Checking In From . . .

. . . well, not the best place in the world.

Numbers of infections & deaths continue to rise here as so much of the world gets things under control. The one ray of light is that the current regime seems to be getting hit hard by their absolute failure to respond adequately to the pandemic. 45* has falling approval numbers, increasing disapproval, dismal turn out at events, and is getting beaten in campaign fund raising. So, we have hopeful signs he’ll be out in November, in a fair election (assuming little to no voter suppression, etc.).

In the meantime, my college is continuing online only or 90% online for the foreseeable future. But, of course, aikido is shut down indefinitely beyond what little home practice can be done (weapons kata and basic movements).

Writing continues. Putting the finishing touches on the magic book. That’s currently sitting at over 56,000 words and 191 pages. Probably start looking at publishers soon.

Also working on a multiverse world build for fun. About 14-15k into that so far. Mostly working on iPhone Notes app then transferring to Word, converting notes to paragraphs, then editing & expanding a hard copy.

Watching ST: Discovery season 2. We’re down to the last couple episodes. I think the plan is to subscribe to Disney+ at that point. Continuing Mythbusters with the kid and introduced him to ST:ToS.

Also added some Discworld art from the Discworld Emporium in the UK.

My Martial Arts Truths

Since the aikido dojo I attend has been closed since my state’s lockdown began, I’ve been limited to weapons practice, movement, and thinking about practice. Thought I’d throw out my reflections on some of the “core truths” I’ve learned in the last 12 years of training.

1. If it looks easy, it’s not.

2. If it looks hard, it is.

3. What you think is happening in technique is not what’s happening in technique.

4. You will not master anything in a week. You may never feel like you’ve mastered anything, even after 30 years.

5. Everything deepens. Wrist technique is not about the wrist. It’s about the elbow. But, it’s not really about the elbow, it’s about the shoulder. But it’s not truly about the shoulder, it’s about the opposite hip.

6. Ignore the point of contact. The opponent expects to fight there.

7. Change the line. Even a few degrees, moreso 45 or 90 degrees, weakens the opponent’s power.

8. There’s always going to be someone bigger and stronger. Technique, changing the line, ignoring the point of contact will overcome strength.

9. The best technique is no technique. But, you must learn and try to master technique in order to grasp the principles that make “no technique” effective.

10. Adapt. Do not get locked into making a particular attack or technique “work”. Be willing and able to let it go and move to something else.

11. Find what else can move. Your grabbed wrist is immobile, but your elbow, shoulder, hips, and legs are not trapped. Move them.

Quarantine Activities

Keeping active during quarantine has, obviously, been a major thing for many people.  I imagine there are tens of thousands of videos online about such things.  As a mostly introvert, and reader/writer, it really hasn’t been a huge thing on my mind, personally.  But, keeping some skill sets in practice has been a concern.

Like most people, we’ve been doing walks, usually around the neighborhood.  Fortunately, we have a small city park that’s roughly 1.5 miles (~2.4 km) round trip from home, including a turn through the park.  Alternately, we’ve done trips to the local metroparks, which are extensive and varied in our area.  My spouse and kid have done more of those, often while I’ve been working or in a weekly Zoom meeting with the aikido school I attend.

Speaking of.

The second most common activity I’ve been doing is aikido weapons work.  From suburi (sword cuts) to eight direction cuts to kumi tachi (sword kata), or jo basics and kumi jo (short staff kata), that’s been a way to at least get a little practice and keep some basic movements in practice.  Fortunately, a lot of open hand technique mirrors weapons work, so hopefully those principles are being retained as well.  This has been mostly a good weather, moderate temperature activity.  A few weeks ago, I began working an alternate method for indoor practice suggested by Wendy Whited sensei: substituting the shoto (short sword) for the bokken (long sword) for indoor practice.  Basically holding the shoto the same way as the bokken (two hands) and going through the movements.  The weight and reach is different, obviously, which takes a little adjusting, but the motions remain the same.  (She also recommended wrapping paper tubes, or related non-wooden objects.)

Most recently, for the last week, there’s been yard work.  Last fall, I cut down and chopped up (for firewood) a whole bunch of invasive honeysuckle that had been taking over the back corner of our yard.  For the last week, (coincidentally as exercise) I’ve been digging up the stumps so they won’t come back.  And so we can plant grass and shade/bee friendly wildflowers back there.  That’s been all kinds of fun, because honeysuckle roots intertwine with their neighbors, or multiple plants sprout from the same roots, or tap roots can go straight down or sideways, or . . . the tenacious buggers are all kinds of fun to deal with.

Quarantine Writing

Third installment of quarantine activities.  This one has been modified a bit since first conception.

So, I’ve been working half-heartedly on the non-fiction book project.  Mostly looking through, marking up, and taking notes on articles, books, and websites to incorporate.  Still have yet to add anything from them, but hopefully that will start shortly.  In the meantime, roughly 50,000 words in to things.  Pretty happy with that for a second draft.

On the more creative, fiction side, I have put together several worldbuilds of varying levels of detail.  Most have been set aside as “practice” material, or proof of concept, or trying out an idea that may reappear later in a more evolved form.  Currently, I’m sitting on two, one of which may not go anywhere and the other is at a minimal detail stage (basically a collection of random notes).

That one has spawned a number of focused worldbuilding/lore vignettes and some shorts. I think the shorts are going to be further developed as a sort of slice of life style collection.  For a while, even before working on the magic book, but emphasized as I worked on it, I’ve had a thought nagging at the back of my mind.  We have a lot of stories, novels, TV shows, movies, etc. that incorporate, involve, or focus on magic schools.  However, these almost exclusively focus on the perspective of the students (usually the newest student).  The only exceptions I could think of off hand were Pratchett’s Unseen University (faculty perspective, and once a faculty-staff perspective, sort of, in Unseen Academicals) and Charmed’s Magic School (kind of faculty/admin perspective).  But, the former is a parody of real world schools and the latter was never a major focus (and was primarily added, for a season or so, due to the rising popularity of Harry Potter).

These little slice of life, linked, vignettes/shorts kind of morphed as I developed the lore vignettes.  They’ve become focused on the perspective of the staff of a magic school (caretaker, security, cook, grounds, librarian, steward, healer) moving behind the scenes.  I may expand them into some of the areas geographically immediately adjacent to the school too.

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Quarantine Watching (TV)

So, during the quarantine, we’re also getting into or caught up with some series.

As lifetime Star Trek fans raised on ST:TNG, we started watching Picard, and enjoyed the first season.  It was nice to get back into the world.  Seeing Picard, Riker, Troi, Seven of Nine, and Data again was a great nostalgia trip.  And the writing was well done.  It was also nice to see the world outside of Starfleet and non-military Romulans.

After Picard, we turned to ST: Discovery.  We’re part way through season one, and it’s been pretty good. The writing is good, the characters are good.  I’m amused by the continued use of Sarek to link different Trek series together, though.  I did find myself wondering why it seems to be that every other series or so feels the need to reinvent the Klingons.  Not so much their culture or history, but their appearance.  Going from TOS to TNG made sense (better make up, less campy aliens, etc.), but the shift from TNG to Discovery Klingons is rather dramatic and odd.  Though, I suppose they’ll eventually explain it (and/or go back to the retcon they explained in Enterprise).  Thought the “reinvention” of the transporters (vertical pads) was odd and unnecessary, though.

On my own, I finally got around to checking out Lost Girl, and managed to get through the first four seasons before Netflix lost it.  Those seasons were fun, intriguing, and kept my interest.  They made some odd decisions (ex. loki is a species, Mongolian death worms are people, but basilisks are animals), that became odder as season five started (ex. loki is a species, but Freya and Odin are people, and Odin is also Zeus and Amun, but Hades isn’t also Hela or Osiris).  Rally, season five (which I’m half way through) kind of jumped into strange territory.  It’s hasn’t completely jumped the shark into bizarre land, like True Blood did (the books were odd enough at some points, but the show said “Hold my beer”), though, so we’ll see what the rest of the season is like.

Quarantine Reading

During the U.S., really my state’s, “lockdown” or “quarantine”, my reading quantity really has not changed significantly.  But, I figured I’d throw up a post to share what I’ve been reading and let everyone know I’m still alive.

As everything started here, I was in the middle of Fonda Lee’s Jade War, the second in her “Green Bone Saga” after Jade City.  It’s significantly longer than the first, because Lee falls into the camp that believes sequels should be longer than the first book in a series.  (I don’t believe that, but whatever floats your boat.)  The action expands beyond the island of Kekon (a fictionalized semi-modern Asia, incorporating elements of Japan, Hong Kong, and other sites) to see other parts of the world.  That element is cool.  Basically, the whole series is best summed up as The Godfather meets Hong Kong wire fu action movies (which were also the author’s two main influences).

I finally got around to Brian Jacques’s Redwall, which I somehow missed as a kid.  The book was first published when I was nine (the age my son is now, and he’s devouring the first four books).  While it was somewhat formulaic and, by current standards, “typical” aside from the switch to animal protagonists/antagonists, I think I may have enjoyed it more if I’d gotten to it as a kid.  I also take into account that what seems “trite” about the book now was not so much in 1986, before the genre really exploded.  In that respect, I think it was ahead of its time and formed a sort of bridge between the talking animals of folklore/fairy tale and modern children’s fantasy.

Wu Cheng’en’s Monkey (trans. Waley) is another that I finally got to.  I was first introduced to Wu Cheng’en and The Journey to the West while in China in 1987 (about 9 ½ years old) through some, now beaten and battered, illustrated kids versions of the story.  Unfortunately, I only had five of those books (out of many).  I always wanted to get to the rest of the story, but it fell in and out of mind; I had problems finding a good translation.  Then I stumbled across Waley’s translation at a library book sale.  Looked him up later and found that it’s an edition commonly assigned in university level Chinese literature/religion (in translation) courses.  Sadly, it only includes 30 of the original 100 chapters, but the foreword notes that they are representative and some of the best chapters.  So, there’s that.  Over all, it’s a fun book and story, from Monkey’s birth through the completion of the journey and his ascension to enlightened status.  I only wish the translator had kept the character names largely untranslated (or translated them in footnotes, as I understand some of them are puns).

With those books read and the libraries closed, I went back to my re-read list.  Started back into Michael Scott’s The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series.  Finished The Alchemyst and I’m currently about 1/3 of the way through The Magician.  Enjoying them again, the second time through.  The worldbuilding and history Scott created are both interesting and multi-layered.  The time travel element is handled well, as is the “physics”, or perhaps metaphysics, of Shadowrealms and the passage of time.  On the whole, still greatly enjoying these books.

Playing Around 15

(This one was mostly written to see if I could still write a fight scene.  Also to see if I could describe a particular technique.  I’m pretty happy with that part.)


Duck.

Sweep.

Pound.

An instant of resistance against the knife blade, but the Kevlar parted before superior strength.

Beep beep beep.

Damn.  Bad timing.

Roll.

Crunch as the heel of a combat boot connected with a jaw.

Beep beep beep.

On feet, survey surroundings in a second.

Four down, two active.  Target frozen, probably mix of fear and shock.

Understandable, Talya decided.  He’d hired the best he could afford.  But they had no way to prepare for one of her kind.

She turned, blocked an arm with her own, as the beeping came back to her ear.  A quick jab to the face broke the guard’s nose as she flipped his wrist, both snapping his elbow and causing his knife to clatter on the concrete.  A spin and knee to the short ribs left internal bleeding and a single active hostile standing.

The woman had already shot her three times, and missed a couple others.  Good grouping, Talya absently noted, all center of mass, an area the size of her fist.

The incessant, intermittent, beeping continued.

Shit.  No time for this.

With a grin, Talya let a bit of beast show.  Not enough to lose control, but just enough for a feral glow to her eyes and a bit of fang to show.

Just the amount to convince the other woman that she wasn’t getting paid enough.  And that caution was the better part of valor.

As the last guard ran, Talya focused on the target and touched the earpiece to take her call.

“Talya!”

“Gregor?  Due, I’m in the middle of a job . . . that you set up.”

“What job?”

“The Demetri thing.  Just a sec.”

She thumbed her earpiece to mute.

“Waylon Morrell?  Demetri sends his regards and says he wants his money.  Two days, or this warning becomes the real thing.”

Turning away from the cowering man, Talya unmuted.

“Why was your phone on?  Don’t you use ‘don’t disturb’?”

“Gregor.  You called twice in a minute.  It registered as an emergency and went through.  I was shot, twice, because you distracted me.”

“You’ll heal.”

Talya rolled her eyes.

“I’ll be adding a replacement shirt to my bill, Gregor.”

“Fine.  Demetri can cover it.”

“What’s the emergency?”

“I need a consult, Talya.  Usual finder’s fee.”

“What’s the job?”

“Retrieval . . . I’d offer it to you, but it’s a team thing.  In the community, not norms.”

“What’s the pay?”

Gregor named a figure that caused her to miss a step.

She recovered and slid into a nondescript Toyota.

“Timeline?”

“ASAP, three weeks max.”

Talya thought for a few seconds as she pulled into traffic.

“I can have a team together in 72 hours,” she said.  Five way split, it would still be worth it for a three week job.  Which meant either tough owner or expensive item.

“You sure?” Gregor did not, she thought, do a good job hiding his surprise.  “It needs a team and isn’t your usual . . .”

“Just send me the details.  I’ll cover the rest.”

“No details until the team’s confirmed.  Not after Minsk.”

Talya paused, processing.

“You brokered Minsk?”

“Sadly.  Took a big hit.”

“Fine.  I’ll get in touch in two days.  The usual number?”

“I’ll look forward to the call.  But, come Friday, I’ll offer it to someone else.  Just business.”

Talya disconnected the call as she turned onto an entrance ramp.  The highway, 270, made a rough loop around the city, through the suburbs, and connected all the major interstates that passed by or through.  She liked to think of it as more the heart of the city than downtown was.  Everything passed through 270 somehow.

As her eyes scanned the traffic and sought the Highland Road exit, most of her mind ran down a virtual dossier of people she knew in the business.

Thomas and Mordecai would be in, easy.  If they weren’t on jobs already.  Jade would be good on the back end, and she’d see the challenge.  Only a little effort to convince her.

That would give her entry, magic support, and tech-tactical support.

Marek?

No, he didn’t work well with others, and there was Boston, she thought.

Chen might be good, but she’d heard he died a couple week before.  Siddiq never left the Midwest, so unless the job was limited, he was out.

That left . . . Caroline.

Talya considered as she pulled into a parking spot.

She shouldered a knapsack and small messenger bag, locked the car, and strode toward the train station.  She preferred the train to planes.  They were slower, but there were fewer questions and travel between cities in the state was faster by train than car.

As she took place on the platform, Talya nodded to herself.  Caroline brought a generalist to the team.  She could hold her own and be second to the guys, if needed.  And, most important, she could be trusted.

She’d also be the most difficult to convince, though having Jade in would help that.  Lucifer would need wool socks before Caroline could pass up a cute redhead.

The train pulled out as Talya scanned the nearly empty carriage.  Her phone was out before they cleared the station.

“Hey, Jade.  How’re things?  Good.  Listen . . . Gregor’s got a job he sent my way.  Could use a little help if you’re still freelancing . . .”

Playing Around 14

(Some of this piece may appear in another work, because I like parts of it.  For now, it’s a brief exploration)


To the untrained eye, the main floor of the Luna Nova was a chaotic mix of people and species.  However, an experienced patron could read the topography and tectonics of the room.

Jastian Wells was hip deep in the second group.

With that knowledge, a person could, he knew, see the enforcers and the normal joes, the Almasti and the shtriga, and read the affiliations, alliances, and feuds.  Reading the room was, therefore, reading the city.

He visually swept the room, taking note of who and what was there.  The Carusos and Narvos had half the room between them, which meant their short lives alliance was dead.  And that meant Torvald lost the bet and owed him.

Jastian unconsciously, and subtly, checked the handful of knives about his person as raised voices came from the bar.  He glanced over . . . a big shifter, who’d obviously had a few too many, looked about to go furry on a skinny Black guy, whose bearing and eyes screamed shtriga.  The Luna’s security was already closing in, a mountainous gargoyle and her whipcord Almasti partner.  The Luna’s strict policies on magic, bronze, silver, and long blades kept damage to a minimum, but the staff liked to stop trouble before it got too far.

As he relaxed, a heavy set, middle aged man stopped by his table.  Smelled like a werebeast, canine probably.

“Marcus Isaak?”

“No.”

“But, the barman . . .”

“Well, he was wrong.”

He must have still been able to pull off the ‘bad ass’ face because the were only paused a second before muttering an apology and beating a hasty retreat.

Jastian made a mental note to speak with Kira, the bar manager.  He hadn’t used the Marcus alias in several years.  Not since changing his calling and profession.  A lifetime ago.

Besides, he was waiting on a probable client, not on the market.

The Luna Nova had started its life as a werebeast bar.  They liked the joke in the name.  Within a year, he’d heard, it became the place all the local beast changers hung out.  Then all the changers.  In a few years, Luna had acquired a reputation as the place to go to hire freelance changer talent.  Pretty soon, the entire community began frequenting the place.  The once little werebeast bar became a major night spot for all magical peoples in the city.

“Mister Wells?”

His reverie was interrupted by a trim, fit man just starting to go grey around the temples.  Meeting his eyes, Jastian decided the man had been starting to go grey for a couple centuries.

“Mister Cutter?”

At the man’s nod, he gestured toward the empty chair.

He waited for Cutter to get settled, and let the other man start.

“Mister Wells, are you familiar with Bareth Oren?”

“The number two man in the Three Horns’ presence in Caerik?  Somewhat.”  The man didn’t smell dead, so not a vampire.  Didn’t smell of blood either, so not shtriga.

“The people I represent wish to meet with him face to face, not through intermediaries, to discuss business.”

“And?  I don’t know him well enough to introduce you.”

“Not to worry, Mr. Wells.  We will arrange a date through other channels.  I require someone to ensure my arrival in Caerik, to the meeting, and back to Earth again.  Someone familiar with Faere, Caerik, and our counterparts in that city.”

“And you don’t want the families, houses, et cetera on this side, or the authorities on the other, to know about this trip, I assume.”

Cutter nodded, almost imperceptibly, “Of course.”

“So the Talville gate is out on this side.  The major players monitor it constantly.  You have a gate opener?”

Playing Around 13

The Greeks and Egyptians, and some peoples of Jerusalem, speak of ancient magicians who claimed territory.  This claiming was not the same as the ways in which princes today claim lands.  Magical processes now lost to modern magic were used to bind the land to the magician and the magician to the land.  The ritual of binding was exceptionally dangerous, particularly for large swaths of land, thus a reasons that doing so fell out of fashion and was forgotten.  Those who claimed lands did so for two reasons: to exert their power and authority over the land or to protect the land and its people.

Demosthenes writes that a magician who claimed land could draw power from the land itself, nearly as much as by blood rituals.  In payment, the magician found it difficult to leave the land for any length of time.  Erasmus of Egypt writes, further, that a claiming magician could control parts of the land.  Sextus Gracchus believes this control is the source of stories with the Roman army of forests that walked, whispered, and fought against the legions in Gaul and Germania.

Rediscovering such power could be a sword for ourselves, allowing us greater power to defend our society and people.  It would also be a sword for our enemies, as it would tie our best and strongest to static fiefs and estates from whence they could not move.

-excerpt from “Knowledge of the Ancients”, Sir Thomas Clifford, 1582

Translated from the original Latin by Clarissa Hoyt, 1994

Playing Around 12

In the earliest days of the world as we know it, long before the history known to normal, magic was at its most basic.

Today, we call the most ancient magics the primal magics.

They are called crude, unrefined, even simplistic.

They are most of those things, to those who do not understand them.  They are also ancient and powerful in their own ways.  The power inherent in blood and the procreative acts is exceptional.

Most magicians who deign to study the old magics never look beyond the raw power they can gain from either practice.  They never learn or explore the true extent of blood magic, or sex magic.  The primal magics offer so much more than pure power for those willing, and able, to take the time and expend the effort to learn.

Experienced blood mages, building upon ancient rituals found around the world, are capable to healing, crafting magical weapons, and theoretically altering their own blood in exotic ways.  There are stories of a 15th century Nepali who made his blood poisonous to beast and abaa’ya.  It is also said that a Romanian mage often used the blood of sacrificial victims to cover himself in blood-red armor.  Obviously, this practice, if possible, would be forbidden today, for clear ethical reasons.

Practiced sex mages routinely use their powers to find both objects and people.  Many also learn to charm others, a useful skill in dealing with normal.  Stories still circulate of masters of the art who could change their own appearance.  And the best of the ancient sex mages were known to be gifted oracles.

Due to the nature of the primal magics, all potential students must be at least eighteen years of age and will be screened by a panel of instructors, for safety.

-Gwen Bailey, Headmagister of Students, Hollyoake College