#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.

Advertisements

#2059

Dhashi stared down at the tea the proprietress of the roadside tavern had set in front of her; while she wasn’t normally a suspicious person, and firmly believed in consuming whatever your host shares with you, even she was doubtful of the tea’s contents. She sipped it to be polite, though, covering the reflexive grimace at its bitterness with her tried and true smile. As she pretended to wait for the tea to cool she glanced around the tavern. This far from any established towns the tavern’s patrons were the usual mix of drifters, desperate travelers, and bandits slyly tracking anyone who might carry gold. In her bright pink traveling dress, complete with matching hair bow, the aasimar girl definitely stood out – but not as much as the goliath who had already put away half of the tavern’s ale.

Dhashi saw the inevitable collision too late to call out a warning. The goliath, leaving his seat to order another ale at the bar, bumped into a blind fire jenasi who was making her way from the bar to a table, a mug in one hand and her walking staff in the other. It wasn’t a particularly dramatic collision; neither fell down and only a few drops of ale splashed from the mug. All might have been forgiven if the goliath, not even bothering to glance back at the jenasi, had not muttered, “Watch where you’re going,” under his breath as he passed by. “Excuse me?” Despite the cloth covering her sightless eyes, the jenasi seemed quite capable of taking care of herself. Setting down her mug on the nearest table, she turned to face the goliath with her head held high. “What did you say?”

“You heard me, lady,” the goliath rumbled, his attention focused on his new drink. The jenasi snorted. “I think you’re the one who ought to watch where he’s walking, you bloody oaf.” This definitely got his attention. The goliath turned, glaring down at her. “You got a lot of attitude for someone who can’t even see.” The jenasi grinned and held one arm out toward the door. “Want to test that theory outside this charming establishment?”

“Yeah, sure, I’ve got two minutes,” The goliath downed the rest of his ale in one giant gulp. As if not to be outdone, the jenasi finished her own drink in a long swallow, then tossed down her mug and headed for the door. As the two disappeared into the yard beyond the wind carried in her smug reply, “I doubt you’ll be feeling so confident when I’ve shoved those axes so far up your anus that you can pick your disgusting teeth with them.”

“Um, is anybody going to…” Dhashi glanced around the room, expecting someone to step in and deescalate the situation, but none of the patrons seemed to have even noticed the exchange. She frowned in moral disappointment. “No? Okay… guess it’s up to me.” She took a deep breath to steady her nerves and followed the ruffians outside. “I hope you’re going easy on me,” the jenasi was laughing as she dodged one of the goliath’s hand axes, “or this is just depressing!” The two seemed evenly matched, speed versus strength, and if Dhashi had paused to assess the situation she might have suspected they were both enjoying themselves. She didn’t, however, because fighting isn’t the proper way to solve a disagreement and she felt honor-bound to bring things to a peaceful conclusion.

“Excuse me-” Dhashi tried to get their attention but her voice barely carried above the sounds of the scuffle and their casual banter. “Excuse me, sir, miss-” She stepped closer, one hand raised in a half-wave. “Excuse– HEY EXCUSE ME!” This time they heard her; every animal within a two mile radius did. The jenasi, her hearing unfortunately quite acute, staggered at the sound. “Am I experiencing an auditory hallucination,” she asked her opponent, “or is there a chipmunk yelling at us?” The goliath shook his head and eyed the tiny girl. “No,” he grunted, “just some kid wearing about ten pounds of ribbons.”

“Excuse me,” Dhashi approached them now that the dust had settled, hands on her hips and wearing her best Disappointed face, “why are you fighting?” The opponents looked at each other, then shrugged and answered simultaneously, “Why not?”

“Why n–” Dhashi huffed. “Because you shouldn’t, that’s why! What if you hurt each other? Or cause damage to public property?” Now her finger was out, pointing and jabbing for the full lecture experience. “Can’t you just settle your argument using feeling words to communicate your emotions in a non-accusatory manner and come to a mutually beneficial solution?”

“Do you have emotions?” the goliath muttered to the jenasi. “‘Cause I don’t have emotions.” She shook her head. “Nope. Can’t say that I do.”

“Of course you do!” Dhashi let out an exasperated sigh. “Come on, we’ll all sit down with a cup of milk and discuss things rationally.” She reached out and grabbed their hands – or at least in the case of the goliath, a finger. He tried to yank his hand back but couldn’t seem to break the aasimar’s enthusiastic grip. “I…” He tried again without success. She simply wouldn’t budge. “I can’t pull my hand away.” On the other side the jenasi tried as well. “Neither can I; how is she this strong?”

“Oh,” Dhashi grinned as she dragged then back toward the tavern, “and my name is Dhashimri but you can call me Dhashi! It’s so nice to meet you, I know we’re going to be great friends!”

#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.

tumblr_na9qo8ywej1t3n8dxo1_500

#2018

Characters, Alter Egos, Or Unknowable Nameless Gods?

When someone asks me what I write about, I usually say something like, I have a couple characters I write about and then nothing more. At least, that’s how I answer if I want to sound like a not-crazy person. But if I want to be truthful, I have to say something more like:

I thought I had three characters I wrote about, but it turns out two of them are probably incredibly ancient gods (or ghosts? or angels? or something even older than the very concept of either?) and the other one is an alter ego who has somehow taken on way more agency than I thought possible and may sometimes be used as a mask by dark somethings I am too afraid to face.

Let’s take a closer look at that second one. See, when I was a wee eighth grader I simultaneously discovered Lord of the Rings and DeviantArt. Being obsessed with elves, I made my DA screenname “Darkelvenmage” and quickly developed the moniker into a character who was everything I wanted to be. The Darkelvenmage was tall and willowy, pale as snow with long hair as dark as ravens’ wings, eyes as green as emeralds, and sharp features that highlighted her royalty and mystery. She wore all black and rarely spoke, but heaven help you if you pissed her off; she was heir to ancient magic, a skilled warrior, and had nothing to lose. She had been stripped of her home and her name (hence the brilliant title “dark elven mage”) and therefore wandered the world alone, neither a force of good nor evil. For my chubby, geeky thirteen year old self, Mage became a mask I could put on when I needed to feel like a badass, an alter ego who was always calm and logical, who never let her emotions get the better of her or made a fool of herself. I carried her with me through high school like a sword held between myself and all the bad things I encountered, standing just a little taller and smiling just a little more coldly. She made me feel fierce and untouchable.

In college I had a falling out with a group of online friends I’d made in high school, friends who knew me best through Mage and the story I’d given her to fit into their fantasy world. Feeling hurt and vengeful, I decided to rebel and Mage became the ally turned enemy intent on destroying the world the “good guys” had built. I loved the shock it caused, the drama, and the sudden understanding that nothing bound me to act in a particular way. Why not be the villain? Wasn’t that more fun anyway? Certainly playing Mage as the Big Bad brought me a selfish kind of joy, a way to enact a little revenge for my slighted self. Eventually, of course, some of those friends and I parted ways for good, and others of us reconciled and grew closer. But Mage stayed the villain, one with flair, dark humor, and just a dash of madness. This version of her is different from the silent, haughty one of my high school years, yet they are both true to her form. She is still my alter ego, my champion, the mask I wear on days when I wake up feeling too small and scared.

Sometimes, though, it’s like I look at Mage in my mind’s eye and… it’s not her. Something else watches out her eyes. Something that is not me, nor anything I placed there. Sometimes she feels like I’m not the one in control, like she’s not an alter anything anymore. I feel Lovecraftian presences squirming beneath her skin and taste sour names like Charybdis, Morrigan, Kali at the back of my mouth. I wonder sometimes if I have crafted Mage too well, if I am not the only one who can wear her mask. She is still a character in the strictest sense – I write her story, she does not tell me what to write (as Tanim and Daren do) – but there are times when I meet her eyes and it’s not the better, cooler version of myself staring back. I don’t know what it is, but it feels timeless and very powerful.

mage-sketch.png

This sketch of Mage is by my bestest frienemy – check out her patreon for more!

#2004

Look, I know I seem selfish but you have to understand: I did my time, I paid my way. For thirty years I played the good eldest son to carry on my family’s legacy. I graduated first in my class, then summa cum laude; I played the violin and the piano, and spoke multiple languages; I went to every business and political function my parents asked of me, six nights a week and church on Sundays. I wore the right things, did the right things, said the right things day after day, year after year. I gave them the most formative and precious years of my life, shouldn’t that count for something? It was all lies, sure, but you’d have been hard pressed to find anyone who saw through them. Hell, even I believed them for most of that time. So it’s not like it was all for nothing, okay? Thirty years is a long time to constrain yourself to the service of others. I didn’t have a childhood, you know. I had boarding school and recitals and tutors and competitions. Every moment was spent preparing me for another moment somewhere in the future when I would inevitably be the CEO, the candidate, the husband of the pretty blond wife and the well-behaved children. That I made it thirty years before I broke is the real wonder, honestly – that’s what people should be amazed by, not the pointless shit that lead up to it. Did I handle things well, there at the end? Maybe not. But do I regret it? No. All I regret is taking so long to realize the choice was mine to make.

#1990

Yo, okay, even if you don’t read my sporadic updates about my DnD character Remr, Best Scientist Ever!!, you need to read this one cause it’s hilarious. Here goes:

  • While exploring in the Lunanovan archives, Remr found the Sanderson Sisters’ book (yes, from Hocus Pocus) and with it she learned the Sticks into Snakes spell (SHE IS SO EXCITED) and the spell to turn someone into a cat. She hasn’t had a chance to try them yet, but you can bet she will at her very first opportunity.
  • While in the archives, she also met a half-elf cleric named Solena who said her goddess had sent her to the city to find the party and journey with them. Without asking questions or really any hesitation whatsoever, Remr invited her to join the party and basically gave all their secrets away. What can I say? She likes to assume the best of people.
  • She visited Fantasy Costco (where all your dreams come true!) and traded her collection of various body parts (including a frost giant’s toe) and somewhere between 25-30 live bug specimens for the following discount items:
    • A Diadem of Brothaurity, which gives the wearer the eloquence of a diplomat; however, when wearing the diadem you can’t stop calling everyone “bro”.
    • One wooden banana-shaped walkie talkie; if you call its companion walkie talkie, you wake up a cranky half-orc named Brutus who will yell at you for waking him up. If you remain on the line, he will then complain to you about his life. There is also a 2% chance your walkie talkie will ring and it will be Brutus calling to complain about his life to you.
    • A Belt of Pants, which gives the wearer control over an illusion with which you can look like you’re wearing any kind of pants you want, or no pants at all.
  • Thanks to Solena, who speaks Orc, Remr was able to learn that Brutus lives in the merchant market in the city of Tssun. He just broke up with his boyfriend because his boyfriend didn’t want a long-term relationship. Brutus is, therefore, trying to get back into the dating scene. Remr will definitely help him with that in the future.
  • Remr managed to get the entire party into Tssun, which is currently controlled by the Big Bad, by using the diadem and her university papers to bluff that she was someone very important, and the others were her servants. The guards therefore thought she was an advisor to the Big Bad and waived them not only into the city but into the Big Bad’s headquarters. When it was discovered that the person the party had come to kill was no longer in Tssun, Remr then managed to not blow their cover and the party left without incident.
  • I need to emphasize how really very impressive it is that Remr managed not to fuck any of that up. Like seriously. Her charisma is eight. EIGHT.

I also made the following decisions regarding her backstory:

  • The university she works for is called Telvira University. Its colors are blue, gold, and white. Its crest features a crossed feather quill and falling four-pointed star (both gold) on a blue background. Telvira is extremely difficult to get into, and the tuition is atrocious.
  • Remr’s family (surname N’Batshi) crest features two curving horns connected by four lines, which together make the stylized shape of a harp.
  • She is still in love with her childhood friend, a Tiefling named La’lua’t’rashi’li’lata’kyr’ova, but thinks La’lua wants nothing to do with her because she stopped answering Remr’s letters once they graduated the DnD version of high school. However, the real reason is because La’lua has a secret identity as a magical girl, and is afraid that her enemies will try to harm Remr if they know she loves her.  Will these star-crossed lovers ever be together? Tune in next time!

#1978

“Come on, Remr,” La’lua teased as the arrow went wide from its target, “I know you can do better than that!” Remr groaned and slouched after the arrow where it lay harmlessly in the grass. Seeing the barely contained laughter on La’lua’s lavender face when she returned, the darker tiefling stuck her tongue out. “There was wind,” she argued. “And the planet… rotated too quickly.” This only seemed to make the laughter harder for La’lua to fight. “Whatever!” Remr threw the arrow and bow down with all the drama of her teenage years, tail lashing with anger and embarrassment. “This is a stupid skill anyway. I don’t need a bow to study basilisks.”

“It’s a skill you’ll need if you’re going to go on to ranger school,” La’lua reminded her, retrieving the abused weapons, “or whatever it is rangers do to become rangers.” She held the bow out to Remr with a conciliatory smile. “You’re going to have to learn it eventually. And besides, you’re getting better. Just… slowly.” Remr wanted to hold onto her anger, but the other tiefling’s sweet smile made her limbs go wiggly and her heart beat with a very different emotion. With a begrudging sigh, she took back the bow and stared down at its simple, inert form. “How do you make it look so easy?” she whined, imagining how elegant and powerful the same weapon looked in her friend’s confident grip. “Magic?”

“No, not magic, silly. Some things just come naturally to some people,” La’lua deflected the compliment with her usual humility and held out the arrow. “Don’t worry, I’m going to help you train until you’re the best archer at the academy.” Remr blushed, as she always did when faced with La’lua’s unwavering positivity. She took the arrow and tapped La’lua’s purple horns with her red ones affectionately. “Well, second best,” she corrected with a wink. La’lua winked and returned the gentle bump. “You’re too kind,” she demurred. “Now, let’s try that again – I think the planet has slowed its rotation a bit.

– – –

“Fuck, Remr, that’s like the fifth arrow that’s gone wide!” From her position on top of the bloodstained altar, Tarcella aimed her own bow and landed a direct hit to the shambling mound swinging at their companions. Remr glared as the monster roared in pain. “It’s the fourth, thank you,” she called over to the halfling. “And yes, I noticed. I am also in this creepy chamber full of water and chanting ghosts.”

“Just concentrate!” Tarcella had another arrow knocked and fired by the time Remr had retrieved her final arrow from its quiver and pulled back the string. Staring down the arrow shaft, Remr breathed in through her nose and out her mouth, trying to clear her mind. She narrowed her eyes, fixing on the center of the massive plantand–

“Don’t worry, I’m going to help you train until you’re the best archer at the academy!”

–and fired wider than before. The arrow ricocheted off a stone wall and landed in the pool of murky water. Remr shook her head, rattled by the intrusion of a voice she hadn’t heard in years, and forced herself not to replay the rest of the memory. Instead, she threw down the useless bow, grabbed her ice pick, and jumped into the fray with a sudden fury that lent her speed and strength.

After the shambling mound had been reduced to piles of rotting plant matter, the party turned to follow their tracks out of the exorcised basement. As they walked, Tarcella elbowed Remr in the leg and flashed her a teasing smile. “Dude, why do you even have a bow?” she asked. Remr shrugged helplessly and returned the pirate’s smile with a self-deprecating one of her own. “Who fucking knows. I’m a ranger…?”