Friday, July 31, 2009

The Emperor's Court

A tale set in a history somewhat distinct from our own.

Ser Karl of Frankfurt, titled Baronet by the Holy Roman Emperor in honour of his expeditions to the east, stood in a large, lavish room, waiting. He was hardly alone; the room was filled with servants, and Ser Karl's most trusted companions, Ser Erich (liege-man) and Wu Xi (native guide and translator), stood at his side. But his attention was not upon them; instead, his gaze was fixed directly forward, upon the two ornate doors at the end of the room.

"This is it," Ser Erich whispered to him. "The big moment we've been waiting for. The end to our long journey."

"Try not to whisper while we're in there," Ser Karl replied, his tone stern. "The Emperor would not be pleased."

Ser Erich shut his mouth firmly.

After several more minutes, the doors cracked open; a servant's face appeared, though his garb was rich enough to make him appear a prince to any who lived outside the palace. He spoke something, quickly; Wu Xi translated it. "The Emperor will see you now."

Ser Karl took a deep breath; then, measuring his step carefully, he entered the audience chamber.

Formalities were exchanged; each side went through a lengthly exchange of titles, trying not to be bested in length or quality. Gifts were presented; rare luxuries, virtually unknown to the Far East, transported all the way from the seat of Sigismund himself. And then Ser Karl made his request; that, for the greater good of both great civilizations involved, there should be a trade route established between the Ming Empire and the Holy Roman Empire, passing over the Silk road through the lands of the Emerald Khan. Should this request be viewed favourably by the Emperor, and granted, it would make Ser Karl's fortune - he should be granted an entire principality, his children Dukes, for this success!

And if the Emperor frowned on it - it was not to be conceived of.

The Emperor, hidden behind a decorative screen, was silent for one full minute. Ser Karl grew ever more nervous; an emotion he sought to keep carefully away from his face, for to show weakness in an affair of state was not to be thought of. Then he gave some answer - Ser Karl glanced at Wu Xi, but the latter shook his head, the Emperor's words inaudible at the distance - and the Emperor's sister, her face hidden behind a fan, walked out from behind the screen. (The Emperor's person, Ser Karl had been informed before the audience, was too holy to be profaned by directly speaking with outsiders - his sister, however, was just mortal enough to endure the experience.)

The Emperor's sister spoke sharply. "Clear the room," Wu Xi translated for Ser Karl. "No-one except for the outsider and his translator is to remain."

Ser Erich looked to Ser Karl for guidance. "Stay here," Ser Karl told him. "You're my liege-man; wherever I go, you go. Tell her that," Ser Karl instructed Wu Xi, who promptly (with much bowing) did so.

When the room was empty of servants, the Emperor's sister walked closer to Ser Karl's party. She spoke quietly; Wu Xi translated. "The Emperor is sympathetic to your request," he relayed as she spoke. "He is willing to grant it - with a condition."

Ser Karl thought quickly. He did not wish to appear ungrateful or insolent, here, now - "We will do it," he replied. Wu Xi translated quickly.

The Emperor's sister, so far as any expression could be read behind her fan, appeared pleased. "Good," Wu Xi translated. "The trouble is thus: in the province of Annan, to the southeast, there is great rebel agitation. It has persisted despite Our efforts to quash it; we believe that there is a traitor in this court, supporting the rebels in hope of personal gain. As a neutral outsider, with no stake in affairs, you may be trusted to uncover the truth."

"How may this be done?" Ser Karl said, measuring his words carefully. "I am certain that you, in your Imperial wisdom, have some plan for how we may uncover the traitor with no knowledge of Your court; we would be greatly pleased to have this knowledge imparted to us."

"There are three suspects," Wu Xi translated. "Our Minister of Arms; Our Minister of Order; and Our Minister of Cultures. These three may be supporting the rebels. We will hold a formal affair this night to celebrate your arrival to Our court. There, you will investigate the three ministers we have named, determine which of them is guilty, and deliver them to Our Imperial justice."

"Why do you suspect the Minister of Culture?" Ser Erich asked, curiosity burning on his face. Ser Karl looked sharply at him, but didn't move to stop Wu Xi from relaying the question.

"On more than one occasion, he has allowed plays to be performed which questioned the infallibility of the Emperor's predecessors," the response came. "He made apologies immediately when confronted on his errors, but We still suspect him of disloyalty."

Ser Erich nodded, his brief bemusement now hidden.

"Why is the Minister of War not under suspicion?" Ser Karl asked. "In failures of war, should he not be the first suspect?"

"The Minister of War is most certainly innocent," the Emperor's sister replied.

"Is he beyond reproach in honor and honesty?" Ser Karl asked. "Such things are rare in matters of state."

"His honour and honesty are great, but not so much as that," the Emperor's sister said through Wu Xi, leaning forward to speak more quietly. "Rather, it is that his control over the upper echelons of the army are strong enough, such that he choose to rebel, he would be certain to succeed. Since he has not, he must consider his situation superior as a servant in a strong state than ruler in a state wracked with upheaval; and so we may be certain that he has no interest in supporting the rebels."

"Ah," Ser Karl said. "Your wisdom is clear to me now. I have no further questions."

"Very well, then," the Emperor's sister said, turning to walk back towards the hidden Emperor. "Rest a while, and take refreshments. Then, tonight, the truth will be revealed."

(The hour grows late; therefore, this will be continued in a second part.)

Thursday, July 30, 2009



Two riders traveled across the dull red sands, steering by the compass one held in his hand. They, together with their mounts, were the only living creatures to be seen.

"Why go we on this course?" one rider asked the other. "You told me little, before we departed."

"We seek a sword," the second rider replied. Some notable resemblance he bore to the first, suggesting a relationship; were they brothers, or cousins, as seemed possible, the second rider would be the younger of them.

"Why?" the older rider asked. "We have swords, buckled to our waists - fine ones, too, good enough to best any not forged of pure Damascus steel. And more importantly - you say we seek a sword, yet there are two of us. This seems a situation likely to involve conflict."

"This is a sword neither of us will wish to claim," the younger rider replied cryptically.

"Then why do we seek it?" the older rider asked.

"This is a very special sword, forged by processes not generally used," the younger rider said. "With one stroke of the blade, any man may be slain. With two strokes, any fortification may be laid to ruin, and its inhabitants destroyed. With three strokes, the world shall be split asunder."

"I repeat my question," the older rider said.

"There are dark omens about," the younger rider said. "The fields grow barren, the people grow hungry, There are stories of a Lord in Black, who comes bearing death in his hand. It is a season of metal; and we must gather to us what we can, that it should not be turned against us."

"...I see," the older rider said.

They rode in silence, after that, across the endless red sands.


The riders arrived at a tall citadel, walled with grey-stone and well-maintained. The riders called out to the guards, and at length managed to gain entry; as they stabled their mounts, an older man hurried to meet them.

"My sons!" he cried. "You have come here, to visit me! What joy is brought to my heart! Or - is there some other reason?"

The older son looked at the younger son. The younger son glanced back, and then answered. "We come here for supplies, and refreshments - and to visit you, of course. The tale is longer than that in full - but I will tell you later. First - the day was warm - "

"Of course, of course!" the father cried. Drinks were offered; introductions were made. "My cohorts - Gary, your birds are well?"

"They're not about at present," Gary answered, his quarters filled with clutter. "Swiftclaw was by earlier - but not now. Feedings are usually later in the afternoon,"

"I'd not realized there was a schedule," the father replied with surprise, while his sons looked on in bemusement. "Well - here! Albert - it's his birthday today." Alan waved. "Luc - he's much like you, I think," the father said, indicating the elder son. "Alan - all of you - my sons! My pride and joy!"

For a time the two brothers rested, taking many refreshments and examining the tomes stored in the citadel's library, watching their father with his liege-men - but time passed, and at length they needed to go.

"If there is anything more I can do -" the father asked.

Smiling, the sons waved goodbye, and rode off into the sandy red expanse.


In the centre of a great temple, ancient and ruined, the two brothers stood, their mounts not in evidence. The younger brother lay slumped on the ground; his elder stood, reading from a parchment.

"Three peaks ye shall pass; the third the tallest, and covered in snow even in the height of summer. Thou shalt turn to the east past this last, and leave ye the desert for the forested lands."

"It was so," the younger brother agreed.

"Then shall ye come upon a river; follow it, verily, until it reaches the sea, and thenceforth follow the shore until ye come upon a bay, which hath a town within it, being that of Longslope."

"The town was long gone," the younger brother said. "Only foundations remained."

"Within the town, find ye the inn being named the Head of Three Horses; speak ye with its keeper, and seek access to its cellars. Therein shalt thou find a passage to realms below; follow this, being sure to keep with you light, food, and arms, for the course shall be long and dangerous, and there will be little aid to keep ye."

"The cellar had collapsed, and the first part of the tunnel with it," the younger brother said. "We found entry into it from a nearby cave."

"Dangers and challenges shall there be many beneath the earth, but keep ye this in mind, and shall ye surely prevail: firstly, let ye keep always to the straight and true, for else ye shall be surely lost. Secondly, let ye ever expect danger where none appears, for no thing so far from the light of the sun will readily reveal its true nature. Thirdly, three guardians shall obstruct thy course: the thing with no face, the creature from another time, and the abomination that once was a man. When thou passeth the last, shall thou find thyself in a great domed chamber; this is the location of the prize thy seek."

"Here we are," the younger brother said, waving an arm at the surrounding chamber.

"Then shatter thee the five crystals within this place, being certain not to injure thineself in so doing, and firmly seize the sword from its altar-stone; then shall thy have the prize thy seek," the older brother concluded.

Beneath his foot, something glittered and crunched.

"We were too late," the younger brother said. "This is the place, this is where the sword was held - and we were too late."

"We must go back," the older brother said.

"Yes," the younger agreed. "What else may we do?"


The riders arrived at a tall citadel, walled in grey-stone and smashed to ruin as though struck by the Fist of God. Dust and smoke still rose from its halls; it had not been long since this calamity had struck.

Sharing a glance - horrified, terrified - the brother dismounted. Climbing over the rubble that had been a gatehouse, walking into the courtyard, they cried out: "Does any man yet live here? Are there survivors!"


They found him, his arm shattered by a fall, coughing as he told them what had happened. "A Lord in Black", he gasped, "Death within his hand. With his blade alone, he brought down our walls; it was a sword which no man might touch and live, though he did - "

"...the sword that we sought," the younger son said, his voice filled with immeasurable sorrow.

"Why?" the father asked, a fit of coughing following.

The younger son was silent.

"It is a season of metal," the older explained.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sandytimes (or: Algae Eaters)

"Why, Nikolas, whatever have you been doing this weekend?"

"I'm glad you asked, Mr. or Ms. Sir! I am happy to tell you the answer - for the truth is, I have been making a game!"

"Oh! Fascinating! Can you tell me more?"

"Luckily enough, I kept a careful "dev-log" throughout the process - so the answer is yes!"

The game was made for this contest - a friendly sort of 'game jam' in which participants are to make a sandbox game (like SimCity or The Sims) within 48 hours time. My first idea was to make a game inspired by the Grow series involving plant growth. But I couldn't think of anything cool about it! So somehow I ended up making a sandbox tower defence game instead.

I initially named it "Monstroyka", after the half-remembered name from this game. (I just thought it sounded cool, really.) But as I was typing the code that added a title to the game window, my father walked by and noted that "like the plecostomus, you are on Team Algae Eater."

So, the game has two names, both fairly unrelated to the game content. I consider this reasonable.

My first concept for the game, verbatim from the design doc (sans hyperlink), was:

Ideas - spawn monsters, dudes. Dudes build towers, man them, shoot monsters. Monsters try to eat dudes, get to center, gnaw on delicious vegetation. (Om nom nom nom!) Killing monsters gives dudes resources to use to build better stuff. ("Spiked Walls", heh). Can eventually build citadels, palaces, unlock better monsters; also, bridges to other areas?
Nearly everything from that paragraph ended up in the game, so as concepts go, it worked pretty well for me.

Within two hours of programming, I was "through the first sentence" (of the concept), and fairly pleased with myself. (This was when I took the screenshot above, showing combat between 'froods' (the blues) and 'mooks' (the reds), as well as their vicious battle-shouts.) After getting distracted for several hours, I resumed work, adding towers (a useful feature for a tower-defence) and the basic resource, wood.

A note on the sound effects - much as with the fairly spartan graphics of the game, I was reluctant to spend much time creating 'assets'. Also, including sound would have added additional 'dependencies' for the game - I would have had to import non-standard Python libraries, which would have inflated the size of the executable and made the source more difficult for other people to run... well. In any case. I had the idea of making sound effects as little floating 'shouts', as can be seen in the screenshot. This worked well, in that I had 'sound' without taking the time to make sound effects; but it had its weaknesses, mainly that many sound effects in a small area tended to become impossible to read. (This was especially bad when creatures were being spawned or in melee combat.) At the very end of the project, I introduced several limiters on the 'shouts', which mostly fixed the problem. We'll see if it crops up again.

Unfortunately, due to Microsoft Paint's wonderful defaults, I managed to end up saving most of my development screenshots in png format with jpg compression. I.e., they look horrible. (As can be seen above.) I didn't end up saving any of my earlier code, so I can't retake the shots... it's a pity. Still, the world will not end.

After putting in towers, I had to make enemies actually collide with them - that is, make the towers solid objects, so that you could create a 'maze' for the enemy to thread. (This is a traditional Tower Defence pastime, like baseball.) The problem with this is that having enemies find the 'correct' paths is a difficult and complex problem - tending to be hard both on the CPU and the programmer. (Not to complain overly.) I'd tried implementing the 'correct solution' to pathfinding - an algorithm called A* before, with poor results. This time, though, it worked rather well - after settling some 'teething bugs', my mooks were threading my tower-mazes in no time. At least one fairly subtle bug managed to make it through there and into the 'release' version - I still haven't fixed it, despite over two hours dedicated exclusively to hunting it down. But for an essentially-first effort, it works well.

This is rambling. Let's tighten my prose up. To the extreme.

Had some ideas for buildings and resources! Mostly followed that blueprint afterwards! Most of the stuff still not implemented! (Was probably too ambitious, which I realized at the time!)

Added a new type of enemy, a mook that was bigger than the first! Called it the 'Big Mook!' Added an area reserved for the enemy-spawning crystals, for aesthetic/gameplay reasons! Screenshot!

(That one didn't get jpeg compressed, thankfully. See if you can spot the tiny arrows flying around on the bottom! The towers don't compensate for the movement of their target - they aim at where he is, not where he'll be when the arrows get there - so they're pretty awful shots.)

A moment of brilliant inspiration! I'd created smoke-effects for a previous game! Re-use them here (which I was already doing for tower-collapses) and add them to melee combat! Cartoon-style brawling, one big ball of smoke! Wonderbar! Done!

(Bit hard to take a screenshot of something so quick-moving! So didn't! Sorry!)

Added 'barracks' to train 'froods' (the blue guys, the good guys, probably) into 'footfroods'! (Like Footmen. Bigger, stronger, armed!)

(Jpeg compression! Hooray!)

(The barracks is in the top-centre. See all the training dummies? Froods will beat those up for a while to train, while the instructor paces behind them. It's all so real, man!)

Also at this point I had arrived at Day Two! This was the second day in which I worked on the game!

Several hours spent debugging the last night's typo-strewn code! I do not work well while tired!

Excerpt from bugs:

"When froods get transformed into footfroods, they roar a constant stream of triumphant exclamations and accelerate off the screen, trailing smoke as they go. (Like motorbikes!)"

(Wasn't too hard to fix, but I was a little bit sad to. Motorbikes are wonderful. Perhaps I should add some?)

(I totally should.)

Actually this is when I added the Crystal Chamber! (The partial-octagon on the left side of the screen.) Whoops! Not quite sure how that makes sense with the third-screenshot not having a barracks! It is all very odd!

Moving on!

Added 'mooks' (enemies) that fly! Named them 'Flying Mooks!' Considered making them flap but was too intimidated by the complex maths I thought were probably going to be required! (To make them be able to flap properly while moving in various directions!) So they just kinda floated forward!

Added a demolish button! Woo! (Surprisingly useful!)

Apparently this is when that third screenshot was taken! The one which I was confused about! How odd!

Added ballistae! They shot gigantic bolts that passed through enemies! Ideally they would damage enemies while they did so! I think I fixed them not doing so but I'm not sure I did so thoroughly! It's all very odd!

At some point around here I added a 'cheat' button for debugging!

Noticed lag for the first time! Fiddled with things to try to reduce it! So-so results!

Added 'mooks' even bigger than the Big Mooks! Called them 'Bigger Mooks!' Eventually renamed them to 'Giant Mooks!' They're a bit lame! Might try to turn them into something cooler later! Or just remove them! Ah well!

Added stone resource to the game!

Had the infinite Mr. Kessler play through the game! (The peculiar Mr. Ethan had played through an earlier version the night before, calling it - not unfairly - 'very weird'!) Mr. Kessler enjoyed it! This was a good thing! (Also he understood it without me having to give him instructions, which I considered a Good Sign!)

Started adding statues to the game! (Inspired by Rocket Slime!) The idea was that they track kills (one statue for each type of enemy), and when elevated to a 'gold' status, upgraded their type of enemy to a dramatically more powerful 'gold' form. They confused Kelsey when he did a second playtest - because I hadn't had the time to put in all the 'hinting' and player feedback that I'd done for other, earlier elements of the game - so it was clear improvement would be needed. I continued in the morning.

After getting up at 6 AM on the third day, I raced to be in time to finish in 48 hours, fixing bugs and problems discovered in the last night's playtest. Stopping at 8:43 AM - I'd started at 8:44, two days before, I packed the source into an executable, uploaded it to a hosting site, started playing the game, taking screenshots... (For I needed screenshots, of course.)

Within five minutes, I encountered a crash bug.

So, I didn't exactly make the deadline. But it's here anyway - an actual game, by me, done! - and that, that, is cooltimes.


On Retirement

Will your retirement plan provide for you?

That's what they asked me, those flim-flam men with their banks and their money; and this, this is what I told them.

"My retirement plan will most certainly provide for me; this is a thing which I hold to be a matter indubitable, indisputable, and immutable, for even at this moment, my agents are commissioning the construction of a great golden zeppelin, the Immortal, to be powered by eight great propeller-engines, to be armed with cannon and rifle and, crewed by myself alone, to travel across the globe, stopping only for provisioning and supplies, as it become necessary, until such a time as I should pass into the Himalayas and therein see the three great mountains that, as noted in the diary of the lost explorer Sir Edward of Brettonia, mark the gateway to the Deep Kingdoms of Lesser Garlandis; that land I shall enter, and subjugate its more peaceful tribes by the prophecy that fortells my coming (in my flying ship of gold, armed with the strength of thunder), and subjugate its more warlike tribes with the weapons which I shall bring with me - for while the savage may always boast the advantage of numbers, civilized man has the advantages brought by the advances of Science, namely, gunpowder, flight, and machinery - for, as they say, we have got the Maxim gun and they do not! - and thereby, having gained complete and uncontested rule over Garlandis, I shall rule as God-King for the rest of my days, bringing an age of prosperity to the land, prosperity of which I shall sup amply, until I am murdered in my sleep by my own most trusted retainer and Garlandis falls into a Dark Age of chaos, ended only when my great-grandaughter raises my spirit and, with its wisdom and her raw courage and personal strength, establishes a new Republic to rule Garlandis justly and wisely, with her as its first President-For-Life...

So you can see that, in fact, I do not need to invest more in my IRA.

Yes, thank you for asking.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Genkoku of the Thousand Arms

A figure leans against a tall starship, both it and he wearing a suit of silvery metal. In his left hand he held a small weapon, crafted of the same material; on his back rested five others, each unique and covered in fine-written inscriptions. Every part of the figure's stance bespoke relaxation and contentment; and all around him, so far as one could see, stretched a desolate plain covered in twitching, crawling arms.

Occasionally they crawled too close to him. Then the figure shot them, and they twitched and died. This did not seem to disturb his relaxation.

At length, a larger figure appeared. From a distance it might, if one squinted, appear to be a face; but each component, from ears to eyes to mouth, was carried by a separate arm, twitching slightly as they moved on a carpet of lesser limbs.

The figure stood fully upright. "I've been waiting for you."

When the face came close enough - though outside the radius of burnt, twitching arms that surrounded the starship - it spoke. "what are you?," it hissed, its voice thin and inhuman.

"I'm glad you asked," the figure said smoothly. "Formally, they call me Siddharta, and I think it's best we stick with that. I'm an explorer, and I've come to talk to you."

The face hissed.

"So - what do they call you?" Siddharta asked.

The face spoke: "i am everything," it said. "i am the planet, i am genkoku. i am the arms/limbs/bodies [the words lying one atop another], i am this face, i am the mind, i am all. i am the universe/eternity/the void."

"That's a little hard to pronounce," Siddharta observed. "Your neighbors call you the Thousand Arms, and while I think that's a bit of an underestimate, it'll do for now. So - "

Hearing a scrape on the ground behind him, Siddharta whirled; a conglomerate of arms stood there, crawling swiftly toward him. Siddharta's thumb flipped a switch on the side of his weapon; when it fired, it emitted a fan of fire, sweeping over the arms and consuming them. When it vanished, only dust remained.

Siddharta turned back to the head. "Actually, one quick request," he said. "Could you stop attacking me while we talk? It's getting a bit bothersome."

"i promise," the Thousand Arms replied. " i do not attack you. i have never attacked you."

Siddharta looked around. "...What about that, just now?" he asked. "Those arms behind me?"

"i see nothing," the Thousand Arms observed.

"Or the ring of twitching, fried limbs all around the ship?" Siddharta queried, seeming surprised.

"they are dead," the Thousand Arms said. "they attack nothing."

"I think we're having difficulty communicating," Siddharta decided. "So I'll clear things up for both of us. You might want to move a bit back."

The Thousand Arms stood motionless.

Siddharta gave a rippling shrug. "Whatever," he said. "Ship - do you hear me?"

"Acknowledge," the ship replied, its voice deep and melodious. "What is your desire?"

"Perimeter burn," Siddharta ordered. "Twenty by five, and make it snappy."

Instantly, a beam of coherent light issued from the top of the ship. It struck all about the ship, melting the rock to glowing red slag; wherever it passed, the sudden heat shattered stone and sent it flying upwards and away, annihilating arms wherever they touched. Some shattered on impact, sending thousands of superheated stone needles into the Thousand Arms; others skipped across the ground, cutting a swathe through the assembled ranks. Where the stone had been was now a deep cut in the earth, forming a circle around the ship twenty meters in radius and five meters deep. It glowed cherry-red, cooling only slowly in the thin atmosphere of Genkoku.

"Ship, burn anything that passes that ring," Siddharta said. "Now, where's the face gone?"

It appeared that the face of the Thousand Arms had suffered a glancing blow from a piece of debris, destroying both eyes, one ear, and most of the mouth.

"Oops," Siddharta said, and leaned back against his ship.

Some time later, another face appeared from the distance, walking into speaking range. It spoke: "why are you here?"

"In exploring this system," Siddharta began, "I came to understand that your neighbors have a bit of a problem with you. You sent 'necro-capsules' to their world, unleashing a plague of hideous monsters to devour their world and leave it as lifeless as your own; they would prefer not to be devoured, nor to have their world destroyed. When I showed up, some of your monsters tried to kill me; I naturally defended myself, and as a result, attained something of a reputation as a savior; quite undeserved, I assure you, but nonetheless. It seemed rather unfair to condemn you without having spoken to you; so I came here, to hear the other side of the story."

"if you do not like what you hear, you will burn me," the Thousand Arms hissed.

"No," Siddharta said solemnly. "Whatever happens, I will not burn you. I promise you that."

"i sent myself to their world to feed," the Thousand Arms said. "i have to. i have to feed. i will starve, here. i cannot die."

"Quite understandable," Siddharta said. "You went to their world to survive... understandable."

"you will help me?" the Thousand Arms asked.

"Yes," Siddharta said. "But not to continue as you have been."

"I have three plans in mind," Siddharta said, "The first is the simplest. I leave you be, and I leave your neighbors be, and I leave here. They will come here - they think I'm some sort of angel, delivering them a mandate from Heaven, did you know that? Though I suppose it didn't help that I told them I was from the heavens."

"Already, there are a number of parties, organizing to fight against you. For the most part, they're winning - though I believe you did manage to kill some of them, turn them to your own side. Most impressive. But I digress - they will defeat the obstacles you set in their way. They will unite; they will take apart your 'necro-pods', discover the principles by which they travel through the void, and construct ships of their own. They will come here, to Genkoku, and they will destroy you utterly."

"There will be blood, for you and for them. So I do not recommend this option."

The Thousand Arms lay silent, listening.

"The second plan is of isolation. I am skilled with devices. If you agree, I can build a shield in the void, isolating Genkoku among the stars, destroying anything that seeks to enter - or to leave. (I would of course warn your neighbors, to prevent unecessary unpleasantness.) Such a thing could not last forever - devices fail, and either you or your neighbors would find some way of passing or defeating them, in sufficient time. But it would not be less than a hundred years, I think, or probably even two-hundred; and that long a time of peace, I think, is worth something."

"we will starve," the Thousand Arms hissed. "we will die."

"You will learn," Siddharta said. "You will learn some way to feed yourself, for desperation will compel it. Other species have learned to farm, to harness the power of the sun. You can do the same. Certainly, some part of your mass may die - but you are one, are you not? You will live."

"would you cut off your own arms, so willingly?" the Thousand Arms asked.

"If it was the only way to save my life?" Siddharta asked. "Yes. In an instant."

"But the third plan is the most generous. I would speak to your neighbors, and convey a small, willing few here - to help you. They would build farms, teach you how to do the same - allow you to live without ravaging other worlds. Allow you to live in peace. This would take trust - but it would allow you to live, together with your neighbors. And I do want that - for you are strange, and unique, and sentient, and I do not think you deserve to die."

"and if i eat them and eat their world, after you leave?" the Thousand Arms asked.

"Then the sentries I would put in place around this world would burn you, and burn the world, and turn its surface to ash, to punish you for your sins," Siddharta said, his voice as granite.

"would you put the same guards about the others' world?" the Thousand Arms asked.

"I have somewhat more trust in them then I do in you," Siddharta said. "They have earned it. You have not -"

A crackle came from the air. A pile of tangled arms fell from the sky directly before Siddharta, wreathed in fire, wings burning to ash. The ship's laser consumed it; when it faded, only ash remained, scattering into the distance.

"And that is not helping!" Siddharta said, momentarily losing his composure. "What are you thinking? You promised not to attack me!"

"what am I thinking?" the Thousand Arms hissed. "i think this: i have never attacked you. i will never attack you, until you are dead and eaten and part of everything, when my gargantua has finished itself. then i will eat the others, and all of creation, until iself is allself forever."

" - Gargantua?" Siddharta said - then, suddenly, he peered into the distance. He stared for a moment; then drew back. "You idiot," he said, his voice full of anger. "You'll throw the best you have, your greatest weapon, against me - while I try to help you? This - multi-storey colllossus of yours, this super-construct - this is the only thing you have that has a chance of stopping your neighbors, should I decide not to help you. And you will - "

Siddharta stopped himself. He put a hand on each of his guns, considering; then he let his arms rest at his sides. "No," he said. "They're magnificent weapons for their purpose, but they won't serve here. I'll be back," he said sharply, addressing this last to the Thousand Arms. "For one last talk."

Then wings unfurled from Siddharta's suit arms - holographic and glorious, shining in silver and veined in gold, three times his own height. With one great flap, he was propelled into the air; with another, he landed atop his ship, and vanished inside. With a belch of thundrous flame, the ship cast itself into the air; then, turning, moved towards the distant monstrosity.

Time passed.

The silver-shining ship, now covered with chunks of gore and streaked with alien blood, returned to hover above the circle it had carved into the earth. It did not land, nor did Siddharta emerge; instead, he spoke to the still waiting face of the Thousand Arms, his voice magnified fivefold by the ship's speakers.

"I think I understand you, now," Siddharta said. "You don't understand the consequences of your actions - or death - or the idea of 'other people'. Or any of them, maybe. You're strange and alien and fascinating, and I wish I could help you - because unless I've completely misjudged you, unless you're a liar with skill beyond compare: you're not evil. You're not immoral. You're just - amoral. Judged and judging by different standards. And that's not something worth condemning."

"But I think, maybe, you're something that just can't coexist - that can't live with any other being. And that's a tragedy."

"I'll leave you now. I'll go back to your neighbors, tell them what I learned here, maybe help them a little more, on their world. And then I'll leave - and I'll hope that they win, when they arrive here, when they fight you."

"But I'll be sad that it had to happen at all."

With those words, and with a terrible blaze of light and fire and sound, Siddharta's ship rose, accelerating towards the heavens. It dwindled into the distance; and then, eventually, vanished entirely.

On the ground below, the Thousand Arms was building another Gargantua.


Had a lot of powerful inspirations for this one, so - credit where credit is due. (Couldn't find a good image for that last, sorry.) I really liked this post - writing it, at least. More than most. Hopefully I'm not the only one.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On Cosmology

A philosophical dialogue, discussing the nature of the cosmos. In the mold of Galileo.

Simplicio: So what if the stars one day was gone,
and what if the wind died to ask away.

Salviati: That sounds kinda neat.

Simplicio: not realty

Salviati: Why is it not neat?

Simplicio: becues
it would be
all the time

Salviati: But if the stars were gone, it'd get rather cold, wouldn't it?

Simplicio: no

Salviati: Well, no heat.
(The Sun is a star.)
So the Earth would begin to cool.
Radiating its finite supply of heat into uncaring space.

Simplicio: what
since when

Salviati: Since Copernicus?
Well, no. [This was an error. Kepler would have been a better choice.]

Simplicio: i dont believe

Salviati: Quick!
In which year did the Papacy admit that the Earth was not stationary?

Simplicio: what

Salviati: 1992!

Simplicio: it isnt

Salviati: Not really, no.

Simplicio: since when

Salviati: Since its formation?
(From the protoplanetary disc.)

Simplicio: ...
where is it going

Salviati: In an ellipse!

Simplicio: how do you know

Salviati: The variations in speed and direction of the apparent motion of the Moon, Sun, and planets!

Simplicio: what if they are moving
around the earth
did you ever thing of that

Salviati: Yep!

Simplicio: ?

Salviati: See, if they are, then things get really messy.
You have to add all kinds of arbitrary fiddliness to the orbital mechanics to accomodate them.

Simplicio: ok
do that

Salviati: Why, when the maths are so much cleaner for a heliocentric system?
It just makes more sense!

Simplicio: that just
you know
maht man
you know
cant prove

do you think
the earth
is round

Salviati: Hmmmmmmmm
Well, yes.

Simplicio: what
that doesnt
any sense

Salviati: Sure it does.
How else do you explain time zones?

Simplicio: like
one part
is closer
to the sonne
the other

Salviati: How would that cause one part to be dark, while the other remains light?

Simplicio: man
if you stond
in a dark
and then
you turn on
the light
the part
that was far
is still dark

Salviati: ..."The part that was far"?

Simplicio: from
the light

Salviati: Not really.
Not unless you're standing in the way.

Simplicio: its more dark
the close

Salviati: True; but the light is still clearly visible.
This is not so, at night.

Simplicio: it is

Salviati: You can see the sun at night?

Simplicio: the moon

Salviati: So your argument is that the moon and the sun are one and the same?

Simplicio: ya

Salviati: Then how do you explain those occasions on which you can see both at once?

Simplicio: its just
you know

Salviati: No, I don't.
Do explain.

Simplicio: ilke
if you lond you finger
to your nose
its like
you can see
a hot dog

Salviati: No you can't.
What are you talking about?
Are you hallucinating?
Have you had too much of the hashish?

Simplicio: ..

Salviati: Probably exploting the blind spot of the eye, I guess?
I can't really do it.

Simplicio: well
that is how
that works
if the world
is round
how can you live
on the bottom
you fall off
you know

Salviati: Look to the ancients, my friend.
Aristotle wrote that each object seeks its own proper place.
Rocks seek the ground; balloons seek the sky.
Thus, a person on the "bottom" of the earth would seek the ground just as we do on the "top", and percieve matters in the exact reverse way.
Does that settle your concern?

Simplicio: but then
if they camt
to the top
then they fall off

Salviati: Not so.
A person is not bound to where they are born; just as if you take a rock up from the ground, and carry it a hundred miles, it will not seek to roll back to its origin!
The ground is the ground wherever it should be, on the 'top' of the earth, the 'bottom', or anywhere in-between.
We seek but the nearest point.

Simplicio: man
you are crazy

Salviati: Pah!
Ad hominem!
And unsubstantiated, at that.
If I am crazy, what proof do you have for it?
We deal in logic here, my friend, not mud-slinging!

Simplicio: are you saying
there is like
some force
that draws
to the earth

Salviati: That could be the mechanism.
I offer no opinon on the matter.

Simplicio: then
why the sun
doesnt crash

Salviati: Well, we know that this hypothetical "force" obviously doesn't operate on all objects.
Recall, balloons seek the sky, not the earth.
Perhaps the Sun seeks its own position, instead.

Simplicio: but
if you put the air
out of it
it goes down

Salviati: True.
(Also, it'd have to have helium or hydrogen or such inside - a balloon filled simply with air, unless heated, will just be quite light... but I digress.)
I'm not sure what your argument is.
That if you take part of a balloon out, it ceases to be a balloon?

Simplicio: no
its still
a balon
it doesnt go up

Salviati: A problem with terminology, I suppose.
Call it a "filled balloon".

Simplicio: en
when you go to
the moone
you are not

Salviati: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh.
A wise question!
Perhaps the attraction we feel towards the earth diminishes with distance; just as a wealthy merchant's loyalty to his wife varies as he travels.

Simplicio: .........

Salviati: Or perhaps we might feel such an attraction to any great body; the Earth, the Moon, even the Sun, could we somehow travel there.
Or both!

[A pause, as the participants in the dialogue break for croissants. On their return:]

Simplicio: how can the earth go around the sun
then it would have to move
and it have
no legs
or wings
you would feel
the wind
going fast
around it

Salviati: Give me a moment.
Firstly: Many things move without legs or wings.
Consider a hurled stone.
Has it legs? Has it wings?
Not unless you're abusing a piece of statuary.
(In which case you are to be chastised.)

Simplicio: but

Salviati: Nonetheless: it moves!

Simplicio: there is nothing
to hurl
the earth

Salviati: Let us consider a model, for a moment.
It will start seemingly unrelated; but hear me out!
It will come around to the matter in good time.
Let us consider a young solar system.
The Sun already burns; but no planets are in evidence.

Simplicio: that

Salviati: Instead, there is a wide, thin disk of matter, occasionally appearing to clump.

Simplicio: becuse

Salviati: Waiting.

Simplicio: becuse
created the earth
there was light

Salviati: Incorrect!
First God said, "Let there be light".

Simplicio: no

Salviati: Then he created the heavens and the earth.

Simplicio: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
¶ And God said, Let there be light: 2 Cor. 4.6 and there was light.

Salviati: Da[ng], I'm rusty on my scripture.
All right, two possible arguments here.
The first: Scripture does not accurately represent events.
I will keep this in reserve.
(Heh, amused at your copy-paste's linking.)

Simplicio: ?

Salviati: All right.
Note that God created the heavens and the earth - in that order!
That implies that the Sun, which is in the heavens, was created before the Earth.
So why was there no light?
The Earth was shrouded in dust and ash from the processes that formed it.
When they were done - voila - there was light!

Simplicio: huh

Salviati: May I continue with my model?

Simplicio: ok

Salviati: So, the Sun is surrounded by a thin disk of matter.
Ah - for this model, we must assume that matter attracts matter, like to like, in proportion to its mass and inverse proportion to the distance between the masses.
My apologies for the added proviso.
With this, though, we may see that clumps of matter will grow and grow; small lumps attracting others nearby and turning into larger lumps, and then larger lumps.
Eventually, nearly all of the original debris will be sucked into one lump or another.
Most of the lumps will have little momentum to begin with; they will be inevitably attracted to the Sun, and vanish therein.

Simplicio: but
why doesnt small things
clump together

Salviati: Because they are far too small for the effect to be noticed!
Let us say that I decide to push the side of a five-deck galleon with my finger.
There is a force exerted - but can you notice it?
Not so!
It would be the same here.
Oh, alternately - I'm going to continue with the model in a moment, but I just thought of a much better explanation for why the Earth doesn't fall into the Sun.
Who says the Sun is made of matter?

Simplicio: becuse

Salviati: Wait, no, that wasn't your original question.
Ah well.

Simplicio: it is hot

Salviati: Moving on.
On the subject of our increasingly-large lumps:
But a few of them will have some siginificant momentum perpendicular to the line connecting them and the sun; then when the Sun attracts them, their path describes a circle.
(For all that is needed to create a circular path is a force pointing to the centre of the circle, with magntitude equal to the current momentum of the object travelling the path.)
(Not sure about that, actually.)
(Let me think for a second.)

Simplicio: ...

Salviati: (...yeah, basically.)
So only a few of the lumps would 'survive', but those few would all spin around the Sun.
This accurately describes what we see.
So the model, barring further objections, appears valid.
(This is the anthropic principle, basically.)
Are you satisfied with this answer?

He was.



Soldiers moved in troops on the streets far below, rifles held over their shoulders. Some wore shining emerald uniforms; others were less cohesive in dress. The two sorts tended to stay a safe distance away from each-other.

"Looks like negotiations have broken down," I noted, pointing to the city square, where the commanders were withdrawing from the large tent placed there.

"Like they ever really had a chance," my brother opined. "I thought all this was settled back when the Duke spat in the King's eye at Gilahad."

"Oh, come on, the newspapers made that up," I replied exasperatedly. "No-one spat in anyone's eye."

"Royalist," my brother snorted. "But - still. There've been a bunch of battles since then. Why are they meeting now?"

"Honor, I guess," I said. "Gotta make sure everything is done with honor."

We were quiet for a little while, watching the soldiers march.

"Guess they're going to have the battle in the central square," my brother said, observing the situation.

I nodded.

After the battle-lines had formed, the commanders began calling out. "Three!" we heard, faint with distance. "Two!"

"They're counting down before they fire?" my brother asked, startled. "Like this was a game!"

"Seems pretty dumb, yeah," I agreed.

A wave of crackling came from below. Screams followed shortly thereafter.

"What I would do - " I began "- if I were there, in the front rank - would be to fire, right after the big guy says "one", and then drop."

"Drop your weapon?" my brother asked.

"Drop to the ground," I clarified. "Then they'd all be shooting over my head, and I'd be out of the shooting, unless I got pretty unlucky."

"Doesn't seem too honorable," my brother said. "Don't think the big guy would look kindly on it."

I thought about this. "If I gave out a big scream when I dropped, though," I said, "It'd seem like one of their guys shot me, to anyone who wasn't looking too closely. Then everyone could blame the other side and it wouldn't really be my fault."

"Guess that'd work," my brother said.

A particularly piercing scream cut through the air - then, slowly subsided.

"I'm glad they didn't take you," my brother said slowly. "For the army."

"Me too," I said. "Me too."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mucuous Man!

The Queen Lamenting slammed the door open, her stance firm, her eyes burning.

"At last, I have found you, Mucuous Man!" she cried. "I have found your many secret clues, I have hounded you to the deepest depths of your secret lair, and now I confront you - to - "

She began to breathe shallowly.

"Oh, god, oh, god," she said, her breath ragged. "I think I am going to be sick."

"Feel free!" came a voice from the gloom, booming and cheery. "I know I have!"

"Hrglblerrgh!", the Queen Lamenting articulately replied.

"Nice to have a little variety about the place," the voice of Mucuous Man remarked. "All my internal fluids and excreta are nice, but it's good to have someone else show what they can do for once. Hey - carrots for lunch, eh?"

"I - think - I am going to leave now," the Queen Lamenting said, backing away.

"Really?" the voice of Mucuous Man inquired, sounding somewhat disappointed. "Not even going to try to destroy me, after coming all this way? Seems a bit of a waste."

"I wasn't going to try to destroy you," the Queen Lamenting said, her back turned and her nose covered. "I was going to try to recruit you for a Grand Alliance - a final stand of Good against Evil, in the shadows of Solomon's Temple!"

"Ooo!" Mucuous Man said, moving into the light. "Sounds excellent. I'm in!"

"...are you sure?" the Queen Lamenting said, her back still turned. "It'll probably be fine if you don't come. I mean. Really fine. For everyone. In every way."

Mucuous Man gave her a hard look - sadly wasted, of course. He stood silent for a moment. Then he said, clearly and calmly, "Hey. Think about this. What - in just moments of your encountering me - have I done to you?"

"...caused me to vomit and try to run away?" the Queen Lamenting suggested.

"Exactly!" Mucuous Man exclaimed. "Now - can you see how that might be a useful effect to produce on your villainous foes?"

The Queen Lamenting considered, her hand still covering her nose and mouth. Slowly, something like a smile appeared on her face. "Perhaps I can..." she said.



The Exigency of Steel slammed open the door, his triple-layered helm gleaming even in the dim light of the high-security bank vault.

"Ha!" he laughed, and a hundred screaming voices followed the sound. "At last, I have pierced to the heart of the defences of the "League of Good"! Their strength was nothing compared to mine! Now - to confront whatever final guardian they have placed here, before I take the treasure which is mine...!"

He paused, peering into the darkness. One eyebrow moved upwards; with a subvocalized command, he activated the light-enhancement gear built into his armour, trying to make out what he just could not quite see.

"Oh - oh why! Why! Why would any human ever do such a thing? How could any human ever do such a thing?" the Exigency of Steel screamed, jerking backward. "Why? Whyyyyyyyy?" Unpleasant gurgling noises began to emit from his loudspeakers; some thin, viscous fluid leaked slowly downwards.

"I am no ordinary man!" Mucuous Man proclaimed, his chest puffed outwards, as he strode to confront the armour-plated figure. "Now you see my true strength..."

Slowly, he came to a halt, realizing that the Exigency of Steel was not really in any shape to listen.

"The helmet really doesn't help, here," the Queen Lamenting said, appearing from outside the room, her gowns torn and blackened by battle.

"No," Mucuous Man agreed, shaking his head sadly. "In fact, it probably makes it about a hundred times worse."


Monday, July 20, 2009

I Dreamed - And - What I Saw There!

This was not the first time I had walked through a dream, but it was the first time I met another already there.

Strange lights ghosted and fluoresced about us as we approached each-other. My hands were empty, as were his; but I knew from long experience that a weapon could appear in my hand at the speed of thought. Or, likely, in his. I kept myself tensed, ready.

"Who are you?" he asked.

I made no answer. To do so would reveal more information than I need to - weakness. Cautiously, facing him at all times, I began to side-step, trying to circle around him. (My goal was close - I could feel it!) The ground shimmered and shifted under my feet.

The pinky on the other's right hand twitched. A crevasse opened up under my feet - hastily, I leapt back, a pistol appearing in my hand. Another chasm opened to my interlocutor's opposite side - the only way past, now, was through him.

"Who are you?" he asked again, his tone unchanged.

Already, I regretted having produced the weapon - it was weakness, showing my hand before I had to. But to dismiss it would only exacerbate the error. Instead, I decided to speak - to see if this strange entity could be manipulated to my advantage. Best to understate my interest here - if a price were to be charged, best it be a minor one...

"What interest do you have in stopping me?" I asked. "I am but a traveller, passing through."

"I have taken this mind under my own protection," the other said. "And there is nothing you could seek past me that would not be harmful. Turn back."

Problematic. Still - best to understate the urgency of my task here. It would be a crippling blow, to be stopped here - and the best way to avoid that would be to give no sign of that truth! "Perhaps we can come to some agreement," I suggested. "What price are you paid for this guardianship? If it is not too high, I may be able to improve on it..."

But the other simply glared at me, his face cold and unapproachable. "Do you think my honour worth so little as that?" he asked. "I will not be bought or bribed. Turn back, you petty half-rate automaton!"

Then I woke up. It was just a dream! How silly of me. I got out of bed and went to the butchers shop to pick up some meat. I bought a tenderloin of beef. Then I went to the local farmers market to get some hard cheese from the vendors. When I got home I lightly seared the meat of all sides, sliced it thin, and then dressed it with lemon and olive oil, and shaved some of the cheese over it, and I put a salad I made earlier in the centre. It was quite tasty.

Another post ended by the infinitely-talented Mr. Zhang. Applaud him! Truly his works are most marvelous.

I may revisit this notion later; the approach I took here didn't work.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Most Strange Amusement

It was late in the August month's heat and fog when Lord Nikolus summoned us to his country manor, when we arrived he was seen in his usual colonnade gazebo swinging on his lawn chair with a rum drink in his hand, we all stepped inside the grand hall, and sat down at the table to what was to be the most strange and bizarre amusement that was to be seen by us in a long while. There were laid about, on that table, several figures, and ramekins, and a bowl of cards marked with exotic lettering, and also to the side were some tomes and written papers upon which were inscribed with great caution the rules of the game, of which Mr. Kessler had no interest, being a man of the world, and thus prone to action, and not the idleness of the farm life, nevertheless, he sat with us, under the directive of several drinks of whiskey, and we commenced. Not less than 2 minutes had passed before Mr. Kessler stormed out of the room in a great and terrible rage, for he had grown quite weary of the demeanour of the gentlemen seated at that table, rolling their dice and smoking cigars, and he longed for the excitement of the urban jungles. Thusly, in accord with the wishes of Mr. Kessler, we retired to the sitting room, and we played music on the harpsichord, and he was placated, and we laid him to rest, in the large bed, and then we all parted in the spirit of brotherhood.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Man In The High Castle

A man walked onto the roof of a high tower, the highest in the castle which he ruled. Clad in fine vestments, with a golden crown upon his head, he surveyed the fruits of his labours; the tall stone keep, the town around its base, and the lands sprawling out from the snow-covered mountain slopes. Then he jumped.

On the way down, an eagle swooped towards the man, taking up a position by his side.

"Why have you done this thing?" the eagle asked, sounding sincerely curious. "Have you grown weary of life?"

"It is thus," the man said. "Finding no greater purpose to life, my triumphs turned to ash in my belly; all that I was and all that I might become was as nothing compared to the looming certainty of death. Rather than live onwards thus, I leapt."

"But you describe perceptions," the eagle said. "Our perceptions are our own; we may accept them, or we may shape them. I may say, 'I enjoy the taste of raw rabbit,' and dig in voraciously; or I may say, 'I despise the taste of uncooked rabbit', and shun it. Why would you throw your life away for a thing so easily changed?"

"But should my perception of events become a matter of trifling whim, then they are purposeless, and so do I become," the man replied. "How can I live without purpose?"

"Simply," the eagle rebutted; "simply breathe in, breathe out, and repeat! (Additionally, attempt to drink water, eat food, retain cardiopulminary function, and maintain other matters as it becomes necessary.) Just because you see no purpose now does not mean that you never will. Man is a fallible creature; how many times have you erred, how many beliefs have you passionately held that you now reject with a chagrin-filled heart? Should you live, you would have the chance to find some better path. But in death - nonesuch!"

The man considered this. "I am not fully convinced," he said. "But still - I see some merit in your statements, as already, I feel no little regret at my rash action atop the castle tower. Might you pick me up in your great claws and thereby allow me to retain mine life, rather than abruptly impacting the ground, as I believe I will otherwise do - " the man squinted downwards "- shortly?

"Alas," the eagle said, "I am an eagle of sage words, not strong wings. I cannot lift your weight; I should only be carried downwards myself, to be dashed to my death. Perhaps had your revelation come earlier in the fall - " could eagles shrug, it would have. As matters stood, it instead curved away, beginning to slow its own descent.

"Where are you going," the man shouted to the ever-more-distant eagle.

"I do not want to watch," the eagle shouted back, nearly inaudible with distance.

The man looked down.

"This is going to suck," he remarked.

But in fact, he felt nothing at all.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Daimone-Haunted World: Roshan

Previously on A Daimone-Haunted World: 1, 2, 3, 4. (I really thought I'd written more than this by now.)

Great-Uncle Roshan was the strangest member of my family, and the most notorious. When he was in college, he'd been involved in some very strange happenings. Kidnapped by a cult calling themselves the Freemasons or the True Freemasons, survived a close encounter with a daimone (losing an arm in the process - I remember the time, as a small child, I asked him to take off the prosthetic, to show me. Grisly.), and, as a small side effect, ended up creating the field of thaumaturgy. (A historian might quibble with that. But he was the one who took the Freemason documents from the building, deciphered the secrets they saw fit to protect, and published them on the "web"... close enough, I say.) There are other parts of the story he tells that haven't been accepted as widely... his story of 'travelling through a giant beating heart into a pocket dimension' and, upon leaving it, finding himself in another reality, to specify.

It's true that both he and my grandfather are here; identical on the genetic level, like twins that the birth certificate clearly shows my great-grandparents never had. But Uncle Roshan - I called him that, for shorthand - is an odd fellow by nature. (Couldn't be less like my grandfather, most of the time.) There's ample reason to doubt his testimony on the stranger things he reported. When I was a kid, I believed him absolutely. These days, I'm less sure, but I give him the benefit of the doubt.

Enough about ancient history, though. Uncle Roshan popped in and out of my life - he'd show up, enjoy my parents' hospitality for a few weeks (or my grandfather's, or my aunt's), and vanish again. We were never quite sure what he did for a living - he'd tell us, but the answer changed every time we asked - and it was impossible to reach him if he didn't want to be found, which was most of the time.

I loved him - when I was younger, for the gifts he brought. Later, for his humour, his insights into the world, and his willingness to tolerate - to encourage! - my studies of thaumaturgy, in a time when it was far less widely accepted - and when my grandfather, as he still does, shunned me for them. If any person in the world was responsible for who I was today, it was him.

So you can understand, then, my joy in hearing his voice on the comm - and also my surprise. For while space travel had grown only easier, over the last twenty-five years, it was still no trivial matter to journey all the way to the outermost part of the colonized solar system.

"Pratthy! Glad you still recognize the sound of my voice!" Uncle Roshan replied to my exuberant greeting. "Oh - sorry - should that be Doctor Pratthy, now? I never got a chance to congratulate you on your accomplishment!"

"It's fine, it's fine, thank you," I said, still off-balance from Uncle Roshan's presence here, of all places. "Great-Uncle - why are you here? What are you doing on Io?"

"Can't an old man go places without being interrogated these days?" Uncle Roshan replied, mock-snappishness in his voice. "I might as well ask, what are you doing here? Actually, I will. What are you doing here, Dr. Pratthy?"

"I'm doing research for the University," I told him. "It's a bit technical, but I'll explain if you want - ah. Hold on a moment."

Notifications were popping up all across my vision. You're that Saravagi?, one asked. Wow, this'll end the slow-news doldrums! another remarked. A third requested, Can you ask him if I could talk with him - just for a few minutes? It'd mean a lot to me.

"Looks like our conversation's hit the feeds," I said, replying to the notifications with a small part of my concentration. "Can we continue the conversation in person?"

"Sure!" Great-Uncle Roshan replied. "I'll set-up a rendezvous scheme."

I opened my mouth to interrupt him - we were on the feeds now, and an automation-arranged rendevous would end up with a crowd - but he'd already closed the connection. I shrugged. Uncle Roshan had some celebrity, but he was no King of Canada; even on remote Io, the hubbub wouldn't last. Watching the tracker-arrows at the edge of my vision, I turned my course away from home, moving to meet my Uncle - filled with an increasing curiosity. What was he doing here? He may have evaded, but I'd known him for years - I'd get an answer out of him yet.

Then I saw the daimone.

Instantly I snapped out of my distraction, dismissing the tracker-arrows leading me to the rendevous and conjuring thaumaturgic Sight. There she was - standing by the side of the road, facing away, and, in the Sight, burning like a flame - clear as day, there she was!

I hesitated, and then turned on video-recording. It wouldn't be as useful as a layperson might think - thaumaturgical creatures were like old flat display-screens, solid and real to a human eye, but distorted and wrong to anything that tried to record them. Flickering strange colours and shapes in the gaps between our sight... still, it would be have good to have some recording of the encounter. And it would hardly cost me anything, either - the memory-diamond I had installed at the moment was a pitiful, antique one-zettabyte model (and hadn't I borrowed it from Uncle Roshan, now that I thought of it?), but it'd do for a few minutes of simple video-recording.

I considered my options again - put up a Ward? Try to approach without, for stealth? Back away? I discarded the third - I needed to hunt this thing down, figure out what it was doing. And the second... if I knew what it was, I might be willing to go without thaumaturgical protection, but I wasn't going to risk it at present. My Wards went up; the daimone began to move, walking smoothly away from me. I pursued.

After following it through two alleys, I lost sight of it when it entered a small building. A corridor, with just one door at the end - locked. I had no time to waste - bringing out the old habits (hadn't used them since high school!), I drew a quick sigil and a Binding upon the door, bringing forth a Locks-Hath-Not-Power demon. The door slid open, and some sort of trap fired, bouncing off my wards - ha! Pathetic! What were they thinking? I couldn't see the daimone anywhere - it was a small room, sparsely furnished - but there was a book, on a desk, heavily used. A book? Really? Someone was feeling paranoid. Paranoid because they were indulging in prohibited summoning practices, perhaps? Summoning daimones? If the door was trapped, the book would probably be as well - and if it was of the same caliber of protection, I laughed at it! There was a bookmark, showing wherever the writer had left off - was that a fountain pen next to it? Wow. Hadn't seen one of those since I was yea high. No time for nostalgia - what was inside?

As I fell to the floor, my vision fading, I considered that playing with unknown, thaumaturgically trapped artifacts was probably not the wisest of ideas, no matter what my adrenaline-pumped reptile brain had to say on the matter.

Lesson learned, I thought, just before everything went black.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I Am Always Working On Something New

For instance, I'd already abandoned this before Mr. Higham persuaded me to switch back to it!

Spoiler alert: the next thing I will add is trains. Be prepared! They will rock you to your core.

(This post is basically a link to that post, which is elsewhere)

(for reference)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


(*Fictional, but may be enhanced by some familiarity.)

Connecting to server...
You're now chatting with a random stranger. Say hi!
Stranger: so I've gotta gripe.
You: hi!
Stranger: I made these people, right?
You: How was your day?
You: Wait, what?
Stranger: Basically just like humans, except a bit smaller.
You: ...
Stranger: But then they got all whiny. "We want clothes! We want food! We want shelter!"
You: ...seems reasonable, actually.
Stranger: So I bought them some clothes, cooked them some food, even made a little town for them.
Stranger: So adorable!
You: Wait, how small are they, again?
Stranger: pRetty small.
You: *How* small?
Stranger: But they're still griping!
Stranger: All, "Hey, stop peeling off the roofs of our houses and looking inside!"
You: ...
You: so, stop?
Stranger: But that was the whole reason I made them!
You: You made them so you could spy on their private lives.
Stranger: i wouldn't say that.
You: When they're in the bathroom?
Stranger: Sure.
You: ...when they're in the bedroom?
Stranger: like, any time when they're naked, basically.
You: ...
Stranger: When I make the next ones, d o you think I should make their fiddly bits glow in the X-ray spectrum, or radio?
Stranger: Oo! Or I could use sonar, like a bat, but backwards!
You have disconnected.

Alternate title: people on the internet are weird.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Daimone-Haunted World: Emily

Carrying on from where we left off... (and the beginning, etc., yes.)

A bit over two hours later, I sat across the table from Emily. She was - oh, about 5'8", dark-haired, had vision-correction built into her oversight-lenses, and furthermore, I was informed, kept a pair of contacts for emergencies. She was the thaumaturgy expert for the Io police force - not all that impressive a distinction, considering that there were all of four active-duty police covering all of Io, but still probably the third-best thaumaturgist on the planet. (In my opinion, that is. Her view of the matter placed her somewhat higher... we'd agreed to disagree.) I'd known her for most of a year, now - long enough to know the look on her face that signified mischief.

"Vat-grown sandwiches?" she asked me, her tone mocking. "You sure know how to show a girl a good time." Her contempt for my choice of lunch didn't stop her from taking large bites whenever she wasn't talking - seemed like she was hungry.

The first time I'd met her, I'd made the mistake of taking her insults seriously. This time, though, I was prepared. "I'm so sorry you didn't tell me we were going on a date," I told her, holding my face straight as best I could. "If you had, I would've given you the works - the filet mignon, fine red Sonoma wine, and a little caviar to top it all off. But - well, you didn't, and so we'll both have to do without." I shook my head sadly, and then took another bite of my sandwich.

Emily leaned back thoughtfully. The establishment in which we ate was more like a cross between a deli and a cafeteria than a proper restaurant, but its owner had managed to scrounge up some fancy, rolling, padded chairs, which were guarded fiercely. The owner claimed that they were the secret to her success, and I'll admit that they made me more likely to eat there than cook up something at home. But I digress. Emily leaned back thoughtfully, that look of mischief still in her eyes...

"I could do with some filet mignon one of these days," she said. "Think I could get it from Earth, special order?"

"And how would they ship it to you?" I asked. "Pretty much every ship that comes off the lines is put onto the Earth-Mars route, or Ganymede if not that. I guess they could slingshot it to us, but that'd take... a few years..."

"Why not just summon a magical star fairie for the purpose?" she asked, her tone completely serious. "That could carry the filet to me straight as an arrow, no delay!"

"And then they could summon the Immortality Demon to grant the filet eternal life - so it wouldn't go bad en route!" I suggested.

"Oh - oh - and to protect it from Jupiter's radiation-belt, they could put it in a pocket dimension, just its own size!" Emily said enthusiastically.

We continued in this vein for some time. But - eventually the sandwiches were finished, and the conversation turned towards the subject I'd managed to keep out-of-mind for the duration of the meal - the reason I had asked for this lunch meeting.

"The daimone," I said.

"The thing - whatever it was you saw," Emily corrected.

"You don't believe me?" I asked, sounding somewhat plaintive. "I'm certain that the thing - whatever I saw - wasn't human. I had my oversight attuned, and it glowed..." If she, too, denied there'd been anything there, I'd have started to lose trust in my own senses.

But she didn't. "I went over the site earlier today, with Kim there to check my readings," Emily said. (Kim was another of the Io police. I didn't know him well.) "There was certainly something there - strong thaumaturgic residues, all over the place. But they weren't clear to begin with, and what I'm assuming is the wake of you putting up Sight and a ward blurred them further. At this point, we don't have enough information to say what the thing you encountered was."

"Did you try following the thaumaturgic wake?" I asked, leaning forward. "See if it led somewhere?"

Emily was already shaking her head. "Standard protocol," she said, "and a dead end. The trail led to the roof. Wherever the thing went from there, it went by air, and without a single aircraft on Io, we can't follow it."

"I could summon an air-manta - " I suggested helpfully.

"What would a thaumatological-trace detector read on the back of a summoned creature?" Emily asked me.

Chagrined, I shrugged. "So - what now?" I asked.

"Right now, I want you to help me with some spec," Emily said. "I've been mulling over a few possibilities as to what this thing could be. One thought is that it's a lurker. It was motionless when you saw it, vanished quickly - "

I shook my head. "No. Lurkers are always inanimate objects, without exception. Lamp-posts, yes. Drop-boxes, yes. Women - no matter how still - probably not."

Emily shrugged. "All right. It could also, as you suggested, be a daimone."

"But," I prompted.

"But it didn't act like a daimone," Emily said. "Daimones are just about the most destructive creatures we know of - I mean, even recently, you heard about the accident in Chicago, on the T." It'd been all over the news, a few weeks ago. "How do we explain the fact that it just - ran away?"

"It could've been intimidated," I suggested.

"By you," Emily replied flatly. She looked me up and down.

"I put a ward up quickly - the vast majority of people wouldn't have been able to act so quickly, or so efficiently," I argued.

Emily shook her head. "Let's call it an abnormality, for the moment. The last candidate creature I was thinking of was an assassin-demon."

I was skeptical. "It didn't exactly look like a killer - though I suppose it could have been disguised. But it didn't make any aggressive moves -"

"In this case, I am willing to believe that you might've intimidated it," Emily said. "Assassin demons strike from stealth, right?" I nodded. "So when you noticed it, and put up wards, it vanished - waiting for a better time to strike."

Reluctantly, I was forced to concede her point. "But - who would have sent an assassin after me?" I asked.

Emily shook her head. "I don't know. But it seems like the most likely possibility for the moment. If I were you - I'd watch your back."

A chill ran down my spine. It was bad enough when I thought I'd encounted a daimone on the loose. But that - that was an indiscriminate threat. An assassin-demon, hunting me, waiting for a vulnerable moment...

"I've gotta go," Emily said, rising to her feet. "Work to do. This and other things."

"And I'll see what I can find out about the creature, and who sent it, if it is an assassin," I said, following Emily out the door. "I've got an idea about what I can do..."

But for the second time that day (I never had downloaded that paper!), my plans were tragically interrupted, for on the way down the street, heading back to my house, I got a call.

"Who is it?" I asked, surprised at the absence of video.

"Look up," a male voice said.

But even as I did so - and, with a start, saw the ship coming in, flame spouting downwards from its belly (the supply ship was scheduled for today, some small part of my mind reminded me), I was coming to grips with a greater surprise. I knew that voice - and did not expect it here.

"Great-Uncle Roshan!"

Thursday, July 09, 2009


(Not the game.)

Once, there was a man. Every day, he would go to the coal mines, and mine coal dust. Then he would bring the coal dust back home, and feed it to his furnace, to warm his house. This is what he did every day.

One day, though, he mined magic coal dust by mistake. And when he fed it into his furnace, it turned into a giant bird monster. It had ten wings, each of a different colour; it stood on seven talons, and its five heads each bore three beaks. Also, it was on fire.

It looked upon the man, and reached down, and ate him, and excreted him; and then it did this again, for each of its beaks. And when it was done, it told Nikolas (for Nikolas the man was), "You will die tomorrow."

And he did.


(Another contribution from the amazing Dr. Zhang, whose works never fail to inspire and astonish.)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Of the cartels

Yea, twas the evenning tydes, upon the fulle moune, at the bouroughes upon the Rivere which flow'd from the southern crown nestes of the Nikkoulouus trybes, to the Land to the Kelser, and the mysts, swirling, as they doe, and the cock crow'd and 't was the tyme of the marchants of the villege, to go unto the court of the King, yea, such that they may obtein the contractes and the writs of actions to sell their wares upon the towne square, and thusly, they set out unto the high way, on the horse-drawn carte, and sojourned offe.

And did they arrive upon the imperial citye, and yea, was it large, and crowdèd, and were there maney throughoufares, upon the main roades that lead to the cappitale, and did Nikoulous traverse upon these throughoufares, and did he encircle them several tymes, yea, for he was wont of a stable square upon which to dismount his carraiges, however, the towne, being fulle of commerse, was stacked 4 meteres high, and he could not fynd an adequate space, thusly, did he wonder unto the back-alleyes, such that he may dismount his carte in a more remote location.

And thusly was Nikoulouse forced to marche, upon the foote, yea, several myles to reach the centre of commerse, upon which he would obtein the royale charter, such that he may marchate his wares, and yea, he walked it, perserverentley, and he arrived upon the greate monolithe, and he stepped in side, and he waited upon the thronges of peoples, who were laying upon the streets, in an inebreaited state, yea, and there were littre upon the guttres, and Nikoulous stoobe behiend a most unusuale manne, who was wearing the suite of a bycycliste, and a helmette, and also a face maske, such as one who was wont unto the trades and craftes of the barbers and churgeons.

And he stood there, yea, for several lenghtes of tyme, and he recevied a nomber, and a forme, on parcement of the royale insignia of the Kinge, and he took it to the guttrual arrea, and he inscribed his name, and the seal of the marchante compagnie, thought he did not offre to sell his organes to the organ-grynder, for 2 shillings, for he was a gentle-man, and yea, a couard, and then, it came to pass, yea, that Nikoulous did sitte in a chare, and wait for several hourses, and he did become inebrated, in the mean time, for lack to a batter optioon, and it was goode.

And he reached the ende of the longue waite, and there were peasantes in charege of the proceedings, which affronted Nikoulous graveley, and it was goode. And it came to pass, that yea, having cumpleted the longue wait upon the gutteres, he was tolde to stand upon another queue, such as to have his statues as a marchate evaluated.

And yea, Nikoulous stood in the queue, and he was most vexed and affronted, and graveley insulted at the actiones of the commoners in the queue, who were nexte to himme, and there was an elderley womane, and she did stand extremeley close to the Nikoulous, and she did bumpe into himme several tymes, such that became quite offonded, and he was also touched in inappropriate placese several tymes. And he completed the queue, and thysly, he was sketched in a portraite, and also his insignia was marked upon the burning parchemente, and then he was foreced to sit the longue examinatione.

And yea, on the examination, were there many estrange quesitons that the Nikouous did not antisipate, and he was most confused, and baffeled, and vexed, upon the charter of the Kinge, and there were inquires as to the penaltie for the evasion of the royale guard, and yea, for the murder of civilians during the incident, and yea, Nikoulous, being a man of the Worlde, he guessed that they shall be hanged immediately, though that was notte corect.

And yea, it came to pass, that, the completion of the examination, and Nikoulous, being a scolarly man, did complete it satisfactory, and he was awarded the royal charter, however, the office had miscommunicated vitale imformation, and Nikoulous, being a cautions mann, did implore them to recherche it, and they did, and the corrupted information was erased, and yea, he was a newe manne.

By Commision, cont.

(Specifically, continuing from the exciting events of last night's post.)

The vampire-car swirled down on the night breeze, coming to rest on the street beside a large house. Three women disembarked: their skin pale, their expressions cold. Each bore a wooden stake at the hip.

The door opening at a touch, the women entered the darkened house; their movements were graceful and silent, leaving undisturbed the stillness that filled the house. As the door closed behind them, making only the faintest sound as it clicked shut, the women ascended the stairs to the upper rooms. Casey was at their fore, her muscles tense with excitement and anticipation - for thick in the air was the scent of her prey.

At the top of the stairs, Casey paused briefly, her nostrils dilating; then she turned in the direction where the scent lay more thicky, Jasmin and Miriam following behind her. Behind and below them, the downstairs murk fluctuated brighter suddenly; all three vampires startled, turning towards the foyer. But there was nothing there to see, and after a moment, they turned back to the task at hand. This mission was too important for distractions.

Another door opened, and within was a bed - within which rested their prey! His eyes were closed, and his chest moved in and out raggedly - "Some nightmare he must be suffering!" Casey speculated silently. "We will soon relieve him of it." She moved to one side of the bed, while Jasmin took the other and Miriam turned to guard the door. Casey had almost reached the bed when -

A voice came from the corner, sharp and cutting as a knife. "Halt. Identify yourself."

"What?" Casey asked, whirling. She had sensed no heat there - no blood - no presence - nor did she now! The corner was as cold as the grave - no living thing there stood! Another vampire? Well - Casey had not expected it - but still, she thought, fingering the stake at her side - she came prepared!*

"Identify yourself," the speaker repeated, her voice rigid with near-mechanical precision. With a shock of light, she appeared - a dim green light atop her palm half-blinding the night-adjusted vampires in the process. She was tall, though not exceptionally so; her hair was dark and hung to her shoulders, and her face was long. In the strange lighting, her features appeared to have a yellow cast to them, though she seemed Caucasian in race; no expression could be read upon her face, and no armaments could be seen upon her person. "What are you doing here?"

The boy's eyelids fluttered. Casey glanced at him, and then stepped forward, rage visible on her face. "What are you doing here, interloper? This is our territory - the realm of Exothia, the Dark One, Unchallenged among the Dark Kin of the Darkness! You are jeopardizing our mission here! Leave at once, or - suffer!" Beneath her rage was fear - for now that her eyes had adjusted, she saw that there was no external source for the light resting atop the woman's palm, but rather it came from within her very flesh - and what witchery could produce such an effect as that? She gripped her stake tightly.

"You wish the boy, then," the woman said, her voice level. "This is unfortunate - I had hoped to make some use of him, for my own purposes. But I see you intend violence - this is incorrect. Should not we, as persons of the members sex, act with good judgement - seek to cooperate, not compete, and in some manner share this resource?"

"Ménage à trois?" the boy suggested with a perfect accent. His eyes were still tightly shut.

Casey glared daggers at him. "You shut up!" she ordered. "You aren't even supposed to be awake!" Turning to the woman in the corner, Casey moderated her tone, making an attempt at a smile. "You're quite right, of course," she said agreeably. "Especially for those of our sex, co-operation is the natural choice. Here - let me start!"

She was quite startled when the stake in her hand, driven by her unnatural, undead strength, failed to penetrate more than an inch into the woman's chest.

Turning upwards to look at her intended victim, Casey asked, "Shouldn't you be dead now?" There was a puzzled look on her face.

"Why would I be?" the woman replied. "Or - wait - did you think I was human?" She studied at Casey's face. "No - not human - you thought I was a vampire!" For the first time since the conversation began, there was a hint of emotion in her voice - amusement.

Casey was not amused.

With a shrug, the woman pushed Casey away from her, ripping the stake from the small hole it had made. A thin drip of blood followed; it quickly subsided. "I remain reasonable," she noted. "Let us begin again. Here: they call me Hanna, in Massachusetts from which I hail. What is your name?"

But Casey's pride had been injured; and that is the one thing she could not abide. (And, too, those drops of blood staining Hanna's chest brought Casey's Dark Thirst to the fore.) Her fangs bared, she leapt upon Hanna; behind her, Miriam and Jasmin approached, hands shaped like claws. They would destroy this interloper!

But Hanna merely leaned back under Casey's attack, and then hurled her assailant into the floor, placing a foot squarely upon her sternum to keep her there. As Casey struggled to recover, arms clawing at Hanna's leg for purchase, Jasmin came in for the attack, attempting to knock Hanna off balance. But Hanna's fist came up with incredible speed, and even Jasmin's supernatural reflexes could not save her from losing half her fangs. As she fell back, wailing in pain and shock, a stake hurled past her, followed by Miriam, hoping to take advantage of the moment in which Hanna must dodge the thrown weapon. But Hanna made no move to evade, letting the stake scrape across her side, and charging Miriam flew across Hanna's shoulder to fall onto the floor with a sickening crack.

"Now," Hanna said, "I have severely injured one of you, and demonstrated that I can incapacitate the others at will. Are you prepared to be reasonable?" A cold breeze seemed to flow through the room.

Fear filled Casey's dark heart. This woman - or whatever she truly was - had defeated a triad of vampires in pitched battle, and done so without breaking a sweat. (Even her breathing was regular - as though she had not exerted herself in the slightest!) She could conjure light from her hand, and weapons could do no more than pierce her skin. Also, she was currently pinning Casey to the floor. With a terrible sigh, Casey conceded: "Yes. We can... talk."

The boy, his eyes now open, sat upright in bed. "Hey," he said, looking at Hanna. "Don't I know you?"

Hanna shook her head. "Perhaps you have seen me before - but you have no knowledge of my true nature, or my purpose here. In the interests of mutual co-operation, I will explain."

"I am Hanna. HT-002, second and finest product of the Dartmouth Cybernetics Labs. I was sent here by my masters, the High Priests of the Dart-Mouthed Gods that rest deep in the caverns beneath Dartmouth Town. In routine examination of DNA samples taken from all students, we discovered something rather - special - about this boy. Due to unfortunate bureaucratic error - for which heads have rolled," Hanna noted matter-of-factly, and Casey had a feeling she was using the phrase literally - "the boy had already made his way home for summer break before I was assigned to take him. Well - I found him, all the same. And now I will that of him I wish."

"You want to sex me?" the boy asked. "For my genes?"

Now it was Hanna's turn to look at him disparagingly. "I'm afraid not," she said, with no hint of regret in her voice. "Adolescent boys -only thinking about sex, sex, sex, sex, sex... but not. In fact, I don't even need anything below... say, your waist. These," this with a gesture of her head towards the vampires, "can have the rest." Hanna looked down to Casey, lifting her foot of the vampire's chest as she did so. "Is that acceptable?"

Casey had the feeling that she hadn't much choice in the matter. And - she thought excitedly - even with just this, the metaphorical scraps of the body - she'd bring back enough materials to Exothia for totems that would make them the most powerful Dark Tribe this side of the Rockies! No - this side of the Mississippi, even!

"All right," Casey said. "I'll agree to the split."

Jasmin, leaning against a wall and holding her injured mouth with her hand, nodded assent. Miriam didn't seem to be moving.

"Now," Hanna began, leaning over the bed (to where the boy lay, now desperately trying to squirm away, and not succeeding): "I'll begin the incisions -"

Her voice trailed off in a hiss of static as her head, quite remarkably, lifted away from her body. Wires tore and broke as the dark figure behind Hanna lifted up her severed head; then she hurled it into a corner, where it shattered into a pile of broken electronics. Hanna's body stiffened, becoming a rigid statue; the light in her hand continued to light the room with a dim green glow.

"Idiot," the fourth vampire said, her voice like a thousand tombstones all holding a eulogy at midnight. "You would give away such a treasure, so easily? Treachery our Dark Master sent me to guard against - but she did not anticipate simple cowardice."

"Forgive me, Emilia, O Dark One!" Casey wailed, strugging up from the floor. Behind her, Jasmin was franticallly abasing herself. "I am your lesser! Truly I could not match that which your great strength accomplished!"

Emilia stared at Casey coldly - and she knew that Emilia was considering putting an abrupt end to Casey's Dark Unlife. But she turned away, after a moment, and stepped towards the bed. (Hanna's rigid body she ignored with a careless arrogance.) "Now - for the boy..."

But her voice, too, trailed off - as Hanna's arm came up and punched a hole in Emilia's torso with one quick movement.

"Post-mortem twitches?" Casey suggested helpfully, taking a long step back from Hanna now that she was back on her feet.

Hanna rotated her arm back 180 degrees, sending Emilia flying through the air, and, also, a wall.

"Her brain must be elsewhere - not in her head at all!" Emilia said from the other room, rolling to her feet. The gaping hole in her torso no more than inconvenienced her. "The light on her hand - I should have realized! Well - I'll put a proper end to her this time! You two! Help distract her!"

Casey observed the room. She noted Hanna, covered in vampire-gore; Jasmin, still coddling her ruined incisors; Miriam, motionless and broken on the floor. Judiciously, she stayed exactly where she was.

"Bah!" Emilia said, stalking back into the room. "Treachery after all! Well - I'll deal with you later. First - this thing!"

Hanna's glowing hand unfurled towards Emilia, giving an unmistakable come-on gesture. Emilia looked at it, thinking.

Then, equally unmistakably, it flipped her the bird, and Emilia charged.

As the combatants crashed outside the room and, in the process, discovered the joys of exiting a building on the second floor, the remaining vampires and the boy looked at each-other. The latter looked at the vampires; he looked, longingly, at the door; he looked again at Casey's fangs, still quite sharp. He stayed put.

"Parents sleep heavily?" Casey asked, her voice sympathetic.

"Pretty much, yeah," the boy admitted.

They were quiet for another moment. Outside the room, fire painted the night sky red; it appeared that Dartmouth Cybernetics model HT-002 mounted a flamethrower.

"So... how was your day?" the boy asked.

Casey shook her head wearily.

*This paragraph brought - to you - by the Andre Norton Department - of - Hyphenation.