Posts Tagged ‘comics’

Hey, remember on January 22, 2013, when I said this?

I’ll try and post the third part of this chapter sometime soon. Sooner, at least: there was quite a while between the first part and this one.

And remember when that didn’t happen?

Yeah… good times.

For the record, I’ve been meaning to post the rest of this chapter for a while now; I just haven’t been thinking about it (after all, it’s a story that I’d abandoned a year and a half ago). But since I remembered it, and was like, “Crap. I need to get on this,” you get the rest of the chapter. Which, you know, awesome.

If you’d like to see any more of the stuff that I wrote in this story, then leave a comment. Otherwise, I’m probably just going to leave it at this.

~ Ian



ASH and FARADOR are riding on the side of the river, ASH in front, FARADOR behind. Above them, the winged lizards swoop and fly, and even higher above, a rock bridge, a massive rainbow arch, bridges the river about five hundred feet up. ASH is smiling as she leans forward on the mountbird, her face split in a huge grin. In the river, fish jump and splash.

CAPTION: The bottom of the canyon was incredible– and it was warm! It must have been about sixty-five degrees out. You have to understand– sixty-five degrees after being out on the freezing cold Outer Wastes was like a sauna. It felt perfect.

CAPTION: That morning, we didn’t encounter anything strange. I was beginning to wonder whether Farador’s claims of unquiet dead spirits in Kamora’s Kerf were just stories.

CAPTION: However, in the afternoon, my preconceived notions weren’t just challenged– they were shattered.

Page 76 has three panels– a big panel on the top and two smaller panels towards the bottom.


Big panel across the top of the page. ASH and FARADOR are looking out towards a city, built on terraces on the cliffs on the left side of the riverbank. They have a slightly Minas Tirith look to them (although maybe I’m just picturing them that way ‘cause I’m listening to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack). They’re not made of white stone, though, but the same reddish stratified stone as the canyon walls. They’re also in complete ruins. Buildings are broken down, towers have crumbled, and there’s a general feeling of entropy there. Think of it as a combination of Minas Tirith and the Anasazi cliff dwellings on the sides of mesas in the Southwest USA. Half the city is in shadow: the cliff overhangs it, and obscures the city in darkness.

ASH: Wow…

FARADOR: This place… it must have been a city of the old days, when the sun was yellow. Its builders must have come into the Kerf, in ages past.


Shot of ASH and FARADOR’s astonished faces as they look at the city.

ASH: Why would they live here? Here, in the canyon?

FARADOR: I do not know… The canyon was once inhabited, though. By those who failed to listen to the Lore, who built their homes here.


FARADOR: We must… tread carefully here, Ash Campos. This is a place of evil.

Page 77 has seven panels.


ASH and FARADOR pass down the main street of the ruined city, with buildings like broken teeth rising up on either side, ruins of ornate stonework all around. Think of the stonework as looking like a fusion between Mesoamerican and Cycladic sculpture. The road through the city is made of cobblestone, and it’s broken and shattered. Moss and lichen grow everywhere, and everything has a thick sense of decay all around it. ASH and FARADOR are both riding the mountbird.


A shot of ASH and FARADOR’s shadow on the side of a wall. The wall is broken and ruined. Words in some strange long-forgotten alphabet are written on the tops of the wall. Water drips down the side of the building, forming a puddle on the road. The water has carved itself a channel over the years, and the wall is worn down and grooved where the water has passed.

SFX: drip drip drip


Shot of a pile of refuse off to the side of the road. A strange mammal, like an elongated rat with sharp tusks, is perched atop the pile of refuse, standing like a meerkat on its hind legs, ears perked for sounds of danger.

SFX: *kkik*


The rat-thing darts off into the shadows. Whatever made the noise in the last panel startled it, and so it’s gone, down the pile of refuse and turning tail.


Shot of a skinny, emaciated creature. It looks humanoid, but has gray mottled skin and no hair. It is wearing a hooded robe that is dark brown in color, thrown over its head and obscuring its eyes. This creature has no name, or if it ever did, it is forgotten. Let’s just call it the KERF-WIGHT.


The KERF-WIGHT lifts an emaciated palm. The palm of its hand has seven fingers, wide and spreading like tree roots. It snaps its fingers, and a small cloud of silvery mist appears around its fingers as it snaps them. It lifts its head, and we can see its eyes: they are small and red, like small dying stars in its face.

SFX: *snap*


The KERF-WIGHT is now obscured by the cloud of mist. All we can see is its faint, shadowy outline, and its glowing red eyes.

Page 78 has eight panels.


ASH looks up at the sky. There is a cloud of obscuring mist over everything now, and it’s as foggy as an early summer morning in San Francisco. Visibility has decreased to about ten feet ahead. FARADOR, behind her, has a dizzy, queasy expression on his face.

ASH: What the–

FARADOR: I feel… strange…


FARADOR falls sideways off the mountbird and down onto the pavement of the city’s stones. ASH turns around in shock as FARADOR falls down beside her.

FARADOR: …unngh…

ASH: Farador!


ASH dismounts the mountbird…


…and kneels down besides FARADOR. His face is contorted in an expression of fear, and his eyes are wide open. His helmet has fallen off, and lies off to the side.

ASH: Dammit… don’t be dead.


Closeup shot of the mountbird’s head, its toothy mouth going wide. It screams in panic.



The mountbird runs off. We have a shot of ASH looking back at the retreating back of the mountbird as it flees.

ASH: What the…


A humanoid shadow falls over ASH, and she turns her head, looking up at the shadowy figure of the KERF-WIGHT.


A shot of the shadowy, robed figure of the KERF-WIGHT. We can’t see anything of the wight’s face. All we can see are its two glowing red eyes.

KERF-WIGHT: …Mortal flesh…

Page 79 has four panels: a big one up top, and three smaller ones towards the bottom.


The KERF-WIGHT reaches out its claws towards ASH, its claws wide as it looms over her. ASH is standing up, and reaching for her staff which FARADOR has made. FARADOR is still unconscious. We can see the KERF-WIGHT’s face, a shrunken skull with skin stretched over it, as it comes closer to the ASH, showing through the fog.


Mortal flesh and mortal bone, 

I’ll take ye back to be mine own. 

I’ll take ye to my darkened lair, 

I’ll lay ye down upon my chair, 

I’ll watch your eyes go dim and gray,

while your minds do waste away,

while dreams and nightmares eat ye whole. 

I’ll kill you, then I’ll take your souls.


ASH has risen to her feet, and is holding her quarterstaff in a defensive position. Fear shows in her eyes, but her expression and stance are still defiant.

ASH: What kind of monster are you? You put people to sleep and then recite poetry to them?


Shot of the KERF-WIGHT’s shrunken, skin-tight skull.

KW: You’re a willful one, aren’t you? You don’t seem to have gone to sleep. No matter, dreams shall come to you, as do all in the end.


ASH: What are you doing? What have you done to Farador?

Page 80 has six panels.


Shot of FARADOR’s frightened face. His eyes are wide with terror, and beads of sweat are forming on his forehead.

KW (off-panel): I have given him nightmares, mortal flesh. I have given him terrifying dreams, and they are eating his mind from the inside.

ASH (off-panel): And this’ll kill him?


Shot of the KERF-WIGHT’s grinning face.

KW: Yes. Not while the day lasts. But come nightfall, his mind will be jelly, and his soul will be mine.


ASH is brandishing her staff, trying to look more menacing than she feels.

ASH: That’s not gonna happen. You try to take him, and I’ll smash your head in.


Shot of the KERF-WIGHT’s face. Its mouth is open in what might be a grin or a grimace.

KW: Hehh.


Shot of the KERF-WIGHT standing over FARADOR. It seems to be taller now, about nine feet tall, looming over ASH and FARADOR. ASH is still in ready position, prepared to do anything to defend FARADOR.

KW: You amuse me, mortal flesh. But it seems I must be stronger than I usually am to overcome your mind. 


And the KERF-WIGHT snaps its bony fingers a second time…

SFX: *snap*


Page 81 has eight panels.


A black psychic pierces ASH’s forehead. Her head snaps back, her jaw drops open.

ASH: Ungh!


A shot of the planet Earth from space.

CAPTION: And then I realized that it was reading my mind, my memories, trying to find the one thing that would frighten me most.


A memory of ASH splashing in the lake behind the house in Sequoia, way back in Chapter 1, playing a game of splash-fight with KRISH and BRIAN. ANITA, dressed in a bikini top and trunks, is playing guitar and smiling on the beach.

CAPTION: But I knew that it wouldn’t work, somehow. I knew that whatever I was, in this world I was an alien.


Close-up shot of ASH’s smiling face.

CAPTION: And that was my strength. And that frightened it.


Shot of the KERF-WIGHT’s eyes going wide and astonished. Its mouth falls slightly open.


ASH reassumes the ready position, holding out her quarterstaff out in front of her and squatting slightly. The KERF-WIGHT, across from her, is now frightened, backing away.

KW: You… you are a Walker! You have come here from another world!

ASH: Yeah, I have.


KW: But this explains why I am not able to touch your mind! You are from a different universe!


ASH: Oh, really? Then that means it’ll be easier for me to kick your ass!


Page 82 has three panels.


ASH swings her quarterstaff hard, and strikes the KERF-WIGHT in the side of the skull. Yellowed teeth go flying from the KERF-WIGHT’s jaw as ASH swings.

KW: Uurk!


The KERF-WIGHT falls to the ground, knocking its head on the rough cobblestones.

KW: huff… huff… huff…


The butt of ASH’s staff comes down onto the KERF-WIGHT’s skull, cracking it open where the creature lies.

KW: Gaaah!


Page 83 has four panels.


ASH bends over, her mouth going wide in astonishment.

ASH: Oh my god… I can’t believe I did that…


ASH turns to look at FARADOR.


ASH kneels down next to FARADOR, and puts a hand over his forehead.

ASH: Okay. Let’s get the hell out of this ruin.


ASH grabs FARADOR under the armpits, and drags him backwards down the street.

ASH: I don’t see where that mountbird’s gone off to, so I guess I get to drag you. Yay. Go me.

Page 84 has five panels.


A shot of FARADOR lying next to a waterfall. His eyes are closed and his mouth slightly open.


Close-up shot of FARADOR’s face.


FARADOR opens his eyes slightly.

FARADOR: Unnngh…


FARADOR sits up, and puts his head in his hands.

FARADOR: …What happened?

FARADOR: I was lost in nightmare…


Shot of ASH sitting on a rock nearby, watching FARADOR as he slowly wakes up and smiling.

ASH: We were attacked in that city. You were right: that city was someplace evil.


Page 85 has six panels.


FARADOR looks at ASH in sudden shock.

FARADOR: We were attacked?


ASH: Yeah. By some monster who could create nightmares. I was able to fight it off, though.


FARADOR leans forward, his eyes wide and his mouth agape.

FARADOR: You fought it off?

ASH: Well, you were a good teacher.


FARADOR: By the gods… Ash Campos, you saved my life.


Shot of ASH grinning widely, a sort of smug, playful smile.

ASH: Yeah, and you know what that means…

ASH: You’re beholden to me, Farador. I can make you do whatever I want. That’s your custom in Forn, right?


Page 86 has eight panels.


FARADOR: Yes. That is our custom.


ASH: Then you have to give up your claim to me. You have to give up the idea that I’m going to marry you.

ASH: I’m telling you to not pursue me romantically. And because I saved your life, I know you’ll obey me.


Shot of FARADOR’s startled, shocked face.


FARADOR bursts out in a great peal of laughter, throwing his head back and closing his eyes, his mouth open and smiling.

FARADOR: Ha ha ha ha ha!


FARADOR wipes a tear from the corner of his eye, as his laughter winds down.

FARADOR: Heh heh heh… You are a remarkable woman, Ash Campos. Very well. I will not marry you. I will respectfully keep my distance.


FARADOR looks at ASH, giving a friendly smile.

FARADOR: But tell me, Ash Campos– how did you defeat whatever it was in the city? How did you avoid the nightmares?


Shot of ASH, smiling somewhat self-consciously.

ASH: I had a good teacher. That’s all.


Shot of the canyon from far away, as the red sun begins to set over the Outer Wastes.






Yes. It really is almost done. And that’s why I haven’t been blogging much lately. Because all my creative energy is going into my book, blah blah blah, if you read my lame blog regularly you already know.

Okay. Spasm attack over.

Cool thing for Wednesday begun:

Why don’t you check out the graphic novel Shards: Tales from the Ruin Nation by Alex Steacy? I found this work because Alex is a regular at Canadian funny farm LoadingReadyRun, but I didn’t know that he was also a talented writer and artist. It’s quite good: a collection of short stories set in the same universe, each one illustrated by a different talented student artist. Makes me want to go write some comics, myself.

Best of all, it’s ABSOLUTELY FREE, on Alex’s website. So why don’t you go over there and check it out? It will literally cost you nothing, and you can read a cool thing. There is literally no downside to that.

Unless you hate comics, or something.

Which, you know, you might. But that’s neither here nor there.

~ Ian

*Blaaaarhahahahghghgh is so totally a word. I don’t care what WordPress’s spellcheck says.

So, I was watching the X Games (because if watching men do backflips on snowmobiles while forty feet in the air is wrong, I don’t want to be right), and a commercial for THIS came on:



People often talk about how movies and books are too saturated with vampires and zombies these days, but that doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the fact that every hack seems to want to do dark, gritty reimaginings of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. 


It seems like it happens every goddamn year. We’ve gotten Red Riding Hood as a werewolf hunter, and Snow White as a leather-clad warrior maiden, and now this nonsense!?

And every time that one of these shellacky Hollywood “reimaginationings” of fairy tales comes out, they always have the same tagline: “IT’S A CLASSIC STORY WITH A NEW TWIST!!!!!!!!!” Umm, no. It’s not. There are already tons of “dark, gritty, updated” versions of these stories. What you are doing is not “new”. It’s formulaic, and please please stop this red stuff coming out of my ears is blood my brain is bleeding.

You know what you should do? Like, an erotic tale starring adult versions of Dorothy of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Wendy from Peter Pan. That could be interesting.

What? It’s already been done?

…Alan Moore, you smeghead.

~ Ian


When I was growing up, I tended to reuse the same characters between projects.

I had three characters who existed pretty much exclusively in all of my fiction between about 2006 and 2011. When I’d abandoned my first novel (a godawful Tolkien ripoff that I’m thankful I left choking in the dust), I decided that I wanted to write a story about teenagers traveling to a strange new dimension, which was called Winter. (It was very cold. That’s why it was called that. Like you couldn’t figure it out for yourself.)

The three teenagers were: Krish, a young geeky martial artist; Anita, a cool, socially-outgoing musician and cheerleader; and Ash, a quirky young woman with mysterious abilities and an uncertain past. The three of them were friends, and they would have had great adventures together.

About 2009, I decided that I wanted to write some secondary-world fantasy for a change, going back to my “roots”, so to speak. This didn’t prevent the three mystery-solving teens from making the transfer to fantasyland, though. Krish became a retired battle-scarred warrior, living a life of quiet solitude with his family in the most remote part of the continent. Ash became a young priestess with strange powers, hunted down for carrying a demon child. And Anita was a barmaid with a crossbow.

That book, which I think I still have on my computer, never got past the first fifty pages. But somehow the characters continued onward, getting into my next big project, written during the fall of 2010: a secondary-world fantasy novel that I thought of as the first book of the Exodus trilogy, which contained… wait for it… two barmaids named Ash and Anita. Ash had strange and mysterious powers, as usual. (Somehow, Krish had disappeared from that universe. It makes sense– the character was intended to be Indian, and he wouldn’t have fit into that universe.)

Omniverse was the last story I wrote that contained Krish, Ash, and Anita. They had been with me for five years, jumping from being dimension-hopping high school students in Santa Cruz, to being characters in two separate fantasy universes, and finally hopping back to modern-day California, this time as college students, and getting back into their old dimension-hopping habits as if 2006 had never ended. In fact, I don’t think about each character as being one “character”, per se, but instead a strange archetype, a being that exists in multiple universes, with a different aspect for each universe. They’re a little bit like the Eternal Champion in that way, I guess: just as Jerry Cornelius, Elric, Dorian Hawkmoon, and Corum are all aspects of the same person, so were these characters: a constant running thread throughout five years of my life.

I can’t pretend that they’ve gone away, either. They’re still with me, in The Lotus Imperiate, only some of them have different names and some of them have been blended together and mutated over time. Sometimes I find myself writing a line for a character that has very specifically Ash-like characteristics, and there are times that I can see Anita in a character that I write. I wonder if all writers have this recycling process. We might think that we see a single character, but what we’re really seeing are the granddaughters of a thousand rough drafts.

Oh, hey, the story. Let’s get to that:



Page 69 has four panels.


Shot of the mountbird, with ASH and FARADOR on its back, running off into the distance.

CAPTION: The days passed by. I asked Farador how far a mountbird could run in a day with two people on its back. He answered that it could go ten leagues.


Another shot of the mountbird riding past another stand of trees, the blood-red moon of the alien planet setting on the horizon.

CAPTION: Assuming that one league is three and a half miles, that’s thirty-five miles a day. Since Farador said that Forn was a hundred days away, then that means that the distance between where we started and Forn was 3,500 miles.

CAPTION: That’s like riding an ostrich from San Diego to Nova Scotia.


Shot of ASH and FARADOR seated around a campfire. ASH is carrying a load of firewood while FARADOR whittles down a five-foot long piece of wood into a smooth staff.

CAPTION: I insisted in doing my part to help– fetching water, setting snares, chopping firewood. In return, Farador said that I needed to learn how to defend myself. He made a quarterstaff for me, and taught me how to use it.


Shot of ASH and FARADOR squaring off and sparring. FARADOR has removed the sickle from his sickle-staff, and is now facing down ASH armed with a seven-foot length of wood.

CAPTION: Time passed quickly. My clothes got ratty and worn, and my hair got greasy and lank. Since I was dressed in a TARDIS T-shirt and pajama pants when I came to this world, they got dirty quick. And the smell… my God, you can only imagine it.

Page 70 has three panels.


ASH and FARADOR sit by the fire, talking. ASH is telling FARADOR a story, complete with hand gestures, and FARADOR is listening intently.

CAPTION: Farador made good on his promise not to touch me. And we became friends, in a way. He told me stories of Forn– old sagas and dragonslaying legends, and war stories from his life and the lives of his ancestors.

CAPTION: While I told him stories from my own world. I started with fairy tales and kids’ stories, and later told oral versions of my favorite books and TV shows. (Of course, there was a lot of misunderstandings involved in telling him my favorites. I still have no idea if he understood anything of my summaries of Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes.)


ASH cuts a notch into her staff with a knife. There are about twenty other notches already carved into her staff with her knife.

CAPTION: As a way of keeping time, I carved notches into my staff with Farador’s hunting knife. One notch equalled one day of travel. That was how I could guesstimate how long I’d been in this world, and how close I was to Forn.


Distance shot of FARADOR and ASH, riding the mountbird, looking out over the edge of a cliff into a deep canyon, about the width and depth of the Grand Canyon. This is Kamora’s Kerf.

CAPTION: So I knew we’d been traveling for ten days when we reached Kamora’s Kerf…

Page 71 has six panels.


Shot of ASH’s astonished face as she looks out over the vast canyon.

ASH: My god…

ASH: I had no idea that anything this size was out here.


FARADOR looks out from over ASH’s shoulder at the canyon.

FARADOR: Yes. It is called Kamora’s Kerf.

FARADOR: We cannot go around it. It stretches for thirty leagues to the north and the south. We must go through the canyon.


ASH: Huh. How are we going to get down into it? This cliff has to be five hundred feet high.


FARADOR: There is a trail, about half a league to the north. It leads down into the canyon.

FARADOR: But Ash Campos… I must warn you. There is danger in the canyon. This place is a location of old magic.


ASH: Huh? What do you mean?

FARADOR: Have the stories not reached your country? Kamora’s Kerf is famous the world over.

ASH: No. I’ve never heard anything about this place.


The mountbird begins to ride off across the lip of the canyon.

FARADOR: You are very strange, Ash Campos. Very well, I will tell you of Kamora’s Kerf.

Page 72 has six panels.


Okay, this is an image styled like a page from an old manuscript. We’re looking at an image of a giant, a creature whose head scrapes the sky. The creature is female, with wide hips, and writhing serpents’ tails for arms. Clouds gather at her feet as she walks the earth, mountains nothing more than molehills beneath her. Her head is huge and solemn, and her hair is lank and dreadlocked. As she breathes out, yellow clouds of smoke steam from her nostrils. In one snaky hand, she carries a double-headed axe, like the labrys of Minoan Crete.

CAPTION: In times of old, when the sun shone golden and the world was warm, there was a monster named Kamora. It is unknown where she came from, whether she came from beneath the earth or the distant sky, but where she walked, destruction followed in her wake.


Picture of KAMORA’s huge feet crushing a city beneath her heel, as she walks across the earth. Off to the side, a man in silver armor stands mounted on a mountbird, with a bow across his back and a lance on the side of his bird.

CAPTION: Kamora was careless of the beings below her. One day, she crushed an entire city under her foot, for there were cities in the earth in those days. For this, the only surviving warrior of the city, a man named Tyreesh, swore to take vengeance on her, to kill her in any way possible.


TYREESH, with a bow and flaming arrows across his back, bows before an eagle the size of a 747, paying fealty to him. This is KAARAKI’I, the King of the North Wind.

CAPTION: Tyreesh journeyed for a three years and three days. He stole the fire arrows from the Queen of the Sun, and took them back to earth. He journeyed to the far north, and using his speechcraft, persuaded Kaaraki’i, the King of the North Wind, to be his mount to kill Kamora.


Picture of TYREESH and KAARAKI’I, flying around KAMORA’s head in battle. TYREESH is loosing a flaming arrow, and it strikes KAMORA in the eye. She howls in pain, and lashes out with her double-headed axe, where it flies towards the ground.

CAPTION: Tyreesh and Kaaraki’i challenged Kamora in the Outer Wastes. Tyreesh loosed arrow after arrow, striking Kamora again and again in the face and head. Kamora struck out against Tyreesh with her axe…


Another manuscript-type image of KAMORA’s axe carving deep into the ground, creating a deep furrow.

CAPTION: …and it cut into the earth, creating a great gash, sixty leagues long and four leagues wide.


An image of glowing, insubstantial humanoids, with bright white eyes and hooded robes, in a deep and shadowy place.

CAPTION: Ever since then, it is said that Kamora’s Kerf has been haunted by those who Kamora’s carelessness has killed, those inhabitants of the cities that once dotted the earth like standing stones cover the Outer Wastes.

Page 73 has five panels.


Shot of ASH staring off ahead of her on the mountbird as she and FARADOR ride across the lip of the canyon.


ASH: You left the story unfinished.



ASH: You didn’t tell me how Tyreesh killed Kamora.


FARADOR looks out over the canyon, out across the buttes and mesas deep within Kamora’s Kerf.

FARADOR: It is unknown. Tyreesh was never seen again, as was Kamora. No man knows where they went.

FARADOR: The lore tells us that Kaaraki’i returned, but he was mute. He never spoke a word again. That is why no bird speaks today.

FARADOR: In any case, this was long ago, and nothing of Kamora’s like lives on the earth today.


FARADOR stops his mountbird, and steps off. There is a small trail visible on the side of the cliff, which goes steeply down into the canyon.

FARADOR: Even so, we must rest here for the night. There are foul beasts within the Kerf, and we should gather our strength for the journey through it.

FARADOR: It will take us three days to pass through the canyon– one to descend to the river, one to travel along the river’s banks to the trail back out, and one to climb out of the Kerf.

ASH: Great. Just what I wanted to hear.

Page 74 has four panels.


ASH and FARADOR lie on opposite sides of the campfire. ASH is staring up at the sky, and FARADOR is snoring. The campfire’s embers are burning low, and ASH has a faraway look on her face.

CAPTION: I realized how far away home was. I didn’t think that Kamora’s Kerf was really a giant axe-wound in the earth… but then again, I didn’t think that I could travel to alternate dimensions by being attacked by shadow monsters. So I’d had a few preconcieved notions challenged.


Shot of the stars and moons, shining brilliantly above the earth. This is a shot from ASH’s perspective. We can see two of the moons of this planet, each one blood-red and gibbous.

CAPTION: The sky really was beautiful. I spent hours at night staring up at the heavens, just watching the stars slowly revolve around the north pole. They were unfamiliar: no Big Dipper, no Orion’s Belt. Even so, they were beautiful. And so bright. Even in the High Sierras at night I never saw stars so brilliant.


It’s daytime, and FARADOR and ASH are descending down into the Kerf. They have both dismounted: FARADOR is walking first, leading the mountbird down the steep trail like a burro down into the Grand Canyon, and ASH following behind, dressed in her TARDIS t-shirt and pajama pants, leaning on her staff. All around them, cliffs of stratified rock rise up, strange spires like you see in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona.

CAPTION: We traveled downwards, deep into the canyon. We couldn’t ride on the mountbird. It was far too steep. Farador offered to let me ride while he led the mountbird down, but I’m a feminist to my core. I refused, and walked instead.


Sitting around the campfire. ASH is skinning a winged lizard-type creature about two feet long. FARADOR is using his arrows to try and shoot down a second flying reptile high above, so they can have food. The mountbird is off chasing down some kind of small mustelid, and a slow-flowing river winds its way through the canyon, off to one side.

CAPTION: We made the bottom of the canyon by mid-afternoon, and made camp by the side of the river. It turned out that there were these weird flying lizards in the bottom of the canyon. I asked if they were related dragons. Farador gave me a funny look. In any case, we hunted and replenished our supplies.



I’ll try and post the third part of this chapter sometime soon. Sooner, at least: there was quite a while between the first part and this one.

~ Ian

It’s always kind of interesting when I’m looking at my old writing, and I realize, all of a sudden, “This is good. Not ‘good for my age’ good, but actually good.”

I had that experience over Winter Break when I was looking at a script for a graphic novel that I’d been writing over the summer of 2011, about a year and a half ago. It was an epic fantasy story, taking place over millions of dimensions and universes, primarily concerning itself with the machinations of an ancient demonic power’s attempts to free itself from its dimensional prison using three ancient talismans: a sword, a mirror, and an amulet. In order to accomplish this, it takes possession of a failed poet named Aleister Caine in a steampunk/Victorian dimension, and uses him as a weapon to conquer the millions of dimensions.

I never got to the parts that I’d been imagining, though. I only got a third of the way through the script for the first book before I got bored with it and left it alone– until a week ago, when I looked through it.

And it was good. Yeah, the first two chapters were a little bit clunky, but by the third chapter, I seemed to have hit my stride, and I was making actual cool stuff. 

I thought I’d share this on Axolotl Ceviche, as a little bit of an indication of what I was doing before I was blogging, and because I think you might enjoy it, if you like the sorts of things I do. All you need to know about the third chapter is that our erstwhile heroine, a young woman from our dimension named Ashley Campos, has entered another dimension. A dimension that is completely alien…

~ Ian




Page 61 has six panels.


ASH starts to walk down the side of the ridge.

CAPTION: It was like the setup for a bad joke.


ASH climbs backwards down a steep scree slope.

CAPTION: So there was good news and bad news. The good news was that I didn’t feel sick anymore.


ASH steps over a narrow stream as it descends the side of the ridge.

CAPTION: The bad news was that I was trapped in a parallel dimension.


ASH gets to the bottom of the slope, where she looks ahead to the distance.

CAPTION: I was sure I had gone crazy, at first. It would have been like a bad dream, if it didn’t feel so real…


Closeup of ASH shading her eyes and looking off into the distance. Behind her, we catch a glimpse of a strange, many-eyed insectoid monstrosity, a bug-eyed monster with big, sucking mandibles.

CAPTION: I caught a glimpse of something in the distance…


We’re looking from behind ASH. The insect monster is behind ASH, where she can’t see it, and she’s waving and hollering out to a speck on the horizon, a barely-visible shape of a man riding a big, ostrich-like bird.

ASH: Hey! Over here!


Page 62 has five panels.


An arrow whizzes by ASH’s head, striking the monster behind her squarely in the eye.

ASH: Gah!



The MONSTER attacks ASH, grabbing out with its claws and stretching its mandibles wide. It reaches out, trying to attack her, but ASH dodges as it reaches out to grab her in its claws.



ASH drops to the ground and covers her head as a second arrow zooms out and hits the monster in the abdomen. Greenish-blue blood squirts out from the monster’s wounds, and it screams in pain and anger.



The monster collapses to the ground next to ASH, who is crab walking away from it, trying to get away from it as the monster dies.

I.M.: agglagglagglagglaggl…

ASH: huff… huff… huff…


We see the head of a long polearm-type weapon hook ASH around her neck, enough to restrain her but not enough to cut her skin. The weapon looks like the crescent-moon head of a sickle attached to the end of a long pole, like a thin quarterstaff or the shaft of a spear.

VOICE (off-panel): On your feet, wench.

ASH: Gaaah!



Big splash page here. We’re looking at a big, bold warrior seated on the back of an ostrich-like bird. The man is wearing strange clothes: a long gray-green cloak, a studded leather jerkin embossed with strange Celtic-type patterns, a divided blue kilt with a tartan-type pattern, and a helmet bearing the horns of a stag that hides most of his face (think of a Greek-type helmet with the eyes, nose, and mouth, but nothing else, exposed). He has a huge, bristling red beard, which sticks out from under his helmet, and is all we can see of his face. He looks something like a more intimidating version of one of the Knights Who Say Ni. At his side, a short sword and massive hunting knife hang. On his back is a bow and a quiver of red-feathered arrows. Behind him, on his bird, is a leather satchel, which is stuffed with something lumpy and misshapen. He is holding his sickle-staff up to ASH’s neck. ASH has a scared expression on her face, and is holding her hands up in the hostage position.

Okay, some description of the warrior’s bird: it doesn’t look like anything that is common on this planet. It might look like an ostrich, except for various features. It has black-and-light gray mottled feathers, a bare and fleshy neck, and red beady eyes with no pupils. It has a beak, but in this beak are small, sharp-looking teeth. The bird looks more like birds used to, when birds were feathered dinosaurs.

By the way, the warrior’s name is FARADOR OF FORN.

FARADOR: What is your name? Speak quickly, now.

ASH: I’m Ash Campos.


PAGE 64 has four panels.


FARADOR is still holding his sickle-staff up to ASH’s throat.

FARADOR: An outlandish name. Be you human or wight?

ASH: I’m human. I’m from another place. Another land, far away from here. A land beyond.


A close-up on FARADOR’s helmet. We catch a glimpse of his eyes, and they are surprised and somewhat shocked.

FARADOR: Another land? Beyond the Outer Wastes? These lands are the edge of the world, woman.

ASH (off-panel): Yes. I’m from a world beyond that.


FARADOR leans way over and nearly stares right into ASH’s face.

FARADOR: Give me your hand, woman.

ASH: What?

FARADOR: I must determine whether you are a human or some foul spirit. The denizens here are evil and devious. Give me your hand.


ASH reaches out and touches FARADOR’s hand.

ASH: Oh. Okay.

FARADOR: It is warm. Forgive me, Ash Campos. I simply did not expect to see another human so many leagues away from Forn, or any of the other free kingdoms. How did you come here?


Page 65 has five panels.


FARADOR has lifted his sickle-staff, and has placed it in a sheath that goes diagonally across his back.

ASH: It’s a long story.

FARADOR: No matter. I am willing to allow you to be my traveling companion for a while. I am traveling west, back to my homeland of Forn. Farador is my name.


FARADOR reaches out a hand to ASH, who takes it.

ASH: Pleased to meet you.

FARADOR: Come. If you wish to ride with me, then I will help you to climb onto my mountbird.


ASH climbs up the side of the mountbird, assisted by FARADOR.

ASH: That’s very kind of you. Really, it is.

FARADOR: Think nothing of it. I have been too long apart from the company of human conversation. There are no towns or keeps in the Outer Wastes.


ASH sits in front of FARADOR on the mountbird. FARADOR takes the reins in his hands, and kicks the sides of the mountbird. It begins to run, taking long, ostrich-like strides.

ASH: Then what are you doing out here?

FARADOR: You truly are a stranger to this land, Ash Campos.


The mountbird rides off along the horizon.

FARADOR: When a warrior succeeds to lordship after his father’s death, he must venture out and slay a dragon. Once, the dragons came even up to the Kyreesh Borderlands, on the eastern edge of Forn. Now they have been driven into the Outer Wastes, a land of nightmares and ghosts.


Page 66 has four panels.


The mountbird continues to ride along a high ridgeline as ASH and FARADOR continue their conversation.

ASH: So that’s where you’re going? To slay a dragon?

FARADOR: I have already slain one. What do you think is in the satchel behind me?

ASH: Oh.


FARADOR: Why do you ask this? Have you not dragons in your country?

ASH: No. Far from it, actually.

FARADOR: Then what do your warriors slay to prove their virility?

ASH: Middle Easterners, mostly.


FARADOR: So how came you to be in the wastelands? You have no food, no flint, no weapons. Besides, you are only a woman.

ASH: I can’t explain. You wouldn’t understand.

FARADOR: Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t. In any case, it’s a long road to go before we see hide or hair of another human.


Aerial shot of the sun is setting across the vast plains, to the far west. Far below, ASH is sitting on a tumbled stone in the shelter of one of the standing stones that decorate the field. FARADOR is off nearby, carrying firewood back in his arms. The mountbird is off in the distance, off hunting for food.


Page 67 has six panels.


ASH is seated next to the fireplace, huddled tightly in one of FARADOR’s spare cloaks. FARADOR is carrying a bundle of firewood back to the fire. His helmet is still on.

FARADOR: Are you cold?

ASH: Yeah. I come from a much warmer place than this.

FARADOR: Be glad you came here in the summer. In wintertime, it is much colder. Icy winds scour this land, and bring death with them.


ASH: This is summer? Geez…

ASH: Hey, out of curiosity, what was that thing? You know, the one you saved me from.


FARADOR has set the cord of firewood down on the ground at his feet. He is taking off his antlered helmet.

FARADOR: A foul beast. It is called a wiggeman. They lay their eggs in fresh corpses, which feed on the carcass once they hatch.


FARADOR has taken off his helmet, and we get our first glimpse at his face. Most of his face is obscured by his shaggy red beard. But he has a proud, jutting nose; bushy eyebrows; and cold blue eyes. His long red hair falls down behind him.

FARADOR: You know, you are very beautiful. I have half a mind to take you as my third wife, once I return to my castle by the coast.


ASH’s response to this is, to say the least, a bit cold.

ASH: Wow. That was the least romantic proposal I’ve ever heard.

FARADOR: Ah, so you’ve heard many, then?

ASH: No. Not really.


FARADOR puts his arm possessively around ASH’s shoulder as she sits next to him.

FARADOR: It would not be a hard life. I have a fine holding, on the north coast of Forn. I already have two wives, and they are pleased. I could satisfy you. You could be happy there.


Page 68 has six panels.


Closeup on ASH’s face. She looks tired and cold.

ASH: Look, I’m thankful that you saved me. But we don’t do things that way where I’m from. Women aren’t property in my homeland. We marry only one person at a time. And I don’t intend to stay permanently in Forn. I want to go home someday.


FARADOR: I was not asking you, girl.

ASH: And I’m not marrying you.

FARADOR: Your life is beholden to me. I saved you; that makes you mine to do with what I wish.


ASH: That’s not true. I’m my own person. If you try to marry me by force, I’ll run away, or kill you, or something else, I don’t know what.

FARADOR: Hmm. You are very strange, Ash Campos.

FARADOR: No matter. You will one day come around to me. The road to Forn is a hundred days long, and there is still a long time to go before winter. You will come to me eventually.


ASH: No, I won’t.

ASH: And if you try to rape me during the night, I swear I’m going to pick up the nearest rock and bash your balls in.


FARADOR picks up a log of firewood and tosses it on the fire.

FARADOR: Why would I do that? I may be a warrior and a killer, but I am still no raper. Love is much better when the woman is willing.

ASH: Fine. But I’ve warned you.

FARADOR: Ash Campos, I swear that I will lay no finger upon you until you are willing to have me.

ASH: Okay. But you’re sleeping on the other side of the fire tonight, well out of reach.

FARADOR: I will.


Shot from above of ASH lying on the ground on her back, staring up at the stars, and FARADOR on the other side of the fire, wrapped up in his cloak and sound asleep, his mouth open and drooling.

CAPTION: The night was spent quietly. I was awake for most of the night, staring up at the strange constellations. When I slept, I didn’t dream.

I just think it’s cool to remember that, while Superman has been many things over the years, it’s interesting to note that he started out as the people’s hero, and a champion of the New Deal.

Just thought this was kind of cool.

~ Ian


I can’t help but humiliate myself. It seems to be intrinsic in my nature.

When I was in high school, I wrote a crapton of terrible sword-and-sorcery stories. During my senior year, I had this idea for a massive fantasy trilogy, full of demons and magic and things like that. My idea was about a world that Hell had broken into, a world that had become overrun with demons: a sort of post-apocalyptic/high fantasy hybrid.

That was the idea. I only wrote about twenty pages of the story before I got sick of the bloody thing.

The novel would have been called Demonslayers. I’m showing it to you here, with commentary from my present-day self, as an example and a warning to young writers.

In any case– this is it. The prologue to Demonslayers.



Imperial City, Thule

22 Emperor, 708 Thule Era

The sun died in the west as Keltor Kes made his way up the steep mesa upon which the Imperial City lay. It was a beautiful city from far away, its high domes and slender minarets shining in the westering sun. From far away, the city shone like gold, since the palaces and mansions of the mighty had been plated with brass for the express purpose of dazzling the eyes of those who watched below. From afar, the effect was beautiful, but from up close the rooftops were gaudy and cheap. In fact, one could not even see the brass, because the lofty towers loomed so far above the city that it was impossible to see the roofs. The actual streets of the Imperial City were dirty, smelled of shit, and were bathed in a permanent twilight no matter what time of day it was. This was the perfect night for an assassin.

Present-Day Ian: Umm… overwritten much? I guess I hadn’t really got into my head the idea that good language is succinct, and that brevity and flow are often more important than dazzling the eye with a metric crapton of twenty-dollar words. My dad always told me, when I was a kid: “Never use a big word when there exists a commensurate diminutive.” I guess that hadn’t sunk in at that point. 

Also, I seemed to be clinging to the phrase “from far away”. I use it three times in three sentences. That’s not a good thing. In fact, it’s pretty terrible. 

Keltor Kes was one of these assassins. He was an elf– something that was unusual in these parts, far from the elvish forests and the isles of Avalon away to the west. He wore a long, cowled cape, dyed a dark gray color– contrary to popular belief, assassins never wore black: it was too obvious, since shadows were never uniformly black. Dark gray or olive worked much better. He had an androgynous face, which was usual for an elf, and iron-gray hair and a dueling scar across his cheek, which was unusual. He wore only a dark green tunic and brown breeches under his cape, and wore soft leather boots with spikes in the soles. He carried a dagger at his side, in a battered black wooden sheath. At his left hip was a relatively new revolving pistol, a powderhorn, and a sack of lead bullets. His only nod to ostentatiousness was a gold death’s head ring, boldly displayed on his left middle finger: the mark of a Master Assassin in the Shadow Syndicate.

In a good light, one could call Keltor Kes attractive. He had the sort of androgynous attractiveness so beloved by rich ladies of the Imperial City. His lips were pouty, his lashes long, his eyebrows slanted, and his cheekbones high.  Looking at him, though, one thing was obvious above all else: his eyes, as black as the depths of space, with no pupils. This tended to put off the young women who looked his way, and forced them to studiously look somewhere else.

PDI: Why do people seem to think that describing characters down to the last detail is an appropriate way of starting a story? It’s not. While character description has its place, I have to admit that this is the wrong way to do it. For one thing, this isn’t a movie. For another, nobody goes around describing themselves in their head. Right now, I’m wearing an off-black T-shirt, blue jeans, my favorite leather jacket, and no socks or shoes. But I don’t go around thinking that. 

Plus there’s the fact that I made Keltor Kes an assassin. It’s maybe the most clichéd profession in fantasy, apart from royalty. While my current project, The Lotus Imperiate, does have assassins, I’m trying to make them seem less clichéd than normal. It’s not the idea of an assassin that’s the cliché. It’s the particular implementation. And Keltor Kes is about as clichéd as you can get. (Considering that I borrowed a lot of Keltor Kes’ description for The Epic Legend of Damien Fell, as well as the term “Shadow Syndicate”, it’s not a surprise.)

Although, I like the detail that assassins don’t actually wear black. How did I know that back then? I think I’d heard that from my swordplay instructor, who’d said that historical ninja actually wore navy blue, because black stands out against shadows. That’s the sort of cool detail that will eventually go into The Lotus Imperiate, which has assassins who act more like ninja. (The historical ninja, not actually the modern-day conception.)

The perpetual twilight of the Imperial City had not yet darkened to its fullest. He would go to his target this evening, but not now. He would wait for the darkness to deepen, for the night to lie more heavily over the palace. Then he would go to his work. He cast his gaze around. This was an unsavory portion of the city. He saw many people. Rogues, adventurers, mercenaries, beggars, and whores were all around the street.  Here on the street corner, a tall, slender man from Eden, his skin shining ebony in the night. He spoke with a Faldorian whore, little more than a girl, her red-gold curls shining against her ivory skin. He looked to the right. There was a dwarf, long-bearded, red-faced, obviously pissed out of his head, with sweat shining on his face. The dwarf was arguing with an orc, with green skin and taciturn expression. The orc hadn’t drank as much that night, and he was obviously holding up much better than the dwarf. He scowled, and made a small grumble in the depths of his throat. He moved his hand towards his sword, which provoked the dwarf. The dwarf charged, battle axe at the ready, prepared to cut the orc into slivers of quivering green raw meat. But the orc, less drunk than his opponent, easily drew his long tulwar and slashed with a broad, sweeping cut. The dwarf went down, neck bloody and open with a huge, gaping slash. Unfortunately for the orc, there was a band of four dwarves standing nearby. As they saw their fellow dwarf go down, they readied their axes, and charged at the orc.

Humans and all other races cheered on this spectacle. Not Keltor Kes. He had a job to do, and time to kill before that job. Plus, the stench of green orc blood sickened him. So while the crowd cheered as dwarves and orcs from all over heard the clang of steel, Keltor Kes proceeded on.

PDI: There’s lots of borrowing here. And I can trace it back to its sources. 

The first source is the classic Conan story “The Tower of the Elephant”, which begins with a description of a multicultural street scene, showcasing the diversity and chaos of Robert Howard’s Hyborian Age. (I’d been reading the Conan stories for a year and a half before I wrote the prologue to Demonslayers. Clearly all of that sunk in somehow.) The “Tower of the Elephant” connection is even more apparent when you look at what happens later in the story.) 

But of course, the second source for the street scene comes from a source so basic that even I hadn’t internalized it. The various races come straight out of Tolkien– all three of them. Keltor Kes is an elf, of course, and there are a dwarf and an orc in this scene. Now that I’m a little bit older, I’ll admit that I’m tired of seeing elves and orcs all over modern fantasy. Fortunately written fantasy seems to be moving beyond the need to put elves into everything, but gaming hasn’t. I’m playing through Dragon Age: Origins at the moment, and I’m annoyed by the fact that elves and dwarves appear in an otherwise-brilliant game. Fantasy writers don’t need to ape Tolkien. There’s a whole multiverse out there for us to enjoy. 

But of course, I apparently didn’t think that at the time. 

He entered a small tavern. Immediately he was greeted by the stench of human sweat and cheap ale, and the roaring laughter of the tavern’s patrons. Keltor Kes moved through the thick crowd like a wisp of fog on a mountain lake, serene and unnoticing of the surroundings. He made his way up to the bar, tended by a human woman. She had long, greasy black ringlets, a painted face, and large droopy breasts that she wore half-hanging out of her bodice as if they were those of a beautiful girl of eighteen. The effect sickened Keltor Kes. Elvish women did not have breasts, but had chests as flat as washboards. The importance that human women placed on their tits, and the attention that human men paid to them, were both completely alien to Keltor Kes. He fought down his revulsion, and waved his death’s head ring in front of her face. The woman stiffened. Her painted and rouged face was drawn up into a sudden mask of terror.

“I am not here to assassinate any of the guests at this establishment,” Keltor Kes said calmly. “I am merely thirsty. Have you any wine?”

“Of course, sir Assassin,” the barmaid said.

“What variety?”

“Fine, rich wine from the west, ten years old. Made from the purple grapes on the shores of the Charitable Sea.”

“Bring me a cup, madam barmaid, and be velocitous in your return.” Keltor Kes said.

PDI: I don’t know what the hell I was thinking with Keltor Kes’ speech patterns here. Or rather, I know my explanation for why I did it: Elves in this universe have a very complicated language that relies heavily on intonation and implication, and therefore when elves speak human languages, they naturally adapt to using big words and convoluted sentence structure. Only, it doesn’t work. It just comes across as cumbersome and weird. 

I guess I was trying to imitate Vaarsuvius, the elven wizard in Rich Burlew’s fabulous comic Order of the Stick. But there’s a completely different context. OotS is comedy, and Vaarsuvius’ over-the-top speech is meant to be deliberately funny. But in a universe that is supposedly serious, we’re meant to take what Keltor Kes says seriously. And since we can’t do that (because nobody ever talks like that), it all falls apart. 

I call this kind of unexplained, pointlessly confusing worlbuilding “lighting a fire at noon”, because of a story I read once on a forum where the character lit a fire in a grate while describing all the while the bright noonday sunshine outside. When we questioned why the character needed to light a fire at noon, the author said, “It’s a special kind of wood! It doesn’t give off heat, only light!” We didn’t accept this as an answer– the properties of this special wood hadn’t been explained in the text, and besides, it was begging another question (namely, why would you need light at full noon?). It’s a mistake that a lot of newbie fantasy writers make: that just because something doesn’t need to be explained to the inhabitants of the fantasy world, doesn’t mean that it has to be explained to us. Especially if it’s something as alien as wood that doesn’t give off heat when it burns, or Keltor Kes’ speech patterns. 

The barmaid bustled into the back, disappearing behind a frayed purple curtain over a doorway in the back of the bar. She immediately returned with a full wooden goblet. The wine inside was thick as syrup, and as red as blood. Keltor Kes took it, sniffed it experimentally, and took a small sip. His face screwed up with disgust as he swallowed.

“Like dwarven urine,” he exclaimed, “but I shall have to make do with what I have.” He downed the rest of the wine in three gulps. “Please fetch me some more of this, madam,” he ordered.

As the barmaid was busy again in the back room, a man caught Keltor Kes’ eye. The man was a merchant from the pine forests to the northeast, wearing a fur cap with a red tassel and a richly embroidered robe. He had stubble on his chin, and his hairy chest peeked out from the v-neck of his robe. His huge belly was easily visible, jiggling and bouncing as the man laughed at the jokes. Keltor Kes frowned at the man, and wrinkled his nose. Humans were disgusting, the way they grew huge and wrinkly.

The man made eye contact with Keltor. His expression soured, curdling like a bowl of milk. “What the fuck are you looking at, elfie?” he snapped. “You want a fight? Is that what you want?”

“I am sorry,” Keltor Kes said. “I meant no offense, sir. I was merely observing a typical human inhabitant of this city.”

“What the fuck are you talkin’ about?” the man roared. “Fucking elvish faggots. What do all those fancy words mean, eh? Speak proper, and not elvish gobbledygook!”

“I am sorry, sir. I am merely speaking Thule Common, as any clown with a quarter of a cerebrum would comprehend.”

“Fucking big words,” the merchant growled. “It’s all gibberish to me!”

“Well, my good fellow,” said Keltor Kes evenly, “I believe that the reason why you are unable to aprehend any of the words issuing forth from my lips is because you are a boor.”

“A what?” the man screamed. He threw his clay mug of ale down to the dirt floor. It didn’t shatter, but instead stuck in the four inches of mud and piss on the floor.

“Idiot. Moron. Imbecile. Retard. Boob. Whoreson. Rascal. Ruffian. Villein. I could go on, if you would be so inclined.”

“I may not be the smartest man in the Empire,” the merchant snarled, “but I know when I’m being insulted! And you– you’re insulting me!”

“Fantastic,” said Keltor Kes. “It seems that you have more intelligence than I had initially expected. I thought your mind functioned on the level of a dog, or a pig. I must confess, however, that you have more of the mental aptitude of a baboon, or a goblin.”

“You want a fight, fag? Is that what you want?”

“I do not wish to quarrel, sir, and I assure you, neither do you,” Keltor said, his voice as cool and calm as it had always been.

“What? D’you think I can’t take you?”

“To put it bluntly,” Keltor Kes replied, “yes.”

“Prissy point-eared whoreson,” the human roared. “I’ll show you!” And he leapt to his feet, fumbling at his side for the short sword that hung there.

PDI: Ah, yes. The obligatory tavern brawl. Clearly teenage Ian needs to have a copy of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland dropped on his head. Of course, I doubt that he’d listen. With the number of clichés that he’s dropped by this point, he’d probably use it as a guidebook for constructing the “best fantasy novel EVER!” 

I feel ashamed for the person I was. But moving on: 

Immediately, Keltor Kes stood, and grasped the hilt of his elvish runed dagger, Z’gara. With a deft movement, he drew the adamantine dagger. It flashed pearly gray, the color of pewter, as Keltor Kes raised it high into the air. And the dagger flew downwards, sharp edge flashing with malice as it came towards the human’s chest. It was over in less than the blink of an eye: the man staggered back, a huge gash running down from his right shoulder to his left hip, a slash of crimson, dripping blood. This was only a scratch, though, not quite enough to kill the man. As the human gasped for breath, in too much pain to even stand, Keltor Kes deftly tossed Z’gara into the air. It flipped end over end. Now the dagger’s hilt was pointed directly upwards towards the human’s sternum. As the human collapsed to his knees, his eyes widened in pain, Keltor Kes drove Z’gara in a wide arc straight upwards, towards the human’s soft, flabby double chin.

The dagger met him halfway.

Keltor Kes felt all eighteen of Z’gara’s inches drive into the human’s head like a sculptor’s chisel into marble. With a crunch, the dagger met soft, marbled subcutaneous tissue, cut through the thin layer of muscle, and the human’s tongue. This slowed it down a bit, but it continued onwards and upwards: through the soft palate, into the nasal cavity, the sinuses, and finally, directly into the human’s frontal lobe. Keltor Kes felt the man’s life-spark leaving him. With his delicate elvish senses, he could feel a small electrical spark flow down Z’gara’s length, then into his hand. The last spark of the man’s life. With a wrench, Keltor Kes pulled his dagger free. Blood that had been kept in by Keltor Kes’ hand suddenly gushed out of the dead human’s skull, drenching his hand in red blood. The runes that had been carved into Z’gara were glowing blue now, glowing with the fresh life of the dead human and his escaped soul. The whole tavern stared at Keltor Kes, and the corpse of the human. He had not even had the chance to draw his sword.

And Keltor Kes spoke: “Is there any one of you now who would, after witnessing this spectacle, attempt to insult me, my ears, or my elvish heritage at a later juncture in time?”

A chorus of hasty and murmured “no’s”. Every patron of the bar abashedly stared at their mugs and cups, studiously ignoring Keltor.

“There,” said Keltor, smiling faintly. “I believe that we can now forget this slight… misunderstanding, and can proceed onward as friends in the future. Barmaid!”

“Yes, sir?” the barmaid responded, her voice trembling.

“Fetch me a basin of clean water and a cloth– make it two, if you would be so good. And fetch each patron a glass of his or her preferred tipple, which aforsaid beverage shall be paid for, in full, by me.”

“What, sir?”

“Buy everyone a round of drinks. On me.”

Now the tavern’s patrons looked intrested. Suddenly everyone was Keltor Kes’ best friend. People crowded around him, trying to shake his bloodied hand. Keltor Kes studiously washed his hands instead. Then, when the round of drinks came, Keltor Kes smoothly walked out the front entrance in the confusion, and into the dark street. It was fully dark now, and there was no moon. Time to hunt.

PDI: This, I think, is the most stupid and pointless part of this whole bloody prologue. Not only does Keltor Kes STRAIGHT UP FUCKING MURDER A DUDE, he buys everyone a round of drinks, and suddenly everyone’s okay with him! What the fuck? I want to slap my teenage self up the bloody head, this is so stupid! 

I unconsciously borrowed this whole scene in the third chapter of The Epic Legend of Damien Fell, where I had Prince Travyss of Rayvenhawke kill a guy and then ask if anyone else wanted to doubt his heritage, or something stupid like that, to be answered by everyone saying, “No! We’re good!” But that was played for laughs. It wasn’t done seriously. It wasn’t a stupid excuse for Keltor Kes to look like a badass. 

God. I knew this was bad, but I didn’t realize it was awful

~ * ~ * ~

As Keltor Kes approached the wall to the Empress’s hardeena, he gazed up, towards the palace. It had not been created with any rhyme or reason. It had started out as a relatively modest five-room structure. Then new things were added: a tower here, a wing here, a small chapel or a new extention here– and as the Thule Empire grew from a collection of pox-ridden human barbarians clustered around their capital village here on a mesa to a continent-spanning empire that devoured countries like small snacks, the Palace had grown as well. It was now gigantic: a jumble of domes, minarets, towers, obelisks, courtyards, rooftops, and other assorted pieces of architecture. Keltor Kes had been around the continent and seen all that there was to see of the palaces of rulers. The palace of the King of Faldor, now, that was a structure designed to some architectural standard. It was a beautiful building. Not so, the Palace of Thule. It was a huge, ugly structure, a crowded mess that had ceased to look like a building so much as a mutated cluster of buildings that had grown around a central core. It was also an assassin’s dream. The cornices and crevices created ideal nooks and crannies for an assassin to climb in. The ramparts were huge, true, but enough extensions had been built that climbing them was just a matter of finding the right foothold. This is why the perimeters had been so well-guarded. However, this newest expansion to the palace, the hardeena built in the traditional Thule style, had a smooth gray granite rampart fifty feet high, facing the street. Getting up was a bit of a bother, but it was just a matter of having the right tools.

Keltor Kes slipped off his shoes, and placed a small pair of leathery gray slippers over his feet. He did the same with a pair of gloves made from the same material. Few humans knew what these garments were. But Keltor Kes knew, and he treasured them as one of the best tools an assassin might have. They were made from the skin of the legs of the ether-spider, that giant gray arachnid that haunted the depths of the nocturnal forests on the north side of the Isle of Avalon. These gloves were covered in hairs too tiny for the eye to see that clung to every pore and tiny crack in a surface. The skin of the ether-spiders allowed them to climb up surfaces too smooth for an ordinary creature. And Keltor Kes had acquired a pair of gloves and slippers. He placed his right foot against the wall, and felt it stick onto the smooth marble surface. He then pushed up, climbing like a sailor in the riggings of a ship. Higher and higher he clambered, passing above the graffitied lower wall and rising up. Ten feet, twenty, thirty, forty, moving like a liquid shadow in the moonless night. Soon he reached the top of the wall, climbed over it. He could see down into the Empress’s hardeena now, its green trees and fountains of wine nothing but shadows in the darkness.

PDI: I don’t know why, but I like really big spiders. And the idea of making a pair of gloves and slippers out of spider-skin is really only something that you’d get in a fantasy novel. Because, as we know, there aren’t really any giant spiders in the real world. 

I kind of wonder if the elves in Mirkwood made clothing or armor out of spider skins. Peter Jackson, the ball’s in your court. 

I must have liked the idea of ether-spiders, because I used the term in a number of stories of that period. And more recently, I put a kind of fabric partially made from giant spider-silk into The Lotus Imperiate. So that’s clearly a thing that resonated with me somehow.

There was a guard on the ramparts, furtively smoking something disgusting. He looked up. Keltor Kes could see his face with his darkvision as clear as if it were day. The guard’s eyes widened, and he shouted, “Halt! Intruder!” He ran off to alert his comrades. Keltor Kes drew his revolving pistol. He always kept a few bullets in the chamber of his gun, and this was a perfect time to use his weapon. He cocked the pistol with a deft flick of his finger, then blasted three shots– bang, bang, bang. The bullets flew straight and true. The first two struck the guard in the back. Tiny bursts of blood, colorless in the gloom, exploded into the night. The third struck the guard in the head. There was a splash, and the guard went down.

There were shouts from far away. The sound of a pistol was loud enough to attract unwanted attention. He needed to get down– fast. With a single leap, he flew over the side of the rampart and into the hardeena. Even with the cat-like reflexes of an elf, the fall would have killed Keltor Kes, had he not timed his leap perfectly so that he landed in a cherry tree. He landed in the branches and felt the soft embrace of leaves. The guards were there, lanterns ablaze, inspecting the dead body of their fallen comrade. None of them thought to look into the hardeena, but their sergeant said, “Look at the body. Two shots to the chest, one to the head. This was a trained killer. Be on the lookout for assassins, lads. This was obviously done by a master.” The guards dispersed. Two of them bore the body of their slain comrade. They left, bringing their lanterns with them, leaving Keltor Kes in pure, soft darkness. He dropped soundlessly to the grassy lawn of the hardeena.

PDI: Shed a tear for the death of poor Random Palace Mook #26. While it cannot be much of a comfort to his grieving widow and crying children, at least it can be said that he died fulfilling one of the oldest and most noble clichés in fantasy. 

Hey, maybe the guard was related to the merchant from the previous scene! That would explain a lot

I will say, though, that “furtively smoking something disgusting” is a lovely little description. While it’s another cliché for guards to take smoking breaks, the “something disgusting” is a nice little twist. And it leaves exactly what the guard was smoking to the imagination– whether it was ordinary tobacco, or possibly cannabis or some more exotic substance. Sometimes the art of description involves choosing what things to leave to the imagination, as well as actually describing things. 

The traditional hardeena was an ornamental garden beloved by nobles of Thule. It was always organized on a geometric pattern: a perfect square, subdivided into quarters by ten-foot wide paths. In each quarter was a perfectly square ornamental pond, where fish swam. In the center of the hardeena, there was a large gazebo, usually with a permanent fountain of wine in the center. Exotic animals lived in the hardeena, and the palace usually staffed an orchestra to constantly play pleasing music in a chamber beneath the hardeena, which traveled to each corner of the hardeena through a series of pipes. These musicians played continuously, taking eight-hour shifts, staggered so that at least one musician would be playing at one time. Right now, the musicians were playing tinkling chimes and violins, in the off-chance that the Empress, or at least a courtier or noble, would be passing through at dusk and wish to enjoy the peaceful stars while enjoying a drink from the wine fountain or perhaps the sexual favors of one of the harem boys.

To Keltor Kes, the music was a mild annoyance at best. In his homeland, the wild mountains and hills of Avalon, music was rare, and consisted mainly of guttural chanting and rhythmic beats, the “heartbeat of nature”, as the elves called it. The noises that humans made with pieces of metal ripped from the earth and the cleaned guts of sheep displeased him. He disliked the hardeena as well. The idea that the humans made a little island of geometric nature, all perfect squares and golden ratios, in a constant attempt to create an image of a paradise, a lost Eden-that-was, he found laughable. The wild ruggedness of the mountain rocks, the violent spray of ocean brine, the eternally perfect circles that the sun and stars traced in their journey across the heavens: those were beauty enough for him. He had no respect for these confining square gardens with their exotic animals and fountains of wine.

PDI: A little bit of elvish culture here, which I like. My taste in elves has always been towards Elfquest elves rather than Tolkien elves: tribal, fur-wearing humanoids who exist close to nature rather than city-building smug warriors. (That’s the reason why my main character in Dragon Age, Kÿalée, is a Dalish elf. I like tribal wanderers.) Plus, the whole “elves living close to nature” idea never really squared itself with the fact that they live in cities deep within the wilderness. No offense to Tolkien, but when I have elves or any other manner of fey creature, I’d much rather have them wear leather and have weapons made from wood and stone and bone, rather than wearing steel armor and carrying elegant longswords. 

But he did not have to live in this sad little microcosm: he only had to work here. He made his way around the square pond, two hundred feet on each side, the fish and seals in the ponds sleeping peacefully, unaware of the stealthy figure above them lurking like the shadow of death. He reached the corner of the pond, onto the small path that led directly to the Empress’s dwellings, located directly above the hardeena– two hundred feet up. For security, Empress Ishtar VI lived in the top floors of a tiny minaret high above the hardeena, from which she could survey the palace and the city beyond. The only access to the tower was up a slender staircase that wound up the sides of the minaret, guarded by twenty orcish eunuchs, all raw muscle and power, each one with their tongues cut out to keep them from revealing the secrets of their Empress. This was, they presumed, the only way up. But the guards had not counted on an elvish assassin with the gloves and slippers of ether-spider skin. He could get up the two hundred feet to the Empress’s balcony in an hour.

PDI: You know what the weird thing about this whole hardeena scene is? It feels like a set from the Arabian Nights, but it’s set in a country called “Thule”. Which is some serious psychic whiplash, considering that when an English-speaker hears the word “Thule”, they think of vikings and bearskin kilts, a land of the ice and snow where the hot springs blow, to quote Led Zeppelin. Not Persian gardens and eunuchs. 

I’m still unsure why I decided that the Thullan emperors had to have names ripped from Babylonian mythology. I guess it was because I’d just read Michael Swanwick’s brilliant Dragons of Babel, and the emperors there are named for Mesopotamian gods. But still, it’s a pretty blatant ripoff. 

And so, in the darkness of night, he began to climb the walls. He had chosen this night for an important reason. There was no moon tonight. It was completely dark, with nothing more than the light of the stars and planets above him, and the torches and lanterns of the city below him. He could see fine, thanks to his elvish darkvision, but the blundering human oafs that lived in this city would not suspect a thing– until too late, when their Empress lay dead in a pool of her own filthy blood.

It was slow going: Keltor Kes had been winded in the climb up the ramparts to the hardeena, and this was even more difficult. He had not gone thirty feet up– about a ten minute climb– before he began to feel exhausted, his limbs feeling leaden and weary, his arms aching as he pulled himself, hand over hand, up the wall. The light gray gloves wormed their hairs deep into any crevice, providing him with handholds for him to pull himself hand over hand, foot by grueling foot, until he reached the top of the tower and the Empress’s bower above him. He could feel Z’gara next to him, its rudimentary soul pulsing with want: want for the taste of blood. The fight in the tavern had not been enough. Z’gara begged for the life-force of a noble, blood of the highest. Keltor Kes, with his mind-link to his sword, could feel himself wanting blood. The thought of the Empress dead, and his hands full of the five thousand platinum pieces that her rivals had paid him to take her life, filled his muscles and joints, and he strove harder, his muscles and joints burning with the fire of rage and the lust to kill. Higher he climbed. The stars wheeled in the heavens over the city. He looked up. The evening star had already passed beneath the horizon, and it was deep into the dark hours. As he reached a quarter of the way up the minaret, the clock in the Guildmasters’ Hall gave off two sonorous chimes. Two hours after sunset. He felt his muscles burn. Fifty, sixty, seventy feet: Keltor Kes was living in a dream, a dream where there was nothing but the climb, precariously perched on a vertical wall. Above him lay his goal, the object of his quest. Below him lay death. Let his muscles relax for a moment, and he would fall to his death, a gory stain on the grass of the hardeena below. He kept climbing, not daring to think of falling, for if he did, that would mean not only the loss of his life, but the promise of five thousand platinum pieces: no, all the tortures of Hell would not be so bad as dying a poor man!

So up he climbed. Higher and higher, the promise of blood calling him like the call to mate calls the salmon over thousands of miles, across grueling oceans and great rivers, up waterfalls to tiny ponds high in the mountains. He was spawning, in a way. He was undertaking a journey no less grueling than that of the salmon. A hundred feet now. He couldn’t stop. Here, ten stories above the grass of the hardeena, falling was death. Already he felt his muscles begin to weaken. He had to push himself, and with the call to blood pulsing in his veins and lighting his brain afire, the silent call of his dagger pushing him on, he began to speed up. Faster and faster he climbed, covering four feet a minute. His muscles burned, and half of him longed to fall to the ground below, ease this pain he was in. But he went on. Always onwards. The siren call of the blood above him. He kept going, his heart pounding in his ears, his face drenched with sweat. He was now a hundred and fifty feet above the hardeena, and still he climbed. He climbed like a spider, like a shadow, like an eagle, like a wisp of cloud. His head swam, and his universe had become nothing more than the endless climb, agony, sharp and painful, as he rose higher and higher into the air… his head swam… his mind raced… blood pumped through his body more rapidly than a galloping horse… it was too much… he couldn’t go on… he had to fall…

And suddenly, so suddenly that he couldn’t belive it, he was there.

PDI: This section of description is actually pretty cool. It’s overwritten, just like everything else in this whole story, but I don’t mind that so much. The normally long, languid sentences have suddenly stopped, becoming short and choppy– which carries much more feeling of the physical exertion. Actually, I use this technique a lot lately. I think of sentence rhythms as being like the story’s heartbeat. When it’s going slow, the characters are relaxed and calm. The faster it gets, you feel more and more adrenaline, and your own reading experience tends to quicken. So I save short sentences for the big action scenes, and longer ones for passages of description or narration. 

Although, that the part towards the end, where it all dissolves into ellipses, is pretty bad. A lot of my stories in high school seemed to overuse the ellipsis in a big way. They also had a tendency to go off into elaborately complicated little parentheticals. I’ve pretty much cured myself of the Scourge of the Ellipsis. The parenthetical statements? Not so much. I’ve still got an uncurable obsession with using the em-dash and the parentheses, as I’m sure you can tell by reading my writing style. 

He pulled himself, gasping for breath, over the stone railing, and onto the open-air balcony of the Empress’s bower. He stood for a second, numb with pain, but quickly caught his breath. He drew Z’gara. The dagger gave him strength. His hands, which had felt as limp and pliable as bread dough, were now iron-hard, with a firm grip as if he had not made a two-hundred foot climb. He stepped into the Empress’s bower.

Immediately his sensitive elven nose wrinkled. The stench of decadence and corruption was all around him. Rich perfume filled the room, mixed in with the subtle rotten undertone of human semen. The walls were covered in ornate frescoes: images of magical animals, rich and decadent scenes from mythology, gardens and feasts, scenes of courtly love, and near the Empress’s bower, pictures of the most vile and corrupt scenes of perversion, meant to bring the lovers of the Empress into a rutting frenzy. Along with the frescoes were several pornographic statues, as well as several artificial phalluses alongside the bed, in all materials: ivory, glass, gold, even adamantine. The bower was rich with furs of all kinds: tiger hides from Nagaland, lion skins from Eden, bear pelts from Hyperborea, and even (to Keltor Kes’ incredible disgust) the tanned and perfectly smooth skin of an elvish maiden. It was this skin that barely covered the Empress as she lay in a post-coital slumber, there in the arms of two effeminate young men not much older than boys, with no hair on their faces and only a light down on their pubis.

PDI: Why did I feel the need to put a bunch of dildos in this scene? It’s not necessary. I guess that I wanted to have a certain feeling of perversion and sexual intrigue, but did I need to have a bunch of porn and sex toys here? 

Seventeen-year-old Ian must have thought that this was super kinky. Now that I’ve gone to college, I’m aware that a woman having a vibrator in her dresser drawer is actually pretty typical, and barely registers on the kink-scale. 

Keltor Kes studied the Empress. She was young, probably not even twenty. She had red-blonde hair which spilled down her ivory-white shoulders like a waterfall. Her nose was small and pixie-like, her lashes long and dark, her lips rather thin and severe. Her skin was the color of peach cream, dimpled and unravaged by time. Her breasts were small and well-formed, and reddish hair poked out from under her arms. She wore jewelry, even while asleep: a golden torque adorned her left arm, a platinum circlet shone on her forehead, rings of ruby and sapphire and emerald and amethyst sparkled on her fingers, a diamond sparkled in her belly. She was not unattractive, even by elvish standards. Keltor Kes was sorry that he had to do away with this work of beauty. But business was business, and he had to do things that he found distasteful occasionally, such as doing away with attractive girls.

PDI: I must have been a bloody ball of hormones at this age. I’d expected there to be a bit more of a focus on her boobs, because that’s where the straight guy’s gaze is naturally drawn, but still, there’s quite a lot of sexual imagery there. I hadn’t ever heard the term “male gaze” at that stage of my life. Neither had I started to seriously think about feminism as a topic. But there probably was some awareness. Even if I was thinking about a lot of female characters in fiction and film as sex objects, at some level I was probably aware of the inherent sexism of most fantasy fiction. So I was walking a fine line at this point, between sexual exhibitionism and actually creating fully-rounded female characters. (And Empress Ishtar, as we’ll see, is much more of a fleshed-out character than Keltor Kes, our erstwhile POV character.)

Oh, well. What must be done must be done. He pulled out his revolving pistol, loaded two bullets into the chamber, as well as powder. Then he shot two bullets, one into the head of each prepubescent boy in the arms of the Empress. Their beautiful heads disappeared in a blossom of red blood. Bang, bang. Suddenly, the two boys had three-inch holes in the sides of their head, black openings to their skulls. The Empress stirred, and lazily awoke. She glanced with distaste at the two cooling bodies next to her.

“Oh,” she said. “So it’s come to this, then?” She roused herself, and stood up. Keltor Kes was surprised to see how short she was: only about five feet tall. She was almost a head shorter to the two young boys she had been in bed with.

Keltor Kes holstered his pistol. “Do I have the honor of addressing Ishtar VI, by the Grace of Marduk the  Empress of Thule and High Queen of Faldor, Quarios, Mallear, Caenaar, and the North, War Leader of the Orcs and High Priestess of the Dwarven Clans?”

“You do,” Ishtar VI said. “And I assume, based on the fact that you killed my toys as they slept, you are an assassin?”

“I am that, milady,” Keltor Kes said. He was about to kill this young woman, but all assassins in the Shadow Syndicate were trained in etiquette and courtesy.

Ishtar VI smiled, a grim, sideways smirk. “Well, then, assassin, I would not die without knowing your name.”

“I am called Kelletaáralaéalnauróthúlluáraé Kaístarséatté, but among humans my name is Keltor Kes.”

“That’s a beautiful name,” Ishtar VI said, dreamily. “It translates as… let me see… “Song of the Ancient Smell of Trees Bourne from the North on a Dying Wind?”

“Yes,” Keltor Kes said, taken aback. “You speak High Elvish?”

“I speak all seven dialects of the Elvish tongue,” Ishtar VI replied. She smiled. “But High Elvish is my favorite. High Elvish is pure music made speech.” Keltor Kes noticed her eyes: bright green, like tall grass in springtime.

PDI: Blech. Kelletaáralaéalnauróthúlluáraé Kaístarséatté? How did I think that was a reasonable name in any language? It’s just a random jumble of phonemes. Barely a word at all. If you were going to ask me how to pronounce it, I’d just draw a blank. The first name is twelve syllables long, for fuck’s sake!

At least I didn’t put any apostrophes in. Even in my teen years, I was aware that apostrophes in fantasy names are the worst kind of cliché. If I ever get around to writing a post about naming fantasy characters, I’ll probably make this my first rule: Omit needless apostrophes. 

“Now, I must inquire, good sir Assassin,” the Empress said. “Who has paid for my execution?”

“I believe, from what the Syndicate has disclosed to me, that Queen Laura has given a monetary fee for your death.”

“Laura,” murmured Ishtar VI tasting the name as if it were a fine wine. “Yes, I do believe I know of her. She’s the wife of the King of Mallear, right?”

“I am sure your assessment is correct, milady,” Keltor Kes replied.

“Yes,” the Empress said. “Jealous bitch. I believe that what I did to her was seduce one of her harem boys from her seraglio. It’s not the sort of thing that you’d expect to assassinate the last Empress of Thule over, but still, women will be women, and women are naturally jealous creatures.”

Keltor Kes said softly, “I must say, milady, you are accepting the news of your impending mortality with a certain amount more dignity than I had expected.”

“Why shouldn’t I?” the Empress responded. “This Empire is on its last legs. It’s filled to the brim with scheming nobility, feuding kings and queens, civil wars, bandits in the wilderness, uprisings among our friends the orcs and dwarves… If this empire doesn’t fall in my time, then it will fall in the next emperor’s time, or the next. I hardly expect Thule to extend its dominion over the whole continent for a century. Truth be told, I don’t expect Thule to last two decades once I’m gone! So I figure that I’d better get out while I can. Let me go to the home of the Gods, let me be united with my namesake, and I will watch and laugh when this empire crumbles into the hundreds of barbarian tribes that my ancestors united them from. We’ve had a good run, I say. Seven hundred years of Thule’s domination over the continent! Nothing like that has been seen since the days of Hyperborea! I’m just a rat, jumping off the ship before it sinks.”

PDI: Long speech, much? Ishtar has a bit of a tendency to ramble, doesn’t she? 

She’s pretty lucid for a woman about to be killed, though. I know if I were in her position, I would be like ERMAHGERD YOU JUST MURDERED MY SEX BUDDIES!

“You have a great deal of bravery, milady,” said Keltor Kes.

She waved her hand in a disdainful gesture. “Don’t call me that. I hate being called that. Every one of my courtiers and viziers and nobles and servants call me that. My advisors control everything. I have no power. I am nobody’s lady. I am a figurehead on a rotten ship.”

“Shall I call you Ishtar, then?” Keltor Kes said softly.

“No. That’s not my real name either. I want to go out of the world the way I came into it. With my own name. My real name.”

“If I may inquire, what is your real name?”

There were tears in the Empress’s eyes. “Zalina,” she said quietly, saying a name that had not passed her lips for ten years.

“Zalina,” Keltor Kes repeated.

“Zalina.” Tears streamed down Zalina’s face, but her chin was still held high, her face proud and beautiful.

PDI: And now I’m breaking out the melodrama. Blargh. 

Have you guys heard of the Madonna-whore complex? It’s a feminist idea that basically states that men can only think of women as either virginal goddess-like Madonnas or evil demonic whores. As a male feminist, I’d like to point out the fact that not all men think like that, but I’ll say that it’s more widespread than most guys think. We seem to have this deeply-rooted idea that “good” women don’t have any sexuality, that they’re just passive recipients of male pleasure and dominance, and that any women that have sexual urges, or take any initiative whatsoever in the sexual act, are evil dirty whores. 

Why am I bringing this up? Well, because it seems like most fantasy writers– even female ones, although it’s less common than among male writers– write female characters that only fit into one of those two categories. George R.R. Martin, as much as I admire the man’s work (well, the first three Game of Thrones books, at least), writes only two kinds of female characters: the Madonna and the Whore. Cersei definitely fits into the Whore category. Danaerys is a clear Madonna. The main difference between Martin and the rest of the Madonna-Whore fantasists is that Martin allows his Madonnas to have sex. 

I’m kind of rambling on about this, but I want to make this clear: I don’t want my female characters to be either Madonnas or whores. One of my biggest goals as a writer is to be able to write strong, interesting female characters. I don’t know if I’ll achieve that– again, I’m hampered a huge amount by the fact that I’m a straight man (and there are differences between the sexes, no matter what some might say). Did I achieve this with Zalina? I don’t know. She’s basically a walk-on. Even if she’s not as much of a redshirt as the merchant in the tavern, or the palace guard, her purpose is still just to get killed. Although, we do get to see a little bit of her character before she bites it. We know that she has a sexuality, as is evidenced from my hamfisted cramming-in of porn and dildoes. In the Madonna-whore complex, that enough would be enough to make her a villain. But that’s not all that she is. She’s also the ruler of a crumbling empire, a person who doesn’t want to be empress, and yet is still forced into her position. And she goes to her death with some modicum of dignity. So she’s not a whining coward. It would have been easy for me to make her one at the age of seventeen. I’m glad I didn’t. 

So is Zalina a “strong female character”? I don’t know. I was still starting out as a writer, and Zalina only appeared for one scene. But there’s something starting to climb towards the light there. Zalina– even if she only had a few lines– is a beginning. 

We’ll see where that path takes me. 

And Keltor Kes drew Z’gara. As he did so, he felt a wave of energy rush up his arm. Z’gara was ready to kill, ready to take her life. And Zalina was prepared to lose her life. She closed her eyes, took a deep, trembling breath, and raised her chin, exposing her perfect, porcelain neck. Keltor Kes raised his dagger, and said, “I am sorry, Zalina.” Then Z’gara’s power rushed through him. He brought his dagger down in a flash of pearly-gray, the runes glowing with a blue light. One cut– Keltor Kes slashed across Zalina’s neck. A spray of blood, a dark, gaping wound, and Zalina fell to the ground. Her heart beat the last of her body’s blood from her, and a red stain slowly spread across the pink satin sheet of her bed. Her eyes were closed and dignified as her last warm breath left her body, and her heart beat a final time. And so it was that Zalina, also known as Ishtar VI, last Empress of Thule, died.

* ~ * ~ *

Keltor Kes pulled a handkerchief covered in dark brown stains from his pocket. He crooned softly to Z’gara, “That was quite a satisfactory job, my companion. I do believe that we have earned our well-deserved reward. And I may even procure for you an improvement: a better sheath, for example. You shall have to reside in a battered old scabbard no longer! I shall purchase you a fine sheath, red leather, with gold embroidery. Would you find that agreeable?” And it seemed to him that Z’gara hummed in response.

PDI: Okay, it’s pretty clear where Z’gara’s literary heritage comes from. Michael Moorcock, author of the Elric novels, as well as many other works of fantasy and science fiction. Z’gara, despite being a dagger, is a smaller, more maneuverable version of Stormbringer, Elric’s big black soul-sucking sword. I love the Elric stories, and I still think that Stormbringer is the coolest weapon in all of fantasy. If I could hang any fantasy sword on the wall of my bedroom, then I’d choose Stormbringer, over anything from Tolkien or Martin or Leiber or anything else. 

I’m wondering where Z’gara comes from, and what its story is. Do all assassins in the Shadow Syndicate have vampiric soul-sucking daggers? Is it something that Keltor Kes bought, or was awarded by his employers? Or did he find it out on a mission? Did he take it from the body of a warrior he killed? What does Z’gara use the souls for? Does it feed on them? Or is it a sort of soul-repository, a place where souls are stored to be used later for some dark purpose? 

None of these questins are answered in the twenty-page text of Demonslayers, of course. I just thought it would be badass for Keltor Kes to have a soul-sucking dagger. 

But no– that humming did not come from the dagger. It came from all around the room. Keltor Kes felt a vibration in his feet. He paused in cleaning Z’gara, and looked around him inquisitively. It felt like an earthquake. The ground shook slightly, creating a buzzing noise that resounded through the room, then began to shake harder, and harder, and harder still.

Strangely enough, Keltor Kes felt lighter on his feet.

The earthquake continued, and Keltor Kes struggled to keep his feet. It may have been the quaking of the ground, or it may have been the fact that Keltor Kes now weighed only forty of his normal hundred-and-twenty pounds. The earth was shaking harder, now. Keltor Kes could hear the screams of citizens outside. He heard a thunderous crash– a tower in the north wing of the palace had collapsed. And still he felt lighter and lighter. He only weighed ten pounds now, and had to struggle to keep from being thrown off his feet. He began to make his way shakily towards the balcony, bounding across the room, leaping higher and higher with each step, until he reached the edge of the balcony. The earth gave a huge lurch, and Keltor Kes was thrown bodily into the air.

He did not come back down.

Keltor Kes was floating in the air just off of the balcony. He was looking down at the hardeena, two hundred feet below him. But he was floating in the air without means of visible support. He kicked his feet in a scissor-like motion, and found that he could propel himself a short distance. He found he could drop a little bit by straightening his body and pointing his feet straight down. But he was still floating, and he could not see why.

Either this is a dream, or I have gone mad, Keltor Kes thought to himself.

He looked straight out. What should have been the utter blackness of the moonless sky, speckled with tiny stars, was a wall of stone, dark gray. He could see huge crags and cracks, and occasionally, the opening to a cavern, as the sheer stone cliffs rushed past him. Obviously he, and all the city, was falling towards the center of the earth. The light grew redder and redder. Keltor Kes began to feel hotter and hotter. He looked at Z’gara. The dagger was starting to glow red-hot. He held on tightly, not daring to let go of his most faithful friend and companion.

The heat was overwhelming. He screamed, a full-bodied primal scream that took all the air from his lungs. Before his eyes, his skin grew black and cracked, like burnt meat. His hair caught on fire, and he screamed as his lungs filled with ash and his muscles became so much meat. His nostrils filled with the smell of burning flesh.

As Keltor Kes died, his muscles and tissue fried clean off his bones, he saw the sheer rock walls open up into a huge, magma-filled cavern. The last thing he saw, rushing from the pit, was a horde of a hundred thousand winged things.

PDI: I guess the ending needs some explanation. 

This would have been explained in the rest of the book Demonslayers, which I never wrote. But basically, the earth was filled with demons at one point in the long past, until they were banished to Hell and humanity could evolve in peace. What happened was that the first Emperor of Thule made a pact with a demonic lord when he was just the chief of a barbarian tribe: that the demons would help him forge an empire that would span the continent, and in return, the demons would get to have the world when his last descendant was dead. 

Turns out Zalina was his last descendant. 

Well, this isn’t good for Team Entire Planet!

Keltor Kes kills Zalina, and the demons come back in force. The Imperial City disappears into a rift, going into Hell, and now demons are back on the earth and running the whole thing. 

So, we cut to about eighty years later, when demons have overrun the earth, and we pick up with two characters who are demon slayers (hence the title of the book). They’re two teenagers named Colin and Luci. (I’ve been using those characters, in some form or another, in a lot of the crap I’ve written since I started writing in 2003.) Colin fights with two swords; Luci fights with a bow. The first chapter begins with them killing a demon, congratulating each other… 

And that’s where it ends. 

In mid-sentence, even. 

I have no idea where I was going with the story, actually. I have an idea that Colin and Luci would have gone to the center of the old Thule Empire, where the demons are strongest. They would probably meet with the last descendant of the man who bound the demons in the first place, and try to bind the demons in Hell again so that humans can live on earth without getting et. I seem to remember thinking about a scene where they go into a demon-infested library in the old Thule Empire so they can find out about why demons are plaguing the world. I also seem to recall thinking about a scene set in Hell, where they talk with the ghost of Keltor Kes. 

But that’s all there is. Like most of my ideas in those days, Demonslayers was doomed to be about twenty pages long, and then it disappeared into the Land of the Aborted First Drafts (along with Winter’s Chill, Fire and Ice, the Exodus Trilogy: Book One, Dogs of War, Wildfire… wow, a lot of things). 

What’s been weird about this whole readthrough of the prologue to Demonslayers is how much of the stuff remains as elements in my later work. In fall quarter of my freshman year, I was working on a work called The Exodus Trilogy, which would be three books (obviously), although I only wrote about sixty thousand words of the first book. And a lot of the stuff from The Exodus Trilogy has carried over to The Lotus Imperiate

I wonder how much continuity there is: how much of my first book, the terrible Tolkien ripoff, still exists in The Lotus Imperiate, and how much The Lotus Imperiate will feed into my future works (which will come after tLI, hopefully when tLI is finished and published). It’s something to think about, anyway. 

In any case, this is enough wallowing in the past. Time to wallow in the present, which will become the future. 


~ Ian

(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Buffy Season Eight comics. You have been warned. ~ Ian)

One thing that I did this summer was watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

All seven seasons, in its entirety.

Mostly because I’d seen episodes here and there, but never watched the whole thing all the way through. But when I did, then WOW. BtVS is a show that needs to be watched in its entirety to really get the whole scope of the thing. The growth of the characters is incredible. Buffy goes from a sixteen-year-old girl with not many concerns beyond parties, clothes, and boys to a woman who commands an army of Slayers. Willow goes from an awkward, shy teen to a cool college student with a werewolf boyfriend to a lesbian wicca to a world-destroying supervillain and finally to a woman at peace with herself and the world. Even minor characters, like Jonathan and Harmony, have their own character arcs. The whole series could be used as a textbook for writing long, sustained narratives where the world goes through real and fundamental change.

Because I’d watched all of Buffy, a friend lent me the Season Eight comics, because I wanted to read them. I’d been expecting for them to be collected in the trade paperback editions, because that’s what I’m used to. I’m the wait-for-the-trades guy. I don’t read comics monthly– I buy books and read a year’s worth of story in one big gulp.

I was wrong. These were the individual issues, kept in neat plastic sleeves. And there are differences between reading the comics in trade paperback form and reading them in monthly format.

Specifically, I’m talking about letter columns.

Now, in one issue (I think it was issue #12), Buffy has sex with another Slayer under her command. All Slayers are female in BtVS, for those of you who are completely unfamiliar with the mythos.

So, Buffy had gay sex.

This wasn’t a big deal for me. Yeah, Buffy had no inclination towards liking girls before. But it’s not too uncommon for women (especially young women) to be more flexible with their sexual orientation than men. And even so, sexual orientation isn’t a binary thing: it’s a continuum. I self-identify as straight, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been attracted to men before.

For the people in the letter column in the following issue, though, this was more of an issue.

No, scratch that. They lost all their shit.

“BUFFY WAS A ROLE MODEL FOR YOUNG WOMEN!!!!!!!!!!!” they screamed. “HOW COULD YOU TURN HER GAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! MY DAUGHTER LOVES BUFFY, AND NOW I CAN’T LET HER SEE THIS COMIC LEST SHE SUDDENLY BECOME A LESBIAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHY ARE YOU PROMOTING ALTERNATE LIFESTYLES???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

You know. Standard-issue homophobia.

This made me think for a moment. Mara, one of the main characters in The Lotus Imperiate, my current pet project, is a lesbian, in a relationship with another woman when the story starts. I realize that I’m walking a delicate balance while creating Mara. There’s a danger, when straight writers create gay characters, that they become too one-dimensional, with nothing more to their character than their sexual orientation. Furthermore, when straight guys write lesbian relationships, there’s the danger of making the relationship too eroticized– basically, creating straight-guy lesbian fantasies. Neither of which are things I want to do with Mara.

However, I hadn’t considered the perils of depicting gay characters– any gay characters– in fiction before. For some people, any whiff of gayness in their protagonists locks up their brain, making them think, “Nope! Not gonna read that!”

I thought about, when The Lotus Imperiate gets published, receiving angry letters from homophobic bigots. I thought of getting into horrible arguments with them. I thought about the fact that I’d be cutting off a whole section of my audience. At the very least, I’d never get blurbed by Orson Scott Card.

Do I really want to bring all that chaos down on me? I thought. Can I handle that kind of pressure?

That’s when I realized something. Something that I think is the root of good art.

If you fail to give your audience a strong emotional reaction– any reaction– you have failed as an artist.

It doesn’t matter what those emotions are. It could be love, it could be hate, it could be anger or grief or joy. Whatever the reaction is, you succeed as an artist if you stimulate your audience’s emotions.

And speaking honestly as a writer and a creator, I’d rather have a thousand people buy my book and either feel warm ecstatic love or blood-spitting hatred for it than have a million people buy it and feel generally okay about it. Because even if my book sells a million copies, it won’t do me any good unless there are some people who care about the world and the story I’ve created.

Go ahead, artists. Piss people off. Make them squirm. Make them feel.

Just don’t bore them.

~ Ian

So I got just back from seeing The Avengers with a couple of friends.

There’s an equation that I think about a lot, actually: it basically states that satisfaction=reality/expectation. I use this equation all the time: basically, I find that if you don’t expect too much from something, the satisfaction you derive from it goes up immensely.

I had incredibly high expectations for this movie.

Considering how satisfied I was with it, that just goes to show you what the reality was like.


For one thing, it’s directed by Joss Whedon. And this movie is distinctly a Whedon film. It’s got snark. It’s got funny one-liners. The dialogue sparkles– and there’s humor all throughout this movie.

But what made Whedon such an incredible choice for The Avengers was the fact that it’s an ensemble cast. And if Whedon can do something well, then it’s write ensemble casts.

I mean, think about it. All the movies leading up to this one were basically one-man shows. You get a movie called Iron Man, you expect Iron Man to be running the whole plot. There’s not much to it. He’s the main character. He’s the star of the show.

There was no main character in The Avengers. It was completely and utterly an ensemble cast.

And if you think that’s easy to do, then you haven’t tried.

Look at Whedon’s previous filmography. Like FireflyFirefly would never work if it had just one main character. The interactions of the characters drive the plot entirely. Or Buffy. Granted, there’s a main character in Buffy, but all the other characters are just as critical to the plot as Buffy is.

So it is with this movie. It would be easy to have Captain America or Iron Man run the whole show here. I mean, Captain America is the leader of the Avengers, and Iron Man is played by Robert Downey Jr., so any other writer would have probably made them the main character.

That’s not how Joss Whedon wrote the The Avengers, though. The story is entirely driven by the interactions of the characters. And (without going into too many spoilers) the Avengers are almost totally dysfunctional. You have six strong, powerful personalities clashing here. The interpersonal conflicts between the main characters are just as interesting as (if not more than) the “main” conflict against Loki and a shit-ton of aliens.

But what I think I love the most from The Avengers is the fact that Black Widow is as interesting and well-drawn a character as any of the boys. If you look at the typical female characters in superhero movies, you get love interests, victims, and eye-candy window-dressing types. Black Widow is none of those things (although, don’t get me wrong– Scarlett Johansson is totally easy on the eyes). She’s a female character who contributes as much to the plot as any other member of The Avengers. Even moreso, in fact, than other members of the team (I’m thinking specifically of Thor here).

To see a complex, interesting female character in a Joss Whedon production is hardly a shock, of course. But to see it in a superhero film, in a genre that’s at best pandering and at worst blatantly misogynist… it’s incredible. I wish more screenwriters and comics writers could take a page from Whedon’s book.

So yeah. The Avengers. It’s everything I hoped for and more.

Go see it. You’ll love it.

final score: five aerodynamically-improbable flying aircraft carriers out of five

~ Ian

There was a sudden short burst of blogging activity earlier this month, when it seemed like I had something new to say every couple of hours. Well, this week, that well has run dry. I haven’t got too much to say, really. Maybe working on “Cassandra” has made my writing gears kick into overdrive, and this means that my cup runneth over with creative fluid (ew) when I’m working on “Cassandra”. But I’ve reached a point in “Cassandra” where I’ve gotten stuck. I know how the story ends, and I know the basic path that I’m going to use to get there. But I’ve hit all the big scenes that I wanted to hit when I made a basic mental outline of the story in my head: the mud wrestling scene, and the underwater Westside Story dance fight scene,* and all the other important ones that I wanted to do. So I’m kind of at a point where the clear path is lost. And because of that, I haven’t been updating my lame blog as much. I’m sorry, to all my followers (all nine of you!).

But I’ve had a good week. So I think I’ll tell you some vignettes from the week that I’ve had:


After I finish with “Cassandra”, and work some on Dance of the Dragon: The Erotic Cyberpunk Re-imagining of A Song of Ice and Fire**, I’m considering working on a superhero-related story. Maybe watching some of the Avengers-related stuff online has made me want to do this. I dunno. Whatever the reason, my mind is in a superheroic place.

But there are really only two ways you can go with a superhero story and not make it suck: you can write a dark, postmodern deconstruction of the superhero genre, or you can go so far as to making the story really damn stupid– so stupid that it goes beyond parody, and becomes something brilliant. I’m talking about having a story with a superhero whose power is fart-propelled flight.

The problem with writing the first kind of superhero story is… well… it’s already been written. Alan Moore wrote it in 1985. So you can’t have two stories like that around, because the second is superfluous. You can’t write Watchmen again. It done been wrote.

So I may take the story in a ridiculous direction.

If I ever actually write it.

We’ll see.


I have been watching a LOT of LoadingReadyRun lately.


So I’ve found that I have gained a slight Canadian accent as a result.

Not enough to be completely noticeable by others. But I notice it.

So that’s a little weird.


It is incredibly hot outside.

I have been forced to don shorts.

never wear shorts. You know those people who wear shorts ALL THE TIME, no matter how cold out it is? Well, I’m the opposite. I love jeans. I’m a jean-loving man. So I am annoyed at the fact that I have been forced to let my hairy pale legs be exposed to the elements.

For a picture of me wearing goddamn stupid shorts, look below:

So that my existential rage at having to wear shorts can be appropriately conveyed, I have created the below picture:

And, solely for my own amusement, here I am making my Mythbuster bobbleheads make out:

Where was I…?

…Oh yeah. Vignettes.


I watched Serenity last night.

Now, here’s the thing about Serenity: I don’t usually cry at movies. I understand why people do, but I tend to be emotionally detached from the whole process: I don’t see the characters as people so much as storytelling elements. Or the movie is so bad that I just laugh at their misery. (Witness my reaction to most romantic comedies.)

Whenever I watch Serenity, I cry like a tiny child.

So much so that this shameful scene once occurred (last year, when I had a roommate):

INT: Room 203 in Stevenson House 1.

ROOMMATE enters as IAN is watching Serenity on his computer.

ROOMMATE: What’re you watching?

IAN: Serenity.

KAYLEE (on-screen): Wait– Wash! Where’s Wash? 

ZOE (on-screen): He didn’t make it.

IAN: *sniff*

ROOMMATE: …Are you crying?

IAN: …yes.

Anyway, I think that’s enough self-humiliation for one night. Have a wonderful evening, wherever you are, and if you’re in one of those time zones where it’s morning already, then… well…

…damn you. You messed up my outro.

~ Ian

* Note: there are no mud wrestling scenes OR underwater dance fights in “Cassandra”. But I don’t feel ready to talk about what happens in the story yet, so I am lying to you. NEVER TRUST A WORD I SAY.

** Not the project’s actual title. But I don’t want to tell you what the project’s actual title is yet. So there.