Stranger Than Truth, Part Last (Content Warning For Mildly Disturbing Imagery)

It’s the last day of NaBloPoMo, and this is the final bit of my tangent into rpg fiction.

Following that…at some point…will be a return to our irregular and unscheduled reality.


This is a continuing (and concluding) excerpt from the play-by-email game Austin After Dark.

The beginning can be found here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6


She would have liked to snoop through his brain a little before she put him out, but Mardmor might return at any moment; she couldn’t take time for intelligence-gathering now.  With an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu, she frowned at the silver band in the Sidhe’s slack fingers.  Crushed it into an unusable shape — it crumpled with little effort on her part — then returned her attention to the metal restraints. Her bindings flew away from her.

Casey rose, glancing down at Burton with a twinge of regret.  She had nothing personal against the unfortunate Fae; he seemed like a nice enough fellow, just misled by the Goblin King as so many others had been.  Mardmor would probably kill him in some horrific manner when he returned to find Casey gone.

The kindest thing might be to give him a quick death right now, while he lay blissfully unaware of his fate.

It would be the *smartest* thing, for sure.  If she and Mardmor both allowed Burton to live, the Sidhe would be a bitter enemy of hers from the moment he awakened.  She really didn’t need more enemies hunting her down.

Sighing, she stepped over Burton and moved to the selection of surgical equipment, unable to seriously entertain the idea of slaying a man in his sleep.  Finding the heavy surgical blade again, she slid it carefully between her belt and pants: a much simpler task now that she had fingers to work with.  

Still trying to shake the ominous sense of déjà vu, and half-expecting history to repeat itself, she walked over to Houseman’s head.  “Thanks for the help.  So, unless this is another of Mardmor’s tricks I’ll be going now.  Anything I can do for you first?”

“Take me with you,” he answered softly. “I may yet be of help.”

“I’m sorry, but no,” she replied without hesitation.  “When Mardmor finds out I’m not here he’s going to send stuff after me, and I won’t be able to fight and run and carry you at the same time.  Besides, for all I know he can track me through that piece of magic you’re impaled on.”  She shifted impatiently, glancing toward the door.  “Pick something else.”

He appeared stunned by this. “Then end me.”

“Fair enough.”  In his place that would have been her first request.  Still, the brusque note in her own voice struck her as a bit harsh, even under the circumstances.  Making an effort to soften her tone she added, “I really am sorry that all of this happened to you.  I’ll do everything in my power to see that Mardmor pays for everything he’s done.”

“And Bronwen. Kill him slow.”

“Kill Bronwen slow,” she nodded.  “Will do.” Lifting the head gently off of the spike, she set it on the tabletop. 
The head came off the spike with a wet SCHLURP. No longer did it show any sign of life. It was just a dead thing.

She incinerated the lifeless remains down to ash. Inky black tendrils of smoke rose from the consumed head.

Then she headed for the exit.

Paused, hand on the door, attempting to read through to see who may be standing guard beyond.

She sensed no thoughts on the other side of the door. She could feel her mind move through the door and into the corridor beyond. She felt none of the sensory limitations she felt earlier in Sanctuary or beneath it.

That was unexpected….

She hesitated a moment longer, suddenly apprehensive now that the time had come to venture out alone.  

For whatever good it might do, she utilized the gift of “invisibility” that Falco had given her.  It wouldn’t work on the black phantoms, probably wouldn’t work on the green sconces — heck, it probably wouldn’t even work on Mardmor.  But the regular rank and file like poor Burton…she should be able to pass unseen amongst them now.

She drew the heavy blade from her belt, gripped it tightly at her side.

Then, taking a deep breath, she opened the door and stepped cautiously through.

Categories: Austin After Dark, Fiction, Gaming, NaBloPoMo | Leave a comment

Saturday Summary

When Steve and I first separated we split the cow herd 50/50. There was a half-grown steer left over, so we agreed to eventually butcher him and split the meat between us. Which we did, and Sunday Steve brought over my half of the lovely little white packages. I thawed out some steaks right away to test them, because one thing about raising your own beef and having it hung and butchered locally is that each one has its own flavor and every once in a long while you’ll get one that tastes just plain bad. But my concerns were immediately laid to rest, because this guy is tender and yummy. Hooray!

Tuesday I took the kids back to Casa Gamino for lunch and their first official pool lesson. Elizabeth picked it up pretty quickly, but Luke has a tendency to get in a hurry and hit the cueball with the SIDE of the cuestick, which makes me cringe every time, and isn’t healthy for the cuestick either. We’re going to work on that.

After the pool lesson we drove to a local nursery to pick out our Christmas tree. We always buy live trees in pots and I’d planned to get a smallish one this time, so that we could reuse it for at least a couple more Christmases. But pickings are very slim this year. Since the stock market crashed the two local nurseries have done very little business, so one only ordered a few trees (mostly pines that had been topiaried into a cone-shape), and the other didn’t order any at all and only had a handful of blue spruces left over from last Christmas. I don’t care much for the cone-shaped pines, so I ended up getting a slightly-leaning blue spruce that was much bigger than I’d wanted and already outgrowing its pot. It’s pretty though:


I was going to have a friend with a pickup deliver it for me at some point, but the nursery owner very kindly offered to bring it over the next morning. I gratefully agreed, and gave him a couple packages of beef for his trouble. I may be money-poor, but I gots the beef!

Steve has finally moved out of his parents’ place and is renting an old mobile across the street that belongs to the son of an old family friend. This is a good thing, because the property lies up against a mountainside full of rocks and old Cahuilla Indian caves. It’s like Disneyland for Luke and Elizabeth. So now when they visit him they spend an hour or two scrambling up and down the mountainside instead of parked in front of his parents’ tv. They come home exercised and happy, which makes me very happy too.

Tuesday after we’d picked out our tree I dropped the kids off at Steve’s new place and they headed straight up the rocks.


You can’t buy that kind of workout. I love that they get to do this.

Wednesday — rain! And there was much rejoicing!


Thursday — even more rain! And the angels sang!

The kids had Thanksgiving dinner with Steve and his parents like always. My friend Jenny had invited me to spend the day with her and her family, and I was happy to accept.

I need to confess here that I have mixed feelings associated with this holiday. I love the IDEA of Thanksgiving — I love having a day set aside to remember and appreciate our blessings and the good things in our lives. But Thanksgiving wasn’t like that when I was growing up. Every year without exception my mother would inevitably have a screaming meltdown at some point on Thanksgiving Day (and also on Christmas Day, yay!), and when that wasn’t actually in progress there was still the grim micromanagement of every detail of preparing and eating the meal. It was pretty joyless, to put it mildly.

When I married Steve and started spending Thanksgiving Day with his parents, things were…better, but that’s not saying a lot. Steve’s father openly disliked me, his mother and I had nothing in common to talk about, and Steve himself came down on our kids like a crushing ton of bricks if they so much as wriggled in their chairs or accidentally dropped a fork or heaven forbid, made any noise. The prevailing topic of conversation was usually whether or not Steve’s sister was going to show up, and whether she would stay longer than the ten minutes it took her to bolt down a plateful of food. Whee!

My Thanksgiving Day with Jenny and her husband and her brother at her in-laws house was quite simply wonderful. There was laughter, there was happy conversation, there was marvelous food and fun games and surrounding everything there was love. You could feel it in the air of the house.

I think if I ever get involved with another man I’m going to spend at least one Thanksgiving Day with him and/or his family before I make any decisions about whether the relationship is going anywhere. Seriously.

Friday night a medium-sized group of us went up to Idyllwild for some karaoke.


That’s Jenny on the far left, then me, then Luke and Elizabeth. On the far right is Dee, and next to her is her very sweet mother.

There was much singing.






Toward the end of the night some guy came over and sat down at our table and started hitting on me in a fairly unsubtle manner. Wanted to dance with me, wanted me to step out back and “chat” with him. I was not at all interested, but when someone told me that he was married I was pissed off just on principle. Adulterers suck.

And now it’s Saturday morning and I need to wrap this up because I’m supposed to be driving the kids to the home of one of Elizabeth’s classmates for a playdate. This is a first. Elizabeth has never liked any of her classmates enough to pester me to take her to their house before. So, I’m thinking this is a good thing and I need to hit “Publish” and go get in the car. If I missed any typos I’ll fix them later.

Hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving!

Categories: Family, food, Friends, kids, Life, Love, Music, NaBloPoMo, Ranching, Self-Sufficiency, Weather | 3 Comments

Stranger Than Truth, Part 6

I’d planned to write a catchup post today, about my week and my Thanksgiving. But this morning my wireless connection is down, and uploading images on the excruciatingly slow backup dialup connection is an ordeal that doesn’t bear thinking about.

So instead, here’s another bit from AAD, and I’ll do the other thing tomorrow or whenever my high-ish-speed is back up.


This is a continuing excerpt from the play-by-email game Austin After Dark.

The beginning can be found here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5


“Sire?” The wiry sidhe in the gray business suit that Casey had seen earlier poked his head into the room.

“What?!” Mardmor snapped in irritation.

“There’s been a development, my king. I thought you’d want to be made aware of it soonest.”


“Sir Norfolk is dead, sir.”

Casey’s head came up sharply as her heart plummeted into her stomach.  “No…” she whispered, shocked.

Mardmor turned, facing his servant for the first time. A long, chilly silence fell across the room and the sidhe gentleman shrank a bit under the Goblin King’s scrutiny.

“That is unfortunate,” he said at last. “How did it occur?”

“The Lady Jasmine attempted escape. The satyr threw himself into the fight and was struck down.”

Mardmor nodded, “That will leave us one short. Who struck the fatal blow?”

“Xorm, sir.”

“Then he will take Norfolk’s place.” Mardmor considered, “Still, accommodations must be made. I must see to them.”

Setting the skull-screwing device down on the cart, Mardmor said to Casey: “Do not worry, dear. I will return soonest.”

She barely heard him.  


Mardmor turned to the sidhe as he exited, “Stay and watch the girl. But do not touch. Do what you want to the head.”

And the Goblin King was gone.

Casey sat in stunned silence, deeply shaken.  Tears burned behind her eyes, threatening to flow.   She’d known the satyr so briefly, but after everything they’d been through tonight she’d begun to think of him as a friend.  He was so full of life and courage and cleverness and humor….

Alseyne would be devastated.


The slow burn of anger rekindled hotly in her.  Pip could not have given his life for a failed cause.  It was up to the rest of them now to make sure his death had meaning: that he had played his own vital part in a successful mission.

It eventually sank in that Mardmor had left her more-or-less alone with some henchman.  Casey looked over at the Fae, covertly sizing him up.  This could well be the best chance she’d ever get at escaping this room.  She sifted quickly through ideas, weighing risks against desired outcomes.  The most promising tactic she could think of was also the riskiest, but now didn’t seem like the time for playing it safe.  

None of this showed in her face.  As soon as she had settled on a plan, she made a conscious effort to appear as small and helpless and vulnerable as possible.  Giving the Sidhe the full benefit of her wide-eyed blue gaze as a single tear trickled down one cheek, she asked, “Were you there when it happened?”  She deliberately played up the raw huskiness in her throat, keeping her voice low and soft.  “Did Pip…did Sir Norfolk…die bravely?”

The sidhe looked over to Casey, “No, I was not there. But I understand that he died defending Aulaudin. It was stupid. Really, a waste. No reason for it.”

Her eyes dropped, wet with unfeigned grief.  “A waste….”  There was a long, brooding pause, then she frowned faintly.  “But I heard…I thought…that he was going to be killed anyway?”

“There is a significant difference between a meaningless death,” he answered, “And a meaningful sacrifice.”

Casey looked back up at the Sidhe, swiftly revising her plan in mid-stride.  Plainly this was no slow-witted toady; the ‘fragile waif’ act was probably going to be wasted on him. 
Fair enough.  She straightened in her chair, pushed her emotions aside for now.  She could mourn the dead later, after they’d been well-avenged.  “What would have made his sacrifice so meaningful?”  Pause.  “I’m Casey, by the way.”

“Burton,” He nodded, by way of introduction.

“I’d like to say it’s nice to meet you, but to be honest I’ve had nicer nights.”  She indicated the metal restraints with a wry shrug.

“I can see that.” He looked to her, “Without going into too much detail, his sacrifice would have laid the way for the opening of the gates.”

Casey absorbed that, connecting the dots.  This ‘Machine’ Pip and Alseyne were to be fed to was somehow crucial to Mardmor’s scheme — stopping the whole thing might be as simple as finding and destroying it.  “I see.”

His tone was earnest, “I know you don’t understand… but Arcadia! Our time is nigh. This time tomorrow? We will be reunited with cousins long forgotten. Once again, we will be whole. No longer forced to wear two faces.” A smile of eager anticipation, “It will be so grand!”

It was hard not to smile at his enthusiasm, even if he was talking about the end of the world as Casey knew it.  “I really don’t,” she commented in a bemused tone.  “Understand, I mean.  I’m not all that knowledgeable about the Fae, I’m sorry to say.  I get the ‘two faces’ thing, but the rest of it’s mostly over my head.  Could you tell me about Arcadia?”

“It is our home,” He said simply. “The mother land. It is a place of surpassing beauty. The air is sweet, the waters cool. Or so I have heard. I’ve not ever been there. But I yearn for it… as all my folk do.”

“And once these gates are opened you’ll able to pass freely between this world and that one?”

“Yes,” his head bobbed, “As easily as you go to the grocery store.”

She was quiet for a moment, deep in thought.  Then she said wistfully, “It does sound wonderful.  Makes me wish I were going to be around to see it.”

“Why do you say that? There’s no reason to suspect you won’t witness the return.”

She shook her head.  “I know Mardmor’s going to kill me as soon as I tell him what he wants to know — that’s why I haven’t talked.  I’ve got nothing against Fae going home, but as soon as I give up my information I’ll be of no further use to him.”

“You misunderstand the King,” He shook his head. “Truly, he has no desire to harm you, though make no mistake. He will if such is required. No, he’d much rather you surrender your secrets and join him. But even if you fail to join him, you will be released after the gates are opened. Once they are open, you and your friends will pose no threat to his plans.”

Casey quirked a crooked smile at the Sidhe.  “Yeah…that’s what he keeps saying.  I wish I could believe it were true.”  She shrugged skeptically, but then gives Burton a long, searching look.  “You really think I can trust him?”

“I do. I have never known him to lie. Ever.”

Casey sharply stifled a snort at that, thinking of the lies Mardmor had told her just in their very brief acquaintance.  She was careful not to let the thought show though; she seemed to be giving Burton’s statement earnest consideration. “He’s so…scary.”

“Power is often frightening.”

Hope and doubt warred transparently on Casey’s face.  “You don’t know how much I want to believe you.  But…well, let’s be honest, you’ve got a pretty strong motivation to say anything that might convince me.  You want the gates opened as much as Mardmor does, and I can only imagine how well he’d likely reward you if you persuaded me to talk.”

“True enough,” he nodded.

She paused for a moment to let the image of the King’s appreciation sink in, then looked up swiftly as if an idea had just occurred to her.  It seemed to hover on the tip of her tongue for a long minute before she ventured slowly, “You know…there might be a way for all of us to get what we want.”


“I don’t….”  She stopped, biting her lip indecisively, then plunged ahead.  “Did you know I can read minds?  I’m not very good at it yet, but I can pick up surface thoughts and stuff.  Mardmor put this silver thing on my head to block me, so I wouldn’t be able to read him during the interrogation.”  She studied the Sidhe intently.

He was listening with intense attention.

  “If I could be sure–truly sure–that you’re not trying to trick me, I would tell you everything I know right now.  We’d all win: Mardmor would get his information, you’d get tons of brownie points for being the one who convinced me to talk, and I’d finally get out of this cursed chair and maybe be given some useful task to do.  Just take this thing off my head so I can ‘hear’ whether or not this is some kind of ploy.  If you’re telling the truth it’s a win/win/win solution.  If I can see that you’re lying….”  She shrugged philosophically.  “Well, then I won’t talk, and you’re no better or worse off than you were before.”

Burton scrutinized her, ruminating over what she had said. Clearly, he was on the fence. “The King said ‘do not touch…'” he muttered.

“He meant not to hurt her,” Houseman clarified. “Besides, if you lift real careful, you won’t actually have to touch her.”

Casey felt a rush of gratitude for the help, but she only commented, “That’s true, you wouldn’t have to touch me at all.”

The Sidhe looked hard at the talking vampire head.

Brow furrowing, he looked back to Casey.

She tried to appear suitably hopeful, without actually looking as desperate as she felt.

He looked back to the door.

“You could put it back on me before he gets back,” she pointed out helpfully.  “I don’t need to tell him how you convinced me.”

Sighed, “I suppose you have a point.” He crossed to Casey and placing his hands carefully on either side of her head, he gently lifted the band off.

She sat motionless for the removal, careful not to make any worrisome movements.

It was like someone just flipped a switch. The light went on within her dark mind… Her powers returned…

Keeping her hands and body reassuringly still, she lifted her gaze to meet Burton’s. “Go to sleep.”

She put a fairly hefty push behind the words.

“Wha…?” And didn’t finish the word before he crumpled to the floor.


Part 7

Categories: Austin After Dark, Fiction, Gaming, NaBloPoMo | Leave a comment


I can’t remember a Thanksgiving that I’ve greeted with as much joyful gratitude as I do this one.

There have been happy Thanksgivings, hopeful Thanksgivings, and always, always many things to be thankful for, but this year is so different on every level. I feel like I’ve been lifted out of a dark, tangled mire of pointless struggle and set in a warm sunshiny place where life is peaceful and beautiful and shining with happy possibilities. That heady sense of a wide-open future…how long has it been since I’ve felt real pleasure at the thought of whatever may lie ahead? I can’t even remember. I’m an optimist by nature, but it’s been a long time since life has felt like the grand adventure it should be. Now it feels that way again.

So very much to be thankful for right now. First and foremost, for God’s infinite love and grace. There were moments in the past eight months when my own reserves of strength and courage ran completely dry, and the only thing that got me through was prayer. I have felt His comfort and guidance and providence so vividly through all of this, and my gratitude is boundless.

I’m so thankful for Luke and Elizabeth. They are the cure for loneliness, the antidote to self-pity, the opposite of dreariness. They keep me from getting lost in my own head for too long, and their laughter and creativity fill our house with life and light.

I am thankful for my home. Especially in light of the current economic meltdown, with people losing their homes and their jobs and their pensions all over the place, I am so incredibly grateful to be in this place of relative security that allows me time and space to parent my children and grow healthful food and enjoy the quiet beauty of nature. This is such an enormous blessing.

I am thankful to all the people who have offered their friendship, their company, or even just an exchange of stories for the span of one conversation in a supermarket. In the first dark days of the separation my need to verbalize my pain and confusion was almost desperately compulsive, and I’m so grateful to all the kind and patient souls who understood and listened and advised and bore with me while I struggled to make sense of it all.

I’m very thankful to the people, some of whom I barely know, who have brought me firewood simply because they heard that I needed it. What an incredible feeling of being part of a caring community.

I’m thankful for the half-a-steer that came to my freezer last Sunday. And I’m thankful for this week’s rain, which makes it possible for me to continue to raise my own beef for that much longer. I could never afford to buy hay for my half of the herd; if the pasture goes my cows will have to go too. So I thank God for every drop of rain that falls.

I’m thankful for Mrs. Mouthy’s Pear & Gorgonzola Pizza recipe, which I just tried for the first time last week and it was crazy good and Elizabeth had three slices for supper and two more for breakfast and she doesn’t even normally LIKE pizza, and I think that’s the only kind I’m ever going to make again.

I’m thankful for…um…this year’s amazing bumper crop of pinecones. They’re so pretty and they make the best kindling.

I could go on, but I’ll stop now. Happy Love Thursday everyone, and Happy Thanksgiving, and may the spirit of thankfulness remain in all our hearts long after the last of the turkey and cranberries are gone.

Categories: Family, Friends, kids, Life, Love, Love Thursday, NaBloPoMo | Tags: | 3 Comments

Still Wordless: Which Way To the County Fair?


Categories: Family, Friends, frugality, Gardening, Health, kids, Life, NaBloPoMo, Nutrition, Self-Sufficiency, Wordless Wednesday | 2 Comments

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