The Other Side, 6

Monday, March 30, 2009 - 2:28 PM

Here, we find that the Bad Guys go on quests just like the Good Guys do. Last session of DnD, there were so many bits and pieces foreshadowing the end game it was practically a movie trailer, and the characters are more than ready in their hearts to get the big confrontation done, even if their minds acknowledge their limitations and the need for caution.
Saving even a corner of the world isn't an easy thing.

Meeting in the mossy halls of the Citadel of Tongues, Leoric gathered his lieutenants after Avar had returned from Fidelity's grove. They were alone in the chamber save for Leoric's ever-present servant Merin; even Isabeau had left her spiders behind.

“The work is done,” she announced, seating herself in an ancient wooden chair that made her seem twice as small. “The room is sealed as much as I can make it. Do speak freely, my lord Leoric.”

Leoric nodded slightly in acknowledgment, and then studied his companions. He was aware of the improbable circumstances that had eventually brought them all to this point, and he regarded it not only as a blessing but as a kind of cosmic approval. They were meant to be.
Tancred slouched, Avar sat with shoulders squared and arms folded, Isabeau languished, and Julian leaned heavily on the table. But all of them, even Julian, watched Leoric.

“I know what Hope is doing,” said Leoric in a quiet, inevitable voice, and saw the wary interest in Isabeau and Tancred. Avar didn't even blink, and Julian merely seemed curious. “We are meant as a foil, nothing more.”

“Why,” asked Avar.

“When our attack occurs, all the world will focus on us. Our siege will be a distraction so that Hope may work unimpeded in the south. She truly follows in her master's footsteps; the two-sided threat was always something he enjoyed.”

Tancred sneered. “What of it? Our assault will still be what it is, and we shall overrun the Green Veil, bring the reach of the Grandfather further.”

Shaking his head slightly, Leoric turned his discerning eyes to Tancred. “So it seems, but Hope has lied to us. I'm sure there are other lies. What if we are expected? What if she leaves a trail for others to find us? She's done these things before. If the Leandrites know we are coming, our chances for loss are much greater. Our army is not so mighty as that... not yet.”

Isabeau simply listened, occasionally running a finger up and down her neck, but Avar spoke again. “Then what do you plan?”

“That Hope might betray us is not really a surprise,” Leoric replied reasonably. “The Disciples are not compelled to be our friends. Even in the days when the Grandfather walked among us, they fought with each other. Yet, he bound them all.”
Leoric paused, and looked at Isabeau. “Have the palimpsests awakened?”

Now a spark of curiosity showed in Isabeau's lazy eyes. “Yes, my lord. What do you require?”

He gestured slightly, and Merin cringed forward, stretching out his slender arms to offer Leoric's stone-headed mace, which Leoric took in one hand, resting it on the table. At the touch, the table groaned, and small splinters burst from the area near the twisting metal haft.

“I brought the Arm of Ruin back from the Wound,” Leoric announced. “It was a key to many things, more than a mere weapon. When I went seeking it, I discovered other fragments of history. There are other relics in the Wound, if one can get into the Alyach... and one did, before.” He traced a few of the writhing letters of wormscript on the haft. “His name was Laurent l'Arquen, and he is now the palimpsest who uses the rune 'Sar' as a name.”

“And he will know the proper rites to enter the Alyach, then,” murmured Isabeau. “I will have him give these secrets over to us. But, Leoric, the Alyach is no ally to anyone.”

“That is why we will all go. Combined, we will emerge again, and with the gifts the Grandfather has left for us there, we'll not fail in our work here, no matter what Hope's machinations are. With the relics, even the Disciples will recognize our place. Further, our success will serve the Grandfather, and therefore all Disciples. It will delay our emergence, but I do not think Hope cares. She's waited a long time, and she will wait until the time is perfect. What say you all?”

“Yes,” grinned Tancred. “Yes. To enter the Alyach at last? We may even find the tomb of the Grandfather himself.”

“Pray that we do not,” sighed Julian. “I have seen it in my dreams, and it would be the end of us. Yet, I will follow you, Leoric. I have no choice.”

Avar gave Julian a strange, searching look. It passed swiftly, and he answered Leoric with a short deferential nod. “I will go.”

“Naturally, I shall,” smiled Isabeau. “But I do ask if you have something in mind, and who shall rule in our stead while we are gone?”

Cradling the Arm of Ruin in the crook of one arm, Leoric answered her smile with a thin one of his own. “The Arm of Ruin has sister relics. The Weeping Knife, the Scepter of Rust, and the Maggot Hourglass are still in the Alyach somewhere, and these are only the known creations that the Grandfather made in his breathing days. You know as well as I their potency, if they can be found. And I believe they can. Each of them demands a great price for its use, but we are well-equipped to pay any cost to succeed.
“As to the matter of leadership, that is simple enough. How many palimpsests are active and sane enough to speak? Five. Assign each of them to each of our contingents, and I shall make a statement upon our departure that any disobedience will result in punishment by the palimpsests themselves. If they have no use for the transgressor, I am certain the harpies or Fidelity will.”

“As you say,” said Isabeau.

“When do we depart?” asked Tancred. “I can be ready today.”

“As soon as Isabeau reads the palimpsest and gathers what we need for entry, we shall go.”

“A day, my lord, no less,” put in Isabeau. “Julian must help, however. He will know the Words better than I in some cases.”

Julian nodded affably, but his eyes despaired. Handing the Arm of Ruin back to Merin, who accepted it with great deference, Leoric surveyed his lieutenants for a moment.

“We must be swift,” he said. “There are others working against us, and we do not know what they plan. Go and prepare. We will meet again at Beauty's Rest, the day after tomorrow, and then travel to the deep end of the Wound.”

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An interlude

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 - 11:17 AM

This little bit is part of a larger work I wrote for my DnD party on request, detailing the perspectives of the various animals the party owns/associates with/just enjoys, including the ranger's rather intelligent wolf, the conjuror's pseudodragon familiar and the tiny, incredibly dumb fungus-eating critters that the party is endlessly fascinated with. Here, we see the point of view of Frank, a large piebald rabbit who was originally a hostile hill giant before being transformed by the conjuror. Frank has become a kind of party mascot, and his point of view was a particular favorite for the group. Enjoy.

Nibbling at some grass, Frank was not entirely aware of being a rabbit. That is to say, Frank knew he was supposed to be a rabbit, and he had some vague awareness that he was one, but he wasn't quite capable of understanding what that meant. If he had the opportunity to be around other rabbits, he might have been a little puzzled as to why they avoided him, but he rarely was.

They certainly wouldn't have considered him a sane rabbit.

Frank knew, for example, that he should be afraid of the wolf. In fact, he should be afraid of anything that wasn't a rabbit, really. And he was, too; he would get a moment of alarm when approached by one of the cats or the wolf. But if they got too close, something happened, and Frank would find himself charging.

He wasn't sure why.

In his little rabbit-mind, Frank occasionally had flashes of memory that he couldn't understand. These disturbing flashes made him feel very, very big and very, very hungry. Problems of size and scale also plagued him, and he had a habit of bumping into obstacles that for some reason he thought he'd be able to step over. But mainly, it was the sense of being far more powerful and aggressive than a rabbit should be, and that was the puzzle.

When one of the cats decided to stalk him, he was overwhelmed by the idea that he could grasp the cat in one paw and dash it into the ground... largely because he didn't comprehend how his paws could grasp anything, and in fact, the notion was alien to his rabbit mind.

And yet, he'd always find himself confused, watching the cat he'd solidly kicked run off in surprise, leaving a gnawing feeling in his simple brain that he should have been the one running away.

So, Frank preferred the quiet moments when he could sit and chew on grass and think about nothing, which is something rabbits are supposed to be good at, and this reassured his rabbit-mind that here he could be a good rabbit. Being afraid was supposed to be a rabbit trait also, but he was terrible at that.

The only exception was with the little dragon. Somehow, when this thing came flying down at Frank, he had a sense that this was a problem, some kind of challenge, something to be concerned about. So, he would run, but only so far. The little dragon never seemed to actually hurt him. It just liked to chase him.

He had a similar sense of concern about the humans who took care of him, but it was a far more vague concern, and he really didn't notice anything about them except that there was one who liked to pet him and carry him around, one who was somewhat comfortable to be around, one who Frank was unnerved by (the colorful one with the little dragon!), and the one who Frank thinks he hurt badly somehow. But a rabbit couldn't possibly hurt someone that big so badly, so Frank was convinced he must be mistaken.

Frank chewed his grass, not thinking about it, and continued his efforts to be a good rabbit. Somewhere, some distant part of him wondered if the humans found it so difficult to be human.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009 - 7:37 PM

It's been a bit of a crazy week, what with a very dear friend giving birth to a healthy baby girl just a couple days ago, among other things. I have a couple pieces nearly ready to throw out here, but nothing spontaneous, so I thought I might offer some random commentary here.

My Kult game ended today after the characters meandered through a series of recursive hallucinations and dreams, and the survivors have now moved on to an uncertain life where they might refocus and perhaps start anew. Given how things went, I doubt there will be any closure any time soon for some of them. It has been quite a satisfying game, with a potent dose of the usual inter-party tensions that make for such a good time in Kult. There were a good many stories that didn't quite get told, but for the ones that did, I offer the following dedications:

To Rose, who never failed to betray herself for the love of her brother, and found her peace in a personal hell at the end.
To Ally, who cheerfully went forward, even when it led to a shadow existence as a woman she'd never been, to live on forever in memories of a place and time long gone.
To Lara, for providing the rational voice even when she was raving mad, and for enduring for so long just for the sake of compassion. Or was it ambition?
To Gideon, putting the 'pain' in painting, who wouldn't stop looking even if it tried to kill him, which it often did... and for finding more than a few things he would have been happier without.
Finally, to Alex, who just couldn't be comfortable sane, and who offered everyone else a voice well worth listening to, even if he didn't make much sense a lot of the time.

I'll miss you all.

To my Kult players, I applaud you for bringing these wonderful characters to my table. You were an exemplary group, and I hope to see all of you again at my gaming table.

Next, I did see Watchmen just a day ago. I adored the original comic, and I regard it as a piece of literature in its own right. That said, I'm not a raving rabid spitting-out-quotes sort of fan. I just respect the work. So, in seeing the movie, I understood the changes they made in putting the story to this very different format. I completely understand Alan Moore's decision to distance himself from the movie.

I also really enjoyed it.

I'm not going to sit here and praise the movie overmuch, but there are a few pointers I'd like to mention. First, the Watchmen story says an awful lot about the problem of being a human dealing with a world that is far bigger than you. There is a conflict underlying the story of the deep need that humanity has for convictions, and how a single conviction can ostracize and empower a single person at the same time. For that alone, I'll recommend anyone who hasn't experienced the story to do so.

Second, I don't know how someone who wasn't familiar with the original story would view it, but I imagine they might feel that the movie is a bit uneven. To those who haven't seen it yet, be warned that you might think it jumps around a bit much.

Third, I'm going to mention Dr. Manhattan's groin again. One thing I'd noticed in many of reviews of the movie was that Dr. Manhattan's full nudity was distracting. Some actually complained about it. I've mentioned before that anyone who sees the ubiquitous and generally almost-naked women common in advertising really shouldn't be fussed about a naked man, particularly in an R-rated movie. After seeing Watchmen, however, I would like to adjust my opinion on this a bit.

You found the naked man uncomfortable, but not the brutal near-rape or the random breast displays or the rather candid sex scenes or the gritty violence? All of which, I should mention, generally featured actual human beings as opposed to the glowing naked blue man who was mostly COMPUTER GRAPHICS and usually... just standing there.

Think about that for a little while, thanks.

My apologies for using all-caps, but it felt warranted, and my compliments to the director of Watchmen, who has no problem showing off male nudity as well as female nudity.

Lastly, I want to leave people with one of the most brilliant interpretations of Charlie Brown I've ever seen. Do enjoy.

More stories soon.


The Other Side, 5

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - 4:37 PM

Though Fidelity was gigantic, there was something more than his mere size that made Avar feel small. It was true that Fidelity was impressive to witness, but his monolithic presence touched some primal root in a person's soul. Avar had seen strong-hearted men struck dumb by Fidelity's presence before, rendered barely able to speak as if in terrified awe.

For Avar, whose soul was gnawed hollow, Fidelity was not so impressive, and he knew that was why Leoric had sent Avar to Fidelity's grove.

“Revered Disciple,” he pronounced. “My liege, Leoric, bids that you send him answer.”

Branches groaning faintly, Fidelity's trunk twisted slightly, sending ruddy flakes drifting to the thick black earth like petrified leaves. In general appearance, Fidelity was a massive tree, with long tendrils like a willow but with the stocky, gnarled shape of an oak. His branches and roots looked like huge, distorted arthritic limbs, and the heavy, mossy bark looked as if it covered over contorted masses of people. Avar knew that occasionally, another sacrifice would find its way underneath bark. Judging from the empty, smiling eyes of the Obedient around them, he did not think there would a lack of volunteers.

Fidelity lowered one of his many faces closer to Avar. Hanging from a branch, the head seemed to grow directly from the branch, dangling by its rather tangled black hair. It did look quite human, albeit pale and slightly malformed, as if it were imperfect clay. But the maroon eyes peered at him with deep intelligence, matching the deep, bellows-heavy voice that emitted from the trunk itself.

“We do not serve your liege,” replied Fidelity.

“...of course not,” sighed Avar. “Yet, you and he serve the same great patron. Your father and teacher.”

Fidelity's leaves hissed and whispered, and the head hanging before Avar lifted slightly. Several of the other heads turned to peer at him with a severe expression.
“We,” announced all of the heads in various voices, as well as the wind-thunder voice from below, “do not serve your liege. We are beholden only to Harrow. Hope may play her games, but we are above them.”

Avar folded his arms, looking up at the closest of the heads. A light rain had started, adding another whisper to the constant, soft chorus among Fidelity's branches, and Avar pulled his hood up. The Obedient, a scattered mass of rustics wrapped in threadbare cloaks, simply ignored the weather. Generations of being subject to Fidelity's will had ensured they would cheerfully die of exposure if Fidelity wished it. The purplish stains of Fidelity's fruit remained on some of their complacently smiling lips.

“My liege does not follow Hope's ambitions, though he reveres her as he reveres all of your kind,” said Avar carefully, remembering what Leoric told him to say. “You are a creature of omens and portents; my liege follows them as well, and he knows that his actions follow in Harrow's vision. That you understand Harrow's will better than he, my liege understands, but he also sees that the signs are plain. He has the Citadel's wisdom, and the words of a prophet of the Worm, as well as his own ordeal in the Wound to show him. You have already dedicated some of your people to our cause; he merely asks for more, in order to spearhead the eventual attack south.”

As Fidelity's multitude of cold eyes watched him, Avar had a faint sense of irritation at Leoric. Avar was not a diplomat, though he felt well-spoken enough. Sending him to negotiate was not generally what Avar was directed to do. Most people found Avar's presence uncomfortable. He had a deadly serenity around him, long having been resigned to the slow deterioration of his inner being. But even as he made others fearful of him, fear was dead to Avar. Fidelity might have made him over-conscious of being small, but Avar was not afraid of the Disciples.

Of course, even with his experience, Avar knew he could not hope to relate to Fidelity. He wondered if the creature even perceived time the same way as humans did. Fidelity was ancient beyond Avar's understanding, having been changed by Harrow hundreds of years ago. What was a year to Fidelity? A clutter of memories that only recalled what might have happened, but not when? Were all years the same? Avar did not know.

Now, watching Fidelity consider in silence, Avar understood that he couldn't even guess what thoughts the monstrous tree had.

“And what do our children have to gain from this,” asked one of the heads in a low, skeptical voice.

“The Wound will lengthen, revered Disciple, and my liege does not intend to slaughter everyone who opposes him. He promises that one portion of captives will come to you.”

“Leoric intends to take the convent of the Green Veil.”

“Yes,” replied Avar, frowning slightly.

“All clergy and contemplatives,” announced Fidelity. “All of them who do not die will be secured there, at the convent. For this, we give half of the Obedient to serve your liege.”

This is not what Leoric thought Fidelity would say, thought Avar, and he realized that he would have felt cold if his soul were intact. Leoric originally intended to let the healers flee south, carrying word of the world to come. He knew the knight protectors of the Green Veil had made many a foray against Fidelity's cult in the past, and it seemed the Disciple had a taste for vengeance. “... you do not wish them brought to you?”

“Nay,” thundered Fidelity, with every voice in his branches. “For we intend to come to the convent ourselves, and root there when the conquest is done. Yes, we shall bring them faith, and it will begin with the blood offerings of our children.”

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009 - 6:11 PM

The lemur I live with mentioned that she wanted to see more 'Dice' here as opposed to the awful lot of 'Paper'. I really hadn't thought of the difference, though... I realized that aside from the form, I don't really distinguish the written story from the fluid stories of the RPG. So, more crunch, as they say, for the audience here... on the way. It was a good thought.

For those who are curious, 'Alchemical Marriage' will also be resuming, as well as some more glimpses into the background of my current DnD campaign. Speaking of games, my Kult game will have its last session next week as the characters finally reach their last breaking point and spin off into typically dreadful Kult anonymity. This means that I will probably be starting some other game shortly, and I do have some ideas for that.

There's been some interest in my running a game in the 'Customs' world, a place where the supernatural is real and everyone knows it. I've been looking at the Gumshoe system by Pelgrane Press, and I think it would be great to use for 'Customs'. Of course, this means I'd have to do some adapting, assessing the system to see where I'd have to make some additional rules and systems to accommodate the vision the numbers are supposed to help define.

Given that, I might drag some group into the world of Dark Heresy for a limited session game. I still haven't tried out the game; the last attempt ran into scheduling difficulties (as is all too often these days, it seems). 3-5 games would give me a chance to build up Customs and get that ball rolling.

There is an exhilaration to the fresh start of a new game. There is a sense of anticipation and potential, something which fades after a while but then returns if the game goes on long enough. I really do enjoy seeing the progression from one point of wonder to the next, and it is very rewarding to see players get so much out of it all. Am I a gaming junky? Yes, in a way. I am addicted to storytelling, and I love watching stories assemble themselves in a role-playing game. It is inspiring, and carries new perspectives and thoughts that one would not have realized alone.

More updates soon, but a few closing thoughts:

First, the newer Dark Heresy books are overall very good. I like the new material the designers have added to their grim corner of the 40K world, but seriously boys, stay away from the derivatives. Do not put your Lovecraft in your WH40K, or at least don't do it so blatantly that anybody who played Call of Cthulhu immediately winces when they see a demon 'sometimes called a hunting horror' who often manifests with 'three lobed eyes'. WH40K horror is horrible because it is something you can relate to. Lovecraft horror is horrible because you can't. There's a significant disconnect there. Don't cross the themes.

Second, I haven't seen 'Watchmen' yet, but I intend to. I enjoyed the graphic novel tremendously, and I know the movie won't be able to capture that. But there is one thing I feel that needs saying, just from the various reviews I've come across.

Get over Dr. Manhattan's penis. Seriously. It isn't like they were constantly zooming in on it. If you can put up with practically naked women on just about every ad in the world, you can put up with a little dudity, ok? Sometimes I think that everyone in the world should be required to take an art class with a selection of human models in the nude, and then I remember that it's really just the USA that is this prudish.



Friday, March 6, 2009 - 1:28 PM

Some people reading here may not have seen the original installments that began the world of 'Customs' in my head. I'll put up a few as samples, starting with the one that started it all. Note that none of these posts are in the Customs book that I'm working on. These events take place -after- the story told in the book itself.

The narrow hall was clogged with bodies and carry-on bags, sprawled haphazardly in front of the open plane door. Colin and Margaret were there already; he was carefully examining the eyes of one of the corpses, and I could see her inside the plane, quietly talking to someone in the hunched posture of shock.

"What the hell," I said.

Colin looked up, dark and ordinary, badges slung over his shoulder like an eccentric tie, and sighed. "No wounds. No marks. They just died on the spot. I don't know why at this point. Did security catch anything?"

To my eye, the bodies looked like they'd just collapsed where they stood, disembarking. Something must have triggered the creature. "No," I answered, after a moment, scratching at my chin. "I spotted it in the crowd, but I touched its arm, and pain blacked me out."

He stood slowly, brushing at his slacks, furrowing his brow. "How did you know? Margaret can't get anything out of the survivors. They just heard screaming, and then people started running... well, except these."

I peered at the bodies, faces locked into immobile terror. For supernatural murder, this was pretty clean, but for some reason that bothered me more than werewolf mauling or zombie gnawing. "I was pushing through the crowd, trying to get here," I replied. "I got stuck a moment, and there was this woman nearby. I happened to notice the reflections in her eyes... I think it was the lights."

Colin's bland face melted into a mask of alarm. "Oh God. They were inverted?"

I just nodded. Colin was a metaphysical pathologist, he knew what that meant, and so did I.

Everybody knows about your typical Carpathian vampire, or the problems of lycanthropic fever. Cosmopolitan magazine has ten ways to tell if your husband is seeing a vampire. Provisions were made for changeling education at public schools forty years ago, the debate over zombie laborers continues, and yet, with all this, there's still a lot creeping around that people don't believe in or don't even know about.

Sometimes, they're better off not knowing.

In 1920, there was a mass exodus from Manila of a very tricky sort of creature that fed on human flesh. They looked human, acted human, and worse, seemed capable of being in two places at once. Fortunately, they had a severe allergy to lime juice, of all things. However, the research that turned up this fact also produced a lot of other information that made most nations close their borders to most of Indonesia, and this was the beginning of a global law. In 1946, the global standards of security to prevent supernatural or preternatural breaches were set up, and delineated certain areas as supernatural danger zones, forbidding anyone but qualified experts access or egress.

I am one of those experts, and ninety percent of Indonesia is one of those areas.

"And it got out?" Colin was looking pale. "Do you really think its an aswang?"

"Yes," I said, frowning at the dead bodies. "And maybe. Information is inconsistent and sometimes outright false on these things... and we think there's what, like seven breeds of Indonesian vampire?"

He nodded slowly, and Margaret finally came out of the plane, all calm business. "Ok, Colin, team's got the other hatches open, they're getting people out now... hi, Reed, figured you'd be here... sorry, but no one seems to know anything useful. When the fear wears off, they might remember something. Oh, I found this, by the way, one of the passengers had it. He's dead. I'll send the passenger information and effects to your office."

She stepped over the bodies like she did that sort of thing every day, and handed me a jar of something oily and dark, with some leaves floating in it. I rolled it in my hand, noting the customs stamp on the lid.

"Singapore," said Margaret. "What protocol do you want to use?"

We'd had problems with Singapore customs officials before; minor, but troublesome enough, and nothing so potentially bad. If the aswang was the sort of creature we thought it was, it could change shape, pose as a normal human perfectly well, and it had a taste for children. Worse, we had no idea how they actually propagated, or what they were really susceptible to. It was the indication that they might be sorcerors too that particularly worried me... particularly because I had no idea how or why it had suddenly killed so many people.

"Ok, Margaret. Lock it down. Keep the passengers isolated, inform families. Is Rachel on today? Get her to purify the gate area... and the bodies, too. Um, Colin, you do your thing, have the report to me end of today?"

He nodded somberly.

Margaret gave me her best smile, which wasn't very good. For a manikin, she was still pretty human, though. At least she tried. Some of them don't bother, and the Doll Movement was still one of the creepiest political groups I'd ever known. "I'll have transcripts for you by the same time."

I tucked the jar into my bag. "Security'll have teams out looking already, but I doubt they'll find much. See you both tonight, I've got to do some research. This just doesn't fit the profile.... oh, and keep the damn press from mentioning demons, ok?"

Colin chuckled, and started breaking out his chalk and candles, Margaret went back aboard the plane, and I strolled back out through Colin's team at the gate, heading for my office.

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Writing Habits

Thursday, March 5, 2009 - 10:49 AM

I've been full of thoughts and ideas moreso than usual these days, which is both wonderful and terribly frustrating. It has gotten to the point where I feel I don't have enough of a lifetime to write everything that's in my head. Frequently, things get clogged, and I get writing cramps while working on one idea from the yelling and screaming another idea makes when it wants attention.

One thing I like to do to inspire myself to write is to read books with obvious flaws. I keep a few around for this purpose, particularly those stories where I see a beautiful skeleton nearly obscured by trash writing. I revise them in my head, and allow myself to be annoyed at the fact that THIS got printed. This makes an excellent goad for writing.

However, occasionally this generates an idea, and I have decided to avidly pursue one such idea.

Some readers may be aware that I am working on a novel called 'Customs', which started with a blog entry describing a dream. This project is primary, but some characters have been giving me a hassle, so in my usual way, I've been looking for a similar back-burner project to work on. Now, I believe I have it.

I started 'With Iron' just a couple days ago. This story is a response to the usual fantasy trope where the book details the development of a hero as he enters into his destiny, gathers his auxiliary characters and goes about saving the world or fulfilling a prophecy or whatever else the hero happens to be up to. 'With Iron' is actually one of three stories which are connected; I have not decided the precise format I will be using to convey them, but they will be primarily joined in an epistolary fashion... the main characters from each will eventually begin writing letters to one another.

So what is 'With Iron' about? It is the story of a young man who eventually becomes the Bad Guy for a number of would-be heroes. The two other stories tell similar stories, and even begin much the same way, detailing the beginnings and transitions of one person becoming an adversary. Their stories are otherwise quite different.

This may not sound particularly unusual, but I am quickly finding that it is not as easy to write as might be expected. For one, I am determined to make these three characters Bad Guys. They might have a definite whiff of anti-hero, perhaps, and at least one does a fantastic job of posing as a Good Guy, but ultimately these three people are just plain Bad (albeit for wildly different reasons). Making such a creature the protagonist while maintaining the fact of their evil nature is fine exercise. I want to give the reader enough sympathy to care about what happens to these people, of course, but these are not heroes in the conventional sense.

I am a big fan of having a theme or message in my work, be it in gaming or literature. 'With Iron' is an exploration. It is meant to be a place where the reader can see things from the other side of every fantasy story where light and dark collide, but more importantly, they get to see the other side not as a cardboard cut-out but an actual person with loves, hates, passions, wishes, goals and dreams. The business of having three points of view is there to provide contrast and show that not all villains are the same. It is there also to show that diverse though they might be, villains (like heroes) also gather for common goals... though these three prefer to maintain a polite distance.

They know their own, after all.

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One for Nate

Tuesday, March 3, 2009 - 9:14 PM

Tirsah returned unseen, startling the nearby sentries when he reappeared, but Jade Bear did not show any surprise. He remained standing with his massive arms folded, peering down towards the dark mass crossing the river far below. Around them, weathered pillars and heaps of reddish stone concealed their encampment.

“There are about six hundred soldiers in the Hunt,” said Tirsah, narrowing his dark eyes at the steadily moving army below.

Jade Bear nodded. “The two of us against six hundred... good odds.”

Tirsah shot an annoyed look at his huge companion, and kept his voice low. “There are FIVE Dragon-bloods down there, and one of them is Searing Brand.”

Turning his head slightly, Jade Bear glanced down at Tirsah, brow furrowing heavily. “Then we must use the soldiers. Without them, the enemy will slow us enough that the Dragon-bloods will bring us down.”

With some effort, Tirsah laughed openly and kept a bright smile on his face while he spoke quietly. “Are you insane? They'll die like dogs out there. Sure, they're good, and getting better every day. But that's a Wyld Hunt. Searing Brand alone can account for fifty of our men. He's carrying Tears of the World with him... we dodged them before, Jade, come on.”

With great dignity, Jade Bear unfolded his arms and slowly moved them to clasp his hands behind his broad back. “We can't keep running.”

“We've still got time.”

“We would have had more time, had you chosen to leave the Delzhan woman alone. Instead, we had to flee Chiaroscuro, and now Searing Brand is here again.”

“...ah,” replied Tirsah, and then just shrugged. “...Well, you only live once.”

Jade Bear laughed, a rich and reassuring sound, and Tirsah could practically feel some of the tension in the camp lift. But the wind and silence rushed back in again.
“That is a lie,” murmured Jade Bear. “And you know it.”

Tirsah sighed. “Yes, it's a lie, but I also know that there are fates worse than death, and one of them is riding towards us. I'm telling you, Jade, we should bide our time. Let's go.”

Jade Bear set his jaw in thought. This was an easily recognizable posture which the men would realize a serious decision was being made. So, Tirsah took the moment to give the nearby sentries a reassuring, cocky grin.

The men had been on edge for a couple of days now. Thrashing desert bandits was one thing; with Jade Bear's training and Tirsah's cunning, every man of the company had been a hero. Even the scandal at Chiaroscuro had been harrowing but exhilarating for them, especially once Tirsah had told the story of the high-born Delzhan woman and her irate suitors. They revered his wit and taste for the unattainable as much as they were awed by Jade Bear's intuition and strength. The Scarlet Empire was a distant, negligent tyrant to be cast aside or scorned.

Now, things were different. Now, it was the frightful warrior Searing Brand, whose arm broke cavalry charges and blasted men in armor to charred husks. Worse, he bore the unquiet flail Tears of the World, and any living thing with any sense of mortality was afraid of that weapon.

Even Tirsah was, but he had doubts about Jade Bear's opinions on mortality.

“No,” said Jade Bear quietly. “If we flee, it will be slow death for many of these. We must cross hard ground, and the Dragon-bloods can ease passage for their troops. Wood-and-Water is with them, remember.”

Tirsah swore, but Jade Bear continued. “You've kept us safe for a long time, my friend, but now it is my time, and we must do this.”

“You realize what you're doing?”

“Of course,” said Jade Bear, as if the answer were obvious, and he turned to face the camp.

“You are going to kill all of them,” hissed Tirsah, putting on his unconcerned face as he also turned.

“No,” murmured Jade Bear. “The Wyld Hunt will kill many of them. But together we will daunt the Hunt, or maybe even defeat it. And then those who are left will follow us north.”

Tirsah was about to respond, but Jade Bear's voice boomed out over the remains of the camp, and gathered the men. Already in motion, it only seemed like a second before the ragged and dusty but determined soldiers filled the area before the two Exalts.

“In an hour,” Jade Bear announced, “We will meet the Wyld Hunt in open battle. We will flank them from two sides, in the canyon approach to this mesa. They will be ready for an ambush.”

There was a surprised murmur, and then someone spoke out. “What of... Searing Brand?”

“I will handle that,” said Jade Bear as if it were not important. He paused for a moment, and then raised his massive hand to quiet the soldiers. “Listen. This will be the greatest moment of your lives. You will be fighting against heroes of an empire that has ruled over Creation for countless generations. You will be confronting weapons forged by spirits, and the children of the Dragons of the Earth. Who among you has ever dreamed of such a thing? Who could imagine that you would be here, right now, fighting alongside men like these? You are thinking that you will die. But you are wrong, my friends.”

He spread his arms wide.

“You will become immortal.”

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Monday, March 2, 2009 - 10:30 AM

It's been a turbulent time since my last post, and my creative process was jolted out of place. I have a couple of unfinished blots and one idea clamoring to be posted here, but before they go up, but in my estimation, none of them are ready yet. So, today, I'm writing about writing.

I've had commentary on the nature of my villains for quite a while. People tend to like them, and I'm certainly glad for that because I've been trying for years to make them Good bad guys. I don't know where that started, but I've always grown quickly tired of the stereotypical evil overlords or over-convoluted plotters or 'just plain bad' antagonists.

I think the real secret is to just treat all of your characters like people.

This may sound a little strange, but I do think this is one of the main issues that authors have when they pen the bad guys. They externalize the character, consciously or unconsciously. As much as people love to clamor about the bad guy, the truth is most people don't want to be the Real bad guy. They want to be the bad guy people admire, the rebel who goes against the grain or the man who does things that nobody else is willing (or has will enough) to do. I think that, unconsciously, people don't want to admit that evil is really rather ordinary. When the villain is written, then, there is a shadow of caricature. Either the author tends to hit the evil button way too much, or they end up writing an anti-hero, not a villain.

When I was writing the group for 'The Other Side', I wanted them to be vile, and unmistakably villains. This means hitting the evil button quite a bit. But there are many, many different flavors of evil, and even with the diversity of Leoric's lieutenants, it is a small sampling. Further, whenever you pen a villain, you want to be sure not to alienate your reader. Evil is far more effective and evocative if you can show something sympathetic behind it all.

Now, that doesn't necessarily mean you should somehow feel sorry for these characters. By sympathetic I mean that somewhere in there, you provide a chord that other people can find and relate to. Evil, real evil, isn't a huge cosmic darkness. It starts as a tiny, very sharp fracture that eventually cuts altruism and morality to ribbons. It always starts somewhere, even if that somewhere was an arbitrary decision that someone simply couldn't escape.

Leoric is easily the most sympathetic. He wanted to be a hero. His father was a hero. But as anyone who pays attention to the news knows, humanity loves to spit on heroes who show any kind of fault. Humanity praises those who want to do things like help the poor, but as a population, humanity rarely exerts any effort themselves. To Leoric, this is the vilest form of hypocrisy, and he intends to prove that point in no uncertain terms to the teeming, selfish masses who make it impossible to do what is right. His evil comes from frustrated virtue, and he is hollowed out by his hatred. In his eyes, he must ruin his own soul to bring truth to the world.

Even in contrast to Leoric's careful atrocities, Isabeau is a monster. But hiding behind the necrophilia and cannibalism is desperation. For her, it started with a desire to be more than she was, and the will to do whatever it took to reinvent herself. Isabeau is unconsciously terrified of what she's become, and though outside observers may never understand that, one might be able to see the tiny compulsive signs. Isabeau does horrible things to prove that she was always this way, because she cannot bear to think that she wasn't. Her atrocities are to numb her.

So here you have two kinds of evil both born of pain. Isabeau just wanted to be a magician and flunked out of arcane school; she didn't have the talent. Leoric just wanted to be a good person, and watched the world eat his father. Are they bad people? Oh yes, certainly. There's no mistaking that. But they are still people, and that makes the evil in them far more vivid.

Interestingly, people seem to find it difficult to write 'overwhelming good' for similar reasons, but that's a post for another time.