of the greatest assets of the 5th edition of D&D is how malleable it is. I would hesitate to call the system simple, because I don’t think any table-top RPG could be called such. But what 5th edition does is it sets out a layer of rules that are easy to follow, and once you understand what all the layers are, you can do what you want with them.

The key thing about that is that you need to know what the layers are. If somebody were to ask me if they could make their own class rather than use one of the ones in the book, I would discourage them from that idea. Not because I don’t want them to be creative, but because I think that’s simply the wrong way to tackle it. The classes in 5e are each designed to have half a dozen (or more) subclasses once you hit level 3. Paladins choose their “Sacred Oath”, bards choose their “Bard College”, rangers choose their archetype, etc. (This is also why a campaign of everybody running the same class is totally viable, but that’s a tangent.) I think making a new class is the wrong mindset, because the existing classes are already made like templates with different skill trees. If you’ve got a cool idea, I bet there’s a way to purpose it as a homebrew subclass of a pre-existing cleric, or sorcerer for example. This will also save you a lot of trouble down the line, believe me.

If your player wants to invent a new race, it’s a little different. It’s not as complicated stat-wise, but it can be a little annoying for a dungeon master. If you’re the only Mantis-person in the world, that’s a strange thing to put into the narrative, and it will always be prevalent. It doesn’t matter if the stats of a Mantis race are just copied over from Elf, because the DM would have to implant Mantis-people into his world just to make it so your character isn’t out of place. (Making them exclusive to this one island nobody has ever heard of does not solve the problem, because you’re still the only one.) This particular point will be specific to the dungeon master, though. Matt Colville doesn’t really allow any exotic race like Tiefling in his campaign, even though it’s an official, valid race. (He’s not wrong. It’s his game to run, after all!) So while making a race for one specific player is annoying, it’s doable as long as the DM is okay with it.

But there are things that are totally reasonable to invent on your own, especially as a DM. Magic items, for example, are things I almost never take straight from the book. Typically, I think about it’s origin and what it’s purpose was, and then I make something based on that. Let’s say a traveling merchant did a favor for a wizard as he passed through town. As thanks, the wizard made him a ring that allows him to haggle for better prices when he sells this goods. If the party gets their hands on it, I would say they are better at persuasion checks when selling. Buying stuff is a whole different story. (But as compensation I’d give a more hefty chunk because it’s a specific circumstance, like +2 or +3 to those checks, rather than a simple +1 when haggling.) Presenting very specific tools to the players will often adapt their play-style accordingly, as something like this will naturally make the party (even more) prone to looting everything they can find from bodies and dungeons.

Literally anything in the book is subject to change as you see fit. Like the idea of throwing a vampire into your story, but your players are far too weak to handle it? Just change the stats to make him less threatening. Instead of getting into how you’d do that, I’ll just direct you to Matt Colville’s awesome, albeit lengthy, video about it.

I said this last week, and I’ll stress it again. You’re all coming to this table to have fun. Don’t let the rules stop that from happening. The rules are for optimization. You can pick and choose what rules you like because you want to maximize the enjoyment for the players. In fact, once you play this game enough and you know all the ins and outs, you can easily bend the rules to have more fun!

 

Life — Spear Gate Web Series

I’ve recently changed my website up a little bit, rearranging the categories in the sidebar. Most importantly, I’ve given the Spear Gate story it’s own category, because I update it at least once a week. I’ve also made the change because I’ve started thinking about the story in a new light.

I don’t really know what I find so appealing about considering the Spear Gate universe a constantly updated “web story” rather than a book. Maybe it’s the implied lack of editing. Maybe it’s the distinctive lack of a conclusion, and therefore no pressure to constantly increase the tension. Whatever the reason, my handling of the story has been much more conducive to periodic increments anyway, since a lot of webcomics don’t necessarily have an ending in mind, and therefore the artists get to tackle things in the moment.

The best thing about this is that it doesn’t actually change anything, really. I’m still writing it on a chapter by chapter basis, and if it gets long enough, nothing is stopping me from shuffling some words around and publishing it as a book (series?) anyway. If that happens, I wouldn’t even take down the original chapters, because the ones in the book are bound to be a different read anyway. If that’s the case, somebody can enjoy the Spear Gate story, then buy the book for a new experience because the story will be slightly different.

Here’s pretty much the only con I can think of about this process. It means if I did eventually put it into a book, I would be hard-pressed to make big edits, because I would want the book to be an enhanced experience rather than a fundamentally different one. I’m not sure how webcomics get turned into published books, but I can’t imagine it’s all that different. But really, regardless of what happens, this isn’t even something I would have to worry about until at least a year down the line, so there’s no point in dwelling on it!

As a side note, I started this blog to get more writing done. I’ve more than achieved that goal. I can always get more writing in, of course, but I think at this point I should start trying to bring in more people. Everyone that’s been keeping up with Spear Gate has told me how much they love it, and it makes me wish that more people kept up with it. It’s barely 1,000 words a week, but I can definitely see how webcomics would inherently be more appealing than walls of text. That said, I’m not sure how to go about gaining more of a following. It’s not like art where you get following from being awesome. For me, that’s how I’d retain audience, but that person has to to take a leap of faith and trust I won’t waste their time on their first read-through. Maybe if I get somebody to work on the art for the universe I can draw more people in…