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Welcome to my blog. Here, you will find information about my novels, life in Japan, as well as author interviews, discussions on writing, and more. Feel free to browse and if you enjoy a post, please comment. Thanks for reading!

02 April 2022

Whatcha Got Cookin'?


For someone who doesn't like to cook, I seem to enjoy collecting cookbooks. I'm fortunate now that my mother-in-law does most of the cooking for me and Yoko. She'll cook for herself and my father-in-law, often fish and other healthy meals. They eat around 6Pm almost on the dot every night. Because of our work schedules, Yoko and I eat much later. I usually wait until Yoko gets home so her and I can eat together. Because my mother-in-law knows that we like meat and such, she'll usually cook a different main dish for us, but whatever she made as side dishes for herself and my father-in-law, we will eat as well. Because of all of this, I rarely have to cook.   q    

15 January 2022

Adventure Hunters Shelved For Now

 I've been struggling for a long long time to finish up Adventure Hunters: Time Judged All. It has taken me so much longer than I expected and I've encountered difficulties I never thought of. But one of the things I've noticed is that I'm not happy with the worldbuilding. Considering this is a sequel, I can't exactly start from scratch. Anything I change in TJA will have to be changed in Similitude as well to create consistency. With that in mind, I've decided to unpublish Similitude until I finish the sequel to a point where I am happy with it. That may mean changing Similitude only a little or it could lead to a major rewrite. The main part of my worldbuilding that I'm unhappy with is that I want it to be more Science Fantasy, with much more technology and such. Right now the world of DosShell lies in the realm of Low Fantasy. If there are any fans of Adventure Hunters, I hope you aren't disappointed with this. I do intend to get the sequel written. But until then, I'll shelve DosShell and the adventures of Artorius, Regina, and Lisa. Other websites have reviews of Similitude and I feel I need to be clear that it will be unavailable until Time Judged All is finished. As always, thank you for reading.

12 August 2021

Let's All NOT Go to the Movies

 I no longer want to go to the movies. And I'm okay with that.

When it was announced HBO Max and Disney+ would be releasing movies on their streaming services the same day they were hitting theaters, it caused quite an uproar. Filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan lambasted the studios, citing how movies are meant to be a big-screen experience.

I use to go to the cinema quite a lot, both in America and here in Japan (and I must say I prefer the Japanese experience better, although I prefer American concession stands). Then the pandemic came and I was forced to stay away. Only recently have I gotten streaming services like Netflix and Disney+. And when it was announced that some studios were releasing movies streaming and theatrically at the same time, I was intrigued.

And now I prefer it. I view that the cinema-going experience is dying, although it won't go away completely, in much the same way as drive-ins have not entirely disappeared.

Going to the movies is just too much of a hassle. You have to plan the days, drive there (which in my case takes more than an hour), you're in a noisy place with people talking during the movie...It's such a bother. And many of the same experiences you have at a theater can now be done at home. Technology is improving, with TVs getting more hi-def and cheaper every year. Physical and streaming media is becoming more higher resolution and a good speaker set up is not as difficult or expensive as it was years before. Technology-wise, some homes can rival a cinema. And even if your home equipment isn't the latest, it's still not that different than what's used at the cinema.

But what about gathering with your friends, you might ask. Watch parties. Whether because of different schedules, work, or whatever, getting all your friends physically together in the same is tough. But now, your friends don't have to be in the same building, state, or even the same country. You can plan a watch party when it suits you best. Tweet as you watch if you want, and there's no theater employee to tell you to turn off your cell phone. Concessions are now cheaper and can be whatever you want to eat.

And I must admit, I prefer watching movies by myself. I like to be fully immersed in the film, with no one talking or making a MST3K-style running commentary the whole time. 

Will cinemas go away completely? I don't think so. But I think the cinema going experience is dying, and I hope studios and filmmakers realize that a new style of watching movies is emerging. I prefer the streaming model. I'd even be willing to pay a reasonable sum (sorry Disney but $30 is not a reasonable sum) to watch movies at home on their release day. The pandemic has changed many ways in which we do things and shown us new ways to enjoy things. I hope the change continues.

30 May 2021

In A Kitchen Far Far Away...

Lately I've been on a cooking kick. Normally I hate cooking; I'm not a foodie at all. But we have a lot of pot lucks at work. The food court next door to work will be closed for two years for remodeling and in August I will take a lot of time off work, so I will be home a lot.

So I bought five cookbooks after doing some research. The Geeky Chef, The Geeky Chef Strikes Back, The Geeky Bartender, An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Cookbook of Hobbit Cookery, and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge: The Official Black Spire Outpost Cookbook.

It's pretty clear why I bought these. The first three books don't just cover science fiction and fantasy moves. Properties like Pulp Fiction, World of Warcraft, 1984, Archer, and much more all have recipes. There's quite a bit of selections to choose from and to keep me busy for quite a while.

Flipping through the books there are not many recipes that call for hard to find ingredients. The most difficult ingredients are either used in such small quantities I can probably omit them or find a substitute. Like most cooking, the problem is that most ingredients come in big amounts but the amount in the recipe is very small. I'll have quite a bit of ingredients left over, which means I need to make a lot of food.

So far I have made Elvish Lembas bread and Bantha blue milk. The bread from Lord of the Rings turned out delicious but a bit too greasy, as I think I used too much olive oil. The Star Wars drink was delicious.

As always, thanks for reading.

28 March 2021

Last Political Post

With Trump's presidency now behind us, I'm hoping this will be the last political post I make. I wasn't political until lately, and what few views I had I tended to keep to myself. Politics was a hot topic that seemed to only end in arguments was my view of it. Then Trump came and I found myself disagreeing more and more with the people I knew and grew up with. And that bothered me. Once 2020 hit, I kept hearing online and in real life how friends and family members were becoming disconnected over political views. I found that happening to myself as well. 

I found myself becoming a bit of an online troll, posting comments on friends' and family members' FB posts just to see what their reaction would be. Some were people I hadn't interacted with for years. Others were ones I called friends and had worked together with and often hung out. I found more and more of my comments were being seen as inflammatory. They didn't like what I was saying. And it wasn't even in a mild "I disagree with your viewpoint"-style. I ended up unfollowing or unfriending some friends and family, and I'll admit I felt guilty about it.

I wanted to the the bigger person. I wanted to believe in IDIC, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, and say that although I disagreed with their viewpoint, we could still be friends. But I found as these people continued to support Trump and decided to join the nearly 70 million other idiots to vote for him again in 2020, I couldn't bring myself to be the better person. I kept asking myself why they believed Trump and why it was so important to me that they did.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was less about political views and more about personality and belief. More than any other president I could think of, Trump's presidency was based on personality, mostly his. His political actions were not something people debated. There wasn't very many concrete actions in which to say "he should have done this" and "I disagree, he should have done that." Instead, it came down to how Trump treated people. And Trump treated them like shit. Under his presidency, things that we as a nation were trying to put behind us, like racism and sexism, were being given a green light to be the norm. With his bickering against fake news, threats against governors trying to get medical equipment for coronavirus patients, and so much more, the endless negativity and flat out nastiness he espoused was being encouraged. 

Never before had it became so apparent how much of a cue the public takes from the president on how to act. And with the way Trump acted, that terrified me. I was so discouraged and ashamed to see fellow Americans cheering for a man who was a proven liar and racist. Who would use political pressure against others to make then that him like a king and be damned any civilians who got caught in between. And that got me thinking: if you're attending Trump's coronavirus superspreader rallies, if you're wearing a MAGA hat, if you're posting posts that support his actions and ideologies, what does that say about you? And in turn, what's it say about me? Do I want to still associate with someone I've known for fifteen years but now realize would be okay with Christian nationalism, that thinks a democratic process should be overturned by armed force?

No, I don't.

These past few years have seemed to bring out the worst in people, and I'm sad to see that many people don't seem to regret that. It's shocked me to see friends so readily support policies and ideas so different from mine that just seem so wrong and unjust. It's because these differences isn't about foreign policy or the economy or any number of political actions. The differences are about human dignity and human rights. To see friends that oppose basic things like universal healthcare, it just shows they don't care about other people. That they are okay with more mass shootings. I feel living abroad has given me a different perspective than many of my conservative friends. I see that there are different ways to do things, and that so many of the awful things that happen in America are not the norm.

I will miss talking with some of these people. But part of me wonders if I ever knew them as well as I thought I did. Maybe I've simply moved on.

08 January 2021

Cautiously Optimistic For 2021

Here we are a week into 2021 and Covid-19 is still around and Trump's fascist supporters have stormed into the Capitol Building in protest of a legitimate election.

Great start so far, huh?

Many seemed to think that at the chime at midnight, things would magically get better. Obviously they haven't and we are in for another tumultuous year. But I am, as the title of this post says, cautiously optimistic about the future. With the dumpster fire of a president Trump out of the White House, Joe Biden will have his hands full working to get America back on track. I believe he won't fully succeed, as I think no one fully can and that things have gone too far. But I also feel that America won't return to it's full pre-Trump status because him and Covid have shown us the darker parts of American society and it isn't pretty.

There is a lot wrong with America, and it wasn't until these last four years that we didn't know how much was wrong. We've been shown how corrupt our elected officials can become, we have seen how little self-accountability and responsibility many Americans have. In a global catastrophe that should have brought fellow citizens together, we were torn apart. Americans would literally rather kill each other than be inconvenienced or had their so-called "freedoms" tampered with. Most Americans seem to think the liberties and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution meant they had the freedom to do whatever they want. That is absolutely not true.

But I've already ranted and raved about my thoughts on 2020. If you want to hear them, check out my article "Wild In the Streets" in the anthology The Phantom Games. I feel without the narcissist Trump egging on his supports and feeding them outright lies and propaganda, things will begin to calm down. With a new president and hopefully people having a new respect and focus on listening to science, things will get better. Several Covid vaccines are making their way across the world, and while not completely dispelling all fears of the deadly virus, perhaps calming those fears a little. Our post-Trump/post-Covid world isn't a return to normal, but the darkness can't last forever.

As always, thank you for reading.

21 September 2020

What's In A Costume?

 As I was gearing up for the 2018 Tokyo Comic Con (see this post), I became more and more interested in costuming, or the term I prefer, cosplay. I have several costumes either completed or on the way: Michael Myers (from Rob Zombie's Halloween); a Hufflepuff student/Cedric Diggory from Harry Potter; and several Star Trek costumes, First Contact officer, Captain Kirk from Star Trek Into Darkness, a formal tunic from Insurrection, and an Enterprise NX-01 officer jumpsuit on the way. None of these costumes are handmade; I have neither the skill or the inclination to do them so, this has been an expensive hobby for me so far.

The crown jewel in my collection would be a Batman suit. I am currently working on getting one and the decisions involved have made me evaluate the choices in picking a costume. My dilemma is choosing between the Batsuits from Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. I'm sure most people would say choose another Batsuit entirely or at least pick the one from the less awful movie. But the Schumacher movies are my favorite Batman movies (the reasons of which could be a whole other post), but the decision process has made me think of the involvement in deciding a costume beyond the fact that "it looks cool."

When you choose a costume, you're displaying a part of yourself. You're displaying to the world that the qualities that character represents are in a some way a reflection of you. If you're Superman, I can make a good guess you value truth and justice. But it can also mean the type of characters you like watching in entertainment, the moral and good guys who always do their best. Picking a villain is the same thing, not in showing that you are a bad person, but as a way to express your inner darkness safely. For me, I chose that version of Michael Myers because he's a beast, a pure killing animal. Wearing it, it's a way to think about letting ago, not being always in control, and just imagining myself letting loose.

Back to Batman, I'm finding it such a difficult decision because I'm going beyond just which suit looks cool, although there is that too. The Kilmer suit is sexy, and the yellow emblem is nice change from the non-colored/monochromatic versions that have become very popular lately. On the other hand, it's quite similar to the very popular Keaton Batsuit. The Batman 89 suit is not one I want to do and I really don't want to do one similar to it. The Clooney Batsuit is sleek and stylish although it has more design bits that I don't like, for example the cape clasps and the bat symbols on the boots. On the other hand, as one of the least popular Batsuits, I would standout in a convention, which is something every cosplayer wants to do. I have never seen a Clooney Batsuit at a convention, either in Tokyo or Atlanta.

But as I mentioned earlier, I would be representing the world and values of the movie in which that suit came from. Do I want the campiness of the Clooney Batsuit, because that's what people will think of when they see it. When con-goers see a costume, they are also remembering the movie it came from. It says something about what the wearer likes. "He's wearing a costume from that? He must like bad movies."

As a creator myself (being an author), I'm also aware of the creator's thoughts of their projects. Joel Schumacher said he's not the most proud of his work on Batman & Robin, although he did the best he could. Should behind-the-scenes information also come into the decision-making process when it comes to costumes? On the other hand, will the average con-goer or fan even know what when on behind the scenes?

Maybe I'm overthinking it. Maybe being a cosplayer is just as simple as saying "I like that costume" or "it just looks cool." 

Thanks for reading.

14 September 2020

Blog Updates

I added a Page about my second novel Zero Sum game. I also updated the Freelance Writing Page to remove the outdated link and to say that I may take on short story commissions.

19 March 2019

Tokyo Comic Con 2018

I had intended to write a report about Tokyo Comic Con 2018 shortly after it ended. I completely forgot about it until last week. Better late than never, right? Here goes.

Tokyo Comic Con (or TCC) is the fourth or fifth convention I've ever been to. My very first con was when I was in my late teens and I went to a very small Star Trek convention in Billings, Montana. Several years later I went to DragonCon in Atlanta, Georgia. I went there twice, the second time wearing a monster maroon uniform from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. I hadn't been to any convention at all since moving to Japan, so TCC was my first.

Like a lot of things in Japan, TCC was run very smoothly, something Tom Hiddleston remarked on during his closing comments on stage. TCC is trying to differentiate itself from other Japanese conventions by modeling itself after San Diego Comic-Con; the focus is on American movies and comics and pop culture. Star Wars and Marvel were the big properties; they had the largest booths in the dealers area and most of the cosplays were from those two franchises. The costumes still ran a wide gamut of characters though; I saw a female Freddy Krueger, Jason, Bumblebee, Starfleet officers, and––to my mind the most unusual costume choice––Henry Jones Senior from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The costumes were excellent and it was interesting seeing how different the same character was represented. Many of the costumes were very well made with great attention to detail and I could tell the players put in a lot of time and effort and money. Even some of the employees at the booths were in costume and looked good.

Unlike DragonCon, there were not many panels and discussions. TCC takes place in one vast empty area with two stages on each end. Here, there were mini concerts and a few panels where guests introduced upcoming movies, like Godzilla King of the Monsters. The main stage draws were the various costume fashion shows and contest. There were separate fashion shows for Marvel, DC, and Star Wars. Then a larger one including all genres where a grand prize winner was announced. I was overwhelmed by everything going on at the floor I sort of forgot about a lot of the shows, which is something I'll have to remedy this year. Last year I was sort of taking it all in, this year I'll be more prepared and I'll pay attention to the schedule.

No con is complete without guests and TCC had some big genre names: Peter Weller, Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Renner, Ezra Miller, and Oliver and James Phelps. I met Ezra Miller and the Phelps Brothers. If I have one gripe about TCC it's the price charged for guests. Each guest had two sessions: a photograph session and an autograph session. Con goers had to pay separately to have their picture taken with the celebrity and then to get that photo (or something different) signed. The prices were much higher than I ever saw at DragonCon. Tom Hiddleston was the biggest draw and his prices reflected that: roughly $280 each for a photo and autograph. The cheapest was Peter Weller at $120 each. A con goer could easily spend more than $500 just to meet the guests. I splurged since this was my first time and bought a total of four tickets for photos and autographs.

I don't know why the prices are so high and I wish an explanation was given on the site. I know for DragonCon that guests are not paid. They are invited and their airfare and rooms are paid out of their own pocket; that's why they often charge for autographs. But the prices at TCC seem sky high. Perhaps the con is paying for guests flights and accommodations, I don't know.

But I'm not going to let that detract from my enjoyment. I plan on visiting TCC as often as I can. I made some new online friends when I ran into a group of Star Trek fans. Star Trek isn't as popular here in Japan as in America so it was great to see some fellow Trekkies.

I'm already planning my costumes for December.

As always, thanks for reading.

07 September 2018

Time Judged All Preview

Hello, readers. I can't believe it's been so long since my last post. The writing group at my library is canceled; staff shortage, budget cuts, and lack of interest were the culprits. It was fun while it lasted and I wish the members good luck on their works.

And speaking of...my writing has stalled. I'm trying to rewrite Time Judged All, my sequel to Similitude, filling in plot holes and rethinking character motivations and actions. But I feel empty about it. I've gotten into a vicious cycle of feeling crappy as a writer and not writing anything, and feeling bad because I haven't written anything It's been going on for the better part of 2018. I will not make my deadline of a fall or winter release.

In the meantime, I thought I'd post the first chapter of Time Judged All here, just for fun. I hope you enjoy it and as always, thanks for reading.


Anuku Shiam was the most beautiful landscape Artorius had ever seen. He stood atop a sand dune and gazed across the multicolored horizon. The name translated to Rainbow Desert, in his opinion it lived up to its name and reputation.
Dunes of colored sand stretched out before him, like painted waves frozen in time. The winds moved the particles around and created patterns in hues he had never seen before. One dune was an angry splotch work of reds and oranges while another one calmed his senses with its pale greens and light blues. The kaleidoscopic panorama almost made him dizzy. He took a deep breath of dry desert air. He felt grit in his nostrils and throat, and wondered if the insides of his lungs resembled a patchwork quilt of colors.
To his left, a sanddale sneezed and shook its great head. He patted its mane. Looking like a horse but three times larger, the desert animal had two bulbous sacs around its torso. These stored water and the animal could keep its supplies for weeks without needing a drink, making it ideal for crossing vast arid landscapes. Artorius heard the liquid sloshing inside the sac, a sign that the sanddale would need a refill in a few days. As the water was depleted, the sacs took on a deflated and shriveled appearance. He had heard the sacs had no nerves, thus unable to register pain. Desert travelers would cut a hole in the sacs and insert water tubes to refresh themselves during their journeys. The animals never reacted to the surgery. Two other sanddales, one for each of his companions, roamed close by.
Although the animals were comfortable in the heat, he was not. He was thirsty but would wait until he was underground again, instead of drinking from a sanddale. His heavy blue tinted armor and thick underclothes were not suited for the desert but he refused to take them off.
He turned away from the vista before him. A roughhewn stone column poked its head out of the stand, its diameter almost a man's height.  The old but sturdy stone ladder attached to the inside disappeared into the darkness below. He grabbed the rails and climbed down. 
His armor made it impossible to look down, so he kept his gaze on the stone wall in front of him. It was pockmarked and strafed from carving and beatings by the weather. The light was still strong as he descended. He felt the edge of a step, slipped, and almost fell off. He gripped the rails tighter and swung his foot about, searching for purchase.
A hiss brought his attention back to the wall and he froze. A thick blue-yellow snake slithered out of a hole, flicking its tongue. Artorius stopped all movement and gripped the rails even harder. The large black dot between its nostrils marked it as the poisonous vampire snake. It held his gaze with unblinking black eyes and began swaying back and forth. Artorius didn't dare blink; its hypnotic-like gesture was trying to lull him into a more relaxed state. Don't, he willed himself. Stay alert. Keep it occupied. Play its game.
It gazed over his shoulder and Artorius heard another hiss behind him. Oh, shit, he thought.
The vampire snake in front of him opened its mouth, exposing twin venomous fangs. A third one lay flat against the roof of its mouth. Artorius knew the snake used its venom to paralyze its prey then unhinged the third hollow fang to draw out liquid and water from the victim. An almost imperceptible tensing of the snake's body warned him as it lunged. He leaned back, twisted his head and torso to one side, holding on to the rail with only one hand and foot. The snake rocketed past him, its tail brushing his cheek. From the corner of his eye he saw it latch onto the second snake. The two combatants hissed and writhed as they fell to the sandy floor. Artorius held on to the ladder with one hand and watched the snakes fight, their whip-like bodies twisting and thrashing, causing a sand cloud that quickly obscured them from view.
Artorius listened as their movements slowed, then ceased. He couldn't hear any more hisses or rasps. His arms quivered as the adrenaline wore off, he could barely grip the ladder. He waited another minute then made his way down. At the bottom he saw a single snake on the floor. A few drops of its blood stained the multicolored sand, but the body was already drying and shriveling.
A lighting ball waited at the edge of the underground passageway. It floated above and before him as he entered deep below the desert. The sand-covered floor thinned out to paved stones. The heat gave way to cool shade.
Two days and they still had not completely mapped the underground city. He had taken to calling it Gateway; Regina couldn't pronounce the name in its native language, but she said it translated to "the city of the central flats from which one begins their true journey into Anuksu." He thought Gateway was close enough in meaning. Four days wasn't the longest they had ever been below ground; there had been that bit of nasty business of getting lost in the Coldshaw Caverns and the cave-in that happened later. But ninety-six hours was their longest voluntary stretch. They had one more day, then they would have to leave. Artorius had grown to like it here but would be glad to have open sky above him again. He thought Lisa would have punched her way out a day ago if they didn't take short trips to the desert surface. He guessed Khuls had a built-in dislike for small spaces.
He walked down the "avenue" to the main street. He chuckled at the term; the Harrashites had built Gateway underground, but when they had encountered travelers from above they had adopted city terminology for their structures. The corridors and passageways were called streets and the caverns and holes (both natural and artificial) were called buildings. Most of these were one-room affairs with signs painted in script on the entranceway.
The large straight path bisected the city, wide enough for two people to walk comfortably side by side, with a high ceiling. Glyphs and artwork adorned the walls. He surmised whatever was carved into the stone was equivalent to street signs, while the bright pictures had been for decoration.. He turned left and soon encountered a shaft of light. Gateway, like any other city, had multiple points of entry. These were square columns that rose out of the desert floor, like the one he had descended earlier. As the desert sands shifted and grew higher, the city builders simply made the columns taller. Around noon the city had pockets of sunshine diffusing the darkness.
Artorius passed a three-feet tall statue of a bright pink dancer in mid-leap. In Gateway, glass was everywhere. Wood was scarce in the Rainbow Desert, almost everything in Gateway was carved from stone or shaped from metal. But they had an abundance of colored sand; it was the basis for their glass art. Their glass sculptures were the most beautiful in DosShell. Glass statues, figurines, and works of art in a plethora of colors decorated the underground city. They lined city streets, filled public places, and brightened people's homes.
The avenue ended at an outcropping overlooking the city center: a beautiful stone and glass public area, similar to a topside park, with fountains, benches, and sculptures. On the corner of the avenue was the mayor's residence. Artorius had picked it as their base of operations for the duration of their job here.
He stepped inside the three room building. The furnishings were made from either stone or metal and much more ornate than many other homes Artorius had seen. Colorful glass statues and works of art filled cubby holes and lined shelves. He wondered if the two beds belonged to the parents and children or if the mayor and his wife slept separately. One wall of the residence was entirely glass through which they could see the panorama of the city center below.
"Enjoying the view?" Regina asked. She leaned over a large table covered in huge sheets of parchment. The multiple bracelets on her left arm jingled together; the largest held a blue stone. Instead of her usual green, lightweight attire she wore a simple white one-piece dress. Her bejeweled headdress intertwined her blonde hair.
The city museum in Vaneer had hired the adventuring trio of Artorius, Regina, and Lisa to map the newly-discovered city, which had been stumbled upon by one of the museum's scouts. The museum had wanted to lead an expedition to it right away; they were worried about competition from other museums, royal and private institutions of art and science, and tomb raiders finding it before they could return. The museum didn't have the resources at the moment to mount a full expedition. They had hired Artorius and his companions to map out the city and stake a claim until a full fledged archeological team could be put together and delivered to Gateway.
Artorius had scoffed a bit at the curator's use of the term 'map out.' That was a polite way of saying to look for any traps or hidden dangers and make sure they encountered them first so as not to endanger the expedition team.
The mapping of the city was being done by hand. As he, Regina, and Lisa explored, they would take rough measurements of every street, building, and room, then come back to the base of operations and lightly draw it on the sheets of parchment. Over time they were developing a rough map of the city, adding new places on the map as they were discovered and trying to correct mistakes from the initial explorations. They labeled the different areas and kept tabs on what was already explored. The city was vast and Artorius was sure they hadn't explored it fully; it was also a slow process with only the three of them. There was was constant running back and forth of exploring, drawing, exploring, and drawing.
Regina raised her head from the papers and rubbed her neck. Artorius chuckled.
"What?" Regina asked.
"You're so happy," Artorius said. "This is the most excited I've seen you in a ruin for a long time."
"If the economy wasn't so bad and the museum was hiring, I'd do this."
"Why don't you?"
She looked at him in confusion.
He spread his arms to encompass the city. "This. To stop adventuring and putting yourself in danger. With all that you've donated and sold to the city museum, I'm sure they would take you."
Regina shook her head and flipped through the map as she talked. "The museum will be down here for months going over every inch of this place. This is great, I mean; no traps, no death-defying dashes to the exit. But I couldn't stay in one ruin for months on end. There are too many pieces of civilizations that need saving. Even if we're saving just their…I don't know…their dinnerware…it's something. That's at least one thing people will remember and learn about that culture."
Artorius appreciated the noble sentiment. He knew Regina did it for money as well; out of the trio she was the least physically suited for adventuring. But she really enjoyed it, and as she said, she saw herself as a savior of lost cultures. Even if it was only forks and spoons.
He recalled he had already been adventuring when he met Lisa. He sometimes wondered why she did it; most fifteen-year-old girls weren't running around dark ruins that often held deadly pitfalls or walls that swung out swords. She seemed to enjoy the thrill of it but he knew there must be more there. Maybe he ask her about it one day.
As for himself…he knew there was not much else he could do. He ran his hand over the Sigil of Disgrace branded on his left cheek. The seared and puckered skin had no hair; even if he had a full beard it would never be covered up. It was there for life and would most likely be there after he was dead, until all his skin finally rotted away and nothing remained but his armor and bones.
He blinked away the morbid thoughts. Regina continued studying the map. He asked, "How is the mapping coming along?"
"Not too bad," said Regina. "But all our marks and erasures and sketching, it makes the picture all…fuzzy-buzzy." 
Artorius raised his eyebrows. 
"Don't look at me," the InfoMage said. "I got it from Lisa. She says it."
Just then the teenager walked in. "Says what?" She wore her everyday cut-off shorts and a thin-strapped top.
"Yeah. Fuzzy-buzzy." She raised her eyebrows at their blank expressions. "You've never heard the rhyme 'Fuzzy-buzzy the bird'?' What kind of childhood did you have?"
Artorius said, "Apparently not one as rhyming as yours."
In response, she pulled down her right eyelid and stuck out her tongue. Everyone laughed.
Lisa reached into her brown hair and retied her red bow. As she did, her biceps bulged. Artorius wondered when she had gotten so muscular. Only fifteen years old, she was larger than most girls, a product of her Khul heritage. But in the past it had been a soft muscularity, like the build of swimmers. Now she was more massive but leaner, her muscles much more prominent and defined than before. Her top lifted up a short distance as she raised her arms and he could see abdominal muscles. Her thighs, almost larger than his biceps, had deep definitions when she walked. He turned away.
"I checked the glassworks factory in the southwest corner," Lisa said. "The pieces are mostly intact but there's no way it will be running again. Everything's stuck together."
Regina said, "They haven't been used in over two hundred years. All the rust and grit probably took their toll."
Lisa turned to Artorius. "Why is it in legends and myths all the equipment, especially the big bad weapons, all operate perfectly after thousands of years? Ever notice that? Everything works as if it's brand new. All the traps still spring open and all the bows still shoot arrows."
"Like the golems?" Artorius asked "All that time under Wick's Glen and they came to life just fine?"
Lisa pointed a finger at him. "Exactly. Sometimes I buy a brand new cup and it cracks after a year."
"If you spent an hour listening to a bard tell of the courageous young warrior journeying to defeat the evil machine of destruction, and at the end it won't even start, wouldn't you be disappointed?" Regina asked.
Lisa shrugged. "I guess so." Lisa went to the map table and picked up a pencil. She stood beside Regina, then leaned over and began erasing a small section.
What are you doing?" Regina asked.
"I saw a door there. I'm marking it so I can go back and check it out," Lisa replied.
Regina looked at her in confusion. "I was just there less than an hour ago. There wasn't a door there. I'm sure of it."
Lisa stopped drawing. "Are you sure?" Before Regina could respond, Lisa help up her hands in a placating gesture. "I'm not calling you a liar but I did see an open door. Maybe it's something we missed."
Artorius didn't like this situation; Regina and Lisa were seasoned ruin explorers and didn't miss much. This could be something else.
"Let's all go have a look," he said.
Lisa led the way out of the mayor's residence and they walked down the streets to where Lisa had found the door, on a lower street three blocks from the city center. A lighting ball followed them from above. When Artorius had last been here, it had been the corner of two ways, the street made a ninety degree turn to the right. Now a stone slab was pushed inward, creating a doorway.
"That was a solid wall the last time I was here," Regina said.
"We have intruders." Artorius unsheathed his sword and stepped into the plain unadorned room. Across from him a second door was pushed ajar. A stone slope twisted down out of view.
Artorius glanced at his sword then at Regina's bracelet. She nodded and held out her left arm. The blue stone in the bracelet glowed, the swirls within moving and dancing. It glowed a faint blue, and then flared bright for a moment. The stone floated free from the bracelet. Within its blue glow, metal objects appeared. They joined and formed larger pieces. The light flared again. Instead of metal encircling her wrist, Regina now gripped a metal staff about five feet long. A semicircular arch encased the blue stone, which had become more spherical and larger than before. Her Device was ready.
Lisa popped her knuckles but there was no sound. She tried again but nothing happened. She shrugged. 
He turned to Regina. "Dim the lighting ball," he instructed.
She pointed her Device at it, then turned it towards the left. As she did, the ball of light dimmed.
When it was a little more than a haze, Artorius said, "Stop."
Artorius took the lead, having Regina make sure the lighting ball didn't float too far ahead. The slope spiraled downward on a wide gentle curve. Artorius walked slowly and silently, unsure where it led or for how long. Behind him Regina and Lisa barely made a sound. He was thankful the passageway—would this be a street, too? he wondered—was wide enough to accommodate his Paladin armor. Even alone underground he hadn't taken it off. "Every ruin like the first one." It was an adventuring mantra that hadn't failed him until now. How did they sneak in here? And how did I miss this secret avenue? he wondered.
The slope spiraled down for a long time. Finally, Artorius saw the walls and floor brighten; Regina hadn't adjusted the lighting ball's brightness, they must be coming to the end of the passageway and whoever waited beyond. Bright light glared across the flat floor. Artorius estimated they were almost exactly under the fountain in the city center but he wasn't sure how deep. He motioned for Regina and Lisa to stop. He pointed to the lighting ball and ran his finger across his throat. Regina pointed her Device at the ball, pulled the small trigger on the staff, and the ball disappeared. Artorius peered around the corner.
Several lighting balls made the room as bright as noon topside. The entire room was golden yellow and completely free of any works of art and statues, although geometric shapes and patterns were carved into the walls.
Three beings stood in a circle in the middle of the room, intent on something that Artorius couldn't see. Although two faced his direction, Artorius was blocked from their view. Two of the visitors had their backs to him. All were well-armed but their weapons weren't drawn.
"For an EngineerMage," a voice said, "you're proving quite useless." 
Artorius knew the voice, no matter how many years have passed since they had last spoken.
Artorius slipped back around the corner and shut his eyes. Don't, he thought. Don't let it be him. But he knew it was. All these years away from Hyion hadn't dulled his memory. It's him. I know it. He'll sniff the air and say "If I can smell you, I can kill you." Don't let him say it. Don't say it. Don't say it.
Artorius heard sniffing then a shuffling of leather against stone. 
"If I can smell you, I can kill you. There are…," sniff, sniff, "…three of you." A pause. "But my telepath says two. Which one is it?"
Artorius stepped into the room. "Drevlin?"
Canpiens combined dog and human features into a unique species. Drevlin had fold-topped ears on top of his fur-covered head. He had a stubby dog snout. Human eyes watched Artorius but sharp carnivorous teeth flashed in a lighting-quick scowl. He was a head taller than Artorius and stocky. From the neck down, Drevlin had a human-shaped body covered in coarse fur mottled in white and tan. He wore buckskin clothes and dark green boots that went over his knees, the typical attire of a scout. Knives and bags hung from his belt.
He approached and stuck out his hand. The top was covered in fur and the bottom in callused and rough skin. His fingernails were round and hard, cut short except for the pinkie on his right hand, it was long and sharp like a thick needle.
Artorius didn't expect the handshake and slowly accepted it. "Drevlin," he said. The name was all he could think of at the moment. Thoughts were hard to form, shock and years-old guilt still overwhelmed him.
Drevlin smiled. "We established that. What I don't know is how many are in your party. Is it two or three?"
Artorius gestured for Regina and Lisa to step out.
With everyone now in the room, Artorius got a better look at the intruders. Besides Drevlin, two human men stood near a box on a dais. One wore mismatched clothes. Some fit too loose, some too tight; even his boots weren't the same style. Most likely, Artorius thought, the man's clothing had been taken off other men, ones that no longer needed them. His hard and stubbled face held distrusting eyes, they constantly watched the three adventurers.
The second man was so short he was almost a dwarf. Heavyweight with a bald head, he had small eyes and fat fingers. His tool belt was too small to fit around his waist, he wore it over one shoulder like a baldric. The buttons on his shirt were shaped in the crest of the Fordian EngineerMage Guild. Artorius recognized it as a low-ranking guild.
Drevlin raised his eyebrows. "You were never one for approving of harems, much less having one of your own."
Artorius gestured to each woman in turn. "These are my companions, Regina and Lisa."
Drevlin shook hands with both of them. "Sorry for the jab, but it seems Artorius is as uptight as ever."
"Yes." Drevlin pointed to his companions. "Zeke." The man with the mismatched clothes put his hand on the hilt of his sword. "And Chamco."
The EngineerMage raised his hand in greeting. "Hi ya."
"When do we get around to killing them?" Zeke asked.
"No one is dying today," replied Artorius.
"Way I see it, you're trespassing in our territory," Zeke said.
Drevlin bared his teeth at the man. "Cool it," he ordered. He turned back to Artorius. "But it does bring up the question of why you're here."
"We can ask you the same thing," Lisa said.
"We asked first," said Chamco.
"Vaneer Museum hired us to explore this ruin," said Regina.
Artorius said, "We've been here for two days. That means you're encroaching on our ruin." He pointed toward the box in the middle of the room. "Everything here and that also belongs to the museum."
Drevlin chuckled, a rough sound that combined a yelp and a growl. "How the sanctimonious have fallen. Are you really squabbling about adventuring claims?" He eyed Artorius. "Normally I'd say you can take the man out of the Paladin armor, but you somehow keep that too."
Before Artorius could respond, Drevlin turned away and walked to the large box. "We're taking the skull of Fadil."
"We need it more than you do," said Chamco.
"Why?" asked Artorius.
Drevlin smirked at Artorius. "Because we have a ChronoEye."
The word meant nothing to Artorius. 
"What's a whatever-eye?" asked Lisa.
Chamco smiled and took on a lecturing tone. "It's a device, little one-"
"Don't call me 'little one,' I'm taller than you," Lisa said.
Chamco flushed with anger but continued. "It lets you look through time."
Regina laughed. "You really think chronomancy is possible? Wow, you're gullible."
Chamco waddled into the middle of the room, standing up as tall as he could. He thumped his considerable chest. "I have done something no mage has done before. Not even Class AAs have achieved what I am about to."
Artorius didn't like the sound of this. It wasn't just Chamco's tone. He sounded like a petulant child telling his parents his drawing was better than his brother's. It was the phrase "looking through time" that disturbed him. That and having Drevlin here. Those two shouldn't even be in the same room.
Chamco focused on Regina as he continued. "Forget about this adventuring nonsense. You won't have to explore dead ruins when you can view back in time and watch these civilizations first hand, as they are living. Don't you see? It's looking back in time as it really happened, without all the rhetoric of and fallible of false memories. Forget the phrase 'history is written by the victors.' We can witness history unfettered." 
"That's crazy," Artorius told Drevlin.
"Is it, now?" Drevlin patted the box behind him. His gaze held Artorius's "The power to watch time. To go forward and see the wonder of the decades, centuries, millenniums ahead." His jaw snapped close. His expression hardened. "Or go back into the past and learn the truths of events that shape lives. Or take them"
Dread knotted Artorius's stomach. He's bluffing, he thought. But part of him wondered if he could take that chance that Drevlin was right. If he could go back in time and learn…No, snap out of it. "It's impossible," he said, perhaps to Drevlin, perhaps to himself.
Drevlin's smile was wolfish in his vaguely human face. "We'll see."
"We'll know soon enough if we can just get this thing open," Chamco said.
"What's the problem?" Regina stepped forward.
Zeke rested his hand on the pommel of his sword. "This is ours."
"We were here first," Lisa countered.
He eyed the teenager coldly. "We don't give a rat's ass about the ruin. We got to the treasure first. That's the only thing that matters. Got the point?"
"The point is nothing matters if we can't get this open," Chamco said, "and I'll need some help." He pointed to Regina. "Help me out."
Zeke relaxed his stance and stepped away from the group. Regina went over to the box and examined it with Chamco. Everyone else backed away to give them room to work. 
Although he moved about the room, Artorius made sure never to turn his back on Zeke. He was sure he was a killer and a thief and he wondered why Drevlin had chosen to work with him. Zeke most likely didn't believe in the ChronoEye, only the money he was being paid. Zeke's hands never strayed far from his numerous weapons and Artorius was sure there were more dangers hidden on the man.
As the two mages whispered excitedly to each other, examining every little bit of the box, Artorius approached Drevlin. "What if nothing is in there? I've been disappointed by many ruins before."
Drevlin smiled at him. "It's not." He sounded confident. "Are you sure you're not too worried that it is in there?"
Artorius wished he could have answered that in the negative.
Chamco stood suddenly. "I give up. I have no idea how to get this open."
Zeke glared at him. "Then why do we have you here? You're a waste of space that's been slowing us down ever since we started." He made a move towards his knife.
Artorius was about to draw his sword when Regina spoke up. "I have an idea." Zeke didn't take his away from his weapon. Seeing he wasn't going to relent, Regina addressed the rest of the group instead. "Give me a moment. I think this will work."
Drevlin nodded in acquiesce. 
Regina swept her Device around the room. The lighting balls blinked out, leaving the room in darkness. Artorius involuntarily grabbed his sword hilt. He heard the scrape of metal against leather; no doubt Zeke had unsheathed a weapon.
Artorius couldn't see anything at all. Being so deep underground, the darkness was absolute. He had been standing almost next to Drevlin but now he couldn't see him. He couldn't even see his feet.
"What are you doing?" Zeke yelled into the darkness. 
"Shut up," Regina ordered.
The sphere of Regina's Device brightened into a dim violet glow. It wasn't a normal light, Regina's skin shone blue and her clothes seemed to glow in the wrong colors.
On the box bright orange lettering glowed under the blight lighting ball. Everyone gathered around. The script was foreign to Artorius but the accompanying pictures were clear: press the tile on the top of the box marked with the three lines for the box to be lifted, step back while the crane hoisted the box, which was the lid itself, and press the tile marked with the two lines to have the crane lower the box back into place.
Regina pressed the tile with three lines. A deep rumble above them startled everyone. Directly above the box the ceiling split as two stone panels slid apart. They stopped and shuddered. Deeper in the rock around and above him Artorius heard mechanical parts breaking down. The ceiling panel spasmed then broke apart, raining down dust and debris. Everyone scattered as a large section of the ceiling smashed into the box. Rivers of dust fell. Then there was silence.
Drevlin said, "Turn the lighting balls on again."
Regina complied and Artorius took a moment to adjust his eyes to the sudden influx of light. The box was intact but a chuck of the ceiling now lay atop of it.
Zeke lowered his arm from his mouth. "Two MageTechs means twice the stupidity."
"Are you going to run your mouth all day or help us open this?" Artorius asked.
"I'm not here for heavy lifting," Zeke replied. He sheathed his sword and crossed his arms.
Lisa said to Artorius, "Now I wish it was like your stories."
Drevlin twitched his head and ran his hands over his sensitive nose trying to get the dust out. "It doesn't matter."
Under the chunk of debris was a hole in the box, smashed in from when the ceiling fell. Drevlin, Chamco, and Zeke moved the debris away, then the Canpien reached in with both hands and pulled out the crystal skull of Fadil. It was slightly smaller than a human head and shaped vaguely like a skull. Two natural indents formed the eye sockets and vertical columns resembled teeth. It had the crystal clarity and glimmer of the clearest cut diamond but Artorius knew it was harder than those stones. Legend said it was unbreakable.
Chamco's eyes widened in excitement. Drevlin couldn't take his gaze away from it. Artorius had never seen such a flawless piece of crystal. It made the clearest diamond seem like a river pebble. Zeke whistled low.
"Color me impressed," Lisa said.
Drevlin put the skull into a bag at his hip.
"Can we kill them now?" Zeke asked.
The mood broke and everyone tensed.
"What is it with you, anyway?" Chamco asked Zeke. "Five minutes after you meet someone, you want to kill them."
"It doesn't take that long," Zeke replied.
Chamco wasn't a warrior. Zeke and Drevlin, on the the other hand, could easily hold their own. He had fought beside Drevlin before, but there was no telling what other tricks he had picked up in the intervening years. But he was sure he and his companions would come out the victors. He prepared to draw his sword. Zeke already had a grip on his sword.
"No," Drevlin said.
"What makes you think they're going to let us walk out of here with that big clear rock?" Zeke asked.
"It does belong to us," Lisa said.
"I need it more than any of you." Chamco almost sounded like a whiny child. "I built a ChronoEye." He pointed to the bag holding the crystal skull. "Once we get a power source, that precious piece of rock is the only thing that can channel the chronomantic energies."
"Chronomancy is outlawed," Regina said. "Not to mention impossible."
Chamco smiled. "Not anymore."
Artorius had noticed Drevlin wince at Chamco's statement about a power source. They need one more item, he thought. Drevlin probably hadn't wanted Chamco to mention that little detail but he had.

Artorius said, "Now I have more reason not to let you out of here."