Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Jul 19, 2008

The Dark Knight

I wasn't really sure what to expect from this latest Batman movie. I really enjoyed Batman Begins--it turned me into a serious Christian Bale fan, for one. When I first heard that Heath Ledger was playing the Joker, I was dumbfounded. I mean, Heath Ledger? Cute fluffy blond guy, right? Yet, in this movie he delivered a performance of perfect madness and revolting evil. Jack Nicholson is no longer the Joker, if he ever was (I've heard it said that Nicholson is only, ever, Nicholson). Ledger, now sadly gone, made the Joker his own.

The rest of the movie, though, was troublesome. There were occasional moments of pure genius--brilliance sharp and glittering as diamonds--but they were unfortunately covered up in a great deal of sticky bread dough.

The end result was a movie that, in a way, perfectly matched its musical theme: rising and rising, drawing you along with it, but never granting you a crescendo. Never reaching a moment of realization and climax.

I think it was well worth seeing, but as a really good movie? Almost is the best you're going to get.

Jul 10, 2008

Stupid Guy Stunts

My housemate Adam pulled a stunt last night that left me perplexed, amused, and vaguely annoyed. The result was that I remembered reading the lengthily-titled Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus and shaking my head over just how correct the author of that book was.

For context, first I'll explain the specific nature of the "stupid guy stunt". I recently ordered parts to upgrade my computer (a motherboard, CPU, RAM, and video cards), and they arrived yesterday right before I had to leave for work, so all I really had time to do was un-box them and put them on the table. Adam gets home shortly after I leave, and I was pretty much expecting to rely on his superior computer expertise to put the machine together and get it working in its new configuration. However, what I was not expecting was that he would decide to put it together last night before I'd, you know, backed up my data or otherwise prepared for the transition. (When I ordered the parts, he said that he intended it to be a "weekend project"--I don't think the weekend usually starts on Wednesday. But I digress.) So, I was a little bit startled when I came home to a.) vanished computer parts and b.) a non-functioning computer that Adam had helpfully labeled "not done yet".

My initial reaction, which thankfully I controlled, was to get pissed off. Most women (and men) are probably familiar with this phenomenon. From what I've heard, it usually ends with the woman turning into a shrieking blame-spewing harpy and the man withdrawing, turtle-like, into a resentful silent shell. This is where reading MAFM, WAFV helped me, because this book actually explains what is going through a man's head when situations like these crop up.

Unlike me, Adam (and from what I understand, most guys) doesn't really consider it necessary to do a lot of prep work before tackling a problem, because he's more confident in his ability to deal with issues as they come up. It may not even occur to him that maybe some prep work was called-for until an actual problem occurs. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it's just a difference of approach. Have I ever seen Adam fail to handle a problem? No. I have confidence in his abilities and I should demonstrate it. So that's reason one not to get mad.

Reason two is that I'm willing to bet that Adam was trying to surprise me with a cool new upgraded computer. I've been given to understand by MAFM, WAFV that men really like doing things for women--or, maybe a better way to put it is that men like doing things AND being appreciated for them. In the minds of men, women are supposed to be the source of most of this appreciation. So, Adam was trying to be a Good Guy, and he's probably already annoyed and upset at himself because he didn't get finished before I found out about it. If you interrupt any plan halfway through, it has a tendency to look more like a disaster than a plan and there's plenty to criticize. If I jumped on Adam and criticized him, there was a good chance that it would just make him want to give up on the project entirely--and if he didn't, it would transform the project from something he was doing on his own initiative to something he had to do in order to get out of trouble. My anger would destroy any satisfaction he would normally derive from completing the project. That's bad.

Reason three is that Adam, being my friend, is objectively more important to me than the computer even if he somehow managed to blast the computer into tiny bits. If I yelled at him, I'd be conveying the message that the computer was more important than he is, whether that's the message I want to convey or not.

Lastly, Adam is a computer guy. He loves messing around with computers, it's what he does for a living, after all! I like that about him, it means that I have someone around who not only can but is willing to fix my computer. It'd be totally ridiculous to expect him NOT to mess around with the Cool New Computer Parts at the first opportunity.

However, it's also important that I remember that he *did* act a bit rashly and bring it to his attention in a polite manner. That prevents the relationship from becoming All About Him, a situation that can only lead to resentment from me--which later will turn me into a screaming harpy because I can only successfully bottle that sort of thing up for so long.

So, making use of my hard-earned enlightenment, I'd like to say to all men, everywhere: You are AWESOME!! Us ladies are thrilled that you've undertaken to fix our computers or drive across the country or whatever it is that you're doing at the moment. We're sorry that when things start to go wrong we get a little nervous. It's not that we doubt your abilities, it's just that we're nervous and you could accomplish a lot by demonstrating that you do, in fact, know what you're doing. And we're really NOT ANGRY that you didn't give us a chance to back up our data BEFORE you dove headfirst into the project.

Well, not much.

Jul 8, 2008

Why Nerds Are So Unpopular

Click on the post title to go to a truly excellent essay by Paul Graham. I came across it because one of the forum members posted a link.

It's hard for me to think of something to say about this article because the article says it all. I remember very distinctly complaining that school was "pointless" and feeling trapped in a cage with a bunch of hostile nitwits--and it didn't wait until high school to start. My problems began as early as third grade. But, according to my parents, it was just the way things had to be and it was my duty to tough it out.

Why is it your children's JOB to be miserable for years and years? I never gained anything from it, I only lost. I resent the necessity of working now, it takes an effort of will for me to read non-fiction books (even though I LOVE reading) or work on my novel or do ANYTHING that isn't "just for fun". Why was I locked into a box with the purpose of making me over into the biggest obstacle to my own success? It doesn't leave much energy left for actually accomplishing anything when the first thing you have to do is to climb over the mountain of your own neurotic behaviors. I don't think I'm ever going back to college simply because I can't stomach any more of that bullshit. I had my fill and more than my fill. I'm done.

Don't send your kids to public school.

Jul 6, 2008

Cold Blood: Session 30

The Temple of the Abyss loomed. It hulked. Like most temples, the architecture attempted to be imposing, to suggest some connection between this mundane structure and the timeless or infinite. Yet, it did not soar: it clawed its way skyward with bloody talons and nailed the heavens to the ground. Joris stared at the monstrosity in slack horror. Sheen reached out and squeezed his shoulder. The cleric’s hand flailed until it found hers and squeezed back fiercely.

“I sure wouldn’t want to join that,” Talan said, grimacing.

“It’s not as forbidding as you might think,” Hexla said. “They want people to come in and join, after all.”

“They like to make a big show of being terrible and powerful,” Sheen said.

“So, if I were a drow priestess, where would I keep my captives?” Haden mused aloud, walking up the stairs. He didn’t seem much intimidated by the Temple, but then he had fiendish blood. The show was wasted on him. Still, he paused briefly in front of a statue, startled. It looked so much like Kalisa that he almost wanted to check whether it was breathing.

“What does the inscription say?” Joris breathed.

“Malcanthet, queen of the succubi,” Haden translated.

“Kalisa served her, once . . . but I didn’t . . . very interesting,” the cleric muttered before edging around the statue and catching up with the rest of the group. Haden shook his head slightly.

“I haven’t met many succubi, so I can’t comment.”

The vast circular floor of the Temple was full of demons, most of them clinging to the columns and the ceiling like gigantic bats, their wings and barbed tails stirring restlessly. A few of the Cage’s more ordinary inhabitants gathered below.

“Hey, cutters,” a voice said. Sheen turned.

“What?” It was Jazra.

“Don’t you lot turn up in the strangest places . . .”

“We could say the same for you,” Sheen said. “We’re looking for some drow.”

“Wassa drow?” Jazra asked, cocking her head.

“Dark elves!” Mal announced. “Svartalvar, betrayers!”

“I thought those was made up, like snipes and catobbley-pas.”

“Catoblepas?” Sheen asked.

“Yeah, those.”

“They’re definitely not made up,” Talan announced.

“Well, I ain’t seen ‘em,” Jazra said. “Was they supposed to be here? You could ask Noxana, over there.” The tiefling pointed toward the altar, where a figure in deep violet robes had prostrated herself before a raging purple flame.

“She looks busy . . .” Talan began, but Sheen was already crossing the floor. The woman droned an Abyssal chant, but she trailed off when she noticed Sheen standing over her.

“Excuse me, but I need to ask you a question,” Sheen said.

“Tonight is Rhyxali,” Noxana said in an abrupt voice.

“Is that a problem?” Sheen asked.

“I thought you were going to ask which Lord we’re honoring tonight. That’s what everyone asks me. I am Noxana, priestess and consort of Lord Noshteroth of the Umber Scales.”

“Well, actually, we do have a question for you,” Talan said awkwardly, “just not that one.


“We’re trying to locate a drow priestess,” Sheen replied. “Alantavra. Supposedly she is here somewhere.”

“Those Spider Witch slaves, here again,” Noxana grumbled. “Never cared for them or their grasping goddess, truth be told. The Lords have to watch their step around her, now that she’s all divine. Her followers have a portal here in the temple.”

“Have they gone through it recently?” Sheen asked.

“I haven’t seen any for at least three days. There’s at least two of them.” Noxana was staring at Haden with a speculative expression on her face. Sheen scowled.

“Two portals or two drow?” she demanded pointedly.

“One portal, two drow. One male, one female. I don’t mean to pry, but aren’t you the fellow with the famous father who just passed away?”

“What if I am?” Haden asked.

Noxana grinned, her feline eyes glowing a feral yellow. “I have some . . . information that’s sure to be worth something to you. It’s about Fagan.”

“And how much is this ‘information’ going to cost me?” Haden asked wearily.

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe I could just call on you for a favor sometime. Nothing you wouldn’t normally do . . .”

“This is going to be trouble,” Talan muttered.

“I don’t promise unspecified favors to strangers,” Haden said.

“I’m just looking for a place to hide. I figured you might be able to help me out.”

“It depends on who you’re trying to hide from,” Haden hedged.

“From High Priest Noshteroth of the Umber Scales. I’d like to set out on my own, but I can’t with my father watching me all the time.”

“He’s your father AND your consort?!” Haden demanded.

“Ew,” Sheen, Joris, and Talan all said together.

“Ew,” Mal added after a moment.

“Keep it down!” Noxana hissed. She pouted. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

Haden rubbed his forehead tiredly. “If you want some help getting out of sight for a while, I can probably help you out.” Sheen grabbed his arm and hissed in his ear.

“She is NOT staying at the house!”

“Relax, I’ll think of something else!” Haden whispered back.

“Oh, that’d be much appreciated,” Noxana said. “Anyway, I heard a couple of the nabassu talking, and one of the Lords has Fagan as a prisoner. He’s still alive. They didn’t say which Lord, and they shut their bone-boxes when they caught me ‘dropping . . .”

“BLASPHEMER!” Mal bellowed. Noxana took several quick steps backward, but Mal was not paying any attention to her, his hand extended to point at a seemingly unremarkable patch of floor. “Tell me where you’ve taken that BOY, drow knave!” Mal scurried across the floor, eldritch fire crackling between his fingertips.

Joris waved his hands and called down a negation, revealing a rather startled male drow in studded leather armor. His invisibility spell gone, the drow turned to run, but he was too late, Mal and Sheen landed on him almost simultaneously. The eldritch power discharged and the dark elf passed out from the shock.

“Medic!” Sheen said, sitting up. A tall, sinewy demon with long fangs and glowing yellow eyes fluttered down from a column and hissed.

“Shoo!” Haden announced. “Bad demon!” It flexed its claws and growled deep in its throat. Talan reached past Haden’s shoulder and smacked the demon on the end of its nose with the flat of his sword. It squealed in pain and fled back toward the ceiling.

Joris bled a little healing magic into the drow and he stirred. “Come on, wakey wakey,” Sheen ordered. He stared at her with angry violet eyes.

“How is this supposed to go?” Haden asked. “Answer our questions and we won’t feed you to the demons?”

“I have no words for you,” the drow said in Elven.

“Why not?” Sheen demanded. “Don’t you think we’re cute?”

“I have failed my Queen. There is only damnation for me now.”

“You really should reevaluate your situation,” Talan said.

“Just kill me so I may get on with it. There is no reward for Xillian now.”

“Fine, tell us what we want to know and as a reward we’ll kill you,” Talan returned. “You know, I’ve never really understood the Drow. If you help us, we might even be persuaded to let you go. You should really be looking out for yourself.”

“Besides, odds are good that we’ll wind up killing whoever’s on the other side of the portal anyway,” Joris muttered under his breath. Xillian glanced at the cleric.

“Ask your questions.”

“We’re trying to find a human named Tulio who may have been captured by Alantavra.”

“Yes, she has him,” Xillian said. “He stole her diadem, so I brought him to her. She could get nothing from him here, so she took him back to the Crystal Tower of the Handmaidens.”

“You konw, this is a heck of a lot of trouble to go through to get that stupid kid back,” Haden remarked. “Oh well.”

“What’s at this tower?” Sheen asked.

“The Handmaidens of Lolth toil there, extracting truth from the Spider Queen’s enemies . . . and loyal subjects, if necessary.”

“Handmaidens?” Joris asked. “Do you mean the yochlol?” Xillian nodded.

Haden made a face. “Those are pretty nasty as demons go.”

“We can take them,” Sheen insisted.

Haden pointed at Jazra. “See that girl over there?” he said to Xillian. “You might want to ask her to help you out. Just don’t give her any grief.”

The doors at the end of the hall flew open as a dozen men in heavy spiked armor marched into the Temple. “What’s all this then?” their leader growled.

“Oh, look,” Sheen said, “It’s Fritzan. Hello, Fritzan.”

“Heard there was a commotion in here, and who should I find but you lot.”

“It’s under control,” Noxana said hurriedly. “These people took care of it.”

“DID they?”

“Commotion isn’t illegal, otherwise the entire Cage would be in the cells,” Haden said. Fritzan waved a knobby finger in Sheen’s face.

“One of these days you ‘Gatekeepers’ are going to screw up, and I’ll be there to scrag you but good!”

“We always love experiencing the level of tact and professionalism you bring to your work,” Sheen sneered. Fritzan turned purple. Before the sergeant could recover, Haden grabbed Sheen’s arm.

“We were just going,” he said, and dragged her through the drow’s portal.

“Um, yes,” Talan said, and followed quickly. On the other side, Hexla looked around.

“Oh, pike it all. This is the Demonweb Pits.”

Jul 5, 2008

Cold Blood: Session 29

Thea stared at their startled expressions. “What’s wrong? Was he a friend of yours?”

“Potential friend, maybe,” Haden said. “In any case, we need to find him.”

“Well, I saw him for the first time a few weeks ago. He was broke and I wasn’t making a case of it, but I could tell it was bothering him. Then he shows up again a couple nights ago, pockets brimming with jink.”

“Well, it’s not difficult for an enterprising sort to find work in Sigil,” Haden offered, “but somehow I’m thinking that’s not what happened.”

“Any time there’s too much money . . .” Talan said, letting his sentence trail off ominously.

“We had a good time!” Thea insisted defensively. “Then he was gone. Like, in the middle of the night and without his clothes gone. And he left all his money, too!”

“Did he leave anything else behind?” Talan asked. Thea shrugged.

“Do you still have his stuff?” Haden asked.

“Sure, it’s in my room still. Come on.” Thea led the way up the stairs, unlocking her door. She gestured to a small pile of clothing and other personal effects heaped on the trunk at the foot of the bed. Sheen picked up the pile and began a forensic-style investigation. A sword and crossbow both looked new, along with a roll of small, complex tools. She opened a small sack filled with coins and spilled them onto the bed.

“None of this looks really noteworthy to my eyes. Do you more visionary folks want to have a crack at it?”

Haden picked up one of the coins and held it to the light: it had an unearthly sheen to it, a faint iridescence. He held it in his gloved palm and began concentrating. Talan and Mal examined the coins as well. One side bore a haughty-looking face with an unmistakable elven cast. On the reverse, there was a stylized spider and the words ERELHEI CINLU.

“Vault of the Drow,” Mal said absently.

“Drow?” Joris asked.

“I haven’t seen any drow since we came to Sigil,” Sheen said. “Although the dwarves back home were more or less permanently at war with them. Their caverns are supposed to be infused with radiation that affects the metals there.”

“I’m not surprised,” Talan grumbled. “Drow society isn’t really known for its friendliness. Since most drow are religious fanatics of one sort or another.”

“They’re also known as assassins, which might explain how Tulio vanished so suddenly,” Sheen added grimly.

Thea squeaked as though the gravity of the situation had only just dawned on her. “Do you think he’s all right?”

“He’s most likely dead if drow are involved,” Mal said helpfully. “They tend not to leave loose ends.”

“Don’t worry, Thea,” Sheen said quickly in a conciliatory tone. She shot a black look in Mal’s direction, which he either didn’t notice or simply ignored. “We’ll find out what happened to him.”

“Absolutely,” Talan said staunchly. “I know how it feels to worry. Is there anything else you can tell us, even if you think it won’t be helpful?” he asked after a moment.

“It looks like Tulio got the gold from a scarred dark elf in the Hooded Lantern,” Haden said, interrupting.

“That hornets’ nest?” Thea squeaked.

“What would you expect?” Haden asked. “He’s a thief by trade.”

“We didn’t know Tulio very well,” Talan added miserably.

“Well, neither did I,” Thea said, “but he seemed really sweet.”

“Sometimes people don’t live up to their potential,” Talan said. “Maybe he just needs a hand to lead him in the right direction.”

“More likely he needs a few good solid thwacks from a nice length of hickory,” Haden retorted.

“Where is this ‘Hooded Lantern’?” Mal demanded.

“It’s in the Lower Ward,” Haden said. “Across the street from the Foundry.”

“It’s a lead,” Sheen said. “Let’s go check it out.”

Outdoors peak was approaching, but the vague light did little to ward off the chill. Sheen blew vapor out of her nostrils and glanced up at the sky as they set off yet again. “How cold is it likely to get, here?” She asked.

“Cold enough to snow, but rarely truly frigid,” Hexla remarked. “It’s philosophical winter comin’ on.”

“Philosophical winter?” Sheen asked.

“Yep, Sigil’s calendar has thirteen months an’ each one belongs to one of the ‘real’ factions. Mortis, Decadre, and Capricious are for the Dusties, Sinkers and Xaositects. Philosophical winter.”

“I may never get used to this place,” Joris grumbled.

“Maybe you should just get a coat,” Sheen told him. When they passed the Circle, Joris ducked inside and returned with Kalisa, who trailed along with them until they reached the house. Joris let Kalisa in and they rounded the corner of the Great Foundry to regard a small building that looked in danger of sinking beneath the street.

“Seedy, isn’t it?” Haden said. “Of course, everything in this part of town looks seedy.”

“Even Jazra avoids this place,” Hexla said.

Mal pulled his hood back, revealing a smooth dark-skinned face and whitened hair. “Like calls to like, I believe you said. Shall we?”

“We’ll see if Mal can manage to pull off that disguise,” Haden said.

“I’m going to stay outside,” Sheen replied. “A lot of people in this ward know me on sight. I’d ruin anything you tried to do.” She glanced at Joris. “You may want to stay put, too. The whole Mystra thing is pretty obvious.”

“Maybe you should stay with Sheen and Joris,” Talan said to Hexla. She nodded. Haden, Talan, and Mal stepped into the bar, easily the darkest place of business they’d ever entered. There were perhaps twenty people inside, everyone trying to keep his or her back against the wall. Hooded cloaks or large, concealing hats were much in evidence. A flinty old cutter stood at the bar, directing a hard-bitten dwarven barmaid.

The three men sat at a table, scanning the crowd. The barmaid appeared at Mal’s elbow. “What can I getcha?” she demanded harshly.

“Your absence will be fine,” Mal said, sliding a few gold onto the table. The dwarf glared.

“This ain’t a libarry, berk. You wanna drink or walk?”

“Ale,” Mal responded coldly.

“Wine for me,” Haden added. After the dwarf left, he nodded toward one of the shadowy figures in the corner. “That’s our guy. Any plans for how to approach him?”

“We could buy him a drink,” Talan said.

“No, it is not wine that will quench his thirst,” Mal intoned.

“It’s probably best if we try to get him out of this room,” Haden murmured. “If negotiations go south in here, it’ll be a bloodbath. These people are jumpier than a horde of abyssal hornets.”

“I could try to lure him outside,” Mal intoned.

“If you want to try, be my guest,” Haden said. Mal stood and strode toward the man. Haden leaned back in his chair and glanced at Talan. “So, how are things going with you and Hexla?”

“Oh, pretty good,” Talan said, grinning. “How, um, how are things with you and Sheen?”

“Well . . .” Haden said.

“That good?”

“You know how Sheen is, it’s always . . . complicated. But things seem to be going fairly well for now.”

Mal leaned down to speak into the scarred drow’s ear. “We should speak, but not here.”

“What could you say to interest me?” The drow replied, his lips barely moving. When Mal remained silent, he turned slightly. “Did she send you for me?”

“Well, Tormtor . . . oh, nevermind, you wouldn’t be interested.” Mal stood and began to walk toward the door.

“Wait!” The drow hissed. Mal paused but did not turn. “What about the usurpers?” the drow asked in elven.

“Not here,” Mal said. “There are too many ears about.” He continued toward the door. Haden concentrated, feeling for Sheen’s mind in the street outside.

“Haden says things are moving, be ready,” Sheen said to Hexla and Joris outside. To her relief, they quickly broke off their discussion of the arcane and eased toward inconspicuous positions. Mal, followed by the drow, emerged from the door seconds later and passed them. Sheen watched them vanish into an alley. “Stay here,” she instructed Joris and Hexla. “I’m going to follow them.” She climbed up the wall above them and vanished over the side of the building.

A minute or so later, Haden and Talan emerged from the Hooded Lantern. “Where’s Sheen?” Talan asked.

“She followed them, climbing the wall,” Hexla explained. Talan immediately looked worried.

“They’ll be fine,” Haden said. “It’s only one guy.”

“He’s a drow,” Talan said.

“This is Sheen we’re talking about, here. And Mal is no slouch, either.”

Sheen clung upside-down to the wall of the alley and watched the conversation below.

“Does Alantavra know I’m here?” the drow asked.

“Yes!” Mal replied. The drow cursed angrily. “You have your down payment,” Mal said. “I will need to know your other two queries in order to retrieve the answers.”

“You’ve told me all I need to know, stranger,” the drow said. “Ask me what you will before I leave this Cage. The Eye of Lolth will find me soon otherwise.”

“Where is Tulio?” Mal asked.

“Who?” the drow demanded.

“Bah,” Mal said, and conjured an illusion. “Him.”

The drow laughed. “Oh, that one. Probably at the bottom of a bottle somewhere.”

“Could you be a bit more precise?” Mal asked.

“I hired him to steal Alantavra’s diadem for me, and he did. I don’t know what became of him after that. It was more gold than he’s probably seen in his life. I wish I could see the look on the Matron’s face when Alantavra arrives to perform a sacrifice without the diadem.”

“What are your plans for the diadem? Or was the point simply to remove it from Alantavra’s possession?”

“What’s it to you? Just whose house are you with, exactly?”

“It was only a curiosity,” Mal replied. “Humor me.”

“The diadem is unimportant now. She doesn’t have it, that’s the important part.”

“I must locate Tulio, the little wretch had information I need. He’s gone missing and it would not be a stretch to assume Alantavra’s behind it.”

“Indeed. She won’t get the diadem back, I’ll see to that.”

“If you can assist me, it will only serve to hinder the pursuit.”

The drow shrugged. “If you’re looking for him, and she’s got him, then really you’re looking for her. She’s keeping kip at the Temple of the Abyss, her and her accursed gang of Lolth-worshippers. If only things had gone better, if we hadn’t hitched our plans to those giants, maybe things would be different for Eliservs . . .” he shook his scarred head. “That’s all I have for you. I’m not going there, I don’t want the Eye of Lolth to find me.”

“Perhaps I can draw the gaze of the Eye from you.”

“Perhaps,” the drow said, and walked away. Sheen climbed down toward the street and jumped to the ground. The others crowded into the alley.

“So does anyone know where the Temple of the Abyss is?” Sheen asked.

“Unfortunately, yes,” Joris replied.


“It’s a massive temple in the Lady’s Ward, with shrines to every Abyssal Lord you can think of.”

“We can always trade what we know of Jhaelefein to Alantavra for Tulio’s return.”

“If he’s still alive,” Talan said.

“He has to be!” Mal said, panic creeping into his voice. “You can bring him back, right Joris?”

“That depends on how much they leave behind when they’re done with him,” Joris said quietly.

“We’re not doing any good standing here in the street chattering,” Sheen said. “Let’s go.” They began walking yet again.

“Nothing like getting kidnapped by drow to scare the stupid out of someone,” Haden commented.

“They may not even have drow where he comes from, poor sod.” Hexla said.

“Well, he won’t forget them now,” Talan replied.

Cold Blood: Session 28

Haden and Talan sat in the living room of the town house. Haden was ensconced, as usual, in the most comfortable chair, a book in his lap and a glass of wine at his elbow. He’d taken to reading since Cerellis’ funeral, rendering the evenings unusually quiet.

Talan was trying to convince Ari not to use the couch for a bed, with mixed results. Usually Ari took well to training, but she really loved the couch. Mostly, she obeyed when Talan was in the room. Otherwise, not so much. She briefly gave up her attempts to conquer the furniture and curled up in front of the fire with a sigh. It was cold outside and the warmth was very welcome.

Sheen arrived at her usual time, her hair still damp from scrubbing. Yolette trailed behind her, immediately heading for the kitchen to grab a snack. Sheen paused beside Haden’s chair and brushed her lips against his forehead. He glanced up at her and smiled.

“Haden, I’ve been meaning to ask you, what are you reading?” Talan asked.

“Well . . . nothing much, really,” Haden replied.

“You’ve been so engrossed in it . . .”

Haden flushed a bit, embarrassed. “It’s just some histories about my father and grandfather. I never really knew my family very well.”

“Your father was a great man,” Talan announced. “I’ll bet those histories are fascinating. Maybe you can share some of them with us.”

“They’re certainly startling. This book actually mentions a fiend named Kalisa, if you can believe it.”

“Really?” Talan blinked. “What does it say about Kalisa?”

“Just that Faodhagan convinced her to assist the rebels during the Myrstas Crusade, adn that she came out of the darkness. She’s only mentioned briefly, around the time Fagan met Kerry, my grandmother.”

“Are we ever going to meet someone who isn’t related to you in some way?” Sheen asked, flopping down in a chair.

“Don’t blame me,” Haden said, chuckling. “My family gets around. Celestials and fiends live a long time. I th ink they probably all meet each other eventually.”

“I’d hate to be the one trying to map your family tree,” Talan said.

“Do you have any idea how long you will live?” Sheen asked curiously.

The front door opened with a bang and Mal came inside, shaking off the cold. “I found her,” he announced blandly to no one in particular before trotting up the stairs.

“Good to see you, too, Mal,” Talan said.

“Where’s he going?” Haden asked.

“Who knows,” Talan said, shrugging.

Sheen nudged Haden insistently. “Well, do you?”

“You’d better answer her,” Talan encouraged.

“No, I have no idea,” Haden replied. “I have enough immortal blood that I might make it a few centuries, but since the two types seem to fight each other, I might not even make it through one.”

“Hmm,” Sheen said, sitting back in her chair and frowning.

“Why?” Haden asked.

“Oh . . . no reason,” she murmured. Haden rolled his eyes.

“How about you, Sheen?” Talan asked.

“Elans don’t get old,” she said.

“What happens to them, then?” Talan asked.

“They just keep going,” Sheen replied. “As far as I know, in the thousands of years that elans have existed, not one has ever died from old age.” There was an enraged squawk from upstairs and Mal came bounding back down the stairs, looking a bit ruffled.

“Excuse ME!” Hexla exclaimed. Talan jumped to his feet.

“Is everything all right up there?” Mal opened the closet door with a flourish and vanished inside as Hexla came down the stairs.

“I’m fine,” the witch said, smiling at Talan. “I just tried to come down the stairs at the wrong moment.” There was a crash from the scullery and Hexla shook her head.

“Is Yolette cooking again?”

“It sounds like it,” Sheen said, beginning to extricate herself from the chair.

“Don’t get up, I’ll handle it,” Hexla said, and disappeared into the kitchen.

Haden put his book away. “So, can I ask you a question now?” Sheen nodded. “How old are you?”

“I’m twenty-one,” she said, chuckling.

“Good,” Haden said, grinning a bit like his old self. “I like younger women.”

“Don’t let Annali catch you saying that,” Sheen shot back. Talan tried to hold in a laugh and wound up coughing and sneezing helplessly.

“Talking was never really her thing,” Haden said. Sheen made a face, but it seemed good-humored. The front door opened again, letting in another blast of cold air along with Joris. He smiled at the sight of Talan, Sheen, and Haden gathered in the living room.

“It’s strange to feel like I’m heading toward middle-age when I may literally have all the time in the world,” Sheen mused.

“You are not middle-aged,” Talan laughed.

“In Waterdeep, a woman is considered a spinster if she’s not married by the time she’s 18. Of course, among the dwarves it’s considered shocking to marry before you’re sixty. Maybe I should just split the difference,” Sheen said.

“Waterdeep? That old anthill?” Joris asked, dropping into a chair in a way that resembled a collapse.

“It’s the City of Splendors, not an anthill,” Sheen informed him.

“I know,” Joris replied, “it just seems different to think about it now.”

“It just seems like one city among many,” Sheen said.

“That’s what I mean. That’s it exactly.” The cleric sighed. “I’ve been having no end of trouble with words.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place, then,” Haden said.

“What’s wrong, Joris?” Talan asked.

“It’s Kalisa.”

“I’d be surprised if it was anything else,” Haden said.

“I can’t tell if I’m getting through to her. I’m starting with simple virtues, but when I tell her the parables it’s like they’re just stories to her. She doesn’t know what it means to be mortal. She’s three hundred years old.”

“Maybe you should show Joris the book you’re reading, Haden,” Talan suggested. Haden reached under his seat and flipped through the pages for a while, then passed it to Joris.

“She may even have been a different type of tanar’ri before, she just doesn’t remember it—or any mortal life she may have had before that.” Joris skimmed the page, then slowed down and began reading carefully.

“So, it’s like she’s never really lived before,” Sheen said.

“Right,” Joris responded absently.

“She’s trying, though, that’s a start,” Talan said.

“Trying and succeeding are two different things, though,” Sheen said.

“I think she is trying, but she’s a very chaotic creature and teaching her to overcome temptation through discipline doesn’t seem to be helping.”

“She’s like a child,” Sheen said. “She needs a family.”

Joris smiled. “Maybe. Would you mind if she and I moved in here?”

“It doesn’t bother me,” Haden said. “There’s plenty of room.” The closet door opened, ejecting Mal among a tangle of brooms and mops. “Mal, what the heck are you doing?!” Haden demanded.

Mal looked down at the scroll in his hand blankly, then said, “I found the Lady of Mirrors.”

“So, you found what you’ve been looking for?” Talan asked, mystified.

“Very nearly,” Mal said. “I know where I have to go. The Eye is Hers, I must return it to Her.”

“Does she have anything to do with the City of Mirrors that Gyderic mentioned?” Sheen asked. Haden made a face at her and she sighed. “Yes, he’s dead, but if we don’t ever find out what he was doing, we may find ourselves in even worse trouble.”

“Perhaps,” Mal said. “Perhaps not.”

“It’s really the only lead we have,” Sheen insisted.

“Whatever happened to me, I know Her hand is in it,” Mal said.

Haden shrugged. “You helped us, we can at least return the favor.”

“That would be very kind. That elf woman, I saw her in the Library of the Lady. She told me where to look.”

“Elf woman?” Sheen asked. “Firil?”

“Maybe?” Mal conceded.

Haden shook his head. “Hopeless.”

“She told me the cabal of faerie wizards that created the Isle of Black Trees is called Viridian and they hold court with the Lady in a place called Selwyn’s Grove, on a Prime world called Thazia.”

“A Prime?” Haden asked. “Visiting a different prime is, in many ways, more dangerous than visiting any of the Outer Planes.”

“How so?” Joris asked, startled.

“Primes are unpredictable,” Haden said. “You never know what you’re going to find. At least, so I’ve been told, I’ve never been to a Prime before.”

“What, never?” Sheen asked.

“Never,” Haden said. “Is it true that a terrible ball of fire burns in the sky?”

“Are you talking about the sun?” Sheen asked after a moment.

“Son of what?”

“No, the sun is . . . oh, nevermind, you’ll understand when you see it.”

Joris chuckled. “Primes won’t call you Clueless, at least. They may throw rocks, though.”

“I wouldn’t like to bet on their chances if they try throwing rocks at Haden,” Sheen announced primly.

Hexla emerged from the kitchen and put a load of dishes down on the dining room table with a loud thump. Talan bounced to his feet and began helping her. The smell of food drew everyone to the table and for a time all conversation ceased.

Sheen pushed her plate aside and yawned. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to head on home. I’ll tell Dr. Rhas that I’ll be out for the next few days and we can ask Lissandra about finding a portal to Thazia tomorrow.”

“Sleep sounds good,” Talan said, from where he was helping Hexla with the dishes again. Yolette quickly put on her coat and went to wait for Sheen by the door.

“Shall I walk you back?” Haden asked, trying to sound diffident. Yolette immediately said, “Sure!” but Sheen hesitated. Talan shook his head.

“It won’t kill you, you know,” Talan remarked.

“Come on,” Haden encouraged. “You know I’m just trying to get out of doing the dishes.”

“All right, all right,” Sheen said.

They left the house and walked in uncomfortable silence, Yolette bounding cheerfully ahead of them. Sheen stopped in the doorway and looked at Haden. He bowed politely and turned away to begin walking back. Sheen caught his arm.

“Would you like to come up?” she asked. Haden propped his shoulder against the doorframe and leaned forward, looming over her.

“Would you like me to come up?” he asked. Sheen bit her lip and reached out to brush her fingertips against his face.

“Yes,” she said.

Talan stepped out of Vander’s and looked at his friends, shrugging helplessly. “The innkeeper says Lissandra isn’t here. She might be out looking for a portal near the Night Market, though.” Haden wrapped an arm around Sheen’s shoulders as they began walking, and she leaned against him slightly. Talan and Joris exchanged a significant look.

“Who can tell with those two,” Talan said queitly.

The Hive was as crowded as ever, although their first visit seemed like a long, long time ago. The merchants hawked their wares with vicious enthusiasm, as always, making the Night Market seem more like the early stages of a riot than a place of business. They found Lissandra speaking to an old crone, her book under one arm. The crone didn’t look entirely human, but that wasn’t especially unusual.

“And where did you see it?” Lissandra asked. The crone pointed helpfully. “How many people came out?”

Haden winked down at Sheen, then threw his arms wide, nearly knocking over a vendor. “Lissy, my dearest, what are you up to?”

Lissandra looked up, nodded once at Haden, and held up a single finger until the crone finished speaking. Then Lissandra turned around in a leisurely fashion. “Pleasure to see you, Haden. I’m very sorry about your father.”

“That’s kind of you to say,” Haden replied. “It’s how he would have wanted to go, I think.”

“We need to ask you about a portal again,” Sheen added. “We’re looking for a way to get to Selwyn’s Grove in Thazia.”

“Thazia?” Lissandra asked, her face scrunching up with the effort of memory.

“It’s a Prime,” Mal intoned. Lissandra pulled out her book and removed a quill pen from behind her ear.

“So, are you treating my friend all right?” she asked Talan as she leafed through the pages. Surprised, Talan blushed and stammered.

“Ummmm . . . yes.”

Haden grinned slyly. “He never beats her with a stick wider than his thumb, and she gets all the turnips she can eat,” he announced. Talan turned a deeper shade of red and favored Haden with a glare when Hexla started to laugh. Haden just looked amused.

“Wait, my mistake, that’s what Hexla does with him.” Talan’s face took on a purple tinge and Hexla had to sit down on a bench, tears of laughter streaming down her face.

“Oh, give him a break,” Sheen said, elbowing Haden in the stomach.

“I don’t have anything for a ‘Thazia’, sorry,” Lissandra said, coming to the end of her text. “Primes are tricky to get, if you find one I’d love to have it.” Mal seemed to shrink in disappointment.

“Any ideas on where we should look or someone we can contact?” Talan asked.

“Well, if you can find a native, ask them how they got here. Then I can analyze the portal and find the key for you.”

Haden’s mouth opened, then he closed it again and frowned. “What?” Sheen asked.

“Didn’t . . . didn’t that idiot kid, Tulio, say he was from Thazia?” Everyone stared at Haden, surprised.

“Wow, I think you’re right,” Talan said. “But how are we going to find him now?”

“I told him to head for Chirper’s, but I never did see him there later. Maybe someone else there did, like Marlow or Sigrund. I hope he didn’t go back home.”

“Probably not,” Joris said. “He said ‘things are very bad there’, remember?”

“Yeah,” Haden said after a moment.

“Let’s just hope he hasn’t managed to land himself in prison,” Sheen said, turning to walk away.

“Let me know what you find out either way,” Lissandra said. Haden bent down and smooched her on the cheek. Lissandra froze, either shocked or horrified.

“Thanks for your help!” Sheen grabbed his arm and dragged him away.

“Are you trying to make me jealous?” she asked as they walked.

“You’d get jealous over me?” Haden asked.

“Um,” Sheen said intelligently.

Joris, hurrying behind them, couldn’t help snorting in laughter. “Just to be clear,” he asked when they both turned to glare, “are you two an item now?”

“Well, are we?” Haden asked.

“Um . . .” Sheen said again. “Well . . . I guess.”

“Good!” Joris said definitively.

“You guess?” Haden demanded plaintively. He sighed, then smiled and hugged Sheen around the shoulders again. “Well, I can live with that. For now.”

“Don’t be embarrassed,” Talan said.

“I’m not . . . embarrassed,” Sheen demurred. “Not exactly. It’s just something I was enjoying keeping to myself.”

Sigrund waved to them enthusiastically as they reached the awning at Chirper’s. Then his expression changed and he bowed to Haden, offering muttered condolences. Haden muttered some approximately appropriate gratitude in response. The common room was filling up, inside. While they still stood blinking, waiting for their eyes to adjust to the indoor lighting, Thea came bounding up to them.

“Hi, Thea,” Haden said with little enthusiasm.

“I’m soooooo sorry about your father!” she squealed and threw her arms around him. Haden cringed involuntarily, then belatedly tried to hide it.

“Thank you,” he said, grimacing and disengaging from the hug as politely as possible. “He’s in a better place now.” Thea looked around at the rest of the group. Joris attempted to hide his face and managed a halfhearted wave when Thea noticed him.

“We’re actually looking for someone,” Talan said, trying to break up the awkward moment.

“Really? Well, I need your help!” Thea said.

“What?” Talan asked. “Why?”

“I need you to help find my friend Tulio!” she said. “I think he’s in terrible danger!”