#2379

Angel, angel, what have I done?
I’ve faced the quakes, the wind, the fire.
I’ve conquered country, crown, and throne;
Why can’t I cross this river?

He comes in the afternoon lull, after lunch and games. The younger children are all napping in the dormitories; the older children are at their chores or studying quietly. Few visit the Temple at this hour, save for the occasional childless mother wanting to light a candle or friendly beggar hoping to escape the day’s oppressive heat in the cool of the sanctuary.

He is certainly no beggar. The priestess barely has to look up from tidying the pillow-strewn pews to know this; the shadow that falls across the open doorway is much too large for its owner to have ever had to beg for anything. When she straightens and turns her full attention to him, however, a thrill of fear chills the sweat beneath her robes. What stands in – no, FILLS – the doorway is the largest tabaxi the priestess has ever seen. His white mane and fur are caked in road dust, crisscrossed by old scars and several still-healing wounds. Strapped across his back is a sword easily as long as she is tall, maybe longer, and his fingers gleam at the end with curved claws. No armor, but with that much weaponry and muscle he hardly needs it. A mercenary, most likely, or one turned bandit.

“We don’t keep much coin on the premises,” she manages to assert with a modicum of steel, “if that’s what you’re after.” The Temple of Kodkod is served almost completely by women, many of whom came to it from domestic lives of motherhood, wet-nursing, or midwifery. It is a quiet place, a gentle place, yet that does not mean its staff will not lay down their lives to protect the orphans who dwell here. The priestess has only a simple dagger, hidden away so no chubby child hand may grab it, but she will fight until her final breath if need be.

“I’m not here to rob your temple,” the tabaxi rumbles as he steps forward, raising one hand toward the sword’s hilt. She flinches back as he draws the bright, ringing steel from its sheath – but instead of swinging the sword at her, the tabaxi kneels and lays it at her feet. “I’m here to serve it.”

Pay no mind to the battles you’ve won;
it’ll take a lot more than rage and muscle.
Open your heart and hands, my son,
Or you’ll never make it o’r the river.

–Pucifer, The Humbling River

#2374

It have many names. A/pep. Abbadon. Satan. Fenrir. Dragon, Wyrm, Snake. Many names, same entity. Immortal, strong enough to crush world in claws. One day it learn how to take seeds of itself, make lesser monsters. Demons you call them. Some immortal like it and some not. But all very powerful. 

I was one. Chalix. Humans call me hell hound. I like them, they little but fierce. Candle flickers, lifes so short, but full of living. Demons are forever but do not so much living. Boring to serve Dragon always.

Demons cut through humans like leaves, many ages, until few left. Other creatures like Dragon, ones humans call gods, give some magic. They last longer. But magic not enough. Technology not enough. Endless war come to close in far future. Humans so few yet still fight. They love life so they give it for others. Demons do not do this thing.

But we can. So Chalix chose. Humans. They are so fragile, but not Chalix. Demon make good sacrifice. Piece of Dragon? Very powerful. It not understand this. It crush Chalix like bug but can not undo giving. So humans have chance now. You have chance now. Last stand. Do not waste, yes?

Chalix good boy.

#2356

The library is, perhaps, Liberty Palace’s ultimate gift to Mage. It has been so very long since she was cast out of her first home, and so long since she has let her thoughts dwell on that time, that she had almost forgotten the reason for her banishment. The true reason, at least; not the council’s fabrications.

Knowledge.

What her people had seen as a thirst for power was a thirst for knowledge, and a belief that all knowledge should be free to those who would seek it. Even knowledge which could be misused. Even knowledge which had been misused. But no, their fear ruled their hearts and clouded their minds. They locked that darker, truer knowledge away behind glass cases and sealed doors. They forced ignorance on their people. That was what she had rebelled against; not the lack of power, but the lack of choice.

It would not be an exaggeration to say the library in Liberty Palace contains every book which has ever existed. In fact, it would be an understatement. The library in Liberty Palace contains not just every book but every scroll, every parchment, every scrap of papyrus. It contains texts long lost to the histories of a thousand different times on a thousand different worlds. It contains writings no eyes but those of their authors have ever seen. It contains books thought mere myth from lands thought mere legend. Even given an eternity, one might not reach the end of the words contained in this one room.

Some of the texts do contain exceedingly dangerous information, of course. In the wrong hands such knowledge could enslave nations or destroy whole planets, slay gods or raise them from the dead, even tear apart the very fabric of space and time. But Mage has been there and done that, and her interest in such things is only academic now. She finds infinitely greater satisfaction in rushing to show her latest discovery to Alice or in spending an evening together by the fire translating and discussing some cryptic passage.

This is not a side of herself Mage shares often; even back on the island she guarded it closely, recalling with bitterness how easily her passion and knowledge could be turned against her. Yet it feels natural to bring these things to Alice, who finds them fascinating as well, and so Mage never notices the fond glances or amused smiles on her companion’s face. She doesn’t realize that Ali is watching a flower slowly uncurl upon a vine that has for so long grown only thorns.

#2347

Liberty Palace had several rooms that the Lighthouse didn’t … mainly the Wings in each cardinal direction. Ali liked the East and Mage liked the West, and they shared the other Wings between themselves.

Unlike the three other Wings, the West Wing wasn’t technically a wing at all. Its hallway from the main atrium looked like the others, yet instead of leading into a grand room it ended at an archway beneath which wide stone stairs descended deep into the earth. These stairs lead to what Ali and Mage called the West Wing – a vast network of interconnected caverns filled with all manner of stones and crystals. The walls of some “rooms” were held up by massive quartz columns while others were covered with countless tiny crystals that glittered in their own light. Stalactites and stalagmites turned some caverns into gaping beast mouths; layers of smooth, rippled calcite transformed other walls into frozen waterfalls. Many crystals were familiar – amethyst, citrine, fluorite, smoky quartz, malachite, tourmaline in a hundred colorful variations – while others were like nothing found on any other world. 

Mage spent hours wandering the labyrinthine paths of the West Wing. It was she who discovered the underground river which fed the pool in the East Wing, and a great chamber in which a ring of crystal towers made a perfect casting circle. So too did she discover the chain of hot springs, where heat and mineral water worked to soak away her pains after a long day in the gardens or a few rounds in the armory. Now that the centuries of battle and vengeance were past, Mage found her long lack of self-care catching up with her. Immortal she might be, and capable of wielding frighteningly powerful magic, but that did not make her immune to exhaustion’s lasting effects. And cold! She had been so cold for so long she had forgotten how wonderful it felt to be warm through to your bones. Ali would join her from time to time, and in between leave little packets of herbs and oils on a nearby stone ledge as a surprise.

#2343

The problem is that he tried to build a perfect world. His perfect world. And like all humans (for he was naught but human, no matter what the tales say, and a man at that) he equated perfection with an absence of that which humans find most evil: change, unpredictability, loss. Chaos. Yet a changeless world is a static world, an unbalanced world, and an unbalanced system cannot survive. Chaos always finds its way in to establish equilibrium once more – and the greater the correction needed, the more violent the catalyst. Thus my coming was almost foretold. He practically invited me in. Perhaps if he had not so arrogantly assumed his world unassailable I might never have been drawn there in the first place. But it was so fragile, that pretty little island where you could hide away and pretend everything was perfect, and its fantasy needed shattering. I never expected gratitude, of course, not from those who were lost in the lie. Reestablishing balance, bringing darkness to a place where only light reigned, was compensation enough. All fools meet their folly; I was his.

#2316 – 2019 Book List

Another year, another book list! Some of this year’s gems included Dread Nation, The Rise of Kyoshi, An Unkindness of Ghosts, and the Jacob’s Ladder trilogy. On the other hand, The Abominable was frankly quite abominable. Only 23 books with queer characters, though, so I gotta do better next year!

  1. The Illustrated Man – Ray Bradbury
  2. The Machineries of Joy – Ray Bradbury
  3. The Spoon River Anthology – Edgar Lee Masters
  4. The Terror: A Novel – Dan Simmons
  5. S Is For Space – Ray Bradbury
  6. Long After Midnight – Ray Bradbury
  7. The October Country – Ray Bradbury
  8. The Ruins – Scott Smith
  9. The Cat’s Pajamas Stories – Ray Bradbury
  10. Death In The Ice: The Mystery of the Franklin Expedition – Karen Ryan
  11. The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth By Day – Dr. Ogden Goelet
  12. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
  13. The Troop – Nick Cutter
  14. The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R Tolkien
  15. The Two Towers – J.R.R. Tolkien
  16. Dust (Jacob’s Ladder Book 1) – Elizabeth Bear
  17. The Return of the King – J.R.R. Tolkien
  18. Mutiny on the Bounty – Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
  19. Men Against the Sea – Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
  20. Pitcairn’s Island – Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
  21. Chill (Jacob’s Ladder Book 2) – Elizabeth Bear
  22. The Archer’s Heart Book 1 – Astrid Amara
  23. The Archer’s Heart Book 2 – Astrid Amara
  24. The Archer’s Heart Book 3 – Astrid Amara
  25. Dread Nation – Justina Ireland
  26. An Unkindness of Ghosts – Rivers Solomon
  27. The House of Dust: A Symphony – Conrad Aiken
  28. The Fur Person – May Sarton
  29. Grail (Jacob’s Ladder Book 3) – Elizabeth Bear
  30. The Oathbound (Vows and Honor Book 1) – Mercedes Lackey
  31. Oathbreakers (Vows and Honor Book 2) – Mercedes Lackey
  32. The Ancient Egyptian Prayer Book – Tamara Siuda
  33. The Buying of Lot 37 (Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 3) – Joseph Fink
  34. Oathblood (Vows and Honor Book 3) – Mercedes Lackey
  35. Magic in Ancient Egypt – Geraldine Pinch
  36. Dreamdark Book 1: Blackbringer – Laini Taylor
  37. Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat – L.A. Vocelle
  38. Hathor: A Reintroduction to an Ancient Egyptian Goddess – Lesley Jackson
  39. The Wicker King – K. Ancrum
  40. Who’s A Good Boy? (Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volume 4) – Joseph Fink
  41. My Name Is Inanna – Tamara Albanna
  42. My Name Is The Morrigan – Tamara Albanna
  43. From a Cat’s View: An Anthology of Stories Told By Cats – Robin Praytor, et. al.
  44. Avatar the Last Airbender: The Rise of Kyoshi (The Kyoshi Novels) – F. C. Yee
  45. The Abominable: A Novel – Dan Simmons
  46. Sekhmet and Bast: The Feline Powers of Egypt – Lesley Jackson
  47. Mesopotamian Goddesses: Unveiling Your Feminine Power – Weam Namou
  48. Cleopatra’s Daughter: A Novel – Michelle Moran
  49. Five Dark Fates (Three Dark Crowns Book 4) – Kendare Blake
  50. The Heretic Queen: A Novel – Michelle Moran
  51. Nefertiti: A Novel – Michelle Moran
  52. Remember Me – Christopher Pike
  53. The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt – Kara Cooney
  54. The Wicked and the Divine Vol. 9: Okay – Gillen McKelvie
  55. Tremontaine: Season 1 – Ellen Kushner, et. al.
  56. The Hidden Life of Deer: Lessons From the Natural World – Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
  57. Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World – Vicki Myron
  58. Tremontaine: Season 2 – Ellen Kushner, et. al.
  59. Tremontaine: Season 3 – Ellen Kushner, et. al.
  60. Tremontaine: Season 4 – Ellen Kushner, et. al.
  61. Swordspoint – Ellen Kushner
  62. Heathen, Volume 1 – Natasha Alterici
  63. Heathen, Volume 2 – Natasha Alterici
  64. The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire Part 1 – Brian Konietzko and Michael Dante Dimartino
  65. The Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire Part 2 – Brian Konietzko and Michael Dante Dimartino
  66. 100 Cats Who Changed History: History’s Most Influential Felines – Sam Stall
  67. Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl – Mary Mycio

#2300

You had the chance to be better than the ones who cast me out. You had the chance and yet you threw it away. It wouldn’t have even been hard; they weren’t exactly tough competition. All you needed to do was accept me as I was, to let me show you more than just a polished surface without judgment or correction, but you couldn’t even do that. You who prided yourself on being so noble, on building a haven for the unwanted, you glimpsed the truth of me and found me… what, wanting somehow? Not quite as worth your time and effort? Or did you, like those who first rejected me, gaze into the depths I revealed and glimpse something beyond your control? Did you see a steel spine which would not bend to your demands, or perhaps all the sharp edges I’ve honed over the years? You’re just like my last sorry excuse for a family; cowardly, weak, grasping at every little scrap of control like the misers you are. How pathetic. How disappointing. How predictable.

#2276

I still believe you loved me, even despite everything you did and everything you are. I think your claim that your profession of love was just a trick, a game, a twisting of the knife was as much to fool yourself as it was to fool me. Love and cruelty are not mutually exclusive, after all; I believed you capable of both and I always will. Does the year we spent together matter, though, if you chose to throw it away at the end to retain your precious reputation? You fool, I accepted you as you are – sadist, killer, monster, demon, I loved those parts of you and never once did I seek to repress them, even to my own detriment. If you chose not to act on certain desires, if you chose not to torture me like all your other victims, you have only your own battle of heart and mind to blame. I never intended to love you. You never intended to love me. Yet I did, you did, and the sum of us might have been a truly unstoppable force if you had but reigned in your stubborn pride just this once. Pride and fear: do you realize how much you let such mortal emotions rule you? You like to think you care for nothing beyond your simple carnal pleasures but really you are just like the rest of us, riddled with complex needs and reactions you cannot simply ignore. You love me. I know you do. And that knowledge will be of some comfort, albeit small, when I one day find your knife in my chest. That will hurt you more than it will hurt me, you know.

#2270

“Sweet, the brownies are ready,” With her left hand Mage pulled open the oven door and with the other she grabbed the hot tin inside, not bothering with a cloth since she couldn’t feel the heat through the obsidian-like claws on her hand anyway. Alice, watching from the kitchen table, rolled her eyes at the reminder of Mage’s alien appendage. “Weren’t you going to get rid of that thing?” she asked as Mage set the tin down between them. “It’s so creepy.”

“Oh, this?” Mage flexed her hand, the strange black material glittering in the light as she moved. “Uh, so it turns out I don’t… precisely… know how to get it off.”

“You don’t know?!” Alice jabbed an accusatory finger at her. “This is what you get for messing with unknown magic! What if that awful thing’s attached to you for the rest of your life? What if it keeps crawling up your arm until you’re just a big black statue?”

“Uuugh,” Mage slumped back in her chair with a stubborn pout. “You sound just like my dad.” When Alice only blinked back at her with a look of perplexity she raised one eyebrow. “What?”

“Nothing,” Alice shrugged but her expression didn’t change. “It’s just weird to think of you having family. I guess I just sort of assumed you like… clawed your way out of the dark core of the earth to become my nemesis or something.” Mage snorted, using the offending hand to scoop a chunk of hot brownie into her mouth. “You wish. No,” she continued around the mouthful, “I had family once and it was the literal worst. Exile was a fucking godsend. But since we’re on the subject, let me guess…” She licked clean one shiny claw and pointed back at Alice. “Oldest sibling of like ten or something, always mothered everyone, probably made them do their homework before they got to watch TV.”

“Actually,” Alice gave a small shrug and helped herself to a piece of brownie with far better manners than Mage had. “I don’t really have a family. I was sort of birthed out of the ocean fully formed, more or less.” It was Mage’s turn to blink dryly. “OH.” She threw her hands up in mock disregard. “Okay. Yeah, sure, that makes perfect sense. Born out of the ocean. Right.” They ate in contemplative silence for a moment before Mage shook her head with a disappointed sigh. “So… you’re the intrepid orphan and I’m the runaway princess? How cliche.”

Alice began to nod in agreement, then did a double-take. “Wait, you’re a what?”

#2266

They thought exile a fittingly cruel punishment, yet instead it blessed her with the only thing she had ever desired: freedom. For the first time in all the long years of her life she had no name, no family, no home and thus no rules, no chains, no gilded cage. She was free to finally stretch her cramped wings, to fly or fall as she wished with no one to catch or constrain her. She had been born to captivity, no choice there, but now that she was free she would never let herself be imprisoned again. No more masks! No more fetters! As a nameless and homeless wanderer none could claim dominion over her. In the wilderness she would grow teeth and claws, become proudly feral, a thing of fierce autonomy earned and protected through bloodshed. They expected her to suffer in exile, far from the courtly comforts of home, but only because they never understood – the cage was all that had restrained her.

#2252

They will never believe you, just like they never believed poor Cassandra. Except in her case it was the curse’s fault; what convenient excuse do you have? No god-given curse, no fatal prophecy, no unavoidable destiny. Nothing to fall back on but your own shortcomings. And at least Cassandra knew she was telling the truth, even if no one believed her. That was surely some small comfort in the end. Do you know if you’re telling the truth? Do you know if any of this is even real? Maybe no one believes you because they know it’s bullshit. Or maybe… maybe no one believes you because no one’s listening in the first place. Even mad Cassandra didn’t have that problem. How pathetic.

#2248

They say the world of the dark sisters is all shadow and that is why only in the light of moon or flame may they appear in ours. If that were the case, I would never spend a moment in daylight again. I would shun the day and wake only once moonlight or candlelight could call you forth. I would only ever want you by my side, even if that meant I’d never feel the warmth of the sun again. Your presence would be worth any sacrifice. I would wait every day, every night, every heartbeat for you to step forth from your dark world. No matter how long it might take, I would wait. I will wait. I am here. Sister, will you join me?

#2246

It has been a very long time since Mage worked to create, not destroy. Seeing the fruits of a day’s labor in trees planted or bricks laid, not in buildings destroyed or ships burned, feels strange indeed. Satisfying, yet strange. The work could be done faster and easier with magic, but she finds solace in the sweat and blood of manual labor. Dirt under her nails, leaves in her hair, it’s all so delightfully mundane. When did Mage last have a true place to call her own? A home to tend with mindful love, and no threat of it being ripped away? She had long ago forgotten what “home” really meant. She is slowly relearning its meaning here on Liberty. Mage is the Wanderer, the Exile Queen, no more.

The hook is not a tool of creation, though. While it can be bent to any task, its true dark nature bleeds through when used for good. She gardens and her clawed right hand leaves the soil slightly parched; she builds and a little stone flakes away with every touch; she cooks and the taste of char seeps into everything she makes. The effects aren’t devastating, it’s true, yet they rankle her, sour her every accomplishment. She does not speak of it with Alice, however. Mage accepts this burden as payment for the ruin she inflicted with the hook, a fitting penance now that she wishes more than anything to be rid of the damned weapon.

What will be will be, she tells herself. She tries to take one day at a time now, and that too is strange yet satisfying.

#2238

It was never about the girl or her grandmother or even the woods; all that was incidental. It was always about the wolf and the hunter. They are brothers, after all, twin apex predators caught in the same orbit. Only one may rule the forest at a time and so the dance continues as the sun and moon revolve endlessly overhead. On another day it might have been the hunter who caught Little Red unawares and the wolf who came to the rescue just to rob his enemy of a nice meal. After all, are they really so different? When you’re walking along the forest path and hear the snapping of a twig, can you tell what manner of monster follows you from the shadows? And does it even matter once you’re sitting in its stomach?

#2219

Tal’reth, are you finally coming to stay with me? Will we be together now, forever and ever?

“TAL’RETH, NO! TALRETH!”

The paladin revives with a gasp as the health potion jumpstarts his heart and his empty lungs spasm for air. For just a second it seems like the whole world is paused; where he lays collapsed in the mud he can see a dark sky filled with suspended raindrops, their glittering forms lit by a strange white light. Then the moment bursts, the light winks out, and the rain resumes in an abrupt downpour.

“Tal’reth!” Sani runs up out of the darkness and throws herself at Tal’reth, giant toddler tears running down her cheeks. “I thought you were gone! I thought you were gone forever like Mommy!” Despite the fact that he’s muddy, wet, and in quite a bit of pain even with the potion, Tal’reth gathers the little avatar into his arms and holds her tightly against his lightning-scorched chest. If she can feel his hammering heartbeat, he figures she’ll assume it’s just from the fright of his near-death experience. “It’s okay,” he reassures her with a voice less steady than usual. “It’s okay, it’s okay. I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”

Keeping Sani cradled in one arm, Tal’reth slowly climbs to his feet with a stifled groan, muttering, “I’m getting getting too old for this,” under his breath as he does so. He surveys the little clearing. The hag’s limp body lays crumpled in the mud, her head a few feet away. His companions seem to have handled the attack in his brief absence; Loch is awake once more, no thanks to Galas and his ill-timed misfire, and looking as if she feels about the same as Tal’reth. She flashes him a wry smile and slaps him on the shoulder. “Walk it off,” she advises in her thick Skovan accent. “You’re fine.” He’s curious about her own near meeting with the Raven Queen, or whatever will come for the warlock in the end, but he wouldn’t be open to telling his own story in return and so he says nothing.

“You,” Loch points at Galas, who still looks as petrified as he did when the hag was alive. “Take watch.” With that she limps toward the tent, and Tal’reth follows stiffly after. He eases himself gently onto his cot and curls up, Sani still cradled against his chest. As he drifts off, Tal’reth just catches the soft voice which whispers close in his ear, It’s okay, Tal’reth, we’ll be together soon. He shudders involuntarily and holds Sani a little tighter.

#2217

There and Back Again, or: How The Hobbit Trilogy Let Me Down (and I’m clearly not over it)

So I’m a little late to this particular party (haha, party pun for ya), but having recently reread The Hobbit and finally finished the associated movie trilogy, I need to get some things off my chest. Before I get into all that, though, let’s establish my ring-cred so you understand why I feel so let down. The Fellowship of the Ring came out in theaters when I was in eighth grade and I, along with many of my friends, was immediately obsessed. I probably saw it ten or fifteen times in theaters and attended the midnight releases of the second and third movies in costume. My friends and I religiously attended our local Lord of the Rings (LOTR) convention and were so well known in the fantasy con/renaissance faire circuit that everyone called us The Fellowship. My room was filled with LOTR posters, figurines, replicas, games, books, trading cards, and just about every other related thing I could beg my parents to purchase. I even had a LOTR-themed birthday party with a buffet spread of which any hobbit would be proud. So when I say I was a fan, I mean it – and I still am. My wife and I routinely quote the books/movies and I’m currently rereading the trilogy. Hell, I took a LOTR-themed writing class in college! What I’m saying is, this is a love that will never die. I am loyal to LOTR until the end.

All that being said… I was supremely disappointed with the Hobbit movies. In fact, I was so disappointed by the first two that I didn’t even see the third one in theaters (sacrilege!). I rewatched them recently hoping to change my mind, thinking perhaps my expectations had just been too high the first time around, but my opinion remains the same: they’re just not good movies. And believe me, it truly pains me to admit that. I feel like I’m betraying a piece of my childhood merely by offering criticism where criticism is justly deserved. Maybe cloaked figures will show up at my door in the middle of the night to whisk me away to Mordor, or other fantasy fans will cross the street to avoid passing by me, yet still I have to speak this truth no matter how it breaks my geeky heart.

Many critics have already dissected the movies’ main weak points – mediocre special effects, bloated plots, and unnecessarily lengthy action scenes to name a few – so I won’t repeat them here, but all of these issues lead back to what I believe is the real flaw in the trilogy: its creators just tried too hard to recapture a magic that can’t be forced. You see this with many popular franchises that have become very dead and very beaten horses (like my beloved Jurassic Park, alas!), so it’s obviously an easy pit into which creators frequently stumble. The thought process seems to be something along the lines of, “They liked what we did last time, let’s just do that again exactly the same way” without actually considering what they did and why it was so successful. Sequels in these franchises become copy/paste plots with so many allusions to the previous movies that even the most faithful fan grows tired of being pandered to. We don’t want old characters and old plots dressed up in different outfits, we want new characters and new adventures!

The Hobbit trilogy tries so damn hard to be dark and edgy like LOTR and it just doesn’t work. It’s obvious the creators threw the book out the window, along with its humor and lighthearted vibe, and just pasted Bilbo and co. into the LOTR framework. All of our heroes are updated with tragic backstories and noble, selfless motives: Thorin becomes the burdened, exiled prince trying to save his remaining people, Bard is now a widower forced to smuggle so he can care for his young children, and the dwarf who falls in love with an elf (because every movie needs a star-crossed romance) is somehow stabbed with a morgul arrow so his lovely lady can dramatically save his life in the nick of time. It’s just all so cookie-cutter obvious and feels like LOTR played out with different actors. They even managed to shove Legolas in there because why not? We definitely need another ten-minute action scene of Legolas shooting arrows and surfing on vines.


There’s no heart in The Hobbit. I don’t doubt that it was a labor of love, of course, because you can’t produce a movie trilogy that complex without people who love what they’re doing, but it lacks the essential magic that made the first trilogy so captivating. The action scenes feel meaningless, primarily because there are so fucking many of them that you become oversaturated with the constant high-stakes drama, and the plot bits in between feel too repetitive to be truly engaging. By the third movie this horse is not only dead and beaten but practically unrecognizable as a once-living creature. All you really want to do now is kick some dirt over the remains and leave. And that sucks, honestly, because I went into this trilogy ready to renew my obsession with a childhood passion and yet came out of it feeling… well, tired, mostly. Like butter scraped over too much bread, if you know what I mean.

I didn’t really have a point to this rant; I mostly needed to get it out of my head so I would stop harassing my friends about it. I just… I really love the LOTR universe and I strongly believe The Hobbit could be made into a fantastic movie. By pandering to the box office, though, we missed out on that potential awesomeness and instead got a LOTR prequel trilogy that didn’t really add anything to the franchise. There’s probably a good metaphor here about what happens when you’re driven by money (*cough* gold *cough*) instead of a more noble desire, but I’m ready to bury this horse once and for all. Rest in peace, mellon.

#2209

Alice floats through space, sliding past stars and the dark bulk of distant planets. She bumps against a glyph and loops her arms around one end, leaning on it as she sees what looms before her – a gaping black hole. It’s ancient, a monster that has lurked at the center of the universe for countless eons, swallowing everything in its reach. Yet overshadowing this event is an even greater threat: Mage rises beyond and over the black hole, grander than the hungry beast itself, and when she smiles her eyes are twin suns and her teeth are supernovas. Her jaws unhinge, devouring the black hole, and Alice’s glyph shatters into stardust. Alice feels herself start to fall toward that cavernous mouth, pulled inexorably into the waiting jaws and their eternal grin–

and then she wakes in a cold sweat.

Mage travels through a forest, a beautiful walking staff adorned with mother of pearl in her hands, and on either side of her walk Tanim and Daren. Through the treetops a low hanging moon winks in and out, its pale glow casting soft shadows on the forest floor. Suddenly the moon peels wide into a sun which blazes brighter and brighter as it climbs into the sky. The face of it becomes Alice’s helmet; its fiery tendrils burst forth, becoming her wings that engulf the entire sky. The light touches everything, so bright and burning that the leaves on the trees burst into flame, so white hot that it becomes magma boiling the earth alive. Mage’s clothes catch fire, her hair chars, her skin blisters and peels back in crisp black strips–

and then she wakes in a cold sweat.

The blankets shift and Mage looks over to Alice who sits up, breathing hard and still trembling. She meets Mage’s haunted gaze with her own. “I dreamed you… ate me alive. I was so small and you were the entire universe. You sank your teeth into me and every atom of me was crushed.”

Mage pushes herself up with a shaky laugh. “Well, I dreamed that you shone so bright there were no shadows. You outshone the moon, the sun, blotted out the stars from the sky. You were the sky. My clothes burned, my flesh charred, my bones were exposed. I was naked and had no secrets.”

They look, at each other, each thinking, Did I choose right? Is this who I want to spend immortality with? And then, without a word, their hands meet across the space between them. Because yes.

#2208

“Remr, which silk do you prefer for your pact-night dress?” Lady N’batshi strode into her daughter’s room without warning, a pile of expensive silks overflowing in her arms. She lay them gently on the bed and began sorting through them. “It’s traditional to wear red or pink in honor of Our Lady, but you would look so lovely in this dark blue; oh, maybe with this white for a trim, the gold embroidery would set off your eyes so nicely!” Ignoring the open book in Remr’s lap, she draped the bolts of silk over the tiefling girl’s shoulders and tutted to herself. “Hmm, or perhaps the white with the blue for the trim? Which do you prefer?”

“Oh,” Remr stared down at the cloth, frozen. “Um. Yeah, about that.”

“What?” Lady N’batshi cast her daughter a quick glance as she set out a selection of velvet ribbons. “Did you have another color in mind?”

“No. I, uh…” Remr carefully set the silks aside, afraid she might rip them to pieces if she held them in her nervous hands. She tried to remember the words she had rehearsed, the ones which she was sure would win her mother over without fail. They had fled somewhere, though, or perhaps were trapped in the cold pit of her stomach where they could be of no help. Instead she closed her eyes and quickly confessed, “I don’t want to make a pact with Verenestra. I want to make a pact with The Seeker.”

“What are you talking about?” Her mother laughed haltingly, as if uncertain whether this was some practical joke she didn’t quite grasp. “Every woman in our family for the past two hundred years has made their warlock pact with Verenestra. It’s the tradition which has built our family into what it is now; we have served her faithfully and she in turn has granted us countless blessings. How can you possibly think to turn your back on that history?”

“Because I don’t want to be a succubus!” Remr leaped to her feet, yellow eyes pleading. “I don’t care about love and beauty and sex and all that. I want to serve The Seeker! I want to make new scientific discoveries and uncover answers to the mysteries of the world. I want to learn everything I can about everything there is to know!” As she spoke she swept out one arm to encompass her bedroom and its collection of books, diagrams, tools, and jars full of various captured creatures. “It’s not fair to make me pact myself to a patron I don’t want.”

“This is not up for discussion, young lady!” Lady N’batshi waved one stiff finger in her child’s face as she lectured her. “You may be turning sixteen this month and making your pact, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t still a daughter of this house. Being a member of the N’batshi clan comes with certain responsibilities which can’t simply be thrown aside because you want to keep…” She gestured helplessly at the cluttered room. “To keep running around in the woods collecting lizards!”

“You don’t understand!” Remr stomped her foot, her tail lashing back and forth. “You don’t even try to understand. Uncle Tao’rumi is the only one who does!” She dropped her head to hide her tears and muttered, “And they’re snakes, not lizards. They’re not even in the same suborder.”

Her mother ignored this last comment. “Uncle Tao’rumi,” Lady N’batshi replied with a weary sigh, “isn’t the matriarch of this clan. Now, let’s just calm down.” She took a deep breath; when she spoke again, her voice was gentler but no less patronizing. “I know you’re nervous to make your pact; I was too when I was your age. It’s perfectly natural to feel this way. You have a big journey ahead, and it’s okay to be a little scared of where it leads.”

It was no use arguing. Remr knew her mother would never understand what passions drove her youngest daughter, nor how confining were the expectations which came with the N’batshi name. If she wanted to change her fate, this was not the way to go about it. “You’re right, Mother,” she conceded, wiping away the tears shining on her red face. “Maybe I just need some time to think.”

Lady N’batshi smiled and patted Remr on the arm. “That’s my girl.” She rose, gathering up the silks. “Now, think about which colors you want, we need to place the order with the seamstress by the end of the week.” And with that her mother was gone, bustling back out the door to continue ensuring her miniature empire ran smoothly. Such arguments were so common place by now that she barely registered them as disturbances; she was certain her daughter would see the rightness of the path laid out for her in the end.

Mother’s right about one thing, Remr thought to herself as she shut her bedroom door. I do have a big journey ahead of me. She dug out a large traveling pack and began stuffing it with clothes, books, and parchment. If I leave now I won’t even be missed until the morning, and by then I’ll be far from here.

#2202

The fur on Tal’reth’s back prickled as he sat at the bar counter. Someone was watching him, and not in the surreptitious manner of spies or thieves; this was a frank, pointed stare that felt more curious than threatening. Curiosity could be a good thing or a bad thing, though, especially when it was aimed at a leonine tabaxi almost eight feet tall. Nodding casually to the barkeep, Tal’reth took his ale and moved to a table near the back of the tavern where anyone who wanted to watch him would have to expend more effort to do so. There he nursed his drink and waited for whomever found him so interesting to act.

He didn’t have long to wait. After a few moments a young aasimar woman on the other side of the room stood and wound between the tables toward him. She wore a fine black traveling gown edged with black lace and a small silver bird skull at her throat tied with a black velvet ribbon. A follower of the Raven Queen, he guessed, maybe an initiate or newly made priestess. It was always hard to tell age with aasimar; she could be as old as him and not look a day over eighteen. Her features were especially hard to judge as her hair was a shining white and her eyes such a pale blue they seemed to belong to a specter. Tal’reth knew ghosts, though, and this girl was vibrantly alive in comparison.

“Can I help you?” he asked as she stopped before his table. The aasimar stared at him for a moment, her brow creased as if what she saw in him concerned her greatly, and then she replied, “Have you sought forgiveness for your crimes?” Tal’reth managed not to roll his eyes; instead, he said with as little irritation as possible, “I’m not in the market for a religion, but thanks anyway.” He then pointedly turned his focus back to his ale in the hopes the woman would accept the polite dismissal. Instead, she sat down across from him and asked, “Who is she?”

Tal’reth’s hand clenched around the tankard. He wanted to bare his teeth but settled for a curl of his lip. “None of your business,” he growled. “That’s who she is.” Normally even his slightest ‘don’t fuck with me’ expression got someone to back off, yet the aasimar only responded to his hostility with a sad shake of her head. “You’re on a very dark path,” she sighed. “There’s much death behind you and only more death ahead you if you keep to it. I can help you if–”

“I’m not in the market for free advice, either,” He stood abruptly and glared down at the young woman. “I think we’re done here.” With that Tal’reth turned toward the stairway to his rented room. As he walked away he caught the aasimar say softly, “I will pray you learn to set down your burdens.” He shook his head and muttered, “Fucking oracles”.

#2200

You know, I almost hope unicorns don’t exist. Dragons, too, and fairies and gryphons and harpies, the grim and the sphinx, even ol’ Nessie; all those mythical creatures so rare and beautiful. I hope they’re not real, or at least that they’re long gone by now. That sounds terrible, I know, but think about the shape our world’s in. Do you want such fantastical symbols to exist on an earth we’re running to ruin? I’m not sure I could handle that; it might just be the very last straw. Imagine unicorns treading daintily over cracked concrete with plastic bags tangled around their shining hooves! Imagine kelpies coated in oil, their organs full of microplastics and chemicals! If our trash has made its way to the very farthest depths of the oceans, even onto the moon itself, then where can these legendary creatures possibly hide to escape our touch? Sure, some of them might survive in a polluted landscape – banshees, goblins, other assorted spooks – but not many. And anyway, even a banshee deserves a nice lonely moor to haunt, not some drained and cultivated piece of land with condos sitting on top. It would just suck, is all I’m saying, if we had such magical creatures in our midst and dragged them down with us. If all those unbelievable beings do exist, I hope they can at least get the hell out of here while the getting’s good.

#2181

Tal’reth doesn’t sleep that night. He rarely does the night before battle; his dreams are always troubled on these eves, especially if the situation involves children. And these two half-elf siblings are children still, even if they have seen enough horror to age them beyond their years. As he sits up in the small cabin’s main room, sharpening his sword and checking his gear, the tabaxi reviews the conversation he had with the older sister Peri. Since taking up work with Graymalkin he’s met dozens of children with stories like hers – loved ones lost to war or pointless brutality, homes destroyed by greed, futures endangered by people with too much corrupted power. That these two teenagers bear the burden of protecting their god’s holy land against an empire set out to destroy “false” religions just means their cause is that much closer to his heart. In the end, though, they’re kids who have just lost their father and have nowhere else to turn. Of course he’s going to help in any way he can.

Assuming everything goes just fine, Gray won’t take issue with a slight detour in the greater plan; he knows full well where Tal’reth’s priorities and loyalties lay, after all. The others, however… well, Tal’reth suspects his companions won’t be happy when they wake in the morning to find out he’s agreed not only to destroy the crownsguard watchtower nearby, but also to help get the siblings to their remaining family. If they refuse to take part, though, that’s fine. The warlock and ranger can continue down the road and he’ll catch up with them once he’s confident Peri and her brother are safe. He refuses to entertain any alternatives while the memory of their father’s butchered body weighs so heavily on his mind. What if the crownsguard decide the poor dead man’s children are next? Surely it’s the will of the gods that Tal’reth found the teens first, before someone more malicious did. Certainly they would have received no help from his party members if he wasn’t there. If he won’t protect these kids, who will?

Movement at the edge of his vision catches Tal’reth’s attention and he whips his head up, right hand dropping the whetstone and gripping the hilt of his sword. But it’s just shadows moving, or maybe the candlelight playing tricks on his eyes, or he’s just more tired than he thought. Yes, that must be it; he hasn’t slept all night, save for a brief catnap before Peri and her brother appeared in their camp. Half-convinced, Tal’reth returns to his work once more – though he shifts slightly so the dark corners of the room aren’t visible at all as he focuses on the sword’s keen blade. If the shadows in one corner seem to move independently of the fire’s dancing glow, he would rather not see.

#2179

I saw the light fade from the sky
On the wind I heard a sigh
As the snowflakes cover my fallen brothers
I will say this last goodbye

She yields to nostalgia and allows herself to walk the island’s overgrown paths one last time. Though it has not truly been that long since she left, everything feels smaller to her. Were these lintels so low before? Were these steps, these windows, these honeycombed rooms and secret passages so tiny? She can almost imagine her childhood self running through the woods and along the beaches, playing chasing games or hide-and-seek, yet she was never actually young in this place. She thinks, Perhaps time does this to any location we once called home, even if only temporarily. Surely she has not grown, nor has the island shrunk, and yet she feels a giant who must step carefully so as not to harm everything around her.

Night is now falling
So ends this day
The road is now calling
And I must away

Despite the familiarity, the years have not been kind to the island’s settlement. Sapling trees burst up between the paving stones; vines climb along walls and wrap themselves around every available surface. Wind and rain have torn away roof shingles, left great puddles of standing water, and sent great branches crashing down. The once beautiful murals are faded from sun and storm, now nothing more than old graffiti. Even her own handiwork, the years of destruction wrought on the land with magic and cannon, is softened beneath layers of green growth. Nature is slowly reclaiming this place now there are no lost ones to bless its halls or bolster its protections with their love. It is truly abandoned.

Many places I have been
Many sorrows I have seen
But I don’t regret
Nor will I forget
All who took that road with me

She knows the others must assume she’s forgotten them, locking away her memories of the time she spent here in her quest for revenge. She has not. She remembers them all; names and faces, quirks and foibles, kindnesses and cruelties. She remembers those who left and those who stayed and those who fell out of reach completely. She remembers those who fought against her and those who never bothered to take up arms at all, who chose instead to stand for nothing. No matter where she goes next, no matter how many years pass, she will not forget a single one of them. She loved them all, once, and still may. They were her sisters and brothers, after all.

To these memories I will hold
With your blessing I will go
To turn at last to paths that lead home
And though where the road then takes me
I cannot tell
We came all this way
But now comes the day
To bid you farewell

After she has walked the length and breadth of the island she returns to the shore and gazes one last time upon the lighthouse. It was first a beacon of hope for her, then a target for her sorrow and rage. And now? Now it is merely a symbol of the past, both the good and the bad. She can neither hate it nor love it, so instead she releases it. She releases the island and its light from her idyllic memories. From her extinguished anger. From her heart that beats for a new future. Let this place return to the cosmos from which it was formed now that its purpose has been fulfilled. There are no paths which lead here now, only away. And that is as it should be, she thinks.

I bid you all a very fond farewell

#2175

So my current DnD PC Selene, the siren trapped in a semi-human body, has broken the curse placed on her by a gross incel wizard and can finally go home. I didn’t write much about her, it’s true, but that’s because all she ended up doing was smashing stuff and eating everything in sight; entertaining for sure, yet not quite worth bragging about. SHE WAS SUPER FUN TO PLAY, though, and I will miss her, but now she has returned to her ocean home and is happily wrecking ships and devouring sailors once more. And no, she didn’t learn any lesson from the experience except maybe that if you’re going to eat someone who has potentially vengeful family members, try to eat them too before they put a fucking curse on you. Failing that, break their legs and see if that helps.

My party members will now be meeting up with my new character Tal’reth (or Giant Cat Dad if you like) and I am super stoked to play him. He’s a good guy trying to make up for a dark past and should be a very frustratingly justice-aligned counterpoint to my wife’s chaotic neutral/evil aasimar warlock. (We didn’t plan it that way but BOY IS IT GONNA BE INTERESTING.) I’m going to keep his one big secret under wraps for now so my party members don’t catch on, so here’s what I’ve got so far:

Name: Tal’reth
Race: Tabaxi
Age: 45
Gender: Male
Class: Paladin
Paladin Oath: Vengeance; this oath includes the tenets “Fight the Greater Evil”, “No Mercy for the Wicked”, “By Any Means Necessary”, and “Restitution”.
Alignment: Chaotic good
Intelligence: High
General physical description: Large lion tabaxi with pale fur and blue eyes, approximately 8 feet tall (though the mane probably makes him look taller), bears quite a few scars.
Dress style: Mostly loose breeches and a sleeveless tunic top. He doesn’t wear anything that reveals him to be a paladin as he often travels in places where foreign gods aren’t tolerated. If anyone asks his trade he says he’s a bard and carries a penny whistle to prove it. If anyone questions that (he doesn’t exactly fit the bard stereotype), well… not many do. He’s very intimidating and doesn’t particularly like answering personal questions.
Fighting style: Great weapon fighting, grappling, probably some mauling if necessary
Weapons/armor: Great sword, shield, dagger, being a giant lion
Hobbies: He’s actually pretty good on the penny whistle, and he uses his claws to make wood carvings. In general he doesn’t have a ton of hobbies though, being focused as he is on his mission.
Positive personality traits: He’s very protective of women and children, and very opposed to people in positions of power who use their authority to take advantage of others (like corrupt officials, priests, royalty, etc).
Negative personality traits: He might mean well, but his methods can be quite brutal. Also, for much of his life he was a not-so-very-good person. He’s making up for that now, though.
Sense of humor: Dry sarcasm (and maybe puns if I can pull it off).
How other people see him: “Big motherfucker” is the usual descriptive phrase used. He’s very obviously someone you don’t want to mess with. Children, however, may feel instinctively safe with him.
Religion: Tal’reth is sworn to Kodkod, a chaotic good deity whose domains include life, innocence, and childhood. She may or may not have cursed him after he killed a young girl in service to his last mercenary patron, and after this he became devoted to Kodkod and ridding the world of evil. He’s not like most of Kodkod’s paladins, though, as she tends to attract lighthearted types who retain the wonder and innocence of childhood. Tal’reth is a tough guy all the way through, but he does important work for Kodkod that her other paladins might find… too gruesome.
Background: For most of his life Tal’reth has been a mercenary, most recently aligned with a powerful warlord who desired control over neighboring lands. After the incident with Kodkod (which involves the secret I’ll probably spill before I mean to), he had a change of heart and has become a champion for good. Chaotic good, though; he’s retained his brutal ways, he just uses them against bad guys now instead of just against whomever couldn’t pay him enough to leave them alone.
Reason for adventuring: Restitution for his past sins.
Philosophy of life: Those who can fight should fight for those who cannot.
Most important thing to know about this character: He takes the tenets of his oath very seriously and will not hesitate to do what he thinks is right, regardless of whether this is seen as “right” in the eyes of others or the law. He isn’t a religious zealot by any means but he is driven by the need to make things right and to protect the innocent.
Other random facts: He’s immune to disease; he can detect the presence of undead, celestial, and fiendish creatures within 60 feet; and he can summon a spirit steed (warhorse) with which he is bonded. This creature can understand him and fight with him. Considering how big he is, it’s probably one big motherfucker too.

20181106_184216

I love me some fuckin moodboards, okay?

#2165

I return amid sirens to the immortal city of Amber, hoping therein to find some understanding of your absence that is so much like a bloodstain at the center of the world, a cancer eating reality from the inside out, see how this sickness is reflected in every shadow I cross, how everywhere I go in my search for you I feel the gaping void which once contained at least a trace of your presence, but that is impossible, it must be, for you reside in the one true Amber and thus you are reflected reverberated reiterated in every shadow from core to chaos, you must be somewhere because for you to cease is for all to cease and I am still here, I am still searching, so if I must walk the blood-black road so far that madness warps my mind then I shall do just that, I shall hellride through strange lands until I find where you are kept and win you back, tell the courts of chaos I am coming, I am coming, I am coming

#2146

This was never a competition, per say, and I truly have renounced my vendetta against you, yet some part of me still derives a twisted triumph from the fact that I am here at the end of all things and you are not. It’s over; there’s no time now for you to come running in to play the knight in shining armor and make everything right again. You had that chance – so many, in fact! – and yet I was the only one who stayed. The only one who still cared, who still believed, who understood what fighting for so long can do to someone. I was there for every inch of that journey, physical and emotional; I know far more now about your precious (and yet abandoned?) protege than you ever did or ever can. After all, when you are the only two left in a war you at some point stop seeing yourselves as facing off on opposite sides and instead as back to back, two against the world. Did you really expect her to continue protecting the sanctuary you built without any help at all for years – for forever? No, I don’t think you did. I don’t think you thought anything at all. You just wanted a fantasy world in which to escape, something you could rule with the power you didn’t wield in your regular life, and when you grew bored you tossed it away without a care for those you had already tangled in the story. That’s why I started this war, after all, and that’s why I ended it. She and I are both too much a product of your shaping and we deserve to be free of our last bonds to you. I guess in the end we get to be the knights in shining armor, not you; how ironic is that?

#2145

Mage opened her eyes to an unfamiliar room. The floor and walls were all of dark stone and the tall arched ceiling disappeared into darkness. Only weak light filtering in from recessed windows high above provided any lighting, and that served more to strengthen than dispel the shadows.

“Hello, nameless one,” A voice from somewhere behind and above her made Mage twist around in a ready stance. “Who–” She tilted her head back to see the speaker fully and then sighed, relaxing her defensive pose with a slump of her shoulders. “Ah shit, am I dead?”

“You are indeed,” The figure before her nodded, face hidden by a raven skull mask. The goddess stood several times taller than Mage’s not inconsiderable height, her body hidden by a cloak of raven’s feathers that stirred on the ground as if from an unperceived wind. When she spoke her words echoed both through the stone chamber and within Mage’s mind. “Welcome to the halls of the Raven Queen.”

“Thanks… I think,” Mage’s eyes wandered as she searched her memory for what had happened before she’d woken up in this strange room. At first the thoughts were too slippery to hold onto, like half-remembered dreams, but then they solidified. She remembered a battle, fire and lightning and earth all torn up and hurled together. Someone yelling and someone else – her – cackling in joy. “Oh!” She looked back up to the Raven Queen. “Did I at least take the avatar out with me?”

“Yes, for what that may be worth to you,” A hint of amusement crept into the goddess’ voice, though with the mask on it was difficult to determine at what exactly she was amused. “As you know, their path to reincarnation is a little more straightforward than yours. Somewhere a baby takes its first breath and the cycle begins anew.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Mage waved the news away. “It was still fun though.” Clearly unconcerned about her own death, she began examining the hall with marked disappointment. “Huh, I was kind of expecting, like… a lake of fire or something. For my misdeeds and stuff.”

“That can be your fate, if you prefer,” The towering figure shrugged elegantly. “However, I have a better proposition for you. I have need of your… particular skills… in regards to souls which have escaped their appointed fates and have thus unbalanced the worlds. If you are willing to act as my avatar on the other planes when necessary, I am prepared to offer in return a place within my halls.” She spread black-clad arms to encompass the realm over which she reigned. “No lake of fire, no eternal darkness. Plus you can kill things. So very many things.”

“Hmm…” Mage pursed her lips and rolled her head back and forth in contemplation, then shrugged. “Sounds pretty sweet. I’m in.” She spit on her hand and held it out. The Raven Queen grimaced behind her mask but shook the proffered hand anyway while replying, “Then let this pact be sealed.”

#2144

“Therefore, the ecocatastrophe caused by the second Witch Queen War has a much farther-reaching impact on–” As Professor Nbat’shi stood at the front of the lecture hall scribbling indecipherable notes on the chalkboard the side door flew open and a halfling in a pirate hat popped her head in. “PSST!” she stage-whispered to the tiefling. “Remr! REMR!”

“Oh, hello friends!” Remr threw down her chalk and hurried over to where Tarcella and Never stood just outside the room. Her students, used to Professor Nbat’shi’s wandering attention and abrupt pauses, merely waited. “What’s up?”

“We’re gonna go save the world again,” Tarcella waved one hand vaguely and explained, “Something about stopping an evil god or a cult or something on Clairavoya. Should be pretty cool. You in?”

“Totally! Just a sec,” Remr leaned through the doorway and shouted back to her students,”Hey everyone, I guess the world’s in danger again, class is cancelled until whenever I get back.” She turned to her companions. “Okay, I’m good.”

“That’s it?” Never glanced skeptically into the lecture hall where a hundred students stared back at them in confusion. Remr smacked her palm to her forehead. “Oh! Of course, you’re right.” She leaned into the room again and added, “Read chapters five through thirty-six in Clemmings’ Compendium and someone tell the dean I’m leaving; okay, have fun, bye!”

As she and her friends hurried down the hallway Remr pulled out her Quall’s feather token. “Should we take Bao’ru to get there faster?” she asked, indicating the giant blue budgie which had flown them to and from so many other exploits. Tarcella shrugged carelessly. “Nah, it’ll be fine, my ship’s plenty fast. I’m sure we won’t miss anything.”

– – –

Several days and several hundreds of miles later, the three hurried up the steep path to the summit on the island of Clairavoya where it was rumored the dread god Bezos would appear. Tarcella, sitting on Never’s broad shoulders, first spotted the familiar group of adventurers standing in front of the cave mouth up ahead and jumped down. “Ah man,” she kicked angrily at the ground as she eyed Ro, Ilkan, and Dhashi’s expressions of stunned, exhausted triumph, as well as their battered armor and various bruises. “Did we miss all the fun?” She jumped so that she could elbow Never in the side. “Why’d you make us take my ship, huh?”

They merely sighed.

#2142

These days I spend most of my time fantasizing about becoming a monster. Charybdis or Medusa, banshee or werewolf, siren or harpy, I don’t really care; just give me teeth and claws and I’ll supply the rage. I’ve got so much madness bottled up inside that I’m surprised I can’t turn people to stone with a glance already. I long to shed this soft, squishy layer of human skin and unveil the armored exoskeleton beneath. Make me six-headed Scylla and I will devour fleets of ships! Make me gifted Arachne and I will weave traps strong as spiders’ silk! Make me ravenous Ammit and I will tear the hearts of the unworthy to pieces! Come, goddess or witch, reshape this flimsy mortal form so I may be daughter of monsters and mother of beasts!

#2141

Coins rain down amid bursts of shocked laughter and startled, delighted gasps. The crowd has long forgotten the other market vendors at this chance to flirt with danger, to see something so rare and vicious here in their tiny provincial town. Humans love to feel a little fear when they know there is no actual risk and the townsfolk have thus blindly put their faith in the greasy man who gathers up their coins with one greedy hand while the other prods through the cage with a stick.

The creature in the cage can technically speak Common and should therefore be able to plead with her captor, or at least for sympathy from the crowd, but rage clouds her mind too much for her to do anything other than howl and launch herself at the bars. No one stands close enough to grab with her long claws yet still she tries, lashing her arm back and forth in the hopes of drawing blood. Her blue-gray skin bleeds where she has rubbed herself raw on the metal.

“Yep, wrestled this little bitch right out of the sea itself!” the man brags, jabbing her side with the stick. “She almost had me, too, but I was too strong for her! Not a man alive has ever caught one of these!” His words are lies; this oaf wasn’t even the one who cursed her into a human form, only a lucky idiot who stumbled across her while she was still dazed from the transformation. A feminine creature with long black hair and shark-like skin and teeth? He’d known exactly what she was and how much people would pay to see a monster like her up close.

“A real siren, incredible!” someone cries, while another asks with obvious concern, “Can’t they put a spell on you with their singing? Are we in danger?” The man scoffs at the question and, despite not actually knowing why she no longer has that trademark ability, uses it to his advantage. Kicking the cage, he laughs, “Yeah, but she won’t try anything funny on me. She knows who’s the boss here. Besides, I’ve been starving her down, she’s no match for me.”

Amid the tumult of voices and the siren’s furious snarling, someone whispers an unlocking spell. Even through her frenzy the siren senses this burst of magic and her keen ears catch the sound of the lock slowly turning. This time when she hurls herself against the cage the door bursts open and with a predator’s speed she leaps for her oblivious captor, howling in triumph. The impact sends him crashing to the ground and by the time he lands she’s already tearing at his throat with rows of serrated teeth. The humans who just moments ago had laughed and stared at her flee in terror, not a single one brave enough to attempt to contain her again.

Hunger partially sated, the siren tears off one of the man’s arms for further snacking and climbs to her feet. While she’s still unsteady on these strange human legs, used as she is to gliding through the water with her long, sinuous tail, she’ll adapt. With a little food in her belly she can finally think clearly for the first time since the awful spell that took her from her home was cast. Her thoughts burn hard and bright in their brute simplicity: Find the wizard. Make him reverse the curse. Eat him. Go home. Chewing on a meaty finger bone, the siren picks a direction and starts walking. She has no idea who this wizard is, where to find him, or how she’ll get him to lift the curse, but she’s not a creature of any particularly deep or complex thoughts and so this doesn’t much concern her. She can hunt and she can kill, and that’s good enough for her.