Category Archives: Short Fiction

“Questioning,” A Pride Poem by Alexander Augunas

Pride Month is not for me. I’m an ally, and my job this month is to boost and support the voices of others that Pride *is* for.

So, here is a poem offered up by my dear friend, Alexander Augunas.

#MoviePitch: The Vampire (A Universal Monster Shared Universe Concept)

How do you get a Universal Pictures Monsters shared universe off the ground? By focusing on making one awesome story that stands on its own, but does so in a way that picks up threats from the most popular such movies in recent memory, is inclusive and modernized, and hints at a larger world without taking time away from the things important to your first film. Here’s my pitch:

It is 1950. In communist Romania, Alex O’Connell (early30s white, British, he/him) manages to gain permission for an archaeological team to catalog and record items being removed from an ancient abbey in the Carpathian Mountains prior to its demolition as part of a plan to build a massive road to access the Transylvanian Plain. The Romanian official warns Alex he is only doing this as a favor to Alex’s parents, who were allies during the War and in the troubled years afterward.

Alex brings the good news to Jonsey Johnson (early 30s, black, French/American dual citizen with links to Paris and Harlem), the head of expedition security, and Doctor Mary Jessica Van Helsing (early 30s, white, Dutch, she/her), the expedition’s leader. The three talk about the archaeological value of such a mission, as well as the political and regional dangers, and all three hint their parents raised them to be… cautious. Alex has a cat. Jonsey has a German shepherd. Mary has a fancy white rat. The three animals get along surprisingly well.

Meanwhile at the abbey, looters are holding local workers at gunpoint, forcing them to use their digging tools to break through the back of the abbey’s basement wall. The looters have an old map that claims the “Eyes of the Dragon” have been locked away in a secret chamber. The looters think these are gems.

But the Eyes of the Dragon actually refers to Dracula, who leaks out of a tomb under the Abby in a mist form when the wall is cracked, and one by one turns the looters and workers into his ghoul minions. Only one manages to flee out of the abbey, into the sunlight.

Alex, Jonsey, and Mary (and their expedition) reach the base camp at one end of the Carpathian pass, but find it abandoned. Both become very suspicious, and eventually find the survivor, who explains what he saw. Alex asks if there were hieroglyphics, or Chinese or Aztec symbols. Confused, the worker says no. Jonsey asks if there were vials, chemical agents, or signs of drugmaking. More confused, the worker says no. Mary asks if there were signs of dragons and inverted crosses. The survivor says there were… maybe. He wasn’t paying much attention.

The expedition decides to send the laborer back to the big city with half the expedition’s Romanian guards, to report the attack to the government. Alex, Joney, and Mary all three slip him letters to send to their respective parents, each without the others knowing.

That night, the base camp is attacked by ghouls. The main character’s pets all send up warnings, allowing Alex, Jonsey, and Mary to gear up with their respective monster hunting equipment. (Alex’s are in the false bottom of a steamer trunk. Jonsey’s are stashed in muscial instrument cases. Mary’s are secreted away in a hidden drawer of her traveling work desk.) During the fight, they run into each other, and realize they all have anti-monster experience.

Mary: “You’ve fought vampires before?”

Alex: “Vampires? Those are real?! No, mummies. Mostly, And one dragon.”

Jonsey: “Mummies are real? I’ve fought vampires and a dragons, yeah. Never a mummy.”

Mary: “Dragons? Like, fire-breathing flying lizards? Those are real?!”

Curious as to how his ghoul’s attack was repulsed, Dracula visits the camp the next day. He asks one of their team-members if he can enter the camp, and is told yes, causing Dracula to give a big smile. He goes up to Alex, Jonsey, and Mary, and asks if they were the ones to treat his pets so harshly the night before. Alex begins to draw down on Dracula, but Jonsey stops him, asking the vampire if he was invited into the camp. He affirms he was, and Jonsey rolls her eyes. Mary then tells Alex a vampire can’t attack them while he is their guest, and if he is attacked they’ll be cursed.

Alex notes he thought vampires couldn’t move about in daylight. Dracula asks where he got that idea, and Mary confirms it’s true for some vampires, but not Carpathians. Jonseynotes it doesn;t apply to a lot of Non-western bloodsuckers.

Dracula says he is unsurprised they were able to send his servants fleeing, because Alex reminds him of his most beloved servant and general. Almost as if the spirit of Dracula’s dear friend was reincarnated in Alex.

Mary asks Alex if he could be a reincarnation of Dracula’s beloved friend. Alex shrugs, and says it runs in the family. Jonsey, meanwhile, tells Mary she quits, and walks away. Alex is flustered Jonsey would quit NOW, but Jonsey points out her name is on the papers the Romainian government signed too, so she can set up her own camp if she wants to. Mary tells him not to worry, she trusts Jonsey.

Dracula suggests Alex leave the expedition and join him. Jonsey is seen getting people to take down her tent, and draws a line in the dirt, loudly telling Alex and Mary that anything on her side of the line is now HER camp, and screw them. Dracula seems amused, and begins to talk about how hard help is to get these days, when Mary distracts him by noting Dracula still has some scars from where he was injured last century, and wonders how long it took him to heal from that near-death. He is angered and suspicious, and asks her how she knows about his last conflict. She tells him her family name, and he looses some of his cool and nearly attacks her.

In the background, Jonsey has gotten all the expedition members to set her tent BACK up. Alex asks if she is leaving, or not, and she tells him if he has a question for her, he can come over where she is and ask her. Alex has his father’s confused-and-annoyed expression, but Mary grabs his arm and hauls him across the line Jonsey drew in the dirt. All the remaining expedition workers are around Jonsey’s tent. Dracula goes to follow, but stops up short at the line, as if hitting a barrier.

Jonsey says she didn’t invite him into HER camp. Alex grins, and he and Jonsey and Mary unload at Dracula, who is taken by surprise and flees.

The plot can proceed from there along pretty typical adventure/horror lines — Alex, Jonsey, and Mary decide Dracula is growing stronger by the day, and they can’t wait to stop him, so they go after him in the tomb complex. The three have different and complimentary skills, and make a good team. They hunt down Dracula and seem to destroy him, but when he “dies,” a gem that looks like a snake eye falls to the ground. Mary realizes this is one of the two legendary Eyes of the Dragon, relic of the Order of Dracul, and it’s how Dracula survived her grandfather’s assault in the late 1800s. Alex smashes it, and asks how many such gems there are. Mary says two, and three agree they need to find and destroy the other one.

Searching through in notes found in the camp of the Looters who released Dracula, they find that there were two places the Looters thought the Eyes of the Dragon might be. One was here. The other was Castle Frankenstein, and there is a map to a Lost Lab of Frankenstein’s, which might hold the secret location of his original Castle.

End movie.

Castle Frankenstein then becomes the next movie. In that story, Alex, Jonsey, and Mary seek to find Castle Frankenstein, but find they are competing with a man who can become invisible, who apparently is part of an evil occult organization…. and a little mad. During the source of that movie, it’s revealed some of Doctor Frankenstein’s reagents for creating life came from a lost Black Lagoon, and Frankenstein had sent Igor on an expedition there to gather more materials just days before the villagers stormed his castle, which is why Igor wasn’t around when that happened. There’s no note saying if Igor ever came back…

As the Shared Universe expands, I can get Wolfman, the Phantom of the Opera, and even the Hunchback into this if the first few are successful. The original characters from The Mummy (1999) as occasional support characters. Like, if the Invisible Man’s formula turns out to need blood of an ifrit of the djinn, who are naturally invisible, one of the movies can include a backup appearance by Oded Fehr as Ardeth Bay. And, of course, we can bring in elements from Mary and (rightholders willing) Jonsey’s families as well.

Both heroes and villains expand their plans, form allies, and build toward the end of the first story arc, a final showdown with Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Woflman. But even that is only the FIRST story arc…

(Art by WavebreakmediaMicro)

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The Diary of Ardra Maias

“Of course, Doctor Frankenstein did not begin his work with human corpses. Not for ethical reasons, you understand, but simply because they were difficult to acquire, and until his work progressed to a stage where human trials were needed, there was no point.

“His earliest experiments on revivification were on marmots, easily bought from trappers near his family’s Swiss home. There were far more failures than successes, of course, and were it my preview I would condemn the man to perdition on the basis of what he did to those alone.

“Even so, in time he brought a marmot to life, indeed my current companion Vivo is that first, fully-revived marmot, though in Vivo’s case no surgery had been needed. The Doctor had killed him under exacting conditions, and revivified him moments later.

“I have often marveled at Vivo, for while he has all the robustness and vitality of all we mortiborn, unlike the majority of us he is a peaceful, caring creature. Well capable of defeating a predator ten times his mass, Vivo would prefer affection to affrontation. Bless him.

“But from there, the hubristic doctor did decide he must move to primates, if not yet humans, to perfect his procedure. No large primates being common in Italy or Switzerland, he had to order them bespoke. But hunting expeditions to Borneo were common enough, and he was rich.

“Indeed, I am unsure how many evils would never have been visited upon this world had the Frankenstein family not been one of vast resource and reputation. In the century-and-on of my existence, I have found more evils traced to rich, well-respected men than any other beast.

“So, vile Frankenstein had no difficulty having Indonesian and Malaysian orangutans captured and brought to him. It was thought perhaps he wanted a menagerie, such as at London’s Exeter Exchange. Many were sick and died after arrival, but that too suited his needs.

“I am uncertain how many of my distant cousins, living or dead, he constructed me from. Close examination of my form and logic dictates no less than seven, but without taking my internal organs apart — an act I have always objected to — an exact accounting is impossible.

“I have been told, repeatedly, by anatomists that my brain, at least, must be human, rather than native to my orangutan skull. This is argued that because I can talk, and reason, I cannot be a mere ape. Of my speech, I will grant, the doctor most likely used some human parts.

“But my reason? No, I am not convinced my reason is any less orangutan than my limbs. For, did his homo sapiens subjects not show vast, cold intellect beyond that of their flesh-donors? Is it so hard to believe that the gap from apes’ reason to mans’ is at best a short distance?

“I would propose the question cannot be truly settled until men show the ability to see themselves as something other than the divinely-appointed lords of all matter in the world, animal, mineral, gas, fluid, and plant alike, to use and despoil as they see fit.

“I remember nothing of my time before mortibirth, though instincts still exist from my firstflesh lives, and some smells and sounds strike me as familiar in the extreme. But having gone to Borneo once, I can safely say I am no native of it. I am no native of any land.

“I remember my first weeks. I thought the doctor wise and kind, something between a father and a god. He taught me to walk, talk, eat–ensured that I was fine in form and function. Then he drowned me in an arsenic solution of his own devising, and took notes as I screamed.

“I do presume he believed my consciousness fully destroyed. I think this not out of some trust in his character, but from the fact when I stopped moving, he stopped taking notes and never consulted my glass sarcophagus again. I sat, silent and unmoving, and thought. For years.

“Should I not have been found in the investigation that ensued after the publication of an account of Doctor Frankenstein’s insensate experiments, I believe I would be trapped, paralyzed, and thinking still, looking through the arsenic water and glass at some stone wall.

“But found I was and, in time, released. As I could speak, and was witness to the foul knowledge and process the doctor had created, I was not destroyed. In time, decades, truly, I earned my freedom by turning the lie of a human origin for my brain back on the government.

“So, here exists I. Corpses pretending to be one flesh. Abyssal chemical reactions pretending to be life. An ape’s mind pretending to be human.

“But I am also cunning, robust, and potent in the way of all my kind, and though I carry no love for Monsieur Dupin, he taught me well.

“By the aegis of his brusque acceptance of me, I am established. I have legal papers that sometimes grant me rights, and monies that do so more often.

“How did I come to know Dupin? What is my vocation now? Those shall be future articles, for which I’ll receive a nickel a word.”

–From the Diary of Ardra Maias, the Empire Coast Journal, Jan 17th, 1934.

#DiaryofArdraMaias

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Axes & Arcana, a Fiction Intro Snippet

I wrote this more than a decade ago. This is all there is of it– no outline, no list of names or plot points. Just the beginning of an introductory scene, likely to be incomplete forever, hanging as insecurely as the character in it.

ONE

The sound of rain splattering on the floor of the chamber was rudely interrupted by the loud clang of a three-tined metal hook bouncing through a hole in the ceiling. The hook swung on the end of a knotted rope, dancing mid-air as the rope jerked and swayed. Then the rope disappeared back up through the hole, the hook traveling with it. The hook rang like a bell as it popped back past the edge of the gap it had come through, and disappeared up into the rainy night beyond. For long moment, the chamber was again filled only with the sounds of rain falling down through the same rough opening in the stone roof, to patter against the worn tiled floor. The water pooled, then meandered like a snake in a thin, dirty stream that weaved past rusting helmets and yellowed bones strewn across the old tile floor, until it flowed with a quiet gurgle down a rock ramp corridor that exited the chamber. Even when lightning flashed its harsh brightness through the hole in the ceiling, followed seconds later by thunder, the light did nothing to illuminate the dark corridor, or show the stream’s final destination.

The metal hook banged across the rock at the top of the hole, without falling in, and was again dragged away. A muffled curse, invoking gods too dead or imaginary to be offended, echoed into the chamber and then the hook came flying into the old stone room once more. This time when the knotted rope was pulled back, a single tine of the hook caught on the lower edge of the ceiling’s hole, and the rope was tightened against it. And then, the chamber was again filled with only the gentle patter and gurgle of the rainwater.

Before long, cursing could again be distantly heard thought the ceiling’s opening. Though closer and louder than before it was no more imaginative, mostly focusing on improbably sexual positions and the dubious heritage of the architects who had chosen to build the chamber, and the complex it served as entrance to, so high in the mountains. Had the architects been around to hear such speculation they would have been filled with rage, and likely summoned demons and spectral horrors to strike down the blasphemers. But not only were they all long dead, the moldering remains of several of them actually lay in the damp room, their impotent bones scattered and once-rich garments turned to tattered rags. The architects had claimed that even in death they would defend the chamber, but their complete lack of action gave lie to the ancient pledge.

More than half an hour after the hook had first banged its way into the chamber, a second knotted rope was slowly lowered through the rain-filled air from the gap in the massive stone slab that served as the room’s ceiling, its lower end coiling neatly on the wet floor. A thin, nimble figure was silhouetted in the gap of the ceiling as lighting and thunder flashed across the sky above, and then his pale, exposed body slid down the second rope. He was breathing heavily and might have been sweating, though the rains lightly pelting him made it impossible to know for certain. He had a strip of cloth wrapped around his groin and another above his eyes, and leather straps protecting his palms and feet, but was otherwise unclad. He slipped easily down the rope, letting his feet and hands slide nimbly over the rope’s knots. While still a score of feet above the ground, he paused on the rope and spoke softly. The words were sibilant, soft, and yet seemed filled with great value, as if he was whispering something terrible and important.

Feis’ithifv.”

As the sounds — never designed for human lips — slipped away in a hush, a blue mote of light formed in the air beside the thin man. The mote drifted down below him, to bounce gently off the pooling water on the floor – though it created no ripples. The man watched it roll for a few feet, then come to a stop. It was little more than a single candle’s worth of light, and he had to peer through the rainfall still all around him, but he rushed nothing. Every inch of the corridor he examined from his perch on the rope, taking note of the water trickling out the only exit, the bones and armor, the cracked altar against one wall, and the smashed statue against another.

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MoviePitch: “The Cabin at Camp Sorority Lake”

#MoviePitch #CabinAtCampSororityLake

A group of very different women, who clearly have all survived horrifying and dangerous experiences, gather to deal with the evils they’re sure are lurking near the about-to-be-opened eponymous cabin.
And this time? They’re prepared.
Ideally this would be “The Expendables,” but with actresses who have survived horror and horror/action movies.
(For example, they all take out million-dollar life insurance policies, and name each other’s friends and families as beneficiaries. But not the group themselves — no one who is going to be at the Cabin is benefitting directly).

“Is that a chainsaw?”
“Yep. Top-handle 16-inch always-start Stihl, with custom grips and fuel gauge.”
“Did you get it from… yaknow?”
“Oh, heck no, he used a stupid-huge, heavy, rusty monstrosity. Bad for combat. I DID salvage some of the links from it’s chain, though.”
“Nice!”

“So, you wear full body armor?”
“When hunting, with backup? Fuck yeah. NIJ-certified Level IV. You don’t?”
“No, I prefer stealth and mobility. I have a stab-resistant undersuit. Machete-resistant, too.”
“Tested it against power drills?”
“Haven’t had the opportunity.”

“All right, precheck. Defiled indigenous holy sites or burial grounds?”
“I mean, yes. But no more than anywhere else in this country. None of the surviving original local cultures have any specific warnings for us. I asked.”
“Toxic dumps?”
“Not that the eco-groups I talked to are aware of.”
“Illegal labs?”
“Shipping and power records suggest no.”
“Previous incidents?”
“Three recorded massacres, roughly one per generation. Just rare enough for people to forget. Always on a solstice. Like the one coming up.”
“So, cult or supernatural evil.”
“Seems likely. I have silver, jade, white oak, mistletoe, holly, salt, and holy water — in Catholic, protestant, and Eastern Orthodox flavors. And some from a guy named Giles. Oh, and bullets. Lots of bullets.”
“Sounds good, let’s go.”

I specifically wanted a mashup title for this idea, but after expanding a bit I wondered if “Final Girls” would be a better choice. But, it turns out a movie by the title already exists and is just similar enough (it’s kind of Scream via Last Action Hero; an actress’s daughter and her friends get pulled into the actress’s horror movie, giving them a change to use their self-aware trope knowledge to defeat the killer) that I think it’s better not to risk confusion.

PATREON
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Hero’s Call

Twelve robed figures stood in circle facing each other, in the center of a large room. A plastic trash can sat in the middle of them, though there was no sign it had ever been dirty. Twelve sword hilts jutted from its open top. The room’s décor was that of an ancient temple, with altars, columns, and long tapestries, with no hint that it lay on the third floor of a building in Tacoma.

Though if one was to examine that old brick building, you would see it’s three floors were marked, in order, “Discount Jeans” at the bottom, “Air Force Surplus” on the second, and “Knights of Damon” on the top, each in peeling white paint.

One of robed figures stepped forward, toward the center of the circle.

“It is exposed. Its work is now threatened. Forces will move to destroy it, and break the Seal it keeps.” The figure’s voice was deep but quiet, as though all the wind had long since left it.

A second pf the twelve stepped back, away from the circle.

“The Purpose is old. Our reach has shortened, and no long includes the heights of rulership. The Seal may never have truly existed.” This one’s voice is strong, sharp, and full of barely-constrained energy.

A third figure stepped forward, to stand near the trash can of swords.

“One call for action. One call for restraint. A question for the blades. Now, we draw.”

One by one, each of the other 11 robed figures walked past the trash can, each handed a sheathed sword from within. The handles and sheaths were identical, simple in form with dark red leather and gold-stamped sigils into dark steel. As the gloved hands took the hilts, each sought a small notch found in every hilt. Some grasped the handle notch up, and others with the notch down.

When 11 figures had all walked past, the last one by the trash can took the last sword and returned to his original position in the circle. A heartbeat later, all twelve pulled their swords halfway out of their sheathes. Each revealed a bright, single-edged steel blade. Seven of the blades were held edge up, and five edge down.

The first voice spoke.

“We have accepted a call to action. Who, among us, shall leave FortressHall and undertake this quest?”

All twelve drew their swords completely. Eleven of the blades were identical, but one had a single golden mark of an eye just short of the blade’s tip.

The figure holding the eye-marked blade held it up slowly, turning it so all could see. The blade wielder took a deep breath, and spoke with a clear voice of high timbre.

“Welllll, shit.”

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Sigil Scions (for Pathfinder 1st Ed)

I’ve been meaning to finish this for more than two years, as I began it back when I worked at Paizo. I meant to put it up yesterday, but it took longer than the time I had allotted for blogging, so you get a triple-sized post today instead!

Tithain kept her eyes open and one hand resting easily on the longsword at her hip as she walked alongside Queen Aerigold, who was clearly keeping her attention on the crowds that had gathered to welcome their new monarch. The Queen had insisted she get a new tabard—a bright green silken thing with gold thread and the shining sun-and-tree symbol of the Queen’s Trusted on it—but beneath that Tithain had on the same utilitarian plate armor she’d worn at the Battle of Seven Crowns, all those years ago.

A glint caught Tithain’s eye, and she instinctive stepped between its source and her beloved lady. As a bolt shot out of the crowd, Tithain raised a gauntleted hand and felt the power of her family’s Sigil flow through her, its bright blue lines visible even through the steel protecting her. The arrow slammed into her and shattered, the majority of its force expended against her defensive ward.

A dozen pale-skinned men in the crowd threw off cloaks, reveling the red-and-black garb of Kakkain cultists, and drew weapons as the cityfolk began to cry out and flee from them.

One of the broadest of the men, his eyes glittering with the flickering light of a Fel Embraced, pointed a thorned mace at her and cried out in the echoing voice of those with one foot already firmly planted in Hell.

“She’s a Scion of the Shield Sigil! Kill her first, then the peace-lover queen will fall!”

Sometimes, you want to add something to a campaign that isn’t anchored in class, background, ancestry, or other standard game categories. Sometimes, you just want to be able to slap a whole new power source on characters, and see what fun evolves from it.

Sigil Scions are such a concept.

Sigil Scions have a powerful, mystic source of capability. That might be from their position within an organization, the mark of a god, the collective will of those they defend, an asteroid radiating them with runic power–whatever. The easiest way to add Sigil Scions to a game is to just decide on a narrative framework (anything from ancient heroes reincarnated or cheat codes given to modern characters when they are sent to a fantasy world), and let each player build their own sigil from there. Sigil scions are a pure power-up for characters (especially monks… ), but not as much as being gestalt characters.

(Art by warmtail)

Sigil Power

Select any one bloodrager bloodline, cleric domain, inquisitor inquisition, sorcerer bloodline, warpriest blessing, or wizard specialization. You cannot select a specific option you already have, nor later take the specific option you select here if you gain the appropriate class feature to do so (for example, if you select the cleric healing domain, and later gain cleric domains through some other class, you could not take the healing domain again.)

You gain the abilities of the selected class feature, using your total character level as your level in the relevant class. You do not gain any ability not expressly granted by the selection (so taking the abjuration wizard specialist schools does not give you the ability to prepare spells just because the resistance ability is tied to when you prepare spells). However, you can apply any option from the selected class feature to relevant options gained from other classes (so if you are a druid, and you select the healing domain, you can apply the healer’s blessing ability to your druidic cure spells).

When you first gain sigil power, select one ability modifier. Any time your sigil powers refer to an ability score or modifier (such as to determine save DCs or uses per day), you use the selected ability.

Sigil Spells

Sigil Scions gain spells as they grow in power.

At 1st level, you select three specific class spell lists, which you note down. When you gain Sigil Spells, they must come from these three spell lists. You cannot select spells lists from a prestige class, or a class that gains multiple spell lists (ie you cannot select the hunter class spell list, as it is made of the druid and ranger class spell lists). If a spell list comes from a class with requirements for alignment, background, or armor/equipment restrictions (such as druid or paladin), you must meet those restrictions.

Each Sigil Spell you select is noted as being from one of these three lists (even if it on multiple class lists, you must assign it to just one of your three), and follows the general rules for spellcasting from that class (such as Arcane Spell Failure), though you never need to prepare spells in advance (see below). When you cast these spells you do so as if you were a member of the selected class (Sigil Spells are normal spells, not spell-like abilities).

When you first choose Sigil Spells, You may choose to gain Eschew Materials as a bonus feat, and for all of your Sigil Spells to automatically be Still Spells (thus ignoring Arcane Spell Failure). If you do this, your Sigil Spell caster level is equal to half your character level (at 1st level, your CL is 0.5 – all CL-influenced values are halved, rounding down).

Sigil Spells can be used to meet prerequisites for feats and item creation, but not archetypes or prestige classes.

When you first gain Sigil Spells, you select three 0-level spells known. In addition to 0-level spells from your three class spell lists, you may also choose from the following 0-level spells: detect magic, guidance, light, mage hand, read magic, stabilize. You can assign these to any of your three class lists, even if they do not normally have these spell on that list.

At 2nd level, your total spells known increases to four, and the maximum spell level you can select from goes from 0-level to 1st level. You can select any one 1st level spell from the three spell lists you choose as your Sigil Spell lists to bring you spells known up to your new maximum. You also gain one spell slot you can use to cast any 1st-level or higher spell you know. Your spell slots are restored once per day at a set time (normally dawn) as long as you are not fatigued or exhausted.

As you gain in character level, you gain additional spells known and can select higher-level spells. You spell slots are used to cast any of your 1st-level or higher spells. Thus a 6th level Sigil Scion knows five spells (three of which are 0 level, one 1st-level, and one 1st or 2nd level) and has two spells slots (which can be used to cast any 1st or 2nd level spell the Scion knows). Each time you gain a new level, you can change one spell known to another spell of the same level from one of your three class lists.

When you first gain sigil power, select one ability modifier. Any time your sigil powers refer to an ability score or modifier (such as to determine save DCs or uses per day), you use the selected ability. If a spell references an ability score of yours to determine how it works (such as spiritual weapon allowing you to add your Wisdom bonus to attack rolls with it), you can also switch that to your selected ability.

As you gain levels, your total spells known and the maximum level of the spells you know increase, as shown on Table: Sigil Spells, below.

Table: Sigil Spells

1st           Three spells known (max level 0), Zero slots

2nd-3rd      Four spells known (max level 1), One slot

4th-5th      Four spells known (max level 1), Two slots

6th-7th      Five spells known (max level 2), Two slots

8th-9th      Five spells known (max level 2), Three slots

10th-11th                       Six spells known (max level 3), Three slots

12th-13th                       Six spells known (max level 3), Four slots

14th-15th                       Seven spells known (max level 3), Four slots

16th-17th                       Eight spells known (max level 3), Four slots

18th-19th                       Nine spells known (max level 4), Five slots

20th             Ten spells known (max level 4), Five slots

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Short Fiction: “ALPHA FOXTROT UNIFORM”

I don’t post much short fiction, but it’s an area I’d like to be spending more time and effort on, if I could catch up on other projects. When I originally began my writing career in the 1990s, I wanted to split my time between game writing and fiction writing, but I kept getting offered guaranteed money for game writing, and all fiction was on spec, so…

This is inspired by the quick vigilante/heroes concepts I’ve dabbled with for months on social media with the #StreetLevelHeroes hashtag/

ALPHA FOXTROT UNIFORM

Mike-Mike tossed two smoke cannisters around the corner then dove away from the cover of the alley wall, using a powerful kick against its brick to send him flying swiftly and suddenly across the refuse-covered back street and toward a storm drain. Bursts of automatic gunfire sprayed out around him, but didn’t immediately get a bead on his movement. The smoke wasn’t thick enough for good visual cover yet, but he’d mostly thrown the cannisters to create a distraction. He ended his leap in a slide, staying as low to the ground as possible, and reaching out for the storm drain grill. He felt twin sharp pains in his left leg, but didn’t have time to check if he’d taken shrapnel, or if bullets had impacted on his ballistic cloth costume, or if he was seriously hit.

His fingers just barely grabbed the grill and he quickly pulled himself past the gap between grill and the street, down into the drain. It was a tight fit, but one he’d checked he could make months ago when he’d first begun operating in the old Satan’s Hollow district. He also knew that it was, on average, a three-meter drop from a storm drain entrance to the floor of the crumbling brick waterways. He tucked, trying to roll blindly onto the curved wall he couldn’t see.

He hit, hard, and more flopped than rolled. His right shoulder flared in pain, but he didn’t think it was broken. Cracked, maybe. It would demand attention soon.

If he was still alive.

The muffled sounds of gunfire up in the alley stopped almost immediately, which was bad. It meant his assailants had a good idea where he was, which wasn’t a shock but it would have been nice to catch a break on their acuity.

This hadn’t been a “catch a break” kind of day.

He popped his last smoke cannister, hoping it would cut visibility enough to  make the gunmen cautious about following him into the drain system, then forced himself to his feet. The pain in his left leg returned with a vengeance, but the limb didn’t collapse under him. The drain was nearly empty—it hadn’t rained in this part of the state in more than a week – so at least he could move with fair speed down the tunnel. He hesitated for only a second before flicking on the light attached to his cap—right now it was more important that he move quickly and not bean himself on a cross-pipe than to maintain stealth.

He vacated the spot under the drain grill just as a burst of automatic fire sprayed down from the alleyway. The gunshots were deafening, but at least he didn’t catch a ricochet as he jogged away. His light revealed a cross-drain not more than five meters ahead of him, and he moved toward it as quickly as he could. Just as he reached it there was a clatter behind him, beneath the drain grill.

He threw himself sideways into the cross-drain, as a flash-bang filled the previous tunnel with blinding light and thunderous sound. The shockwave buffeted him, but didn’t make him senseless. He forced himself to his feet again, and ran down the cross-tunnel as fast as he could. He couldn’t be sure the assailants above were following any specific protocol, but most training made flash-bangs a step taken just before a breach.

They were coming to get him, and soon.

Thankfully, the layout of storm drains beneath the Satan’s Hollow district was as convoluted and irregular as the streets of the neighborhood above. He soon found a second intersection, then a third, each time dashing in a random direction to force his pursuers to spread themselves thinner and thinner to chase him down.

Unfortunately, it had looked like they had the numbers to DO that, even if it took some time. Their gear had included some upscale communications and screen devices as well, so he would guess they had nine backup giving them schematics, traffic camera views, and local internet chatter. No maps of the drain system were 100% accurate, but with their numbers, resources, and apparent competence, he couldn’t trust he’d be able to safely disengage without being followed.

Or mowed down.

He didn’t even know what he’d done to warrant the sudden attack, and honestly if he hadn’t been who he was, able to do what he could do he’d be dead already. But he’d already played the one good trick he kept up his sleeve, and it hadn’t been enough. The attackers had kept coming, in numbers, out in the open, with no apparent concern about retaliation from law enforcement. He was out of his depth.

He needed his own back-up.

He slipped an old-fashioned flip-phone out of a pouch, and popped it open. It had no dialpad, and showed clear signs of modification. It automatially came on and dialed a long, complex tone, which was followed by a series of soft clicks. He rarely used it, and just hoped he wasn’t catching its creator at a bad time…

“Ops.”

The woman’s voice was cool, calm, and firm. It was the sweetest sound Mike-Mike had ever heard.

“Mike-Mike, danger word ‘Bananagram.’ I stepped in it Ops. I’m in trouble.”

“Location?” Her voice remained just as calm.

“Storm drains, under Satan’s Hollow. I went in somewhere between Milton Street and the Piles. I’ve been moving roughly south.”

“Condition?”

Mike-Mike took the time to actually look at his leg, crouching to shine his light directly on it. There was no blood, which was good. However when he gingerly touched it, pain shot through him like a hot poker. Which was bad. His shoulder was nearly as painful, and he could feel more bruises and stiffening muscles as the adrenaline leaked out of his system.

“Pretty badly battered. Nothing critical, but I am not in fighting trim.”

“You loaded?”

Mike-Mike looked at the timer on the inside of his right wrist. It automatically went off when he used his “Boom Blast,” counting down until his AB-human power could be used again. He’d expended it when he had first been jumped, and it was the only reason he’d survived the first moments of the attack.

“I got about forty-five minutes before I can pop off. I’m out of smoke. I still have my G19 and two spare clips, but I’d rather not get into a firefight.”

There was a brief pause. “I’ve got you situation. CyberChat in the area is all over it. Reports of four or more armored trucks, two dozen troops. I have video of two of them. No sign of police. Traffic cams are down. No sign of insignia or nametags. Just ranks, which match what Red Stone Consulting use, though they aren’t in standard Red Stone gear. Looks like they’re spreading out, likely trying to cut off your possible evac routes.”

Mike-Mike closed his eyes, and took three deep breaths. That was all about as bad as it could be.

“Options?” He tried to keep his own voice calm.

“I’m boosting the social media awareness now. Shutting down false stories where I can. Making sure footage gets out. Eventually either state enforcement is going to have to pay attention, or mainstream media will which might force federal intervention or a major hero group to drop whatever else they’re doing and head this way. But that’s going to take time I don’t think you have.”

Mike-Mike’s leg flared in pain again, and his visual briefly blurred. That was extra-bad.

“Agreed,” he said simply.

“I can ping potential allies. Get them to the most public spot you can reach, make sure it’s well-seen, and see if these fuckos are willing to go hot against some well-known masks with the eyes of the world on them.”

“I’ll take it.” Mike-Mike didn’t see any better options. “Who’s on deck?”

“Dvork and Chopper are already en route on their own initiative, Broken Heart is nearby and I expect to have her moving your way shortly. I’m pinging Clunker, but don’t know his location. And Boilerplate just reached out to me. She’s apparently also involved in this, and willing to help with an extraction.”

A wave of relief rolled through Mike-Mike. He’d take any help he could get, but Boilerplate brought both near-invulnerability and legal expertise into the mix. And she was well-liked and respected, making it less likely anyone would try to gaslight the public about her involvement.

“What’s my exit?”

“Can you make it to the Yamatown Market?”

Mike-Mike tried to focus on a mental map of Satan’s Hollow, and what he knew about the storm drains. They would all move roughly south or east, to dump into the river. Yamatown was right on the edge of southeastern Satan’s Hollow, divided from it by the 102nd street viaduct, which had connections to the drains. As long as he kept moving in approximately the same direction…

“Yes. It’ll take me maybe 20 minutes.”

“Go.”

Mike-Mike forced himself back to his feet, gritting his teeth at the pain. He had no idea which of the things he’d been looking into had brought this sudden hellstorm down on him.

But he was now a good deal more convinced he was going to live long enough to find out.

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Marvel Movie Pitch: DOOM

Marvel Movie Pitch

DOOM

Victor Von Doom is a young rebel fighting against The Baron, a petty warlord who rules the small nation of Latveria. Victor is not a hero, but a rebel leader fighting a war, and he knows it. He uses sorcery learned from his parents and science he gleans from constantly reading tech specs from AIM, Stark Industries, and Roxxon.

(Get Roma writers, actors, and directors to include good Roma depiction and representation as one of the groups within Latveria)

Victor deposes the Baron, and steps back from being in charge afterward to allow the people of Latveria to create a democracy. Now free from war, and somethign of an international celebrity for his fight for freedom, he receives a scholarship to Empire State University in New York. Here he meets Reed Richards, who becomes his natural rival, and Ben Grimm, who thinks Victor is a bully and war criminal.

Reed is working to build a rocket to examine cosmic rays well beyond the atmosphere. Victor is building a machine to allow him to speak with the dead, in the hopes of using it to help Latvarians recover from war losses. Each sees a flaw in the design of the other, and neither believes THEIR calculations are wrong.

Afraid Victor is the one who is right, Ben Grimm sabotages the Doom Projector, expecting it to just short circuit. Instead it explodes, badly damaging Victor’s face. Victor is expelled from the school and, no longer a student, his visa to stay in the U.S. is pulled. (Yes, I get why some people hate this. But Ben sabotaging Victor is, currently, comics canon. If we want to move away from that, some OTHERstudent could sabotage him.)

Angry and scarred, Victor goes to Tibet to find the Ancient One, who he has heard can heal him. He fails to find her, collapsing on a mountainside, and is rescued by a secretive group of sages who strive to blend magic and technology, but wish to do so without the rest of the world finding out. Victor joins their order, and becomes a master of this technomancy. He begins working on a suit of armor he claims will be the “mystic equivalent of Iron Man,” thought the process takes a long time and the armor takes days to cool. The sages, impressed by his acumen, grant him the doctorate degree he was denied by ESU.

News arrives that suggests Latveria is collapsing into near civil war, unable to cover its international debts and having no institutions or traditions to support building a democracy. (In the background, another news piece suggest Reed Richards is lost in space with friends during an unauthorized spaceflight.) Victor anonymously begins a grassroots movement over the internet and via astral projection to bring peace to Latveria.

His efforts are stymied by Prince Rudolf, who claims to be the rightful monarch of Latveria, and who controls the sorcerous Mephistopheles Guard. In a techno-crystal ball conversation between the two, Victor warns Rudolf he will not allow some faker to take over the country. Rudolf warns Victor he is not as safely secluded as he thinks.

Then the Mephistopheles Guard attacks the Tibetan sages, their sorcery and modern weapons firing magic bullets too much for the sages’ defenses. Victor rushes to put on his technomagic armor to save the sages… but the last piece, the control system mask, has not yet cooled. Gritting his teeth, Victor puts it on anyway, and we hear searing and smoke, but no cry of pain.

Victor defeats the remaining attackers, but nearly all the sages are dead. The few that remain thank Victor for saving them, and pledge their loyalty to him.

Victor goes to Latveria, where he blasts his way into the Royal palace, and confronts Rudolf. Rudolf promises that defeating him is pointless, his diabolical master will just recruit another pawn to take control of the country.

“Let them come.” says Victor. “And they, too, can meet their Doom.”

Von Doom sits on the throne. He orders Rudolf’s political prisoners released. They come to the throne room, and suggest Von Doom should step down and let them establish an autonomous collective. The politicos begin to should louder and louder, until Von Doom silences them.

They have clearly failed Latveria, Von Doom notes. He shall not. He will modernize, protect, and get to the root of who was behind Rudolf and possibly the baron’s, supernatural plots.

And no-one, notes Doctor Doom, shall stop me.

Credits.

End Credit Scene. We see the last few seconds of Doctor Doom’s taking over speech on a TV, which is surrounded in Egyptian iconography. There’s a date listed (day the movie is released).

There are two voices.

“So, we jump to before this moment, and stop him?”

“No, too risky, We’ll have to travel to just after this, and see if we con convince him to see things out way.”

They Killed Me, Again, Today

They killed me again, today.

I suppose I should be used to it by now. I mean, anytime anyone comes to the old carnival grounds, or the camp and lake next door, it always ends up with me getting killed again.

I mean, yes, the first time was legitimately surprising. I put on the dead firefighter’s gas mask and coat to help get those campers out of the burning building, not hurt them. But I guess when you catch on fire, roll around in plastic tarps to put it out, and get covered in patchy molten tarp cloth, you look a little scary.

Especially when you have a 4-foot long flaming bill hook hedge cutter in your hand.

So, sure. I get that they thought I was a vengeful spirit come to drag them to hell. I don’t think they needed to wrap a chain around me, hook it to a pickup truck, drive to the lake and jump out just as it went off the dock, so I was pulled underwater and drowned in brackish muck, but at least I get it.

And I guess if you are dumb enough to run an illegal underground carnival and blare intentionally Satanic lyric over the loudspeakers, and that actually DOES raise a vengeful spirit in the form of one wet dude with a patchy coat, mask, and flaming bill hook, you might decide to “douse its hellfire” before discovering I was vengeful about poor OSHA compliance from the original carnival’s corporate owners. I still think dumping the illegally-stored tanks of liquid nitrogen on me was taking it a bit far, though.

So I confess, when one of the things stored in the liquid nitrogen turned out to be a human regeneration formula that brought me back as an infectious zombie… rotting flesh visible through the broken gas mask (but still with the same patchwork coat and flaming bill hook — Black and Decker, man, it’s a quality brand), I was pretty sure it was going to go badly for me. So, yes, I lurked a bit as the urban explorers took pictures of my stomping grounds. I didn’t want to get frozen or drowned again! But when I saw they had mobile phones, I did try to ask them to call for help!

Turns out, enunciation is tricky with a rotting, burned, flash-dried tongue.

No drowning, at least. Getting fed into a wood chipper, mixed with mulch, and spread over the baseball field was hellishly painful, especially since as a regenerating mutant undead spirit of vengeance I was still aware the whole time, but at least I was outside. Some nights it was quite nice.

I DO feel bad for terrorizing people when that freak storm dropped a phone line onto the field and I was sucked into cyberspace and tried to kill people using the internet. But what can I say, it was the 1990s, and netiquette for horror monsters wasn’t really codified yet.

And then there was the seance, being reverse-possessed by the brother of my first “victim,” the attempt to recreate the regeneration serum by cloning me, turning out not have been killed but just in hibernation for 7 years while digesting a guy’s liver, the SECOND clone of me, the group of multi-denominational priests who summoned me just so they could destroy me “once and for all,” the alien parasite…

I gotta be honest, even I am not sure I didn’t hallucinate that last one.

So when I reformed from a single drop of my original burning blood and found a mock-up of my original mask and coat in the roadside attraction based on my exploits (but with the SAME bill hook — *man* those people can make gardening tools!), I should have know that moving away from everyone and everything wasn’t going to be enough.

At least someone ought to be able to make a cool movie out of all that cell phone footage those kids got of me and themselves before the fungus that grows on my mutant undead body turned them all into homicidal killers and they did each other in.

And chained me to a bigger truck, and drove me into a bigger lake.

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