Whether it be social, recreational, or professional, some of what represents me is here. Post a comment, or contact me at should you so desire.

The posts are in reverse chronological order, and are pegged by topic on the links to the left. For more of an introduction, please see the About this site page listed above.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Sexual Inequality

I feel like I'm being oppressed.

That's an ominous first line, but an appropriate one, I think; you can be the judge.

I am not always super perceptive of pressing or controversial issues. Whether it is because I am busy, lazy, ignoring it, or ignoring its potential, some problems I miss or avoid or am otherwise ignorant of until they are shouted at me.

Here's a problem which I dislike and do not fully understand. Female inferiority. Every so often, I will hear a rant about this problem. About the standards to which women are held or think they are held, and the effect it has on them.

Well, I'm tired of it. Honestly. I'm tired of hearing about how the world demands perfection from women. I'm tired of hearing how women have to be aggressive and demure, coy and straightforward, sexy and innocent, and how nothing they ever do will ever be good enough.

I'm tired of it for one of two reasons: I don't think it's true, or if it is true, I am tired of it being so.

Here's where my early discussion about my own ignorance comes into play, and why I'm willing to rant at either "reason".

Let's start with presuming it's true. Presuming that women are still held in this position, this ambiguous position, and that the toll is too much for most.

Well, whoever or whatever is continuing this: STOP IT! Seriously, what is wrong with you!? Welcome to the 21st century, fool, time to get wise.

I don't see how any good can come from pretending that a person is inherently weaker, less powerful, or less important merely by the number of X chromosomes they have. Presuming that it's some league of men out there promoting this inherently erroneous viewpoint, one thing they should consider: the human male's contribution is what determines the sex of the child. Sure, some of you will argue about nature versus nurture, or how much bottled water with estrogen in it can cause a higher chance of a girl being born, but bottom line, women give X, men give X or Y, and the combination of such determines the sex of the baby.

Sorry Henry VIII, it's not the fault of any of your wives, it's your "fault".

Now, I said above that it must be a league of men promoting this, but it might not be so. Truth is, I don't know who or what is. All I know, is that no one I know thinks this way. No person I know, (and haven't punched in the face), thinks that women are less than men, and no one I know puts women down. And the problem seems to be that either women are, or feel like they are put down, not under a glass ceiling, but in a glass box for all the world to see and judge.

Perhaps it's women who are doing this. You might think that's crazy, but I've seen too many "feminist" groups, spouting hate rather than equality. Some people just like having something to hate, or having a cause. And, if that isn't pointed enough, some women use their "inferiority" while still promoting "equality". The last one is in quotation marks, because a lot of the time, these people don't want to be equal, they want men punished. Maybe we deserve to be, maybe collectively, after all the crap women generally had to go through (or arguably still are), maybe men should be put down and treated as property for a time.

I'd like to think we can move forward, but I've been wrong before.

Now, let's get to the bigger issue at hand, the one which actually fueled this rant: the idea that women have to be the best of both worlds.

I have seen this everywhere, and heard it too often. Women have to be: attractive but not too pretty; sexy but not slutty; intelligent but not annoyingly so; coy but straightforward about what they want; etc., ad nausuem, ad infinitum.

Seriously, the list is stupid and lengthy. Apparently, women have these "standards" thrown at them all the time and if they don't live up to them, well, they are stupid, terrible, animals, or just plain wrong. Men will look down on you or use you, women will judge you and hate you, society at large will burn you like a wrongdoing witch.

Do you women out there really feel this way? If so, where is it coming from? Where should I direct my ire? Because I don't know. I will admit that as a man, with an easy-going past, I have no idea where this pressure, if it truly exists, comes from.

Let me tell you how I treat women: with respect, just like I treat everyone else. Unless you cross me, I will give you the benefit of the doubt and presume you are a decent person. Do I hold the door open for you? Yes, I hold the door open for anyone. (Go on, ask anyone; I do.)

Do I flirt with you? Maybe. I flirt with pretty much anyone, of either sex, if the occasion calls for it. I just like wordplay and I like making people unsure of what direction I'm going when I speak.

Do I think I should make more money than you? Maybe. If I'm better qualified, sure. And by qualified, I mean more suitable to perform the duties of the job, not more or less of a man.

Do I think either sex is better at some things than another? Not really. I sometimes joke that women have a poorer sense of direction than men, or that women have a better understanding of colour because they used to be the gatherers in the hunter-gatherer relationship. BUT! Let me be clear: I only joke with those who know me and know that it's a joke, I do not think so seriously, and if they are unsure, I continue the joke to pure ridiculousness before apologizing profusely about how wrong that is.

From my experience, women have the same potential as men. Some women are better at math, just like some men are better at math. Some men are lawyers, artists, engineers, just like some women are.

I don't hold women to some double-standard of expectation, or maybe I do, someone point it out to me and I'll consider it and try to better myself. But, as far as I can tell, I know what I want and I know what I like. When it comes to a woman I like, I enjoy intelligent, ambitious, honest, straightforward women. A friend described me as sapiosexual, as in attracted to intelligence, and really, that's not too far off. When it comes to women in general, I just hold to them the same standards as men: be good and be competent.

I know this rant is lengthy and out of hand, but let me share with you the perspective of me and some other guys I know and have talked to about this.

Men feel body-image pressure too. You can't watch Grey's Anatomy for too long without realizing your chin isn't too chiseled, your body isn't ripped enough, or that you're not a doctor. You can't watch a movie or flip through a magazine without feeling the same things I'm sure women feel: inadequacy or annoyance at the way people are portrayed. Hell, I've been jealous of accents even, because I've seen the effect it can have on attracting people.

Reading this over before I post it, I realize that one "source" which people might point out to me is "the media", or the way "the media" portrays women. Here's the thing: "the media" isn't specific enough. And if it's as specific as you are willing/able to go, here's another hint: TV shows, magazines, movies, and so on are only making money if you pay for them and support them. Ranting isn't going to make a hell of a difference if you're still buying Cosmo. If you don't like the way something is making you feel, you have two options, in my opinion: avoid contact with that thing, and/or try changing it. While I don't know a lot of people, I would argue that if everyone I knew shared with me the desire to change one thing, well, it would go a long way to changing. And it doesn't even have to be a huge protest or riot. Just talk about it. Maybe that's what these rants are, but honestly, it feels more like a lecture, at which the only people present are those who've already passed the class.

I'm tired of being blamed for this. I know I'm not. I know that the women ranting about this are not aiming it at me, they are aiming it at...well whoever or whatever is causing it. But, it makes me feel like I'm a terrible person. At best, it makes me feel sad, at worst, it makes me feel angry and since I don't know who to turn my anger to, I feel like turning my anger on the women who are complaining. I know that's wrong, and I do what I can. Hopefully, this rant didn't come across that way, but a tiny little part of it should.

The part that asks, "Who or what is making you feel this way?"

Part of me wants to be nice and say, "I hope we can confront this thing together, so that everyone can be loved." Another part of me that doesn't know where it's coming from wants to say, "Whatever is causing it, stop, or I will find you."

Ranting about things won't change anything. The rants I hear will only inspire those who care, or care to care, into "action", as in to rant or pay it forward. This rant will only cause you to agree, or disagree. It's is action and treatment which causes change.

If you too are tired of this sexual inequality nonsense, do what I do: respect everyone equally until they give you a good reason not to. Then give them a second chance.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Mark's Journals #20: The plot thickens...

Mark’s 20th Journal – 03-20-11

The night passed uneventfully. Gabriel, Leviss, and I kept busy, and eventually slept, although not too well. In the morning, we packed up and made our way back to Aristaal. As we approached, we were greeted by students and professors, all incredulous at what we had done. After all we’ve been through, it should have been a compliment, but at that time, it felt more like a weary burden. The professors told us that the city has been evacuated, mostly to Fur-Lonn. As we were talking to them, I realized we were surrounded, enclosed by a large group of shocked people, all treating us like more than just heroes. I made a little speech about how there was still work to be done, and that the city and the people who used to live here were relying on their hard work.

After this, the crowd dispersed, save for one man in black robes. Avaron mentioned that he had a symbol on his robe, an eye within a shield, which I found to be interesting. He approached us and apologized for the lack of contribution from his order. He explained that his order, known as the Disciples of the Shield, is dedicated to preserving life, and honouring P3TR’s life and sacrifice. I told him that we appreciated his help and that there was still much to do so he might as well help with that. This seemed to please him, and he went on his way. Disciples of the Shield? An entirely new order that sprung up after P3TR’s death? They warrant watching; Gabriel doesn’t trust them.

We went back to the Roost, and attempted to talk to Avaron about Gary. I explained how we couldn’t heal her and how that, along with everything else, warranted some discussion. She told us that Gary’s body was chained to the spirits of the people he had killed. She explained that all we were doing was defeating one spirit at a time and that while she was unconscious, she cut the chain. Apparently, this monster had been killing for some time as Avaron said she recognized some of the spirits from Portsmouth.

This is all highly unusual. When people die, they usually just die. Atlas’ presence is unusual, to say the least, but to have a monster that feeds on the spirits of those it killed? That is all too much for me to really want to comprehend.

Gabriel shared his distrust of the Disciples of the Shield. I agree with him that they warrant watching, but I also warn the others about perception. We have grown, a lot, in our travels. We have seen things and developed to a point where the common people not only respect us, they might even fear us. We are a formidable and dangerous lot, but we are here for the people, we are here to make them safe, and in order to do that, we must have their trust, and not lose sight of what they need.

All of us, in a need to feel productive, but also, to avoid the outside world, set to work on things in the Roost. Gabriel made some food, and some alchemical items. I must say, he is handy to have around. At the very least, he knows what to do with a set of ingredients. Although, I would hate to be there when he gets his Basilisk powder mixed up with his pepper. Avaron investigates the possibility of making mounts, in the way that her father must have for the goat and drake and lizard lion. Leviss, moving into the workshop, began working on extra magical items to protect us. Borrowing my amulet, and Gabriel’s brooch, and constructing an amulet of orium for Avaron, Leviss infused them, and while wearing them, we all felt much stronger of mind and will. What was I to do? I decided to work on some blacksmithing. I had a little learning on such things back at the Erathis Temple, and I’ve always been good with my hands. I thought I would keep myself busy working on some weapon designs. I also spent some time making sure everyone’s weapons were sharp, straight, and in solid scabbards.

Gabriel presented us with some interesting alchemical items. He gave us a jolt flask which should be handy for distracting some close enemies, and a wound patch, for some quick healing. Leviss upgraded my armour, making it more like strong drake scales. Avaron presented me with a gift as well, a bookmark. This magical bookmark, when placed in a book, will read out its contents in the language in which it was written! Also, when placed in a blank book, this bookmark will imprint on the page whatever is spoken to it. These were very useful, wonderful gifts that I still have today.

Making our way back to Aristaal, I ask for the members of the council to meet with us. I make some suggestions as to a method of warning between the cities, a way of uniting the people of Ori instead of living so separately. The council informs us that the Disciple of the Shield have been very good for things like that. They formed a messaging service, running news and letters between Fur-Lonn, Aristaal, Portsmouth, and Hampton as often as possible. I found this to be very interesting; the people of Ori are beginning to feel connected in a way they hadn’t before. This Disciple of the Shield order seems very driven, and I hope, with guidance, can continue to be a force of good.

As we were about to leave, Leviss slowed our horse and mentioned that some children were trying to talk to us. Apparently, Portsmouth Printing has put out new adventuring trading cards, and they wanted Avaron and Leviss to sign the cards portraying them. With a sense of pride from us, and awe from them, Avaron and Leviss signed the cards, and we were on our way.

Making our way back to Fur-Lonn, we met up with some travelers and made camp with them. Leviss and Gabriel told some stories. It was nice to be welcomed, instead of revered.

Avaron’s old house had become a cleared gravel lot. Before we had decided to settle, we went to the Erathis Temple to see what had become of the place. There, we found a bustle of activity. There were tents and people everywhere. I recognized the smells and sounds of a busy camp, and waved over a cleric. He was a follower of Erathis and he told me that the clerics from all orders, as well as some Disciples of the Shield, some from Hampton, and some from Portsmouth, arrived and were making the best out of a bad situation. I praised him on a job well done, thanked him and the others for rebuilding my old home, and he agreed to take care/make use of our horses while we were in town.

Needing to find out a little more about what happened to Gary, we went to the Temple of the Raven Queen. The followers of the Raven Queen are very concerned about death, and we thought it might be a good place to start, to learn about spirits. Having learned that the Head Cleric was busy, we were asked to come back later.

We decided to grab some dinner at a tavern; none of us ever actually sampled the food around town before. As we were eating, I heard a familiar girl’s voice whisper, “It won’t be long now, your eyes will be open.” After asking the others, who heard nothing, I reached for my steak knife, which I could tell had been changed. It was a dagger, similar to those given by the man in black, engraved on the hilt, it said, “Trust no one.” I told the others what had happened, and we quickly went outside. Avaron could sense a portal, and we followed this to a back alley. Once there, we found where a portal had been, but it was now just a solid wall. With no one around, and no idea what was going on, we made our way back to the Raven Queen’s temple.

The Head Cleric was oddly familiar, and it did not take long to realize he was the nephew of the inn-keeper of the Warmshearth Inn from Aristaal. With the same, wacky, personable manner, he answered our questions as best as he could. We told him about Gary, about the chaining of spirits, and asked him about such matters. The cleric was utterly disgusted. He said that this type of action was awful, that a person’s spirit is their own and once they die, they move on. To keep it around, against its will, and to enslave it, was horrible. He told us that he has never heard of this ever happening except in old fairy tales. Stories telling of a “Dark Queen”, not the Raven Queen, who would torment the living and dead alike and was always overthrown by heroes.

Upon leaving the temple, we were greeted by two Red Cloaks. Avaron quickly told me that they looked like Imperial Guards, heavily armoured and looking far more serious and dangerous than the guards around here. They carried an order from the King to take us to the Imperial City. Their attitude was serious, and they seemed ready for a fight. We requested to be allowed to speak with the local Cloaks, and with that, warned the local guards of the portal and to be on the alert.

I suppose we could have fought these Red Cloaks, refused to go with them, but we had no real reason to do so other than a feeling of unease. The King has been around forever, and he is the highest semblance of order in the world. I do not follow any authority leader without question, but if we were being summoned, there must be a reason. None of us wanted to leave our home, I could tell that, but we also were curious about what was going on.

After getting our horses, we left the city, making our way east toward Portsmouth. I must say, the Cloaks escorting us seemed highly trained. They had discipline, and they seemed quite capable of their job. As we made camp one night, the Cloaks taking their own fire, one of them went to the forest, presumably to relieve himself. Coming back, he walked straight toward our party and began talking to us. We realized quite quickly that it was Ray, who said that he will watch over everything in Ori, and that big things happen once every so often on adventures and that we should see what fate has in store for us. He told us of a contact in the Old World, named Carl, who will help us once we get there. We should look for him, and listen to his council.

After a few uneventful nights, we made it to Portsmouth. Moving toward the docks, I could hear a crowd of people, urging and arguing. Motioning to Gabriel, he moved forward to see what was going on. After a short time, he came back, and told us that there was a large, three-mast ship, with purple sails, and an Old World crew. The people at the docks stopped us, declaring that they did not want us, the Guard, to go. They asked what right does a King, so far away, have of taking away Ori’s only protection? We do our best to reassure the people that they are always under our protection, that we will not be gone for long, and that the people of Ori are more capable than they realize.

I told my comrades later that I began to wonder from this point whether the people of Ori would learn to stand on their own. The Kingdom, including the Imperial City and Ori was the entire world. No one knew of anything outside of it. Yet, the people of Ori had made a home for themselves without any real interference by the King. With the Disciple of the Shield, and this latest demonstration, I began to wonder if revolution was at hand.

If I only knew...

Boats. Let me tell you a little something about them: they smell, they’re small, they’re vulnerable to attack by both men and nature, they’re unsteady, and I do not like them. Being blind is hard enough on solid, dependable land. On a boat, where a sudden, unexpected surge can send even the most able-bodied crew flying, keeping your balance is incredibly tough. Gabriel seemed to hate boats more than I did, and for the first few nights, he had to fight off seasickness.  

Avaron and Leviss seemed to have a good time aboard ship. Avaron spent most of her time learning what she could about the star charts and other things cosmic from the ship’s navigator. Leviss, touring me around the ship like a helpless old man, spent some of his time playing music with an interesting character named Squeeze Box McGoo. All in all, the trip was long, uneventful, and boring for me. I spent a lot of time, in my cabin, wondering what lies ahead. I had only heard stories of the great capital city, a city that was as large as a nation. I was excited, but also concerned. Why were we being summoned? Why now? And, what had happened to James since he had been recalled?

Finally, after too long of a trip, we made it to the Mainland, to the great Imperial City. Leviss described it as, “Very neat, very tidy.” Avaron described things with a little more detail. Beautiful, pristine, bold, the city made it very obvious that it was the Capital, that it was a city fit for a King and His people. Purples and reds everywhere, and the people rushing in and along the dock gave the place the feeling of progress and business that struck of a successful people. Leviss chipped in here, saying that the walls of the buildings were made of a shiny, well hewn stone, one he didn’t recognize, but definitely looked impressive. Poor Gabriel was extremely uncomfortable here. He said it was too stifling, too organized, nowhere to move, that the air was even constricting. I reminded him that we wouldn’t be staying long. I remember feeling, at the time, that I wished I could see it; the clerics at the Erathis Temple went on and on about this place and, while I feigned to listen most of the time, I had to admit that this place was supposed to be the peak of civilization, the shining beacon of what we could accomplish.

I’m glad I didn’t see it, and you’ll soon know why.

Helping to pull our ship in was an old man. You could tell he was old because he had grey hair and a massive beard, and his skin was tightly drawn over his shirtless body. But, he was in no means feeble. This man was doing the work of several other men, helping to pull our boat in. After getting off the boat, this old man introduced himself to us. Unsurprisingly, his name was Carl. He told us that he was the innkeeper at the Angry Owl Bear Inn, and that we should come back later when we had the time. As we were escorted throughout the city, everyone remarked at how clean it was. The trees were all cut the exact same way; there wasn’t a single weed on the street, and not a lot of people either. We did hear, at one point, a man playing some drums on the corner, but he was quickly escorted away by some city guards. Everything was neat, and controlled. That much was obvious, and I could feel our group grow uncomfortable at this. I was raised by the ideals of law and order, but lately have been discovering a whole new side to myself. Still, I wasn’t ready to make judgements based on a clean city and one escorted tour. I said nothing, and continued onward toward the palace.

Arriving there, the most unusual thing that could be said about the place was that it had a lawn. The city, what we had seen of it so far, had no more than the odd tree here and there, perfectly groomed and placed. But, I could feel the grass beneath my feet once more as we approached the palace. There were many people inside running around carrying out what I can only assume was important royal business.

Finally, after 2 long weeks, after seasickness, boredom, and curiosity, we were led to the Treasury Room where we were told the King would see us. A fairly large, circular room, the floor was laden with gold coins. I had to be extra careful walking though there as the path to the King was not very straight or clear. There, in the middle of the room, on a giant throne, sat the King. He was an old man, extremely old, 80 years or more, with milky white eyes, long stringy hair, he appears as if the weight of the world were truly on his shoulders, slouching in his giant chair. He asked us if we were the group referred to as The Guard. We answered that we were. He acted royally, and by that I mean, he was good-natured, but seemed a little condescending. I had never met a king before, but I guess that’s what one should expect from someone so important. He seemed to know a lot about us. He knew we had been adventuring for awhile, and he knew that our license was illegal. He seemed to be perfectly okay with all of this, thanking us for a job well done and saying the license was not a concern. I could tell by his tone of voice that he was speaking to us as if we were children, and I guess, with his age, we might as well have been. Only Gabriel, being an elderly man himself, even came close in age. Still, I did not like being treated as a trifle, and could tell he was hiding something. Just then, I felt a couple of taps on my arm from Leviss. We had worked out awhile ago that if silence was required, he would tap my arm to let me know how many people were about, or draw my attention to something. I could tell by the way he tapped me that there were guards all about the room. I had to hand it to them; they were extremely disciplined. I did not hear them at first, did not hear them shuffle their feet, or cough, or anything. Yet, Leviss’ attention indicated that there were two guards around the King, and several by the doors. I could feel the tension rise in the room, and just then Avaron asked the King why we were summoned. The King chuckled and said that he just wanted to thank us for all the good we had been doing. He made mention that there were several people who wanted to undermine him. Confused, we asked why he could not have sent that message along, instead of bringing us here from Ori. I could tell everyone was growing a little impatient, and I did my best to dissolve the situation, but I was upset as well. We had things to do, and not only were we summoned here for no real reason, we were being talked down to by a seemingly feeble old man. Anyway, as I was observing all of this, the King began having a coughing fit, and between spasms, we all heard the King mention something about a Queen. He would not admit it, and thanking us for our time, he sent us away.

We decided that we needed to figure out what was going on, so we went to the Angry Owl Bear Inn to talk to Carl. He told us that 60 years ago, the King commissioned the city; he cleaned it up and took care of everything and everyone. The city was changed into this shining example of civilization and things have been relatively quiet ever since. But, some people did take notice of a wall around the city and that no one who has ever gone to investigate it has ever returned. Avaron asked Carl about a Queen, but Carl seemed confused by this, saying the King had never taken a wife.

Making our way outside, we took a look at this wall. It was red and white, several stories tall, fancy, but seemingly just a wall. We asked what was on the other side, and Carl’s response was unusual. He said that he didn’t know, nor particularly care what was on the other side, yet he seemed oddly determined that we check it out. Avaron and Leviss checked the magic of the area and determined that the wall had some kind of charm illusion or something on it. Basically, the wall made the interest of people fade with regards to it. Anyone who grows concerned with the wall suddenly has a mood change.

We went inside a nearby building, hoping to get a view of what was on the other side. I have seen and witnessed some horrible things in my life, but nothing could have prepared me for what was on the other side of that wall. The smoke we had seen upon entering the city seemed to mostly be coming from what appeared to be a large work camp on the other side of the wall. Looking through his scope, Gabriel was able to see a “hospital” of sorts, from where weird looking people were coming out. Some were tall and blond, some were short, most had pointed ears, these “people” seemed like they were stitched together from other creatures we had seen. In this camp, there were also many royal guards whipping the creatures and using them for slave labour.

This terribly upset me. Here we were, in what was supposed to be the beacon of order and civilization, the dream city for Erathis clerics, and it was a city built on slavery, where everything was controlled and no one appears to have any freedom at all. I wanted very much to get out of this place. It had an evil about it, and nothing good had happened since we left Ori. Reminding the group as such, we decided to use Avaron’s key to go back to the Roost, and try to get a sense of how things were in Ori. Avaron could immediately sense a dark evil magic building, seeming to come from near Hampton.

After much deliberation, we decide to try to ready ourselves in the Roost. Unsure of where to go, back to the Mainland, or to Hampton, we decided to work on some things until we figured out what we wanted to do. Avaron researched her dad’s old books, looking for fairy tales, or any mention about a Queen. In her search, she found some obscure references to a Dark Queen who gives power to someone, who then wreaks havoc before being brought down by some hero. The fairy tale book is old, estimated to be over 800 years old by Avaron, and we begin to wonder if there is some truth here.

Deciding that it was best if no one discovered our ability to get back to the Roost, we decide to go back to the Mainland, there to find out more and possibly take a boat back to Ori. It wouldn’t be the fastest way, but it might be the wisest course of action. As we step out of the door, we hear a familiar voice downstairs. It’s James! He’s calmly talking to Carl who seems quite scared. Avaron, Gabriel, and Leviss sneak quietly down the stairs only to see James, dressed as a royal guard, calmly talking to Carl. James had a big scar along the side of his head, which was partially shaved, with some sort of runes tattooed. He calmly tried to take Carl to see the King. Carl was very scared of this, acting as if these men had come to kill them. Carl begged them to leave him alone, telling the guards that we are upstairs and that they should go after us. They escort him out and we were left alone.

Well, what else could we do? We followed them. Going out a back door, we crept through an alley. What were they doing? What happened to James? This and more ran through my head as Leviss ran into a guard. We were surrounded, and Carl and James were nowhere to be found.

Bracing myself for battle, Gabriel tried a different tactic. Quickly loading his crossbow, he tried to immobilize the guards. We didn’t want nor need to fight them anyway. His first shot hit, but his second went wide and struck the guard right in the head.

Barely hitting him, the arrow took the guard’s helmet right off. I could immediately tell something was wrong. Everyone went quiet, and I could smell something odd. The guard, roughly my height and build, had the face of a giant drake! We had assumed the guards were human; their helmets just a precaution, but now it seemed like we were finding more examples of the King’s breeding program at work. All this flew through my mind as I drew my sword and began to get down to business.

Mark's Journal #19: When beggars die, there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes

Mark’s 19th Journal – 03-13-11

We had to get to Aristaal; that much was certain. Avaron and Leviss felt a terrible presence in that direction and it was obvious that we had been mislead to Hampton. Remembering the geography of Ori, and conferring with Gabriel, we came up with the idea of trying to gain access to the Roost. If the fabled hideout of The Keepers was indeed in the mountains just west of Aristaal, and if the key given to Avaron for her birthday could get us to the Roost almost immediately, we knew we had to try.

Renting a room above the nearest tavern, we decided to give the key a try. Avaron locked and opened our single room door and immediately I could tell something had happened. With a whoosh of cold air, our room seemed to open to a cold, dark, cave. Now, I may not be able to see, but sometimes it is astounding how blind I can be to my surroundings. I should have known that as soon as that door opened to the Roost that Leviss would take off. With a shake of my head, I went after him, certain that Ray would never give Avaron a dangerous gift, or more certainly, that P3TR would never allow such a danger to fall into Avaron’s hands.

Following Leviss was not an easy task. His legs have improved since Aristaal, he’s still in crutches, but he moves fast, especially when potential Keepers memorabilia lies ahead. I was not worried; the air was fresh, and Avaron told me it was dark, but since I was blind, I actually felt comfortable moving along the solid stone walls. Clanging my shield every other step, I felt the noise ringing off the walls. I was reaching out with my senses, and I felt a little better. Making my way down the path, I eventually found myself in a much larger room. Leviss had smashed into a thing or two, and I reminded him that he may need to see, and that he should use his lighted bow. He lit the bow and told me that we were surrounded by bows, ballistas, and other terrible looking weapons pointed straight at us. I told Leviss to wait, and that the others would show up soon enough and could help us.

Sure enough, Gabriel and Avaron arrived moments later, leading our horses. Moving past Leviss, Gabriel made his way into the next room, which appeared to be some sort of monitoring room with mirrors and levers, corresponding to the different weapons fixed on us. It seems that the Keepers were ready should they have intruders. Moving past that, we came to another round room, this time seemingly more inviting. Carpets covering wooden floors, tapestries on the walls, the style was very much inspired by the Old World, or so everyone said. In addition, this seemed to be more of a “sitting room”, as there were couches lining the walls, and cases on pedestals showing off some of The Keepers’ adventures. At the end of the room, there were three doors.

The first door opened to a giant pantry. I could smell the food, spices and such. Gabriel said it had enough food to feed us all for a year at least and that everything was so well preserved that it seemed like it had been placed there only days before. The second door opened to an Observation Room. There was a giant slit on the wall with telescopes, runes carved into the ceiling, maps and notes on one table, and tools and alchemical materials on another bench. The last door hosted a hallway with a curious set of slots on the walls where torches might go. In addition, there was a handle on the wall at the far end. On one table, there were a few carved figures: a goat, a drake, and a creature even Gabriel had never seen before. Gabriel, placing a torch into one of the slots on the walls, was immediately trapped in a cage that sprang from under him. Avaron freed him, moved the horses into position, trapped herself in with them, and then teleported out. The slot on the wall, upon investigation, provided the animals with hay. It hit Avaron right in the face! Swallowing my laughter, I moved back to the main room.

Commanding Leviss to not touch anything, I ran my hands along the wall, trying to get a feel for the place. Apparently, my warning came in good time, as Leviss was about to touch some foreboding sword, literally dripping with evil and hate, it seemed. Moving along the room, I found a brick that, when pressed, opened a secret passage to four more doors. The first was obviously Ray’s bedroom. It boasted a bed, and a curious reflective ball that, when spun, lit the room in sparkling light. The next room was clearly P3TR’s. It was bare, with only a cot, and a single bookshelf with books of philosophy on it. The room after that was Alan’s room. Leviss told me later that no one had been in that room for years, probably left exactly as it was after Alan died. Avaron pushed past us and shut the door.

The fourth door was a vault of some sort, with a modest pile of gold and jewels on the floor. After this investigation, I asked Leviss and Gabriel to go about looking around, see what they could find out about the place. Leviss continued going over all the artifacts, careful not to touch any of them. Gabriel moved to the pantry where he provided us with a nice dinner, and some travel rations for later. I sat in front of Alan’s room. I wanted to make sure that Avaron had this time, alone and uninterrupted, to connect with her father. He was a great man, and while she never said as much, I know she missed him a great deal. Finally, she heard me outside the door and told me that she was fine and that she had learned a ritual or two from some old notes her father had made. Sitting in the hall, going over them, I asked if I could look into something with Jello, her oozing familiar. Recalling the sound of my shield on the bare walls, I wanted to know about the tremor sense that Jello seemed to have. In earlier encounters, Avaron had used Jello’s senses to determine if there were other creatures about. I was not sure what I would accomplish at the time, but going blind opened my mind to new ways of perceiving the world around me.

The next day we made plans to set out. Deciding to leave the horses where they were, we trekked down the mountain, for upon a cold, snow-filled mountain we were. Upon reaching the bottom, we noticed a column of smoke not exactly in the same direction as Aristaal. Needing to find a door at which to use Avaron’s key to retrieve the horses, we made for the smoke. Night was beginning to fall when we came upon a goblin camp. It was clear that Gabriel was agitated, but Avaron and I quickly suggested we leave, as we had no reason to bother or be bothered by goblins. Not long after, we were attacked by goblins, but quickly dispatched of them. It was a needless act, but we had wandered into their territory, and goblins are a cowardly lot.

The next day, we came across a ruined cabin. We actually would have passed right by it if it wasn’t for Gabriel. He noticed that some of the foliage was out of place, and we quickly realized that the cabin had overgrown with vines and formed a leafy wall. Unfortunately, the door too was destroyed. After a couple of minutes of silly, albeit creative attempts to remake the door using surrounding materials, Leviss remembered that he had a ritual which might help. Lighting his ritual candle, he was able to recreate the door. We used it to retrieve our horses, and Leviss kept the handle of the door for future needs. In addition, Avaron grabbed the figurines because their purpose was still a mystery to us. Accidentally dropping the strange looking one, it immediately grew to a large beast! It was roughly 15 feet long and wide, had a tough leather-like body with a saddle on it, three horns and a giant head shield of some kind. Apparently, these figurines were enchanted mounts that could be called upon. After toying around with it, Avaron was able to figure out how to turn the creature back. Leviss was extremely disappointed by that last part. Even I could tell he really wanted to ride that creature, which we called a lizard lion for convenience. He bothered her about it, he kept trying to steal it; everything he said related to it in one way or another, but Avaron was not comfortable with Leviss having it, not just yet.

Making camp, and hoping to get to Aristaal soon, Gabriel and I took the first watch. We have a rather quiet group and while I like that, I made some effort in talking with Gabriel. I feel I could learn a lot from his travels, and his insight has seemed most useful thus far. It was a quiet, uneventful night, and I finally settled down to sleep after waking Leviss and Avaron. Upon waking in the morning, I overheard Avaron telling Leviss that he wasn’t the only one who had dreams. This worried me a little. Dreams are rarely a good thing, in my opinion. Sure, sometimes, I see things in my sleep, and most of the time I forget about it come morning. Either that or it was not worth remembering: killing a goblin here, painful memories there. But, when someone makes an effort to mention a dream, the hair on the back of my neck stands up.

Off and riding. All this traveling has done nothing to calm any of us down. We are still looking for Gary and for answers concerning Fur-Lonn. I fear P3TR’s involvement with this as he did seem to mislead us slightly by suggesting Hampton so enthusiastically. Avaron had been quieter than usual, so I rode my horse up to her so we could talk. Mostly, I needed to say some things; things which I feared might never get said between us. I told her that, with the Erathis Temple gone, and all the clerics dead, that Avaron and Leviss were the only family I had. The Guard, and all of our adventures has brought us together in a way I never thought possible when play-acting as a child, but I wanted Avaron to know, to hear, how I felt about our group and how I would feel quite alone in this world without them.

Finally, we made it to Aristaal. The walls, Leviss reported, were less beige, and the city seemed to have improved upon itself since last we saw it, which really isn’t saying much, but progress is progress. We did notice, however, that many were leaving the city. We asked one old man why and he said the “man in black had made things unsafe.” Even an old student from Avaron’s classes said the same thing. Moving more into the city, we noticed a statue. I could tell it wasn’t good even before anyone said anything. Avaron’s horse stopped, with a grunt from Gabriel and a gasp from Leviss, I waited to hear what it was.

Standing before us, was a statue of P3TR. It said, “Here fell Saint P3TR the Keeper, who knew the value of a life. May we never forget his lesson.” We couldn’t believe it; P3TR's dead? What? Some nervous sounding kid made his way to us and tried to explain but before he had said 3 words, Avaron galloped ahead. Following as quickly as we could, we made it to the Evocation Tower, there to find Avaron talking to her old professor. He told us the horrible tale.

About a week and a half ago, P3TR showed up, asking questions about a man in black robes. No one had seen this person, so P3TR decided to get a room at the inn, and waited. Finally, a man in black robes, with a face like death, and bleeding bare feet showed up. He was ignored, taken for a beggar. These were trying times for the people of Aristaal; they had seen their fair share of beggars and the homeless. Eventually, P3TR was seen talking to this man, and they appeared to be arguing. Or rather, P3TR seemed to be trying to get a point across, but it wasn’t working. The onlookers couldn’t hear what was being said but before they knew it, P3TR drew out his shield.

P3TR retired the day Alan disappeared. He had not brought out his shield in all that time, and here he was, drawing it on some beggar. The two of them fought a very intense, dangerous battle. The man was pure power, Avaron’s professor said, able to destroy buildings with a thought. P3TR did not back down; he stood his ground and laid into the man with everything he had. When all hope seemed lost, when P3TR looked to be at his end, a bright light appeared, and both the man and P3TR were gone. The townspeople looked all around, but only a small sliver of P3TR could be found. Avaron’s professor gave this sliver, kept in a vial on a rope, to Avaron. The people of Aristaal, the people left that is, made a statue in honour of P3TR and have been laying tributes at it ever since.

I quickly ushered us to the arena. There, I tethered our horses, and got out of Avaron’s way. I could not deal with P3TR’s loss yet myself, but thought it best if the rest of my comrades had a chance to blow off some steam. I didn’t think it would cure anyone, but I’ve seen Avaron’s potential when she’s in a good mood, at least this way, rocks would be the only thing harmed. Gabriel was quiet, and mostly stayed with me and the horses. Leviss was quiet and just sat around, unsure of what to do. Avaron, well, she did exactly what I figured she would do. She hurled her arcane chaos at that quarry with more power and frustration than ever before. Blasts of lightning, fire, acid, wind, sand, all scorched the earth and left the quarry bare of rock, but full of hate. Eventually, the day wore out, and Avaron, while not ready to quit, was powered more by anger that by ability at this point. Convincing everyone to pack up, we booked two rooms at the Warmhearth Inn.

Avaron took one room, and I told Leviss and Gabriel to take the other. I sat at the bar, with one single glass of wine, all night. P3TR was dead. Even now, some time after, I find the words difficult to write, difficult to hear or read. This man, Avaron’s guardian, had been with her since a very early age. He had looked out for her every second of every day since as long as I knew her. Even adventuring, it was obvious that he looked out for her; he had Ray track us in Portsmouth, and he sent Gabriel clearly to guard her. But, now he was gone. None of us had a chance to say goodbye, and again, Avaron was left without a parent, without a guardian. I lost my friends and brothers from the Erathis Temple, but this was different. Avaron lost someone who had become like a father to her, and she lost him suddenly. I prayed to Erathis that we would get through this. I prayed that I would have the strength to keep this party together, and I vowed that justice would be served. We will find Gary and find out what exactly has been going on.

The dawn awoke, surprised by my steadfastness, and I heard the Wizarding Council coming to the Inn. Upon finding me there, they asked if I could get the others as they wanted to talk with us. Gabriel was already awake, standing at the top of the stairs, probably overhearing the wizards, and I asked him to wake Leviss while I woke Avaron.

The council was curiously quiet as I rejoined them. All of the familiar wizards were there, Avaron’s professor, members of the different schools of wizardry, and even Ed, the Geomancer. The council seemed to be only partially recovered from their loss of the Archmage. It was obvious that they were unsure of how to handle themselves when no clear leader was established. Ed seemed to act as leader for now, albeit uncomfortably. He told us that the council wanted to keep us informed on their plans for the city.

The city had taken quite a beating. The goblin invasion destroyed most of the city; homes, schools, most of the buildings were taken out. But hope remained. With this new attack, even that was demolished. Ed told us that they knew the man in black robes would be returning. They could tell by the levels of arcane energy still in the air that this man would return very soon. The council’s plan was to evacuate the city, get everyone out and safe if they could. It would not be easy as many of the city’s people were stubborn, and refused to give up anything more. We asked how we could help. This is when the council got really quiet. Even Ed, usually stronger than the rocks he bends, seemed unsure of himself. The council wanted us to ride out and meet the man. They had an ability to “see” his whereabouts, using some form of magic known as “scrying”. Our mission was straightforward. We were asked to meet the man in black and stall him, buy the city’s people time to get out of the city. I asked for a couple of minutes alone with my comrades.

When we were alone, I turned to Gabriel and said, “P3TR is dead. It is a harsh truth, but it is so. We three (pointing to Avaron and Leviss) have been through a lot together. What we have, it goes beyond friendship, goes beyond family, and so there is no question what we will do here and now. You, however, are new to us. You have been by our side for a short time, and P3TR was just a friend to you. We know why you were asked to be with us; it was P3TR’s wish for it to be so. But, with him gone, you are released from that; you are free to choose and should you choose to leave us, we will understand. This mission sounds like death, we will not ask you or anyone to join us, but you can, and we will welcome you by our side.”

It was a little winded, but it needed to be said. Gabriel, though new to us, had shown some tenacity. He had shown dedication. But, I wasn’t wrong. P3TR stood face-to-face with this man in black and paid the ultimate price for it. I could not ask anyone to join us on this foolish mission; I could only present them with a choice. Gabriel said that he would not run, not now, he was coming with us.

With our agreement, the council was noticeably and obviously relieved. We told them we needed their help to prepare. We took some General Wizards with us back to the Roost. Looking through old spell books, crafting from reagents, and planning strategy, we took the drake, goat, and lizard lion figurines and were on our way.

We rode north of the city. The way was quiet, the mood was subdued. Gabriel and I rode the lizard lion, Avaron rode the drake, and Leviss rode the goat, which I was told had the most intimidating face any of them had ever seen. In a way to break the mood, Leviss named it Vizier. He also said that there are worse ways to die. At least, this battle will mean something. We will have hopefully bought the people of Aristaal some time and with it, their lives. It wasn’t enough to cheer us up, but I think it strengthened our resolve. We made it to a clearing, which we thought was well suited, and waited.

And waited.

Finally, the man showed up, dragging his feet. I could hear his every step, shuffling as they were. We told him to stop, and he actually did. He looked at us, and Avaron told me that he was trying to speak. Leviss said it was like he had marbles in his mouth, like he couldn’t figure out how to use words.

Suddenly, a thousand voices, a horrible chorus, shouted, “No.” I kept trying to talk to it. It didn’t answer, but I thought the more I stalled it, the better. I asked it why it had chosen Gary, why it had taken his form. It screamed at us and said it wanted to destroy us all.

It was then that we fought it. We had no choice as it stopped listening to us, wanted to get past us. We hammered it, hit it every which way. It grew spectral wings of black death and struck us with power hidden beneath his robes. We dropped it, it came back. We dropped it again, it came back. We kept at it, but we were getting tired.

Suddenly, it got past me and got to Avaron. It turned me to stone, and pummeled her while Gabriel and Leviss tried everything to hit it and push it back. I broke free, I was bloodied, angry, desperate. Avaron was in her moon phase, and I shifted, bones breaking, blood pumping, wind blowing.

Avaron fell.

Gabriel and Leviss tried healing her. Both cried out words of grace, nothing worked. I could hear Leviss shouting at her, “Get up! You have to get up!” Gabriel slashed at the man in black robes, telling me Avaron wasn’t responding. I tried calling out to Atlas to save her, nothing happened. With a renewed, but exhausted effort, we tore into this “man”. If Avaron was going down, this man would not survive the day, not if I had to bite him in the face and hold on past death itself.

Suddenly, Avaron got up. I could hear Leviss shouting in joy, and confusion. Two arrows hit the man right in the chest; I heard them thud into him like hitting dead wood. A light arrow from Leviss went right between his eyes. I brought my sword down, blazing with fire, right on his head, dropping my sword. Suddenly, I heard a fire that wasn’t mine. A crackling energy hit the air with a familiarity that made all my hair rise on end. Avaron had moved into melee range.

I raised my shield in anticipation and with that, sand, wind, acid, fire, all combined in a horrible whirlwind of hate, and utter destruction. I could feel the heat from where I stood, even behind my shield. The man screamed, but not in pain, more in resignation, saying, “It’s not me.” Grabbing my sword, I got a lucky swing in and heard his head fall with a sound as dead as he was.

We beat him. I lowered my weapons and called out to everyone. Gabriel and Leviss said they were fine, Avaron moved past me, sat down, and did something I have never seen her even come close to doing before, she broke down crying.

I didn’t know what to do; she seemed fine physically. Leviss tried to hug her. To say she did not let him is a gross understatement. In an effort to help, we made camp, Gabriel and Leviss busied ourselves and I wrote this journal, amid the sounds of a crackling fire, and subdued sobs.    

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Edmonton skyline, University of Alberta, and Whyte Avenue

After a good night's rest, I decided to go out exploring. Offering her services as companion and tour guide was my friend Brittany, the same friend who had picked me up at the airport and has been great to not complain about the luggage sitting in her living room, haha.

Brittany's apartment is just south of Edmonton's downtown core, which you can see in the picture below.
Hello city!
For anyone familiar with The Two Towers movie, I draw the comparison between this skyline and that of Edoras, the capital city of the kingdom of Rohan, as seen below. The city on a hill, surrounded by lush greenery, with a river running around it was what gave me the idea.
Home of the Horselords
Here are some more photos, taken on the high level bridge which you can walk, bike, or drive on.
One without the bridge
A little to the right...

I like this bridge!

I like this photo, even with my finger getting in the way.

A little to the left...

More to the left...

Redundant caption is redundant
The next stop on our trip was the University of Alberta.

The motto, Quaecumque vera, roughly translates as whatsoever is true, and seems to make just as much sense, if not more, than Tendania Via, meaning the way must be tried.

As we made our way across campus, the beautiful weather really exerted itself. It was a warm, sunny day, with a little bit of wind which helped keep the air fresh, and bring the smell of flowers to our attention. Flowers such as these:

The architecture is quite nice to look at, featuring a combination of older, more elegant looking buildings, with newer, streamlined buildings here and there. I'm no architect, but as I said, it was nice to look at, and gave off the impression of a professional place to pursue...studies. Couldn't hold the alliteration there, haha.

Outside of the University of Alberta's Law building, where Brittany spends most of her academic time, was this thing:

Maybe it's a gavel?
I don't know what it is as there was no plaque, but whatever, I thought it weird enough to show you. Behind this, was the law building!

The inside was quite nice but my skills of photography would only give the impression of a building with conference rooms. It seems they have their own cafe and games area, and everyone in that building was wearing a suit, so that's cool, but not photo-worthy, really.

Outside of that, we found these!
I don't know who manages U of A's custodial staff, but really, they can't let construction workers just leave their spare materials lying around. It's not safe!

I call this Desk Disaster

An unfinished kiln?

But seriously though, it was an interesting arrangement of sculpture and while I'm not quite artistic enough to really understand what it all meant, it's always nice to see the support of the arts.

I'm hoping my phone updates soon so I can get the panoramic feature on my camera, but for now, several photos will have to do. Yes, I know I could find an app or something, but it's that important, really.

These photos were taken nearing the centre, I presume, of campus, and I liked the look of them.

Right behind, and above, where I took those last photos was the Hub, not the place the kids used to get food from That '70s Show, but close. No, the Hub is a nearly kilometre long area combining food, commerce, and a student residence. For anyone familiar with York University campus in Toronto, it's like combining Pond Road Residence with York Lanes.

Standing out by its sheer contrast was the Faculty of Education building, with its painted mural on the side. It was nice, but it stood out in a way not quite complementary to the rest of campus.

This next photo marks the site of a future adventure. Referred to as, "the science, medical area or something" (poor paraphrasing, I'm sure), this side of campus will be explored in the future as I'm interested in checking out U of A's engineering and physics department. I will have to go to grad school at some point, and I might as well check this place out while I'm here. Also, the one building looks like it's made out of Legos, I'll let you know if it is when I check it out later.

Coming to the end of a well-manicured walkway, I found this!

Fortunately, this time there was a plaque, as seen below:

Next, a bunny!

He was chowing down in the courtyard and I got as close as I could without scaring him.

Of course, the look he has definitely seems one of fear, but after I got the shot, I left him alone. It was nice seeing him around though, made me happy!

Once again, the lack of panoramic camera app photos, this time of the courtyard. Brittany and I had talked of it once a while ago, and it was pretty close to how I imagined it, minus the horse, (long story), but plus a bunny! So there you go.

Looks like York campus, doesn't it?

Also, this school has a rock garden, with waterfalls....

...and a pond. That's pretty cool, and I thought it added to the natural feeling of the campus.

Speaking of nature, they have magpies in Alberta! I actually exclaimed in delight when I saw one, having never seen one before in real life. Brittany tells me they are as common and as annoying as pigeons, but still, I thought it was cool. At least they have prettier colours than most pigeons.

After this, we took a walk down toward Whyte Avenue, or 82nd street, as every street has a number here, it seems. Before we got there, it seems that this was not the bench I was looking for:
Nothing to see here, move along.
Whyte Avenue seems kind of like Toronto's Queen street, home of food, clothing, music shops and more. Stopping at the Tin Box, a neat place with a bunch of odds and ends, I saw things which reminded me of some friends back home.

The picture above reminded me of Michelle.
These reminded me of Marco, Dom, Mike, and Whitney, and even though they're not clearly dinosaurs, I still think they are some of the coolest backpacks I've seen and my younger self is upset that I didn't have one.

This one reminded me of Mike and Marco, lots of cool trivia in there.

And one to remind me of Meredith, with her strigidaphilia.

And that was it for our tour of the immediate area. Edmonton is looking to be a beautiful city and I look forward to my adventures to come! I'm still settling in, but at least, so far, things have been accommodating and exciting!

Brittany was also nice enough to drive me to my new apartment so I could meet with my landlady, and see my new place, but that's a story for next time!