Friday, January 31, 2020

ItB 011:

They were halfway back up the ladder when Tamimi froze. "It's coming back."

Caden looked back along the corridor -- a useless reflex, since this wasn't something he could see -- and grunted, frustrated. "Up or down?"

"It's--" Hanging halfway between the two decks, Tamimi shook her head. "I can't tell."

"Then keep moving. We're going straight to the airlock until you tell us we have to go somewhere else."

Watch yourself, pulsed Celia, and Caden pulsed back: Acknowledged.

Tamimi resumed her drifting climb, using the ladder the propel herself up and control her arrival at the next deck up. She ducked out into the corridor. Velasquez, Siegel, and Walker were already up there, covering the corridor with their eggs for the same reason that Caden had found himself trying to catch sight of whatever was altering the station: some reflexes were too strong to ignore, even when they made no sense.

Caden motioned for Shannon and Basque to follow her up, leaving himself to guard the rear.

"It veered off," said Tamimi. "I don't think it knows we're here. It's doing something to the hull... Oh--"

Hurricane-force winds pushed past them, but their suits kept them locked to the floors, walls, or ladder rungs.

Celia...? Caden pulsed.

You guess it, she pulsed back. It's reshaping this side of the station now. And Veranovich is picking up some weird energy signatures on the far side, like maybe something is still changing things there. So either there are two of them, or it's spreading itself out.

"Tamimi," called Caden. With the atmosphere gone, he had to broadcast to her suit...

But she heard him, and she answered: "Yes?"

"Can we still get to the airlock? Or is this thing spread across the surface of the station?"

"It's..." She hesitated. "It's localized on this side. If we... Uh-oh."

He couldn't stop himself. "Uh-oh?"

"I think it can hear us. Shut off any radio broadcasts and follow me." She turned away from the airlock -- of course they would need to go the wrong direction to escape -- and started down the corridor. Caden pushed out of the ladder-way and fell in behind his five as they followed her.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Dark Armor 007

He lifted his shield, but the arrow passed above it and skipped off the curve of his helmet. Too much. She was too good. He was going to have to kill her, and as he lifted the lance he found that he did not want to. She looked too much like the Heir of Edrias he'd killed two years ago: a similar face, and the same unrelenting determination.

Kill her, boy! His father's voice was cold in his ears. What do you think you're there for?

...Of course his father was watching. Ravaj would have informed him of the invaders... and their own plans. But the wizard-king wouldn't care to watch the defense of their camp; he would want to see the deaths of their enemies. And he would expect Pallian to provide those for him. How long has he been watching? Had he overheard the exchange with the Shadow of Edrias? If he had, would he care?

"Seems like a waste," Pallian muttered.

You can't keep her, boy. The Champion of Teregor does nothing so human as to make a prisoner of a beautiful woman. Which wasn't at all what he'd had in mind, but at least his father didn't sound disappointed in him anymore. He actually sounded sympathetic, which was in its own way worse.

Still, Pallian nodded an acknowledgement.

The command tents were on fire, the rest of the camp a disturbed anthill. Twin lines of burning tents marked his track to the heart of the camp. If his father wanted destruction, he had certainly provided it. He could do more damage on the way out, but he'd been given an order: kill the archer. So he set his lance and turned his mount, and charged.

Another arrow smashed into his shield, piercing the black steel before it shattered. Faceless within his helmet, the Black Knight of Teregor bore down on his only significant opponent. She rolled to one side, but he turned to correct, dropping his lance to keep the point in line. The tip traced her movements like a serpent's head, ready to strike as soon as it drew close.

She dodged to one side, then the other, and Black slowed slightly as the stallion kept himself in line with her. She fired off two more arrows, one smashing against Black's barding and the other skipping off Pallian's thigh. She must have been carrying a whole constellation of interlocking initiations to do so much; but the armor still held, and Black still closed the distance between them. Pallian raised the lance with a sense of regret, bringing it into line with her heart.

Then she flung herself backwards over the edge of the bluff. Black was galloping at a full charge, and Pallian couldn't rein him in; this would be his exit from the camp. His mount carried him out over the darkness of the valley. His target had escaped, but his withdrawal was clear. Black was more than capable of carrying him down and landing safely in the valley below...

Or he would have been, if a pair of arrows hadn't slammed into his belly as he crossed into the open air. The enchantments that guarded the stallion were weaker there, and the impacts were strong. What would have been a solid, uncomfortable landing turned into an uncontrolled fall as the horse began to flail.

Pallian tumbled as they crashed, letting his armor take the brunt of the impact. Something shattered across his back, and something else smashed into his outflung arm; his armor rang like an offkey bell. He'd come down amidst brush and small trees, and his impact had cleared a path through them. Another arrow slammed into his breastplate, driving him deeper into the loose dirt, but he recalled his lessons and sprayed bolts of levin-fire across the face of the bluff. Yes! his father crowed. Strike back! Take her out!

An arrow pierced his outflung hand, and the bright blaze flickered. Vaguely, he glimpsed a dark figure sprinting up the near-vertical face of the bluff. The archer had escaped him. He felt a sudden, irrational urge to go back to her but stamped down on it. Nothing but death would come of extending this encounter -- his or hers, and at this point he had to consider that it very well might be his own. And even if she failed to kill him, she probably wouldn't appreciate his apologies at this point.

Pallian made himself roll over and come to his feet. Everything in his body hurt; the armor had absorbed most of the external impacts, but it was only his own initiations that had protected him from a far more basic concussion during the impact -- or from bleeding out internally due to the extent of his bruising. He stood, staggered, and turned... just in time. Another arrow slammed into his shield, glancing to one side as it shoved him to the other. Get to Black! his father was shouting. The Champion of Teregor never abandons his mount!

"Are you sure you wouldn't rather be here yourself, father?" he muttered, mindless of the blasphemy and the likelihood of eventual punishment. "You could do all this without me." He was already staggering back towards his mount. "Or you could let me decide what the Champion of Teregor does and doesn't do."

His father didn't answer, and Pallian moved towards Black. His stagger turned into a stride as his body shoved its various pieces back into place and restored muscles and bones. He caught three more arrows on his shield; with his visor, at this distance, he could see them coming. All three pierced the black steel, though fortunately none of them found his forearm on the back side.

Black was lying on his side and twitching his hooves. Pallian dropped to his knees beside him and reached down for the first of the two arrows in his belly when something slammed into the side of his helmet and knocked him flat.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Challenge: Best Couples

Long and Short Reviews has a set of prompts for their Weekly Wednesday Blogging Challenge for 2020. If you'd like to join me, the prompts are here and you can check in on their home page every Wednesday to find a post with links to people's responses. (If you do participate, add your own links so the rest of us can come and read them!)

This week's prompt is "best book/movie/TV couples", which I'm taking to mean one from each medium. (I'm pretty sure it doesn't have to be read that way, but this reading keeps my answer nicely contained.)

Best Book Couple:
The one that first comes to mind is Captain Thomas Boniface and Kade Carrion from Martha Wells' debut fantasy novel The Element of Fire. To be fair, this is a fantasy novel with a romance subplot, but it's very well done and there are some very nice moments as it develops.

Best Movie Couple:
Okay, don't hate me for this, but among the relatively recent movies the one that really stands out to me is Iron Man and Captain America. Talk about opposites attracting! Yes, I know we never get a revealing kiss (let alone a Happily Ever After), but man there's a lot of unspoken emotion there.

...But all right, if we have to one where the romance is canon, then I'm going to go with my favorite Couple Who Never Got Their Chance: Ellen Ripley and Dwayne Hicks from the second Aliens movie.

Best Television Couple:
Gomez and Morticia Addams, independently sentient hands down. They're creepy, they're magical, they're romantic, they're... well, Life Goals for me, to be honest.

What are yours?

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Just keeps coming...

It's been a weird, busy week and Beautiful Wife and I are both pretty worn out with it already. I expect I'll have the regular blog entries for the rest of the week, but there's a definite possibility that I just collapse into bed and nothing gets written until later. So if nothing shows up, well... that's what happened.

Music: Demons

Hayley Kiyoko:

Monday, January 27, 2020


So, we finished the Saturday Night DnD game and I slept for about ten hours, deep enough to have a lot of weird dreams. (The game was still going on, but we'd moved to some sort of con and were now playing with like three other groups; we were packing to leave the con only somehow the hotel staff had managed to lose all the souvenirs I'd bought for my family; I was back at the school of my old Kung Fu Sifu [and, again, having trouble keeping up with my stuff]...)

I think I needed that.

I'm writing this on Sunday morning, and today is basically going to be Clean All The Things/Run All The Laundry day, so off we go with that. Wish us (retroactive) luck!

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Youth DnD: A brief update

The youth DnD game continues apace; our heroes cleared another room today (using a cunning combination of teamwork and Not Stepping Into The Trap) and added a small siver statuette of a cat with gemstones for eyes to their collection of treasure. I was particularly impressed because if they'd handled it differently, they probably would have been badly mauled by a bunch of gargoyles.

Friday, January 24, 2020

ItB 010: Long-Range Plans

Caden opened a channel to the Ultima Ratio and pulsed Celia and Dr. Veranovich as Tamimi started talking.

"What do you want?" asked Tamimi. "The basics? The background? The big names?"

"Start with the basics," answered Caden.

Tamimi shrugged. "Your elite already has them: the Hirakawa paracorporation planned to equip a capital ship with an experimental faster-than-light drive and put it in orbit around Tanivar before the Majesty could get there, effectively claiming the planet and everything on it for their own."

Caden nodded slowly. "All right. We're heading back to the airlock. Velasquez, take point. Tamimi, sing out if you sense anything. And on the way, you can tell us about the background."

Scout darted out the open door, as precise without gravity as it had been when the station still had it. Velasquez made a gentle hop forward, pushing off the ceiling and coming back down as she reached the doorway. Tamimi fell in beside Caden as the others arranged themselves for the trip back out, using the magnetic hold-tights in her boots to keep her feet on the floor.

"Do you remember when the Majesty was first discovered?"

Caden shook his head, making the gesture dramatic enough to be a visible movement of his armor.

"Almost nobody really does," Tamimi told him. "The team that found it on Enceladus wasn't looking for alien artifacts, let alone a crashed alien ship older than any civilization on Earth. They were a tiny crew, almost rogue, who'd managed to cadge some funding to study the underground ocean near the south pole. Their contract required them to report any unusual discoveries to Earthgov's Office of Scientific Inquiry, so they did... and Earthgov clamped down on the information, interdicted that whole area of Enceladus, and quietly expanded Office of Scientific Inquiry to study what they'd found. Whoever was in charge did it well, too: it was almost a decade before the paracorporations started to notice."

"I remember hearing about it," Caden admitted. "Proof of intelligent alien life from outside our solar system. The promise of new discoveries. More reasons to Do Well and Stay In School."

Tamimi chuckled. "The security wasn't impenetrable. Hirakawa got an early look at the analysis of the drive design, and I'm sure they weren't the only one. They established Hirakawa's Celestial Triumph all the way out here, and started constructing Hirakawa's Ascendancy while their best minds tried to reproduce the knight-tech."


"Whatever the aliens used to travel, it wasn't actually faster than light. That limit seems to be absolute... at least, it does to me, and the people in charge of this project agreed. To move faster than light, you have to skip around that limit -- a knight's move, if you've ever played chess."

Caden made his helmet nod, and turn to look at Tamimi in her vac-suit. "So they came up with something that would let them bypass space... and in the process punched a hole to something that ate everyone on the station?"

"I think so, yes."

We definitely need to be out of here, Siegel pulsed, and Caden pulsed back his agreement. "Splendid," he said quietly.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Dark Armor 006: Interlude 02

There is a woman before the throne, arms bound behind her, guards carrying torches on either side. Pallian enters the chamber without appearing to notice her and approaches the place where his father stands beside the obsidian throne. "Father?"

"Pallian." His father regards him, tall and imposing and still impossibly strong. "You recall your lessons on the passage of arms?"

He nods.

"And the martial uses of sorcery?"

Pallian nods a second time, his eyes on his father's face, waiting to see where this inquiry is going.

"And combining the two?"

A sudden irritation rises within him, but he keeps his face expressionless. He has studied little else for the past two years, and his father should know it: it was done at his order. He nods, making the gesture a mirror of the previous two.

"Amedin!" His father calls sharply, and the old priest strides forward from a shadowed corner of the room. There are others out there as well; half the court, by the look of it, but only he and his father stand in the shaft of moonlight that falls across the throne. The lone woman is lit by the torches her guards carry. Everyone else, men and women and both and neither, are blanketed by the shadows.

Amedin has served the obsidian throne for six generations, far beyond the span of his mortal life. What remains of his flesh is wound tight around his bones, withered and decayed; and it is said that only the darkest sorceries sustain him. Pallian has never seen him eat or drink, and thinks of him as a sort of horrible doll that his father the wizard-king summons for unpleasant tasks and pronouncements. Perhaps the most horrifying thing about him is that despite his appearance he moves like a young man, swift and sure.

Amedin kneels before the wizard-king, then rises. "Sire?"

"Check him. Is he ready?"

Pallian stifles a visceral disgust and forces himself to remain still and calm as the half-dead priest turns to him. He doesn't know himself whether the night's new initiation will react badly with the ones he's already been given; he only knows that there is no escaping the ancient priest's scrutiny: not here, not now, not with his father watching.

Amedin runs withered hands over his shoulders, then down his arms, muttering incomprehensibly to himself. "Firm," he says, as he touches Pallian's forehead. "Strong, as we planned. Stronger than expected, even, and I think growing stronger."

The wizard-king frowns. "Any concerns there?"

"No, sire. He's everything you wanted, and perhaps a bit more. If he fails here, it will be a matter of skill... or will." A dark, strangled chuckle follows the remark.

Pallian doesn't know whether Amedin has sensed his new initiation and chosen not to remark on it, or whether the withered priest assumes that Pallian's additional strength is an unexpected effect of his own work. It doesn't matter, so long as his secret remains secret. "What is it you want of me, father?"

"You see this woman?"

Pallian turns his head at his father's gesture, regards the bound and guarded prisoner, then makes the same respectful nod that he's made four times in this conversation alone. "I do."

"This is the heir of Edrias," his father says. "She was taken in battle, and has demanded her noble right of
fugin ei guer."

Pallian nods once more, this time more slowly. Trial by combat. More precisely, release by combat... one way or another. Freedom or death. He raises his head and takes a long, slow look around the room. It is not just the court of Teregor that has gathered here; he sees representatives from a half-dozen wizard-kings, Edrias among them.

"You understand," his father says, with a sharp nod. "Your time has come, and I give you your chance. Kill her for me, and earn your place."

And Pallian, who has never had a place in his father's court and never been allowed to forget it, nods again.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Challenge: New Hobby I would like to Try

Long and Short Reviews has a set of prompts for their Weekly Wednesday Blogging Challenge for 2020. If you'd like to join me, the prompts are here and you can check in on their home page every Wednesday to find a post with links to people's responses. (If you do participate, add your own links so the rest of us can come and read them!)

This week's challenge is New Hobby I'm Trying (Or Would Like To Try).

To be perfectly honest, at this point I'm actually still trying to get back to my old hobbies. I'm getting more writing done (though there are still interruptions) and it would be nice to add some martial arts back in on top of that.

So... yeah. I'd like to get back to martial arts. I'd like to get the boys into martial arts. I have no idea how the logistics would work for this, but that's where I am.

But an actual new hobby... does learning languages count? Because I think I'd like to learn German. (I used to be semi-fluent in Spanish, but it was a particularly Castillian sort of Spanish that isn't much use here in Texas. And I was passable with Latin back in the day. But I'm two decades out of practice with either of them -- even if I still remember that Caecilius est in horto, muchas gracias -- so, y'know, this time around we'll go the other way and try German.)

How about the rest of you?

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Youth DnD: Wow, I'm behind!

I see I haven't updated the Roslof Keep entries since early November. And while we did have a couple of weekends off, we've actually had a bunch of sessions since then. So, I'm going to do a quick recap and an updated treasure list:

With our new barbarian, the group was able to finish exploring the first level of the dungeon and find a passage down to the second level. This discovery allowed the group to level up, and that in turn allowed them to face and slay a pair of salamanders -- probably the toughest monsters on this level -- and thus complete the first dungeon level. This allowed them to level up again, and also gave them access to the next floor down. (They knew how to get there, but the dungeon wouldn't let them in until they'd defeated everything on the first floor at least once.)

The second floor was where the mousefolk tribe had been trapped, in a cavern that was technically outside the dungeon; a small earthquake a few months back had both opened a crack in the wall of the dungeon, and closed off the cavern behind them. They'd been surviving on the water from a small stream, and some edible lichens; by the time our mousefolk cleric was able to return to them again, they were in pretty poor shape. The party led them back out despite an attempted ambush by a group of kobolds led by a surprisingly powerful kobold sorcerer.

With their tribe rescued, Aspen the Mousefolk Cleric left the party. Their people would need help finding a place to re-settle, and while they were not planning to move far away, Aspen's days of plumbing the dungeon of the mad mage were over. Fortunately, another adventurer had shown up looking for work and a chance to make a name for herself: a swashbuckling half-elf bard named Aika.

With Aika taking her place at the front of the group, the party decided they had need of another ring of protection -- and they knew exactly where to find one. The plan was simple: the sorcerer would enter the room and head for the treasure room at the back, triggering the trap that would open the coffins and release the undead; the undead would follow the sorcerer into the passage back to the treasure chamber, and the sorcerer would drop a spell on them while they were all bunched together in the passage. The rest of the group would then enter the room behind the undead, and finish anything that was still moving.

It worked brilliantly. In fact, it worked so brilliantly that they annihilated the undead in the first round of combat, and were thus completely unsurprised when a group of orcs entered the room behind them in an attempt to ambush them. The battle was short and brutal, and the orcs did not fare well.

The group is currently taking a rest in the treasure chamber (among other things, because it will allow the swashbuckler to attune her new ring of protection); and after that, they'll presumably be heading down to the second level.

Current party treasure by my count is 25 PP, 1502 GP, and 331 SP.

Treasure they've collected over the last few adventures (which we really haven't settled out) includes:
250 GP
5 gold ingots worth 350 GP each
Bracers of Archery

And the equipment they scavenged from their orc ambushers, which includes:
1 longsword
4 crossbows
2 hand axes
1 greataxe
and six sets of scale armor.
...which honestly probably isn't worth the effort of hauling back to the surface, at this point.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Dark Armor 005

He passed through the outer line of watchfires at a full gallop, and only heard them cry out as he reached the inner ring. He'd chosen a path empty of watchers or patrols; he didn't care to shed blood yet. The alarms, and the chaos they would raise behind him, would only be of help. Black's hooves were a muffled thunder on the sandy ground.

Arrows pierced the night, but none of them came close to him. Then he was among the tents, and the killing began. A soldier staggered out, still pulling on his armor, but Black shouldered him aside with enough force to send him flying; the impact of his body collapsed another tent. More cries were rising, and somewhere someone began to ring a bell; but by then Pallian was deep inside the camp. He touched Black's flank and gave a silent command, and flames rose and spread in his wake as he aimed for the command tents at its heart.

The guards here wore heavy plate, their enchantments flickering and sparking in the view provided by Pallian's visor. They raised shields and tried to set spears, but their speartips shattered on Black's barding and Pallian drove his lance through the guard on the right. The remaining guard struggled back and drew her sword, but Black was already rearing, lashing out with his hooves... the woman went down.

An arrow slammed into his back, then another and another, but Pallian ignored them. A figure was pushing its way out of the command tent, fully armored, lifting a blade in one hand as it shaped a spell in the other. Pallian turned the reins and threw his lance like a spear, his strength amplified by the dark armor that protected him. The weapon stabbed through the armor and impaled the figure against the ground.

Another arrow smashed into his back, and he felt armor strain to absorb the impact. That's new, at least. Until now he'd only ever felt the armor struggle against magics. Still... He slammed his fist against his shield and sent a massive thunderclap through the camp, then dropped a ball of fire atop the command tent before wrenching his lance loose from body it had pierced. Black turned, whinnied, and turned again, and another arrow skipped off his half-raised shield.

Through his visor, he could see the archer: a woman, unarmored, and staggering from the thunderclap even as she drew another arrow.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Challenge: Books I Can't Wait To Read In 2020

Okay, so: Long and Short Reviews has a new set of prompts for their Weekly Wednesday Blogging Challenge for 2020. I had a lot of fun doing the challenges from 2019, so I'll be participating again this year. (If you'd like to join me, the prompts are here and you can check in on their home page every Wednesday to find a post with links to people's responses. (If you do participate, add your own links so the rest of us can come and read them!)

This week's challenge is Books I Can't Wait To Read In 2020...

Which is a great way to start the year, in my opinion.

So here we go -- my Top Five:

1. Network Effect: A Murderbot Novel by Martha Wells. Because ye gods, I love Murderbot SO MUCH.
You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you're a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you're Murderbot.

Come for the pew-pew space battles, stay for the most relatable A.I. you’ll read this century.

I’m usually alone in my head, and that’s where 90 plus percent of my problems are.

When Murderbot's human associates (not friends, never friends) are captured and another not-friend from its past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action.

Drastic action it is, then.

2. A Pale Light in the Black: A NeoG Novel by K.B. Wagers. Sort of like the Coast Guard, but in space - and there'll be mystery, intrigue, and plenty of action.
For the past year, their close loss in the annual Boarding Games has haunted Interceptor Team: Zuma’s Ghost. With this year’s competition looming, they’re looking forward to some payback—until an unexpected personnel change leaves them reeling. Their best swordsman has been transferred, and a new lieutenant has been assigned in his place.

Maxine Carmichael is trying to carve a place in the world on her own—away from the pressure and influence of her powerful family. The last thing she wants is to cause trouble at her command on Jupiter Station. With her new team in turmoil, Max must overcome her self-doubt and win their trust if she’s going to succeed. Failing is not an option—and would only prove her parents right.

But Max and the team must learn to work together quickly. A routine mission to retrieve a missing ship has suddenly turned dangerous, and now their lives are on the line. Someone is targeting members of Zuma’s Ghost, a mysterious opponent willing to kill to safeguard a secret that could shake society to its core . . . a secret that could lead to their deaths and kill thousands more unless Max and her new team stop them.

Rescue those in danger, find the bad guys, win the Games. It’s all in a day’s work at the NeoG.

3. We Free The Stars by Hafsah Faizal. Sequel to We Hunt The Flame, so this will be a fantasy adventure in a very Arabian Nights sort of setting.
After the battle on Sharr ... Zafira and Nasir return to a ghostly Sultan’s Keep, low on resources and allies alike. The dark forest has fallen, but the kingdom teems with fear of the Lion of the Night’s return. As Nasir fights to command the dark power in his blood, Zafira fights against a very different darkness festering through her bond with the Jawarat.

4. Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. Sequel to Gideon the Ninth, which means more mysteries, more mystical powers, and even more lesbian necromancers in space.
She answered the Emperor's call.

She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only friend.

In victory, her world has turned to ash.

After rocking the cosmos with her deathly debut, Tamsyn Muir continues the story of the penumbral Ninth House in Harrow the Ninth, a mind-twisting puzzle box of mystery, murder, magic, and mayhem. Nothing is as it seems in the halls of the Emperor, and the fate of the galaxy rests on one woman's shoulders.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.

Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor's Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?

5. Ruthless Gods by Emily A. Duncan. The sequel to Wicked Saints, this will be a fantasy adventure with a strong flavor of Russian folktale: strange powers, mysterious gods, and a trio of teenagers with the fate of the world in their hands.
Nadya doesn’t trust her magic anymore. Serefin is fighting off a voice in his head that doesn’t belong to him. Malachiasz is at war with who--and what--he’s become.

As their group is continually torn apart, the girl, the prince, and the monster find their fates irrevocably intertwined. Their paths are being orchestrated by someone… or something. The voices that Serefin hears in the darkness, the ones that Nadya believes are her gods, the ones that Malachiasz is desperate to meet—those voices want a stake in the world, and they refuse to stay quiet any longer.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Writing Considerations: Another Approach

I mentioned last week that I would like to write a Dungeons and Dragons novel, one about a nameless half-orc, and that I'd had some considerable difficulties in establishing an opening scene. This was in part because I was trying to have him remain nameless, and limit his speech patterns fairly heavily - a tricky combination.

But it was also because the best opening scene I'd come up with for him so far involved a confrontation in a tavern. And it was... well, it wasn't horrible. It did get things moving. And it got my half-orc introduced to the group he'd be traveling with, and willing to work with them in a way that basically made sense, or at least didn't strain the suspension of disbelief.

But this isn't a story that starts with a young halfbreed in search of adventure. This isn't the story of someone who knows how to be part of a group, or thinks that such a thing is possible at all. This isn't the story of the sort of person who can sit in a tavern in the late afternoon, drinking human-brewed ale, paying for it with money that he earned doing work on some of the outlying farms -- someone who can be ignored, if not accepted, as long as his money is good.

This is the story of someone who has fled his family and his tribe, someone who knows they will kill him if they find him. This is the story of a young man who escaped into the spring storms to keep them from being able to track him, and hiked to the one place where his family couldn't follow. This story doesn't begin with a friendly meeting or an aborted confrontation in a tavern (though I'm sure there will be one, sooner or later).

This story begins with a desperate young halfbreed on the run.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Physical and Mental Health

I've reached a point in my life where I honestly can't distinguish between "not feeling well physically" and "not feeling well emotionally". They both seem to happen at once. Honestly, I suspect it's always been that way -- the gods know I can tell when my kids are getting sick because they get cranky and uncooperative and start behaving badly -- but over the last few years I've become a lot more aware of it.

Which brings me to this past week... or month. Or longer, honestly. I have several issues at work that really need to be resolved, but which have been dragging out because I can't seem to get the help I need with them. There are some issues going on with our department that are... troubling, but also far enough above my pay grade that I really don't see any way to address them. I've also been feeling run over physically -- not completely sick, but not really well either. Low energy, stuffy head, upper-respiratory cough, issues with digestion: nothing really acute, but I'm definitely not at my best.

That, of course, has put me behind on even more things, which is even more discouraging.

Added to that is the extra effort of getting the boys back into school (and back on a school schedule) last week, while Beautiful Wife is stressed out about setting up her semester (which starts this week).

I think what I need to do (for this twofold sort of problem) is a try to implement a twofold sort of solution. On the one side, prioritize sleep and drop everything non-essential at home -- basically, don't get hung up on finishing things that aren't essential (like writing) and just focus on the stuff I need to keep the house running (like feeding the boys) and to get better (like getting as much sleep as possible). The other side is basically just getting myself together for another push at my three most recalcitrant problems; if I can get any of them resolved, that will be a huge relief.

And somewhere in here I need to put in for some time off, but I need to talk to my boss about that. With everything that's been going on, I really haven't felt like I could do that, and that's... really not healthy, either. So, yeah: the goal for this week is to line up my work problems, figure out what needs to be done for each of them, and try to get some resolution there; and then do (or not do) what I can at home to keep myself as well-rested and stress-free as possible, and hopefully shake off the physical symptoms.

It's not much, but it's a plan.

Friday, January 10, 2020

ItB 009: Details

For a moment, Tamimi fumbled with the helmet of her suit as she started to drift; then Walker caught her shoulder, and she cursed and yanked the helmet into place. "...Check my seals?" she asked. "Since I assume the rest of you can see?"

Walker's palms lit up, and they made a quick inspection of Tamimi's suit. Velaquez reclaimed her second drone and sent Scout back out into the corridor, while Siegel and Basque watched the door.

Captain? Are you seeing this? Shannon pulsed Caden directly, accompanying the question with an identifier for the imagestream that the Ultima Ratio was sending them. It's not just a hull breach.

Caden called up the video, frowned, and asked quietly: "Tamimi, can you feel what it's doing?"

There was a brief pause, and then she said: "No, and I haven't tried to reach out in case it's sensitive too. Why?"

"...Because it seems to be reshaping the station. It's twisting the surface on the far side into some kind of odd, fractal design."

"Well," she said as Walker straightened and gave her a nod, "that's ominous."

Siegel stopped looking out into the corridor, then turned and walked over to Tamimi. "What is it you aren't telling us?" she asked. "Something about what it is? Something about what it's doing? Something about how it got here?" Her voice was soft and gentle, and far more threatening than any amount of shouting would have been.

Tamimi stepped back, glancing at Walker, but Walker had gone completely still. Caden held a hand up to keep the others out of it as well.

"Something about how it got here," said Siegel, in that same quiet voice. "You said you were a lab tech. What kind of lab?"

"I'll be happy to fill you in after we're..."

Siegel was already shaking her head. "Now," she said firmly. "If there's more than one of these things, or more of them coming, we need to know. If this one is doing something that affects us, we need to know. What were you working on? It's something to do with the Majesty of Earth, isn't it?"

Tamimi was silent for a long moment. "Out of curiosity, what makes you say that?"

"The Ascendancy," answered Siegel. "A ship that size, being built alongside a research station all the way out here? That's not designed to give Hirakawa a trade advantage, or even for in-system conquest. It would never work. The only reason for a ship like that is if the Hirakawa Paracorporation intended to compete with the Majesty of Earth. You were trying to get to Tanivar and claim it for your own, weren't you?"

"Well," said Tamimi, "Not me personally, but yes."

"Keep going," growled Caden. "Explain."

Dark Armor 004: Interlude 01

Pallian covers the braziers and sweeps away the ash traceries of the pattern that has covered the small clearing in front of the stone bench at the back of the gardens. The other elements of the ritual are already gone, devoured by the forces that answered his call. He has acquired another initiation, the first he has chosen for himself.

His father might disapprove, and that risk is why he has kept his actions secret. Still, limiting himself to the skills and abilities that his father has chosen for him is a risk as well, especially here in the heart of the court. He has chosen his path carefully, selecting an initiation that will complement those he has already, and offer him resources that don't rely on sorcery.

He hears footsteps along the gravel path, and shoves the twin braziers back into the bushes. By the time the servant arrives and kneels beside him, he is sitting on the stone bench and staring idly up at the moon: a young man taking in the evening air.

"My lord," says the servant softly, "the Wizard-King demands your urgent presence."

His heart freezes solid for a beat, then another, then a third. At last it begins to beat again, and he turns to regard the girl without expression. "I attend," he says, and starts back towards the keep.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Blogging Challenge: Goals for 2020

Okay, so: Long and Short Reviews has a new set of prompts for their Weekly Wednesday Blogging Challenge for 2020. I had a lot of fun doing the challenges from 2019, so I'll be participating again this year. (If you'd like to join me, the prompts are here and you can check in on their home page every Wednesday to find a post with links to people's responses. (If you do participate, add your own links so the rest of us can come and read them!)

I'm putting this one up on Thursday because I only just realized that the challenge was ongoing. That means that the next installment of Dark Armor won't go up until tomorrow morning, and the next installment of Into The Black will probably go up tomorrow afternoon. (That's assuming I get something written for it tonight; the boys have finally started back at school, and this week has been a beating. On a related note, Benadryl is my friend...)

So, this week's challenge was My Goals for 2020.

This is pretty simple, because I've actually been thinking about it:
  1. Finish a book-length project. Both of the ongoing serials are supposed to eventually culminate in that, but if I can somehow find the time somewhere I'd like to write something independent of them.
  2. Start submitting things for publication again. This is basically a matter of looking back through some short stories and other thoughts, then finishing/cleaning them and finding places to submit them.

I have a whole mess of corollary thoughts (get my sleeping habits back in order, maybe experiment with self-publishing a couple of things, be politically active so maybe the world my children grow up in doesn't suck, etc.) but those are the two that I consider to be clear goals, meaning that at the end of the year I'll have a very good idea of whether or not I've actually achieved them.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Writing Considerations: A Character Without A Name

Among the many, many story ideas I would like to write, I would like to write a novel for Dungeons and Dragons. It wouldn't be for the Forgotten Realms, since I don't think I could fit the story I want to tell into that setting, but would take place in a somewhat similar setting of my own. The main character is a half-orc barbarian living along the border where the human settlements brush up against the wild hills where the orc tribes live.

I originally conceived of the character back in third edition; looking at him again through the lens of fifth edition brings some interesting changes -- some helpful (no penalties to ability scores) and some troublesome. (What do I do with Primal Paths for a character who didn't originally have one? And wait, orcs aren't troubled by sunlight now?) Moreover, orcs in fifth edition have a fairly specific set of physical, cultural, and theological qualities, and for the setting-and-story that I want to explore, I pretty much have to assume that everything said about them in Monster Manual and Volo's Guide To Monsters is, well, wildly racist human propaganda.

But none of that is really a problem. It's interesting to consider, but this is my story and my setting and if I decide that the orcs are territorial tribes who hold strength of arms in high regard and consider arcane magic to be cheating, well... so it is. Working with a somewhat different approach to barbarians as a class isn't so hard, especially if I assume that all the characters involved are low-level and just starting out on their journeys.

No, the real issue that I'm running into is the same issue that seem to run into fairly frequently: I can't seem to write an opening scene that works. And usually when that happens, it's because I'm trying to do too much.

Case in point: our halfbreed barbarian.

For starters, I'd intended to have him speak in very simple, broken sentences. "Orcs ahead. Go back." "No trouble. I leave." "You want me help you?" Which, y'know, can be done fairly easily for a supporting character, but it's a bit trickier for a POV character -- especially if he's going to be your primary, and only, point of view. (I think that's 3rd person singular, if you care about such things.) I could switch to a first person POV, but I don't want to create a disparity between complex, nuanced descriptions in the narration and simple speech patterns in the dialogue.

Secondarily, I'd like to have him be nameless. He's left his tribe; he's given up his name. Which is a damned difficult trick to pull off if he's going to be the primary POV character -- you have to call him something, and repeating "the nameless halfbreed" starts to feel really awkward fairly quickly. (I've actually tried this with my current DnD character in Duendewood, and it hasn't really worked the way I intended it to; his default pseudonym has become his de facto name.)

So, yeah: trying to do too much. Don't let it happen to you.

Also? Get sleep. Deep sleep, with lots of rapid eye movements. It's amazing how absolutely necessary that is.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Feeling Adrift

So... I think tomorrow is Monday? Pretty sure the boys are going back to school, and I'll be at work, and a lot of stuff that's either been On Hold or moving at half-speed for the last two weeks is suddenly going to leap up and club me in the forehead. My sense of time is just gone after two mid-week holidays in a row and the kids on winter break; I really should have taken some vacation days in there somewhere, because I spent a good two hours Friday morning thinking it was Monday.

And yes, the United States is apparently attempting to set fire to international politics, and Australia is actually on actual fire, and I am selfishly doing my best to ignore those and several other things because I don't think I can cope with it directly.

2020 is off to a hell of a start.

Friday, January 3, 2020


So the holidays finally caught up with me and I was out sick yesterday. (Hopefully I'm at work today, because I have Things To Do...)

Regular writings will resume next week, with both Dark Armor and Into The Black; for today, just stop and marvel at the fact that we are now living in the distant future of 2020...

...I think I still have a sourcebook or two from that edition somewhere.