writersaurusrex: (Writing)
 The Excalibur's recreation officer lay flat on his back and up to his waist in machinery in Rec Room 1. He hummed festively to himself as he worked as quickly as he could to get the food replicators ready for Christmas. He paid it no mind when the the computer started playing Christmas carols for no apparent reason; he just chalked it up to someone getting in the Christmas spirit. The music was just loud enough to hide the faint rustling of garland that streamed from a point about five feet off the center of the floor and festooned itself around the the top of the rec room walls and criss-crossed the ceiling. It crescendoed long enough to hide the soft scraping noise as one of the tables uprooted itself, scuttled several feet over, and rebolted itself to the floor. The caroling diminuendoed, but it was still loud enough to mask the whispering as the tabletop Christmas tree floated over to the spot abandoned by the table and grew to six times its former size. The rec officer didn't hear the almost inaudible pops as Christmas ornaments gushed from the same mid-air spot and whirled around the ceiling to hang themselves from the garland and find their places in the tree. He didn't even hear the flapping of the gold and silver angel tree-topper as it swirled into being and flew to alight on the tree's summit.

It wasn't until he heard a loud crack that he pulled himself out of the wall and sat up. His jaw dropped as he looked around. He slowly got to his feet and made his way to the wall intercom.

"Rec room to bridge," he said as he pressed the button.

"Stevens here. Merry Christmas!"

The rec officer looked at the clock and saw that it, was indeed Christmas Day, if only barely. 00:02.

"McCain here, Lieutenant, and Merry Christmas to you, too. Someone's decorated down here, sir."

"Yes, I've seen it. Very nice."

"No, sir, you don't understand." McCain paused as he wondered if what he was seeing was really there. "I mean, someone in the last five minutes came in here and decorated the hell out of this place."

There was a long silence on the intercom. "Be right there," the lieutenant said and cut off the intercom.

McCain stood in the center of the room and turned slowly in place, growing more and more amazed by the second until the door swooshed open.

"Now, what do you...mean..." Stevens's voice trailed off as he saw what McCain was talking about.

"What the hell?"

"I don't know, sir. I was reprogramming the food replicators for Christmas, getting it ready fot the goose and the pudding and everything. I wasn't in there even five minutes. I heard a noise, came out, and..." He waved a hand at the room around them.

"Know what I think, Chief?"


"I think my dad lied to me. There really is a Santa Claus."

writersaurusrex: (Writing)
 Captain James T. Kirk, of the USS Enterprise, was thoroughly engrossed in the personnel rosters on his padd. The starship, the pride of Starfleet, was in drydock getting some much-needed maintenance work The ship was practically abandoned as a lot of crew-members went Earthside en route to new assignments and others waited to board the ship that would be their home. His footsteps echoed in the empty hallway as he rounded a corner. He looked up just in time to flatten himself against a wall as a blonde red blur flashed past him riding a...broomstick?

He blinked rapidly, then turned to stab at a nearby intercom.

"Kirk to Sickbay"

"What is it, Jim?"

"Bones...just how much 'medicine' did you give me?"

writersaurusrex: (Default)
 Anthologies are always tricky to rate and review, simply because it is not one story, it is (in this case) 16. Overall, I liked the book. I'm not entirely sure I want to buy a dead-tree version (I bought it on Kindle when it first came out); I'm leaning toward yes, but it's not a strong yes. If I weren't trying to whittle down my ridiculously large library, I more certainly would.

Snapshort reviews of each story.
"Siren Seeking" (Kelly Sandoval): Very enjoyable, it seems like it would be a good story to flesh out. I would love to see more of Thelia.

"The Fisherman and the Golem" (Amanda Kespohl): Another story I greatly enjoyed. It took a few pages for it to click what the deal was with Lucette, but I didn't see who she really was until it was too late. Well done.

"We Are Sirens" (L.S. Johnson) was fantastic. It was an excellent take on "what if the ancient Sirens were still around."

"Moth to an Old Flame" (Pat Flewwelling): Very enjoyable, and a different interpretation on what would it be like if the ancient gods were still around and up to their old tricks. The last line was a bit of a groaner, though.

"The Bounty" (Gabriel F. Cuellar): The unnamed main character was excellent, as was the story itself, and I would love to see more of her. Again, an excellent "What if?" story, and the answer is one of those "Of course!" things.

"The Dolphin Riders" (Randall G. Arnold) was rather disappointing. It wasn't a *bad* story, it just felt kind of flat. I don't think it was the writing, I just think the whole premise and setting just sealed the story's fate for me.

"Is This Seat Taken" (Michael Leonberger) was an excellent suspense story in the Hitchcockian tradition. Even though by the time the story is almost done, you know where it's going, but you still can't look away.

"Nautilus" (V.V. LeSann): Not bad. This is one of the more different stories, in that it's a science fiction tale set in the heart of the galaxy, but it held true to the theme of "sirens-but-not-necessarily-sirens" that's the book's premise. Naut is a different character, but one that you look at and think, "Yeah, that's how humans would treat him," which made him a sympathetic character. Which makes what happens even more surprising.

"Siren's Odyssey" (Tamsin Showbrook) was a very enjoyable read, but this story was also a thematic stretch. The setting was very well developed, as were the characters. The tag-team PoV narration was very well done. I finished it wanting to know what happens next with Alice and Hanna.

"Safe Waters" (Simon Kevin): Again, a thematic stretch (unless you include mermaids in your definition of "sirens"), but other than that it was a very enjoyable story. And, to be honest, I don't think I would have made a different decision than Lina did.

"Notefisher" (Cat McDonald) is the only story out of the collection that I didn't like. I think a lot of it was its heavy reliance on acid, and that was too much for me to overcome with the story that was told. 

"Experience" (Sandra Wickham) was, up until the very end, a very enjoyable story. The finale was a let-down, as it seemed very deus-ex-machina. But other than that, it was very good.

"Threshold" (K.T. Ivanrest) was, again, not a bad story. I couldn't see the connection to the book's theme, which distracted greatly and downgraded it a notch for me. All in all, it was okay.

"The Fisherman's Catch" (Adam L. Bealby) is an old-school horror story that was told very well, right down to the requisite twist ending.

"One More Song" (Eliza Chan) is far and away my favourite story in this book. Basically a variation of the hard-boiled detective story, not only are the characters fantastic (especially Mira, the main character), but the world is incredibly developed and left me wanting more. A lot more. As in "I would literally pay real money for a book of these stories."

"Homecoming" (Tabitha Lord) is a retelling of the return of Odysseus, from Penelope's point of view Not a bad story, but not particularly memorable, either.
writersaurusrex: (Default)
 Lullaby Town is not a bad book. But it's not a particularly good book either. Nor is it memorable. What it is, is predictable and formulaic.

In its defense, the story is well written, and the last few chapters were riveting. But that's like saying that a team scored two goals late in the match, when they were down four-nil in the seventieth minute. A valiant effort late, but they still lost.

All the major characters were cookie-cutters and had little depth or definition. Hard-boiled private eye who served in VietNam? Check. His partner, former special forces? Check. Movie executive who doesn't think about anyone but himself? Check. Single mother? Check. Mafia of various types? Check.

The main plot starts with the afore-mentioned movie exec who was married, had a son, got divorced, and never gave his family a second thought until ten years later when he suddenly wants to be the boy's father? The why is never really explored. The other main plot is that his ex-wife is a new life, a new name, and is involved in a money-laundering scheme with the Mafia that she wants out of. Why did she get involved in the first place? It boiled down to "I needed the money." Again, very unsatisfying.

Lullaby Town winds up being a lackluster and disappointing novel, in large part because the story wasn't bad, but with some thought and effort, it could have been so much better.

writersaurusrex: (Default)

It's been a long time since I've left the theater thinking that I wanted to see that movie again. That was what I felt after seeing the new Ghostbusters.

Ghostbusters did the smart thing by not going in as a remake of the original, nor as a reboot. You won't see gender-flipped versions of Venkman, Ray, Egon, and Winston. This was a good call. The Ghostbusters (Erin, Abby, Holtzmann, and Patty) are not identifiable analogues of the original characters; even though Holtzmann bears a passing resemblance to Venkmann, the resemblance is only vague and superficial, as their personalities are worlds apart.

They also made the right call by making the plot totally unlike that of the original. The three surviving original Ghostbusters all had cameos (some more substantial than others), as did Sigurney Weaver and Slimer.

The addition of Chris Hemsworth as Kevin puzzles me, as he doesn't really add to the movie aside from being gorgeous; frankly, I won't be upset if they find a new receptionist in the sequel, unless they somehow electrify Kevin and get the rest of his brain cells working.

Stay for the (the dance sequence is amusing)...and definitely say for the Marvel-esque post-credits scene.

Verdict: I recommend the living daylights out of this movie, and I will be seeing this again. I would even be willing to pay full price for it, it was that good.

writersaurusrex: (Writing)

"Well, I'd better get going," Mary Ann said, "and start cooking these fish. I'll see you back at the village."

Gilligan sighed as he watched her leave, then started folding the fish nets. He didn't notice Jeannie appear behind him.

"Master, what is wrong?" she asked.

Gilligan jumped with a start. "Don't do that!" he gasped.

"I will not do that," she replied. She looked at the pile of nets, folded her arms, and noddd with a firm blink. The nets instantly formed a stack, clean and neatly folded.

"Now, please tell me what is bothering you."

Gilligan sighed again, looking down shyly.

"I just wish Mary Ann felt about me the way I feel about her."

Jeannie smiled and folded her arms in her "Behold! I am about to grant a wish!" pose. After a moment, she unfolded her arms, the smile fading from her face.

"I'm sorry, Master, but I cannot grant that wish."


"I cannot grant your wish, Master. She already loves you."

writersaurusrex: (Writing)
This year, I'm going to try the Winter Bingo game on the Charloft group on LiveJournal. I'll be writing for Mary Hall...who has two version. There's the Texas Death Match version ("MH: TDM"), which is from my semi-work-in-progress murder mystery. And then there's the Doctor Who companion version ("MH: DW"), which is the same character, but who becomes a Companion to the Tenth Doctor.

My card, taking the first one that came up, is as follows:

reindeer hay kerchief pneumonia roasting on an open fire
Festivius shoveling snow solstice shoveling snow Bethlehem
scarf fuel shortage   snowboard scarves
Janus cold feet snowsuit by the fire dreary
mug snowball poinsettia sacred snowman

Get your own CharLoft Winter Bingo Card at http://www.labarc.com/Bingo/

writersaurusrex: (Writing)
(originally posted December 30, 2006, on LiveJournal's "Prompt A Day" community)

We spoke of many things that night. That morning. Whatever. I don't think it was that late when I ran into Kristin at the Jump Java Whale. I'm not even sure what made me go there that night. I was just in the neighborhood when the skies opened up and it started pouring a freezing rain, and the smell of fresh-brewed coffee and the warm lights were more than I could resist. I don't know what she was doing there that night, alone, either. That was one of the things I didn't ask, either....and to be honest, I didn't care. It was the shock of seeing her face again, for the first time in almost five years...since she told me she was getting married.

I couldn't bring myself to go to the wedding. The only woman I'd ever loved, marrying a man I could barely stand. Biggest mistake she could have made, I thought...but if that was what she wanted, if that was what would make her happy, then I had to force myself to be happy for her. Even if I still dreamed of her every night since then.

We talked about her going to university, getting a degree in graphic arts and getting a great job in advertising, how her husband was still working for the same airline he did back then (which surprised me, I didn't think he'd be able to hold a job that long) and had even been promoted. We talked about the half-dozen jobs I've held since last time I saw her, and how I hoped the job I have now at the tv station works out. We talked about her daughter, and my latest (former) girlfriend. We talked about so many things that it all became almost a blur. The thing I remember most, though, was that she was just as beautiful as I remember. Her hair just as blonde, her eyes even bluer, and her smile even more dazzling. It was like a preview of heaven.

The only thing I didn't ask...couldn't ask...was if she loved Mark. If she had ever loved him. I didn't think I could bear to hear the answer, no matter what it was.

When our jaws were too sore to talk anymore, I grabbed the check and left, but not before doing something I'd dreamed of doing for years. I kissed her...a quick kiss on the lips, and I turned away before she could react. I didn't look back from the register, and I closed my eyes when I opened the door so I wouldn't see her reflection in the door. Some things are better left to the imagination. 
writersaurusrex: (Default)
 It started out rather like many other days had. A good-sized village had hired me to destroy the troll that had been terrorizing them. I didn't ask more than I normally do: a place to sleep, food to eat, and enough silver to tide me over until I reached the next village.


I had bested the troll, as I always had, and had it backed against the rocks, its club broken several yards away. But then...I did something I had never done before.


I looked it in the eyes. And I saw something there. Something disturbing.


All my life, I had been so sure of my role in life. I was the hero, I was the one who traveled the realms slaying monsters, defeating dragons, and protecting those in need.


But today, when I looked the troll in the eyes, I saw myself in them. And not the myself that I saw. But rather, as he saw me. In his eyes, *I* was the monster that had to be defeated. And I can not say that he was wrong.



writersaurusrex: (Writing)
A scene written for the online Ars Magica play-by-post game I'm in, Light of Andorra . 750 words.

Lucia paused at the edge of the training yard, taking a short break from her afternoon errands to watch her maga spar with some of the men. A quick glance at the sun as it kissed the covenant walls told her that Vibria would be wrapping up her session soon, and she knew that Vibria would like a quick soak to relax before dinner. The young girl smiled to herself as she let her imagination wander, picturing Vibria inviting her into the tub with her to help her work out some of the knots in her arms and legs, then letting Lucia soap up her magnificent huge...

She shook her head quickly to snap herself back to reality. If there's one thing she'd learned about Vibria the past few months, especially after the embarrassment in Barcelona the Christmas before, it was that Vibria wasn't interested in her the way Lucia was in the maga, and never would be. She sighed and turned away to start her trek back to Vibria's sanctum when something on the archery range caught her eye.

Or someone, rather. For a split second, she thought that Vibria might have a twin sister who had joined. The same unmistakable silhouette as the woman quickly drew an arrow from her quiver, nocked, drew, and released. By the time the arrow thunked into the target, the woman was already drawing her next arrow.

Lucia glanced quickly back to the training yard and saw that Vibria was still engrossed in her sparring. Taking a deep breath, she approached the archer and watched quietly as she waited for her to finish.

The archer was almost as tall as Vibria, and almost as curvy, with a bust somewhere between where Vibria's was when she first met Lucia and where it was after her return from Vulcanus's errand. The archer's hair was straw blonde, just brushing her shoulders and well out of her eyes.

When the archer's quiver was empty, Lucia took a couple of steps closer. "Nice form," she said in Occitan.

"Thank you," the archer replied in the same tongue. "I wish I'd put more arrows on target, I'm not used to shooting at things that aren't moving."

She saw the questioning look on Lucia's face. "When I was growing up," she said with a smile, "I used to borrow my brother's bow and go hunting when I needed to get out of the house for a while. I got to be a pretty decent huntress."

Lucia grinned back. "Did your brother know you had borrowed his gear?"

The archer laughed. "No. That just got me in more trouble. Never bothered me much, though."

Lucia stuck our her hand in greeting. "I'm Lucia. I don't think I've seen you around, and your accent says you're not from around here."

The archer looked at Lucia's hand in surprise, then shook it carefully. "Call me Epona. And, yes, I'm new here, just arrived a few weeks ago. I just got fed up with everything at home and decided to leave while I could. I heard rumors of a place that would welcome people who were different, and wound up here."

Lucia shrugs. "I grew up here, so I guess I'm used to different people."

She walked alongside Epona as she went to the water barrel. "What was so wrong at home that it made you leave?" Lucia knew things were different out in the "mundane" world, but she had a hard time picturing what was so bad that people had to run away.

Epona filled a cup with water and took a quick sip. "My family kept trying to push me into a marriage, and I was having none of it. They finally pushed me too hard, I'd had enough, so I left."

"What was wrong with it?"

Epona looked at Lucia for a long minute before she finally answered. "Let's just say that men aren't exactly my thing."

Lucia nodded sagely. "I know exactly what you mean. They never did anything for me either." She looked back at the training yard and saw that Vibria was removing her dragon helm, which meant she'd be headed back to her sanctum soon.

"I have to get going," Lucia said apologetically. "My maga's finished her sparring and I need to go draw her bath. If you're not busy after dinner, I would love to meet you at the tavern and share some drinks, talk some more."

Epona smiled. "I'd like that."

writersaurusrex: (Writing)

The night that Vibria had her heart broken for the first time, she decided that the right and proper thing to do was to go to the inn and drown her sorrows. She wore her favorite blouse (despite having been let out by Lucia, it fit rather more snugly that she would have preferred – which was surprising, considering how thoroughly Lucia had measured her bosom) and a long skirt, layered in a vain attempt to keep her warm.

She didn't really want any company while she drank, although a couple of men offered to console her in their drunkenly awkward fashion. Vibria rebuffed each in turn and ignored the insults they muttered under their breaths as they walked away.

She had just started on her third glass of wine, and was slightly annoyed that she was still sober, when she saw her maidservant enter the tavern and head straight for her.

"Maga, this isn't the right place for you right now," Lucia said with a worried expression. "I know you've had a rough day, but maybe it would be better if you came home."

Vibria looked up at Lucia for a long moment and blinked a couple of times trying to get the girl's face to focus. "Maybe you're right. But I'm not done drinking. I'm taking this bottle with me. And we should get one for you, too."

"Of course. I'll get a bottle, and we can get you back home, and we can get you to bed when you're ready."

Lucia found the serving girl and had a quick conversation with her, which resulted in another bottle of wine finding its way to Lucia's hand. She returned to Vibria's table just in time to see the maga stand up quickly. A little too quickly, judging by the look on her face and the way she wobbled in place for moment like a child's toy.

"So, this is what they mean by 'falling down drunk'," Vibria said, having just discovered one of Life's Great Truths.

"You're not falling down, Maga. I'll get you home. Grab your bottle, we don't want to leave it behind."

Vibria weaved her way from behind the table, Lucia walking with her nervously. Her free hand was ready to steady the maga if she needed it. Vibria grabbed her bottle and held it carelessly by the neck.

She managed to find the tavern's door on the first try, although she did have to alter her course a couple of times, with some guiding tugs and nudges from Lucia. It took considerably longer to get from the tavern to their home than it normally did, mainly because Vibria was weaving a rather circuitous route, and Lucia had to slip her arm around Vibria's waist and try to nudge her in the right direction from time to time.

Once the two entered the foyer of Vibria's sanctum, Lucia felt behind her to push the door closed and throw the bolt. Vibria looked around in the near pitch dark, with the only light a dim red glow leaking around the edges of the inner door from a dozen and more roaring fireplaces that kept the laboratory swelteringly hot.

"'s too dark," Vibria muttered, then spit a small ball of flame into the palm of her hand. The ball gave enough light to find the door, and Lucia carefully removed the bottle from Vibria's hand and placed it on a table next to the one she had carried.

"I'm not done drinking it yet," Vibria said as she reached for the bottle.

"I'll carry it, Maga," Lucia said as she deftly moved between Vibria and the bottles. "We just need to get inside first. Sit wherever you want, I'll get a couple of glasses."

"You're a good servant." Vibria patted Lucia on the arm, then fumbled with the doorknob. Lucia waited patiently for Vibria to open the door, then guided her into the laboratory.

The maga stopped abruptly just a few steps in and started sobbing. "Why would he make that for me if he thought I was just a tease?" She let the flame in her hand die, but the room was well lit by the plethora of fireplaces lining the walls.

Lucia looked at Vibria, then followed her gaze. The maga was looking at the mannequin that held her armour, which was topped by the enameled dragon-headed helm that Vulcanus had gifted her with a few months earlier.

"He was just trying to buy your affection," Lucia spat. She stormed over to the dummy and grabbed the helm, then went to a fireplace to toss it into the flames.

"Stop! Don't destroy it! It's too expen...eski...too pretty to destroy!"

Lucia looked at the helm "This thing? Exquisite?"

"Yeah, exquisite." Vibria said the word carefully. "Don't burn it. Put it where I don't have to see it, though. I don't want to be thinking of him every time I walk in here."

Lucia looked around, then carried the helm into the bedchamber and tucked it into the bottom of a wardrobe, piling a few blankets on top of it to hide it from sight.

When she returned to the lab, Vibria had managed to collapse into a chair and sat there with her head in her hands, crying.

"How could he do this to me?" she sobbed. "I love him so much, and when I told him how I felt, he went off and married that Fédora right away! He couldn't even..."

"Not right away," Lucia interrupted as she poured them both a glass of wine, filling her own glass substantially more than Vibria's. "He did stop and shag those four women last night, first."

"He what?" Vibria started to rise, but was stopped by Lucia's hand on hers. "Does Fédora know?"

"I'm sure she does. It was the talk of the covenant this morning. The girls seemed quite proud of themselves. Couldn't wait to tell the world that they let Vulcanus have his way with them."

"Lucky," Vibria muttered.

"Right," Lucia snapped. "Lucky to get used by a man only interested in getting his jollies, then marrying someone he knew would spread her legs for him and pop out as many babies as he wants."

"Lucia." Vibria started again to rise before falling back into the chair. "I won't have you badmouthing Anselm like that. I still..."

"Don't tell me you're about to say you still love him, after what he did! He obviously doesn't feel anything for you, or he wouldn't have run off like he did."

Vibria slumped in the chair and reached for her goblet, draining it in one fell swoop.

"I thought he did. He's the only one who treated me right in...years! Everyone else treats me like I'm a whore, or useless, or incompetent, or a thief, or..."

She raised her glass to her lips, only to frown when she realized it was empty. She held it out for more wine.

"Not everyone, Maga," Lucia said as she poured a dollop.

"You're right. You've treated me fairly since you started working for me. And thank you. I'm glad you're the one that got stuck with me.

"Stuck with you? Heavens, no, Maga. I wanted to be with you. I heard how all the other servants were talking about you, and I knew that wasn't right. So I volunteered, and I'm delighted to be here." Lucia smiled and cracked her knuckles. "And the others soon learned to keep their mouths shut about you."

Vibria's head had fallen forward with her chin resting on her chest, but she awoke with a start and looked around briefly.

"You seem tired, Maga. It's been a long day. Maybe we should get you to bed." Lucia stood and moved to Vibria's side.

"You're right. Only drunks fall asleep in their cups. And I'm not a drunk, I'm just a tipsy." Vibria started to get to her feet, and almost succeeded, only to fall back in her chair a third time. It took two more tries, and a little help from Lucia, to get her standing up.

"Just a teensy weensy tipsy with great bit titsies that no one else seems to want." She looked down at her breasts. "It's just you and me, boobies." She lifted one breast. "We still love you," she said in a falsetto as she jiggled her breast. She then did the same with her other one, squeaking "That's right! We're a team!" She then dropped her breast and giggled.

"I'm drunk, aren't I?" she asked.

"A little bit, yes," Lucia replied with a blush.

"Well, I deserve to be. Isn't that what you're supposed to be when the only man you've ever loved runs away and gets married? And I may never find someone who's going to love me now!" Vibria started bawling and flung her arms around Lucia.

The maidservant, surprised, stood their awkwardly before she hugged the maga back, not quite sure what to do.

"You'll find someone," she said in what she hoped was her most reassuring voice. "Who knows, you might find the one you love right under your nose." She stood there holding Vibria and let her cry herself out.

"I'm going to bed," Vibria finally said as she eased herself out of the embrace. She turned and looked around for a second before she stumbled through the door into the bedchamber and pitched headlong onto her bed. She was sound asleep almost before she hit the mattress.

Lucia smiled tenderly for a couple of minutes as she gazed at Vibria. She got a bucket and placed it by the bed, then carefully lifted Vibria's legs onto the bed and pulled the sheets up to tuck her in.

She then undressed for bed and sat on her mattress, a few feet away from Vibria's, and watched the maga as she always did. She eventually pulled the thin sheet over herself and drifted off to sleep, perchance to dream of a day when they might share a bed.

writersaurusrex: (pic#237780)

Elena stood in a clearing near a village about three days' walk from Plateau. Around her were three of the people she had the most respect for. Two, she knew by sight: her mater, the archmaga Fulminara; and Garus, primus of the House that Elena hoped to be joining that day.

"Have you met Baruch, the head Quaesitor of the Iberian Tribunal?" Fulminara asked her apprentice. "He is here to witness your Gauntlet."

"It's an honor to meet you, Quaesitor," Elena said with a polite curtsy. She then looked at the archmagi expectantly.

"A quarter mile up this trail," Fulminara said, "there is a cave entrance on your left hand. This cave leads to a warren. Somewhere in that warren is a salamander. Bring back its head, and you have completed your Gauntlet.

"Not that it should matter to you, but you will lose the protection of my Parma when you pass the firsrt bend. Come here."

Fulminara drew her knife and reached up to cut off a lock of her apprentice's hair, which she handed to Baruch.

"With this hair," the Quaesitor said, "I will be able to determine whether you still live. If you do, you must return to us on your own. We will wait three days. If you do not..." He looked to the others.

"We will return your body to your family for proper burial," Garus said. "But we will not rescue you. Live or die, succeed or fail, it is entirely up to you."

"I understand, Primus," Elena said. She looked up at the setting sun, half-way down the gap between two peaks.

"Your gauntlet starts now," Fulminara said. "We will see you soon."

Elena turned and started trotting down the trail without a backward glance. Her armor clanked with every step, her sword sheathed at her hip and her shield on her back. In no time at all, she came to the entrance her domina had described. Even knowing that it was there, she almost missed it in the gloaming; it was only thigh-high, and partially obscured by a bush on one side.

Elena got on her hands and knees and crawled into the entrance. She had, for some reason, expected the cave to open up as soon as she was inside, but after a minute or two of crawling, it was still no more than a tunnel, and she couldn't see anything. She risked a quick Palm of Flame, which she knew well enough to cast with neither words nor gestures, to get her bearings. She saw that the tunnel curved out of sight just a few paces ahead, with no sign of getting higher that she could tell. She let her spell lapse and knelt as best she could to cast a spontaneous spell to create a floating ball of moonlight the size of her fist that she could guide to light her path. After waiting a moment to rest from the spell-casting, she started crawling forward again, eyes and ears straining for any sign of her prey.

Not long after, she came to her first branch, where the tunnel split off ahead to the right . She thought for a moment, then decided to continue straight, marking her path by casting a Rego Terram spell to leave her handprint in the stone.

A few hundred yards later, after having to recast her moonball spell and after a couple more branches and Y-splits, she noticed that the tunnel started to get bigger. It was some time further before the tunnel was high enough for her to stand up with a slouch. She closed her eyes and strained her ears to hear any sign of the salamander, to no avail. The tunnel that wasn't illuminated by her will-o-wisp was still black as pitch, though.

As she continued on, her stomach began to grumble, and Elena regretted not bringing anything to nibble on. She had to content herself with taking a sip of water before plowing on. He passed several more branches in the tunnel, marking each one with her handprint before she thought she heard something. She stopped to listen again, and could almost hear a low crackling hiss in the distance. She loosed her sword in its scabbard and took her shield off her back, gripping it firmly on her left arm. She began to move forward as quietly as she could, keeping her will-o-wisp far enough behind her to barely illuminate her next few steps. Every scuff of her boot on the gravelly tunnel floor was magnified a hundred-fold in her own ears. As she moved forward, the noise grew louder. It felt like hours before the tunnel opened up into a small cavern. She saw a lizard-like creature, about the size of a very large dog, its scales the color of molten steel. Its angular head cocked to one side as if it were listening intently before it turned to look directly at Elena. It opened its mouth and gave a loud crackling hiss as it spread its leathery wings.

Elena shifted her grip on her sword and readied her shield to take the salamander's charge, then concentrated for a moment to move her moonball to where it would illuminate the cavern without getting in her eyes.

She took a few steps forward, watching the salamander circle away warily. She darted forward, aiming an overhead swing at the creature's neck, but missed as it darted to one side.

The creature reared up on its hind legs and spread its wings, drawing its head back. Wait a minute...salamanders don't have wings, Elena belatedly thought, as the creature's head darted forward to belch a torrent of flame that washed over her for several seconds. That's a drake!

The creature blinked in surprise as Elena stood there, unharmed and seemingly unfazed by the flames, As he reared back for another gout, Elena stepped forward with a side swing, the tip of her sword glancing off the scales of his throat.

She took a step back and circled to her right, the drake turning to follow her. The drake leaped into the air, wings lifting him out of Elena's reach as she lunged forward to stab it it. The drake cut loose with another roaring wash of flames that lasted even longer than the previous one. Elena only smiled for a moment until the straps of her shield cracked and broke, and the shield fell to the ground with a clatter.

She glanced down at the shield, then back up at the drake. She gave it a wicked grin as she reached up to rub her throat, a low rumble building deep inside her. After a couple of seconds, she belched a torrent of flame that streamed around its head.

The drake let out a screech of annoyance as it flew back, wings beating furiously. It circled her warily in the air. Elena turned to keep facing it as she shifted her sword from her right hand to her left. She carefully drew her knife and moved it in her hand so that she held the blade in what she hoped was a good throwing grip, willing the drake to come closer.

Almost as though it were responding to her wish, the drake flew at her, claws extended. Elena threw the knife. Its blade pierced its wing. The sudden pain threw it off balance, and it tumbled to the ground at her feet.

She moved her sword back to her right hand before it could regain its feet, and she brought the sword down on its neck with an awkward overhand stroke. Although the blow was true, it didn't have the power to do more than penetrate its scales. The blade came free with almost no effort, and it had very little blood on it.

The drake half-hopped away and crouched facing Elena, its mouth open in an ear-splitting screech. It launched itself at Elena, bowling her over, knocking the breath from her and sending her sword skittering across the ground. Its hind legs clawed at her belly as its jaws snapped at her face before it belched another ball of flame.

Elena pressed her forearm against its throat and pushed as she twisted out from under it. She grabbed at the knife in the drake's wing before it could get away, yanking it up as she pulled it out and ripping a long gash in its wing.

The drake screeched again before it bathed her prone body in another wash of flame, this one feeling like it lasted for several minutes. Elena could smell the leather burning, and the hot links of her chain mail lay directly against her skin, shielded only by a layer of ash.

The moment the gout ended, the drake attacked again. Elaine got her arm up to protect her face, and screamed in pain as the drake's teeth clamped tightly around it. She dropped the knife, and she could hear it hit the ground by her ear.

She shifted on the ground underneath the drake, and felt around for the knife. Her fingers closed its handle, and she drove it deep into the drake's eye, closing her eyes as blood and vitreous squirted into her face.

The creature let go of her arm and backed away quickly. Elena looked around and found her sword. She rolled to where it was, grabbed it, and scrambled to her feet. She took a couple of steps toward the drake, then looked down as she felt her armor slide down her body to the ground. She stared at the pile of iron, first surprised, then annoyed. She stepped out of the mail and continued her advance on the drake.

The drake backed away warily, tail swishing back and forth, damaged wing dragging on theh ground. Elena circled it, her advance steering it toward the cavern wall. Every few seconds, it would risk a glance over its shoulder, looking for a tunnel. Every opening the drake gave her, Elena would exploit, stabbing at the it while cutting off every avenue of escape.

Elena finally had it backed against the wall. The drake screeched angrily when its tail met the wall, and it crouched low to the ground. Elena smiled as she drew back for a killing blow. The drake up as she did so, and belched another stream of flame into her face, obscuring her vision.

She took a quick step to her left, anticipating the drake's strike, turned, and brought her sword down in what felt and sounded like a solid blow. The sword twisted in her grasp, but he kept her grip and pulled it back out.

She could see that, the blow was serious but not mortal, or even crippling. The drake writhed in pain and tried to get to its feet, screeching at the top of its lungs.

Elena grabbed her sword and raised it high, then brought down with all her strength. The drake's throes prevented a clean coup de morte, but it wasn't thrashing as it had been, and its screams were reduced to whimpers. One more blow was enough to put it out of its misery.

Elena looked down at the carcass, panting, then sat heavily against the wall. She was exhausted. "I sure hope you live alone," she said.

She looks up at the moonball and concentrated to move it over head, then closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them again, the cavern was in pitch darkness. It took her a moment to realize that the sun must have risen outside, since the spell she had cast would have snuffed out at that moment.

She took a moment to re-cast the moonball, before looking around to be sure she was still alone in the cavern. Much to her relief, she was. She took a moment to examine her wounds. The bleeding had stopped, and there didn't seem to be any sign of disease, although she would definitely have her domina...her mater, rather...look at it to be sure.

She looked down at the drake, thinking. She decided that she didn't know enough about Rego and Vim to move the vis contained in its body into one of its claws...not without getting very lucky in her casting. She then gathered the remains of her chain mail, and decided that she didn't have the power to turn it into a chain she could use to drag the drake to the surface...nor to create a chain from nothing.

After a little more thought, she came up with a solution. She cast a spontaneous spell to make the drake glow with its own fire, as brightly as a torch. She then cast another spell to allow the drake to float and move about at her will. She smiled, grabbed what used to be her armour, her sword, her knife, and her water bottle, and placed them all carefully on the drake's body.

She then started to guide the carcass back through the tunnels, keeping a watch for the handprints in the stone she had left at the turns to mark the way she had come.

It seemed like it took a lot shorter to reach the entrance than it had to find the cavern, but after a while she saw a light ahead, past the drake's glow.

She grinned, and willed the drake out into the open before scrambling out after it.

Elena took a deep breath, then looked down at her naked body. She was covered in dirt. Her feet, her knees, and her elbows were scraped and bleeding, and the holes in her arm where the drake had bitten looked worse in the sun than they had below. There was nothing she could do about any of that at the moment, though. She still had to return to her sodales to finish her gauntlet.

When she reached the clearing, she could hear that Fulminara, Garus, and Baruch were deep in conversation, but she couldn't make out what they were saying. She took a deep breath, stood up straight, and walked out into the clearing, pulling the drake's floating body behind her.

"I couldn't bring the salamander's head. I hope its whole body will suffice."

Garus and Baruch looked at the drake, ignoring Elena's nakedness as best they could. Fulminara simply nodded. "Well done, sodalis," she said. "But what happened to your armor?"

Elena gestured to the pile of chain mail on the drake's back. Her eyes then narrowed suspiciously. "You knew that was a drake down there, didn't you?"

Fulminara nodded again. "Of course. Your last...or next-to-last lesson as my apprentice: you will never get perfect intelligence.

"Now," she said as she turned to the others, "I believe my apprentice has passed her Gauntlet."

"Agreed," the others said.

"Now...how shall we call you, sodalis?" Fulminara asked.

"I wish to take the name of a dragon associated with the Pyrenees, my ancestral home. And while it not be wholly accurate, it is fitting and thematic. My name is Vibria filia Fulminara scholae Flambonis."


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Every now and again, I'm actually motivated to write more than a sentence or two at a time.  Thursday was one of those times, when I wrote a big wall-o-text for one of the online Ars Magica pbp games I'm in.  About 1400 words, done in about two hours, including getting lunch.

Cygna's Testimony

"Adorjan was a magus at Duos Flumen, where I grew up and spent my apprenticeship, first with Mikhail and then with my mater, Grus. Shortly after my Arts were Opened, I am told, Adorjan offered to teach me Magic Theory, in exchange for my assistance with his laboratory. He was what could be described as a harsh master, in that he firmly believed in mistakes should be punished. I was not the best of students, through no fault of his, and I felt the switch on my back on many occasion. I still bear those marks, not just from that first season but from later years.

"That entire spring, it felt to me that he would go out of his way to belittle me, to insult my abilities while at the same time commenting on how intelligent and gifted I was. I bit my tongue, out of respect for the magus, but he still seemed to provoke me at every turn until I could take no more and I started to yell back. That seemed to please him, and for the next couple of months, every time that I lost my temper, whether with him or with anyone else, he praised me. At the end of my lessons, he took me aside after swearing me to secrecy, told me that he could tell that I was destined to greatness, that I had gifts such as he had never seen before, and felt that by strictly adhering to the Code that I would someday swear, that I would only fetter myself. He said that he knew of a way that I would be able to garner more power than I would through Hermetic study alone. I believed what he told me, felt what he said to be true, and told him that I would do what it took to become as powerful as he knew I would be. He then took me to a hidden chamber in the woods near Duos Flumen, again swore me to secrecy, and explained that by swearing my allegiance to the Princes of Hell, at the proper time, they would aid me in my studies and my quest for power. He told me that I had earned the grace of Satan, and that I should bear his mark. He them Mutoed a length of iron into a branding iron, and graced my body with the sigil of Satan." Cygna's hand rises to her breast.

"It was a few years before he asked for my assistance in the laboratory, although I did speak with him often, after dinner or when I was given some time to myself outside of my studies. I stole away, and we...Adorjan and I...spoke of my progress, my future, what he described as "my destiny." And, when we were alone, we would steal away and speak of the other paths to knowledge and power. A few months after the Gathering of Twelve Years of 1203,I became Grus's apprentice. I was not adjusting to the arrangement as well as I should have, I'm afraid. Grus was happily married, with three beautiful children. I freely admit that I was jealous of what she had. I was fourteen, and wanted something like that for myself. That winter, we worked on the wand that cast Ball of Abysmal Flame, and we often discussed my feelings toward Grus and David, of my jealousy of their happiness, and how I longed for something like that for myself. When we had finished, and it was time for me to return to my dominae, we once more withdrew to his hidden sanctum. He explained that Leviathan had found me pleasing and acceptable, and Adorjan placed the mark of Leviathan upon my body." Cygna's hand moves to her gut, then she folds her hands in her lap again.

"A couple of years later, he invoked his right as Bonisagus to take me, and I assisted him in the invention of his Longevity Ritual. During the course of my working with him, he started to ask me questions of a...personal nature." Cygna blushes, but continues, obviously deeply embarrassed. "He learned that I was yet a virgin, but that I had feelings for...certain boys in the covenant. He...encouraged my interest in them, and even offered assistance should I wish to pursue my amorous intent." She heaves a deep sigh of regret.

"He offered to speak with them on my behalf (they were both of an age that they were no longer bothered by Adorjan's gift), and arranged a place for us to rendezvous for our illicit pursuits. I accepted his offer, and gave my body freely to them...and, over the next several years, to anybody who wanted me." Cygna looks down at the hands in her lap.

"When my time in his laboratory was done, he again took me to his hidden sanctum, told me that my actions had greatly pleased Asmodeus, and placed his sigil on my body.

"It was only a few months later that he invoked his right of Bonisagus again, this time to work on a device for the covenant's defence. He praised me at every opportunity, told me how impressed he was with the progress I had made since our first season together, and convinced me that I had more to offer Duos Flumen and the Order as a whole than anybody he knew. It was not long before I started to believe him, and my head swelled with pride and my own self-importance. Once more, he told me that I had been pleasing to one of the Princes of Hell, this time to Lucifer, and asked if I dedicated myself to his cause as I had the other Princes before him. I affirmed that I did, and was branded with the sigil of Lucifer.

"I did not assist or study under Adorjan for any length of time after that, but I did often steal away to speak with him, to discuss things and to learn what I could in what little time I was able to spend with him. In the winter of 1212, a few weeks before the Spring Equinox, he sent for me and said that it was time for me to prove myself once and for all. He did not tell me what he meant by that, but said that I must come with him. I did so, without hesitation, and he led me to a wood, about a day away from Duos Flumen, that had been one of our sources of Vis. When we draw near, he told me that we were to perform a ritual that would transform the Vis, give it an Infernal taint. I wondered what purpose that would serve, but said nothing. When we arrived...Bethany ex Mercere was there, cold, naked, shivering, shackled to a stone altar, one that had not been there before." Cygna starts to cry, but forces herself to continue her testimony, one that she is convinced will damn her as surely as she did Adorjan.

"Adorjan told me to enchant Bethany, to make her docile for her part in the ritual." She shakes her head as the tears pour down her cheeks.

"I should have realized what he intended, should have stopped him. But I didn't. I did as he asked, and he chained her, ankle and wrist, to the stone and drew a knife. That was when I realized what he intended to do, and that is when I finally realized.... I yelled at him, begged, pleaded for him to stop, to not kill Bethany. But he refused, said that she had to die for what she had done, had to die to complete the ritual. He raised the knife. I ran at him, knocked the knife from his hand. He started to yell at me, to curse me. He pushed me aside, grabbed the knife, and started to come at me.

"I panicked. I ran, pulled off my robes, took my heartbeast and flew home as soon as I could. As I started to run...I heard him chanting behind me...and then I heard thunks. Over and over and over." Cygna stops, and draws in on herself, crying uncontrollably and repeating "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, please, God, forgive me." for several minutes.

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Azure Bonds (Jeff Grubb and Kate Novak, published in 1988 by TSR)

 This book, the first in the Finder's Stone trilogy, has the potential to be a formulaic, dull "let's write up our D&D game" book. Luckily, it was very non-formulaic.

 Yes, it has a fighter-class, a wizard, a paladin, and a thief masquerading as a bard. But the fighter has no idea who she is, the wizard is quite atypical, the paladin doesn't enter into the story as such until the last few chapters, and the thief makes a very convincing bard.

 The tale follows the sell-sword Alias, who wakes up in a room in an inn with no recollection of how she got there, apparently having spent the last week sleeping off a bender, and with a set of magical tattoos on her arm that leave her baffled. As the story unfolds, the authors did a very good job in slowly revealing bits and pieces of not only Alias's past, but the connection between her and Dragonbait (a lizard-like being who bears tattoos on his chest matching the ones on Alias's arm).

 On the down side, the wizard does use material components (which are a unique feature of the D&D system), and it does distract slightly from the narrative when it's used. However, that is basically my only complaint about the story, and that's more personal preference than a slight on the story itself. And, more important, there wasn't really anything that made me go "Wait...what?"

 All in all, a good read...good enough for me to pick up the next book in the series (The Wyvern's Spur).

 I give Azure Bonds 3½ stars out of 5.


Feb. 3rd, 2012 09:58 am
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Via [personal profile] lucidscreamer :

I'm running a test to see who's reading my posts. So, if you read this, leave me a one-word comment about your day that starts with the third letter of your LJ USERNAME. Only one word please. Then repost so I can leave a word for you. Don't just post a word and not copy - that's not as much fun!

Mine is "icky."  Cold, windy, but not snowing or raining.  I'm working on my letter of resignation to turn in the beginning of next week so I can get out of there before it's too late.
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