Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tasting Notes: Lost Abbey, round 1

Like I mentioned previously, Gary, Kevin, Trent, and I shared some beers a Friday night not too long ago in a "beer-thirty"* session... a session that found us talking well past 2am! Times like that are... well, priceless. Knowing that we'd eventually get around to drinking the beers, I buy one or two of the special beers I find and save them for the next beer-thirty.

This time, the Lost Abbey line up consisted of Witch's Wit, Carnivale Ale, Inferno Ale, and Serpent's Stout (and then we topped it off with a pull or two off the keg of Stone Imperial Russian Stout).

Let's begin.

The Witch's Wit was cracked open first because I thought it would go best with the food Trent was eating (roasted chicken) and it would also taste okay after the meal I made for the family and my brother Gary (a simple non-Oriental stir fry). That, and I had heard it was not a great beers (not bad, just not great). Many of those wheat and malt notes in the nose and flavor. The yeast contributed a spicy character. The beer was good, yet not as impressive as other Lost Abbey beers, but I bet it was a nice complement to the chicken. (RateBeer's entry - 75 pts)

Beer two was Carnevale Ale, a nice saison. As a "rule", it seems that saisons defy classification and rules. I guess this beer is really "how the Belgians brew at home", in short. I can totally see this beer as being made in a rustic Belgian farmhouse brewery (not that I've been to Belgium... yet). I enjoyed this beer, with its citrus nose, yeasty spiciness, and good mouthfeel. (RateBeer's entry - 93 pts)

It took us a while to get to beer three--Infernal Ale--as we were savoring the beer and really caught up in conversation. Nice name. This one's a Belgian strong ale, so the flavors were less rustic and more focused on the malt and the yeast. This beer was nestled comfortably in the midst of other Belgian strongs... pretty good, but not great. I'll reserve great for Angel's Share (mentioned below). (RateBeer's entry - 92 pts)

The penultimate beer for the evening was Serpent's Stout. Wow. Okay, so maybe I was mistaken and should have allowed for this beer to be called great. It was. Excellent chocolatey, coffee-like roastiness nose that carried through to the flavor. The richness of flavor slowed us down a bit more as we carried on talking and enjoying this beer. Go get a bottle or two. Wait, make that just one... leave more for us. (RateBeer's entry - 99 pts)

The final beer of the evening was Stone Imperial Russian Stout 2008, which I had on draft from a 1/6 bbl hanging out on the balcony. Everyone got at least a pint of this one--the tap was open for the night! As the preceeding 750ml bottles were split four ways, I needed something to cap off the evening. Since I'm not done building that kegerator yet, it was a little warm from being exposed to the Escondido winter air that evening, but this beer is great at cellar temperature and gets better as it warms and opens up. All the flavors of my second favorite Stone beer were there... present and accounted for. Perhaps I'm a bit jaded, but I grew used to the keg of "IRS" being there through Christmas, New Year's and into February (just blew the keg last weekend). (RateBeer's entry - 100 pts)

In conclusion, I must doff my hat to Tomme Arthur and the brew crew at Lost Abbey (aka Port Brewing). They brew some damn fine beers. Between them and the brewers at Stone, I don't know what the hell I'm going to brew at home. They make what I like!

A future Lost Abbey round or two will include Amazing Grace Ale (2007), Angel's Share Ale (2007), Red Poppy Ale (late 2007), Cuvee de Tomme (late 2007), and a vintage Cuvee de Tomme (2004 or 2005?)... at the very least. I'm not sure if I want to open those all in one night though. Beers of this caliber deserve to be savored, not pounded or even consumed without a bit of consideration. If we get too distracted in conversation, or perhaps a little drunk, our palattes will miss all the finer details... all the subtle flavors of the beers... but we'll have the memories.

Afterall, that is what a real beer-thirty is about. I'm looking forward to the next one... for the conversation and the beer.

* for those of you who don't know what a beer-thirty is, it is that special time when you gather with friends to drink good beer and discuss what is on your mind. Some people like to go to a happy hour at their favorite bar/restaurant/dive. I prefer to have them in the studio at my house. Low stress, excellent beer, and a place for everyone to crash if they feel they've had too much to drink. Good all the way around.

Tivanico - The Black Pontiff

[Just a little something I'm toying with... a militant "pope" who prefers to wear black to connect with his beginnings in a small chapel in the wilderlands of Tivanico (think Spain). This is set in the same world as the other fiction I share in my blog... just a different country.]

The blackness rippled and snapped.

Grasping the edges of his robe the Black Pontiff spun toward the doorway and the corridor beyond, his robe whipping through the familiar, practiced flourish behind him with a quick twitch of his hands. His escort fell in around him silently, searching and scanning their course with grim anticipation of the assassin they all knew would someday come.

The gathered bishops stared after him, faces aghast at such a stark declaration. Whisperings of unanswered questions “had they heard his pronouncement correctly”, and “were they going to live through this” echoed after the Primate.

Gorika - Empire Building

[This is a "fan fiction" piece set in Steven's world... before he went and changed things and I decided I wanted to keep going my direction. It doesn't exactly fit in either world now, but I'll probably change it when I get the chance. This is set in the same world as the other fiction I share in my blog... just a different country.]

The setting sun turned the distant mountains a deep purple-red, and the air in the broad valley a pale gold. The sun-lit dust billowed up from the thousands of tromping feet on the plateau carried by a breeze to the small troupe of onlookers standing on the hillock. The clatter of broken rocks filled the air, overpowering the grunted cadence and groaning complaints of the workers below. Like ants streaming from their nest, they climbed from a pit quarry in the valley, struggling under the weight of baskets filled with rock shards, and made their way to the hill a half-mile distant.

“Nitrell!” Gorruck bellowed, “You’re nearly on schedule. Maybe when I die you will be done? Eh?”

Nitrell nodded, bowing slightly, to his king. “Yes, Clanmaster. The workers were eager to impress you with their progress these last two months. Even today, they are inspired by your presence and work harder than ever.”

“You lie Nitrell.” He turned to face the barrel-chested human. “I have eyes watching the site from afar, and I know that they work because you beat them and withhold food. That is good.” Talen, the priest of Narimoran serving Nitrell, smirked.

“Thank you, noble one.” Nitrell responded, snapping to a crisp attentive posture.

Gorruck let the compliment rest in the gritty air and looked back to the bustling activity. The mound of stone shards ringing the hill rose steadily, a mirror of the young Gorruck’s growing power in Gorika. The precarious slopes of the tomb were their thickest on the northern side of the hill, tapering to a scant five-pace wide oval footprint on the southern face adjacent to his nearly complete redoubt-temple. He grinned a tusk-filled smile as the he surveyed the scene, pleased by his architect’s progress.

Raising his voice so it could be heard by those further down the hillock. “They should also know that I will send the laziest workers to the front lines. The clumsy troop holding up the other workers there can spend four tours on the Tivanican front!” He pointed to the nearby quarry road with humans and kelshay scurrying to right a wagon. “If they live, and have proven their loyalty by slaying twice their number, then maybe they will be worthy of returning to working on my tomb!”

The response of “By your order Scourgelord” echoed up the incline.

Gorruck knew the workers had built up the shattered rock construction faster than anyone expected in such a short time. He had commissioned the tomb on the eve of the feast of Ghamus, the War God, a scant season ago. Scouts went into the borderlands looking for a suitable site the next morning and one had returned with information including this grassy valley. The hill had stood out from the surrounding fields, and now, due to the clearing of trees, it dominated the dismal landscape. Today, the precarious slopes of fist-sized jagged rocks climbed nearly two hundred strides up the small mountain, not more than an eighth of the way up, but soon, the architect would need priests of the Fortifier to add forcewalls to shore up imminent rockslides.

“Nitrell, I trust your progress will be more pronounced next time I visit.” Gorruck added with a smirk. He looked to his counsel “Talen, gather the guards. We leave!” He strode down toward his horse.

“By your order, Clanmaster.” Nitrell replied, bowing. Talen whistled and made a circular motion with his raised hand. The six swordsmen handpicked by the king for these journeys jumped to their feet and mounted their warhorses. Once mounted, Talen repeated the gesture accompanied with a longer and shriller whistle, and the escort gathered around the king already riding toward the eastern hills. He watched as the King and his guards disappeared into the tree line a few miles distant, and nodded at some silent thought.


The ride was brisk, and the horses seemed to enjoy the fast ride into the edge of the hills. The trail veered into a small valley and followed a dry creek bed to a water-carved cavern. Horses whickered and neighed as King Gorruck of Lhuranal slowed the pace of the riders to navigate the low ceiling of the cavern. The group stopped in a chamber that was cramped by the seven riders and their horses.

“Guards, remain mounted, weapons ready. Prepare for any Tivanican hostiles at Altida.” Gorruck looked at the faces of his men dimly lit by the sunlight reflected off the cavern walls.

“I can’t abide using these waypoints, sire. It’s just not safe.”

“Pomax aaren Altidaes. Kori genay Lhuranes”


The mosaic on the floor of the cavernous room shimmered and Gorruck saw the room’s details come into focus. His gaze fell upon Verad, Imperial advisor and priest of Narimoran. Verad was frowning. Gorruck walked past him into his private rooms.

“Majesty, I trust your inspection of the construction went well?” Gorruck nodded, and motioned toward his suite, urging Verad to follow and continue. “Then I must tell you that I have gotten word that a clutch of Loyalists and Imperium mages will be here tomorrow morning to inquire about your motivations surrounding it’s construction. It seems someone was speaking of you to the wrong ears in Imperium chambers.”

“Verad, why is it that every time you meet me here it’s bad news? Just once I’d like you to have a tankard of ale waiting for me. Better still. Have a slave girl and ale with you. Close the door.”

Verad, pushing the door shut without moving his eyes from the king, responded stoically “Majesty, you know I have little time for worrying about such pleasures for myself. I…”

“Really, Verad, you should take the time. You may find it stimulating.” Gorruck sighed. He removed his belt, unbuckled the clasp that held the cloak to his armor, lifted the heavy crimson cloth from his shoulders, and started unstrapping his armor. “Who do you suspect?”

“I don’t have anyone specific in mind at this moment, sire. due to the seriousness of our impending visit, I suspect the information came from someone with privileged access and Imperium influence.”

“Thank you Verad,” Gorruck sneered, removing his chest armor. “I don’t think that I could have figured that out for myself. Tell me something of interest… something insightful. Surely, all that Loyalist training should give you some clue as to who has the influence to get a contingent of Imperium inquisitors here.”

“I’m sorry your Majesty. I have no ideas. Perhaps it would be best if we can draw what we can from the questioning and use that to sniff out our traitor. Trust me, sire, this reflects worse on me than it does on you.”

“You better find out what they are up to, Verad. That’s all I can say.” Gorruck grew silent. Yes, he thought, that is an interesting observation. There is hardly a reason for Verad to betray himself to the church.

Talidon - Reassignment

[This story is set in the central country for the fiction stories I share in my blog... how the other countries border this one is an interesting question I haven't answered yet. It is written to be read aloud to players in my Dungeons & Dragons game, hence the main character being the "reader".]

"Soldiers, to your feet for you are in the presence of Her Royal Majesty the Queen, Radiance of Talidon, Eyes of the Dragon Talid, Keeper of the Claw, Exalted Seeker of the Lost Orb."

The Queen appears before you.

"Soldiers and war bands of Our Armed Forces, We have called you here in Our presence to announce a reorganization of Our military to a structure used before the Slaughtering, a branched military hierarchy with ranks and rewards. As with other reforms in Our Majestic Lands of Talidon, these changes will help bring us closer to the lost greatness we all desire.

"The ranks are based on merit as are the rewards. The ranks are only used within the military forces, though they carry honor among the common people. The rewards are not entirely exclusive to the armed forces, though some can only be achieved through military service. Among the usual rewards of ribbons, medals, cords, and chains, are appointments in Orders, royal charters, noble titles, land grants, and even royal entitlement. With the multitude of rewards and the honor they impart, We see this as the beginning of a new era in Majestic Lands of Talidon.

"This reorganization marks a distinct departure from the mercenary groups that have pillaged Our nation’s lost treasures for the benefit of a highest bidder. This heralds a clean break from the warlords with their war-bands and in-fighting over who controls Our lands and marches. From this point forward, Our nation will benefit from such expeditions, rather than suffer loss.

"As the first reward for your proven excellence in service, We have entrusted your new officers to reassign you into one of three branches of Our new military. Army, Navy, Police. To initiate the reassignments, We will personally appoint the Arch General of Our Armed Forces."

The Royal Herald calls out "Grand Prince Temor of House Volodin, approach and be recognized."
A man who you presume is the Grand Prince climbs the steps of the stand. When he reaches the red-draped planks of the stand, he gracefully bows to the Queen, walks to two arm’s lengths away from her left hand, and kneels on both knees.

The Queen turns slightly away from the Grand Prince and says "Master of the Armories, the Sword of State.

" A man, garbed quite similarly to the royal herald approaches the Queen holding a golden-sheathed, bejeweled sword by the scabbard. He bows the hilt to the Queen and she draws sword. The Queen turns her back to the man and faces the Grand Prince with the sword in her right hand. The Master of the Armories steps back and another man in less ornate trappings steps to take his place

"Grand Prince Temor Volodin, We challenge you to defend Talidon from all threats, foreign and domestic. Do you accept this challenge?"

"I swear to defend Talidon and accept this challenge."

The Queen nods and plunges the sword through his chest. The Grand Prince jerks backwards at the shock of what his body is enduring. He looks back up into the Queen’s face. She nods again and pulls the sword from the Grand Prince. He nearly falls forward, following the sword’s quick withdrawal. The Queen swings the sword backwards, its tip sending an arc of his blood’s droplets across the first few rows of those in audience.

As the Grand Prince steadies himself without touching his hands to the carpet, the Queen continues her arm’s movement until the sword comes into the grasp of the Master of the Armories’ attendant behind her. She releases the sword and the attendant wraps the blade in a white cloth, bows, and retreats behind his Master who steps forward with a large tray between his hands. Beside him a third similarly garbed man steps forward also bearing a tray.

"The Claw of Talid sees the truth in your heart. The Claw of Talid tastes the strength in your blood. The Claw of Talid knows your bond. Rise, Grand Prince Temor and meet your charges." The Queen turns to the Master of the Armories and removes a shining footman’s mace from the tray with both hands.

Surprisingly, the Grand Prince does rise, steadily and purposefully, almost slowly, first raising one knee to place his right foot on the carpet, then following it with his left.

"Grand Prince Temor, you are charged to command the Police and defend the throne and people of Talidon. Do you accept this charge?" The Queen extends the mace to the Grand Prince.

"I accept the charge." He replies in a strained voice, taking the mace with both hands and bowing.

"I hereby grant you the commission of Grand Marshall of the Police." He twists slightly to his right hanging the mace from his belt. As he does so, you think you see a red stain on the back of his jacket. He faces the Queen stiffly and snaps his arms to his sides.

While you were looking at the Grand Prince’s jacket, you heard the Queen say "Master of Arms". She must have also removed an ornate golden chain from his tray because she was holding it now. Two of the Master of Arms’ attendants moved in unison to positions behind the Grand Prince.

"With your charge, I appoint you First Link of the Most Noble Order of the Chain." The Queen reaches out with her hands, extending the chain toward the Grand Prince and over his head as he bows again slightly. The Master of Arms’ attendants each take the chain carefully from the Queen’s hand nearest them and button its links into the Grand Prince’s epaulets. The Queen turns again to the Master of the Armories and removes a golden-sheathed short sword from his tray.

"Grand Prince Temor, you are charged to command the Royal Navies and defend the waters and skies of Talidon. Do you accept this charge?" The Queen extends the short sword to the Grand Prince.

"I accept the charge." He replies again, taking the short sword with both hands and bowing.

"I hereby grant you the commission of Admiral of the Seas of the Navy." As before, he arms himself with the newly gifted weapon at his left hip. Your eyes catch another glimpse of blood, this time as a stain on the front of his jacket. Again, the Queen turns to the Master of Arms and removes something from his tray, this time a sash. Spreading the gold-trimmed sky blue sash with her hands, she speaks.

"With your charge, I appoint you Helm of the Most Honorable Order of the Sash." As before, the Grand Prince bowed so the Queen could bring the honor over his head, and again the attendants gently lifted it from her hands and brought it down to affix it to the Grand Prince’s uniform. The sash was buttoned in his right epaulet under the Chain, and brought down to buckle to his sword of office at his left hip.

The Queen turns again to the Master of the Armories and lifts a familiar long sword from the tray. It is the Sword of State, the Claw of Talid, the very weapon that moments ago was run through the Grand Princes’ torso.

"Grand Prince Temor, you are charged to command the Armies of the Crown and defend the lands and interests of Talidon. Do you accept this charge?" The Queen extends the ornate sword to the Grand Prince in both hands.

"I accept the charge." He replies, taking the Sword of State with both of his hands and bowing.

"I hereby grant you the commission of General of the Armies of Talidon." The Queen pronounces as the attendant to the left of the Grand Prince quickly helps him buckle the sword to his hip with the sash and Sword of the Navy. As he does so, you see the bloodstain has spread further across the left breast of his jacket and down his side. His face slightly pale, he faces the Queen stiffly and keeping his arms rigid and to his sides.

"With your charge, I appoint you to the Most Noble and Most Ancient Order of the Claw and bequeath unto you the office of Bearer of the Claw and all the duties it entails. Face your forces and be recognized." The Queen turns in unison with the Grand Prince to face you.

The Royal Herald announces loudly, "Presenting His Royal Highness, the Grand Prince Temor of House Volodin, Arch General of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, General of the Armies of Talidon, Admiral of the Seas, Grand Marshall of the Police, Bearer of the Claw for the Most Noble and Most Ancient Order of the Claw, Helm of the Most Honorable Order of the Sash, First Link of the Most Noble Order of the Chain!"

A cheer rises up from the crowd, though many people look around and whisper to one another, seeming somewhat confused at the pomp of this ceremony.

The Queen adds "With these three branches of our military, three offices installed, three orders of honor appointed, and three awards bestowed, We wish to ignite within you the fires to forge magnificent deeds of your own and wield them to propel our nation to greater heights." The crowd applauds and cheers more loudly this time as she steps back from her position at the front of the platform.

The Grand Prince, more importantly to you it seems, the Arch-General, stands alone near the front of the platform. He seems steady, having regained the color in his face despite the size of the blood-soaked wetness on the breast of his jacket. "Soldiers," he says, his voice strong, "over the next few days each of you will be called before your commanding officers and reassigned to a new unit within one of the three new branches; Army, Navy, and Police. I will now appoint the branch commanders."

The Royal Herald calls out "Archduke Makaris, approach and be recognized. Duchess Anfis, approach and be recognized. Earl Khariton, approach and be recognized."

Each of those summoned to the platform climb the stairs and take up positions to the Arch-General’s left as he had just done with the Queen. The Master of the Armories moves beside the Arch-General and the Master of Arms beside the Queen, each with a tray. A similar ceremony to the Grand Prince’s commissioning ensues for the newly appointed commanding officers of each military branch.

The Royal Herald announces "Presenting His Highness General Makaris, Archduke of Mischa, the Most Noble and Most Ancient Order of the Claw! Presenting Her Highness Admiral Anfis, Duchess of Melorin, the Most Honorable Order of the Sash! Presenting Marshall Khariton, Earl of Tarentum, the Most Noble Order of the Chain." They all stand proudly, the Archduke with his gold long sword and Claw medallion, the Duchess with her golden naval short sword and gold-trimmed sky blue sash, and the Earl with his mace and gold chain.

The Grand Prince turns to the Queen, bows, turns back to you and shouts "Dismissed!"

As the assembled soldiers disperse, you hear everything from excited talk about the future of the armed forces to the seditious mutterings and oaths of possible separatists. It is going to be an interesting couple of days.

Within a day you all receive your first orders from your commanding officer: you are to move into your new quarters before high noon tomorrow and wait there for further orders. You are given directions to your new lodging and get your gear set to move.

Late afternoon arrives in your new quarters and you hear a knock. Answering your door, you see no one nearby who could have knocked. You close the door and turn around to find a man standing beside a trapdoor near the foot of your rack.

"This is your first assignment from your new commander - Follow me." He turns to descend the wooden ladder into the lamp-lit tunnel below your quarters.

The tunnel is carved from the earth and supported by bricks, rocks, plaster and occasional wooden beams. Though haphazard in construction, it appears sound. You follow your guide until you come to a junction of tunnels where you meet four others; two soldiers each with their own lamp-bearing escorts. A short while later you meet up with eight more people - half soldiers, half guides. One speaks up.

"Good, we’re all here. Let’s get moving. Our commander awaits." He peels off down another corridor. In a few minutes the corridor widens into a small chamber with a door in the back wall.

The guide who spoke in the junction speaks again "Through the door and have a seat. I will let our commander know you are here. He will be with you in a moment." He goes through the door and into another in the room. The sound of squeaking metal and creaking wood fills the space beyond the door and falls quiet as suddenly as it started.

Lurking about in tunnels. Secret meetings in underground rooms. Hopefully your new commander will reasonably answer all of your questions.

The room is made of the same construction as the corridors that brought you here, but more wood resembling wainscoting is used on the lower half of the walls, and more red brick and white plaster are used throughout, both giving you a forced sense you are in a tavern above ground. A large rectangular table dominates the room, surrounded by a random collection of chairs. A high-backed chair sits on the left middle of the table with its back to a door, obviously the one the guide went through. Warmth emanates from a small iron stove in the near left corner of the room. The sound of almost boiling water comes from a small kettle on the stovetop. A small cupboard sits in the near right corner, with a large and random collection of clay, wood, and ceramic dishes. Small cabinets, a sideboard, and a stack of chairs sit in the remaining far corners. The table is illuminated by a four oil lanterns, their flames turned down to a low flicker.

Some of you take a seat while others walk slowly around the room, all anticipating the arrival of your new commander. You do not wait long as the sound of squeaking and creaking beyond the door returns. The noise stops with a thud and the door rattles open. You see the guide holding the door open for someone stepping out of what looks like a gated horse stall. The person lifts his head and you think he is the Arch-General!

"Attention! Presenting Arch-General Volodin" the guide says, eyeing those who were seated.

The Arch-General looks at you all, pulls out the high-backed chair and sits down. "Be seated." He pauses as he scans everyone’s faces again. "Soren, dark tea with lemon and some hard cheese. Enough for all."

"Yes sir." The guide says. He steps through the door once more and returns with a wheel of cheese on a plank and two lemons.

The Arch-General reaches forward to the two lanterns nearest him and raises their flames. "You are probably wondering at the covert nature of our meeting. The short answer is this. You came to the attention of my cadre, and one of them noticed a particular...er...synergetic aptitude among you all. He brought it to my attention and presented a plan I must say is quite devious. We discussed our options and decided to make you into a special unit dedicated to serving the unique needs of the Queen, the branch commanders, and myself. The work will be hard. For now, you will live your lives in secret, and will not discuss the details of your missions with anyone without my permission."

Soren placed a small plate of cheese in front of the Arch-General. He then put a small stack of mismatched saucers and the plank of cheese on the table, with some wedges already cut from the wheel. "Your tea will be ready in a moment sir."

"If you will join me" the Arch-General’s manner softens slightly and he says "I have spent much of my life at war, so most of the pleasantries enjoyed by those of even a lesser station are lost on me. I do, however, enjoy a few niceties. The tea is from Tivanico, a gift from the Black Pontiff, and the cheese is from some small goats Soren...ahem...acquired from Gorika." He smiles, hoping you catch his humor "I think it quite humorous our two comestibles are sharing the same table being that their countries of origin are at war." His smile grows wide, then quickly fades away as if it was never there. "So, now you know a little about me. Let us continue."

Soren’s hand moves in beside the Arch-General, setting a saucer and cup beside him. Soren pours steaming tea into the cup, floating a thin slice of lemon to the surface.

"Thank you Soren. Make sure to give some to the lads." Looking back to you all, his face darkening, the Arch-General continues grimly "Do you accept this charge? Yes? Good. Well then, now that you have been strong-armed into service, let us set some more rules and expectations.”

“You are now members a Police company I have, ah, borrowed from Earl Khariton. Hydra Battalion, E Company, Second Platoon, Second Squad. The battalion has numerous tasks associated with rooting out subversives, putting down rebellions, and the like—a splendid cover for the rest of our activities. Among the Police forces, only he knows about this, ah, shall we say, this extracurricular arrangement, so your role in this, and by extension everyone else’s, is safe as long as you follow protocol.”

“Your orders will normally be delivered to your quarters by courier. On rare occasions, we will contact you as we did tonight, by messenger via the tunnels. There are only certain people with access to these tunnels, so you will not be contacted in this manner unless it is authorized and necessary.”

“When on assignment, you must leave and enter your quarters via the tunnels you used this evening. When leaving the Police compound, you will move by night, exiting the tunnel system via a special building dedicated to our purposes. When leaving, you will be masked.” His mouth twists into a dark smile for a moment.

“You will be issued some standard equipment required to complete your tasks. Among these items is a magical mask you will wear during all missions. This mask will conceal your identity and protect you from any later retaliation by witnesses. You will be issued uniforms to be used while on all missions. They are to be stored down here. Another set will be issued for daily use. You will not always have special equipment you may need, and in such cases you will contact Soren’s team via this meeting room.”

Talidon - Introduction

[This "dust jacket" introduction came to me one afternoon way back when... then became so much more. This is the beginning of the fiction stories I will continue to post in my blog.]

In an age long since past, our peoples thrived in these lands at what many say was our civilization’s height. The great dwarf-built cities, with their spires reaching to the gods, protected all they oversaw.

That was before the dragons came and plunged our world into centuries of darkness. The Slaughtering saw the proud elves hunted to near extinction, the brave dwarves decimated in battle and driven back to their ancestral mountain halls. The humans who stood beside those warriors died on the fields of battle... those that ran were enslaved or worse. The orcs and goblinoids played to the dragons’ egos and found a place in their hordes. Some of our peoples turned against us and entered into the dragons’ service as well, though most were eventually killed as their greed overtook their dark loyalty.

It is only in recent memory that our peoples have regained footholds in our ancient homes, allowing the seeds of our once great civilization to sprout in the hopes that we will see it grow to the lofty heights once again. Much is lost that we once were, and much remains hidden to us, but with each day we recover the precious knowledge and artifacts of our forebears.


  • "In an age long since past ... was our civilization's height." - roughly 750 years ago (30 generations), though I'm seriously thinking of dropping this to about 200 years.
  • "the dragons came and plunged our world into centuries of darkness" - again, roughly 750 years ago. It is said that the Slaughtering swept across the land from one coast to another like a wave of blood and destruction. Again, I'm seriously thinking of dropping this to about 200 years.
  • "in recent memory... our peoples have regained... our ancient homes" - roughly 15-25 years depending on the area.
  • "Dragons haven't been seen in a while" - about 5 years since anyone has (reportedly) seen a dragon.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rant: Education Sacrificed

This post was originally a small comment on Marc's "Tenure?" posting on Another Look Around, but as I continued my comment, I found myself wanting to say more and more on the subject. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was essentially writing a blog entry on someone else's blog. Bad form. So, I mentioned I was going to post this on my own site. Not good form, but not as bad as the full post itself. I'm no master of debate, nor am I all that interested in politics, but I felt I should still say something. Anyway, here's the rant it became...

The California budget is jacked up. The economy is jacked up everywhere. (Captain Obvious here with news you already know.) What stinks is we have politicians who don't appear to care about solving the situation. Sure, they talk about solving things, but where is the balanced budget in California? They are still getting paychecks while people are losing their jobs. People and jobs, by the way, that are crucial to our future. One of those jobs is that of educator, and they will be among the first to pay the price of poor government in this doom's day plan. Our children will be the next ones to pay the price as kids are jammed into classrooms of 30+ students and suffer the side-effects of overcrowded classrooms. Next are all the "trickle-down" losses and troubles stemming from the lost jobs and poor learning conditions (trouble at home, for one). Ultimately, these children will be the same ones who will work in our companies and government, and care for us in our old age. Would you really want that to play out that way?

To me, it seems like we're all on a boat leaking and listing somewhere in the south Pacific. Some people are bailing as fast as they can, but the water is rising quickly. Others are trying to fix the leaks, but they are not boatwrights, so they cause about as much damage as they repair. Finally, there is a group who, in an effort to improve their cold and wet condition, are prying up planks and throwing them into a fire they built on the bow! Unfortunately, if we try to follow rats jumping off the ship, we'll drown just like them. So we're stuck here, hoping someone can do something to fix our situation before we all go under. (Look at me... I'm the one in the back stating the obvious and annoying everyone in earshot... yeah, the first one to get eaten by the shark, causing everyone in the theater to cheer.)

We already have one of the worst ranked education systems in the nation, and now we're about to cut the funding further? This is in addition to the proposed cap of lottery money income at the current rate of $1.2 billion (from some sources, that is around 3% of the annual education spending in California). This is happening during a time where things are costing more and becoming harder to come by.

The education system seems to be broken. What other profession do you have to go through college, get a degree, take additional classes, take certification tests, serve a two year probationary internship, endure repetitive annual state mandated training, suffer through lack of funding, and spend your own money to get supplies? Then, as if that wasn't enough, have your "bosses" tell you your pay will be linked to your performance, but you can't deviate from a particular curriculum, even to bouy the slow learners? It stinks like day old roadkill skunk. I didn't even get into poor curriculums, monopolistic text book contracts, poorly designed government policies, and the insanity of penalizing schools and teachers for not having kids perform in the higher percentiles in the "bell curve" ranked standardized testing (perhaps someone needs to explain a "bell curve" to government officials again).

[Whoa, look over there. Something is coming out of left field.]

Meanwhile, the 2008 NFL team player salaries totalled $3,624,115,487 for the 2008-2009 season. Yep. 3.6 billion dollars. With a 'B'. I can watch a bunch of people play football for free in a park. People who are playing for free and having fun. That large figure was for the players in one sport. Imagine how much money the entire professional sports industry generates. Season tickets, official jerseys, logo merchandise, product endorsements, and the list goes on. Staggering, huh? I think professional athletes' (not just football or even just sports I suppose) salaries should be capped (keep it high at $200,000, why not) and the "extra" money diverted into schools. It won't solve our problem, but it could put a minor dent in it. Wow, that sounds SO socialist... spreading the money around like that... but we have people being paid enormous amounts of money and they really don't contribute much to society other than entertainment. We worship them for it and ignore what really should matter. Instead, let's funnel that "excess" money into something important to our future (other than a memory of a good game and a collection of statistics), rather than entertainment, and we might be able to dig ourselves out of this hole we're in.

Children want to become professional athletes--not that there's anything wrong with striving for a goal, even an impractical and nigh unachievable one. I think they strive to be athletes because "we" like athletes, we put them on TV, we pay them lot's of money, and we pay them to do things most people do for free; play ball games. Maybe--and here's a really against-the-grain thought--maybe we should pay educators more. Like, lots more. Make that the job students strive for to get one of the few slots. We'd end up with better educators, and each generation would be smarter than the one before. Nice by-product.

Imagine what it would be like if we valued the valuable people in our society, instead of the athletes, actors, and rock stars.

There's so much more to say on this subject... but as usual, I'm quite tired and I have to work tom... er... today. Also, I could and probably should list all the resources I read while writing this post, but they are numerous, including USA Today, LA Times, CNN, the State of California, and on and on. If this issue bugs you, you'll have no trouble finding material on the subject.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Travel: San Pasqual Battlefield

Friday evening, Ethan asked Andie and I if we could to go to a museum and on a hike. Being five years old, he is sometimes cued into the day of the week, and in this case, he knew the weekend was rapidly approaching. Since he had had a "good" day, we felt we could indulge his request. Andie didn't really know where we could go, but I had recently remembered about an interesting piece of history a short distance from our house: the San Pasqual Battlefield. Andie visited their web site and learned that they have visitor center/museum and a nature trail... both of Ethan's requests fulfilled by one nearby trip.

Sunday arrived and we gathered up the few necessities for a short outing, jumped into the car, and got on the road. About ten minutes later, we found ourselves parking at the site. Walking up the path toward the monument we saw a small crowd gathered in the amphitheatre. What luck! There was a group of presenters telling the tale of the battle of San Pasqual and demonstrating period (and reproduction) equipment. Naturally, we took a seat and listened to the presentation. The speaker first told the story of the known historical events, situations, and decisions leading up to the battle, then discussed the battle itself and the subsequent movement of both American and Mexican troops toward what is now Old Town San Diego. (I'll let you read and/or visit to get the story yourself.)

During the presentation he referred to the surrounding geography and monuments on the site (noting the typical omission of the Native American guide on the large bronze monument behind them), which happens to also include a small field with a few trees, boulders, and a small number of brass/bronze plaques about half a mile down the road. Around the visitor center, I was a bit surprised to find myself looking at the terrain and thinking "that's a good spot to camp without being easily spotted by the enemy", "there's a good spot to put scouts" and "the U.S. cavalry probably took the approach from the ridgeline to the south because they were hidden until they were close to the Mexican 'Californios'." I suppose you can take the man out of West Point, but you can't take West Point out of the man.

The presentation shifted to a walk-through of the equipment used by a cavalryman during the Mexican-American War. Starting with the food (::sheesh:: one should always use that term loosely when referring to military rations from any point in time... I've eaten my share from a few different eras!), he and an assistant (lower ranking, from the chevrons) showed the typical amounts carried by each soldier. The typical kinds of ammunition for a "mountain howitzer" were explained (and happen to be in the photo to the right), and all sounded pretty nasty. He and his assistant then showed the weapons the U.S. used, including the lance, breach-loading shotgun, flintlock pistol, cavalry saber, and cannon.

Everything concluded with a bang... quite literally. Ethan a.k.a. "Swag-Mag"--as he seems to have a high concentration of some bizarre magnetic substance that attracts swag--was picked out of the crowd to join the cannoneers when they fired the howitzer. His job? To yell "Fire!" once every station was finished with their loading duties. It was especially funny because he got distracted by everything going on and forgot to say fire until the team leader prompted him... three times. The ensuing concussion left a smile plastered to his face for a good while afterwards. Someone in the crowd asked the presenters to gather around the cannon, so I snuck a photo in.

Afterwards, we jumped onto the nature trail (you can see it winding up from the upper right across the hillside toward the other portion of the monument on the lower left). The web site says it is only about a mile, but after walking the trail there and back, I would have to say they must have measured wrong... or only one way. Sure, we were walking with Mini-Me, but he kept up a decent pace, even through the areas where we wished he would have slowed down to avoid a 40-foot slide into pricklypear cactus (he didn't fall, we were just worried he would).

When I am on such adventures, I often find myself thinking of how "this or that" would help set the scene in a story I'd like to write or some RPG adventure I'm working on. In this case, reference photos were needed:

...other times, I think it would be nice to have a photo of the "thing".

Oh, and what would this blog post be without a relevant link to Wikipedia? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_San_Pasqual