#2072

[ This follows the scene with Dhashi and the scrying bowl ]

“Hey there, little one. Yer Dhashi, right?”

“Oh!” Dhashi, kneeling on the cold stone floor, lifted her head from her hands and wiped at the steadily falling tears. In the doorway stood a tall man wearing the usual uniform of a gunslinger, complete with brimmed hat and sarape. If Overwatch existed in this universe, Dhashi would have noticed he looked extremely similar to McCree; but it doesn’t, so she didn’t. “Y-yes,” she replied, getting unsteadily to her feet. “Who are you? Where’s the Raven Queen?”

“The name’s Mercer. She sent me to show you around, get you settled and stuff,” He took a step into the room, figuring the girl had had enough scares for one day and not wanting to alarm or overwhelm her. “That okay?” Dhashi glanced back at the basin, her only link to the world she had just been ripped from. “But… my friends…” Mercer came a few steps closer and laid a hand lightly on her shoulder. “It’s okay, you can come back here any time you want.” The touch calmed her a little, and Dhashi managed a braver smile than she felt. She nodded for him to lead on and he steered her back out into the long, columned hallway, an arm resting around her shoulders.

“So this is the Raven Queen’s home?” Dhashi glanced up as they walked, eyeing the dark stone arches and the weak light filtering in from windows set high in the walls. “It’s so… spooky.” She shivered as a spider skittered across the marble floor. “And dark.” Beside her, Mercer shrugged. “It ain’t so bad once you get used to it. And you won’t be here often once you become a Champion.”

“Oh,” Dhashi’s feet seemed to stop of their own accord as her stomach flip-flopped. “Right. That.” Mercer stopped as well and knelt down so they could talk on level, his hand never leaving her shoulder. “Don’t worry, kid, you’ll do great.” He gave the aasimar a conspiratorial wink. “You have the best in the business to teach you.”

“You’re one of the Raven Queen’s Champions?” Dhashi’s look of surprise changed to one of suspicion and she eyed him as if he would transform into a monster at any moment. “But you’re not all scary and mean like the other one.” Her comment made Mercer throw back his head and laugh, and the atmosphere between them relaxed once more. “I assume you mean Mage. Yeah, she’s… intense, that’s fer sure. We’re not all like her, though. Think of us like special tools – you need the right tool fer the job, whether that’s somethin’ small and delicate,” he pointed at Dhashi, “or big and strong,” he pointed at himself, “or utterly terrifyin’ and almost certainly insane.” He laughed again, not noticing how wide Dhashi’s eyes had gone. “Are my friends going to be okay with her?” she asked.

“Oh yeah, they’ll prob’ly be fine,” Mercer climbed to his feet, then finally noticed the tears welling in the girl’s eyes. “Oh jeeze, wait, don’t start cryin’ again,” he pleaded, but it was too late. The tears fell in waterfalls. “Dangit,” he muttered, “I’m terrible at this mentorin’ thing. Uhh,” he glanced around desperately for a distraction, “look, birds! Look at the nice birds.” He steered Dhashi toward the nearby rookery, pointing up at the ravens of all sizes and ages that roosted or hopped from perch to perch in the airy room. He had no way of knowing how much Dhashi missed her own animal companion, Charlie, but either way he breathed a sigh of infinite relief as her tears ceased and her smile reappeared.

– – –

“Going well?” The Raven Queen appeared at Mercer’s side as he leaned against the open doorway. He nodded to where Dhashi sat on the rookery floor, birds already nestled among the folds of her dress, perched on her arms, and grooming her long, golden hair with their sharp beaks. She murmured to them as she smoothed their glossy feathers, and the ravens burbled and croaked in reply. “She’s got a big heart,” Mercer conceded. “And she’s braver than she realizes. Dunno if that’ll be enough, though.”

“It will have to be,” The goddess clapped him on the shoulder, then disappeared. Mercer stood watching Dhashi for a moment more, then went to join her. She smiled up at him as if they were old friends and began telling him the birds’ names.

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#2071

“You can talk to her, if you want.”

This was it; they had finally arrived. After traveling south from the ruins of Lunanoff,sailing across the Bay of Pitch, laboring their way through the mountains beyond Dull, and fighting their way through the undead keepers of the Raven Queen’s temple, Ro and Ilkan and their new companion workplace associate Mage finally stood before the infamous goddess herself. However, their hope to be reunited with Dhashi, and subsequently rid of Mage, was not to be fulfilled; the goddess explained that Dhashi wasn’t yet ready to return to the mortal world, that she needed more time to train before she could act as the Raven Queen’s champion. They would all be together again soon, she promised, but not yet. Disappointment weighed on Ro and Ilkan, two battle-hardened warriors who would never have guessed the absence of one irritating, hyper-optimistic teenager could hurt them so. The Raven Queen understood, of course. The Raven Queen had dealt in death and loss since the beginning of time.

“You can talk to her, if you want,” The Raven Queen, who towered over the three cursed companions as she sat on her throne, motioned toward the scrying bowl at her feet. Mage, bored now that the killing was over, picked her nails with a knife. Ro resolutely shook her head, eschewing anything the goddess of death might offer and holding fast to her raging grief. But Ilkan nodded and moved toward the bowl. “I’d like to,” he said, voice uncharacteristically thin. The Raven Queen held her hand over the bowl and the mirror-clear surface shimmered, then stilled again. Instead of Ilkan’s reflection, the water showed a man garbed in the brimmed hat and sarape of a gunslinger. “Mercer,” she said, “put Dhashi on.”

“Got it,” The gunslinger tipped his hat to the goddess and then turned to someone beyond the mirror’s edge. “Dhashi!” he yelled. “Dhashi, the boss wants you! …Dhashi, c’mere! Stop paintin’ the ravens’ claws and–” Behind him, a mass of black wings and pink glitter shot past. “DHASHI GET YER BUTT OVER HERE.” Mercer disappeared, replaced by a Dhashi who looked fairly unchanged, albeit paler and a little diminished in some essential way. She waved hesitantly and managed a fairly good approximation of her usual smile. “Hi Ilkan…”

“Hey,” The goliath waved one giant hand in return. He was already fighting back tears. “How are you?”

“I’m okay,” Dhashi shrugged a little, suddenly shy for all that she had been longing to speak with her friends again. “It’s not so bad here. Mercer’s nice. How are you?”

“I’m.. we’re…” Ilkan glanced over to Ro’s stiff back and shrugged as well. “You know.”

“Yeah,” Dhashi wiped at her eyes, then managed a truer smile. “You guys are doing really well, though. I’ve been watching.” A moment of silence passed, strained with all the things that could be, but were not, said, and then Dhashi brightened a little. “Can I say hi to Charlie?” Ilkan managed an honest chuckle at the eagerness on the aasimar’s face and nodded. “I was just about to get him out,” he said, pulling the little glass bowl out from where he had stored it in his pack before the battles in the temple. He held it over the scrying bowl and the little fish inside swam around in its usual unhurried manner. “He misses you.”

“Hi Charlie!” Dhashi wiggled her fingers at the fish, who didn’t seem to notice at all, and wiped away more tears as they continued to fall. “Thank you for taking care of him, Ilkan. I miss you guys so much. I’m trying really hard so I can come back soon.” She turned her head to look at something or someone beyond the scrying bowl’s surface, then looked back at Ilkan with a bittersweet smile. “I should go. Say hi to Ro for me, okay?” Ilkan nodded. “Okay.”

The mirror’s surface shivered and cleared, once again reflecting only the Raven Queen’s temple and Ilkan’s tear-streaked face as he turned away. As he carefully returned Charlie to the relative safety of his pack, he caught the sound of a surreptitious sniff from Ro’s direction. When the party gathered back together, though, she had her emotions under their usual tight rein.

#2069

Alice stands on the dark beach with sword drawn as she watches the figure walking out of the waves. Water streams from Mage’s tangled hair and tattered black garb; the moonlight illuminates her white skin and glitters in her hard green eyes.

Eye.

Alice frowns, studying her enemy more closely. The iris of Mage’s right eye has gone black, and from the edge of her collar some sort of black scar or tattoo creeps up the side of her face like a lightning strike, cutting even through her eye. Though she can’t tell for sure, Alice suspects the black substance originates with the hook which has already transformed Mage’s right hand into sharp black claws. Despite the warm night, Alice shivers.

“Alice…” Mage bows with a flourish of her clawed hand. The movement is almost too grandiose to be purposeful, as if the woman is inebriated. “I’m honored to be greeted by the mighty captain herself. Then again,” she snickers, “there’s no one else on the island to do it, is there?” Alice just sighs. “You’re wasting my time. Did you come to taunt or fight?” Mage mimics the sigh. “Oh Alice, you think you have it all figured out.”

“Taunting it is,” Alice stabs her sword into the sand at her side, then crosses her arms. “Okay, get on with it, it’s the middle of the night and I’m tired.”

“I’m sure you are,” Mage tilts her head and her voice goes light and lilting. “What keeps you here, guarding this empty rock in the middle of the ocean? They’re not coming back. Any of them. They’ve moved on, forgotten who they were, forgotten who you were. Do they call to you in their dreams anymore?” She takes a step toward Alice. “Do they answer your coded letters or leave you sigil graffiti?” Another. “Do they even know you’re still here, still fighting?” And another. “Do they know how tired you are, how alone, how close to giving up?”

“I will keep fighting through my very last breath,” Alice, goaded by the uncomfortable truths in Mage’s words, takes a step forward herself. Her arms drop, hands clenched white. Mage just winks and replies, “You keep telling yourself that. But remember, I don’t need to. I don’t need to kill you. I don’t need to break you. I just need you to see the truth. Once that’s done, this could all be over. You’re the one who keeps it going. You’re the only one who still believes. If you just admitted that it’s done, that he fucked you over and now they’re all gone, this tragic little kingdom in ruins, you could rest.”

“Are you offering a truce?” Alice snorts, partly at the thought but also partly as a sign of bravado. This isn’t like their normal trading of insults. “That’s not like you. Maybe you’re more exhausted than I am. You’re not looking too well these days.”

“I was betrayed too, you know,” Without warning, Mage’s mocking demeanor falls away, replaced by a snarling, teeth-baring anger edged with madness. “It was my home; they were my friends; he was my mentor. Do you think any of them stuck around after he left?” She barks out a laugh. “The ones who wanted something from me did, for a while at least; the rest fucking ghosted. And the ones who were lost, permanently lost – do you think I don’t remember them? That I don’t mourn them?” She shakes her head. “I was not born of the void to oppose you, Alice. I have a past too. Remember that.”

Alice wants to hold onto the anger and adrenaline that push her through these confrontations, but exhaustion wells up and extinguishes what energy she has left. She gestures wearily toward the breaking waves and sheathes her sword. “Go back to your ship, Mage. That hook’s getting the better of you.”

“You will die defending nothing, Alice,” Mage almost spits the prediction with the force of her anger, but her next words are softer. “And it will be such a waste. Don’t you wonder who you are, besides his scapegoat?”

“Goodnight, Mage,” Alice turns and starts back toward the lighthouse. Her nemesis says nothing in return, but her accusations and questions are not so easily dismissed. Alice knows she will get no sleep tonight.

#2067

She is steel wrapped in silk, head held high as she stands before a jury of closed minds and bitter hearts. Her own father reads out the charges (“witchcraft”, “sorcery”, “necromancy”, even “treason and rebellion” thrown in for good measure) and though he never meets her gaze she keeps her hard eyes locked on his face. Blessings last longer than curses and so she blesses him silently; blesses him with long memory, with long life, and with much time in which to remember her. Not just black hair and red lips, white skin and emerald eyes, but the carelessness of her laughter, the swiftness of her mind, the grace and surety of her every movement. No matter how many thousands of years pass, he will remember every aspect of the daughter he cast out – and he will remember this moment clearest of all.

She, for her part, already seeks to forget it all. Even as the court moves through the formalities of her punishment she is already discarding useless memories: the marble halls where she danced through the night (“exile”, her father declares), the silver trees and water sweet as wine (“may never return, nor seek to contact”), all the people who claimed to love her until she began seeking real knowledge (“surrender your name and your past”). Only when the king holds out one hand and demands, “Your ring,” does she turn her attention outwards again. The guards shift as if preparing themselves for battle but she does not fight; she merely lifts one pale hand, removes from it the little silver ring she has worn for two millennia, and drops it into her father’s waiting palm. Her eyes sweep over the assembly and her upper lip curls in disgust.

She says, “You may have my name; I neither need it nor want it. But yours you should cling to as long as possible, for by the time I return to this place it will be naught but ash and all your names lost to the wastes of time.” With a final glance to her father she adds, “You will weep to be so alone.” And with that she turns away from the court, walking out with the composure of a queen and nothing but the silk dress she wears to call her own, and she is no longer ———. She is nameless, homeless, kinless. She is nothing and no one.

She reaches the edge of her father’s lands by nightfall. Beyond the immortally green elvenwood the earth slumbers in winter’s deep grip. Any other traveler would shiver, turn away or beg shelter somewhere, but not her. In the shriek of the wind she hears welcome, wanderer… and in the distant cry of ravens we have been waiting for you… and she is not afraid. She will never be afraid again.

#2062

“You can watch them. But you can’t help.”

Dhashi leans over the Raven Queen’s stone basin, hands gripping the sides. Tears roll down her cheeks and splash into the water below, sending ripples through the image displayed on the surface. “Row…” she sobs, “Ilkan…”

Through the basin she watches her friends struggle to grasp what has happened. In the living world there is nothing left of her, only a smear of black ash, her staff, and Charlie the betta fish in his little glass bowl. Row kneels over the ashes, nearly hysterical with guilt and disbelief; Ilkan, tears even leaking from his own eyes, gently scoops up the fish bowl and cradles it in his giant calloused hands.

She watches Row smear a palmful of ashes onto the knitted scarf Dhashi made her. She watches as Ilkan and the priestess Solenna try to resurrect her, not knowing they will summon someone else into the aasimar’s body. A champion, the Raven Queen had said, sent as a ringer to ensure the party’s success against Bezos. Mage, the champion is called. But this Mage is a cruel soul, mocking and arrogant, and her presence only serves to rub salt in the wounds of Dhashi’s friends.

She watches as the trio travels on to the next temple, even more eager now to see this awful quest done. She watches Row try to drown herself in drink, in battle, in anything that makes her feel differently or not at all. She watches Ilkan shoulder Row’s grief and carry it silently with his own, just as he carries the little fish bowl with such care. She watches a stranger parade around in her body, someone far stronger and cleverer than she, and Dhashi wonders – just for a brief, lonely second – if her friends are better off with someone more useful than her.

Dhashi watches but can do nothing to comfort her friends, to let them know that she is okay, if not… okay. She can only hope they find the strength in their grief to keep fighting, to complete the quest for which she died. They do not trust the creature that inhabits her body and she does not either, but she knows she must trust the Raven Queen. The goddess is not unkind, after all; she told Dhashi she had done well by her friends, and Dhashi knows it was not the Raven Queen who made Row use the curse. Plus, she has already told Dhashi that she might return to the living world, albeit in the goddess’ service as another of her champions. The girl agreed without hesitation or question. She must go back as soon as possible. What will her friends do without her?

Eventually her tears are too many and she must turn away for a moment. But she will continue to watch. She will be with her friends even if they cannot see or hear her. She will become the Raven Queen’s champion, no matter what this means, and she will return to her friends. She will tell Row it wasn’t her fault. She will tell Ilkan he’s not as unfeeling as he pretends to be. They’ll keep traveling together and do good deeds and save the world again, maybe. Everything will be okay.

It has to be.

#2058

On Character Development, or: It’s (Apparently) Okay to Kill Assholes

I did a bad thing, folks… See, our DM and I contrived to have my current DnD character, Dhashi the bubbly magical girl of just sixteen years, die during the party’s quest to save the world from an evil god. She’s going to come back at some point, I promise! … but in the meantime, the other PCs are mourning her loss pretty hard and my wife (who plays one of them) will barely talk to me. All of this is technically fine – our DM loves torturing us and I love killing my characters, so we were both super stoked to launch this surprise on our friends. Over a 24-hour DnD slumber party extravaganza Dhashi died, her party members scrambled to resurrect her, and instead they got a totally different person (my psychopathic character Mage) back in her body. My wife was PIIIIIIISSED and it was great fun. 100% would do again.

But.

Here’s what’s weird. I, like… feel bad? For Dhashi? True, it was absolutely evil of me to contrive to have the other PCs slowly come to love Dhashi and think of her as a daughter before we killed her, but that’s not what I feel bad about (sorry, guys). I… feel bad that I killed Dhashi. I feel bad that I’m making her suffer, that she has to watch from the underworld while her friends try to complete the quest without her. I feel bad that when she’s finally resurrected she’ll be at least a little messed up and never again her unfailingly positive self who believes in the essential good of every living thing. I feel bad that she’s going to forever after be burdened with the ability to predict the deaths of anyone she meets.

Admittedly, I don’t feel bad enough to retcon any of this – but the feeling is still there and I don’t know what to do with it. I never feel guilty about killing my characters. Never. I love killing my characters. Tanim and Daren have died so many times that I literally couldn’t count them all. Even Mage dies from time to time. It’s just what I do. I love causing pain. So why do I feel so sad about Dhashi? She was just supposed to be the silly magical girl character I used to irritate my friends’ characters for a single DnD campaign, not an entirely new character fleshed out with a backstory, complex experiences, and an uncertain future. That wasn’t the deal! She’s a cliche, a paper doll, she shouldn’t have the ability to give me such FEELS. But here we are.

I think what this partly comes down to is the fact that Dhashi is pure good. There isn’t a mean, selfish, vain, jealous, angry, or lazy bone in her body. She is the epitome of Lawful Good and always does whatever is in her power to help those in need. My other characters? Not so much. My other characters are assholes. Tanim is an asshole; Daren is an asshole; Mage is an asshole. I write assholes, and I guess on some level I feel like that makes it okay to kill them or otherwise cause them to suffer horribly. Not that they necessarily deserve every bad thing that happens to them, of course. They just… deserve it more than Dhashi does.

I knew from the beginning that Dhashi would learn some harsh lessons during the campaign; anyone as naive, hopeful, and trusting as her would, especially in a world where survival of the fittest seems the only law. She needs to learn those lessons, though, to face the ugly truth in her world, just like every anime magical girl must face the darkness of her own. I just didn’t realize that by having a character who was so good, so innocent, so ready to save the world despite all its sorrow and brutality, it would hurt like fuck to watch her learn those lessons the hard way. She’ll come out stronger for it, because that’s what magical girls do, but she won’t come out the same.

And I feel BAD about that.
Wtf.

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Meet My Characters

Featured

 Or: I Don’t Always Write Assholes (But Mostly I Do)

Thought I’d give new folks the TL;DR overview of the characters I sporadically write about. More in their respective tags, of course.

Remr: Tiefling scientist with poor impulse control. Huge fucking nerd. Has no social skills but somehow managed to help save the world. Just so gay and nerdy. Find her in the DnD tag.

Dhashi: Lolita aasimar magical girl who believes good always triumphs over evil. Leaves a trail of glitter everywhere she goes. Died but came back. Very cute. Very positive. Very annoying. Find her in the DnD tag.

Mage: Asshole pirate queen with too much time on her hands. Always trying to destroy the good guys. Enjoys arson and petty vandalism. Kinda half-monster maybe? Find her in the Mage tag.

Tanim: Rich asshole who loves drugs, alcohol, and sex with strangers. Falls in love with Daren. High class angst with a side of sadomasochism. Find him in the Tanim and Daren tag.

Daren: Mentally unstable asshole. Falls in love with Tanim. Less angst, more monotone sarcasm and completely serious threats of violence. Really really likes knives. Find him in the Tanim and Daren tag.