12.02.2020

Bloodbowl (Boardgame Review)


Name:
Bloodbowl
Game Designer: Jervis Johnson 
Publisher: Games Workshop
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
Summary: A fantastic (and fantastical) game of strategy, comedy, and brutality set on the football pitches of the Warhammer fantasy world.

For something a little different, Godfrey did a video review. Click the embedded video below to view:

11.25.2020

The End of the Middle Ages

 

The Middle Ages and Renaissance are great sources of material for Fantasy writing (and inspiration for other genres).

Unfortunately, I think many people conflate the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, especially when it comes to negatives. The Middle Ages therefore gets tarred with the crimes of Renaissance, and somehow the Renaissance tends to get a free pass. For example, the idea that Medieval people had poor hygiene actually comes during the Renaissance and the so-called "Enlightenment". There are many more crimes that belong solely to the Renaissance and have nothing to do with the Middle Ages, but the important thing to keep in mind is that the Middle Ages was the culmination of centuries of the Catholic faith being integrated into society, and the Renaissance was a conscious return to paganism (they may not have publicly worshipped Jupiter, but they did return to pagan principles). 

G.R.R. Martin apparently used material on The War of the Roses as his "inspiration" for the civil war in his books. The War of the Roses began in 1455, well into that "pagan" period. Many historians give the fall of Constantinople as the end of the Middle ages in 1453. I myself prefer the reasoning of Atila Sinke Guimarães, who puts the end of the Middle Ages (or, at the very least, the beginning of the end) at 8 September 1303 a.D.

That day, in the town of Anagni, about forty miles south of Rome, William of Nogaret, councillor and keeper of the seal to King Philip IV of France abducted Pope Boniface VIII. Nogaret had been sent to Italy with the task of kidnapping the Pope and bringing him to France for a show trial to be followed by deposition. Nogaret gathered together a band of some 1,600 rogues and political enemies of the Gaetani family (Boniface VIII's family) and suddenly attacked the town, looted the castle, and took the pope captive. After two days of humiliation and threats, the people of Anagni rose up and expelled Nogaret and his men. The pope died in Rome a month later, however.

This event is significant because it was a terrible blow against supremacy of the Papacy over the temporal monarchs, which was one of the great characteristics of the Middle Ages. That supremacy was important for many reasons, but thinking back again to the discussion of A Game of Thrones, in the real world when nobles behaved even half as badly as Martin's nobles, they would be excommunicated (if they didn't meet another bad end). The role of the Church in the Middle Ages did a great deal to rein-in those few lords who might abuse their powers -- contrasted with the Renaissance where the Church was less powerful (especially after the Protestant Revolt).

11.23.2020

WARHAMMER FANTASY BATTLES: BRETONNIAN KNIGHT OF THE REALM GALLANT

 By Godfrey Blackwell

After nearly 15 years, I went back to my tabletop gaming roots and painted up one of the many Bretonnian models I've had sitting in a box in the basement for eons. Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Bretonnia were my introduction to tabletop gaming and it was great to return to this army. I hope that many more models will follow at a decent speed.




11.20.2020

SHORT STORY: MARTIAN MERCY



By Godfrey Blackwell

    The crucifix at the end of his father’s rosary swung back and forth ever so slowly as he worked the beads. Though he prayed the Paters and Aves without sound, his lips moved and Marcus could have followed the familiar words as they took shape there. But Marcus kept his gaze fixed on the cross with the tiny corpus of the crucified Lord swinging back and forth, back and forth.

    The habitation module was quiet, though the low background of the air circulation and the hum of the generators was always there. Every so often, above this, there would come a moan from down the short hall which led to the four bedrooms. A small, cracked voice, so quiet he could barely make it out, called for Portia. This caused Marcus to look up to his father’s face. Dad’s eyes were shut, but they seemed to squeeze a little tighter at the name.

    Portia had been buried a week ago, out beyond the last airlock, in the funeral caves carved into the inner wall of Valles Marineris. She slept among the dead now after a long wasting sickness. After she was gone, mom and Valentina started the same way. Marcus was so tired. He closed his eyes and wished for the nightmare to end, and that he could have rest.

    A firm hand took his shoulder. “Marcus, it’s time.”

    The boy opened his eyes. Dad stood up, and put the rosary over his head, letting it fall inside his spacesuit with the crucifix over his chest.

    Marcus drew in a long shuddering breath.

    “Get your helmet on. We can’t delay this any more … it’s getting late.”

    They put their helmets and gloves on, but left their helmets open. Dad grabbed a tool bag. From within, the hammer and metal spikes clanked against the drill. They moved out through the lock and into the maze of tunnels hewn from the Martian rock. Once through the warrens of their habitation section, they came to the high-roofed cavern cut by lava flow before history, before even the thing that haunted the colony now.

    Past rows of plants and crops that helped produce atmosphere as well as food they moved, drawing ever closer to their dreaded task. To walk through the cavern, one would have thought nothing was amiss in the colony. Miners trundled home on rolligans, trucks with goods passed-to-and-fro, and pedestrian traffic moved along the sidewalks. The ground took on a slight incline as they neared the end of the lava tube and the last lock that led out into Valles Marineris itself. They passed through the lock and out into the valley.

    Marcus looked up. The sun was already obscured by the steep canyon wall to the west, casting the valley in shadow. The sky was still pinkish-red and had not yet given way to the blue of the Martian sunset. He shivered inside his suit, thinking of the rapping at his door the night before, and the whisper … the whisper, terrible and beautiful, and unmistakably Portia’s.

    He pushed the thought away and focussed on his dad’s back, with a large air tank on it, as the big man trudged through the regolith and the swirling patterns of dust in the frigid air that whipped about them. He took comfort in knowing that Dad knew what to do. As awful as it might be … his dad wasn’t like other fathers who understood only their drill work or crop fertilizers and the 20-minute delayed sports ball transmissions from earth. His dad knew about Faith, and quietly taught them about it after their mandatory classes at school, and he understood that just because the medicos couldn't explain it that it couldn't be explained at all. In a word, Dad wasn’t stupid like so many other adults were. That was why he followed, and knew what they were doing was right — not just because the man ahead was his father.

    The burial catacombs, in a cave across from the colonial lava tube, were close at hand now, and Marcus could feel badness oozing from the dark opening. He stopped and found he couldn’t move his feet. A message flashed on the faceplate of his helmet warning that his heart rate and respiration were up. There was another voice at the back of his head screaming danger! at him.

    “D-dad …”

    His father stopped and turned. “I know, Marcus. I can feel it too.”

    He came back and took Marcus by the hand and squeezed hard so that he could feel it through the suit.

    “I’m scared.”

    “Me too. But we have to … no one else would even believe. And if we don’t …”

    Marcus knew the creatures — the vampires — that had taken his sister, would get the whole colony. In an age of interplanetary travel such an old superstition was beyond lunacy to “respectable”, “sane” people. Marcus stared at the cave entrance, so black it was like a hole punched right into the universe. It seemed to suck the last of the sun’s weakening light into itself. That gaping maw was hideous. 

    “Hail Mary, full of grace,” his father began the prayer, and stepped forward. Marcus found he had the strength to lift his feet despite their weight.

    Inside the catacomb, they activated their helmet lamps. Despite the bright white LED lights, the darkness pressed in on them. Thought it was impossible, Marcus swore he could smell the sickly-sweet odour of decay. They moved past the mummified remains of colonists on their tiered pallets in the walls. They reached the spot where Portia had been placed. He couldn’t look. Images flashed on his inner eyelids of terrible possibilities.

    “She’s not here!” Dad said.

    “What?” Now Marcus did look, and he saw that the niche that had been carved for his sister was, indeed, empty.

    “She must have moved, to make it harder for us to find her.” Dad crossed himself and looked around wildly. Through the faceplate Marcus could see his lunatic glances and knew that the strong man he looked up to, who had fought in the Void War before he was born, was as near to breaking as he was. Yet Marcus couldn’t help himself from saying,

    “Dad, I’m so scared.”

    Instead of unnerving his father, this seemed to fortify him. His eyes softened, and he squeezed Marcus’ hand again. After several loud breaths that made Shhh-shhhh sounds over the radio, Dad nodded to himself.

    “She’s here somewhere. I — we — can feel it. There aren’t many places in here. We just have to keep our wits, and our courage … and look. Remember, Marcus, there’s no courage without fear. Let’s do this.”

    They quietly prayed the rosary as they went. Marcus tried to ignore the bluish tinge to the ever dimming light coming from the cave entrance. They did not rush, however, and down a new spur that had been cut for future graves, the darkness seemed to deepen and Marcus’s helmet filled with a rank, rotten odour. And then they found her. A whoosh filled Marcus’ ears as Dad took a shuddering breath.

    Portia lay tucked under a shelf of dark rock, spotlighted by their headlamps. She wore a simple colony coverall, but bore none of the signs of exposure to the arid frigidness of the Martian air, to say nothing of death. She had been a pretty girl of fifteen, and Marcus guessed she’d probably be considered beautiful by other boys by the time she reached 18. But now, she radiated a gorgeousness that was terrifying in its darkness. Her cheeks were ruddy and her lips a deep and glowing red. Yet despite the colour she seemed so cold; but not from the thin Martian air. The coldness seemed to radiate from within.

    Dad moved forward and with great gentleness, cradled his arms beneath her and pulled her out from the little alcove under the rock.

    “Dad, I don’t think she’s dead,” Marcus whispered. Then shook his head at the stupidity of that. Nothing could survive out here. He glanced at his wrist readout without thinking — it was already minus thirty Celsius.

    “No, she’s worse than dead,” Dad said. He reached into his bag and pulled out the crucifix from their dining room wall and handed it to him. “Hold this.”

    He then pulled out the hammer and spike. “Miserere mei Deus: secundum magnam —”

    “Freeze! Don’t move!”

    Dad did freeze mid-motion as he was moving the spike into place. Marcus slowly turned and saw two suited figures hurrying down the rough-cut shaft, lights from helmets and drawn pistols cutting white lances through the darkness. As they drew near enough for Marcus’ head lamps to illuminate them, he saw SHERIFF stencilled above their visors.

    “Schaefer you really have lost it, haven’t you?” One of the security men said.

    “Sheriff Teng,” Dad said softly. “You can’t keep pretending you don’t see what’s going —”

    Jiangshi? Vampires? That’s superstitious nonsense, how can you expect me to believe that?”

    “Look at her!” Marcus blurted.

    Marcus looked past the sheriff and his deputy. There wasn’t even a hint of bluish light from down the corridor. He glanced down at his wrist panel. 1830 … what time was sunset? 1832? 31? Movement caught the corner of his eye and he whipped his body around to see his father swinging the hammer.

    BLAM!

    Even in the thin Martian air and muffled by his helmet, the gunshot was reverberated loudly. Dad jerked and fell sideways, grasping his side. Before Marcus could react, Portia’s eyelids flew open and with impossible speed, she was on her feet. The dark beauty of a moment ago was gone; her face was a pallid circle split by a slavering open jaw with impossibly long incisors. Her eyes were like black holes punched in the fabric of space.

    Neither Sheriff Teng nor his deputy were able to get a shot off as they stared in gape-mouthed horror as she rushed them. With impossible strength, she sent them both flying back down the corridor where they pinballed off the walls, into each other, and finally down to the rocky floor. The thing that had once been Portia loped down upon them, almost dog-like, and Marcus looked away. He ran to his father who was clutching his side, but slumped and dazed looking through his visor. Marcus pulled the emergency repair kit out of his calf pouch and slapped a quick drying resin patch onto the hole. It wouldn’t fix the wound but would at least prevent hypoxia. Just as Marcus picked up the crucifix again, he was grabbed by a vice-like flip and swung around.

    Portia had grabbed him. Her eyes were as deep and black as black holes, shot with red. Marcus felt as if he were falling into the irresistible gravitational field of an actual black hole. Only it was his soul that was being sucked down there, not his body. And he knew that if he went there he’d never get out. He wrenched his eyes away and brought the crucifix up. With an ululating scream the vampire fell backwards and Marcus stumbled and fell to a knee. He held out the cross, now transfixing the not-Portia thing.

    His dad struggled to his feet, grabbed the hammer and spike and rushed in.     
    
    Miserere mei, Deus: secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.”

11.13.2020

SHORT STORY: MONSTER IN THE SHADOWS, PART 2

By Anna Blackwell (October 2020, age 13)

    Ok by now I starting to feel that this is a stupid plan. I was walking around in the dark will the rain poured hard outside the dojo.

    I had discussed earlier with Elvis that we would stay over night at the dojo on a rainy night, I picked rainy night because Sensei Yang reported all the incidents were on a rainy night.

    Elvis agreed with my plan to stay overnight and keep watch for any four-armed intruders. We both keep watch over one side of the dojo, each of us was armed with. Dûnhark’15 pistols and one set of night vision goggles.

    And there I was alone, armed and completely chilled to the bones, while Elvis was probably as cool as a cucumber, sipping down his triple espresso, with his Dûnhark-15 at his elbow.

    I walked up and down the silent corridors and forced myself to stay calm. The rain was falling hard outside. I had worked on  several cases that had a slightly similar scenario but non of them every had to do with a four armed murderer.

    I decided to put on my night vision goggles just to be extra safe. Just as I put them on a sudden crash came from the back of the corridor, I spun around drawing my pistol. With the night vision goggles on I could see that a vase had been knocked over and had smashed when it hit the floor.

    I saw some movement but instead of a four-armed killer, it was only a black cat. It walked up to me in curiosity, I slowly put my gun back in its holster, I had no intention of scaring the cat, at least some company is better than no company.

    I extend my hand to pat the cat, who allowed me to rub behind its ears. It looked at me with shinning yellow eyes. I took off my goggles for a minute and placed it beside me.

    I continued stroking the cat until it suddenly hissed and took off running down the corridor. I sighed disappointed, however I wondered why the cat just ran off like that.

    “Oh well.” I thought, moving my hand down to pick up the my night vision when all of the sudden I noticed my goggles were not were I left them. I looked around the floor.

    “Oh come on, I left them right he….” I paused in shock as I looked up off the floor.

    “What kind of chuck wagon..” I fist was flung into my face sending me backwards to the floor.

    I groaned, I think he just knocked a filling loose. I looked up again and nearly screamed as four arms wielding katanas came flying at me.

    I braced for impact as the sword aimed into my chest only to meet hard metal. Even though I was terrified I managed to smile.

    “You’ll know I’m wearing body armour, I’m not a moron.” I said and rolled over and drew my gun and fired. Even without my night vision goggles I could sense that I missed by a mile. A well aimed kick got me to the floor and again along with the scraping of metal, as the swords hit into my back armour.

    I tired getting up but whoever I was fighting wasn’t going to let that happen in a hurry. I but I wasn’t to give too quickly either. I struggled like a wild animal to get free, by mistake I jerked my head back to meet something hard, but whatever it was made my opponent slake on his grip.

    I pushed him off and I stood up only to grasp my head in pain, it hurt really bad now. It caused me dearly for another smash in the face sent me back to the floor. I realised just as I hit the ground that I had dropped my gun. I tried look around but I was firmly locked to the ground, a sudden surge of pain burst at the back of my neck, as a sword cut through my skin.

    I screamed and my right hand grasped something to my surprise, it was my night vision goggles. With out wasting anymore time I put them on and turned around to face my enemy. I awed in horror at my foe who I could see clearly now as a flash of lighting lit the hallway.

    A four-armed man, wearing black and who’s face was covered in a black mask. I hesitated I needed to get my gun but at what cost would it be. I looked at the gun lying on the floor then the four-armed assassin. Then I made a leap to the floor and grabbed my gun.

    And before the assassin could react fast enough I fired. He let a terrifying scream that seemed to echo through the whole dojo. I smiled for a second.

    “Got you.” I thought.

    But I had done more than I thought I did, I had just made him even more angry. He looked straight at me and started swing around his katanas wildly, I back off and fired again but this time he was ready and and moved away in time.

    Then in seconds he leaped into the air and came right down on me. He placed one of his katana near my throat to cut it, I grabbed his arm and struggled to make it let go of the katana, but three other arms kept me pinned.

    “Help!!” I cried.

    And just as everything looked hopeless, something else left out of the shadows and kicked the assassin off me, I gasped for air, the cut at eh back of my neck was still bleeding everything seemed to go a little darker.

    But with my night vision goggles still on I could make out who my rescuer was, Elvis.

    I had never seen Elvis fight the way he did now, gracefully dodging his opponents and giving such quick blows I could hardly catch them. But with the blood loss I didn’t survey the fight well, the one thing I remember clearly was the sound of a gun setting off and the four-armed assassin falling to the floor.

    Everything then fell silent, only the distant sound of the rain outside was heard. Then looking at Elvis, taking off my goggles, asked.

    “What am I…what am I doing wrong..?”

    Elvis smiled and walked up to me. “I think you have to work on your self-defence skills.” He said.

    I groaned as he put a pressure bandage to my neck. 

    “Now just hold that tight and I will…Urk!!” Elvis’s eyes suddenly went big and then he crumpled to the floor. I gasped, a knife had just been thrown into his back.

    I looked down the hall, to see a short silhouette of a person walking toward me. I looked more closely and then released who it was. Thai.

    Her eyes clouded in rage. A crude dagger held in her left hand. She at first ignored me and the murmuring figure of Elvis. She walked up to the four-armed man, and knelt down to touch him. She knelt there for a few seconds before picking up one of the katanas out of one of his limp hands, she got up looked and me and in one screaming battle cry ran out to me holding the katana high in the air.

    But just as it came down to meet its target another weapon stopped it. I looked up and saw who had just stopped the death blow. Sensei Ning.

    “Traitor.” I heard him quietly say.

    I tried to stay wake but I was losing too much and was completely exhausted. I fainted and the last thing I heard was the clashing of weapons.

* * *


    Elvis and I walked down the passageway toward the interrogation room. It had been two days since our midnight encounter and today was interviewing day for Thai Ochita.

    I entered the room, BristleBelly and a few others were already there waiting for us.

    “Good you are here.” BristleBelly said” We are all ready to start.”

    With that BristleBelly opened the for into the interrogation room, me and Elvis followed after him, two others followed us in the rest stayed back to watch.

    Thai was sitting in a chair near table, handcuffed. When we entered she seemed to pay more attention to her restraints than us.

    BristleBelly sat himself in the chair on the other side of the table.

    “Miss. Thai Ochita, am I right?” He asked pulling out her criminal record file.

    “Yes.” She said, her eyes seemed to burn in rage.

    “Alright Miss Thai, is there anything you would like to tell us, like way you tried to commit first degree murder on two police offices?”

    “They killed Hokishe.” She said looking at her handcuffs.

    “Who is Hokishe, many I ask.” BristleBelly asked.

    “The four-armed assassin who tried killed Antantaru Kyōdai.” Elvis explained.

    This time Thai looked up at Elvis this time there was a bitter look on her face.

    “Well, how about you tell us why you wanted us to think Antantaru was a suspect?” I asked.

    “I didn’t want you to find out.” She said.

    “Find out what?” I asked.

    “Find out I was helping Hokishe…” she said.

    “How about you explain to all off us what you and this Hokishe monster guy, were doing.” BristleBelly asked.

    Thia seemed about to protest but instead she hung here head and began. “ I joined the Sacred Rule of Falling Gargoyle the place of the Singlang fighting technique, when I was very young.”

    I noticed one of the fellows who had followed us in cross himself when she mention that name.

    “I had heard Of Sensei Bings betray to our guild, I asked the elders to let me kill Ning so I could prove myself to them. They agreed to let me but they wanted someone to make sure I did the job right, they gave me a guardian, Hokishe”

    “A monster.” I muttered.

    “It took me some time before I finally figured out were Ning was, I found him at the Twin Dragon Dojo. I joined his dojo to discover his weaknesses. But the elders were growing impatient so the next rainy night me and Hokishe decided to strike..”

    “What a moment.” BristleBelly interrupted. “Why did you do it at night when it was raining.”

    “It would be harder for anyone to hear us.” She said.” But every time we tried that darned Ning would awake every time we were close to killing him. It was if he had a guardian of his own. We tried every rainy night until that wretched Antantaru had to turn up one night and ruined everything.” She said furiously.

    “But why didn’t you just kill Sensei Ning when he woke up anyway?” I asked.

    “We wanted to kill him in his sleep, it is the most disgraceful way to die.” She said a sinister grin in her eye.

    I rolled my eyes, in some religions it was disgraceful to die in bed, but I never quite understood that.

    “Is there anything more you want to tell us?” BristleBelly asked.

    “No…” she said and looked away from all of us as if if ashamed.

    “Thank you for telling us.” Elvis said gently.

    “Get away from me!” Thai hissed but I could sense sorrow in her voice.

    The others and I left the room. As we did I walked up to Elvis.

    “So what now?” I asked.

    “Now we go home.” Elvis said.

    I smiled.


Epilogue 


    Thai looked around miserably around her jail cell, failure, disgrace and lose was all she could think off.

    That elf would pay for the death of Hokishe, she smiled evilly, and felt the back of her boot heel and pulled out a knife.

    She smiled; she wouldn’t be here for long.

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