Thursday, 31 January 2013

Working Title: Glove Of Twats

I've played Gauntlet of Fools twice now, and each time I've had a blast.  It's a combination of wonderfully simple games mechanics and a setting that, assuming you have a half-decent imagination, can lead to all sorts of amusing silliness.

I haven't read the rulebook, so I don't know whether there's an "official" explanation as to what the hell is going on, but as best I can tell, each player represents a contestant on some kind of medieval fantasy game show.  Each round every player has to fight the same monster, and earns points if they can kill it, whilst trying to avoid getting wounded in the process.  It's a bit like the Krypton Factor, if Gordon Kaye had ever had the contestants attempt to survive a stampede of woolly mammoths.

Your chances of surviving the whole array of gribblies are close to zero; death is all but certain.  Presumably your grieving families are awarded your prize money whilst the Gauntlet's back-stage staff are scraping your remains off a giant's knuckles.  Smart strategies and use of unique abilities can keep you alive for longer, but really the best way to make sure you survive long enough to pay off the mortgage on your wattle and daub cottage is to make sure you're a rock-hard killing machine in the first place, and that you're toting the juiciest weapon possible.

Thus, the game is broken up into two phases, which canbest be termed "boasting" and "stabbing". Boasting is the method by which characters are chosen. One random character (sporting one random weapon) is laid out for each player. The first player chooses from those available to them.  The second player can then choose a different character, or they can steal the first payer's character, boasting that their martial skills are so great they can make better use of the character, even were they to suffer under a disadvantage such as a raging hangover or an irresistible urge to juggle during combat.  Each of these disadvantages results in an in-game penalty, and they're cumulative.  So if the second player steals the first player's character, then the third player steals from the second, the poor character will now have two in-game penalties.  Sooner or later your rock-hard gladiator with his all-conquering morning star will start to look so shabby even the slingshot-armed jester might start to look appealing.  And if this neat (though far from fool-proof) method of handicapping inevitably leads to a race to the bottom, character-wise, the image of a one-armed barbarian trying to beat up a magically-animated scimitar without access to either vision or a decent breakfast more than makes up for it.

Once all characters have been assigned, the monsters are unleashed, (generally) one by one, and each player must try and defeat one copy of the same critter.  Each character has a defence value, determining if they're wounded (four wounds and you're hellhound-meat), and their weapon has a number of dice, which are rolled and totalled to see if the monster's defence value is overcome (monsters themselves have a fixed score for attack).  Each player also gets (usually) two character tokens and two weapons tokens, which allows them to do interesting things.  An armourer, for example, can use character tokens to build himself a better defence value.  The whip allows you to dodge a creature you've been unable to kill, keeping yourself from harm for that turn.

And that's pretty much it, which is diverting in and of itself.  True hilarity is only unlocked when one chooses to slap together the most implausible back-stories possible for one's character.  Last night, having acquired a hungover barbarian armed with a sceptre, I chose to play the role of King Throgg I, of the Hanover barbarians, who had entered the Gauntlet as part of a drunken bet the night before: if he survived the carnage, his barbarian barons had to shut up about trying to slap together the First Barbarian Republic.

(Tragically, after some early success grinding a swarm of killer bees beneath his boots (which cleared up his hangover, interestingly), Throgg had his sceptre melted by a sentient puddle of powerful acid, and it all went downhill from there. His dying wish was that his prize money be used to pay an assassin to take out whomever the first President of Barbaria proves to be.)

It's fast, it's fun, and it allow the spinning of ludicrous stories in-between explosions of gore.  Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Mario Taught Me How To Be A Plumber On Mushrooms

Anyone else remember The Last Starfighter, that cheesy but oddly lovable sci-fi film from the mid '80s about a kid who beat a fiendishly difficult arcade game that turned out to be an entrance exam for an elite interstellar fighter squadron? It's maybe most famous for being one of the first films to make use of CGI:

How have I never noticed the similarity to a Starfury before?
but I think it's more notable for this idea of video games as secret method of training, which a plot born straight from the dreams of a hundred thousand teenage boys. Who doesn't want to find out that all those hours logged playing Operation Wolf/Pole Position/Frogger has made them a kick-ass Green Beret/brilliant F1 driver/expert at amphibian preservation in built-up areas?

But secret game training has its dark side!  Who can believe, that after a week in which the Coalition are under great pressure to defend their recent choices to scale back spending on the prison system that this:

is mere coincidence?

Gamers of the country, ask yourselves: do you want to play your favourite game? Or does David Cameron want you to want to play it?

"It Is An Exceedingly Clever Nickname"

Just passing this along (via Robert Farley); a very long and wonderfully thorough study of Petyr Baelish's activities to date (in book terms; TV-only Thrones fans should steer very clear).

Littlefinger is easily one of the best characters in the series, and it's worth reading the whole thing as a reminder of just how well he's been playing his hand.  There were several things in there that I'd forgotten, and one that I'd entirely failed to pick up on, and which now has me thinking about what might be headed for Petyr and Alayne come The Winds of Winter.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

International Pride

Obviously, I heartily endorse this ad campaign, not because I fear an influx of Eastern Europeans, but because hating oneself is a great British tradition, and the sooner our new citizens get some practice at that, the better.

That said, I think Mr Nathan Page has the right idea: why just complain about our own country, when we could try and persuade people to head elsewhere instead?  France is a fine shout (though personally I'd have plumped for "If you want to be fire-bombed by racists, why bother crossing the Channel?"), but we could easily extend it to, say, Belgium:


or even Germany:

I tried coming up with one for Italy, too, but nothing sprang to mind. "With pizza this good, who cares about endemic corruption and national insolvency?", maybe?

Friday, 25 January 2013

Friday Talisman: Tea Leaf

This time around, I've painted up the thief from Talisman.

I seem to have ended up with what can be broadly considered a more realistic effect this time round, at least compared to most of my paint jobs.  Indeed, there's almost a John Blanche air to it, assuming Blanche ever just feels like utterly phoning it in.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

When All You Have Is A Hammer...

I came across this last week, and thought it needed reporting immediately.

I like to think things there go a little like this:

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

An American Fairytale

I wasn't going to comment on this story, what with having done a couple of US politics/religion posts already recently, but it just got a coda that makes the whole thing too perfect an encapsulation of Republican and media bullshit to leave alone.

It all starts with Virginia State Senator Henry Marsh; one of the six black senators in that particular body (all of them Democrats, natch). Marsh worked for the Civil Rights movement back in the day, so it's hardly a surprise that he'd want to attend the second and final inauguration of his country's first black president.

So that's what he did.  Unfortunately, the Virginia State Senate is divided equally between the parties, with 20 on each side.  Marsh made the count 20 - 19 in favour of the Republicans for a single day whilst he was selfish enough to observe history being made, watching another in a seemingly endless series of barriers to black advancement finally come down.

Those twenty Republicans, each of them white, then pushed though a bill that no-one outside of their caucus had seen or even heard was being put together, which announced a redrawing of district boundaries. Said re-drawing took a whole host of black folks that reliably vote Democrat, and added them to what was already a safe Democratic district, meaning that the district they were taken from is now a much easier Republican pick-up, or might even disappear entirely.

So, whilst a black senator with a history with the Civil Rights movement was watching President Obama's Second Inauguration, nineteen white dudes and one white lady took steps to ensure black votes that were preventing their all-white caucus from having control could no longer do so.

The bill passed, naturally, by 20 - 19.

That was where the story ended, until yesterday, when the Washington Post decided to weigh in:
Shame on the witless Democrats for not anticipating that Republicans, given the chance, would resort to dirty tricks. And shame on Republicans for continuing their campaign to transform the General Assembly into a nasty, underhanded clone of Congress.
There are two very important things to note here, and both of them involve a degree of cowardice so pronounced that Scooby Doo himself would suggest the Editorial Board nut the fuck up.  First of all, consider what the Post's line of argument is here: Democrats share the blame in this because they didn't adopt a strategy of 100% attendance at all times in case the Republicans decided to pull a fast one.  No days off, you lazy bums!  No weddings, funerals or internationally significant historical events for you!  Blaming the Democrats for this is like blaming a family for going on holiday and coming back to find the house was broken into. Or, to return to a previous theme, blaming an older brother for leaving the house and returning to find his little brother has been in his room and torn up all his favourite books out of spite.

The second issue here is much, much worse, because the Post are being pretty damn racist here, and they don't even have the courage to be open about it.  Placing blame on twenty Republicans for each voting for this horrible piece of crap is entirely fair.  Placing blame on twenty Democrats because Marsh wasn't around to vote is ludicrous.  What the Post means here is "shame on the witless Marsh", but it doesn't want to say that because it knows that calling a black man witless for not sacrificing his own desires in order to maintain constant vigil on the white people who want to fuck him and his people over would be an act of transparent, ugly racism.  Far better to blame the whole caucus, because then it can be implied that all twenty Democrats can be held responsible both for the actions of their opponents, and for the actions of their black colleague.  The fact that this in effect results in the Washington Post suggesting a predominantly white caucus is responsible for controlling the actions of their black minority is an irony I absolutely promise you entirely escaped their notice.

Joseph Heller once said that American democracy is the most rigid aristocracy on earth.  What he forgot to mention - though the horrendously underrated Good As Gold rather proved - is that it's frequently the source of the blackest comedy imaginable.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

The Advantages Of Atheism

I wish I'd gotten around to reading this article by Alan Jacobs when it first went up; I'd have been able to give him a few pointers.  Jacobs is struggling to get his head around the personal and interpersonal benefits of atheistic thinking.
I can certainly see how it could be a relief not to think about how to “justify the ways of God to man,” as Milton put it. But how is this connected to “what atheism has to offer”? What does atheism have to offer when “a loved one [is] losing his mind to Alzheimer’s,” and so on? I don’t see how atheism qua atheism (as the philosophers say) has anything at all to offer, though particular atheists, just like particular religious believers, can certainly offer a lot in the way of care, compassion, physical and emotional assistance.
I think the best way to think about this is in terms of balance.  A religious person, upon facing the horrible fact of a loved one's imminent demise, has to balance their belief that their family member is going to be released into Paradise very soon, and their confusion as to why a supposedly loving God would allow such suffering in the first place.  The force here that actually tips the scales varies from person to person, but it seems relatively uncontroversial to argue that for some people, the confusion is so much more pronounced that they might be better off without it, even at the cost of losing their comfort over approaching Paradise.

Obvious Replies

Lawks!  President Obama has certainly stepped in it now, what with suggesting the American people get by with slightly less rapidly-firing bullet-packed guns that might not be available to lunatics anymore.

Obviously, this is just the kind of thing the NRA exists to help combat (possibly using guns), and they've made it very clear that they're not going to take it.

Classlessness, thy name is gun nuts.  But to follow on from yesterday's post, I wonder whether the majority of the US media is going to employ the Little Brother approach (the GOP and the NRA aren't the same thing, of course, but their intersection is so wide as to make the leap a very, very small one) and suggest Obama is to blame for ever suggesting such milquetoast and reasonable restrictions.  Because if they don't, you'd think every journalist in America should be able to scrape together the following three questions:

1) Will the NRA publicly support raising taxes by the amount needed to fund Secret Service guards in every school in America?

2) Will the NRA publicly support the significant expansion of government required in placing Secret Service guards in every school in America?

3) If the answer to either of the above questions is "no", will the NRA fuck off, entirely and forever, or at least for the many decades it will take their high command to wash so much blood off their powder-burned hands?

PS: It's been four years since Obama was sworn in as US President, Blogspot; put his fucking name into your spellchecker, already.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Little Brother Is Watching You

Kevin Drum finds himself less than impressed by Michael Gerson's new column.
Holy cow! Obama might be tempted to expose Republicans' internal divisions and unpopular policy views? The fiend! And Republicans are helpless to resist because tea party crackpots the momentum of their ideology doesn't allow them to be reasonable. They literally have no choice except to surrender to fanaticism.
I don't disagree with anything Drum says here, but I think it's part of a larger issue than just conservative's believing their own ludicrous rhetoric. Some of this involves what I'll call the "little brother GOP" theory.

A brief slice of Squid history: I am six years older than my brother, which means that when going through those highly awkward early teen years, I had to deal with a child in the mid to late single digits.  Naturally, we had our share of arguments and fights (not physical, really; he couldn't do any damage and I didn't want to), and every time they got loud enough for my parents to get involved, the same judgement would be passed down: I was six years older, and therefore every conflict was my fault because I was older and should know better.

At least, that's how I remember it.  I'm sure my brother and my parents have very different recollections.  My point is, there's a strange tendency in America political discourse, not just demonstrated by conservatives themselves but my many so-called neutral observers in the media, to treat Republicans as though they're the younger brother.  Every fight becomes the Democrats fault for not having been smart enough to avoid it.  It doesn't matter if the GOP was the one to pick the fight, or how unreasonable a position they've taken, or what Democrats would lose if they kept their powder dry, it's always up to Democrats to be the older brother.

Drum's looking at one example of this - it's somehow the Democrats fault that Republicans will choose to publicly refuse to aid the American economy unless they make the lives of the rich better and/or the poor worse. Another is the Republican bed-shitting on display over Hagel's nomination as Secretary of Defense, which has led to people criticising Obama as playing dirty pool by selecting a Republican candidate.  After all, they argue, if the Republicans fail with all their desperate mud-slinging, they'll look petty and weak, and if they succeed, they'll do so only having publicly slimed a war hero from their own party.  It never seems to occur to this breed of commentator that some amongst the Republican ranks chose to start a smear campaign which couldn't end well for them (Larison makes a similar argument here).  That's just what little brothers do! How dare big brother take advantage.

It's just expected that Democrats are supposed to be the adults in the room, always and forever.  Were I a Republican, I'd be kinda insulted by the suggestion that my party is so unable to function on any cerebral level my opponents bear the blame for any reaction I have to them. It's fortunate for their sake - though no-one else's - that the GOP's self-awareness is so atrophied they're two weeks out from thinking themselves actual elephants.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

12 053

What else was I going to post for this particular birthday?  Four months from now, I'll have been on this earth for a third of a century.  I really should get around to doing some work one of these days.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Sign O' The End Times

OK, so it's an open question as to whether any of my reviews are actually of any use in terms of actually recommendations (or otherwise) to anyone else.  Nevertheless, Elder Sign seems particularly pointless for me to rave about, since the two central premises - Cthulhu and probability - means it rests so perfectly inside my interest intersection that explaining why I think anyone else should try the game seems a tricky proposition.

Let's have a go, though.  Elder Sign bears some similarities (and a great deal of artwork) with its bigger brother, Arkham Horror. Both games involve characters (the same characters, as it happens) attempting to stop a Great Old One from arising and wreaking all kinds of naughtiness across the world at large.  Said

Great Old One periodically receives "doom tokens", and will awake once they have accrued enough; the players have to gather together sufficient elder signs to stop them.  Failing that, they have to actually beat the hideous ubergribbly in combat when he awakens, a task that - depending on circumstance and the GOO in question - falls between ludicrously hard and actually impossible.

So far, that's pretty much how Arkham Horror runs.  What makes Elder Sign unique is its use of tasks and dice.  Tasks are very common in Arkham Horror as well, of course, but with the exception of sealing gates they tend to be forced upon investigators whilst they're trying to get more important things done.  In Elder Sign, the tasks are very much the point: the players wander around Arkham Museum, and each room contains a task that can be completed in exchange for various rewards (including elder signs), but which will punish them to some extent if they balls it all up.

It's the form these tasks take that drive the game. Under normal conditions a player can roll six dice when tackling a task; each dice bears three unique symbols (skull, scroll and squamous tentacle pile) and three investigation symbols numbered one to three.  Tasks are completed by rolling symbols of the right kind and amount required by the card.

What that means is that, on any given turn, a player can look at the six rooms currently active and work out which room they have the greatest chance of successfully defeating in exchange for goodies.  Various events during the game can change the calculations - monsters can make tasks more difficult, certain rooms rob you of a dice, and two extra-shiny dice are available using assorted conditions and objects - but you always know going in what your chances are.

This reduces the entire game to a fascinating series of constantly changing initial conditions from which optimal short-term strategies can be assembled.  Or you can just ignore that and use your gut instincts in a fight for humanity against impossible odds.  You know, if you're a weirdo.

Either way, this is approximately five times quicker a game than Arkham Horror, a multiplier which will doubtless come as happy news to many, and just as evocative.  Eight and a half squamous tentacles.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Radio Friday: Team-Up!

A quick burst of adrenaline from one of my all time favourites, and someone I've just stumbled onto for the first time.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

A Tale Of Cocktails: These Are The Latest Facts

Since next week I mark my latest birthday with a cocktail party of epic proportions (note: actual proportions may be neither epic nor especially satisfying), this might be a good time to take stock of the ongoing process of drinking every mixed drink ever.


11 Best Cocktails

1. Brain Hemorrhage
2. Flying Grasshopper
3. Fuzzy Shark
4. Choc Berry
=5. Baby Guinness
=5. Dennis the Menace
=7. Malibu Pop
=7. Daiquiri
=9. Angel Delight
=9. Kir Royale
=9. After Six

5 Worst Cocktails

1. Screwdriver
2. Champagne Cocktail
3. Orange Blossom
4. Tomorrow We Sail
5. Poinsettia Holiday

8 Tastiest Cocktails  

= Flying Grasshopper
= Midori Sour
= Choc Berry
= After Six
= Baby Guinness
= Brain Hemorrhage
= Mudslide
= Malibu Pop  

Worst Tasting Cocktail


6 Prettiest Cocktails  

1. Brain Hemorrhage
=2. Metropolitan  
=2. Midori Sour
=2. Choc Berry
=2. Fuzzy Shark
=2. Baby Guinness  

Ugliest Cocktail


8 Cheapest Cocktails  

= Screwdriver
= Daiquiri
= Raspberry Tipple Plus
= More Sunshine
= Dribena
= Fuzzy Shark
= Fuzzy Navel
= Snowball  

Most Expensive Cocktail


7 Best Named Cocktails  

1. Brain Hemorrhage
=2. Flying Grasshopper
=2. Metropolitan
=2. Daiquiri
=2. Choc Berry
=2. Fuzzy Shark
=2. French 75

2 Worst Named Cocktails  

= Tomorrow We Sail
= Champagne Cocktail  

10 Easiest Cocktails  

=1. Elderflower Royale
=1. Kir Imperial
=3. Dribena
=3. Black Forest
=3. Ume Royale
=3. Kir Royale
=3. Blue Lagoon
=3. Baby Guinness
=3. Brain Hemorrhage
=3. Mimosa  

Most Fiddly Cocktail  


9 Strongest Cocktails  

1. Flying Grasshopper
2. White Lady
=3. Brain Hemorrhage
=3. Mudslide
=5. After Six
=5. Dennis The Menace
=5. Baby Guinness
=5. Malibu Pop
=5. Champagne Cocktail

Weakest Cocktail

Choc Berry

Supplies Consumed


Blue Curacao
Cherry wine
Chocolate liqueur
Creme de Cacao
Creme de Cassis
Creme de Menthe
Elderflower liqueur
Irish Cream (Baileys)
Peach Schnapps
Plum wine
Rum (dark)
Rum (white)
Sloe gin
Tia Maria
Triple Sec


Cranberry juice
Lemon juice
Lime cordial
Lime juice
Orange juice
Pineapple juice
Sugar syrup
Vanilla syrup


Caster sugar
Mint Matchmaker
Orange slice
Orange peel
Whipped cream
A shark



Estimated amount of ice used: 450 cubic centimetres.


Mean cocktail score: 6.69

Standard deviation of cocktail score: 0.813
Range of scores: 4.2

Using the stats package R, we can show that the scores of cocktails are roughly normally distributed:

meaning that we can say approximately 95% of all cocktails lie within the range of scores [5.06, 8.32], and 99% will lie between [4.25, 9.13].

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

D CDs #491: I Cannot Be Born Again

I think maybe it's time I face facts: I'm just never going to get the blues.

I've listened to Born Under A Bad Sign a few times now, and it's clear there's simply some uncrossable chasm between the state of mind required to love a record like that, and the state of mind I have access to.  I am still, despite a recent surge in exposure, utterly unable to understand the worth of repeating the first line of a verse.  I still don't get why a genre so commendably focused on being miserable as all hell should stir so little emotion in me. It eludes me.

There's nothing whatsoever on this record that is in any way bad.  King's two own contributions here are no less listenable to than his collection of cover versions.  Booker T. and the MGs are solid backing players, as are the Memphis horns.  "If it wasn't for bad luck, you know I'd have no luck at all" - from the title track - remains one of my favourite lines from the entire genre, which never struck me as caring about lyrics as much as I might wish (what's all this shit about a "love gun" in "The Hunter", for example?).  The word that hangs over this whole disc is "competent".

I just can't find it in me to be stirred by it.

Trying to understand exactly what it is I'm missing, I took a little stroll around other, less baffled reviews of the album.  The most common argument that I can get my teeth into (other than "This is awesome!" which I'm not claiming is an invalid reaction, merely not one I can meaningfully dissect) is that King's skills as a blues guitar player were such that any number of later acts owe him a considerable debt.

Now, I'm sure that's true [1], but that brings me to a larger point.  I've never understood why so many people insist that influential and enjoyable are so often synonymous.  It seems to me that the curse of being influential is that you're almost always one of the least pleasing creators in your particular area, because once you've introduced the world to something, the whole world gets to take it and make improvements.

 The debt owed to you doesn't disappear, or anything, but I don't see how that debt can translate into anything other than appreciation and academic interest, neither of which seems sufficient to prop up the kind of visceral response that the best music should instill (the closest King comes here is some admittedly very tasty riffing on "Personal Manager"). It's like saying I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer so much I should check out that guy who first drew a "B" in the mud.

Maybe people remember the visceral response they had when King first came on the scene, and I'm just 46 years late to the party.  Maybe my definition of visceral response - or even the level of importance I place on it - differs wildly from other people's.  Or maybe, half a century later, the power of Albert King's playing can still reach through the years and slap those who know what he's doing square across the chops.

They say as any review gets longer, you learn less about the reviewed and more about the reviewer, and I know I'm proving the point here.  I'm not so much discussing a blues record as my own inability to sensibly discuss blues records. But such is where I find myself, and I no idea how to get myself anywhere else.

Six tentacles.

[1] Here I'm using this phrase in its polite rather than literal sense, i.e. the one that really means "I've no goddamn clue whether it's true, but I'm going to assume people aren't lying to me".

Saturday, 5 January 2013

A True Love's Lament (Part XII)

Dear anyone,

Never forget to ensure one's staff thinks of one fondly.

To think, at long last, it has come to this: beginning what may be my last message to anyone in this world with the most cliche of bromides. Familiarity does not invalidate wisdom, of course - though oddly it seems frequently to inure us to it - and in my particular situation it seems particularly relevant.  It also allows me at least a little time to avoid coming to what is a painful and horrifying point.

So, yes, always keep the help sweet, if possible.  Otherwise you may find sputum in your gin and tonic, find your carriage regularly delayed for odd and unconvincing reasons, or find yourself unable to persuade them to smuggle a pencil and paper into the underground cell you've been pushed into by insane bird-worshipping cultists.  The last might seem a rather unlikely scenario, but given my current straits I believe I can be forgiven for having little desire to argue over the odds.

Thanks to the kindly assistance of the boy who brings me the closest analogue to meals in this setting (the dirt on the floor coming a close second), I can at least record the events of what might be my final hours in God's Creation.  The Conclave of Thoth has gathered, and I have been presented.

It did not go well.

My morning began with a perfunctory wash in lukewarm water, held in a bird-shaped bowl alongside a single peacock feather, which drifted listlessly across the surface until I summoned up the courage to cast it aside.  My body as clean as my captors and the light from my single small window shaft would allow, I was then pressed into wearing the same outlandish garb as had been worn by yesterday's eleven lady visitors, save each item was black rather than many-coloured, and the beak upon the small face mask had been sawed clean off.  Thus clothed, I was led by silent servants through tunnels I must have traversed just yesterday - I remember nothing of how I came here, I must have been drugged - until we came to a door carved from oak, each panel a wood relief of bird flocking or eagles hunting down rabbits.  It took a moment before I realised the door itself was in the shape of a huge bird, some bloodthirsty shrike viewed end on as it hunched over its kill.

Whatever else was true, it was clear those who had kidnapped me did not lack for dedication to their beliefs.

One of those guiding me stepped to the door and knocked upon it, a single short rap with the knuckles.  Moments later, in response to no summons or command I could detect, he pushed upon the wood, and the door opened, pale blue light spilling from it like lazy water.  Without so much as a word, the man indicated I should enter, and I strode forwards through the frame, determined to meet my fate with all the considerable dignity I possess.

Inside, I found myself at the centre of a circular cave.  The tunnel I had travelled down to arrive here stretched out behind me, a long half-cylinder of grey rock that betrayed no hint of its hollowness.  The blue light that had crept through the threshold now surrounded me, emanating so far as I could tell from the rock itself. Above and around me, carved into the hemispheric rock face that formed the cave wall, stood eleven figures, each one wearing feathered robes so resplendent as to make yesterday's visitors seem drab almost to the point of invisibility, and bearing headdresses wrought into the shapes of ibis heads, leaving only their stern mouths visible, twitching in the blue glow.

"We are the Lords of Thoth!" they intoned together.  Eleven lords for eleven ladies; the implication was hardly complex.  I opened my mouth to speak, but was immediately silenced by those above me. "We await the arrival of the Adjudicator", they informed me tonelessly.

"And now he is here," came a reply from the cave wall directly behind me.

It might at first seem logical to assume that a voice left to echo loudly through an open space would be easier to identify. After all, one has more opportunities to recognise the speaker from each line.  In actual fact, though, the echoes sit atop and blur one another, swirling into one another, making it hard to pick out what one is listening for.

And so it took me a few moments to recognise my father's voice.

It had been his plan all along.  The Young Ornithologist subscription each Christmas for my brother and I, in the hopes we would follow in his footsteps.  The introduction to the perilous dunderhead in the wake of my brother's utter incompetence, which ruled him out entirely as cult material.  All ruined by my refusal to accept the traditional gifts of induction, and by both rejecting my former fiance and making entirely too much noise whilst I was doing it.  In the blue chamber beneath the earth my father argued that had I but known, I would never have caused such problems.  For my part, I am sure I would merely have caused damage with more precision, and with an eye to surviving counter-attack.

But it does no good to think of what might have been.  If wishes were horses, beggars would ride, presumably to the nearest knacker's yard to exchange their mounts for gin money.  With the police sniffing the perilous dunderhead's trail (and if there could be any silver lining to this cloud of reeking insanity, it's that his intemperance seems to have enraged the "lords of Thoth" just as much as my indiscreet displeasure has), I could not be allowed to remain where I was. Total indoctrination was quickly rejected; no woman can join the cult without their husband going first. Apparently even a man prepared to hide in catacombs wearing a moth-eaten bird's head will only remove themselves so far from society's mores.  Letting me go was seemingly even more unacceptable.

Which is why they sentenced me to death.

At midnight tonight, cultists will hold me down, cut open my cranium, and pull out my grey matter.  Apparently, it will then be fed to a large variety of birds, though I confess I paid little attention to the specifics of their plan past a certain obvious point.  Something about my essence living on in the children of the Gods, which gave my father rather more comfort than it did me.

Naturally, I am delighted father can find such spiritual satisfaction in the murder of his daughter.  I would hate to think he would send her to her death with a heavy heart.  I realise that I will be dead either way, but the small things become oddly important once the major decisions have been set in stone.  There is still some hope; perhaps not every policeman in the county is in the pockets of the bird-worshippers, and they may still pick up the trail.  Perhaps my flirtations with my inconstant gaoler will allow me to escape alongside or after my letter.

Perhaps, perhaps.  For one more day, it is still Christmas, after all.  A time for miracles.

Somewhere in the distance, through the small shaft above me spilling out what little daylight remains, I can hear the scratchy clucking of a partridge, and I wonder what it is it wants.


Alice Stoneleigh.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Friday Paint Bench

A quick look at what I've been able to complete over the festive season.  First, after six months or so, my Space Hulk Terminator with assault cannon is finally done:

I also found time in between eating, drinking and writing stupid stories to polish off my Talisman merchant:

The next major project is ostensibly finishing off the space marines from Assault on Black Reach so I can make a start on the space marines from Dark Vengeance, but with the new Dark Angels codex out in a few weeks, I suspect this plan will be derailed as quickly as all my other ones seem to be.

A True Love's Lament (Part XI)

Dear Father,

It has been two days since I sent word of my mounting legal troubles, and yet I've heard nothing from you.  I know you cannot be ignoring me, Father; you rose to the defence of my moronic brother quickly enough.  Could it be my letters are being intercepted?  The perilous dunderhead is capable of anything, it seems.  Just to be safe, I'm having this letter smuggled out by a friendly washerwoman.  I hear that's the very button of fashion these days.

Father, what I have learned this day will shock you from toe to collarbone. Were I not who and what I am, I would expect you to dismiss the entire story as the ranting of a madwoman, or the fabrications of a particulary imaginative congenital liar. Mercifully, as your ever loyal and sober daughter, I know you will swallow your incredulity and act on the information revealed herein.

The perilous dunderhead, I now know, is not simply the head of the Golden Zephyr Trading Company.  He is a major figure in a secret occult society dedicated to the veneration of birds.

This is not some desperate fantasy, Father!  I was explicitly informed of the situation by eleven ladies who visited my cell this morning, each one wearing many-coloured dresses and capes of feathers and faces of disciplined displeasure behind small, beaked masks, like birds of paradise ignoring a child's tantrum at the fairground.  In low, cold voices they explained in no uncertain terms that my "callous rejection" of my former fiancee had earned the wrath of their husbands, each one a high-ranking member of their organisation.  Further, the chance that I might be able to assist the police in their investigation of the burglaries of all those general's wives posed too great a risk to the secret activities.  A conclave is to be called tomorrow, at which I shall be judged and sentenced.  All this they told me because I came so close to becoming one of their number, a destiny which under any other circumstance would have horrified me, but which might seem entirely welcome in comparison to what the Fates deal me tomorrow.

No more would these strange, gravid women say to me, and they filed out slowly the instant their message was delivered, ignoring equally pleas, bargains, and threats.  I have seen no-one else this day - the police themselves seem to have disappeared entirely, which I cannot possibly conceive as being coincidental - save the washer-woman, who awaits patiently for this letter to be completed so she may deliver it.

I beg you Father, send aid!  Send everyone at your disposal and command to save your only daughter from whatever fate these feather-clad bird-brained bird worshippers have planned for me!  I am scared, and alone, and have no-one else to turn to.

Your loving and desperate daughter,


Thursday, 3 January 2013

Songs Of Praise

Amazing face, how sweet the mouth
That sings of sexy me
I once was hot, but now I've found
I've turned stone cold foxy

(For best results, sing loudly during an enemy's funeral.  This may require a cunning disguise to pull off, but the look upon the faces of your foe's loved ones will more than compensate.)

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

A True Love's Lament (Part X)

Dear Father,

I hope this letter finds you well.  I am in prison.

In truth, that is exaggeration, or possibly prediction.  I am inside a small room with bars on the windows and instead of a door, however, and it is entirely against my will, so perhaps this is not the time to quibble.

The perilous dunderhead, Father, has proved to be not entirely without a certain low cunning.  He must have anticipated my request for you to find me a reputable and competent solicitor, and taken preemptive action.  This morning I was once again awoken by the sound of approaching drums, and once again found myself handed papers written in pompous Latin, this time informing me that my unwanted swarm of over one hundred assorted birds had reached some critical mass and become legally defined as an unlicensed aviary. Attempts at protest were quite useless; not only were the drummer boys once more far too distracted by their accompanying strumpets (apparently this has all become a jolly jape for them, which is sickening but probably a rather good basis for a rather bad play) to pay attention to the woman they were harassing, but halfway through my angry protestations a crowd of burly men strolled past the window, bearing the latest load of hens, doves, swans, geese, blackbirds, and a partridge in a pear tree.

No sooner had the drummers and their gingham harlots departed than the sound of drums was replaced by that of pipes, as a military procession swept into view.  I counted ten pipers in all, walking abreast in perfect formation as they approached my front door, each one preceding a starched general on the starched back of a starched horse, looking oddly serious considering nobody was shooting at them.  Perhaps generals simply hate the sound of military musicians. It would explain why they spend so much time killing people.

Once the invading forces reached my door and stated their business, however, I learned that at least some of their sour disposition had been absorbed by osmosis from their equally choleric wives, each of whom had found themselves robbed of their jewellery when they returned from some kind of major military soiree two weeks previously.  You are probably able to surmise where this sorry tale is leading, Father, but at the time I was rather less perceptive, possibly due to a week and a half of sleep interrupted by bird song and marching bands.  Unable to see why these generals had called on me with their tale of woe, I'm afraid I grew more short-tempered than one should in the presence of officers, demanding they state their business with me in quite a tone.  Even this would have been no real issue, I think, had I not chosen to wave my most recent correspondence at my guests as I berated them.  With superb timing, the envelope chose to wait until the very moment I reached the zenith of my righteous indignation before it split, scattering paper across the room and with it, five gold rings, each one recognisable to an astonished general and yet now engraved with my own name.

And so I find myself incarcerated in the local police station, staffed with officers who are all desperately polite and sorry about all the fuss, but who will not let me leave nonetheless, given I am accused of ten different burglaries and with running an unregistered aviary.  The poor man mauled by a swan on my land three days previous is also stirring up trouble, possibly because he smells blood in the water, but more likely because he's received a visit from the perilous dunderhead, who is doubtless behind the generals' sudden conclusion that I might be embroiled in the matter of their missing accessories.

I don't know what to do, Father.  The matter of the bird collection is easily defensible, I should think, but it is only my word against the perilous dunderhead that the rings originated with him.  I have no idea which jeweller he acquired the stolen goods from, and who is going to take the word of a mere woman over that of so successful and well-named a gentleman as he, especially the daughter of a notorious tyrant (my apologies, Father, but it is true) and sister of a man who only avoided drinking himself to death by being too bone-idle to efficiently replace his finished gin bottles.

Since my last letter will have reached you this morning, I assume legal counsel is already en route to me, and that whomever you have engaged is competent enough to follow me to this Godforsaken place.  Further details will doubtless reach you soon, on the surely infinitesimal chance you choose not to come here and comfort your only daughter in person.

Your doting daughter,