Friday, March 23, 2012

Behold Epimetheus

Tried to imagine and extrasolar gas giant, and render it in photoshop. This is my result, and I'm calling it Epimetheus after the Greek Titan .

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Drifter's Tale - Forests and Ravens

The first sign that the trap had been sprung was the raven’s telepathic warning. “Stranger”, the bird thought, and hiding in the thicket under a generous cover of autumn leaves, Drifter knew it was time for phase two.
He closed his eyes and began to concentrate. He could feel the bird as it closely watched the man, the stranger, as he waded through the shrubbery and barbed spines. Every step drew him closer to Drifter’s hiding place.

The bird cawed again. Drifter focused on the creature, and tried to see the stranger through the bird’s eyes. It was a difficult thing without any sort of formal training, but the bond he shared with the raven was strong enough. Soon enough he began to receive blurry visions of the man: he was clad in dark brown garments, the tattered kind of clothing most highwaymen wore in these parts of the land. His dark, greasy hair framed an ugly, scarred face. The man grew a thick, black beard that he’d knotted into a short braid.

“Well that’s something ol’ pops didn’t give me”, Drifter thought as he stroked his beardless, smooth chin. Facial hair was one of the things he hadn’t inherited from his human father, but so far, in his brief but eventful life, he didn’t consider himself at a loss. He squinted as he felt his connection to the raven fading, and briefly scolded himself for the distraction. Grinding his teeth from the strain, Drifter sent a mental message to the bird. “Follow him”.
Then he severed the bond. He needed all the focus he could muster for the next part of his plan.

And this was the part he loved - the deadly part.
Drifter bit his lip as he placed the bolt onto his crossbow. The weapon creaked, and one again he reprimanded himself for his procrastination. “I always forget to oil the thing”. Thankfully, the stranger was still far enough away, as the raven hadn’t yet given the proximity warning. With the armed weapon in his hand, Drifter readied himself for the hardest - and most entertaining - part of his plan.
“Alright. Just like we practiced.”

He closed his eyes and began to mumble the words in his head. The strange language rolled of his tongue silently, but he could already feel their power. This incantation was an easy one, one Drifter had used to great effect in the wild as well carnivals or village fairs. It was a trick, nothing more - but used the proper way...
There was a brief pause in his mind, then Drifter opened his eyes and gestured towards the trees in front of him. Immediately, the stranger heard the woman’s voice breaking the still silence of the forest.
“Anyone there? Help.. I’m - I’m stuck!” the voice cried helplessly.

He immediately sensed the raven’s warning. The stranger had picked up his pace and was heading towards Drifter’s hiding spot. “Just the right tone of vulnerability”, Drifter thought as he congratulated himself for pulling his first trick off. “But that was just a trick. Now it’s time for the real deal.”
“Help!” the girl cried again. Drifter’s long ears twitched and picked up the stranger’s heavy, rapid paces through the vegetation. Soon enough he saw the man dashing towards his position. The sound of his own heartbeat filled Drifter’s ears, but he didn’t let it distract him. Counting every second, he watched as the man slowed down and began to approach cautiously.

“Someone there? If you can hear me..please help - it’s some sort of bear trap. I fell in and -”
The voice paused as the stranger stepped over a branch, sending an echoing crack through the forest. The man straightened his posture, and Drifter could see a savage smirk replace the man’s furrows of caution.
“You’re dumber than I thought, lowering your guard like that”, Drifter thought. “But I can live with that.”
“You picked the wrong woods to go for a walk, little girl”, the man bellowed smugly as he began to walk towards the trees nonchalantly.
“Wha- who are you?” she replied. “Please, I can’t move, help me!”
“Can’t move eh? Well well. Guess setting that trap was a good thing after all. I’ll be sure to tell Brecaux once I’m done looting your-”
The stranger stopped dead in his tracks in front of the trees. There was no bear trap behind them. And more importantly, no girl. Someone had disposed of his trap and dug a pit.
The man was now six meters in front of Drifter. His disembodied voice spell worked like a charm. “Right where I want you”, he said raising his crossbow...

At the last second, the stranger knelt to inspect the rim of the pit. Drifter’s bolt whooshed past the man’s shoulder and hit the tree beyond with a tell-tale thud. It was all the highwayman needed, as the stranger rolled across the forest floor and drew his sword in one fluid motion.
Drifter’s cover had been blown.
He dashed out of his hiding place and tried to run across to the nearest tree. The highwayman saw him, and his expression showed surprise, then amusement. “Hehe, you little devil! Come here, half-blood!” he bellowed.

This made Drifter’s blood boil. He simply detested being called a mongrel. It was enough to make his cautious flight grind to a halt, and he turned around to face his enemy. “Bad move”, he thought to himself immediately after realizing he had no backup plan that didn’t involve running.
The highwayman charged Drifter, sword in hand. He missed.
Drifter had jumped to the side at the very last second, confusing his enemy but sending him into the ground much harder than he had anticipated. The fall had caused him to drop his gear, and he could feel the shaft of his spears griding against his backbone -
“Of course! You quick tempered idiot - my spears!” he said to himself, as he sprung back on his feet. The highwayman was a few paces ahead, leaning on a tree stump, getting up from a fall even Drifter himself had not anticipated causing. His little dodging trick earned him the seconds he needed to pick up a spear. He threw it, and to his disappointment, it hit the enemy squarely in his tattered cape, pinning it to the stump behind him. The man shed his cape faster than Drifter could pick up another spear and throw it, and he found himself face to face with his enemy, spear still in hand.
“Hand to hand combat. My speciality...” Drifter grinned sarcastically.
“I’ve got you know, you half-elvish trickster”, the man laughed smugly. “Though you’d given us the slip in Stonehill, but here you are setting traps for ol’ Bailey. But I’ve got you now.”

Drifter knew Bailey was the better swordsman. Still, he lunged forward trying to stab the man, only to have him grab Drifter’s spear with his free hand and shatter it with his sword. Bailey laughed loudly.
“You’ll need more than little spears and voice throwing tricks to get out of this one, mongrel, hehehe!”
He was right. It became all the more obvious that Drifter had to do better when the highwayman’s sword nicked the thin leather strap that held his map case. And that strap was way too close to the half-elf’s chest for comfort. Thankfully, there was enough elvish grace left in his blood to keep him safe from the following slashes and sword thrusts. But Drifter knew that elvish dexterity wouldn’t save him. Tricking Bailey into attempting a powerful thrust over an accurate one, the half elf relied on the enemy’s momentum to buy him a few seconds. That was all he needed.

“Relgr’Hewa Litrix Yobolat!”

The incantation startled Bailey. Drifter’s voice had transformed to something deep, echoing. The forest boomed with the sound of the elf’s cry, in a multitude of tones beyond human ability. “Call. Flesh. Steel. Bind!” Drifter repeated in his mind, as a thin wisp of light began wrapping around his limbs and chest. Immediately the light expanded into the ghostly semblance of a suit of armor, then disappeared. Cautiously this time, Bailey swung around and slashed for Drifter’s chest.
To his complete surprise, the attack did not rend the half-elf’s chest open.The only clue was the brief flash at the point of impact, that for an instant revealed the magical surface. Bailey’s mind realized all to late that the blow was absorbed by Drifter’s conjured suit of armor, but his hesitation gave the half-elf more than enough time to take the initiative.

“Mitne Itmen Tomosha Jaka!” were the words that came out of Drifter’s mouth as he tought “light. bright. blind. now!”. Bailey recoiled, grabbing his eyes. The bright light had confused him, but he could still see Drifter’s blurred shape reaching for one of the spears that littered the forest floor. With a grin of satisfaction, the half elf threw the weapon at the enemy. Bailey took the hit, then slumped to the ground.
Drifter fell to his knees, catching his breath. “Well, so much for my original plan”, he thought as he eventually got up and reached for a jug of wine that had rolled out of his backpack, and was now resting against a root.
He peeled away the wax lid and took a few greedy gulps, before he sat down against a tree. Clearly, physical combat was not one of his strengths.
“Next time I plot revenge against someone, I should remind myself to come up with a backup plan. Something that doesn’t rely on improvisation.” He looked up to the sky and noticed the raven, now perched upon a tree branch directly above the former battle ground.
“You were a lot of help”, he laughed at the bird.

The raven cawed at him. “Oh, you think you could have done better?” he smirked, taking a few more swigs of the wine. It was good stuff. Come to think of it, he’d never tried it before, not since he lifted it off that boastful innkeeper. In retrospect, the guy was probably now more cautious when it came to bragging about his “select” wine cellar to complete strangers. Especially half-elves who could easily impersonate a wealthy potential buyer then leave him unconscious behind a locked door in his own cellar.
“And now for the fun part” Drifter thought, as he got off to inspect the highwayman’s body. “I hear you’ve been a busy bee, so your coin purse should be quite hefty these days”, he said towards his fallen adversary, as he picked up the man’s sword and inspected it.
“You obviously should spend more on weapons and less on ale. I’ve seen dwarven schoolkids with better blades, Bailey ol’ friend.” He threw the weapon on top of his own belongings. “Now, let’s see where you keep your purse”. He leaned over the dead man, and tried to pluck the spear out. It was embedded quite firmly, and Drifter soon found out why. Behind the man’s tattered cloak, was a remarkably sturdy breastplate. “So the dead man invested in better equipment after all”, Drifter conceded.

Or at least he thought he was dead. Bailey opened his eyes and grinned maniacally, and before Drifter realized what happened, he found himself on the ground, with the large man bearing down on him, squeezing his neck.
“Though I was dead, did you, you little mongrel” the man spouted, as his frothy rage saliva fell down to Drifter’s face. Drifter could feel the man’s hands around his neck and the great strength behind the squeeze.
“Drifter, you idiot...always stick them with the spear one more time before you loot em” he thought to himself, struggling to stay awake, gasping for breath. He knew he couldn’t out-wrestle the thug. He had to think...think of something. But that was something that was getting increasingly difficult to do. His sight began to blur. His thoughts began to fade into the background. He could see the man completely, his metal armor now revealed, and his expression was one of pure enjoyment and murderous rage. At that moment, he caught something moving in the corner of his eye. Something that crossed the glistening surface of the sky. Something above the man strangling him. Of course!
“You don’t have any more tricks now, do you? You little bastard. No trick can save you now!” the man bellowed, tightening his grip on Drifter’s neck.
“Just this last trick”, Drifter thought to himself as he allowed his mind to expand and reach the raven that was now circling the two combatants. His last-ditch attempt at survival had strengthened the bond he felt with the bird, and Drifter was now mustering the last ounce of strength he had to commune with the bird and share his idea.
With relief, he felt the bond form. It was strong. The bird understood him and began to dive towards the highwayman...
“Thunder! Strike! Reach!” The thoughts echoed inside Drifter’s brain, and then the raven’s mind. The spell was spread between the two, their minds entangled, and the bird became the conduit he needed.

When the bird touched Bailey’s metal armor, it was like thunder and flash. The man was sent flying meters away by the jolt of electricity, made even more potent by the amount of metal on his body.

It was over in an instant. Rubbing his neck, Drifter got up and took a series of deep, painful breaths. This time around, he approached Bailey’s body with caution. But the man’s scorched, blistering skin was a dead giveaway that the thug had not survived the spell the raven had delivered for Drifter. He searched the man’s body. A pitiful 3 gold pieces was all he had in his coin purse.
“Well, that figures” the half elf thought with amusement. He picked up his gear and Bailey’s sword, then knotted the leather strap of his map case so he could once again swing it across his shoulder. He whistled softly. Hearing the command, the raven left the grubs it was feasting on and rested on Drifter’s shoulder.
“I guess you were right”, he smiled at the bird. “You were a lot of help after all”.

Now, if only he could remember which way he had to go to leave the forest.