Author Topic: Old Habits Die Hard  (Read 3308 times)


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Old Habits Die Hard
« on: July 06, 2012, 02:38:55 AM »
This is less of a character story and more of a writing exercise.  I've been forcing myself to practice writing combat scenes, because they are deceptively difficult to pace.  So, not a lot of plot here.  Just people hitting things with sticks.  I still need more practice, but that doesn't mean I can't share a few here and there.  Enjoy.


Arla stood ready for battle.  In the half-elf’s right hand she brandished a cutlass shimmering with magical force.  Around her left hand, glowing runes of warding hovered in rotating patterns to form a sturdy barrier.  She wore her navy-blue, double-breasted, captain’s coat open so its long tails could easily fill with the whipping sea breeze.  Her free-flowing, golden-toned hair did much the same.  She felt invigorated, free and overjoyed to sate her swelling battle-lust.

Arla Shay intended to quit piracy and go straight.  She considered perhaps pursuing an academic career that utilized her arcane talents for more than simple combat.  The boat beneath her feet had been the beginning of that excursion and was bound for Neverwinter. 

That is until piracy caught up with her.

A dozen armed men poured from the adjacent vessel.  The smell of freshly burnt gunpowder accompanied the thundering boom of cannons.  Demands for unconditional surrender clashed with eager cries for blood.  The strangeness of standing on the defender’s deck did little to sway the familiar passions of seafaring combat.

The first pirate to engage her did so alone.  “Ye lassie finger-wigglers shoulda stayed down in the kitchen,” he scoffed.  He smelled easy prey in Arla.  His blade arced with clumsy power for her torso.

Arla thrust her open palm at the assault.  Lights and runes swirled like embers from a fire.  The approaching blade halted in mid fall.  All momentum failed it, leaving the assailant off balance and confused.  An agile spin by Arla brought two lightning-fast cuts through his abdomen.  Each was accompanied by an explosion of blue-flame which hurled the wounded man to the deck.

The call came out for spell support.  On the opposing ship, a tanned woman with dark hair and flowing, revealing garb answered that call with a cocky demeanor.  She leveled a brass rod with a dragon’s head and began to chant.

Divination magic augmented Arla’s sight.  She made use of that fact to watch the sorceress’s lips.  The incantation was startlingly familiar.

“Fireball!” Arla shouted at the top of her lungs.

Men dove for cover wherever it was available.  Arla too found some protection in the ship’s mast, but it would not suffice.  She searched inside of herself for the heart of the arcane power that saturated her being. 

Though these powers gave her great power, seemingly at will, her ability to truly channel them into discrete effects was untrained and very limited.  The power she sought and found was one of her three signature “mantles,” the Mantle of Resolve.

Words unfamiliar even to her rushed across her lips.  With a quick gesture of her free hand, a nimbus of motley-colored light enveloped her body.  Ethereal images of powerful blizzards, flickering embers and thundering storm clouds all intertwined into a swirling miasma of colors and shapes.  When the hostile blast of fire exploded over her, even the low roaring sound of it consuming the air around her seemed muffled and unthreatening. 

The mantle was consumed and a wave of painfully hot air threw her back against the deck.  Her skin felt tender to the touch.  The forceful impact left her gasping for air.  Still, she was alive, which was more than could be said of the blast’s other victims.

The sorceress became an immediate target.  Arrows flew at her in number.  She yawned playfully as they passed harmlessly through her.

Arla called upon her second mantle, the Mantle of Judgment.  She uttered another incantation and the intricate fabric of the Weave, the blanketing force behind all magic, became clear to her.  The sheer complexity of what she saw was an unbearable strain on her mind.  She had only seconds to follow it to its source.

The source of the illusion became clear only moments before the enchantment collapsed.  With the position fresh in her weary mind, she picked up a bow and arrow from a charred sailor.  Her arrow flew straight and with purpose.  Its head flickered with the same deadly, blue flames as her cutlass.  It then came to a sudden halt, answered by a shrill screech.  The sorceress’s shape appeared around the arrow and then collapsed lifelessly.

Fatigue began to wear on Arla, but her fight could not end yet.  Her crew was easily outnumbered, two to one.  One magical mantle remained to be channeled.  Now was an appropriate time to do so. 

The Mantle of Valor was not so much a spell to be cast as an outpouring of raw, magical might that consumed every inch of her mind, body and soul.  As its arcane bidding uttered autonomously from her lips, brilliant energy rippled across her body in wild, uncontained torrents.  Light shimmered in the wake of her movements as she picked up her cutlass.  What were formerly people and objects in her vision became little more than abstract opportunities for destruction, with only the vaguest boundaries defining friend and foe.  Contrary to popular sayings, discretion was not a part of the Mantle of Valor.

She closed on her first victim with unnatural speed.  He turned in time to be rent clean in half with a reckless, savage blow.  His blood-curdling scream turned startled heads at all ends of the ship.  The blood-splattered visage of the small half-elf woman evoked a supernatural feeling of dread.  In that moment of ship-wide hesitation, she lunged, shoulder-first, into the next pirate’s sternum.  He doubled over as all air escaped his chest.  She followed up with a wild haymaker to his jaw with her ward.  Bones shattered against the magical wall of force and the pirate tumbled over into the water.

Men retreated from Arla’s rampage.  She offered no quarter to any enemy.  Those who escaped did so only at the expense of slower allies.  Her skin turned blades.  Her swings hewed bone.  When the slaughter came to an end, the enemy ship was pulling away into the distance.  She remembered nothing of her victims beyond the overwhelming need to end them.  Every inch of her body ached at the slightest movement.

Her shipmates looked on in dismay.  Though she had saved many of their lives, each feared for his own fate in her presence.

When she could muster the strength, she answered their stares with an uneasy laugh.  “So, how ‘bout them pirates?” she asked awkwardly.

None replied.

“Tell you what,” she conceded.  “How about you just let me off at the next port?”

That arrangement seemed more than agreeable.


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Re: Old Habits Die Hard
« Reply #1 on: July 07, 2012, 01:42:59 AM »
Thoroughly entertaining!

-1 for too many commas.
+20 for proper use of discrete in a sentence.
"Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." -- Abraham Lincoln


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Re: Old Habits Die Hard
« Reply #2 on: July 07, 2012, 05:18:13 AM »
When will we be seeing you in paperbacks? 
"Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results"
Albert & Ben


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Re: Old Habits Die Hard
« Reply #3 on: July 07, 2012, 06:13:46 AM »
Just discovered discrete and discreet are different words. I always thought they were alternate spellings of the same word which had two meanings. Now my brain hurts. Thanks, Tsu.

Lovely story, Moffy. Except now I'm getting the itch to make a sorcerer/monk character.
Aristonike: The Master of Alchemy, they call him. He can even turn lead into gold, given time and the right materials.
Alec Stann: Yes, it's through an arcane process I like to call 'Selling the Lead'.


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Re: Old Habits Die Hard
« Reply #4 on: July 07, 2012, 08:54:18 PM »
*gasp!*  I left out some bait, and a wild Chyelle appeared!  Hies!

I don't know about paperback.  The Unabridged Adventures of Hawk and Pine is not looking like it will be making a release in time for Christmas.  Probably not any of the Christmases.  I'm still writing, but 99% of it stays locked away for myself.  Perhaps one day when I die, someone will release "The Complete Works of Moff: A Disjointed and Random Collection of Stuff We Found on His Hard Drive".  It will be awesome.  So long as they stay out of the red folder.

Tsunami knows well that my history with the comma has been sordid, passionate and scandalous.  In most cases, it's because I have a tendency to cough commas all over sentences, seemingly at random.  There are segmentations of thought in my head that I feel obligated to emphasize.  My unhealthy fondness for fluffy sentence structures paints the rest of the picture.  While careful usage can give an alluring texture to a page, moderation is something I am still mastering.  It comes out boldly in fast-paced scenes like this, where it can really fudge your pacing, especially if the reader has to reread sentences.  I'm practicing!

The word discrete finds itself at my desk from time to time, being in a computer field.  I was actually concerned it was something not used often enough in casual English or was too easily confused with discreet to fit there.  I like playing with different and fun words, but again, the faster-paced scenes aren't really the place to test the reader's language skills.

Arla Shay's design came about from a sort of frustration at the brick wall that exists between martial and arcane classes in the base D&D 3.x world.  Some feets and prestige classes patch it up, but the nature of how spells and BAB progress still make the two something of a cat-dog when combined.  All of the weaknesses, none of the benefits.  And NWN doesn't even offer those patch-works.  I played a wizard/monk for a while, and she was essentially unplayable.

In-game, Arla is barely, if at all, a caster.  She is dominantly Barbarian/Arcane Archer.  She is magical, but basically in theme and flavor only.  I asked myself what a sorcerer would be like, taking their lore and themes into account, if they weren't implemented as little more than wizard reskins.  No Mordenkainen's Magnificent Mansions, at very least.  Instead, I imagined a rough-edged, barely shaped, self-enveloping energy with a near-feral, spell-zerker flavor to it.
« Last Edit: July 07, 2012, 09:14:20 PM by machmoth »


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