Operation Caesar’s Folly (part XVIII)

“You cannot possibly expect us to give up territory for such a small sum,” Gavrilović scoffed.

The Italian side of the table began loudly grumbling, but fortunately 0sc4r’s whistle was still ringing in their ears, which kept them from breaking into a new shouting match. The Italians, having laid out their proposal, wanted Istria for a start, the coast of Dalmatia, and the islands in between. In exchange, they were prepared to offer an amount of money that Issac had almost actually gasped at. He knew that matters of state involved the movement of millions of pounds, naturally, but it is one thing to be aware of the fact, and quite another to be in the room whilst it was being spent. He wasn’t entirely sure where the pound was in relation to the mark these days, but he thought the figure was somewhere around 15 million pounds. This seemed like quite a lot to Issac, and the Italians clearly thought so too.

“I hardly think 25 million goldmarks is a small sum,” said the Italian foreign minister, a man named Ricci who looked like a bank clerk, “Especially for so little territory.”

“The Sultan regards all his holdings as precious to his empire,” Gavrilović said frowning, “You might as well name a price for one of his own children.”

“I wonder how the people of Istria would respond to being referred to as the Sultan’s ‘children,’” Ricci said, hardly making the tactful effort to disguise his sarcasm. Gavrilović chose to ignore it.

“We are prepared to offer a deal where Italian ships may conduct business freely, without taxation, at a sizable number of ports in Istria and Dalmatia. It should allow your people access to that which they desire while keeping the border unchanged and uncomplicated.”

“You’re changing the subject,” Ricci snapped, “Trade is well and good, but it is the view of His Majesty’s government, and mine personally, that these people are Italians! We cannot abide seeing their land occupied and the their citizen’s mistreated.”

“Mistreated? What are you implying?” It was the Turkish side of the table on the verge of shouting now.

“Imply? Nothing,” Ricci snapped his fingers. An aid brought him a folder of papers, and Ricci made a grand gesture of opening it and flipping through the pages. “We have reports of the widespread seizure of property, the burning of pro-Italian publications, and the assault and jailing of those advocating Italian sovereignty.”

“You cannot dress up police actions against terrorists as oppression of an Italian state that does not exist.”

“So you do not deny these accusations?”

“I refuse to dignify them with a response.”

This went back and forth for some time. Ricci would focus on Janissary atrocities, Gavrilović would deflect to talk about trade concessions. Issac was reminded of the worst of the his college’s debates he’d ever attended. Meetings nominally about one thing, but all parties clearly there with very different things they intended to discuss. Though at university, the worst case scenario was bruised egos and six months of departmental drama at most (Save the case of Professor Bullsworth and his etheric field calculations, which was still a point of heated discussion around Cambridge some five years on). Here though…nations hung in the balance.

This can’t be how it works, Issac thought, bitter men in back rooms, having two different arguments. Is this how wars start?

“Gentlemen, please,” Issac said standing. He took a moment to compose his own answer, which he noticed added a small, but nicely dramatic, pause between when the room went silent and he started speaking. Whether this was because of his alleged position as an emissary of the Kaiser, or another dividend paid towards the threat of 0sc4r’s whistle was anyone’s guess , “Let’s try to be civil. We are after all, here to defuse the situation. Now; Minister Gavrilović, our Italian friends have offered 25 million German goldmarks for the territory. Is the problem the price or the territory?”

“Both,” Gavrilović said, nodding to Mr. Ricci, “The territory is too vast, and the price is too low.”

“How much territory is acceptable then?” Issac leaned over the table, bracing himself lightly against its surface with extended fingers.

Gavrilović thought for a moment, “Istria, for 40 million goldmarks.”

“That is half the territory for almost double the price. Unacceptable.” Ricci shouted.

“Gentlemen, please!” Issac bellowed. That’s a start, we can negotiate from there, Issac thought, before remembering that he was here to prevent consensus, not create it. “It has been a trying morning. Shall we take a brief recess?”

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In 48 hours, America will…

And from there I don’t know.

I can not see the future. Part of me wishes I could, and part of me knows that is a terrible idea.

I don’t like telling people who to vote for, for several reasons. For one: who the hell am I? I’m just a guy, and as I said, I cannot see the future. More over, I’m a white cis male and I’ll probably be ok no matter what happens (for a number of bullshit reasons), but many if not most of my close friends are not, and in a civil society, that means I have a responsibility to think about them as well.

This is what Rousseau called the Social Contract. We are all part of a thing together, and we have to acknowledge that when we utilize our political power.

So, if you live in America and you haven’t already: vote.

Vote thoughtfully, and vote with your conscience. Vote with the intent to make this world a place both free and beautiful, for all humanity to thrive in. Vote as a member of the human race, and think carefully about what that means to you.

And now, here is one of my favorite speeches of all time. I hope you’ll forgive me for borrowing some of the sentiment in those last few lines.
The great Charlie Chaplin everyone:

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Lamplight

We shouldn’t have stayed out this late.

When we get to the bit of the street between Warren and Harris, stay close to me, and stay in the light of the lamps. Only stop when you’re right under a lamp post. Catch your breath and then go. Just go. Don’t wait, don’t slow down, and whatever you do: don’t look anywhere but the next lamp post. Not even for an instant. The blackness will seem absolute. Keep your eyes on the light and say to yourself that it’s not. The street is still there, so are the buildings, and people inside them. Tell yourself that, even if you don’t believe it.

When you’re running, between the lights, you may hear things. I won’t tell you what sorts of things, it’s different for everyone. If you do, and we do get through, I don’t want to know anything about what you heard. Understand? Say nothing. I won’t either. It’s better that way.

I won’t tell you not to breath between the posts, but I don’t. There’s a smell. Like sweat and burning sugar, with strange notes that you won’t be able to place. Try not to think about it. The longer you think about it…the worse it gets. You’ll start to lose your way. The way forward will seem to twist away from the lamplight. Don’t let that happen. Remember this: always towards the lamplight.

Your skin. Are you ticklish? If you are, it will be harder. More sensitive skin means you’re more likely to feel it before you get back into the light. Don’t expect it to hurt, because it won’t. It will be soft. Tender even. Like a lover’s fingers brushing lightly over your flesh. Shy, but needy, full of desire. Full of hunger.

The air…will have a taste. Like the smell, I say to ignore it, but you may not be able to. I can’t give you a food to compare the taste too. I’m not sure there is a single food in all the world that tastes like the air between the lamp posts on that road. It tastes like a thunderstorm; like the warmth of a human body; like the confession of a dark secret. It tastes wonderful. But you have to ignore it. You have to.

When you’re past Harris, and only then, you can stop. Once you’re past there, you are…I can’t say you are safe, but…

If you do not see me on the other side, do not come looking for me. People make it, or they don’t, and that’s it. And if you don’t…well…just remember the lamps. Always towards the lamplight.

We should never have been out this late.

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The Firepit

I killed Jeremy, but not the others.

No, I’m…I’m not pleading guilty or anything, ok?

Self-defense then.

Well look at me!? Look what it-he did to my leg!

And Susan!

She’s ok right?

But she’s gonna be…

… Ok.

When can I go home?

But I already told the other cop everything.

This is bullshit!

… Yes.

… Yes.

Yes.

Fine. What do you want to know?

The beginning of the fight or the party?

Yeah I guess.

Ok.

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Sketch Practice

Every now and again, I try my hand at sketching.

I’m not very good at it.

But for the last month, I’ve been trying to sketch every day I can, in an effort to get better. So here are some of the less awful bits.

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Ashtray

Hando looked across the wide conference table, eyes locked on an ashtray sitting there.

He didn’t know why it was there.

The thing was glass, or some glass-like synthetic, he couldn’t really tell. Translucent and dark, ‘smoky’ was the best word Hando could think of to describe the coloration, which he supposed was fitting. He reached over and picked it up. It was small enough to fit in the palm of one hand, but heavy enough to be authentic glass he supposed. Turning it over in his hands, he noticed a small maker’s mark etched into the underside. A few cyrillic letters that Hando didn’t know.

It looked old.

It wasn’t in bad condition, and it seemed quite beautifully made, but it was chipped a bit here and there, and the bottom of the tray was soiled with the black residue of snuffed ashes.

Hando wasn’t sure why it was here. Almost nobody smoked tobacco anymore. Most people couldn’t afford it, and even among those who could only one person in a hundred, maybe. Everybody was using ecigs. It was cheaper, didn’t require an extra dose of anti-cancer meds, and you could get a THC pack for less than five dollars American.

You were lucky to find a pack of cigarettes for less than fifty these days.

Hando glared at it, enthralled, puzzling over its presence here. He’d never seen anyone in the company smoking ever, much less in the conference room. He’d seen plenty of people pull out an electronic; so many brands and flavors that the table had become a soft rainbow of different LEDs. Never any real tobacco though.

And yet; here was a hand made, and probably very expensive, antique ashtray in the middle of the table.

Was it just for show?

That seemed to Hando like the stupidest waste of money he could think of. But even as his nose wrinkled at the thought somebody specifically buying an antique ashtray with the full knowledge that it would never see actual use, he tried to imagine the long conference table without it. It seemed…empty. He tried filling the space occupied by the ashtray with something else in his mind. In his AugR application, he cut and paste a floral arrangement, an amusing knick-knack, or a projector into the space that the ashtray had occupied. Nothing seemed to fill the space the way the ashtray did. He wondered if that was an actual ability inherent to the ashtray, or if he had just become accustomed to it being there. Or maybe he was just conditioned by culture to think cigars and ashtrays when thinking of corporate boardrooms and high powered executives.

The Nineteen-eighties had never really died in the corporate world. It had just been rebranded.

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A Game of Thorns

Thorns, not thrones.

I know, I know but stick with me here.

Way back in early 2013, my game group started playing Pathfinder in a home-brew setting I had made in my free time. I was pretty underemployed at the time, and had a ton of free time to spend in making the world whole and complete, with tons of little details and a sprawling history and lore.

I didn’t expect it to last long, it was a text-only game over Skype, and up to that point every D&D or Pathfinder game I’d played over the internet had ended fairly quickly. Interest dwindled, schedules had changed, or life just got in the way, and the game ended up scrapped after about a month. This one didn’t end though, in spite of several schedule changes, new jobs, and moving to new cities. It lasted for about a year and a half! There was a player who started at the beginning who had to leave within a week, and another who joined only to leave due to school obligations, but the game kept going with the three players who’d stayed.

Over the course of a year, the game transformed from a fight between nobles over a simple patch of highlands, to a sprawling epic that saw the players treat with gods, old and new, to fight an evil so old that even elves knew only vague details.

Gai’al’tung, the King of Thorns.

I put my players through the wringer too. The bard lost his father and his favorite uncle went mad due to the machinations of the King of Thorns. The rogue lost her father, and was forced to give up her own first born child in order to bring peace to the land.

The barbarian highlander took on a curse of immortality that left him a stranger to his own people, and even to mankind as a whole, leaving him nothing but to walk the earth and watch it crumble.

But in the end, the triumphed, and I have never been as proud of myself as a DM, or of my friends as Players when they did.

One of my friends, Taylor, is an artist. You may have seen here work before as I’ve been retweeting all her orc related artwork for the last year. She usually makes at least some artwork for every game she plays in, but the amount of art she made for Game of Thorns was probably the most for any game I’ve played with her. I thought I’d share some of it with you here today.

You can check out more of her stuff by following her on twitter @Uncouth_Peasant

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Aden, Bard by profession, Spymaster by inclination

Starting alphabetically with Aden Caderyn, a bookish fellow, too far down the line of succession of house Caderyn to consider a play for power, dedicated himself to studying under his father, an brilliant diplomat, and his uncle, the family spymaster. Over the course of the campaign, he acquired the attention of several dark gods (he wasn’t particular about the shrines he prayed at) which eventually got him a talking cat summoner companion. He also established quite the network of spies across the land. He ended the campaign blessed by the God of Games and could never lose a game of chance. In the epilogue he settled down in a cottage in the highlands, but not before destabilizing a rival nation on a whim.


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Tora, Roguish middle child of House Caderyn

Next is Tora Caderyn (Taylor’s character), middle child of the Lord of the Highlands, very much a wild child who wanted to do more than be a pawn for a political marriage. She ended up defending a city under siege, and commanding a battalion of knights, and defeating a green dragon (before fighting the King of Thorns). Ironically, she did end up marrying the man her father wanted for her, the Prince Henry of the Reislanders, after she saved him from political assassination and saved his city from a cursed army. In order to get the final blessing the party needed to defeat the King of Thorns, she was forced to give up her first born child to the God of the Seas (not to be killed, it was a plot thread we left dangling in case we ever ran a sequel game). She ended the game as Queen of the Ladwrack and the heroine of her people.


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Kiril, Highlander Barbarian of the Ladwrack

Kiril was a simple man, starting the game as a bodyguard to Tora, he ended the game a champion of his people’s most ancient gods, immortal and nigh unbeatable in combat. His story arc was mostly based around divided loyalties. As part of the lore, the region the campaign was set in (the Ladwrack river basin) was dominated by the Reislanders, who were had conquered the region three hundred years prior, and while the other two players were Reislander’s themselves, Kiril was a Ladwrack native. He was often confront by his own people on why he would fight for the House Caderyn, often against his own people. He ended the game as a part of neither culture, cursed to be alone forever. In the epilogue, he simply walked into the highlands, and was never seen again, save in vague rumored sightings.


Extras!

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Sand (part 2)

“I still do not understand,” Taril said, holding onto the horse as if it would buck at any moment, “Where does it come from?”

Lod thought for a moment. He had considered this question before, when he had been a child, but he had put it out of his mind for many years.

“I suppose I don’t know,” he admitted, “Who can claim to know anything about the power of a goddess?”

“You don’t know where it comes from…and you still drink it?” Taril was incredulous.

“You do too,” Lod retorted, “We pay Zar’us with water from the oasis all the time.”

“That’s different,” Taril said proudly, sitting up straight in the saddle before deciding the danger of being thrown was too great and renewing the iron grip on saddle and reigns, “Zar’us are strong.”

“Strong?” Lod smiled as he watched Taril holding fearfully to the saddle.

“Stop smiling. I simply do not wish to be thrown from this animal.”

“I can see the Zar’us strength,” Lod chuckled.

“Strength is not the absence of fear; that is stupidity,” Taril snapped stubbornly from rote.

Lod laughed, and Taril glared.

“But truly,” Lod said, “How is it different?”

“Zar’us can drink anything. Humans are fragile.”

“Fragile?” Lod was confused.

“Yes. My father says that a single small cut can kill you, and you cannot drink the water of the sea,” Lod’s ears perked up at this word ‘sea’, “even the sunlight kills you.”

“Of course it does. The sun is toxic.”

“Zar’us do not fear the sun.”

“Well if you don’t fear the sun, why do you care about the water.”

“It just confuses me,” Taril said with a shrug.

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Voice Acting

So last week I auditioned for a voice acting gig.

No, seriously.

I should explain. For years I’ve been running table top RPGs for my circle of friends. As a compulsive world-builder and aspiring writer that I am, I’m usually the one volunteered for GM-duty, which means I end up making a ton of NPCs and such. To add a bit of immersion (and to have a bit of fun myself) I try to give unique voices to lots of them. It might be silly but folks are already rolling dice and storming castles, so it never really seemed that much sillier to me, and people seemed to like it. Quite a few of my players have commented on it, and many others have joined in on the fun and add their own voices for their own characters. A few of my players have mentioned that they thought I should look into voice work because of my voices, and one of them sent me a link to some open auditions for a project last month, and so…well here we are.

It’s not a very big project, just a fan-dub for a Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess movie. I’ll go on record as saying that I’m not usually a huge fan (ha-ha) of fan-dub projects like this, but I am a huge fan of Legend of Zelda, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

It’s not exactly professional work at Disney, but you gotta start somewhere.

So, today, I thought I’d share a few takes for a few characters I auditioned for.

Unmasked_zantZant, a villain, but like most villains in Legend of Zelda, playing second banana to the real big bad.

Audio glitch recording left this one very quiet, so you may need to turn up your volume, but only on this one. Apologies. 

YetaYetoYeto, the big yeti in the background, is a very large and boisterous fellow, who deeply loves his wife Yeta.

Spirit1Hero’s Spirit is possibly Link from Ocarina of Time. Depending on theories about how Zelda timelines work. I will confess, it makes less sense the longer you think about it.

011King Bulblin, is fat, sadistic, and decides to switch sides the moment you beat him. Like a ill tempered Snorlax I guess.

maxresdefaultSages, the guys and gals who consistently fail to follow through on the whole lock evil away forever thing. Seriously, we’ve done this how many times already? Maybe these guys aren’t so sagely after all.

I auditioned for a few other rolls, but these are the ones I felt were the strongest. Honestly I don’t expect to get a part, there are a lot of very talented people applying it seems, but I’m glad I threw my hat in anyway. Maybe I’ll keep an eye open for other auditions in the future.

What do you think? Any good? Don’t quit my day job? Seriously, I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂

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News 8/26/16

So I’ve got a bit of a good news bad news scenario folks.

For the time being, the official update schedule for short stories is going to be pushed back to every two weeks.

There are several reasons for this. First, the recent move and new jobs have been making my writing schedule a bit weird, which is unfortunate, but I’m confident I’ll be able to work around it once I get into the swing of things. Second, for awhile now, I’ve been wanting to spend a bit more time editing and polishing the stories I post, since I want to get a bit more serious about my writing, and the extra week to work on stories should give me a bit of that. And speaking of getting more serious about the writing, I’ve now got two projects in need of finishing. Recreational Exorcist (the novel) is still being polished, but only because I’m pretty sure I’ll never be 100% happy with it. All the same, it needs to get sent out to publishers soon (although I am looking into the benefits of self publishing as well). The second one is a children’s book I wrote this past year: Jake and His Jetpack. I’m currently looking for an illustrator for this one. I’m excited for where both of these projects are going, but in order to give them the time and focus they need, I am definitely gonna need to keep the short stories to every two weeks for now.

So that’s the story, and I hope you’ll understand and be patient with me during this very busy period.

All is not bleak though, as I do not intend to leave my readers with nothing on the no story weeks.

I’m planing to post at least ‘something’ every week. This might be more crafty things, or perhaps more asides, but definitely ‘something’ on those weeks when I don’t have a story to post. The ‘somethings’ will start this Monday (the 29th).

As always, thanks for reading, and feedback is certainly appreciated 🙂

Fred

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