February Reading List: Demons and Drow

So here we are, another month, another handful of books. February marked the one-year anniversary of the blog, she here’s hoping for another year:

Night Shift by Stephen King

One of the things that strikes me about Stephen King’s writing is the way in which he puts ordinary people in extraordinary situations. He stretches his characters to the limits, throws them to the edge of chaos, and lets them play. And boy, does he play. Having now read two of his short story collections (the first being the more recent Just After Sunset), I can safely say that I enjoyed the earlier works more than the more recent.

I don’t usually read horror fiction, as most of said genre leaves me disappointed. Perhaps it is just my lack of experience but it’s just something about reading these terrible things that leaves me feeling empty. “Jerusalem’s Lot” is the first work of fiction that truly, completely, terrified me. I had a hard time sleeping after this one.

In fact, I am noticing a trend in the short stories I like more than the rest when it comes to Stephen King: The stories I like all draw heavily from the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. I guess I am just a sucker for the supernatural.

The new covers are so much better than the old. Lockwood is my hero.

The Legacy and Starless Night by R.A. Salvatore

The works of R.A. Salvatore serve as a comfort blanket or a favorite treat. They are my guilty pleasure. I cannot count the number of times I have found myself pulling out one of these worn paperbacks to revisit the adventures of Drizzt Do’Urden and his friends. If there was one fantasy place I could visit, it would be the streets Menzoberranzan, minus the drow. The city would have to empty out for a few days so I could have my fill of exploration without fear of being mercilessly murdered, thank you very much.

Three things draw me to Salvatore’s prose. First, R.A. Salvatore writes, hands down, the best combat sequences I have ever had the privilege of reading. If I could even begin to compose the fluid battles he so eloquently puts to the page, I would be set for life. As it is, I am content to continue to be a happy onlooker. Second, I love the colloquial language he uses in his prose. There’s just something about seeing familiar words and phrases peppered within an unfamiliar setting that brings a smile to my face. Finally: Characters, Characters, Characters! Do I have to point out that Salvatore has breathed life into some of my most beloved fantasy characters? Can you guess which ones I like best? Here’s a hint: not Drizzt.

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A Chance Meeting (Excerpt)

An excerpt from a piece of fiction I finished recently. Nothing too special. If you want to see the rest and have not already, I might consider it if you ask nicely.

“And every man he killed rose again, to turn upon his neighbor, a puppet to the necromancer’s will.”

His stage was little more than a stool placed near the fire. His voice, a low whisper, carried through the settled silence within the small tavern. Shadows and flame danced with his words, figures falling and rising against the burning backdrop of a city. Grand towers fell to glimmering dust with a motion of the storyteller’s hand. Shadowed faces posed in silent screams.

“A city destroyed by her hallowed defenders and her honored dead. He walked among his army of corpses, a king and his loyal demon. The necromancer, his eyes as empty as the dead men he commanded. The cries of children nothing to him, nothing as his army blocked the doors, the windows, as the buildings burned and they with them.”

The bard’s lute rested against the hearth, forgotten as he relayed his story to those gathered around him. The men watched him with wary eyes.

“We could see the flames from here,” one man spoke, voice quiet. “A hundred leagues away and we could see them.”

“Aye,” the bard nodded, “No magic could snuff those flames. They devoured stone and sand alike. The heat alone killed many a strong man. Were it not for Evander’s courage, all would have perished that day.”

His hands moved quickly, the flames within the hearth shifted, changed to show the final moments of a once grand city. The tavern’s occupants watched as the storyteller weaved his magic, as the shadows and light of the room bent to his will. A few soft words and simple illusions brought light to the tired eyes of the gathered dock workers and merchants. The man rose from his stool with a flourish, whispered words rising in pitch as he continued.

“I was in Dragon’s Circle when she burned,” he declared, his long, bright cloak writhing with his pacing form. “In all my years I have never witnessed such horrors as those brought about by Ezekiel on that day.”

“They say no one survived,” a man whispered.

“No!” he motioned towards the fire. The flames flickered violently, twisted to show several shadow-formed men as they defended the city against the writhing mass of Ezekiel’s army. “Evander survived and a handful of others. He fought unlike anything I have ever seen, hundreds of the necromancer’s pawns falling beneath the strength of your lord’s magic!”

The bard motioned towards the captivated men, “The necromancer’s roar when he realized we would escape—and oh how he shrieked!—was like no sound ever uttered among the living.” His hand closed about his instrument, the dissonant chord he played eliciting many a wince among his listeners. He stilled the trembling strings with his hand.

“A small victory,” he whispered, “for us men against Ezekiel and his otherworldly hoards. And those of us left asking why the gods would so choose to punish us. Twenty years or more we have lived within his reign of terror. How many of us have lost a son, a father, a brother, to the claws of his demon or the teeth of his minions?”

He perched upon the stool and his hands caressed the strings of his lute. The bard teased each melodic note into existence to fall heavily upon the ears of his listeners. His fiery illusions faded as his music filled the overcrowded room. The melancholic tune served as a backdrop to his lilting voice as he continued to weave his tale.

“Yet,” he lifted his clear blue eyes to sweep across his listeners, “our pain has ended. Great men, elves and humans alike, have snuffed out our darkest fear. Rest assured our loved ones now dwell in peace, their innocent deaths avenged. Ezekiel is dead.”

His smooth baritone rose in song and his rich voice swallowed the din of the outside world. No more were the men within that room plagued by the crashing of planks upon the docks, or the shouts of men as cargo was unloaded from waiting ships. Instead, the bard’s rich, mournful voice carried them inward as his story burned within the soul of each listener. The bard’s eyes closed as he sang and his fingers danced about the strings of his unadorned instrument. His magic dispelled, he was left with little more than the crackling of the fire to accompany him.

The soft glow of the flames highlighted his brightly clothed form and reflected upon his long, black hair. As his voice rose and his sorrow mounted, he became aware of a familiar set of eyes studying him from the darkness. The tortured state of this man’s soul stroked his own magic-touched senses. His ballad recounting the legend of the necromancer’s destructive reign, so lately brought to an end, was colored by this man’s pain. 

His voice trembled as he went on, his mind replaying the tragedy he had witnessed in Dragon’s Circle. The heat on his sweat-slicked flesh still sickened him. He still saw the animated corpses of friends and lovers turned upon him. He felt the resistance of bone against steel as he was forced to strike them down. He still woke to their terrible screams at night. Still, his song went on, pure and bittersweet, as it honored the innocent dead.

In the shadows, that tortured soul sat concealed beneath a dark cloak. His tired footsteps brought him once again into the bard’s soothing presence. The man’s body shook beneath his masked form, shook and trembled at the power within the other’s music. He craved more. He marveled at how something so simple could so perfectly express the storyteller’s will. Night after night, Amatsu Rascien fell into the crowded streets of the human city to indulge in a pleasure never afforded him within the confines of the temple. The sweet and somber notes of the human’s instrument placated the writhing energies trapped within his twisted soul.

The music stopped. The crowd began to disperse. The bard fell into a low bow, holding out his hat to the audience clustered around him. He thanked them graciously, his animated limbs sweeping gracefully as he spoke. Before long, the instrument rested in a strap over his shoulder and he shared a meal with a few of the dock men. The bard brought news and letters from the south and in exchange the men regaled him with stories of the icy north.

His meal finished, the storyteller picked up his drink and drifted across the room.

“What sort of face does a man have to have that he hides behind his cloak,” the bard fell into the chair across from Amatsu, instrument resting in his lap, “and in such a place as this.”

When the other did not respond, he continued.

“A man must have a secret,” the black-haired bard mused. “Or a face so hideously scarred he must hide it from sight. Either way, I am sure such a man would have a story to tell.”

As he spoke, the man leaned across the table straining to see the face beneath the dark cloak.

“A story,” he added, “I would love to hear.”

Boldly, he reached out to pull down the hood covering the stranger’s face. A dark hand darted out to grasp his wrist.

“Don’t,” a low voice warned.

At the same time, the human gasped, “…dark elf.”

The grip on the bard’s wrist tightened. The human winced, “This is the third night you’ve come to watch me play.” A smile ghosted across the bard’s features, “You must grow tired of the same stories, lord elf. Perhaps you might honor me with a new one.”

Slowly, the dark elf’s grip slackened and his hand disappeared beneath the cloak.

“Ezekiel is not the monster you make of him.”

 “Was.”

 “Is.”

 “The necromancer lives, then?” a raised brow.

The bard settled back into his chair.

Amatsu nodded.

“I care not. All I see of him is his boot crushing the skull of an infant as though she were little more than a beetle,” the human spat bitterly.

The cloaked man across from him fell uncomfortably silent; a silence the bard was quick to fill.

“My name is Varian Songspinner,” he introduced himself, bowing his head slowly.

 A soft laugh escaped the dark elf across the table. The rich sound more precious to the bard’s ear than the sweetest of music. Varian smiled.

 “What sort of name is that,” the dark elf asked.

“It suits me,” the human retorted, features brightening. “I am but a simple bard, a spinner of tales. My name, it is a reflection of this. Tell me, what price must a man pay to see your face?”

 “Another song.”

 Varian’s smile remained soft, knowing, “Come upstairs with me.”

Wooden stairs groaned beneath the men’s weight as they ascended the ancient stairway into the rooms above the tavern. The boards had long ago succumbed to dock-side humidity and insect infestations, leaving them cracked and in some places missing altogether. Paint peeled on the walls. Bright orange chips separated from the wood to be crushed beneath Varian’s boots. At the top of the stairs, he whirled gracefully to face the elf.

“Most men come to see me once, and it is enough to last a lifetime,” he pressed into the room behind him as he spoke. “But you, you return each night to listen to the same tales. The same songs.”

 The room, like the rest of the tavern, was scarcely furnished. Varian lit several candles to illuminate the small space and scatter the rats that lurked within the shadows. An unbalanced table occupied the center of the room with two mismatched old chairs to accompany it. One, a heavy mahogany beast, boasted a rat-eaten cushion and the other, smaller and carved from oak, was missing a back. The corner of the room held a cot, with a few blankets and the human’s personal possessions piled on top. Out of these Varian retrieved two small glasses and a bottle of wine.

 “Do you live here?” the other asked, distaste coloring his heavily accented words.

 “No,” he answered. “It’s just a room. One among a great series of rooms I’ve slept in.”

He poured them each a glass of the vintage. The dark elf murmuring a soft word of thanks as the bard handed him a glass. The bard’s glass found its way to rest on the table as he stepped towards the taller man. Varian reached for the hood of Amatsu’s cloak, but hesitated when the dark elf flinched. He let his hands drop to his sides and pulled away.

 “Sit,” he motioned for the chairs. “I will play for you.”

The bard drew his legs up into the chair and laid his instrument across his lap. Calloused fingers plucked gently, reverently at the strings. This time, the soft notes that drifted through the air, were soft, upbeat and playful. Varian’s head inclined subtly to the side and a soft smile playing on his lips when the dark elf’s cloak finally fell away from his face.

 “You have sad eyes,” Varian spoke softly over the music. No response met his ears, but he continued to play quietly for the other. It was an hour or more before the dark elf stirred and the human’s hands stilled.

Varian stretched languidly, joints in his back popping blissfully as his arms stretched over his head.

“Come again tomorrow night,” the bard murmured. “I promise I’ll make it worth your time.”

 The cloak came up to cover the dark elf’s fine features. Amatsu Rascien nodded his ascent before the motion ever registered with his better judgment. He moved towards the doorway, but a hand on his arm stopped him from leaving.

 “I don’t even know your name,” Varian whispered, desperate. “Please…”

 “I want to forget,” the dark elf spoke slowly, more words than he had spoken all that evening. “You said your name was a reflection of you, then mine must be a reflection of me. But it is a life and a place I would forget. If it is so important, call me what you will and I will answer to it.”

 “Hawke,” he smiled, unhesitating, “That’s what you are when you watch me, a hawk.”

The dark elf smiled in kind, “Hawke, then. My name is Hawke.”

January Reading List: “Zombies vs. Flappers”

Collected Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I have probably mentioned this somewhere before, but the short story happens to be my favorite form of literature. There’s something to be said about an author able to leave a life-long impression in a few thousand words. Of all the stories in this collection, two have caught my fancy: “The Offshore Pirate” and “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.”

Both of these stories are fantasies, which, if you have been reading these lists from the beginning, should not come as a surprise. “The Offshore Pirate” tells the story of Ardita Farnan and her love affair with a pirate that raids her uncle’s ship off the Florida shores. “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” chronicles John T. Unger’s trip to visit a classmate at his home in the west. John soon discovers that his friend’s family lives on a mountain-sized diamond and will go to any lengths to keep this secret to themselves.

“The Offshore Pirate” is quickly climbing to the top of my favorite short stories list. I adore the strength of the characters that drive this narrative and the truths that are revealed within the last few pages. Fitzgerald’s writing was conversational, his descriptions simple but captivating, and his dialogue masterful.

Bay of the Dead by Mark Morris

I bought this because Ianto was on the cover. stfu.

This short novel is an offshoot of the BBC series Torchwood. It was far from a masterful piece of fiction and instead rather like reading a badly written episode. This is where I peer to and for before muttering, “I’ve ready better fanfiction.”

Bay of the Dead takes place some time after the end of the second series. Jack, Gwen, and Ianto find themselves in the midst of a zombie apocolypse. Now, I don’t like zombies simply because they terrify me. Yes, I have an irrational fear of zombies. I watch zombie movies and I immediately have nightmares of my face being eaten by a stinky, rotten corpse.

The plot is very action-oriented and leaves little room for character development. I had hoped that reading the companion books to the series would give me a broader and more intimate look into the thoughts and personalities of my favorite characters. Needless to say, I was sorely disappointed. That isn’t to say that this book wasn’t a fun way to spend the afternoon. The book still features Jack Harkness being Jack Harkness and the occassional quip from a suit-clad Ianto.

Anyway, if you want to see the Torchwood team take on the Zombie apocalypse George A. Romero-style this book is for you. If you’re like me and looking for character development, don’t look here.

Essentials: The Goth Rosary Candles

I’ve written about The Goth Rosary’s Fragrance Mists in the past and am happy to announce that AntiSally is now offering soy candles in all of her darkly delicious scents. Over the years, The Goth Rosary has provided a variety of high-quality and reasonably priced products– body washes, perfume oils, soaps, and shampoos.

I love candles. So, imagine my glee when my favorite purveyor of scents decided to branch into the candle business. According to the website, the candles have a burn time of around 3.5 hours but I’ve been getting between 5-6 hours with mine. These burn clean without any of the black smoke or residue that is common with many commercial brands.

These candles pack a powerful punch. It doesn’t take long for the scent to permeate a small room and leave a lasting impression. My favorite scent, so far, is Shadows. This scent is subtle enough not to overwhelm but still strong enouh to add a pleasantly dark atmosphere.

Not only are these candles a great product, but the adorable packaging just adds to the appeal. The 100% soy candles are housed in lovely tin coffins. The tins make these candles great as gifts or party favors and can easily be reused after burning.

If you like candles or are just looking for something unique, these candles are perfect. The Goth Rosary offers more than twenty unique scents and will be releasing a new one next month.

Theodore, Coolest Cat on the Block

Portrait of Cat in Window.

This Christmas brings a new member to my extended family of dolls, toys, and animals. Theodore is a beautiful Siamese Cat Webkin. Why Webkinz? Well, there’s just something about a world of addictive flash games and using points to buy items for my virtual pets that keeps me coming back. I think what I love most about Webkinz is that I have a very lovely physical toy that I can then carry over into a virtual world.

Theodore is a freelance artist. He loves painting, poetry, and potato chips. Of an evening, he can be found in his room listening to the local public radio and licking irish cream. When he isn’t working on his latest novel or painting, he can be found downloading videos from YouTube to his iPhone or visiting his buddies over at http://icanhascheezburger.com/.

Theodore’s favorite poet is T.S. Eliot. His favorite book is Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. If you ask him what his favorite movie is, he’ll tell you Immortal Beloved but what he really means is Aristocats.

Theodore's Bedroom.

Hello Kitty Online

I love Hello Kitty and all her friends over at Sanrio. So, what better way to live out my dream of a world filled with fluffy clouds and super-deformed animals than becoming a resident of Hello Kitty Online. This new MMO allows players to interact with their favorite Sanrio characters while completing quests, honing trade skills, collecting a variety of costumes, and falling in love with the ever addicting flash minigames.

The big question: Why does the happy world of Sanrioland need adventurers? It turns out that Kitty is missing and all of her friends have been forced into a deep sleep. Players are summoned to the land in order to find keys to wake up Kitty’s friends. The opening sequence features storybook illustrations and a cute rhyme reminiscent of “‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house/ Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” After the opening,  players find themselves listening to the soothing cadences of a very male voice as he explains what to do with your interface.

“This is a chatbox,” he says. “You can choose different channels for map, trade, and even send IMs.”

“Really?” I say. “I never would have guessed.”

Malvina: Just Another Agent Smith

The initial character customization screen was lackluster at best. Players are able to choose from a handful of hairstyles, skin colors, and eyes. I logged in to find that just about every player looked just like me. It was a bit like that scene in The Matrix Reloaded where Neo kicks the shit out of millions of Agent Smiths. According to the website, players are able to complete many different quests and visit shopping malls in order to further customize their avatars’ appearances. I only got as far as exchanging  my skimpy white undershirt and shorts for a set of the same outfit in green and a pair of funky sunglasses.

Overall, the game comes across as a combination of Webkinz, GaiaOnline, and various stylus controlled DS games. Quests, at least at the beginning stages of the game, are painfully repetitive. Malvina, once bloodthirsty World of Warcraft rogue, was reduced to point at various resources to gather them for quest givers. That isn’t to say the game is completely without its share of fighting. Players use unconventional weapons–in my case, a wand– to bludgeon adorable, starry-eyed monsters into a state of dizziness. Did I go after the same helpless starfish a dozen times until he gave me the slime I needed? Maybe. Unfortunately, abusing these super cute monsters does not give any sort of experience.

What does it come down to? Well, if you like to kill things Hello Kitty Online is not that game. On the other hand, HKO is perfect if you are looking for a free to play game that allows you to build houses, hone skills like cooking and farming, and collect costumes. I have yet to uninstall the game, so that must say something about it.

So, if you have an hour or two to spend some leisurely time playing games get off Facebook and send me a message. =^-^=

Warning: Playing this game causes insatiable urges to head to the local Sanrio store and drop loads of money of various articles of Sanrio loot.

Reading List: November

Yesterday it was October. Today it is December. What happened to November?  I thought I saw a large, lumbering leaf-pile skulking just outside my field of vision– that must have been it.

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

I read this novel early in the month and, sadly, it was the only work I managed to complete. I found the book unremarkable. Or, rather, the characters and general plot failed to produce any sort of reaction from me as a reader. I breathed a sigh of relief when Griffin, the invisible man, was beaten to death by a rabid and angry crowd.

Yet, I came away from reading this with more than a smile on my face. There is something about the mix of blooming scientific fact and paranormal fantasy in 19th century literature that tickles me pink. It was worth the few hours it took to read this novella if only for the fact that it had the same atmosphere as some of my favorite works.

That’s all, really.