Paradigm Concepts

Tukufu and the Red Frescos
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Author:  val Holryn [ Sun Oct 25, 2015 1:46 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Tukufu and the Red Frescos


I felt joy.

I was standing just outside the column of light that entered through the hole in the roof. Dust tickled my nose as I looked around. Everything was indirectly illuminated at best. I had a moment to daydream of somebody painting this scene and calling it “the Archaeologist.” Or maybe “the Discoverer.” And this Atrium was the barest beginning. Looking around there were no physical signs that anyone had walked here for ... years. Centuries? Sachya must have come in another way. The shadows invited me to wander in deeper and see things long concealed from men and women.

I closed my eyes and took a minute to run my “water meditation.” As you might know, all psionic powers ultimately flows from meditation. At this point, in a pinch, I can center and release my power in as little as one full breath. But as I summoned arcane lights I relaxed and stretched it out. I visualized the north shore of Altheria where it meets the Gulf of Yarris. I pictured it dark and stormy, full of whitecaps, waves, and treacherous currents. Then as I breathed in through my nose and out through my mouth I calmed the waters in my mind. The waves died down. The Gulf grew flat. And I was left with the light of Illiir reflecting off a sea that was mirror calm.

Psionics give off significant sensory displays. As I did this there was an audible hum and, of course, the pervasive smell of oranges. I spontaneously awakened in an orange grove. Everything I manifested came with its smell. Wisps of gold and silver light coalesced into three glowing orbs that orbited my head.

I turned my attention to the floor mosaics.

What am I looking at? I saw a musician courting a lady. Maybe Cadic wooing Larissa? That would be fairly unusual for an atrium. Or I could just be in an ancient brothel, I thought wryly. But no, I was too far from anywhere for that. And it would have been more explicit. I had called this room an atrium automatically, but as I looked around it didn’t particularly seem to be laid out in the Coryani style. I left it and walked deeper into the ruins.

There were smaller rooms that led off to the left and right but a main hallway carried me back into a large colonnaded room with a tiled geometric pattern on the floor. Found them! The walls were covered in red frescos. And such frescos! They were eye grabbing and extraordinary! They wrapped all the way around three sides of the large room. Magnificent figures. My first thought was that it looked like a wild party full of drinking and strange costumes. But then I thought it might be an initiation ceremony with mythic creatures. It really depended on context. Several female figures looked remarkably the same. If they were different figures then this was just a party scene. But if they represented the same women in sequential panels, there was a narrative here.

The art work was sensuous, and it was clear to me that a great deal of effort and expense had gone into it. It was all highly professional in quality. Which I found pretty surprising considering that I was in the middle of nowhere. That made me lean towards a First Imperium date…though the Frescos were remarkably well preserved if truly that old.
What was I standing in? This building wasn’t some shack. It had to be the abode of someone with wealth who liked their privacy. Or an organization with wealth.

So many questions.

My attention kept being pulled to the last panel on the right. Next to a winged figure, presumably either a valinor or someone dressed as a valinor, there were four women in two pairs. The first pair featured a woman who was half undressed on her knees sobbing into the lap of a sitting matron. The second pair were of a nude woman dancing while a different matron looked on with a staff or rod. Maybe it was the red background, but I intuitively suspected that it was connected to Larissa. Perhaps actors in a passion play, or an initiation ceremony. If the weeping woman and the dancing woman were the same then what I was looking at was Larissa. First seeing cosmic horrors and weeping into Saluwe’s lap. Then her subsequent attempt to alleviate what she saw through unrelenting sensation.

Lord of Knowledge! What if this was First Imperium and this location was part of where the Sensates got started? Would they have been initially accepted? Might they want an out of the way place to gather and discuss the changes to Larissa?

I was allowing my fancy to get way ahead of the facts on the ground. I reigned myself in. Maybe there was an oasis here at one point and there really was a brothel to cater to the travelers. Or this was an early Coryani era abode. Or ... well anything. I'd only just gotten here.

I pulled out a scroll case with some scraps of paper, a quill, and a tiny bottle of ink. I’d sketch out the figures. It would help me explain what I saw later to others. The prolonged focus might also help me to notice important details. I would have to take my time with this; I wanted a full interpretation. I sat down in ancient dust, long undisturbed by the tread of man, and started my drawings.

This was so much more satisfying than a stash of ancient coins.
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When I saw movement in the corner of my eye I dropped everything and whirled.


Nerves, brave hero? I felt embarrassment as my heart sped up. I usually worked with a partner or two when exploring. Now I remembered how very alone I was out here. My previous bubble of joy and contentment popped. Carefully I turned around. I let two of my glowing lights wink out and mentally sent the third away from me to the right as I faded to the left and hopefully into deeper shadows. It was probably nothing, or just a damn lizard. But I shifted behind the columns where I hoped I couldn’t be seen and started quietly retracing my steps to where I thought I had seen movement.

Honestly, if I had only found someone to watch my back I would have dismissed it. But I was by myself. So I kept going. Only my foot prints in the dust. I quietly drew my rapier and flintlock.

There. On the floor was a long thin rivulet of … blood?

What the hell? I’m not bleeding.

I stepped out and over to blood and knelt. And then the first crossbow bolt whizzed over me. My head came up as I peered back down the way I had first entered. I saw figures. Too late, I figured it out. Bloodspider! Someone had used magic to scout out the room.

I didn’t like the implications of that!

I was already diving into a shoulder roll to the right. Kind of a dumb flashy move. Try doing that sometime without stabbing yourself with a drawn sword! Another bolt shot down the corridor to where I’d just been kneeling. Right. Brilliant move. I was past the opening to the corridor and out of the line of fire.

How many were there?

A woman’s voice commanded, “Hold fire!”

Breathe in. Out. The smell of oranges. A flare of silver light. I drew on the Arcanum. I heard the woman shout out, “He’s casting!” as I slipped sideways. I ran toward the figures. They could shoot as many crossbows as they wanted. While this spell was up, for all intents and purposes I was intangible to their attacks. Run out. See what was there. Run back to cover before the spell ended. Not a problem.

I ran out.

It was Sachya. She had a Sorcerer-Priest and four ugly thugs with her. I’m sure my mouth dropped open, but I didn’t have time for questions or curses. Two more crossbow bolts flew toward my chest…and right through me. Goons one and two were already reloading. Goons three and four looked at me in disbelief. Four was bald, I have no idea why that stuck in my head.

“I said Hold Fire!”

Sachya still had a loaded crossbow. I wheeled and ran back for cover.

“Unravel it,” I heard her say.

I had just enough time to think, … uh I’m out of phase with reality here, can slip sideways be unraveled? The Sarishian barked some words in Altherian with a grotesque infernal accent. Then my spell ended prematurely. And Sachya shot me.

Author:  val Holryn [ Mon Oct 26, 2015 6:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Tukufu and the Red Frescos


Oh Gods. That hurts!

I was on the ground. My left arm was a bloody mess. My left hand was numb. The flintlock had slipped through my fingers and was somewhere on the ground. My right hand still had the sword.

That’s right, I’d been hit with a crossbow bolt.

I rolled over and looked back. I hadn’t made it back to the room with the red frescos. I was still in the corridor and on my back. No room to maneuver. I tried to get my legs under me or use them to push down the corridor and out of their line of sight. If they got the crossbows reloaded…

I heard blades being drawn and then two figures came down the corridor at me. I expected the mercenaries. And yeah. That’s exactly what I was getting. Lucky lucky me. I had the time to realize they were Chauni. Baldy was behind a guy with a big mustache. They had scimitars out.

Enough of this.

I took my all pain and fear and squashed it flat. I exhaled and pointed my sword at the one in the lead. A sound worthy of a large gong rang through the space as a wave of force hit him, blasting him off his feet and throwing him back a full 20 feet. Baldy didn’t get out of the way fast enough. He got clobbered and took a ride too.

I didn’t have time to sit around feeling satisfied; instead I got the hell out of the corridor. I could hear the Sarishian chanting again and knew more magic was on the way. I just hoped he wasn’t all that powerful. Some Sarishians I know, like Annoush and Comma, go around with bound infernals in tow. My odds were already dodgy. I dived right as soon as I was back in the room. I thought I was safe around the corner, but an explosion of sand and grit at the room’s entrance buffeting me some more.

The Sarishian has to go.

It was a decent bet no one had reload their crossbows yet, so I stuck my head around the corner. I was hoping to get a clear line on the Sarishian. No luck. Everyone but Sachya was following my lead and hugging cover.

Sachya! I didn’t have time to wrestle with emotions. Or make wishes that she was on my side or that this wasn’t happening. I had to take any opportunities as they presented themselves. So I reached out with my power and touched the surface of her thoughts. I whispered, “The Sarishian is your enemy…”

Even in the bad light I saw confusion on Sachya's face and I could tell it worked.

She started to turn towards her left, sword raised…

…And the Sarishian barked more words of power and unraveled my enchantment again!

As Sachya snapped out of it. I started to draw my second flintlock. But she and didn’t give me time to aim and shoot. She ducked out of sight. Now I couldn’t see any of them.

“We regroup,” I heard her say. “Get your crossbows reloaded! I go first sword and board. You shoot over my shoulder at anything that moves! Nerseh, you come last and counter anything he tries to cast. We move as one unit.”

Damn. I didn’t have a good response to that.

Author:  MattBorn [ Tue Oct 27, 2015 2:32 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Tukufu and the Red Frescos

Oh no! Tukufu is in trouble again?

Ludwig val'Tensen hopes he makes it.

Author:  val Holryn [ Tue Oct 27, 2015 4:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Tukufu and the Red Frescos

MattBorn wrote:
Oh no! Tukufu is in trouble again?

...and the pot calls the kettle black. :P

I hope he makes it too! This is what happens when you go off alone. Never split the party!

(I'm going to feel so dumb at Origins if it turns out I can't write a way to save him ... )

Author:  val Holryn [ Tue Oct 27, 2015 4:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Tukufu and the Red Frescos


I stood there feeling stupid and useless.

I was bottled up and about to be mobbed. With the Arcanum I could probably deal with a mob all at once. But Nerseh, their Sarishian, was going to counter anything I tried to do. Think! I still had two flintlocks, which would probably do for Sachya. If the crossbows didn’t get me first…but even if I killed her, I’d still be pin-cushioned. A bad trade. I could have charged their position before they reloaded, but they’d hear me coming and be ready for a brief and bloody melee. Maybe some of the people I’ve travelled with could have pulled that off. Like Rikard. Or Ceres. Even Armand. I’m a good swordsman, but probably not tough enough to walk out of that.

I need to whittle them down.

But that meant an ambush or magic. But I was the one who had been ambushed. And my magic was being shut down. The first flutters of panic started to claw at my heart.

I need to come at them from behind. From surprise.

I heard them start moving. Too late! They were coming. They knew where I was and they’d see my power signature the first time I tried …

Well wait.

No, that was not necessarily true. All casters can release power with subtlety. It’s just a lot harder. And hardest of all for psions. In fact it was so fiendishly hard, I had never bothered to try it before. Under normal circumstances it was always flat out better to put that extra effort into, you know, bigger explosions. What can I cast from concealment? Force push? No. Too complicated! I had to discard all my usual attacks.

No. Not an attack. A trick. Smoke and mirrors. Lights and sounds. A false display!

They were at the edge of the room.

I thought of Belinay as I reached out with my power. I yearned to make it home and fold my arms around her. There! At the far end of the room, by the furthest pillar, a dim silver light glowed and a crackle of fire could be heard from behind it. And of course, the smell of oranges. Couldn’t forget that! I bit my lip with the effort, but for the first time ever I cast without any display around me.

My life is balanced against a cheap parlor trick.

I got away with it. They moved past my hiding place. Sachya. Followed by the goons who spread out a little. There were only three of them. Mustache must be down. Finally, after what seemed like forever, the Sarishian. They were all focused on the furthest pillar and the Sarishian started to cast something. Like a shadow I stepped out and raised the flintlock. My left arm still hurt but I was less than 10 feet away. Taking my fate into my own hands I pulled the trigger, and shot him in the back of the head.
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The flintlock sounded like an explosion in the enclosed space. One of the Chauni, Baldy, just about jumped out of his skin - and discharged his crossbow into the ground. A lucky break for me. Ignore him for the moment. I was already moving. Everyone was trying to whirl about but I was in their midst at that point. I swung my rapier in a sweeping arc, from left to right and high to low, as I passed between the two that still had loaded weapons.

The one on my left I slashed across his throat and he fell gurgling. The one on my right tried to bring his crossbow to bear and shot in my general direction. But I had moved past where he was aiming, and my sword continued the arc to rake down across the outside of his right arm. It Cut all the way down to the bone. He dropped the crossbow and fell to his knees howling.

Three of five down.

Sachya recovered even as I finished the swing. My blade was out of alignment for defense and all I could do was throw the flintlock at her. My left arm wasn’t cooperating and my throw was both feeble and wide. I caught the flat of her shield. The air in my lungs went out with a “whuff” and again I found myself on the ground.

I heard the last Chauni draw his scimitar. Then he and Sachya stepped forward and loomed over me. I was still trying to get up.

That was fine. As they readied killing blows I breathed in and out, and slipped sideways again. No one was around to dispel it this time! Their blades passed through me. I took my time standing up and dusting myself off. And I drew my third flintlock. There must have been something in my eyes because Baldy, the last Chauni, threw down his sword and backed away into the corner.

Sachya looked a little gray and her lips were pressed together in a thin line. But she stood her ground in what I recognized as the Holmgang style of fighting. I really should have found something to say to her. Though just what I still have no idea. The moment passed as the spell ended. I fully came back into reality.

After hardening in the Crusade, I was sure I was a better fighter the Sachya even roughed up and a little bloody. I fired off a couple of quick jabs with my sword just to probe her defenses. She stayed calm and kept her shield up. I couldn’t get the tip of my rapier around it. Meanwhile her broad sword flicked in and out like a serpents tongue in quick feints. She used the shield to conceal as much of her movements as possible, and I started to hate the thing.

I concentrated on my footwork. I tried moving in circles and triangles timed in response to her attacks. I wanted to pass by her guard and strike from an unprotected angle. She wasn’t used to that. But Sachya also managed to wrong foot me repeatedly playing games of “stab and bash” or “trap and cut.” We each got nicked a few times. Nothing serious. Neither of us said anything as we fought in the room with the red frescos. We kept at it for a long minute looking for a real opening. It wasn’t long before we were both starting to blow hard. I realized I had been wrong, Sachya's sword-work was just as good as mine.

I was still two decades younger than her. If it came down to endurance I had the upper hand.

During the circling I did have one disadvantage. I had to keep half an eye on the Chauni lest Baldy rediscover his courage. I had the flintlock ready just in case. Sachya rolled the dice during one of the moments when my eyes flickered away from her.

Sachya committed everything to sudden powerful lunge. If it had landed she would have impaled me. But I was already changing direction in a triangle move and I passed to the outside of her sword. If only just. I dropped to my right knee as I moved forward and lashed down at her foot. My rapier really wasn’t designed for close quarter slashing. But it was made of fine steel and I scrupulously kept its edge honed. I felt it go through the leather boot and down into her foot.

Sachya screamed. She sort of half hopped a step to her left. But she still had it together enough to start to back swing with her broadsword. I was a little faster as I slid my left foot behind her in a half moon step so I faced her right side. Then before I got decapitated, I came up inside the her sword and plowed into her. Finally that damn shield was out of my way! I drove my sword just under her chain shirt and up through her body all the way to the hilt.

Her scream cut off.

Author:  val Holryn [ Wed Oct 28, 2015 3:53 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Tukufu and the Red Frescos


As far as the drama and violence went, there wasn’t much more to say. Out of the pressures of combat I used transmutation magic to refresh my body and heal my wounded arm. Two of the Chauni goons were still alive so I tied them up. The bodies I gathered under the compluvium. The Sarishian’s head was a gory mess and I found myself regretting that I had learned his name. It made him more real to me and I wondered if anyone would miss him.

These ruins had existed for centuries without being occupied by shades. I wanted things to continue that way. So I said words over the fallen and resolved to have them buried the next day. I also went outside, in case there was anyone else I needed to deal with. I found six more hobbled horses. The math worked out right. No more surprises.


I didn’t know what to do with Sachya. She was incapacitated and clearly dying. I think I pierced one of her lungs and her breathing sounded horrible. In most of the plays I had seen or read people either died instantly or crawled across a wilderness to find help and safety – and perhaps revenge in act three. After the Crusade and Tultipet I knew better. Still part of me insanely wanted to throw her over a horse and somehow get her to a priest or healer in time to save her. Another angry part of me wanted to plant my boot on her throat. I didn’t do either.

I made a pillow out of my buff coat and produced a thin blanket out of my backpack. I did what I could to make her comfortable. Then I made a small fire in the room and brewed some tea. I waited silently for her end to come.

Or at least I meant to. But I couldn’t get over the fact she betrayed me. My Dad’s former squire. friend. That was offensive! I moved over and started going through her belt pouches. I wanted to find an incriminating letter. Or something. Anything that would explain this. There just wasn’t a huge list of people who wanted me dead. My best guess was that somehow I had angered the Jial of the Phoenix. Assassination and betrayal sort of fell into their bailiwick. But I didn’t know what I had done, or what they could have offered Sachya.

My rummaging must have brought her back around. “Tukufu.” It was a breathy whisper.

“Save your breath.”

“I’m sorry.”

I think I grunted. Did I want to hear that? Or was it better to let things lie. It was a little late for apologies. I didn't say anything. But in that seemingly endless moment I was sorry too. If Dad’s spirit could see us, it must have been appalled by what had happened.

“She still hates you. You’re too visible to ignore.” She started coughing real blood at that point. She couldn't even whisper. But her left hand drew a circle in the dust. Then an “H.” No, not a circle, an “O.” I got it almost immediately. Odile. My father’s first wife. I could also guess the H. Odile bore two children with my father. My half-brother was named Gunther. And my half-sister Henrietta. I’d never met Odile or Henrietta. I had met Gunther once during the Crusade in a tense encounter.

At least that makes sense. They have rights to your allegiance too.

I met Sachya eyes. They were still lucid. I nodded and unbidden the words came, “I understand.” That was as close as I could come to saying sorry or accepting her apology. I don’t know if she understood the double meaning.

She finally passed not long after that.
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Half a day there. Spend the night. Ride back the next day. Budget an extra day for the unexpected. Check.

I did not exactly sleep well with the two captives but we got through the night. Next dawn I had them load the bodies onto horses. I could probably dig four graves in one day but I sure didn’t want to. I gave Baldy and his buddy their mounts back and a strong suggestion that I never see them again. They had the nerve to ask for their weapons. Chauni!

I rode for Broken Arch and hired laborers to help dig. But Sachya’s I did myself. I had to tell the villagers something, so I said my friend had met me outside of town by some ruins. And that there had been a fight with bandits. That was technically true. They spat in the dust and agreed that bandits crawled the land like fleas on a dog. It took several hours for us to do it right. When we were done I talked to a guy who was a halfway decent mason. We dickered over the cost of and design of Sachya’s headstone. It got late in the day before everything was done. Broken Arch didn’t have an inn, but someone’s widowed grandmother offered me a room for the night and a lentil stew. I found both offers welcome.
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Next morning, just after the sun rose, I went home to my wife.

Author:  val Holryn [ Wed Oct 28, 2015 4:12 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Tukufu and the Red Frescos

The last panel of the Red Frescos

File comment: The Red Frescos
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Author:  acurrier [ Wed Oct 28, 2015 9:40 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Tukufu and the Red Frescos

Yay Tukufu! Now I can say I've seen someone cast subtely ;)

Great story, really enjoyed it.

Author:  val Holryn [ Thu Oct 29, 2015 8:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Tukufu and the Red Frescos

acurrier wrote:
Yay Tukufu! Now I can say I've seen someone cast subtely ;)

Great story, really enjoyed it.

Lol! Yes, Tukufu can *just* cast Minor Tricks with subtlety without going over his passive. Look out world! I remembered the Derrel Weaver story where someone faked going invisible in the Temple of Larisa to escape angry se sates, but actually assumed gaseous form to escape in the smoke of a fire. I loved that bit of misdirection and tried to put something similar in.

Thanks for the compliment Akira. It turned out to be a lot longer than I thought I'd be. But it was definately fun to write!

Author:  ZCaslar [ Wed Dec 09, 2015 12:20 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Tukufu and the Red Frescos

That was damn good as solo adventures go.

Has a very effective intimate feeling both from the narration and from Tukufu's eye for catching small details.

The history as Sachya was interesting as well. Tukufu was born a marked man; I wouldn't have guessed. Also intriguing to see Odile in a rare role: a Milandesian playing dirty.

Good stuff, a strong effort.

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