Sunday, April 29, 2007

One Evening in the Rogue Encampment (Script)

A strange idea for a short comic came into my mind earlier this afternoon, but like the other comics on this blog, it requires quite a few screenshots, some photomanipulation, and a great deal of writing to present properly.

I don't just post comics at whim, of course. I turn their ideas over and over in my head first, making certain that I have the personalities of the characters well in hand and the required shots all planned out. After that I have to lay out everyone's relative positions within each frame, make room for the dialogue (or narratives, as the case may be), and figure out the best punchline/s to use. The fact that I'm not successful with comics like these all the time is a testament to how much more difficult they are than they seem at first glance.

In fact, I usually write up a short textfile before I start the actual physical work. In this way, I try to summarize my notes about the dialogue, the characters and the setting on a tangible medium; It ensures that I don't go about with the subject matter bouncing around my mind all day. Some textfiles make it to the Photoshop board and some don't, but at least I know that they're sitting there in the bowels of my hard drive, waiting for me to get off my duff and do some casual work.

This idea for a comic happens to take place in the universe of Diablo II, interestingly enough -- a setting that I haven't touched for over a year. It's just that Blizzard's characters are so nice to play around with sometimes.



Close shot of GHEED's wagon in the Rogue Encampment. GHEED is in the center of the frame, taking his usual stance; Aside from the speech balloon, everything looks as it normally does in the game.


(Yes, that's what he says: One huge speech balloon with nothing but a giant "" in the center.)


PANELS 2 to 8

GHEED starts singing what is most likely the filthiest song that can ever be imagined on this blog. It involves boozing, weeding and wenching... probably not even in that exact order. It incorporates his frustrations at being stuck in the middle of an all-woman Rogue Encampment out in the middle of a monster-infested wasteland. It even rhymes, and has an oddly catchy tune that people can figure out just by reading the speech balloons. The song should be so incredibly offensive that it actually starts being funny.

If possible, edit GHEED's stance in one or two panels so that the reader gets the impression that he's dancing, or at least swaying slightly from side to side. GHEED should at least look the part of a roaring drunk.



The last panel of GHEED's song. The camera begins panning out, so that we get hints of a couple of other characters watching the proceedings.



GHEED gets relegated to the left side of the frame, as he starts off on another stanza. KASHYA and CHARSI are revealed as the interlopers on the right side of the frame.

KASHYA: Remind me why we don't just throw him out with his wagons, again?

CHARSI: This is nothing. You should see what happens when we get Deckard Cain on the Narlant Weed.


And that's it. I figure that I can just polish it from there.

I have a couple of issues with this setup and dialogue so far: First, a good chunk of the humor is dependent on the quality of Gheed's song -- if the merchant turns out to be either unfunny or extremely offensive, then it's back to the drawing board. Second, Kashya and Charsi's ending lines aren't entirely set in stone; If I can think of something that sounds funnier, then I might use that instead. (That, and the non-Diablo players out there might not get the "Narlant Weed" reference.)

As for the technical considerations, I think I can pull off the screenshots quite easily. I'd need to double-check the name spellings, however, and I'd like to see what I can do with Gheed's sprite in order to make it look as though he's dancing and having a bad hiccup at the same time. Fortunately I don't think I have any legal considerations to worry about... everyone's usually pretty open to parody, after all.

I might even end up changing the title of the piece, depending on how the work turns out. But I suppose that I won't worry about that until I actually get everything finished. That is... if I actually get everything finished.

So... Narlant Weed, anyone? :)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Year After Year

The deadline for the Palanca Awards, that bastion of Philippine literary nationalism, is on April 30 this year. In fact, the deadline's on April 30 every year; I actually hated the Awards for the longest time because they would never release any public notices on the contest -- despite their sense of tradition with regards to the submission date.

Sadly, I'm not submitting anything for the contest this year. I've noticed that the more years I spend writing, the more I wish to turn in a work that is worthy of its readers; Considering that the Palancas are supposed to be the foremost honor for generations of literary spectators, you can expect a lot of pressure on any story that makes it into their submission boxes.

Two years ago I considered submitting a certain short story to the Palancas. "Regiment" -- the piece in question -- had originally made it into Dean Alfar's first Philippine Speculative Fiction Anthology, and on top of that, I was getting overwhelmingly positive reviews on the story. I shelved the idea in the end, however, because I felt that "Regiment" still needed a good amount of spit-and-polish before I could offer it up for consideration. These were the national literary awards, after all, and I wanted my submissions to pass some very high standards.

This year I had three items for consideration, all of which were submitted to various literary searches over the past year: The second Speculative Fiction Anthology, The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, and Psicom Publishing. Again, however, none of these stories was able to impress me after a few nights of re-reading... and thus I was left with the option to either write something completely new, or hand in nothing at all.

So now I'm going to forget about the Monday deadline and start looking towards next year. There are more than a few loose plot ideas that I'd like to explore nowadays, and quite a few calls for submission that are bound to come up. (Dean Alfar's got a third anthology coming, for example.) In addition, I'd also like to start exploring other avenues for fiction... like newspapers and magazines. I shouldn't limit myself to literary journals all the time, and besides, the additional exposure would be good.

Now if I could only find enough time after work...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Second Issue

Philippine Genre Stories has just informed me that the second issue of their digest has just arrived in the stores. That means that sometime during the next week, you'll be able to find copies at various places; I'll leave it to the publishers to disclose a complete list once all of their stocks have been delivered.

By some interesting coincidence, the author of one of their short stories has a name that is very similar to mine. An excerpt from this author's work, "The Final Interview", goes as follows on the Philippine Genre Stories blog:

Sarah jumped at the sound of the closing metal door, the folder and its contents almost spilling from her arms. She stumbled in the darkness and almost cried out, but at the last second, her sense of propriety stopped her from screaming.

She steadied herself. This was a test, she nervously concluded. A professional banking firm wouldn't have locked her in an empty room for no reason at all. Some HR representative somewhere probably had a warped sense of humor. Or maybe it was Mr. Hazhenaas who had the warped sense of humor, if he existed at all.

Slowly she regained her composure. It was most likely a test, yes. They wanted to see if she would panic. They wanted to see what she was going to do.

Sounds curious, doesn't it? I'll be gunning for this story -- and the other five short pieces of its ilk -- once I get the chance to pass by the bookstores next week.

What's more, I've been invited to post a full review of this second issue's works as well, much like what I wrote about their previous effort. Despite the presence of a nasty workload, I'm really looking forward to this one -- I mean, how often do people contact you asking for honest literary criticism? Now if I could get paid doing this, then I'd be really happy. (And maybe pigs would do corkscrews in the sky.)

Nevertheless, I fully encourage people to grab a copy of this one. Buy it, read it, then contact that slimy writer I mentioned above and ask him why he's stealing my name. I'm sure that he'll love the comments about his story, regardless of who you are or where you come from.

In the meantime, I have my work to do. At least I've got some reading material staked out for next week...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Bridging the Gap

It seems that I've somehow skipped a whole week of blogging.

No, I haven't given up the chase. It just so happened that I ran into a schedule of seven straight whole-day meetings; I'm not even done with the whole series just yet. Add that to the summer tournament schedule, the freelance projects, and the fact that I've been having a lot of dinners outside lately... and you'll see why I'm usually dog tired by the time I get back home every night.

I'm currently considering the suggestion that I simply write down my blog posts on paper or Microsoft Word, then transfer them in the fifteen minutes I have in front of the desktop computer. The problem with such an arrangement, however, lies in the fact that I'd literally be pumping out multiple articles at a single time: I feel that that would be a little inconvenient for an audience that normally expects one article every three days or so.

Another alternative would involve writing shorter posts. The problem with this one is that I usually don't know how long these things turn out. Sometimes they do turn out shorter than expected, yes, but other times they tend to use far more words than humanity has ever invented. Sometimes I don't write the posts; Sometimes the posts write me.

Whatever the case, I'm going to have to do something about this soon. I've still got at least four more months of heavy work coming. I'd rather not end up missing any more opportunities to write.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

I got to talking with a kid in the local hobbies and games store the other weekend, and -- seeing as it was pretty convenient to talk shop in the middle of the place -- our discussion inevitably turned to games and other such leisurely activities. He told me that he was currently involved with Pokémon and Magic: the Gathering; I told him that my playing days were more or less behind me now, although I did still play the odd game of Magic every now and then.

"Really?" he asked. "What color are you?"

I raised an eyebrow. This was a question that I hadn't heard before.

For the uninitiated, Magic: the Gathering is a game that involves cards that each belong to one of five different classifications, otherwise known as colors: White, Blue, Black, Red, and Green. Each color has its own characteristics, which are reflected in that color's respective cards. This, in turn, requires players to adjust their playing style in order to master the game.

Back when I was still playing Magic, I distinctly remember that a huge part of knowing the game involved gaining exposure to all of the five colors. You could bring your own playing style to the table, fair enough, but you had to adapt it in order to win anything. You got used to all five colors or you didn't play at all. There was nothing like this "what color are you" question floating around, back when I was still shuffling the cards.

I decided to humor the kid, nevertheless. "Uhh... I'm blue, I think. And maybe a bit of green... I've liked the green lately."

He gave me a wide grin in response. "I'm black," he said, and images of Michael Jackson suddenly came to mind.

And now I'm here in the middle of an Internet café, among the hordes of people playing the Warcraft: Defense of the Ancients mod, wondering when all of us suddenly got so darned familial.

Familiality (or "clannishness", if you think that the word doesn't exist) seems to be running rampant in the annals of youth nowadays. Skim the discussion forums of any budding MMORPG and you'll notice that the players have gathered themselves into self-made "clans". Pass by any of the local gaming tournaments and you'll see that the crowd tends to congregate into "leagues". Hang around a bunch of writers or artists or photographers and you'll realize soon enough that they split into distinct "groups", or "clubs", or "dens", or "societies". Familiality is everywhere.

I've even heard an amateur sociologist try to explain the phenomenon, mind you... albeit over a couple of drinks. He told me that it was related to a psychological "family" aspect -- that each and every one of us looks for a group of people to which we belong, if only because our subconscious selves cannot seem to find the same degree of acceptance within our "nominal" families.

I told him that his amateur analysis was full of holes. People don't just drift into groups outside the family, I said. It was like saying that anybody who joins an extra-curricular organization doesn't have a healthy enough family life to overcome those urges. Besides, despite the attraction of mutual interest, the presence of such "clans" doesn't automatically supersede the presence of one's family: You can play around with your mates all day, but you'll still all go home at night, if you get what I mean.

He wasn't referring to the "nuclear" family, he said. He was referring to the "nominal" family -- the people who go around wearing signs that say they're your parents, brothers, sisters, fourth cousins, stuff like that. Despite the presence of such designators, he claimed, each one of us is bound to have a "favorite" relative: Maybe you're closer to your youngest brother than anyone else in your family. Maybe you'll tell only your dad about that cute guy you have a crush on. Or maybe your grandmother just liked you best, for some reason.

And I suppose that he had a point there. Any massive number of people will still split up and congregate into smaller groups, despite the presence of any degree of mutual attraction. That's why we have writers' groups and artists' gatherings and photography clubs and political parties and all that. Moreover, that's also probably why Magic players seem to have color designations now -- there's a lot more of them flopping cards today than when I was joining tournaments.

But darn it, that still doesn't answer the question as to why we have such familial tendencies in the first place. And I refuse to entertain the notion that our memberships in any number of organizations are supposed to give us any sense of "family" whatsoever, no matter how artificial it may be.

Let's take the practice of hazing, for example. There are a number of organizations out there that promote certain dubious activities in order to "welcome" new members: College fraternities do it, military divisions do it, even school clubs do it. The more extreme hazing practices involve outright violent, disgusting or immoral acts -- to the point that some unlucky initiates actually die in the course of their "welcoming rites". Needless to say, these activities do not strike me as resembling anything remotely related to proper family affairs (unless your Tuesday evenings usually involve beating your sister's head in with a baseball bat).

I would therefore assume that, after having suffered such atrocities merely to get into the aforementioned organization, these initiates wouldn't see it as giving any familial companionship whatsoever. Any person who forces you to perform degrading acts in the name of membership shouldn't be seen as a "brother", much less a normal human being.

But what I do notice is a sometimes-unconscious act of "banding together" in the face of intimidation. Lump a bunch of people in the same group under a single name, and they won't necessarily get along with each other. Place some random individuals under similar degrees of pressure, however, and they'll start finding some mutual solutions. This is why any group of freshmen that undergoes initiation rites will find better solace among themselves than with their more senior "buddies".

I strongly suspect that this applies to MMORPGs and other games as well. We don't congregate into "clans" because we like the familial arrangement; We do that because it just happens to be us against the rest of the world in those situations. We get together with a bunch of other people because it just happens to be in our best interests to learn and survive.

Look where you will, and you'll find this logic in action. The school nerds do it. The new corporate hires do it. The contestants on Survivor do it. We get together in order to survive.

A blue Magic player isn't necessarily a blue Magic player because he just happens to like the color. A blue Magic player is a blue Magic player because that may just be the best way he can learn how to play his little portion of the game.

If only all togetherness were so instinctive. Everybody doing their own thing, after all, usually produces a lot of poor things.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Gaming Hell

It turns out that I have an interesting work schedule for the next month or so... and my office has little to do with the proceedings. Strangely enough, it has more to do with my involvement in the tournament gaming scene:

April 15, 2007
I'm helping to run a Pokémon tournament again. And it's not just any Pokémon tournament, even... we're talking about the Philippine National Championships here. (Stop laughing, all you pundits -- virtually every country has had one for the last ten years.)

I would be taking this lightly under normal circumstances, to be honest. Game tournaments are actually pretty easy to run, once you get the hang of them -- all you have to do is make sure that the players are comfortable, that they don't have to wait long for results, and that they don't reach a point where they pack up in disgust and go home. Different games will have different thresholds, though: While you can probably afford to keep a roomful of chess players waiting for half an hour, you can't do the same for a bunch of Boggle players. There's a distinction between playing for two hours and playing for three minutes, I suppose.

Pokémon, however, isn't exactly a game that involves a significant attention span: When it takes about fifteen minutes to finish a game, you know that you're going to want some fast results. Complicating matters is the fact that this is a National Championships event: You'll almost certainly have thirty-year-olds hobnobbing with ten-year-olds here. Subtle intimidation may be a factor. Raucous adult conversation may be a factor. Crying kids may be a factor. Add all that to a tournament software application that slips a cog every now and then, and you'll see why this suddenly isn't the easiest thing in the world.

You'll notice, by the way, that this takes place on precisely the same weekend as the 3rd Philippine Blogging Summit. Because I don't quite like the idea of heading to three straight events on three straight days (because it's bad for my complexion), I'm going to have to skip out on this conference. I've been there for the last two years and will definitely consider going to the next one, though.

April 21-22, 2007
This weekend marks the pre-release tournament for the next expansion set for Magic: the Gathering. The set is actually slated to release sometime in May, but the stores usually hold tournaments like these to build up hype for the new cards.

Interestingly enough, I'm not lending assistance to the event organization staff here. Instead, I'm planning to plunk down about a thousand pesos (about twenty bucks in American currency) and join the fray. This, despite my absence from the formal Magic: the Gathering tournament scene over the last seven years.

Pre-releases like these offer an odd method of play: Normally people buy a lot of the cards for their collections, then sort through them at home and build the best sixty-card deck possible to bring along to the next tournament. For this pre-release and other tournaments like it, however, you instead come to the location and receive a limited number of cards there. Out of that limited selection, you're supposed to build the best deck you can in thirty minutes, and play it against other people in the same quandary. It tests one's skills, thinking processes, and ability to make decisions -- and I just happen to be reasonably good at it.

The best part, though, lies in the fact that I'm officially not supposed to be playing anymore... which means that I usually sell those same cards after the tournament is done. With all the hype surrounding a set that won't be released for another two weeks, I usually make back a good portion of what I originally spent.

April 29, 2007
Another Pokémon event takes place today, this one set at an unknown venue at the Fort. (For the uninitiated, imagine a place with high property values set right next to the area's premier business district, with restaurants and offices and nightclubs and everything. To say that the Fort is this kind of place would be a grave understatement.)

I'm honestly not certain if such a venue would be receptive to the younger gaming audience, mind you. On the other hand, you could virtually guarantee a cool, clean place for the kids to play in. In any event, I've seen few events that allow a gaming audience from the southern end of the metropolis to join up, so I suppose that holding one of those in this area would be somewhat justified.

The only other concern I have at the moment lies in the fact that I'd be unfamiliar with the venue. I don't ask for much when it comes to these events, of course... just give me a table, a chair and an electrical outlet, and I'll be fine. The real problem would take place once people started asking me questions: Where are the bathrooms? Where's the nearest restaurant? Where's the nearest gas station? (For some reason, if you're a guy who happens to be running a tournament, the players tend to think that you know everything.)

May 5, 2007
Nothing happening today for the first time in three weeks. Nuh-uh, nothing, nada, nix.

May 12, 2007
Another pre-release tournament, this time for the Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) collectible card game. This is a remarkably complex game, to be honest... experienced gamers looking for more strategic options and a more interesting backstory usually end up in the community here.

L5R pre-releases aren't as elegant as Magic: the Gathering prereleases. Simply put, there are some games that play well with a random card pool, and there are some games that just lumber along until somebody figures out how to make them work. L5R is an example of the latter: It's an elegant game outside of the box, but it stumps around so much in a limited environment that you could call it the Frankenstein of card games.

That said, I expect to see a good number of players for this one. It won't be around the same level as the Magic: the Gathering crowd (which can command up to a thousand players per pre-release weekend), but twenty or thirty should make for a good enough audience. The publishers of L5R have been playing the hype machine for a while now, and they obviously know how to market their product. The game will be a bit of a Frankenstein this weekend, but it'll be a handsome, Brad-Pitt-lookalike Frankenstein.

May 19, 2007
In a sense, it's tournaments like this one that are at the heart of L5R events. L5R, you see, has a unique distinction among games in that every tournament goes towards the creation of an ever-changing storyline. In effect, the players read the story, the players buy the product, the players bring their decks to tournaments, the players affect the events in the story, and the whole cycle constantly repeats.

Today's tournament -- planned well in advance, I might add -- marks one such storyline tournament. The fact that it takes place just before the release of the next expansion lends this a bit of status as well: Players will want to use their pet creations one more time before they have to work in all the new cards. That, and it's not a particularly high-profile event... which means that entrance fees will be kept at a reasonable level and player attitudes will remain less cutthroat and more friendly. As you can see, a summary decrease in environment tensions is always good news to any tournament organizer. Things like these keep us on our toes, but we do like to sit down every now and then.

And despite the slew of events I've mentioned above, that's not even the half of it. I'm most likely looking at a good number of tournaments to be held in the weekends past May, especially considering that it's summer in the Philippines right now and a lot of students will be looking around for things to do. The fever pitch most likely won't die down until the first days of school in mid-June.

Given that I've been doing this sort of thing for five or six years now, sometimes I give some thought to retiring. My case for this becomes stronger and stronger with every month, considering that I've got regular office work now that looks as though it'll only increase from this point onwards. But I'll admit that it's difficult to let go of the gaming aspect of life, especially when you enjoy both the logic of the games and the logistical challenge of the event handling.

In any event, I'm a little busy to think about such things right now. I'll check back with myself in about a month or so, and I'll see what I've got then.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Running on Empty

A writer's greatest enemy comes neither in the form of ignorance, nor in the form of creative block. It comes neither in the form of arrogance, nor in the form of plagiarists watching his every move.

Having been through a weary two-year hiatus almost ten years ago, and having slogged through the last few days of my life, I now know this: A writer's greatest enemy is fatigue.

The more tired you are, the harder it is to write. You can't think when your mind is weary from the day's work. You can't deduce anything when your mental clock is telling you to sleep. You can't juggle concepts when your hands have withered at your sides.

You can try, mind you. You can grab an clean sheet of notebook paper, roll some parchment into the typewriter, open up a new instance of Microsoft Word. But if my experience is any indication of the fact, you're likely to go only a few sentences before your frontal lobe starts shutting down.

Sometimes if you're drowsy enough,

You even start

Splitting your paragraphs





...And somewhere in the back of your mind, it all seems to make sense, for some reason.

Fatigued writing is an author's drunkenness. We have no idea what we write in the evening, and then wake up in the morning with nothing but a bad headache and some lingering regrets.

Perhaps tomorrow morning I'll read this and wonder just what I was thinking.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Antaria: Proving Ground

Palanthus clutched at his sword. For a second it felt as though it was not lashed to his belt, as though he had lost it somewhere in the darkness, but a moment later his hand came upon the rough metal hilt, and he breathed a sigh of relief.

There was a laugh beside him. Regardless of the fact that they were crouched in the shadows trying to remain silent, the bearer of the laugh was a man who would gladly have roared his pleasure in the face of death. A massive gauntlet, heavy and oil-stained, clamped itself on Palanthus's shoulder.

"What, nervous now?" Angus asked, and laughed again.

Palanthus was about to give the bigger man an answer when he found the same oil-stained gauntlet clamped tightly over his mouth.

"Shhh," Angus said. "Don't think about answering that, lad. We're supposed to be quiet, remember? Lord Bloodborne would have our hides if we gave them so much as a whisper."

Palanthus shook his head. He was in no position to argue.

Angus chuckled, releasing his grip. "You're a better one than we've had lately," he said. "The academy meat don't usually last this long."

Palanthus wiped invisible traces from his mouth. "I'm sure," he whispered.

Both men glanced at the alley. It unfolded beneath them, barely touched by the light of the street lamps. A light rain had just begun to fall; Palanthus could feel the first drops spatter on the rim of his cloak.

"Do you think anyone's going to show up?" Palanthus asked, glancing at the house that they were watching.

"Sure I'm sure," Angus drawled. "I wouldn't give the good Imperator Malen two coppers for his courage, but Lord Bloodborne confirmed that there's a sect of Thanatai inside."

"And Lord Bloodborne is never wrong", Palanthus said, eyes narrowing.

"He's been playing the game longer than any of us, lad. Even scares me sometimes."

Palanthus nodded. He had to admit that it was a relatively nondescript house. It was old and run-down -- the sort of place that looked as though it was going to fall apart any second -- but it blended perfectly into the slum districts. It was the sort of place that should have become suspicious merely because it aroused absolutely no suspicion at all.

"Angus," Palanthus said.

"Yes, lad?"

"No one's showed up in the last hour."

Angus scratched at his beard. "That's how it goes sometimes. You can't catch a rabbit in every trap."

"I see."

"No you don't, lad." Angus said cheerfully. "Could be because we're watching the back entrance. Olred and Lord Bloodborne are probably seeing quite a few of them come in the front."

"I'd have expected them to come in through the back, Angus."

"Aaaah," Angus said, grinning. "The Thanatai have been at this for a while, lad. They know the same things we do. You get your crowd all coming in the back door, and tongues start wagging. You meet them at the front, though, and people'll just think you're having a few friends over."

"Doesn't that seem strange either way?"

"You're the one trying to put some thought into it, lad. Me, I'm just an old knight trying to keep his beard dry."

Palanthus nodded, pulling his cloak more tightly about his shoulders.

Some minutes later, a similarly-cloaked figure emerged from the western shadows and slowly trudged towards the house. Its clothes were drab and tattered, and both knights could see that there was more than a little hesitation in the man's pace.

Palanthus heard the figure knock a simple code on the wood of the door, amidst the falling rain. A few more knocks from the inside answered the interloper's query, which was followed by a succession of further rappings. Seconds later, the door opened and the new arrival was quickly ushered inside.

"That's number two," Angus said.

"There can't be that many of them, then," Palanthus said.

"We're just looking at the back entrance. Listen to what I say for once, lad."

"How do we know when we're supposed to make our move?"

Angus set his jaw in the grim darkness. "Lord Bloodborne gives the signal, lad. Lord Bloodborne always gives the signal."

Palanthus opened his mouth to say something, only to be interrupted by the distant sound of splintering wood. There was a roar of righteous indignation, and a scream that cut off into almost instant chaos.

"That's us," Angus said, his voice suddenly twisted and tense. "They'll be coming out the back. Move, lad, move!"

Palanthus stumbled into the open alleyway, his sword tangling in the straps of his sheath. Angus bellowed an oath that rang in his ears, and suddenly the door was open among the screams and sounds of spattering mud.

The younger knight managed to draw his sword as the first of the cultists bore down upon him. "Halt!" Palanthus shouted, but the man was too panic-stricken to hear. As he ran past, Palanthus merely stepped aside and struck the man's head with the flat of his blade, knocking him to the ground.

Then there was the sensation that he had learned to dread: The sharp rising of hairs on the back of his neck. He turned in time to see a second necromancer emerge from the doorway, one arm pointed in his direction amidst the drone of a spell being cast. Palanthus suddenly felt a searing pain start in the pit of his stomach.

And then Angus was there, ramming a single iron-shod gauntlet into the Thanatai's face. Palanthus staggered and almost dropped to his knees, hearing nothing but Angus's triumphant shout cut through the night air; Then the older man's voice faded slightly as he waded into the carnage inside the house.

"Angus!" Palanthus cried hoarsely. He remembered the weight of his sword, almost stumbled once again on an outstretched leg, and stepped carefully into the darkness of the open doorway.

It was pitch black inside the house, and a few screams told Palanthus that not all the cultists had been dispatched. Someone placed a cold hand on the young knight's arm, and Palanthus slashed wildly in surprise. His blade met something soft yet tough; there was a groan and a splash of warmth on his gauntleted hand.

Palanthus took a sharp breath and stepped back; As he did so, he slipped on a wet spot and fell backwards onto the wall. By some miracle he kept his grip on his sword, and as he came to his senses he realized that a single tall figure had suddenly risen before him.

Palanthus struggled to stand, and as he did so, he heard the tall figure growl. It was a familiar, disapproving growl, and Palanthus recognized it instantly.

He realized that everything had suddenly gone silent inside the house.

"Sir Olred?" a voice suddenly asked.

The tall figure grunted.


The room suddenly shone with the brightness of Olred's spell. Palanthus could suddenly see that it was a tiny house, about as run-down inside as it looked from the outside. Bodies covered the floor, men and women alike.

An imperious-looking man wearing the armor of a paladin stood near the front doorway, wiping his sword with a piece of cloth. "Sir Palanthus," he said.

"Yes, Lord Bloodborne?"

"Get up."

Palanthus got up, aware that the searing pain in his stomach had not yet disappeared.

"And clean yourself up, by Aran," Bloodborne said. "You look like you just rolled through a pigsty."

"My lord," Angus interrupted.


"We left two more outside. The lad took one out cold, and..."

"Then bring them here," Bloodborne said, without any trace of emotion.

"If I may take the lad..." Angus began.

"Now, Sir Angus."

"Yes, my lord," Angus said, and marched outside.

Palanthus watched as his superiors sifted through the bodies on the floor. All of the cultists had been wearing perfectly ordinary clothes; the youngest looked as though she was only fifteen years old.

He stared at the body closest to him; It had a grievous wound in its side. Palanthus glanced at his bloodied sword and wiped it carefully on a nearby tablecloth. He wondered just what all this had to do with keeping the faith.

"Sir Palanthus," Bloodborne said.

Palanthus straightened. "Yes, sir."

"Get Imperator Malen," Bloodborne said. "We have something to show him."

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Length-of-Words Quiz

1. Who posted the first-ever comment on this blog?
a. Marcelle Fabie.
b. Dominique Cimafranca.
c. Jac Ting Lim.
d. Scooby-Doo. ("Roooby-rooby-roo!")

2. What is the only non-"panda" word in the Panda Post?
a. "The".
b. "Jelly".
c. "Shoots".
d. "Murph".

3. Which MMORPG triggered complaints about drawing female characters in skimpy armor?
a. Ragnarok.
b. Khan Online.
c. Guild Wars.
d. World of Warcraft.

4. What's the name of the Bear in the Bubble?
a. Bobo.
b. Trevor.
c. Winkie.
d. Scooby-Doo. ("Roooby-rooby-roo!")

5. What's a mattahunny?
a. A fifteen-pound hen.
b. One of Winnie-the-Pooh's worst nightmares.
c. The name of an imaginary race of moon creatures.
d. "Nothin', honey, whassa matta wid' you?"

6. How many things were actually true in that list of fifty facts about Sean?
a. Twenty.
b. Thirty.
c. Forty.
d. They were all lies. All lies, I tell you! Mwahahahahahah!

7. What was the topic of the blog post here that received the most comments?
a. Franz Kafka's "Metamorphosis".
b. A treatise on the misinterpretation of religio-literary text.
c. A review of the Fully Booked short fiction entries.
d. An in-depth look at modern pornography, complete with pictures.

8. What is an example of a "safe word", according to the corresponding post?
a. "Toaster".
b. "Lobster".
c. "Monster".
d. "Roooby-rooby-roo!"

9. What was wrong with the cantata that Sean attended last Christmas?
a. It was comprised of two men with accordions and a monkey.
b. It was extremely off-key.
c. It had too much Praise music.
d. It took place at 3:00 in the morning.

10. What is the best explanation for Sean's writing a post like this one?
a. Temporary insanity.
b. Extreme boredom.
c. Nostalgia.
d. Er... too much Scooby-Doo? ("Roooby-rooby-roo!")

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Disclaimer: April 2007

Kyu didn't merely look old; He looked ancient, as though he had been born wearing his lab coat. There were the vestiges of a red checkered vest and bow-tie underneath, and I wondered if he was the sort of person who would be using a pocketwatch in this day and age.

"So," I said, shaking his hand, "you're Kyu."

"Yes, sir," he said.

"And this," I said, glancing around at the lead-lined walls, "is the research facility I paid for."

"Indeed," Kyu said. "I must compliment you on the success of your investments, sir."

"Let's get to the point, shall we? What do you have for me, Kyu?"

"I thought you'd never ask, sir," he said. "We've made quite a bit of advancement in the last year or so, ever since you decided to acquire our services."

"I'm a writer, Kyu. You'd be surprised at how many imaginary resources we could conjure up."

"Or how many enemies you have, sir?"

I gave the old man a cautious look. "I don't have enemies, Kyu. Just... fears."

"Enough to assuage them with dreams of retribution," Kyu concluded. "Surely a few paltry words wouldn't be worth such a fight?"

"You don't know what I'm up against out there, Kyu," I said. "Writing has always been a question of effort, and there are now too many people out there who are willing to bypass the blood and sweat that goes into these things. Last month I even heard about someone who copied an acquaintance's entries word-for-word, just for the ad revenue."

"That's a pity."

"I work hours for my site, Kyu. I make certain that everything I write is completely original. I even go as far as to make certain that all of my quotations and references are done right. I leave out no acknowledgements. I even leave myself open to negotiation for possible disputes."

Kyu looked thoughtful. "We have been working on a few of those incendiary capsules," he said.

"I don't need explosives, Kyu. I need deterrents."

"Larger incendiary capsules, sir?" Kyu asked, puzzled.

I shook my head. "Not quite. While I welcome anyone who wishes to use anything from my site, I require them to request permission from me first. I must reserve certain... resolutions... for people who wantonly take my works away from me without this permission, or those who deliberately mislead others by quoting my works out of context."

"Such as the license, then?"

"Yes, Kyu," I said, "the license. Creative Commons has been a welcome contractor so far. They have been willing to support my independent works. They have been willing to champion my literary rights. They have even been willing to kill for me... but only on special occasions that warrant my personal attention. That is why their logo shall remain on my sidebar."

Kyu sighed. "If you need deterrents, sir, then you shall find all that you need and more."

"Your research facility is the last option, Kyu. It is our... shall we say... final solution. I may yet seek legal advice against individuals who steal the words that I have carefully cultivated, but I must still have something to hold tight against my fists."

Kyu nodded. "We shall do our best, sir."

"Good," I said, and finally smiled. "Good. Now... you were mentioning something about larger incendiary capsules...?"