Ela’s dead, the final Ela-mare

One time there was this movie called Adventures in Babysitting, the 1987 one I mean, I think they did a remake and I don’t mean that one.  In the movie Adventures in Babysitting, Brenda, played by esteemed character actress Penelope Anne Miller, tries to buy a hot dog from a hot dog cart guy by signing over a third-party check to him.  It is the greatest scene in movie history.   

When I was a kid I loved that movie for a variety of reasons, chief among them because one of the kids being babysat was a girl that liked the Mighty Thor and I didn’t know until then that girls could like comic books.  It was a revelation it was.  I found out later that not many girls like comic books but some of them do. 

It’s the first movie Elizabeth Shue was in, and the first PG-13 rated Disney movie.  There’s a lot of history there.  I know what you’re thinking “wasn’t esteemed character actress Penelope Anne Miller briefly married to Will Arnett?”  Yes, yes she was.  And you’re probably also wondering why Will Arnett and Amy Poehler got divorced.  Sometimes people just fall out of love.  Yes, Canadians are allowed to get divorced, I was surprised too.   

“Jeremy was esteemed character actress Penelope Anne Miller the lead in the movie the Relic?  You know, the lead character that got licked up and down by the titular Relic, which was a cabinet monkey lizard monster?” 

Yes she was, it wasn’t one of her more esteemed character roles.  But she got paid 1.5 million dollars for doing it.  Invested at a 7 percent rate of return, which is generous I admit, that’s 7.6 million dollars today.  A lizard licked me once and I didn’t get a red cent. 

“Jeremy why do you keeping spelling Ann with an E, isn’t that incorrect?” 

Yes it is.   

“Jeremy why wasn’t the Relic a better movie?” 

Well, it’s not like the source material was super strong you know?  And even if it was, the underlying message about museums and their negative role in society and the scientific community isn’t going to be easy to communicate in a movie.  Plus, 1997 was smack dab in the middle of the wonky CGI era so the creature didn’t look great.  I wonder if they used a practical effect tongue for the licking scene.  I wonder further what esteemed character actress Penelope Anne Miller would say about how you drop in to a scene where you’re getting licked by a cabinet lizard monkey monster.  I’ll ask her at the next family reunion. 

Dropping-in is a technique Tina and Kristin Linklater developed in the early 1970s as a method to create a spontaneous emotional connection to your role. 

https://wordsdeferred.com/2021/07/12/filling-plot-holes/

I thought this post about plot holes was pretty good, check it out if you want.  One time I “promoted” a post I thought was neat and the guy that wrote it took the time to message me and tell me that he has 20,000 followers and he doesn’t need me to help him.  I cried for three weeks.  Not because of that, because of the shark hormones I take.  And to be clear, no sharks are being killed to harvest these hormones, they’re taken from humans with shark DNA spliced in.  Which is fine. 

There are probably lots of plot holes in Ela’s narrative because the spine of it is random RPG tables and I don’t have an outline or anything guiding the tale.  There are probably even more unresolved plots.  My other blog is even worse and I don’t even have the excuse of RPG nonsense on that one.  The other day someone said to me “Why don’t you stop this solo campaign bullshit and do some real writing?” and I says to them I says “I don’t have the creativity for that” and then they reminded me of that other blog and that shut me up.  I had forgotten about it.  How did I forget a blog that I post on three times a week and write for almost every day?  Dunno.  But I did.   

For D&D Ela I was content to let the dice dictate everything, hence her sudden and unceremonious death.  For comic book Ela I’ve been more flexible, but I’m at a real crossroads now.  Not to give anything away but decisions need to be made.  Dice or free will? 

I can’t remember if I blogged about this, possibly blogged about it twice, or if I just thought about it and blogged about it no times, but now that I’m back in the swing of TTRPGs I’ve been thinking about running a campaign again.  And what I’ve been thinking is that I don’t know if I will.  I have a lot of desire but more and more I find it a stumbling block that my game friends all like games but they don’t really like the same thing.   

I’ll start planning a modern investigative spooky campaign and then remember that no one likes that but me.  Then I’ll start working on a cyberpunk intrigue-based campaign and then I’ll remember that no one likes that but me.  So then I’ll think about the kind of campaigns they like and I groan because it’s all stuff I don’t like.  My gaming circle is hilariously mismatched like sitcom roommates.   

And I know that it doesn’t really matter, we’ll all get together and have a fun time no matter what, but it’s hard to want to spend a lot of time on shit when you’re the only one who’s really into it.   

There’s a scene in Adventures in Babysitting where Brenda, played by esteemed character actress Penelope Anne Miller, loses her glasses and thinks that a giant rat is a fluffy kitty and tries to pet it.  When I was younger, one time when I didn’t have my glasses on, I thought a baseball cap was our cat TJ.  I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t come to me because she was super friendly.  It was because she was a baseball cap in that scenario.  And they’re not known for being overly personable.   

Now my eyes are great because I had the laser eyeball surgery.  Also, not for nothing, but I have fantastic knees.  Maybe the best knees in the world.  There’s no way to know for sure.   

The movie Adventures in Babysitting was released with the title A Night On The Town in other countries.  Does that mean babysitting isn’t a thing in other countries?  Or do they call it something else?  Must be the first thing otherwise they would have called it Adventures in BLANK right?   I wonder what that says about American child rearing.  I know the movie Date Night was called Crazy Night in many other countries because date night is an American concept.  I wonder what that means about Americans and our relationships.   

Writing tip of the day – When writing a female character, make sure that in the middle of a scene apropos of nothing you have her start thinking about when she first started “developing”.  That’s totally cool.  Remember that scene in Die Hard when in the middle of a firefight, Bruce Willis starts talking about how he got hair on his balls?  You need to apply that same level of care to female characters.   

OOC – The City

Do I still need to put OOC on these things? It’s always clear right? I guess I should so people can skip them if they want. Or only read them maybe.

“Ah, the City. I will spread my buttery justice over your every nook and cranny.” – The Tick

I recently purchased an RPG called Henchmen from Canterbury Games Studio.  It’s one of many cool games that I’ll probably never play.  The idea, as you can probably guess, is that you’re the minions of a supervillain trying to survive and become elite mooks.  For me it’s the right amount of tongue-in-cheek without being full on silly. 

There’s a section about creating you city that I think can be helpful for writing and roleplaying both.  The worldbuilding between the two isn’t exactly the same as I’ve very geniusly pointed out before but there’s a lot of overlap, my genius notwithstanding. 

When I’m playing an RPG what really gets me engaged, especially in a modern or future setting, is a city that seems like a real place.  It’s somewhat less important to me when I’m reading but it’s still always kind of a breaker when the story takes place somewhere that doesn’t seem like a real place.

Here’s there’s list of things you should come up with to populate your city, all credit given to Canterbury Games Studio mea culpa etc.  It’s superhero focused of course, but I still think it’s a good way to get the ideas popping around.

• A nosy, meddling reporter for a local newspaper

• A special police division that deals with ‘supercrime’

• The detective who leads the ‘special task force’ that deals with ‘supercrime’

• A government agency with a sinister agenda

• The premier superteam in The City and their roster

• One ‘independent’ superhero who works the City

• Two Villains who work in The City

• A rival evil organization with an unknown agenda

• The heads of the three richest families in The City

• The mayor and chief of police – to give harried no comments to the news anchor

• A TV news anchor – for when the henchmen see their crimes on the news

• A famous rock/pop star, who is really ‘big’ in The City

• A famous industrialist

• Two ‘ordinary’ criminal gangs

• A no-questions-asked fleapit hotel

• A major hospital

• A university with an active research department

• A bank with extensive vaults

• Three facilities, like labs or factories, that work on advanced technology, experimental science or chemicals

• The docks and/or an airport where foreign material and individuals can enter or leave the city

• An infamous prison, holding facility or insane asylum

• A casino, either legitimate or illegitimate depending on the laws of the city

• The fanciest hotel in the city

• A slum with a sinister or ironic nickname where the police only go in force

• A bar or club where the lowlifes hang out

• A bar or club that only the elite can enter

• A public park or open space – good for covert meetings and public showdowns

• The known public headquarters of a superhero or superteam

• A district full of the mansions and houses of the elite

• A big public entertainment venue such a stadium or concert hall

• The City’s biggest shopping district

• The City’s financial district

• The headquarters of a major news organization

And he said “Blog the best blog in the world, or I’ll eat your soul”

And I said “okay”.

My other fiction blog is about a magic lady where magic is not something people know about or believe in generally.  It’s also about wrestling because why wouldn’t those two things be together?  I read a novel recently that was about wrestling and the guy that wrote it also runs a magic school and I thought “this guy is my audience!” so I tweeted him about my blog and he never responded.  What good is social media anyway if people don’t do whatever I want with little effort on my part?

Anyway, because this story takes place in a “realistic” world, I really struggle with having the protagonist resolve anything.  The basic story is that magic is becoming harder and harder to do because no one believes in it, so those that do know about it are turning to the dark side because it’s easier.  So she’s going along doing whatever and then she finds out about some bad magic people doing bad shit and then I don’t know what the next thing in the story should be.

Because I’m an RPG gamer who likes writing instead of being a writer, my instinct is of course to have a violent confrontation – roll for initiative!  But I mostly try to avoid that for two reasons.  One, people in a “realistic” world are rarely so cavalier about murdering everyone, morals and emotions and all that.  And two, the police and the law and such tend to frown on murder.  And while it would be interesting to write about a magic serial killer who was killing for “good” and the moral quandaries and technical difficulties therein, that’s not what I want to do. 

So I keep trying to think, what do people do when there’s some bad shit going down and there’s no legal authorities that can get in the mix?  And the answer is that they probably don’t do anything, other than be sad about how they’re helpless.  But that’s most people, and stories shouldn’t be about people that don’t do anything, they should be about people that are exceptional, or at least interesting in some way. 

How do you solve problems without violence?  Remember that episode of Futurama where Vice-Presidential Ranger Michelle Nichols exclaims “Killing him isn’t working and that’s all we good at!”  I do.  The obvious answer is have your protagonist be smart and do smart shit and out-smart them instead of resorting to violence.  MacGyver style!  The problem with that is I’m dumb.  How can a dumb person write a smart character? 

I have the same problem with RPGs.  Sometimes people make adventures where I the player, not the character, have to be smart or solve a mystery or a puzzle or something and I can’t do it because I’m stupid as hell.  So I usually play a character who’s supposed to be stupid because how am I supposed to portray an INT 20 wizard? 

So I’ve been trying to think of some movies or books or media I can check out where the problem is something where the obvious answer is “murder” but the character is question is not a murderer so they need to figure something else out.  The first thing that came to mind was the House of Sand and Fog, but thinking about it, the main lady essentially just got someone else to do her dirty work.  I also thought about Avengers Arena, but looking back at that, it’s mostly just people struggling about violence and then being violent.

If you have any ideas on things I can read or watch to get some inspiration on how characters can deal with extreme circumstances without being smarty pantses or D&D style murder hobos, let me know. 

I suppose the other obvious answer is “if she’s magic, bro, have her magic her problems away”.

I used to have a dream semi-often where I found out about a sex trafficking operation and the police and the state government people and everyone were in on it, so I spent all my dream-time trying to figure out how to do anything about it.  I tried calling the FBI and they said they couldn’t interfere for some reason, and then I spent the rest of the dream freaking out and not knowing what to do.  I suppose it was a stress dream of some kind. 

Anyway, I guess I turned that dream into a blog accidentally.  With magic.  And wrestling. 

Critical update please read immediately

I just realized that I accidentally named two characters Maggie. Good thing I caught it before the fiction police came after me.

Maggie McGraw will now be rechristened Maeve McGraw, which ruins the joke that only one person in the world got, but these are the sacrifices that have to be made in the name of art.

As all real writers know, no two characters in a work of fiction should share the same first name. They can’t even have similar-sounding names. If there’s a Laura in your story, there sure as hell better NOT be a Lyra. If there’s an Ed, you’d be a damn fool to include a Ted . Of course this is all opposite when it comes to twins – twins MUST have similar sounding names.

The good news is that this rule can help you determine if you’re real or not. If you realize that you don’t know any two people with the same first name and that your phone number begins with 555, you can safely assume you live in a fictional world. Depending on what fictional world you live in, you may want to escape to the real world. Things aren’t all roses here, but if you’re a character in the Road or some other horrible depressing novel you probably want out.

If you send me 200 dollars I’ll tell you the secret word that will let you jump into the real world.

“But Jeremy, if you’re real and I’m fictional how am I even reading this? And how can I get you the money?”

The internet is a confluence of the real world and the world of make believe, it’s funny how many people don’t seem to realize that. It’s pretty obvious folks. And I know how to cross over.

“But how do I know that you’re real?”

Because I’m not even in the number one roster slot of Jeremys amongst my peers. I’m Jeremy #2. I was Jeremy #3 for a long time but I managed to move up a place.

The reason for the one name limit is that when you’re writing, you’re supposed to imagine that your audience is stupid. People like it when you treat them like they’re six years old. Obviously they would be confused by multiple characters with the same name: “Wait, was it good-guy Steve or bad-guy Steve who launched the missile at France?” Clearly there’s NO way to figure it out from context.

That’s why the Two Jakes was just a horrible flop.

Along the same lines, good writing is having your characters say things they would never say for the benefit of the audience. “I’m a lawyer and I’m talking to you, a fellow lawyer, but I will now explain what a pre-trial hearing is for the sake of the audience because they’re morons.”

I don’t remember what I watched the other day but it was pretty good and then at the end, the main character literally just explained the whole plot of the show. That’s what made it go from good to great. Now that’s writing!

Stolen writing advice from someone better

Being a soulless Gen X mutant, normally I don’t try to help people or do anything, I just sit in my flannel shirt in my dimly lit basement listening to Alice in Chains and reveling in the fact that I don’t care about anything and only being happy when it rains.  And also not even then.  As a Xer I spend my time normally not caring about money or success or anything but Bikini Kill. 

Normally I wouldn’t post twice in a day either, but if I wait I’ll forget.  Sometimes I write myself notes of things to write about later and then I never remember what they mean later.  This has been going on for 30 years.

There’s a pretty common piece of writing advice which is “write a lot”.  If you feel blocked it’s because you’re thinking too much.  Just write something, anything.  Write every day all the time.  The theory is that you get better at something by doing it.  A basketball player doesn’t get better by thinking about shooting, they get better by shooting baskets in an empty gym. 

Part of the idea is that most of what everyone writes, except for a few geniuses, sucks.  So if ten percent of what you write is going to be good, you need to write tons and tons to make that ten percent pile as big as possible. 

For me, this advice was one of those things where I said “That sounds right” but didn’t really take it to heart.  Today though I heard something that really made it land for me. 

This information is coming to me 5th hand so the details are probably wrong but the gist is correct I think.  There’s a book called Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking.  According to a different book that referenced that book that was referenced on a YouTube video that was referenced on a TV show that was referenced on a podcast I listen to, in Art &Fear they talk about an art teacher.

This art teacher decided to play a cruel joke on their class in the name of the social sciences.  They divided the class into two groups.  Group one was told their grade would be based on the number of pots they made.  Group two was told that their grade would be based on their best pot.  But hold onto your butts folks, because the first group was lied to, everyone was judged on their best pot. 

The gag is at the end of the semester (or whatever) the first group had made better pots.  The theory is that while group two spent all their time trying to make one or a few good pots, group one was cranking out pots right and left; ergo they got good at making pots, ergo they made a lot of crappy pots but the good ones they made were better than the people who were trying to make good ones. 

This may not even be a true story, but it made the “write a lot” advice sink in for me. 

I already write almost every day but nevertheless in order to write more, I will be starting a 5th blog with a new fiction narrative,  working title – Blood Orgy in The House of Pain.

Out of character interlude – Expert professional writing tips from the world’s greatest writer and human (me)

Writing that title reminded me that I worked with a lady who said that she was the third smartest person in the world – her parents being the first and second.  She didn’t seem that smart to me but the third smartest person in the world would be smart enough to not seem smart right?

Since I started writing on wordpress I’ve been reading a lot blogs about D&D and some about writing.  A common topic people bring up is how playing D&D (and other roleplaying games of course) can help you become a better writer.  Which is true.  Character development, plot, worldbuilding, playing roleplaying games can really help you with those things.  Among others. 

But I’m starting to realize that it can be a double-edged sword.   

I’ve done a lot of writing in my life.  In college and the years afterwards I often wrote several hours a day.  I don’t write nearly as much anymore but I still do some writing most days.  It’s a toss-up if I’ve done more roleplaying or writing.  There was a year where we played D&D every damn day for hours and hours and hours.  Probably half my life I’ve had a regular weekly game.  There were years when I had 2-3 regular weekly games.  Then add in conventions and one shots and other stuff – that’s a lot of time roleplaying.   

Tangent, when I first started online dating sometimes I would tell women one of my hobbies was roleplaying – boy were they disappointed when they found out I meant D&D and not sexy sexy sex times.  I hate homonyms.   

Before my writing was whatever I wanted.  I have dozens of half finished “novels”, tons of partially written screenplays, hundreds of short stories, and thousands of blog posts where I talked about whatever was on my mind.  I wrote until it wasn’t fun and then I stopped.   

Starting the Ela blog, and later the Grace blog (hugely popular and read by millions) “forced” me to write about the same thing and it’s exposed some flaws.  Chief among them, tossing out story hooks without any idea where to take them. 

I think this comes from D&D.  When you put together a D&D adventure sometimes you have everything planned out.  But sometimes you just have a neat idea and you throw it out and see what the players do and react to that, “writing” on the fly. 

Such as, one time my players found a cane that had a secret compartment in it.  I had forgotten that they had found a similar item in the last adventure and they spun out a whole conspiracy theory around them.  I had no such intention of that being a thing but as they were talking I was thinking “wow that’s a pretty cool idea, that’s definitely what happened now”. 

Players give DMs way too much credit in terms of foreshadowing and callbacks and call-forwards and things like that – it’s that old chestnut about the human mind looking for patterns, and making them up even if they’re not there. Your players come up with all kinds of ideas as to what the DM may be up to, even when they’re not up to anything.

The collaborative nature of rpgs results in some pretty cool ideas.  D&D is kind of like writing with several writing partners.   

But since my “real” writing it just me, myself, and not Irene I really need to break myself of the habit of throwing out half-formed ideas that I think are neat because there’s no players to react to them and shape the narrative.   Telling a story all by myself requires discipline.

The idea for the Grace blog came from How To Survive Camping, from reddit/no sleep.  The idea of HTSC is that it is an interactive thing where the commenters act like it’s real and suggest ways to solve problems and the like.  It’s a style that allows for collaborating in a way D&D type where you’re writing it but lots of people are adding in ideas.  It’s a pretty cool concept.  I wanted to do something like that. But since I’m old and scared of reddit because I don’t understand it I just did a “normal” blog.   

The end.  Good writers always say “the end”.  Otherwise how would you know it was the end? 

Retro Ela throwback post/rip-off

I swear I won’t ever do this again, I know how SUPER invested you all are in 70s Ela story.  Ela Classic was written ad hoc based on random charts and whatnot, rules turned into a narrative, but I did wake up late one night and write this bit about her being forced into a battle in THE NORTH.  I think I had it for more than a year waiting to fit it into the “story”. 

I figured I’d post it because I’m lazy and clearly I have to stick to the pretend schedule I came up with of posting Monday, Wednesday, Friday. 

Why was Ela forced into this battle?

Who is Keorl Thunderhand? 

Is it still called polygamy if you have wives and husbands?

We’ll never know. 

I’ve never seen a battle down south and I hope I never do, but from what I understand it’s quite an affair.  Huge blocks of men lumbering around in ragged squares getting into lines.  Banners and pennants and tents and guys with big hats and all kind of shit like that.  I’ve heard that the reason army people get up at dawn is it takes them until lunch just to get everyone to the battlefield and ready to kill one another.  There’s barely enough hours to even get on with the slaughter before it gets dark.  And you can’t fight in the dark.  It’s too scary.

Clearly things are a little more loose up here.  People seemed to be milling about and wandering down to the front lines like it’s a county fair.  Some people were already killing each other when I got up.  Others were still asleep.  Seems like it would have been the perfect situation to avoid the battle and just say you were there after the fact but I don’t think I can fool magic like that.  Always the damn magic.  So Instead of doing the smart thing and staying under cover until all the killing and dying was over, I went in search of Keorl Thunderhand, finding him in a heap with his wives and husbands.

I tossed a bucket of . . . something on him “Come on, the battle’s starting and it’s a race between which is going to freeze off first, my nips or my nose.”

Grinning, he disentangled himself from the pile and came out of his tent shrugging on a chain shirt and slapping on a helmet “That’s the problem with you southern women, too skinny.  You need some blubber on your bones to stay warm.”

I rubbed my hands together and blew on them “I don’t see how you people get so big up here with the warmed up dogshit you call food.”

He laughed and led me over to the “cavalry wing” which was a bunch of dudes and horses just as disorganized and chaotic as the rest.  He motioned for me to mount up on a grey and black beast that was eyeing me as dubiously as I was it.  These northern horses are so small and shaggy they’re more like sheep than equines if you ask me.

“Shouldn’t I put on some armor or something first?”

He shrugged “Sure, grab that cmail and slip it on.”

I grabbed the pile of metal he gestured to and could barely lift it “Okay, never mind, point taken.”

“Yes, and a fine point it was too.  Put on that helmet.”

I picked it up gingerly “Seems too big for me.”

He shrugged “Better than too small.” He surveyed the half-battle going on below as we mounted “Do you have any battle training?”

“Minimal.”

“How good a rider are you?”

“Excellent.”

“Good, that’s more important anyway.  If you want to survive, and you’ve certainly made it seem like you do, there’s two things you need to do.  First, stay mounted.  That may seem obvious, but I need to emphasize this because footmen do most of the dying.  You do not want to be anywhere near the earth in that mess.  Mounted, you have two things someone on foot doesn’t – vision and mobility, and that’s what you use to stay alive.  Don’t get near the middle, stay on the edges of the action where you can see what’s happening and react.  React meaning ride away of course.

If you get knocked off your horse get back on immediately, don’t worry about anything else – get back in the saddle.  If your horse gets killed, find another.  I’ll deny ever saying this but if you have to take one from someone on your own side, do that.  People tend not to expect their battle-brothers, or sisters in this case,  to kill them and take their horse so you can catch them off guard.  Your horse is your best armor and your best weapon.  Keep it between you and the people trying to kill you.  If you can, use it to crush them, if you can’t, let it take the hits for you.  How do you feel about horses?”

“I love them.”

“Will that prevent you from using one to keep yourself alive?”

“No.  I’ve done it before unfortunately.”

“That’s good. Horses are fine animals but they’re not worth risking your life over.  I’ve seen men in the middle of battle trying to save a horse.  You can imagine how well that goes.  If someone wants to take time to murder your horse, that’s time they’re not using to murder you – let them use it while you find another mount.  What you have to avoid is getting down in the melee with the foot soldiers.  You may have heard some old veteran waxing nihilistic about the chaos and blood and horror of being in the press of combat and you may have dismissed it as bold talk – it isn’t.  It is the absolute worst thing you can ever be involved with.  Call it nightmarish, call it Hellish, call it whatever you want, just avoid it. 

When you’re up on your horse, unless a man has a spear or a pike they’re going to have a hard time striking at you effectively.  Once you’re on foot they won’t even need to bother, at your size you’ll get knocked down and trampled to death.  It’s a risk for even a strong man – you got a dozen men behind you pushing you into another man who’s got a dozen men shoving him into you.  You’re pinned together so that you can’t even fight unless you have a knife.  Men trapped like that bite at each other like dogs.  It’s no lie that in the crush of battle, you don’t even know who you’re attacking. 

That’s first.  The second thing is don’t take your helmet off.  Not ever.  It’s heavy and it makes it hard to hear and it cuts off your vision and it’s going to get so hot in there you’re going to feel like you can’t breathe.  But don’t take it off, not even for a second.  If your helmet gets knocked off, find it, or another, and get it back on as fast as possible.  Don’t worry about anything else.  If it gets knocked askew and you can’t see, don’t try to take it off and put it back on, just turn it around.  If you can’t get it back right way around you’re almost better off being blind than taking it off, it’s a hard call.

There’s filthy weakling healers around that can heal you as long as you don’t get stabbed directly in the heart or in one of the main bloodlines in your thigh.  You have a chance to survive most wounds long enough to get healed.  What you can’t survive is getting your brains bashed in or an arrow through the skull.  If you get hit in the helmet it’s going to make you dizzy, you’re going to want to pull it off – do not do this.  If you lose your helmet and you can’t find another, you may be tempted to pick up a shield to protect your head.  Don’t.  If you can even lift it, you’re not going to be able to hold it high for long and then you’re just going to be tired.  You’re better off shielding your head with your weapon or even your arm – even if you’re not wearing armor.  You can live just fine with one arm, you don’t have a spare head.  Not to mention you’re rich you can regrow a new arm magically.

Stay mounted, protect your head.  Horse, helmet, that’s how you stay alive.”

“Got it.  What about attacking the enemy?”

He laughed “I wouldn’t worry about that, you don’t look like you could break an egg.”   

October 11, 1973 – That’s a long wait for a horse that ain’t coming as my grandma used to say

I mentioned that my parents and I were never really on the same page.  It wasn’t that they disapproved of me or I hated them or any of the normal young person-parent stuff, we just didn’t belong together.  I think somewhere along the line, someone passing out babies mixed me up with someone else.  I think my parents were supposed to have a son who was a solid B student, played sports but wasn’t great at them, became an aluminum siding salesman, married his HS sweetheart – pretty (but not too pretty), nice but kind of stupid – had some kids and ran out the clock like everyone else.  

I don’t blame my parents for anything, they just didn’t know what to do with the loud rambunctious little girl that burst into their mild life wanting to be a singer and a dancer and an actress and travel the world.  I told my mother once I wanted to experience everything that life has to offer, that I wanted to “wine and dine with kings and queens, and sleep in the alley eating pork and beans”.  I think she needed a glass to sherry to get to sleep that night.   What would the neighbors think if they knew!

My parents didn’t beat me or lock me in my room or say that I was possessed by the devil, and I think that was the best they could do.  They could have made my childhood Hell, but they didn’t.  It’s weird to say about a child-parent relationship, but we just stayed out of each other’s way.  If you want to be uncharitable, you can say there was some neglect there.  Such as, when I was sixteen I went with some friends to a concert.  There was another concert in another city the next night and on a whim I went to that one too.  At that concert I met some other folks and went to a festival with them in the US.  Six months later when I got home, my parents had moved all my stuff out of my room.  They said they didn’t think I was coming back.   

While my mother and I are not close, my grandma (dad’s mom) and I were very much the otherway.  No offense to my dad, but it’s hard to see how a woman like her raised a square like him.  She was born in New Orleans and always kept a place there.  She said she liked living somewhere the entire world came to visit.  She used to tell stories and say things like “This was after the Irish mob came for my father and we went into the swamp with my mother’s kin for a few years of course” as if it was no big deal.  She told me a thousand tales about her life and I guarantee you that was just the tip of the iceberg.  If anyone should have written a memoir, it was my grandma, but she had no time for that, she had a life to live. 

She was a dance hall girl, she attended Straight University where some people hassled her because she was mostly white, she studied law where some people hassled her because she was a woman, she shacked up with a painter in Panama, she lived in a commune in Australia, she drove in a cross-country race in Russia, she had an affair with the mayor of New Orleans (she broke his heart of course) she dabbled with communism, she visited every continent, she didn’t take shit from anyone, and when the doctors told her she had to stop smoking, drinking, and eating rich food she said “I live the way I live and I’ll die the way I’ll die.”  When the end did come she planned the whole thing, it was like a pharaoh preparing a tomb, only instead of a pyramid she was putting together a party that people still talk about today.  Clark Gable was there and no one knows why. 

Again, not to be a jerk, but I never really give my parents a thought – I miss my grandma every day.  She had a million sayings, not all of them were gems, but she had one for every occasion.  She felt that it was part of her duty to make sure I knew what the world was and how to deal with it.  The thing my grandma used to say that is relevant right now is “If you’re going to do something stupid, make sure it’s really stupid.”   

Blue and I have been hanging around the Russian (actually I now think he’s Polish) guy’s bar in touristville, which never has any customers and is clearly not a front for money laundering.  Just two unemployed, down on their luck superpeople drinking gallons of booze and talking hoops.  Somehow Blue managed to attach wires and foil to the bunny ears on the crappy TV in the back and get a signal from the CS.  It was a game between the Spirits and Pacers but hey, I hadn’t seen any hoops in months.  Any port in a storm right? 

Blue didn’t like my idea of approaching the yakuza.  I figured that since the Shadow Lords are their enemies, that would make us friends, but Blue said that was an even worse plan than trying to befriend pirates.   So I asked Blue if it was true that the Shadow Lords have some supermen on the payroll.  He said that he knew of at least two.  I told him my plan was to find one of them and confront them in some kind of high noon type scenario to show the Shadow Lords that messing with me was more trouble than it’s worth.  He said that was the worst idea he ever heard.  He said that a show of power wasn’t going to back off the Shadow Lords.   

I said that maybe if I beat one of their champions, that would allow me to bargain with them from a position of power.  He asked me what I would be bargaining for.  My goal is to leave and never come back, their goal is to have me make money for them – he said that didn’t allow for much of a meeting of the minds.  Plus he said that I probably wouldn’t win anyway.  When I pointed out that I kicked his ass, he had an answer for that. 

“You caught me by surprise, I underestimated you I admit.  But that wasn’t a fight, that was you breaking my neck in a couple seconds.  If you want to ambush one of these guys and throw a car at him that might work, but these guys are killers, you don’t want to get involved in any kind of straight up hand to hand combat with them.” 

“If I’m such a worthless fighter like everyone keeps saying, why did they kidnap me in the first place?  What did they want me for if not breaking heads?” 

He shrugged, which made his blue lizard skin ripple in an unpleasant way “Maybe they had some heavy boxes they wanted moved.” 

That’s when I had my brilliant idea “Okay forget about the high noon plan, what about the ship?  Maybe the ship that brought me had other people on it like me, brought here against their will.  Maybe I can find them and gather more allies.” 

He sighed “Are you still on this idea of creating a super team of crime fighting heroes?  That’s comic book shit.  And if there was anyone else on that ship, the Shadow Lords already have them.” 

I grinned and clapped him on the back “All the more reason to save them!” 

He made a weird puffing sound that I think is the lizard equivalent of a sour grunt “This is even worse than your first idea.” 

I laughed “You got anywhere else to be, big man?  I’ll give you a moment to check your day planner.” 

Montumazin 1 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) part 2

I’m going to admit something to you folks, despite living in Paladore for more than fifteen I don’t know what it is, I mean formally.  The Kingdom is made up of counties and those counties are administered by Counts and Countesses.  That’s pretty straightforward.  Cathars is the capital of Cymrile County and the Count lives there sometimes.  I know that Dukes are the next level above Counts but below the King.  What I don’t know is what they are actually in charge of.  You’d think that there would be duchies made up of counties and Dukes would be in charge of those, logically that makes sense.  But there are not enough counties for that.  Paladore is not the capital of a Duchy.  So what is Paladore then other than the place where Duke Eaglevane lives?  What is it the capital of?  Nothing?  

I think there are three Dukes that are in charge of all the counties and the other Dukes do stuff with trade or the military or something?  My education really gave me the short shrift on civics and political sciences but I know seventeen different ways to courtesy and so much about fashion and makeup.  Alsio it didn’t teach me what short shrift means.  What I do know that is back in olden times (not the Old Empire though, I don’t think, I got shafted on history too) Paladore was two separate cities that were in separate kingdoms right on the border.  When the THE Kingdom was formed they were forced together like reluctant lovers – not unlike the actual King and Queen at the time.  

It’s easy to tell that Paladore used to be two cities because on one side you have grand towering buildings, sprawling manor houses, bustling markets, and all manner of comforts and opulence.  The other side?  Not so much.  You ever see a turnip that looks fine on the top but the bottom part, which is scraggy and ugly even on a good turnip, is rotting away?  Paladore is a like that, right on the “border” there’s a big band of normal urban sprawl but it gives way to blight the farther you travel across that invisible boundary.  There’s no name for that boundary but everyone knows it’s there.  

I heap a lot of scorn on Graltontown, and justifiably so, but the truth of the matter is that the far west parts of Paladore are even worse.  Because of the scale if nothing else.  The only thing in this world that can make me think for a single moment that maybe city life isn’t the way to go is a glimpse of the crushing poverty and misery if those crumbling parts of west Paladore.  

“Ela what does this have to do with anything?”

I’m getting to it, hold your horses.  Living in the Duke’s palace I didn’t have many glimpses of that part of the city – even on the rare occasion he wanted to go “slumming” we went nowhere near the actual slums.  But when I was a child and was first brought there we passed through west Paladore and I saw something that I will never forget.  A woman, a girl really, was handing a shiv to what could have either been her younger sister or her daughter and saying this “If they see you run, if you can’t get away go for the eyes or the groin first, then the throat.”  That sums up west Paladore in a nutshell.  It’s good advice as well.  For me I changed it a little bit – first keep them talking, if that fails then run, and if that fails then you go for the groin stab.  

I’m fantastic at the talking part.  The running away part depends on where it is – in the country I’m not so good, in the city I’m great at that too.  When it comes to the stabbing I’m better than I ever thought (or wanted) to be but in the final analysis I’m just a mediocre stabber.  I’m good at catching people off-guard and getting the first strike, but if that first attack doesn’t end things or at least seriously debilitate whoever’s on the other end of the stabbing it often puts me in a spot of trouble.  

Keep them talking, avoid conflict, and if that doesn’t work run like the Hells.  And if that doesn’t work fight like the Hells – all thirteen of them.  I suppose I should add in a fourth step, one that has served me well on several occasions – if you can’t beat them beg for mercy.  Beg like you’ve never begged before.  Discard all shreds of dignity and grovel like the most pathetic harmless defeated worm that ever lived.  Offer bribes, flatter them, cry like a damn baby, do whatever you have to do to get them to be lenient.   This is all in service of the number one rule that necessitates all others – stay alive no matter the cost.  

I’ve broken a lot of rules, tons of them in fact, but that was one rule I hoped I would never be on the wrong side of.  Things started off promisingly enough, the undead wolf beast (that was clearly NOT an undead werewolf because that would be ridiculous) was willing to talk.  The problem was that it didn’t seem to have any wants or needs.  Nor did a rotting half-man half wolf waking corpse find me attractive or interesting or useful in any way that I could work with.  After an auspicious opening in a few minutes it was clear that the undead thing was losing interest in talking and gaining interest in attacking.  

I’ll give myself credit for having enough awareness to know that.  Cold comfort, but that’s all the comfort I’m likely to get from here on out.  Since we were in a small office running wasn’t really an option.  I could have backed through the door into the other smaller room and hoped there was a window I could dive out, but I was worried about the thing’s quickness – plus the stalhounds were out there, which I assumed were under the control of this thing.  So that didn’t seem like a good option.

The best bet maybe would have been to try and make it out the front door and onto Stranger.  The beast was between me and that door unfortunately.  What I should have done knowing what I know now is started maneuvering for the door when we first started talking and it was still being amiable, relatively speaking.  But I didn’t know then what I know now.  

So fighting it was.  When it became clear that it was time for violence I did manage to strike the first blow, sweeping it off its feet with this stick I found in Wolcott’s emergency stash.  It doesn’t look like much, but it must be lousy with magic because there’s no way I could have done that all on my own.  I would have liked to wallop a few folks with that, it’s too bad I didn’t get to have it for long.  Speaking of, I really miss that magic walking stick that I had made.  That thing was great.  I don’t usually get attached to things, especially magic things, but I really liked that walking stick.  It had so many things that it could do and it looked great.  It saved my bacon dozens of times.  Plus it was just fun.

But what really would have helped us those boots I used to have that let me run up walls like a squirrel up a tree.  Those were really useful.  If I could have gotten out the window and up the side to the roof now that’s an entirely different situation.  But as they say it’s a dead craftsman who blames their lack of tools.  I suppose I should have overcome my revulsion and learned to do some magic myself instead of relying on items.  I’m sure I could have done it based on the wizards I’ve met. They weren’t the brightest bunch so I bet I could have learned to be great at magic.  I just hate it so much.  I guess for all my talk I was as hamstrung by pride as anyone.  I don’t like magic so I didn’t want to learn magic.  So I didn’t.  I should be better than that, I did all kinds of things I didn’t want to do.  

So I got in the first hit, and maybe one more after that, but then it was all undead wolf-monster from thereon out.  I fought as hard as I could, I assure you of that, but it didn’t amount to much – I’m just not much of a fighter really.  As several people warned me would happen I ran into someone (something really) that was immune to my charms and tricks and was stronger and tougher than I could fight in my wildest dreams.  And as you folks well know I’ve had some wild dreams.  

Getting ripped apart by an undead wolfman was very painful, don’t think it wasn’t, but honestly I’ve had worse.  All the beatings and stabbings and acidings I’ve endured over the last two years were training for this moment I guess.  It wasn’t a painless death but any means, far from it, but it wasn’t so bad all things considered.  I’m sure many people would have wished worse upon me.

Remember that time that guy strangled me and I almost died, or maybe did die for a little while?  Sure you do, it was when I was ransacking the house of the people that the Juosts displaced.  During that strangling and almost death (or death)I had an out of body experience – I was floating outside of my body and I could see what was happening.  This time was nothing like that.  Everything just went black and that was it.  I couldn’t see anything, there was nothing to see.  I don’t think I exist anymore so how could I see anything?  So maybe that’s how you know the difference between a near death experience and death.   

The same guy showed up as that time though.  Out of the darkness the tall, jet-black skeleton with a long, bony tail, and the massive black-feathered wings of a crow.  Over its odd bird-skull face was a bronze mask that appeared to be of the face of the creature inside.  It was very, very, very slowing coming my way.   

But he wasn’t alone.   Coming from another direction was the thoughtful looking bear-like “angel” that was the size of a small house.  And from yet another direction was my old friend Poor Annie, the massive black canine looking like a tiny lapdog in comparison to the huge bear-angel.  I get the feeling that time no longer means anything, yet it still seemed like it took forever for them to get to me – all arriving at the same time.

“So” I said without body or voice “What comes next?” 

Montresor 13 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

Thing’s didn’t exactly work out as I had planned.  Convincing Jonah to let me take his place in the duel took some doing but not as much as you might think.  As much as he didn’t want me putting myself in danger on his behalf (or at all) he really didn’t want to fight Brevoy either.  Once I had him convinced that there was no risk in this switch the rest of the convincing was a forgone conclusion.  He didn’t even raise the masculine objection of being ashamed of hiding behind a woman’s skirts once, which I feel speaks well of him.  Or maybe he’s just a total coward, but I don’t think so.  And I’m a pretty good judge of these matters.

The idea was that I would walk out with Jonah’s appearance and then once everyone was ready for the bloodshed to begin I would drop the disguise, Brevoy would see that it was me – the woman who had taken his hand and presumably haunted his nightmares ever since.  If necessary I would denounce him for the bounder, liar, and dastard that he is and either way he would crumble before my withering gaze, piss himself with terror, and surrender without a single blow being struck.  Sure there might be some moaning from the dueling purists but with Lord Brandymoore having selected such a pathetic blatherskite for a champion there wouldn’t be much he could do about it.  Unless he wanted to pick up a sword himself.  Which he most assuredly would not.  As you well know rich men prefer others to do their bleeding for them.

At first everything seemed like it was going to pan out exactly as I predicted.  The crowd was gathered, ready for blood.  Some bulky fellow with a massive white mustache blathered on about the rules of the contest for a while and then it was time to get down to business.  Brevoy took his position, I took mine with Jonah’s appearance, and then when I revealed my true form Brevoy completely fell apart.  His sword slipped out of the grasp of his fingers and he fell to the ground crying in a heap.  I proclaimed to everyone in attendance that his tales of glory were naught but filthy lies and that I had taken his hand to protect the world from his predatory actions.  People were disappointed they wouldn’t be seeing anyone slashed to ribbons but they were still entertained by this shocking turn of events so all in all they weren’t too angry.

What I hadn’t counted on is that once Brevoy was over his initial shock and fear that he would see this as an opportunity to reclaim his manhood.  Turns out that if you humiliate and maim someone, depriving them of their main source of self-worth, they may hold that against you.  Brevoy is a murderer and a rapist but that doesn’t preclude him from being able to gather up enough courage to do something about his reversal.  I should know better.  Bravery isn’t the providence of the just by any means, a fact which I am well aware of.  I’m tempted to say that I outsmarted myself but that’s not quite right, I just misjudged things.

I was made pointedly (pun) aware of this when Brevoy returned to his feet with sword in hand and executed what everyone agrees was a picture perfect thrust towards my heart.  I don’t know how much he’s been practicing over this last year with his left hand but his progress is pretty impressive.  I only just managed to get my sword in the way enough to deflect his stroke from a killing blow to merely a massively wounding one.  I got run through the belly with a spear once.  That was pretty bad.  Getting a sword through the chest, also not great. 

His second thrust would have gone through my neck if not for the fact that I collapsed to the ground on account of had I had a gaping chest wound.  I’m not sure why he expected that I would still be standing after that first attack hit home.  On the ground I pulled out an adamantine bolt and stabbed him through the foot with it.  He fell down next to me as I dragged out my crossbow as well.  He tried to roll and stab at me awkwardly from his side but a rapier is not a good weapon for ground fighting.  Neither is a crossbow really but I managed to get that bloody adamantine bolt loaded and shot him through the side of the head.  He didn’t die, not right away, but he did stop moving.

One mistake was underestimating Brevoy.   The other mistake was forgetting how seriously some people take dueling.  Trading places with someone in a duel under false pretenses is definitely not okay with these those people.  Nor is producing a hidden weapon.  Or using a crossbow in what was supposed to be a sword fight.  Fighting on the ground also not cool.   And the whole not being a man thing doesn’t help either.  I was still in the dirt guzzling healing potions as fast as I could and trying to avoid dying when several people stormed the dueling field to grab me.  Jonah and some other people counter-stormed and then the retinues of the two lords were in the mix and before you knew what was what it was a mob scene.

I know a little (far more than I want to) about fighting now, but I don’t know much about mass battle.  What I do know is that if you want to live you have to stay on your feet.  If you get knocked down you’re fucked.  If you’re on the ground you have to get back up immediately or you’re dead.  What they don’t tell you is that getting to your feet is pretty hard when you’re being kicked and trampled.  I had just managed to regain a vertical base when someone got a hold of my hair and dragged me back down to the ground.  If I had any idea who it was I would put them in the number two slot on the list right after the Duke.  What kind of human garbage would do something like that?  Drag a woman down in a riot?

I heard a veteran opining once that when you’re getting kicked the instinct to roll into a ball and cover your head is the worst thing you can do – that leaves you open to being attacked.  According to him you need to keep trying to evade and defend yourself.  But I think that advice only makes sense when someone is specifically trying to hurt you, in a scenario like this where it’s impersonal it seems like better advice.  I was able to get the Baron’s cane out and start swatting at legs, which worked okay to clear some space before someone I cracked on the shin fell on me.  I’m not sure I ever wanted anything more than I wanted to get out of that tangled mass of suffocating confusion.  I think the only thing that saved me is biting onto someone’s hand and being dragged up unintentionally by my fucking teeth.  The man who did it punched me directly in the face afterwards.  Hard.  I definitely would have fallen back down if I wasn’t pinned upright by the crush of the crowd at that point.  I think I was unconscious for a split second.

Eventually I managed to slither my way free of the main mass of . . . well fight isn’t the right word, it was more like the frenzy of fish caught in a net and being dragged onto the boat.  I ran towards the vendor stalls and a man on horseback tried to grab me as he rode by.  It was like being clothesline by a tree limb, and he didn’t even get a hold of me, I fell out of his grasp and the horse stomped on my thigh.  Have you ever had a horse stomp on your thigh?  It hurts. 

I crawled under the edge of one of the merchant tents and almost immediately was set upon by a snarling man wielding a cudgel.  I clubbed him in the groin first with the Baronial cane (probably the first time it’s been used like that) and then smashed him on the head until he stopped moving.  A terrified woman was sitting in the corner (some tents have corners) clutching several bolts of cloth to her chest.  He voice had that shrill thinness that people get sometimes when they’re so scared they’re beyond being afraid.

“What’s happening?!”

I spat out a gob of blood and reached for my Flask “I’m having a bad day.”