Friday, May 27, 2011

Fiction - Master of Past

Note: This piece is set in the Dragonlance fantasy setting, which is not my own world.  I'm not sure who owns the copyrights these days, but it sure as shit isn't me.  The character Fistandantilus is quite thoroughly copyrighted, and I use him here in the hopes of not being sued.  This work is of particular value to me, as I have long wanted to write stories about Fistandantilus, just as much as I want to write stories about Palpatine.  I just felt like sitting down and writing out at least one scene.  Enjoy.

Dust and the corpses of insects drifted from the ceiling, as another shuddering thud rippled through the deep chamber of the ancient castle.  Another powerful spell had been cast, or perhaps the carcass of another dragon had thundered its way through the roof of a building.  It mattered little to the two mages, protected as they were by their spells.

The chamber was old and cluttered; the sheer amount of shelves, book cases, chests, work tables, and piles of ancient tomes made the room feel much smaller than its considerable size.  Here a work table filled with beakers and vials, standing next to a shelf filled with jars containing all manner of items that would horrify those not familiar with such things.  There a pile of ancient books, bound in black leather cracked with time, written so long ago even the preservative spells cast upon them had faded.  Near the back of the chamber stood a chest rarely opened, now pried wide to reveal its contents.

Terimon rifled through the ancient chest, quickly but carefully, his hands rapidly sorting through the nonessential contents of the chest for those few precious items he could take with him.  The young man’s bright blue eyes scanned each item briefly, and his sharp mind easily deduced whether an item could be brought along.  There would precious little space on their journey, and each item taken must be of the utmost value.  Fishing out the last of a handful of small items, Terimon stood and moved quickly along the chamber wall.

Across the chamber, Terimon’s companion did not move so quickly.  Supporting himself on his staff with one hand, Fistandantilus pulled several scrolls from a shelf with his free hand.  Ancient and withered, the old man’s body moved by will alone.  His eyes, once dark blue now faded and bloodshot, scanned each item on the shelf.  Though his mind was as quick as Terimon’s, and his encyclopedic knowledge staggering, the hands with which he gathered the important items were simply too slow.  Cursing to himself quietly, Fistandantilus tucked the scrolls away in his ebony robes and turned around.

For several long moments, he stood and watched Terimon.  Focused and determined, the young man did not notice that his master had stopped his own searching.  Another thundering vibration shook the chamber, and Fistandantilus was amused to see the young man vainly brush more dust and insects from his velvety black robes.  He was extremely vain, even now, as he had always been.  Gifted with handsome features in proportion equal to his magic, Terimon would likely be vain until the day he realized just how much time had taken from him.  Fistandantilus’ face twisted in a scowl of frustrated disgust.

To even think of a gifted mage such as Terimon losing his ability was anathema to him.  Silently he looked down at his own hand.  For long moments, it seemed, he stared at the swollen knuckles, the skin stretched thin like parchment.  Blue veins coursing their way along the back of his hand seemed to mock him.  Once his hands had been supple and dexterous; with them he had wielded the most powerful spells yet seen on the face of Krynn.  Now he could barely carry a spellbook without Terimon’s assistance.  He looked up at his apprentice again.

“That shelf contains only histories, leave them,” he commanded when he saw Terimon’s gaze.  The young man nodded silently and moved past the shelf he had been about to search, beginning to rifle through the items atop an old research table.  Fistandantilus continued to watch him.  He thought again about what time would do to the young man.  In his mind’s eye he saw his clear blue eyes faded and dull, his strong youthful body shrivel and give way.  He shuddered to think of the young man’s mind atrophying.  It was unacceptable.

Surely he would be saving him from such a fate, would he not?  He had been there when Terimon took his Test.  Fistandantilus himself had witnessed what Terimon thought was real, as his body withered and his ability faded.  The man’s pride and his vanity were seated firmly in his own superiority.  In both intellect and physicality Terimon was a marvel of the gods’ creation.  He had already been forced to witness the loss of these things in his Test.  Would it not be cruel to make him live through them in reality as well?

Fistandantilus scoffed at himself.  This was nothing more than rationalization, pure and simple.  He was not considering this course of action for any idealistic reason of saving Terimon from suffering.  This course of action was for Fistandantilus alone.  Again he looked down at his hand.  He could not carry a spellbook, and he would most certainly never survive the inevitable course that this war must take.  Gazing down at his hand, Fistandantilus’ eyes flicked to his chest, where he could feel the weight of the bloodstone pendant under his robes.  He could feel her laughter, as if it were audible in the room.

He looked up at the ceiling, the muscles of his jaw tightening in anger.  She mocked him, he could feel it.  Coward, she had called him.  She though him too weak to ever accept the gift she had given him.  This, he had come to suspect, was one reason Takhisis had given him the pendant in the first place.  She did not think he would ever have the will to use it.  In the back of Fistandantilus’ mind, he suspected that she might be correct.  He wondered if he had the strength of will to do this.  To kill was one thing, but this…

“Master?”  Terimon’s questioning voice broke Fistandantilus’ frustrated thoughts.  He looked back down at his apprentice, who stood waiting, his arms loaded with books and bags.  “Should we be leaving?”  The young man was eager to be gone, and with good reason.  Though their defenses were strong, the invading force above would likely come with mages of their own.  Working together, those mages would likely be able to strip this chamber’s protective spells and make entry.  Fistandantilus was too old to fight anymore, and Terimon too inexperienced.

“Bring everything to the ritual circle,” Fistandantilus said absently.  “Ensure the runes of the circle are intact, while I begin preparations for casting the spell.”

Terimon obeyed swiftly and silently, moving to the ritual circle so he could place the collected items in the center.  Almost without thought, Fistandantilus waved his hand and issued a mental command.  It was so swift, and so complete, that even the old mage was somehow caught by surprise.  By the time he even realized he had done anything, Terimon was already sprawled face first on the floor halfway to the ritual circle.  The items the young man had been carrying were strewn across the floor, including several shattered vials of wasted potions.

Though the spell had been pure magical force, doing no external damage, Terimon was effectively out of commission.  He gasped and groaned, struggling feebly to put his arms underneath him and stand up.  As if in a daze, his eyes only barely registering the sight he himself had caused, Fistandantilus cast a spell of holding on his apprentice.

* * * * * *

Terimon lay upon the stone cold slap in the far corner of the laboratory.  He could not move.  Fistandantilus’ magic was far too powerful, even if the young man hadn’t already been dazed by the surprise attack.  Breathing came more easily with each moment, and the thudding in his head was gradually receding, but the spell that bound him still might well have been made of the strongest steel.  Struggling to view his surroundings, he saw his master standing at the foot of the table.

“What are you doing?” he asked weakly.

Fistandantilus stared without reply for some time.  Many emotions roiled beneath the placid surface of his face, and Terimon only caught the barest hint of them because he had spent so many years learning from the man.  He saw anger in the set of his master’s jaw, frustration in the white-knuckled grip of the man’s gnarled hand on his staff, and he couldn’t tell whether the old man’s trembling was due to fear or excitement.  Yet it was his master’s eyes which began to frighten him the most.  All the emotion he could see, though barely visible, was completely gone from Fistandantilus’ old eyes.  The stare was vacant, absent, unfocused and unaware.

“Master…” Terimon said, struggling to speak loudly within the confines of the holding spell.  Slowly, Fistandantilus’ eyes focused on what he was looking at.  The old man took a deep breath as if to steady himself.

“Your curse, my apprentice, has always been your considerable superiority to those around you,” Fistandantilus began.  At Terimon’s confused look, the old man only gave the barest hint of a shrug.  “I chose you simply because you were the best.  None of the students in your classes ever mastered the speed or ease with which you learned.  In your Test they sought to teach you humility through the knowledge that you would inevitably lose your edge, yet you failed to learn that lesson.  In your arrogance you only continued to excel.

“You might be interested to know, the council tried to stop me from taking you as my apprentice.  I had only recently taken the black robes as you know, and they are as terrified of my new course in life as they are of your potential.  They fought quite hard to keep us from joining forces...” something about that statement caught in Fistandantilus’ throat, and he trailed off again.  His eyes started to go distant.

“Master please,” Terimon began, “I don’t know what this is about, but we can—”

“There is nothing to do but what must be done!” Fistandantilus snapped.  His eyes focused on the young mage’s face, and in them Terimon saw a determination that frightened him to the core of his being.

“Please,” the young man whispered.  He had no idea what was about to happen, but he didn’t have to guess very hard.  His stomach turned in fear as Fistandantilus walked slowly to the side of the table, and his entire body began to tremble as he went cold with sheer terror.  This had to be a nightmare, a test, a hallucination; it had to be anything at all besides cold, hard, terrible reality.

Fistandantilus rested a hand on the young man’s chest, and Terimon jumped within the holding spell.  His breath came in short, terrified gasps as he struggled for all he was worth to absolutely no avail.  Never had he been close to Fistandantilus, but there had always been respect, a brotherhood in the art, a kind of friendship shared between like minds.  This wasn’t possible.  It couldn’t be happening!  His eyes, wild and terrified, caught his master’s distant gaze, and the old man regained some focus.

“I tried to find another way, Terimon,” he said quietly.  Fistandantilus spoke calmly, his face unblemished by emotion now, as if he was giving his apprentice a lecture on the specific pronunciation of a new spell.   “I searched for years.  I scoured the oldest libraries, sought council with the most accomplished among our order, and even among those who refuse the laws of high sorcery.  Yet Gilean, in his wisdom, saw fit to keep from me that which I most desperately sought.”  The old man raised one of his hands between them, and they both looked at the gnarled, withered thing that had once wielded such power.

“So I went to the Queen of Darkness.  I offered her my eternal service, and she granted me at least a chance at what I want most in this universe; the one thing for which I ever began the study of magic in the first place; immortality.”  He barely whispered the last word, as if afraid that speaking it too loudly would destroy everything.  Terimon felt a cold shudder run down his spine, and felt like he was going to throw up from the sheer terror that gripped him.

“Master please, I—”

“She gave me this,” Fistandantilus did not seem to hear his apprentice’s plea.  Still speaking in the cold, detached manner he reached to his neck and drew forth a heavy chain bearing an odd pendant.  A single, oval bloodstone set in silver, twirling on the end of the chain, dangled from the grip of the arch mage.  “I have struggled with my desires ever since then.  It is a hunger that builds in me daily, fueled by my knowledge that with the use of this pendant I will achieve exactly what I want.

“But the knowledge of the cost of this desire stays my hand.  I would never have allowed myself to grow so old, were it not for the terrible cost.  You see I have no weakness of morality to stop me from killing.  What stops me is not murder, it is…obliteration.”  His gaze shifted from the slowly twirling pendant to Terimon and back again.  It seemed Fistandantilus was trying to see right into the center of the cold stone of the pendant, as if he sought answers within.

“Your potential is far too great for your own good, my apprentice.  I have no will to take on the life of anyone other than the greatest among our order, and it is only those individuals for whom I might ever develop a modicum of respect.  So it is that I must seek out those who would be most like me, and I must destroy them utterly.”  His gaze went back to Terimon’s face.

“My Test was like your own.”  Terimon’s brow furrowed in surprised confusion, and Fistandantilus almost chuckled.  “Yes, no one ever told you that.  Like you, the only thing I fear and loathe more than the idea of my own death is the withering of my body and the fading of my power.  I am the greatest mage living in the world.  Had you not met me, you might have grown to become the greatest mage in the world.”

The old man cocked his head, and a strange expression crossed his features.

“Then again, perhaps that is part of our destiny.  It is logical that the greatest wielders of magic in the world would inevitably seek each other out, even if only to seek the friendship of an equal.  Yet those of our ambition can never coexist; we are each a threat to each other.  At some point in the future I will come across another truly great mage, one who will be so like me that we must inevitably clash to determine the victor.  Just as now, I must destroy you lest you grow powerful enough to destroy me…and in destroying you I fulfill my great wish.”

His gaze focused now, and emotion returned to his features with such horrifying speed that Terimon wished he could sink into the stone of table.  He saw in his master’s eyes such fire and passion that it might burn the world.

“Now it comes to it!  Let it be done!”  With a furious cry, Fistandantilus slammed the bloodstone pendant down onto Terimon’s chest.  Almost immediately he began to chant the words of a spell, and Terimon could feel the magic course through his body.  The young man begged and pleaded, the words flowing from him with desperate speed as he tried to reason, to bargain, anything to save his own life.  Only moments later his words were lost and his thoughts were shattered as he was wracked by unimaginable pain.

Terimon’s body convulsed, his screams echoing through the laboratory.  With one final, lurching cry the man’s body went rigid, his screams ended in a gurgle, and finally he went limp.  Fistandantilus collapsed in a heap next to the table.

* * * * * *

Consciousness was slow to return to Fistandantilus.  He felt time and memory slip away, even as he grew to understand them further.  Thoughts of a distant land he had never seen, of sand and bright sun, vanished in the darkness.  Memories that were not his own slipped past in the rush of blood and life and power.  He saw each memory in its entirety, lived it, felt it, and then watched it slip away and disintegrate.  He felt the very core of Terimon’s soul erode, and fade, and vanish.

Opening his eyes, he first saw a hand; young, strong, with cinnamon skin and long supple fingers.  It was Terimon’s hand.  Fistandantilus made a fist and the hand he saw balled into a tight fist.  He felt his heart thudding in his chest, strong and healthy.  In a daze he flexed the fingers of his hand, watching as Terimon’s hand did the same.  Fistandantilus looked up, and he saw the desiccated husk that had been his apprentice; now barely recognizable as human.

He screamed.  He laughed, and screamed, and wept in a single, long expulsion of such joy and horror that he had never conceived, until there was no air in his body and he had nothing left to give.  For long moments he remained there, kneeling next to the stone slab on which rested the remains of the only person he might have called friend.  He laughed fiercely in exultant joy, even as he sobbed bitterly in revulsion.  The conflict of emotions felt like it would surely tear him apart.

From within, and above, he felt the weight of his goddess.  Takhisis reveled of his inner turmoil, even as she mocked his weakness for taking so long to use the pendant at all.  Fistandantilus paid her no heed.  She had given him what he wanted.  Now that most difficult of tasks, the first of many horrid steps, was complete.  In his mind, even as he brought his emotions slowly, very slowly under control, he saw the final step of his greatest goal.  He saw the end.  He saw his power.

Now, only time stood in his way.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Content - Timeline and Glossary

Download the timeline here, and the glossary here!

In the course of developing the Divine Lands campaign setting, I have developed a rather significant timeline.  At one point, I also began the development of a glossary of nearly everything that exists in the setting.  Recently, both because I think it would be neat and because people have been interested in running game sessions in my setting, I thought I should provide these files to you, my adoring public.  However I cannot, due to particular secrets of the setting, just flat-out give you my full timeline and glossary.  That would just spoil a lot of the surprises.  As such, I am developing versions friendly for Everyone Who Is Not Me (you poor, poor souls).

The Age of Reawakening timeline is finished, and the Pre-Destruction timeline is under works.  The Age of Reawakening glossary is not yet finished, but I'm including it here today anyway because these are intended to be living documents regardless.  So...I might as well include its unfinished version, because why not.

Feel free to check back here regularly, because these documents (particularly the glossary) will be updated now and again.

You may have noticed there is now a list of tags to the side of my blog.  These exist because I felt it would be handy for people to negotiate my blog that way.  It's not all the labels I use, but they're the ones I feel would be most frequently checked.

Right below that, you'll also find direct links to both the timeline and the glossary.  These will always reflect the most current versions of each document.  Hope you enjoy!

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Content - Beginnings: Part I

I'm published!

The book is three short stories, costs $2.00, and I get a percentage of each book sold.

Two options for you:

  • Buy it here on Kindle: Linkies for America, UK, and Deutschland!  Digital copy only, full functional and lovely on the Kindle reader or the Kindle for PC ap (follow this link, if you want the ap).
    • The advantage of buying my book on the Kindle is, obviously, that you can read it on the Kindle.  Which means you can read it anywhere, easily, just like a regular book.  It's...kinda why the Kindle was invented, really.
    • The disadvantage of buying my book on Kindle is that I can't discount the price.  You end up paying the full $2.00.  I have no say over that, sorry.

  • Buy it here on Lulu: Linkie!  Digital copy only, PDF only.
    • The advantage of buying my book on Lulu is that I can set discounts.  This discount will fluctuate, as I have periodic "sales" of a sort.  These periods of lower price will usually coincide with the release of new work, special events, or combinations.
    • The disadvantage of buying my book on Lulu is that you can't read it on a Kindle.  You get a PDF version which looks very lovely I think, but the Kindle doesn't know what to do with PDF files.  So there's that.  If you don't mind reading on a computer...yeah.

There is one very, very important thing you have to do for me, however.  Whether or not you buy a copy is up to you but please tell other people about my work.  Tell everyone you know, and have them tell everyone you know.  That's the single most important aspect, and the single greatest favor you can ever do for me.  Seriously.  Tell everyone.  I will bear your children.

Also, if you're thinking to do me a favor by buying on the Kindle specifically because it's more money and you think I'll get more...don't.  If that's your intent, I genuinely appreciate the thought, I really do.  However, Lulu's numbers work better in my favor (at least for the low price range of this book).  At present, given the discount I've set on Lulu, Kindle is indeed better for me monetarily.  However as the Lulu discount goes away, each book sold there will net me more monies than each book sold for the Kindle.

Either way, I don't care really.  Just trying to say that you should buy whichever one suits you best, and don't worry about what you think would make me more money.  You're probably wrong.

Tell everyone about my book.  Do it.

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Friday, May 06, 2011

Rambling - Drop Grace One

To leave a legend.

Many eons ago, when I lived in Texas (may my pride forgive me), I found myself awake and restless during the middle of the night.  I had work in the morning, yet I couldn't sleep, and this is not something that is new to me, nor was it then.  Outside it was rainy, the kind of thin, persistent rain that won't let up enough for you to call it mist.  Kenneth was asleep in his room, Gerald and I were sitting around doing...pretty much nothing, if memory serves.  The two of us decided to walk down to the nearest mini-mart; a little korean-owned, family-run shop the three of us frequented.  We coated up, headed out, and meandered in the general direction of the store with the same hurry as does anyone in their early-twenties getting snacks in the middle of the night.  However this particular night, there would be no snacks.

As we crossed through a cross-section, dark and silent as only back roads in small towns in the middle of the night can be, we heard a tiny mewling sound coming from nearby.  I don't remember who heard it first, or who saw it first, but both of us went to investigate.  We discovered a kitten.  It was small enough to fit in my hand, or the palm of Gerald's enormous paw.  Neither of us could discern what color the poor little thing was, not in that poor rainy moonlight, or through the mud in which the kitten was practically caked.  I cleared the things from the primary compartment of my backpack, and Gerald tucked them inside his coat.  As I held my backpack still Gerald, with the infinite care afforded your typical gentle giant such as he was, picked up the kitten and placed him in my bag.

Carrying the bagged kitten back to the house was not as easy as one might even imagine.  The kitten never stayed still, constantly trying to scramble from my backpack.  We assumed, likely rightly, that it was terrified, but we would also later discover the primary reason for the kitten's frantic, if exhausted, scrambling.  Exhausted is the only term with which I can describe anything I ever knew this little kitten to do.  His movements were sluggish, somehow frantic but visibly slow, as he dragged one paw after the other, or struggled to lift his tiny head.  Yet he never stopped.

When we returned to the house, we brought the kitten into the bathroom and washed the kitten off as best we could.  It was then, in the light of the bathroom, that this little kitten embedded itself in my heart and mind until the day I die.  The kitten's fur was a dark gray, with black stripes.  Its head sported a lump on the top right, it was so thin as to be skeletal, we eventually figured that it had at least one broken rib if not more, and its tail was deformed so as to end in nothing but tail bones.  No fur, only enough skin to hold the bones there.  That image is seared into my mind.  We had no idea what to do.

The little kitten never slept that night, and I mostly stayed with him the whole time.  I was there physically, trying to keep him warm and make him feel safe, but my exhaustion took its toll now and again.  Since then, I've come to the conclusion that the kitten literally could not sleep.  He never stopped trying to escape, not for one moment.  I believed then, and believe now, that he was trying to escape his pain as I have seen many other animals do, both before and since.  He was in pain, and in some part of his mind he thought that if he went away the pain would stay where once he had been.  Holding him in the small, confined area of the bathroom was almost as heartbreaking as his constant mewling.

I'm fairly certain Kenneth woke up at least some point during the night, and was informed of our discovery, though he went back to bed.  Gerald went to sleep at some point.  Both of them felt bad, felt like they should have stayed, but it was pointless.  Even I shouldn't have stayed, it was stupid.

In the morning, all three of us had to go to work.  We worked at the same place, which made it easy, but we had this sad burden to deal with.  None of us knew what to do, we were not nurturers and had no experience dealing with wounded animals.  The only thing we did know to do was take the kitten to an animal shelter and hope they would help.  We did, with difficulty, move the little kitten to my backpack, to the car, and into the animal shelter.  As soon as we had the kitten on the counter, the two women there descended upon the little creature and took him away before I even had a chance to say goodbye.  We were assured they would do everything they could; her tone and expression made it clear that she knew we were the culprits.

I have no idea who left that kitten there, or what he went through before Gerald and I arrived.  Never once did I check with the animal shelter about his condition.  I know what happened, and I didn't want to hear them say it.

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