Characters of Cimmeria: Gorwinua

gorwinua

Gorwinua was the finest bard the lands of Cimmeria ever knew and one of the many heroes who fought against draconic tyranny during the Dragon War. During her life she was a shining exemplar of Orcish virtues. She organized Orc armies, practiced the traditional rituals, and chopped down foes with the best of the Orcish warriors. Gorwinua remains a powerful cultural icon for all Orcs. Many Orc leaders have attempted to emulate her accomplishments hoping to unite their fractured peoples, but none have yet succeeded. Continue reading

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Sheerzen

Two notes about this city. First, it uses a numbering city in parenthesis to indicate which floor the current description applies to. Second, the concept for the history of this city was created in part by a member of my D&D group. His screen name is Zigfried and he deserves a lot of credit for developing the unique flavor of Sheerzen’s history.

Sheerzen.png

Sheerzen is a town of about 10,000 people built in the middle of Apollo’s Plains. The town was constructed by an early group of heroes, Brelfagar the Dwarven fighter, Shoree the Human paladin, Sunrise the Elven wizard, and Jeffery the Human cleric of the Muses. This adventuring party known as the Bronze Chords served their bronze dragon master, Rilopenaril. There are not many useful resources in the area around Sheerzen besides good soil. The city is not along any large rivers or trade routes. Earthquakes routinely rock the area destroying most buildings and any tunnels that would provide a connection to the Underdark. Sheerzen was constructed in this location precisely because it had little to offer. With no resources, the Bronze Chords hoped it would always be a peaceful city.

Sheerzen has only one building, a gigantic castle built atop an even bigger hill and surrounded by a moat. The keep rises about one thousand feet into the air. At the center of the tower is an empty space about forty feet across. This area is called the levitation elevator and bestows the power of levitation on all those who come into it.  There are stairs, but most residents use the elevator. The elevator does not reach the top six levels of the fortress. A magical waterfall goes through the center of this great empty space and provides all the water the citizens need. The waterfall disappears into a magical hole in the ground floor to prevent flooding.

The whole structure is reinforced with adamantine and lead making it impossible to teleport or scry into. The first five (1-5) levels of the castle are entirely defensive except for a park at the base of the elevator. These defensive levels are a show of force to visitors and an actual precaution against those who might attack Sheerzen. Hundreds of arrow slits look out on Apollo’s Hill making sure no army can approach within a mile without being shot at by ballistae, bows, crossbows, slings, catapults, and magical defenses.

The next dozen or so (6-19) levels are mostly commercial, so that tourists and visitors to the city need not go too far to find what they are looking for. The town sells commemorative items with a specialty in complex imitation weapons and armor for children to wear. Many famous painters, sculptors, and architects are also from Sheerzen and copies of their works are sold in numerous shops. The hotels and restaurants of the city are also on the commercial levels.

The next few (20-26) levels are where crafting takes place. These levels although unattractive need to be low in the fortress so that resources would not have to be taken all the way up to the top of the building. Sheerzen has a large available space for making items, but not enough people using that space. It would be a rival to Crafterton if it shared a similar central location in The Magical Lands. The work place and tools are free to use for all, but craftsmen must provide their own materials. A popular recreation for the people of Sheerzen is to see who can make the best of a particular type of item or how fast someone can make such an item.

The next couple dozen (27-93) levels are mostly residential with parks on some levels surrounding the elevator. A few hotels, restaurants, and other small businesses take up shop on these levels as well, but it is against an unenforced law for them to do so. These levels are considered claustrophobic by the people who do not live in Sheerzen because of the low ceiling on the wide boulevards.

The next (94) level of Sheerzen contains the city’s legal facilities, jail, and police headquarters. The police headquarters is on the inner circle with the jail in the middle circle and the courts and lawyer’s offices on the outer circle. The town has no punishments for which the jail is required. The jail is used to house criminals before their trials. Sheerzen’s legal code is regular except that during a siege or war almost every punishment is death. Capital punishment is always carried out by tossing the convict off the roof of the fortress. The landing spot is surrounded by a railing to prevent an innocent person being crushed by any falling felons.

The next three (95-97) levels are for the administrative offices of the town. The treasury of Sheerzen is on the 95th level with an extensive guard contingent to prevent theft. The bureaucrats are on these levels as well as the library and hospital. The elevator does not reach these levels. Permission from Sheriff Dratles or another person of similar importance is required to access the staircase to the 95th floor and above.

The 98th level is entirely empty except for the stairs going up and down directly across from each other. Most people upon entering this room for the first time find it unsettling due to the low ceiling. Some with weaker constitutions have even thrown up when walking across it. The rumor is that it serves some purpose for the defense of the city, but no one really knows.

The 99th and 100th levels make up the palace of the large royal family. The royals are descended from the Bronze Chords. Rilopenaril repeatedly seeded the adventurers’ descendants with his own bloodline ensuring that any member of the Sheerzen royal family would have some draconic features. Additionally all of the royal family members have some command over arcane power due to their draconic descent. Rilopenaril encouraged the development of this arcane power in the royal family and eventually he became obsessed with it. The dragon organized magical duels for his children to determine who was the best sorcerer. This tradition expanded until the successor to the current monarch was chosen by the winner of a series of lethal duels between the bronze dragon’s grandchildren.

Danar the Beastslayer was the most significant king in Sheerzen’s history. Exiled at an early age, Danar returned to the city after training for many years in the swamp that now bears his name. Danar slew his elder brother, Einhart, in a magical duel and claimed the crown. He joined the other heroes of the age in their fight against the tyranny of the dragons. Danar helped defeat his own ancestors, Rilopenaril and the dragon’s twin sister, Langudina. The mortal warrior locked away the dragon monarchs in the Orbs of Dragonkind, becoming the guardian of the Red Orb.

Rilopenaril left Sheerzen after his sister was locked away in the Bronze Orb. He guards the Bronze Orb at a hidden location close to the tower city. The conditions of Rilopenaril’s magical bondage allow him to visit Sheerzen for the coronations, funerals, and weddings of each successive monarch. The current king and queen are Dominiic and Freya. Forty years ago the Xorian army marched upon Sheerzen. The king and queen surrendered the city to Xoria on the condition that their line and traditions be allowed to continue. King Dominiic and Queen Freya elected to keep their mortality, but do not judge the decisions their subjects make. Under these conditions, a mortal and Dragovinian aristocracy have peacefully mixed in Sheerzen.

Sheerzen was built to be a haven for artisans and craftsmen to practice their art without worrying about their income. The city’s enchantments allow the monarchy to easily provide patronage for hundreds of artists. To defend the city the army is outfitted with the best weapons available and focuses on learning defensive battle strategies without losing a single man to the opponent’s weapons. Because the fortress creates its own food and water within it is always prepared for a siege. The magical nature of the monarchy extends to the army where mages are trained to dispel and counter enemy battle mages.

Danar has recently returned to life due to the destruction of the Red Orb. The magic that orchestrated his return will only allow him to rest once Invernix is defeated once more. Danar decided to delay his confrontation with Invernix due to the numerous other contemporary threats to the people of Cimmeria. Once he feels the world is safe enough, Danar will confront Invernix once more.

-GoCorral

Home Wish List

All the majesty of note paper made for teachers.
All the majesty of note paper made for teachers.

While cleaning out one of the moving boxes I found an old list of stuff my wife and I made.

The list is of things we wanted in our house and the list was made before we started looking for our house.

So here it is!

1. Two stories Check!
We got this one! Bedrooms and office on the second story. Everything else on the bottom floor.
2. A block or more away from a main road Check!
The reason for this one was to let the cats go outside unsupervised without worrying about them being run over on a main road.
3. A two car garage Check!
We won’t necessarily park both our cars in it (once we get another car), but its nice to have the option.
4. A big kitchen with a counter Check!
Our old place had a tiny kitchen without an island counter. Getting a big place to make meals feels great!
5. A dining room Check!
The old apartment had a tiny little section for the dining table that wasn’t really its own room. Our new house doesn’t have a dining room either, but it has two large places where the table can go (we’re using one of them).
6. Laundry Check! 
We’ve got a washing machine and a dryer! No more lugging clothes 300 feet to the laundry building in our complex or hoarding quarters like they’re more valuable than gold.
7. A backyard Check!
Yep! Got a real nice backyard that’s good for playing in with kids or for having meals during the summer.
8. A front yard Sort of.
We have landscaping in the front but I wouldn’t really call it a yard. Too many bushes and things. We could change it to have a yard though!
9. Solar panels Check!
The solar panels are sort of leased through a company. We don’t own the solar panels. A company does and they sell us the electricity they produce for about the same amount that PG&E charges. We then get reimbursed from PG&E for any excess electricity the panels produce. Odd way of doing it, but we are contributing to renewable energy with the panels!
10. Hardwood floors Sort of.
I’m allergic to dust which crops up in carpeted floors. Hardwood doesn’t collect dust the same way. We’ve got carpet on the second floor, but the bottom floor is tiled. That’s good enough for me.
11. Dance studio Sort of.
Not really present in the house. Instead we have a big mirror in the entrance hallway to the house that serves pretty much the same purpose. There’s plenty of space to dance there with a mirror to look at yourself even if it isn’t an official dance studio.
12. An office Check!
Yep! Writing this post in the office right now.
13. A big bath tub attached to the master bathroom No. 
Can’t have everything.
14. A pool No.
We didn’t get this one either, but that was a conscious choice. We looked at a house with a pool and it took up most of the backyard which we also wanted. Plus, the maintenance on a pool is pretty expensive.
15. Painted blue with white trim No.
We like the colors, but it isn’t blue with white trim. We could still repaint the house in the future.
16. A big tree for a swing or a tree house Check! 
The treehouse is actually a playhouse, but its basically what I wanted. All good!
17. A better HVAC system than our apartment Check!
Our old apartment had wall AC units and a heater that didn’t work (heater wasn’t that big an issue in Davis). One of the rooms never got AC. The new house has central heating and AC that both work great. We’ve also got a whole house fan which is a much more energy efficient method for cooling the house at night.
18. A fireplace Check!
Got a fireplace in the back living room. We haven’t used it yet but we probably will sometime next winter.
19. Big bedroom closets Check!
The closets aren’t as big as the walk-in one at the old apartment, but they’re still big enough for us.
20. Close to where my wife works Sort of. 
The house is about a mile and a half from the school where my wife works, so not as close as we originally wanted. This ended up being a good thing as my wife wanted to avoid seeing her students outside of school. Just a little tough to always have to be “on” as a teacher at the grocery store. We live in a different neighborhood than the school so none of the kids are around here.
21. Space for a garden Check!
There aren’t any planter boxes yet, but we’ll get some.

And that’s it! We got most of the stuff that we wanted and it feels pretty good.

-GoCorral

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

People should post books they read on Instagram instead of food they eat.
People should post books they read on Instagram instead of food they eat.

I finished reading a book called The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro that my step-mom had gotten me. I’m going to be delivering some spoilers about the book in this post, so be forewarned. If you’re interested in Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing or King Arthur stuff I’d recommend you finish the book on your own before reading this post.

The book is set a generation or so after King Arthur, when all his knights are getting old or dead.

The book follows the journey of a married couple, Axl and Beatrice, who are traveling to their son’s village.

A mist covers England clouding people’s memories. People forget things after the simplest of distractions. Old memories are difficult or impossible to recall. And the problem affects everyone.

The memory mist springs from a dragon and it becomes the quest of Axl, Beatrice, and a few people they meet on their journey to slay the dragon.

The dragon slaying is all fine and good and I loved reading those parts. It may not be a traditional King Arthur tale, but I love reading new takes on old things and it hit a home run in being a King Arthur story.

What bothered me about the book is what has bothered me about a lot of books, the ending is sad.

I remember a conversation I had with my dad when I was in high school. I asked him, “Why do modern stories have bad endings? Ancient stories always have the good guys killing the bad guys and everyone living happily ever after. Like King Arthur.”

My dad said something along the lines of, “Modern stories have bad endings because they’re more real. Fairy tales like King Arthur are fine for kids, but grownups like stories that are real, that they can relate to. It’s cathartic.”

That answer was good enough for me back then, but I’ve done some more thinking on it since.

First, bad endings are not solely the province of modern stories. Oedipus Rex is a perfect example of an ancient story with a horrible ending. Romeo and Juliet is based off the Greek myth of Pyramus and Thisbe. The Iliad has a powerful ending, but no one really gets what they want. Hector is still dead and Achilles still feels empty.

The second thing I realized is that it isn’t so much the sadness that makes stories feel real. You can’t just have something bad happen to someone and expect people to start feeling empathy for that character.

No. What makes stories real is having characters on both sides of a conflict who could both be described as good.

The Greek myths are perfect examples once again. Achilles is the hero of the Iliad, but so is Hector. They’re both great admirable people (at least to the Greeks. I don’t think someone with the epithet, “the Mankiller,” would be very popular today),

They’re both heroes in the story, but they have antithetical goals. One must die for the story to reach resolution. And that’s what makes it sad.

The conflict doesn’t always need to end in death and the characters don’t always need to be diametrically opposed, but ultimately the “villain” of an adult story must have real motivations for what they are doing. And most real motivations are fundamentally good. People do things to help themselves or the people they care about, not because they want to hurt other people (sadists are exempt).

An easier separation between what I’ve called good and bad endings in the past would be children’s stories and adult stories.

Stories need to be simplified for children which can mean having a villain who is just villainous for no good reason (Jafar, The Star Wars Emperor, Mordred from King Arthur, etc.).

But back to The Buried Giant!

Early on in the book Axl and Beatrice encounter a woman who tells them about a mysterious island that is clearly some sort of allegory for Heaven.

It’s said that you can live on the island and never see the other people living there.

Only a couple that is truly in love will be able to interact with each other on the island.

A couple’s truly in love status is tested by the boatman who brings people to the island. He asks couples a series of individual questions before permitting them to travel together.

The woman that Axl and Beatrice meet describes that happening to her and her husband. They answered the questions and then the boatman said the water was too rough to bring them to the island at the same time.

Thinking she would get to see her husband on the next boat, she said, “Fine,” and her husband went first.

When the boatman came back he informed the wife that she had failed the questions and that she would not be seeing her husband on the island. She left in a rage and wandered England before eventually telling her story to Axl and Beatrice.

Our protagonist couple talk about the island constantly. They are concerned that they won’t be able to answer questions about their love for each other if the dragon’s memory mist prevents them from remembering why they originally fell in love.

In the final chapter of the book they talk to the boatman. The boatman talks to Beatrice first and then to Axl. We only hear Axl’s conversation.

The boatman is very casual and brings up a fight that Axl had with Beatrice once. Axl explains the fight, but is suspicious that he and Beatrice will be denied joint entrance to “Island Heaven” if he tells the whle truth (the reader never learns the whole truth).

The boatman agrees to take them both to the island. Axl hops in the boat with Beatrice.

And then the boatman says, “I can’t take you both at the same time. The weather is too bad.”

Axl’s face darkens. He knows he failed the questions, but he doesn’t want to say goodbye to his wife. He stays in the boat.

Beatrice tells Axl she’ll be fine. They can just meet when the boatman brings the next boat.

Not wanting to upset his wife, Axl gets out of the boat and trudges towards shore.

And the book freaking ends there.

I understand that sad endings are sometimes more realistic, but this felt more like the author screwing with me.

Couldn’t they have been allowed to go together? Couldn’t we have learned a few more specifics about what Axl and Beatrice fought about long ago?

Nope! Ishiguro does the smart thing. If you have questions that don’t need answering in a story, then don’t answer them. People will come up with their own answers and those will always satisfy the readers more than anything you can come up with.

So does the boatman come back and take Axl to be with Beatrice? It’s possible, but my own answer to that question was, “No.”

And that’s a sad ending.

-GoCorral

The Longest Ride Movie Review

Another movie that my wife and I saw together (Oh my God! He never writes movie reviews!).

Unlike Cinderella this movie had the level of passion I’ve come to expect from romance movies.

The Longest Ride is another Nicholas Sparks book turned to a movie. It seems like he and Stephen King get every single one of their books optioned into a movie script.

If you’ve seen The Notebook this is more of what that movie offered. It even has a story within a story like The Notebook.

The Longest Ride starts by establishing a budding relationship between Sophia, aspiring art student, and Luke, professional bull rider.

On the way home from their first date at a secluded lake Luke and Sophia spot a crashed car off the side of the road. They pull an old man from the wreckage. He’s a bit out of it, but he has enough sense to ask them to save a box from the backseat of the car.

They rush him to the hospital. Somewhere in there Sophia tells Luke that she’s moving to New York for an art internship in two months and she’s not sure she wants a serious relationship.

They get the man to the hospital and Luke leaves. Sophia stays and opens the box to find dozens of letters written by the rescued man, Ira, to his wife, Ruth.

When Ira awakes, Sophia tells him she read one of the letters and he asks her to read the rest to him as his eyesight no longer allows him to read them to himself (Ruth is dead and can’t read them to him either).

From there the movie tells two parallel storylines of the romance between Ira and Ruth and the romance between Luke and Sophia.

Luke and Sophia have the drama of Sophia’s plan to move to New York, Luke’s persistence in bull riding even after a serious injury, and the culture clash between their two worlds.

Ira and Ruth are two Jews that escaped Nazi Europe and fall in love in the USA. Ira joins the army to fight the Nazis and sustains an injury that sterilizes him. The main conflict in that story is Ira’s inability to have children and Ruth’s desire to fill that void anyway she can.

Both the stories are fun in their own way and while one segment is going on I started to develop a thirst to find out what was happening in the other segment.

If you’ve seen one Nicholas Sparks movie you’ve seen them all. You probably already know exactly what’s going to happen in this movie. My wife and I happen to like Nicholas Sparks movies, so I’d definitely recommend this to anyone else who enjoyed other adaptions of his work.

-GoCorral

Favorite Books

There’s this thing going around Facebook over the past couple weeks that finally reached me. No, not the Ice Bucket Challenge. I’m talking about a list of your top ten books.

Someone posts on their timeline and tags you in it. The copy and pasted section of the status reads:

“In your status, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t think too hard. They don’t have to be the ‘right’ books or great books of literature, just ones that affected you in some way. Tag 10(ish) friends including me so I can see your list.”

I got tagged by my sister and here is my list:

Hyperion – Dan Simmons
Game of Thrones – George Martin
Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkein
Shade’s Children – Garth Nix
1984 – George Orwell
Dark Prince – Russell Moon
The Iron Ring – Lloyd Alexander
Nine Princes in Amber – Roger Zelazny
Gates of Fire – Steven Pressfield
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Obviously there are a lot of great books that I can think of that I didn’t include on here. Dune and Harry Potter for example.

I felt the list was supposed to be composed somewhat impulsively, so I stuck with what I first thought of.

So why did I pick these?

Hyperion is possibly one of the best space opera novels ever written. Dan Simmons is an excellent writer in nearly every genre. The story follows seven travelers in a space ship on a pilgrimage to the fictional Hyperion planet where a great monster, the Shrike, awaits them. The Shrike will grant a wish to one of the travelers and kill the other six. The travelers spend their voyage telling stories like in The Canterbury Tales (every story where characters sit around and tell stories now officially based off of Canterbury Tales). The stories focus on the travelers’ past lives and why they are going to get a wish. I put Hyperion on this list because it was the first book that made me realize I love fragmented stories. Like in TV shows where there’s an A plot and a B plot. I love that in books as well. Hyperion has three sequels that I’ve read as well, Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and Rise of Endymion.

Game of Thrones is the latest craze. I got into the series right before book 5 came out and consumed them at a rate of about one book per month. They’re good, they’re sexy, and they’re one of my favorite genres, medieval fantasy. Plus, it has a fragmented story line! Perfect!

Lord of the Rings is also a great book. My dad spent years reading me bits and pieces as bedtime stories. We started with The Hobbit when I was six and didn’t finish until I was eleven. The Lord of the Rings also inspired my favorite hobby, Dungeons and Dragons. So this one’s got too amazing things going for it. AND FRAGMENTED ACTION  ONCE AGAIN!

Shade’s Children was my first dystopia book. It’s fairly awful as far as complex themes go. Some robots from an alternate dimension invade Earth and start hunting humans for sport. The humans hide underground, but their society is kept alive by the robots or something? Sounds like a Matrix ripoff. Still, I loved it. Also, I was eight around the time I read it and there is the barest hint of sex in the book. I’m pretty sure it was my first exposure to sex, so it is significant for that reason as well.

1984 is the quintessential dystopian novel. Also, its by Orwell who is an amazing author. I loved this book and I still love it. I love the genre. Putting Shade’s Children on my list reminded me of 1984 so I put it on as well. Like I said, I didn’t think much about the list.

Dark Prince is probably one of the weirder ones on this list. It is the last book in a trilogy. The first book is called Witch Boy. The author, Russell Moon, has only written one other book. I’m not sure why he stopped writing because his stuff is quite good (or at least I remember it being good). The book tells the story of a teenage boy who suddenly discovers he is a witch and accidentally kills his girlfriend with his newfound magical powers. He then discovers that she was part of some weird witch cult which plans to use him in a plot to take over the world or something. My memory of the book is hazy, but I do remember loving it at the time.

The Iron Ring is a story that imitates Indian fairy tales. My dad read Grimm’s Fairy Tales to me when I was a kid and I loved them.  This was a continuation of that, but in an entirely different way. The stories were vaguely familiar because they used the same themes, plot devices, and stock characters, but they were also very different due to the setting for the story. Rajas instead of kings. Rakshasas instead of the Devil. It was really cool!

Nine Princes in Amber is amazing and everyone should read it. The book is the first in a series of ten books split into two halves of five books. The series details a titanic struggle between order and chaos across all dimensions. The center of order is called Amber. The series is extremely well written. One of my favorite parts is how Zelazny handles sexual or crude stuff in the books. He always alludes, but never mentions stuff explicitly. A character curses instead of “He exclaimed, ‘Shit!'” It’s very well done and I’d recommend it to everyone as long as you don’t require female characters. There aren’t very many of them…

Gates of Fire is a historical novel about the Greek defense of the Hot Gates of Thermopylae from the Persians. The story is stunningly realistic. The Spartans fight until their swords, spears, and shields are broken. All that’s left is their hands and they fight on against the Persians. I’ve always loved reading and learning more about the ancient Greeks and Romans. This novel gave me a means to do that in a more mature way.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy always makes me laugh. I loved the books and they are one of the few novels that I have read more than once. A few of the others on this list are also in that exalted category. The book is absurdist humor in a space opera setting, both of which appeal to me greatly. The Hitchhiker’s Guide was originally a radio show which I own a recording of and listen to occasionally in the car. If you like absurdist humor you should check it out!

Let me know what your ten would be in the comments!

-Mister Ed