Thursday, September 30, 2010

[RP] Battle for the Echo Isles, Part 1

I wrote this story with my friend Hammaryn. While our friendship is not nearly so insufferable as the average bromance, we still have a wicked case of the BFFs. Now, she's quite self-deprecating in general, especially so when it comes to her writing. In spite of what she says, I think she's a fine writer. I'm especially envious of her speed. Hammy can crank out a body of text that gets right to the point in about 1/4 of the time it would take me working alone (or less), because I tend to get hung up on all those damned trees, and she has a good idea of how the forest looks. Together we accomplish a lot more than I ever could on my own. Thanks Hamm-Hams!

I'm glad I have the chance to work with her on a regular basis. This story is sort of a launch into a hefty story arc and there will be lots more leading into Cataclysm. Part 2 comes tomorrow. Hope you like it!

Authors: Zana'zua & Ambika (Hammy & Me!)

Zana’zua felt uncomfortable in his own skin until the battle began and the blood began to flow.

The Battle for the Echo Isles was a jumble of instincts and memory. His body moved in familiar ways, disease flowing out of him into the reanimated corpses that poured from the jungle like a flood. His limbs moved ceaselessly, his runeblade a cleaver that sliced up through the air and sank down into bodies. The taking of life was a rhythm he knew by heart, and he did it without thinking of the slaughter before him.

In his mind he was on the beaches of another time, far from the copper taste of death, the sweet stench of sun-ripened flesh and the screams of the dying. He walked along the shore where the gentle blue waters of the sea lapped endlessly over his bare feet. Leggy palms swayed in the breeze, casting spindly shadows over him and the basket full of silvery fish he carried. Someone he loved waited for him at home. He mounted the steps as he always did in such dreams, eager to see her face.

A woman caught his eye in the fray and snapped him out of his thoughts. Her eyes lingered on him with a dull species of flat, unwelcoming recognition, then returned to the battle ahead. Zana’zua looked just as he did so long ago, yet so different. He was needed here now, needed to fight for the capital city of his own people, but he would never belong here again. He was an Other, guilty of the most unforgivable of sins. In their eyes he was no better than any of the cursed undead that the enemy launched against them, mindless though they were.

They breached the tide of zombies to a central hut near Zalazane’s spiny ritual altar and the surrounding commune of rickety grass-thatched driftwood dwellings. It was smeared from hearth to helm with layers of dried, flaking blood, some fresh, some ancient. Bones and skulls from countless sacrifices, mostly trollish but with no small amount of human and orc remains among them, were silhouetted against the brilliant orange of the evening sky. This was the serpent’s den, and the stink of longstanding black magic rituals permeated the humid air.

The floor of the hut was littered with the corpses of the fallen. Darkspear warriors pushed in, as well as zombies from the Echo Isles. The room began to hum audibly with energy. Zana’zua felt like the air was closing in around him, and he grabbed the neck of his tabard and pulled on it futilely, gasping for breath he no longer needed. A light flashed in the front of the hut, and the Loa of Death stood before them. Bwonsamdi’s entrance was greeted with a hush. Zana’zua felt as if the floor was falling out from beneath him, and his knees buckled a moment before he remembered that he was no longer old and weak. He stood upright again, unwavering. He was no longer safeguarded by this Loa, but very much under its jurisdiction. Life had a sense of humor, as did death.

Vol’jin approached the Loa to speak, but Zana’zua could not concentrate on what he was saying. A small trolless near him appeared to be extremely distressed and fixated on the Loa. She had familiar golden eyes that burned with impatience as she gripped her upper arms tightly enough to leave bruises on her skin. Zana’zua shoved people out of his way to get to her and nudged her with his shoulder. “Ambika,” he mumbled. The woman jolted out of her trance and greeted him with a death glare that was none too friendly.

“Quiet, you old fool,” she hissed quietly in his direction before returning to her state of agitated concentration.

He fell back a step, his features twisted into a stark expression of surprise and hurt. The crowd was moving out now to make war on Zalazane. Bwonsamdi disappeared in a flash, the same way he came in. Zana’zua felt rooted to where he was standing, people giving him a wide berth as they departed. They were careful not to touch him. Ambika went out with them, and Zana’zua waited a few seconds before following her.

The undead were everywhere. Dire trolls surged out from behind bushes. Vol’jin engaged Zalazane. The rhythm began again. The ground beneath Zana’zua began to rot, grass dying beneath his feet. Shadow coursed through him as he resurrected the corpse of a Darkspear warrior. It shambled obediently behind him, then leapt onto the back of a dire troll, throwing itself ineffectually at the monstrous creature. Zana’zua turned just in time to see a tall, bone-thin troll woman staring at him. Her cracked and bleeding lips formed a whispered curse. In an instant he froze her mind with cold and she grasped her head with her hands, screaming in pain. Another thought and the woman was gasping for air, her hands around her throat as she dropped to the ground. Zana’zua moved on. The runeblade went up, and then it went down. His mind didn’t wander this time.

The crowd shifted, following Zalazane’s trail as the withered old witch doctor fled to another island. Shamans stilled the waves that washed the shore and bade the waters hold their allies aloft. The Horde army poured across the narrow channel between the westernmost islands of the tiny archipelago. Zana’zua followed closely behind, keeping an eye on Ambika, who raced across the water ahead of him on the back of a sleek gray wolf.

They found Zalazane amid crumbling troll ruins, surrounded by a glimmering shield of shadow magic. His lips curled in a wicked grin punctuated by rotted, decayed and twisted tusks as Zol’jin’s makeshift army bore down on him. In an instant, the shouting, axe-waving warrior at Zana’zua’s side went silent and turned on his neighbor, cleaving a young shaman in two in a single motion. As the pieces fell, the traitor turned toward the old death knight. His eyes were dead.

What happened next was chaos. When all was said and done, there would be nearly as many accounts of the battle as there were witnesses, but there was one thing upon which they all could agree. As the bent old troll cackled madly beneath his protective shield, doubled over with the force of his glee, dozens of Vol’jin’s soldiers turned against their brethren and began hacking through the crowd of horrified recruits.

Many fell under the blades of their own kin, too stunned at the involuntary betrayal to react. Mates cried out, launching assaults against their allies who had the presence of mind to attack Zalazane’s newest minions. Many were struck down at the hands of those they sought to defend. Unhindered by distracting sentiments, both Zana’zua and the priestess fought through the surge of bodies, helping to weed out the unwilling, unwary betrayers. As they fell one by one, a great wail rose up from the battlefield from the wounded and from those who, in their grief, could only mourn the fallen.

Through it all, Zalazane laughed.

A familiar resonance diverted Zana’zua’s attention and he paused in the act of heaving his runeblade into someone’s chest. Bwonsamdi had reappeared and now hovered several feet in the air, directly behind Zalazane. One by one trolls stopped fighting, Darkspear warriors, zombies, and the mind-controlled alike. The Loa was terrible to behold in his full power, and he was angry. Zana’zua scanned the crowd for Ambika. She was pale and breathing heavily but seemed otherwise unharmed, though she once again focused on the death god’s avatar with such feverish intent she looked unwell.

The Loa began to laugh, a low rumble that seemed to come from all around them. It was at once both jolly and extremely menacing. Zalazane began to tremble and his shadow shield faltered. For the first time that long, bloody day, Zana’zua heard fear in the necromancer’s voice. “Who...who dat be?”

ZALAZANE. What you tinkin' takin dat which be mine? De Darkspear dead are MY domain, sorcerer... and now you gonna be one of dem!

The shield disappeared, and the corpses of the Darkspear fallen rose up from the ground, shambling towards Zalazane. They fell upon him, obscuring the witch doctor from sight, though the grisly sounds of his own reanimated army tearing him to pieces was still quite audible even before his tortured screams died down to nothing. Bwonsamdi raised a ghostly hand and the writhing pile of bodies fell to the ground like puppets with their strings suddenly cut.

Vol’jin, the newly triumphant Darkspear leader, stepped forward and bowed deeply before the ancient god, giving him thanks for his aid. Zana’zua watched the tiny priestess inch forward as Bwonsamdi said his piece and turned to leave.


Some of the crowd turned toward the sound of that cry for a moment, then Vol’jin called for their attention and began to introduce the Horde’s newest addition, Darkspear druid Vanira. Only Zana’zua seemed to notice as Ambika broke into a dead run and chased after the rapidly retreating Loa. She disappeared into the undergrowth, frantically calling his name.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Food Porn and Cheesecake [Safe for work! No, really]

Hubby was in Iraq for his birthday this year, so I finally made him a birthday cake. This is the same recipe I screwed up way back in high school when I accidentally put two layers' worth of batter in each pan. They filled those suckers all the way up to the top and took forever to cook, but they were the most dense and delicious carrot cakes ever.

As for the aforementioned cheesecake...

Dunwanna LaRoux, goblin librarian

The Cataclysm expansion is coming soon and I can't wait to make a goblin. I already have a name picked out and everything. Gary Larson specs and giant hooters, what's not to like?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Recipe: Apple Sour Cream Coffeecake

Even the little birdies on my favorite plates love this cake.

Once upon a time, when I was still a little girl, my mom found a kid's cookbook (almost certainly at Goodwill, she loves that place) and gave it to me and my brothers. There were some really easy recipes in there, like ants on a log (I used to think it was a shame to waste good peanut butter and raisins on a grody old piece of celery, but now that I am Grown Up I love the damn things, which is just further proof of my theory that Adults Love Gross Food) and a morning sunrise drink that taught me at a very early age how to whip up a fancy-looking cocktail using "nothing but" "cranberry juice" and "OJ".

Another recipe I remember from that skinny cookbook was the strata. It seemed bizarre to me at the time to make a bunch of ham & cheese sandwiches, stick them in a pan and cover them with raw egg. Now I realize that it probably would have been like eating an oven-baked, savory stuffed french toast and I am sad that I never tried it.

Anyway, the whole point of this was that one spring after getting this cookbook, we decided to try the coffeecake recipe for a Mother's Day breakfast. I'm pretty sure Mom had SOME hand in this, though she tries to give us kids all the credit; not to mention Dad provided the extra push and kitchen assistance we needed to make it a success. Whatever the catalyst, though, that coffeecake was damn good and became an instant tradition.

Mom got a coffeecake every Mother's Day for twenty years. The boys forgot this year and I was too far away to help, as I have been for more than a decade, but I made her one this summer when I went to visit. I used frozen blueberries because we were out of apples and it turned out so well that I only got one little piece before it was all gone.

I baked another one this morning with apples, but you can probably use most any kind of fruit.

Apple Sour Cream Coffeecake

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream

1 apple, peeled and chopped

Streusel topping:

2 T. butter
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup brown sugar

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, blend shortening and sugar until fluffy (I use an electric mixer). Add eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add half the flour mixture and half the sour cream, mix thoroughly. Add the remaining flour and sour cream and repeat. Fold in the apples and pour into a greased 8x8 pan.

For the topping, mix the butter, brown sugar and nuts (you can squish them together with your hands, it's fun) and sprinkle evenly over the cake batter in the pan. Bake the whole mess for 25-30 minutes. It should be done when it's no longer jiggly in the pan, and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Cool on a rack (or just on the stovetop if you're lazy like me) for 15-30 minutes before cutting, if you can hold off that long.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

[RP] To Speak With Spirits

Ambika met a troll death knight (yay sentient zombies?) who made a fair impression on her, meaning she didn't want to tear off his head and chuck it off the nearest mountaintop by the end of the evening. She learned he wished to speak with the spirits of the departed, and he learned she might be able to teach him to do so. Somehow she agreed to give him some basic priest instruction once a week. This is their first meeting.

Authors: Ambika & Zanazua

Zanazua’s bare footsteps were quiet on the wide sandstone steps of the Legerdemain. He wore his full battle armor and carried a white rose in each hand. The dark material of his Ebon Blade tabard covered his breastplate, and if not for the flowers, he would look as though he were ready for war.

He knocked on Ambika’s door with three loud, even taps, and waited.

There was dead silence for nearly a minute afterward before the door swung inward on its hinges. A grim-faced priestess looked up at him, then stepped aside and waited primly for him to come inside.

The room was clean and filled with austere furnishings. White hangings embroidered with white thread covered the walls and a lone teapot steamed on the table in the center of the room. Ambika locked the door behind him as he entered.

Zanazua seemed rooted to the doormat. He held out one of the roses to Ambika, which she ignored, while he scanned the stark apartment. Almost everything was white, except for a huge stained-glass window that spilled swathes of colored light over the rugs and upholstery on one side of the room. The table was relatively untouched by the pastel blues and greens, and it was there she sat, stiff and formal in her chair as she waited for him to come in and have a seat.

He smiled wryly. “Nice apartment.”

She said nothing and simply watched him with an impassive expression on her face. A slender white vase sat in the center of the table, empty. Zanazua stepped cautiously towards the chair opposite her. He held out the rose in his right hand once again and grinned at Ambika.

“Put it in the vase, please.”

Zanazua gently placed both the roses inside the vase and flopped down into a chair. She watched him with something like disapproval. “Did you plan on receiving flowers?”

“You are consistent.” She gestured toward the teapot. “I assume you don’t take tea, but there are cups if you wish.”

Zanazua shook his head. “I don’t need any.” The corners of his mouth turned down briefly, then he smiled at his somber hostess. “Does it help you see spirits?”

“It’s calming. A tranquil mind is necessary for this task. “ She smiled almost imperceptibly, though there was no humor in it. “But we are not training yet. You will know when it begins in earnest.”

“It’s easy to be calm when there’s not much going on upstairs.”

“Modesty is useless to me. A teacher should be properly advised of her student’s strengths and weaknesses.” Ambika sipped her tea and eyed the roses with mild approval.They were pretty on their slender stems, and as white as the rest of the room.

Zanazua chuckled. “I’m not being modest.”

She narrowed her eyes at him over the top of her teacup. “If you are stupid, we may as well cancel your training before it begins. You will need a moderate amount of mental capacity for this to be remotely successful.”

“I didn’t say that I’m stupid.”

Ambika set her jaw and muttered something quietly under her breath. “No, I suppose you didn’t.”

He continued to grin at her. “Are you feeling alright?”

She glowered into her cup, looking rather more petulant than a dignified priestess would prefer to admit. “I’m fine,” she said sourly.

“Then we must be ready to start.”

Rising to her feet, the little troll aimed a haughty scowl at her guest and disappeared into the adjoining bedroom. When she emerged a moment later, her arms were full of loosely-draped brown fabric. She held it out to him, standing as far from him as possible without being out of reach. “It should fit well enough.”

He eyed the brown fabric spilling out of her arms. “What is this?”

“It’s your uniform. I wore one like it when I began my studies. Your current armor,” she grimaced at the heavy plates strapped to his body, “is unsuitable for meditation.”

“Why not?”

“It makes sounds when you move, and it is heavy. The latter may bother you, and the former will certainly bother me. Quiet and comfort facilitate learning.” She continued to hold the robes out to him, unwavering.

The death knight shrugged. “If the noise will bother you, then I will take it off.” He took the robe from her hands, draped it over the back of his chair, and began to unbuckle the heavy spiked gauntlets from his shoulders.

“For the love of-- No. At least wait until I leave the room.” Ambika stomped back into her bedroom and shut the door behind her.

Zanazua laughed. It was a loud, jovial belly laugh, and it filled the room after Ambika’s exit. He shed his armor quickly, setting each piece gently on the floor as he took it off. He tossed the robe over his lean frame and shook his shoulders to get the fabric onto him. He stared at his hands, turning them over in front of him to examine the black and blue spots that dotted the skin of his fingertips and arms before calling out to her. “It’s safe, I’m dressed.”

Her glower turned into something a bit more critical as she paced slowly around him in a circle. She sidestepped his pile of armor with a scowl, then turned her yellow eyes back to his sleeves and collar.

“It’s a bit large in the shoulders. You look bigger in your armor than you really are.”

“I believe that is part of its purpose.” He grabbed some of the slack around his chest, pulling it out in front of him.

Ambika snorted quietly. “Intimidation is a powerful tool.” She completed her circle and stood directly in front of him, hands clasped loosely behind her back as she craned her neck to look him in the eye.

He smiled. “But you’re not intimidated.”

“Should I be?”

“I’m glad that you aren’t.”

She responded only with another long moment of resolute eye contact, then turned on her heel and went to the window. “Sit. The floor will suffice, or the couch if it is more comfortable.”

Zanazua lowered himself slowly to sit cross-legged on the floor. Meanwhile, Bika pulled her legs up into a similar sitting position and hovered on three feet of still air.

“Now, tilt your pelvis forward and pull your shoulders back.”

He watched her carefully, attempting to copy her motions as he pulled his shoulders upright.

“I can help correct your posture, if you allow it.” She sat motionless, eyes closed, face relaxed. He wasn’t entirely sure her lips were moving when she spoke.

“Help how?”

“With a minor mental intrusion which will allow me some basic control over your motor skills.”

He shook his head. “It won’t work.”

She sank three inches and lifted one eyelid to look at him, not bothering to turn her head. “...Fine. Please try harder. Your spine should align and it will feel as though your torso requires almost no effort to remain upright.”

He tucked in his lower back, sitting up a little straighter.

“Now relax your muscles, slowly. Begin with your toes, and work your way up to your shoulders, neck and face.” The levitating priestess demonstrated, curling her toes in toward the soles of her bare feet, exaggerating each motion as she contracted, then relaxed each muscle group.

The death knight closed his eyes. His toes twitched, then his body appeared to almost go slack. He frowned, then curled his feet again. His toes and soles of his feet were dotted with the same black and blue spots that wound their way up his arms.

This time her eyes flew open and she turned to look directly at him. It was eerie how effortlessly her body swiveled in the air. “What’s the problem.”

“I am trying to remember how to relax.”

“Carry on, then.” The hovering trolless abruptly turned back to her position at the window, eyes closed and body relaxed, leaving Zanazua to his task.

He grunted and squirmed, shifted in his seat, and frowned. His toes curled and uncurled repetitively, his forehead furrowing in concentration. After ten minutes of this, Ambika’s calm and oddly disembodied voice interrupted him.

“Try lying flat on your back, instead.” Her eyes never opened. “Continue the limbering exercises as normal.”

Zanazua opened one eye to peer at the priestess, then lowered himself slowly to lie down on the floor. His joints cracked audibly. He closed his eyes again, and let out a contented grunt. Flexing his ankles with another resounding crack, his body relaxed.

Almost immediately he felt a pair of warm toes wedge themselves under his side. Bika pulled her foot back then nudged him again, making no attempt to be gentle. “Wake up. Today’s lesson is complete, take your armor and go home.”

He smiled up at her. “Did I do well?”

She snorted. “Well enough. You should be ready to speak with the spirits in about a hundred years.”

He scooted himself upright with his hands. “I might actually have that long until I fall apart.”

“Same.” The priestess waited (and with exceptional patience, she thought) for him to rise without offering her assistance.

He brought himself to a slow stand, his knees creaking. “You might last one hundred years?”

“I intend to try.” She found herself in his shadow once more. Her expression was serene, but her eyes were defiant as she looked up at the worn troll.

“Good luck. I hope it brings you what you’re looking for.”

“I don’t believe in luck.” She opened the door and stood just as she had when he’d first entered her home. “See you next week.”

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Wild Comic Appears!

It really helps to have a plan when you're making a comic. In fact, if you don't have a mock-up, it's downright painful and you can flush a lot of valuable time right down the toilet.

I spent most of yesterday working on this strip, making up the dialogue as I went. Turns out there's a lot of timing involved in writing for comics, and while I think of myself as somewhat funny, I can't just pull snappy one-liners out of my ass (and who would want them then, anyway?).

The bottom (hehe, bottom) line here is that next time, I'm going to 1) prepare my scene and dialogue in advance and 2) do a rough sketchy bit to put everything in its place before I start.

PS. After all that, Libby ruins everything by ending her sentence with a preposition. Screw you, grammar!