Greater of Two Evils, Reprise

Monday, August 31, 2009 - 10:09 PM

Having posted a little something to show the high end of the good guy perspective in Caradoc, I thought I might drop this one down to show one end of the bad guy perspective... though the Kingmakers aren't as nasty as some.

Closing the heavy cover of the Book of Lies, Lord Endelcar took his seat at the wide, mirror-polished black table. There were nine seats; the one at the head of the table was empty.

“This Convocation has begun,” he announced after a sip of wine. “We have had time to consider our courses of action, given what information we have brought to each other. There are a few decisions we must now resolve.”

“Indeed,” said the Advocate in his mellifluous voice. The voice did not match the seamed, scarred and craggy face it slid out of, nor did it match his hard eyes, which were like black stones. “And I for one am anxious to begin our work in earnest this year.”

“Our work is always earnest,” replied the Pander smoothly, narrow chin resting on the slender knuckles of one hand. Her smile made her rebuke an gift, and the Advocate merely nodded in acceptance.

“Don't mince words,” said the Reeve, eyes sliding like razors over the Pander's bare shoulders.

“Indeed not,” broke in Lord Endelcar. “We have a good many choices to deliberate over, and the sooner we bring our counsel to the Monarch, the better. Shall we begin?”

As he began to lead them down the list, he silently admitted that he too shared the Advocate's feelings. With a Monarch in the council at last, Lord Endelcar felt like a young man again. The bleak coals of his hard-won wisdom were afire with the subtle knowledge that now, just as the Advocate said, their work could truly proceed.

As they voted to collapse the economy of the port city Dardantus, he considered that all of the other Kingmakers were feeling the same elation in some way, even if they did not openly show it. The Manciple's debaucheries last night had been extreme, even for her. Even the normally austere and reserved Sacristan had exhibited more pomp and circumstance than usual when they'd met earlier in the evening. Indeed, the decision to have the Convocation at the mercenary pleasure-city of Arn was just as much a chance to celebrate as it was a safe place for them to meet.

“Do we remove Caradoc Manzoran?”

“He is troublesome, but he does not directly oppose us,” murmured the Pander, two fingers on her cheek in thought. “He cannot reach us readily, he knows it.. and neither can we remove him easily.”

“Further, he provides a hub of political and financial influence that is useful to us in the long term,” added the Voltigeur as he regarded his wineglass.

“The council therefore says no.”

Marking yet another decision voted upon, Lord Endelcar saw the differences in this Convocation. They were all ready to push, to drive forward and see bounds of progress instead of the small, careful steps they were prone to. All of them were people of great influence and power, and none of them ever made foolish mistakes. But now, they felt aggressive.

Changes are coming, though Lord Endelcar with satisfaction.

The questions moved on, and the Kingmakers chose.

“The Canon of Doctrine in Yhelm is proving problematic. Do we bring another church investigation forward to distract her?”

The wild-eyed Imprecator sneers at the Sacristan's conservative opinion. The Sacristan is unmoved by the Imprecator's scorn, and his deadly quiet voice continues to levelly defend his view against the precise arguments of the Advocate.

“Betrani trade embargoes against the Purayu islands continue. Do we break them?”

The Pander sways the Advocate again with nothing but a glance, and the Reeve notices. He folds his deadly hands in envy, perhaps. The Pander smiles warmly at the Advocate for everyone else's benefit.

“The House of the Sun has taken a passive stance on their border conflicts with Jashapur; is it in our best interests to foment conflict between them again?”

Laughing with a mouth that is not even his, the Voltigeur comments about the Manciple's expensive tastes. She watches him with pale eyes, and wonders things he might be able to imagine. The Sacristan folds his arms, shuts his brooding eyes and considers.

Finally, as he finished tallying the last vote, Lord Endelcar looked at the empty chair where Tristan would be seated, and then panned his gaze around at the other Kingmakers.

“Lastly... as you know, Prince Beckhardt Naseran Winthelgrim informally abdicated to Lady Angharad, and yet rather than formally abdicate, he has sent a huge tribute to the ones who slew Hope and preserved his province. We know that he shows no signs of relinquishing, and we know that Lady Angharad feels that the province should be hers. So... who shall we have as ruler there?”

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Friday, August 28, 2009 - 9:23 AM

Writers write, and I certainly have no shortage of things to write. While I'm attending to that shortage, I have a number of thoughts today that some of you may even find interesting.
I finished 'Twilight' a few days ago. After having let the book sink in a bit, I came to the conclusion that no, I did not particularly enjoy the book. I do stand by my previous opinion that it is an excellent depiction of a world seen through the eyes of an adolescent, and whether or not this was voluntarily done by the author makes little difference to me. That she has provided this view in a literary form is significant, and judging from the success of the book, she wrote it at the exact right time. It provides an extended metaphor for the uncomfortable process of self-knowledge and the advent of sexuality, even as much as the story glosses over both of these subjects (after all, Bella doesn't get where she is in the process, and few teens ever do). I can already see the literary essays on the hidden stories in 'Twilight', because they would be really easy to write, but I'll spare my audience here.

One of my commentators stated that I was being too kind to the author. Let me amend that. I downplayed my irritations with the book because everyone else seems interested in expressing their irritation with the book, and why be redundant? Further, I really do think that as a piece of literature, 'Twilight' is significant in this day and age. I think everyone should read it.


I am not enthusiastic about reading any further books in the series, and briefly, I am going to tell you why. Bella is annoying. She's not as loathsome as Thomas Covenant, say, but I'd love to put the two of them into the same room (and my money would be on Covenant). Her involuntarily placement as Center of the Universe takes on an almost hilarious aspect by the end of the book. Her supporting cast of characters end up coming off more as incompetents, sycophants and stalkers (roughly in that order of frequency). Let's face it: vampires in the world of 'Twilight' are dumb. I really don't care that they sparkle; they are so super-everything in every other sense, why not sparkle? And isn't it refreshing how their beauty is a disadvantage? (I guess). I'll give Meyer this; she makes vampires how she wants them to be. Unfortunately, her depiction of hundred-plus year old super-humans is distinctly lacking.

Anyway, when conflict in 'Twilight' extends beyond relationship issues between our desperately obsessive Edward and poor talented and beautiful Bella, the book suffers a lot. I'm not going to spoil the story for anyone who hasn't read it, but I'll leave it at this: it is a really predictable book, and the end will not surprise you.

Closing notes: The dialogue is sometimes painful. The story is trite. I found only one interesting character in the whole book, and he's second-shelf, two-dimensional like everyone else. Also, some people talk about how many times the word blood is used in 'Macbeth'; I will mention how many times people smirk, snicker and roll their eyes in 'Twilight'... because they do. All the time.

Well, that's it for 'Twilight'.

Also in the news, the characters in my DnD group apparently consider going to a remote dungeon location that has nothing to do with a huge overarching plot to be a VACATION. Can we say professional adventurers? I knew we could.

A few random other comments:

To all food manufacturers: STOP PUTTING SUGAR IN MY FOOD. Tomato sauce doesn't need sugar. Fruit juice, of all things, does not need sugar. I reiterate: STOP PUTTING SUGAR IN MY FOOD.

To all governmental structures in the United States: The purpose of having a government is to provide a framework for building the future. If you are an elected official, and are sincerely interested in the future of whatever place you happen to govern, STOP CUTTING MONEY FROM EDUCATION. Take the long view, people. Why are my teachers taking a 10 percent pay cut just to stay in the game when you aren't? Leadership isn't about accolades or personal gain. At its root, leadership is about sacrificing yourself for the whole. Put your money where your mouth is.


Regarding 'Twilight'

Monday, August 24, 2009 - 1:06 PM

Good writing is all about having the reader relate to your work, so that they can share in your experience. People will take a different experience away from the same work, depending on their respective point of view. If an author can create a book that provides an experience that a very large number of people can relate to, they are a successful author.

This holds true even if the writing isn't that great. A work of literature can be a beautiful creation full of colorful metaphor, word-play, dialogue and gorgeous grammatical construction, but this only means the writer was a very good writer. If readers can't find an accessible experience in the work, or something to relate to on a personal level, the writer isn't a good author.

The author of 'Twilight' is a good author.

I started reading 'Twilight' recently (yes, the sparkly vampire book). I haven't gotten very far, but it is already apparent to me why the book is so popular, and also why many people have a tendency to detest it.

I think a lot of the people who didn't like the book have forgotten what it feels like to be an adolescent (which is most adults). People have a tendency to polarize their experiences as teen-agers; they idealize it as a kind of golden age, or they look back and try to forget. Bella's point of view in 'Twilight' is quintessentially adolescent. She runs hot and cold. She's talented and beautiful but can't believe it. She views her parents as sad incompetents, and alternately tolerates or attempts to watch over them. Her stubborn nature is balanced out by a bottomless sense of melancholy. Her embarrassment at being paid attention to conflicts with her secret need to be desired and noticed.

In sum, she's a sixteen year old girl.

I think that people forget the story is told from her eyes alone. There's no other view in the story except that of an intelligent adolescent, and in my reading so far, it's a very accurately written view. Therefore, to people who find adolescents aggravating, Bella will be aggravating and whiny. J.K. Rowling did something similar with a very angry teen Harry Potter, but her books were not written in the first person. Therefore you never got to see the world through the distorted lens of angry teen Harry Potter; there was always a framework of omniscience explaining the truth. In 'Twilight', you are restricted entirely to Bella's view of what is happening. When reading the book, you should remind yourself of that fact.

Who, as an adolescent, hasn't dreamed of something horrible happening to them, just so people would notice and be awed? Who didn't dream about a perfect mate who you hated anyway? Who didn't suffer the sinking feeling that everyone was staring, that you were the odd one out, the one who was different? And of course, who managed to make it through adolescence without thinking at least once that the adults don't know everything, but you do... or you will. Adolescents thrive on melodrama, because melodrama is intensity; it is feeling, it is validation that they are something more than what they have been.

People complain about Bella being in an ideal dream world, and being an ideal character. I counter with the statement that of course she's an ideal character... in her own mind. Part of being adolescent is trying to believe yourself into who you want to really be, and that process can run so deep that most adults still carry around the facade they built for themselves in those days. Some of them never get out again. Bella's perceptions about people, how they react to her and how they talk should be considered twisted by her own perceptions of who she is and who they are. Note how often her insecurities bite at her.

I have a long way to go before I finish the book, and my opinions may change in the meantime. Of course, I haven't gotten to the part where she explains that vampires are sparkly. Even if I don't like the story itself, I believe that I will still come away from the book acknowledging that Stephanie Meyer is a good author. 'Twilight' is peppered with nice metaphors, but it isn't any profoundly beautiful work of literature. It is, however, a very close look at the process of becoming that an adolescent goes through, from the adolescent's point of view. And that is something that all of us should remember.

More later when I finish the book.


Thinking Epic

Tuesday, August 18, 2009 - 9:23 PM

Caradoc is a man my dnd group loves to hate, and hates to respect. Given that they are just touching the edges of his level of influence and priority, I thought I might post a little something from his point of view.

When people talked about heroes, they were talking about any one of those rare individuals who refused to be daunted. When people talked about the Archmage, they meant Caradoc. Dour chin resting on one knuckle, he peered at the world map in the war room. It was a mural, created in conjunction with an accomplished seer.

“Show me the armies,” he said, and tiny blots of ink pooled on the map.

“The House of the Sun is massing again,” said Lord Irmin.

“They only do that to remind Jashapur who has the larger army. But they won't move. Pharaoh is too cautious for an assault.” Caradoc scanned the map like a hawk, and then turned to the small group of sages, generals and scholars standing around the council table. “Someone's building an army in the south of Sarrgim. Find out who.”

“Yes, sir,” said one of the soldiers. He saluted briskly, and left immediately.

“Otherwise, looks like business as usual, except for whoever is hiding.” Caradoc dismissed the map blots with a wave, and focused his attention on his lieutenants. “Any other word from Ollamh?”
“Nothing new, sir,” said the broad-shouldered man with the embroidered sepia Academy robe. “They still have eyes on Avissar, looking for residual magic.”

“And watching the insane Prince, no doubt,” murmured a sardonic, greying general.

Caradoc gave the old man a pointed look. “We don't know if Beckhardt is actually insane. He's a good player; don't assume. Right, we've...”

The door opened, and Piers half stepped in. He was Caradoc's new chamberlain; young and efficient, mousy but with an exorbitant tailoring bill. “Apologies, my lord...”

“Someone here to see me?”

“Yes, my lord, and very insistent on it,” replied Piers. “The Balebane Company.”

There was a faint wash of bemusement in the room.

“Very well, we're about done here anyway,” Caradoc announced. “You all know what you should be working on. I want reports on the cult of the Eye and the whereabouts of that rogue binder by tomorrow.” He walked over to his desk, paused as people began to file out. “Lord Irmin, you're attending the masquerade in Purayu?”

“Yes, sir, received the invitation two weeks ago. Should I change my schedule?”

“No, just a reminder; I expect a new Dolnan spy there. Keep an eye out.”

Lord Irmin nodded, and left. Piers hovered by the door, patient, until Caradoc motioned for him to bring the visitors up.

At one time, Caradoc had wandered the world, gathering wealth and power and righting wrongs along the way. He'd been a fiercely moral man, firmly convinced that there were no reasons but greed or sloth to justify squandering one's talents. His morals had gotten worn down a bit as the years passed, and now he had far too many enemies to be an adventurer. He had nothing to prove, and no need for glory; people like the Balebane Company could have it all.

“Balebane Company, my lord,” announced Piers, opening the door again to admit four hard-eyed men and women.

Caradoc studied the four. They'd made an effort to come properly dressed; all wore finery appropriate to meeting the Archmage, though one looked ill at ease in it. He also knew he was not what they expected. Many magicians were scholars foremost, and used to easy living. Caradoc loved easy living, but he would never be soft; he was tall, trim and muscular. Though his hair was white and his face weathered, he was strong and fit. He also made it a point to dress well.

“I have a meeting in ten minutes,” he said. “What business do you have with me?”

“I am Caedwallon,” said one of the four, a lean and tough looking man with long black hair and a distinctly aquiline profile. “I'm the ...”

“I know who you are,” said Caradoc, studying the man without expression. Strong decision maker, but heavy insecurities. Obsessed with making a mark on the world. Lots of personal charisma, probably prone to self-indulgence. “And I know your group's reputation. What business do you have with me?”

The interruption stung a bit, but he saw that at least half the group was flattered he knew them. Of course I know you, thought Caradoc. I know all of the local independent contractors.

“We come to offer our aid to you,” said Caedwallon with a faint hint of irritation.

“Very well,” said Caradoc. He walked around his desk, shuffled through his papers just to make an impression and found a list he'd known the location of from the start. “There's a mine south and east of here, at the border of Maev province. It's an abandoned silver mine, and the local governor will give you any maps you need...this document here...” Caradoc signed and sealed an envelope. “... will see to that. Go to the mine. If there are green-robed fanatics there, find out what they are doing and come back here. Yes, they will likely be dangerous. You can do further investigations when you get there. Be wary of infiltrators in the town, but you can be sure of the governor.”

He handed the envelope to Caedwallon, who accepted it with a puzzled look.

“Ah... what is this about,” ventured the younger man.

Fixing Caedwallon with a falcon-like stare, Caradoc folded his arms. “If you want to aid me, I've just told you how. Off you go. If you need compensation, talk to my chamberlain. I assume you are competent. Any further questions you have are ones you can answer yourself.”

He could tell they wanted to ask anyway, but they eventually filed out. Caradoc shrugged, and started sorting through reports he'd received earlier in the day. There is never any shortage of would-be heroes, he thought. When Balebane Company goes and kills the local necromancer or the resident brute or saves some noble scion from being kidnapped, stories get told. Songs are sung. Everyone knows, and the Company gets to celebrate being heroes. When I do my work right, no one ever knows they were threatened or saved.

Peering critically at a report from the far north, he frowned.

And there is just never enough time, he thought. I'm overdue for a little celebration.

“Piers,” he called. “Send word to... Lady Aeronwyn, I'll be back in Yhelm to meet with the Academy next week.”

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009 - 10:18 AM

A little something for the old Kult group...

Dreaming came easier to Gideon than it once had, but there were still the unpleasant locked doors in his mind. They cramped his dreams, and sometimes an ugly smear of vision would creep out from under them to violently stain his sleep. Slapping paint across his new work, Gideon considered that he did the same thing to his canvases on a regular basis.

Pausing to sit down and stare at his canvas, Gideon picked up his green tea and had a sip. He was working on a portrait commission, something that trickled down from his obnoxious but effective agent, and it had a pleasant Francis Bacon-esque flavor. Knitting his brows together, considering his next steps, he was pleased with the progress so far, but this was not really what he wanted to paint.

Lara preferred it, certainly.

He knew she wouldn't outright forbid him to paint anything. She knew the bleeding could make him dizzy, but it would stop after a while, and it didn't actually open any wounds. So, she was patient, far more patient than he could ever be with himself, and she helped with the bandages.
The look at the corner of her eyes, though, made him uncomfortable. I don't understand why you do this to yourself, she was silently saying. I don't understand why you have to paint this.

Gideon got up again, a mote of frustration insisting on movement. It rankled at him sometimes that Lara was still bothered by the stigmata he suffered; after all they had been through, he thought she'd be a little more accepting. Stalking into the open kitchen, he poured himself more tea from the little clay pot that Lara's mentor Tomo had gifted them with.

“Please remember, even though she does not show it as you do, that Lara also has been deeply affected,” Tomo had told him, serene but quietly concerned. “Kenichiro is a poisoned bodhisattva, and she has been caught in his delusions. It will be very hard for you both; patience will save you.”

Patience had never been a virtue of Gideon's, but stubbornness was. Just as Lara struggled with Gideon's carefully controlled rage and obsession with painting that which made him literally bleed, he had to helplessly watch her wrestle with a wildly teetering pessimism and aggression. She never talked about all that happened with her when she was lost in Kenichiro's madness, but he expected that she couldn't remember a lot of it.

It was irrational, but he envied her about that sometimes.

Skirting his work area, Gideon went to the window and looked down at the city streets below. Rain was creeping down the glass, distorting the gray view, and he tried to let it distract him. Now that he'd begun, his mind was already spinning back towards a dream that brought blood out from his palms and his brow, a dream that he'd been unable to escape or purge.

A pueblo village, utterly empty. A sky with a merciless sun edging around dreadful storm clouds, and the young mestizo woman with her wild eyes and proud chin and long, long black hair tickling at her ankles. She has a rosary around her neck, she wears a pretty linen dress Gideon finds well suited for gathering flowers or sitting next to a slow cool river on a hot day. But there is no peace or mercy in her eyes, and her lips part to a crowd-scream of a voice, a woman's voice that breaks like thunder.


And then he must watch as her body is scourged, beaten, broken, violated, torn by a hundred silent, invisible assailants.

She stands there, and her eyes defy him. They promise him. They squeeze his heart until he has to wake up.

Lara knows better than to try and console him with words after waking from such a dream. She lets him know that she is all right, that he is with her, that he is not locked in a hot box in the Mexican village of a fanatical madwoman. She does that with a touch, and she is understanding of it.

But one day, he tried to paint the dream, and it was very difficult for him. Worse, it was difficult for her to look at it, even unfinished.

It is only fair, he thought bitterly. I don't like to think about Kenichiro either.

Sighing, he turned briskly away from the window and sat back down in front of the portraiture. Picking up his brush again, he started swiftly painting, locking away thoughts for another time. Mind set, Gideon knew he loved Lara, but he wished deeply that for once in his life, the past would leave him alone.

Part of him wondered if his painting would be as good, though.


Epilogue from the Other Side

Saturday, August 8, 2009 - 1:35 PM

Still here. Wedding, two receptions on two sides of the country, a stint in Paris (ah, Paris), and a road trip as well as various bureaucratic ordeals have kept me very busy. In my last game session for DnD, the players came to the end of the Big Plot Arc, and became very famous people indeed. This got me thinking about gaming epilogues, of course, and I decided to show something from The Other Side.
Sometimes a victory is a two-edged sword.

Yesterday, Julian was inconsolable. He had wept blood, thrashed as if he wanted to destroy his own body against any surface he could find, and howled until his voice failed. Avar had to restrain him, binding the smaller man.

Today, Julian sagged with despair. There was no spark left in him, and he followed Avar meekly. Silent, Julian would not or could not speak, and Avar did not press him. There had been fits before, frothing and gnashing, but Julian had never been so broken. Avar did not rely on conversation, but as the two of them through thick, dank woods to the Manticore, he felt alone. Julian usually sang quietly or offered occasional words, but he walked silently, withdrawn.

Leoric had sent word that morning for them to come to the Manticore. Ever since their failed journey to the Alyach, finding it impassable, Leoric had stayed in the north of the Wound while the rest had gone back to attend to the growing army and preparing for the onslaught against the Green Veil knights.

But yesterday, Fidelity suddenly withdrew, leaving his cult confused and dismayed. Julian and the other Wormkeepers all became howling wrecks. Something had changed, and Avar expected that Leoric would have an answer.

When he crested the dead trees of the Manticore, he emerged to see Leoric standing at the edge of the Manticore's 'head', the slight overhang that looked down at the Wound. Nearby, Tancred stood, leaning heavily on a gnarled club, and a scabrous ghoul of large size crouched next to Leoric.

Isabeau, wearing her ghoul, Avar thought. As he and Julian moved to join the three, Leoric turned slightly.

“I am glad we didn't lose Julian. Many of the Wormkeepers died yesterday.”

“Yes,” said Avar. “And Fidelity left. What has happened?”

“The impossible,” said Tancred bleakly, but Leoric's glance killed anything else Tancred might have said.

Instead, Leoric pointed north, and Avar could see a whirlwind of harpies, this time swirling over the constant thick smog of the deep Wound.

He furrowed his brow. “I thought they did that once a year.”

“Watch,” said Leoric. “What has happened was not what we ever expected, but I have seen the runes, and I understand now. The harpies are waiting, just as we are.”

Avar decided not to ask, and as he expected, part of the answer occurred shortly. A great shadow crossed over them, sweeping a horrible sour odor through the wind, and he looked up to see a tremendous harpy, a giant around which a vast cloud of flies buzzed. Other harpies followed in her wake, and he could feel the uncomfortable tickling at the back of his mind that indicated she was a Disciple.

“Beauty,” murmured Tancred with awe.

The giant harpy glided and dipped through the air, joining the huge vortex of her countless children, and then her devastating voice echoed through the Wound. It swept up the voices of her children, building a storm of angry wordless song that built steadily.

A sharp scuffing sound pulled Avar's attention away, and he glanced back at Julian, who had crumpled himself into a little weeping ball. Isabeau's ghoul also glanced at Julian, and took a slight step towards him.

“Oh no,” murmured Julian. “No, no. No.”

The steady tide of the harpy song built and then broke into a frightful harmonic screaming, equal parts anguish and rage and triumph. Avar felt, rather than saw, creatures fleeing from the Wound. Somehow he knew that even the most diseased and corrupted animals were running away. Tancred shifted uncomfortably, and for the first time Avar saw fear on his weathered face.

This time the question would not be restrained. “What is happening,” he said softly.

“Watch. Watch for the stirring of His corpse,” said Leoric.

Like dust billowing out from the collapse of a cave, the smog at the deepest end of the Wound suddenly burgeoned out, a foul greasy thunderhead of thick vapor. It rolled over the edges of the Wound, seeped in and around the trees and boiled over the hills. The brunt of it spilled through the deep canyon of the Wound, obscuring even the shallow areas with ochre-green smog. Avar saw a good many harpies plummet from the sky, dead.

There was a moment of profound silence, and then the earth groaned. A tremor went through the ground, a jolt of anguish.

“The Alyach is open,” said Leoric with satisfaction. “The Disciples all gathered at the Tree, because Hope was slain. Hope is dead.”

Avar tilted his head, and was not at all surprised that even the ghoul looked discomfited.

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