Work related posts have been moved.

9 November, 2010

My work and computing related posts are now at

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Environmentalism, Tony Abbot, and Satan.

11 October, 2017

A friend asked me for my perspective on this:

“Primitive people once killed goats to appease the volcano gods. We’re more sophisticated now but are still sacrificing our industries and our living standards to the climate gods to little more effect,”

Tony Abbot, reported by The Age.

My reply (which could stand a little editing):

I expect you are asking me specifically because of my past religious background, so I’ll add a perspective from that POV.

Some fundamentalist Christians see in environmentalism a strand of nature-worship. This may be understood as a philosophical pantheism, or a more naive tree-worship. There’s also an equivocation between the “paganism” of the modern hippie and ancient greco-roman “paganism”. They aren’t really the same thing at all, but we call them the same thing. And a person who isn’t a terribly clear thinker easily conflates pantheism with worship of the greek god Pan.

But so what? So what if Greenies think trees are nice? So what if some of ’em have Viking rune tattoos?

It’s important to understand that a fundamentalist christian believes that demonic spirits are literally real. Jesus cast demons out of people. Now, either Jesus was wrong, or demons are actually a thing. There a story of Jesus fasting for 40 days in the desert and being personally tempted by Satan. The story is clearly, clearly allegorical, but the biblical literalist takes the position that if this story was meant to be understood allegorically, God would have told us so.

The ancient Christians believed that the miracles of the pagans were perfectly real, and accomplished by demonic power. Fundies more-or-less regard anything in the least bit “spiritual” that isn’t christian to be of the devil. Whether the gods of Greece and Rome, or the vague woo-woo of the hippies, it’s all demons. When a hippie talks about a sense of connection with nature, they are being connected to the devil.

Fundamentalist Christians see “spirits” everywhere. This modern notion that we ought have a care for the natural world is probably spirits, which is to say demons. It’s all part of the same old big ball of wax that Jesus came to deliver us from. We know it’s spiritual because it’s about values. The abstract idea that values like environmentalism are spiritual and the more concrete idea that the Druids were in literally contact with actual, real demons gets all muddled up and stuck together in a big tangled mess of worrying ideas. (A person who believes in devils is afraid all the time, despite their protestations that their faith in Jesus keeps them safe from them. It’s a constant undercurrent of worry, especially for parents.)

The general notion that science is a good thing, also, is a spiritual force in our society. “Science” itself is a spirit, perhaps. Or perhaps blind trust in science – scientism, if you like – is a spirit, a great evil spirit sort of hovering in the air over humanity. An evil spirit clearly of the devil, because we should be putting our trust in Jesus alone. From it springs a multitude of lies, perhaps the greatest being that we don’t really have eternal spirits and that the devil is not real.

I appreciate that none of this makes much sense, that there’s a truckload of non sequitur in all this mess. But it doesn’t have to make sense. These are fragmentary ideas in the minds of (many? most?) Christians and especially fundamentalist Christians. Remember that most people are not terribly bright. [edit – perhaps what I really meant here was that most people are intellectually lazy, and perhaps what I mean by that is that I was]

This next bit is important, and perhaps I should edit this mail to make it more central:

Fundamentalist, biblical literalist Christians are creationists. The bible says what it says about where the world came from. In order to believe in creationism, you must conclude that the theory of evolution is wrong, or a lie. Consequently, creationists must and do believe that the scientific community is committing a fraud against all of humanity. And has been for hundreds of years. The idea that “science” is actually a vast conspiracy to deceive humanity is not new. It was not invented recently in reply to this latest climate science business. It’s as old as Gallileo and Newton. I mean, sure – not every scientist is an active conspirator. Some are misinformed by other scientsts (we all know that those white-coats are intelligent only in their specific area, and outside that they are absent-minded fools, unlike us reglar folks who have common sense). Some are mistaken. Most are just going along with the general consensus. But “the general consensus” is, of course, a spirit. The bible speaks of a “spirit of the age”. And it all comes back to The Devil.

Now, not all fundies take the whole thing as seriously as all that. And many who do literally belive this stuff don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about the implications of it all. But these ideas are all part of the package, the big old mess of ideas sloshing around in the Hillsonger’s brain pan.

So we get to Tony Abbot, who is not a Hillsonger but is a Roman Catholic. There’s what the americans call a “dog-whistle” in this message – something that is heard by the people that it’s intended for, and is inaudible to anyone else. And that dog-whistle is the charge that environmentalism and the climate science establishment is literally Satanic. Literally motivated and orchestrated by The Devil. Ol’ Scratch. Lucifer himself. Really.

Sure, it’s a long stretch to cast coal-fired electricity plants as fighting the good fight on the side of God against the general corruption of the age. Ludicrous, when you think about it, particularly given Jesus’ views on excessive wealth. The trick, as always, is not to think about it, but to know it. What Orwell called “bellyfeel”, what Steve Colbert calls “truthiness”, what the average Christian calls “knowing it in your heart”. You just know by faith that those greenie ideas are all from the devil, and so we should dig up and burn more coal just to spit in the devil’s eye as much as for any other reason.


Well, you got trouble!

18 August, 2017

We spent the first half of the game trying to get our vehicle back on track. Then, the vehicle fixed, we decided to go head to some snowy hummocks off on the horizon. The hummocks proved to be igloos, inhabited by penguin people.

Most of the rest of the party went down to the proverbial D&D tavern. All kinds of stuff going on down there: strange herbs, stranger sauerkraut. My guy, being strictly teetotal found a soapbox and stared preaching.


Well, my friends, you sure do have a beautiful town here – beautiful town, igloos spotless as an igloo can be, clean streets, public order. You are people with pride, people with dignity. I see people looking build a nest, looking to start a family, looking to build your community just like any clean-living decent folk of any peaceful, law-abiding town in the world will do.

But I’ll tell you, good people: you got trouble. Oh yes! Trouble, right here! Why, just down in that tavern there, right under your very beaks, bold as brass, sitting right out on the main street – not an ounce of shame, not a thought for the decent folk walking by.

Now sure, I know one or two of you might stop by once in a while, and no harm come of of it. But I tell you, they sell alcohol in there! Booze! Hooch! Sauce! By any name the demon drink and I tell you, friends, once that liquor gets its hands on a man he’ll spend all day down at the bar. Never mind the fish needing to be caught! Never mind the eggs sitting on the ice! Oh no, he’ll be in there drinking just one more for the road and that’s trouble, my friends, no doubt about it.

And if they ain’t drinking they’re playing cards, they’re playing pick two, nickel spin, ball in the hole, gambling away the family food to any cheap jack hustler in a shiny suit with an eye for a mark. Before you know it you’re out on the street of a night – nary a crevice to hide from the wind in and that’s trouble, friends, standig out in the night with the storms coming in.

And I tell you, friends, the drink is the least of it. Seedy, disreputable places like that place there, that place right on your main street, why they have their back rooms, and what goes on in those back rooms I don’t want to talk about. They have the lichen in there, friends! Black lichen, and sure enough the red toadstools, too, growing it under the floorboards. Robbing a man of reason! Oh, it starts small, a sniff here or there, a little in your tea, but soon enough a man is taking an ounce a day and licking the walls for more.

And what’s worse is they’ll sell it to children – that’s right! Chicks, still haven’t lost they baby feathers, innocent chicks, and they’ll hook ’em when they’re young, and how will you feel when the chick you reared to be an honest hard-working son or daughter taking care of you in your old age is down at the tavern – right there, I tell you! – down at the tavern spending his or her hard earned fish on low entertainment, frittering away the family inheritance.

Friends, I won’t even talk about the shameless hens in there – scarlet women! Why, that kind of talk will scorch a young man’s ears! Those hens will exchange favours for pebbles to line their own nests, when you see a married man slipping through town with a pebble in his beak, headed for the tavern why you know what he’s going to be doing with it. And where do you suppose he got that pebble? Why from his own family nest! Robbing their own, for a few minutes dance – head bobbing, flippers flapping, drunk as sin and they call it a good night out.

And it all comes around onto your community, onto your homes, because wherever you see vice you’ll find crime, and corruption, and violence right here on the streets, because that’s trouble, and you got trouble right here in this town. Right there in the barrels of drink, right there under the floorboards, right there lounging around in the chairs, a blight on your community, a stain on your fine main street, an insult to every clean-living citizen walking past – yes sir I can tell you’re angry, you have a right to be angry and its long past time that the good, decent, clean living people of this fine, fine town took matters into hand, I say – is that a pitchfork I see? Well, we’ll need more pitchforks, friends, more axes and more crowbars because by the time we are done I promise you every barrel of liquor and baggie of lichen will be out the door and on the fire and every drunken hustler and bum will get the flipper-slapping of his life and we will clean up this town, right here on this street, right here, right now!


“Make a charisma check.”
Nat 20.

The good Reverend Josiah Ezekiel, sole remaining worshipper of the volcano-god Jehovah is as we speak striding toward the town tavern, surrounded by a pitchfork-wielding angry mob.


Doing what’s right

8 August, 2017

I’m running a 13th-Age druid in Maddie’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi mashup, an elemental adept specialising in fire. His name is Josiah Ezekiel – a stern, old-west preacher-man. His one unique thing is that he is the only true worshipper of Jehovah left on earth. Unknown to him, Jehovah is not exactly who he supposes him to be.

It can be hard to know what’s right, to be sure about the will of God. The devil lies: lies within lies, truth dressed up as falsehood, falsehood dressed up as truth. Sin must be fought where you find it. It was the sin of pride that brought down the old world; the sin of the builders of Babel. Oh, and that of Sodom, too, and all the rest. But the greatest sin is pride.

Josiah travelled with these companions through a portal to a … place. A wasteland with a sunless, cloudless, neutral grey sky – for all the world like being indoors. The tower was all that remained standing and whole. They entered. When Josiah saw the library in the base, stacked with books of the beforetime full of pride and lies, the word of the Lord came to him. His companions climbed the stairs in search of loot: avarice was strong in them. But Josiah stayed below and commenced to burn, calling on the cleansing fire of his god. There was little water on this plane – the books caught easily.

Demonic things assailed the tower, come to quench the fires of the Lord. But Josiah’s companions fought for their lives, and Josiah with them for a better reason. Fed by the papery blasphemies below, the tower caught. They fled upstairs, past rooms filled with devices mechanical and alchemical, alembics purifying ichors. Womblike pods in which gestated strange, misshapen creatures. All would burn. But Josiah’s time was not yet. They found a window near the crown of the tower, and made their escape.

They reassembled below. A man – perhaps – approached them. The word of the lord came to Josiah:

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.

Who would live in this strange place, but a demon? But Josiah kept his peace. The stranger began telling his mix of truth and falsehood: that the men of the beforetime had made portals for transport, unaware that these portals passed through this void, and that demons had passed through. That they had sealed their portals against demonkind, but the seals were weakening. And that these portals must be closed.

True and false, no doubt. Closed? The portals should be destroyed, and the knowledge of them erased.

The party exited the strange between-place, arriving back in the portal room of the node they had just yesterday departed from. An old man tended the room. When the party emerged, he ran to the control panel and began working it. One of the party shot him: a mercenary, his heart black with murder. They left the portal room to find the node empty, it’s inhabitants gone, traces of violence left in the halls. But Josiah stayed behind, to carry out the will of his god. It must burn, it must all burn, burn and be cleansed. The fire of the Lord took little purchase on the control panel, but on the ring around the portal it caught, its net of arcane runes scribed with demon-blood lighting with green fire as good battled evil.

Josiah heard battle where his party had gone. Security bots, come to quench the fires. Josiah left the portal room to join the fight. Behind him, the containing ring around the portal burned and cracked, its wards weakening and failing, soon to expose a bare portal to the grey void.

And somewhere on some other plane, Imix – prince of elemental fire – laughed and capered with delight.


Freedom and Democracy

16 June, 2017

So. James T Hodgkinson attacked a basketball practice and shot some republican congressmen. I don’t condone this. But the american right is in paroxysms of outrage over the fact that he’s a leftie – a BernieBro.

The thing that shits me is this: ever since Clinton, ever since 1980, the american right has been dribbling on about how the Second Amendment is what protects American freedoms. According to them, the rock-solid, foundational guarantee of freedom is that any citizen, no matter how stupid or ill-informed, can choose to engage in armed revolt against the government if he is willing to risk his life to do it. Blah blah blah “totalitarianism is when people are afraid of the government; freedom is when the government is afraid of the people”. You maybe know the drill.

Suddenly some leftist actually does it – actually does the thing that every libertarian and right-wing bore in the USA has been dribbling on about for 35 years. Shoots at some congressmen at the cost of his own life. And all those right-wing bores are shocked, shocked, shocked.

It’s enough to make your eyeballs bleed. Maybe what they hate most is that some overweight not-a-real-man librul has done what they themselves could never quite sack up and do, despite all their chest-beatings and threats.

Maybe now they’ll realise that “government by whichever whackjob is most ready to shoot a congressman” is actually a *bad* idea. That government by armed mob is actually the opposite of freedom. That – for instance – Somalia is not a paradise.

Maybe. Probably not. But my God, don’t a whole lot of old tweets by right-wing american blowhards suddenly look dated and ill-judged.


Not exactly Cinderella

7 June, 2017

“Captain Mallard! What a delight to see you here! I hardly hoped you would come, so pleased you could make it.”

But let’s rewind a few hours.


The Dairy King had been something of a shock for poor James. I mean – one hears of that kind of thing. But being thrown into the thick of it with Uncle Ben – the Black Duck of the family – took a little coping with. James had managed to foist him off onto Tarry, and had also managed to find a relatively quiet and up-market casino. The word being “relatively”. Decent gin in the martinis, and the hookers were almost fully clothed – although the practised eye might have noticed the lack of fussy buttons, catches, and laces on the dresses.

The Dairy King hosts a non-stop Mardi-Gras with laser lighting and pumping EDM. Andrew described various milk and dairy-product-related shenanigans which … you had to be there.

The Diary King is a big, proud, magic and steam-powered vessel, and utterly unsinkable.

As for the hookers … I assure you that the main thing a hooker looks for in a working dress is something easy to get out of. Bra, but no panties.

James decided that grandfather Lancet had put him here for some reason or other, and that he probably ought to make some sort of a showing. A little drinking, a little gambling (he even won – a pleasant surprise), and someone still with all her teeth to take back to the cabin for some afternoon delight.

James isn’t me. James is from good family, is a junior officer in the Imperial Army, and has a Charisma of 16 – which easily puts him in the top 10% of attractive people. He’s tall, slim, good-looking, clear headed and clean shaven, and has no difficulty in social situations. Sure, sometimes that makes role-playing him difficult. I have to guess what his life would be like, lucky bastard.

After they were done, the girl left, and Uncle Benjamin stepped in – hearty, backslapping, and more than a little drunk. Let’s say “moderately”.

“James! James! Trust you to find the good ones, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, I see.”
“Uncle. Our credit is good?”
“Of course! Of course! Porsche is one of the good ones, lad – smart and discrete. She works for the Dairy King, you know. Now, if you can take a little advice from your uncle, then take this to heart: never fuck the same girl twice in a row. Not until you are married.” Benjamin Lancet’s face flickered for a moment – the bluff, red-faced, careless sot replaced by that of a shrewd and serious man who had seen a little of the world, a genuinely concerned relative. James answered with a look and a small nod, and the mask slipped back in place.

I got the impression that Benjamin is actually a Lancet and kinda sorta got some sort of Mallard family title as part of the same deal in which Ducalis married Frances. The Mallards are book-smart wizards and courtiers – politically savvy public servants. The Lancets are shrewd bankers and businessmen. I am informed that Uncle Ben is the “Black Duck” of the family. I suspect that someone is a Game of Thrones fan.

“Well! We should invite your friends aboard! All Griffinsheart’s merry heroes together again. It’d be a shame to break up the group.”

And so they wrote a note inviting the party to travel westward on the Dairy King. The “King” would embark midday tomorrow. Eight berths were booked. Left unsaid was that at least one of those berths would be unoccupied, Cannis Lashley having perished in the defense of Santa Cora. Benjamin watched, a little bemused as James summoned sprites to make copies of the notes and Arcane Marked each one.

Out of game – eight berths because Dref has a new character. In game, however … how did whoever booked this know we needed eight? They would have to have done it before Cannis died. Oh – of course. I think this was all set up by granddad Lancet.

In the end, James decided that for his one night remaining in Santa Cora he should accept at least one of the dozens of invitations he had been sent. “A ball? You are going to a ball?”, asked uncle Benjamin. “Well, somebody should”, replied James, “and nobody else really can. Nacelle, perhaps, but she may make certain people uncomfortable and that’s not really the point of the evening. Mal is dwarvish nobility, which really wouldn’t do at all right at present.”

Nacelle is a female drow paladin of the Great Gold Wyrm. She has a strength of 16 and is not to be trifled with. What can I say? Peeps be raycis.

James had sorted through the various invitations he had been given. One or two caught his eye, and one of those was being held tonight. Isabella, the Countess Lorraine, was holding a charity ball in aid of the displaced and homeless of Santa Cora. Countess Isabella packed rather more clout than one might suppose. The count was also a colonel commanding the Regiment Lorraine, one of the older and better-respected units, and the countess herself was quite the society matron. That she was here in Santa Cora at all was interesting in itself. There would most certainly be news from the west.

Attending a ball is actually a rather expensive business. One is expected to arrive and to dress in style. James would be attending in his dress reds, of course, and the whole point of a uniform is that it be uniform. But details matter. James flew about the city. A little help from Uncle Ben and a visit to the Mallard unit turned up a family brooch to be pinned to a sash – the three mallards, of course – a tastefully expensive swordbelt, and James outright rented a jeweled dagger for the evening. For his sword, however, James decided that his plain working shortsword would perhaps send the right message. Likewise, rather than arrive in a carriage he would arrive on horseback – a splendid glossy-coated chestnut courser borrowed from the Mallard unit. With some misgiving, his cloak and wand remained behind. Last but by no means least, he organized an eyepatch to conceal his necromantic stone eye. Then, with his dress uniform crisp and immaculate, his boots polished to a mirror shine, and with invitation in pocket, and he was ready.

He arrived and made his way along the receiving line. “How d’you do”, “Enchanted”, as appropriate. He was relived to see that his rig had hit the right notes. In particular, his was not the only uniform in attendance, and he not the only one who had brought his working sword along. A plain sword, he guessed, would be something of a badge of honour for the next few months.

And finally, the countess herself. A brightly intelligent midddle-aged woman. James felt instantly at home.

“I could hardly miss the entire season”, he replied, “and such a good cause.” The countess smiled and nodded, and James moved on. He had reluctantly financed the evening from the Lancet treasury via his magic pouch, but that was small beer compared to what faced him now. Oh – did you think that these things were free? Before James was the guest book, and against each name was an amount in support of the Countess’ charity. James wrote his family name “Mallard”, and a number that made him wince a little. Not extravagant by any means, quite correct really, and father would understand. But still.

That done with, he made his way into the ball.

This charity ball will raise – in our money – hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions. It’s a major city, after all, and there are quite a few very wealthy people knocking about. Charity and noblesse oblige is how the nobility tax themselves. A million bucks isn’t actually a lot of money these days … but it isn’t nothing.

Peeps, I am going to stop this here, because I have Dwarven Forge castle pieces that need painting, and really I just wanted to talk about the idea of attending a ball.

James got a little intel: seems the Emperor himself has sailed with the fleet. Maybe we will have some sort of party meeting next week on the Dairy King. I don’t know what else may have happened at the ball. Some dancing, some canapes, perhaps some brandy and cigars and good advice later on. James is a little young to hang out with the true veterans, but “hero of Santa Cora” and all that. Perhaps there will be retcon 🙂 . Presumably James scored various other info as well, but that’s all part of maintaining his “Minor Nobility” background.


Phoenix rising

4 June, 2017

Ra, climbing the horizon!
Rising up the mountain, lighting up the valley below
Ra, giver without measure!
Beacon of compassion, shining through the spectrum of life

Day is born, night is gone
One in all, all is one
Communion with the sun

Ra, ruler of all nature!
Burning on forever, melting all together in one
Ra, holy synthesizer!
Inspiration showers green and growing gardens of love

Voices rise to the song
One in all, all is one
Communion with the sun, with the sun!

What a great game night! What a fine end to a plot arc!

Our investigator/alchemist had frozen the fallen Phoenix in place, locked in time. And, in a fit of impatience, our DM brought out the BBEG – the maralith general of the armies of Deskari, architect of the worldwound. Fight, fight, fight. Her extremely nasty friend was killed, and with his ability to redirect spells neutralized our Arcanist could deploy the big gun on the Maralith herself: Suffocation – save or die. The spell dropped her unconscious, and we cut her head off. (coup-de-gras).

Then another BBEG game through the portal, briefly foiled by a Wall of Force. Another Suffocation rendered him staggered – without his spring attack (a full-round action), his main trick was cancelled and he, too, was killed. We had recovered the Sword of Valor.

But finally, the corrupted phoenix began to flicker with flame, began to re-enter normal time. She dropped a Wall of Flame but our magics were more than enough to permit us to deal with the damage. She directed a Meteor Storm at our cleric. But we had been discussing – surely, with the general dead, this phoenix’s corruption might be undone?

We each in our own way attempted to reach it. Our investigator, by reason; our paladin, by charisma; our cleric, by an offer of Atonement; and Brother Warming, by the morning prayer to Saranrae – and a little Inexplicable Luck.

Our tactician decided to reach the phoenix another way – positioning himself to attack, should that be the way of it.

However if might be, whether by dice or by fiat (perhaps your chronicler’s age has made him cynical), the phoenix heard us. She offered her neck to our tactician – who had been made a vampire months ago, and who had lived struggling against his undead urges. The rest of us recoiled in horror – and then realised: phoenix! Gavren drained the life from the Phoenix, but did not grant it undeath – simply death. And, as they do, the Phoenix crumbled to ash and we watched it reborn. A rare sight, witnessed only by a few.

We spoke. We repaired to the scrying chamber of the general and, by its magics, our paladin exhibited the head of the general to the battle outside Drezzen. The demons, in accord with their chaotic nature, broke and fled; and the troops of the righteous, reinvigorated with courage, slew the few that remained to fight.

We looted the general’s armoury and recovering a quantity of magic weapons for Her Majesty’s armies … and one or two which we retained for ourselves. We found also a Rod of Lordly Might, and not just any such (not that there are “just any” of these), but one bearing the crest of house Hawthorne.

We returned thought the portal to the world. We joined what was left of the battle on the other side. When all was done, Gavren Hawthorne – tactician, vampire, last lord of his house – told us: “I am done with this undeath. Iomedae herself refused me, to restore me to a human – offering me only permanent destruction. But now, I am full of the blood of the phoenix. I will shed my cloak of shadows and see the sun – perhaps I may be reborn.”

We remonstrated, pointing out the risk, which was a bit out of character for Br Warming. But Gavren’s mind was set. We returned to the altar to Sarenrae (?) where Brother Warming-Light-Of-Saranrae – who had kind of taken on Gavren’s vampirism as a bit of a pet project – laid him and stood vigil the night he changed months ago, a lifetime ago, several levels ago.

But the sun was blocked by cloud, part of Deskari’s war: many of his troops preferring darkness. There on the altar, Gavren called: “Iomedae! Remember your promise! Part these clouds, and grant me to stand beneath the sun!”

In the flat grey from horizon to horizon, a grey set in place by the will of the demon lord, above the altar a rift appeared and the full light of the sun shone down on the vampire. He blistered, he smoked, he burned – screaming in pain – to charcoal, to a small pile of ash.

But the blood of the great phoenix was in him. And in that ash, a lick of flame appeared, then a circle, then a hot flame too bright to look at, and then lord Gavren himself, human reborn from flame, naked on the altar.

A miracle. We covered him, and Father Cleophethus performed the ritual of atonement. Our investigator simply said “Lord Hawthorne”, and offered him his rod of office. We were greatly joyed, but subdued – perhaps numbed by the great events of the day, and daunted by the task ahead of us.

As we walked back down the hill, Br Warming quietly reached into his handy haversack and retrieved a small sack containing a mallet and a half-dozen wooden stakes. He discarded it by the side of the road. He would not be needing it now.


The intrigues of wizards

11 May, 2017

Days of travel, south along the Owl barrens. And Griffinshart’s merry heroes faced days more, north again to Santa Cora. They had retrieved the Spear of Hoar, an artifact of unthinkable power, and a trove of other items besides. It had been four days, and was liable to be a few more days yet before they returned to the city. James had not bonded with the strange wand yet, and the foreboding-looking book remained tightly shut. No time – they travelled hard, with all possible haste.

James had written to his grandfather, the patriarch of house Lancet, via his secret message pouch. The messages were carried via the Low Way. A mostly secure method of secret communication. That day, the pouch had alerted James that he has received – something. At camp, James found some privacy and performed the ritual that unsealed it. Within was a tightly folded letter on onionskin paper.

I have received your message. I have not received the mineral sample. The transport we use is not entirely reliable. If you are correct about the nature of the sample, then it is likely that some property of the stone itself may have come into play. It might be best not to entrust objects that are likely to have odd properties to this communications channel in future.

On to the substance of your message:

Thank you for keeping us informed. Without your messages, disaster would have been certain and swift. With them, disaster is – I am afraid to say – still a strong possibility. But now there is some hope.

Many are unconvinced that matters are as grim as the information from you and a few others indicates. They prefer to whistle past the graveyard, I fear. The great defenses of the Empire have suffered a critical blow, and they insist that it is merely temporary. We entirely lose contact with an important city, and they claim it is merely a few raiding orcs.

Not everyone is a fool. But it takes time to mobilize a military which in the south has for centuries faced very little action, and against the objections of a small but important cadre of idiots.

What I am trying, rather poorly, to say is that help is on the way, but it may not arrive in time or be enough to win the day. You will not have the armies of the Empire, I fear, but only that of a faction within it.

Neither can I help you with information on the item you carry. Its history is somewhat obscure, and there is really no way to divine fact from fancy among the legends.

Thus, my reply is really no reply at all. I wish that I had better news for you. Nevertheless, you and your people must assay this. Be resolute. All who are within beck of the city must come to its defense, you not least. Plan as best you can, then act. For both of your families, and for The Empire.

Regards,

No salutation, no signature, and all the details carefully worded around. “Mineral sample”. “An important city” – quite the understatement.

And there it was. No guarantee of the Imperial Cavalry, no long-forgotten ritual to unlock the power of the spear, nothing. And yet, grandfather was right: James and his companions were scarcely alone. The city was defended by – well – an entire city. All they could ever have hoped for, even with the Spear of Hoar, was perhaps to tip the balance.

“Be resolute. Plan and act.” And if you cannot plan, then act as best you may. Very well. The patterns in James’ cloak shifted slightly as its magics echoed and amplified his resolve.

But the pouch was not empty. Within, the dragonstone fragment that James had sent two days earlier. He drew it out. It was cracked now, the cracks catching the fading light. Cracks forming patterns, structure that James recognised – wards, glyphs. He tossed it away from him and began to prepare for defense.

But the stone did not explode, or summon a foe. Instead, it spoke – its message broken and disjointed, it’s voice the voice of Edmund the Marked:

Beware … lies of Aeg Ils … false mission … seeks the great … the Grimoire of Nod, the Book of Cain … do not …

As soon as the message was spoken, the dragonstone crumbled to dust.

The “Grimoire of Nod”, whoever that might have been; the “Book of Cain”, a name James did recognise – the first and progenitor of the vampires, greatest of the undead; and no doubt the volume was also known as “The Book of Vile Darkness” and sundry other epithets.

It didn’t take a lot of guessing, really. According to Edmund, the necromancer had sent them off on a false mission, and had hoped to find something else. James was not inclined to credit Edmund’s words, but it was likely that they had indeed found this book and that it was currently sitting in James’ backpack.

Maybe Aeg had played them false – no, the Spear certainly seemed to be real. Maybe Aeg was playing both sides. Maybe Edmund was merely guessing, or had information about the book, and was attempting to pin it on Aeg. No, not terribly likely. One might reasonably suppose that “The Book of Cain” was exactly the kind of thing that a man looking to usurp the Lich King might think could come in handy. Then again, who knew what Edmund’s plans were? Or maybe the book wasn’t really … no, James could eliminate that one. Whatever the book was, along with the Spear it seemed pretty damned real.

The pestilent question was: what to do about it?

Obviously: nothing. Nothing yet. All who stand within beck of Santa Cora must do their duty. There would be battle. After that?

And who was Nod?

As we learn in Genesis 1-4, the Elohim – the gods – created the earth and the races of men, each “in his own image and likeness”. This explains why there are different races that look different. Brown people are brown for exactly the same reason that any child looks like its father – because that’s where they came from, that’s their origin. Remember that this was all written by people who hadn’t discovered cells, yet.

Anyway. One of the gods, named Jehovah, planted a garden and put some people in it. Blah blah blah and then Cain killed his brother Abel so Jehovah banished him. Cain travelled to “the land of Nod”, who obviously was the local god of the tribe who lived over at the other end of the valley. Cain got married there and no doubt lived happily ever after.