Thoughts on Pain (from a Wizard)

I’ve been binging paperbacks hard this year, and a fair amount of those have been The Dresden Files series. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a series of novels by Jim Butcher centering around a private investigator in Chicago who’s a wizard. Or it might be more appropriate to say he’s a wizard who works as a private investigator. Either way, it’s great. I had friends recommending the series to me for years until one of them just bought me the first five (there are seventeen so far) and I’ve been cramming them almost constantly ever since.

They’re fun reads.

But you ever have one of those moments with a book that sits you down? That can either mean sits you down on your ass because it took you off your metaphorical feet, or it could mean that it sits you down, puts a hand on your shoulder, and has a talk with you. It’s one of those moments where, for a brief minute, you set aside the story the book is telling you and audibly thank the author by their first name like you’re on that kind of basis with them.

This was one of those.

It was a perspective on life that I realized I’m going to be loosely quoting, paraphrasing, and otherwise referencing in deep talks with others for a while, if not the rest of my days on this earth. And I won’t lie, I had expected something like that to come out of ‘The Art of War,’ or ‘The Book of Five Rings,’ or ‘The Alchemist’ (which is also good), or something. Not necessarily a novel about wizards, zombies, vampires, angels, warlocks, and all the rest.

I’m going to put the excerpt here, in all its glory. It’s out of the ninth book in the series, ‘White Night,’ pg. 307-309 if you nab the edition published by ROC. (I don’t know if there are other “editions,” it just sounded fancier to say that way.)

“The wisdom, maybe, was still in process, as evidenced by her choice of first lovers, but even as an adult, I was hardly in a position to cast stones, as evidenced by my pretty much everything.

What we hadn’t known about, back then, was pain.

Sure, we’d faced some things as children that a lot of kids don’t. Sure, Justin had qualified for his Junior de Sade badge in his teaching methods for dealing with pain. We still hadn’t learned, though, that growing up is all about getting hurt. And then getting over it. You hurt. You recover. You move on. Odds are pretty good you’re just going to get hurt again. But each time, you learn something.

Each time, you come out of it a little stronger, and at some point you realize that there are more flavors of pain than coffee. There’s the little empty pain of leaving something behind – graduating, taking the next step forward, walking out of something familiar and safe into the unknown. There’s the big, whirling pain of life upending all of your plans and expectations. There’s the sharp little pains of failure, and the more obscure aches of successes that didn’t give you what you thought they would. There are the vicious, stabbing pains of hopes being torn up. The sweet little pains of finding others, giving them your love, and taking joy in their life as they grow and learn. There’s the steady pain of empathy that you shrug off so you can stand beside a wounded friend and help them bear their burdens.

And if you’re very, very lucky, there are the very few blazing hot little pains you feel when you realize that you are standing in a moment of utter perfection, an instant of triumph, or happiness, or mirth which at the same time cannot possibly last – and yet will remain with you for life.

Everyone is down on pain, because they forget something important about it: Pain is for the living. Only the dead don’t feel it.

Pain is a part of life. Sometimes it’s a big part, and sometimes it isn’t, but either way, it’s part of the big puzzle, the deep music, the great game. Pain does two things: It teaches you, tells you that you’re alive. Then it passes away and leaves you changed. It leaves you wiser, sometimes. Sometimes it leaves you stronger. Either way, pain leaves its mark, and everything important that will ever happen to you in life is going to involve it in one degree or another.”

God. Damn.

Thanks, Jim.

I Yam What I Yam: A Child’s First Foray into D&D

When I was eleven years old, I basically spent half my time over at my aunt and uncle’s house. Mom was a career nighttime nurse and couldn’t technically, legally, leave me at home overnight by my self (dad had passed two years before). So you could say I basically lived with them part-time. My uncle had been (and of course remains) a loveable hardcore geek since his early years, and that included a D&D lifestyle – something I’ve been glad to inherit.

Didn’t think it would be that way when I was eleven.

They had longtime friends coming in from out of town, and they were going to play a game of Dungeons and Dragons together. Having my cousin and I as curious kids in the house for the night of fun, they asked if we wanted to take part, which of course we said yes to. If you’ve never played before, D&D is a cooperate storytelling game, basically a campfire story your group tells together, each with their own characters and with dice to help settle disputes. I…I didn’t understand the cooperative part, at first, so I did what any child about to face a group of adult veterans would have done.

I cried to my mother.

“They’re going to kill me,” I lamented. “I’ve never played before and they have, and they all know what they’re doing, and they’re going to beat me up. I don’t know the rules.” Eventually, they managed to drive into my impressionable skull that we were going to work together against monsters and stuff, so I got brave really quickly from there. So we started building my character, and they got around to the crowning achievment and asked, “So what do you want your name to be?” I gave it some thought, then told them.

“Yam.”

“Yam?” the Dungeon Master asked me. And when I nodded enthusiastically, she held her face in her hand and shook her head. “Just what my monsters need, going up against a sweet potato.” This also after initially introducing herself to me and asking me my name, to which she had replied, “Mmm, ‘Evan.’ That’s a good strong name. It would look good on a tombstone.”

Bless her.

And in truth, shoot, I hope she’s right.

The game got underway and I got to experience the magic. Our troop were venturing across a barren grassland when we were beset by ghouls – viscious undead that eat people. It comes to my turn and they ask me what I want to do, and I am nervous. I mean, I’m in a fight with monsters, for God’s sake. But I steel myself and tell her I want to shoot one with my longbow. We roll the dice, crunch the numbers, and I hit one, making it stumble and set it up to be slain by our group’s paladin.

I’d…I’d helped. We’d been attacked by monsters from beyond the grave and I had HELPED. I’d never shot a bow before, but here I’d gone and plugged one with an arrow. Do y’all get how friggin’ empowering that is? These people, heroes from lands I’d never heard of, strangers to me, gave me a smiling thumb’s up and a “good job, bud.” I’d been scared, but had contributed to a group effort alongside people I admired, proving myself capable in a capacity I’d previously not known.

Play. Dungeons. And. Dragons. With. Your. Kids.

Social skills, quick math, priority management, creativity, strength of imagination, organization and more are all a treasure trove of soft skills these games help foster. It comes at the cost of pens, paper, and time you wind up happy to spend. This is my advice to you, now go forth and conquer.

Sin Walkers

Another year, another round of contests in the books.

Okay, I say that, but the thing I’m going to share is from a contest that’s underway. The following has been submitted and we’ll see how well it does.

If I haven’t shared this before or if you’re new, I like to take part in the NYC Midnight fiction contests from time to time. This time around was their Flash Fiction bracket, and they go like this:

You have 48 hours to write a story of a thousand words or fewer. You’re given a genre, a location, and an object which all have to be represented. So, say for example, your given genre is ‘Fantasy,’ placed at ‘a restaurant,’ and featuring ‘a length of pipe,’ you can see how you’d have to piece together those elements into a little diddy.

This time around, I was given ‘Horror,’ ‘a clifftop,’ and ‘a crowbar.’ I forgot that the weekend over which the contest was held, I actually had a number of obligations I’d committed to, so instead of forty-eight, I crammed this out in two.

The synopsis: “A group of five friends is on route to a weekend getaway when a highway accident diverts them, and the night quickly descends into terror as they flee from a monstrous hunter.”

Still though, I think it came together alright.

Sin Walkers

I’m sitting in the back seat of Travis’s Ford just watching the streaks of nighttime rain worm their way across the cold glass. We’re on our way to my dad’s cabin, and everything is just as normal as it always is. Travis is talking about this new job he’s about to land, and Chris is pretending to listen. Sarah won’t look up from her Switch, and Patrick sits between us pretending not to sneak glances at my legs. I fog up the window with a sigh and go back to counting the lines in the road when Chris suddenly shouts.

“Watch out!”

I don’t have time to see what it was or even to think. Travis wrenches on the steering wheel, there’s the screech of metal against the guard rail, and then just gravity. My stomach lurches into my throat, and I feel myself screaming. The cab is chaotic with light, dark, noise, and force all battling for rank. I think we swept right over the clifftop, tumbled end over end, and finally crashed through some trees.

My ears are ringing. In turns, we all fall out of the truck. I’m dizzy. Sarah pukes. It’s minutes before anyone says anything. There’s a howl in the distance behind us.

“Everyone alright?” Chris asks finally.

“I don’t know,” is all I can whimper out.

“Did you guys hear that?” asks Patrick, looking back up the short cliff we’d careened off.

Travis huffs. “It’s just coyotes, dumbass.” Then to Chris, he says, “What the fuck was that for, man? You ran us off the road!” He shoves him.

“I don’t think coyotes sound like that…”

Chris growls back at Travis. “There was a guy standing in the middle of the road!” he shouts. “You almost plowed right into him!”

Patrick doesn’t have time to do more than yelp when some kind of huge animal tackles him to the ground. It’s dark and raining. There’s a roar and a grisly crunch as Patrick’s screaming stops.

So we scatter. I bolt off into the woods crying like a maniac, and Chris manages to follow. I don’t know where the others go, I just run. I dart through trees, cut through bushes, jump over rocks, anything to obey this primal need to flee. I hear Chris breathing and struggling behind me, but there’s another noise too.

It doesn’t sound anything like a coyote.

We keep running, leaping over roots and dips in the ground, and I hear water ahead. I charge ahead with the last of what my legs will give me and dive right into the forest stream. We make it to the other side together and glance back. On the other side of the stream is this…thing. It’s partially hidden in the shadows of the trees, but it looks like a person with yellow eyes.

And the eyes are seven feet from the ground.

The thing looks from us to the stream, then steps back and growls. It disappears from view, but we can hear it running away along the stream, trying to find a way around.

“What the hell was that thing?” Chris asks breathlessly. “Did you see what way the others went?”

Another howl on our side of the stream keeps me from answering, and we start running again. About a minute later, we find the edge of a fenced property. We make our way through a hole in the links and can see that it’s some kind of scrapyard or cemetery for old cars. Chris finds a rusted crowbar on the hood of an old Chevvy, and uses it to get us into a ramshackle storage shed.

“I don’t know,” I say at last. I try in vain to wipe my wet hands off on my pant legs, but I wind up just nervously wringing them together and I can’t get them to stop shaking.

Chris gives me a confused look. “What?” he says.

“The thing that…” I swallow a lump in my throat. “The thing that killed Patrick. I have no idea what that is.” I start crying again. “I just hope Travis is okay,” I sob.

He moves to put his hand on my shoulder, but we both hear something.
“Chris? Chris, Rebecca!” a voice from outside shouts. “Where are you guys?”

“Travis?” Chris calls. He sets the crowbar down and jogs out to find him. I move to follow, but my heart begins racing anew, and some deep survival instinct anchors me to the spot. Something leaps out from behind a crushed car and shoves its arm through Chris’s chest.

It’s tall with taut skin, pink and white like it’s been burned, sickly shining with the rain. Its limbs are unnaturally long and has fangs like a big cats. It rips into the dead meat of Chris’s neck, but stops when it sees me. It howls this clicking, wailing shriek and starts stalking right toward me. With eyes fixed on mine, its mouth opens impossibly wide and its throat starts to quiver and vibrate. “Chris? Chris, Rebbeca!” comes the voice, perfectly like Travis. “Where are you guys?”

It lunges at me, and I react just in time to catch its head in the door. A clawed hand breaks the glass, rips into my shoulder, and I hear something break that adrenaline tells me to ignore. The wood quickly begins to creak and splinter, but I grab the crowbar Chris left behind and bash its skull over and over again until it stops moving.

I curl up against the back wall and just hug my knees with my good arm. I think about Patrick, about Chris, about Travis, and just pray to God and against hope that Sarah got away. Then I hear something outside, just audible over the drumming of rain.

Voices.

“Chris?” calls one from my right.

“Rebbeca!” calls the same voice from my left.

“Where are you guys?”

“Chris? Rebecca! Where are you guys?”

They’re getting closer.

Lady Death

Did you know there’s a saying that goes a person’s fate can be read on the wings of a butterfly? That’s what makes fate so hard to know, because the little creatures that carry it rarely stop fluttering long enough to read their wings. I’m sure that’s also what makes them so naturally mystifying, what we don’t realize draws our eye whenever they pass us by, bobbing through the air just out of reach.

They’re with me wherever I go. And wherever I might be, they find me. They are beautiful little things. Gentle, innocent, fragile, small.

Something else not many people know is that butterflies love salt, and a common place they find it is the remains of a dead animal. Flesh, devoid of life and giving way to nature and time – they love it.

I think that’s why they follow me. Like cats that know what doors leave out bowls of water or scraps of food, they’ve caught on to where they can get their salt fix. It’s invisible to us, but maybe their eyes see power over death like a color in the air, a magenta dust on the wind.

It’s a tale as old as time, really; and always the same motivation. A loved one who’s died, their memory growing more distant with each passing day, or one who’s sick and will know death shortly. I was different. I just…wanted to know.

Is it like everyone seems to think, something to be scared of and staved off? Is it “just a part of life,” or is that something we tell ourselves to assuage the anxiety of uncertainty? Is it sleep, or is it just…nothing? Are we just our bodies, our minds, or is there really a spark that drives the whole thing that remains eternal? After all, everyone in history has done it, so it can’t be that hard. It’s the biggest mystery of our time, and always has been.

Anyway, yeah, I think that’s why they follow me. And maybe I misspoke earlier. It isn’t a power over death, because everything that lives dies. That’s an immutable law of existence: everything that is, once was not; and everything that is, will not be again. So, not over death, but a power with it.

And the little buggers can’t get enough.

FIN

(Hey guys.
The astute among us might note the date on this post, that on the one prior, and the distance between the two. Like with all of us, life has had a lot of moving parts lately. Plus, I just haven’t had a lot to say, I guess. But this little ditty came to mind while on a walk earlier today, and it seemed like a good time to post again.
I haven’t been quiet that this is just a place to work out for me: run thought experiments, shout into the void, practice, blah, blah, blah. Feeling now, though, that there might be a good time of creative productivity on the way; a breath of air amidst all the chaos, if you will.
So, yeah, get ready to see more o’ me. This’ll be cool.
Peace, everybody.)

A Scene from my Phone

Hiram looked over his shoulder.

The rain was thick, falling in sheets and pelting the edges of his hood, but he saw a figure standing in the distance. It stood on the road, slumped but not seeming to mind the downpour or mud. It wore a cloak of reeds draped over massive shoulders, a dark cowl, and a mask over its face with shadows obscuring the eyes.

Hiram looked back to his companions, to tell them of the strange figure on the road, but they had walked far ahead of him, too eager to leave the rain to idle as he had. He looked back and saw the figure, while while it remained still, was now much closer than before. Here, he could see the thing’s shoulders heaving with the rhythmic breath which froze in large clouds beneath its mask. The head slowly lurched, revealing two hollow, ghostly white rings in place of eyes.

Feeling for the hilt of his sword, Hiram wanted to posture, to shout at the figure in the road and drive it away. He was thinking of what he might say when the figure began to change. The shoulders quickly ratted and grew, the skirt of the cloak lifted as black, spidery legs worked their way out into the mud. Hiram watched arms the weight, depth, and speed of shadow shot along the sides of the road, and the creature flew at him. Hiram drew his sword and shouted.

But another sheet of rain fell and erased the figure from sight like a blemish of dust wiped clean from glass.

Hiram spun around on the spot, to see where the thing had gone, fruitlessly. He was alone.

END

“Mhurren’s Mansion” – A Riddle

‘Sup, y’all.

[If you wanna skip the hooplah about all the context and “social experimenting,” there’s a fun riddle to solve a few paragraphs down. Enjoy!]

Had the wonderful opportunity to run a D&D one-shot game for a good friend of mine’s bachelor party (yes, you read that right) over the weekend.

In true Evan Fashion, I found myself far busier than I thought I’d be in the run-up to Game Day, and so I had way less time time to prepare than I thought I would. My solution: roll out an oldie, but a goodie.

I wrote a one-shot game back in January of 2018 from scratch, built from the ground up and inspired by the Jindosh Lock from Dishonored 2, and so far I’ve run the game three times, each with a different group. Y’all, I feel like I’m running a social experiment and it is awesome.

The first group was with a group consisting of my girlfriend Mandy and two of our other female friends (that’s right, Girls’ Night). I was so excited to see the riddle and puzzles I’d designed come together just as desired – not too easy as to be blown through, but not so difficult as to expect grand leaps in logic, and most of all: not broken (ie – missing pieces of information, incomplete). It was awesome watching them each read their own portion of the riddle, then pass pieces around until each had had a turn, then come together with their findings and hypotheses.

The second group was composed of three guy friends (one being Pierre, mentioned previously), and they handled it SO differently. Rather than pass their portions around, they each clutched their paper tightly and shared what they knew, but not what they were given. Despite this approach seeming much less cooperative, they took down the riddle in about the same amount of time.

Then, finally, this weekend’s group consisted of several good friends, though ones that left me the youngest at the table by a margin of about ten years (just meant some good 80’s references I didn’t get). THIS group was far more roleplay-focused than the previous two, and that made communication about their clues a bit foggier, but 100x more fun. They wound up silently electing a member of their group to essentially play the part of riddle-master whose job it became to, well, solve the riddle while the rest explored.

There’s more we could get to, but the main meat of the message is that puzzle-designing is kind of a lot of fun. Below, I’m gonna put the riddle in its entirety, but just know the players were each given a fragment, then had to put it together from there, plus solve the mansion’s other puzzles that depended on knowledge gained from dissecting this correctly.

But that’s besides the point.

Point is, can you figure out which sibling held which item at the end of Solstice, and the order of their birth?

Good luck.

“Four siblings once lived in this house, and all of them were thieves. Over the course of the Solstice of the Elements, they each stole one another’s treasures.

Arthur would not do much with his days save for laze on the sandy shores and hum his favorite tune. On the first day of Solstice, he saw the youngest sibling with Veronica’s treasure and later heard she traded it for his Jade Figurine. Upon hearing the news, he simply yawned and let them be. After all, on the fourth day of Solstice, he found Amelia’s treasure discarded in the dining hall, so he took it to his music room and was content.

The third child had a bitter heart and was envious of the firstborn’s special treatment. While she would swim, she also quietly resented her brother, who was older, and on the second day of Solstice, she stole his prized treasure, but later could not find it. On the fourth day, she saw the youngest come to her lake holding an Opium Pipe and trade it to the firstborn for the treasure she’d lost. While she watched her siblings deal in secret, she contented herself with a taunting tune in her bath house from her sister’s treasure she taken earlier that morning.

Veronica, hot-headed and avaricious, was spoiled by her parents with more riches than her siblings, but still she craved more. She stole Amelia’s Crystal Decanter on the first day of Solstice, filled it with brandy, and offered to share a drink with Lisbeth a day later, who had far too much. Two days after that, she got her treasure back and retired to her treasury with it. As she sank into the satin cushions, she mused on her own reflection to the end of Solstice.

The youngest child was flighty and impulsive. She loved her Pan Flute and would use it to play ‘The Fletcher’s Son’ for her brother, but on the second day of Solstice found it missing. She heard its soft sound on the beach that afternoon. On the third day of Solstice she used her sister’s treasure to dull a terrible headache, but gave it back to her a day later for a lovely stone bear. She put it with the rest of her chimes, which hung where feathers told the direction of the wind.

On the fifth and final day of Solstice, none of the siblings stole or traded anything.

Brave the four Elements and their dangers, return the stolen treasures to the Vault in the proper order, and find your worth inside…”

Easy, right?

Catch ya’s later.

Non-Lucid [Horror-ish] Dreaming

Hey all,

Since this has become- I just realized the greeting looks like the beginning of a letter. That’s how you know I was writing emails just before doing this. Let it serve as a reminder that this whole thing, this whole “The Light of Day” project is basically the raw milk of online blogging. I edit embarrassingly little. It’s mostly just a stream of consciousness that I type out as I think it – like these words are talking to you. Which…which is sort of how words…are supposed…to work…

ANYWAY.

Since this has become a bit of a dream journal as of late, I think we’re gonna roll that out again. This time, though, I can kind of track where the dream came from, which won’t make it any less fantastical once we get into it, but that’s beside the point.

Two things we should probably highlight before we delve into this:

  1. I have a warm fondness for the scoundrel archetype. That doesn’t necessarily mean troublemakers, pranksters, or ‘yee-haw!’ wildcards. Scoundrels, to me, are the characters that exist for themselves. They can be the main protagonists, but serve better as part of the auxiliary cast. Their motives serve themselves entirely. They might help the heroes, and might hinder the villain, but mostly as part of happenstance, coincidence, or convenience. They aren’t mean-spirited, they’re just sort of selfish survivalists.
  2. These past few weeks have been rough. I’m not going to use this to bitch, bark, or “woe is me,” cause that’s annoying for all included. Just letting it serve as context for how said stress wound up personified in the dreamscape.

I was standing on the rain-slick battlement of a castle during a stormy night (because of course it was). Around me was a small gaggle of faceless knights who I presume were supposed to be my friends, family, and/or securities (as opposed to “insecurities”). In a Battle of Helms Deep fashion, across the murky field stood an absolute army of vampires.

Why vampires?

Good question.

I don’t know, but they were vampires. And none of that nonsense, sparkly, Twilight vampires. Good, classic Magic: the Gathering-style vampires. Fangs, claws, black armor n’ shit.

Anyway, the vampires charge, all screaming obscenities for some reason (that part seemed excessive even to me as the dreamer), and we clash on the field of battle. Pretty quickly, it turned into one of those scenes wherein, one-by-one, the heroes slowly fall to the insurmountable numbers of the enemy, but I stood there on the battlement cleaving away, just, bushels of vampires.

I’m ducking. I’m dodging. I’m slashing with my sword. I’m getting bit. I’m getting punched. I’m throwing expert Muy Thai knees like a fuckin’ ninja in medieval-fantasy armor.

But the whole time, no matter how much success I find, the horde of vampires just keeps coming, and I realize that going at it, fighting them all off myself – no matter how expertly I feel I’m doing it – just won’t suffice forever.

So I keep at it, fighting like a choreographed badass, until an idea strikes me.

I shout orders to my few remaining knights to line the grates by a nearby looming castle wall with some sort of explosive. What came next when I gave the order to light it, was the deus ex machina-style victory, wherein the hero remembers that the big fuck-off wall in the background was some kind of long-forgotten damn, and in demolishing it, we flood the valley with running water that drowns out the vampires and saves the day.

I think…I think it’s supposed to be some kind of metaphor for how the power is within you “all along,” and you just need to know how and when to tap into it.

Or maybe it was just a killer dream about vampires.

I leave it to you.

Happy Thursday.

Peace.

A Hootenanny with a Hoedown, to Boot!

Happy Tuesday, y’all – how ya doin’?

Continuing on from Thursday’s stories, we’re gonna dive on into the rest of the chronicle. Bonus points if you can spot the work that inspired how they get out.

Crevarius & Bindalar Gearforge

Narrator: (The stockades and dungeons of High Bluff, particularly the Crag Cells, were held in infamy for their creative design, the torment the echoing stone was said to have play on the mind, and, moreover, their record for being inescapable. Normally reserved for fugitives and miscreants of great trespass, two unlucky individuals had found themselves on both the wrong side of the law as well as the sore temper of Keeper Falion, leaving them to commiserate in the dark, damp cave-cells of High Bluff’s harshest prison.)

(One, a man, lithe of form and bearing a curled, blonde goatee sat with his elbows upon his knees and his back against the cave wall. He was dressed in a green jerkin, trousers of blackened leather, and high soft boots of the same. Currently, he worked away, whittling a piece of stone with a tiny iron blade.)

(The second, a gnome, short but not stout, with sharp facial features and an almost perpetual smirk adorning his cheeks. Clothed in dark leathers riddled with pockets which confiscation had emptied, only his blonde hair was apparent against the black of the cave wall. He sat cross-legged sorting a small mound of various bread scraps, fatty meat pieces, and stale nuts.)

(Each young man shared his cell with a cellmate who each young man considered very boring company.)

Crevarius: “I’m so hungry.” (He groans.)

Bindalar: “Yeah? Well that’s your own fuckin’ fault, innit? Raisin’ a cat n’ all.”

Crevarius: “Do you really think it the time to-”

Bindalar: “Oooh, mate, all’s we got is fuckin’ time. Your ass ain’t goin’ nowhere! And thanks fuckin’ to it, neither is mine! Ah, good boy.”

(A small, white rat scurries up to the gnome and delivers a bread scrap.)

Crevarius: “Me? YOU are the career street thief. I’d counted on a bit more professional expertise from your end.”

Bindalar: “Ah, yeah, and who’s the bloody fuckin’ fancy archer who missed his fuckin’ shot and left me on the fuckin’ roof without a fuckin’ rope!?”

Crevarius: “I told you to just toss down the bag first! How hard was that?”

Bindalar: “I don’t trust fuckin’ cheats.”

(Crevarius prepares a retort, but jostles his eyebrows in recognition of points made.)

Crevarius: “Can you spare some food?” (He says finally.)

Bindalar: “Wait, what’s that you’ve got there?”

Crevarius: “What? This?”

Bindalar: “Yes fuckin’ that. That what’s in your hand! Is that a knife?”

Crevarius: “Yes.”

Bindalar: (In a harsh whisper) “You’ve got a fuckin’ knife and you didn’t fuckin’ say anything?”

(Pause)

Crevarius: “I didn’t think it important to mention.”

(The gnome stares dumbfounded from under the brim of his hat.)

Bindalar: “Give it here.”

Crevarius: “What? No.”

Bindalar: “Give it fuckin’ here, ya cock-sneezin’ shit bag.”

Crevarius: “Give me the bread and nuts.”

Bindalar: “For fuck’s sake!”

(The gnome shovels all the scraps in front of him through the bars at the archer.)

Crevarius: “Now, what’re you going to do with that?”

Bindalar: “You have no idea how people come and go from this fuckin’ place, do ya?”

Crevarius: “I…uh…”

Bindalar: “Suck a donkey’s tit and call it maple.” (sighs) “Just follow my lead. Oi! (calling through the bars to the distantly attending guard) we got a stiff over here! (whispers) Sorry, bruv.”

Crevarius: “You’re pretty despicable.”

Bindalar: “Ah, sad fuck was hangin’ by a thread anyway. You’s best do the same. We’ve about five minutes ‘fore they come back with sacks for the bodies. Hope your ass knows how to swim!”

Narrator: (After what may only be described as the completion of selfish, depraved, perhaps villainous, but admittedly clever and survivalist actions, two body bags are sung their last rights and cast from the cliffs of High Bluff into the ocean. The first is deftly cut open shortly after sinking below the water’s surface to reveal a very much alive and swimming adept gnome, holding a soggy white rat. The second, upon hitting the salty water swells to a plump, buoyant state and coasts calmly to the shore with the kicking gnome following hotly in pursuit.)

Crevarius: “I have to hand it to you,” (stepping out of his deflating body bag, dressed in the clothes of his former cellmate, and holding a fluffy gray cat) “that WAS a pretty great idea.”

Bindalar: (sloshing his way up the beach) “What the fuckin’ hell was that? And where the fuck did you get a cat?”

Crevarius: “Tala here? She was the brooch on my cloak. Couldn’t have a cat walking around in a prison like that. A rat, sure, but an unfamiliar tabby? Nonsense.”

(Bindalar and his rat stare at him hard for a long moment.)

Bindalar: “Well, that’s fuckin’ brilliant.”

(Together, the two set out into the evening dusk-mellowed streets to resupply themselves the best ways they knew how. Reconvening at the caravan park leading north out of town, they heard the bells of alarm ringing at the end of the peninsula and thought it best to make camp outside the city bounds that night. Regardless, the daring duo was arrested a short week later, hunted by a contracted Justicar of the Taldastius Order and her ward, a prodigal young witch.)

(To this day, no one knows what was said between the opposing camps that fateful night, but the separate two’s became four. Their forces joined, they set off to investigate the call of a priest of The Returned in Hallendren, the Jewel of the East.)

END

The Take: This was fun. I loved having the guys read this at the table, got a fair bout of laughs, and set the mood pretty well. And reading it back now, it still hits me with some chuckles. However you read Bindalar’s voice, I guarantee you got it exactly right.

And last but not least, introducing…

Nisha

Nisha had spent the majority of her life watching the sands. In them, she could read the songs of the wind and in them she could read the news of the world. Raised in the Channelers’ Fold as she had been, that life offered no freedom to explore beyond the walls of Meir and its towering spires could only extend her vision so far. Her early hopes were to distinguish herself with her talents, boast through display the connection with her chosen djinn, and bullishly earn place to be groomed for the Inquisition. But life rarely bears fruit as sweet as the yearnings of our youth would dream it to be. Nisha’s life as an Acolyte of the Inquisition was more difficult than she would ever have thought it could be. The schooling was as demanding as it was constant; the consequences for dissatisfying expectations were severe; and the closer she grew to her djinn, the more deeply she regretted her bond. Try as she might to conceal these thoughts from it, the more it pried into her mind, tormenting her with commands it hadn’t the authority to give and with violent thoughts not her own. The young, olive-skinned, golden-eyed girl would deny the shade its triumph by robbing herself of that for which it doggedly assailed her mind.

On the eve of her Conjoining, the final marriage with her chosen spirit, Nisha stood in the window sill of her spire-top room. She looked over her shoulder for a final sight at the cage that had housed her for so long and cast herself from it. She fell, feeling the wind tear past her on her descent, fill her ears, and lurch her stomach into her throat. With a slow tranquility, the girl closed her eyes and awaited that final silence, a wry smile curling her lips.

*

For years later, Nisha would ponder why it was her silence never came. When she would search the shattered memories of her fraying mind, she only knew that next she woke on a road stretching through unfamiliar sands, far away from the towering walls of Meir. Panic had hit her first, spinning this way and that but seeing nothing more than rolling dunes across an encompassing horizon. When her breath returned to her, she took to her training and with an eventual calm resolve, set herself to reading the sands. The wind carried news of ports, strange dressings, and dye fields on rainbow’d hills. Nisha knew now, she was north of Albe’lar an Tsecht, the Duskset Jewel of the Returned.

She removed herself from the wind’s song and wiped the dust from her face to see an odd group approaching, but took less notice of them than her own hands. With an eerie calm, she observed the wrinkles in the skin of her hands and with them felt the deep grooves of her withered face. Nisha reacted with muted shock as the woman in armor of lacquered silver stepped from the group and approached her (hushing the gnome making a comment about Nisha resembling a robed raisin). The woman spoke but Nisha heard not a word as she came under a much deeper revelation. The woman’s countenance turned worried as she asked with concern, “Old woman, are you alright?”

Nisha looked up to her with tears running down her cheeks and a deep smile on her lips as she replied: “I’m alone.”

The Take: Nisha’s my favorite. Of the five characters presented here, Nisha’s my favorite for sure. Not necessarily for her personality or abilities she went on abuse use to great effect, but just her intro. When asked to do up a backstory, Amanda, the player in question said something along the lines of: “I dunno, something cool. I wanna be a crazy lady.” Well dammit, a crazy lady you now have.
In case I lost you somewhere in there, the short version is this: Nisha is being reared into the Channeler’s Fold (mentioned back in Stella’s portion), a sect/temple/whatever of mages that play host to djinn for power. She was being prepared for her permanent bonding with her chosen djinn, but couldn’t take it, and tried to commit suicide by leaping out of a tall spire’s window. When she woke up, she found she’d somehow not died and was now instead an old wrinkly woman, but the djinn who’d resided in her mind was (equally mysteriously) gone.
Mark my words, here, today, the 24th of September of the year two-thousand nineteen, Nisha will feature prominently in a future novel of mine.

Anyway, Abidee-Abidee- that’s all for now folks (Porky Pig voice definitely intended).

Ciao.

Fantasy Dim Sum: Ainsley and Stella

What’s up, everybody. Happy Thursday!

Today we’re at it again: serving up a couple short scenes that wind up tying together in the end. Rather than overdoing the intro, I’m just going to let them speak for themselves.

Without further adieu…

Part 1: ‘Ainsley, Justicar of Taldastius

Ainsley stood still at the edge of the forest glade, loosing the deep breath with the slow, practiced control her work demanded. Her eyes took in the scene with that same calm measure as her plated boots clinked their tread through the soft grass. A gentle wind danced through the muted green, brushed her cheeks, tossed her hair, and carried the scent of blood – the scent of a haunting life she’d left behind.

While her task required attention, Ainsley’s focused mind would not carry the nightmares of that life. For a time, she would not be molested by thoughts of the clans her brother-and-sisters-in-arms had scattered; she would not burden herself with the memories of their screams; she would not shudder at the knowledge she held of that which corroded the earth, shattered rock, and sundered the skies. A “dishonorable discharge” it had been called, but a system of mock honor that burns and destroys the undeserving to protect its own interests held no place to judge her. No longer holding station among the zealous Elves of the Iron Fang, she had found the freedom to wander. Unwelcome by many, hated by some, Ainsley turned Nameless – finding work and a place in the darkest recesses of Mundas, thanklessly facing the nightmares that plagued its people.

And this way she lived for many years until came such a time as any for those that live the Nameless way, and she found herself ready to die as such. She had stood in a moonlit glade then as well, slowly kneeling ready to dash the lunar-gray grasses with the crimson of her life’s blood. As she had held the blade high and saw in its reflection the pale of the moon, the sight of it filled her mind and heart with a vision:

We that follow are the light that stands amid the dark and guides the helpless through its shroud.”

The Oath and its Moon Strictures now decorating the flesh of her back, her life as a Justicar of Taldastius had begun only weeks later; her stride now set with a righteous purpose beyond murky survival.

As her footfalls strode quietly through the glade, shield at her side and sword gleaming brightly in the moonlight, Ainsley heard the choking, strained gasps more clearly the nearer she drew. The girl was young, no more than twenty winters behind her, with raven black hair and eyes with blue that pierced the pallid night. The acrid smell in the air, the jagged, raking marks down the girl’s arms, and the thick, speckled quills that perforated her petite form told Ainsley more than enough: Howlers.

Normally cowardly, netherplane-dwelling beasts, something had brought them here. The girl looked up at Ainsley, lips quivering, dark trails streaking from the corners of her mouth, and unable to speak. The Justicar held the young girls gaze for a time before turning her own to a rustling in the encompassing treeline.

They were coming.

END

The Take: So, there are a couple of lore points from the larger world at work here to address that might help, might not.
Ainsley is a Justicar (or paladin-variant, basically) of Taldastius, Steward of the Moon, Keeper of the Scales, Lord of Justice, n’ all else. The Moon is the Order’s totem and it represents them in the way Ainsley’s vision outlines: they fight against the dark by living in it, but without becoming it (if that makes sense). I could go on for pages, but that’s the gist and we have more to get to (this is supposed to be bite-sized, after all).
The Iron Fang are essentially a state-funded volunteer corps of defense against the dragon nests north of the Continent. They’re comprised of zealots, desperate sods, religious nutters, social outcasts – anyone and everyone. It’s members are highly revered, though, normally only after they’ve died – being criticized and berated in life by society at large. They’re organized strictly, and when one falls out of their ranks (is insubordinate, flees, or otherwise shows cowardice), they become “Nameless,” the world’s equivalent to Witchers, basically; only finding work as mercenaries and monster-hunters.

On to the next!

Part 2: Stella Fairbay, Heiress of Shale

Stella watched the diminutive ceramic dancer slowly twirl in its place within the open music box. A slight smile spread across her narrow lips as she listened to the soft chiming sung by the inner springs and coils. She watched the last of the day’s warm sunlight glimmer and reflect off its polished curves, and these feelings left her mind awash in memories – though they now seemed so distant.

The years of her youth were of gilded halls and ballrooms, long hours in formal court, and a deep-rooted yearning to part with it all, though never once betraying her family’s storied lineage. As with many of the women in her ancestry, Stella held a particularly strong sway over the magical forces of Mundas, and nothing interfered with that secret more greatly than the life of royalty. Her potential was held captive by the very privilege which provided for her, so she stole away one night to walk the wanderer’s path and develop her talents. Her only farewell: a letter addressed to her grandmother, the ruling Duchess of Shale, mentor to Stella in her youngest years, and, moreover, only living family-by-blood left in the Duchy.

Stella fluttered her eyelids to blink the memories away and she found her vision focusing beyond the now silent toy dancer to the reflection of her own eyes in the mirror of the box’s lid. She held the sight for a breath then looked up to behold the moon, feeling now that it was almost time. It had taken many months to find this place and Stella would be damned if she’d spent that time tracking down the proper charts, conferring with members of the Channelers’ Fold, and preparing the necessary charms only to miss her window distracted by nostalgia.

The young witch carefully closed the music box and stowed it within her black, silver-laced robes. She stood sharply and grasped the spear-staff at her side, an heirloom from her late grandfather. Stella marched with conviction to the edge of a summoner’s circle she’d constructed when the sun had been high, looked up to see the moon nearing its zenith, and an eager laugh escape her lips as she began her incantation, ready to open the way. Her eyes whited over with a milky paleness to mimic the moon and the ground beneath her feet felt as if to hum in harmony with her low tone.

Slowly, like fireflies drifting in the veil of night, glowing sigils began to form out of the cold air and weave together in the bounds of her circle. A complete silence took the glade before a loud snap broke the air and a bright font of light burst forth from the ground. In a matter of moments, Stella knew, if she had done her work correctly, she would be face-to-face with an angelic archon.

As the last of the arcane light faded from the circle, an unexpected darkness shrouded the glade. Stella rubbed her eyes so they might adjust and whispered a word to her staff for light. As she did so, a horrible sense of dread fell upon her like a cloak and she heard a clicking, guttural snarl. The moments of Stella’s life to follow would be remembered only as a panicked blur.

A haunting, shrieking howl pierced the still quiet.

Her chest and arms pained by slashes of unseen claws.

She was knocked breathless against the cool, damp grass.

Stella awaited the death knell from whatever infernal creatures her tragic mistake had summoned, though it never came. She could hear them, feel them encircling her, as her vision slowly darkened until a vibrant silver light beamed from the edge of the glade and the creatures retreated from it. A woman in silver and blue plate armor stood over her, beautiful and scarred, she peered down at Stella with a look of sympathy. A noise from the glade’s edge stole the woman’s attention for a moment, and when her gaze returned to the young witch her eyes burned a brilliant silver that shone against the dark backdrop of the stars.

The woman whispered a soft, chiming tone and Stella coughed. While still in great pain, she could feel a relieving warmth spread across her body where there had been agony moments before. Seeing the young woman stable, the paladin dashed across the muted gray forest floor, her blade shining white with fire. Stella craned her neck to watch as her savior cleaved down the first two beasts in a matter of moments and briefly wrestled with a third, a terrible fray of shouts and visceral crunches, while the remaining pack closed in around. With a desperate, heaving breath, Stella sat up and looked on as long, sharp quills like those that had pierced her struck the paladin between areas of her plate. Focusing through the tormenting pain and hurried anxiety of her circumstance, Stella forced herself into trance.

The paladin fought from her back, swinging this way and that to ward away the encroaching pack, when she felt the ground beneath her shake. The howlers seized the moment of her hesitation and moved to leap upon their meal, but could not feel the ground beneath their gnarled paws. She watched as the remaining pack was lifted above the grass and pulled, flailing viciously, over to the girl in black robes, now standing with spear in one hand and the other extended towards the creatures. Quills were shaken and shot forth in Stella’s direction, though they splintered to harmless flakes in the air around her. The howlers were forced to the grass, dragged by an invisible hand to the circle from which they’d emerged and, like water through cloth, disappeared beneath the ground.

From across the moonlit glade, the two women locked eyes for the second time and together shared a well-earned sigh of relief.

END

The Take: There you have it, a bad-ass, scarred up warrior lady and a reckless, mystical witch woman ruining a gaggle of otherworldly beasties. Always fun. I always liked Stella’s half for tying in and really showing off Ainsley’s badassery, plus alluding to some other world-bits we’ll explore a bit more deeply later.

Probably put up the others of this little “mini-series” tomorrow rather than waiting until Tuesday. Til then, you take it easy and stay beautiful, you.

Ciao.

“Karian Nimblefinger, the Baron’s Son” – Our First Guest Post!

Happy Tuesday, everybody!

About a month ago, I started waking up at 4:30 every Tuesday and Thursday morning to go running with my buddy Eric. I wouldn’t have voted for that start time, personally, but I asked, “What time are you consistently available?”
“In the morning before work,” said he.
“What time do you have to be at work?” asked I.
“Seven o’clock,” said he.
“In the morning?” asked I.
“Yep,” confirmed he.
“Okay,” sighed I.

That’s how it started, and I told him I refused to “bitch out” first, so now I’m pretty committed to those words, lest I eat them. It’s a thing I simultaneously think everyone should do, at least a little bit, and would not wish on someone I disliked greatly.

Anyway, on to the good stuff!

You all remember Pierre, right? (It’s kind of funny, because he initially asked to be kept anonymous when I mentioned I was going to put out his debut story, but has since become cool with using his name outside of that…but, nah. I like Pierre, so Pierre he’ll remain.) Well today’s post is both the last installment of the esteemed Amwren Chronicles series AND the first co-written feature on here. He wrote the first half, I finished up with the second to tie it into the campaign, and the result is the following beautiful literary baby.

Without further adieu…

Karian Nimblefinger, the Baron’s Son

Few men can trace their change of fortune to a specific event. Karian however can pinpoint it to a single hour on an otherwise uneventful August day. He was barely twelve years of age when he walked into his small one room home to see his father with a beaten face and his mother nowhere to be seen. He asked the question that any man of any age would ask, and was answered with a cold apathetic grunt from his father trying to drink his way out of a half full bottle of spirits. Unsatisfied and still not sure what happened Karian walked back outside to see what he could find.

Days went by before his father was willing to open up about what happened that day, and as the years progressed so did his story. The first time he told it he attacked the man he suspected his wife of sleeping with. By Karian’s thirteenth birthday his father defended her honor from a gang of savage militiamen with ill intent. Less than a year later, he was telling people the local lord challenged him to a duel for her hand. Two things remained consistent throughout his wildly growing stories: he always heroically faced overwhelming odds, and at the end she always left him coldly. He was the victim of a story that never ended, using his perceived misfortune as a crutch. He may as well have grown gills for all the time he spent drowning in a bottle.

Karian can trace his change of fortune to that mysterious day when his mother disappeared, because it was the first day he had no other option than to start believing his father’s wild stories. By the time he was old enough to start thinking for himself the damage was already done; he couldn’t trust anyone but himself, and women were nothing but backstabbing harlots. Eventually Karian got it in his mind to become a smooth-talking bard after seeing one visit a local tavern, and so he set off to join the Bard’s College of Stettin, and changed his family name from Tavistock to Nimblefinger. He dropped out after learning enough to play a lute, albeit poorly, and hum a tune. He survived by becoming a pickpocket and doing the odd job around a local inn.

These days he spends his time fast talking the pretty girls that pass through his inn. But through it all he can’t ignore the nagging in the back of his mind, the need to discover the truth about what really happened to his mother so many years ago…

*

It was the early morning crowing of a rooster that woke Karian, and he judged by the dizzying headache, lingering scent of perfume, and his utter lack of clothing, that the previous night had been a success. Rubbing his eyes to clear the dust, he looked around and decided that how he had come to wake in a barn, when he’d assuredly bed the lovely young lady in the tavern storeroom, was also best left to the imagination. He adjusted himself on the scratchy hay pile on which he was lying, folded his arms behind his head, and enjoyed the first rays of morning sun peeking through the parse planks of the barn’s walls. Anything but a typical man, this was, alas, a typical story in the life of Karian Nimblefinger.

What he was unaccustomed to, however, was waking to the presence of another man.

“Hello?” ventured a voice from the stall next to his.

“Ah, one minute, mate,” called Karian. Not that he held any shame whatsoever in the size of his manhood, or much shame to speak of at all really, he whispered a thanks to the sweet gods that left him with his bard’s bonnet, and covered himself with it. He cleared his throat with a cough. “You may approach, good sir,” he sang.

“Fair morning.” The man who rounded the corner was young, no more than twenty summers behind him, and dressed in robes of light lavender. A large medallion depicting two hands with intricately woven fingers laced with string hung low from his neck. “Are you Karian Nimblefinger?”

“My reputation precedes me. I am he, unique and true, friend. What’ll it be? Autograph or private performance? As you can see, I’m a bit without my equipment – well, my stage equipment.”

“Kindly appreciated, but unnecessary,” chuckled the priest. “I come on request of my master, as one of the Order of Bokonon. He requests your presence in Tallin in a week’s time.”

“Tallin…Tallin…Tallin…” repeated Karian tapping his chin. “Is that the one with all the…buildings?”

“A few, yes. Temples.”

“Ah, right! Well, as you can see, young master, I’m a man of professional…profession. I’m not accustomed to rendering services without payment. So, on that stricture, one of my very few, I would be remiss not to ask: will there be gold?”

“I would hazard to say yes, yes there will.”

“Then I’m in! If you’ll allow me a moment to fetch me pants, it’ll be off to the City of Temples.”

END

The Take: Not that I expect the world at large to closely follow this series, but after a few darker notes in the middle with entries like Aldis and Tsal, it felt appropriate to bring it back to a lighter note with Karian. Throughout the campaign, for his part in it (he eventually sojourned at one point to become a pirate – dope), he added to the comic relief, joviality, mischief, revelry, and unfiltered fun of the whole process, but he wasn’t without a humanizing darker side. In fact, he was the member of the group I least expected to learn, much less embrace, utilizing blood magic, but shit did he.

Anyway, it was good to see Karian again. Pierre, this one’s to you.

Take it easy, everyone. Catch ya Thursday.