Chapter 22: Infultraiting the Enemy

New to the story? Need to catch up? Check out the other chapters of Our Party here

“Do you have a plan somewhere in this mess?” Iain asked some time later. He sat on the edge of the bed with his back to Ailbhe. “Or are we just winging it again.”

“I had a plan,” she said. “Emphasis on had. That was before there was a crazy mob looking for me.”

“Somehow I’m pretty sure the mob is your fault,” the ‘serk said.

“I am in no way responsible for their crazy,” she replied.

“True. But it’s not like you did anything to discourage it either.” He gave her a look.

“Sometimes you just have to roll with it and do what seems funniest,” she paused. “By the way, that is how I am still a paladin.”

Iain gave her a look. “That makes me wonder how your god can have holy powers.”

“Kaggen is mostly a good guy,” she explained. “He just gets a little carried away sometimes.”

The berserker shook his head. “Right. So what’s the plan, Ms. Mostly Holy?”

“Well, we’ve got an invite,” she said. “Why don’t we go use it?”

Iain shook his head. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

“I’m not leaving him,” she said. “For one thing, he knows too much.”

As she spoke, Ailbhe went to the door and peaked out. None of the villagers were lurking in the hallway, so she snuck across the hall into Seamus’s room. Iain followed.

“We’re climbing out a window? We haven’t done this in a while,” the ‘serk said as Ailbhe pulled herself out onto the window ledge.

“We’ve never had to do it because of a mob that thinks I’m a saint,” she said.

“Isn’t that the truth,” he muttered.

Ignoring him, the paladin grasped a fortunately place trellis and climbed down. Iain followed close behind. He was halfway down when a shout came from the front of the inn. One of the villagers had spotted them.

“Jump,” Ailbhe hissed. She regretted it almost immediately when the ‘serk landed on her.

The two of them scrambled to their feet and hurried out of sight. They were just in time, too, as more people rounded the corner. Seeing no one there, they quickly returned to their vigil at the bottom of the stairs. With the way clear, Ailbhe and Iain moved quickly to where the monks had their camp.

There was a guard at the entrance, a tall man who wore the same tabard as the rest of his fellow fighting monks. He drew himself up as they approached.

“Please state your business,” the monk said. His voice was an unexpectedly pleasant baritone.

“We were proffered hospitality by a member of your order earlier this day. It was our sincere hope that we might commune with your brethren that we might regard them more fully,” Ailbhe said.

“Ah, Lady Paladin, not sure what you just said, but they told me you might come,” the monk said as he stepped aside. “Please feel welcome here.”

The paladin nodded to him, and together with the ‘serk she entered the building that was granted (temporarily) to the monks. It was a large structure, and had probably been someone’s private compound before the flood. If the owners were still around, they were probably staying somewhere else.

“Lady Paladin!” another monk called from one of the doorways. “We are so pleased you could join us. Please, won’t you come in?”

Ailbhe smiled. “Indubitably,” she said. “We are obliged to you for your hospitality.”

“It’s a trap,” Iain muttered beside her.

Still smiling broadly, she replied without looking, “If it is then we will just have to deal with it.”

The ‘serk grunted, but said no more as they walked into the building.

Whatever they had been expecting, this was not it. Town residents sat at tables, being waited upon by the monks. The one who had called to her from the doorway led her and Iain back to a table near the rear wall and left, promising someone would be by shortly to take their order.

“I thought this was an order of militant monks,” Iain said quietly.

“It is,” Ailbhe replied. “Or at least it’s supposed to be.”

The ‘serk looked around, skeptical. “Looks like on order of waiters to me.”

“I’d say something about them practicing servitude, but I’m pretty sure they’re just doing it to fool the residents,” the paladin replied. “Or something. Let’s see if their food is any good.”

“What about Seamus?” he asked.

“I’m sure we’ll hear him screaming if he needs us,” she replied. “If he hasn’t blown his cover yet, our showing up won’t help him.”

The two of them ordered dinner, and though Ailbhe felt a little guilty about bailing on Ethel, she was sure the mob keeping vigil outside the inn would be hungry sometime that night and they would eat what the two adventurers hadn’t. Maybe if Ethel was lucky someone would even pay her for her food. They were well into their soup course before Iain spoke again.

“Got another plan yet?” he asked.

“Almost,” she said. “Just give me a few more minutes and I’ll think of something.”

The ‘serk grunted and went back to his food.

After the meat course, Ailbhe sighed. “Alright, I’m going to go find him. With any luck it’ll be before he’s traumatized or harmed.” She pushed back her plate and rose from the table.

“Want me to come with you?” Iain asked, looking up from his own plate. He had a triple helping of everything.

“Nah,” she said. “You’ve still got a lot of eating to do, and one of us needs to stay to make things less suspicious. Besides, I’m sure you’ll hear me yell if I need help. This place isn’t that big.”

Iain gave her a look. “You know, now that you’ve said that you’re going to get in trouble and I won’t be able to hear you.”

“So come and find me in twenty minutes,” she said, shrugging.

“Sure, why not.” He shook his head and went back to his food as Ailbhe headed out.

Before she made her escape, though, she was spotted. “Lady Paladin,” called a monk near the door. “May I ask where you are going?”

GamerGate Needs to Stop

Dear GamerGate participants: You need to stop and think about what you are doing.

Probably most people reading this have heard of GamerGate. On the off chance you have not I will refer you to two sources with opposing biases, the Know Your Meme article and Charles Tan’s take on it:
Know Your Meme: GamerGate
#Gamergate Has Everything To Do With Gender by Charles Tan

This post was actually inspired in part by a post by Jaym Gates.

I am, by nature, a very private person. This means that while I do occasionally post opinion pieces, they are fairly rare (well, rarer than regular posts anyway). The point in this is that I need to feel very deeply about something in order to put myself out there. Well, I’m putting myself out there now. GamerGate needs to stop. It needs to stop now.

When I say GamerGate needs to stop, I am in no way talking about ethics in journalism. Ethics is important. It is not, however, more important than peoples’ safety and security. Women are being targeted. They are being harassed and threatened; there was a bombing/shooting threat at USU if Anita Sarkeesian appeared. And people are using GamerGate as cover.

No, not everyone, or even most people involved in GamerGate are threatening to blow up colleges or exposing women’s home addresses and sending them death threats. Some people are, though. Enough that I think those innocent people involved need to take a long, hard look at exactly what and who they’re dealing with. It’s like showing up to a protest and finding yourself standing next to the Westboro Baptist Church. Even if you agree 100% with the protest, there are times you need to take a step back and say no, I don’t want to be associated with this. Because that’s what’s happening. Even if you would never dream of threatening a woman, if you are perpetuating GamerGate you are associating with abusers, stalkers, and harassers.

It is, of course, your right to do and say what you want (as long as you’re not threatening or harming people; I shouldn’t have to tell you that’s criminal and wrong). You can go on being a part of GamerGate, but know that there are people judging you. We’re judging not because of anything you have done, but because of what other people have done. Do you want that?

I am not going to get into other reasons why GamerGate needs to stop; Charles Tan (who’s blog I linked to at the beginning of the post) has done a much better job of bringing up those points than I could. What I will say is that I do not support GamerGate. I do not support harassment, stalking, verbal or physical abuse. I will not stand by silently while these things happen. Will you?

My Commute was Saved by Books

I commute just under an hour to work every day. More than once early on I wished I could be using the time for something more productive than simply driving and listening to music. At first I listened to “Welcome to Nightvale” the twice monthly podcast put out by Commonplace Books. It’s weird and awesome and I recommend it if you think you’d like a modern take on Lovecraft (there are also so many other good things about it that I could do an entire blog post on why you should listen to Nightvale, but that’s for another time). After I finished going through their archive, I was at a bit of a loss as to what to listen to next. I thought about trying to find another podcast, but finally decided to try audio books.

I, like many people, have an enormous “to read” pile. In fact, I don’t even own every book in my “to read” pile (and I own a lot of books). I’ve wanted to read books by certain authors but have never had the time, money or will to buy yet another book to add to my stack of things to read. That’s where the audio books come in. So far this year I’ve listened to four books and am about to finish a fifth. Not bad for time I would have otherwise been using to listen to the same CD another 50,000 times (Seriously, I don’t get sick of music as fast as most people).

It did take me a bit to get into the first CD. I’m used to listening to radio dramas, which are far more like television than books–all the action is done by sound effects and dialogue cues, where as with an audio book you’re listening to someone read, dialogue tags and everything. That is not to say that a good voice actor doesn’t perform when reading a book. On the contrary, they must have a multitude of different voices for characters as well as read a text without throwing off cadence or flow.

I started out with Duma Key by Steven King because that was what arrived first when I ordered a bunch of books. Perhaps part of my trouble getting into the books on tape had to do with the fact that the beginning of Duma Key is very introspective. We get to know Edgar Freemantle while he’s recovering from a serious injury and he’s withdrawing from society. Maybe if there had been more action in the beginning I would have been drawn in sooner. Either way I kept listening and soon enough I couldn’t pull away. Without spoiling anything I will tell you I ended up yelling at my car stereo a couple of times. Good thing no one was riding with me.

The only real downside to listening to books on tape, especially when read by the author, is that it has a way of getting inside your writing if you’re not careful. Listening to someone talk for long enough, especially someone who is either a powerful speaker, or read a powerful writer, and you can find yourself slipping into that person’s tone and voice. Yes, I’m looking at you, Neil Gaiman. I did love Neverwhere, though.

So there we are, my summer driving in a nutshell. Stay tuned next week for (probably) another chapter of Our Party.

PS-I’d take audio book gifts for next year.

Chapter 21: Who’s Your Daddy…I Mean Deity?

New to the story? Need to catch up? Check out the other chapters of Our Party here.

Iain did have to help Ailbhe back to the inn, though the they both took pains not to be seen, not wanting questions or comments. Thankfully everyone seemed to be too busy either getting food from the monks or trying to repair their homes enough that they would be livable to notice. Only a few people even gave them a second glance. The paladin was starting to think she’d imagined a premonition of dread when she and Iain were suddenly surrounded. It was all she could do to stand on her own as Iain suddenly shied away.

“Please, Lady Paladin, give us your blessings!” One of the people yelled.

Another reached out and grabbed Ailbhe’s wrist. “You must come and heal my son! He is on Death’s door since the flood.”

Other hands grabbed her and tried to pull her into the crowd. Thankfully the berserkers reaction to put an arm around her waist was fast and strong enough to keep her there. One growl from him sent the people scurrying back a few paces. He then picked the paladin up and carried her the rest of the way.

Ethel wasn’t particularly helpful about the whole saint matter when they finally made it back. “The way I figure,” she said after hearing the story. “This is your second miracle.”

“What’re you talking about?” the paladin growled irritably.

“Didn’t y’all feed the masses when there was no food in town?” Ethel asked.

“Right place, right time is all,” she mumbled.

The innkeeper grinned. “Sure, but that’s not how they’ll see it. Means you’ve got one more before your sainthood is official.”

“Not helping,” the paladin mumbled.

Iain tugged at her sleeve and nodded at the stairs.

“Yeah, I’m coming. Ethel, will you wake us up for dinner?” she asked.

“‘Course, dear.”

The two exhausted adventurers plodded up the stairs and collapsed into bed. It seemed like only a few minutes later when there came a tapping at the door.

“Are you all awake in there?” Ethel called.

Ailbhe groaned and rolled to bury her face under either the pillow or Iain, whichever she came across first. Unfortunately for her, the berserker had other plans.

“Come on,” he said, sitting up. “We have to go save the bard.”

She groaned again even as she sat up. “Do we have to?”

“You’re the one that sent him into the monk’s camp.”

“Bunch of lizards,” she muttered under her breath as she pulled on her new armor. “Iain, can you help me with the straps on this? I’m too tired to pull it much tighter.”

Though he gave her an annoyed look, the ‘serk did help pull the straps to the desired tension. When they were finally dressed, the two of them headed downstairs. Waiting for them at the bottom was a none too pleased Ethel.

“I just wanted to warn you before you went out there,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Warn us about what?” the paladin asked as her companion pushed the door open.

There were at least fifty people in the dinning room. They were bunched together in groups of six or seven, and as one they turned to swarm the paladin making her way down the stairs.

“What’s going on here?” The paladin ask.

One hundred eyes stared back at her. “Saint Ailbhe, we’ve come for guidance,” said the leather worker’s wife.

“I thought he said she wouldn’t influence a lot of people,” the ‘serk muttered.

She gave him an elbow to the ribs. “Look, I’m not a saint.”

“But we have seen two miracle just since you came,” the lady said. “Surely there has been another miracle in your lifetime.”

“Yeah, it’s a miracle she’s still a paladin,” Iain muttered.

Ailbhe elbowed him again, but it was too late.

“The berserker says there is another miracle!” The lady cried.

“That’s not what he meant,” the paladin said, but no one was listening.

“A saint!”

“Saint Ailbhe!”

“What is her deity? I will convert my whole family!”

“We love you, Saint Ailbhe!”

“Have you cross classed into cleric? Can you raise the dead?”

“Can you heal my rash?”

The crowd pressed forward, forcing the paladin and the ‘serk to retreat back towards the stairs.

“Look,” she said as she started up the stairs backwards. “I want to help you all, and I will, but the miracle I worked earlier really took it out of me and I won’t be able to do another until tomorrow.”

While the crowd expressed general sounds of disappointment, Iain pulled her another few steps up so that they were both on a landing as the crowd pressed through into the stairwell.

“And so I am begging you to be patient,” she said. An idea struck her. “You could always pray to my god to give me more energy for miracles.”

“Tell us who your god is and we will!” on of the people called back.

“I’ll convert!” yelled another.

“Who is it?”

Ailbhe cleared her throat and glanced at Iain before saying, “The one who I serve is known as Keggin.”

There was a moment of confused silence before the people started murmuring among themselves. Iain rolled his eyes and grabbed her and started dragging her around the corner.

“I didn’t know trickster gods had saints,” one of the women said hesitantly.

“He’s not just a trickster!” Ailbhe said, putting on the brakes.

Recognizing her theatrics, Iain grunted, but stopped.

“Koggan is a god of beauty, illusion, good humor, and healing,” she said.

“And snark,” Iain muttered.

For once Ailbhe ignored him. “Though my god may not always do what you would like him to in the way you want him to, he’s not as bad as some people make him out to be. He’s kind of like a godly drinking buddy.”

“That’ll draw all over your face when you get drunk,” Iain said. This time she did elbow him.

There was another long pause before someone shouted, “I still want to convert! I’m going to become a disciple of Kagon!”

In the clamor that followed, Ailbhe got fifteen outright converts right there in the stairwell, ten more that were thinking about it and at least another five that, while they weren’t converting, were at least more positively inclined towards her god than they had been. By the time it was over Iain had to help her back to the room or risk her collapse.

“I thought you said you didn’t have to proselytize,” he said as he tucked her in.

She smirked. “I don’t,” she said. “But that was just way too funny not to.”

A Slightly Late GISHWHES Post

Hi, everyone. Your wayward author is back with another update. In my last post I told you about how busy I’ve been. I’ve got good news; I’ve been working full time for the National Park Service for more than a month now. My stress levels are way down, and I’ve been able to get some writing done (as well as my editorial jobs). In fact, I was able to participate as an author in GISHWHES 2014. I’m sure most of you know about GISHWHES, but for those who don’t GISHWHES stands for “Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen”. The contestants do all sorts of wacky fun stuff for charity. One of those things this year was to ask a published scifi author to write them a tiny bite of fiction. The stories had to be 140 words, and include Misha Collins, the Queen of England, and an Elopus (an elephant/octopus hybrid). I wrote two myself and two with Sarah Hendrix. I’ll post them here for your reading pleasure. Be warned some of these are pretty weird.

GISHWHES #1 With Sarah Hendrix

It was a vast, black ocean they raced across, skimming the oily surface as their skiff ran from the ships of the royal navy.

The Dread Pirate Collins sneered at his prize. He knew that if he could just get away from the navy, he’d be able to ransom the clockwork Queen for quite a bit of money.

The Queen, for her part, stared back impassively. Her automaton brain knew that this was her fault. If she had been more fair, and just, as she was programmed, then no subject would be forced to into piracy.

The pirate’s ship was pulling away as something huge rose up from the waves smashing his ship. Mechanical tentacles snaked across the deck.

The Elopus cradled the Queen in it’s many arms. “I love you.”

End

GISHWHES #2 With Sarah Hendrix

She sat alone at a back table in The Elopus. A piano tinkled, out of tune, near the stage. There was a glass of something strong in her hand and her hat was tipped low over her eyes.

Sheriff Misha took a deep breath and looked up to the sky but the faded sign with the odd creature was in the way. He wondered exactly how things would play out.

She seemed to know he was there before entered; her gun was already pointed towards him as he turned to her.

“You ain’t wanted here, Sheriff. Leave me be. I’ll be gone soon enough, just here on family business.”

He nodded and sat across from her, his hands far from his gun. “Sorry about your momma.”

“The queen is dead,” she said quietly. “Long live the queen.”

End

And now my solo stories:

In the Cave of Ganesh

Misha paused at the opening of the cave and pulled the tattered letter from the back pocket of his trousers. The handwriting inside was still legibly the Queen’s.

Dmitri,
I have no words for how sorry I am for what I must put you through. I know you understand, the beast must be destroyed. My sources tell me you will find it in the Cave of Ganesh. Please, be careful. I cannot lose you.
~V

He shoved the note back into her pocket, wishing for more information. There was only one map in the entire royal archive marking “the Cave of Ganesh”. He was here, now, though. After weeks of searching, he’d found it.

A rock clattered towards him. He looking into the cave and there it was. The beast, writing, huge, and reaching for him.

“Sorry, Vicky,” he murmured.

End

Misha and The Queen vs. Dr. Elopus

Misha and The Queen crouched atop the roof of “Elopus Inc”. Their target was coming around the corner. He was a middle aged man, balding on top and dressed in a lab coat.

“Now?” Misha asked.

“Now,” she confirmed and jumped from the rooftop, using her Scepter’s power to land safely.

Misha unfurled his wings and followed her to the sidewalk. “Dr. Elopus,” he said. “You’re under arrest for crimes against humanity, cruelty to animals, and several hundred municipal code infractions.”

The Queen pointed her scepter at Dr. Elopus. “Come quietly and we won’t have to hurt you.”

There was a moment of silence before the man began to laugh. As he did, he began to transform. Tentacles sprang from under his lab coat and his nose distended to become a trunk. “Not today!” He cackled, swinging towards them.

End

Where the Hell is Kelly?

Here’s a fun game for all of us. It’s like “Where’s Waldo” but with more swearing. Where am I? What am I doing? Why the hell haven’t I updated this blog in forever? Well, in the first place, I’m still alive, working two jobs, and for a three week stretch (23 days, but who’s counting?) I didn’t have a day off; I was working at either one job or the other. During this time I’ve been continuing my work as an editor and trying to do normal human things like “laundry” and “bathing”. Other things, like this blog and most human interaction outside of work, have fallen through the cracks. I’ve had two weeks in a row, though, where I’ve been able to get a day off and the trend looks like it will hopefully continue.

I don’t really have much more to update than this. I haven’t been writing much, editing less of my own work, and I’ve only recently started to catch up on the back log of reading I have waiting for me (though I did finally get through my email). If by some chance you need to contact me, you can leave a note in the comments, email me, or send me a message on twitter. I am going to try to get back to updating at least semi-regularly. Well, we’ll see how that goes.

Chapter 20: The Questionable Miracle of a Questionable Paladin

New to the story? Need to catch up? Check out the other chapters of Our Party here.

Before they headed into potential enemy territory, Ailbhe decided she needed to make an attempt to look more like a paladin. The chainmail and fancy talking wasn’t cutting it in terms of identification. Iain was against the idea; he thought if they were going to rescue Seamus, they should go ahead and do it.

“There are a couple reasons why we shouldn’t just go barging in,” she said as they walked through the ruined market place. “First, if Seamus has somehow fooled them, we don’t want to give him away.”

“You said they’d know,” Iain said, frowning.

She shook her head. “I said they could tell a lie. If he hasn’t lied, there’s still a chance he might be fooling them.”

“Doubt it.”

“Anyway,” Ailbhe stopped to inspect the front of a ruined shop. “If he has been discovered, we don’t want to rush in too soon and arouse suspicion.”

Iain grunted. “Anything else?”

“Yeah, I need armor and you need a little more recovery time,” she said.

The paladin stopped in front of a stall that had once belonged to a leather worker. The sign above the ruined armor read ‘Voted Best Armor in the Tri-Village Area’. The pieces visible weren’t so much on display as they were heaped together in one place. As they stood there, a man came out of the back.

“Go away, I ain’t got nothing left to sell. Was all ruined in the flood.”

“Good sir, I am distressed to hear of your sad misfortune. Might I offer my assistance in expediting your economic recovery?” Ailbhe said.

The leather worker glanced at Iain. “The hell she say?”

Unfortunately, the ‘serk still wasn’t up for translating. He grunted and shrugged.

“Look,” she said, dropping the act. “Your stuff is ruined. I need new armor. If I fix, would you give me a set?”

The man made a face and shook his head. “The armor’s ruined, lady. You can’t fix ruined leather.”

“And if I can?” she asked.

“Then you can have whatever the hell you want,” he said.

Ailbhe grinned. “Great.”

With the leather watching, she laid out the armor.

“What’re you doing?” the ‘serk mumbled next to her.

“Picking what set I want,” she replied. “And laying these out so I can fix them.”

“How are you going too do it?” he asked.

“Magic,” she said.

She took a deep breath and let it out again before holding her hands over the spread of leather. Golden light flowed from her fingertips and over the shrunken hide, filling in the crevices and expanding it. Several pieces oozed dark water as they reshaped themselves back into armor. After several minutes the light faded, leaving behind several well-made sets of armor. Ailbhe sat down with a thud and Iain moved to help her. She waved him off.

“You will have to re-stain the leather,” she said. “But I believe I have saved your armor.”

“Damn, I didn’t think it was possible,” the leather worker said. “Go ahead and pick you out a set.”

The exhausted paladin nodded but made no move to stand. Recognizing her inability to rise under her own power as well as her wish to appear in control, Iain did the only thing he could. He grabbed the closest piece of armor and held it up. Before he could ask her if that was the one she wanted, a woman came out of the back of the stall and shrieked. Iain dropped the armor he was holding and dove for Ailbhe, pulling her to her feet. She stopped him before he could pick her up and run, though.

“Stop, its okay,” she murmured. “Listen to what she’s saying.”

Indeed, though she sounded upset, she was actually yelling that someone had performed impossible magic. Several of the neighboring merchants were watching her carry on with mild curiosity.

“Wife, will you calm yourself?” the leather worker asked. “This paladin restored the armor-“

“Paladin! Then it is a miracle!” The woman launched herself at Ailbhe and would have bowled her over if not for Iain putting out a hand to steady her.

“Listen, lady,” the paladin said, “All I did was cast a healing spell-“

The woman clasped Ailbhe’s hands in her own. “You are too modest, my lady saint. With your intervention, my husband and I will be provided for; you have delivered us from our direst hour of need!”

Ailbhe looked at her, no emotion showing on her face. “I’m a paladin, not a saint.”

“You are still too modest. I must go and tell my friends what you have done!” She chirped before flitting off.

“Wait! I’m not a saint!” Ailbhe called after her, but it was too late. The woman was gone.

“Hey look, don’t worry about it,” the leather worker said. “My wife’s not all there sometimes. I have to say, though, that was a pretty neat trick. How did you know a healing spell would work on leather?”

“Leather’s just another form of skin,” she said. “I just assumed it would work the same.”

Iain facepalmed

The leather worker frowned and said. “That’s not – you know what, never mind. It worked so I’m not going to complain.”

“You really should know better,” Ailbhe said. “Anyway, I’d like this set of armor,” she said, motioning to a set that vaguely resembled her old metal armor.

“Of course,” the leather worker said. “Do you want me to package it up for you?”

Ailbhe shook her head. “I’d rather wear it out of here. I feel naked without my armor.”

A few minutes later she was ready to go. It was also more apparent she was a paladin in her gold edged leather armor. Her ‘serky friend offered her an arm to lean on as they headed back to Ethel’s place to regroup.

“How come the gold and dye stayed on this one?” Iain asked. “Didn’t on others.”

“Because this is the set I wanted,” Ailbhe said. “Took a lot more energy to keep it on than it did to let it melt away like it did on the rest of them.”

“Gods, how you still paladin?”