Fanfic journal: Bright Future, chapter “Orb’ilythiiri”

Read “Orb’ilythiiri” here.

Chapter Summary

Jorlan had seen driders, of course. They were used as a minatory example for the students of all schools of Tier Breche, not just Sorcere. Standing at the edge of the drider pits, no one said — but he was meant to know — this is what happens when you fuck up so hard that a priestess thinks death is too kind.

And Jorlan had truly, fatally fucked up.

Chapter Front Notes

This chapter has some important content warnings: parasitism, body horror, and our old friend implied/referenced sexual assault. Basically, if you don’t want to know my headcanon about how a drider is made, I’d skip this one, or read between your fingers. This is a dark one, friends.

That said, this chapter also stands well on its own, so if you have never read Bright Future before, this is a decent place to start, as it references events mostly outside the timeline of the main story.

Chapter End Notes

I have always hated the portmanteau “drider,” which is why I use here… well, a Drow portmanteau of “orbb,” spider, and “Ilythiiri,” drow. It’s illogical, but it sounds better to my ear.

The lore has gone back and forth on whether or not becoming a drider is a reward or a punishment. As always, I’m most familiar with 2e, where it is most definitely a punishment. I tried to split the difference by implying that both are possible — it’s just the degree of torment involved, and your relevant standing in drow society afterwards. If Lolth can wave her spidery hand and make you a drider, I imagine it will be a relatively painless process, and you will have a place of honor, as a temple guard or teacher at Arach-Tinilith. (One imagines most of these driders are female).

But if it’s a punishment, it’s a gruesome parasitic process that robs you of some of your will, and you’ll basically spend the rest of your wretched life doing the work of a slave, thrown into battle as cannon fodder, and used as breeding stock (if you’re “lucky” enough to have genetics that the Lolthites want; let’s not forget the drow are rampant eugenicists, too).

(Does this imply drider fucking? I’ll leave that to your own imagination, ya perv, but I was thinking something more clinical, like artificial insemination).

I am inspired here by cordyceps fungus, which is famous for parasitizing the bodies and brains of insects, causing them to display risky behavior, and eventually bursting through the insect’s head, spreading their spores and killing the host. The word I chose for the fungus, shanaal’karliik, means “goblet-headed” according to the fan dictionary, which is a nod to the fact that “cordyceps” is Latin for “club-headed.”

If that sounds similar to the Zuggtmoy stuff in RAW… well, it probably took inspiration from the same thing.

I worry I went too far in the direction of misery porn and extravagant evil in this chapter, which I have so often derided in the canon writings about the drow. But as my friend Alice says: “we like our misery porn and extravagant evil, just in moderation.” It’s basically the worst thing the drow do to each other, and so I think it’s realistic to imagine it’s a horrible process — but also fairly rare. It also needs to be something that evoked such horror in Jorlan that he blocked it out until now, as one does with trauma.

I spent a looooong time on the Forgotten Realms wiki trying to figure out the tangle of House Mizzrym — made more challenging that I haven’t read the War of the Spider Queen books, or any books where they are prominent. We know from OotA that Miz’ri Mizzrym is still matron of the house in 1484; we’ll assume this is the same Miz’ri who was also matron in the 1370s, and thus who was the mother of Pharaun, Greyanna, and Sabal, who are all now dead. RAS apparently mentioned a “Sabbal” as first priestess in 1484 in Night of the Hunter, but… is that just a typo? Did he forget/not know that Richard Lee Byers killed off Sabal? Did Miz’ri have two daughters that she named “Sabal” and “Sabbal”? Is 1484 Miz’ri a different Miz’ri? Who knows!

Tl;dr Ilvara can be first priestess because the lore is vague and inconsistent and it suits my need to torment my boy.

Anything about Quenthel’s age is a guess. Heck, we don’t even know Jarlaxle’s age precisely, and he’s arguably the second most famous drow in Faerun.

Keeping with my headcanon of “drow as the ultimate in guess culture,” there’s SO MUCH that is implied and not stated here — both about drow canon, and about Jorlan’s history. I’m pretty proud of how it turned out, but definitely ask if you have questions about any of it.

Fanfic journal: Bright Future, chapter “Ilindith”

Read “Ilindith” here.

Chapter Summary

The secret to the prophecy is: do not lose hope. Mavash and companions seek six feathers from six petrified angels, and unearth a terrible prophecy in the bargain.

Chapter Front Notes

I am skipping ahead quite a bit in the timeline here, to get to the stuff that a) I remember the most, or recorded the most of, and b) is most personally meaningful. That means I’m skipping the Vast Oblivium and much of the Labyrinth. Our intrepid heroes now have two of the components for Vizeran’s ritual — a purple worm egg and the central eye stalk of a beholder — and are on their way to find the third.

There is definitely some fun stuff I’m missing, and maybe I’ll go back and fill it in eventually. Or maybe it will simply remain in flashbacks! Gods know I love my flashbacks.

Quick content warning: mention of animal suffering.

Chapter End Notes

  • You originally meet Yuk-yuk and Spiderbait, the goblin guides, when they offer to guide you through the Silken Path at the beginning of the adventure. DM Nixon had them come back as our guides to the Labyrinth, which I thought was a nice callback.
  • “A letter written in uncertainty” is a line I stole from my favoritest in-universe book in The Elder Scrolls, The 36 Lessons of Vivec. Let this be your regular reminder that the drow are only my second favorite murder elves; the Dunmer still are number one.
  • “What language does a child speak if no one speaks any language to it?” is a real question that Renaissance scholars asked, and if I recall correctly, the answer is child abuse. (Also I added this in because I needed an in-universe reason why Umbra doesn’t speak Drow. Because Drow isn’t an actual language your PC can learn in 5e, don’t-even-get-me-started).
  • The gnoll event is from the Spiral of the Horned King chapter in RAW. In actual play, it was an interesting conflict between Gaulir’s lawful good and Mavash’s chaotic good, and was a character-defining moment for all concerned. There’s not really enough there to build a chapter around, but I wanted to include it somehow. Relevant Twitter thread.
  • The final line is from the Emily Dickinson poem of the same name.
  • The title of the chapter, ilindith, means “aim, goal, or hoped-for end” in Drow. I was looking for a word that meant “hope” (the noun), but that word is — perhaps understandably — lacking in Drow! I debated mightily between this and some permutation of kyorl (to wait). After all, in some languages, like Spanish, “hope” and “wait” are the same verb. I also considered a compound word like kyor’lindith, but do we really need more Drow compound words with apostrophes? We do not.
  • While the prophecy was all our DM’s invention, this chapter of the adventure otherwise played out pretty close to RAW!
  • The side story “Small Sacrifices” — which outlines Jorlan and Ambergris’ plan re: the prophecy — takes place immediately after this one. Hopefully it makes a lot more sense after reading this one.

Fanfic journal: Bright Future, chapter “Oloth”

Somehow I never posted this?

Read “Oloth” here.

Chapter Summary

“The Widower.” The man made a throttled chuckle. “A consort who outlives his mistress outlives his welcome. And you’ve done it… how many times now?”

Mavash and companions try to skirt around the troglodyte lair, but find prisoners, ropers, and a head-chopping sword. Jorlan makes a difficult choice, which forces him to consider his less-than-savory past.

Chapter End Notes

The way this played out in session, there wasn’t anything remarkable about the drow in the oubliette. But I wanted to up the stakes here a bit, because otherwise exploring the troglodyte cavern is pretty boring. I used it to bring up a plot thread from later on in the adventure, when a Certain Someone ™ implies that Jorlan has a Reputation ™ for outliving his lovers, who all die in Perfectly Innocent Ways ™.

The attack by the ropers and piercers is true to RAW, but I forgot most of the details of how it played out — except for Mavash blinding poor Jorlan and Hanne with Sunburst. It was a similar case when we met the troglodyte chieftain — I know we got a sword out of it, but I don’t recall how. But I was tired of writing fight scenes, so we get Umbra pulling an Indiana Jones.

The end of this chapter echoes a flashback in “Siltrin,” which I am probably going to remove in favor of this version. As I said in those author’s notes, Oloth tlu malla is meant to be a +2 longsword as written, but that’s not very interesting.

Mavash pretending to be the spirit of Oloth tlu malla is also true to the actual session 🙂

I’ve finally read enough of the newer Drizzt books to realize… my Ambergris (well, DM Nixon’s) is hella different from how she is written in the books. But given how abysmally she is portrayed in Timeless (still not over that, grrr), I am a-okay with this! If this has been bothering you, just imagine she is a totally different character with the same name? Because she basically is.

Also I refuse to have my dwarves sound like a walking plate of haggis.

Vendui’, vel’uss lil vith phuul dos? means roughly, “excuse me, who the fuck are you?” This is Lux’s favorite way to greet enemies — this was, in fact, how they greeted Jorlan, since they had not been in Velkynvelve with the rest of us and had no idea who he was. It became a tradition after that.

Do accents and pronunciation exist in telepathic communication? Who knows! Creative license!

Incidentally, I’m not sure if I’m going to write the scene in the purple worm nursery, since you do see the important bits through Jorlan’s POV in “Siltrin.” To be completionist I would, from Mavash’s POV. But at the same time, my memories of the campaign are fading, and I haven’t yet reached the portions where I took detailed notes. We may be skipping right from here to the Gallery of Angels, in the interest of getting to the Important Stuff.

I mean, of course, noodles.

Letter to the Seventh Church

This is a letter my Pathfinder character Kivran wrote to her mother, a high-ranking paladin of Iomedae in the Seventh Church in Absalom –basically informing the clergy of her crisis of faith (and also hey, Mom, I joined the Edgewatch).

This resulted in her being summoned to the Church for a “come to Jesus Iomedae” chat with one of the ranking deacons, so: mission accomplished.

I was rather proud of it, so I thought I’d post it here. I was going for an overly formal and somewhat melodramatic tone, and I think I nailed it.

Very minor spoilers for Agents of Edgewatch.

Enjoy!


To Knight-Faithful Ameredine Sulla, greetings.

In accordance with the rules of the Seventh Church, I, Kivran Sulla, knight-acolyte of the Tempering Hall, write to inform you of my whereabouts and intentions.

When I left the Tempering Hall some six months ago, my course was yet unclear. Unlike many in the service of our Lady of Valor, I felt no need prove myself in battle, and I was unsure where my talents might be best put to use. Indeed, my time in close contact with the faithful left me with more doubts than I had when I began my initiation. These doubts I shared with the spiritual counsel of the Tempering Hall, but their words did not put me entirely at ease. I believed I would need to seek wisdom from Iomedae’s own hand at work in the world.

For some months I have been serving in one of the units of the Absalom guard — one whose name I will not speak, but suffice it to say, it is very close at hand to the Seventh Church, and yet in spirit vast eons apart. It has been eye-opening, and has given me an levelness of view towards the faithful of all gods and goddesses, not merely the Inheritor’s own. It will perhaps surprise you to learn that other faiths have as much to teach about how one lives with truth and honor as the Seventh Church itself does.

I soon felt I had grown beyond the walls of the Ascendant Court, however, and when the opportunity to join the Edgewatch presented itself, I jumped at it. Where better to learn about the gods of Golarion and their faithful than at the Radiant Festival?

Four days I have served the Edgewatch with the same fidelity and honor that I showed in my studies at the Tempering Hall. To be quite honest, it has tried me — perhaps further tempered me.

I am sure you will find the sordid details of the affair in Mr. Vancaskerkin’s tabloids, so I will omit them here. But the mere words of a reporter cannot reflect the change written on my heart.

While Iomedae’s justice may be sublime in the living world, what I have come to understand is that her blade does not penetrate the veil of death. For some time I have asked myself: what is honorable, when all crumbles before us? What is loyalty, when our own bodies betray us in the end? What does it mean to rule, when even kings die? What does it matter that serf does not bow before his lord, when his life is mere days compared to the eternity he will spend beneath the earth?

I found no answers, because those were not questions Iomedae could answer. That question is for Pharasma alone, who rules the vast dry land beyond the grave.

And the answer I have received is this: a good and honorable death may be more important than a good and honorable life. 

Did you know? The streets of the Precipice Quarter are built upon the bones of our ancestors. One day my fellow agents and I came across some workers who were battling skeletons — walking corpses, animated by fury. What made them so furious, so desperate, in death? Did they perhaps die without faith in one of the gods of our land? I entered the hole they emerged from, and learned the sad and simple truth. They had been interred alive, due to some terrible accident — a cave-in, a locked door, some shoddy construction, I don’t know.

I could see how they would have lived their last days, close enough to the surface to see light streaming down on them through a grate, but too far to call for help. How must that have felt? How that must have rent their souls, the divine cruelty of it all!

Of course they were furious. Of course they were desperate. They had been abandoned by their gods. I felt sorrow and revulsion in equal parts — sorrow for the mortals they had been and the dreams that had died with them, and revulsion at the twisted abominations they had become. I burned with rage to think how they had been denied Pharasma’s judgment at the last — how even in death they were not at peace.

I felt a duty to end their suffering, to put them to rest. To give them the mercy they had been denied.

Indeed, I have taken an oath to this effect — one many of our temple take, to put the undead to rest. But I suspect my reasons are different.

The Pharasmin priests of the Precipice Quarter have been very accommodating, and have been teaching me their rituals of rest. Despite the hardship of the past four days, and the terrible things I have seen, I have felt peace in my heart from this small power the Lady of Graves has granted me to make the world right.

Perhaps I have found where my talents are best put to use.

This letter has gotten very long, so in summary:

I am well — stronger than ever, and my heart is light. You may write me care of Edgewatch Station in the Precipice Quarter. I will serve both Iomedae’s judgment and Pharasma’s mercy, as best as I know how and as long as I live. 

Your sister in faith and your obedient daughter,
Knight-Acolyte Kivran Sulla


Photo by Nicolas Brigante on Unsplash

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future, chapter 13

Read chapter 13 (“Jaluk d’quellar”) here.

Chapter Summary

On the search for the purple worm egg, Mavash and her companions find a troglodyte lair. Jorlan tries to counsel Mavash against trying to save everyone. (Good luck with that).

Chapter End Notes

On my first pass, I honestly didn’t have many end notes for this. I was very tired when I was adding it to AO3, and thus my motivation was low. But then I wrote a little bit about my writing process on Twitter and used this chapter as an example. Lo and behold, I do have stuff to say!

A thread about POV and narrative distance, and how I occasionally remember how to write.

Also worth noting: jaluk d’quellar is a word I cobbled together from the sad excuse for a Drow conlang we have. Jaluk means “male”; qu’ellar means “noble house,” and they’re tied together by the word del, which is “of”, and which is often shortened to de or d’.

I took out the apostrophe in qu’ellar because it seems to be a convention to do so when you stick together multiple words with apostrophes (see: el’lar and qu’ellar. Also just… there is a limit on how many apostrophes I want to stick in a sentence, and jaluk d’qu’ellar hit that limit for me.

(What do apostrophes mean in Drow, anyway? Sometimes they seem to mark a shortening of words, as in English, but other times they’re just… there. Are they a glottal stop? A stress marking? All questions a linguist would have asking in building a consistent conlang, but we don’t have that here. Alas).

Speaking of language conventions, it seems to be a tradition when writing about elves to use “male” and “female” as nouns, instead of “man” or “woman.” Presumably this is because “man” and “woman” have a specifically human connotation. (I think of the Elder Scrolls, with the contrast of “men and mer”).

“Venturing the Uncharted,” a fantastic Baldur’s Gate 2/D&D fanfic I read recently, brought this convention to my attention, and made me think about why I only sometimes follow this convention.

Quite frankly, using “male” and “female” as nouns makes me uncomfortable. It always reminds me of creepy MRA and incel types using “females” as a pejorative; it also equates gender with sex, which I don’t like to do.

Tl;dr, I don’t always do this, and I can’t promise I will start, so please just imagine it’s an infelicity of translation.

By the way, if you haven’t read it yet, I’d like to point you to my essay On making the drow less problematic. I have Opinions on this, as someone who’s been a murder elf fancier since 2e.


In completion of Words in May, day 29.

Words in May, Day 3

Today’s work: I started a new chapter of Bright Future. This one will cover the troglodyte lair in the Wormwrithings, and how mah boi acquired the sword Oloth tlu malla — an event I allude to in the chapter “Siltrin.”

It’s been a while since I played through this part of the campaign, so I am definitely backfilling and embellishing where it seems fun.

Apparently toilet humor seems fun today.

Here’s a snippet:

Hanne had grown more enthusiastic during their travel through the worm tunnels, taking it upon herself to serve as a sort of tour guide. There were the marks left by others of the Dark Hunters on their way towards this tunnel; here the way was lit by nightlight fungus, and did they know that? (They did). She even stopped to point out a pile of worm scat that might be searched through for diamonds. (Mavash declined).

Lux turned with a goofy smile to Jorlan. “I wonder if you were revivified with a poop diamond.”

“Don’t worry, Jorlan, Gaulir’s diamonds are certified poop-free.” Mavash elbowed him in the ribs as she passed him in the tunnel; he had stopped, looking thoughtfully back at the pile of scat Hanne had pointed out. “That juice is definitely not worth the squeeze, as we say on the surface.”

Jorlan returned his attention to the group with a scowl. “Thank you for that delightful mental image. No, I was just wondering…” He glanced over his shoulder again, looking like someone was about to put a knife in his back. “Hanne, how long ago would you say that worm passed through here?”

The young hunter was busy scoring the wall of the tunnel with a blade — her own trail of breadcrumbs, Mavash figured. “Ten days, maybe? But this is an old tunnel.”

Jorlan adjusted his pack on his back and fell into line behind Mavash. “Suppose one of these worms came barreling down the tunnels while we were in it…”

Hanne turned back, her lips twisting in a mischievous look. “Suppose it didn’t.”

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future, chapter 12

Read chapter 12 (“Abban”) here.

(Yes, I’ve already had a chapter 12. That damn chapter “Siltrin” is still a bit ahead of this. So this is the new chapter 12. For now. Just go with it).

Chapter Summary

Mavash and company enter the Wormwrithings on the hunt for a purple worm egg. When they meet another exile of the drow, Jorlan is tasked with easing some of her cultural suspiciousness — and maybe his own, in the bargain.

Chapter End Notes

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Since my last chapter, we actually finished our campaign. Let me assure you, it was a satisfying ending to the campaign, and it brought tears to my eyes. But… I still miss Mavash and Jorlan <3

Random notes:

  • “Abban” is the Drow word for “ally” or “not-enemy.”
  • When I began writing this fic, I did not realize that 5e darkvision is not the same as the infravision of 2e — it’s only intended as low-light vision. I’m not sure why it’s not infravision any more; so many aspects of drow culture only make sense if they can see into the heat spectrum. So my final call is that my drow (and all elves, really) have infravision. Please excuse any inconsistencies on this account.
  • Huh, looking up this chapter in the adventure, I realize that Zhora and Hanne are not supposed to be Eilistraeean renegades, as written. I definitely think this makes it more interesting!

(Written for Words in May, day two)

Words in May

Lately I haven’t been devoting enough time to my writing — things like:

  • Blog posts
  • Queries to agents for Lioness
  • Fanfic — I still have a ways to go to finish Bright Future, and right now I hella miss Mavash and Jorlan.

I’ve been devoting a lot of time lately to TTRPGs, which is fun, but I also know if I continue to do NOTHING BUT TTRPGS, I will burn out quickly. (Because that is how the Lise do).

So. For accountability’s sake, I’m writing it here:

I will be writing Some Words every day in May — specifically, on the three things above.

I will show my work here. Maybe not daily, depending on how things go, but I’ll let you know. And no, writing daily updates on my progress does not itself count as progress 😉

I will not neglect my TTRPG games entirely — I’ll still go to my Pathfinder and D&D games, I’ll finish the one-shot I’m running for my work colleagues, and I may be picking up my Curse of Strahd game again soon (?) — but I’m not going to take on any new commitments.

Expect to hear from me again soon!

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 9

Read chapter 9 (“Dalninil”) here.

Chapter Summary

Mavash’s premonition comes true, but the heroes are prepared. Jorlan is (maybe?) still full of secrets.

Chapter End Notes

Mavash is using ogham for divination, the “language of trees” of neo-pagan druidry. I drew the interpretation of the runes from John Michael Greer’s The Druidry Handbook. Basically I was like, hmm, what would you draw if you wanted to get the message of “prepare Earthbind, dumbass?”

The plant Mavash describes as a stand-in for heather is a little bit of both mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) and sheep laurel (K. angustifolia).

(Also I came up with the divination as a way to explain DM Nixon giving us a long rest before fighting the dracolich, and thus the opportunity to plan out our spells).

Also worth noting: in actual play, that fight with the dracolich suuuuuucked for Mavash. I spent most of the fight either a) positioning myself, b) being Frightened, or c) on the ground. I never did succeed at casting Earthbind; it’s a STR check, and unsurprisingly dragons are STRONK.

But that doesn’t make for a very compelling story, does it?

(Jorlan did totally show up to put a potion down Mavash’s throat, though. I blame DM Nixon for the phrase “gentle fingers”)

Pretty sure that in RAW there’s not a dracolich and an illithilich waiting for you at the Tower of Araj. And Grinna is intended to be Grin, male apprentice to Vizeran.

… man, have we really never seen Mavash cast spells before? Anyway, druids being druids, I imagine the verbal and somatic components of their spells are all very individual; there’s no “magic word” that Mavash has to say to cast them, but she does have to say something personally meaningful.

(Also I totally imagine “words against fear” being the Bene Gesserit “fear is the mind killer” thing).

“Dalninil,” from the fan dictionary, means “sister.”

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 8

Read chapter 8 (“Zhaunil”) here.

Chapter Summary

“Show us,” she said, closing her eyes, “how the Lords of the Abyss came to the Underdark.”

In which the heroes learn what they need from the Gravenhollow.

Or: in which Mavash has premonitions, Jorlan is forced to be astonishingly candid, and Vizeran is an arch-bitch about Gromph Baenre.

Chapter End Notes

Quite some time has passed since this session, and my notes were shoddy, so I fabricated more here than I usually do for our sessions. While it didn’t happen precisely like this, I can assure you that Jorlan’s moment of candor is true to the actual session.

Zhaunil is the Drow word for “knowledge.”