#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!

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#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…?”

#1970

[ My DnD character Remr is a Tiefling with an overabundance of enthusiasm for science (and girls). Here’s more info on her! ]

Family:

  • Mother: Dia’deferde’t’mana’nbat’shi
  • Father: Beshu’ro’ferali’t’kuna’nbat’shi
  • Maternal uncle: Tao’rumi’fidat’e’kpali’nbat’shi
  • Oldest sister: Lilitu’v’ravi’nai’uwei’nbat’shi
  • 2nd oldest sister: Fal’nua’l’shansi’ty’rina’nbat’shi
  • 3rd oldest sister: Ker’lanu’nivora’tsinari’nbat’shi

Random factoids:

  • Surnames are passed down matrilineally in her culture, which explains why her father has the same surname as her unmarried maternal uncle. The N’Bat’shi family is held in very high esteem and often her last name alone can produce favorable results when necessary. However, Remr doesn’t abuse this social privilege and is often uncomfortable when people expect her to be like the rest of her family.
  • The person she’s closest to in her family is her uncle, an explorer who deals in antiques and other objects of value. He is the only one to have supported and nurtured her interest in science. After his death she inherits his feather token, which turns into a massive blue budgie.
  • Her university’s colors are navy, gold, and white. She tends to wear clothing in these colors out of loyalty to her employer and because she doesn’t have much fashion sense.
  • Her highest degree is in herpetology and she will rush to the defense of any lizard-like creature.

Recent shenanigans:

  • At a monastery’s sealed door which only a small number of people in the world would know how to unlock, she knocked and the door opened.
  • She climbed into a locked library in the monastery through a broken window to look for books and discovered quite a large number of dead bodies.
  • While the party’s monk was mourning the loss of the monastery’s residents and the rest of the party stood in respectful silence, she accidentally made a bunch of noise by knocking down some scrolls she was examining. In her defense, though, it lead to the discovery of some important monk thingy, which she gave to him as an apology.
  • She asked how her friend’s brother was; the answer was “dead”.
  • She took possession of a snake-motif dagger after this same friend looted it from an abandoned castle but was burned when trying to touch it. The dagger doesn’t burn Remr, theoretically because of her tougher Tiefling skin. The dagger is from one of the three witch queens the party semi-plans to kill.
  • After her party was dismissed from the king’s chambers, she stayed behind because she was distracted by looking out his telescope. This (paraphrased) conversation followed:
    • King: Remr, we truly appreciate your assistance and my wife likes you very much, but–
    • Remr: And I like your wife.
    • King: Uh. Well, okay, yes, but–
    • Remr: She is HOT. ;)
    • King: Please get out of my office.
    • Remr: Righto.

#1959

“Mama, look!” Dia’deferde’t’mana’nbat’shi glanced down from where she stood arranging flowers for the night’s celebration – and right into the wide, emotionless eyes of a small garden snake. Its head bobbed up and down as her youngest daughter bounced on the balls of her feet to compensate for her toddler stature. “He’s like us!” she crowed, wiggling her red tail as evidence. “See?”

“Rem’r!” Dia drew back in disgust, both relieved and further repulsed to see the snake was alive, its tongue flicking in and out while it most likely plotted the invasion of her villa. “How many times have I told you not to bring anything that is alive, or was once alive, or that could become alive into the house?” She made as if to push her daughter back out the door, but hesitated before coming within striking distance of the snake. “Honey, just…” she gestured toward the door, “go put that thing back where you found it… or farther away than that. And wash your hands.” From beyond the snake’s questing head, Rem’r’s chubby face crumpled. “But he’s like us!” she repeated, trying with upstretched arms and tippy-toes to show her mother the snake. “He has a tail and we have tails! He’s family!”

“Guh!” Dia shuddered involuntarily. “We are not like that… thing!” She circled around her daughter, then gently pushed her toward the door. “Snakes aren’t related to tieflings. Snakes are scaly and slimy and… and creepy crawly little monsters!” At the threshold to the patio she stopped and gave her daughter a final stern nudge. “Do go put that gross thing back, Rem’r. It’s time to come inside anyway. The guests will be here soon.”

“Okay, Mama…” Rem’r cast her a last pouting look, then turned away. Dia watched her daughter trudge down to one of the far gardens, ensuring the snake was good and truly released, then turned back to her preparations. How Rem’r had turned out so odd, and so unlike her three older daughters, she had no idea.

– – –

“A basilisk! How wonderful!” While the rest of her party backed away in understandable caution, Rem’r moved toward the beast emerging lithely from the forest. It wore a hood much like a hunting bird’s, the better to protect them all from its stony stare – though chances were great that Rem’r would have approached the creature anyway without it. She let it sniff her hands, then walked in a circle to take it in from all angles.

“His name is Eli,” the sorceress explained, clearly pleased that at least one in the party didn’t fear a creature of the Fae Wilds. “He’ll come with you, as long as you are sure to feed him. Basilisks require quite a lot of food.” Nodding in agreement, Rem’r scratched the basilisk under the chin and cooed, “Eli, you’re such a sweetie. Who’s a good boy? You are! Do you wanna come with us to kill the big bad witch?”

“Are you actually petting him?” From a safe vantage point, Never attempted rationality. “You know what basilisks are, don’t you? And what they can do? We are not taking that monster with us; it’ll probably eat us before we’re halfway there!”

“HEY!” Rem’r turned an indignant and furious look upon the dragonborn, her tail lashing back and forth. “He’s not a monster! He’s a basilisk, and a very nice one at that. Basilisks are important apex predators and a crucial link in the food chain of–” She kept lecturing but the others had, as usual, already tuned her out and were settling the details of the agreement with the sorceress. She gave the general gathering a final glare and turned back to Eli. “You’re not a monster,” she reassured him. “You’re a very good boy and I bet without you the whole local ecosystem would collapse.”

#1936

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His are a rich man’s hands, smooth and strong. His fingers could knot a tie in the dark and discern Armani from Prada from Dolce and Gabbana with just a touch. Crystal decanters, gold watches, diamond cufflinks, his hands have held and discarded more fortunes than most will see in a lifetime. These hands served him well in the world of blue blood and white teeth, where a firm handshake might speak more clearly than words. Having left that world behind, these steady, capable hands have learned to wield a syringe with care and how to make a stranger climax in a dirty restroom. His hands never cared for the money and riches that passed through them, but they strip clothing and grasp flesh with the hungry strength of the addict. So, too, do they twist hair in misery, hurl glasses in anger, light cigarette after cigarette until the ashtray is full and the bottle is empty.