Tuesday, July 18, 2017

When the door opens - Storytime Part 3


Falken smiled, the door opened, and a massive wooden log shaped as a battering ram swung down straight into Falken’chest.

The kid flew back and hit the wall with a loud crack and hit the floor with a sickening thud. He felt his ribs shifting in places they shouldn’t, his lungs heaving and hurting with every single breath. The all too familiar taste of copper started sliding through his teeth after a painful cough showed him his own blood, now spattered on the floor.

Falken tried to get up, but the pain was too much. Lying face down in a pool of his own blood was not new to him. The streets of Waterdeep were ruthless and unforgiving if you didn’t know how to take care of yourself. Thugs, guards, people bigger and stronger than you in general, always found a way to remind you of your place. More often than not, your place was between the sole of their boot and the ground. He had learned to avoid these situations, to sneak away from people bigger than him, usually taking something of theirs with him as well.

This time he had messed up. He ran through all the reasons why the trap, the annoyingly simple trap, had sprung; however, as much as he thought about it, he couldn’t change the fact the trap had sprung, and now he was losing blood, fast.

His arms and legs were responding but the pain in his chest was too much to get up and move, so he started crawling towards the corridor’s wall, scraping across the stone floor. With some effort he sat upright against the wall and looked left and right, trying to weigh his options. His friends were still waiting for him downstairs, he could try and crawl his way down the stairs, it was just 4 stories down until he reached the Rookery. He wasn’t sure he would not kill himself going down those stairs, but it was the best chance at he had.

That’s when he heard footsteps.

For a second he thought there was only one set of footsteps, then he heard two, three, a whole group of people were getting up from their barracks and clattering around, probably alerted by the loud sound of the battering ram that had hit him. The trap was probably rigged to sound off some sort of alarm in a separate room in the tower as well.

Falken closed his eyes and held in a painful groan. That was it… the trap was made to seem simple so whoever looked at it would think it was easy enough to disarm, when in fact the trap was a more complex mechanism, made to disable whoever was picking the lock and to alert any nearby guards. Now he could barely move, was bleeding internally and externally, and would be a very easy mark to track down.

“If I wasn’t sturdy enough I could be a very nice wall decoration by now”

Falken closed his eyes, let out a small painful chuckle, coughed up some more blood and tilted his head back against the wall. He clutched one of the daggers he was using to pick the lock, held it against his chest and gritted his teeth. If this was it… he might as well go down fighting.

The footsteps got closer, Falken tightened his grip on the dagger and his breathing got faster. His eyesight was failing him now, he felt dizzy, and his eyes were getting foggy, everything looked white and just as suddenly as the battering ram hit him, he felt himself slip away into a cold sleep.

The fog surrounded Falken’s body and obscured the whole corridor, as Lauren entered and almost tripped over the boy’s body. She had heard the boy’s grunts as she was going up the stairs, but she also caught the sound of footsteps coming from above. Thinking fast she concentrated on the air’s moisture and added some of her own body’s water to it, creating a thick cold fog in the corridor where she presumed Falken would be. If the guards would come in she would at least have a few extra seconds to try and help the kid before they were spotted.

She had to fight her urge to audibly gasp when she finally saw Falken bloodied on the floor. She checked for a pulse and placed her cheek next to his mouth to see if he was breathing. After a second that seemed like an eternity she could feel the warm wisp of his breath on her face. Choking back her tears she placed her hand on his chest and spoke to the water spirits in the fog, and within herself to channel enough energy to bring the boy back from the brink of death. His bones started to realign themselves and the internal wounds slowly began to close. The loud footsteps startled her for a moment and broke her concentration. They were heavy, unusually thick and loud.

The Goliath stood behind her squinting through the fog

“Lauren? Is Damian with you?”

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Feathergale Spire - Stories from the campfire part 2

As they left Summit Hall on that morning Falken kept checking that every single one of his possessions was where it was supposed to be. Last time they had spent a night among unknown armed forces they ended up flying (or falling) down a deep canyon full of rocks.

“Hey kid, did you lose something?”

Falken turned to Damian and gave him a playful smile.

“No, but I believe you did.”

He showed Damian him one of his own daggers. It was actually the one the Sorcerer kept hidden most of the time. Damian gave a snort and a laugh while giving the boy an approving look.

“Well look at that. Last time someone took this dagger away from me, the one who did it had to sleep with me the night before and get me drunk as well… good job kid, keep those eyes sharp.”

Falken smiled and tossed the dagger over to Damian. He remembered that night well. He had lowered his guard just as much as the tiefling had… and would come to regret it as much as every one of them.

~ *** ~

The Feathergale Spire was a white tower that went up for what it seemed to be miles and miles up into the sky, as if signifying the desire of the cultists that inhabited it to reach the heavens and attain some sort of enlightenment from a higher power.

To Damian it was just very pretentious architecture.

The last time they had been here they came asking for information on the missing Mirabar caravan, and shared their stories with the cultists. They took them in, shared bread and salt with them, invited them to partake in a glorious Manticore hunt where they fought alongside them and brought down two of the beasts, and then they continued to celebrate their deeds for the rest of that night.

Then on the morning of the next day, they woke up, their hands tied, taken hostage by the very people they feasted with, and in Damian’s case, shared a bed with, the night before. Thulls, the captain of the “Sky Knights” as these cultists called themselves, informed them that they would be offered as a tribute to the Spirit of air. Helmdorn challenged Thulls to a sword fight to the death in exchange for their freedom and their equipment. Thulls simply laughed, and then had his henchmen throw them off the top of the Spire.

To Helmdorn they were pretentious pricks with no honor whatsoever.

A group of friendly Aaracockras had picked them up as they fell, bringing them to a safe place. That was when they realized their friend Draupnir had injured his neck when they caught him mid-air, and was now in a catatonic state. After much deliberation, the group of adventurers had to take the decision to… end his life themselves, and give him a proper burial instead of leaving him out there for the wild beasts to take him.

Shieldbuster now saw them as the ones who forced him to kill his friend. Pretentious murdering pricks who would taste death at the end of his blade.

A few nights later they had come back to the spire under the cover of night to recover their equipment and exact vengeance on these fools, or at least make sure they rued the day their paths crossed. As of now they had managed to climb up to the level where the cultists kept their flying mounts’ roost. The air cultists had a great deal of Flying creatures which they had domesticated in order to serve them as mounts, most of them being griffons, large magical  beasts with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion, and giant  vultures way larger than those you would encounter out in the wild. They managed to get in and have Lauren befriend one of the giant vultures with her druidic arts. The easy part was over. From now on, stealth was going to be absolutely necessary. So Falken was sent ahead to scout the floor where the cultists’ armory was located. Lauren, Shieldbuster, Helmdorn and Damian stayed behind.

As time passed, the minutes turned into hours, and Falken was still out there.

“That’s it, we need to go help him! –Lauren said- What if he got captured?”

“Hush!! Lower you voice, I’m trying to think of something here…”

“Well Damian you can think all you want… I’m going after him”

The druid got up, left the Vulture’s roost and went down the stairs to go after the kid. Lauren had taken a liking to this kid, and had become very protective of him ever since they started to travel together, and she was not going to let him die at the hands of some pretentious murdering fools who thought they could command the forces of nature by killing innocents and offering them to some spirit in the sky, or some such nonsense. Nature was all about balance, and this construction... this temple was just another slight against nature that put everything out of balance. She would not stand for it... her very skin crawled every time she saw depictions of the sacrificial rituals on the halls of the Spire, and she shuddered as she thought about what they would do to the boy once... or if they found him.

“Those two are going to be the death of us…Shieldbuster, I’m going up to see what I can find, you stay here with Helmdorn and work on an escape plan”

Helmdorn and Shieldbuster looked back at Damian with a pair of puzzled looks and said exactly what they were thinking at the same time.

“Escape Plan?”

They were pretty high up and the chances of navigating through the spire were minimal, so coming up with an escape plan in these conditions was a daunting task to say the least.

“Look, just try to find out a way to get us out of here ok? I need to go down there and make sure they don’t wake the guards”

And with that, Damian left. Hoping that this visit to the Feathergale Spire would end up significantly less disastrous than their last.

On a floor right below the vulture’s roost, Falken had managed to slip past a couple of sleepy guards and into a room that seemed to be the cultist’s armory. Several suits of armor hung on some wooden busts, and an array of martial and simple weapons had been collected into a couple of barrels to the left and right of the room. If his eyes did not deceive him, and they usually didn’t, their equipment should be stashed away from the cultist’s regular equipment… now there was only one thing keeping him from his goal.

A simple lock, with a simple trap.

Back in Waterdeep he used to pick locks like this at least once a week. He wasn’t trespassing, he just removed obstacles from his way in order to survive. Survival usually meant “appropriating” food that he could not afford for himself. Merchants never really appreciated the way he spirited away their goods so the locks on their warehouses got more and more complex. Other street kids that did not have his skills were a lot less fortunate than him, so he always tried to help them out whenever he could, but if he needed it more than someone else, then it was his for the taking. The kid was talented like few, had a keen eye for detail, nimble hands and was quick on his feet. However, picking a lock without sounding off the alarm, moving in, taking the goods, then exiting and leaving the door with no trace of having picked the lock… THAT, was something you learned.

And His teacher taught him well

This one was a simple one though, a simple lock with a simple trap that would activate through a spring mechanism built into the lock. If you did not have they key and tried to open the lock, the trap would trigger and bad things would happen. This, of course, meant nothing for someone with Falken’s skills. He just needed to put in the pin and hook from his tool kit and twist a bit until the lock opened, all while keeping the spring mechanism from going off.

That is, if he HAD his tool kit with him. Right now his tool kit was somewhere behind this very door, and he was using two daggers to open the lock. A simple lock. With a simple trap.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Music and storytelling - Iron Maiden's Dance of Death

As I’ve noted several times before in this blog, I love bards. Mainly because they use music and poetry to produce magical effects. Out of all the forms of magic used in fantasy RPGs, this is the most relatable one to me. Music is a very real thing, it causes people to feel a certain way, and in some cases, it also moves people to do things. It tells the tale of things that were, are and will be, and in the right hands, music can both silence millions and make those same millions erupt into a myriad of emotions.
Now, when it comes to storytelling through music, there are few artists as skilled as the respectable gentlemen from the heavy metal group, Iron Maiden. The storytelling they employ in most of their songs (often inspired by actual literary works) is truly inspiring. So, as promised in the title of this piece, here’s what I find so inspiring about Iron Maiden, and their storytelling through music.
*insert musical montage, lots of hair, spandex, spikes, and guitars but also bass… lots of bass and Nico on drums*

Iron Maiden is Heavy Metal. No offense to the many other bands that identify themselves with this type of music, but Iron Maiden pretty much defines the genre. Lots of guitar work, amazing vocal range, powerful rhythm sequences which combined produce songs that feel truly epic in their feel and composition. In the 42 years they have been active, they have produced a grand total of 16 (read: SIXTEEN) albums, and are still touring around the world, giving their fans some of the most exciting live concert experiences ever.

Having recorded sixteen albums means there are over a hundred songs to look at, and doing so would probably take years and make me eligible for a Ph.D. So instead of that, I’ll focus on one song that I think will be easy to use in order to get my point across. So I present to you, a step by step analisys of the title track of Iron Maiden's 2003 album, "Dance of Death. Here's the link to the song, so you can listen to it while you read.

Any good story has five parts: a hook, a buildup to a climax, the climax, the falling action, and conclusion. So, in that order...

"Let me tell you a story to chill the bones, about a thing that I saw...One night wandering in the everglades... I had one drink, but no more..."

The song starts with a slow, clean guitar riff that gives us the idea that what we're about to hear is both intriguing and mysterious, Bruce (the vocalist) matches this mood by almost whispering the first few lines of the song. You can imagine yourself listening to this nameless narrator, sitting around a campfire, having had more than one drink yourself... 50 seconds into the song and you have successfully been hooked into the story.

The buildup to the climax, or "rising action" has the narrator tell us how he was assailed by unknown figures in the forest, then led to a place where he was induced into a form of astral projection. His spirit is then lifted into the air, as he watches his own body dance with these figures, he now recognizes as Undead creatures "ascended from Hell". The music throughout this second part contains a steady drum beat, synthesizer generated string choruses that slowly take us away from that initial introductory guitar riff and build towards a halt in the music that leaves us wondering "wait, is that it? what happened then? did he survive?"

What comes next is an absolute explosion of rhythm and music when the song changes gears and dances (pun intended) wildly off into the climax of the story and song, by employing a melody that evokes images of pagan rituals and bonfires. Our narrator tells us how both he and his spirit were dancing wildly in, around and above a firepit until they were re-joined. He then keeps dancing and is joined by the others until he comes back to his senses, takes advantage of a small skirmish and makes a run for it.

In the falling action, there is very little to no text, however; it is in this part of the song that one hears Iron Maiden's iconic use of simple riffs that, when played live, results in thousands of fans singing along with the melody of the song. Gers, Smith, and Murray take their turns soloing while Harris lays the foundation of the song, taking us into another shift in rhythm, back to the slow paced crawl at the start of the song.

"To this day, I guess I'll never know, just why they let me go. But I'll never go dancing no more... 'till I dance with the dead..."

In the conclusion, our narrator finishes his enthralling story will a foreboding sense of doom for himself. He feels as if they could have kept him there just as easily as they caught him in the first place. And the experience has left him marked for life, so much so, that he knows that on the last day of his life, he will join the dance of death once again.

This song is an absolute thrill to listen to. It tells you a very exciting story and holds your attention with both sound and text, managing to transport your mind to a place where you've (probably... hopefully) never been. So many emotions are passed through the melody of the song. Fear, excitement, exhilaration, all of these in 8 minutes of a song that doesn't feel as long as that thanks to great storytelling.

Iron Maiden inspires me to write stories of my own. I hope you enjoyed reading while I gushed about one of my favorite bands of all time. If you feel like this is something you would enjoy listening to, there are sixteen albums to choose from, but my personal favorites are "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son", "Powerslave", and "Piece of Mind". "Seventh Son" is actually a whole album telling one overarching story. It is quite possibly the best Heavy Metal album ever written.

Thank you for reading, I look forward to telling you a story one of these days.