cave canem

Cave Canem- Beware the Dog

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mark My Sword: Chapter 8

Ezra woke up with a headache. She blinked, her vision slowly focusing on the…ceiling? Yes. It was a plain, wooden ceiling, mercifully devoid of any glowy blue monsters. She sank back against the soft pillows, wanting nothing more than to lay back and sleep off the rest of her headache.

Naturally, it was at this very moment that the door burst open and a large dragon leapt up, landing with crushing weight on her chest.

"Urgh! Brusss…"

Muffin eyed her, giving her a worried lick that went mostly up her nose.

"I- arch! Cory! Get your damned lizard off of me!"

At the sound of her insult, the dragon gave a relieved chirrup. She wasn't fooled, of course; he pretended to mean well, but he was really just afraid of losing his favorite target.

"C'mere, Muffin," Cory cooed gently. The dragon hopped off the bed. The air came back to Ezra's lungs in a rush.

Katryn came to the side of the bed, face drawn. "Hey, Ez, are you doing okay?"

"I'm doing just fine. Get me a tavern wench and a bottle of wine and I'll be even better. Where's blondie?"

"Right here," the elf said, moving to stand beside Katryn. "Your condition is more or less stable. A little bit of rest and you should be perfectly fine."

"More or less stable? That's reassuring."

"You are fine, knife-girl," Lorien said irritably. He'd clearly used up quite a bit of healing magic. Magic drain made him grouchy.

"Knife-girl? Really, blondie? That's the best you could do?"

"I… Well… Let me think a minute!"

Ezra turned to Katryn. "While he's thinking, would you mind telling me something?"


"Where am I and how did I get here?"


The city of Greenwood was surprisingly populous, given its small size. It was, of course, still tiny compared to the cities of the Empire where Ezra had grown up, but for a Damsel District city it was pretty impressive.

Lorien was babbling on about trade routes and cabbage farming, but Ezra's attention was already going in two directions.

First, there were the people, for a given definition of the term. She saw human farmers and adventurers, dwarvish miners, the occasional troll, and a few stranger things as well. One adventuring party sported a creature who appeared to be part bird and part tree.

The city was teeming with incredibly diverse life, and Ezra was determined to keep her eye on every bit of it. After all, any one of them could have some connection to Darghzin, or the creature, or just generally someone who wanted her dead.

Second, there was Katryn. She tried to pretend that nothing was wrong, but she was a terrible actor. Ever since they'd left the inn, she'd seemed oddly furtive. Ezra couldn't say she blamed her. After all, this was the city that had once belonged to the evil king who'd had Katryn's village sacked. Still, it didn't hurt to watch out for her leader. Well, not unless it meant that she missed something suspicious happening somewhere else. It was times like these when Ezra wished that she had more than two eyes.

At the sight of an eight-eyed spider creature walking down the street, she quickly withdrew her wish.

The team finally reached the address given to them by the innkeeper, standing in a huddle on the elegant stone steps of the Greenwood Office of Heroics.

"Okay," said Katryn. "This time, I do the talking." She glanced pointedly at Ezra.

"Fine, but in my defense, that clerk was just asking for trouble."

They entered the reception hall. The waiting area was already filled with bored-looking adventurers. Katryn went up to the reception desk to sign them in.

The receptionist looked at Muffin, and then pointed to a brass plaque reading, 'Animal Companions Should Be Leashed At All Times'. Muffin growled in response.

Ezra was already bracing herself for a firefight when a man walked out of one of the consulting rooms and up to the receptionist's desk. He stopped when he saw Katryn.

"Y-your highness?"

Katryn sighed. "Please, Percy, It's not 'your highness' anymore. I abdicated."

"O-of course, y- Lady Katryn."

"Oh, for the love of Pratchett."

The team looked at their leader in stunned silence. Finally, Ezra said, "You know, Katryn, I think you've reached your quota for dramatic reveals."


(Story on hiatus until further notice.)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mark My Sword: Chapter 7

Cory looked, wide-eyed, around the room. There was a four-poster bed, a little dusty, and a table, also covered in dust. In the corner was a spider web, in near perfect condition, the sunlight from the window catching beautifully in its gossamer threads. Ezra hung, unconscious, from the ceiling, a large, menacing creature standing over her.

The creature was shaped like a person, but wrong somehow, as if someone had made a portrait and then smudged the wet paint with their hands. It stood half in sunlight, half in shadow, its shaded half glowing a gentle blue. Cory wanted to reach out and touch the thing to see what it was made of, but Muffin empathically and empathetically suggested that this might not be a particularly wise decision.

"What is that?" Katryn asked Lorien.

"I don't know," said the wizard, tapping anxiously at his staff. "I've never seen anything like it before."

"What are you?" she shouted at the creature. "What did you do to Ezra?"

The creature looked at her blankly through what Cory thought might be eyes. It made a hissing, chittering sound, like a treeful of cicadas on a midsummer day. The noise bothered Muffin, who growled gently, drawing on his magic and preparing his fire breath.

Cory, feeling Muffin's nervousness, reached in his bag for a small explosive. Katryn held a hand out, signaling to wait for her order. Before anyone could do anything, though, the creature swept toward the window, vanishing into the daylight outside.

Ezra dropped from the ceiling, only to be caught by Katryn, who stepped up quickly, dropping her sword aside and grabbing her friend with outstretched arms.

"Her magic's been drained," Lorien said, rushing forward.

Cory and Muffin watched, worried, as the wizard examined Ezra carefully. Then Cory noticed a mouse in the corner. He watched its whiskers twitching in fascination, wondering if he could replicate the movement with machinery.

By the time the mouse had crawled away, Lorien announced, "I stabilized her. She'll be fine. She just needs some rest."

"Thank Pratchett," said Katryn in relief.

"I don't know what that thing was. Looks like one of Darghzin's chimeras. Whatever it is, it's gone now."

"I guess Darghzin's not here," Katryn said with a sigh.

"And they key's gone too," said Lorien. "I guess there's no reason for us to stay here, then."


"Shall we go to the city?"

"Yeah, sure," said Katryn with obvious distaste.

Cory wondered if there would be a nice inn in the city. He had an idea about the mouse, but needed a quiet place to work on it.

With Katryn carrying Ezra, the team walked out of the castle. Out of the corner of his eye, Cory thought he saw something blue, but when he turned around, it was gone.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Mark My Sword: Chapter 6

Katryn pulled out her sword as she jumped to the door, nearly taking Lorien's eye out in the process.

"What is it?" she barked. Cory and Muffin stood in the hallway, looking slightly baffled by her presence.

"Cory," she said as patiently as she could, "I heard you screaming a second ago. Would you mind telling me what that was all about?"

"Oh," said Cory brightly, "I thought I saw a dragonfly, but it was only a spider." He held out a large, hairy creature for inspection. "See?"

Katryn sighed, more relieved than annoyed. There was no danger, everyone was fine…

"Hey," said Lorien, "Where's Ezra?"


Ezra was in a small, dark room, and she wasn't particularly happy about it. She'd been looking at some sort of rabbit, well, mostly a rabbit, and the next thing she knew she was falling up. She'd given up trying to make sense of things in favor of being very, very angry.

Knives, check. All eight of them. It was nice to have backup. Now, to get out of this place…

Just then, a strange whispery noise came from above, a soft blue glow emanating in the darkness.

"Brust," Ezra swore.


"Pratchett," Katryn swore, rubbing the shin she had bruised on the tower stairs. The steps, as was tradition with evil sorcerers, were extremely steep and slightly damp, a perfect trap for incautious adventurers. Unfortunately, Katryn was in no mood to be cautious.

Still, she forced herself to take the stairs more slowly. It wouldn't help Ezra if she fell and broke her neck.

Ahead of her, Lorien looked around, waving his staff, apparently dispelling enchantments. Behind her, Cory and Muffin walked up with backup. Katryn didn't ask what the little metal  box did. She wasn't sure that she wanted to find out.

Finally, the top of the tower was in sight. Naturally, it was guarded by a heavy wooden door. Lorien tapped at it, ears flattening like a nervous dog's. He stepped aside, giving the all-clear. Katryn gave a nod to Muffin, who, with a running start, rammed his body full-force into the door.

Through a cloud of wood splinters, the team walked through the door.  They looked around, taking in the room around them.

"Pratchett," Katryn swore.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Movie Review: Easy A

Yes, I'm doing a review of a two-year-old film. I have a tendency to miss movies when they're in theaters, okay?

Last night, I was flipping through channels and caught Easy A. You may remember it as that movie where Emma Stone pretends to have sex with a gay dude and then references The Scarlet Letter a lot. While I'm not usually the chick flick type of person, I am generally curious about movies that play with classic literature, even when said classic literature is something as godawful as The Scarlet Letter.

Dear god, I hate this book.
 But enough about my tenth grade English class flashbacks, let's talk about the movie.

The story, as you may have guessed, is a modern retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne's bullshit drivel beloved classic, The Scarlet Letter. It's set in a high school, where a girl who Hollywood thinks is plain and uninteresting-looking tells a lie to a friend. The lie escalates until the entire school is convinced that she's a major slut.Olive embraces her new persona, and even starts accepting money to tell everyone that she slept with various people, until things start going to shit and she is in over her head.

The story is framed by the main character, Olive, vlogging her story as she explains her side of the story, telling how the lie started, and how it continued. She narrates the story in a dry, witty tone that I found fairly enjoyable. The story is loaded with interesting plot points and characters, most of whom I'm probably going to skip over. Blah blah blah, summary summary. Got it?
 A quick note: this movie seems to be founded on a vision of high school that is completely alien from my high school experience, which may have ruined my immersion somewhat. In the school of the movie, gossip spreads like wildfire, sex is treated as such a fantastically huge deal that, well, that this plot could happen at all, and gay kids are bullied badly enough that, well, that this plot could happen at all. Can I just say that I'm really glad I never went to a school like this?

For the purposes of this review, I'm going to assume that my high school was extremely atypical and move on.
 Okay, up front, I've got a couple problems with this movie. For one thing, the love interest feels extremely tacked-on. This is odd, seeing as he's actually fairly important to the plot. I think if he'd been given a more prominent role in the first two thirds of the film, he might have seemed to fit better with the rest. That's just my subjective feeling, though. I tend to have a lower-than-average tolerance for romantic subplots.

Next, the character of Brandon seems fairly conflicted. Brandon, for those of you who haven't seen the film, is a gay kid who asks Olive to pretend to have sex with him so that he can pretend to be straight. This despite the fact that he seemed fairly against the idea of trying to hide his sexuality in the first couple scenes. Really, it seemed like the writers weren't sure what to do with the character. He was mostly there just to get the plot rolling and act as the punchline to an (admittedly pretty funny) brick joke. He generally felt like a bit of a one-note character, which is a pity because I would've liked to see more of him. 

One-note characters seem to abound in this story, like Rhiannon, the hyper-Christian nutcase who acts judgmental and vindictive. Really, that was her entire goddamn character. They tried to give her some deeper characterization somewhere around the end of act two, but it fell pretty flat in my opinion. Also featured are the guidance counselor who is unhappy with her marriage and some fat nerdy loser character. I didn't bother to remember their names.

A few problems aside, though, this really is a movie to surprise you. It's standard fare in a lot of ways, but in other ways it's pretty unique and innovative. And, refreshingly, the moral of the story is not for or against sex, but rather takes the stance that other people's sex lives are none of our goddamn business. And really, isn't that a moral that we can all agree with?

Somewhat ironically, I give Easy A a solid B-minus.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mark My Sword: Chapter 5

Katryn glared at the water pooled over what had once been her family’s vegetable garden. After the village had been destroyed by soldiers, she had made a point of coming back to visit the old house frequently. She had stopped visiting in recent times, which had clearly not been the best decision.

She gripped her sword, attempting to pull it out of the mud. It was stuck. 

“Pratchett,” she swore. She pulled harder, magically enhanced muscles straining to no avail. Ezra came over to help her. After a bit of struggle, they decided to harness Muffin to the sword and let him pull for a while.
Lorien, meanwhile, had his ear pressed to the ground nearby. Katryn decided not to comment.

Ezra, to whom tact and sensitivity were strangers, made no such decision. Fortunately, whatever culturally insensitive remark she was about to make was cut off by Cory exclaiming, “Look at those things!”

A group of small creatures came swimming toward them across the moat. They looked like ducks that had crocodile heads crudely imposed over their own. They seemed to have trouble balancing, one of them tumbling end over end even as they watched. Katryn wondered what sort of cruel god would create such an animal.

Lorien looked up, fascinated gaze falling on the crocoducks. He walked cautiously closer to the edge of the water. “Hmm. Artificial chimeras. Their magic is mostly tied to maintaining their anatomy. It’s waning, though… Their source is disappearing…”

Muffin had abandoned his pulling to sniff curiously at one of the crocoducks, which snapped at him before falling flat on its snout.

“Um, yeah,” Katryn said, “Lor, when you’re done looking at the ducks, do you think you could help me get my sword out of the mud?”

The elf walked over to the sword, inspecting it carefully. Then he gave it a tiny nudge with his staff. “Try it now.”

Katryn grabbed the sword, pulling it out easily.

“Wizards,” Ezra muttered, massaging her sore arms. 

“The grounds are enchanted,” Lorien said. “It was very easy to break, though.”

Katryn gaped, enraged. “He did what? Cory, stop playing with the ducks and figure out how to get us into that castle.”


A few messy detonations later, the five adventurers stepped carefully across the smoking ruins of the drawbridge and into the castle. Standing in the center of the main entrance hall, Lorien looked around. 

Weak, spindly webs of blue magic were strewn throughout the entire castle, but there were two major nodes that the elf could see. He guessed them to be the sorcerer and the key. 

“This way,” he said. 

“Stick together,” Katryn told the team. “We don’t know what we’ll find here.”

As they walked toward the main staircase, Ezra muttered, “It seems pretty quiet in here.”

The team tensed, awaiting the inevitable minion attack. 

Strangely, a minute and then another passed with nothing happening. 

“This place is giving me the creeps,” said Ezra.

They walked through the castle, finding no sign of life save the occasional moth. If not for the magic lacing the air, Lorien would have thought the place to be abandoned long ago. 

Finally, they found the door containing one of the magical nodes. As they approached, Lorien felt a buzzing in his ears that indicated a strong concentration of magic. This was an elven trait rather than a wizard one, and despite his years of schooling and discipline the buzz always managed to fill him with an almost primal sense of anticipation. 

He tapped on the door with his staff, clearing away a few minor enchantments, and gave a nod to the others. Ezra cautiously pushed open the door. 

The room was lit with a blue glow, both of magic and magical light, although only Lorien could see the former. The glow emanated from the various glass tanks hovering around the room, filled with a variety of strange and unpleasant creatures.

“That’s strange,” Lorien said, looking at what appeared to be a baby monkey with dragon wings grafted on.

“You’re telling us,” said Ezra.

“No, I mean, this Darghzin. He apparently likes making chimeras. Wouldn’t you think that his castle would be filled with monsters?”

“You’re right,” said Katryn. “That’s weird. Instead all we’ve got are a few mutant ducks and a spell that sticks swords to the ground.”

In actuality, Lorien had dismantled several much nastier spells, some of which would have resulted in the loss of Katryn’s head, but he decided not to mention it.

“Well, the key’s not here,” said Ezra after a cursory look around the room.

“Then there’s only one place it could be,” said Lorien in resignation. “There’s only one problem. Darghzin is with it.”

“No problem,” said Ezra. “We’ve dealt with sorcerers before. We can-"

What they could do, she never got a chance to say, because just then, from outside the room, Cory let off a bloodcurdling scream.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mark My Sword: Chapter 4

“Don’t you at least think it was a little suspicious?” Ezra asked as they walked down the dirt road.

“You’re being paranoid again,” said Lorien.

“Call me paranoid one more time, elf-boy.” 

“Ezra,” Katryn said gently, “Don’t you think that maybe you can be just a little too careful sometimes?”

“Tell me that when you ignore me and end up dying a horrible death.”

Katryn sighed. “Look, remember that blacksmith who you followed around for a week in Blacktrees?”

“He’d put poison in peoples’ blades!”

“You paid him extra to do that.”

“Doesn’t make it healthy.”

“What about the Count of Redcliff?” Lorien pitched in.

“I’ve never met a count who wasn’t out to kill me.”

“That’s because you’re usually out to kill them.”

“And how about the old washerwoman?” Katryn added.

“You can’t tell me that you thought that was her natural hair color!”

Katryn and Lorien gave each other a long-suffering look, and Ezra had to restrain herself to keep from reaching for her knives.

Just then, Cory and Muffin came running around the bend towards them.

“There’s a fork in the road,” Cory said. “One way goes to the city, and the other way goes to the castle.”

“How did you know that?” asked Lorien. 

“There were signs.”

When they reached the fork, sure enough, there were two signs posted. One read, ‘GREENWOOD CITY- POPULATION: PRETTY DAMN BIG.’ The other read, ‘DARGHZIN’S CASTLE. TRESPASSERS WILL BE FED TO THE CROCODUCKS.’ 

Ezra wondered what the hell a crocoduck was. It sounded made up. Looking aside, she noticed that Katryn’s face suddenly seemed even grimmer than usual.

“You okay?”

“Hmm? Yep. Let’s go.” She stomped off in the direction of Darghzin’s castle, looking anything but okay.
The others shrugged at each other and followed her. 

The road leading up to the castle was winding and ominous, fairly standard as these things went. After a while, Lorien called for them to stop so he could set up some magical shielding.

One at a time, he tapped them lightly on the head with the tip of his staff. The magic was cool and tingly. Ezra shivered a bit as she felt it engulf her body and contract inward, wrapping itself tightly around the center of her magic. It was difficult to describe where, exactly, she felt this, as the magic didn’t technically have any physical location. Lorien had explained it to her once, but he’d lost her when he started talking about transdimensional planes and wibbly-wobbly balls of stuff. She'd begun to suspect that wizards just made things up to look smart.

They continued on, more slowly than before. Finally, the path widened out as the castle came into view.

It wasn’t an especially unique castle. It was a simple, boxy fortress on a hill, surrounded by a field of blackened ruins. The ruins, however, appeared to be something of interest, or at least, Katryn was treating them as such.

“The bastard,” she growled, just barely audible. “The Pratchett-damned bastard.”

“Um, Kat..?”

Katryn walked, quickly and purposefully, up to the castle. Bemused, the rest of the team followed her.

“Katryn,” Lorien tried to say, “should we really just…”

She made an unintelligible snarling noise, and the elf quickly shut up.

Ezra noticed that Katryn appeared to be counting the ruins as they walked past them. They looked like the remains of old cottages, separated by what might once have been small farm plots.

Katryn halted, suddenly, at the castle’s moat. She looked jarred. Then she drew her broadsword, swinging it deftly around and punching it deep into the soft earth.

“Can you believe it?” she said, looking angrier than Ezra had ever seen her. “That asshole built a moat over my house.”

Friday, July 20, 2012

Author's Pet Words

Every so often, I'll be reading a book and notice that the author is using a certain word rather frequently. Not an ordinary word like 'the' or 'said' or 'tree', but something that sticks out, like 'philosophically' or 'vermillion' or 'cathartic'. I've termed these 'author's pet words'.

These can get extremely distracting, especially to someone like me who pays a lot of attention to words. It gives the impression that the author just learned this new word today and was so proud of it that they had to sneak it into a couple chapters to show it off.

In my writing, though, I've begun to catch myself using certain words perhaps a bit more frequently than is strictly necessary. The thing is, though, they're generally not difficult to catch. All it takes is to read through the passage and then pull out a thesaurus to fix things up a little.

I don't know, I guess I'm just somewhat baffled by this phenomenon. Is it just me? Am I overly sensitive to this kind of thing? Maybe.

Still, I guess the moral of this story is that if you find yourself using a word a little too often, maybe you should put a leash on it and let some other words out to play for a while.

Or maybe the moral is that I'm a nitpicky douchebag. I'm not sure.

Well, this post is a waste of everyone's time.