20 Sep 2019

Heaven’s Rejects - Episode 8

Episode 8 - "With Friends Like These"

Previously:

I took a field trip with Demona to find out just how far this blanket cutting me off from the flow of magic went.  Far enough, but it's shrinking.  That gives me time to find the /kelev/ responsible and feed him a personal part of his anatomy.

It was just us girls going out of town.  Nadia loosened up a bit, though after what happened in the morning, there wasn't much left to be bared.  When she gets a chance to relax, Nadia can be nice, in her own way.

I went looking around Las Vegas trying to find what happened and the people behind it.  I came up with nothing.  That's going to be the focus now.  Team One One Seven can keep looking for the missing John Does.


Now
The next day, Nadia, Ian, and Demona split up, each following up on different leads.  Demona remained holed up in her hotel room, going back to her online research.  Ian walked around Las Vegas, looking into the smaller venues to see if there was anything amiss.  One had a magic act cancel at the last minute, but beyond that, he found nothing out of the ordinary.  Nadia drove around the city in the rented SUV, working out the edges of the blanket cutting her off from the flow of magic.  Through trial and error, she worked out approximately where the blanket was centered.  In the afternoon, she drove to a local high school not far from the Strip.  With school still in session, Nadia could only drive past and make note of the parking lot.

The three met up again in Demona's room to share their findings.  Demona had a Power Point presentation ready to go, much to Nadia's annoyance.  Ian sat down for the report, giving his feet a rest.  Nadia only paced.  Demona's report showed a pattern in when the John Does went missing.  The morgue needed to have at least four unknowns arrive, with the missing John Doe being either the second or third of the night.  She didn't have any information that could lead to exactly when the bodies were removed from the morgue, though.

Demona's smartphone rang, playing the chorus from PSY's "Daddy".  She answered it, then passed the phone and Kaye over to Nadia.  A few minutes later, plans were made for Kaye and one of her teammates to meet in the buffet for dinner.  The meeting broke to let everyone clean up.

Nadia, with a clean black t-shirt to match her jeans and her boots, was the first to arrive at the hotel's restaurant.  She let the hostess take her to a large table.  Ian arrived not long after, trailed by the camera crew.  The crew set up so that no other table would be in the shot.  Ian, wearing a polo shirt that stretched over his frame and a pair of grey slacks, sat next to Nadia, ordering a draft beer while he waited for the rest to arrive.  Demona slipped into the restaurant, trying hard not to be seen,  Even her clothes, a silver cardigan over a grey t-shirt and floor length floral skirt, were meant to not attract attention.  She saw Ian and Nadia and joined them.

As the waitress took Demona and Nadia's drink orders, Kaye Ortiz arrived with a taller man with a dark complexion.  Kaye led the man over to the table.  "Hi guys," she said.  "This is Byron Calhoun, Team One One Seven's magic expert."

Nadia stood up.  "HI.  Nadia Wallach."  She shook Byron's hand.  "This is Ian Markowitz and Demona Bell.  Please to meet you."

"I've heard about your team," Byron said.

"And you still came?  You're brave."  Nadia sat back down.  "I figured the buffet would keep everyone happy.  There's something for everyone."

The waitress returned with Nadia's gin and tonic and Demona's diet cola.  She left with Kaye's request for a glass of white wine and Byron's order of a sour apple martini.  Once the group was alone again, Nadia asked, "How is the John Doe case looking?"

Kaye shrugged.  "Still looking.  Demona's been helpful, crunching numbers.  I've managed to get all the information she wanted.  It still feels like something is missing."

Byron grinned, his teeth gleaming under the restaurant's lights.  "Other than the John Does, that is."

"We figured."  Nadia leaned in closer.  "Have any more gone missing in the past couple of days?"

"One, last night," Kaye said.  "Thanks to Demona, the guys at the morgue were able to tell me when they noticed.  No deliveries, no visitors, nothing else happened before they discovered another John Doe left the building."

Demona frowned.  "That's not possible.  Someone had to be there."

"Unless it's an inside job," Ian said.  "Is that possible?"

Kaye shook her head no.  "The night shift guys have been there for years.  The newest guy on the team came on two years ago.  Someone would notice if any of the others are taking bodies out."

"Just a thought."

"We've been following up a new problem," Nadia said.  She looked over at Byron.  "Two days ago, someone dropped a blanket of sorts that cut off the flow of magic.  We've been trying to find whoever's responsible."

"Oh, well, you can stop looking."  Byron beamed.  "I did that."

Nadia launched herself over the table, knocking over her drink.  Before anyone could react, she had a grip on Byron's shirt.  "You what!?"

Kaye grabbed hold of one of Nadia's arms.  "Hands off my people!"

Ian wrapped his arms around Nadia's waist.  "Let's hear him out first, Nadia."

"Do you know how many people you screwed over with that stunt?"  Nadia ignored the people pulling on her.

"Nadia, people are watching," Demona said.  "They're going to kick us out."

Nadia piushed Byron back into his seat.  "That stunt of yours let every practicing mage and who knows how many supernatural entities know that you're in town.  How does it feel to have a target on your tuches?"

Kaye got herself between Nadia and her teammate.  "If you have a problem with anyone on my team, you bring it up with me."

"Did you know that he was going to do something stupid?"

Byron adjusted his shirt.  "It was a preventative measure.  If someone was taking the John Does to animated, then I delayed them."

"But cutting off the flow of magic in Las Vegas?"  Nadia sat back down.  She worked to get her volume under control.  "You closed off a method of finding the thief.  What sort of mage are you?"

"I'm not.  I'm an alchemist."

Nadia rolled her eyes.  "And you didn't think to ask a mage if your idea was a good one?"

"Do you have a better idea?"

Ian formed a T with his hands.  "Time out, everyone."  He looked over to Nadia.  "We found out who cut off the flow of magic.  One less mystery."  He turned to Byron.  "How about giving all agents a heads-up before you do something like that again.  Maybe you can't feel the flow, but cutting it off sent up a flare.  If there were supernaturals in town that weren't aware there was an Agency team in town, they do now.  That's going to make it harder for all of us."

"There's a bright spot in it, thought."  Demona shrunk back from Nadia's glower.  "Whoever is stealing the John Does isn't using magic, right?  They couldn't have last night, but a body went missing."

Nadia bit her lower lip.  "The rookie has a point.  There's no magic involved."

"Unless they used a potion or an amulet," Byron said.  "Those wouldn't be affected.  The magic's already in the item."

"But can you create something to animate the dead?" Demona asked.

Byron shrugged.  "Probably?  It's just a matter of working out the matrix needed."

"No, you'd still need to infuse the body with magic, even with an amulet," Nadia said.  "Magic items can't store enough magic to do much more than getting a corpse to sit up.  It also takes time to create these things.  How many missing John Does are we up to now?"

"About a dozen," Kaye said.  "Probably more."

Ian drained his beer.  "Unless there's a Frankenstein process involved, that's going to take to prepare."

"Which Frankenstein, book or movie?" Demona asked.

"There's a difference?"

Demona smiled.  "A big one.  Mary Shelley didn't go into the details of how the Monster was brought back to life.  The movie used a lightning bolt.  We're in a desert.  Who is going to count on a thunderstorm to hit here?"

"No one, but Hoover's Dam isn't far from here," Kaye said.  "Maybe an hour out of town at most, depending on traffic."

Nadia looked over to Ian.  "Did you get your gear in yet?"

Ian nodded.  "It arrived around noon yesterday."

"You're thinking of checking out Hoover Dam?" Demona asked.  "I thought /Frankenstein/ was fiction."

"It is, but that doesn't stop anyone from doing something stupid.  Kaye, call your team.  We'll meet them there.  We're going to eat before we go."

-**-

Nadia urged the rental SUV faster down the freeway, passing traffic like the cars were standing still.  Beside in the front passenger seat, Ian braced himself, making sure his seat belt was fastened properly.  He watched as a sedan swerved out of the lane.  A loud honking followed.  Demona clutched at her door handle in the back seat, her knickles turning white.  "Slow down!"

"I'm not even thirty over the limit," Nadia called back.  "The rental company must have put a limiter on it.  It's bad enough that it's an automatic."

"You almost hit that car!"

"I missed, didn't I?"

Ian looked back.  "I think we just blew past a cop going the other way."

"Yeah, and?"  Nadia checked the rearview mirrors.  "It's not like he's gonna catch up with us."

"The police have radios," Demona said.  "He could call us in."

"And say what, there's a speeding truck?"

Demona rolled her eyes.  "If we're stopped, I don't know you."

"If we had my car, we could check the police frequencies," Ian said.

"If we had your car, Demona would be strapped on top," Nadia counted.  "Look, we need to get to the Dam."

"Why the rush?"  Ian winced as the SUV came within inches of sideswiping a semi.  "We don't know that anything's happening there."

"Kaye and the rest of Team One One Seven are on their way."

Demona looked out the back window.  "We passed them ten miles back."

Nadia held down on the horn to get a Corvette to move out of the lane.  "They're still on their way."  She let out a low whistle.  "We're too late."  She pointed over to a bright display of light coming from Hoover Dam.  Actinic light played along power lines.  Over the Dam itself, lightning surged skywards then arced back down.  Thunder cracked.  Winds buffeted the SUV.  Nadia gritted her teeth as she fought to stay on the road.

Coaxing as much speed as she could out of the Ford SUV, Nadia raced to get to Hoover Dam, cutting off a camper as she exited on to the Dam's access road.  The light show dimmed, but didn't end.  Nadia eased off on the SUV's speed on the double-laned road.  There was no traffic ahead of her, though, letting her still drive above the speed limit.  As the SUV neared the last bend before the Dam, a white moving truck roared by.  Nadia put the SUV into a bootlegger turn, throwing Ian, Demona, and the camera crew into the side of the Ford.

"What was--"  Demona's question got cut off as Nadia floored the accelerator.  Tires squealed before they found traction.  "I missed something."

"Hoover Dam's visiting hours ended at five.  It's well past that.  So why is there a delivery truck coming from the Dam?"

Ian shrugged.  "Late delivery?"

"And just happens to be leaving after the light show?"

"Makes perfect sense to me," Demona said.  "If I was a delivery driver, I'd leave, too.  No one gets paid enough for that."

"Okay, you two, answer me this.  If they were running away, would they have passed us sooner, like when the light show began?"  Nadia waited a moment for an answer.  "The average /shlmiel/ would have taken off when everything went nuts.  Even if they froze at first, they'd be gone before the light show ended."

Ian nodded in agreement.  "So what's in there?  The missing John Does?"

"Got a better suggestion?  Oh, shit!"  Nadia stood on the brake.  The SUV screeched to a halt, its front bumper half an inch from a Nevada Highway Patrol cruiser, its lights strobing blue and red.

The state trooper walked around his car to approach Nadia.  "Care to explain why you were so far over the speed limit?"

Nadia produced her license and the rental agreement.  "Hello, Officer."

The trooper glanced at the paperwork.  "I'm waiting."

"This might be above your pay scale, Officer."

"And you want my supervisor."  The state trooper glared at Nadia.  "Just who do you think I am?"

Nadia smiled.  "Look, Officer, did you see the fancy light show with the thunder and lightning just now?"

"Was that your handiwork?"

"Just how fast do you think I was going?"

"At least eighty miles per hour.  I wouldn't be surprised if you hit a hundred."

Nadia glanced back at Ian.  "Maybe I was too harsh on this car."  She turned her attention back to the state trooper.  "To be honest, I didn't think it would go that fast."

The trooper brought out his ticket book.  "Just consider yourself lucky I'm not hauling you--  Is that a camera?  Hey, are you recording me?  Turn it off.  Turn it off now--"

-**-

The biggest obstacle we face in the Agency is law enforcement.  We are told to not break the law but there are times when we bend it.  A lot.  Speeding is minor considering everything else we do, but when it gives the cop a reason to search our car, then it gets a little sticky.


I am not taking the blame for this.  I was just a passenger.  Nadia has a lead foot.  I knew she'd be pulled over.

It'd be easier to do our jobs if we could just pull out a badge that trumps these cops.  Or use some sort of code.  But the Agency wanted to be secret, so no.  At least Kaye arrived to help out.  She has some pull around here.  I gotta ask her how she managed that.


-**-

Nadia followed Kaye back into Las Vegas, driving at a more sedate pace at the speed limit.  The urge to pass Team One One Seven and their full sized passenger van gnawed at her.  She was sure something was happening in the city.  Just what, Nadia didn't know, but there was something happening.

Ian turned on the radio.  He flipped from station to station until he found an all-news broadcast.  The news announcer droned on about the day's news.  Ian looked over at Nadia.  "It's quiet."

The news announcer gave way to the traffic reporter.  "A truck has blocked the Las Vegas Boulevard at East Tropicana.  Police have set up roadblocks in the area.  Traffic is halted in both directions."

After exchanging a glance with Nadia, Ian got out his smartphone.  He sent a quick text to Kaye.  Team One One Seven's van sped up.  Nadia followed suit, passing the van.  Demona grabbed on to Ian's seat.  "What's the rush?  Wasn't one lecture from a highway patrolman enough for one day?"

"Ian, start the timer," Nadia said, ignoring the question.  "We have fifteen minutes."

"Fifteen minutes?"  Demona turned her attention from Ian to Nadia and back again.  "Fifteen minutes until what?"

Ian shifted in his seat to look at Demona.  "Police are already on site.  That means people will wonder what's going on.  The Strip is a tourist attraction, so there's going to be people with phones out taking pictures.  What do you think will happen when they see the John Does walking around?"

Demona shrugged.  "Run away?"  She sat back in her seat.  "No, wait, they wouldn't.  Not right away.  This is Las Vegas, entertainment capital.  They'll think the zombies are part of a show and move in to get photos.  If the zombies attack, then people will get hurt and a panic happens."

"There's more," Ian said.  "One person posting about a zombie apocalypse might not be noticed.  Hundreds posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and any other social media?  That gets noticed.  Hashtag zombies hashtag Las Vegas.  That will bring in the wannabe zombie hunters, who will get in the way."

"Hashtag headshot hashtag morons."  Nadia managed to fit the SUV between a pair of semis.  "Crowd control is hard enough without having the helpful in the way."  She glanced down at the speedometer.  "We should be there in about ten minutes, giving us a really slim margin to get past the police and find whoever stole these John Does."

Nadia pushed the Ford SUV to its limit, never easing up on the throttle until well inside Las Vegas city limits.  Even then, red lights and stop signs were more suggestions than requirements.  It was only when the traffic came to a dead stop that Nadia did, too.  The three agents jumped out of the SUV.  Ian ran to the back to get his gym bag.  Nadia and Demona pushed their way through the gathering crowd.  The white truck that had eluded them at Hoover Dam blocked the road ahead.

Ian caught up to the two women.  He stared at the spectacle in front of him.  "Huh.  You don't see that everyday."  Shambling away from the truck and the roadblock were a score of dead men, each with a pompadour, each wearing a silver jumpsuit.  "Zombie Elvis impersonators."

19 Sep 2019

Heaven's Rejects - Commentary 6

Mission or vacation, in Heaven's Rejects Chapter 6.

Nadia and Ian are treating the trip to Vegas as a vacation.  They're there as consultants, not active investigators, so they're going to take advantage of every moment they can.  Demona, not being an active agent for long, is having second, third, and fourth thoughts about her life choices.  The behaviour comes down to beliefs.  Demona believes that she will get into Heaven as long as she lives well.  She is religious, which I'll get to below, and does her best to be a good person.  Ian and, especially, Nadia believe they won't get in because of what they do to keep people safe.  Nadia is very much aware that she has shut down all avenues.  Thus, Demona is refusing to go beyond her hotel room while Ian and Nadia are enjoying their time in Vegas.

Religion does play a role, at least in the background.  Nadia is a semi-practicing Jew who is fluent in Yiddish insults and swearing.  Demona is Catholic.  Her nature, though, creates problems.  Hallowed ground, and it doesn't matter the religion involved doing the blessing, causes problems for Demona.  Like, she catches fire crossing a church's threshold problems.  When I was creating Demona, I knew she was half-succubus.  The other half is Catholic, or so the joke went in my head.  And she is faithful; of all of her parish's members, she is well aware of what awaits in the afterlife.  Her father raised her as Catholic, and she does go to services when she can.  Holy symbols affect her when used against her, as seen in Episode 1.

That's why I had Nadia try to banish her again.  I wanted to show that Nadia lost her power.  The holy symbol is more a focus than anything else, but if Demona didn't feel the banishing attempt, something is wrong.  One of the reasons Nadia calls herself "Heaven's reject", besides the title drop, is because she knows there's a demon waiting for her to fall so he can drag her to Hell.  No magic, no protection.  No protection, and the demon can grab her when he wants.

Sometimes, writing by the seat of my pants leads to interesting revelations for characters.  At the beginning, I didn't know that Demona spent summers with her mother.  But her mom did want to see her daughter once she was beyond being a toddler.  Custody was easy enough; Hell has the best lawyers.  Demona is essentially the team's walking demon wiki, though with the caveat that she knows specific demons, not all of them.

I knew what the payoff I wanted for this arc of the series was going to be when I started it.  It was a random whim, but damn if didn't turn into a driving force.  I needed to set up the punchline, though, so that it didn't come completely out of left field.  The descriptions are important.  The missing bodies do have something in common.  The reveal is coming, but the body thief does have a plan for her ill-gotten booty.

Friday, Hoover Dam, magical light, and the clock begins, in Heaven's Rejects Chapter 8.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, hiatus week.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, thoughts on a Battlestar Galactica reboot.

13 Sep 2019

Heaven’s Rejects - Episode 7

Episode 7 – The Day After the Night Before

Previously:
Something happened last night that cut Nadia off from her ability to use magic.  I don't get how that works and Nadia's in no condition to explain, but it freaked her out.  A lot.  For reasons.


I should put in for babysitting fees.  Nadia is a loud drunk, the type to get into everyone's business.  I preferred her being morose.  At least she wasn't singing.  She doesn't really get the idea of hitting notes.



Now
Nadia head throbbed, waking her up.  She lay on her stomach, eyes still closed, trying to figure out why her tongue felt like it needed to be mowed while jackhammers pounded her temples.  The bed shifted.  Nadia opened her eyes.  The hotel room didn't look any different, yet somehow, it was.  The bed moved again, as if there was someone else there with her.  Moving slow in case the other person was sleeping, Nadia rolled over.  Seeing Demona, she pushed backwards, falling out of the bed.

Demona stirred at the noise.  "Nadia?"

"What are you doing in my room?"  Nadia picked herself up from the floor.

"This is my room."  Demona sat up.  "You stayed with me last night."

"I what?"  Nadia shut her eyes as her headache redoubled in strength.  "What am I doing here?"  Opening her eyes again, she looked down.  "And where the hell are my clothes?"  She covered her breasts with her hands.

"You threw them around the room last night."  Demona swung her legs out from under the blankets.  "I barely, excuse the pun, kept you from running out into the hall.  Then you took some of the drinks from the fridge here.  I am not paying for those, for the record."

"How did we end up in bed?"  Nadia narrowed her eyes.  "You must have seduced me to sleep with me."

12 Sep 2019

Heaven's Rejects - Commentary 5

Viva Las Vegas, in Heaven's Rejects Chapter 5.

Some nice character moments in the briefing.  Nadia is hooked on British drama and comedies, and would be watching Good Omens if it had been out when I was writing.  She grew up on PBS.  Demona gets to freak out for no apparent reason, though that will come out later.  The idea that the daughter of a succubus isn't allowed to go to Vegas amused me.  I then built the reason around that whim.

Heaven's Rejects was more or less written on whims, with some planning.  Once I had the idea, though, I started working out the details, mostly asking "Why?" as many times as needed.  This entire arc started with a whim.  I'll point it out once it comes up, but I had to keep myself from rushing to the big twist/reveal.

Vegas is set up for gambling.  Casinos exist to drain money from visitors.  It's only gambling when the odds aren't in your favour.  To keep people gaming, everything is set up around the gaming floor.  Lights never change, there's no natural light allowed in, it's easy enough to order something to eat or drink while at the tables.  Some people celebrating every once in a while, because it's always possible to roll a 5 on 2d6 twice before rolling a 7, adds to the idea that you, yes you, could win.  The casinos aren't the only things in Vegas, though.  They're an attraction, but people do live there.

I'm using a few different sources for my interpretation of Vegas.  While not a realistic series - just how did Grissom get the money for two very expensive forensics machines, anyway? - CSI: Crime Scene Investigation did show the city.  Likewise, Ocean's Eleven and its sequels allowed a different look at the city.  I also have friends who have been there that told me about their trip.  It's the "write what you know" adage, except I take to mean do the research before getting too deep.

The camera crew reappear!  The idea behind Heaven's Rejects is that it is a reality series following a team of agents who protect humanity from the supernatural.  They don't get mentioned a lot because the view is meant to be from their lens.  If they get seen, they're doing their job wrong.  But sometimes, it's hard to just forget about them.  They're there in the scene, and if they're present, someone will notice.

Some of the possible uses for the missing bodies come from other sources.  I once played a doctor in a French RPG, Te Deum, set in 16th century France.  Once event in his background was that he stole bodies to practice on when in university studying medicine.  Hence, the frat prank.  The brothel and subsequent comments was inspired by Weekend at Bernie's.  The comment about the ranchers is, well, accurate.

Friday, Nadia and Demona's road trip, in Heaven's Rejects Chapter 7.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Phantom of the Opera (1942).
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, hiatus week.

6 Sep 2019

Heaven’s Rejects - Episode 6

Episode 6 – “What Happens in Vegas”

Previously:
We met with Kaye from Team One One Seven.  She wants us for our knowledge.  Her team is going to do the heavy lifting.  Me and mine get to sit back and relax.  And we're in Las Vegas!  Casino, here I come!


Nadia's happy and Demona's miserable.  And here I am, not trying to get in the middle.  Yeah.  Anyway, if we're not being called in to deal with a problem that the team onsite can't handle, I'll take advantage of the down time.  A show or two, try out a few restaurants, maybe wander through a casino or two.  Maybe there's a bus tour for other sights.  My gear should be on its way, but it's not going to be needed.

I hope I didn't jinx myself.

I hate this place.  Not the hotel.  The entire city.  I could do what I'm doing back in Chicago or even back home in Iowa City.  But, no, here I am in the suitably named "Sin City".  I am never leaving this room except to go to the airport to go home.


Now
Nadia took a deep breath of the night air.  Neon light up her black t-shirt and jeans in a kaleidoscope of colour.  Throngs of people walked around her.  On the road, a steady stream of traffic flowed by.  Nadia turned to the camera crew.  "This is the life, you know?  No worries about what I might be facing tomorrow.  No creature trying to rip off my limbs.  No fighting for my life.or my soul.  You don't get that often in the Agency."  She resumed walking.  "Look at everyone here.  Not a care in their worlds.  I get to be like that for a night.  The only decision right now is which casino I want to go to.  Caesar's Palace?  Circus Circus?  New York New York for a taste of home?  So many choices."

5 Sep 2019

Heaven's Rejects - Commentary 4

Into the belly of Des Moines, in Heaven's Rejects Chapter 4.

I am a pantser during NaNo.  I may have general plans and markers I want to hit, but how I get there is very much dependent on me finding a path as I write.  When I started this arc of Heaven's Rejects, I didn't have an endpoint immediately in mind, but current events of November 2018 and the months leading up to then made the decision easier.  With LTV Paranomalists, written November 2016, I found myself questioning if I wanted to use a redcap as the villain of the part currently in progress.  I didn't want to get that political in my writing.  In 2018, that worry went out the window.  The ghost of a Confederate officer using dark magic to screw over the North?  I had nothing stopping me.

However, Iowa was never a battleground in the American Civil War.  The state supplied food for the North.  I had to figure out why a crazed Confederate officer would be sending ghouls out in Des Moines.  The food supply became the answer; along with Sherman's March to the Sea.  General William Tecumseh Sherman and his troops were determined to end the fighting by making examples of people who fought back, taking their food and livestock and burning their farms.  Why wouldn't a Confederate officer try the same thing to hamper Union supply lines?  The further an army gets from home, the harder it gets to maintain the delivery of required materiel, from guns and ammunition to food and drink.  Cut off part of the supply chain and the army starves.  There was my villain's motive.

From there, I just had to work out the details and how the ghouls came about.  After that, my characters just had to figure out how to stop the ghouls.  I also needed to work out how Team Six died.  So many threads to pull together, though not as bad as the number of dangling plot ends near the end of The Devil You Know.  The other piece I wanted to add is that guns aren't always the best solution.  Ian could have kept shooting ghouls until he ran out of ammunition and they still would keep coming.  The solution, the one Demona discovered and Nadia implemented, took the fight to another level.  I did something similar with The Devil You Know and The Soul Blade.  It makes for a more interesting story.

When I created my core cast, I hadn't planned on throwing in a Confederate villain.  Nadia came about as I realized that I really don't have religious characters for the most part, and the idea of someone using a Star of David to focus faith and magic through in a way that normally involves a cross or crucifix, then failing to exorcise Demona.  Throwing a Jewish woman from New York City against an officer of a breakaway state claiming to be Christian was not planned ahead of time.  I accidentally added some layers there that I didn't realize until I was writing the paragraphs.  Having set up Nadia with her use of casual Yiddish, inspired by the likes of Mel Brooks, her tossing in Yiddish words just helped with the gap between her and the officer.

Setting up the finale, I used a lot of numbers for the cops.  Part of that was thanks to NaNo's word count; one number is one word, three numbers triples the count.  I could also toss in the 404 error, this time, "Police officer not found."  The supervisor's numbers were randomly generated.  I don't even know if that's how Des Moines's police department runs things.  It was needed, it worked, therefore, it stayed.

Friday, two out of three Rejects enjoy Vegas, in Heaven's Rejects Chapter 6.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Superman vs the Mole Men.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, The Phantom of the Opera (1943).

30 Aug 2019

Heaven’s Rejects - Episode 5

Episode 5 – “Sin City, Here We Come!"

Previously:
Hi, I'm Demona, and I'm the new girl on the team.  I'm supposed to be the demon expert, but I'm more a researcher than anything else.  Last week, I managed to distract ghouls by offering myself as bait.  That doesn't sound as good as it did at the time.


I'm Ian.  I work with my partner, Nadia, and our new, I guess you'd call her an apprentice?  An intern?  Trainee?  Anyway, Demona.  We cleared out a nest of Confederate ghouls in Des Moines, so I'm hoping for something less threatening to the public.  One where if we mess up, no one gets eaten.

The Chief owes us.  He sent us into a situation blind.  That we got out with our tuches in one piece is a bloody miracle.  I'm going to spend the time catching up on Doctor Who, Coronation Street, and Dirk Gently.  Anyone disturbing me better have coffee with them.


Now
Nadia strode into the Chief's office, not caring that she was half an hour late.  She dropped into a free chair.  "I thought we were getting a week off."

The Chief looked up from his paperwork.  "So happy you could make it, Ms Wallach."

"I was watching a Doctor Who marathon, Chief.  I told you that I was going to be incommunicado.  What the hell were you thinking, sending Ramona?  Without coffee, even."

"Done?"

Nadia settled into her chair.  "Done."

"Good."  The Chief slid an envelope over to Ian.  "Team One One Seven requested you.  They've been tracking some oddities in Las Vegas.  You three get to go help them."

Demona held up her hand.  "Um, sir?  Las Vegas?  Sin City?  That Las Vegas?"

The Chief levelled his stare at the former librarian.  "Unless there's another one in the world, yes, that Las Vegas."  He leaned back in his chair.  "Everything you need to get to Vegas is in the envelope.  Talk to Marcie about shipping any other gear you need.  Team One One Seven should have supplies, too."

"I can't go to Vegas!"

29 Aug 2019

Heaven's Rejects - Commentary Break

Taking the week off from the commentary.  I'll get caught up after the long weekend.

Friday, dealing with missing persons, in Heaven's Rejects Chapter 5.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Kong: Skull Island.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Superman vs the Mole Men.

23 Aug 2019

Heaven's Rejects - Episode 4

Episode 4 – “Hello Darkness"

Previously:

Me and Demona found where Team Six set up.  Turns out, they had found a pattern of disappearances and found out there were ghouls around.  Now we're trying to stop them from coming out and eating everyone in Des Moines.  Fun times to be had by all.


Now
Nadia pulled the minivan to a stop in front of the police roadblock.  "Ian, you're with me.  Everyone else, stay here."  She got out of the van and strode towards the police officer.  "You!  I need your supervisor!"

The officer stepped forward to stop the woman.  "You can't be here."

"You're telling me.  Wallach."  Nadia hooked a thumb in Ian's direction.  "Markowitz.  CDC."

"What?"

"Center for Disease Control."

"No one told me you were coming.  I need some ID."

Nadia flashed an exasperated look at Ian.  "No one told you?  I don't believe this.  A major breakout and no one told you we were coming."  She pulled out her leather ID case and handed it to the cop.  "Here.  And get a supervisor here."

The officer clicked his radio.  "Dispatch, this is Four-Zero-Four Adam.  I need an officer in charge at my location."

"Four-Zero-Four Adam, informing officer in charge," a woman's voice said over the tinny radio speaker.  "What is the problem?"

"Is that encrypted?" Nadia asked.  "Not a word unless it's encrypted.  Do you want to start a panic?"

22 Aug 2019

Heaven's Rejects - Commentary 3

Ian and Demona spend time together, in Heaven's Rejects/ Chapter 3.

The biggest problem in investigations is picking up the pieces someone else left behind.  I run into this in IT a lot.  If there are good notes, it's easy to read through them, ask a few questions, then try a few fixes.  Looking for the supernatural when the previous investigators are not just dead, but dead and spread around a few blocks makes it difficult to find the notes.  This is what Ian and Demona are working on.

I made the choice to have no magical hackers, the type who can type on random keys to break through firewalls.  Demona covers the tech side somewhat, but her expertise is search engines, not breaking into high security systems.  She needs proper permissions on her account to access the files she needs at her library job.  Ian's version of hacking involves swords and Nadia, well, she's the type to make a tech's life hell until her computer works.

Team Six needed a place to work out of and the organization everyone is working for is tight with money.  Instead of a long-term stay in a hotel, they could pool their money and rent something with more space and privacy.  It saves the organization money in the long run and gives the team more options.  Furniture is another matter.  IKEA came to mind - inexpensive, easy to transport, and easy to break down when it's time to bug out.  Turns out, though, that the nearest IKEA is in Merriam, Kansas.  Oops.  Oh, well.  The Neiden is a real bed, though.  I figured that using an actual name available would be more funnier than anything I could come up with.

Demona is an innocent in all this.  Kicking down doors is not her usual approach to anything.  It is Ian's preferred method, though.  Nadia's, by the way, is to throw fireballs, so it was probably best she wasn't there.  Demona, though, isn't one to arbitrarily break a law.  She needs a very good reason.  It's mostly from her upbringing.

Ghouls made the most sense to me at the time of writing.  I was pantsing again, though with a better idea of end points along the way.  World building wasn't getting in the way - the real world already exists and has locations I can find online for details when I needed it.  Ghouls also replace zombies with one major difference - ghouls aren't mindless, though they are driven by hunger.

Nadia and Demona still have some issues between them, the biggest being Demona being half-succubus and a complete rookie.  The latter can be fixed through experience.  At some point, Nadia is going to have to take a chance on Demona.

Friday, hunting ghouls, in Heaven's Rejects Chapter 4.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Kong Kong vs Godzilla.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Kong: Skull Island.

16 Aug 2019

Heaven’s Rejects - Episode 3

Episode 3 – “The Ends of Des Moines"

Previously:
Yeah, we got the job to clean up after Team Six's disaster.  Worse, the Chief brought in the demon librarian.  So now we're stuck in Des Moines.  Wonderful.



Something happened.  Even Team Six doesn't go all explosion happy for no reason at all.  I'm taking Demona in under my wing, more to keep her out of Nadia's hair than anything else.  We found ground zero, but nothing strange.


My first mission with the Agency and Nadia and Ian!  I'm so excited!  Though, next time Nadia recommends the coffee somewhere, I'm having tea.  My stomach's still feels like something is chewing its way out.


Now
The next morning, Ian met Demona outside their rooms.  The mountain of a man escorted the young librarian down to the van.  "Breakfast first," he said.  "Always get a good meal when you can."

Demona stared up at the room Ian shared with Nadia.  "What about Nadia?" she asked.  "Shouldn't she have breakfast, too?"

"Nadia exists on bad coffee and bagels.  And she's not pleasant in the morning."

"Just in the morning?"  Demona smirked.  "Tell me the truth, Ian.  Does she hate me?  Because that's the vibe I'm getting off her."

Ian sighed.  "Nadia isn't exactly cuddly, okay?  Think of her as a feral cat.  One that is as likely to scratch and bite you if you try to pick her up, but might approach you if you ignore her."

"I suppose."

"Let's find a diner.  We can sit there for a bit and brainstorm where Team Six might have stayed.  Got your laptop?"

Demona patted her shoulder bag.  "Right here."

"Great!"  Ian unlocked the minivan and opened the passenger door for Demona.

Ian drove through the streets of Des Moines, trying to avoid the morning rush traffic by taking side streets and finding a way to go against the flow.  He found a chain diner near the Interstate that didn't look too busy and pulled into its parking lot.  Getting out, he checked under his coat, making sure he only had his smallsword.

15 Aug 2019

Heaven's Rejects - Commentary 2

Can't keep a librarian away in Heaven's Rejects Chapter 2

Obviously, Demona was going to stick around.  She was the first character conceived of for the story.  The story really sprung up around her; Demona started as a character idea.  While I was working on her, I realized that she worked best with other characters around, which led to Nadia and Ian.  Demona counters Nadia in terms of personality.  Demona is generally cheerful and survives on more than bad coffee.

Nadia used to survive on cigarettes and bad coffee, but had to make a sacrifice.  She gave up smoking.  I may slip in the Airplane joke at some point with her, but not right away.  She's good for being cranky.  Just what you'd want in a mage, right?

Ian is the weapons master, the brawn to Nadia's brains.  His job is to have the right weapon at the right time.  He is good at hiding his weapons in his car.  Really good.  He owns a Mini.  I also added in that he finds Demona attractive.  Might be more informed beauty at this stage, but Demona is part succubus, so some attractiveness is expected.  Ian has a thing for hot librarians.

First Iowa City, then Des Moines.  There's a reason, beyond wanting to send my characters to places that really aren't known for glamour or class.  Heaven's Rejects was a NaNoWriMo project, so word count mattered.  Every city that the story went to needed to have at least two words.  If I could have figured out an arc for Ho Chi Mihn City, I would've used it.  That would've required research and planning.  However, if the series works out, I may still use the city.

Friday, picking up the cold trail, in Heaven's Rejects/ Chapter 3.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, The Expanse.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Kong Kong vs Godzilla.

9 Aug 2019

Heaven’s Rejects - Episode 2

Episode 2 – “Clean Up”

Previously:
That had to be the worst mission I'd been on.  That includes the incident in Port au Prince.  We failed to bring back the book, Pro Daemonium Accersito.  An actual demon is summoned by a teenaged girl out for petty revenge.  And the librarian is half-succubus. 


That wasn't too bad, that last mission.  No one got hurt.  Much.  We kept everything under control.  Sorta.  And we know where the book is if we ever need it.  Maybe.  Oh, hey, right, the librarian was helpful and kinda cute.  Though being half-succubus, that comes with the territory.  Um, we didn't destroy the entire library, just the Special Collections Room?

That was an interesting day, to say the least.  Who knew that the book's errata was out there?  I got to see an old friend, though, and the girl responsible is working to pay for damages, whatever insurance doesn't cover.  But the library is going to be closed until the repairs are done.  Now what do I do?


Now:
The Chief looked up as Nadia, Ian, and the camera crew entered his office.  "Good.  Everything squared away?"

"Look, Chief," Nadia started as she sat down, "this isn't going to work."

"I saw the footage, Ms Wallach.  Other than everything that went wrong on your part, it looked to be working to me."  The Chief turned his attention to Ian.  "Going to add anything?"

"No, sir," Ian said.

"Good.  For a mission where you didn't retrieve the objective, it worked out for the best at the end.  But I did see an area where you two are lacking."

Nadia crossed her legs, the denim of her jeans swishing.  "I don't think we were missing anything except proper information that the local team should have determined when they first got there.  But, well, hard to admonish them now, seeing that they're scattered around Des Moines."

"That's why I'm adding an extra body on your team, someone who can get that information."  The Chief pressed the intercom button on his landline.  "You can send her in."  Behind the Chief, a door slid open.  Nadia and Ian recognized who walked through.

"Chief, tell me your joking."  Nadia stared at the newcomer.  "Right?  Right?"

Ian smiled.  "I didn't think we'd see you so soon."

Demona waved.  "Hi."

8 Aug 2019

Heaven's Rejects - Commentary 1

A new serial started with Heaven's Rejects Chapter 1!  Three new characters with their own setting to explore and destroy!

I'm trying something new with this serial.  The core idea was to mash urban fantasy and reality TV together.  By reality TV, I'm aiming for something like COPS with the asides of other reality competitions tossed in.  The Office meets Ghostbusters, though not quite that.  For the asides, I wanted to add images of who was speaking, taking advantage of the medium.  Since my drawing skills are at the level of malformed stick figures, I had to go a different route.  Fortunately, many computer games allow for character customization.  The Sims series is built on that idea, along with creating a soap opera over multiple families and killing Sims in unique ways.  Meet Ian, Nadia, and Demona.

Ian
Demona
Nadia



The organization Nadia and Ian work for doesn't have great funding.  It's a Non-Governmental Organization getting funds from organizations that don't want their names revealed and don't really have that much spare money to pass along.  So, Ian prefers his car, a Mini, and I'm playing with the idea that he has the original version instead of the remake.  He is able to hide a zeihander, a German two-handed sword that is up to 213 cm (84 inches) long in a car maybe twice that length.  Should be easier to hide the sword in a minivan, but that's Ian for you.

The idea is inspired by Demon Hunters from Dead Gentlemen Productuons, though I'm creating everything from scratch.  The organization is more earthly than the Brotherhood of the Celestial Torch, and the hierarchy is more loose.  Nadia and Ian report to "The Chief", but he's not the head nor is he near being the head of the the organization.  Ian's explanation gives a view at the ground level, what he and Nadia do.  Higher up is the tracking and planning, deciding where to deploy the agents and specialists.

Obviously, Nadia is Jewish.  Speaking (badly translated) Yiddish, the Star of David, the whole /schlemiel/.  I'm using Mel Brooks movies as a guide to Yiddish, so things might not come out the best.  The choice came after some thoughts about the use of faith against hte supernatural.  Since most of the writers creating supernatural canon, like Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker were of some flavour of Christianity, the focus of True Faith tended to be a crucifix.  But if it's faith that drives back the supernatural, then why not other holy symbols?

The twist on the summoning came about because of genre.  Heaven's Rejects isn't meant to be serious.  Some ideas could be redone seriously elsewhere, but urban fantasy could use more comedy.  A demon named Tad becoming cheerful on seeing an old friend.  Demona's battle cry of "Shush!"  More will come.

Friday, Nadia and Ian get a new teammate and a new mission, in Heaven's Rejects Chapter 2.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Teen Wolf.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, The Expanse.

2 Aug 2019

Heaven’s Rejects

Episode 1 – “Yes, You Have To.”

“Are you out of your mind, Chief?”  Nadia pulled her arm away from Ian’s attempts to get her to sit back down.  “What part of ‘secret organization’ have you forgotten?”

The Chief stared across his desk at Nadia.  The young woman didn’t back down, but also she didn’t continue forward.  “Times are changing, Ms Wallach.”

Ian leaned away from his partner.  “After what happened to Team Six, it’s kinda hard to hide again.”

“Edward was a disaster waiting to happen and you know it, Chief.”  Nadia sat back down.  She glared at the camera crew lurking in the corner.  “Just like these guys.  Bringing civilians along is a bad idea.”

“You’re not in the army, Ms Wallach,” the Chief said.  “You’re also a ‘civilian’.  Same with Mr. Markowitz.”

1 Aug 2019

NaNo 2019 Prep - The Contenders

November is coming.  Okay, it's still three months away, but with The Elf's Prisoner just recently completed and all its lessons on not building a world on the fly, I better brainstorm a bit.  I do have a few ideas, though.

1) Magical Lush Claire
I won't take all the credit or all the blame for this one.  A friend made an off-hand remark on Twitter and that triggered ideas.  I've started working on the setting and the characters, and I have a good idea on how things start.  Claire is a geology student at a local university, in part to make world building much easier, and is not having an easy life when things start.  I also have the rest of her magical girls team.  The idea here is that Claire, being a young adult, doesn't have a strong connection to the magic like a younger girl would.  To access the magic, she needs to lower her inhibitions, something alcohol does well for people.  And if she gets too drunk, she might accidentally change anyway.  I've got the opening worked out and an idea of how the other magical girls will treat her.

2) Subject 13 Volume 2
The plan here is to skip the massive battle with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and just give a quick recap of it through a news program, just to get Nasty home finally.  Nasty will be stepping down as Peregrine, as hinted in Crossover, and get her into the difficulties of having a semi-public ID, especially at school.  The usual problems, like dealing with Tia and trying to get a handle on her feelings for Eric, though those can't really outpace what happened in /Crossover/.  There will be some surprises for Nasty, though.

3) Streetwise Valkyries
I've already written the first four chapters of this, a team of teenaged superheroines who are dealing with their own lives, their relationships with each other, and the baggage of superpowers.  I have a few ideas to run them through, too.  The five, Lady Windchime, Miss Mana, Unruly, Ocelot, and the Steel Poppy, have been detailed in notes, including classes where I can pull them out of when needed.  This may hit topics that need to be hit, like school shootings.  There may be a crossover with Subject 13, too, though there's already a character who has appeared there.

4) Total Security Concepts
Another superhero series, this time set in Ottawa.  Total Security Concepts looks at the task of protecting people from superpowered threats.  Colleen, the owner of TSC, has designed a set of power armour.  Unlike most heroes who do that (I'm looking at you, Tony Stark), Colleen is mass producing them, at least for her employees.  She also employs people with superpowers; fight fire with fire.  TSC will also fall into the S13 setting, to make things easier and to give that setting a bigger feel.  If I go with S13 Volume 2, the team will get a shout out.  The story will start after the battle I'm planning on skipping in /S13/.

The usual contenders from previous years may pop up, too, most likely the time travelling daikaiju hunters.  That story needs a lot more research on historical eras and how a giant monster stomping around can change the course of history.

Three months to prep.  That should be enough time.

26 Jul 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Future Plans

Thirty-seven full chapters and a third of another later, The Elf's Prisoner is not complete.  The plot is a complex web of conspiracies that Kazi, Nyssa, Jyslyn, Wren, and Leo and cutting with a sharp sword.  Different cultures have appeared.  What's next?

That's the big question, even for me.  I have ideas of what I want, and I know that there needs to be a showdown against the Big Bad.  It's the path to get there that's in question.  The general direction is south, thanks to Sessarine.  South seems like a good spot to have backstabbing snake people.  It's warm, it's humid, there's rocks.  Everything a snake might like.

Along the way, the group would meet other Niceans and the crystal elves.  I don't want a travelogue, but the world would get explored.  The Niceans are more laid back than the ambassador to the Realm Under the Mountain is.  The crystal elves, well, they're another matter.  Like the elves of Wildwood and the Sundered Chasm, the crystal elves are a matriarchy.  They're also who the dark elves were sundered from and they have long memories.  Jyslyn would become their prisoner until Kazi and Wren sorted things out.  Jyslyn has some of her own tricks up her sleeves, too.  The crystal elves are very much into magic.  Jyslyn goes for practical means as needed, so getting out of manacles while in a magic dampening field is a matter of sleight of hand.

Speaking of ambassadors, it occurred to me that the ambassadors from both the Nicean Islands and the Seven Dominions are officious.  While the Nicean ambassador had other matters on his mind, the respective governments may have sent such people to deal with the dwarves because the dwarves appreciate such an approach.  That may have been the insight I was missing when I started Chapter 38.  Nyssa hinted at it, though.

Once done in the Realm, the heroes will take a canal boat to the coast.  I have a working canal locally, the Rideau Canal, that will help me with ambiance and actual working of shipping along a waterway.  It can pay to take note of what's around.  Anything can be tossed into a story.  Once down the canal, off to the Nicean Islands to catch a ship further south.  That may be the perfect spot to end the first book.  Not that I intended The Elf's Prisoner to have multiple books.  It kinda got away from me.

Long term, I need to get Kazi and Jyslyn to become a couple.  A possible sequel set decades later would have their children dealing with Valenza and her machinations.  Valenza has a long memory and the capability to nurse a grudge until the time is right for vengeance.  How best to do that than to tempt one of Jyslyn's kids back into the fold?  Jyslyn would be older and crankier by this time and is feeling her years.  Kazi, not so much.  The difference between dark elves and surface elves.

The biggest lesson learned from The Elf's Prisoner is to have the world built before starting to write.  So much effort was spent laying down the tracks in front of the characters that could've been used figuring out plot and characters.  However, I also learned that I can create a world on the fly while letting the characters interact to hide the frantic paddling.  It's a good skill, one that shouldn't be overworked.

This ends The Elf's Prisoner for now.  Unlike the other stories that were unfinished, there's too much right now to try writing chapter by chapter for the next few weeks.  I have other stories in the works right now and I do have a serial lined up for the next ten weeks.  I'll also post the potentials for NaNo 2019.  Thanks for sticking around for The Elf's Prisoner.

25 Jul 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 38

The sudden stop, Chapter 38.

Not much to Chapter 38, is there?  I reached this point in the final days of NaNoWriMo 2015 and the creative well was empty.  It wasn't a block.  I had a sense of where I was going.  I just didn't have the creative juice to keep going.  I not only was creating the plot, I was creating the world, and I realized that I didn't have enough in my to flesh out dwarven culture.  I considered myself lucky to figure out the naming convention for dwarves.  (For the record, Aztec/Mayan names.  Because no one has done that before.)

There's not much to talk about.  Nyssa's using some linguistic tricks to get away with having Jyslyn, Leo, and Wren at the meeting.  The dwarves aren't going to hold Jyslyn's home against her; they're not going to let her make any mischief but they'll give her the rope she needs to hang herself.  Having all five, though, sends a message that the problem is bigger than imagined.

The goal of the meeting is to find out if the dwarves have a problem with Count Varin.  None of the heroes believe there is one, but getting it confirmed by the dwarves is key.  Nyssa can send a missive back to the Count and to the King and be considered to have discharged her duty with this mission.  That leaves her free to pursue the investigation.  She's there under orders of the King, not Varin.  The King likes results.

/The Elf's Prisoner/ is not something I'd want to do again, not the way I did it.  Worldbuilding is something that should be done in advance, even if it's just where the story is happening.  Steve Savage, who runs The Seventh Sanctum where I have Lost in Translation, has a series of books about worldbuilding and the different elements that go into it.  It's not something that is easily done on the fly.  Quite frankly, I am surprised that The Elf's Prisoner got as far as it did.  Lesson here, it helps to plan a bit, even if you pants the story.

I don't think I could have written The Elf's Prisoner even five years sooner.  It was my tenth NaNo, and just being able to tackle a large project with little prep helped show me how far I've come since Lethal Ladies, my first NaNo project.  The plot is more complex.  The world is deeper despite the rapid development.  Everyone has a motive.  There's a sense of a world outside the pages.  I can live with what I wrote.

Tomorrow, what could be, the future of The Elf's Prisoner.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, advertising, adaptations, and Wacky Races.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, The LEGO Batman Movie.

19 Jul 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 38

Chapter 38

Previously:
The new path.
Entry Cavern, Realm Below the Mountain
Jyslyn stared in awe at the sheer size of the Entry Cavern.  Her home, the Morien Citadel, towered over most of the other residences within the Sundererd Chasm, but even the Citdel was overshadowed by the immenseness of the Realm Below the Mountain, more so because the dwarves had hollowed out the mountain itself, not just settling inside where space allowed.  The dark elf, covered head to toe, felt a nudge.  Wren urged her to keep up.  Jyslyn brought herself back to the moment and fell back in pace behind Kazimier and Nyssa.

A dwarf in armour made from a black metal greeted the group.  He set down his massive warhammer.  "You're Kellus and Starpetal?"

Kazimier stepped forward.  "I am Kazimier Starpetal."  He waved an arm at the knight.  "This is Dame Nyssa of Kellus."

"And who are the rest?"

"Our companions."

"The scroll said nothing about companions."

"The response didn't say anything about just the two of us attending," Nyssa said.

The dwarf spat on the stone road.  "Follow me."  He picked up his warhammer and began walking, not noticing or caring if he was followed.

Instead of going up to Embassy Row, the dwarf led the group on the road down, into the Realm Below the Mountain.  The light globes grew further apart, still lighting the road but not as brightly as ine the levels above.  After a fifteen minute walk, the dwarf stopped in front of a structure carved into the mountain.  "The Temple of Stone," he announced.  He looked at Jyslyn.  "Not polite to hide your face in the temple."

Jyslyn glanced at Kazimier, who only nodded.  She removed her hood.  "I didn't know if I would be allowed in."

The dwarf scowled. 

Next Week:
An overview of what is planned.

18 Jul 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 37

The last full chapter of The Elf's Prisoner, Chapter 37.

Chapter 37 was the last full-sized chapter written for The Elf's Prisoner.  By the end of NaNo 2015, I was exhausted from not just creating the story but also creating a world several steps ahead of my characters.  NaNo is a marathon, not a sprint, though there are days when sprinting happens, thanks to local events.  Mentally, I was tired.  I knew that I had to step back and figure out not only where the plot was going, as in, what were the characters going to do, but where it was going, as in, where in the setting needed to be developed.

I did wind up working on the world after NaNo.  There is still a lot of world to be developed, but if the characters aren't going there, there's no push to fill in the details.  However, when I ended NaNo in 2015, I had to figure out dwarven culture and names, southern culture, how the characters will get there, how to avoid unnecessary random encounters, and how to keep the plot on track and going and still be interesting.  That's just exhausting to think about, really.

Chapter 37 recaps a lot that has happened now that the group is back together.  However, I wanted more than just restating the obvious.  The group needed to figure out where to go.  There's no turning back from the mission now; there's too much at stake.  As a group, they figured out the details, like where Sessarine might be from.  Leo is thinking of the name Sevarine here, mind, but it's close enough.  What I did was take Sevarine and had a snake say it, since she's half snake.  I'm not going to ignore an obvious convention when it makes my job easier.

The canal was tossed into Chapter 28 as a way for the Realm Under the Mountain to ship ore and goods off for trade.  It became far more useful than I imagined.  First, the Canal District in Silver Trailings became the shadier part of the city, a place where thieves skulked.  The other use I found for it was travel, as in, I can get the heroes down the mountain without dealing with roads and bandits and all sorts of distracting encounters.  It may not be the most comfortable trip, but it's direct and patrolled.

The Tivalan, Sevarine, was a royal brat.  Poor Leo was assigned to watch over her, since he's just a squire.  Being from the south, Tivalans have darker skin in general, though there's varience.  The goal was to make this world feel like Earth, with different shades of skin throughout.  I have no idea if this is working, though.  Too much time spent in too small an area.

The last tidbit, The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 38.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, the balkanization of television.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, advertising, adaptations, and Wacky Races.

12 Jul 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 37

Chapter 37

Previously:
Jyslyn made some key discoveries.
Inn of the Foxes, Silver Trailings, outside the Realm Below the Mountain
Once the elves returned to the inn, the group gathered in Kazimier's room.  Leomund stood beside Nyssa, who sat in one of the room's two chairs.  Kazimier claimed the second chair, sitting near the knight.  Wren and Jyslyn sat on the bed, the latter in her new dress.  Leomund worked at not staring at the dark elf, succeeding most of the time.  For her part, Jyslyn didn't notice the young squire's furtive glimpses.

"We have some news," Kazimier said.  "Whether it's good or not is up to you."

"My feeling is that it's a mix," Nyssa said.  "First, the Niceans now know the fate of their ambassador.  It's hard to tell whether they're relieved, angry, or overjoyed."

"We may have forced them to cancel a war footing build up," Kazimier added.  "The Minister didn't indicate anything to us.  To be fair, the Niceans were a new addition to everything we have discovered."

"Second, we did get a reply from the dwarves.  They sent their missive to the embassy for the Seven Dominions, not to us."  Nyssa held up the scroll from the Realm Below.  "The meeting is tomorrow morning, back in the Realm Below.  We may have an third person with us, the ambassador from the Seven Dominions.  She received the scroll on our behalf."

Wren held up her hand.  "Is she someone we can trust?"

11 Jul 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 36

Sibling rivalry, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 36.

I realized that while I had the villain introduced, I didn't have a way to let the heroes know who is the immediate mastermind.  Sessarine had a few appearances, but the way the plot was going, it'd be some time before Kazi et al found out anything, if ever.  Silver Trailings was introduced to be a trade town, so beings from any number of nations and cultures could be here, which helps with Sessarine.  I just needed a way to make a connection to the heroes.

Enter Biala.  I introduced him with the rest of Jyslyn's siblings, more to flesh her out than anything else.  But, much like Mara in The Devil You Know, once introduced, Biala became useful.  First, he's a link to Jyslyn's past, one that isn't sympathetic to her.  Second, while Valenza is busy consolidating her new role as family matriarch and Tereska is busy trying to not die by her sister's hand, Biala has spare time.  He just needed a motive to join Sessarine in her plot.

Biala's motives comes from wanting to destroy his society to rebuild it in his/the Defiler's image.  Valenza wants power, but she doesn't want to destroy the power structure to get it.  What's the point of striving and strategic murdering if society is left in ruins and all she gets to rule is a half a dozen vermin?  Biala hasn't planned that far ahead.  But he has a plan and Sessarine is a useful pawn.

Just don't tell Sessarine that.

Obviously, the roster of deities expanded in this chapter just from necessity.  The Defiler is a deity of destruction and corruption.  Followers tend to leave things in worse shape when they leave.  Destroying the Sundered Chasm?  Almost too easy, except that the matriarchs there hold on to power like a koala holds on to an eucalyptus tree.  However, the ensuing chaos will send ripples through society, destabilizing it further.  If successful, there may not be much left of the Sundered Chasm.

When Jyslyn was skulking around to learn magic, she realized she needed some practical spells.  Spells that weren't direct, to get around magic resistance, helped earlier.  Jyslyn also planned on being caught at some point.  She has a spell to unlock chains and manacles.  However, given where she's learning magic, spells tend to be rough on the recipient.  The manacles needed to close tighter before releasing.  This goes back to the idea of special effects for spells.  Just as Kazi needs to use light as a motif, Jyslyn can't really use magic on herself without causing pain.  Once the voyage to stop a massive chaotic war is over, she can start learning new ways to cast spells, ones that don't hurt when cast on herself.  Her rod, as mentioned before, is a way to channel magic without burning herself out.  She can cast without it, but she becomes the path for mana.

A new direction, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 37.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Solo.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, the balkanization of television.

5 Jul 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 36

Chapter 36

Previously:
Politics and worries.
The Busty Dryad, Canal District, Silver Trailings
The manacles hung heavy on Jyslyn's wrists, pinning her arms behind her back.  Her cloak and tunic sat in a crumpled heap where they had landed after Biala removed them from her.  Her brother pulled on her arm, forcing her to sit down hard on a creaky chair.  He stepped back out into her view.  "Now, dear sister, we can talk."

"Are you sure that'll hold her?" the young man asked, his voice trembling with nervousness.

"Not even a Matriarch can cast spells with her arms locked together."  Belial knelt down to meet Jyslyn eye to eye.  "Shall I start to tell you just how much trouble you are in?"

Jyslyn maintained the eye contact without flinching.  "Just how is Mother these days?"

"Dead.  She died in a tragic accident."

"She was tragically in Valenza's way, you mean.  Just how did Valenza kill Mother?"

"Do you really think Valenza did the deed herself?"

"It's so hard to tell with her.  Did she see killing Mother as a task or as sport?"

4 Jul 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 35

Political complications for Nyssa, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 35.

It's the final countdown until the end of what's written with The Elf's Prisoner.  The plot is coalescing.  Characters are coming together and relationships are forming.  It only took thirty-five chapters, and I'm not even close to the middle.

Nothing happens in a vacuum.  Having a Knight of the Realm appear with no warning sends a message, intentional or not.  The embassy to the Realm Under the Mountain had no idea Nyssa was coming.  Mind, that isn't on Nyssa.  Count Varin should have sent a missive; he didn't.  Nyssa should have sent a note to the embassy announcing her arrival, but her approach is more bull in a china shop.  His Majesty thought he had one problem, not the one that exists.

Enide is officious, but she wasn't appointed to get her out of the king's hair.  Her mindset is useful when dealing with the dwarven realm.  Every regulation has a purpose, even if she cannot fathom it.  'Tis better to obey than to risk offending her hosts.  Trade between the Realm Below and the Seven Dominions is good, so she is doing her job well.

Wren tried to stay calm.  The day has past, though, and Jyslyn hasn't returned or even sent a message.  Wren doesn't know what's going on, so her imagination is running wild.  That she hasn't gone hunting for Jyslyn yet shows that she's willing to give the dark elf time to work.  She didn't stop worrying and she's not experienced enough to know when to follow her instincts and when to hold back.  And Kazimir is correct; Jyslyn is in trouble.

Friday, news from home, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 36.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, the anti-adaptation backlash.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Solo.

28 Jun 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 35

Chapter 35

Previously:
Jyslyn investigated a fellow dark elf.
Embassy Row, Realm Below the Mountain
Nyssa and Kazimier began their trek back to the Inn of the Foxes.  The meeting with the Nicean minister left the two travellers unsure of the Niceans plans, though neither expected the Minister to share his thoughts with them.  Nyssa's footsteps on the stone road echoed off the walls of nearby embassies.  No one else on the street noticed.  Functionaries rushed about, delivering messages and missives.

Over the hushed din, a voice called out with a strident tone, "Dame Kellus!"  The knight came to a stop as she looked around.  A woman wearing a long red dress ran to catch up, hiking up her skirts to avoid tripping on the hems.  "Dame Kellus!" the woman repeated.  She slowed as she neared Nyssa and Kazimier, allowing herself to catch her breath.

"I don't believe I've had the pleasure of meeting you," Nyssa said.

The woman scowled.  "Enide, His Majesty's representative to the Realm Below."  She pulled the purple sash of office back up on her shoulder.  "Why wasn't I told that His Majesty had sent a Knight of the Realm?  What is your business here?"

"I am not here on His Majesty's business," Nyssa answered.  "I am here on the behalf of the Count of Varin.  Has news of what has happened in the County even reached here?"

27 Jun 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 34

Jyslyn's investigation turns up unexpected connections, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 34.

The Elf's Prisoner is in its final stretch of completed chapters right now.  As a NaNoWriMo project, there came a point where I just could not word anymore.  I did what I could, but the well was drying out.  I was also starting to hit the point of multiple subplots starting to get out of control, much like previous works like The Soul Blade.  Considering that The Elf's Prisoner might be a third of the way to completion, that's frightening.

This is a Jyslyn chapter, obviously.  Jyslyn made the decision to go check the shady part of Silver Trailings.  She has reason to believe the mystery dark elf she saw is part of the conspiracy; the knives found in two dead bodies were of dark elf manufacture, so someone had to be providing the weapons.  Jyslyn believes that she is best suited for the more shadowy parts of the mission, leaving the others to stay in the light.  Her goal is atonement.  The catch, though, is that she isn't that much more suitable.  She's coming from a position of power through her family, and any dealings with the darker elements back in her home were through having clout, not wheeling and dealing.  Nyssa, though Jyslyn doesn't realize it, is more suited thanks to her experiences.

One goal I set myself for this chapter was to not go heavy in dialogue.  There was action to be had, so the action had to be front and centre for a change.  A little scenery also helped.  Jyslyn is skulking about, which is something she knows how to do, and investigating, keeping an eye on her quarry.  The young man is, indeed, the same one who found the body and the same one who Sessarine promoted by eliminating his boss earlier.

I hadn't considered any of Jyslyn's family to be involved in the overall plot.  Yet, when I needed a dark elf connection, I went to the ones who had already appeared in the story.  However, it's Jyslyn's younger brother that's caught up in the conspiracy and not her sisters.  Valenza is too busy taking over her mother's position and quashing rebellion.  Tereska is occupying herself with making sure her older sister decides to not remove competition.  That leaves Biala.  He's younger, male, and not as likely to kill Jyslyn on sight.

That explains why Biala and not his sisters, but why choose Biala at all?  Conservation of characters.  I introduced Jyslyn's siblings, so I had better make use of them somehow.  I knew Biala was going to be linked soon after I introduced him, though I didn't know how then.  With him available, I didn't have to work out a backstory for a dark elf with no connections to Jyslyn.  I can up the drama just by having her brother be involved.

Friday, politics in an epic fantasy, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 35.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, hiatus week.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, the anti-adaptation backlash.

26 Jun 2019

Ottawa's LRT - What a Mess

So RTG has finally come through with handing over the new LRT to the City of Ottawa and announced the handover for August.  For those counting, the announcement came 391 days after the original deadline was passed.  The City is hoping to have the LRT fully tested and running by September.  Let's count the ways that the City is out of its damned mind on this.

1) Once the handover is done, the new LRT has to be tested at full load for twelve days.  RTG hasn't reached that at all, especially with the double trains that will be needed during rush hour.  If at any point during the testing something breaks, the clock resets to zero.  Something breaks on day 11?  Fix it and restart the clock from the beginning.  I don't see a September start.  But let's say everything is working for September.  Then what?

2) September is when route changes happen, when people return to school and to work after a vacation.  OC Transpo has had problems in the past few years with major changes, to the point where buses get backed up past Tunney's Pasture eastbound and the University of Ottawa westbound.  Almost every time, OC Transpo has face planted and there's no indication that this time will be any different.  But let's say OC Transpo has its act together.  Then what?

3) Thanks to the delays, there has been no full load testing in winter.  The City tends to forget the other season besides construction, but Ottawa gets winters.  We get the entire range of winter weather, from mild and no snow to -35 °C before windchill (-40 °C and lower with), blizzards, thundersnow, ice storms, you name it, we've had it.  When RTG did do light testing, several of the trains broke from the snow and ice.  The trains the City is getting have never been used for public transit before, let alone in a city with weather extremes. What's going to happen with the first snowfall?  Are the trains going to come to a crashing halt?  Will they be able to run at all?  The City will be laying off drivers and selling off buses once the LRT is going, so if the system breaks, what's going to make up the gap?

The big problem is that the City went cheap on the LRT.  We're going to be paying for that.  It's bad enough that bus service now is a shit show of near epic proportions, with bus cancellations and no shows part of the daily commute.  If the LRT fails to arrive, what are passengers supposed to do?  Buses are already sardine cans.  There won't be enough buses to replace the trains.  Ridership is down over the past decade, because the service just isn't there.  The handover is more politics than service right now.