Prompt — The Second Sun

Captain Hadrus adjusted his sunglasses as he looked sunward over the valley. The lenses blocked out a vast majority of the sun’s brilliance, but even so he could make out the dim outlines of the horizon and the reflection of the sun off the lake.

A good day for hunting, he thought. Which means it’s a good day to be hunted, as well.

He put a hand on Engineer Paddock’s shoulder, signaling for her to stop. When she did, he drew a finger along her back in swift, precise motions, telling her to stay close, keep quiet, and have her weapon ready. They were far from the cities, and so silence was key.

With the sudden appearance of this intensely bright new sun, the world had changed. Eyes became almost useless, because the second sun never moved, and so the concept of ‘night’ was a thing long forgotten. And so, the other senses took precedence: hearing and smell became the favorite means for predators to find food. Humans were no longer top of the food chain.

Hadrus watched as the vague outline of Paddock’s form nodded and turned to him, tapping his shoulder to indicate a reply. In similar fashion, she wrote, “One final weapon check before we descend.”

Hadrus rolled his eyes at the request, but acquiesced. After all, part of the reason he had brought her along was because of how careful she was—you could count on things going smoothly around Paddock. He pulled out his crossbow and handed it to her, watching as she examined the bowstring and the limbs, pulling a cloth out and cleaning the polished wood of any dirt. She inspected the weight of the drawback and did a cursory scan of everything else, making sure that the settings were all correct and that the string wouldn’t snap as soon as he fired. When she was satisfied, she handed it back to him with a curt nod.

Once that was settled, the two of them turned sunward once more and made their descent into the forest below. As always, it was quiet, and the two of them were careful not to make their presence known, treading on soft dirt and moving slowly. In centuries past this forest would have been rife with wildlife, with birds chirping and all manner of insects buzzing.

Hadrus had heard stories in a world that went dark half the time—not so dark as wearing the sunglasses, but dark enough to have trouble seeing even without them. He never really understood what that would do to an ecosystem, where predators could track by movement and didn’t need to rely so much on sound or smell.

He wouldn’t have noticed that Paddock had stopped moving if she hadn’t tapped his shoulder again. With the following gestures, she said “Watch out. Something straight ahead. Thirty feet.”

Hadrus strained his eyes, but saw no movement. It must have been big for Paddock to see it that far away, though. Maybe she smelled it, which made sense since they were travelling upwind. He tapped her shoulder and responded with “Ready bows.”

He kept scanning the area ahead as he drew out a bolt with his free hand. Half a step ahead of him, he saw Paddock taking out a bolt of her own, sliding it onto the barrel of her own crossbow. Once their weapons were loaded, he took a pair of pebbles that had been packed neatly at his side so they wouldn’t make sound with his movement. His hands were full now, so he couldn’t talk to Paddock, but his previous command deemed further instruction unnecessary.

Captain Hadrus made one last scan of the area and tossed the pebbles into the forest ahead of them, trying his best to land near whatever creature Paddock had spotted so that he could get its attention. They would track its movement as it investigated and…

The pebbles hit something soft, and it was followed by the sound of a low, huffing grunt.

They had directly hit their target, which had alerted it to their presence.

The creature huffed again, its huge claws scraping the ground as it paced. Towards them presumably, and a bear by the sound of it.

Hadrus exhaled slowly and quietly. Since the bear didn’t move to investigate the pebbles, there was no reference to get a clear shot at it, and the dark outlines of the forest made it all but invisible.

A soft click and a snap, and the bear roared in pain. Paddock had fired, and the bolt hit its mark.

The bear charged, and Hadrus clearly saw its outline as the hulking shape suddenly grew enormous.

The element of surprise was gone.

Hadrus fired, but it didn’t seem to hit. Paddock screamed in terror as the thing crashed into her, their dark outlines blurring into one.

The grunts of the bear collided with Paddock’s hushed gasps of panic. Hadrus fumbled for another bolt as he heard a sickening slash.

“Oh God,” Paddock cried. “My glasses! I can’t see!” The sound of her voice here sent a chill down Hadrus’ spine.

Hadrus fired again, aiming high to minimize the chances of hitting his ally. In the sound of the scuffle, it was impossible to tell if he had actually hit. The only thing to do was load again.

Paddock’s cries continued, and Hadrus kept firing. The chaos of the scuffle lessened, and soon the bear started to lumber off, evidently too wounded to want to stay.

This went to Hell really fast, Hadrus cursed. No deer or foxes, but a bear? There was no hope of bringing back food now. Little hope of bringing back Paddock alive, at that.

“How bad?” he asked aloud. There was no use for silence now.

“I… don’t think I can walk on my own,” she grunted. “And it tore off my glasses. I can’t see.”

He nodded. They had to get back to the city fast. “Here,” he said, taking off his glasses off. He shut his eyes immediately, but even through his eye lids the intensity of the second sun was uncomfortable.

“What? No, you have to leave me. Get home safe.”

“To Hell with that. Here,” he took her arms and helped her up, draping her over his shoulder so that she could half-stand. Sure, it would be better if he had his glasses, but he had no way of knowing if her injuries were life-threatening, and if they were, he wanted her to feel as safe as possible. “You be my eyes and guide us home, okay?”

“Yes, sir,” she said. “Thank you.”

“Enough talking, you need to conserve your strength and we both need to be quiet.”

 

Prompt: https://www.deviantart.com/aenami/art/Solar-714444421

D&D — Dungeons & Dragons as Escapism

I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons for a while now. Technically, at least eight years, but I’ve only been serious about the hobby for the last two or so. I would attribute two things to this. The first is Critical Role, which I think is self-explanatory. If you play D&D you probably know what that is. The second was a surprising amount of interest when I offhandedly commented the possibility of running a campaign with my improv friends. Those two things put together suddenly made D&D a much bigger part of my life, and it wasn’t until then that I realized the untapped potential the game had for me.

Before I got serious, D&D was a hobby; an incredibly complex board game in which you made your character and then cast the spells you picked out on the monsters the DM picked out. But then I realized that it didn’t have to be simply a video game. It could be a stage. It isn’t just about numbers and statistics and jokes. It could be a place to become somebody new and then behave as they do. You work in a headspace not your own in a world so different from the one you live. It isn’t the natural 1s or 20s that interest me anymore, it’s the choices the players make at the table because of a world we all created together.

I had a dream recently where I ran down a steep hill and turned into a bird, gaining speed as I swooped down and feeling the air press against my wings as I soared upwards and over everything else. I have never flown in any of my dreams. The closest I’ve gotten was jumping like The Hulk or being thrown from point A to B. But the feeling of flying was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and I am under no illusions: it is because my current D&D character is a druid that can shapeshift.

I don’t play to win anymore. In fact, the concept of “winning” D&D seems silly to me. Even if you and your friends are playing through a story that has a definitive beginning and ending, you can’t really “win” in the same way you don’t “win” when watching your favorite movie. It’s just an experience.

So nowadays, when I make decisions in this imaginary world, I don’t think “what is the optimal play”. I don’t even think “what is the optimal play given the information my character has”. Instead, I think “what would Taldarrin do in this circumstance?” For me, I get the most out of the experience by making the situation as believable as possible.

For example, at level 2, Circle of the Moon druids are basically the most powerful class in the game. Among other things, they can turn into a brown bear, which could probably fight off 3 other level 2 characters at the same time. Taldarrin has only ever turned into a brown bear once, and this was for intimidation, not power. He used to turn into a giant spider a lot, but every time he has, he’s rolled very poorly. So canonically, Taldarrin simply does not understand how to accommodate for all those eyes and legs, and thus doesn’t turn into that anymore. I think that makes for much better story telling than “when we fight I always turn into a bear, and if I roll badly it’s just a bad day. I’ll turn into a bear tomorrow”.

I don’t begrudge other playstyles. D&D is amazingly versatile, and any way anyone likes to play is certainly valid. I’m merely stating that I got a lot more out of it when I moved it from “video game” to “acting” in my head. I think all of us like being somebody else every once in a while, and Dungeons & Dragons is a great way to do that.

Review — Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Okay, as always with a review of a recent thing, I’ll write the spoiler free version first, then the spoiler-not free version after that. There will be a clear dileneation, don’t worry. Before I get to even the actual review though, I have a confession. I never saw the 2015 Jurassic World. These movies being what they are, though, I didn’t expect to really need that much context, and I was right. It’s not like jumping into Two Towers having never seen/read Fellowship of the Ring.

Alright: actual review. Overall conclusion is that its plot is sort of a mess, and I think a lot of things could have been handled better. For what it is, though, it does its job. It has all the suspense and action you would come to expect from the series, and I think it makes a fine addition to the series. I think it goes without saying that Jurassic Park is still by far the best one, but it often isn’t fair to compare movie sequels to their predecessors. For a lot of reasons, they simply can’t live up to the expectation.

My major gripe with the movie is actually the trailer that I saw. Now, I hate watching movie trailers, and this is the biggest reason. The movie that I expected to see from that trailer is not the movie that this was, and I’ll go into more detail on that later (with spoilers). It’s worth noting that I did not watch the “Final” Trailer until writing this now, and it does a much better job showcasing the basic plot without misdirection. That said, for that to be my biggest issue is probably a compliment.

Another thing that I wasn’t a huge fan of was the final 20 minutes. I feel like it could have been much bigger and better, but I would be willing to concede that that’s probably controversial, and I can see the merits to the version they went with. More on that later, too.

Overall, I think it was okay. The actors did a fine job, there were (as you’d expect), some awesome camera shots, and the action was approachable. I think the character motivations were often very shaky, though, and I felt a lot of the plot twists were uninspired. Solid movie, you get what you paid for, but I feel it could have been great. (Also, super bonus points for not making basically no romantic subplot whatsoever. I don’t know what happened between them in the previous movie, but I’m glad romance doesn’t get in the way of the plot here.)

And now: Spoilers!


Alright, my four issues with the movie.

  1. The trailer I saw was all about escaping the island and whatnot. I was led to believe the film would take place on the island, and the climax would be the volcano blowing up. Instead, everyone was off the island in half an hour and the rest of the movie was about the politics of trafficking dinosaurs. I mean… what? Sure, the plot made sense, but you’re going to put the actual exploding volcano practically in the exposition? Yeah, okay.
  2. We’re (literally) told that the Indoraptor is the smartest and most deadly creature to ever walk the Earth. And then when it (of course) escapes, it’s just a big, fast thing with claws and teeth. How is that any different? You tell us it’s smart, show us it’s smart. The smartest thing it does is figure out how to open a door that was made of glass to begin with. I guess you could argue that it breaking the elevator was smart, but that looked like an accident to me, when it should have totally been intentional. You also tell us it can smell things a mile away, but can’t pinpoint people hiding behind a thing ten feet away? It’s supposed to be scary because it’s smarter and stronger than other dinosaurs, and then… it really isn’t. (I also don’t get why they needed Blue alive. They already made the dinosaur before the trafficking thing happened, what was Blue even for other than to help the good guys?)
  3. Okay, I know this is stupid, but the tech guy. Franklin? His character was dumb. Why would a “germaphobe” let’s call him go to an island infested with creatures that want to eat him? The only character motivation we’re given as to why he’s there is a throwaway line about how his dad made him come. I mean, no. His character was funny and all, but nothing about his existence made sense for the plot.
  4. The ending is stupid. Why does Jeff Goldblum have a speech about dinosaurs being out in the wild when there’s like a dozen escaped dinosaurs? The amount of threat they pose to the public is laughable, and realistically, the worst damage they could do is in the form of disrupting the ecosystem through bacteria. They would all be tracked down and (probably) killed within a week. That’s not a setup for a sequel and I’m mad that the movie tried to tell me it was.

P.S. I think it’s interesting that literally nobody but the audience knows that the grandpa was murdered. Everybody knows he’s dead, sure, but the only guy that knew, the murderer, also died. Inconsequential, I know. Plus, he would 100% have died in the chain of events that took place in that house anyway, but I think it’s a thought worth considering.

Me — July ’18 Update

With the onset of summer comes a few disappointments, mostly in plans that didn’t come to fruition. It’s all good, though. The heat wave hasn’t quite reached, (though it’ll be over 100° F next week) so I haven’t yet hit the threshold where it’s too hot to hurt my productivity.

So as always, here’s the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, and other things.

Okay. Minor blog changes! I touched on this a bit ago, but I finally have a plan. Posting all of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday isn’t working for me anymore. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have zero free time to be writing, as I’m either at work, at my writer’s group, or at D&D for basically 100% of those days. I was originally going to rework the schedule entirely, but really it’s only the Wednesday posts that are troublesome, given my lack of free time the night before. So while I’m not going to change the content of what I’ve been putting out, I will be pushing the Wednesday posts to Thursday. That way I can use the free time I have on Wednesday nights to write instead of twiddling my thumbs. That’s it. I also can’t promise I won’t continue being late on the fiction posts. I still don’t have that spark of creativity that makes writing compelling, so it’s hard to actually force myself to write. I will continue to try my best to post fiction every week though.

Speaking of that, it hurts a little bit to have writing plans be one of the main categories of things I talk about in these monthly updates when I have had no writing plans for months. I don’t intend to remove it from the list, though. I think it’s important for it to stay there.

Video games are also pretty simple: I’m still playing Heroes of the Storm almost exclusively, but in all honesty I don’t have a whole lot of time to be playing video games right now. Working full time means that when I do finally get home I’m super tired and I either have to write or go do something else. As much as I’d like to be playing stuff, it just doesn’t have priority. Not to say that that’s a bad thing.

When I do have free time, I’ve been listening to a new podcast I’m not sure I’ve mentioned on the blog before: No Such Thing as a Fish. It’s a weekly British podcast where all the hosts each bring a fact on any topic, and then they each spend ten minutes talking about things tangential to that fact before moving on to the next topic. The useless information is interesting, and their commentary can be really funny. As a side note, I’ve also been watching West Wing with a friend. We just finished the first season, and I might do a review (on just the first season) soon.

Also, some unfortunate news about school. My summer semester class was cancelled, and since I was taking a big fall semester, I was planning on graduating at the end of the fall. Without that class I needed, I’m going to need to take another spring semester—something I was trying pretty hard to avoid. But, when all’s said and done, it’s only a few extra months. So, not currently in school, but hope to be mostly out of it soon.

Other things. Well, the only other thing I have to talk about is D&D and all my plans that never happened. I intended to run a new campaign just over the course of the summer. One with super weak commoner characters, but that never happened. I do have an entirely new idea for a campaign, but this inkling is small and needs time to grow. I also intended to write a weekly journal of my character’s adventures in this new campaign, but in all honesty that would be a lot of writing I’m not all that interested in. Instead, I think I’ll keep the tales of Taldarrin of the Twiceborn in my back pocket until I have some good ones to share.

P.S. When looking for the picture to post with these monthly updates, I always just type in the month name and find the first picture without words I like. With July, though, it’s all America and fireworks. Did the USA single-handedly commandeer the month of July because of one national holiday, or do search engines base searches off of country?

Prompt — The Return of the Silence

“I’m not paying two odes for this,” I said. These merchants were getting bolder and bolder by the day.

“Two odes or you put it all back,” he shrugged, not batting an eye.

“Two months ago I could buy all this for half that!”

“Two months ago there was no tariff on raftheads. You want your damn Kitsuyan vegetables you can get on the next boat headed there.”

Ruder by the day, too. I forked over the two gold coins and stalked off, groceries in one hand and staff in the other.

The causeway through the main streets of Kalisport was as busy as it always was this time of day, and even with the oceanic breeze it was still hot out. People were amply coated in sweat as they heaved carts and goods through the market, going about their day with a smile on their face.

I never understood how people could be so… happy.

Feeling the warmth on my pale skin, I remembered why I was in such a hurry. Being in the sun too long always gave me horrendous burns. I learned very quickly why Kitsuyans don’t often leave the isles: we melt.

I stepped into a shady alleyway to catch my breath and cool off a bit. I set my things down to examine the damage. “By the Mist and Tides,” I cursed. “I’m already burnt. I’ve barely been out twenty minutes!”

Glancing down the alley, I was hit with a sudden sense of…

Quiet.

All the commotion of the thoroughfare nearby was suddenly gone. It was just me. Here. Alone.

An impossible gale of wind flooded through the narrow path, tossing up papers and refuse and anything else. As it rushed towards me, I thrust my hand out to combat it, but no magic came. What could I do against wind? Against the Silence, my old enemy?

It crashed into me, pushing me against the wall with the force of a freight golem. Before I knew it, the Silence had passed, the sound of the nearby street was back, and I was huddled right where I had stopped, weeping speechless tears.

It had been years since I had had one of these attacks. I still lived with my aunt back then. I thought it was gone for good. This one, as minor as it had been, was an ill omen.

Well, I wasn’t the powerless little girl anymore.

With a huff to gather my composure, I stood and grabbed my staff. I wasn’t about to let the Silence once again wreak havoc over my life.

 

After a conspicuous but determined jog back to my little apartment, I threw all the windows and doors open and stepped out onto the balcony. Heat and burning be damned, I couldn’t risk another attack, I needed noise.

I was met with the full view of Kalisport, rows upon rows of buildings, the floating spires in the distance one direction, the tranquil Xal Deer Sea the other. I focused on the sound of the people below as I watched, picking out as many strings of words as I could.

Then, two quick knocks on my front door, and my heart skipped a beat. Had I been followed? I recalled every footstep I made between going to buy groceries and coming home. I hadn’t noticed anyone tailing me, but then, I hadn’t been in the most stable of mindsets. I didn’t have any friends here, and the people I worked with wouldn’t knock. I clenched my staff tighter. Whoever it was, they knew I was here.

I thought about the soft thumps of my boots as I walked across the floor to the door. The Silence could still come back if I wasn’t careful. I had to focus on the sound.

“Who is it?” I called through.

“An old friend,” a male voice responded. I recognized it, but the memory was faint. Old.

“How old?”

“Older than I’d like to admit.”

I opened the door to see Khuros. The imaginary friend that saved me from the Silence.

“You left these in the alleyway,” he said, holding up my basket of groceries.

I wasn’t sure what to say. Everyone has imaginary friends when they’re kids, don’t they? I struggled to come up with a greeting but instead…

“You’re not real,” I muttered, out loud I realized too late.

He shrugged. “Neither is the Silence, and yet here we are. We need to talk.”

 

Prompt: https://www.deviantart.com/totorrl/art/Loc-Ppj-V50-Fin-582309207

Me — Writing at the Last Minute

I’ll admit it. To the surprise of nobody, I’ve never been amazing at writing these posts in advance. There have been occasions where I wrote the next week’s worth of post all on Sunday, but the last time that happened was (I don’t know how many) months ago. In fact, for the past two weeks or more, every single post has been written at most 6 hours before it’s scheduled to post, and multiple times I’ve been late on posts entirely.

Probably, the fact that I’m working full time is to blame. I’m not home and showered before 6pm, and usually not settled before 7. By that time, I’ve been out and about for nearly 12 hours and writing is not the first thing on my mind. I want to unwind and take a break, and this ostensibly leads to me relaxing for the next 4 hours and suddenly I need to go to bed and haven’t written yet.

It sort of sucks because this means that all of my posts have been “Oh my gosh I want to go to bed but I need to churn out 500 words”. Not all of them have been bad, of course, but with these normal blog posts especially I don’t usually even know what I’m going to write until I write it. Free form isn’t bad, necessarily, but I do think it leaves the quality of my work at a tier below that which I expect of myself.

With posts like this, I don’t mind so much. I mean, this post is my 635th on the blog (remembered when I tagged them in multiples of 5? Yeesh.) So with all the subcategories and these random, general posts being the most common, there are 3/400 like it. What I don’t like is that, for the Sunday fiction posts, I usually don’t write those until Saturday night, and even then I probably don’t get started until past midnight because I’ve been up playing games with friends. It’s really hard for me to commit to writing a longer piece (even if it’s only 1,000 words) the morning after a long week of hard work.

What this tells me is that a reorganizing of the blog schedule is in order. Especially since Wednesday posts are tough—with my writer’s group I rarely get home before 9pm, and at that point I still need to shower and eat. It’s doable, sure, but I just wish my schedule would gain some consistency and that all the weekly things I want to be doing all happen at the same times every week! (The troubles of being a working college student, I’m afraid. You take the classes you need at the times you can afford.)

I’ll try to give all this some serious thought before Monday, when the monthly update posts. I don’t like making bigger changes outside of those posts if I can help it, especially if they occur near the beginning of the month. So, stay tuned. I don’t expect my post frequency to change, but maybe I’ll take a look at my fall semester and figure out a neater blog schedule that doesn’t frontload my work week and can be consistent for the rest of the year.

Review — Heroes of the Storm (Jun. ’18 Edition)

Since Heroes of the Storm is basically the only game I play given how busy I am, I think it’s only fair that I take the time to dedicate a little bit of my blog to it every once in a while (beyond saying “I’m still playing HotS” in the monthly updates). Being an online, MOBA style game, it’s constantly getting new features and characters to play, so reviewing it at one stage of its development will be totally different from another, even in broad strokes like “state of the game” as I intend to talk about here.

So, for timeline context—the newest character and battleground were released a few weeks ago: Yrel and Alterac Pass. This is following the releases of Deckard Cain and Fenix.

Overall, Heroes seems to be in rough shape, even with the newest batch of content. Keeping myself updated on the subreddit for the game means reading a lot of complaints about how toxic people are (as with all MOBAs), how reporting other players does nothing and there’s no reason to do so, and how frustrating a lot of characters are to play against. There’s a power gap between newer characters and older ones simply because the system is advancing, albeit slowly.

Unfortunately, Heroes of the Storm was crippled from the beginning. The game’s foundation is an engine (at least) nine years old, as it started off as a mod to Starcraft II. This means that connectivity issues and overall capabilities are limited from the start, and it can’t compete with new stuff, given how fast the gaming industry evolves. This will always be the biggest issue with the game—it’s built on old foundation.

And you can see the aging in the game, too. Older heroes like Raynor have very simple abilities, such as “increase attack speed” or “push enemies back”, whereas heroes like Fenix have “fire a laser that spins around your hero twice, hurting and slowing enemies it hits as it passes”. This becomes a problem when most of the characters being picked in high level play are the ones that were released in the past few months.

Overall, Heroes of the Storm is pretty solid. The best thing about it is that the vast majority of games last 15-25 minutes, and only on rare occasions can you give or take 5 more minutes. It’s completely free, you can play with up to five friends, and there is absolutely no “buying power”. You simply can’t buy stuff that gives you the upper hand against your enemies. (The only thing is, as with most MOBA’s, you have to play a lot in order to be able to buy the characters with in-game currency. Not a lot, mind you, and there’s no hero that you can’t buy with in-game currency, but it’s worth mentioning.)

It does have loot boxes, which the entire gaming community hates right now, but honestly I think it’s fine in this case because it’s mostly cosmetic, and you get them at a reasonable rate.

The game is, as it always will be, at it’s best when you’re playing with friends that don’t take things too seriously. Being competitive is fine, but there’s something about MOBA’s that really churns up hatred for other people. So as long as you’re fine with losing, and you can have fun without blaming the people you’re playing with (even if it is their fault), you can have a good time.