26 July 2014

The Relationship of Doooom

Once, there was a rock.

How the rock got there isn't important.  It was an igneous rock, if knowing that makes you feel better about things.  It was a large rock, as rocks go... some people called it a bolder, but the rock made no fuss about labels.  As rocks are wont to do, the rock sat in one place for a long time.

Under the rock was a seed.  As water dripped from the sky, and fell on the rock, it percolated down, into the soil, and the seed grew.  It sent up feelers, looking for light, and it found a crack in the rock.  It grew some more.  Each time that it grew, it pushed the rock a little, and the crack got bigger.  Eventually, the seed grew into a tree, and the crack grew quite large.

In time, the tree died.  It fell to the ground, and over time, it decomposed.  But the rock remained.  The rock retained the crack.  In its own way, and in its own time, the rock remembered the tree.

28 June 2014

The Day of Dooooom

It was a small thing that ended it.

Rather, it was a small thing which began the ending.  The ring of Goblin Sorcerers was stronger than their opposite numbers, the Council of the Magi of Light.  As they chanted and swayed, their minds moving through the twisting passageways of magic, unveiled to them by the noxious smoke of the lurga weed, they found the opening, and a decurion of the second legion turned, sliding his gladius smoothly under the third rib of his legate.  The legate did not gasp, nor cry out; she simply died.

The Goblin Horde found the weakness in the legion.  They broke through, rolled up the left flank.  The corrupted decurion outlived his legate by no more than a quarter hour.  There was a moment, at the hill on which the command group stood, when things might yet have turned in favor of the forces of Light.  The Champion of the Great God stood his ground, his sword glowing with holy power.

But the Horde reached the circle of Magi, and tore them down.  The ring of Sorcerers, freed of the obligation of countering the magics of light, bent their eldrich forces on the hill, and summoned fiends.  Outnumbered, outfought, the Champion of the Great God fell, and his body was violated by the fiends, opened to their dark force, made the fulcrum which levered open the Final Seal.

The Unseen Gate opened, and the Lady of Darkness stepped forward.  Her terrible beauty swept the land, driving the last of the forces of Light mad, causing them to fall on each other in violent paroxysm of unslated, unspeakable feuds and desires and unrequited lusts.  The Goblins looked on her, and were no less affected. Soon, they, too, lay dead in pools of blood and urine and semen.

The Lady of Darkness, surrounded now only by the fiends which had been summoned, and those which had poured through the Unseen Gate behind her when it opened, smiled.  "Go forth," she whispered to the fiends, and they took her command gleefully, spreading destruction until all things were unmade.

There, in the no-place which had been the Plain of the Final Battle, the Light Blossomed, and the Great God stood forth, released from his promise not to personally interfere until the bounds of the world were undone.  "Well played," he said, smiling, and he reached forth his hand.  The Lady of Darkness took it, and drew him in, and they kissed for an eternity, centuries of unspoken words flowing between them.

When at last they spoke again, the Lady of Darkness said, "I thought you had beaten me in the Seventh Century.  Your prophet was quite effective."

"Not effective enough to stop the feuding between Men and Goblins," the Great God admitted, ruefully.

"I have some thoughts on that," the Lady said, beginning to take on an aspect of Light, her terrible beauty subtly altering to glorious radiance. "Shall we play again?  I'll take Light this time, and you can be Darkness."

"Later," he said.  "Later."  And for a time more, there was no need for words between them.

05 May 2014

C'mell and the Armor of Doooooom!

This is Fan Fiction based on the world of Final Fantasy X|V.  All settings, places, and concepts from the game are used in accordance with the licensing agreement contained within the game.

It was night.  In Central Coerthas.  In the winter.  I had wall patrol, though the snow was howling so badly I couldn't see more than two dozen yalms in any direction.  I was standing by the brazier, near the gatehouse, looking out, when Ser Ophelie approached.  I came to attention, saluted.

"Stand easy," she said, returning the salute desultorily.  "Anything to report?"

"Quiet night," I said.  "Ser Nogeloix's patrol hasn't returned yet.  I hope they found someplace warm to hole up."

"Sergeant Meurise is aware of the situation," Ser Ophelie said.  "She's taking care of it."

"Taking care of it?" I said, dumbfounded.  "How?"

There was the sound of a shod chocobo in the gate tunnel below us, and I leaned forward, looking over the parapet.  Through the snow I could make out a blue-haired Miqo'te on a chocobo, dashing out, into the white oblivion.  For a moment, I would have sworn the chocobo had antlers.  "Is she mad?" I gasped.  "Her chocobo will freeze before she reaches the first road marker!"

Ser Ophelie chuckled quietly.  "Care to make a friendly wager?" she asked.  "I'll bet three nights of wall duty that she's back before dawn... riding her chocobo... and leading the lost patrol in, to boot."

I opened my mouth to take the bet, then hesitated.  If there's one thing my disreputable Uncle Bertennant had hammered into me, it was that if a bet looks like a sucker's chance, the other person knows something you don't.  "No," I said, slowly.  "No, I don't think so."

Ser Ophelie chuckled again, and reached out to the brazier.  "Smart man," she said, wryly.

"What do you know that I don't?" I asked.

"I know who that was," she answered.  "C'mell."

I turned to look into the snow, in the direction she'd gone.  "C'mell?" I echoed.

"They call her the 'Last Sentinel of the Pard,'" the Knight said, looking to see if I recognized the title.  I didn't, and shook my head.  The Knight shook her head in turn.  "Did you see that very shiny armor she was wearing?"

I thought about it.  "I noticed she was wearing armor," I said.  "I was more concerned about the fact that she was heading out of the castle."

"It's made of mythril," Ser Ophelie informed me.  "You know how she got it?"

"She went to the local armorsmith?" I guessed.  I knew it wasn't a good guess... it would take a master armorcrafter to work mythril.

"She went to places it would make you soil your fundoshi to find yourself," she said.  She turned her back to the brazier.  "You know that I was of House Dzemael, before I married Ignemortel, yes?"

I nodded, not seeing the connection.

"A few years ago, I was part of a garrison that got sent out to oversee construction of a new stronghold for the House," she explained.  "I was only a squire then.  The cave... well, caves have been around since forever, I suppose.  And there were legends about this one, but nothing had happened with it in a very, very long time.  So when the City started keeping its gates closed, the House looked around for a place to build a stronghold... and saw the caves."

"I heard something about this," I said.  "North and west of the Observatorium?"

The Knight nodded.  "We took stonemasons and bricklayers, and we began work.  The cave seemed ideal... the temperature was comfortable, most of it had light-giving crystals sprinkled through it already, and best of all, it had fresh water flowing through it, year-round."

I nodded.

"But there was a flaw... somewhere, down below, the caverns were open to the void.  I was there the day the darkhold fell.  Voidsent such as I can not describe faced us.  I do not mind telling you, I felt fear that day.  Fear such as I have never felt before... or since.  And My Lord made the decision to abandon the cave, and lock the gates, and keep a watch on them so that nothing came from inside."  She was silent, thinking, lost in memory.

"I was stationed at that gate," she said, after a long moment had passed.  "For two long years. And then, one day, she walked across the river and up to the gate."

"She?" I asked, to make sure we were reading from the same hymnal.

"C'mell," Ser Ophalie confirmed.  "She had with her three others... V'lenna, a black mage; Rotscy, a Brother of the Fists of Rhalgar; and Lyra, a white mage."  She paused, as if reviewing the scene in her head.  "She didn't have the armor, then.  At least... not all of it.

"You see, the order to which she belonged had been based in a fishing town in Northwestern Thanalan, on the coast.  At Cape Westwind.  After the Empire came, there was no more fishing town, and no more Sentinels of the Pard.  No one knows what became of their armor.  Maybe the Imperials took it home; maybe they melted it down and used the mythril for something else.  Whatever they did, it wasn't available to a young squire who had just passed her initiation test."

I shook my head.  "So how'd she get it?"

"I'm getting there," Ser Ophelie said, turning to face the brazier again.  "It was during the Fifth Umbral era... twenty-five hundred years ago... that the Miqo'te Sun Seeker tribes crossed the ice to Eorzea.  And I imagine, C'mell's little fishing town was settled somewhere around the time the ice broke.  Over two thousand years of Sentinels of the Pard going out from that little town, providing services, proving themselves the bravest of the brave, proving their worth to pass on their names."

I nodded.

"Not all of them succeeded," Ser Ophelie said.  "Some of them died trying.  And some of those who died, died in places where it was beyond difficult to recover their bodies."

I nodded again, beginning to see the light.

"C'mell worked," Ser Ophelie said.  "She worked hard, selling her services as a caravan guard, as a bodyguard, as... well, not to put too fine a point on it, as an adventurer.  No job too big, or too small.  She saved her gil.  And then, she hired a sage.  She asked the sage to tell her where every one of her great-aunts who had fallen and not been recovered were."

"So when she came to the darkhold..." I said.

The Knight nodded.  "She was seeking.  She had the legs... sabatons, greaves, poleyns, cuisses.  Beyond that, she wore good steel.  A hauberk, not that different from our own.  Stout leather gloves.  An antique sword of goblin make.  A round shield, embossed with the Sun of Ul'dah.  And most important, she carried a letter, counter-signed by the lords of House Durendaire and House Haillenarte, saying that I should open the gate, and let her... and her friends... into the darkhold."

"Four of them?" I asked, to be clear.  "Against things that sent... how many Knights of the House scurrying?"

"Many," she said.  "I do not know what she'd done to put them in her favor," she went on.  "But they'd signed the letter, and it was more than my knighthood was worth to question them.  So I let them in.  And I waited.  I was sure I'd never see them again."

"Clearly you did," I said.  "Since she just rode out of here."

"I did," Ser Ophelie agreed.  "Three days later, as the sun was setting.  The four of them, looking tired, and dirty, and burnt around the edges, came back up.  She was carrying a set of arms... rerebraces, couters, vambraces, gauntlets.  She said that the rest... was beyond salvage."

"Mythril doesn't rust," I said, puzzled.

"No," she answered.  "But it burns."

I shuddered.  Our House's elite, who fought against flaming dragons, wore mythril because it would not melt in dragonflame.  I wondered how hot flame would have to be to melt it... to burn it.

"Aye," Ser Ophelie said.  "Like that."  She was silent, and I was silent, thinking about it.  "I don't know where the other pieces came from," she went on.  "But I tell you this, and tell you true... you don't bet against that woman.  She'll be back, before dawn, with that patrol."

And she was.

04 May 2014

The FanFic of Dooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooom!

This ficlit was inspired by game play in the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game Final Fantasy X|V and all races, settings, and organizations are copyright SquareEnix, used in accordance with licensing within the game.

My name is Friday. I’m a Sergeant Second Class of the Immortal Flames. I was stationed out at Forgotten Springs when the long range patrol from Little Ala Mihgo came in. They’d clearly seen some action, so after we got the wounded off to the healers, I invited the Sergeant leading the patrol to come and have an ale with me on the rooftop. As we sat there, he gazed out over the springs, watching the U tribe going about their business.

Suddenly, he sat up straight. “That woman,” he said. I followed his gaze. “The one with the blue hair,” he amplified, which made it clear for me. Most of the U women have white or grey hair, so the one he meant stood out. Then again, this particular woman would have stood out, anyway. Not because she’s big… she’s a tiny little Miqo’te, hardly comes up to the bottom of my breast. But the U, well, they like to dress for mobility, and this woman, she was throat to toes in metal.

“Lieutenant C’mell?” I asked, just to clarify.

“Lieutenant, is it?” he responded, thoughtfully.

“Why ain’t she wearing a uniform?” asked one of my Privates, a big boy recruited out of Little Ala Mhigo.

“Special Expeditionary Force,” I answered. “Not like you and me. They get the hard jobs.”
The recon Sergeant nodded, took a pull of his beer. “Let me tell y’all a little story,” he said. “Now, this here’s a no-shitter. About a month ago, we were running dawn patrol down south-east of Little Ala Mhigo. You know the Amalj’aa like to attack with the coming of the great fire….”

“That’d be dawn,” I said, to forestall the question I saw forming on my Private’s face. I pointed at the sun. “There’s the great fire.”

The recon Sergeant just nodded, and then went on, “You know that promentory there. Always makes me nervous to cross it. A gorge to the north, a gorge to the south, and nothin’ but the rope and plank bridges to get you in and out.”

I nodded. I’d been stationed at Little Ala Mhigo too.

“Well, we were almost to the second bridge when we spotted ‘em. Half a dozen Amalj’aa, trotting along pretty good, carrying those giant bows they got. Running with an arrow on the string, looking for trouble. I took a look at the situation, and figured what the heck… six of them, six of my boys, we could probably take ‘em.” He took another pull of his beer, and set the empty stein down.

I obliged by refilling it. “I’d’ve made the same call,” I agreed, to keep the story moving.

“And you’d’ve been wrong,” he said, quietly, “just like I was.”

“Ambush?” I asked.

“Yup,” he said, picking up his stein again. After he’d had a drink, he went on, “we got stuck in among them, and we were doin’ okay, when our drag man yells out that there’s more of ‘em behind us. I take a gander, and sure enough, here comes another half dozen trotting down from the north. Don’t know when they got back there, but there they are. To warn the other fellows, I yell out that we’re surrounded. I figure it’s time to sell our lives dear, you know?”

I nodded. I’d never been in the last-ditch fight, but every Flame knew that the likelihood was that sooner or later we’d fall into one. Most of us figured we’d rather take a bunch of the enemy with us to Thal’s hall than to get captured and tempered. Most of us.

“Then I hear this voice screaming ‘Take two!’ and out of nowhere, there she is… swinging down off a chocobo. And… I swear this is true… it ain’t a normal chocobo. Damn thing’s got antlers!”

I saw the look of incredulity on my Private’s face, and I nodded. “S’true,” I said. I grinned. “Of course, it’s part of the chamfron she puts on it. She calls that chocobo “Light-trail,” and it’s trained to fight with her.”

The recon Sergeant nodded. “You know what the story is with that battle cry?” he asked.

I shook my head. “It’s not like we’re on a first name basis,” I said. “Mostly what I say to her is ‘Yes, Lieutenant,’ and ‘right away, Lieutenant.’”

My Private snickered. “I’d have a few things to say to her,” he said.

“Make sure your next-of-kin paperwork is up to date,” the recon Sergeant said. “We’ll send your effects on.” He paused to make sure that had sunk in with the kid, and then went on, “So she yells, ‘take two!’ and swings down off that chocobo. And there she is… that antique shield on one arm, and the sword in the other fist, and I swear to you… suddenly there’s blue lightning coming up out of the ground, and she’s glowing. Light so bright it blinds.”

I nodded. “I’ve seen the Sultansworn do that,” I agree.

He looked at me, sharpish. “She’s Sultansworn?” he asked.

I shook my head. “Nah,” I answer. “But you see that armor she’s wearing?”

He turned his head, watching her. She was standing near the bridge over the stream that leads down to the hot springs, laughing with a black-haired Miqo’te girl. She was wearing that shiny metal, and the leather under it was Torama skin. “Yeah,” he said, a question in his voice.

“You know how the U call their warriors the ‘Rangers of the Drake’? Well, the C… that’s the Coeurl tribe… they used to call their warriors the ‘Sentinels of the Pard.’”

“Used to?” the recon Sergeant asked.

“There ain’t no more C tribe,” answered one of the recon Privates, a big green Roegadyn lass I figured had her own reasons for being a long way from the sea. “Leastwise, not the way there’s a U tribe. Used to be. A little fishing village they had, up Northeast Thanalan. Nice little place called Cape Westwind. There’s a Castrum there, now.”

I nodded. “Story I hear is that when the Empire came, the younger version of the Lieutenant was off doing her test for entry to the order of the Sentinels. She comes home triumphant, to find that she ain’t got a home no more.”

I saw the Privates take that in. The recon Sergeant nodded. “Rough,” he said.

“So what happened to your ambush?” my Private asked.

“What do you think happened?” the Sergeant said, looking disgusted. “We all died. Our bones are out there right now, bleaching away in the sun.”

“She saved them,” I said, taking a sip of my beer.

“That she did,” the Sergeant said. “And afterward, she just mounts up on that chocobo again, and trots off south toward Zanr’ak like nothing happened.”

I nodded, and finished my beer.

07 March 2014

New Ficlet of Doom

There is a particular blue sky which desert dwellers know. It is high, and hard, and covers everything from horizon to horizon in unforgiving glare. This sky appears when it is so hot that the crickets stop singing, so dry that even cactus wilt. Under a sky of this blue, two young women walked along an arroyo.

The tall one had hair that would be black silk if she took care of it; she didn’t. It was chopped unevenly at her jaw line, held out of her eyes with a violet Alice band. Her eyes were almond shaped and corner-tilted, suggesting Asian ancestry, though their dark blue color belied the suggestion. Her lips were dry, but not yet cracking. She wore high­-waisted jean shorts and a green tank top with a superhero’s logo.

The short one had burnished copper hair twisted up and held off her neck by a silver pin. Her eyes were hazel: green on the outside with a ring of brown at the center. Her lips were red, a perfect cupid’s bow, protected by gloss. She wore jeans and a coral camisole edged with lace; her black bra peeked out around the edges.

They reached the place they were seeking and scrambled up the side of the ditch to the corner of a chain link fence. The fencing was cut, and the tall one held the cut open, gingerly careful of the hot metal, while the short one scrambled through. She followed a moment later, holding the fence for herself.

Inside the fence, a carnival’s rides waited for a season that had not come in either woman’s memory. Silently, the young women walked past a tilt­-a-­whirl frozen in place; past a haunted house folded in on itself to travel as a trailer. In the desert rust is not the primary enemy; ultraviolet light is. Plastics become brittle and pigments colorless. Binding agents break down and paint flakes away in scales. All the rides showed bare metal and splintered plastic.

In the shadow of a dismasted Viking ship stood a carousel. Most of the animals were dismounted, leaning against the center pillar. A horse and a hen stood side by side, bolted in place. Behind them was a dragon, its broad back providing room for a bench seat. The pair stepped up to the carousel’s deck. The tall one sat on the horse, while the short one leaned against the hen.

They looked at each other, and then away.

“Are you really going, Ada?” the short one asked. Her voice was a pleasant alto, her accent heartland American.

“Are you really marrying Jack?” Ada asked. Her voice was surprising, a dramatic contralto. There was a hint of foreign pronunciation… a certain cast to the vowels, perhaps.

The short one grinned. “Well, duh,” she said. She held up her left hand, showing off the diamond in its golden band. “He paid for me,” she said, teasingly. “Now I have to make sure he gets his money’s worth.” She shook her head. “Is that why you’re going?”

Ada laughed. “Don’t flatter yourself, Molly,” she said.

“Then why?”

Ada sighed. “I don’t know,” she said, looking at the Viking ship. “I feel like I have to. I mean… I won’t die or anything if I don’t go, but… I’ll go on doing what I’m doing. Drifting. Playing open mic night down at Saint Elmo’s, stocking shelves for Mr. Brown.”

“Is that so bad?” Molly asked.

“It’s not bad,” Ada answered. “It’s just… boring. I feel like I could do more. I feel like I could be more.”

Molly ran her finger over the scaling paint on the hen’s beak. She pulled a flake off, held it between her fingers, examined the color. She tightened her grip, crumbling the flake, then blew the dust off her fingers. “Okay,” she said. “But why the moon?”

Ada shrugged. “Why not the moon?”

“It’s so far away… and there are pirates. That thing with the asteroid….”

Ada laughed. “’That thing with the asteroid’ was ten years ago. And it was in the main belt. I’m not going out past Mars; I’m just going to the moon. You can see it from here!”

“I thought Lunagrad was on the far side?” Molly asked.

“It is,” Ada admitted. “But the moon… you can see the moon from here.” She leaned over, looking under the edge of the carousel’s roof at the hard sky. “Well. Not right now. But you know… generally.”

Molly nodded. “What will you do?” she asked.

“I’ll play in clubs,” Ada said. “I’ll wear fabulous clothes that I buy in the Sunday market. I’ll impress some producer and become a star.”

“You’ll stack boxes for some little shop,” Molly countered.

Ada laughed. “Maybe at first,” she admitted.

Molly shook her head. She looked at the toes of her tennis shoes.

Ada looked at the Viking ship again. “Hey,” she said, when the silence had stretched too long. “I got you a wedding present.”

“Oh?” Molly asked, straightening up.

Ada dug in her pocket, pulled out a small box. “Well, when my guitarist gets married, I have to give her something,” she said. “It’s in the Big Golden Book of Unbreakable Rules.” She handed the box over.

Molly opened it. Inside was a triangular ebony guitar pick threaded on a fine silver chain. She laughed. “I do have other things I can do,” she said, the teasing tone back in her voice. She took the chain out, and opened the clasp. “Help me,” she said.

Ada slid off the horse, accepted the ends of the chain as Molly turned her back. “Of course you do,” she said, fastening the ends together. “You can do anything you want. You could… come to the moon with me.” She rested her hand at the base of Molly’s neck for a moment.

Molly shook her head, and stepped away. She held the ebony pick between her fingers, running her index finger lightly over the smooth wood. “I can’t,” she said. “Even if I weren’t marrying Jack, I couldn’t. I’m not that girl.” She shook her head. “That life you described, the quiet, boring one? That’s me. That’s what I want. To be in my place, and live my life with the people I know.”

Ada pushed herself back up onto the horse’s back. “That’s saying you don’t want to,” she countered. "It's not the same as not being able to.”

Molly leaned back against the hen, and looked at her friend. “You’ve always thought I was as big as you were,” she said with a smile. “And I’ve been glad of that; I have. But I’m not.” She grinned. “Besides… pirates!”

Ada shook her head, and snorted a laugh. “There’s always a risk of someone doing something to you,” she said. “Always someone willing to die for their beliefs… or kill for them. ‘Pick your nose, lose a finger!’”

“Is that in the Big Golden Book of Unbreakable Rules?” Molly asked. “Good job I use my thumb!”

“You can get your thumb in your nose?” Ada asked. “That’s some serious pickin’ right there, that is!”

“See?” Molly asked. “I better not go where the Enforcers of the Book live… what would I do without my thumbs?”

They laughed, and Ada looked at the Viking ship. “I’ll miss you,” she said, when the laughter died away.

“You’d better,” Molly answered.

30 January 2014

The Phantom Ache of Doom

I don't know why it happens, but every once in a while, it sneaks up and hits me. I'll be doing something innocuous... driving home, maybe, listening to the radio when a love song comes on. Or maybe standing in the shower, figuring out how I'm going to get all this month's bills paid, and also eat.

And then I think of Her, and I wonder how she's doing. I wish that there were something I could do to help. And that's when I remember that our separation is her choice.  That she could have had all the help I can offer, but rejected it; rejected me.

And I feel the pain of the loss all over again.