Art: The House Apart

TheHouseApart

I’ve finally got my scanner working.  After getting lost finding the materials to draw the picture, I found that my scanner hadn’t shipped with power cords.  After I had those delivered, I had trouble figuring out how to make it scan.  After all of that, I’m glad I can finally share pictures with you.

As for the picture itself, the houses and words in the middle are something I’d like to turn into a logo.  The rest of the scenery was just me using page space and ink, so that’s why it doesn’t really fit with the important stuff.  Still, if I cut off the bottom, I think I’d have a decent header image.  Now, if I can just figure out how to get rid of the title text on the page.

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Notes on Ink Painting

The friction of the brush isn’t what I’m used to.  Instead of the break and grind of pencil, or the irregular glide of ball-point, there’s a tackiness where the ink tries to stick to both the paper and the brush.  It’s still friction, and there’s still a link between where the brush is meeting paper and the line left behind, so I still enjoy it.

The brush doesn’t always go where I expect it to.  There can be a fair bit of trail to the bristles if I push down too hard, and individual bristles can split off from that.  I should avoid pushing down unless I need to make a particularly thick mark.

The pipettes didn’t work so well.  Adding water to the ink to make a lighter shade barely did anything at all, even when I added five milliliters of water to a single drop of ink.  I think I’ll try diluting by dipping the brush in ink, then immediately dipping it in water, and see what that gets me.

I need to by a proper shader.  The flat brushes that came with the package I bought seem to be combs, good for making several lines at once, but not for filling in spaces.  I can try looking for something locally.  A local computer store sells brushes.

Getting Lost and New Art

Recently, I spent a weekend driving.  This wasn’t something I did because I like to drive, I simply needed to go to the nearest city to by art supplies.  I got lost a couple of times, but I suppose that’s part of the fun of going somewhere new.

I bought some brushes, a bottle of India ink, and some good, thick paper.  Practicing with ink painting, I find that the brush goes over the page much more smoothly than a pencil or a ball-point does.  I am also delighted that I can dilute the ink with water, allowing me to apply shades of grey to the picture, something that I always wished I could do when working with just the ball-point.  Although, I’m going to have to buy some pipettes to control how much water I use.

I have also ordered a scanner.  It will take some time for it to arrive, but once it does, I should have a much easier time getting my drawings onto the site.  I look forward to sharing them with you.

Occulted: Aberration

“Emily, raise your hands above your head slowly, please.”

Emily did as she was asked.  She felt that the ligaments in her shoulders were still a bit tight where they were sown back together, but Emily’s Azoth had allowed them to heal nicely.  As the doctor walked her through the other stretches, she felt relieved as her other joints had moved as if she had never been injured.

“Very good.  I’ll let you get dressed and then we can check you out.”

Thanking the doctor as he left, Emily brought out her normal clothes and got out of her hospital gown.  As she pulled it over her head, her black, lustrous hair fell down her back in a flow of spikes, the remains of scars from her recent surgery somewhat disguised by the blotchy, almost patchwork, color of her skin.  Slightly different shades of brown covered the various regions of her body, with almost clear boundaries appearing between the lightest and darkest places.  This dissonance of color extending even to her eyes, the left of which was green, and the right, purple.

Once she was dressed, she walked down the hallway and went to the school hospital’s desk.  There, she met the receptionist, asked for supplies for her first aid kit, and dealt with the last of her paperwork.

“I wish you good health, Emily M. Frankenstein.”


Jessica met her roommate just as Emily was stepping out of the hospital.  Even if it was sunny out, she was glad to have someone to talk to again.  Doing research on the entity that took over her body and threw Emily into the stone box had filled much of her time, but it couldn’t really take the place of an actual person to talk to.

“Hey, Jess,” called Emily as she looked over to her roommate.

“Hey,” said Jessica, panting from running in the sunlight.

“Can I borrow yer notes? Fer the classes we both have, I mean.”

Jessica moved her eyes away from Emily’s.  “Oh, I so sorry.  I don’t take notes.”

“What?” said Emily, irritated.  “Why didn’t you take notes?”

“I don’t need them,” said Jessica.  “I can just keep everything said in class in my head.”

“Pch,” Emily exhaled, “I’ve got the worst damn luck.  You should take notes anyway, jus’ in case you miss somethin’.  That’s why I take notes.”

“Well, can I buy you ice cream to make up for it?”

Emily raised an eye brow at that.

“Okay, so I’ve just been wanting ice cream all afternoon, but you did just get out of the hospital, so I thought it was worth celebrating.”

“Yeah, sure.  You need ta eat more, anyway.”

Jessica snorted as they turned to move.  “Most women would kill to have my figure.”

“Yer scrawny, Jess.  And pale like a corpse.”

“My skin is porcelain.  It’s so smooth and clear you can almost see through it.”

“Nobody wants ta see yer guts, Jess.”

Jessica burst into laughter at the last comment.  “Fine, you win.”  The girls reached the edge of the school grounds and started along the path through the forest.  Sunlight streamed through the trunks of the trees beside it, and leaves, just starting to brown, still provided a shade that Jessica was grateful for.

“Hey, Jess.”

“Hm?”

“Didja get anything done with yer thing?”

Jessica sighed and brushed a lock of hair back.  “Well, I’m done with the translation of a book I found, at least of the parts of the book I’m interested in.  Actually, something weird happened as I was finishing that.”

“Oh?”

“I met someone just as I was finishing the translation.  She was looking into what happened, too.”

“What?  Why?”

“Apparently, she was interested in the ritual that thing broke us into.  She got really pissed when she found out that I was looking into whatever took me over, rather than the ritual itself.”

Emily stepped closer in inquiry.

“I don’t know why that was.  She got angry about a bunch of random things, actually.  Anyway, she cursed me when I told her about my reasons, and we got in a fight.  I won, even with the curse.”

“What did the curse do?”

“It kept me from using my strength, mostly.  It might have also made me fall on my face a lot.  Anyway, I got her to break the curse, and she seems pretty chill when she wasn’t getting angry for no reason.”

“What was her name?” asked Emily.

“Alima.  Her room’s on our floor, on the other side of the building.  Wait, do you smell that?”

Emily smelled nothing, except for the late summer fruits and the decaying wood of felled logs.  But Jessica had the scent of something else, something that made her taste buds quiver in anticipation.  Sniffing the air, she began to look into the wood, hoping to find whatever it was that was causing that pleasant sensation.  She pulled her head above a ridge, and saw a three-headed elk mutilating the corpse of a bear.

The elk was hollowing out the stomach of the bear, scattering blood across the ground as it worked.  It scrapped its hooves around the carcass’s ribs, bringing the last bit of the organs out into the air.  Jessica, vampire that she was, was both horrified and excited at the sight.

The right head of the elk caught sight of the girls.  It swung itself around, revealing that it was either unusually short or unusually broad.  The middle head, which had only had the antlers visible from behind, was revealed to be skinless, just a mass of exposed bone, decorated only by the tendons and ligaments holding the jaw in place.  But perhaps most disturbing was the pair of seemingly human arms attached to the shoulders, between the front legs, hanging limply before the thing’s too-wide front.

Jessica and the beast stood their and stared at each other in silence.  The vampire was vaguely aware of Emily tensing up behind her, like she expected that she would have to move quickly soon.  She was even more awkwardly aware that the sun was falling on her back.  Finally, desperate to cut the tension, Jessica decided to speak.  “Hi.”

A strange, squawking voice responded from with in the skinless middle head.  “Hello.”

“Uh, w-what are you doing with that bear?” asked Jessica.

The thing started to step toward Jessica, scratching its arm.  Seeing it closer, Jessica could see that the hands didn’t have nails on the fingers, instead terminating in claws that were almost indistinguishable from the flesh.  “Ixxqura needs blood to be shed.  You understand the power of blood, yes?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Jessica, “I definitely understand it better than most.”

“Then you understand why I need to kill you.”  The three-headed beast lunged at Jessica, who only avoided being hurt by Emily shoving her out of the way.  Claws had clipped at Emily’s arm, leaving flecks of yellow-green fluid running down the elk’s fingers.

It looked at the liquid, confused, for a moment.  Then the beast threw aside the Azoth, letting it splatter on to the ground.  Emily tried to keep Jessica on her feet, as shaken up as the vampire was.  The sun was pouring through the gaps in the trees, keeping her from focusing.  Once again, the thing charged, and Emily tried to get her friend out of harm’s way.  But this time, antler’s caught one of Jessica’s arms, and there was a snap as it was tangled and twisted around.

“AAAAAAAHHHH!” Jessica screamed.  In desperation, Emily attacked the beast, jamming her thumb into one of its six eyes.  As it pulled back, Emily grabbed the crying Jessica, and ran off deep into the forest.


“Okay, yeah, that’s definitely broken.  Lemme make you a splint, try not ta move.”

Emily broke two dead branches off of the tree she had put Jessica under.  She took out her first aid kit, and wiped the eye goop from her thumb.  She put on rubber gloves, and began to wrap the sticks in gauze with Jessica’s arm, keeping it from moving and strapping support to her neck.

“Okay, that should do it fer now.  We should get you looked at by a real doctor, but it’s not an open wound, and you should heal in a few hours, anyways.”

Jessica looked down at her arm.  It hung there, throbbing.  The shade of the tree was pleasant, but there was a question that she really needed to ask.

“We’re lost, aren’t we?”

Emily gave one look around, and said, “Yeah.”

“Well, at least nothing’s trying to kill us.  Wish I had some blood, though.”

There was a reason Emily was Jessica’s roommate.  The vampire needed to drink blood regularly, usually gotten from the school hospital and kept in the small fridge in their dorm room.  If she didn’t, there was a chance that she would go berserk and start biting people in order to get what she needed.  There was even a chance that she could take too much, and kill whoever she fed from.

Emily didn’t have to worry about that, however.  The Frankensteins didn’t have blood in their veins, instead, they had a substance known as Azoth.  Azoth acted as a replacement for blood in most respects, carrying oxygen and other things through the body.  Jessica couldn’t use it the same way she used blood, though.  Emily had let her taste the Azoth at the start of the year, just to see what would happen.  Apparently, Azoth tastes like cardboard.

“Well, let’s try ta find ourselves.”  Emily helped Jessica to her feet.  As they began to orient themselves in the forest, Jessica saw a flash of light in the distance.  She stopped, and strained her sight to see if it was a normal light, or a hint of aura.  Again she saw a flash, this time it came from, or rather through, a tree.

Carefully, the girl leaned over to catch a glimpse of what was producing the light from around the tree.  A fair way into the distance, she saw the three-headed elk, prowling through the forest, sniffing the air, and its aura was like shimmering scales in the sunlight.

“Emily,” whispered Jessica, fearful of drawing the thing’s attention.  The patchy-skinned girl turned to her roommate.  “That elk thing is following us.”

Emily went up to the tree and looked around it.  “Figures,” she said.  “Well, whaddo we got?”

“Huh?”

“We gonna need a plan to kill that thing, girl, so we should figure out what we can use.”

“Um, kill it?” said Jessica.

“‘S already followed us this far, and I don’t think we can outrun it forever, so our best bet is kill it, or at least cripple it.”

“Well, I guess I can still throw a punch with my good arm, but I’m pretty sure your going to have to do most of the fighting.”

“Okay, then,” said Emily, running her hand over her mouth, “so what do I got?”

“Actually, I think it might be better to think about what you don’t have.”

“Whadya mean?”

“You have no aura.”  Emily stared at Jessica blankly.  “There’s nothing around you that marks you out as Occulted.  Did you notice?”

Emily guided the two of them to a new location, trying to buy a little more time.  “Yer telling me, that you Occs can see a bunch of lights comin’ offa each other?”

“Well, I see it as lights, but I’ve heard that some of us feel it as a pressure, or maybe a smell.  Don’t you sense anything like that from me?”

“No,” Emily said.  “Figur’s that I’m missin’ out on the ability to see monsters from a mile away.”

“But, the fact that you don’t have one is a good thing,” said Jessica.  “Even if you can’t see it coming, it can’t see you coming either.  Between my strength, and your stealth, we can beat this thing.”

“True.  But we still need a plan.”


Emily moved around the tree, sneaking around behind the elk.  She had to be careful, the thing had broken Jessica’s arm, even if that was in partial sunlight.  Tightening her grip on the branch, she moved in, and smacked it in the back.

It stumbled, and turned around to point one of its heads at Emily.  “There’s no need for you,” the elk said.

“Oh?  You think I’ll let you ignore me while you kill my friend?”

The elk’s three heads paused.  Slowly, it turned all the way towards Emily, its arms tensed for action.  As it began to move towards her, the girl started to back up, the sunlight of the afternoon dancing across her skin as it streamed through the trees.  As she continued to lure it further, it came slowly, like it was considering something.

Emily whacked it further, to goad it along the path.  “You aren’t hitting me for real,” it finally said, in its strange, creaking voice.  “You’re bringing me towards your friend.”

Emily smiled.  “That’s where you want to go, innit?  You want her blood for your…whatever the hell it is, don’cha?”  The thing stepped back, its antlers low and covering its body.  Emily stepped back into the foliage, and disappeared.  The elk waited a moment, then raised its heads to sniff the air.  Slowly, it moved to where it last saw its enemy, and as it neared the break in the leaves, an end of a branch came out and slammed into the jaw of the skinless head.

Emily followed, and hit the elk several more times, each one placed to actually hurt.  The elk grabbed the branch with its hands, its claws digging into the wood and splintering it apart.  Now weaponless, Emily turned and ran.

She did not look over her shoulder.  She kept her eyes pointed in front of her, to see where she was going and what was in her path.  She could here the thing crashing through the woods behind her, and she was heading into a darker part of the forest.

Emily kept running until she heard a massive crunch behind her.  Turning around and catching her breath, she saw Jessica standing over the shattered carcass of the elk.  The punch Jessica threw had so much impact that a small crater had formed under the body, and the vampire stood there, with her eyes wide.

“Haha, I just killed someone.”

Emily approached her roommate, worried that she was going to start freaking out.  “Someone?”

“He could talk.  That makes him a person.”

Emily put a hand on Jessica’s shoulder.  “Jess, it was him or you.  He wanted to kill you.”

“I- I know,” said the pale girl, as she stared at the blood on her fist.  Emily heard the faint sound of someone approaching over dirt and twigs, and she turned to see a pale woman with wild, dark hair walking up to them.

“Hey, have you seen–Gamate!!”


Miss Karas, who was apparently a teacher of a class Emily didn’t take, but Jessica did, had quickly led them back to the school hospital.  Emily had told the doctors and the teacher what had happened, and now, while Jessica was being looked over, she had some questions to answer of her own.  She had brought Miss Karas to an empty side office.

“What is Ikshkala?”

“I’m sorry?”

“The thing we killed mentioned somethin’ called Ikshkala.  Said it needed blood ta be shed.”

“I can’t actually tell you-”

Emily glared down into Karas’s eyes.  “Don’t fuck around.  Somebody’s gonna get killed over this.”

Karas sucked air between her teeth.  “I can’t tell you because I don’t know.  This is the first time I’ve heard the word.”

Silence passed, then Emily spoke, “Could this have somethin’ to do with the ritual?”

“It could.  That ritual is performed every few years in order to keep something contained.  I don’t even know why it has to be preformed at school, just that what ever it was that the rite was to keep imprisoned is powerful and dangerous, and by now its power should be felt.”

Emily looked at the teacher.  “So, what are you doin’?”

“Me?  I’m going to do some looking around of my own.  The principal and the other teachers have been rather reluctant to speak of the ritual, but I’m sure there’s something around town that can point the way.  If you find anything yourself, I’d be happy to know about it.”

Karas left the room, leaving Emily to think.  So, the principal’s tryin’ to keep things underwraps.  Jus’ my luck that my friends are the ones that are getting hurt by it.  I can’t leave our survival up to anyone else.  If that means I have ta tangle with some god or whatever that elk was followin’, then that’s what it takes.

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I was already happy with this chapter, just had to clean up some awkward exposition and Emily’s thoughts at the end.  Adding anything else would just weaken the piece as a whole.  I’d still like to know if I’m using Greek swears wrong.

The Solar Exalted: Tyrant Heroes Reborn

I probably shouldn’t be doing another of these things, but the last one got a pretty good response, so what the hell.

Exalted is a tabletop role-playing game where the players take the role of superpowered individuals known as Exalted.  There are several types of Exalted, each with their own culture and powers.  Each type gets its own book to describe these cultures and powers, except for the Solar Exalted, who effectively have no culture of their own, and have their powers described in the core rulebook.

The Solars having no culture of their own requires a bit of a history lesson.  Long ago, the gods of the setting wished to overthrow the creators of it, the Primordials, but could not, due to the gods being programmed to not harm or disobey their creators.  They could, however, empower beings that the Primordials dismissed as too weak to be a threat to them: humans.  The gods empowered empowered a number of mortals, and the sun god, most powerful and leader of the other gods, created the Solar Exalted, most powerful and leaders of the other Exalted.

In time, the Exalted defeated the Primordials, and took Creation, the world of mortals, as their own.  Eventually, the Solars grew corrupt and oppressive, until their servants and advisors slew them and sealed the power of Solar Exaltation away.  Centuries later, the Solar Exalted have begun to reappear, arising from mortal men and women with a need for its power, as Creation teeters on the brink of chaos and destruction from multiple directions, including the Solars themselves.

So their story is mostly an Order Reborn plot, with the twist that one of the evils that the Order has to face is the Order itself.  And this is where I realize that I cannot describe Exalted without first explaining Dungeons & Dragons.  Specifically, I need to explain character alignment.

Character alignment is a way of describing the morality of a character.  It is described as a grid, with a Law-Chaos axis and a Good-Evil axis, so that you have categories like Lawful Good, Neutral Evil, etc.  What, exactly, these categories describe changes from setting to setting and, I suspect, from group to group.

What does not change, however, is that some character classes are associated with certain alignment, specifically, paladins are Lawful Good.  I don’t just mean that paladins have to have ‘Lawful Good’ written in next to alignment, I mean that being lawful and good is their deal.  I bring this up because paladins have the same ‘sunlight and fury’ esthetics as the Solar Exalted, but the Solars have neither law nor goodness as their central theme.  In fact, Exalted (or at least the advertising material) makes a big stink about how ‘goodness’ is relative, making sure that the reader understands that when the word ‘hero’ is used, it’s in the Ancient Greek sense.  (The fact that the Ancient Greeks viewed heroes as admirable, but flawed, is neither here nor their.)

The core theme of the Solar Exalted (and because their in the corebook, of the gameline as a whole) is power.  Power is what defines their abilities, like the ability to deflect any physical attack, the ability to cast spells that reshape entire countries, or the ability to rewrite the unspoken rules of a society.  Nothing, not magic, not the other Exalted, not even the sun god himself can take away this power, except by killing the Solar.  This means that there is nothing forcing the Exalt to use their power wisely or ethically.

So, a Solar can become a tyrant, or a hero, or both at once.  In their quest to reshape the world to fit their ideals, their greatest opposition are liable to be other Solars.  In a story (which is what Exalted claims to be for), these Solars would be excellent counterpoints to the first, representing everything that Solar could have been or could become.  An Evil Counterpart, in a world where objective morality, a guide external to oneself, does not exist.

Remember this when you learn of the Abyssals and Infernals.

Signature Equipment

Named weapons always seem to be an extension of the character that wields them.  You can’t think of Excalibur without King Arthur, and you don’t think of Mjolnir without Thor.  The weapon seems more like a reason for the character to have particular superpowers than something that has superpowers itself.

One of the things that makes magical weapons interesting is that they can be separated from their wielders.  This is an inherit and intuitive weakness that barely needs to be explained to the audience.  And the less you have to explain to the audience, the more time you have for the punching.  Of course, there are ways to get around this limitation, like storing the weapon in a pocket dimension, where it rests undetected until the wielder summons it, or disguising the weapon as a much less dangerous object, such as a simple walking stick.

Things get complicated when we consider powers that don’t come from objects, instead being inborn talents or learned skills.  Even without Excalibur, Arthur is still a king and mighty warrior, just one that has to worry about bleeding to death.  Without Stormbringer, Elric can still call upon the spirits the Melnibonéans made deals with, before their destruction.  But narratively, the powers of the weapon remain forever linked to the character.  Stormbringer is the closest I can think of to a weapon’s powers being thematically separate from the wielder’s, and even then, Elric wouldn’t be Elric without it.

This is something to consider when thinking about stories about people using magical equipment.  Magical objects that have their powers only come up once rarely have proper names, either being a class of objects used by many people, or only being used once, never really having time to be connected to any one person.  Care must be taken, to prevent the powers of the equipment from feeling the same as the powers of the user.

Art: Alima Bey

AlimaInHerUniform-Web

Here’s a picture that I wanted to post with the first version of Malediction.  Here you can see Alima, with her awkwardly tiny hands and feet.  The uniform’s the wrong color, because I had a problem with layering colored pencil, for some reason.  The overall drawing pretty crappy, and you can clearly see where the pencil marked, and the paper’s graph behind it.  I kind of like being able to see the medium the picture was done in, though, and at least the picture is my own work.