People buy what they value

“I don’t have money leh. After 15th?”
“Ok.”

2 freaking dollars. They don’t have 2 freaking dollars.

Side note: The “leh” is an affectation of Singaporean English speech. It’s appended to most sentences as a sort of finishing element. By itself, it doesn’t mean anything.

Collecting money can be tough

I was tasked to collect mess fees from non-specialists in my unit. I was a lance corporal in the military. I was 20 years old.

In case you’re not familiar with military terms (I know I’m not…), the “mess” refers to the place where soldiers eat. Specialists refer to sergeants and above, until you hit officer ranks. For the purpose of this article, non-specialists are recruits (just joined), privates, lance corporals and corporals (ranked in that order).

I can’t remember why mess fees were needed, but I was to collect them from non-specialists (in my unit only). The specialists have their own specialists mess. The whole military compound had a food hall, which was free. Then there’s the non-specialists mess (which we hardly visit, but maybe other units frequent). Then there’s the specialists mess. And then there’s the 1 stall just outside my unit (the men in my unit preferred this than trekking all the way to the non-specialists mess).

Anyway, I was sort of favoured by the S4. I type bloody fast and he gave me paper documents which I was to transform into digital Word documents and save into a floppy disk. (Haha! Floppy disks! It was 1997.)

Yes, some of those documents were sensitive. No, I can’t remember anything. Torturing me will be a waste of your time. Have I mentioned it was 1997?

As a reference point, the S4 was the officer in charge of logistics and was one of the highest ranking officers in the compound. He had his own personal clerk. When his clerk left (the clerk finished his mandatory period of service), his duties were somehow passed on to me. One of those duties was to collect mess fees.

Coincidentally, I was the treasurer when I was in the Chinese Orchestra in secondary school. My advice? Do not be directly responsible for other people’s money if you can help it. I couldn’t sleep when I found the money I had on hand was different from what the record books said. I was about 15 years old. Good grief…

So. Recruits and privates were to pay $1, lance corporals to pay $2, and corporals to pay $3. The men were good-natured enough, but getting them to cough up money was a pain…

Why the 15th? Well, I was to get the money to the mess hall by the 10th of the month (I can’t remember the exact payment date. Let’s go with the 10th). After several months of failed attempts to submit on time, I managed to persuade the mess hall people to let me pay after 15th. This was because the army pays everybody on the 15th.

Granted, we weren’t paid a lot. It’s about a couple of hundred dollars a month, depending on your rank and length of service. $2 was maybe 1% or less of your military salary. But in absolute terms, $2 is nothing. The men typically spend more than that at the canteen every day.

Recession? What recession?

People pay for what they value. The men didn’t value the mess that much. Hence the reluctance to pay.

People still buy the latest iPhone, even though they still own a perfectly working previous version. People still go on vacations. People still go to expensive restaurants. The price isn’t the issue. If people value something enough to overcome the price, they’ll pay for it.

Here’s an interesting observation. I had little trouble with the recruits, privates and corporals. The recruits and privates were new to the military, and as a lance corporal *ahem* I was able to get them to pay up. The corporals were people who were going to the university after they finish their military service. They’d pay up so that I’m out of their hair or they don’t want my life to be miserable or whatever.

The lance corporals were from the hardier sides of Singapore. Polytechnic students or with lower education status.

Now I’m not saying the education status was the cause. I’m saying the attitude is different. The lance corporals were negotiating the terms. (My own rank was a different story. I was eventually promoted to a full corporal).

Once it was after the 15th, the men didn’t give me any more excuses. They’d just pay up. They weren’t trying to make my life difficult in the first place.

Success and failure business stories

I think people sometimes attach too much emotional importance to successes and failures, even with other people’s successes and failures. “I don’t want to hear about failure stories.” With the implicit suggestion that hearing about failures somehow attract failures into their lives. While true to some point, I feel for the most part, it borders on something called superstition.

So Andrew Warner of Mixergy started a series on interviewing founders and entrepreneurs about their failures. He already interviewed James Altucher and Scott Gerber. Andrew said his audience seemed to avoid or hate these types of interviews.

I don’t really have a distinct separate line dividing success and failure business stories. They’re just stories. “This happened, then that happened, then I learned something, then something failed epicly, then I learned something more, then something awesome happened, then I learned something…”

While there are general themes and lessons to be learned from success stories, there are also general themes and lessons to be learned (and mistakes to be avoided) from failure stories. I don’t propose that you will fail like those people in those interviews and stories. But there’s one important point that most people seem to forget.

You will never succeed in exactly the same way as those successful people either.

You read the success story of how Google became Google. You learn how Facebook started and became the social media giant it is now. You read a book on how Starbucks revolutionised the way coffee (a commodity) is consumed by people, and made it an experience.

When people say “that company will be the next Google”, they don’t mean literally that company will become the next Google. Because nobody else can be Google except Google. They mean that company having a similar success like Google.

And you will never have that particular success, because you will never have the kind of audience, products, problems, opportunities, founders at that particular point in time. That time has gone.

A failure story is more enlightening when it’s followed with a success story. An entrepreneur failed abysmally in one venture, and was left with practically nothing. Then he picked himself up and succeeded with another venture after that. What motivated him, drove him, gave him hope that he could still continue and succeed? That’s the real lesson.

From listening to the interviews of Y Combinator co-founders Paul Graham and Jessica Livingston, there are 3 qualities a startup’s founders have:

  • They’re smart
  • They’re determined
  • They can communicate with each other

From the way Y Combinator decide whether they should fund a startup, determination of the founders is the hardest quality to determine. How do you know if someone would be able to bounce back after a failure in just 10 minutes of a screening interview?

An entrepreneur with a failure-then-success story has shown that he’s capable of bouncing back. An entrepreneur with a success story just have a success. The latter can certainly still have worked hard for his success. I just respect the former more.

And I bring us back to unique successes because of the unique set of conditions of audience, products, problems and opportunities available to an entrepreneur or startup founders. I can’t remember where I heard this, nor the exact quote, but Bill Gates was giving a talk at a college. A student asked him what to do when starting a business or startup. Bill Gates said,

Oh for goodness sakes, don’t do what I did. That money’s already made by me.

6 weeks in a startup

I looked up the word “startup”. It means “fledgling company” or something to that effect. However, in our current times, the word “startup” has been mostly associated with high technology companies founded by college students who’ve yet to see their 25th year. In fact, Jessica Livingston (a co-founder of Y Combinator) said in a Mixergy interview that there was only 1 non-tech startup that they’ve funded (out of the 200+ startups at the point of interview).

So I worked at a startup before. It’s very different from the stories I’ve read. Ok, this was near the end of 2004. I think web apps were just starting to gain traction then.

Why I left my comfy corporate job

It was near the end of my contract (contracts were renewed on a yearly basis). Although I was told I had a high chance of being re-hired, I had other plans. I edited Unix shell scripts, fixed data corruption errors, created Crystal Reports objects and basically used Microsoft Excel more than I used Visual Studio.

I wanted to use C# but my team was deeply entrenched with VB.NET (mainly because the front end guys were more comfortable with VB.NET). My manager forgot my name when he introduced the team members to the users at a meeting. My manager also said anyone can do programming. (My manager eventually remembered my name, but it was a very long and awkward 3 seconds).

So I found a job listing at a startup. It promised the use of C# and “extreme programming“. I didn’t know what the latter was, but man did it sound awesome! I went for the interview, was told that I had to do lots of regular expressions, and I got the job. I was paid less there, but I thought it was worth it. I planned a holiday to New Zealand, and the new job would start the Monday just after I came back to Singapore.

If you’re interested, you can read about my trip here: Day 0, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9. The highlight was day 8, where I was broke and hungry in a foreign country. I took meticulous notes on my trip…

Now the story you’re about the read was taken from my memory, so the details will be fuzzy. But the chronological order is about correct…

Week 1

So I started my first day at the startup the very next day after I came back home from the New Zealand trip. I was refreshed and ready to start. And my first mistake happened way before I went for my holiday trip. At the interview, when asked what I saw myself in 5 years time (ever asked this question?), I said I’d be the team leader of a group of programmers.

And the founder (there was only one) gave me managerial tasks. I was to handle the administrative work and equipment. My first task was to fix the printer. I kid you not.

A bit of background at this point. The founder was a professor at National University of Singapore. He had a PhD in astrophysics if I recall, and degrees/PhDs in other disciplines. The startup work place was near the NUS campus. It was a small room, barely big enough for 4 people and their computer desks. If I understood it correctly, there was Employee #1 (E#1) and his wife, Employee #2. They were both Chinese from China. I bring up their nationality because they would do something later that might make sense if you knew this information now.

The product of the startup was a software program to search, collect and sort patents. It was a Windows executable program written in C#. I believe E#1 had worked on this for a couple of months already (at least). His wife handled the graphics, such as icons and images. And I was Employee #3. The founder also had 4 interns helping out in his other projects (not the startup), but the interns used any available room to do their work. I would also miss the interns tremendously because they made my life more bearable (see later).

Sometime in the middle of the week, Employee #4 arrived. I was still handling paperwork for the interns, for the startup, for E#4 and yes, fixing the printer.

The new computers for me and E#4 arrived. I was in charge of installing necessary software and basically getting the computers up to speed.

Week 2

The founder took me and E#4 to attend a lecture he was giving about patents. The 3 biggest websites for patents were United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), European Patent Office and the Japan Patent Office. I learned that the software we’re creating would, how should I put this, scrape the search results from these patent office websites.

What would happen if the HTML results from these patent office websites changed? I don’t know. Maybe the regex was robust enough to handle those changes.

And never mind Google’s patent search. We didn’t know anything back then. Google might have crushed the product already. I haven’t checked the product website, and frankly, I don’t care.

Where was I?

Did you know that a man filed for a patent about swinging a swing sideways? This meant that legally, you couldn’t invent anything that involved (in part or in full) a sideways swinging action on a swing. I learned about the patent language and phrasing such that you encompass the biggest range of parameters in your patent filing document. This is so that even though others can learn about your technique or invention (that’s the point of patents), they couldn’t replicate your results within the legal patent period (of 15 years I think). I also learned that Nintendo filed a lot of patents involving graphics rendering.

Still didn’t get to do coding. Still didn’t do regex. Did you know I studied up on regular expressions prior to my New Zealand trip? I bought a programming book on C# (with a chapter dedicated to regex). I wanted to be prepared.

I finally fixed that (dang) printer. I now moved to documenting the startup’s assets. You know computers and the like. E#1 and E#4 worked on the software product.

1 of the interns completed his internship at the end of the week. I could feel my life turning for the worse…

Week 3

I finally got to look at the code, and I was to document it. During my job interview, I was asked if I had done documentation before. Well, I’ve written parts of software specifications before. And I’ve tried my hand at this XML documentation (the triple slash of C#). I said yes. Well, I was then given the task of documenting the product, because E#1 was too busy cranking out code that nobody except him knew what the software code was doing. E#4 was to help me.

The interns were fun to hang out with. Lunch was my only reprieve, since they were fun people to have lunch with (and work with). They completed their internship that week. My life turned to hell.

Week 4

The founder found out that the product could be decompiled into source code. It’s written in C# on the .NET Framework. The founder was livid with rage. He threatened to sue Microsoft. He’s going to have words with Bill Gates.

I calmly suggested that we could use one of those code obfuscators out there. E#4 seconded that opinion. E#1 said nothing. I would have thought that after months of working on this, the founder (or even E#1) would have known about this.

E#4 also gave his 2 weeks notice. He found another job, while working in this job barely a month in. The founder was not happy. The founder said E#4 could leave at the end of the week.

The founder also told E#1 and me to come up with technical questions to ask in an interview. E#1 was especially proud of a question where the solution was to use a form (object) to call another form to do some task. He was pleased that I didn’t know how to answer his question. I didn’t give a damn.

Week 5

Without the interns, I dreaded having lunch with just E#1 and E#4. E#1 was aloof and haughty and kept to himself. I didn’t know how to communicate with him, especially since he had trouble speaking English, so I spoke with him only in Chinese whenever possible. E#4 was, well… bearable.

Now with the interns gone, and E#4 gone, I decided to have lunch alone. Eating alone was much more preferable than eating with E#1.

I still didn’t get to do any regex work. It turned out that the founder got a PhD student of his to help him with much of the regex already. That part was already embedded in the software, so I didn’t have to do anything.

I also got to see E#2 (wife of E#1) again. She came down to work on creating some icons. She only appeared when graphics work needed to be done.

Now I finally got to work on some new code. The framework was especially bad, if you could call it a framework. The database backend was a Microsoft Access file. And any time a new version or some core database table was changed, the template Access database had to be changed. The problem was how to push out the changes.

Since the product was a Windows executable, the Access database was bundled with it. If there was a version change, how would we push the core database file out to the customer, without damaging any search results the customer had done? I didn’t know how E#1 had designed something like this…

My fondest memory was database query functions. A typical function took 2 arguments: a string containing comma-delimited column names, and a string containing the where clause. I thought this was extremely inflexible. What if we needed return columns that weren’t just the column names? What if we needed a different sort-by clause (it was hardcoded in the function)? What if we didn’t need a where clause?

There were many overloaded functions.

E#1 also had this habit of sloshing water in his mouth. He would sip from his cup, and then swirl the water around in his mouth, making a gargle without the opening-mouth part. Every time I hear it, I had the impending thought he would spit the water out.

E#1 also called me a 4-eyed toad (in Chinese). That’s because I wore glasses. 2 eyes from me, and 2 “eyes” from the pair of glasses. It’s a common nickname used to tease anyone wearing glasses… when you’re 8 years old that is…

The founder wasn’t in the office most of the time, so I spent all my time cooped up with E#1 and E#2.

Here’s a side story. When I was getting a science degree in NUS (where the startup was situated nearby), I used to go to National University Hospital. The hospital was near my faculty, so I would go to the canteen and have food there (because it’s quieter and had less people than university canteens. No student really go there, just hospital staff and doctors and patients). Sometimes, I would go wander the halls of the hospital. You know, because I was an undergraduate, and was curious. I found the experience interesting and exciting and strangely calming.

Well, now I would have lunch alone, then go to the hospital (it’s still nearby) and wander the halls a bit. Just to recapture some of the calm feeling. I remembered there was this vending machine where I would buy a cup of hot chocolate. I would drink that, sigh deeply, and then go back to the small startup office. With E#1 there. The (memory of the) hot chocolate was the only thing that kept me sane during the afternoon.

The founder must have felt something because he called me in at the end of the week. He told me he could sense my unhappiness with working there. Now at this point, I want to tell you that even though I was unhappy, I didn’t think of quitting. The founder told me he’s ok if I wanted to leave.

“Are you letting me go?” I asked.
“Yes.”

It’s a nice way of saying I was fired.

The founder also said that E#1 (and E#2) would be moving to Canada (Vancouver I believe) permanently in a couple of weeks time. He had also hired another programmer. This programmer was supposed to be much better. I mean, if E#1 was moving to Canada, that meant the source of my unhappiness (or mostly the source of) would be gone. So what the founder meant was, this new programmer would be better than E#1 AND ME! To rub salt into the wound, I was told that this new programmer would be paid more (than me).

The following week would be my last week.

Week 6

My last week at the startup would be to do as much documentation as possible. Have I mentioned that E#1 had no documentation at all? This would make it easier for E#5 (the new, higher-paid and better programmer) to get into the groove. E#1 and E#2 would still help in a remote manner from Canada.

I made sure the assets were correctly labelled. I made sure that those administrative tasks handled by me were completed (and documented). I shredded pieces of paper with confidential information (and at that point, useless. I was told to shred them by the founder! I wasn’t doing anything sneaky). I wrote documentation for the software product. I might have written a procedure for getting the printer to work. I’m not sure.

On my last day, I made sure I completely wiped all traces of me and my information from the computer I was using. First, it was polite to do so. Second, and most importantly, I didn’t want anyone there to have any information about me (email addresses and such) after I left. And I mean anyone.

For some reason, as Employee #3, I was given one of the only 2 sets of keys to the office. E#1 used to be the one holding it. The other set was kept by the founder. This meant I was always the first person to arrive at the office. Otherwise, no one could get in. I returned those keys to the founder.

That Friday, that last work day of mine, was 24 December 2004. It was Christmas eve. The founder invited me to go to a Christmas party he was holding at his place the next day. I declined.

I stayed half an hour past my working hours to make sure I’ve done all that I could. Then I bade farewell to the founder and E#1.

I walked out of the office, and went downstairs (it was on the second floor of a small building). I thought sadly back to the day when the interns didn’t show up anymore. And felt alive once more after 3 weeks.

Do you have a story to share?

Have you worked at a startup before? Or heard interesting stories about startups? Let me know in the comments. I truly want to believe my story is not the norm.

Developer Stories

Paparazzi red carpet

I must be getting famous. I was contacted by a social media marketing manager at M80. His company is working with Microsoft to promote Visual Studio 2010. Ok, I think I’ve fulfilled the necessary disclosure requirements. And no, I don’t get anything out of this. And I doubt I’m really that famous, but give me a few seconds to savour my short-lived fame anyway.

Microsoft wants to get feedback, and I believe it doesn’t have to be about Visual Studio 2010 (or Visual Studio at all). They’ve created a YouTube channel called Developer Stories. And they want to know why you are a developer.

If you’re a video kind of person, please go ahead and upload a video of you telling your story. Forget about your biases and opinions about the companies involved. I believe a polymath programmer should be above that. If nothing else, I want to hear your story too.

Since I’ll stutter in front of a video camera, and thank goodness I don’t have one (which is just an excuse, since my bedroom is a lousy backdrop), I’ll have to tell you my story in blog post format.

Once upon a time…

Actually, I stumbled upon programming. Sure I joined the computer club when I was in junior college (about 17 or 18 years old), but I didn’t understand the point of all the arcane Pascal lines of code. When I got into university, I didn’t have the credits (nor background) for the computer science track. So I took up applied mathematics as a major, and computational science as a minor.

In my first semester of my freshman year, I took C programming (which was a requirement for the computational science minor). Variables, assignments, loops, algorithms. It was fun. I also couldn’t understand why some of my classmates had difficulty wrapping their heads around what I perceived as simple ideas. They couldn’t understand some programming concepts, and they had some trouble understanding how to apply and change and break down a problem into programmable, solvable parts. I mean, you calculate something, add it to a temporary variable, go to next iteration, calculate with different input, add to temporary variable, go to next iteration until done. That’s summation. What’s so hard?

It was then that I realised that some people just weren’t made for programming. I’m not saying I’m a genius at it. I may just have a knack for breaking down problems so a programmatic solution is possible. That’s what programming is, not the lines of code and algorithms and what-not. Well, I was good enough at it that I decided to upgrade my computational science minor to a major.

Programming is about solving problems

What’s so special about computational science? And what’s the difference between it and computer science? I’m not sure. Computational science is more about solving (scientific) problems using programming, rather than the programming itself. I’ll leave you to compare that with your understanding of what’s computer science.

And what do I mean by solving problems using programming? I drew Sierpinski triangles. I used Newton-Raphson method to find roots. I solved a gigantic set of 100 equations with a 100 by 100 matrix. And most of the problems were based in science or mathematics.

So my background is about breaking down problems and translating that into programmable parts. I didn’t learn about software development cycles, software management practices and all those complicated stuff. I was trained in the solving problems, not the meta stuff around it. I’m not saying those complicated stuff aren’t useful. Just be aware of what you’re doing.

Here’s a suggestion. Learn about your business processes and work flow. What does your company do? What does your company sell? Which industry? Because your value as a software developer goes up exponentially if you can solve a business problem, not that clever obfuscated one-liner of yours.

Don’t just be a programmer. Be a problem solver.

So after I graduated, even with a math background, I went for a software development career. I like solving problems, and programming is one method. This guy just about sums it up:

So that’s a summary of why I’m a software developer. And now for some free advertisement for Visual Studio. I like C# and Visual Studio. Probably because of my C background. There’s Intellisense, a well documented library of the .NET Framework’s functions, and… it feels “clean”. I’m not sure how to explain that to you. I’m a simple man. I don’t need a lot of what is called developer productivity tools. Maybe I haven’t a problem to solve that requires them.

[update]
And I only have the Visual Studio Express version, not the paid one (but I bought VS2005 way back if that counts). The professional version’s a little steep in price, you know, considering my recent foray into entrepreneurship.

So what’s your story? Tell me in a comment, a blog post, or a video response.

[image by Ad Hatcher. Videos taken from Developer Stories YouTube channel]

Carcerian Stones – Wands of chrome

We’re continuing the D&D adventure story. Previously, our adventurers defeated some giant ants, was nearly skewered by a javelin trap, and successfully retrieved an ancient tome. We have Ryan the human DM, Dan playing Toth the goliath warden, James playing Heoriss the eladrin invoker, Ian playing Iofae the eladrin sorcerer, and Klenn playing Phileas the half-elf bard. And now…

*****

Dan: “offer a drop of sacrifice”…
Ian: Does it mean blood?
James: Alright, use mine. All of you were injured badly. I barely got nicked.

Heoriss borrowed Phileas’ dagger and made a small cut on his palm. He returned the dagger and…

James: What do I do? Put my hand on the wall?

placed his bloody hand on the wall.

Ryan: Ok everyone, roll Perception for me.

“Something glowed in your hand.” said Iofae.
“What?” Heoriss held up his hands. And saw the crystal-clear compass now tinged with red.
“Does it hurt?”
“No.”

“Guys, something’s happening…” Phileas called out.

The wall started to slide to the left, revealing a long dark passageway, a torch burning warmly at the end. A faint outline of a black canine stood under the torch, and then loped to the left and disappeared.

“The shadow wolf!” cried Toth, and he gave chase.
“Wait!” Phileas called.

The rest of the party ran after Toth and the wall shut behind them. Iofae held out his still glowing sunrod and lit the passageway. It was narrow, barely able to fit 2 people standing shoulder to shoulder. And the air was musty.

Heoriss banged on the wall behind them, trying to find a way to open it. Phileas chased after Toth, reaching him just at the torch at the end of the passage. The walls were cold to the touch of Iofae’s hands as he examined the stone patterns under the light of the sunrod.

“Hey, there’s some writing here!” Phileas pointed to under the torch.

“If you want to go home, just strike a wand of chrome” it said. And on the right wall, there was an opening, with a stack of silvery sticks.

Dan: That sounds lame.
Ryan: I know. But do you want to go home or not? *grin*

“Let’s see what this does” said Phileas. And he struck a wand of chrome against the wall. And then he vanished.
“Where did he go?” Heoriss looked around.

They heard some noises from the other side of the wall that trapped them.

“I’m outside!” they heard the muffled cry of Phileas. So all of them went to get a wand and teleport out to join their bard friend.

Klenn: So that’s how it works.
Ian: So do we want to continue? Or do we return the tome first?
James: Maybe we should return the tome, and get some rest. That passage doesn’t look very friendly to me.
Dan: Sounds good to me. Hey can we sell these wands?
Ryan: Oh, they’re gone. Once used, they disappear back into that wall crevice.
Dan: Darn…

The party returned to Havenswerd and gave the ancient tome to Arofell. The happy wizard ran his fingers over the old pages as he flipped gently.

“Uh, Mr Arofell?” Phileas asked.
“Hmm, yes?”
“About this dagger…” Phileas took out the murder weapon.
“Oh, I suppose I owe you some answers. Let me take a look at that.” He turned the dagger around, and stared at the strange rune on the hilt. “That’s the symbol of an artistic group called ‘Songs of Grace’. They’re quite popular in Havenswerd.”

“Wait. Are you telling me I’m framed by a bunch of musicians?”
“Perhaps your bardic performances were getting on their nerves…”
“But murder?!?”

“Ok, so can you tell us anything about the black wolf?” Toth ignored Phileas’ indignant cries.
“Oh, that. Vand told me about it. The history records only told of a foul wolf-like creature prowling some 2 decades ago. For a few years, strange stories of people mysteriously vanishing abound, and there were sightings of the beast at night, particularly during full moons. Then the beast simply disappeared.”

“About the Jorv babies?” Heoriss inquired.
“I only know the beast appeared at the same time as when a pair of twins were delivered to Jorv from the abbey.” The wizard’s eyes widened. “Are you…”

Heoriss and Iofae eyed each other. “Perhaps…”

“There was a secret tunnel in the room where we found your tome.” Phileas asked, having recovered from his anger. “Do you know anything about that?”
“No.” Arofell furrowed his eyebrows. “This tome was written in a set of 3. Perhaps the other 2 are also found in the cave. Can you venture further in, chart the dungeon, and search for the other 2 tomes?”

Dan: Alright, we’re going back in.
James: One more thing…

“Do you know what this is?” Heoriss showed the compass to Arofell.
“That allows the wielder to move freely around the battlefield. It actually relies on the wielder’s blood. The more the wielder is injured, the more times it can be used. That’s actually a lost artifact. You found it in the cave?”

A cry sounded from outside Arofell’s room. Phileas ran towards the door, opened it and looked out. He saw a flurry of wizard’s robes disappearing up the stairs.

Ian: Questin!
Klenn: He was eavesdropping!

to be continued…

*****

P.S. I created that compass as a custom magic item. I call it, the “Compass of Retributive Teleportation”. For every point of health lost by the wielder, the compass gains a point stored, up to a maximum of 100 points. The wielder can use the stored points, deducting points equal to his healing surge value, and he can teleport a number of squares equal to his speed as a minor action. Oh, and it serves as a compass. *smile*

It might take too long for me to explain those terms if you’re not a D&D player. Do some research if you’re curious. Perhaps I’ll find a way to explain them over the future story posts. And if you are a D&D player, you have my permission to use that in your game.

Carcerian Stones – Retrieving an ancient tome

We’re continuing the D&D adventure story. Previously, we found our adventurers doing some crime scene investigation, were out of money, and located the wizard Arofell. We have Ryan the human DM, Dan playing Toth the goliath warden, James playing Heoriss the eladrin invoker, Ian playing Iofae the eladrin sorcerer, and Klenn playing Phileas the half-elf bard. And now…

*****

“Mr Arofell?” Phileas tried again, raising his voice a bit louder this time.
“Wha?” The man woke with a start. And a shrieking wail blasted from his hands.

Everyone covered their ears.

“Oh, you’re not Questin.” The ear-piercing shrieks stopped.
“Who’s Questin?” Toth asked.
“Oh, one of my colleagues who don’t really like me, and he’s been bothering me lately.” Arofell stammered. “Anyway, who are you?”

“We’re actually looking for you. The head monk at the abbey told us about you.” Heoriss replied.
“That would be Vand. A bit stiff, but I like him.”
“Do you know anything about a pair of babies being brought to Jorv, and some planar convergence that happened at the abbey?”
“Do you know anything about a foul black wolf-like creature?” Toth added.
“Do you know anything about this gold dagger?” Phileas showed the dagger from his accused murder scene.
“Do you have any quests for us?” Iofae asked.

James: Oh right, we need experience and money badly.
Klenn: Nearly forgot about our cash situation.

“Woah, woah, woah! Hang on a second! You don’t barge into someone’s lab and start barraging him with questions! Why should I help you?”
“Well, are you in need of assistance? We could help you cross the road?” Iofae suggested.

Ryan: Huh?

“We could help you cross your lawn?” Iofae continued.

Ryan: What?!
Dan: *snickering*
James: Oh… *muffled laughter*

“We could… help you cross your door?” Iofae faltered.

Ryan: Alright, what’s going on?
Klenn: I believe those are lines from the movie “Up”. Or at least of similar sentence structure.
Ryan: Ian!
Ian: Well… do you have anything we can help with? Other than crossing stuff.

“Well, I do have one small task I need done. Some days ago, a group of adventurers returned from an underground cave a couple of miles to the north west. They were lamenting the lack of any treasure. But one thing caught my attention. A book was mentioned. It was an ancient tome, set in the centre of the inner-most room they ventured in. They didn’t take it, because they didn’t know its value. But I do!”

“I want you to help me retrieve it. If you do that, I might be willing to help you with answering those questions…”
“Do we get to keep any treasure if we find them? Not that there are any left, since the adventurers probably cleaned them out…” Heoriss asked.
“I only need the tome. You can keep everything else. Don’t lose hope. Those adventurers aren’t the brightest men I’ve seen… They might have overlooked places…”

James: Alright! Treasure!
Klenn: So we go to the underground cave?
Ian: We need his help. We need money. We need experience. That cave’s gonna give us all that. Yeah, I think our next course of action is decided.
Dan: So we just trudge towards the cave now? *narrowing his eyes at Ryan* Any more skill challenges?

Ryan: Nope. And at this point, I wanna tell you that I’m upgrading all of you to 2nd level.
Dan: Why?
Ryan: To make up for whatever disadvantages you had. Like lack of cash. Whatever storyline I had in mind is already introduced, so you should have more stuff to play with. Besides, I want to keep the story moving. I can’t throw interesting stuff at you if you keep plodding at low levels. And we’ll stop for the night. I’m tired…

The underground cave

Dan: Alright, the cave’s next.
Ian: Feels like the Cave of Wonders in Kingdom Hearts.
James: Yeah, like “I wonder why there’s no treasure in this cave.”
Ian and Klenn: *laugh*
Ryan: Ok, you’re all just outside the cave. What are you going to do?

The party moved into the cave. It was pitch black, so Iofae struck a sunrod against the wall, and it cast enough light to let them see where they were going. There were some scuttling sounds ahead of them, and they stopped. And a pale insect emerged from view. And it’s the size of a man.

[some time later…]

James: I hate giant ants!
Dan: Ok, there’s a treasure chest beside the exit. Let’s open that.
Ian: No, wait!
Ryan: Too late.

As Toth stepped onto the granite tile in front of the treasure chest, a click sounded from the far left. The huge goliath barely dodged the javelin as he jerked himself back.

Ian: That’s why there are skeletal remains on the right of the treasure chest. They were the adventurers who weren’t careful. The javelin’s probably poisoned. But I wonder how the trap resets itself?

As the party stood around Toth, relieved that he was fine, the javelin started moving back. There was a thin wire attached to the end of the javelin, and there was a mechanical sound at its opening.

Ian: Oh a self-reeling javelin. Klenn, can I borrow your sword?

Iofae moved swiftly before the javelin was fully recoiled back into the wall, and severed the wire with quick slashes from his dagger and Phileas’ longsword.

Ryan: Impressive. The trap’s disarmed for good.
Dan: Now can we open the stupid treasure chest?

[some time later…]

After the party dealt with a few goblins, a run-in with some skeletons and a nasty mummy, they reached an open room with a dais in the centre. A wooden stand was lying on its side and a book laid close by.

James: Probably knocked over by the previous adventurers. Let me go check it out.

While Toth went looking for hidden rooms, Phileas retrieved the ancient tome and examined the book together with Iofae. Heoriss noticed something glinting at the bottom of the wooden stand, and found a curious object.

It was small and cylindrical in shape, fitting snugly into the palm of his hands. It was made of a material that’s complete transparent, maybe from some precious stone, judging from its weight. A thin gold line extended from the centre of a circular face to its circumference. There was also a similar line, silver in colour. As Heoriss examined it, the silver line rotated this way and that.

“I think it’s a compass.” stated Iofae.

James: *rolls d20 against Arcana*

“And magical!” Heoriss hissed.
“You keep that then.”

“Hey guys, there’s some writing over here!” bellowed Toth.

On the wall in front of Toth, was a short sentence written in flowing script. “To enter, offer a drop of sacrifice.” it read.

to be continued…

*****
P.S. The wizard Arofell was using what’s known as “Ghost Sound”, a wizard cantrip in D&D.

Carcerian Stones – Where is this Arofell fella?

We’re continuing the D&D adventure story. Previously, we found our adventurers at the gates of Havenswerd, and the bard declared he’s a criminal in the city. We have Ryan the human DM, Dan playing Toth the goliath warden, James playing Heoriss the eladrin invoker, Ian playing Iofae the eladrin sorcerer, and Klenn playing Phileas the half-elf bard. And now…

Wait, there’s also a puzzle hidden in the story. And now…

*****

Ryan: Havenswerd is a big city. You’ll need some know-how to navigate the streets.
Dan: You’re throwing a skill challenge at us?
Ryan: 3 separate ones, in fact. One for shopping, one for the tavern investigation, and one for our bard reaching his friend.
Dan: But it’s just shopping!
Ryan: *shrugs* It’s a street maze. You’ll have to find the shops first.

Ian: How good are we at Streetwise? I have a 4.
James: I’m at ground zero.
Dan: I’m below ground zero… Negative 1! Never thought Streetwise to be useful…

Ian: Alright, we’ll have to swap then. My brother will still go to the tavern. Dan, you go with him. He might need help. And I’ll go shopping. Do I need a list of what they’re buying first? *looking at Ryan*
Ryan: No. You just need to find a shop first. I’ll let you buy for them then, even if these guys aren’t around.

Dan: Wait a minute. So we’re split into 3 groups with individual skill challenges?
Ryan: That’s right.
Dan: That’s not the way to do it.
Ryan: Well, you’re the one who split the party. Besides, it’s different.
Klenn: I think it’s fun, and saves time. So how do we do this?

Phileas gave the party some directions on how to reach the tavern. Through his friend, he’ll contact the party once he’s safe.

Ryan: Hold on a second. Uh, Klenn, you mind telling me who this trusted friend of yours is?
Klenn: Oh, he’s a thief lord, of some sorts. His name is Logan.
James: *shocked* You’re consorting with scoundrels?
Klenn: Let’s just say my character has… flexible morals.
Dan: *pounding on table* AHAHAHA! That’s a good one!

It was late afternoon, and though there’s still light, Phileas didn’t want to wait outside Havenswerd for night to fall (what with the wolves and all). He moved briskly along the side of the walls and disappeared into the shadows of the residential houses. The rest of the party will be split in 2. Iofae will attempt to navigate the streets to find the shops for purchasing much needed equipment. Toth and Heoriss will go to the tavern, retrieve Phileas’ belongings if they’re still there, and gather clues about the murder.

Ryan: So, which group wants to start first?
Klenn: Me. What am I to do?
Ryan: You’re trying to sneak around to reach your friend, so roll for Stealth first, then for Streetwise.
Klenn: *rolls d20*

Phileas reached his thief lord friend.

Klenn: Yes!
Ian: My turn. Streetwise huh? *rolls d20*

Iofae got lost in the maze of identically-looking streets.

Ian: Sorry guys… Now what?
Ryan: Hmm… Roll for Perception.

But he did notice a man slinking suspiciously into an alley. Iofae, lacking any other direction, decided to follow him. At the end of the alley, there was a door. But the man had disappeared.

Ian: I open the door.
Ryan: It’s locked.
Ian: I’m so glad I took this. I have Thievery. I try to pick the lock.
Ryan: Go ahead.

The locked door opened with a soft click. It was dark inside. Iofae moved in further and was stopped by the feeling of a sharp point propped against his neck. “Move any closer, and I’ll slit you.”

Torches lit up, and Iofae saw the man he was following holding a dagger to his neck. There was a group of men further in. He also saw Phileas among them.

Klenn: I am?
Ryan: Ian unwittingly stumbled into your friend’s hideout.
Ian: Oh cool!
Ryan: And you can get help with the shopping from these new friends. And now we turn to our CSI team here…

Medieval alley
[image by jewhyte]

Toth and Heoriss reached the tavern. They decided to go around to the back, where Phileas jumped off, instead of asking the good lady tavern keeper.

Dan: 2nd floor, right? Ok, I’ll heft you up.
James: I’ve got a better idea.

Heoriss blurred, and reappeared at the 2nd floor.

Dan: Bloody eladrins and their teleportations. *smile* Ok, I’ll climb up.
Ryan: Roll for Athletics.
Dan: *rolls d20* Yes!
Ryan: Now roll for Stealth.
Dan: What? Why?
Ryan: Because you’re trying to be quiet.

Toth managed to climb quietly up to the 2nd floor of the tavern, and entered what used to be Phileas’ room through the open window. The dead body was already removed, and there were signs of cleaning up, though there’s still a reddish stain on the floor.

Ian: Blood is notoriously hard to remove…
James: Ok, we search the room for Phileas’ belongings and any clues to the murder.
Ryan: Perception check.
James: *rolls d20* Alright, 20! That’s 29 total.

Heoriss finds a pouch with some money, a flute, and a long sword with some runes on it, hidden away in a corner behind a small cupboard. He also noticed a golden dagger jutting from the ceiling, stuck in a wooden beam.

James: Ok, you’re up.
Dan: Alright. Can I reach the ceiling, or do I have to jump?
Ryan: The ceiling’s low enough for you to reach with a small jump. To simplify things, I’ll just let you pass with the jump.

Toth looked at the golden dagger in his hands. A strange symbol is engraved at the hilt, but both of them didn’t recognise it. They heard someone coming up the stairs, and the voice of a woman saying, “I’ll be right back!”. They decided they’ve gotten what they could find, and left the room in the same manner they came in.

When they were on ground level again, they heard a psst. A shabbily dressed man, a beggar most probably, was looking at them. “Hey. You Toth and Hayoris? Pheeleeus sent me.” They followed the beggar, and reached the thief lord, Logan’s hideout. And the party was reunited.

It’s night time, but somehow, Logan managed to get their stuff bought.

James: We suck. We seriously need some cash. And quick.
Dan: Hear hear.
Ian: There’s not a lot we can buy. Hey, what about this Arofell wizard? We need quests. He seems like the kind of person who gives quests.
Klenn: Yeah. He’s at the Wizards Guild, right? Can we go to this Wizards Guild?
Ryan: So it’s decided? You’re going to Wizards Guild to look for Arofell?
Dan: Yup.
Ryan: You wanna do it at night?
Dan: Oh…

The Wizards Guild

The next morning, the party left to look for the Wizards Guild. Logan got Phileas a disguise, so the half-elf could move around the city.

Dan: Do we need a Streetwise check?
Ryan: *smile* Nope.

Logan also sent one of his underlings to guide the party to the Wizards Guild. It was mid morning by the time they reached the guild. The small guild “office” had a clerk, and the party asked him where could they find Arofell.

“Oh it’s my first day here. Perhaps you could ask the wizards back there. There’s a building behind this one that acts as their labs.”

They went around to the back and saw a 3-storey high building. They counted 1, 2, … 7 doors on each storey. A wizard or two hung around in the courtyard, and apprentices scurried back and forth.

“That nincompoop! I would sooner burn myself to death than to share the same floor as that useless excuse of a wizard!”
“Oh don’t mind him. He doesn’t like Arofell very much, so he moved to the top floor.”

“Who? Arofell? My master sent me to deliver a message to him once. I think his door was odd-numbered.”
“So what’s his floor?” Toth asked. But the apprentice had scurried away.

“Pardon me? You’ll have to speak louder, young man. I can’t hear you.” A wizened face was straining his eyes to look at the party.
“DO YOU KNOW WHERE TO FIND AROFELL?” Heoriss shouted.
“I’ve been on the ground floor for many years, and I’ve never known this Arofell wizard.”

“I only know all the wizards take larger numbers as their door numbers. Well, except for the one at the top floor, who took number 1. He always insult me whenever I pass a message to him, that arrogant, self-important piece of … Uh, you wouldn’t tell anyone about what I just said, would you?”

“Well, I do know the corner rooms of the 2nd floor aren’t taken.”
“How do you know that?” Iofae asked.
“Because, I uhm…” The young man was blushing furiously.
“Ahh, a tryst?” Phileas offered.
The young man blushed even more.
“If I work hard for a few years, I’ll be able to marry her, and get ourselves a house.”

James: Any more clues?
Ryan: That’s it.
Dan: Alright, math genius, this is your kind of thing.
Ian: Hmm… it’s elementary, my dear Watson.

The party deduced the correct room of Arofell, and entered the room. In it, they found piles and piles of paper and books. The candle on the desk had long ceased burning. A large book lay open on the desk, and a man, perhaps in his mid-forties, was snoring on top of it.

“Mr Arofell?” Phileas asked.

to be continued…

*****
P.S. Skill challenges are non-combat encounters. There’s a difficulty class (DC) for the appropriate skill and situation. For example, to pass a DC 16 for Athletics, you need to roll a d20. If the result plus your Athletics score (plus any other modifiers) is equal to or greater than 16, then you pass.

Update: I changed the sword of Phileas in the tavern from a magical short sword to a magical long sword. Yes, I know it sounds like innuendo. I just need him to deal a bit more damage, even if it’s all in my mind. … Alright, stop leering. You’re creeping me out…

Carcerian Stones – The Surprise Slip

We’re continuing the D&D adventure story. Previously, our adventurers evaded a large pack of wolves, rested at an abbey, and all had the same dream. We have Ryan the human DM, Dan playing Toth the goliath warden, James playing Heoriss the eladrin invoker, Ian playing Iofae the eladrin sorcerer, and Klenn playing Phileas the half-elf bard. And now…

*****

Ryan: All of you wake up in the morning, all having had the same dream. A monk led each of you to a small dining room to break fast.
Ian: So we know that we all had the same dream?
Ryan: Well, the dream is a strange one. Wouldn’t one of you be likely to talk about it?
James: So who do you think the man in blue robes is?
Ryan: *cough*
James: Oh. Right.

“So who do you think the man in blue robes is?” asked Heoriss.
“Who cares! My master was killed. I have to go back to the cottage.” grunted Toth.
“And we should tell our father about what happened.” said Iofae.

James: Wait, we have a father!?
Ian: Didn’t you read the background story Ryan gave us?
James: Sorry…

“I shall accompany you. We can proceed to Havenswerd after all the necessary affairs had been taken care off.” said Phileas with a musical lilt.

Dan: I can practically hear the thee’s and thou’s spilling out of your mouth…
Klenn: *smile*
Ryan: It is at this point that I have to give you these. *hands out a slip of paper to each of them* Note that you can tell the others as much, or as little about the information as you want.
Dan: *reading his slip* Now you tell me there’s cool stuff at the cottage…
James and Ian: We’re the babies in the dream?!?!
Klenn: Aw man, this is tough… you’re giving me a hard part to play…

Dan: Ok, it’s decided. We’ll go back to the cottage, then to the village to say good bye to the twin’s father. Then we proceed to that big town.
Ian: It’s Havenswerd.
Dan: Whatever. Do we get any treasures yet? I wanna buy stuff. Wait, will there be battles back to the cottage and the village?
Ryan: *shrugs* Who knows? It’s broad daylight though. You might wanna hurry before night falls…

The party bids farewell to the monks. That is, Phileas bids farewell on behalf of the party. Then all of them left for Mathea’s cottage. Travelling on the road made the journey easier and faster. When they arrived at the wrecked cottage, they found…

Dan: Cool! A magic axe! Anything else?
Ryan: I’m trying to pace the adventure… Aren’t you supposed to be crying over the loss of your master or something?

At the village, the twins found their father and told him about the night’s adventure. For some reason, the old eladrin wasn’t surprised. He told them of the strange evening some 20 years ago when 2 monks appeared with both of them at his door. The eladrin went to his room and gave them…

James: Money! We’ll split between the 2 of us *gesturing to Ian*
Dan: Hey no fair!
Ian: You got a magic item. Besides, I think Ryan has more planned for all of us. We just have to fight a bunch more wolves and skeletons to get them. You’re awfully quiet. *looking at Klenn*
Klenn: This *waving his slip* is giving me problems.
Ian: What does it say?
Klenn: You’ll find out soon. I’m preparing the backstory for it now.
Ian: Secrets? Well, I’ve got something from the slip that’s secret too.
James: Mine says that blue dude is Corellon. And that’s where my powers come from.
Ryan: Aaannnd it’s about late afternoon. What do you want to do now?

The party ran like heck (their words) towards the abbey. They asked for the hospitality of the monks again. Iofae asked the head monk if they knew of the babies sent to the village Jorv. The head monk nodded, “That’s all I know. My god tells me just what I needed. You’ll have to find out more yourself.”.

“My condolences to you for the loss of Mathea. He was a good man.” said the head monk.
“Do you know anything about the creature that attacked him?” asked Toth.
“From your description, I can only say it’s a foul beast, probably from another realm. I’ve never known anything like it. Perhaps Arofell can tell you more.”
“Where can I find this Arofell fella?”
“Havenswerd, at the Wizards Guild.”

Dan: Alright, people, we’re going to Havenswerd.
James: First thing in the morning. I’m not going out there with wolves prowling in the night.

The next morning, the party left for Havenswerd. This time, all of them thanked the monks for their hospitality. The skies were blue, the air was fresh, and no hint of danger exists. Soon, they arrived at the gates of Havenswerd.

Klenn: Uh, guys…

“I have something I need to tell you.” said Phileas. “I’m sort of a criminal in Havenswerd.”

James: What?!?
Dan: Seriously?

“It’s a bit of a misunderstanding, of course. I was performing at a tavern, and after my performance, I went back to my room, and lo and behold, there was a dead man on the floor!”

“It was also most unfortunate that the tavern keeper came up to ask if I needed anything. And she saw the unmoving person lying down, a bloody patch on the white of his shirt.”

“It was also most unfortunate that the dead man was the son of a wealthy merchant prince in the city.”

Ian: Your slip of paper has so many details?
Klenn: I made them up. I was only told I was accused of something, and I’m free to decide whether I was rightfully or wrongfully accused. I’m innocent of course *smile*. I was also told I’m free to come up with whatever accusations and circumstances that led to the situation.
Ryan: That was beyond whatever I could imagine. I was thinking maybe some minor theft or something.

“Now what do we do? Do you know the murderer?” asked Toth.

“No. And I intend to find out. I fled the scene, after the good lady screamed bloody ‘Murderer! Murderer!’ all the way down to the tavern common place. I heard shouting from below, and knew I didn’t have much time. I leapt out of the window, jumped down onto the pavement, and ran. I heard footsteps behind me and increased my pace.”

“Just when I was running out of alleys to duck into, a tall man dressed in blue robes, beckoned me in his direction. He didn’t have any weapons on him, and seemed harmless. He pointed behind him and just said, ‘That way! There’s a rope ladder and you can climb it to get over the wall and out of the city. Quick!'”

“I gave my pursuers the slip and escaped. And I decided to find some place quiet. And journeyed to Jorv. And now, I’m back.”

Dan: Stop grinning, Ryan.
Ian: That was amazing.
James: Now what?

“I never found out who that man in blue robes was. But from our dreams, I’m guessing they’re the same person. That happened a few nights ago. I’d like to ask you to help me get my belongings back from the tavern, and perhaps gain some clues to the mystery. I have a friend in Havenswerd that I trust. I will stay at his place.”

Dan: Ok, I’ll go shopping. You two *pointing at the twins* help our bard here get his stuff back. And you *pointing at Klenn*, … *laugh*

to be continued…

*****
P.S. Corellon is the god of magic, music and the arts in Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition.

Carcerian Stones – The one with blue robes

We’re continuing the D&D adventure story. Previously, the party found themselves surrounded by skeletons. We have Ryan the human DM, Dan playing Toth the goliath warden, James playing Heoriss the eladrin invoker, Ian playing Iofae the eladrin sorcerer, and Klenn playing Phileas the half-elf bard. And now…

*****

Clanking softly, a skeleton clad in chainmail closed in on Toth, slashing with its sword. Another skeleton swung its sword on Phileas, while its brethren rained arrows on Heoriss and Iofae.

“Feel the light!” shouted Heoriss. The air blurred around him, and he vanished… into the midst of the archer skeletons. A column of pure white light burst from Heoriss. As the light enveloped the skeletons, lightning was already dancing on Iofae’s hands. 3 of the archers fell as dust, and Iofae pointed at the remaining archer. Lightning danced from his hands to the archer, disintegrating it, and danced again to the skeleton attacking Phileas.

Phileas moved around to shield Iofae, and swiped at the skeleton’s neck, dislodging its skull in the process.

Dan: How come I always get the hard ones?
James: Because you’re the defender. Now go defend us!

Toth swung his greataxe at the chainmail skeleton, staggering it. The skeleton seemed unaffected by the blow, and swung its sword upwards at Toth and nicked his arm. A beam of light, a crackling of lightning, and a well-timed sword thrust, and the skeleton collapsed.

The giant form of Mathea flew out from the cottage door, and he hit the ground with a groan. The wolf creature stood at the door, black drops of blood dripping. Mathea pointed at it, and vines burst from the ground to wrap around the creature’s feet. It howled, and black tendrils wrapped around Mathea, slowly engulfing him, and he disappeared. The creature stood still, staring at the party for a while. Then it lifted its maw and howled again, and it too disappeared in tendrils of black.

“Mathea!” Toth knelt at where the great goliath laid before he disappeared. The baying of wolves sounded in the distance. “We have to move now. I don’t think the creature’s done with us yet.” Phileas placed his hands on Toth’s shoulders.

“We can’t go back to the village.” Heoriss looked at Iofae. “The creature already found us there.”

“You came from Havenswerd, didn’t you?” Iofae asked Phileas. “We can go there.”

“And there’s an abbey along the way. We can seek shelter there for the night. Come on, Toth!”

The party moved quickly, staying in the trees to avoid detection, but close to the road. The road was clear, but they didn’t want to try outrunning the wolves on flat ground without any cover. Several times, shadowy forms sprinted ahead of them. The howling was getting louder.

“Why aren’t they attacking?” panted Phileas.
“They’re waiting for the entire pack!” Toth shouted. “Keep running!”

“Get away from my brother!” Heoriss blasted lightning at a vicious canine closing in.
“And get away from mine too!” Iofae cracked lightning at another wolf behind them.

“There’s the abbey! On the road!” Phileas sprinted left, and the rest followed.

4 figures shot out from the edge of the forest, running straight for a simple structured building across a well-travelled road. As they did, a swarm of wolves emerged from the forest as well, barking and howling. Toth reached the other side of the road, turned around and hefted his greataxe. The others fled past him.

Ian: Wait, what are you doing?
Dan: Role playing. *winked at Ryan*
James: Cool, a last stand! I’m in.
Dan: Besides, Ryan’s not gonna let us die like this. Something’s gonna happen. I wanna see what it is.
Ryan: *sigh* Busted… Not giving it to you so easily though.

A particularly savage wolf lunged at Toth. Another snapped at Iofae. “To battle!” as Phileas struck back. Toth rammed his attacker towards the other wolf, and it burst into flame as Iofae backed away.

“What did I tell you about keeping away from my brother?” Heoriss flew shards of solid light towards the wolves. One of the wolves howled in pain as the flames consumed it. The other continued to snap at Toth. Toth brought his greataxe down on the wolf and fell it. As another 3 wolves entered the fray.

Dan: Any time now…
Ryan: *laughing* ok, fine…

A sonorous hymn was heard. A group of 5 humans, dressed in plain white robes, moved towards the party, their voices slow and steady. The advancing wolves had stopped in their tracks, swaying gently in the grasp of the song. “Come with me,” said the closest of them.

Dan: That was some “You shall not pass” moment…
Klenn: I say we take it. I’m all out of powers.

“The wolves will be of no further trouble to you. For now, simply rest.” And he showed them into the abbey, and provided rooms for them to sleep.

Ian: That was tough. I was about to use my daily power.
James: Yeah, me too.
Ian: Thing is, I don’t know what mine’ll do. It’s random.
Ryan: Well, I’m not quite done yet.
James and Ian: WHAT!
Ryan: Nothing to worry about. It’s story time.

That night, all of them had the same dream. It was the abbey, the same one they’re staying at. The sky darkened, and the grass field around the abbey blurred, and tall trees of bright green stood around the abbey. The leaves swayed wildly as they’re buffeted by the wind. Above the abbey, the clouds opened up and shimmering waters floated. Upside down.

A tall man emerged from among the trees, his blue robes staying still without so much as a ruffle. As he marvelled at the scene, a small part of the shimmering waters closed up, and a dark vortex swirled, threatening to suck everything up.

A black orb dropped from the vortex onto the ground, and a creature with four legs stood. It looked curiously at the tall man, and then it loped away. His eyebrows creased ever so slightly. Then he looked around him one more time, and held his hands out in front of him.

Misty particles floated between his hands, formed by a trickle of the glowing water above. Leaves flying in the wind formed a circular wall around the man. The light in his hands grew brighter and brighter. And then it was gone.

And the man held two babies in his arms. His eyebrows creased ever so slightly again. “Odd.” he said.

to be continued… here.