Sunday, January 29, 2012

Flash Fiction - Coward

Good evening,

 Cracking at fantasy again, but this time reviving an old universe I made up back in university.

***


            “Fight like a man!” the swordsman howled, slamming the flat of his blade against his buckler.
Stavon tried to ignore him. He kept himself balled up under the bar and held his breath. The old tavern had seen better days; ones without war. When he ran inside, he fought past the stench of charcoal and decay. Blood stained the walls. Dead men covered the floor. A woman with an arrow in her throat lay near him, her skin pale and tight. He choked.
            Why me? He asked himself, heart racing. He was just a page in the Derriger fifteenth legion when the thousand Ulossi berserkers fell over the hill. Scores died around him. He remembered blood, the screams, and the waves of multi-coloured warriors, their hairs and eyes various unnatural pigments, bathing in red under the morning light. ‘The Rainbow Men,’ his friends in the legion had called them; those friends all died.
            Why me? He asked again. He wished he didn’t enlist. The guardsmen doing the enlisting said he would be safe. They said it was likely he wouldn't see the fighting. Liars, one and all.
            There was a door ahead of him. It was broken off of its hinges. It led outside, to somewhere safer or perhaps a sea of blades. He had to chance it. Either way, he was a dead man.
On a whim, he peered round the edge of the bar. He saw his pursuer, tall and broad, pacing around the corpses. Leather and iron was strapped to his chest and legs. Magenta eyes, a round iron shield and a hooked sword glinted in the sunlight that seeped through the windows. Red-and-gold-streaked hair fell in curls over his shoulders. The man huffed and kicked at a table.
Stavon pulled back and sucked air.
            He listened. There was silence; then, the shuffling of boots that quickened and drew near. Greaves scraped together. Stavon panicked.
He looked up just as a bent blade was raised above his head.
He dove left. A melodic curse rang out. Metal whipped through the air. Stavon launched his body over a chair and onto a half-pulverized corpse. The smell made bile crawl up his throat.
He looked and saw the Ulossi charging. He staggered to his feet, but tripped over one of his own legs and fell again. Just then, he saw a broken chair leg lying before him. He seized it.
The man was upon him when he threw the wood. It bounced off of the warrior’s face; he staggered back. Stavon slid between his opened legs and darted for the bar again. Fire raged inside him.
Something told him to defend himself. The woman’s corpse lay by the door. He reached for the wooden bolt sticking out of her neck. Setting his foot against the woman’s breast, he tugged. In seconds, the arrow was loose.
Stavon whirled and aimed the bit of wood and metal at the warrior. The man snorted and glared at him. A bruise formed on the side of his face.
If he ran, the man would catch up to him and open his throat. If he fought, the man would break both of his arms before opening his throat. Parley, he told himself.
A word he learned from an Ulossi prisoner came to him. “Avain!” he tried to croon. The Ulossi tongue was a tonal one, scholars told him, but had a certain melody to them. Every sentence was a hymn, every speech a ballad. High tones were generally pleasant; lower tones were more aggressive. He hoped he said “Stop!” and not “Fall!”
The large man bared his teeth angrily. Stavon gulped.
He charged. Swinging the sword high, the giant leapt for him, vaulting himself over the bar. Instinctively, Stavon jumped back. He let the blade fall.
His body reacted independent of the rest of him. His grip on the arrow tightened. A lunge.
He drove the metal point into the man’s eye. The man wailed and shrieked, flailing blindly at all sides. Stavon was thumped aside by a wild swing. He hit the floor and looked up. The arrow had gone in deep. The Ulossi man gave one last furious swing and dropped. The blade fell from his fingers, clattering against the ground.
            Stavon’s hands shook. He stumbled back to his feet and out the doors. At the street, he heaved. Bent over. Hands on his knees, he started weeping. A man was dead. A son was dead. He shuddered. Why didn’t I run? His thoughts whimpered. The door was there. I should have run. I should have.
            There was a noise.
He dried his eyes and lifted his head. Twelve men stood at the edge of the road. One sang to the rest in Ulossi and pointed Stavon’s way.
            He did what came naturally.

***

See you next time!

-RWI

Monday, January 23, 2012

Let's Talk About - RPGs


Good day,

                I’ve been meaning to make a disjointed little article about RPGs for some time, and long-time readers can probably guess that I don’t mean rocket-propelled grenades.

Role-playing games interest me. I’ve always been a sucker for swords-and-sorcery, which I guess was the gateway drug for this sort of thing, and even if turn-based combat can be a bit aggravating I’ve grown used to the many interfaces so many games use. In recent years, nerdier associates have introduced me to table-top gaming, which is fun if a bit time-consuming (especially when loot was concerned). That said, I have a strange relationship with them in that I’m often jumping around with how I play depending on what I’m playing.

With video game RPGs, I tend to make myself the stalwart hero of the land. It’s a common thread binding together all of my games of Planescape Torment, Dragon Age: Origins, Fallout 3, and Morrowind. I’m often the warrior, or a jack-of-all-trades adventurer, and I’m often a romantic with some kind of minor quirk or another, which means I always cop out and take the boring options. Meanwhile, on the table-top gaming front, I tend to be more of a griefer, being integral to the party dynamic but often possessing a toxic demeanour. Those characters are broken; alcoholics and mental defectives and cowards with more anxiety problems than half the residents at a comic-con, and my characters’ effectiveness in negotiations and combat rounds range from unpredictable to useless.

The way I make sense of it is that making people miserable in a game only makes sense when you can see the horror spreading across their faces. Yes, I could set off the bomb in Megaton. Yes, I could sell my companions into slavery. Yes, I could pick the pockets of everyone from Vivec to Khuul. What, though, is the point if I’m causing dismay to a program that expects me to do bad things?

So I like to switch it up and try new things, and this has led me down some strange roads and territories I’d like to forget. Most notably, I had a run with forum RPGs back in the dark ages of my adolescence and young adulthood and, well, they aren’t fun. It’s just a shouting match; all sound, all fury, limited to no direction, and a bunch of pasty geeks who desperately want to be Sephiroth from Final Fantasy 7. At the end of the day, it’s like a game of Cowboys-and-Indians with more half-demon ninjas ranting about their painful pasts.

And before anyone suggests it, let me say that I don’t get LARPing. I haven’t tried but I’m afraid. I saw Darkon two years ago, and between that and the infamous Lightning Bolt clip I’m not entirely sold on the concept. There’s a big reason why I won’t do it, aside from the fact that running through a park covered in padding while pretending to be an Orc and getting stared at by passing families is not my idea of a good time. Let me explain.

                I’m six-foot-two. I’ve got thinning brown hair. I’ve got a big nose and turquoise eyes and child-bearing hips. I’m thick in the thighs and scrawny in the arms, and I’ll stop now because it sounds like I’m putting out a personal in a newspaper. Now that you have an idea as to how I look, though, ask yourself:

What if I wanted to play a woman?

You could argue that I could go buy a dress but what if I wanted to play a small woman, like a lady Halfling? Better yet, what if I wanted to play someone of a different ethnicity, like a Black person? Hell, suppose I wanted to be a Black Halfling woman? I guess I’d have to get down on my knees, buy a wig, and put shoe polish on my face but every black person, dwarf, and transvestite in the province would be well within their rights to kick me to death.

My problem is that I am limited by harsh reality. This does not refer solely to appearance. Ever seen a LARP fight? They’re funny as hell, but unfortunately they’re also possible. Because everyone’s weighed down with armour and out of shape and because of how ungainly their weapons are, LARP fights are probably the closest we’ll see to how actual battles from the medieval times were fought.

Not my thing. I want to climb a tree and elbow-drop a hobgoblin. I want to pick up a guy and use him to beat another character to death. I want to throw a horse, or catch an arrow with my teeth, or flip an ogre into a lake. Where are my spells? Where’s the array of summoned monsters and meteors that I can drop on a bandit camp at any given time? Why the hell am I squiring for Bob from the car wash when I can have quirky companion characters with exciting arcs and start romances with swamp witches and gay elves without feeling awkward?

I don’t share the same sense of immersion that LARPers carry. I want to be able to lose myself in the experience, but I can’t say how I can do that if I’m slapping someone across the midriff with a Nerf bat screaming “THREE DAMAGE! THREE DAMAGE! THREE DAMAGE!”

See, that’s the big appeal behind games: immersion. All games carry it, and everyone gets into every kind of game somehow, from Call of Duty to Risk. Role-playing games are different, though, in that you can also make someone. Other games don’t have this. You have to be the white male space marine or the angst-riddled Japanese school boy or whatever, and sure, there are more on-rails RPGs like the Final Fantasy series, but for the most part RPGs go deeper.

Many RPGS are about character creation and character building. Not merely who you are but who you will become. The destination may be more or less the same, but the important thing is putting the ship together, plotting the course yourself, and deciding who comes along for the ride. With such a model in place, all kinds of possibilities open themselves up to budding designers. Already we’re seeing the model used for westerns, science-fiction, post-apocalypse, and 1930s gangland scenarios. Who knows what’s around the corner next?

I do: cooking. Imagine a turn-based RPG where you play a chef assembling the ultimate meal. Enemies include fire-breathing jalapeno peppers and giant lobsters, where players fight with meat cleavers and buster-spatulas. The main antagonist could be a silver-haired pretty boy who wants to rule the culinary world with an iron fist. We’ll call it Final Frittata: Romance of the Three Kitchens.

Looks like I win again.

See you next time,

-RWI

P.S. Because I hate myself, I started a Wattpad account. Wattpad is a website where aspiring authors can upload their writings and have it read by others. I’ve already put up edited versions of The Upset and L, but I’m having problems finding good authors to read amidst the sea of angry teenagers such a website naturally attracts. Perhaps some of my fellow writing buddies can join me so we can form a tight community of old geeks?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Poetry Jam - The Streets of Facet City

Good day,

 My last Poetry Jam was as successful as the flying of a plane made of wheat, but I decided to give it another go. This time, let's try a much different angle.

***

            My world bleeds away as I turn down a side-street into Facet City. I recognize the dishevelled architecture and the fractured roads. Gaudy neon lights from the shop windows and the pale glow of streetlamps show me around the labyrinth. The broken children running through the streets remind me of brighter days. The broken men on the staircases remind me of darker ones.
We call it facet because that’s what it is – mere aspects thinly woven together to give the semblance of a home. We damn it and curse it. We spit on its broken windows and its broken people. We hate its lack of maintenance, the paint peeling from its walls, the rusted pipes feeding into the buildings, the death-rattles of its air conditioners, the smells of drugs and raw sex and fatty foods invading the nostrils of the everyman.
I like it here.
            I like Facet City because the food is cheap. A few coins can buy me my dinner, a curt word here and there can save me from being swindled. The food is bad; spicy and oily, overcooked noodles with undercooked meat served in lukewarm broth with cold vegetables. Ah, the sweet smell of starch impregnating some horrible braised beef and salad combo. My subhuman server slides a silver-tinted salver under my nose and I feel at ease.
I like Facet City because the movie stores here are legion. Rare imports from the dark corners of the earth line the shelves – every genre, every type, every quality. Where I like to go, a twisted old man sits at the counter, his twisted nephew in the backroom burning DVDs on one laptop and playing 1980s soap operas on another. I buy a stack of horror movies and kung-fu dramas and leave before they think I’m a cop.
I like Facet City because it’s sincere. A bar-fight spills onto the street uninterrupted. The bums are out in their Sunday best. Cardboard signs next to street kids demand money for heroin. Pigeons hang from the wires. The dogs are feral, the cats are beggars, the rats are legion, and a cockroach runs for city counsellor. The honesty here is refreshing.
Beneath the pink lights of an old building, a policeman enters, led by an auburn beauty smelling of desperation. A woman looks my way. Broken hands part split hair to show a shattered nose and a dislocated smile. She asks me if I’m going anywhere.
            Sorry, sister. None of us are going anywhere.
            I have my fill of the shamelessness and call it a day. I cross the street and make my way home, and as I do I breathe in. I take in the smells of blood and come and coolants and burning fat. I listen to a glass breaking across a man’s jaw and the banter of its residents. I taste oil in the languid air.
            Until tomorrow, my love.

***

See you next time,

-RWI

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Flash Fiction - Rapture

Good evening,

 I'm going to make an effort to update on Sundays now as I'm currently working 9-5 and do volunteering on Monday nights... as well, I've started taking French classes on Tuesdays and on Wednesdays I'm part of a writing circle with a bunch of my associates.

 This will not stop the Roberttrain, however. FOR EXAMPLE

***

            His roommate was laughing when he got in. That was always a bad sign. The last time Blaine was laughing, it was because he found a video of a man defecating in a supermarket. It bothered Isaac to share an apartment with him. Still, morbid curiosity made him ask: “What are you so happy about?”
            Blaine smiled like the devil, “Just thinking that I’d like a Vegas wedding.”
            “You’d like a what?”
            “I’m going to take my girlfriend down to Vegas. We’re going to have an R. Kelly impersonator as the priest.”
            “Blaine, what –”
“He’ll woo us with his soulful singing and then turn around and pee on a fourteen-year-old girl. It’ll be magical.”
Isaac winced. “That’s awful. You’re going to hell for that, Blaine.”
His roommate threw his head back and laughed dramatically, “We’re already there, brother! Haven’t you heard?”
One day he would stop asking questions. It wasn’t that day just yet, “Heard what?”
            “There’s reports coming in, dude!” the mad one said, pointing to his laptop, “Three people got ascended!”
            “What?”
            “No, seriously, three folks got bathed in light and were lifted into the heavens and shit.”
            “You’re lying.”
            “Would I lie?”
            “Yes.”
            “Check the news, then. I’m telling you it’s there.”
            Sceptically, Isaac put himself on the couch next to his friend and seized the remote. With a press of a button, the T.V. came on. A newscaster looking worse for wear rubbed his thumbs against a rosary chain and muttered. Turning up the volume, Isaac leaned in.
The words shocked him. He couldn’t believe them. He jumped from channel to channel, desperate for answers. BBC, CNN, CBC, Fox News, and NBC – they all reported the same thing. The same video footage of a pillar of light descending on a crowd of people and then dissipating seconds later ran and cut back to the desk. Anchors were in disbelief, struggling with their notes and Teleprompters; Bill O’Reilly was crying.
            Isaac sat back, his mouth slacked open. “When was this?”
            Blaine checked his laptop, “About fifteen minutes ago.”
            “Who?!” Isaac cried, lunging for his friend and seizing his collar, “Who got taken?!”
            “Um,” Blaine grunted, scrolling down, “A Lesbian art teacher from Russia, a Shaolin monk, and Ricky Gervais all got hit by light at exactly the same time before -”
            “WHAT?!
            “That’s what it says!”
            Isaac flew from his friend and tossed his hands in the air, “This is ridiculous! I’ve been a Baptist my whole freaking life! My parents and grand-parents spent years preparing me for this day, and those clods get taken instead of me?!”
            “Hey, you never know, maybe God’s standards changed,” reasoned Blaine, readjusting his shirt.
            “God doesn’t change His standards!” raged Isaac, “That’s the whole idea! He’s supposed to have set rules that you’re not supposed to break and you’re supposed to keep to those rules!”
            “Well, maybe he decided to stop being such a tight-ass.”
            “Do not call God a tight-ass!
            Blaine thumped his laptop on the desk and got up, “What, so I’m supposed to ignore all those parts in the Bible that told people not to eat shrimp? Or how about all those parts that promoted slavery?”
            Isaac lifted a finger, opened his mouth and stopped. He rose headed for the door, “I don’t have to hear this.”
            “Yeah, I guess. Why don’t you head to church and find some answers there, fanboy?”
            Angrily, he grabbed his coat, “I think I will. What are you gonna do?”
            “Download all the porn I want,” he cackled, cracking his knuckles, “Take your time comin’ home and don’t mind the smell.”

***

 Yes I started off my Sunday updates with a fairly sacrilegious story. Go big or go home, I suppose.

See you next time,

-RWI

EDIT: May 23, 2012. One minor edit.

Monday, January 2, 2012

It's 2012 now

Good day,

 Well, New Year's Eve was particularly mental. I ended up heading downtown to that big event at Toronto's City Hall, getting separated from my friends, and spending the countdown wedged between two walls of drunken teenagers and watching the MCs and various music groups traipse about hyping the crowd. I've always been kind of immune to the mass-hypnosis that seems to take place at such events, but being among strangers this time left a surreal taste in my mouth.

 I usually spend New Year's Eve either with friends or with family, so often I end up caught up in their enthusiasm. Alone in Nathan Phillips Square, however, I felt something different. It was like going overseas and witnessing an alien cultural festival unfold while among the locals, whose foreign tongue I could not speak or hope to understand... except I was home, in Toronto, and everyone within earshot was speaking English.

 Either way, it gave me pause. People put all kinds of pressure on 2012 as being a year of great enlightenment, or, depending on which misinformed lunatic you talk to, the year when the planet is supposed to burn. In fairness, either one could happen at this point. The environment has been torn to ribbons and Kim Jong-Un's in power, and yet we're looking at all kinds of social and scientific developments in the works.

 Whatever happens, don't tell yourself that it's because of some metaphysical plan or prophecy. We got here on our own, and whether everything got kicked in motion by an unseen force is not our concern. If the shit hits the fan, I trust that there will be enough of a world left to save. So relax, enjoy yourself. I will.

 Regular updates resume next week, as I've had an irregular past couple of weeks involving my brother coming to town, holiday festivals and parties from here to Kathmandu, and my own father driving over my foot by accident.

 The foot, by the way, is fine. The car, however, is not.

Peace out,

-RWI