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Okay, so here’s how it’s going to go

June 29, 2007 2 comments

Plan A: Throw my resume to the wind, apply online for as many summer jobs as I can at SAS, and hope one of them shows interest and works out and hires me.

Pros: Get to work at SAS. Good pay, fun nerd job, meet some people and get inside the organization.

Cons: Corporate job. Traffic. Working in a cube.

What happened: Nobody emailed me. In the last few weeks, I’ve started getting a bunch of emails saying that they’ve filled the position sand wishing me luck in my job search.

Plan B: Pick up extra hours over the summer working at Eva Perry Library, and write articles for Mentor Media in my downtime. Keep busy with work however I can.

Pros: Work at the library is usually fun, if mind-bogglingly dull. It’s amazing the kind of books you find, even after a year working at the joint. Plus, Mentor Media lets you work in your pajamas whenever you like. Obvious benefits.

Cons: Requires self-motivation. I have to force myself to work instead of practicing Guitar Hero or sleeping all day. Library can get boring, especially during the week days. Probably lower wage than at SAS.

What happened: Eva Perry is closed until mid-July. It’ll take too long to get rolling.

Plan C: Work Mentor Media as a full-time job.

Pros: See above; working in pajamas, making your own hours. Plus, getting payed to play World of Warcraft. How awesome is that?

Cons: Same as above: requires self-motivation. Working in your pajamas every day for a week kind of makes you a bit … musky.

What happened: See below.

Plan D: Have a friend as SAS, on the inside, pass my resume to a friend of hers, without my knowledge, and then get an email from them asking for an interview.

Pros: Working at SAS, learning new stuff, working in a team with my friend on the inside.

Cons: Far from a done deal. My interview was this past week, and I won’t hear back either way until at least next Monday. Also, see above concerning cons of corporate job.

What happened: If I knew that, I’d be making my living as a fortune-teller, not a nerd.

The coming days shall prove interesting. Oh, and the pilot for Burn Notice was most pleasing. I was hooked from the first advertisements I saw for the show, but even my father, who approached it with much more skepticism, was smiling by the end of it. It’s got a fair bit of mystery, but also an amazing degree of ingenuity. I really must wonder if they can keep up the level of home-made gadgetry that the main character utilized.

Either way, the season pass is set up already.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Nothing good on?

June 27, 2007 4 comments

With Battlestar Galactica on it’s absurd 10-month hiatus preceding its final season, Heroes on between-season break, and likewise with Scrubs, I’ve been left to subsist on new episodes of Mythbusters alone. So I’ve been keeping my eye out for new TV shows, and a couple of interesting ones have come to my attention.

One of these is a new show from the USA Network, titled Burn Notice. It’s the story of a US spy who, through some series of unknown circumstances, gets fired from his spy job. But as a spy, it’s not that easy. He can’t just walk away, because they ruined his life. Check out the trailer I linked. It explains things better than I can. Anywho, it’s got what looks to be an amazing cast, including Bruce Campbell, who describes the show as “Highway to Heaven with carnage and mayhem.” It looks like a show with charisma to burn; should be fun.

Another big promising candidate comes from Fox: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It’s a new show that will pick up a few years after the second Terminator movie, following the lives of John and Sarah Connor after the destruction of the T-1000. The casting here seems excellent too. Thomas Dekker, who played Zach last season on Heroes, is playing John, and Summer Glau, who played River Tam in the Firefly series, is playing a terminator who is helping the Connors. But the thing that truly piqued my interest is the fact that it is acknowledged that the events in the third Terminator happened, but in an alternate timeline. If you’ve seen the third movie, you’ll understand why this is a good thing. In essence, it means that the future is not set. There is no fate except what they make for themselves.

And, this sort of counts, Jericho is coming back. CBS is bringing it back as mid-season replacement, with the possibility of more episodes if it gets a big enough audience. I sincerely hope it will, as there is nothing else on their new show list that looks like it can measure up. It was originally canceled because it went on too long of a hiatus, and when it came back, enough people had lost interest that its ratings went down. Of course, there is also some responsibility to place on the folks at Nielsen ratings, since they aren’t currently including TiVos in their ratings numbers. Hopefully they’ll get their act in gear by the time that Jericho returns.

Burn Notice starts this Thursday, but unfortunately, Chronicles and Jericho won’t be on the air until 2008, around when Battlestar Galactica makes its return as well.

Categories: Real Life

It’s a little late for heroics, don’t you think?

June 25, 2007 1 comment

Well, this is embarrassing. Again, when I’ve used the phrase “See you folks Monday”, I’ve forgotten to actually post on that Monday. Well, this time it’s just going to be a little late.

The main source of my distraction was a gaming session that went rather late into the night Sunday. It was a gathering to play in my new favorite role-playing game: Iron Heroes. It’s similar to Dungeons & Dragons in many regards, except that it’s a more advanced system. D&D has been simplified over the years, ending in the current edition, which my gaming group and I enjoy but find rather over-simplistic. D&D is meant to be very accessible and easy to pick up, thus the rules are relatively simple, with less room for character customization. This is certainly not a flaw, but it makes it so that, after after playing D&D every other weekend for 4 or 5 years, it gets a little old.

So when I heard about Iron Heroes, I brought it to the group’s attention, and they agreed that it would be fun to play in. That was about six months ago, and ever since, although our gaming sessions have been becoming fewer and farther between because of growing responsibilities, we’ve been playing Iron Heroes.

In its introduction, Iron Heroes states that it is not for beginners, because of the complexity. I think this may be something of an overstatement, but I could see how the system could be daunting to a complete newbie. At any rate, to us, it’s very interesting and fascinating. For example, instead of having a wide plethora of feats that are generally separate feats, with a few being organized into hierarchical trees, Iron Heroes feats are almost all multi-leveled. The shortest feat trees are about three feats long, but almost all of them have ten levels.

This is because of a commitment to the ideal that Iron Heroes is based on: the sword that the hero swings doesn’t give him its power, it’s just a tool to get his work done. This is in direct contradiction to the standard D&D way of doing things where, as your character gets better and gains more abilities, so can you also afford to buy better weapons and armor. The end product of this is that, at higher levels, characters are so decorated with magical items that they become reliant on them to be able to defeat evenly-matched foes.

But in the words of the Iron Heroes rulebook, “You are not your magic weapon and armor. You are not your spell buffs. You are not how much gold you have, or how many times you’ve been raised from the dead. When a Big Bad Demon snaps your sword in two, you do not cry because that was your holy avenger. You leap onto its back, climb up to its head, and punch it in the eye, then get a new sword off of the next humanoid you headbutt to death.”

Anybody who’d be interested in this sort of thing has already had their interest piqued, I’m sure, so I’ll let them explore the other online resources about it, if they are. And for those who’ve had their eyes glaze over at the last few paragraphs, well, I’ll let you go.  Have a good day.

Categories: Real Life

Great Things, Small Packages, et al

June 22, 2007 2 comments

I’m in love. Geek love. Something struck me, and with its simple and elegant beauty, it’s stolen my heart. And it’s only 300KB. It’s not a book, a movie, or even a game. It’s a wiki.

It’s called TiddlyWiki, and it’s an entire wiki contained in a single HTML file. Conventional wikis, like MediaWiki, which is the basis for Wikipedia, require sprawling multitudes of pages, and requiring a backbone of SQL databases and other such arcane matters, are behemoths. Yet through some hidden means that are not entirely translucent to me, perhaps involving pacts with devils, TiddlyWiki encapsulates all the magic of a full wiki with the ability to run it anywhere. Instead of running on a server, with the attached backbones, it runs anywhere that the HTML file is stored.

When I initially heard of the idea, I thought it was foolish. But when the fancy struck me, mid-D&D session, I began to construct a skeleton wiki with it. Nothing fancy, just a quick timeline article, with articles for the player characters. I began merely fiddling around, hardly diverting myself from playing. By the time the session was over, the wiki was complete. Articles for every named character we’d run in to, and a number of places we’d been. The effect was astounding.

On another topic, I’d like some feedback from you folks, my readers. The first charge is rather serious: I would like some critique of my writing. Even the bad stuff. Just typing it up, it’s style irked me slightly, but I decided to post it as-is. So I want to know y’all’s thoughts. Episodes zero and one are here and here. Comments on the relevant post, please.

See you folks on Monday.

Good Point: 21 June 2007

Tired of commenting your own code? Let The Commentator do it for you!

Speaking of code, remember to debug!

Also, the author of XKCD has brought the MediaWiki project to an entirely new frontier.

In summary, here are two music videos I can’t stop re-watching: Running out of Time by MxPx and Dani California by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Thank you, good night!

Categories: Good Point

The Big Picture

June 20, 2007 1 comment

When Tycho of Penny Arcade jokingly said, concerning the Zune’s screen aspect ratio of 3:4, that 3:4 is “the exact ratio of obsolescence,” I chuckled to myself and admitted his point: the Zune’s not exactly ground-breaking, so it make sense it would have an “old-fashioned” 3:4 screen. But it always seemed to me that 3:4 is the way things are. After all, televisions and computer monitors use it. What more could commend it as a resolution?

Well, my worldview has been, shall we say, expanded by the acquisition of a widescreen laptop. (As an aside, yes, I’ve acquired one. It’s purpose is to make college that much easier, but it’s also making any online task I perform aside from gaming that much easier. Thanks to all the folks that chipped in by sending funds as a graduation present. You got me the best thing I could wish for, and you didn’t even have to drive to the store!) This computer, like many of its kind, has a non-3:4 display, and in fact runs at the odd-sounding ratio of 16:10 (1280×800 pixels).

Now, full of new-toy glee, I’ve been doing more or less everything I can, including blogging, on this little computer, and it’s changed the way I see things. Blogs that I’ve frequented for years, after becoming accustomed to them in widescreen, now seem narrow and cramped on my desktop running at 3:4. I suppose it’s worth mentioning here that I can just imagine the kinds of headaches that these sorts of displays are giving web designers. In my time designing websites, it’s always been a taboo to build a site around a particular screen resolution, like 1024×768, but the idea that your page will be viewed in a different aspect ratio that you designed it on must really cause some hair-pulling.

Earlier in this post, I said that the 3:4 ratio had its ubiquity to recommend it as a format, but even that is changing — as I wrote that sentence, I felt almost like I was lying, but knew it was essential to give an accurate representation of my point of view before it was widened. And now that my view has been made thus, it’s caused me to give pause to things I’d never considered before.

Take, for example, the standard Starfleet desktop viewer (we’re not even going to go into the elliptical Cardassian displays). It, quite clearly, through the centuries that Star Trek has spanned, runs in 3:4. This never struck me as odd until the past week, when looking at them being taller than they are wide just seems somehow incongruous to a futuristic setting. The same phenomenon caused me to stare at a friend of mine’s laptop for a solid 30 seconds, trying to figure out what was “wrong” with it, before I realized that it just struck me as “wrong” that a laptop would be in 3:4, as this one was. This is hardly surprising, given that we have 3 laptops in this house now, and they’re all in a widescreen aspect ratio.

J. Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5 (Waitaminnit. Firefox’s spell checker thinks that “worldview” is spelled incorrectly, but not Babylon5 without the space? Whatever.), had the vision to know that widescreen is the wave of the future, and shot all of B5 in 16:9, although the CGI sequences were, lamentably, not. I’m sure all of B5: Lost Tales, including the CGI was done in 16:9, though.

I’m sure that there’s some psychological reason that a widescreen format is generally considered “better,” especially in television, where the whole wide-screen business originated. Well, no, it’d be more correct to say the widescreen stuff started on the silver screen, but even there, I wonder why. A quick examination of the Wikipedia article on the topic seems to say that, basically, theaters used widescreen resolutions to keep an edge over the growing market for television, and now television has decided to bite back and get in on the wide-screen market. I guess people are sick of watching all their widescreen movies with black bars on top and bottom; I can hardly blame them. I can still remember accepting on faith from my father that letterboxed movies were inherently better than pan-and-scan movies, and thus the bars were well worth the minor annoyance. Only a decade later, with the help of the internet, do I really understand what he meant.

On the other hand, in computers, the seeming widescreen revolution seems to be something of a mixed blessing. It will almost doubtlessly go to waste in the blogosphere (okay, Firefox, blogosphere is definitely a word), because, even on 3:4 displays, text spanning the entire width of a screen is daunting to read. In general, I find it is easier to read text when it’s in a relatively narrow column, like on this here blog or Kim du Toit’s. Your mileage may vary.

But one place that runs the risk of neglecting widescreen in favor of complying with the old 3:4 standard is computer gaming. Take this example. Please. I’m not entirely familiar with the way that all games handle widescreen displays, but I imagine it’s not well. For example, I know a few modern shooters actually use a certain viewing angle for your display: you get to see a certain number of degrees of the panorama around your camera. The number is a variable set by the game, and I would imagine it would draw the same number of degrees on a widescreen display as on a standard, just stretched.

And this is where I get conflicted. On one hand, I like the idea of games that actually allow a widescreen display to see more of the world, instead of stretching the existing view. On the other hand, I dislike the idea that players with the more expensive widescreen displays would have a gameplay advantage over someone else still chugging along on a 3:4 CRT. On the gripping hand, I doubt that a few more degrees of vision would help you in any meaningful sense unless you were so evenly matched with your opponent that it’s not going to make a significant difference.

See, this is why I don’t get to decide standards like whether to do stuff in widescreen or not. Just tell me what’s “better” (i.e. High Definition), and let me get back to making the important choices, like choosing between the Handwraps of Flowing Thought and the Voidheart Gloves.

Categories: Uncategorized

Kieron: Episode 1

This is a sequel of sorts to the first story about these characters. These are actually retellings of DND adventures in a campaign set in the city of Sharn, a part of the Eberron campaign setting.

“At the core of every living thing is a soul. These souls contain great power, being the source of all great and pure emotion. They are the distilled essence of what makes a person different from a machine. They are passion free from reason.”

On the whole, life was good. Steady employment, steady income, steady bed. I finally had all those things that I had wanted back when he was just a kid. And not just for one night, like when I was just a teenager. Now it was legit. And I was working for the Sharn City Watch, of all people.

Fate is nothing if not a bit ironic.

I checked the time; almost time to go out and act like good watchmen. Patrol time. Working for the Sharn Watch–and getting our money legally–had its perks, but the boring patrols in the uppers were almost not worth it. In a city of towers, the richest are always on top: economically, socially, and geographically. So anyone committing a crime in the higher levels was either stupid, and wouldn’t get far anyways, or very clever, and wouldn’t be committing the crime during the day in broad daylight.

But the City Watch never was very “in touch” with the real goings on of the Sharn streets and skyways. So we had to go out and play like we weren’t really that different. It might work if the whole department didn’t know who we were and what we’d done. But they had heard, as they always do. Between us, we’d seen more combat than most veterans of the Last War, and those were rare enough.

But now they had hired us so that we were on their side instead of on the market to the highest bidder, so they thought. The highest bidder usually thinks that.

Of course, with the new job had come new friends. One was an old buddy of sorts, Halharath the Kalashtar. His claim to fame is some hocus-pocus with his soul, making it a sword. I’m not sure what’s wrong with a real sword, but he likes his way better. Halharath went way back with us, to the first time we’d done stupid stuff and brushed with death for fun and coin. But we ended up leaving him for dead after he got so wounded he was just as good as dead. But apparently he didn’t kick it, because he showed up when the Watch hired us. Figured an old friend would help us.

I checked the time again. Time to go.

Gwent was one step ahead of me. “Let’s go, guys. Patrol duty.”

We all grabbed our cloaks and headed for the door. Looking around, I saw Heartwood hadn’t moved or looked up.

“Not coming?” I asked.

He stopped and turned to look at me. “Someone’s got to finish this report on the Morgrave incident, and I seem to be the only one who doesn’t revile paperwork as the rest of you do. I’m the natural candidate to stay behind and complete the work.” And he turned back to his paper.

I shrugged. He had a point. As I walked out, I heard him snort to himself and chuckle, “Natural candidate. Hmm.”

“Every soul, living, dead, and not yet born, swirls around us, through us, and within us. This group of all souls, this swirling mass of raw power, is called Incarnum. With careful study, one can learn how to harness this turbulence into productive purposes.”

Outside, it was bright. There are some things you just never get used to, and a bright sun in Sharn is one of those. You go so far in man’s buildings lit with magical flames, and then you step out and see the real thing. But only for the rich.

As we began to walk away from the tower, someone tapped me on the shoulder. Turning around, I saw a man who didn’t say anything, but handed me a folded piece of paper.

“What’s this?” Gwent had noticed I wasn’t there and doubled back to see what was going on. Damian was standing off away from us, apparently not wanting to have to get closer to this man than he had. I guess his god doesn’t protect him from bad smells.

“I was just wondering the same thing,” I muttered. The man just nodded at the paper. I couldn’t see any harm in reading, so I broke the crude, unsigned seal, and read the contents:

They’ve gotten much worse. We need help.

-Faela

I knew instantly and without question what it was about. And it was all bad. The “they” the note referred to were the feral ex-humans known as the Ravers that prowled the shadows of Fallen, my home district right here in Sharn. Nobody really knows where they came from or what they are, but everyone knows what happens if you’re out alone and they get you. Some say you’re eaten, some say worse, some say they make you like them. The most credible explanation I had ever heard was that they were the insane people that the great and glorious rulers of Sharn had dumped in the Lowers when they couldn’t be bothered to build an asylum for them.

I’m not sure if I believed that, but I knew they were bad and if you could avoid them, you did. My mother hadn’t managed to get away in time. I never should have left her…

And the letter came from Faela, Priestess of the Silver Flame, proprieter of the Blackstone Church. She was the only religion the people of Fallen had left. When the Flame abandoned the district to the shadows, she came back and took up residence in the emptied cathedral left behind. From there, she ministered to the people, to my mother, to me, giving what hope she had to lend and what meager medicines she could gather. I’d give even odds which one had more healing power.

Ever since I had left Fallen on to a great future as a hero of the people, I had done what I could for her: donated, helped. I even brought her some illegal drugs we had confiscated from some criminals that had some potent analgesic properties in addition to their narcotic ones. Perhaps her Silver Flame was looking upon me after all. Good life and all that.

So, the Ravers had gotten much worse, and Faela needed our help. I hoped we were up to the task. “New beat today, guys. We’re going to take the Watch somewhere it hasn’t been seen in years: Fallen. No place like home.”

“Incarnum can be shaped in two ways. The first of these is concrete objects: armor, arms, jewelery, each bestowing powers upon its bearer based upon how much of his own soul he invests in them. The true master of Incarnum uses equal parts of himself and others.”

Finding my old home was no easy task, especially since I had never gone to–or come from–it from the skies. I wasn’t even sure if our airboat would be able to find a way in. But with equal parts fiddling and prodding, I managed to get us down right by the Blackstone. As we stepped out, I saw that the Eastern door was hanging off its hinges; I didn’t remember it being that way last time I was down here.

Inside, the church stank of fear. The normal life of terror had been magnified to all out phobia. On the streets, people didn’t even linger, though it was still an hour before midday. Those in the church were clearly only there by necessity: the wounded, sick, and dying. The effect of this place, of my home, on my friends was profound.

Using their experience in war triage, the others went among the people and began tending them as best they could, Gwent and Halharath with potions, Damian with his divine magic. It was no hospital, but battlefield medicine has its efficiencies. Perhaps the Silver Flame hadn’t abandoned these people after all.

I left them behind and sought out Faela, hope incarnate. I found her in the room behind the pulpit, tending to someone with bites so grisly it was unbelievable that any human could have made them. I saw her put her hands upon him and ask the Silver Flame to heal him, some of the wounds congealing and closing, before I knocked.

When I did, she turned around and her eyes lit up. She crossed the room, and swept me into a hug; her lanky half-elven figure made the trip two of her strides. “The light of the Flame truly shines upon this day. It is good to see you again, Kieron.”

“It’s good to see you too. I hope you didn’t think I had forgotten about you and this place.”

A smile spread across her face, curtailed by the ends of her mouth turning into a slight frown. “Nobody truly forgets the wretched land of Fallen. Not if you’ve lived and breathed this place as you and I have. And that’s how we always end up back here.”

I paused a moment, considering her words. She was right: no luxury would ever become as normal as it was to some. This place is who I am.

Changing the subject, I asked, “So how bad is it? Something must be serious to send a parishioner all the way to the Uppers just for me.”

“Not just for you, you little rascal. Many people talk of mighty Kieron and his band of companions. You’re getting quite a reputation; even I am hearing of your great deeds.”

I chuckled at her, “You know most of those are false?”

“Of course, but inside every rumor is a grain of truth, right?” Here, she paused and regained her focus. “They have always taken from us, snatching the outskirts during the dark nights. But now, they’ve taken to hunting us. Actively seeking out prey.

“I know what they’ve personally done to you, and I can’t imagine what that has done to you. But I wouldn’t ask you to do this if it were not important. I fear that soon not even this church will be a sacred sanctuary from evil. This threat needs tending to.

“There is also another concern, a matter of great fear among the people. They speak in whispers of seeing a man clad in golden armor around, especially near the Base. The monsters seem to be especially centered around there, and this outside presence is naturally associated with them. No one has seen him help or hurt one of us, so nobody knows what to think.”

This was the biggest shock. I hadn’t heard anything about this, and his unknown activity so near the Base–the mostly intact base of the Glass Tower that had come crashing down to create Fallen–was very odd.

“To put it bluntly, we need a hero. And from every word that’s reached my ears, you’re exactly the man for the job.”

“The second way Incarnum can be harnessed is into force and energy. Those granted control of Incarnum radiate the energy of the souls they use, chaotic, good, evil, lawful. But they can also harness this energy to strike down those opposite them.”

There was no choice. If it had to be done, it had to be done. Damn the fact that the Ravers gave me a screaming case of the Heebie Jeebies. I gathered what was rapidly becoming my group of living legends, and we set off in the airship.

As we flew over my home, the odd contrast of the boxy air boat to the irregular angles of everything below struck me. When the Tower had fallen and crushed the district of Godsgate, nobody could quite figure out why. Some said accident, more said sabotage, but nobody really took time to investigate because they were in the middle of the Last War. For going on a year after The Fall, nobody came here. That’s when the rumors began to circulate about ghosts and bogeymen that lurked in the shadows. But any uninhabited area in Sharn doesn’t stay that way for long. Not even the haunted ones.

So the poorest folk moved back, looking for a free place to sleep. At first, they found it, until a market was set up and everybody started getting charged rent. Seeing people desperate for hope in a world that kicked them when they were down, Faela had returned to her former station and reopened the Blackstone Church. From there, she ministered to the people of Fallen for some 80 years, healing, guiding, aiding where she could. And she, like myself, had this place in her blood; she couldn’t leave this broken land if she wanted to.

And from up in the air, the skyline wasn’t even that bad, if a little jagged. Jagged and … glowing? I began to steer our craft towards a golden light atop one of the taller rubble piles. As we drew closer, I saw that the glow was a man.

It clicked. “Faela told me to watch out for this guy. We don’t know if he’s friendly, so be on your guard,” I muttered to my shipmates.

As we drew closer, I saw why people had spoken of him – it? – so reverently. He was not Human, but resembled one well enough, and wore armor that would probably fit a bulky man. But every piece of metal he bore, from his platemail to his sword, was made of what appeared to faintly luminous gold.

“Who are you and what brings you to the land of Fallen?” I called to him across the gap between rubble and ship.

His deep voice rumbled, “I am Astor, of the Pentifex Order. I will explain what I may once you allow me to join you and make this conversation a little more private. I assure you, I wish you no harm.”

I weighed the options quickly, and in the end it came down to the simple fact that villains don’t wear gold. I eased the boat over, that he might board, and the others stepped back. As he edged closer to me, Damian leaned and whispered, “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

In truth, I didn’t, but I told him, “If he wanted to fight us, why would he volunteer to be surrounded?” This didn’t seem to entirely satisfy him, but he didn’t have time to ask any more questions before Astor was aboard.

I took us a little further towards the base to where I knew no people dared live and set the craft down. “Explain yourself.”

“Those that would use Incarnum must have an unwavering commitment to their beliefs: the employment of souls is no time for maybes and half-measures. One must believe and allow that belief to carry him through.”

Gwent sat down and rested against the side of the ship, and Damian reclined on the gunwales. I stayed right where I was seated at the rear by the air-rudder.

Astor began: “Each of us has, despite the critics, a soul. It is the core of our being, it guides us through life on intuitive impulses. Every soul ever born and those unborn form a pool of energy called Incarnum. It is this that grants my Pentifex Brethren and me our abilities. In the natural order of things, when a person is born, his soul is plucked from the swirling morass and implanted into his body. From there, it guides an earthly body about its existence, and is occasionally manifested, like by your friend here.”

He paused and gestured at Halharath, who had been forming his mindblade as a mental exercise. “Yet very occasionally,” Astor continued, “a soul’s body dies in unfavorable circumstances, while filled with a rush of emotion: panic, anger, elation, inspiration. This causes the soul to linger, apart from the Incarnum, for a time, having an effect on the place of death.

“If you’ve ever been to the Silver Flame itself in the Cathedral in Flamekeep, you might have felt a great feeling of awe in the presence of a god. Yet you were almost surely touched by the spirit of Miron, who gave her life there in joyful sacrifice.

“This effect does, however, have a converse. When the Glass Tower fell, so many souls died in extreme confusion, panic, and fear that they became what we call the Lost. These souls come to crave death. They do not return to the great pool of Incarnum, but stay and take control of other souls’ bodies, using them to kill and find more to make like themselves. These are the beings you people have melodramatically dubbed Ravers.

“But the situation is even less simple than that. Before the Tower fell, it contained a properly functioning Dolmen Circle. This conduit of positive Incarnum became overwhelmed, by all the Lost and was corrupted to their …”

Here, Astor paused. He seemed to be casting about for the proper word. A second later, as each of us began to stir, he found what he was looking for.

“flow. The Dolmen Circle became corrupted to the Losts’ flow.” Feeling a tightness in my legs and heart, I got up and began to pace.

My mind was reeling. What did this all mean had happened to my mother after all? Was she really eaten or some other grisly fate?

“It now serves as not only an opening for the evil Hated Incarnum, the hellish half-brother of Incarnum, but also as a magnet for it, and by consequence, the Lost. The Pentifex Order, of which I am a member, has seen fit to close this Dolmen Circle, if it can even yet be called that, forever. The world will be both lessened and bettered by this, and it must be done. Soon.”

At the moment, I would have followed Astor into the Mournland on a quest for his lost lucky coin, after such a speech. His glowing blue eyes stayed fixed upon me. “The choice lays with you, whether or not to help me. I could do the work alone, but to deal with all of the Lost individually would be most wearisome and somewhat dangerous. Do as your soul tells you.”

Gwent, ever the orator, piped up: “It’s the right thing to do.”

I sat there, reeling. This was too much for my mind to take in. You did not fight the Ravers, you ran. You ran for your life and hoped it wasn’t hungry enough to follow for long. And you hoped that someone would come along and save you. A hero in shining armor. Damian decided for us, saying, “Then we are agreed that this threat to the followers of the Silver Flame must be ended. Let us go.” I broke out of my thoughts enough to roll my eyes at Damian. He can’t help it, it’s just his way.

Astor was still looking at me, and unmoving monolith of gold and blue. I said, “You heard the boys. Let’s go.”

Only then did he nod and say, “Take us up and to the base of the Glass Tower.”

The ship was a little sluggish, but we didn’t have far to go, so I didn’t push it. As we glided silently to the Base, my nostrils were filled with the stench of them. The smell of pure fear.

“As with anything mortal and involving evil, some must stand to stem the flow and prevent the spread of darkness. We, the Brothers of the Pentifex Order, do this, that others might see for themselves and believe as we do, seeing firsthand the power of the soul.”

Too soon, we were there and I set the ship down. The gloom showed what was, unmistakably, the round curvature of the Glass Tower. It appeared the Base had remained almost intact, just tilted a little and cracked. Ahead was a doorway inside.

Outside the door were two ex-humans rummaging through some debris. They didn’t seem to notice or care about our landing. Astor strode up to them, and they turned as he approached. Their eyes locked on to him, and at once, I recognized the dark eyes, the ones that you wake up from in a cold sweat. Astor took their measure and struck each down. I had been away from Fallen too long; I didn’t recognize the people whom they had been.

Without pausing, Astor swept inside. I hurried to follow. He lead us through a number of hallways and turns, and came to two dead ends. He seemed to be navigating by feel alone, as through he could sense the Dolmen Circle and was finding the most direct line to it. Along the way, as he came across Lost, he dispatched them with the same motion as the others outside. There was something solemn and ritualistic about his killing.

Shortly before we came to the Circle, he began holding up his hands, now glowing blue, as he made symbols in the air with them began chanting words I’ve never heard before or since.

The corridor we had been walking down opened up and into a room with five stone pillars of sorts, a bunch of runes on the floors and walls, two Warforged, and … a Minotaur. The beast was covered with what appeared to be pouches and bags and pockets. Each’s eyes glowed with the same red of the Hated Incarnum, even the Warforged.

The Minotaur charged Astor, who was in the lead, but who sidestepped the rush and continued chanting. “This is where you must prevail, Kieron the Second!” he yelled, momentarily breaking his chant.

I didn’t have much time to think before the Minotaur turned to me as though a particularly delicious morsel of meat. Gwent, drawing his hooked hammer, charged at the Warforged to waylay them before the interrupted Astor. Between blows from the beast-man attacking me, I called out, “Warforged have souls?”

“They do now,” came Astor’s somewhat sarcastic reply.

“Heartwood would take umbrage to th—oof!” Gwent shouted, taking down one of the machines as the other got him from behind.

“He’s very good at that!” I sniped back.

Damian shook his head in frustration and drew his ranseur. He had been gesturing and bellowing at the Minotaur to little effect. “I cannot exorcise this taint from them!” he cried.

Astor replied, “Of course not. These souls now belong to these bodies as much as yours does to your body.

After some pitched fighting, Gwent finished the other Warforged just as Damian’s ranseur pierced the skull of the Minotaur. We all whirled around, to find Astor seated, seemingly meditating, radiating the most beautiful shade of blue. He spoke some final words and all was still for a moment. And then the stone closest to me split diagonally along its width and slid smoothly apart, top sliding down and thudding as it fell over to the ground. Our gold friend looked to me and said, “It is done.”

He arose from his kneeling position and went over to the Minotaur, and began searching through the sundry pouches and pockets. He seemed to speak to no-one in particular but I knew his words held special meaning for me. “The leader of the Lost in any area is the strongest and most feral creature, who defends itself best from any usurpers or outside threats. It is this leader’s peculiar duty to keep an item from each of his followers who dies. We’re not sure why they do it, but it seems to be an innate instinct.” At these words, Astor opened a pouch and pulled out some papers, on which were written “Kieron” in a curvy feminine script I did not recognize. “I believe your mother would want you to have this,” he said, placing them in my hand. He also removed a scroll with a strange seal from his pack and handed it to me. “This will explain much I’ve not the time to make clear.”

He walked over to the entrance, and removed his haversack, dropping it on the floor against the wall. “For your service to the Brotherhood, you will be rewarded most handsomely with items usually reserved only for members of the Order. Use them wisely and use them well. They are no different in function than steel.”

“Well, what now?” asked Gwent.

“No more Lost will be created here, and such that live will drift away. They have lost their reason to exist, to protect the corrupted Dolmen Circle and make way for the further release of their Incarnum to this world. The lucky ones will drift away into the countryside and be as beasts. The unfortunates will be caught and dealt with by your kind — with no grasp of their true nature.”

I turned to him from my staring at the letter he had recovered and said, “What about you? Where will you go now?”

“I must return to my people and my Order in the lands of Xen’drik. I hope that we may one day meet again, Kieron the Second.”

“Second what?!” I yelled at the glowing blue footprints rapidly fading that showed his hasty retreat.

“Maybe that will tell you,” Gwent said, pointing at the papers held in my hands.

“Perhaps.”

“My Brothers and I knew that you would come, following in the steps of your father. You could not have kept away.”

We opened the back door to the office from the airship dock, and it hit me in the face like Magda’s frying pan: something was wrong. The front door ajar, the scattered papers, and Heartwood slumped over his desk. A metallic stench hung heavy in the air.

Gwent rushed forward to examine the rapidly eroding body. Pointing at the rapid conversion of wood to dust, he said, “The Warforged were crafted to be reduced to mere dust in minutes after their death. It was a measure to enable them to be employed in endless waves without building a wall of their bodies. He is freshly dead.”

Damian leapt to the door and out into the hallway. Seeing no one, he set off down the hall towards the front door of the keep. As the door swung closed behind him, I saw how it was the killer had gained entry: a gaping hole in the door, as large as my hand, where our lock had been. “Hey, Gwent.” He looked up at me and I nodded towards the door. The soldier sighed and turned back to his work, examining the rapidly decaying wooden Warforged.

Just then, Damian pushed the door in and walked through, glaring at the hole. “Nobody saw anything.”

I slouched over to my chair and collapsed in it. I dropped my papers on the desk and picked up the Minotaur’s note. I unfolded it, and a second folded page fell out. The first sheet help more of the curly hand:

Kieron,

I am sorry I had to keep this from you. I could not lose you as I did your father.

-Your Mother

The second sheet also had my name on the outside, but this in a man’s rough writing. It read:

Kieron the Second,

When you are old enough to read these words, their meaning will not fault. These words are all that is left. Though we have never met, my only son, I hope you know that I would have been there to watch you grow, but I heard my call and I did go.

Now, your mission lies ahead of you, as mine did me, so long ago, to help the helpless ones, who all look up to you, and defend them to the end.

Fight, my proud son,

-Kieron the Senior

The scroll Astor had given me contained a personal message from his Order to me, telling of Incarnum, the flow of souls, and the father I had never known. I reread each in turn, and sat, letting it all wash over me.

“Your father’s soul was freed to join the flow of Incarnum many years ago, greatly against our will. But now you must take up his sword and fight in his place. Believe in yourself and you shall prevail.” –Astor’s Scroll

I studied the ceiling, and myself.

Categories: Kieron