Dorak - Swarms of Metal

Dear Grandpa,

Rarely has it been more clear that our equipment limits us than when we fought our latest battle.

I’d say never but that’s tough with so many other times where we felt like we were swatting helplessly at flies, like a giant against an army of dwarves.

The good news is that Coatl and Iz’Alma popped out of the lamp when we desperately needed them. Iz brought us back to more normal vigor, and saved Ulises life.

I asked Coatl if he had brewed anything good in the lamp, but apparently I had thought he was similarly gifted to Falko, which he is not, and can only brew spells he already knows.

I discussed with him also how he could gain more spells, and the methods don’t sound that great… we have to trade with a witch, or kill a witch and capture the familiar and barter with it, or the snake has to drink some scroll ash, which may not work and the scroll is used up either way.

The snake appears larger – which may be good for the survivability of it.

However, my discussion with Coatl was during our watch in the wee hours, after Smriti had fallen prey to the mask’s will and put it on. She’s a really sweet girl, the sort I wish that life had prepared me to make my own, but my life – as good as you have been and as kind-if-absent that Mom and Dad have been – has left my soul as callused as the hands of the miner, and not the silky warmth that sweetness deserves.

Since she fell prey to the mask, I worry that she’s going to turn on us and kill us in the night. She’s actually carrying a fairly high amount of weaponry, even if she weren’t deadly when she’s not armed. I wonder if she’d consent – once in her right mind or as close to it as anyone in this group is equipped – to loan her kukri to Dusky, but I don’t know about the size difference and how well that would work, let alone if Dusky has any idea how the kukri works.

We may actually want to sell that when we get to town, since she’s more inclined to use her fists or the spear and there’s few downsides to punching someone hard, since she can stun them or possibly fatigue them, rather than slashing them with less forceful cuts, and I believe her fists count as enchanted weapons, much like my rapier.

One good thing about the mask taking her over is that we learned it allows you to use it as an attack and is poisoned – the ceramic glaze apparently having some sort of poison worked into it.

The watch with Coatl was interrupted by an attack – spiders, small as Dusky but fairly large for a spider – attacked the group. Ulises, unfortunately, did not fare well, despite asking Kumori and I for a few tips and tricks of the trade, so it was close, and Dusky expended great effort to keep him alive, with Iz essentially in a purely defensive role.

The next day, Kumori was equally disheartened to see the mask on Smriti’s face. However, Coatl could not separate her from it as easily as he separated me from the burden of the coin, so we had little choice but to press on.

It was about noon when the flock was spotted. Like a glimmering arrow on the distance, we knew it was coming for us, and that our only hope was to fight, but we wanted to funnel the enemy towards us, with Kumori eager to put arrow to bow and Coatl eager to rain destruction on it from a distance.

Coatl had only one of his maximum level spells, for while he is smarter than ordinary, he is no genius, but he combined it with an ash storm, hoping they would get lost in the cloud.

That it did not work is not surprising in retrospect, given the mask’s draw and their flying, though considering the darkness and the disorientation of fighting the monkey demon, I can understand the reasoning.

Kumori barely got to put his new bow to use before they were upon us, more specifically, Iz. She has angered the gods and is suffering for it.

She had summoned one of her creatures to help defend, which is about as helpful as Dusky summoning Inky – good in some ways, bad in others.

The horses bolted, with her horse taking a bit of damage from the glinting, metallic birds.

They were a distracting foe, but were very annoying for three simple reasons:

  1. Difficult to hit – since they had no specific body, due to my loss of a gift, I could barely hit them, and if I did, it was for absolutely abysmal damage. Kumori had better luck but has more swings to try to connect, and I think he gave up a few swings to try to better land a solid blow.
  2. Difficult to hurt – Kumori, Smriti, and I have enchanted weapons. I think Iz’s sickle is even enchanted. Dusky and Coatl have no enchantment on their weapons, nor does Ulises from the looks of it. So about half of us could not damage them with the simplest methods to hurt our foes, and the same half had few options to do damage to them with spells. There’s a great feeling when you land a good blow on a foe, either in a critical spot or because you swung with a good amount of force, and you see pain in their expression. We had none of that thrill against these foes.
  3. Dazzling and nauseating – If you were attacked, while you bled from the little pricks against you, you were distracted by the desert light on their forms. Only Smriti could back off and attack at a distance effectively, though I think she could also move up, smack once, and then back off. I may need to learn that trick, but that will take some time.

Coatl could not identify the creature, and Dusky apparently could, though only after they were dead. They may be Ionian, which is interesting.

I don’t know that we ever uncovered their weakness, and I doubt we had a way to exploit it, anyway. They were immune to flame, so a flaming weapon, which I half expected to have the rapier so enchanted by now, would have been as equally useless.

Coatl managed to separate Smriti from the mask after the fight – this, in turn, required Kumori to approach Smriti, hug her, and hold her, whispering in her ear like she were his lover how we’re her friends and we want the best for her. As his arms stroke her supple shoulders to her strong but soft wrists, I felt a bit of jealousy. He put a lot of effort into calming her, almost like Dusky with training a steed. Hopefully the effect is equally long lasting…

Of course, I may have been reading too much into his mannerisms and her reactions, but the connection between them is interesting to watch grow.

Speaking of that, earlier in the day I had groused a little about spending 7 years in the lamp – since Coatl had also spent some time inside it, I had to ask what he felt about his time in that world from the perspective of someone with a more normal lifespan – and Kumori and Smriti took offense to the question. Her time in the lamp was less than mine, though the outside world changed more during it. However, given the general hard knocks we face in the outside world – people are getting cranky about the water supplies and heat, even though it is winter – the impossible palace isn’t the worst place to go.

Sorry, I couldn’t think of another place to put that aside, since it goes to the connection those two share. Also, I know you’re wondering what we did with the mask once it separated from Smriti. That’s the somewhat amazing part – the mask disappeared!

Smriti appeared to find it, and so while Coatl stopped her magically, I scooped the area she was reaching for into the haversack, and Kumori tried to drag her away from it. While there’s every chance that the mask will still draw threats to us, hopefully it is less since it is in the sack, and Smriti may want the mask, but she’s thankfully not compelled to retrieve it.

In thinking about her connection to the mask, and Kumori, and Dusky… maybe I am just not that connected to this world – my sister is probably on some assignment for the church, my brother is probably a fighter of skill equal to Kumori or greater in the games by now.

You’re the only person, other than Brother Calen and Stocky, whom I have kept in touch with who isn’t constantly in danger beside me, and I strongly distrust one of those companions for failing to heed my warnings of the trap we had befallen. Smriti is such an innocent girl, especially back then, that I can understand her being unaware of it, though I am surprised Cian wasn’t more alert, given his background. If I go back in the lamp and see him, I may need to ask him about that.

Speaking of traps, I think, though, that having studied the traps of the bugbears, and having been burned quite literally by being less aware, that I am finally in a place of zen when it comes to traps. I can not only feel a trap’s presence with less conscious effort, I believe I’ll be better equipped to make them when the time and opportunity presents itself. And between further studies in disabling them and growing more dextrous, I don’t believe I’ll fail to disable traps unless it is monstrously difficult one.

I also don’t think anyone could catch me unawares without being much better trained than I – I look forward to having a foe try, because short of spending a lot of time sizing us up or being informed ahead of time as to what we are capable of, there’s every chance that a crew of thugs would try to flank me. With Smriti and her spear as well as my faster hands, it would be the last mistake they ever made.

Well, enough rambling… with so many of us on foot, it’s not that hard to write and walk, because my companions are thirsty and tire easily from the weather and the marching.

- Dorak

Dorak’s Letters Home

Dorak - Swarms of Metal

Crimson Skies Grusnik