Monday, June 27, 2022

A quick update

So this past week I actually made it back into the office and I was generally, mostly, fairly productive. And with the exception of a bit of scheduling weirdness this morning, I expect that to be the case this week too. We're awfully close to the go-live date for the Big Software Changeover at work, and I expect to have to navigate a bunch of last-minute changes this week and next, as people do the final bits of testing and/or look and realize that, yeah, they're actually going to have to use this thing. 

Meanwhile, we're dealing with the fact the Secondborn effectively disassembled his own bed by throwing it the heck out and replacing it with a loft bed instead... which shouldn't be that complicated, in theory. In actual fucking reality it requires rearranging his room, which involves quite a bit of sorting and cleaning and... yeah. It's a project. It's a project that will get done, but it's not a project that got done this past weekend, despite the bones of the loft bed cluttering up the floor of his room. There's just too much stuff that needs to get pulled out, cleaned and/or sorted, and put back in place first. 

And we're all still recovering from COVID, or at least Beautiful Wife and I are. It takes us a while to gear up to do things; frequently, we need to stop and rest after doing them. That thing we used to do when we were younger and not recovering from a plague, where we'd just push through and then collapse after? Not really viable anymore. Plus, from everything I've read, the best way to avoid Long Covid at this point is to really take the time to recover, and not push ourselves We're doing the best we can at that, despite the fact that it's neither of our first instincts. 

On the writing project, I've gone back and expanded the opening. The story is being told in the third person, and while I have a sort of primary protagonist the story itself is going to rotate between three point-of-view characters. (If you're curious about why I would do that or how that dynamic would work, take a look at the first three Jason Bourne movies -- yes, he's the title character, but what the other characters are doing and how they're reacting fills in the background and context that makes the whole thing make sense.) Once I figured that out, I realized that I couldn't stick with my original opening or approach; there needed to be more going on there. Which there will be, and hopefully all of it contributing to the story. 

So... that brings us to Song #7 in our writing playlist, one which I know I've put on the blog before: Mono Inc, with Children of the Dark. 

Friday, June 24, 2022

Paladins: The Vampire Paladin

Salya staggered back, blinking, then shook her head. "Not good enough. You're both going to die now, and my master will reward me."

Tarric glanced down at the sunburst on her armor. "Helios won't approve of this." 

"Helios!" spat Salya, and threw herself at Werendril, who slipped aside and turned her blade away with a deft gesture. Tarric stepped forward and sank his blade into her ribs, backing the blow with a burst of holy power. 

Werendil stepped back and put a foot on Tanovir's shoulder. He paused there, and a moment later the human paladin stirred. Lay on Feet, Tarric thought. Why didn't I think of that? "Heal yourself, paladin of Helios," said Werendril quietly. "Your friend is trying to kill us, and we need you."

"No!" cried Salya. She turned on Tarric, but he managed to keep her sword at bay and took only a slight cut across his forearm. That was going to be a problem -- he was losing blood from arm and shoulder alike now -- but she hadn't taken him out of the fight. 

Tanovir staggered to his feet, reclaiming his sword and shaking his head. Werendril moved in, cutting with the elvish double-scimitar and backing the blows with divine power just as Tarric had. They might worship different gods, but they had that much in common.

"Salya--" said Tanovir, and then placed his free hand on his own chest to heal himself further. "What have you done?" 

She whirled to face him and didn't even bother trying to attack Werendril, who stood between them. Tarric took his opportunity to attack, but she brushed him aside almost absently. "What I had to, brother. I survived after you let the vampires take me!"

Werendril raised an elegant eyebrow. "At what price, cousin?"

Her gaze flickered to him, but he shook his head. "My mind is my own," he told her.

Salya snarled, then ground out: "The Lord of Light abandoned me. So I foreswore him, and turned to One who knows the ways of Undeath. I'm a paladin of Vecna, now."

"That's--" Tanovir trailed off, apparently at a loss for words. 

Salya raised her blade and moved to attack Werendril, and for a few moments they traded blows, attacking viciously but seemingly unable to touch each other. The wound Tarric had delivered was already closing. 

"Attack her!" Tarric yelled, but Tanovir was still standing there, apparently stunned with guilt. Tarric himself was trying to attack, but the vampire paladin kept moving at unexpected moments and avoiding his blade. Even with them flanking her, she might still manage to kill them all if Tanovir didn't--

Then a figure hurtled past Tarric's shoulder and threw itself onto the vampire's back, stabbing down with a short, silver blade that gleamed in a way that shouldn't have been possible for a tea-server, no matter how angry this one appeared. The blade went into Salya's neck, just above her armored collar. 

Salya screamed and reared back, dropping her sword and shield and hurling Laina off of her. The tea-server slammed into the wooden wall of the back of the brothel and slid to the ground, but Salya was still clawing at the knife in her neck, trying to draw it out. 

Then Tanovir pushed Werendril aside, took a two-handed grip on his blade, and brought it down in powerful arc that cut through the vampire paladin's armor and sliced into the flesh beneath. He struck again, and again... and then Salya was dissolving into a mist, and that mist was flowing away... into the brothel, which was already on fire. She left behind her armor, her sword and shield, and the blade that Laina had defeated her with.

Tarric strode over to where the girl lay beside the wall, then knelt down and put a hand on her shoulder. As the healing power of Amun flowed from his hand into her body, he said: "That was well done. Suicidal, but surprisingly effective." 

"Silver... bread knife," said Laina. "I'd been saving it for a last effort. And it was her, the one who kept staring at me when she came into the shop." She shuddered, then took a deep breath. "I prayed for strength, and then I put it into her neck. And it still didn't kill her."

Tanovir knelt down beside them. "Laina Heartling, I owe you many apologies. It was my duty to protect you, and I failed. I failed you and Salya both. I did not know they had taken her; I thought she had left. I... should never have let it come to this."

"Idiot," said Laina. "Is she dead?"

Tarric glanced at the brothel. He could see the glow of flames even through the shutters, and smoke was curling out around the edges of the back door where Tanovir had been pouring out his jug of lamp oil. "If she's not, I suspect she will be shortly." 

Tanovir nodded, looking stricken. 

Werendril had moved closer to the door. "Get up," he said. "I think we have a problem. I can hear people moving around inside here."

"People?" asked Laina. 

"Vampires." 

Tarric and Tanovir exchanged a look. "The front of the building should be thoroughly on fire right now, but... do you think you can cover it without getting cold-cocked by anyone else?" 

Tanovir nodded and rose. "I will make most certain." 

Tarric glanced at Werendril. "Take the cellar door, or help you here?" 

"Cellar," said Werendril, though he didn't sound entirely certain. "There are three doors, and we only have three paladins." 

Laina stood, and Tarric watched as she walked over to Salya had fallen. She bent down, pushed aside the sword and the armor, and picked up the bread knife. "Wrong," she said. "You have four."

Werendril just nodded while Tarric stood gaping. "Stand behind me," said the elf. "Finish anything that gets past me. And don't die. Tarric, the cellar." 

Tarric nodded and went back around the side of the building.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

It's Thursday. Let's do this.

So Thursday would normally be horoscope day, but forging a proper connection to the stars to glean their wisdom requires energy, and I am very tired. So instead, we're just going to do our best. 

For the next week, I want you, my dear readers, to take extra time to cultivate your human disguises. Make sure that skin is really in place. Double-check the current fashion. Don't let anyone look too deeply into your eyes, or see how they sparkle or glow. Place a phone call. Attend a meeting. Order school supplies. Be scornfully jealous of your neighbor's new car, job, or spouse. Humans do that.

But at the same time, remind yourself of who you really are. Unfurl your wings when no one is watching. Ride the night winds. Flex your claws, or extend your spines. Show your fangs, or unfold your hunting mandibles. Bewitch someone. Steal their soul. Drink their blood, or eat their heart. Send their life-essence to your enormous alien spaceship to renew your species, if that's your thing. Drag them through the doors that only open at night into the dark places of the world; get a good price for them (or even just their teeth) at the goblin market. Live a little! 

Life's too short not to devour that annoying co-worker.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Challenge: Auto-Buy authors

(This post is part of the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. You can find links to other writers' answers over at Long and Short Reviews.)

Prompt: your list of auto-buy authors

It's not actually that long a list, but here we go:

Martha Wells has been a must-buy author for me for years now; I first stumbled onto her when I was working in a bookstore and purchased her City of Bones, then went back and picked up The Element of Fire, and I've purchased pretty much everything she's written since then. 

Lilith Saintcrow is next on the list; I first encountered her when she was being interviewed about her Bannon & Clare books -- mad science, magic, and mayhem in Victorian England, with some particularly intriguing worldbuilding -- which I immediately purchased and read before diving into her entire backlist. I'm still not sure I'm 100% caught up, but I do my best.

I found Ursula Vernon under her nom de plume of T. Kingfisher, in the delightful fantasy short story Nine Goblins, and I've been hooked ever since. Disturbing horror, cozy romance, a good many stories that are a mix of both. 

Finally there's John Scalzi, whose particular flavor of cheerfully deranged science fiction adventure has done a very great deal to cheer me up at various points where I needed to be reading something that could do that. I'm not sure where I first ran into his work, but after The Kaiju Preservation Society I'm pretty well locked in.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Monday Update, part Bleugh

It was 4:00 on Sunday afternoon and everyone else in the house was asleep. I've been trying to keep everyone on schedule, since Secondborn has a Climbing Camp this morning and Firstborn is supposed to be working on PSAT stuff because apparently he's really, actually that old.  And apparently we don't have a working login for the PSAT course because we reset the password and don't remember it and can't reset it because the school email it's associated with blocks almost everything that doesn't come from the school -- and it's a company holiday for the Princeton Review (Juneteenth) because in some states that actually happens. Not Texas, but some of them.

Instead, the whole family has gone nocturnal and they're dragging me off-schedule with them.

And I can't really blame them, since we're moving into the hot portion of the Texas summer and daytime is pretty miserable. Fortunately, our little house is pretty well-insulated and we haven't had any power outages yet, but... yeah. I'm tired, I'm cranky, I just want everyone to be on schedule and doing what they're supposed to do and not stressing me the fuck out.

Beautiful Wife is still sick, and I'm still in the late stages of recovery (I think) and honestly at this point I kind of just hate everything. 

I think I'm making progress on writing, though I'd love it if I could just sit down and spend about six or eight hours being completely focused on it. No idea what's going to go up on the blog this week, but... eh, I'll figure something out. Weekly Wednesday blogging challenge for Wednesday, maybe just some music for tomorrow? And paladins on Friday, which really only leaves Thursday... and Thursday is usually horoscope day, isn't it? Fine. If I don't have enough brain for that, I'll do some sort motivational post, but only because I love my readers with all the dark and hungry void that passes for my heart. So yes... writing.

Where were we on the book-writing soundtrack? Ah, there we go -- I think I'd left off with Rag'n'Bone Man. Which means the list so far is:

  1. Metallica - The Unforgiven
  2. Lucero - Have You Lost Your Way?
  3. The Pretty Reckless - And So It Went
  4. Sting - Shape of My Heart
  5. Rag'n'Bone Man - Human

...Which brings us to our next song in the sequence: 

Friday, June 17, 2022

Paladins: Set It On Fire

"Old joke: how many paladins does it take to burn out a nest of vampires?" Werendril was wrestling with a keg of lamp oil, trying to splash it across the wooden porch without getting any of it on himself. They'd have to douse the walls too, but he wanted to make sure that anybody who came out the front door ran directly into the flames. 

"I don't know, how many paladins does it take to--" There was a sudden cry, abruptly cut off, and a soft sound that might have been a body hitting the ground on the far side of the building, and Tarric frowned. "All of them, maybe." He'd been dousing the cellar door at the front left corner of the building; now he set his keg aside and drew his sword. Knowing that Werendril would follow, he headed for the back of the building. The True Elf wasn't Tavros and wouldn't ever be, but that didn't mean they couldn't work together.

The alley behind the brothel was empty, save for the fallen form of Tanovir who was bleeding onto the rough, irregular cobbles. Tarric stopped and spun around, looking, but Salya was gone and the alley was empty. The skin on the back of his neck prickled, and he turned and put his back to the wall just as something unseen whooshed through the space his head had occupied a moment before. "Amun take you," he muttered, raising sword and shield. "Werendril! Invisible enemies!"

There was no response, and for a moment Tarric feared that Werendril had abandoned him. Then there was a great WHOOSH and a gust of wind stirred the dust of the alley. 

The brothel was on fire. 

He wasn't sure later if his enemy said, "No!" or if it was just a small sound, but he turned and cut and found a body in what looked like empty air. There was the ring of metal on metal, and someone staggered back. "Salya?" he asked, not quite as surprised as he might have been. 

"Very good," she whispered, and then moved. He heard the footsteps but couldn't place them, and when she attacked it was sheer luck that he had his shield in the way. The first blow struck like a blacksmith's hammer, and drove his shield down; the second connected with his armor and cut into his shoulder. Then suddenly Salya was visible and Werendril was there too, the words of a dispersal spell trailing from his lips. 

"That," said Tarric, looking at her, "was a mistake." He raised a hand and filled the alley with daylight.