Category: fantasy


80th of Spring, Year 256

Once we reached the Mountain Home the party split up to restock more efficiently. Azurei and the elf went to gather their half of the list. I took Eclair with me to collect the rest. And Chonck decided to introduce the Sunsets to his mother.

We met back up at the library to find a lovely dinner prepared and Aunt Frense making eyes at the Demon Maia. Given how pleased with themselves the Sunsets looked we will likely be staying at the Inn tonight.

81st of Spring, Year 256

I left a note for Aunt Frense on our way out of town. She should be fine. At least, I hope she will be fine.

84th of Spring, Year 256

We reached Caskfire in good time despite our unexpected night at the Mountain Home.

As expected, the fortress has been preparing while we were gone. The guardsdwarves are drilling every able bodied dwarf old enough to hold a weapon or wear armor. There are racks of newly smithed spears and shields, all manner of fortifications have been prepared, the only thing left is to get it all in position and ready to use.

Given what we are fighting, it was not a surprise that a few dwarves reacted poorly to the Sunsets being here. Most shrugged off their concerns after being told that they were here to help. Others needed to be reminded that they did not intend to stay after this was over.

Churt nearly spat out her beer after I reported that we intended to summon an even bigger demon to ensure Eebaku’s defeat.

She seems much more concerned with having the fortress checked for traps or recent damage though. The trap maker, Gimbal Deathweaver, disappeared shortly after our party left. It would seem that he had been Eebaku’s informer the whole time. I suppose that we will have to report that to the Mountain Home at some point, no sense in making it easy for him to get back into a fortress if he finds another demon to work for.

Eebaku’s army will be here any day now. I need to prepare.

The Brilliant Death

Later posting this than I wanted to be. We started working on characters for my Saturday night game and that took longer than I expected it to. This one I actually won a review copy of through BookishFirst. Here’s Amy Rose Capetta’s The Brilliant Death. Enjoy!

The Brillian Death cover

Teodora DiSangro is her father’s secret weapon. A streghe just like out of the stories, able to turn her family’s enemies into music boxes and other trinkets. Family is everything to her. So when Vinalia’s new ruler, the Capo, sends toxic letters to the heads of all five families, killing all of them but her father. The Capo demanding that all five families send their heirs to his court might give Teo the chance she needs to find a cure if she can find a way to become the DiSangro heir, the son the Capo is expecting to arrive. For that, she will need to find a way to not only trust the streghe who delivered the toxic letter to her father but also convince them to teach her how to change her form like they do. As she grows to know the other streghe and uncovers the layers and layers of secrets in the Capo’s court will she be able to complete her mission and leave, or will Teo become trapped in a web of deception and danger?

Amy Rose Capetta’s The Brilliant Death is a book that feels a bit unbalanced in its content. The lore is lush and feels fairly deep, the myths that get talked about feel real to the world. There’s a weight to Teodora’s feelings and Cielo’s studied carelessness that works well. But then there are places where it feels like things could have been worked in much better earlier on to avoid stretches of what feels like over much exposition.  I am going to stay away from talking about the genderfluid  aspects of the protagonists. It seems well written, but that is from an outside perspective so I do not really feel qualified to talk too much about it.

The first segment of the book is all set up. The reader is introduced to Teo, her family, her life, her home, and her magic. It shows her frustrations with what seems like her inevitable lot in life as contrasted with how very much she loves her father and her family. The exposition here feels well done. There’s a degree of wonder shot through with frustration and grief when she realizes that Cielo is another streghe in addition to having been the one to deliver the letter that nearly killed her father. Characters feel rounded and like they have their own stories going on, they wind up being easy to get interested in. Even if one Teo’s brothers is cartoonishly cruel and the start to Teo and Ceilo’s mutual attraction feels a little rushed, the first half of The Brilliant Death is pretty fantastic.

It is around the end of the first half that the book started to lose me. Teodora learns how to shift into a male version of herself, to better pass herself off as the DiSangro heir, and is introduced to the other four houses heirs and the Capo’s court and all its intricacies. And the story hits a wall. This part might largely be due to events that drastically cut my time for reading, but the book became very easy to put down once Teo and Cielo reached the capital and their mission properly began. It felt like being pulled back to the start of the book, there were several new characters who needed to be introduced all at once and Teo had never been to the Capo’s court so that had to be expanded on. But the new characters and the court felt so much less fleshed out than the characters and places from the first half. It was like pausing in the middle of a book and starting another book from much earlier in the author’s career.

I confess, in addition to the slowdown in the middle of the book, The Brilliant Death also suffers from an ending that disappointed me greatly even as I saw it coming. It felt very much like Capetta didn’t want to tie any of her major plot threads up. The end felt less like the protagonists heading off into another story than them running away to the sequel. Which is a shame because it could have had a good ending that still offered room for a next book to exist and felt like a complete story had been told in this book rather than the first in a series. There was so much introduced right before the end and no page space for it. That took me way more out of the reading experience than the loss of momentum from entering the Capo’s court did, that had a clear purpose and provided character introductions the reader needed at least. This just leaves me with a disappointed shrug and a vague disinterest in the next one because now I don’t trust her to tie up any of her important plot threads there either.

So that brings me here. The Brilliant Death is by no means a bad book and I quite like the ideas present in the setting, but I feel like it could have been written more smoothly. I feel like my major complaints are ultimately forgivable in light of how much I enjoyed the first half of the book. And while I am left with no plans to go out and buy the second book, I would likely read it if it was gifted to me. I will likely take another look at Capetta’s work on another series too, I think she is capable of writing something really good. For now though, The Brilliant Death gets a three out of five.

73rd of Spring, Year 256, Evening

Chonck returned before the rest of us could get even a third of the way down the path.

It would seem that the village has a Goblin named Sacrifice for exactly this purpose. Given that he told us that he would return in a week, I can only assume that the village has a sort of reincarnation myth for this specific name. It makes me wonder what indicates that a newly grown Goblin is the new Sacrifice and if other names are, for lack of a better word, inherited rather than earned in this particular village.

In any case, as soon as we had returned to the temple Eclair begged to be allowed to perform the sacrifice. It would seem that she has been holding back a special jeweled sacrificial dagger for an occasion such as this. Her face lit with a truly deranged look of joy when Billius Vile agreed that she could perform the sacrifice.

The Goblin laid on the tablet in the cult’s ritual circle and Eclair’s knife struck his heart dead on. It had to have all but exploded for all the blood that came rushing out before it was all drawn into the tablet.

It feels more than reasonable that Azurei chose to stay with the cart for all of this.

The demon Maia’s horns would scrape the ceiling of most of the rooms at Caskfire. It is easy enough to believe that this is a demon who grants people children. She reminds me of a sort of warped reflection of an elven love goddess. There are likely many who would not bother waiting to see if other solutions failed them or not.

It was strange though, during introductions she claimed to recognize her own. Me. I cannot say that I do not see it. Much like the Sunsets she has red skin and grey hair, her eyes glow an amber brighter than my own. The scales and satyr legs are different, but I find myself believing a demon who cannot change her shape is my father more than a shape changing braggart like Eebaku.

Chonck is going to be obnoxious about this though, the demon used the orcish name he took for himself from a book rather than Stonecask as his family name. I cannot help but wonder if the names she used for each of us were pulled from how we consider ourselves. The elf has several names, but the demon referred to her as Wren, which lends credence to this thought. I doubt that I should think too far into this, I doubt that I would like where it lands me.

Somewhat more entertaining, Chonck has determined that because the demon Maia is my father, he must also be his uncle. I did not expect to see a demon surprised today, much less five of them. Because, of course, if Maia is his uncle then the Sunsets must be Chonck’s cousins. He was quite happy with this turn of events and none of the demons had a good argument against it.

It should take a week to reach the Mountain Home. Then a short restock and a further three days to Caskfire. We should be back in time to help with any last minute work on the defenses. The demon Maia has given us permission to invoke her name to help kill Eebaku, so I feel much better about our chances of saving Caskfire than I have in some time. The Sunsets will also accompany us to protect the summoning tablet. I do not expect them to help fight, but they might if the tablet is endangered. Not something I want to test.

I confess, I am ready for this battle to be done and over with.

73rd of Spring, Year 256

The leader of the Guga Dulum cult, Billius Vile, is willing to allow all of us except Azurei into the vault. This is hardly ideal and Azurei seems to be a bit nervous about the whole plan, but what else can we do?

After another warning about the dangerous demons further in, a warning occasionally interrupted by Eclair chanting about stabbing things, we were directed down. The way to the vault was almost boring in retrospect. The stair way was lit by magic torches, so the elf and I both took one just in case. Chonck attempted to light his maul, unsuccessfully and much to his frustration. At the end of the stair way was a cultus gate. Chonck tore the lever off opening it.

Behind the gate though, behind the gate there was a banquet table laden with food richer than most feast day banquets I’ve seen. Four demons sat around it. The looked so like me, but different. Red skin where mine is grey, grey hair where mine is red, in all other respects they could have been my siblings. Even our horns were the same. They claim their father is the demon Maia though, one who cannot shape shift, so it has to be some strange coincidence. Doesn’t it?

The demon Maia is apparently the only demon to have resided here, and his summoning tablet was broken in the “adventurers incident”. We agreed to try fixing the tablet to see if there was any other information that Maia would be able to provide us. Chonck’s first attempt involved wrapping the broken tablet in his old librarian robes. It worked about as well as one might expect, but he made the effort.

When it was eventually suggested that we might be able to carve a new one he near instantly pulled a flagstone out of the floor. Based on what is left of the old one, the new tablet should look something like this I think. [A sketch interrupts the writing, neat lines and geometric shapes form a ritual circle around the name INANNAMAIADRA. The matching invocation is worked into the circle.] With the loan of my dungeoneering kit, Chonck crafted an excellent copy of the tablet. Fine craftsdwarfship there.

But, it will need to be charged with a live sacrifice’s heart’s blood.

The demons, Chonck has taken to referring to them as the Sunsets, lead us back up to the cult’s sanctuary. Billius Vile seemed surprised, and a little scared, that the Sunsets were out of their vault but was quite excited at the prospect of a new tablet. According to him there is a village of Goblins near by that offers sacrifices to the cult in exchange for healing. Chonck ran off before we could get a party together. I think he might be a touch over excited to help his new cult friends, but they have done nothing to harm us thus far. He was even able to talk the Sunsets out of fighting us.

He should not take long to make it back, but I will stop here for now and write more once we have finished the tablet and have had a chance to rest. There is something that I want to mull over some before we summon this demon Maia.

The Sunsets say that, before his summoning tablet was broken, couples would come to the Guga Dulum cult’s temple and beseech the demon to give them a child if they had not been able to have one by any other means. I do not know how that makes me feel.

I think this book might have kicked off my recent reading streak. I enjoyed it a great deal and very much appreciate Entangled Teen’s providing me with a copy for review. Here’s Pintip Dunn’s Malice. Enjoy!

Malice cover

In a shattering flash of electricity Alice was visited by a voice claiming to be from the future. A voice that would go on to inform her that one of the students at her school is the creator of a virus that, in her time, has killed all but a third of the human population. A voice that charges her with finding out who this person is and stopping them before it is too late. But the voice’s orders often feel contradictory or nonsensical and Alice finds herself questioning if following its orders is really the best way to save the future. Is there anything that she can do to save the future outside of the voice’s orders? And why is it so insistent that she avoid one specific boy?

There is a lot to recommend Pintip Dunn’s Malice. The concept is interesting, the idea of a sort of indirect time travel and the implications of that fascinate me. So does the way the story was laid out, with Alice being pulled in different directions by the voice and her own feelings and fears, but it does so while laying out a solid path to who the virus maker might be and building layers of characterization for most of the cast.

The characters for the most part felt like characters. They felt like they existed for more reasons that to support the romance sub plot between Alice and Bandit and, more importantly, most of them felt like they could have been the protagonists of the book if it had been written from a different angle. Even the nameless background students feel like they could have been characters. Alice notes people interacting in the background as part of describing her surroundings. The only real exceptions here have their reasons for being comparatively out of focus, though there were a couple of characters that I found myself wishing we had seen more of.

The plot is well laid out, a reader can pretty easily catch on to where things are going. Though enough unexpected happens that the book never gets boring. Even the romance subplot is well done, it feels like Alice is actually getting to know Bandit rather than just them suddenly being in love. It fits well with the plot too, supporting and complementing it rather well.

One of the only things I have a real complaint with is how the confrontation with the virus maker was handled. It felt rushed in an odd way, almost like Dunn only had so many pages she was allowed and was running out of them. There was all this set up baked in for the virus maker, right up to the climax where the virus maker sounded both heartbreakingly young and so far gone that it sort of made the rest of the ending not work for me. It was not the worst ending that I have ever read by any means, but I would have liked for it to have been given a little more space to settle in.

I had a lot of fun with Malice. There were moments when I wanted Alice to go ahead and figure out what was going on so that we could get into the fighting back part. There were moments where something clicked and I just knew where things were moving. It was a book that I was willing to go with the flow on and see how things fell into place. The writing was well plotted and, while Malice is vehemently a standalone book, I find myself looking forward to what Dunn writes next. So, this earns a four out of five from me.

 

Night, 72nd of Spring, Year 256

It would seem that our scouting party made a fantastic impression on the cult of Gugu Dulum. We rushed in to help when Chonck rang the bell, signaling that they were in trouble. The stench so unholy terrible that it took the elf and Azurei to their knees momentarily. It was nearly as bad as the time Chonck mistook the Inn’s window for a latrine.

Apparently the cult is dedicated to “destroying beautiful things” and a powerful demon called Gugu Dulum. After a great deal of conversation in which the frog demon that seems to be their leader all but pulled examples from our scouts and made attempts at drawing examples from the rest of us, all of us except Azurei were invited to join the cult. Eclair, Chonck, and the elf all readily joined, drinking the frog demon’s blood.

It seems almost sad, the elf told the cultists that she never had anywhere to belong and yet she seemed to do everything she could since arriving at Caskfire to avoid belonging. I wonder if this would have turned out the same if, instead of choosing to be brash and rude and to complain about the work we were asked to do, she had made attempts to be welcome at Caskfire. If she did more to socialize with the rest of the party or to interact with the dwarves of Caskfire? Too late to go back on that now I suppose.

More importantly, when I asked the frog demon about finding Eebaku’s true name he told us we would need to venture further into the vault. According to him thirty-four years ago the cult was attempting to summon Gugu Dulum into this plane of existence when they were interrupted by a band of adventurers. The summoning failed, adding to the chaos and mostly closing the portal. It would seem that they are still working on recovering from this “adventurers incident” and that the area we need to go through if we want to find the stone with Eebaku’s true name is full of demons that have wondered through the shrunken portal. He says these demons are not nearly as civilized as the cultists.

Hopefully they are not as aggressive as the frog demon has made them out to be or are at least comparatively weak due to coming through a lessened portal. Not that we can count on either of those things. There is also little we can do to prepare for a big fight if it comes to that. Too far away from the Mountain Home to return and restock. Too dangerous to forge ahead without a good night’s sleep.

The frog demon’s story about an “adventurers incident” makes me wonder about several things though. It seems to coincidental. Thirty-four years ago a party of adventurers interrupts the summoning of a mightily powerful demon, leaving the portal mostly closed. Thirty-four years ago mom’s party fought a cult in these caves and returned to the Mountain Home with baby me. Clearly the two are different sides of the same event, but what really happened. The king of the Goblins claims that I am his child. I had assumed until now that he was the big demon being worshiped by the cult here. Has he just taken the chance to make more of himself in the intervening years? Why have a baby at a demon summoning? Was I meant to be sacrificed as part of the summoning? Or to become a shell for Gugu Dulum? What happened here back then? So many questions.

I do not know how well I will sleep tonight.

72nd of Spring, Year 256

It seems that strange occurrences land together anymore. After a full week of travel and no notable troubles we came across tremendous amounts of recently churned dirt that seemed connected to something that I could only describe as a massive fin a couple of hills away from us. I can only compare it to the creatures that dogged our ship once when mom took me with her on a guild job, sharks she called them. This fin reminded me of theirs only many many times larger.

Somehow Azurei and I were the only ones to notice it at first. Though once we directed the rest of the party’s attention to it no one could quite decide how to continue. None of us quite knew what it was or what it might do if it somehow noticed us.

Eventually Chonck simply picked the wagon up with one hand and Bearrender with the other and proceeded to, as best I could tell, tip toe past the thing and onto undisturbed ground. I do not know what being, divine, infernal, or otherwise, wanted us past the beast so much that that worked, but it did work. Chonck set both the wagon and the dire boar down as lightly as if neither weighed anything.

Shortly after we found a sign advertising some kind of weekly temple meeting, likely demonic given our location and that the sign was written in infernal. With Chonck pulling the wagon it seemed likely that we could make it to the temple, to the old strong hold, in time to arrive during the meeting.

We managed to fit the wagon above the temple entrance and tuck Bearrender away where he should be safe.

After a good deal of discussion it was agreed that Eclair had the best chances of getting in unnoticed and back out again. She was just meant to listen in and come back to report what was happening. Unfortunately, Chonck got it in his head that she needed protecting and decided that he would accompany her.

Instead of sneaking in they will go in as travelers who happened upon the sign and decided to investigate. If anything happens Chonck will use the bell he bought when we were stocking up to signal the rest of us to come in and save them.

I will write more later in the day. For now I need to ready my gear just in case they need rescuing.

65th of Spring, Year 256

After spending the night at Aunt Frense’s home in the library we spent a fair amount of the morning finishing our preparations to leave. I found a smith willing to sell me some blessed bolts for my crossbow and Azurei arrows for her bow.

It turns out that the elf can produce holy water. Apparently she’s a cleric of some stripe and simply never let any of us know. Useful, but it could have been more so if we had known earlier. Worth taking into account if there are any cultists left or minor demons.

We have food. We have water and tools for a trek through what might be the strong hold’s ruins. We have no back up.

I tried to find mercenaries to help us. No sense in going in unprepared after all, and I do not trust that the remains of the cult or worse might not have moved back in. The ones that I would have trusted to survive a fight wanted far more than I could provide immediately and would not accept partial payment up front.

The ones I could afford were chased off by Chonck. While we were discussing the trip and the risks they faced he began talking about how any of them who did not survive would live on in him. He would not stop repeating variations on that in response to their confusion. They left while I tried to quiet Chonck before he and Eclair could draw the guards’ attention again.

(The next line is scratched through viciously.) If the demons do not kill those two, I might.

We set out shortly after. I doubt that I will write much until we reach the strong hold. There are many miles and unknown dangers between here and there. I will attempt to note anything of interest we encounter.

64th of Spring, Year 256

In any other city I would have worried about attracting pick pockets as often as I checked on the request for aid. But it has been turned in and I made certain they understood how important this was. How urgent the need could be with the attention of a balor on Caskfire and us as under staffed as we have been.

There is nothing further I can do on that front.

Something that I could and did affect, though perhaps should not have, is convincing one of the guardsdwarves not to arrest Eclair just now. I will have to return her to the city to serve her sentence once this is over, but the fellow was convinced readily enough that we needed her as part of the attempt to keep Caskfire from being overrun. It would seem that while I was away some conversation convinced her that it would be a brilliant idea to brandish a knife and shout to the entirety of the market district that they were edible. Further, once the guard showed up to try quieting her down, she apparently offered him one of her Goblin cookies fully acknowledging that it was made with the flesh of an intelligent being.

It should be noted that Chonck was also very nearly arrested for helping Eclair in her argument and offering the guard another Goblin cookie. I am certain that the only reason I did not have to argue for a stay on his arrest is because the guard recognized him. Easy enough to do given he grew up here and is one of two half orc Stonecasks.

We got Chonck back to Aunt Frense at the library so he could return the books he had taken. She was overwhelmed with joy when she found out that he finally had learned how to read. Even let him keep the books he had not read yet and take a few more yet. Azurei helped get the books cleaned from all the Goblin bits and other detritus from Choncks bag using her magic.

The guard had tracked down cousin Dundee for me while we worked. Turns out he had been part of mom’s party back then and was visiting between tracking ever larger crocodiles to wrestle. Good news is, he still remembered where the cult’s strong hold was well enough to give us directions. Strange news is that he and the elf hit it off sooner than introductions could happen. I assume it was the helmet he had crafted from a crocodile’s skull, it could be a match for the elf’s scale armor I suppose.

In any case, Aunt Frense asked us back to the library for dinner. We will spend the night there and then do any stocking up that needs doing and head out tomorrow.

I do worry a little about Chonck though. It seems that having become the Eater of the Dead might have rattled away some of his memories, when I addressed Aunt Frense as family he seemed shocked. Distraught even. Did not remember in the least that we were cousins. Makes me wonder what else he has forgotten.

Time for those worries later I suspect.

60th of Spring, Year 256

I am not sure why Chonck had that compendium, it hardly seems like the kind of thing his mom would have kept in the main library back in the Mountain Home. Disturbingly in-depth in some places.

Given that I, assuming that he is not lying to gain a pawn and his journal suggests he is not, am half of whatever Eebaku is I should be able to use some of the research from the compendium to figure out what Eebaku is and how to defeat him.

Given that there appear to be less than a handful of demons or devils that can shape shift like he did, that gave me a valuable starting point. That he was powerful enough to defeat the elve’s Arch Druid in single combat would make him incredibly powerful. Something like a pit fiend or a balor. If I can find away to narrow it down to if he is a devil or a demon, that would allow me to figure out which he is likely to be.

I need to talk to Azurei and Eclair.

[The writing resumes in a shakier hand.]

Having been both stabbed with and consumed silver, I can confirm that being stabbed by a halfling pastry chief hurts and that silver does not seem to have any harmful effects on me. That would suggest that I, and thus Eebaku, am likely to be demonic in nature rather than diabolic. A demon rather than a devil.

Being demonic would then further suggest that Eebaku is a balor. According to the compendium, a balor’s greatest weakness is their true name. That means we should have a way to avoid the tremendously bad idea of fighting a balor provided we can find out what his true name is. Which means we need to find out where it is so that we can banish him? Force him away? Bind him from harming Caskfire or the Mountain Home?

Worries for later.

There has to be a tablet somewhere with his true name on it from back when he was first summoned to this world. Has to be. That just means we have to find where it is and collect it. Which means we have to find out where mom found me. Which means we are going to the Mountain Home to see if any of mom’s old adventuring party is still there and still remembers where that was.

Churt has given me a writ with a request for additional troops to turn in while we are there. I loath the idea of leaving Caskfire just now, with the possibility that we might return and find it over run with Eebaku’s Goblin horde and all the dwarves here run out or gone back to the stone. But what else can be done? This is our best chance at stopping him.

I cannot help but worry that any of my research could be wrong. My seeming immunity to silver might be a result of the human half or he might be something else. We could get to where mom found me and discover that he had been summoned elsewhere. I need this to be the right path. It has to be. If it turns out wrong, if I am wrong here, then Caskfire might be gone when I come back. Not sure how to handle that. So it has to be right.