In Which I Contemplate a Gentleman Bastards Pirate LARP

So, Intercon P’s theme is Pirates.

I do like me some pirates, and have at times considered writing a pirate-themed media (or historical) mashup game. I think playing Devil to Pay sated my urge for this, but I was thinking… I could use pirates in a fantasy setting.

And then, since I apparently only write fan larps, it dawned on me: there are pirates in Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards sequence. They play quite a significant role in the plot of Red Seas Under Red Skies, in fact, rescuing our heroes when they get in over their heads. There’s a pirate brotherhood (the Council of Pirate Captains), made up of the members of five different pirate crews, which meets in Port Prodigal, which is basically the wretched hive of scum and villainy for pirates on the Sea of Brass. And Port Prodigal is itself pretty dang spooky…

Of course, as soon as I start thinking of this idea, in the car on the way to work (boo going back to work), the song I think of as being a Locke and Sabetha song (Imagine Dragons’ “I Bet My Life”) came on the radio.

SIGNS AND PORTENTS.

Some additional thoughts:

  • Despite the portentous song, I don’t think any of the main characters would be in the game.
  • The crew of the Poison Orchid, who are supporting characters in RSURS, probably would be, however.
  • I imagine the basic setup being something like “meeting of the Council of Pirate Captains in Port Prodigal to discuss Things,” but I don’t have much more than that at this point.
  • Yes, I realize this runs the risk of casting apps which call for this to be The Other Other All Zamira Drakasha game. I’m willing to take that chance.
  • I suspect this would take place pre-RSURS, maybe during the time of Lies. It has to be late enough that most of the Ghostwind Isles pirates have been wiped out, but given characters I want to include, not post-RSURS.
  • I really loved the adventure mechanic in Ex Ignorantia (which is basically a choose-your-own-adventure story, sometimes with abilities), and I think it would be neat to do something with that, maybe as “away missions” from the main meeting. Would it be too much to start the game with “you need to get to Port Prodigal — do you choose the Trade Door or the Parlor?”
  • The Camorr Wiki is not nearly so complete as other fan wikis, so much re-reading would have to happen. (This is both a plus and a minus — the books are great, but I have so little reading time…) For example, I can’t even get a list of the crew members of the Poison Orchid.
  • For as much as Zamira’s characterization is based on her being a mother, I doubt anybody wants to play the mini-game of “babysit Paolo and Cossetta.”
  • Naturally, there would be plots involving a Serious Lack of Cats.

Will I actually write this game? Dunno. I suspect a lot will depend on how soon I finish the first draft of Lioness

Intercon Overscheduled

It was an exhausting and exhilarating and strange weekend at Intercon O, and I am feeling some serious con crash now ๐Ÿ™

For posterity, what I did:

I spent much of Thursday daytime having a panic attack, because this is how I greet Intercon, apparently. Maybe one day this won’t be so, but this year, at least, I was freaking out about preparing my panels and getting up to speed with all the characters I’d be playing.

Pre-con: I participated in a bunch of panels — so many that I was basically incoherent at the end of Thursday, having talked and thought too much that day. These panels were:

  • Turning a Work of Fiction Into a LARP (moderator), with Quinn D and Lisa P.
  • Film Noir Fashion: Dress of the 1940s (a presentation I did all by my lonesome). Three people showed up, counting Matt, and one of them left halfway through ๐Ÿ™
  • Why We LARP (moderator, again), with Tony M and… I don’t even remember who else.
  • Useful Handsewing Techniques for LARPs. No one showed up, except Steve K, who had no interest in learning about hand-sewing. It ended up being “social hour with Lise.”
  • So You Want to Run a Game: Questions You Should Be Asking Yourself, with Steve K and Chad B.

The biggest disappointment was the lack of interest in the stuff I put together. I think this is the last year I’m going to do presentations/workshops on costuming topics, at least by myself.

Friday afternoon I played in run A of Shadow Over Mars, a first in a series of one-shot larps set in the Space 1889 setting. I was Chloe Monteil, an angry Frenchwoman, gunner on the ship The Moon of Shastapsh.

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Imagine I’m saying, “Zese British bastards!”

It’s amazing how much mileage I can get out of being French and angry — four hours worth, at least. I got to shoot things, and swear in French a lot, and I ended the game by dying(?) dramatically — I was stabbed and pulled off the ship, yelling “MEEEEEEEERRRRRDDDDDEEEE!” on the way down.

Quote from the game: “Ze only people I trust right now are zese two,” (points to A.J. and Jeff D’s characters, two ex-naval officers), “because zhey are trying to sleep with me.”

Bingley, A.J’s character, nodded and said, “I admit there may be some truth in that observation.”

Also, I got to play off Steve B, Consequences con chair, who was returning to Intercon for the first time since G. That was delightful ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m looking forward to seeing him and all my Consequences crew again in November!

Finally, the game was responsible for this sign, which entertained me greatly:
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Friday evening I ran Midsummer Mischief, that delightful Wodehousian game which I like so much that I keep running it for Americans. The game ran very smoothly, many people got engaged (and un-engaged, and re-engaged, and re-un-engaged), pigs were loosed, and Nuance wore a fabulous hat as Lady Constance. She also was part of one of the best exchanges in game:

“Was that before or after you started blackmailing my brother?”
“Before! I mean, after! I mean…”

Warren T, who played Lord Emsworth (and who was one of the writers/GMs for my Saturday game), also showed up wearing a bathrobe and carrying a book about pigs, which I think says everything you need to know about that dreamy peer, Clarence Threepwood, 9th Earl of Emsworth.

Most of Saturday I was in Ex Ignorantia, an eight-hour game of Lovecraft in academia. I played Briony Travis, socially clueless grad student in the physics department. It will surprise no one to learn that there was, in fact, some Mythos stuff going on in my plots ๐Ÿ˜‰

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Nothing says “srs bzns grad student” like a Rowsdower MST3K t-shirt, a suit jacket (with bonus cat hair), red shoes, red button earrings, and a Nyankochan sakuramochi purse.

I think what I liked so much about this game was the fact that… it’s a lot like a game I would write! By which I mean, it has fairly detailed mechanics, but it also has great writing, and characters that are much, much more than cardboard cutouts.

Like seriously, the writing. From what I understand, most of what I interacted with was done by Kristen H, as she was primarily the writer for my faction’s plot. Everything from my character I identified a leetle too much with, to the adventures in the sacred groves, to our trip to Carcosa to stop the summoning of Hastur, was beautifully evocative.

The upshot of the game was that Dagon/Cthulhu got control of the earth, minus a few patches carved out by lesser summonings. Briony ended up in one of those with Geoffrey, Will F’s character, after losing most of her faction to the trip to Carcosa.

(Also, as far as HPL knowledge goes, these people knew their stuff <3)

Alsoalso, I got snubbed by Nyarlathotep, so there’s that.

Alsoalsoalso, the fact that the game was mostly run by people who had been in MM the night before makes me wish there were such thing as a Lovecraftian Wodehouse game. Of course, it would have to be named after that chapter in LoEG Black Dossier: “Wot Ho, Gods of the Abyss.”

Saturday night, I played in A Song of Mergers and Acquisitions, which promised Game of Thrones-style politics in a corporate setting. I was Helen Zakarian, assistant to the president of the Congress, with no particular house affiliation. (There is a GoT character who is my analog, but it would be spoilery to say who).

I wanted to like this game — I very much like the type of character I was cast as — but in many ways it didn’t work for me. On the whole, it was a rare game that would have benefited from more mechanics.

For one thing, it’s the sort of game which needs an information economy, and there just… isn’t one. Plus, my character sheet gave me very little sense of my character and what I wanted, and so bargaining couldn’t really happen. I had so many conversations that were, “I can tell you incriminating things about Stark! In return could you… oh. I see you’re already going to vote the way I want you to.”

There was also the fact that no one apparently knew until the end of game that all the votes required a two-thirds majority. Which, despite the fact that almost everybody agreed on everything (another problem: not enough conflict for a GoT game), meant that nothing passed. (In part this was my own oversight: I said to Baratheon — played by Kevin R — something like “Everyone agrees on reducing tariffs!” and he conveniently decided not to correct me).

On the whole, I think this game has a lot of potential, but the writers might not want to shy away from mechanics so much, as it would do a great deal to make the game feel like a GoT game.

And that was basically my con, game-wise. I sadly did not have wakefulness for any parties, which was to my detriment ๐Ÿ™

Sunday was Packing the Car: the LARP, which I always have to play alone because Matt is in Sunday games ๐Ÿ™ There was also the “chatting in con suite” part of the day, in which I discovered that Alex P’s first Intercon game was also my own (A Question of Faith, at Intercon F). I also received a bag full of real British Cadbury from Suey, listened to Mike Young talk about the terrible games he has been in, and went to the now-traditional Chicago/Brit-contingent dead dog at Priya, an Indian restaurant in Lowell. I spent most of that chatting with Laurie and Ian, first-time Interconners who turned out to have a ton in common with us.

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This is what a fuckton (metric) of Cadbury Dairy Milk looks like.

Oh, and I went to closing ceremonies long enough to learn that a) Sharp & Sensibility is running in Delaware in October, and b) it’s the same weekend as the final event of Cottington Woods ๐Ÿ™ ๐Ÿ™ ๐Ÿ™ I may decide to go without Matt. We’ll see.

I also learned that there will be another Whateley’s game in the fall, and Matt insists that this year is the year we finally get out to Chicago to play.

And now… Intercon P is Pirates, and I’m cogitating ideas for new games. Oh no…

The Intercalm before the Interstorm (also, Barbara Stanwyck love)

Intercon O is coming up this weekend! It’s like LARPer Christmas!… wait, no, that’s the day after Halloween.

Nevertheless, it’s big, and I have a lot of prep to get done, for games I’m running, games I’m playing, and stuff I’m doing at pre-con.

Here, have a to-do list:

  • Finish Film Noir fashion presentation
  • Review/update hand-sewing handouts
  • Put together kits for hand-sewing workshop
  • Put questions together for panels I’m moderating
  • Do pin curls and 1940s makeup for presentation on Thursday night? Maybe? But that’s probably too ambitious. Pin curls are hard, yo.
  • Finish packing Midsummer Mischief (we’re 90% there — but we still have romance contingencies, room envelopes, etc)
  • Review Midsummer Mischief GM materials
  • (Re)Read Shadow Over Mars materials
  • Find pants for Shadow Over Mars costume (Savers?)
  • (Re)Read Ex Ig materials — make notes, if necessary
  • Assemble Ex Ig costume(s) — I’m imagining my costume evolving over the conference sessions
  • Re(Read) Song of Mergers & Acquisitions materials
  • Assemble Song of M&A costume
  • Gather stuff I’m loaning
  • Pack!

Probably my biggest task is putting together the presentation for my Film Noir Fashion (fashion of the 1940s) presentation. All of the history of costume presentations I’ve done in the past have been about eras that have significantly less documentation. But now I’m getting into the “we have photographic evidence of this period, and LOTS of it,” and it’s a little like trying to drink from a firehose.

For comfort, I look at pictures of Barbara Stanwyck, who, as we all know, is my spirit animal. Pinterest offers me much in this vein, from pictures of her as a 15-year-old Ziegfield girl who still went by Ruby Stevens, to her iconic blond-bewigged Double Indemnity femme fatale, to an elderly matron in The Big Valley. I have some definite favorites:

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This one from 1940 will probably be in my presentation, since it’s a good example of a very popular color of the period (copen blue) and a very popular dress style. But man. That sultry look! That perfect cat-eye! The touch of animal print!

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I don’t care who says she wasn’t “starlet beautiful,” I think she was gorgeous.

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And she liked beagles!

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Here she is with Clark Gable, flipping off the camera. I cackled when I came across this.

And a quote from her:

“My only problem is finding a way to play my fortieth fallen female in a different way from my thirty-ninth.”

Relevant for Intercon, too, I think ๐Ÿ˜‰

Pluses and minuses, February 18, 2015

– Winter is seriously depressing me. We’ve gotten more than six feet in just the past month, and it looks like Snowpiercer outside my window. (Regrettably, I don’t even get Chris Evans as a consolation prize).

– As I’ve posted elsewhere, snow canceled my trip to Boskone. Poop.

+ Melatonin seems to be working well, which means that I can actually get up at a decent hour again.

+ I reached 48,000 words on Lioness, and revealed one of the Big Reveals of the novel.

+/- Received a rejection on another G&F query/partial I had sent for #PitMad, back in December. On one hand, rejection; on the other hand, it was personal and very kind, and this after I had forgotten I even had it out there.

– In about a month, I will have been querying G&F for a year, on and off. At some point I suppose I have to give up. But at the same time, I’ve only queried like twenty agents over that time, so.

– I’m still really not getting much out of reading A Game of Thrones. Sorry, fans. If I had come to it earlier in life, I might have, but at this point I don’t want any more fantasy worlds where women are this marginalized.

It’s funny, because I LIKE the female POV characters, and they don’t lack agency, at all. I have nothing but good to say about Catelyn, Daenerys, or Arya. Even Sansa!

But then there are the bit parts for women, which seem limited to “serving wench,” and “whore.” There’s the constant use of “slut” and “whore.” There’s the constant threat of rape and child mutilation thrown around for funsies. And sure, yeah, we’re clearly SUPPOSED to have our skin crawl around Viserys, and his use of same, but… it’s just tiresome. Really fucking tiresome. I keep rolling my eyes and wishing for [SPOILER] to happen quicker.

And maybe it gets better in later novels, but… I just don’t care enough to find out? If I’m going to read gritty and grimdark, I’ll go back to reading Joe Abercrombie, because at least I’m pretty sure he’s doing trope reversal.

+ I finished listening to The Broken Kingdoms, at long last. Sorry it took me so long, but that middle section, where Oree is with the New Lights, just draaaaagged for me. That said, the ending was exciting, and the novel is a study in how to do multiple ending beats well.

And yeah, it’s utterly ridiculous that there is no audiobook for The Kingdom of the Gods. Booooo.

+ I started listening to Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone yesterday, which was recommended to me by… I don’t remember who. So far, I’m enjoying it. The narrator, Khristine Hvam, is just superb.

Is this supposed to be YA? I find it hard to believe, with all the talk of dicks in the first few chapters. And yet, YA certainly is edgier than it was when I was a teen… Anyway, Karou is clearly a female wish fulfillment character, and I am totally okay with that. More than okay, actually — I think there need to be more of them, so long as they are interesting characters in their own right. And Karou is! The only weirdness is when she displays a very… external view of her physical body, describing herself like a third-party would describe her. That sort of makes me frown. But we’ll see where it’s going…

+ I have tickets — in the third row! — to see the live Night Vale show in March.

+ Writing group this Thursday. Assuming it doesn’t get snowed out…

+ I’ve gotten Falanu nearly to 50 in TESO.

34 Things Lise is No Longer Allowed to Do in ESO

  1. I will not sing “Blue Entoloma” to the tune of “Smooth Operator” whenever I come across said plant.
  2. Nor will I tell my husband to “wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute” when I come across cotton
  3. Same with “Flax! Ah-aaaa! Savior of the Universe!”
  4. Ditto “Hey Jute.”
  5. I will not refer to trickster god Rajhin as the Dickster God, even if he is.
  6. I will not yell “puppykiller!” whenever I kill a clannfear
  7. Or at random, just for the fun of it.
  8. I won’t insult the Tribunal’s ill-gotten divine powers in a Sheogorath voice.
  9. I mustn’t speculate about the sex life of Idesa and that dark elf noble, no matter how many times I visit the forge in Windhelm.
  10. Nor greet vendors with “Sauce!”
  11. Lyris is an important NPC, not an email management software.
  12. I have reached my quota on saying, “Shadowfen… I can’t believe I’m still in Shadowfen.”
  13. Should I find any Argonians in Shad Astula, I must not shout, “Yer a lizard, Harry!”
  14. Similarly, it’s probably not a good use of my time to make an Argonian sorcerer named “Scar-Like-Lightning.”
  15. Nor do I have enough time to make a metrosexual Bosmer.
  16. I will not suggest Mannimarco/Vanus Galerion slash.
  17. Even if the former IS the King of Worms.
  18. Epic Violet dye is a privilege, not a right.
  19. I will not refer to Eyes-of-Steel as Thighs-of-Steel.
  20. I will not call potency runes “prunes.”
  21. When visiting a kwama mine, I shall not sing “Kwama Chameleon.”
  22. I mustn’t be an Elder Scrolls hipster in zone chat.
  23. Especially not to speculate that cliff racers were the real cause of the disappearance of the Dwemer.
  24. The lyrics to that common tavern song are not, “Neil Diamond, Neil Diamond, the heart and soul of men.”
  25. Speculation on the qualities of one’s grotto (frigid, or fungal) is in poor taste.
  26. Same with Questionable Meat Sacks.
  27. Ditto wormwood.
  28. It is anachronistic to name my horse “Barenziah.”
  29. I will not question the humility of Ordinators — at least not in their presence.
  30. I shouldn’t use Piercing Javelin to fling mobs through the world.
  31. Especially when my husband is tanking them.
  32. Especially because “I just like the sound of it.”
  33. No matter what Ultimate I have slotted, it’s not effective against barrels.
  34. I will not refer to fishing as “PvF.”

Inspired by The 213 things Skippy is no longer allowed to do in the U.S. Army

Play TESO with me! (redux)

Last year, before The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO, or ESO) went live, I was cajoling you all to play with me. I had a lot of fun grouping with friends in the beta, but when the actual prospect of paying came up, most people I knew were not sufficiently interested.

But! As it turns out, in March it will go to the Tamriel Unlimited plan, which means it will be free to play with purchase of the base game. Very similarly to the freemium model SWTOR uses, you can still subscribe to get an ESO Plus membership that will give you bonuses like a monthly allotment of points to spend in the Crown Store for important things like guar mounts ๐Ÿ˜‰

I have Thoughts about the F2P model and how it pisses me off that people expect everything to be free (and often happily accept shitty freemium models). OTOH, I also really want people to play with me! Right now Matt and I are the only ones regularly on in our guild ๐Ÿ™

I admit, I go through periods where I’m not interested in playing, but I’ve been digging in again lately and having a lot of fun. After a year, I still don’t have a veteran character; my highest level is my Dunmer templar in Ebonheart Pact, Falanu Dren, at 42. With her and Matt’s Dunmer dragon knight, we just finished Eastmarch, with its many very silly quests. To give you some examples:

  1. Meeting a bunch of naked Nords bathing in a hot springs who ask you to retrieve bath salts for them. Bath salts which, it transpires, turn you into zombies.
  2. Throwing cat pee at hunters to prevent vampires from attacking them
  3. Thane Jeggi, whose condition for coming to the war council is making sure there is mead there.
  4. The sheer number of quests that involve entering homes through the window rather than the door.
  5. Glorious cultural exchange! Actually, this one starts in… Deshaan? Shadowfen? with a group of Nords who want to better understand Dunmer culture. As part of this, you dress them up in ridiculous clothes. Naturally.

Eastmarch, being in the province of Skyrim, also hearkens back to the game of the same name. The geography is vaguely similar — I remember the sulfur pools south of Windhelm, the White River, Skuldafn… And actually, the final quest of the zone, like the final quest in Skyrim, involves fighting your way through the ruin of Skuldafn and visiting Sovngarde.

We took a break with our EP characters to play our Aldmeri Dominion ones — Br’ihnassi, my Khajiit nightblade, and Matt’s Altmer dragon knight. They are both level 23 and in the middle of hell, I mean, Grahtwood. (Grahtwood is mostly hellish because it’s so hard to navigate; there are mountains and giant trees blocking your path at every turn).

I had a moment of lore squee the other night when I realized a quest involved the town of Gil-var-delle. The name sounded familiar to me, and the quest mentioned the town had been attacked by Molag Bal. “Is this the town mentioned in 2920: The Last Year of the First Era?” I wondered. I went and looked — it is! Gilverdale or Gil-var-delle is the town that a random Khajiit king made a deal with Molag Bal to destroy, because he didn’t like a bard that came from there. Since TESO is all about Molag Bal, it makes sense for it to be mentioned here.

It’s stuff like this that keeps me playing ๐Ÿ™‚

I was trying to express to Matt how the depth of the lore, and its self-awareness, creates this amazing tapestry that I, as a writer, wish I could build into my own creations. It also provides the background radiation that makes creepypasta like this scary. (And seriously, I still long to one day write a horror story like that).

Anyway! I also have to recommend the UESP guild, which is where I get most of my socialization on these days. Good people, not your usual internet assholes. My one regret is that most of their high-level toons are Daggerfall Covenant, which I don’t even have a character in. Although there was an AD group last night doing Craglorn stuff…

(I have since made a DC character, an Imperial dragon knight, Corvus Duronius. But I haven’t started playing him yet. He has an eyepatch, which made Matt giggle and say, “Arrrr, welcome to Starbuccaneers, may I take your order?”)

So that’s that. I have no clever conclusion! Play ESO with me, and know the beautiful lore that is the Elder Scrolls!

More Incredibly Brief BPAL Yule Reviews

Still testing my way through these

Chanukkiyah. Olive oil, beeswax, glowing amber, sweet sufganiyot, pomegranate, and fig. Fruity, with an almost-herbal note that is probably the olive oil or the beeswax. Reminds me a little of Jack. Not something I find terribly pleasant to wear, though.

Gelt. A bounty of chocolate coins! Dry cocoa and golden amber! Yup. Smells like chocolate. I’ve got enough chocolate scents, and frankly I don’t like smelling like chocolate frosting all day.

Yuletide. Ripe, bursting, blood red holly berries pricked by sharp, waxy holly leaves. Berries and a sort of piney incense. Mostly it dries down to the incense note to me; Matt claims the berries last longer for him. He’s a much bigger fan than me, but I like it well enough to wear.

Rose Red. The perfected winter rose, dew covered and freshly cut. Holy shit, is it. I put on just a few drops, and I’m going to spend the rest of the day smelling like a florist’s shop. Maybe it will attract prettyboy assassins? That said, I think I like it. Do I bottle-like it, though?

I also see that the Lupercalia scents are up (link probably NSFW), and it’s a Smut year. Smut, a semi-limited edition, is perhaps one of my signature scents. I still have most of a bottle — but is that enough to last until the next Smut year?

Codex Weekend Warriors 2015

I’ve off-handedly mentioned that I’ve been participating in the Codex Writers’ Group Weekend Warriors (WW) contest, but I don’t think I’ve explained it, have I?

Basically, WW is a flash fiction writing contest, where “flash,” in this case, is defined as fiction less than 750 words. (Definitions vary; I’ve seen it go up to about 1500 words or so). For five weeks in January/February, writing prompts will be posted on Friday, and the contestants have the weekend to write a piece of fiction. It doesn’t have to be speculative (even though Codex is an SFF writing group), and it doesn’t have to directly follow the prompt, but it does have to be less than 750 words.

During the week that follows, all the other writers in the division (this year there are three: Puppies, Kitties, and Bunnies) rate all the other stories in the division. At least, this is supposed to be how it works, although in theory nothing is forcing you to read and rate the others — except that your own ratings are held captive until you do! (Clever, that). At the end of the five weeks, the final score is calculated from the three highest-ranked stories, and the winner is based on that. (So it behooves you to participate more than three times, although you don’t have to).

I participated in week one, writing a space opera-ish story of a cultural misunderstanding. This was as much a surprise to me as anyone; I hadn’t planned to participate, but I found myself stuck in a cold basement for most of a day (Ye Olde Commons, for those LARPers among you) with a notebook, an idea based on a vague misremembering of a prompt, and very little else to do. The story I wrote was fun, but it really wanted to be 1000+ words, and cutting it down to 750, I’m beginning to think I weakened it. The ratings reflected this — but hey, I wasn’t dead last!

Moreoverย I have a story! A story I can try to sell! I’ve heard tales of Daily Science Fiction (DSF) eagerly awaiting submissions based on WW entries, and I know that even stories that have done poorly in the contest have sold. So I’m eager to take the feedback I’ve gotten on the story and turn it into something I can maaaaaybe publish.

(If not, you’ll see it here eventually…)

So I was super-psyched to give WW a try again this weekend, week 3. (Arisia kept me from participating last week). The story came easily to me this time, based on the prompt “Write about an unusual wedding, birthday party, or other celebration.” I finished it on Saturday, and did some edits on Sunday. I had no trouble keeping it under 750 words; 700 was the length it wanted to be. Now, let’s see if it’s any good…

By the way, if you’re wondering why I’m not naming my stories, or even the division I’m in, it’s because this is all anonymous. We had to pick neato pen names and everything! You’ll find out soon enough which are mine, I suppose, either when they’re announced on Codex, or when they get published, here or elsewhere.

I’ve begun reading this week’s stories, too, and I feel so lucky to do so. They’re all so good — which is a function of Codexย being a curated forum — and on the dark side this week (which is a function of the prompts). I’ve rated almost everything I’ve come across an eight (out of 10), and I’d be happy to read most of these in a magazine. Bodes ill for my little story, though…

In other writing news, I got my rejection from F&SF this weekend for “Powder of Sympathy.” It was about as I expected, but I’m glad I finally got off my ass and submitted it. Finlay wrote some nice personal feedback, though:ย “I was hooked by the opening scene of this story, but overall it just didn’t connect with me so I’m going to pass on it.” Meh. Story of my writing life — premature narrative ejaculation.

I think I know where I’m going to send this one next (Clarkesworld), but I’m debating whether or not I want to read it over and make any further changes, first. Of course, that way so often lies madness…

Drinking Greef at the End of the World (fanfiction; Elder Scrolls)

Originally published on Archive of Our Own on January 17, 2014. Reposted here with slight corrections.

Though there was no daylight in the Corprusarium, Yagrum Bagarn, the last living dwarf, knew it was Morndas. Because it was Morndas, it was not Uupse Fyr who brought his breakfast tray and morning medicaments, but one of the nameless servants of Tel Fyr. While Bagarn missed her sweet voice reading to him, the absence was expected, and he resigned himself to reading to himself until she finished her martial arts lesson with Vistha-Kai.

What was not expected was the tremor that shook the Corprusarium at the tenth hour of the morning. Dishes clattered in cupboards, rock ground against rock, and Bagarn found his centurion spider legs skittering beneath him.

He knew what earthquakes were, of course, though he hadn’t lived through one in years — not since Red Mountain had gone quiescent. Even then, such things were rarely felt as far as Azura’s Coast.

The tremor passed, and Bagarn righted himself, panting. Everything was eerily silent in the wake of the shock; even his corprus-demented neighbors had been silenced. After a few heartbeats, the drip of water on stone breached the quiet, and everything seemed to return to normal again.

Bagarn was returning to his reading — considering if this play had any merit, and if he would like it better had he seen it performed — when Lord Fyr bustled into the room, carrying a silver tray with a bottle and two glasses set upon it. The Dunmer wizard was not wearing his usual Daedric armor, but was dressed in loose robes for sleeping.

A social call? Bagarn surmised. An odd time for it, but well, Divayth Fyr was an odd mer. “Good Morndas to you, Lord Fyr,” he greeted his old friend. “I see it takes an earth-tremor to bring you down here, these days.”

Fyr gave a crooked smile. “Rather a nasty one, wasn’t that? Shook all the paintings off the wall in the Onyx Hall.” He set the tray down on the table beside Bagarn. The Dwemer thought he saw a tremor in Fyr’s hands as he did; but in his next movement, he smoothly unstoppered the bottle and poured a liquid into the two glasses with a little flourish, making Bagarn doubt he had ever seen the thing.

“Is Red Mountain erupting, then?” He lifted the little cup to his nose, smelling the bitter, fruity smell of comberry brandy. Greef, the Dunmer called it. He set the cup down again, content just to smell. It was early to be drinking.

“Doubt it.” There was a firm set to Fyr’s jaw, a glint in his red eyes that Bagarn read as mischievousness. Then he switched topics: “Have you ever seen Vivec?”

“The Chimer? Your warrior-poet?”

“The city that bears his name.”

“Ah. No.” Bagarn smiled. “Though I’ve heard it’s an unobliging place to get lost.”

Fyr chuckled. “It is, as that.” He seated himself on a stool that Uupse favored for reading. “I’ve had news from some colleagues there.” He paused, steepling his fingers above his cup of greef. “If I tell you Baar Dau has fallen, that means nothing to you?”

Bagarn shook his head.

“Hmm.” Fyr’s eyes searched the room. “It is a large rock, floating above the city, on which we have our Ministry of Truth.”

“Floating above the city? That sounds infinitely interesting. How is such a thing accomplished?”

“By Lord Vivec’s will, of course. Said he stopped it when Sheogorath tossed it out of Oblivion in a fit of pique. You know something of such things, I imagine, since Vivec’s power derives — derived — from –”

“Ah yes.” Bagarn cut him off, shifting uncomfortably in the seat of his centurion chair. He thought of the Heart of Lorkhan, Kagrenac, the Numidium project–things he hadn’t thought about in years. Not since that Argonian with corprus came to Tel Fyr.

It occurred to him then. “But Lord Vivec has been– I hear he has been in seclusion for many years now.”

Fyr made a snorting noise, and rose to his feet, crossing to the cupboard. “In seclusion, my grey arse. He disappeared. Lost his powers, and then disappeared.”

“Lost his powers?”

The Dunmer was rummaging in the cupboard now, and Bagarn could hear the clinking of metal and glass. “When that slave destroyed the Heart,” he said, over his shoulder. “You remember her. The Argonian.”

“I was just thinking of her, actually. You mean to say… she destroyed the Heart of Lorkhan? How is that possible? Lord Kagrenac himself couldn’t…” He trailed off, not sure what this all meant.

Fyr emerged from the cupboard, holding a Dwemer coin in one hand. His other hand waved dismissively. “It’s all very complex. Damned if I can quite follow it myself.” He stared off into the distance, a look of nostalgia written on his face. “Clever gal, wasn’t she? Didn’t give her a single key, but she opened all the boxes in my labyrinth.” He hefted the coin in his hand. “Sure she figured something out. They decided she was the Nerevarine, did you know? ‘They’ being I don’t know who. Vivec. House Telvanni. Whatever. Fulfilled the prophecies, and all that.”

Bagarn drew in a breath, trying to keep up with Fyr’s stream of consciousness. Luckily, he was well practiced at it — ย plus he knew some small amount about Dunmer legend. “An Argonian Nerevarine? Isn’t that… odd?”

“Yes, well. Azura does rather have a sense of humor, doesn’t she? Anyway! Our intrepid slave girl destroyed the enchantments around the Heart, severing our dear Tribunal from it, and causing them to lose their powers.”

Bagarn was well aware his friend was speaking what the Tribunal cult would call heresy. Perhaps he felt safe doing so because he was a four-thousand year-old wizard who could travel to Oblivion. Perhaps, here at the center of the Corprusarium, he simply knew he could not be overheard by anyone who cared about such things. “Do go on.”

Fyr tossed the coin from hand to hand. “Vivec disappeared. But as the legend goes, while the people loved him, Baar Dau would stay afloat.” He paused. “Today, it has fallen.”

He dropped the Dwemer coin, then, into a puddle of water at his feet. It splashed and dispersed the puddle, rolling unharmed to the side. “That coin is Baar Dau. The puddle is Vivec.” He bit his lip. “Was Vivec.” He sat down abruptly and picked up his cup of greef, sipping at it. “One of my colleagues was on the road to Pelagiad when it happened. Contacted me at once. Told me he saw the cantons knocked over like toys under an ogrim’s heel.” Again Bagarn saw that hesitation in his caretaker’s movements. “That was,” Fyr licked his lips, “the last I heard. Lost the transmission. He must have Recalled out of there.” He didn’t sound sure.

Bagarn was silent, shocked. He had never been there, but he knew Vivec was the greatest city on Vvardenfell.

And now it was gone.

“I’m sorry,” Bagarn said, because he did not know what else to say.

Fyr drank deeply of the greef, before continuing. “Well. You know. It’s not just that.” There was a hint of menace in his voice. “Do you remember,” he began, and then cleared his throat, because his voice was gritty. “Do you remember how Red Mountain would erupt and cause an earthquake? And if there was an earthquake, it would conversely cause Red Mountain to erupt? And sometimes, over in Mournhold, the waves would rise high off the coast, smash fishing boats and houses, and…” He trailed off, shaking his head. “Of course you don’t know about that last part. Point is. Nirn and the roots of the mountain and the tides, they are all connected. What affects one, affects the others.”

Bagarn thought he understood. “Ah. You believe there will be… after-effects?”

Fyr shook his head. “Already begun. In another quarter of an hour, we’ll know the full extent.” He rolled the cup in his hands.

Bagarn’s mind moved infinitely slow, as if refusing to accept the gravity of the situation. Was it his imagination, or could he hear a low rumbling beneath the Corprusarium? Was a river of lava already snaking its way right to their door? He felt a thrill of fear. It was an odd sensation, entirely foreign to a mer whom corprus had inoculated from simple mortality.

The first inane thing he said was, “What of your daughters?”

Fyr opened his mouth to reply, but it was a long time before the words came out. “Safe. Recalled to Mournhold. With family.”

“You could Recall, too,”

Fyr laughed. “Bitter irony. Mine is set to Vivec.”

“Or seek intervention.”

“To Molag Mar, which is hardly safer than here.”

“You have that daedric amulet –”

“No. I gave that to the Argonian.”

Bagarn thought. Water dripped. “Look, old friend. If nothing else, you can travel to Oblivion, can’t you? Hardly comfortable, but if you choose the right realm, you’ll be safe for a time.”

Fyr shook his head. “The ritual takes time, and supplies I don’t have. I can’t just pop off to Moonshadow in an instant.”

A sudden, clever thought occurred to Bagarn. “Aren’t your people known for their resistance to fire and heat?”

“Resistance is not immunity. If nothing else,” Fyr said, grimacing, “it will just kill me more slowly.”

That was a frightful picture, but Bagarn was becoming exasperated. Everywhere he offered suggestions, Fyr threw them aside. “You are the single most brilliant sorcerer in Vvardenfell!” Bagarn cried. “At the very least, you can levitate yourself somewhere neither lava nor earthquakes nor giant waves can reach you.”

A thin, sad smile stole over Fyr’s lips then. “And leave the Corprusarium behind? Leave you behind?” He gestured to the Dwemer’s bloated body. “Where I would go, you cannot follow, friend.”

And that was the entire truth behind the excuses, Bagarn saw at last. His shoulders fell.

“Please, drink up,” Fyr whispered. “Hate to drink alone.”

Bagarn looked into his cup, and considered his own death. All things considered, it would be a relief. His body was a twisted, traitorous ruin; even his senses were beginning to fail him.

But it was a funny thing, to have survived so much, only to die now.

To have survived the failed experiments that turned his people to ash.

To have survived Akaviri invasions.

To have survived corprus, which made him this ruin, but also allowed him to live to this far-attenuated age.

To have seen the Nerevarine.

To die, in the path of a natural disaster. A natural disaster caused, however indirectly, by the very thing Kagrenac had tried to do to improve the Dwemer, thousands of years ago.

He wondered if it would hurt much.

He sipped his greef, and felt its numb his tongue.

“I’m sorry there’s not much left,” Fyr said, smoothing his topknot of white hair with hands that visibly shook. “You know how Alfe likes her drink. This is good stuff. Second Era vintage. They were drinking this stuff when Vivec flooded the Akaviri out of Vvardenfell.”

The numbness did not leave Bagarn’s tongue. He licked his lips, and knew suddenly that the Fyr daughters had not gone to Mournhold. They were duplicates of Fyr; what family could they claim?

“This will make it easier,” Fyr said. “I don’t know if the seas or Nirn will take us… but sera alchemy is always obliging.” He set his head down on the table, his breathing heavy. “That is the hackle-lo leaf you taste. To numb the pain. Luminous russula and violet coprinus does the rest.”

A cold stone settled in Bagarn’s chest, and with surprising eagerness, he embraced it. He reached for the bottle of poisoned greef and poured out the dregs of it, speckled with precipitates. “Will this… be enough?

Fyr tried to nod, but didn’t quite manage it. “Yes,” he rasped instead. “Excuse me if I don’t pour for you. My spine — seems to have stopped working.” He laughed. His skin was pale, the color of a Falmer’s. “Terrible old man. Lived far too long. But. Know how to be a gracious host.”

You have always been good to me, Bagarn wanted to say, but the words froze in his throat. He saw the same glint in Fyr’s eyes he had seen earlier, and knew it wasn’t mischievousness, after all, but fear.

Fyr was too proud to ask for his company–he was as haughty as any Dunmer. But he was slipping away, his intelligent eyes dimming, even as the Dwemer delayed. The least he owed Divayth Fyr, Bagarn determined, was follow him into the dark.

He threw back the cup of greef and drank greedily.

The Battle on Christ’s-Mass (flash fiction)

Originally published December 21, 2012, on Livejournal, for Terrible Minds’ weekly flash fiction challenge, where the prompt was “The War on Christmas.”ย Here I am imagining an alternate history where the German states never became Christian. Small corrections made in reposting it here.

In the Year of Our Lord 1844, as every schoolchild knows, Prince Albert wrought peace between England and the German states.

This is how it was accomplished.

It was an accident of his campaign in Hesse that Prince Albert found himself camped outside the city of Geismar on the eve of Christ’s-Mass, which the heathens called Yule. It was snowing, and this did not escape the notice of the two middle-aged men gathered inside the Prince’s command tent.

“It is inadvisable,” said the Duke of Normandy, Laurence Martel, “to march up the hill in snow towards…” He raised and lowered his hand, demonstrating, with wordless frustration, their goal. Then he brightened and added, “Perhaps a flanking action –”

“There’s no time,” Prince Ernest of Thuringia snapped. “Nor can we split our forces like that.”

Despair returned to the Duke’s face. “Then… perhaps if we can hope for superior firepower. They haven’t got rifles, have they?”

Ernest barked a laugh. “We aren’t savages, you know.”

Prince Albert listened to his companions for some time longer, but eventually he rose and walked out of the tent. Later he would note the silence of this moment — so still he believed he could hear the breath of the sky. If he noted how uncanny that was, it is not mentioned in his memoirs; nor, it seems, did he reflect on his odd place in this war, as the husband of a Christian ruler and the child of a pagan land.

Prince Ernest and the Duke soon followed him out. They found him staring to the south, at the hill city of Geismar, alight with lamp-light, rising out of the plain like an island rising out of the sea. Less than a mile distant, it might as well have been impenetrable.

Prince Albert looked to the west instead. Against the setting sun, he could see outlined a tree. It took him some time, he records, to realize it must have been truly of epic proportions to block out part of the horizon like it did. “Brother,” he said, in German, “What is that tree?”

“Donar’s Oak,” the Prince of Thuringia replied. “The local people equate it with Yggdrasil, the World Tree.” He gave a disdainful shrug. This was an unorthodox belief, even for a heathen.

“Will it be defended?”

“I can’t imagine it’s a strategic target.” After a moment’s reflection, he added, “Though I expect there are some few priests of Donar there, and they’ll defend it with their lives.”

Prince Albert considered for a long time — so long that the sun sank in the west, leaving them in full darkness. The breeze continued to whisper possibilities. Eventually, he cleared his throat, and spoke. “Normandy, be prepared to march at dawn.” Turning to Ernest, he said, “I would like an axe.”

#

The battle at Donar’s Oak was accomplished without fanfare. There were some dozen priests tending the tree, and they resisted with passion and abandon, but they were overwhelmed by the strength of the infantry. Preferring death to indignity, few of the priests had allowed themselves to be captured.

The surviving priests stood guarded by a circle of infantry in the shadow of the leafless giant. When the sun was high, Prince Albert emerged from the milling soldiers and stepped up to the mounded dirt around the base of the tree, where heathen idols had been scattered. He was wearing a dress uniform and he carried an axe. He looked to either side of him as if awaiting a cue.

The gathered people — heathens and soldiers both — seemed to be holding their breaths. The impact of the axe hitting wood was a great exhalation.

Prince Albert was a fit man, but the tree was fitter, and His Highness was soon sweating and panting. He removed first the uniform jacket, then his shirt. By the time he began making the lower notch, his hair was wild and he looked like nothing so much as a common laborer.

Lightning then broke from the clear sky, its only warning a ripple of electricity through the air. It struck the crown of the tree, and the force of the impact drove a wedge between the main limbs of the tree. With a tremendous creak-crack, the vast trunk of the tree was split.

When it landed, the tree was in three smoldering sections. Sap sizzled beneath its bark.

Prince Albert seemed a little uncertain at this moment, and summoned forth his brother to converse in whispers. The Prince of Thuringia only made a gesture of confusion.

The symbols must have seemed clear enough for His Highness to continue. “The Most High provides,” he said, taking on the air of the orator. “See how he has split this oak into three parts, representing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?” He made the sign of the cross as he said this.

The priests of Donar were murmuring in their little circle. Prince Albert looked at their captors and said, “Deliver them to the gates of Geismar, and then free them.” While the soldiers frowned at their orders, His Highness addessed himself to the captives in German. “Clearly the hammer of Donar has sundered his monument tree into three parts. I leave to your wisdom the interpretation.” As he said this, he approached one of the smoldering limbs and broke off a branch, still decorated with dry, rattling leaves. With its woody end, he scratched in the dirt three interlocking triangles.

Prince Albert had taken Geismar within the week, and the rest of Hesse within the next year. But perhaps what is most remembered from that day is how Prince Albert bore with him the branch of the sundered tree, and carried it with him back to England.

And this is why today we celebrate Christ’s-Mass with garlands of oak leaves.