An Antibody

The tower shines with neon and chrome in the dark night. A seventy storey steel and concrete monument to the avarice of Euphrates Corp, tinged with dazzling blues and pinks. From street level it blots out the moon. At the very top, behind innumerate layers of security, lies my best hope of freedom.

Freedom from the gnawing pain of hunger. From the eternal lockdown. From my own powerlessness.

Most companies wouldn’t store their Antibodies at the top of a skyscraper. But Euphrates wasn’t like most companies. Having made their fortunes running monopolies after the Great Austerity, they knew the value of safety. Safe profits were good profits. Nobody would be foolish enough to steal an Antibody without aerial transport. Nobody who wasn’t desperate and a little insane. Nobody except me.

I buzz at the front door and ask for reception.

The ground floor lobby gleams with naked steel columns and abstract laser artwork. Behind a great metal counter, a robot receptionist greets me. A gleaming chrome simulacra of humanity, precise, cold and hard. A needle pops out and pricks my skin, taking a morsel of blood for the mandatory Covid test. “Good evening, citizen, please state your business.”

Charming, as ever.

I subvocalise a request to Tasha, my digital co-conspirator, sitting in her bedroom forty clicks away in New Haven. “Reception. Ground floor. Ramp up the gullibility.”

Then vocally, to the receptionist, “I’m Bill, from Axos Vertical Transport. Got a report that one of your elevators is malfunctioning. High priority job, apparently.” A scanning module pops out from the receptionist’s metal face, in a grotesque imitation of an eye. The oblique makeup which covers my face with harsh geometric shapes in clean black and white scatters the rays of photons as they bounce. The algorithms are easy enough to trick, if you know how.

“No face detected. Citizen, please provide alternate identification.”

I put on my best gruff old man voice. “I gave my best years to the Federation, and you treat me like a common vandal? Just let me in to fix the damn elevator.”

“Identification req… req…” The receptionist briefly stutters, as Tasha’s hack takes effect. “Request is unnecessary at this time. Please proceed, citizen Bill.”

I stroll past the barely concealed laser cannon and into the elevator.

“Tasha, I’m clear through to the elevator. Take me to fifth floor – we need those access codes.”

Ascent (Part 3)

Blake could have sworn that a pint of ale in the Basilisk’s Brewhouse was just a littler larger and a little colder than they poured back in Hrothgar. This tavern was clearly the centre of social life in Estangull, with pretty girls dancing to a flautist’s ditty and burly regulars swapping tall tales by the bar. The Defiant Dust gathered around a table in the corner, plotting their next move.

“That didn’t go quite to plan.” Theriosa’s green eyes shot a significant glare in Blake’s direction. “But nonetheless, we have avoided the bulk of the Lich King’s forces. This town seems to be stable, but we need to press on quickly, lest the defences fall at Galvania.”

“Our new king isn’t going anywhere fast, having sacrificed his horse to his boundless ego.” declared Marcello, the sarcasm dripping from his tongue. “He can’t climb the Rhygoth pass on foot. Send the fool back to fill his proper role. The Duke’s circus.”

“The Rhygoth ain’t gonna work anyway. Road’s impassable, or that’s what the barman says anyway.” Grover said, then slammed down another tankard and called out for another. “Oi, barkeep!”

A hooded man, slight of stature and clad in sparkling jewellery approached. “Are you finding the accoutrements to your liking, my fine fellows?” The barkeep said, as he poured another beer for Grover. “I am Jed, proprietor of this establishment. Perhaps I can interest you in some food to go with your drinks? Our chef does a most delectable steak.”

“No, no, what we need is information.” replied Theriosa with a sidelong glance at the increasingly merry Grover. “Why has the Lich King spared this town? Where in the Chill Mountains is his hideout?”

Blake added, “And who’s the toughest dude in town? These pansies keep trying to pull me out of the bloody fight!” as he brandished his oversized bicep. Marcello let out a quiet groan.

The barkeep licked his lips. “Luckily for you, the answers to both your questions are the same. We are kept safe by The Last Order. Father Eric MacKenzie has seen to it that we come to no harm. He stood against the Lich King’s legions himself, so he may have the information you seek.”

“Thank you, sir. We shall enquire with the Father after tomorrow morning’s sermon.” replied Theriosa. “These boys have had a big day.”

“And we’re gonna have a big night, too!” shouted Blake, as Theriosa and Marcello left for their rooms upstairs.

“Theriosa is a bloody great leader and all, but she doesn’t know a good time.” slurred Grover, wrapping an arm around Blake. “We nearly fucking died. We deserve a few drinks, don’t we lad?”

The headache was crushing. Blake could barely make out the string of arcane pronouncements emanating from the lectern. He squinted, eyes gradually bringing into focus an old man with black vestments hanging loose over an emaciated body with skin so pale as to be nearly translucent. Alongside him, Marcello and Theriosa were listening intently to Father MacKenzie’s moonday sermon.

“We cannot allow the dead to be pulled away into the void, but must squeeze our loved ones tight. Keep them close in your hearts as you pray. The Void Master will care for them and keep them safe. Give them over to the Void Master, for only he can save them from the seven circles of Hell!” Father MacKenzie continued. Blake wondered what the point of this nonsense was.

He whispered past Theriosa to Grover, “After you’re dead, who cares? Get all the glory you can during this life, and let Al’Phonz sort out the rest.”

Theriosa dug an elbow into his chest. “Try to be an adult. For once.” she cursed quietly.

The Father finished, “Save us, oh Void Master! Deliver us from evil and the eternal nothingness. We live to serve!”

The church echoed out with the cry, “We live to serve!” As the congregation filed out of the church, Theriosa approached the lectern.

“Ah, my child, welcome to the flock. The Last Order accepts all those who give themselves over to the Void Master.” said the priest, with a vigour in his voice which contrasted with his sallow and wrinkled face.

Blake chimed in from behind Theriosa, “I heard you’re the toughest dude here. But you look like a wrinkly old dude to me. How’d you fight off the Lich King, if you’re so scrawny?”

“My inebriated friend, things are not always what they seem. I owe what little strength I have to the Void Master. It is he who delivers us from evil. Let me prove it to you.” said the priest. He muttered an incantation, and fingered the gold chain wrapped around his neck.

Suddenly, Blake’s head cleared. The headache was totally gone, and with it all the elements of his hangover.

Theriosa butted in. “Let us return to more important matters. The Lich King has a necromancy amplifier hidden somewhere in the Chill Mountains. It is essential to the good people of Galvania that we shut it down. Can you tell us how to find it?” said Theriosa, stepping forward.

Father MacKenzie took a moment to consider the question. “I would behoove you, please do not pursue this matter. Stay at the Basilisk’s Brewhouse, have a steak, and wait for it to all blow over. Do not meddle with forces you don’t understand.” The priest quickly turned away, and was rapidly ensconced in conversation with another parishioner.

“The Rhygoth Pass it is. Lace up your walking shoes, king.” sniggered Marcello, as the Defiant Dust turned to leave the church.

However, just outside, Blake was accosted by a hooded figure. His flamboyant jewellery marked him out as Jed, the barkeep of the Basilisk’s Brewhouse. “I heard you talking about the Rhygoth pass with the Father. I’m afraid that way is blocked.” he remarked. “You cannot leave.”

Blake replied, “We’re on a special mission from the Duke. We need to destroy the Lich King’s amplifier or his army will overrun Galvania. And if that happened, I’d never be king.”

“The Lich King’s amplifier? Why didn’t you just ask? I’ve got that dusty old thing down the back of the pub.” said Jed.

Marcello leaned in, his voice faint in the wind, and whispered to Blake, “There is a disturbance in the void. Something is very wrong here. We must put Estangull behind us and never come back.”

“My friend, just come back to the pub and we’ll put this whole Lich King business to bed over a pint. What do you say?” asked Jed, beckoning to Blake with an open palm.

Blake met it with a stiff fist. Indeed, he struck out with a flurry of punches. But stunningly, the barkeep was much more agile than he appeared. He dodged and twisted, before seizing Blake’s fist with a parry.

“You cannot leave,” he growled. The barkeep threw back his hood to reveal a golden crown, inlaid with rubies and gems. He twisted Blake’s hand sharply, pulling him off balance. Blake let out a cry of pain.

Grover charged in with a warcry and slammed down his axe toward the barman’s arm. At once, Blake’s hand was freed as Jed threw him to the ground, jumping backward to dodge the axe blow. Blake reached into his scabbard for his greatsword and pulled it out, gleaming in the morning sun.

Jed dodged an arrow and advanced on Grover, who snarled in defiance. The barman feinted left, then right, before throwing a fierce punch directly into Grover’s solar plexus. The dwarf grunted and fell backwards, uttering a curse to the wind.

Marcello uttered an incantation, and threw a fireball at the barman. But as it reached him, it stopped in midair before being absorbed directly into his body. “Yes, give it all to me! Stay here, and I’ll grow fat off your power!” Jed yelled out as the fire flowed through his skin.

Blake got to his feet and charged, greatsword in hand. He swung hard at Jed’s unprotected neck from behind, as the fire flowed through into him. With a single blow, Blake’s greatsword sliced straight through, sending Jed’s head flying through the air until it landed on a gravestone in the church courtyard.

The head screamed, “Yes! Feel that emotion running through you!” and the ground started to shake. The earth parted, as the dead rose from the church’s graveyard. Jed’s body ran over to pick up his head, now flanked by a dozen zombies.

Theriosa called out, “Retreat! Make for the Rhygoth Pass!” Blake reached out a hand to Grover, lifting him from the ground as he ran.

Theriosa, Marcello, Blake and Grover sprinted together, away from the church towards the outskirts of town.

At the town’s edge, they found the road to the Rhygoth Pass blocked by a mob. A chant rang out dully from the mob, as they brandished their pitchforks, “You cannot leave.”

Theriosa called back, “We come on the Duke’s mission. Let us pass.”

At the front of the mob, a crowned man stepped forward. Though his crown was identical to Jed’s, his features were different. This man had a ruddy complexion and barrel chested figure, wearing simple peasant’s clothes. “You cannot leave.” he declared.

Blake stepped forward and cut him down with a single swing of his greatsword.

Another man stepped forward, newly crowned. “You cannot leave.” he also declared.

Blake swung again, slicing this man’s head off cleanly. “I can do this all day. We’re leaving.”

From behind, a voice called out, “You’ll never make it up the pass without these,” Blake turned and saw the barman, head newly reattached to his neck, leading the horses the Defiant Dust had ridden in on. “Three of you can leave on these three horses. But Blake stays. I want his fire.”

Blake glanced back at Theriosa, Marcello and Grover. Theriosa replied, “Never.” and fired an arrow at the thatched roof of the Basilisk’s Brewhouse. It smouldered, then lit into a fierce fire.

As the barman and mob turned as one towards the burning pub and let loose an inhuman scream, Grover and Blake charged the mob, who parted like butter. They carved a path through, axe and greatsword swinging wildly, as Theriosa and Marcello followed close behind.

The Defiant Dust ran, heedless of what lay ahead, for what lay behind was too inhuman to contemplate. The mob shifted and swam before being absorbed back into the earth.

Eventually, as they came to the first milestone, they stopped and looked back. There was no sign of what had taken place. No smoke, no fire, just a bucolic idyll. A fresh sign declared that the best mounts in the kingdom could be found nearby. At the Basilisk’s Barn in Estangull.

The Defiant Dust kept on walking.

Ascent (Part 2)

Once, the fields of the barrowlands had been bright with wild grasses and flowers. The ponies which ran gaily through the hills were famed for their stamina. The passing of the Lich King’s horde had put an end to all of that.

Now Blake and the Defiant Dust saw a land bereft of all life. Pallid, barren fields and hills topped with little more than mud. They exchanged light words on the road to Estangull. Theriosa knocked an arrow and loosed at a shambling zombie. The corpse was knocked to the ground, groaned and rose again.

Blake diverted his horse towards the straggler. As he approached, he readied his greatsword. In a single swing, he sliced through the zombie’s neck and lifted its head into the air.

“Bow down to your new king!” he exclaimed, as he cut the air in triumphant salute. The other three members of the Defiant Dust remained on the road. Marcello failed to stifle a groan.

Suddenly, four skeletal arms rose from the earth and grabbed the legs of Blake’s horse. It tried to rear up, but was held fast. Blake was tossed forwards by the sudden stop, and fell from the saddle. Another arm rose from the ground to grab him by the leg. He cried out for help.

“You clueless fool!” yelled Grover as he charged in on horseback, axe gleaming in the wan sunlight. At a full gallop, his horse Tempest’s Squall dodged over and around dozens of hands, all rising up to pin him. But as they reached up, they grasped only a firm, clear barrier. Behind, Marcello chanted in deep concentration.

Blake scrambled and stabbed at the skeletal arms as they reached out towards him. But there were too many. They gradually, pull by pull, dragged him down into the muck. His horse whinnied as it was sucked beneath. “Help me, they’re too many!” he cried.

Grover closed the distance rapidly, then swung hard into the earth with his axe as he thundered past Blake, ripping the ground in twain. Still, the dead would not lie. The grasping hands pulled only harder, submerging Blake to his chest in the bog. The dead could not be fought with martial skills alone.

“This will hurt. But if your heart is pure, it will merely test your resolve.” called Marcello, still on horseback on the road. He raised his hand to the heavens and chanted out an incantation.

A blinding pain struck Blake from above. He was enveloped in hard, pure, white light which tore at the very fabric of his being. It was worse than any hangover he had ever experienced. He shut his eyes, but the harsh light was inescapable. The hands released him. He grasped at the arm he felt hold his, and heard a horrendous sucking sound as Grover’s momentum pulled him from the muck and swung him astride Tempest’s Squall.

Blake heard the thunk of arrows hitting the earth in front of him, as the horse charged towards the safety of the road. He blinked hard, but could make out little in the glaring light. He heard a voice, Theriosa’s, cry out, “Hold fast, Grover! Keep to the clear path!” A shrill shriek erupted from behind. He turned, but could only make out the blurry outline of a figure. Tempest’s Squall charged on forward.

A wall of flame erupted behind Grover and Blake. It was immediately snuffed out by an unnaturally chill wind. The figure pierced the air with a warning scream, as Tempest’s Squall reached the road. Blake blinked again, and found his vision returning. The sky was dim, and the hordes were rising. The three remaining horses of the Defiant Dust galloped hard together.

Skeletal hands and figures grasped from the mud at the roadside. But none could pierce the cobblestoned Estrogoth Road. Theriosa said a quiet prayer that this protection would hold until they reached Estangull, at the foot of the Chill Mountains. It was answered only by an inhuman shriek from far behind.

Ascent (Part 1)

Before the Hallowed Crown, before the Blood Moon, before all those other stories there was a town. Hrothgar still stood at the confluence of the Violia River and Totweld Sea. This has been an important crossroads for trade for as long as there have been people. The Orchives were new, and there was not yet a Baron Hrothgar, but men and women still made their lives here. Still haggled over prices and drank too much good wine.

Not many of those echoed through history like Blake Tyronicus, though. This young man shaped the arc of the world to his purpose, before he was cut down in his prime. There’s a reason his statue still sits proudly in the Copper Plaza.

Nobody quite knows where he was from originally. Some say he travelled from across the sea before he made his home in Hrothgar, but to others he was born in the park adjacent the Temple of Brigandia and lived his early life on the streets with only his wits.

He entered the historical record when the Duke of Galvania came to town with a special request.

They were lined up in the town square. Six strapping young lads with more guts than sense had answered the call.

“Who amongst you has the courage to face the horde which threatens Galvania?” demanded the Duke. His riding tunic was resplendent in the purple of his country, and his beard a neatly trimmed grey. “Will you hold fast, against all the terrors of the Lich King?”

Of the six, one stepped forward and gave a deep bow. “Duke, my iron is stiff and unyielding. No monster will break Helio’s guard.” Helio was clad finely in shining plates of armour, with a scowl twice as thick as his plate. The Duke’s bodyguard slashed and jived with a wooden training sword, clattering off the man’s shield.

“He moves well, despite the thick armour.” remarked the elven bodyguard. Helio punched the air in salute, only to find the bodyguard’s sword slicing through a gap in the plates, cracking into his knee. Helio crumpled to the ground. “Too much bravado, though. A moron like that will get you killed.”

The elf moved to the second man in line. He was clad only in tattered leathers, with a hungry look beneath deep blue eyes. “This is the kind of man you want.” she said. The elf Theriosa inspected him closely. “Those eyes have the look of a man who’ll save his own skin. And yours as well, if you keep him around.”

How wrong she was.

Theriosa lunged with her training sword. Blake Tyronicus deflected it with a bat of his left hand, then followed with a swift punch to her gut.

With the bodyguard doubled over on the ground, Blake declared his terms. “If I kill the Lich King, you’ll make me a king.” This shabby young man had asked for more than the duke could ever deliver. But he didn’t know that.

“Certainly, you shall be king of all the barrowlands,” replied the Duke of Galvania. “But first, there is the small matter of the Lich King’s horde. Come with me to Galvania, and join the Defiant Dust.”

The Hallowed Crown was not yet hallowed, and was not yet crowned. Galvania was then just a town, little larger than Hrothgar. At the Leaky Tankard, four figures crouched over drinks. The roof was as leaky as its namesake, letting in drips from the storm above. Blake Tyronicus was being introduced to the rest of the Defiant Dust by their leader, Theriosa Woodsong.

“Listen up, cadres. The duke found us a live one. This motherfucker,” she motioned to Blake, whose stubble carried the froth of his ale, “is the final member of our little crew.”

The dwarf slammed his mug on the table, spilling beer through his lengthy auburn beard. “This street urchin was approved by the duke?” His face glowed as red as his beard. “Naw, he’s not fit to polish your shoes, Theriosa.”

“I agree.” said the cloaked figure at the rear of the table. He twirled his black moustache and added, “He may have a modicum of vigour, but the streets are no proper training for one of the Defiant Dust.”

“Would you all like the same lesson I taught Theriosa?” asked Blake, whose beer was, by now, half empty.

“No, no, that won’t be necessary. Grover, Marcello, please trust in the duke’s decision. Blake has demonstrated considerable skill.” Theriosa sipped her tea, as gruff handshakes were exchanged between the other cadres.

“Skill ain’t enough, laddie, but if the lady says you’re alright, I’ll give you a chance.” said Grover, as the stocky dwarf gripped Blake’s hand tight. Marcello was silent and cold, his handshake perfunctory.

“Enough chat, let’s get to briefing.” announced Theriosa. Her long, slender fingers motioned to the map stretched out across the table. “The Lich King has amassed a horde of undead to the west of here. We presume he is massing for an assault on Galvania. But beyond, in the Chill Mountains, is the source of his power.” She pointed to a spot marked X on the map, “Beneath the Rhygoth Pass, we believe there is a necromancy amplifier that feeds off the bodies of those who died in the Titan War. The Lich King has tapped into this power. We destroy it, and the army at our doorsteps drops dead. Again.”

“Instead of fighting the enemy, we sneak around them, go climb some mountains and try to find some mystic artifact? That’s the worst plan I’ve ever heard.” said Blake. “If a bully gets all up in your grille, you hit them in the mouth. Let’s go to the Lich King’s camp and punch him in the face.”

Marcello sighed. “Are you sure, Theriosa, that we need the vagabond tagging along?” His crisp features were untainted by his wine. He added, “We can do this with the three of us. This fellow isn’t Defiant Dust material.”

“Blake, when you joined the Defiant Dust, you agreed to follow my orders. This is the plan.” said Theriosa, as she swirled her tea. “If you don’t like it, you can go back to the sewage pile you crawled out of. Marcello, please give the man a chance. If he fucks this one up, I’ll fillet him myself.”

A Treatise on the Shape of Magick

All correspondence to: 

Adjunct Lecturer
Shimming Dew On A Crisp Spring Morning B. Magick, M. Phenomenology of Magick
The Lady’s College, Silverymoon

The dearth of substantive scholarly work upon the nature and shape of magick is a discredit to the realm. Even august institutions like Candlekeep or The Lady’s College are seemingly satisfied with mere incantation and memorisation. We harness magickal forces to tear apart the land without the slightest theoretical underpinning. Even speculation about the nature of things seems to be left to the cranks and eccentrics, like Chromophage and the charlatans of The New Archives.

Do we not care about the forces we unleash? If we cannot understand the nature of magick, we are little better than the raven who learns a trick and repeats it. We must learn the true nature of magickal energies to properly harness them.

In the pages of this very publication last month, the editors saw fit to publish the phrenological ravings of a so-called Professor Alexander Lightfoot. The idea that we can learn about magick from such butchery is absurd. Without a solid epistemological foundation, there is nothing to be learned from slicing open the brain of a noble creature like the platypus bear.

Instead, we must perform the hard, theoretical work to deduce the nature of magick from only what we know for certain and the deductions which can be made therefrom. We cannot simply leap straight from presumption, like your correspondent did several years ago with Web Theory. The hard work of Magickology is to put aside one’s curiosity and speculation, and begin with epistemological deduction. Only with this basis can one proceed to phenomenological observation.

What do we know for sure?

I exist, because I think. But I cannot know for sure that I am as I appear. My eyes may be playing tricks on me. A dangerous magician may have placed an illusion in front of my eyes.

So I know I exist, in some form. I may not be a gnome, my beard may not be so fashionably forked, but I do exist. There is an I.

I know that Garl Glittergold exists. If he did not, then without my creator I could not exist. The being who created me must be good, otherwise I would be gnarled and twisted like a Kobold. So I know that Garl Glittergold exists and is good.

Because Garl Glittergold exists and is good, he would not allow me to be deluded by a dangerous magician. Therefore the world exists as I see it.

I see many creatures using magick, and some magick in the world around me as well. Magick exists. But the magick of creatures is more powerful than objects, and the most powerfully magickal places are the deep woods.

What do the creatures and magickal places of the world share? Despite Professor Alexander Lightfoot’s phrenological rantings in your last issue, there are no so-called midichlorians in the brains of the venerable trees. Such an idea is absurd. No, what all magickal things share is water.

The ink of a spellbook is dried water. The blood of a dragon contains water. The trees of the deep woods suck up more water than those of the younger, less magickally potent ones. Water is the resting form of magickal energy.

The unscrupulous scholars of the Axiomatic Zone have proven that humans need water to live. This is because humans, as the most unusual of the races, are the most magickal. Without the stores of raw magick contained within the water they drink, no human could maintain such an unnaturally huge bulk and strength.

The flow of magick is what allows the flow of water. In the high mountains, water freezes solid. This is clearly because there is a dialectic at work. Magick is in water, but not water alone.

The deep places within the ground are also full of magick. The cavernous nest of a dragon, or the deep gem mines. Because magick comes from the interaction between water and the earth beneath our feet. It is a power which dialectically binds together and draws its strength from both the water and the earth.

So magick comes in the connection between the earth and water. Is it any surprise then, that the elves and gnomes are the greatest wizards? That they choose wooden staves and wands to harness such magick? The trees they surround themselves with are the purest form of conduit between the earth and water. They are the natural form of magick, proliferating from mere seeds to the most venerable, gnarled oaks.

This is why trees are also the natural enemies of dragons. By exploiting the magick within their blood to burn down forests and plants, dragons are a balancing corrective to prevent an overabundance of magick. I am hopeful that once we expand our knowledge of magick, these graceful creatures can be confined and then we can use the power of magick to build a world beyond our understanding.

– Shimming Dew On A Crisp Spring Morning B. Magick, M. Phenomenology of Magick

The Tome Unburnt – Phandelver

Following the advice of Al’Gul, I ingratiated myself with Gundred, a dwarven merchant. Al’Gul had set me the task of winning him to the Lord’s Fire, and by hook or by crook I was going to do it. So when Gundred asked me to help protect his supply delivery to Phandalin, I satisfied myself that this guard duty was in the service of something greater. The gold pieces Gundred offered paled in comparison to what my lord could deliver me, if I completed his mission.

Gundred had hired a most strange person to help protect the wagons. Bronzeworth was a wooden automaton, like a living scarecrow infested with vines. I’m not sure whether his circuitry is properly functioning – when I tried to enlighten him about the great Al’Gul, he didn’t show much interest. For all his ignorance about spiritual matters and unfortunate blunders, I appreciated his zeal for wealth redistribution and ability to swing a scimitar.

When we approached Phandalin, we came across a most disturbing scene. The horses of Gundred and his bodyguard had been slain, as I ascertained with a precise inspection. Before I knew what was happening, Bronzeworth had slung a rock into the back of my head!

The mechanical man’s gaffe allowed a pair of goblins to get the jump on us. While I bravely drew their fire, Bronzeworth hacked away at the bandits with his scimitar. Nasty business, but it was them or us. Once I showed them the devastating power of the Lord’s Fire, the goblins turned and fled. They had learned their lessons and were no doubt set to enroll in the local academy and turn their lives around. I had half a mind to refer the straggler to my good friend Drax for gainful employment when Bronzeworth, the cad, felled him with a stone from his sling. I must keep an eye on this wooden fellow. They didn’t program him with a sense of decency.

I’ll give him credit though, he knows a business opportunity when he sees one. We couldn’t leave the saddlebags to be pilfered by any two-bit bandits, so we performed the public service of delivering them to the proprietor of the town shop. We could form a great business team, like Unsworth and Headly. Myself with the guile, charm, salesmanship, savvy and ideas, and Bronzeworth with the audacity and ability to pull a fully laden cart. We delivered Gundred’s merchandise, but the dwarf himself was nowhere to be seen.

My probing questioning uncovered a lead – Gundred’s brothers had a camp outside the town limits. From there it was but a short hop to the Lost Mine of Phandelver. A more wretched hive of villainy I’ve never seen.

We crept in, hiding ourselves in the dark. Bronzeworth’s visual circuits clearly suffer without the beacon of the Lord’s Fire. He stumbled down a chasm and nearly knocked himself out. The old army adage holds true – teach a man a healing spell and he’ll throw himself into danger like a reckless fool. The fall must have damaged his joints, because he produced a nasty clanking sound for the rest of a day, ruining my attempts at camouflage.

Before long, we snuck up on three vile ghouls. They had been planning to ambush unsuspecting passers-by, so I performed the public service of springing their little trap. Although the ghouls took several chunks out of my armour as I fought manfully, Bronzeworth was not so agile. The ghouls, seeing in him a weaker target, ambushed him and tore off a piece of his wooden flesh. The shock seemed to short out some of his circuits, because he fell into a coma.

The air was split by two clarion calls. One was the quack of a duck-bear, and the other from an infernal horn. The ghouls fled, though from which I could not tell. The duck-bear approached, but before I could face this new arrival, my colleague Bronzeworth needed me. I applied all my expertise to reconnect his vital circuits, but a full system reboot would take a little longer. Old technology.

I faced off with the duck-bear, and it yielded to my stare. This mountain of a creature may wield a great axe with an animal rage, but I had cowed it to my will. The duck-bear carried the rebooting body of Bronzeworth as we headed for an exit. Although I was still strong and hardy, Bronzeworth clearly needed a rest.

Standing in our way however, was a bugbear. These misunderstood people are often forced into banditry, though this particular individual must have fallen on hard times indeed to share a cavern with the residents of Phandelver. Rather than forcing needless bloodshed, I used the powers of illusion bequeathed to me by Al’Gul to encourage the poor creature to flee. Though the rebooted Bronzeworth again showed his caddishness and was joined by our new duck-bear friend, I was above such bloodlust.

Bronzeworth’s reboot must have gone poorly. He kept insisting that he could understand the duck-bear’s quacks, and that it wasn’t a duck-bear at all. Who has ever heard of such a creature as a platypus? Let alone a platypus-bear. A bear that lays eggs? Entirely preposterous. I humoured the misfiring Bronzeworth and our new friend whom he dubbed Platsy.

After Bronzeworth defragmented his hard drive, our motley crew headed back into the mines to resume the fight. We couldn’t allow such dangerous ghouls to molest a settlement like Phandolin, and Gundred’s whereabouts were still unknown.

This did seem to have been, at one stage, a quite profitable mining venture. Quality ore, and plenty of it. If we could root out the source of the infestation, we could claim it for ourselves and make some proper gold. Even more gold than I liberated from the clutches of long dead men and their reanimated bones, as the light of Al’Gul shone upon them.

On this second trip, Bronzeworth insisted on spoiling our chance of surprise with a fire that his natural spirits granted him. The automaton might have a good pair of light sensors, but he’s got no sense of theater.

Our new friend Platsy though, that duck-bear could swing a greataxe. He demonstrated by ably slicing through our old foes the ghouls. Even Bronzeworth got in on the act, with a very interesting binding spell, which held the ghouls rigidly in place. And thus, the Lord’s Fire was unleashed upon them. On the second attempt, the ghouls didn’t even threaten us, as Platsy proved a very able companion.

With Bronzeworth’s torchlight and the uncanny navigation skills of the duck-bear, we soon found upon the source of all this monstrousness. An abomination against the Lord’s Fire. No one but Al’Gul may control a blaze. Peasants may have their peasants’ fire, red, dull and slow burning. But all higher levels of fire are the property of Al’Gul, for he is the Lord’s Fire.

I knew this heretic at once. A floating skull encased in a pyre of bright green heat, he could not hide from my enlightened gaze. Al’Gul’s judgement would be upon him. Though he muttered something about treasure, such matters were beneath me. This was nothing less than a holy crusade against the apostate.

Though the heretic may have stolen the Lord’s Fire, I am one with Al’Gul. He slashed and stabbed at my companions as I fired bolt after bolt upon his evil visage. Platsy swung hard with his greataxe and Bronzeworth with his scimitar, but only a holy man can purge an apostate. This evil force struck Platsy hard, leaving him a shell of a duck-bear. He drained the very life from Bronzeworth with a single touch. But I kept up the barrage, never letting the heathen rest. The fires of Al’Gul struck hard and true upon this accursed thing. It could not hide from the judgement of the Lord’s Fire.

As the heretic lay dying and mangled, the power of Al’Gul coursed through my veins. The Lord’s Fire is generous to those who serve.

My companions must learn of his power. The world must learn of his power. Perhaps even poor Bronzeworth could survive, if he were to make a deathbed conversion and realise the truth of Al’Gul. But for now, as I write this in the dark of the heretic’s lair, I pray that he wakes up. For all his faults, Bronzeworth is a hardy soul, quick with aid and a most useful travelling companion. The world would be poorer without him.

One Must Always Fill Their Pockets

“I am Zacharias Silvermoon, keeper of the baron’s cups, wielder of Gilgamesh, inventor of hydroxyl, saviour of my house and bane of spiders. You may have heard…” I say, before I’m rudely cut off.

“That’s enough. Come in, Sir Zacharias.” I am no knight, but it would be unfair to correct him. The doorkeeper motions me in to join the party. I loosen my scarf against the warmth, but retain my black greatcoat. One must always fill their pockets.

All of Hrothgar’s least important nobles are here, supping on fruit and wine. The town is too provincial and the night too early to attract serious power, but I spot a few local celebrities. The pot-bellied mayor, Therden Orcherson enjoys canapes with local guild leaders. Polo teams trade equestrian gossip. A band strums away on their instruments unobtrusively. My stomach grumbles and I head straight for the banquet table.

The peaches are particularly delectable this season. I grab several, along with a couple of the gilded wine goblets. No host will notice a few goblets disappearing throughout a night like this. They’ll be too smashed on the finest Fanfoss reds, and hopefully I can nab some more substantial items later on. One must always fill their pockets.

For now, I must keep up appearances. A plump, brown haired girl who might be a third cousin is motioning me to the dancefloor. I can smell the reek of chewing tobacco on her lips as she tries to pull me in close. Such are the perils of being devilishly attractive, even beneath half a pound of whiteface makeup. The next song cannot come quickly enough.

As the girls rotate, I am struck by my next partner. Unlike the other docile girls, she stands tall and proud. Very tall. Her face would be pretty, if it wasn’t sliced through by a most unfortunate scar, which her long red hair seems to draw attention to. Her frilly white dress looks fit for a wedding. She takes the lead, with an unladylike strength. I venture to ask her name.

“You may call me Elizabeth Bloodmoon.” she says. I reach out to her hips to better lead the dance, but she knocks my hand away with a slap. She mutters beneath her breath, then loud enough for me to hear, “But you should not be in this place. Leave the fools to their japes.” Before I can ask her to clarify, the dance is over. Elizabeth rotates through, and I’m left with another dull distant relative. I play my part, biding time until the evening’s centrepiece arrives.

Baron Hrothgar enters and taps his glass to make an announcement. The host is fashionably late, of course. The pale torchlight heightens his thin, angular visage, which is thrown into sharp relief by the brutish creature which follows him in chains. “May I present to you, the city’s newest attraction, nature’s strangest creation, the duck-bear!” he booms.

The creature following him is chained and manacled, with the beak of a duck and body of a bear. The huge monstrosity must weigh at least 200 kilograms. It quacks – a deep booming sound – and struggles against the chains. Three animal keepers strike it with whips, and it lets out another quack before quietening.

The audiences stunned silence gives way to a loud hubbub of gossip. Baron Hrothgar continues “This magnificent creature will be sent to The New Archive for study.” The keepers whips strike home again, as they try to herd this beast into position in the corner of the ballroom. “After it performs here tonight, of course.”

Before the performance can commence, there is a loud crack as the beast’s chains are shattered in a single cut. Elizabeth Bloodmoon, frilly dress flying in the air, pounces from the chain to the Baron’s side, now holding her claymore to his throat. “You decadent fools live only by the sufferance of others. How does a simple duck-bear deserve this foul treatment?”

The duck-bear is now marauding through the crowd, quacking and swiping with its paws at nobles in a mixture of confusion and fear. Elizabeth continues, “I am the Blood Moon, and my Crimson Banners stand at the doors of this aristocratic house of debauchery. You have been judged, and found wanting. The parasites will be excised.” She slices off the Baron’s head, then wades into the crowd, claymore singing. Her dance of death is graceful and terrible. She twirls and pirouettes as her white dress is stained red by the nobles she cuts down.

Trapped between the screams at the entrance where the Crimson Banners are slickening the patio with noble blood, the hollow maniacal laugh of the Blood Moon and a rampaging duck-bear, I make for the nearest window, stopping only to retrieve a gold ring from its startled owner. I dive headlong through the pane, which shatters and lodges a shard in my leg. I land with a roll on the grassed lawn, grimace as I stand up, and survey the situation.

Three Crimson Banners are being kept busy by the steady stream of sodden nobles through the main entrance. I slink over to the loose patio board hiding my stash. With a stifled squeal, I remove the glass fragment, then slip out of these noble clothes and into something less bloodstained, secreting the day’s takings into my backpack. One must always fill their pockets. Then I quietly limp my way back to the main street. These zealots wouldn’t bother a working man like poor Zac.

The Tome Unburnt, First Entry

I slaughtered the innocent and cheated the meek, in the service of a tattered banner and my own pride.

I was not a good boy. I was not a good man. I had fallen away from the light of Al’Gul’s flame.

In the great war of 1066, when the Hohhren Knights needed recruits, I was of that young impressionable age. Their heady tales of valour quickly turned to a reality of mud, muck and death for a foot solider like myself.

As they pressed against the Empire of Lan Xu, my brigade came to a small town. Quan Ma. The soldiers had retreated, leaving only the weak and wretched. They clustered around a temple with a strange sigil. Our skull-faced captain gave the order – burn it to the ground.

I was only a boy. But even a boy should have known better.

Their screams still haunt me. The fire danced from the stockades into the centre of town. They died in their hundreds. By my hand; by my flame.

After the war I settled down to run a small store on the outskirts of Hohhra. My salves could fix any wound but my own. I could run a world away, but I could never escape those haunting screams.

The town of Quan Ma didn’t appear on any Hohhren map. Little but charred ruins remained. Nothing grew, not even weeds. The blackened remains of the temple were all that remained of a once thriving town.

In search of absolution from whatever god could provide it, I entered that husk. The charred bones of the decade-long dead littered the pews, clutching at whatever solace their god could provide. Nobody had even given them a proper burial. Yet amidst this desolation, a leather-bound book stood shining and unburnt upon the pulpit.

This book.

I reached out to grab it, and felt a violent tug in my chest as my eyes swam.

This was not the church. There was far too much fire. The air smelled strongly of sulphur. This was another plane of existence. Yet within this frightful scene was a presence at once terrible, monstrous and beautiful. Al’Gul himself. He stood taller than three men, stronger than ten and beseeched me to change my ways. To repent my sins and follow his divine example.

I was not a good man. But Al’Gul saw the potential in me.

I was weak and feeble minded. Al’Gul made me strong.

I was lost in a world of decadence. Al’Gul gave me purpose.

I was just one man among many. Al’Gul made me Zaphos, acolyte to the Lord’s Fire.

His first order was to return and shine the Lord’s Fire on the Rat King. I will return now to the Abersyth tavern, where I hope to find a few righteous souls who walk in his light. Together, we shall deliver divine vengeance to the Rat King, and to all who displease Al’Gul.

– Zaphos, acolyte to the Lord’s Fire

A recommendation from LinkedIn that I go back to a past employer


Welcome to the new and improved I’ve been basically squatting the URL to keep my emails operational since I shut down Sipols Software, but this seems an opportune moment to turn it into a profile page of sorts. The 90s version of a Facebook or LinkedIn, but without the obnoxious bootlicking.

A recommendation from LinkedIn that I go back to a past employer
LinkedIn really is a parade of the slowly putrefying dead.

I’m not expecting to post here often. This certainly won’t see a return to the heyday of the blog, as the bourgeois state’s political correctness remains in force. If you’ve been missing the blog, I might recommend you check out Postcards From the Last Commons, which touches on some similar themes, even if its author is frightfully slow with content.

But I might pop up every now and then here with something which isn’t Capital P Political. Fiction, poetry, other writing, or maybe even reports on the cultural aspects of late stage capitalism. Photography, perhaps, if I can say something with it.

And in the grand tradition of portfolio pages, if you want to hire me to write about how Horkheimer’s critique of instrumental reason presaged the current discourse, feel free to leave a comment.