Monthly Archives: February 2017

Sans Comic: Belladonna Origins – Page One

Introducing my new series, Sans Comic! This will be a script for a comic series to explain the background behind several superhero characters I’ve created for various RPGs.

I’ll be posting it a page at a time because some weeks I can’t write much more than that.

If reading scripts isn’t really your thing, come back next week for some supplemental rules for use in your own games.

If you do enjoy this, let me know and feel free to share with anyone else who might like it.

Panel 1

Description: A wide panel that depicts a city skyline abutting a small mountain. The sun is setting and the sky is full of grey clouds.

Text: Freshmount, a city of hopes and dreams. Founded in 1789, it has seen its share of troubles.

Panel 2

Description: A square panel that depicts a section of the city as seen from above. Traffic is heavy on one major road cutting through the district, and a few umbrellas can be seen on the pavements.

Text: At the heart of Freshmount lies the decaying district of Banker’s Hollow. Hidden from the rest of the city by a natural depression, it is here that the founding members decided to erect their banks and trading houses.

Panel 3

Description: A square panel that depicts a bird’s eye view of an alleyway cutting across it diagonally. A lone figure walks down the alley, her long violet hair blowing in a strong wind.

Text: Years of economic troubles have stripped the Hollow of its wealth. Now it is exists as a reminder of the golden days and as a place to house the poorer members of Freshmount’s citizenry.

Panel 4

Description: A wide panel that depicts a young woman walking across it, right to left. She is of medium height with violet hair being blown backwards in a strong wind. Her hands are buried in the pockets in a long, grey coat. The coat covers her body to her knees, revealing dark jeans and boots. A messenger bag is worn across her chest.

Text: For people like Isabelle Langdry, Banker’s Hollow is an opportunity for change.


Lady Kima of Vord and Cassandra de Rolo – A Grave Conversation

Here is the last entry for Critical Role Relationship Week and as promised, I have compiled a PDF of all the vignettes I wrote.


The blade on my shoulder felt cool where it pressed against the skin of my neck. The tombstones lying all around were disquieting at this time of day.

With the sun barely risen, and the clouds in the sky, the scene looked like something I would have stumbled across back in the Dusk Meadow District. A mausoleum nearby caught my eye and, for a second, a tall, hooded figure stood in front of it. I blinked and the figure disappeared.

I felt my fingers tightening unconsciously around the sword hilt and forced myself to breathe. My breath plumed in the air visibly and I frowned. Something was wrong.

I stopped and looked around.

Ahead of me, I could see Lady Cassandra and her guards in front of an ornate crypt. Behind me, Jarett was sauntering out of sight. I could see nothing else in the graveyard and yet, I was certain that something else was here with us.

“Come out where I can kill you.” I whispered under my breath. The silence answered me and the feeling passed as abruptly as it had arrived. I shivered and glanced again at the mausoleum that had attracted my attention. A lone bird was perched upon it.

As I saw it, it gave a loud caw and flew off.

“Bloody bird.” I muttered and started walking again.

My plate clanked quietly as I moved and it broke the ominous silence. Birdsong filtered through the air and the guards with Lady Cassandra flinched, as if jerking themselves to wakefulness. One of them turned and leaned towards her slightly. She nodded and made a dismissive gesture. The two figures saluted and began walking towards me.

“The Lady bids you welcome.” One of them said, his voice deep in the full face helm. “We will be nearby if anything happens.”

I nodded and grinned.

“I’ll let you know if it’s something I can’t handle.”

The other guard laughed quietly and they continued past me.

“Lady Kima.” Lady Cassandra’s voice was strained, dark rings lined her eyes and her smile was a tired one. “Thank you for coming.”

“Lady de Rolo.” I inclined my head hurriedly, barely remembering the etiquette lessons I’d suffered through in the Platinum Sanctuary.

“Cassandra, please.” She flicked her fingers in a dismissive gesture. “I endure enough of the proper formalities in the castle.” She met my eyes, looking down into them with a pleading expression on her face.

“Cassandra.” I smiled. “Why am I here?” I looked around again. “Graveyards aren’t really my thing, you know.”

She laughed.

“I know. You’re here because I wished to pay my respects to the memory of my parents and because I wanted somewhere we couldn’t be overheard.” I nodded. “I worry about a lot of things. I worry about my brother. I worry about redemption. I worry about my people.” She fell silent and looked up at the empty sky. “But most of all, I worry about what we’re going to do if the worst happens. I am not a warrior like you or Percival. All of this is new to me. Lady Kima, would you teach me to fight?” She looked down at me again.

“I’m always happy to fight, Lad- Cassandra. But Jarett…” She shook her head, cutting me off.

“Jarett is competent and experienced. But he will never think of himself as more than an employee. I need someone who isn’t afraid of shouting at me when I need it. I need someone who will show me how to get the job done. Someone who doesn’t care about social standing, or the niceties. In short, Lady Kima, I need you. Will you do this for me? Will you teach me to fight so that I may better defend my people?”

I grinned widely.

“Will I take every opportunity to hand you your ass without regrets? Of course, I will. But,” I stopped smiling. “I will also show you how to improve. A sword is only as good as the intent behind it. Intention, Cassandra, begins here.” I touched her chest with my gauntleted hand. “Do you have the resolve it takes to fight?”

She straightened.

“I am a de Rolo, Lady Kima. Much like Percival, I have the resolve to do anything I set my mind to.”

I laughed and held my hand out to her.

“Good. Then this will be fun.”

Role-playing 301: Role-playing in the Workplace

Today will be a bit of a departure from my usual articles on role-playing. Rather than being aimed at helping people get into the hobby, this article will begin to explore how role-playing can be used in a professional context.

It will not delve into every facet of this, and I plan on returning to this topic in a future update, but for now, it will serve as a basic introduction to the value role-playing games can have in the world of work. Before delving into this subject matter, however, I should remind the reader that my viewpoint is necessarily limited by my own experiences and so some of the material found below may not be applicable to every situation.

The main focus of this article will be upon team-work and the benefits that role-playing games can have upon a team’s ability to work together.

Most role-playing games depend upon a high degree of team-work to be successful. Many games involve puzzles of varying difficulties, investigations that require careful attention to detail and organisation, and enemy combatants that have weaknesses or attack patterns that can be exploited by a party of characters working together.

Team-work, in this context, depends upon several things: communication, organisation and a willingness to listen to the advice of others. These three skills are the three main things that a person will have to master in order to work well as part of the party in-game, as well as in their employment outside of it.

Let’s break down each skill and look at how it relates to both the game and the world of work.

Communication is perhaps the most obvious. It is the ability to convey your ideas in a manner which others can understand.

In-game, how your character communicates will be flavoured by their character’s peculiarities and experiences, as well as their relationships with other characters.  Regardless of that though, you should always be aiming to convey the information you have that your party needs in an accessible manner, or interacting with other characters to in a way that achieves your goal for that interaction.

Out of game, communication fulfils much the same role. You’ll need to relay relevant information in a manner that people can understand and in a way that you get the answers and results you require from any given situation (compromising where necessary).

But more than that, role-playing games can foster inter-departmental communication. In my experience, different departments of organisations are usually fairly insular. They’ll talk to each other but the information flow between two departments can sometimes be lacking. Playing in a group composed of members of different departments can help break down these barriers.

By spending time with other members of the organisation, you will grow to understand how they communicate best and a level of familiarity will exist that might not otherwise happen. This will have a knock-on effect in that you will know how to phrase questions and tailor your conversations with that team member, in order to get what you need to do your job.

Organisation is pretty much the same in-game and in the office (so to speak). This is more about keeping track of information, being able to have relevant resources to hand and generally having an easy to follow method of gathering and storing useful material.

The benefit here for the work-place is that the other members of your group will quickly pick up on your organisation methods (and you, theirs) which means that if you are asked to track down information only they have and they aren’t available, you’ll have a good idea of where to look or who to ask.

It also has the added benefit that players will share good organisational practices with each other, meaning everyone becomes more efficient at organising things that they are responsible for.

Finally, the ability to listen to others is an undervalued skill that role-playing games promote. Beyond merely paying attention to others, this is actively internalising what they say.

This is tied in somewhat with the familiarity that spending time with others breeds, but it is also a mind-set that some people lack or ignore. The puzzles presented in role-playing games often require a mixed skill-set that it is rare to find in one person, so listening to the advice of others is important.

In the wider world of work, being able to do this means that you will be able to learn from those more experienced than you. Team-members will be able to share skills and knowledge between each other when completing projects and the project as a whole will benefit from it. The practice gained in-game should translate to an ability to internalise and build upon the advice of others, as well as allowing team-mates to listen to each other fairly and not ignore less vocal participants.

By freely sharing information, knowledge and experience, as well as by listening to everyone equally, team morale should improve and projects should be completed smoothly and efficiently.

Efficiency and a greater degree of familiarity with each other are the two main outcomes of role-playing together in a team-work sense, but they are by no means the only benefits that role-playing can offer in a work-place setting.

I will expand upon other benefits in future updates, but for now, if you have any feedback, please let me know in the comments. If you feel like role-playing is something you would like to try in your workplace, share this article with the relevant people so they can see some of its benefits.

Until next time!

Jarett Howarth and Trinket – Prepared for Anything

Today is the penultimate day of Critical Role Relationship Week. Tomorrow’s entry will round things off nicely and be accompanied by a PDF of the entire week’s worth of updates.
Look for another update later concerned more with the usual content on this website.


“Look after him, darling.” Vex’ahlia said over her shoulder as she walked through the doorway back into the castle.

“Of course.” Jarett replied, eyeing the growing crowd and turning to address it. “I can see there won’t be any training until this happens, so you may as well come in and watch.” He gestured for the onlookers to line the walls of the training yard. “The life of a mercenary, or a soldier, or even a guard, requires you to be ready for anything.

Obviously, at the moment, our problem is dragons, wyverns and lizardfolk. But that does not mean you can be caught off-guard by less…” His voice trailed off as he searched for an appropriate word. “Less awe-inspiring threats.” He drew his sword. “It is my job to make sure that you’re prepared for any enemy, at any time.”

A few of the guards watching began to whisper amongst themselves and he rounded on them.

“You think that you know all of this?” He asked, his voice quiet. “You think that you know how to use a sword? That, when the moment comes, you will be able to do what you must in defence of your city?” He gave a grim smile. “Good. You will need that certainty to carry you through.” He stopped pacing and turned to face the centre of the training yard.

A large, brown bear stood there, the morning sun glinting from the metallic plates of chitin that it wore as armour. Jarett took a few moments to admire the workmanship of the armour and the primal might of the bear.

“That, as you can see, is a bear.” He looked around, his sword by his side. “A common sight in the forests around the city. Lady Vex’ahlia has kindly agreed to let him spar with me so that I can teach you the skills you need to use in case you ever encounter one whilst out hunting. As you can also see, it is armoured. This is not a natural state for a bear.”

A few guards let out a laugh and he nodded.

“Because this is the Lady’s companion, I have agreed to do my best not to hurt him and, I have been assured, he understands not to try to kill me.” Out of the corner of his eye, Jarett saw the bear make a clumsy nodding motion with its head. He smiled and walked over to a rack of training weapons.

He scanned it quickly, looking for one of the heavy wooden practice swords. He sheathed his own blade, drawn more for emphasis than intent, and lifted a wooden blade from the hooks it rested on. Giving it a few practice swings to learn its balance, he picked up a shield from where it leaned against the rack and turned to face the bear again.

“Assuming you live long enough to draw your weapon against a bear in the wild, you have a few options. You can try to fend it off and summon help, you can try to run away or, and this is the foolhardy choice, you can try to kill it.” He looked at the bear and readied himself. “Pay attention, because what you are about to see may save your life. Now, Trinket.”

At his words, the bear exploded into action. Giving out a deafening roar, Trinket charged straight for him. He watched the beast’s movement with an experienced eye and dove sideways at the last moment, rolling to his feet as Trinket slammed into the weapons rack.

The wooden construction collapsed in a cloud of splinters and Trinket bellowed again, turning to face him. Jarett had backed away from the bear and stood facing him across the yard, sword and shield readied once more.

The bear shook itself free from the wreckage and took a few steps towards him before breaking into a blur of teeth and muscle.

He tried the same thing again and realised too late, that Trinket had anticipated his movement. As he dived sideways, the bear lashed out with a massive paw, hitting him solidly in his breastplate. He skidded along the ground and smashed into the stone wall, where he lay winded.

Trinket, thrown off-balance by his own attack, stumbled and fell.

The bear was the first to regain its feet and stalked over to where Jarett lay, struggling to breath and fighting the pain that threatened to overwhelm him. Trinket lowered his head and butted his muzzle against Jarett’s throat.

The man nodded and dropped his sword, reaching up to use a plate of the bear’s armour to help him stand.

“And that,” he gasped, “is why you do not fight a bear alone. Or in such a small area. The main strategy when fighting a bear is attack in large numbers.” He patted Trinket’s head cautiously. “What do you think about getting some food?”

The bear looked at him for a second and then, slowly and deliberately, licked his face from chin to temple.

Allura Vysoren and Kaylie Shorthalt – A Lesson in Spell-casting

Hopefully you are all enjoying this week of vignettes. I’m having a lot of fun writing them. Anyway, here is the next one.

As ever, enjoy!

The workshop was back to how it had been before her experiments with Trinket.

The small rug in the centre was covered by a sturdy table, parchment scattered over its surface.  Chairs that had been moved into the hallway outside were once again crammed into the corners and shoved under the long tables against each wall.

While she had an organised mind and excelled at bringing order to the world through her actions, Allura’s private spaces always tended to end up as a chaotic mess. She smiled as she remembered the moment Kima had discovered that little secret. The halfling had spent five minutes laughing before affectionately teasing her about hypocrisy.

A knock at the door brought her out of her reverie.

“It’s unlocked.” She called. “Come in.”

Kaylie Shorthalt, draped in a voluminous cloak, pushed the door open and slipped inside.

“Wow. I thought my room was a mess…” She said, her eyes wide as she took in the disordered room.

“I know where everything is.” Allura answered dryly. Kaylie laughed, unclasping the cloak and looking for somewhere to put it that wouldn’t knock any teetering piles of books or equipment over. Allura sighed and muttered a short phrase under her breath, summoning a spectral hand to carry the cloak over to a hook on the wall.

“Sure, you do.” The little gnome teased, standing awkwardly in front of the door.

“Please. Sit.” Allura said, moving a pile of papers from a nearby chair. “How long do you have?”

“Not long. Dr. Dranzel will notice I’m missing in an hour or so.”

“It’s a good thing I can get you back there then.” Allura paused as a thought occurred to her. “Do I want to know how you got here?”

Kaylie looked down at her depleted pouch and mud-stained boots.

“Probably not, no. But when you offered to teach me magic, I had to say yes. To study under a member of the Arcana Pansophical…” An innocent, dreamy expression drifted over Kaylie’s face and Allura was reminded how young she really was. “That wasn’t a chance I could pass up.” The world-weary expression of practiced cynicism cloaked the young gnome’s face again. “What do you get out of this?”

Allura shrugged.

“With all that has happened, students are few and far between. The preservation of knowledge is enough of a reward for me in these dark times.”

Kaylie gave her a piercing look, as if doubting her honesty. Allura gazed back at her, an expression of practiced neutrality on her face.

The silence stretched between them until it became uncomfortable for the garrulous gnome.

“Fine.” She said, sitting down at last.

“Before we get started,” Allura began, “you must understand something. Our ability to cast magic comes from the Weave. It saturates the world around us, a metaphysical material that empowers those who are sensitive to it and allows certain people to manipulate the very nature of things.” She stopped as Kaylie nodded impatiently.

“I know all of this already.”

Allura gave her a stern look.

“As I was saying. Our ability to cast magic comes from the same place but that is as far the similarity goes. I channel the Weave through words of power and prescribed gestures and components. To me, the act of spell-casting is something learned and practiced.

To people like you and your father, it is something instinctive. You enact your will upon the world through force of personality and will. Anyone can learn to be a wizard, it takes someone special to be a Bard.” She smiled and leaned backwards against the desk.

“So what will you teach me? How to throw fireballs? Summon lightning from the air?” Kaylie fell silent as she noticed Allura’s amusement. “What is it?”

“While you are, no doubt, capable of learning such things and wielding them to great effect, I was going to start with something easier and, in my experience, far more useful. I will teach to you see the workings of the Weave itself.

So, shall we begin?”

Jarett Howarth and Lady Kima of Vord – A Warning From God

Here is today’s update for Critical Role Relationship Week. Enjoy!

“Alright, the show’s over. Get in there.” Jarett pushed the nearest guards through the doorway and into the training yard. “Maybe you’ll get to see how adventurers fight again tomorrow.” He leaned against the door-frame and watched the taciturn cleric pick up his shield and return to his drill.

“I’ll get him next time.” Kima said, stopping next to him.

“I am sure you will.” Jarett replied, turning his head to look at her. “That’s a nice blade, by the way.”

Kima grinned and admired her great-sword.

“It is, isn’t it? Killing a chromatic dragon was reward enough, but getting a platinum great-sword? It’s great to know your god appreciates what you’re doing.”

“A certainty I have never been afforded the luxury of having.” He straightened. “The Lady of the castle has asked me to escort you to her in the graveyard.”


The tall man gave her a measured stare.

“When your employer tells you to find the brashest, most cock-sure halfling paladin you can, you don’t question them.” He paused. “Well, when your employer’s sister who also happens to own the place you’re living does all that.” Kima laughed.

“Still sore about our bout last week?”

“Not at all. You beat me fairly. The sun was in my eyes for the whole fight. The fact it was reflecting from your armour had nothing to do with my loss.” He grinned. “Besides, I know you can’t hit the broadside of a barn with a crossbow.”

“It’s a stupid weapon. Why would you want to be so far away from a fight?” Kima grumbled, her voice almost petulant.”

“Because it is safer to be far away from the swords.”

She glared at him.

“It’s boring, if that’s what you mean.”

He laughed again and motioned for her to follow.

The castle was waking up around them as they walked. He heard servants going about their business, messengers running along the stone corridors and guards talking to each other as they were relieved. The calm order of the place brought a smile to his lips.

He had learned long ago that peace could shatter in an instant, so he took what comfort and pleasure he could in it. Whether that was drinking, sparring or warming the bed with another, Jarett was content.

Kima, on the other hand, was not. He watched her from the corner of his eye. Her hands were wrapped tightly around the hilt of her sword, the long blade resting against her armoured shoulder. Her eyes were constantly moving and looking for danger.

“You’re not handling the tension well, are you?” He asked.

“I need something to do.” She growled. “I’m so bored.”

He laughed as they strode through the castle gates and began walking towards the graveyard.

“If Vox Machina pull this off, we’re all going to have a lot to do.” He said quietly. “Try and relax while you can.”

She glared at him.

“I like you, Jarett. But if you tell me to relax one more time; I will kick your ass so hard, you’ll need the gods to help you find it.”

He laughed again.

“You are welcome to try. Maybe next time, we won’t fight in bright sunlight.”

“But how will I be able to see the skills you are so proud of, if there is no sun to portray you in the best light possible?”

“I’m paid to do what I’m good at. Not to look good.” He glanced up as a shadow drifted in front of the sun. Kima burst out laughing.

“I’m not the only one jumping at shadows.”

He shrugged.

“There is a difference between being relaxed, and being unprepared.” He forced his hand away from his sword hilt. Kima grunted.

“You might have a point.” She glanced up at him before settling her eyes on the road in front of them. “Back in the Sanctuary, they used to tell me that my restlessness and eagerness to fight was unwarranted. That Bahamut would send warning when violence was coming. But He hasn’t done so yet.” Her voice was quiet, almost sad.

As they reached the graveyard, Jarrett laughed.

“What?” She asked, shooting him an annoyed glare.

“Bahamut did send a warning. He sent you.”

Kima grinned and raised her sword to the sky where it caught a few glints of light.

“Yes. He did.”

Allura Vysoren and Trinket – Bear in a Workshop

This is the update I would have posted yesterday for Critical Role Relationship Week, had I not been busy. Enjoy!

Allura Vysoren, scholar of no small renown and member of the Arcana Pansophical, was speechless.

She had hosted many curious and strange guests in her years as a member of the Council of Tal’Dorei, but never a bear.

Vex’ahlia had been interested when she had brought up the subject of further, painless experimentation with the Raven’s Slumber. Allura was curious about the effects of the magical item upon any creature held within it for weeks, and Vex’ahlia’s concern for Trinket was well known. It had seemed like a mutually beneficial agreement to let Allura investigate Trinket’s health, both physical and magical.

Which was why, despite the limitations of her workshop here in Whitestone, there was a bear standing in the exact centre of the small room.

Trinket, for his part, looked comfortable stood on the blue rug. He was being very careful not to move, but nothing about him seemed distressed. True, Allura was no expert on animals, but she hoped the preparations she had made for him were enough.

“Right.” She began, talking to herself. “Let’s get the obvious things out of the way.”

She picked up a small brass orb from a nearby work-surface and brushed her fingertips over the runes carved into it. A peculiarity whose construction still eluded her, it had proved useful in the past when looking for signs of disease or poison.

The shimmer of azure magic surrounded the orb for a second before expanding to envelop Trinket. The bear blinked and shivered as its fur stood on end, but the magic returned to the orb without displaying any of its indicators.

“There doesn’t appear to be any corrupting influence from prolonged exposure to the artefact.” She said, writing her thoughts in a flowing script on a fresh piece of parchment. “None that I can ascertain. Mentally and physically draining effects are beyond my ability to ascertain. Perhaps Kima or Pike would be able to follow this line of inquiry further.

Setting the orb and her quill down, she took a moment to focus her mind.

“Serenil.” She whispered, her fingers flashing through the motions she had learned by rote all those years ago. The workshop around her immediately let up with a wide variety of magical auras as her eyes adjusted to perceive the Weave and its workings.

She turned her gaze on Trinket and sighed quietly. She dispelled the magic with a flick of her fingers and picked up her quill once more.

“The artefact does not appear to bestow the occupant with any lingering magical effect, arcane or divine.” She lowered the quill again and stared pensively at the bear. Trinket looked back at her, standing still on the rug as Vex’ahlia had told him to. “My examination, however brief and necessarily limited, seems to indicate that the Raven’s Slumber, despite being an intensely magical artefact of divine origin functions like any similar arcane spell.

It is my belief that the pendant acts as a portal and nothing more. Speaking the command word activates it, prompting it to consume the creature that is touching the body of the artefact and depositing said creature in a demi-plane like any other.

If my belief is correct, time likely does not pass for the occupant. Testimony does report that the occupant retains awareness and an ability to see out of the artefact while inside. Assuming my theory is true, significant amounts of time spent within the Raven’s Slumber should result in no physical aging but still allow the creation, and retention, of memories.

The uses this artefact has for transporting rare and dangerous creatures are numerous, but for now, I feel it should remain with Vox Machina.” She put the quill down again. “If only I had access to my old equipment,” she sighed, “I’d be able to find out so much more.”

Trinket made a noise and she smiled.

“Thank for your patience, Trinket.” The bear seemed to nod in understanding and she wondered, as she had many times before, if everyone under-estimated his intelligence. “Come on then. Let’s go find Vex’ahlia.”

Kashaw Vesh and Lady Kima of Vord – Sparring ‘Neath the Gods

Today is day 2 of Critical Role Relationship Week and that means the second entry in my week long creative exercise!

There may or may not be an update tomorrow, depending on how much I get done around my pre-existing plans. If there isn’t, there shall be two updates on Wednesday to compensate.

With all that said, enjoy!

The spear in my hands moves like lightning. Step, thrust, block, repeat. My movements, trained over years of experience, are muscle memory and help distract me from the world.

Dragons. One dragon I can deal with. Nine Hells, there was that time Z. and I took one down for the Take. But four? I never thought I’d be thankful to be away from the mighty Doom of a hero.

I feel the bitter smile on my lips as my spear thunks solidly once more into the chest of the training dummy. I am always ready for a fight, but some fights can’t be won.

At least, that’s what I used to think.

But meeting Vox Machina, and seeing them in action, maybe that isn’t so true.

Ugh, when did I get so mawkish? The world is what it is; uncaring and lethal. If a dragon doesn’t kill you, time will. Time always wins in the end.

The mid-morning sun warms my armour and I feel the sweat beading beneath my gambeson. Sleep, as it always did this time of year, had proved little relief from Her whisperings and I’d been up since dawn, practicing with shield and spear against inanimate objects. The exercise is always a futile one but finding an experienced fighter amid the ruins of this gods-forsaken city has proved difficult.

“Need some help with that dummy? I think it’s making threatening gestures in your direction.”

The voice cuts through the quiet air and I turn my head to look at the entrance to the training yard.

The halfling, Lady Kima of somewhere or other, is standing there. Her plate catches the rising sun and the silver sheen reflects it straight into my eyes. I blink and look away.


“Awww. Come on. Who knows what it’ll do next?”

“I said, no.” I turn back to the dummy, readying my spear for another thrust.

“Worried you’ll lose?” I feel my jaw tighten and I straighten. “Only, I’ve got this new sword and I REALLY want to try it out.” I hear her take a few steps further into the yard and turn to confront her.

A great-sword, almost as long as she is tall, is balanced confidently over one shoulder. Behind her, I can see a cluster of guards and recruits staring at us. I bring my spear and shield up into a ready position.


She goes from confident, smirking swagger to a blur of platinum in a heartbeat. The sword hums as it streaks through the air and I catch it on my shield. There is a loud crack as it bounces off and my arms goes numb for a moment as the impact sends shockwaves through it.

She laughs and swings again, coming in low, aiming for my legs.

I clench my jaw and step backwards lightly, springing into a thrust as her attack forces her off balance. My spear darts forwards and she uses the force of her swing to carry her out of the way.

“Nice try.” She grins.

“Are we talking? Or sparring?”

“Why not both?” She laughs, dashing forwards, the blade coming in low again.

I knock it out of the way with my shield and thrust downwards, aiming for her feet. She leaps backwards, a girlish giggle erupting from her lips.

I can hear Her whispers growing louder in the back of my head and I do my best to ignore them, keeping my eyes on the halfling in front of me. We circle a few times before she yells and charges towards me, her shoulder low. I sidestep her rush and she twists, the sword spinning effortlessly in her hands to swing towards my chest.

The edge of the blade clips me as I step backwards desperately, sparks fly from my breastplate. She grins at the glancing blow.

“I got you that time.”

“You did.” I drop my shield and take my spear in both hands. She laughs and moves towards me, the sword coming round. I kick the shield towards her, sliding it along the ground. Her foot comes down, catches the polished metal and she topples backwards, overbalanced by a lack of firm footing and the strength behind her attack.

The blade drifts past me and I lower the point of my spear to the halfling’s eye, ignoring Her commands to kill the foolish braggart.

“Next time!” She laughs from the ground.

“Maybe.” I say, nodding and pulling her to her feet. “Maybe.”

Shaun Gilmore and Scanlan Shorthalt – Hustling the Hustler

Today marks the start of Critical Role Relationship Week (details here). I will be attempting to post a piece of related fiction everyday as the week goes on and I’ll compile all the entries into a PDF on the last day of the event.

I’ll also be updating as usual on Friday, so don’t worry about that!

It wasn’t that the wine was bad. It was merely a little rough on his palate and, he suspected, watered down.

Shaun Gilmore sat at his table in the crowded tavern and contemplated the goblet in front of him. He had been contemplating it for the past half an hour.

Back in Emon he had had the world at his fingertips. Wines imported from distant countries, clothes from his homeland, knowledge long thought forgotten. But here, here he had nothing but his wits, his magic and his winning smile.

He tapped a finger against his lips thoughtfully, debating whether or not it would be an insult to the tavern-keeper if he magically altered the wine.

Movement in the crowd around him caught his eye and he looked up.

A feather, bobbing erratically, drifted between the tables. Only one person in Whitestone would wear a feather as large as that.

“Scanlan Shorthalt!” He called. The feather stopped and then began moving in his direction.

It was a few minutes before the gnome reached his table, bent low over something pressed to his stomach.

“Gilmore.” He said, smiling. “How are you?”

“You know me, I’m great.” A matching smile spread across Gilmore’s face as he ignored the weariness that filled his body and leaned backwards in his chair. “What do you have there, my little friend?”

Scanlan’s eyes widened and his hands tightened on the bottle he was holding tightly to his stomach.

“Just a little something special I got from Grog.” Gilmore pursed his lips and stared at the gnome for a moment, knowing the futility of ascertaining his honesty. “Do you want some?” Scanlan’s tiny hand swirled the bottle suggestively in the human wizard’s direction.

“Something special? Of course.” Gilmore grinned and shifted in his chair to lean forwards. “But only if you have some with me. It would rude to drink a friend’s gift alone.”

There was the barest hint of a pause before Scanlan nodded.

“Excellent!” Gilmore pulled over two empty glasses from earlier in the evening and muttered over them. A spark of magic danced over their surfaces and they were clean in a matter of seconds. “Pour, maestro, if you would be so kind.”

The gnome smiled again and uncorked the bottle. He was too busy pouring to see the amusement that flashed over Gilmore’s face.

The smell brought back memories of when he had first started his company. That tiny stall in the Suncut Bazaar had been home for many years and he had grown intimately acquainted with the venom of the sand-keg. It had been THE drink to have if one wanted to woo rich customers.

Scanlan pass him a glass, a finger of the acrid smelling liquor laying at the bottom of it.

“To where we’ve come from, and a future worth exploring.” He said, raising his glass in the gnome’s direction. Scanlan mirrored the gesture and the two men brought the glasses to their lips.

Gilmore followed his immediately with the last gulp of wine in his goblet. The watered alcohol did exactly what he expected it would and nullified the worst of the Marquesian drink.

Rather than the numbness and sudden onset of intoxication that he knew Scanlan would be experiencing, he revelled in the tingling feeling that spread from his fingertips to his head.

As he watched, the gnome bard swayed once, twice and then fell face first onto the table.

He laughed and raised his empty wine goblet in the air, catching the barmaid’s attention.

The wine might be rough after all, but it wasn’t bad.

The Cure for Anxiety

This is a non-gaming related piece of writing, but with the way the world seems to be going at the minute, I felt it was relevant. It was also an attempt to externalise some of my anxiety about life in general, so be warned that anxiety plays a large part in the story.

A PDF version is available here.

With a smooth motion of his wrist, he finished colouring the final layer of the image and sat back in his chair. He absently massaged his left temple as his eyes darted around the picture, noting the likely points for improvement and editing.

Depicted in bright colours, and posed provocatively, the super-heroine was intended to launch a new line of comics and had been entirely his creation. The original sketches had depicted a middle-aged woman wearing considerably more clothes than the teenager he had been told to draw. He sighed and signed his name, Eric Forester, in the lower corner of the picture so that the new manager would know who had sent the work to be approved.

He sighed and glanced around the Art Room. It was not unusual for him to be alone at this time of night but, surprisingly, there were two other artists present. Martin glanced up and nodded, his eyes surrounded by dark rings, before focusing on the projected display in front of him. Gail was hunched over her desk in the corner, her hands moving furiously.

Eric stood and stretched out his back, the vertebrae popping audibly. The noise seemed to fill the near silent room and he looked around again, checking he hadn’t disturbed anyone. He leaned forwards over his desk and saved the file before sending it up the chain in preparation for tomorrow’s meeting. With a tired smile he turned his computer off, snagged his coat from the back of the chair and turned to leave.

As he walked, he absently turned the headphones built into his hood on and let the music wash over him, the notes dancing through his tired mind. He walked swiftly through the building, lifting his eyes from the floor only to check he was entering the right number into the security keypad at the front door.

As he stepped out of the building, his hands jammed into his pockets and wrapped around both his keys and his telephone, the cool night air embraced him. When he had left home this morning, it had been swelteringly hot and the sun had almost blinded him. It appeared that sometime during the day, the long promised storm front had rolled through and a refreshing breeze danced over the exposed skin of his face.

It was a short walk from the main door of the building to the car-park and he navigated it by memory, lost in thought as he began mentally re-touching the image, assigning different colour values to certain shades, reshaping one or two contours. His knee bumped the side of his car and he blinked out of his reverie, dimly aware that he had passed the night watchman on his rounds a moment ago.  He turned and watched the uniformed figure round a corner, noting the way the shadows from the L.E.D.s built into the ceiling fell across the rough tarmac of the car-park.

As it sometimes did on nights like this, his right calf ached from the short flight of stairs he’d absently climbed and he bent slightly to massage it briefly before unlocking his car and sliding into the seat. The engine activated with the press of a button, a barely perceptible vibration passing through the frame of the car as the motor silently engaged.

At this time of night, the drive was an easy one. The roads were almost entirely devoid of traffic and he relaxed as he drove, his fingers drumming unceasingly on the smooth plastic of the steering wheel. It was only as he neared his house that he caught himself tapping on the wheel and frowned, stilling the movement. He’d promised to try and stop doing that.

The garage door swung open silently and the car rolled into position above the magnetic charging plate built into the floor. He turned it off and got out, locking both it and the now closed garage door in a habitual motion. The door leading into the house swung open as he approached it and Nina stepped out, a steaming mug in one hand.

“Hi.” She said, her eyes darting about his face and noticing how tired and pale he looked. “Long day, huh?” He nodded and stepped forwards, carefully wrapping his arms around her.

He held her for a few seconds, enjoying the floral scent of her hair and then stepped back.

“I missed you. The new manager wanted the work done as soon as possible and you know what Michelle is like.” Nina nodded, both of them remembering the very public manner in which Michelle had terminated the last artist’s contract for missing a deadline. “Is that tea?”

Wordlessly he took the offered mug and sipped the hot liquid.

“Simon took his first steps today.” Nina said as they stepped into the house, walking slowly towards the living room. “He was so proud. He’s just like Mike was at that age.” Eric smiled and took another sip of tea. “Monica wanted to stay up and show you something she drew at school but I had to put her to bed. There’s something going around at her school and I think she’s come down with whatever it is.” Eric stopped, his mind flashing back to the night they had lost Mike. Nina placed her hand on his arm. “She’ll be fine. It’s just a cold of some sort.”

He nodded and smiled slightly.

“I’ll have to stop worrying about everything, huh?” She laughed and reached up to his hair, running her fingers through it.

“You better had. You’re going grey already, old man.”

“Old? I’ll show you old!” He put his mug down on a nearby cupboard and wrapped his arms around her, kissing her deeply. They parted, cheeks flushed slightly, and Nina giggled.

“Last one to the bath has to do whatever the other one says!” She sped off, her feet nearly silent on the thick carpet. Eric laughed and followed, shortening his stride and allowing her to increase the distance between them. It was an old game of theirs, but it was a good one.


He had awoken this morning with sweat-soaked sheets wrapped tightly around his body and a dull ache in his jaw from where he had clenched his teeth in the night. Nina had made him smile, as she always did, by rolling over into the slight depression he had made in the mattress. By the time he was fully dressed, she’d woken up and was waiting for him in the kitchen.

They’d eaten together and he had kissed his sleeping children good bye before the two of them had shared a passionate kiss in the hall. He smiled to himself, remembering her last words.

“Remember, no matter how you feel, or what your head might tell you, your work is good. You’ve won awards for it. You’ve given speeches about it. And if they don’t like it, you’ll always have us.”

The lift stopped moving and, with a slight woosh, the doors opened. He stepped out, briefcase in one hand, and looked around. Michelle was pacing at the end of the hall and Selene was sitting nearby. He closed his eyes momentarily and took a deep breath.

“There you are.” Michelle’s voice carried easily on the still air. “It took you long enough. I thought you were going to be late.” He glanced at his watch, he was five minutes early. “Do you realise how important this deal is? Even having a pilot episode commissioned is a milestone and would go a long way to cementing Salt’s place in the modern superhero genre.” She paused, as if expecting him to say something.

“I’m sorry, Michelle. I know how important this deal is for the future of the Brine line.” He placed a little emphasis on the name, trying to remind her yet again what the character’s name was. “We’ll show them how versatile the IP can be, don’t worry.” Michelle glanced at Selene, who nodded.

“Well then. They’re waiting for us. Smiles and confidence, please.” Without bothering to wait for a reply, Michelle span on her heel and strode forwards, pushing open the big wooden doors she had been pacing in front of. Eric looked at Selene, his fingers drumming absently on the handle of his briefcase. She shrugged and followed the older woman.

Michelle, her sense of timing as impeccable as ever, had just finished introducing herself and had turned to the doorway to announce them.

“Selene Mackintosh, our head of New Medias and Eric Forester, one of our senior artists and creator of this IP. I’m sure that they’ll be able to answer any questions you might have regarding the project.” Michelle gestured for them to sit and then took her own seat.

Eric watched as the meeting began and followed what he suspected to be the standard template for meetings of this sort. Michelle offered platitudes and compliments, in return she received administrative and financial questions. Her responses were loquacious and full of easy to digest phrases that Eric knew meant very little in practice. He could see that many of the other people in the meeting weren’t buying into what she was saying so he wasn’t surprised when the television executives began directing their questions at Selene.

Her answers were immediately better received, consisting of facts, figures, estimates and all the other sorts of information that Michelle should have known but didn’t. He began to unfocus, his eyes following who was speaking while his mind began simultaneously telling him that he knew nothing about his own project, that it was a terrible idea, whilst also analysing the colours in the room and the composition of the people clustered around the table.

It took him by surprise when one of the men turned to face him and asked him a question. He blinked out of his reverie and asked the man to repeat his question. He felt, rather than saw, the sharp look Michelle threw at him.

“How did the idea come to you?”

Eric nodded and took a moment to gather his thoughts, moving his right hand to lay on his thigh in order to hide the tremor that had started when all the eyes in the room moved to his face.

“I was, I was watching,” He swallowed. “I was watching an interview with an amputee who said it was a transformative experience that made her realise she could be more pro-active in life and it made me think about how most of us aren’t all that pro-active about helping other people. Considering where I work, I think it’s an understandable leap to start imagining this situation leading to a superhero being born.” He looked down at his briefcase, running a thumb across the scuff marks on its surface.

When he looked back up, the man who had asked him the question was staring thoughtfully into space and the conversation had shifted back to Selene.

She fielded questions about practicality and co-operation for the next half an hour before the inevitable happened. While Selene was explaining the potential merchandising options she had been designing and pricing, Michelle cleared her throat and interrupted her.

“Eric has some character designs that I’m sure he’s eager to show you. Both for the hero and some of the villains. Isn’t that right, Eric?”

He met her eyes, knowing instinctively that it wasn’t really a question. He coughed and began fumbling with the lock on his briefcase, willing the tremor in his right hand to stop. The case unlocked with a click and he pulled out a sheaf of papers, feeling his chest tighten as he realised everyone was now watching him and judging the quality of his work. He shuffled them so a few of his rougher pieces were at the back and made to hand them over the table.

“No, Eric. I took the liberty of putting them on a USB flash drive so everyone could see them.” Michelle said, pulling a metal flash drive from her pocket and handing it to the technician who had been sitting in the corner should any I.C.T. problems arise. He pressed a button on the table edge and a projector lowered itself from the ceiling.

As the technician pushed the drive into place, the projector lit up and a holographic display of Eric’s work shimmered into life in the centre of the table.

The walls around him began to pulse in time with his heartbeat and a thin layer of sweat beaded his forehead.

“Go on, Eric. Impress us all with your genius.” Michelle’s tone was light and friendly, but both he and Selene knew that it was specially calculated to appear that way. He stood, both hands shaking slightly.

“Yes,” He began, blinking rapidly and trying to ignore the pounding of his heart in his temples. “As you can-“ he swallowed several times, trying to ignore all the eyes looking at him. “As you can see, Brine’s inspirations-“ His vision began to go black around the edges, “Sorry, Brine’s inspirations are mainly Maori in terms of art direc-“ His legs gave way beneath him and he fell, his head cracking off the edge of the table.


He opened his eyes slowly, the bright light sending pain shooting through his head. Around him, he could barely out make multi-coloured blurs that slowly resolved into a well lit room decorated in neutral tones and filled with softly beeping machines. The bed he was laying on was soft and he turned his head slowly on the thick pillow as movement drew his eye.

Nina was sitting nearby, a book in her hands. She saw the slight movement and dropped it, jumping to her feet. She crossed the few feet to the bed and threw her arms around him, ignoring the thin tube hooked up to an I.V. drip.

“I was so worried.” She whispered against his neck. “Don’t you ever do that again.” She pulled away slightly, staring into his eyes. He licked his dry lips and swallowed.

“What happened?” He croaked, his throat strangely dry.

“You had a panic attack and passed out. The doctors said you sustained a head injury when you fell but….” She trailed off, averting her eyes.

“What is it?” He asked, his voice slightly stronger. He felt her hands ball into fists behind his back.

“They had to operate but no-one will tell me why.” She said quietly, her tone sharp.

There was a knock on the door and a woman in a hospital uniform walked in.

“Welcome back to the land of the living, Mr. Forester. You’ll be happy to know the operation was a success and that your sponsor is taking care of the medical bills during your time with us. I’ve just got to do a few tests and then I’ll leave you alone with your wife.”

He knew that he should be worried about having an operation but all he felt was an odd elation. Mentally he shrugged, reasoning that he probably still had some strong painkillers in his bloodstream.

“What…” his voice faltered, “What operation?” The woman blinked.

“Oh. No-one’s told you?” She cleared her throat and pressed a button attached to the projector on her wrist. A small blue readout sprang into being and she read it for a moment. “You are test subject 001 for the Ashland Bio-medical Human Testing of the….

“You know what? It has a really long scientific name but the short version is that you are the first test subject in a perfectly legal, humane, sanctioned medical trial of an experimental chip that is slowly re-wiring your brain to remove your anxiety problems. Isn’t that great?” She smiled widely.

“But that’s….that’s illegal. Doesn’t he need to provide consent for you to do that to him?” Nina asked sharply, placing a hand on Eric’s chest.

“Not as of this morning. Parliament enshrined in law the right of an employer to provide medical consent for an employee in certain situations where it is deemed that the employee will gain a significant improvement to their quality of life that will allow them to contribute more efficiently to society and the workplace.” The woman’s tone was matter of fact, as if she were repeating something she had learned by rote. “And as his records show, a Mrs Michelle Halstrom provided consent for this perfectly safe trial procedure.

A fog of pleasure drifted through Eric’s brain as another wave of painkillers rushed through him.

“How does it work?” He asked, his tone curious. Nina shot him a worried look.  The woman smiled vacuously at him.

“My understanding is that whenever you would ordinarily feel anxious, or scared, or worried, the chip attached to your brain stimulates certain areas of it so that you feel happy and excited instead. It really is a marvellous piece of technology when you think about it. No more panic attacks, no more anxiety dreams. Your quality of life will be higher and you’ll be able to do all those things you’ve wanted to do but were too scared to do.” She turned off the projector at her wrist. “Now, I’ve just got a few things to do and then I’ll leave you two alone to talk about this revolutionary change in your life.”

The woman, who introduced herself as Nurse Brown, bustled around the room for a while before finally leaving. Nina watched her leave and then turned to him.

“Are you okay? How do you feel?” She leaned in and kissed him gently on the cheek.

“I’m fine, honey. Honestly. Just a bit tired and spaced out from the painkillers, that’s all.” A look of worry flashed across Nina’s face. “What is it?”

“You aren’t on painkillers right now.”

“Oh. I guess it’s the last of the painkillers from my surgery then.” She nodded.

“That must be it. We’ll see about getting you discharged as soon as we can. Michelle said you could have a week off work to recover, so you can spend some time with me and the kids for a change.” He smiled, closing his eyes.

“That would be nice.”


He’d had a nice relaxing week off work. They’d taken the kids out, Nina had worked from home in order to keep an eye on him, each evening was spent curled up on the sofa with his wife and the hair around the surgery scar slowly grew back. Everything had passed in a golden haze. By the time he got back to work, he was itching for something to do.

Eric had never been one to sit idle. Even at home he had been tinkering in his spare time, fixing a few things, finishing the bookshelves he had started to assemble months ago and framing a few pieces of his work for Nina to sell at a charity auction. Now though, he was ready to get back to his digital easel.

The office had thrown him a party when he arrived. Nothing special, just a few hot drinks and a slice of cake but it was appreciated. There was a note on his desk from Michelle congratulating him on his recovery and announcing that the television deal had gone through. He was to expect a phone call from her later in the week. Taped to the back of the note was a business card from a representative of Ashland Bio-medical. The first thing he had done was call the number on it, a shiver of anticipation rushing through him.

The secretary on the other end had informed him that her boss, Dr. Peter Wyland, had been assigned to answer any questions that he may have about the trial or the technology attached to his brain. Before he hung up, she had also told him that the first of several regular meetings between the two had been scheduled for that evening.  It was Wyland’s idea that they get to know each other as a method for evaluating the success of the trial.

Now he was sitting at his desk, staring at the display. The notes on his last piece of work had come through and had taken nearly an hour to implement to his satisfaction. He’d sent it back and had decided to start a new piece whilst he waited. But he couldn’t think of anything to draw.

Before, he would allow his mind to drift and speak to him. In amongst the insecurities, happy memories, turbulent emotions and patches of calm he would remember half-glimpsed people, snatches of a song or the floral notes of a perfume that would send him into a creative frenzy. Now, however, when he tried to calm his mind and listen to it, all he felt was an odd sense of detached contentment.

He’d been feeling the same way all week. Being with his wife and children made him incredibly happy but underneath it all, he had felt content. There had been none of his usual desire to push his limits and improve himself or his skills, there had been no creative drive. Even the D.I.Y. projects he’d finished were ones that were mostly complete.

Sitting here at his desk, staring at the blank display projected into the air in front of him, he began to wonder if the creative spark would ever return. As he thought that, a wave of happiness rushed through him and he realised that it would. He just had to wait and everything would be alright in the end.

He sighed and opened up an older work in progress, absently altering a few lines here and there, retouching the shading, redrawing part of the clothing. It wasn’t what he wanted to be doing, but it was something.

The clock moved slowly throughout the day. Unable to summon the creative spark that fuelled his work and had won him a few awards, Eric was forced to re-tool older pieces and consider what would happen if the spark never came back. As he thought this, he relaxed instantly, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that it would come back. The surgery had just made him feel out of sorts and it would take a while to get back into the swing of things.

It was this thought that kept playing through his mind as he drove to Dr. Wyland’s office. It was only as he stopped the car that he realised he could remember the journey from his desk to his car with perfect clarity and that he had not tapped his fingers once over the past week. Nor he had woken covered in sweat with aching jaws, or stammered as nerves caused his throat to suddenly go dry.

He smiled and shrugged to himself, habitually reaching to turn the music off before noticing it wasn’t on.

“I guess whatever they did is working.” He said out loud as he turned the car off and opened the door. The secretary was a pretty woman who smiled at him and ushered him into the doctor’s office.
Dr. Wyland himself, a middle-aged man in a three-piece suit, was sitting behind a desk.

“Welcome, Mr. Forester. May I call you Eric? So good to meet you.” Dr. Wyland stood up and came around his desk, reaching out to shake Eric’s hand. “These meetings are completely informal but whatever you tell me will be treated with the utmost confidentiality. Hell, you can trust me more than you can trust your wife about this medical trial.”

He laughed, a loud braying noise that set Eric’s teeth on edge. “Now, Eric,” he continued, not waiting for an answer, “I must tell you that the bio-medical chip attached to your brain was my project so I would appreciate complete honesty. You are, of course, perfectly within your rights to not tell me everything, but the more I know, the easier I will find it to help you and to help fix your….condition. Have a seat, won’t you?”

Eric automatically went to sit before pausing.

“My condition?” The doctor cleared his throat.

“Yes. Severe anxiety. Certain medical professionals would categorise what you experienced up until last week as a mental illness, something that could be managed but not truly fixed. I, however, know that all things to do with the brain can be fixed with the right application of modern technology. And what can’t be fixed now, we just have to wait for.” He laughed again, the noise and his words sending a spike of anger through Eric.

“I didn’t need to fixed.” Eric said slowly, straightening up. “I was fine as I was.”

“Your employer didn’t seem to think so, and as they are now able to judge these things for you, the procedure was deemed in your best interests. And now you’re fixed. Aren’t you happier?” The doctor’s tone had become patronising and Eric leaned against the desk as he struggled to contain the rising anger.

Before last week, he would have worried about the consequences of letting his rage out. Before last week, he would have struggled to contain it. Now, however, he began to battle with the feeling flooding his system that the rage was perfect. That it was the only possible response to this situation. He didn’t need to be fixed. There was nothing wrong with him. Who were they to make that decision for him?

He turned and leaned further over the table, watching the doctor walk over to the window.

“Come here, Eric. Look out the window. Tell me that view isn’t more beautiful now you’re fixed. Tell me that sunset doesn’t make you want to sing and cry and paint.”

Eric’s head snapped up, his hands closing unconsciously on the doctor’s letter opener. The man was looking out the window into a glorious golden sunset. Before, he would have been analysing the composition of the sight and the contrasting shadows. Now, he felt a keen sense of loss at his inability to do so. His heart began pounding in his temples as he walked up behind the doctor.

“You’re right,” he said quietly. “I can tell you those things. I haven’t felt like that since you fixed me.”

The doctor turned, his mouth open to say something. Eric saw the patronising look in his eyes and acted without thought, his anger boiling over. His hand came up, slamming the letter opener through the soft flesh of the doctor’s bottom jaw, through his palate and into his brain. The doctor fell, the letter opener jerking out of Eric’s grasp. He stood there, looking down at the body, a frisson of enjoyment dancing along every nerve as he considered the consequences of what he had done.

A pool of blood slowly began to form around the doctor’s head, the crimson liquid seeping into the bright, cream carpet. Eric felt a sense of ecstasy as he looked at the image and began making notes on the shapes, the shades, and the ease of execution and he smiled.

He’d been right. He’d found it again. He’d found his creative spark.