Life — The State of Spear Gate

To be honest, I don’t have a whole lot to say today. I’ve had a particularly exhausting weekend, and with the first week of the fall semester happening just prior, I’m a little out of breath… not to mention the fact that I still don’t have a desktop of my own, and that isn’t likely to change until September. So, good on me for being a functioning human being without a real computer for a sizable amount of time, I suppose.

But anyway, I thought I’d talk for a little bit about the state the Spear Gate universe is in right now. There’s a lot going on, but on my blog the only attention it really gets is in the fiction section (obviously) and the little chunk in the monthly updates. That said, it occupies a huge amount of my time and thoughts, so where are we at?

The book just passed 10,000 words, which I’m pretty excited about. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s historically the point at which I get bored with whatever the project happens to be, so the fact that my feelings towards it have only shown the slightest hint of boredom (in regards to the rewrite) is a good sign.

Consequently, I am starting to plan a little bit further and further ahead. I intend to keep the vast majority of that to myself, but know that I am starting to look further than “what happens in the next chapter” as far as what the characters are doing. The strange thing is, they are starting to surprise me with how much depth they’ve naturally evolved with, and I’m scared I’m not taking enough notes! In fact, as of writing this right now I’m creating a Google Doc of stuff I need to not forget.

I have mighty big plans for this universe. A lot of it is too big for the book I’m currently working on, and require things to be established that aren’t. If it does upset me enough, though, I can throw it in anyway and blame it on a “first draft” thing, promising myself to foreshadow stuff in later. For example, ‘Death Warden’ is a special rank in an army unit that has a very specific job (use your context clues). However, Tebrein’s army has never been mentioned and, for where the story is, it isn’t important. So, I don’t know how to fit it in, but I have a cool scene envisioned. This example is one of many.

The Spear Gate universe is huge. Each planet is intended to be capable of comfortably housing several book series that may or may not be relevant to each other, so I can’t possibly fit all of my ideas into the first book alone.

Also, the more I write, the more I realize that I’m sort of accidentally emulating Brandon Sanderson. I don’t think anyone that knows the author would even put the pieces together because on the surface they’re so distinct, but there are points. Now, I realize this is a consequence of my very picky reading habits, but it is what it is. As I plan further and further ahead, Rozire is starting to feel a lot like Hoid. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry about it.

Story — (SG) Chapter Four, Pt. 3 Rewrite

(I’ve gotten feedback that the things I was trying to do at the end of the chapter didn’t work. Coincidentally, those were also sort of pointless. So I decided to fix it up and go down a different route. This takes place after Esmina speaks with her father and goes to pack her things. I’ve included that second part even though it has changed little because now the original 4.3 post is redundant, and as far as the blog goes, you can go straight from Chapter 4.2 to 4.3’s rewrite without having to read the old 4.3 in between. In simple terms, this is the “correct” Chapter Four, Pt. 3.)

 

“Very well. Am I dismissed, then?”

“Yes, yes,” he nodded, waving his hand. “And be quick about it. We leave just after the Shadow ends.”

With that, she removed herself from his presence, though she was careful not to seem too hasty. As she walked down the porcelain and velvet halls back to her room, she realized that a small part of her was actually excited to get out of the house. She had only been to Tal’Doraken once, and she could barely stand on her own two legs back then. Anyone in the world would have been better company, of course, but her father sapping the joy from her bones in a new and exciting place had to be better than him doing it here.

When she got back to her room, Esmina immediately opened the trunk at the foot of her bed and began emptying it. It was mostly filled with clothes, and she also kept some of her writing implements, older notes, and a few failed experiments. She removed these, as well, since they would be no use to her in the city.

The chest vacated, she thought about what she might need. The chest was a bit large for travel purposes, but that just meant she had more room for bringing whatever she wanted. Clothes, of course. No doubt her father would want her to wear dresses the entire time. A few books perhaps. Some on history and art to appease her father, and a copy of a scientific journal written by a scholar from Thornwall that Gaelin had given her for her birthday.

She thought about bringing her new research notes about the dot. Maybe learned people in Tal’Doraken would be able to verify the authenticity of her findings. Her father wouldn’t approve, though, and he would probably want her at his side at all times. There was no reason to bring her notes, then. She did grab her spyglass and put it in the trunk, however. Not for notes, but perhaps she could find a few moments to sneak away and look at the stars.

She couldn’t think of much else to bring. Personal effects aside, anything she might need would be brought by the servants or else easily purchased in the city. In fact it occurred to her that she wouldn’t even need this much, since they’d only be gone a day, but there was no harm in bringing so much. She would rather bring too much than too little. Her own coin might come in handy, though.

Esmina crawled under her desk and pulled her secret coin purse from behind one of the legs. Nearly two hundred dragon marks, last time she checked. In addition to what she carried around with her, it was enough to buy her own horse-drawn carriage. It did sound more appealing than going in the same one, but obviously, her father wouldn’t approve of such a waste of money.

Placing her savings under her dresses, Esmina closed the lid. It was still relatively light, given the contents, and still had for room for twice as much besides. She could probably lift it herself, if she was so inclined, but that was what servants were for.

(New part.)

Now that she was finished packing, she had to find Gaelin.

Closing the door behind her, Esmina walked down the hall, away from her father’s bedroom, and went down the spiral staircase to the first floor. The servants quarters were behind the kitchen, and nobles didn’t go back there. Of course, it wasn’t as though it was prohibited. She was a noble, after all.

Since lunchtime was over, the kitchen was relatively quiet. Some servants were milling about washing dishes or eating now that their work was done. They noticed her as she passed by them, but none acknowledged her presence save for a defferential headbow. Unusual as it was for her to be here, it wasn’t their place to question.

She went into the servants’ hallway, and as always she was surprised with how cramped it was. The upper hallway was wide enough for three people to walk side-by-side, and that was including the furnishings. In this one, two people passung by each other would have to sidestep or step into a nearby doorway. The wood floorboards also creaked, and didn’t have a carpet like she was used to.

Gaelin’s room was at the end, much like the master bedroom in the hall upstairs. The door was closed, unlike many of the doors she walked past on her way.

The door wasn’t locked, of course. She doubted if any of the servants’ rooms had locks. As she pushed it open, she heard a hasty shuffling and a crash. “Don’t come in!” Gaelin called, a little frantic.

But the door was already open, and Esmina was more than a little curious. He peeked out from behind the bed, only the top of his head visible. When he saw her his eyes went wide again.

“Oh! Miss! My apologies. I’m not decent. I don’t mean to be rude, but would you allow me a moment of privacy?”

“You’re unclothed?” she asked.

“Well, not exactly.” He glanced downwards. “I was in the middle of replacing my bandages. My arm is exposed.”

“Oh. Is it that gruesome?”

“What? No. It’s just… not right.”

Esmina frowned. “Tenshari keep their right arm hidden for a reason, but they’re pretty tight-lipped about it.”

“It’s the way things are.”

“It’s not deformed in any way?”

Gaelin sighed. “Miss, I am bound to serve you in any way I can, but I am allowed my own comforts and needs. If we must continue this line of questioning, may I at least have the privacy so that I may be presentable?”

She thought about that, and nodded. “I’ll sit down and promise not to look.”

He didn’t respond immediately. “Thank you, miss.”

Esmina walked into his room and took the only chair, facing it towards the door and away from him and sitting down. “You may proceed. You have my word I will not turn around until you are prepared.”

“Very well,” he replied. Behind her, there was a slow shuffle of cloth. When Gaelin spoke again, he was higher up, sitting on his bed. “I will answer your questions.”

Keeping her eyes on her dress, she thought about what he had said before. “Your arm is completely normal?”

“That isn’t the word I would use, but yes. It is, in theory, functional.” There was a soft rustling as he spoke. Presumably he returned to wrapping his arm back up.

“Then why don’t you use it?”

“My people are forbidden from using it or even showing it to others.”

“Why?”

“It is a privilege we have lost the right to. For a crime long forgotten. To reveal one’s arm would be the greatest sin.”

“What crime did your people commit?”

“I do not know. I said it was long forgotten.”

“Then what does it matter?”

“It is simply the way it is. For our crime, we are doomed to spend the rest of our days as servants impaired.”

“Is there a way you can be redeemed?”

“No.” He took a deep breath. “You may turn around.”

She did, and was disappointed to see that he looked completely normal. His arm was clothed in a full bandage that covered everything, and he was in the middle of using his other arm to button his tunic back up.

“Not even other Tenshari can see your arm?”

He placed a hand on his bicep. “It is part of our punishment.”

Esmina couldn’t help but frown. It was an entire piece of him that nobody could ever know. She had fantasized about falling in love with somebody and being able to share anything with them. Nothing would be a secret. But Gaelin could never know that feeling, because there would always be that part of them that the other could never know.

It seemed strange and arbitrary. There would be no consequences of revealing himself, just as there were no consequences for her being outside during the Shadow. But he didn’t seem to see it that way. It was his place not to question but to obey, and that was the way it had always been.

“Gaelin!” somebody called from down the hall. “The Shadow has passed! Lord Berold is really pissy and wants his daughter in–”

A servant whose name escaped her walked through the doorway and, as soon as he saw Esmina, his face paled. Servants weren’t supposed to name their masters. “Milady, I didn’t realize you were here. My sincerest apologies, your father has a noble soul, I meant no offense.” He spoke more and more quickly, and she held a hand up.

“You don’t have to lie to appease me. I’m well aware of how abhorrent my father is. But I’d advise you to watch your loose tongue.” She looked to the side. “My father isn’t quite so understanding.”

The newcomer looked both relieved and alarmed by her response, but he simply nodded. “The master wants to leave as soon as possible.”

“That reminds me,” Esmina replied, turning back to Gaelin. “I had come down to tell you to get some of the normal servants to bring the trunk in my room down. I’ve prepared it for the journey.”

“I will have it handle that immediately, milady,” the new servant responded before leaving as quickly as he had come.

“I really don’t like ‘milady’,” she noted after he had gone.

“I’ll be sure to tell the other servants that, miss,” Gaelin smiled.

“By the way, are you coming with us to Tal’Doraken?”

“I’m afraid not. Your father asked me to stay to tend to the manor in his absense.” The shadows on his face deepened.

“‘Tend to the manor’? Gaelin, we have dozens of servants. Why do you need to be here?”

He shrugged. “He’s given me a long list of duties I must attend to.”

“Worse than usual? Like what?”

“I prefer not to say. Unsavory business you wouldn’t want to hear about, I’m sure.”

“You’re avoiding my eyes, Gaelin.”

“It’s best we avoid the subject, miss.”

“Very well,” she frowned, standing up and smoothing her dress. “I suppose I should go anyway, before Father grows even more impatient. Have you been to Tal’Doraken?”

“A few times, yes.”

“Is there much to do?”

“Certainly. It’s a city. But I’m not sure how much would interest you at your age. Beyond that, your father is sure to want you at his side at all times.”

She turned back to him at the doorway and smiled. “Well, we’ll see about that. Anyway, I’ll be sure to bring you back something. And when we return, perhaps we’ll have time to discuss my latest findings!”

He bit his lip, but nodded. “I’m sure we’ll have much to discuss, yes. Goodbye, miss.”

Review — The Two Towers

I finished the second book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy recently, and I have to admit, I wasn’t impressed. I don’t really know what our cultural consensus of the books is these days, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent to me as I read that Tolkien was not a writer–at least not one that would make it in today’s market. Don’t get me wrong, he was a genius in a lot of ways, and is a great storyteller, but his books are so different than the ones coming out in this generation, and at times I had quite a bit of difficulty getting through it. Plus, you can hardly blame him for all this, since he was, in a lot of ways, the ‘Father of Fantasy’. So, while there will be lots of spoilers ahead, I doubt many people would care because everyone (except me) has already at least seen the movies.

Before I get to my grievances with this particular book, however, let’s talk about the cool bits. For the most part, I loved Aragorn & Co.’s narrative. Following along as they pursued the captive hobbits, find Gandalf the White, and eventually fight Saruman’s Uruk hai was great. I particularly enjoyed the Ents’ involvement. And when the company got to the Orthanc and sought an audience with Saruman, Gandalf’s conversation with him was pretty cool. His argument was very persuasive, and I wanted him so badly to turn a new leaf and join Gandalf’s fight, but having known a bit of the story I knew it wasn’t meant to be.

I loved the first half of the book, and I think a huge reason for that is because when people talk about Lord of the Rings, most of the time they talk about Frodo and what happened with him. They don’t talk as much about Aragorn and that side of the story, so pretty much everything that happened was new to me.

But then the first ‘book’ ends and we transition to the second half of Frodo and Sam. I was really annoyed with that part because there really wasn’t a whole lot happening. Most of their trials were based on geographical and logistical problems, and as such it focused more on their character and reactions to the world around them (like what they think of Gollum and how they should deal with him). I hated it because I didn’t like either of them. As of writing this post I’ve actually realized that I really don’t like any of the hobbits, for various reasons. Simply put, though, they’re all incompetent, and it becomes frustrating because they are often the driving force of what’s going on around them.

The only thing Sam cares about is Frodo. He’s suspicious of everyone else, and he makes stupid decisions based on his loyalty and stubbornness. He’s apparently everyone’s favorite, but he doesn’t catch my sympathy. Frodo is nihilistic and stubborn. The only thing he cares about is getting the job overwith, and he doesn’t even care if he succeeds. I’m genuinely amazed that such a one-dimensional character managed to become so recognizable in pop culture. Of the three of them, Gollum is by far the most interesting!

The entire second half the book is consumed by gloom and dreariness, and it gets tiresome. My favorite scene in that part is when Frodo and Sam are talking about being the main characters in a story of their own, and not only is it ironic, but both of them manage to laugh because of how crazy it seems. It also specifically says (paraphrasing here) that that laughter is “the first time such a sound was heard in Mordor for [an indescribably long amount of time]”. And I think that characterizes exactly why this part of the book isn’t good. It should be a pair of fun-loving and merry people being juxtaposed against the black and smoky atmosphere. They can have dark moments, sure, but don’t make the entire subject of the second half of the book despair, because that will drain all the life from your reader, which isn’t what you want. This difference would have made the book a lot more like The Hobbit, which I think would have been an improvement.

As a last note, I’m sure this is in the movies, but Frodo kind of dies at the end of The Two Towers. Shelob poisons him, and Sam makes the choice to become the ring-bearer and carry on with the mission. If I had no prior knowledge of the story, it would have been a touching scene with lots of character growth, because it genuinely looks like Frodo is dead. It was an interesting scene, because I had absolutely no clue what Sam would do, but I was disappointed when he went back after the orcs came. Obviously it has to be that way because of how the story unfolds (Frodo will certainly die if Sam doesn’t help), but I think it was a great opportunity for a change of pace, which their line of narrative desperately needed. (To be fair, I don’t have a fix for how the story might unfold if Sam did continue on his own, because I don’t know how the story actually goes, but I think it certainly could have been done).

Now that I’m done with this book, what’s next? Well, not Return of the King. At least, not immediately, but I will get to it eventually. Here is the extent of my knowledge of what happens in the last book, based purely on my limited knowledge of the movies:

  • Minas Tirith is important, and I think Aragorn & Co. go there. There are probably at least two major battles, one where they fight oliphaunts (lazy name, by the way, Tolkien.)
  • Aragorn becomes king, because it’s like his book, right? No idea.
  • The Nazgul King is in one of the battles, and in the movies Eowyn kills him. I think that was specifically a movie choice, though, because Tolkien was notorious for only making male characters important.
  • Gollum comes back, though I don’t know when. All I know is that Frodo decides to keep the Ring when they get to Mt. Doom and Gollum fights him for it. Gollum and Ring end up being lava’d. Then they take the eagles back home where they eventually set off across the sea to the West.

Everything else in the book will be a surprise, so hopefully the narrative picks up the pace!

Improv 101 — Film Noir

This is it. Probably the last game I’m going to detail in full for a long time. It’s by no means the only game I have yet to talk about. There are several other warm-ups that don’t constitute full posts, or games I know that I’ve never played, or games I simply don’t care for. But in a lot of ways I consider Film Noir to be the final hurdle. The top of the food chain. If you can play this game successfully every time, you’ve made it. Where? Beats me. The point I’m trying to make is that this game is pretty tough, and in a lot of ways, it’s unique, as well.

There are a few ways to play this game. I’ve already talked about a variation of one of them, a game my troupe calls Side Note. But the version I’m going to talk about today is weird. It’s a low energy, two person scene game. That’s it. Only two. And it doesn’t work with more. You’ll see why.

You get two stools, and both improvisers sit down on them, facing the audience. You get some suggestion (any works, but I usually take a location), and then you talk. Both improvisers take turns describing a scene in first person. They describe everything as detailed as possible. The hot handle of the door as you pull it open to step inside a gas station. The sound of the artificial bell and the blast of air when you pass beneath the threshold, and the smell of gasoline once you leave again to start filling up the tank. Maybe the lock on the pump doesn’t work so you have to stand there and fill it manually in the hot sun. Maybe there’s some homeless guy that keeps eyeing you and making you uncomfortable, making you anxious to leave. That’s the sort of detail I’m talking about here. The first person to talk sets the scene. They give details like that as if they are experiencing it then and there. After talking for about thirty seconds, they stop and the next person picks it up. They start talking from their perspective. Maybe they’re the guy at the cash register, waking up from their nap as the bell rings. Or maybe they’re the homeless guy that doesn’t want to go and ask for a handout. The two of them take turns talking, for about twenty to thirty seconds each, until both have spoken two or three times. (You’ll know when to stop when you get a natural conclusion to the scene.)

Once they’re done narrating, they move the stools and then act out that scene. Now, here’s what’s so cool about this game. It’s not funny. It’s magic. The pacing of this game will feel very slow, and as such it’ll be hard to make funny things happen, and they definitely won’t happen unless you force them to (which, don’t get me wrong, is possible). But the majesty of the game is what the audience experiences when they see it done well. They’ll hear that bell chime when the actor pantomimes opening that door. They’ll feel the door burn their hand when they subtly flinch. They’ll smell the gasoline, too. Even though none of those things are actually in the scene that is performed.

Actors have to portray everything they narrated in the scene. If you describe the smell of gas, their better be a point in the scene when the actor telegraphs them experiencing that smell. But you can also only perform things that you describe. You can’t suddenly think “Oh, my character forgot his wallet” if that wasn’t in the narration. You also can’t speak unless you put direct dialogue in the scene, and as such a Film Noir scene is often pretty quiet. “I told him my business doesn’t accept bills over $20” is not dialogue. That is description of what was said. If you want to say that in the scene, you have to narrate “I said, ‘Sorry, man, we don’t accept bills over twenty.'” In that circumstance it is okay to speak in the scene, but only then. If you narrated it the first way, you would have to pantomime speaking without actually saying any words. Sometimes that’s better, but it’s an important distinction to remember.

When people think of improvisational acting, they think comedy. But this isn’t a funny game. It probably isn’t my favorite, but it’s usual lack of humor doesn’t take away from the entertainment of watching it performed. It requires a lot of synchronization with your partner, and also it requires a lot of life experience to be able to articulate a lot of physical experiences. You will often get a suggestion that will involve a scene you have never experienced in real life. But you have to make it feel real nonetheless.

It’s a cool game, and I often show my students what improv can become at a higher level, but it’s not something I actually teach. I think of it as a goal to reach. Of course, you can always get better at improv, just like everything else in life. But being able to play this game well can serve as some decent validation of your capabilities.

D&D — Dialogues 1: Turning the Tides

I’m going to start a little mini-series in the D&D section of this blog called “Dialogues”, where I tell stories of the adventures I’ve been a part of, either as a DM or a player. Some will be funny, some, like this one, won’t, but overall they will be centered around the idea of “interesting things that happened”.

 

This particular story happened in the most recent session of my campaign, of which there are only three party members (and one DMPC, who is mostly a sidekick). The party consists of a ranger, a sorcerer, and sort of a homebrew fighter-based tank. (The DMPC is a Strength-based ranger.)

They find themselves on the slopes of a mountain, walking a path often referred to as “The Trials”. They’ve heard from the village below that each person faces different tribulations, so it’s impossible to know what to expect. These trials can be faced together, but in order to reach the summit, each person in the group must have faced their own Trial.

So as they walk past an old gate into a wide clearing of snow, they find the air growing warmer and the ground getting coarser. The blizzard around them turns into a sandstorm, and they realize they are now in a desert. The ranger, who used to be a court bard for a desert people, immediately grows suspicious. They see a large structure in the distance, and he smirks.

Ranger: Can I roll to see if I recognize this place?
DM: Make a history check. *The ranger rolls a 19*. Yup, this looks an awful lot like the palace and the desert you spent a lot of time in, hundreds of years ago, in much the same state it was in when you departed.
Ranger: I knew it.

They approach cautiously. Ascending the steps of the palace, they see row upon row of guards. Over two dozen. They all stand firm, but as the party passes them as they walk down the main aisle, each row nods to the ranger and bows.

They walk into the throne room, the doors of which are wide open. At the throne the ranger sees his old king, who greets the party as if the ranger has returned from a long journey. There’s no hostility whatsoever, but while the king is talking, he notices the staff the sorcerer is carrying.

They found this staff a few sessions prior hidden inside an underground temple, behind a locked room that nobody was allowed to enter. They’ve yet to decipher what the staff is or what it can do, but this is the first time anyone has seemed to take particular notice of it.

As soon as the king sees it, he pauses. He points to the sorcerer. “That staff,” he notes.

“What do you know of it?” the sorcerer asks.

“It’s mine,” he replies. And at that, he stands and passes a hand over his face. His visage falls away like scraps of paper being shed. In it’s place, a masked and robbed figure stands before them. He whispers something to a guard, who starts walking towards the door, past the party.

The fighter tackles him, and the fight begins. The guards turn on them, and they are already surrounded.

The masked figure targets the sorcerer, teleporting closer to him and casting spells.

The party falls back, taking out a few guards as they back up towards the door.

But soon, more guards start flooding in from the way they had come. The figure flies past them, blocking their escape, and casts Lightning Bolt down a line, hitting three of them. The sorcerer and the DMPC fall unconscious, and the ranger is hurting bad.

The ranger casts Ensnaring Strike on the figure, who fails his save, and, not having any Strength, spends his next three turns trying (and failing) to break free.

The fighter uses his next turn feeding healing potions to both of their downed party members, and he uses an Action Surge to do so. All the while, more guards keep flooding in.

Despite the restrained figure, they are very clearly losing this fight. All around the palace, however, there were doors that implied a means of escape.

The sorcerer casts Fog Cloud in the doorway, and a huge part of the room becomes enshrouded in fog.

Soon, the ranger, the sorcerer, and the DMPC are out of the fog cloud, waiting for the fighter to join them so they can make their escape. But he’s inside the cloud fighting five or more guards at once. With obscured vision giving them disadvantage on their attacks, and their target having 18 AC, he’s a veritable wall, and their feeble attacks just glance off his armor.

Soon, the Ensnaring Strike effect ends, and the masked man flies through the fog cloud in search of his staff.

As soon as he leaves the fog cover, the DMPC lands a Critical and deals insane amount of damage. He’s seeing stars, and the rest of the party let loose as well.

With no support from the guards, and him being outnumbered 3-1 with few spell slots left, he casts Greater Invisibility and vanishes.

As soon as the masked figure disappears, no additional guards join the fray. They dispatch the rest and, while now severely lacking in potions, they managed to win, and thus passed the first part of the Trial.

It’s worth noting that I had set up this combat as a “flee or die” scenario. With endless guards and a powerful magic user well beyond their level, there was no way they should have been able to win. But with a well-timed Ensnaring Strike and a well-placed Fog Cloud with armor-man inside, they took a hold of their assets and pulled victory out of the jaws of death.

Story — Blowing Off Steam (475)

(This is the first fanfiction I’ve written in over a year, and it was actually inspired by one of the Destiny 2 ads that came out recently. This ended up being far more indulgent than I usually write, as I’ve never written actual people I know into my writing before. I intended to make one ‘Destiny veteran’ version and one ‘less familiar’ version where I leave out a lot of the names, but the content ended up so game-specific that it doesn’t really work if you’ve never played. So if you’ve never played it, be warned that a lot of names are thrown out that aren’t explained.)

 

“Hold position,” Aria said, using her scope to scan the field from the outcropping they stood on. It was doted with small craters, and there was sporadic gunfire throughout the landscape. “I’ve got sight on the shooting. Looks like Vex and Cabal.”

Zul rolled his eyes. “It makes sense for Vex to be here. This has been their territory for decades. I still don’t understand why we’re here. Especially all four of us. Isn’t this a little overkill?”

She shook her head. “It isn’t necessary to know why. We just follow orders. The Red Legion started a drilling operation here just before the attack on the Last City.” She returned her focus to the battlefield, where the Cabal was defending against a Vex assault. “We need to stop it before it continues any further. The Vex don’t have enough presence to do that.”

“I don’t know. Seems like we could be a lot more useful defending Earth than coming all the way here.”

“I’m not sure a few more guns will deter the Red Legion,” P-2 chimed in. “Their leader seemed pretty set on claiming the Traveler for his own purposes.”

“Either way, we should wait for the Cabal to clear out the Vex before we engage,” Aria said. “The fewer we have to face ourselves, the better.”

The sound of a gunshot blasted next to them. Aria aimed her pistol to face the threat, only to see Nex-52 crouched down, aiming his sniper rifle down into the battle.

“Nex, did you hear what I just said? Do not engage,” she scolded.

“Yeah,” he said, still looking through the scope. Another shot rang out. “But if we pick off a few of the Cabal, the Vex won’t be taken out as quickly. Easier for us this way.”

“Not if they engage on us now that they know we’re here.”

Another gunshot, but this time to Aria’s right. She turned to see Zul also aiming down his sights with his rifle. “He’s got a point,” he shrugged.

She groaned. “The Hunter going against orders is understandable, but you, too?” P-2 patted her shoulder and shrugged.

“Wait a minute,” Nex said. “The Cabal found a new toy.”

“You mean the giant drill? The one we knew about before we came here?” P-2 asked, sarcasm coloring his tone.

“No, of course not,” he replied. “They’ve got some new dog with them. Maybe half a dozen down there. Running in to attack the Vex head on.”

“I’ve got sight on them,” Aria replied. “Don’t shoot. Watch how they move and attack. We should know what they’re capable of before we–”

A gunshot to her left, and the beast she was looking at immediately fell to the floor, dead. “They don’t seem very durable,” Nex concluded.

“Damn it, Nex, can’t you at least try to follow orders?” She sighed. “I’m suddenly very glad we don’t work together very often.”

“Well, technically,” P-2 said. “The only official orders are over comms. Like Zavala advising us. All the Guardians in a strike team are often the same rank. It just makes sense to have a leader on the field, so that’s how it’s usually done.”

“Can we cut the chatter and get a move on?” Zul took out his empty magazine and replaced it, turning to the rest of the group. “It looks pretty safe to go down, now. There’s only about two dozen left, both Vex and Cabal.” Without waiting for a response, he leaped off the precipice, still shooting on his way down.

P-2 jumped after him, and Nex-52 pulled the sniper rifle to his side to pull out a hand cannon before following suit. “I hate you all,” Aria mumbled. After making sure her weapons were loaded, she joined them.

The battle was already fading when the Guardians landed. With the Vex cleared out, the Red Legion turned their attention to the new arrivals. While Zul and Nex fired at the Centurions in their backline, Aria and P-2 charged in, taking on the enemy Phalanx and War Beasts. A few well-placed shots staggered the Cabal, exposing the massive bodies behind their shields, and a solid punch was all it took to bring them down.

The strike team made quick work of the squadron, but out of one of the bunkers shambled a giant, hulking frame. Armed with missiles and a minigun, staying in sight of it would be a death sentence.

“Colossus!” P-2 shouted. “Get down!”

The team dove to cover inside the many craters that dotted the landscape. “You guys distract it,” Aria said over their comms. “I’ll go around and flank him.”

“You remember what happened last time you did that?” Zul replied.

She ignored it. Racing out of the crater, she sprinted parallel to the Cabal, getting further and further away from whatever he was shooting at. As soon as she was behind him, she rounded the bunker and jumped onto it.

With a breath, she pulled out her own minigun, Sweet Business. “Surprise!” she yelled before unloading into him.

As soon as he fell, a bullet whizzed by her face, almost grazing her helmet.

“Whoops. Sorry about that,” Nex called. “I wanted to steal the kill.”

“You could have killed me with that, you idiot,” she scolded.

“I’ll try harder next time.”

“This isn’t all fun and games you know. People are counting on us.”

Zul sighed. “Relax, Aria. There’s no reason to be fighting. Let’s just move on.”

“Tell you what,” Nex said. “Why don’t we have a little Crucible match here and now?”

“What?” she asked, incredulous. “Why? We’ve got a job to do.”

“And we’ll get it done, don’t worry. But let’s raise the stakes a little bit. You beat me and I’ll follow your lead from here on out. I win, you take a chill pill and we can all get this over with sooner.”

Aria’s eyes squinted from inside her helmet. “Just me and you?”

“I don’t see why the Warlocks can’t get in on the action, too. What do you say? Last man standing? Like the Trials?”

Zul nodded. “No Shaxx and his useless commentary.”

“Think we can beat these two?” Aria asked P-2, who was pacing up from behind and picking up some ammo the colossus had left.

“Maybe. I think we could all benefit from blowing off a little steam, though. We haven’t really gotten a break since the Red Legion came.”

“Alright, Nex. You’re on. Rules?”

Nex was walking away, getting some distance on the two of them. “Anything goes except your stupid shoulder charge.” She rolled her eyes. “Last team standing wins.”

“Alright,” she nodded. “On my mark.”

As she said this, the four of them got into place. Zul ducked into a nearby crater, out of sight of his adversaries. Aria pulled out her sidearm and looked to P-2, who already held a shotgun at the ready.

“Three! Two! One! Go!”

The two of them rushed into motion, charging out opposite sides of the crater to flank them. P-2 blinked across the battlefield just as Zul held up a fusion rifle aimed at Aria.

His reaction was immediate. He ducked down and turned to face the other warlock, pulling the gun up and firing. A charged bolt of purple energy shot into the air, barely searing P-2’s robes as he aimed and shot.

The blast tore through the armor, a haze of void energy dissipating as Zul’s shield was shattered at the impact. Aria held her gun up to assist right as a familiar shot whizzed by. Cursing, she dove for cover instantly. Whether Nex had genuinely missed or was just teasing, she could only guess.

But she couldn’t leave P-2 unaided. She ran back out to see the two warlocks continuing their struggle. They extended their palms out, and the blasts of blue and violet that shot out rippled through the air and distorted the light between them.

Aria pulled out a grenade and sent it towards the crater Nex was holed in, then ran in to help P-2.

Despite his initial lead, he seemed worse for wear. She shot at Zul, but soon ran out of ammo. Upon seeing he was outnumbered, he leaped into the air and pulled his hands close to his chest.

P-2 shot again, but at this distance the shotgun’s range did little. Aria jumped up to meet the warlock just as the mass of void energy was leaving his palms.

She hammered a fist into his gut as hard as she could, enforcing the blow with her own void power.

A loud slam sent a shockwave through the air. The strength of the blow was just enough to take Zul out, and the two landed back on the ground as the echo subsided.

Aria glanced towards where she thought Nex might be, then turned to P-2. “Nice one,” he nodded in approval.

As soon as he turned away, a knife embedded itself into his helmet, a ripple of flame streaking along its path. He fell to his knees, and Aria swiveled around to see Nex at the crest the crater.

“Game over,” he said.

He grabbed for his gun, channeling solar energy into it as his entire body erupted into flames.

No time. That gun had three shots, and any one of them would be fatal.

She called her own strength, summoning all the void power she had stored up and sent it outwards. A bubble formed around her, shrouding her in a field of glowing purple. His gun couldn’t shoot through that.

A crack like a cannon igniting, and the purple haze shimmered as fire spilled around it. The light bent as the gunshot tried to push its way through, but it held firm.

Nex fired again as he descended into the crater. Again, the streak of fire slammed into the shield, right in the same spot. The void energy curved against it, but the second shot was too much, and the purple glow cut short.

Her protection faded, and she was met face to face with a Gunslinger in full power. Aria pulled the trigger, and only then realized that her sidearm was still out of ammo.

He fired again.

The flaming cannon went off, and the bullet left a trail of fire, burning the air as it soared past her head, missing by a hair.

Aria halted, dropping her guard in her confusion. She had been standing still, and he was right in front of her.

She caught the sound of burning and growling, and turned to see one of the Cabal war beasts writhing on the ground behind her, incinerating into nothingness from the shot that, she assumed, had missed its target.

Nex-52 was already using his Ghost to help the warlocks back on their feet by the time she turned to face him.

“So, what does that mean?”

He shrugged. “I got the extra kill I was looking for. We’ll call this one a draw. Besides, we’ve got work to do, and by my count I’ve still got fifteen kills on you. You’ll have to step up your game if you want to catch up by the time we face whatever is down there.” He nodded towards the giant drill that still spun in the distance.

“I got cocky,” Zul muttered as he palmed the place Aria had hit him. “Thought I had enough time to take you both out at once.”

“I wouldn’t have charged right in if I realized we would be going all out,” P-2 said, laughing.

“By the way,” Nex said. “I’m going to need my knife back, P-2.”

“What? No way. You gave it to me fair and square. It’s mine now.”

“I don’t think it works that way,” Zul replied.

Aria couldn’t help but chuckle as the three of them kept bickering. The stress the Red Legion’s assault had brought seemed to have melted away. Blowing off a little steam was just what they needed. Maybe she’d thank Nex later.

Life — The Three ‘Me’s

I measure a lot of my success based on the progress I’ve tracked for myself, and how much further I am from my goal. I have endpoints for three distinct things I want to achieve in life, and those endpoints are actually people. Figures whom I admire for very distinct and different reasons, but all who have become something that I want to match (or surpass) in the coming decades. Now, I’ve talked about all of these people before, so I’ll include links to previous posts where I talk about each more singularly.

The first person is probably the most obvious and the most distant goal, and that is Brandon Sanderson. Now, obviously he has achieved things in the sci-fi and fantasy world that is extremely impressive. Having such a name for himself and working on multiple highly anticipated book series is nothing to sneeze at, but the reason he’s one of my endpoints is that he has such a knack for worldbuilding and putting giant concepts into edible chunks. I doubt he’ll ever be as famous as J.K. Rowling because his world is so expansive, but success isn’t necessarily measured by a paycheck. I’m the furthest away from achieving anything he did because he’s so far out of my league professionally, but his ability to constantly write new and diverse worlds never ceases to amaze me. Brandon Sanderson is therefore my aspired “Professional” identity.

My aspired “Hobby” identity is Matt Mercer. Him being an endpoint represents everything I want to achieve in my free time. Not only is he an amazing dungeon master for D&D, but he is also an incredible voice actor. His status as one of my endpoints is a little more ephemeral, because I also attribute this to my career as an improvisational actor and teacher. I don’t really care about doing anything with my abilities as a voice actor, improv actor, or dungeon master, but these are all nonetheless a part of my life, and I want to be able to be awesome at each in my own right. In this sense, I don’t think I can ever achieve this endpoint by virtue of the fact that he does those things as a professional and not as a hobbyist, but they are aspirations of mine all the same.

Lastly, and this may or may not be the most accessible goal, is my “Social” identity, whom I attribute to Sean “Day9” Plott. He is a streamer that plays games like HearthstoneDota 2, and made his name for himself by talking about Starcraft. The reason he’s on this list is because I think his most admirable quality is his personality. When you’re watching him play, (and I think this is pretty rare for streamers), the focus of the content is not on the game, but on him and his reactions to it. He’s built a community with the people that watch his stream, and is very engaging with his viewers. Not only that, but he also loves to tell stories and give advice. Day9 is an extremely charismatic person, watching him would be enjoyable even if I had absolutely no interest in the game he was playing in. While I have no intentions to have any sort of ‘online personality’ (outside perhaps this blog), I want people to have that sentiment towards me, as well. I want to draw in people based on my social character, not my accomplishments or anything like that. This endpoint is the hardest to gauge because, while all it takes is a change in character, that’s by no means easy. In fact, it’s pretty contradictory to the way I’ve lived my life up until recently. I’m taking steps, but it’s difficult to say how far the path leads, and I doubt I’m on the most direct one there.

I think a lot of people might interpret this information and incorrectly conclude that I’m not happy with where I am. On the contrary, I think I’m doing okay. But I think it’s healthy for us as people to have goals, both short term and long term. And it’s okay to have goals you will probably never achieve, because you’ll still get somewhere by trying. I would be lying if I said I expected to actually accomplish any of these endpoints (except maybe one). But that’s not really the point. All of these are markers to help me find the path I want to take, and while I might not get where I’m going, I’ll probably be content with wherever I end up.