Contradiction in Terms
You say to-may-toe; I say toh-mah-tah. Deal with it.
Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Tonight is Fishtank Floorshow Night.

Can that really be as kinky as I think it is?

homonyms can be dangerous
Obviously, I've been working too hard.

What I meant to write in one of my copywriting projects was: "We can help with financial analysis in preparation for investments, acquisitions, and mergers."

It's a good thing I generally check my copy before I submit it, because otherwise I would have sent off this brilliant line: "We can help with financial analysis in preparation for investments, acquisitions, and murders."

Granted, it's probably more interesting that way, but I doubt the client would have appreciated it. I could always have argued that it does serve the purpose of drawing more attention to the company...
Nikki bit in at 8:58 AM :: ::
Monday, September 27, 2004

Today is Ancestor Appreciation Day.

One of my ancestors is a Catholic saint, Teresa of Avila. (Her father was Don Alfonso Sanchez de Cepeda, and Cepeda is my mother's maiden name.) It may seem initially ludicrous to think that I am in any way related to sainthood, but that's only because you don't know that St. Teresa was a writer and an ardent reader.

In her words: "I could not be happy without some new tale in my hands. I began to imitate the fashions, to enjoy being well dressed, to take great care of my hands, to use perfumes, and wear all the vain ornaments which my position in the world allowed."

So you can see that there is a family resemblance, except that Teresa eventually renounced her vain and "sinful" ways to become a nun. But as a Mother Superior in the Carmelite order, the first thing Teresa looked for in an aspiring novice was intelligence, proving that she valued brains above anything else.

She was also fairly trippy. At the age of seven,Teresa ran away from home, with the intent of traveling to Africa in hopes of being "beheaded by the infidel Moors" and thus achieving martyrdom.

She did achieve sainthood eventually, after the requisite number of miracles--including reviving her nephew by touch after he had been crushed to death by a collapsing stone wall.

Since I am extremely attached to my vain and sinful ways, I probably won't be following in Lola Teresa's footsteps anytime soon. But should any of you ever be crushed beneath a collapsing stone wall, come on over to me and we'll see what we can do.
Nikki bit in at 2:16 PM :: ::
Friday, September 24, 2004

Important Announcement

Clearly, my husband has somehow offended the Gods of Technology, and they are wreaking their divine wrath by making the Kestrel Studios site act all hinky. Until further notice, please go here to find Notes from the Peanut Gallery.
Nikki bit in at 4:08 PM :: ::
Thursday, September 23, 2004

Today is Innergize Day.

So where's the Innergizer Bunny?

interludes in the 'ladies' room
Every now and then--not too frequently, but often enough that you start to notice--you walk into a women's bathroom and find two people of the female persuasion coming out of a stall together.

Now personally, I detest the girly-girl, lemming-like, 'let's-all-go-together' style of female bathroom visits, which smacks of unhealthy dependency to me. But I have allowed myself to be dragged along on occasion, and let me tell you this about women: We'll share lipstick. We'll share hairbrushes. But we do not. Share. Bathroom stalls.

So when you see two women coming out of a stall together, you can only assume that (a) they're fucking good friends, or (b) they're fucking good friends.

Which is really nobody's business but their own, but if you ask me, getting all naughty in a part of the bathroom that is neither shower stall nor bathtub is just icky. Particularly in a public bathroom, of all places. When we tell couples who are all hot-'n'-heavy to "get a room", the comfort room is not really the one we have in mind.

And really, such a sight is far from comforting.
Nikki bit in at 3:29 PM :: ::
Saturday, September 18, 2004

Isle Notes: episode eight

Admetus Darque, a.k.a. 'Addy'
Michael: an apprentice Baker
the Vagabond Emilia Corezze: Elana and Ellis's aunt; Eliandra's sister
the Jeweler Hector Corezze: Elana and Ellis's father; Master Jeweler of the Dream-Isle
the Bearer Rico: a rickshaw-driver
the Herald Eliandra Corezze: Elana and Ellis's mother; Third Herald of the Dream-Isle
Amaranth: the Keeper of Graves; a black-haired woman dressed in shades of gray
the Rich Man Lord Manuel: a rank three Rich Man; a.k.a. 'Uncle Manny', Elana and Ellis's godfather; a red-haired man in his fifties
the Rich Man Criseltha Boromant: a rank two Rich Man, perhaps 16 years old
the Poet Lord Vio Martell: Ellis's fiance; son of the Master Poet of the Dream-Isle
the Poor Man Barus
the Barber Tarlun
Gabriel Mansuetude, a.k.a. “Gabby”
the Thief Lysander

Rulers of the Dream-Isle
The Lady of the Isle
Lord Kestrel, Master of the Sky: dwells in Eyrie
Lord Cerdon, Master of the Rings: dwells in the castle called Bulwark
Master Darque, the Master of the Undercity: dwells in Night's House

Past Rulers of Isle
the thirteenth Widow
the Lover: a curly-haired man in gold and dark blue
the Lyric
the Bastard Bassanio

Part One

After the presumed catastrophic awakening of the Fabulist, Elana, Ellis, Zoilo, and Addy find themselves in a very different version of Isle, one in which Crafts are commonplace, people dress in exquisite tri-colored ensembles, and everything seems generally more prosperous and carefree than in the Isle of their birth. Learning that they are in the upper levels of the city, they make their way to the nearest branch of the Corezze jewel shop, in this version of Isle a thriving business with branches all across the city. Along the way they spy the Tower of the Speculum, a soaring edifice used by Astronomers to view all of Isle and the heavens above it.

Near the Corezze shop, Elana and Ellis are accosted by an elderly woman who claims to be their Aunt Emilia, a person they have never met in their lives. Nevertheless, they allow themselves to be hauled along to the shop, with many an admonishment about their "disappearance over the last three days". They have a joyful reunion with their father, who is actually dead in the reality they know, and who advises them to go apologize to their mother, also dropping a hint about Ellis's supposed fiance Lord Martell.

Eliandra Corezze turns out to be resting in state in the Isle graveyard. She is not dead, however, but put into a perpetual sleep "for asking the wrong questions". Nevertheless, she is able to converse with her visiting daughters and apprises them of the following:

> In this reality, the Itash family have the hereditary Craft of Clerk (as in cleric), while the Corezzes are Jewelers and Eliandra's family line are Heralds. Elana and Ellis are apparently apprentice Heralds. There is also a Tinker bloodline named Marcan.
> The Days of Blue Salt are a regular occurrence that happens every 500 years, when Isle comes into alignment with the city above. In this Isle, however, Astronomers (particularly the Watchers of the Speculum) have done something to prevent this from ever happening again.
> The Beggarman is also known as the Changer.
> The great emerald in which the Bastard Roman is imprisoned is the Emerald of Immortality, which keeps Isle intact against drastic change.
> The Fabulist's Ruby of Dreaming "keeps things the way they are".
> The various gems, along with the white walls surrounding Isle, are defenses against the Shifting Sea and other perils.

On their way out of the cemetery, the quartet--now accompanied by Hector Corezze and Aunt Emilia--happen upon Amaranth, the Keeper of Graves, who greets them cordially and exchanges pleasantries with Hector. Hector explains to Elana that Aunt Emilia was once romantically involved with Hector's father, who left her at the aisle, hence Aunt Emilia's smoldering resentment toward the Itash. Upon inferring, however, that Addy is a Couturier engaged by the twins for Ellis's upcoming wedding, Aunt Emilia consents to inviting both Addy and Zoilo to brunch with the family, since the Couturier has been a 'hidden Craft' ever since 'the Bolt Wars'.

They proceed to a restaurant newly opened in the upper reaches of Isle by Lord Manuel, who joins them for lunch. Elana realizes that she is able to sense Uncle Manny as a Rich Man of approximately rank three (with rank one as the highest). She herself is a rank five Rich Man, with the Corezze family as a whole ranked at about seven in terms of wealth. She is also able to sense the presence of a rank two Rich Man nearby, a young woman reading alone a few tables away.

Elana enlists Ellis's assistance in introducing herself to the girl, one Criseltha Boromant. They invite her to join the family for lunch, but she politely declines. In the meantime, Ellis's erstwhile fiance, Vio Martell, arrives in response to Aunt Emilia's brunch invitation.

Elana, Ellis, Zoilo, and Addy soon realize that Lord Martell is a fop of a man, and not much of a Poet, either. Addy is appalled to learn that Vio used his once-in-a-lifetime Great Poem to win Ellis's hand: an exercise of Craft that uses even the smallest spark of recognition from the target to seal a bond. Ellis is ready to tell her father, godfather, and aunt that she wants out of the betrothal when a ruckus occurs at the restaurant entrance.

Part Two
The ruckus is caused by the sudden appearance of a dirty-looking man in raggedy clothing. Curious, the quartet volunteer to handle the matter, sending the older family members back to the table. They soon learn that the stranger is a Poor Man named Barus, who, unlike everyone else but our heroes, senses that all is not as it was. Barus explains that he opened a door in Poor Man fashion and wound up here, separated from his friend Sela, in whose company he has been fleeing from the Dowager. With some difficulty, they are able to persuade him to leave the spot where his door took him, in order to move away from the restaurant.

Through a series of mishaps, the quartet discovers that the Poor Man is obliged to obey any perceived orders issued by the Rich Man, which results in a series of miscommunications that takes them away from the Dream-Isle back to the Isle they know (where they find that Eliandra Corezze does indeed sleep perpetually, having replaced the prior Fabulist), and then to a desert where they manage to spot the very tired- and dehydrated-looking Tarlun and Gabby.

Addy lands his flying carpet to pick their friends up, and there is a strange spark effect as Addy solicitously touches his friend Gabriel's shoulder. Elana attempts to bring both men (who have fallen unconscious) back to health with a Rich Man's purchase, only to be told by the disembodied 'Those Who Sit Above' that her payment is insufficient, but that "a door may be opened". Barus obligingly opens the invisible door in mid-air, and they find themselves flying above an isolated island in the middle of the sea.

They land, and ask the kind woman within the sole cottage for help. She immediately administers to Tarlun and Gabby, mentioning in the process that she was once on Isle. Ellis makes a deductive leap and identifies the woman as the Wanton.

As this occurs, Zoilo receives another of many prophetic warnings, indicating that blue salt will be coming to Isle sooner than expected. Elana seizes upon this to alternately implore and shame the Wanton into assisting in the defense of Isle. By questioning, the Wanton learns that Elana and Ellis are the daughters of Eliandra, and that Eliandra is now the Fabulist, as well as (the party thinks) a daughter of the former Widow. The Wanton says that she "senses agenda" and offers a chance for Elana, Ellis, and Zoilo to "walk" and learn more about past events.

Part Three
They take her proffered hand, and are mysteriously sent to a woman who permits them a glimpse through a door into the past. When they tell her they wish to learn about Eliandra, she directs them to a door that looks upon the scene of Eliandra's birth. There they learn:

> that Eliandra is indeed a child of the former Widow, who, at the time of Eliandra's birth, was "a mother seven times over"
> that Eliandra is the third of three births that resulted in daughters, a fact which angered the Lover, who was ostensibly the sole father of the Widow's children, and who wanted a boy "to raise as his own". Apparently, girl children are left for the Widow to raise, while boy children are taken away by the Lover.
> that the former Widow had relations and children with the Lover, the Lyric, and the Bastard, despite the "Great Proscription"
> that the Lyric's portfolio includes "ferreting out secrets", the ability to bypass doors, and a certain domain over words

The trio therefore posits that all the current office-holders of Isle (excluding the Lyric) are children of the Widow. Examining the evidence available to them, they theorize that the family tree is arrayed somewhat like so:

From the Widow and the Lyric:
the Thief Lysander (presumably the eldest, since he is spoken of as a Crafted adult as early as 250 years in the past)
the Hollow and the present Widow (possibly third-born, as the Hollow is known to have entered office 150 years ago and looked 15 years old at the time; physical aging is known to stop upon assumption of office, which would theoretically make the Hollow 165 years old)

From the Widow and the Lover:
the Wanton Emilia and the Fabulist/Dowager (presumably the second birth, as the Wanton has memories stretching to about 150 years in the past)
the Lover Elias (presumably the youngest, since the Lover had no sons at the time of Eliandra's birth)

From the Widow and the Bastard:
the Bastard Roman (birth order unknown, but before Eliandra)
the Herald Eliandra

From the Thief Lysander:
Carissa Aldefonse, mother of the Tinker Zoilo Itash

From the Herald Eliandra:
the Soldier Ellis Corezze
the Rich Man Elana Corezze

More informed than before but perhaps more confused than ever, the trio returns to the Wanton's cottage, where, apprised of what they have learned so far, the Wanton again offers Elana and Ellis a "walk" through the past. They accept, and find themselves in an Isle household in the more recent past.

They witness a confrontation between their mother and the Wanton, whom they now recognize--in confirmation of Zoilo's hunch--as Aunt Emilia from the Dream-Isle. They learn that their younger selves were given to Emilia to raise up to the age of seven, during which time their mother bore a son to her half-brother Lysander. Eliandra then demanded her daughters back, saying, "I need them". Emilia attempted to keep the children, but Eliandra used her Orator's Craft to banish Emilia from Isle, employing the same as well to force her estranged daughters' love. The twins also learn that their birth order may be the reverse of what they had believed, and that they are not the daughters of Hector Corezze, but rather, of the Bastard Roman, their mother's full brother.

When the twins return to the Wanton's cottage with this information, they are greeted not only by an astonished Zoilo and a tearful Wanton Emilia, but by a drawl of "It's about time" from the previously-unconscious Gabby. Gazing at him in surprise, they realize that Gabriel Mansuetude's body has somehow been inhabited by the presumed dead Thief Lysander.

Nikki bit in at 7:28 PM :: ::

Isle Notes: episode nine

the Wanton Emilia
: Elana and Ellis's aunt and former mother figure
the Procurer Lisander: Zoilo's grandfather; Elana and Ellis's uncle
the Cooper Nolenzo Alonzo
Tubal de Bagranza: a restaurateur in the locality of Verraza
Marisa de Bagranza: Tubal's wife
Marisa Ettana de Bagranza, a.k.a. Marisetta: Tubal and Marisa's 12-year-old daughter
Antonio Diego de Bagranza: Tubal and Marisa's 8-year-old son
an unnamed female Cartographer
Aurelius: Tubal's friend, a Record-keeper in the locality of Verraza
Lord Nicolas: prince of Verraza (not actually met)
the Rich Man Mara
the Collector Pantheas
the Banker Alain: Pantheas’s son

The Ruling Family of Isle-at-Sea (involved so far; grouped by generation)
the former Widow Elspeth
the former Lover Elian
the former Bastard Bassanio
the Lyric Beson

the Procurers Lisander and Lysander
the former Fabulist Eliza
the Wanton Emilia
the Bastard Roman
the fourteenth Widow Eleanor
the Hollow Eldora
the Fabulist Eliandra
the Lover Elias

Carissa Itash, nee Aldefonse
the Rich Man Elana
the Soldier Ellis
the apprentice Tailor Eloise
the apprentice Beggarman Elke

the Tinker Zoilo
Suntory Lee

Part One

Elana, Ellis, and Zoilo first ascertain that Gabriel Mansuetude is unharmed--albeit "shunted" elsewhere--before resuming a surprisingly civil conversation with their uncle, Lisander. Despite the Wanton Emilia's attempts to dissuade him, Lisander is quite forthcoming with information, claiming that most of the current state of conflict is due to the fact that their generation, too, was kept in the dark in their youth. Lisander therefore informs the trio that:

> He is the twin of the Thief Lysander, with whom he shares the previously unknown office of Procurer (headquartered at The Rookery on Isle), and who is responsible for the imprisonment of the Bastard Roman.
> There are three lands called 'Isle', all linked to one another: Isle Above (the so-called 'Invisible City'), Isle-at-Sea (where our heroes were born and raised), and the vast Isle Below, variously known as the Midnight Isle, Twilight Isle, or the Isle of Dark.
> All the eight office-holders of Isle aspire to ascend to positions of rule in Isle Above. Specific pairs of Isle-at-Sea offices have the potential to rise to office Above: either the Widow or the Wanton can become the Lady of the Isle; the Bastard or the Fabulist can become the Master of the Sky; the Hollow or the Lyric can become the Master of the Rings; and the Procurer or the Lover can become the Master of the Undercity.
> Correspondingly, there are sixteen offices in Isle Below. These are supposed to ascend to hold office in Isle-at-Sea; however, through the machinations of the Widow Elspeth and her cohorts, the Isle-at-Sea line of succession has instead become hereditary, with all but one of the offices currently held by children of the former Widow.
> The Widow's incestuous actions are in clear defiance of the Great Proscription, which prohibits office-holders from intermarrying, and certainly from interbreeding.
> Elias is, in fact, the youngest of the Widow's children. He appears to be the eldest because Lisander and Lysander found a way to steal youth from him many years ago, and did so until they tired of it.
> The summoning of the eight Crafts of Isle was a scheme of the Hollow Eldora, to circumvent the fact that she has no children of her own; children--or rather, successors--apparently being critical to the game being played among the ruling family. Being barren, Eldora sought to use this method to subvert her siblings' children for her own use.
> Members of the ruling family may not directly interfere in one another's agendas, providing that those agendas do not directly impact them.

Still suspicious of the so-called 'Lisander', the trio imparts only select bits of their own information, including the fact that the young people summoned by the Hollow included another pair of twin girls, one of whom died at the hands of the tailor Threadbare when they were all sent into the future for training. Upon seeing a portrait made by Zoilo of one of the girls, an aghast Lisander claims that these twins are his daughters Elke and Eloise.

Learning that Ellis has over three months' "spare time" in the future (due to her inadequate Soldier training)prior to Elke's death , Lisander implores the trio to travel back to the future to rescue his daughters. Both to save their cousins and for reasons of their own, the trio agree, and Lisander is able to modify the Hollow's design (since she involved his children) in order to send them back and arrange for their return. As they depart, he cautions them not to be seen in the domiciles at which they trained during their previous sojourn.

Part Two
Elana, Ellis, and Zoilo travel once more through the Hollow Effect to the Vast of the future, where they end up in a wild, snowy region inhabited by vicious, underground-dwelling giant worms. They are able to survive and escape through a combination of Zoilo's Tinker abilities, Ellis's Lightfoot, and primarily Elana's Oratorical skills. They are then attacked by a swarm of apparently teleporting cat-birds, one of which cries out the name 'Mara' in hatred as it dives. Again, they combine forces to fight the creatures off, and Elana summons a door to take them to Verraza--the only place they've heard of in this time period where they are unlikely to meet anyone they've met before.

Curiously, the door appears a great distance away, forcing them to traverse the hazardous land once more in order to reach it. With more difficulties to plague them, they eventually manage to open a door and get to Verraza.

At Verraza, they find the massive twin statues of Elana and Ellis which the Historian Idan told them of earlier, as well as a disconcerting abundance of Coopers--a Craft Zoilo's master made sure to warn him against, as they dislike and are certain to overcome Tinkers. Keeping a low profile, then, the trio makes its way into town to find a quiet place to discuss their plan of action.

They finally find an open-air trattoria, only to discover that they have no money with which to pay for food and a table. Elana attempts to change some of her Dream-Isle currency for local coin, only to summon a bag of coins so massive that she has to dismiss it in order to avoid calling undue attention. Luckily, the trattoria owner, a man named Tubal, is kind enough to feed them in exchange for dishwashing services.

Washing dishes in the kitchen, the trio decides that Elana should try to pay to learn the locations of their cousins, especially since Zoilo dare not use his abilities with the many Coopers around. However, Elana's Rich Man abilities are not working as usual in this place and time, sending her to Craftsmen's locations instead of summoning the Craftsmen to her. After a stealthy group visit to the Historians' secret sanctum to peer at a map of the Vast, Elana manages to acquire the services of a Cartographer, who explains how to travel to their cousins' separate locations: the faraway mountain of Sacrifice Rock and the nearer city of the Beggar-King.

Part Three
Resolving to arrange transportation the following morning, the trio socializes for a bit with Tubal, his family, and his friends before heading off to the room generously offered by Tubal's wife Marisa. Since Elana still has coins to spend before midnight, Zoilo suggests that she use some of them to learn why her abilities have been misfiring.

This purchase sends Elana, terrifyingly, to the current Rich Man's home, where Elana is nearly discovered by Mara herself in one of Mara's closets. Just as Mara is about to open the door, Elana manages to return to the trattoria bedroom, where she has to engage in a bidding contest with Mara, who attempts to summon the intruder back to her house. Elana wins, with some coin to spare.

The next idea is to use the spare money to acquire some gems, in order to have some easily-traded currency for their journey. Remembering the fiasco with the over-abundance of coins earlier, Ellis advises Elana to ask for a very specific and expensive type of jewel. This catapults Elana into the private vault of the Collector Pantheas, a startled and belligerent man who has no interest in acquiring a Rich Man's coin and no intention of trading away his chest of two-carat, marquise-cut, minimally-flawed emeralds.

Annoyed by his lack of cooperation, Elana tries to leave, only to realize that she can only return to the trattoria with the Collector, whom she can then dismiss. Pantheas, however, refuses to go with her, pointing out that she might be kidnapping him or worse. After much debate, Elana agrees to leave behind the necklace given to her by her mother and Crafted by her father, as security for the Collector's safe return.

Following even further confusion and contretemps, Elana and the Collector appear at the trattoria bedroom, only to turn right around again and return to the Collector's vault, this time leaving a doorway for Elana to get back to her companions. Much to her surprise, after all the bickering, Pantheas offers to simply give her the chest of emeralds. He likes her feistiness, he explains, and promptly uses Craft to 'collect' her into his family by betrothing her without her consent to his son, the Banker Alain.

With absolutely no support from her heartless sister and nephewtoward undoing the betrothal , a fuming Elana uses her remaining coin to accost a wandering desert merchant and purchase sundry items from the astonished man’s stock.
Nikki bit in at 7:09 PM :: ::

Isle Notes: episode ten

Garband, a merchant
the Landemarque Lushan: a man in his forties, with blue-black skin swathed in cloth
Max, a caravan guard
Burly, a caravan guard
Stevens, a caravan guard
the Numeric Tannelle: a beautiful woman in her late twenties
the Piscator Ronayon
Violet, a capon: a unit of Garband's inventory, upon which Elana practices her Oratorical skills

The Armory: located at the Quay of the Mariner near the Stolid Sea; home of water-based Sailors and flying Armorines
The Eidolon: home of the Numeric Tannelle
Falien: a fertile 'bread-basket' land which succumbed to crop blight, rumored to have been caused by the Itash family curse
The Fingers: five great towers located in the land of Hand, each said to be one of sixteen pathways to the Isle Above
The Griffin's Stone: a landmark in the locality of Meander, from which one can view much of the surrounding countryside
Lacur Desert: known for its perpetual giant dust devil--said to be one of sixteen pathways to the Isle Above--as well as for its enormous burrowing beetle, which, when turned on its back and sliced open, is a ready-cooked gastronomic delicacy
Land of the Forge: site of the Tinker wars; identifiable by a certain reddish line that appears on the horizon at sunset; a place to be avoided, especially by non-Tinkers
Marasgate: an estate of the Houses of Nobility; presumably the home of the Rich Man Mara; distinguished by the network of underground caverns that form the true wealth of Marasgate
Meander: a locality between Verraza and the city of the Beggar King
Parsus: one of the two 'cities of the Beggar King', currently engaged in the conflict waged by two warring Beggar-Kings; former source of lighter-than-air transportation
Rimar: a wild, snowy area close to Marasgate, inhabited by ice snappers, leucrottas both grand and commonplace, and khatirs (bird-cat hybrids rumored to have been created by a rogue female Joiner). Rimar's most distinctive feature is the Spirit Plume, a soaring geyser of crystal that is said to be one of sixteen pathways to the Isle Above

Part One

Having returned to Vast-of-the-future in hope of preventing the murder of the Tailor's apprentice Eloise, the intrepid trio of Elana, Ellis, and Zoilo join a merchant's caravan traveling through the locality of Meander. The caravan's route will take them most of the way to the city of the Beggar-King, where they hope to gain the assistance of Eloise's twin sister, the apprentice Beggarman Elke.

It is a ten-day journey to the river where the trio and caravan expect to part ways, so the three Isle natives take the time to practice some of their skills, get to know their traveling companions, and discuss their course of action over the three months they have been given to travel in the future Vast. Ellis and Zoilo speculate that Elana is now technically the Bastard, being (they believe) the Bastard Roman's eldest child.

Ellis also proposes forming an alliance with their five other cousins recruited by the Hollow, to which Zoilo concurs, while Elana expresses some reservations. They compromise by agreeing to discuss the matter further once Eloise has been rescued, in lieu of returning directly to Isle-at-Sea. In the course of this discussion, they are joined by the three caravan guards, who have much to contribute in the way of philosophy, conjecture, and theoretically-relevant gossip.

From Max, Burly, and Stevens, they learn a little more about the famed curse that follows members of the Itash family when three or more of them are gathered together (with consequences ranging from crop blight to murder), as well as an interesting tale concerning a pair of the Corezze twins--one fair but dark-souled, the other ugly but lovely of soul. Stevens insists that these are the twins immortalized as mammoth statues in the locality of Verraza (Elana and Ellis).

The guards go off to resume their duties, at which time the Landemarque Lushan joins the trio for mulled wine and conversation. Lushan is kind enough to show them some of the markings that glow blue upon his skin, forming a map of the Vast on his cloth-concealed body. From these maps and the accompanying stories told by Lushan, they are able to learn a little bit more about several regions of the Vast. Lushan also advises them to visit his friend, the Armorine Peregrine (to whom he owes a favor) if they ever happen to be in the vicinity of the Quay of the Mariner.

Part Two
After some days, the caravan stops to pay toll at the borders of the land of the Numeric Tannelle, said to be the greatest 'practitioner of Maths' of the age. To their surprise, Tannelle herself comes to collect the toll, which consists of any information of particular interest to the Numeric. She chooses Elana and Ellis to be the toll-payers, asking them where they are from, their mother's name, and why they are traveling in the Vast. From this, she is able to deduce that they hail from Isle-at-Sea, and appears vastly amused by the revelation.

Elana asks the Numeric, "What happens next?" and Tannelle, in turn, asks her to speak a number without thinking about it. Elana’s reply--four--is, she says, the answer to the question. Similarly, she allows Ellis to ask a question--"What do we do?"--and the answer is both five and eight. In addition, she tells the twins to beware of the number two, and Zoilo--"as an Itash"--to beware of the number three, which she tells him is coming his way soon. Finally, she warns them all to make haste, as the number they need is eight, "but seven looms"--presumably a reference to Elke's looming death at the hands of the Tailor Threadbare.

The Numeric gives them leave to pass through their lands and thereafter departs, leaving the trio both enlightened and confused. Zoilo realizes that the merchant Garband is, in fact, a member of the Itash family, making it perilous for them to encounter a third. He offers to leave the caravan, but Garband declines, determined to keep his word to deliver them to the river.

Meanwhile, Ellis approaches the caravan guard Max to ask for additional training as a fighter. He demands to know how they have found him out, by which they infer that he is a good deal more than a caravan guard. Elana makes a bet with him that she can find out his true identity--if so, he will teach Ellis two things, plus one thing of inestimable value. Max agrees, and the twins prevail upon Zoilo to use his Tinker abilities to question one of Max's possessions.

Max is revealed to be the master Bladearm Maxwell, currently on vacation to escape "the rabble" of students clamoring for his tutelage. Reluctantly at first, he begins to teach Ellis. Elana attempts to follow along on the sidelines, and, unable to resist correcting her stance, Max is eventually (and grouchily but really good-naturedly) drawn into teaching all three the basics of the Aperture Defense, Apport, and Distance Blade. Burly and Stevens, who turn out to be Maxwell's best and second-best students respectively, assist.

Part Three
A day away from their river destination, Max awakens Ellis in the wee hours of the morning to teach her the Soldier's trick of Drawing the Line, as well as an improved version of the Barber's Guarding the Compass. He tells her that these are extremely advanced lessons for a beginner, and confronts her with his suspicion that she is clearly not the Soldier's apprentice she claimed to be. Ellis confesses to being a Mimetic, which Max identifies as a very old craft, musing out loud, in addition, "Corezze, eh?" They both know that he more or less knows something is going on, but Max graciously lets the matter lie, instead selling Elana two flipant blades for Ellis's use.

Elana and Zoilo now being awake as well, preparations are made for breakfast, while Ellis goes to thank Burly and Stevens for their assistance in the training. Stevens confesses to being "grievously attracted" to Ellis, and gives her the "small gift" of a very large sword called Wave. Later that day, Ellis finds that the sword has shrunk to something more her size, and moreover, when drawn, manifests a portion of the Petal Armor seen on her statue in Verraza. An amazed Max reveals that Stevens is, in fact, Prince Esteban Ruiz, the Knight of Thorns; and that the gift of Wave carries with it not only the title of Knight of Thorns, but the corresponding responsibilities and enemies.

The trio is reeling from this when Elana senses a Rich Man's bid in the offing, presumably summoning her to the house of the Rich Man Mara, where she inadvertently appeared as a result of a miscalculation over a week ago. Having been warned not to show herself in that house, Elana outbids Mara in order to stay where she is.

This is quickly followed by an attempt on her life, an expenditure of two coins which she is permitted to counter with a bid of her own. Remembering Tannelle's admonition to beware of the number two, however, Elana declines, and is thus attacked by the Piscator Ronayon. Ronayon is stayed, however, upon his recognition of Elana from their previous encounter, as well as the arrayed force of Bladearms (including the master, whom he addresses as "Maximilius") and sundry standing at Elana's defense. He agrees to make a token attack for form's sake and then departs.

This is followed with a summoned lightning storm, which Zoilo deflects from Elana by means of a Tinkered lightning rod. Then a massive obsidian golem appears from out of a portal, with two lightning-shaped weapons in its hands. The golem attacks with the lightning, and the six Aperture Defense-trained people move smoothly aside. Standing directly in the path of the blow, however, is the merchant Garband, valiantly protecting his stock and clutching the capon Violet in his arms.
Nikki bit in at 2:59 PM :: ::
Thursday, September 16, 2004

Today is Pause the World Day.

And we interrupt this program for an unscheduled earthquake...

I've never dreamed of owning my own house. Marisa Tomei's two-storey, floor-to-ceiling-windowed apartment in The Guru, that's my idea of a dream home. Condo living is a little less dreamy, though, when a 6.2 earthquake hits at 3 in the morning as you're taking your pre-bedtime shower (What can I say? My sleep cycle is screwy) in your 36th-floor unit.

At first I thought I was just having a head rush from smoking too many cigarettes, but I realized that no, it was the building swaying, not me. So I popped out of my bathroom soaking-wet in my birthday suit, because (a) I wanted to check that Dean and Sage were not panicking, and (b) nekkid in the bathroom is really so low on my list of Reasonable Ways to Check Out of Existence.

Having confirmed with Husband that an earthquake was, indeed, in process, I then started to mentally catalogue the things I needed to do if it got any worse: (1) Achieve a semblance of clothed-ness. (2) Grab wallet, cell phone, important documents, diapers, and wipes. (Because being with a toddler and no spare diapers can only make a catastrophe worse, lemme tellya.) (3) Hustle family out of apartment, and... uh...

It was at this point that I realized that attempting to race down thirty-six flights of steps would not be only ludicrous, but quite possibly suicidal. Our only option would be to go up to the roofdeck--because we live under the swimming pool and the gym, meaning that if the ceiling collapsed, we might very well survive the impact only to drown in the influx of water or get brained by a falling dumbbell. At least on the rooftop, we'd be out in the open and could hope that we might survive a building collapse by landing on top of everyone else.

Impending mortality is the mother of ruthlessness.
Nikki bit in at 2:43 PM :: ::

Ma Aguing

The whole earthquake thing reminded me of my grand-aunt Ma Aguing, who passed away several years ago. A devout Catholic who helped raise my brothers and me, she happened to have a penchant for planting herself in the worst possible place whenever disaster threatened.

When my mother's car abruptly burst into flames as we were riding in it, Mom and I quickly bolted out the doors, but Ma Aguing stayed put in the back seat, eyes closed, fervently twitching the beads on her dried-rose-petal rosary. I had to climb back in to get her out.

When an earthquake struck our old home in Fort Bonifacio, Ma Aguing closed her eyes and turned to her rosary again, oblivious to the fact that she had chosen to do this directly beneath our heavy, spiky, sharp-edged crystal chandelier, which tinkled ominously above her head. I had to yank her out of the way before she was either crushed or impaled.

When the electric post on our corner caught fire and threatened to spread the conflagration to our house, the whole family went outside for safety. Instead of standing in the street like everyone else, though, Ma Aguing elected to go to the garden and water her plants! "This way, they will be too wet to burn," she explained as my mother dragged her away. "Good thinking, save the plants," Mom muttered sarcastically.

To this day, I can't decide whether it was faith or foolishness that motivated (or failed to motivate) my grand-aunt. I guess faith won out in the end since, despite her Penelope Pitstop nature, she died peacefully in bed at the age of 90-plus. Sometimes I think I got my so-called 'Zen calm' from her, but at least I know to get out of the way when the occasion calls for it.

Because there's faith and there's fate, and mostly there isn't enough time to spot the difference.
Nikki bit in at 2:25 PM :: ::
Monday, September 13, 2004

Today is Fortune Cookie Day.

I hate having my fortune told, unless it comes in cookie form.

the trouble with taxis
Stuck in a taxi in heavy traffic the other day, I asked the driver if his was a non-smoking taxi. I do this often, and usually the drivers are smokers themselves, so they don't mind. Occasionally, though, they aren't too keen on smoke in their vehicles, which I totally understand, so I hold off until after the ride.

This time, the driver launched into a monologue on The Evils of Smoking. Now of course, I get this a lot from certain types of non-smokers, who feel the need to proselytize, and persist in the belief that they are telling me something I don't know. When people who understand sarcasm do this, I reply, "What!? You mean smoking is unhealthy? You don't say!" Generally, though, I let them have their say, because people have a need for discourse and presumably don't keep blogs of their own so that they can post their rants online where they belong.

Anyway, I sat in the cab and tuned the guy out until he started getting personal. "Ikaw pa naman, ang ganda-ganda mong babae, nag-yoyosi. Ang pangit tignan ng babaeng nagyoyosi, parang insulto sa Maykapal." ("You in particular, a beautiful woman, smoking. It's ugly to see a woman smoking, like an insult to God.")

Now I can take abuse about my smoking, condescension about my gender, and holier-than-thou attitudes about God, but not all in the space of two sentences. So even though we were less than halfway to my destination, I told him--politely--to pull over, got out of the car, and started walking.

You ought to know, folks: I'll eat fish, and I'll eat meat, but there is some shit I will not eat.
Have you ever noticed that the majority of taxi cab drivers can tell you at length what needs to be done to save the country, yet apparently cannot manage to prepare change for a hundred-peso bill at any given time of day? It boggles the mind.
Nikki bit in at 1:53 PM :: ::
Sunday, September 12, 2004

Today is Video Games Day.

And Rei's new blog look is up! Designed by me, of course. Check it out.

scents and sensibility
Wandering around the Greenbelt mall, I managed to pick up three stalkers in two different stores.

Granted, I did finally buy my Clean perfume with the intent of... well, smelling attractive (Sounds weird, dunnit?), but I hadn't bargained on some shaggy-haired guy trailing me around Powerbooks, sniffing conspicuously over my shoulder.

The other guy was more subtle, or so he thought. His strategy was to keep accidentally-on-purpose winding up in the same aisle as me, approaching from the opposite end of the bookshelves. Clever, eh? I probably wouldn't have noticed, either, except that he made a practice of picking up every book I looked at and pretending to examine it assidously. I figured he was pretending by the way he frowned ferociously while 'reading' the back of a book which I knew for a fact had no cover blurb.

I considered confronting the two bozos, but with what, exactly? Neither sniffing nor book-fondling is exactly a criminal offense (though perhaps the latter should be). So I chatted up the friendly security guard until the stalkers faded away on their own; then I beat feet out of there.

Comfortingly, the third stalker--in the First Aid beauty store--turned out to be a gay guy who just wanted to know what my perfume was called so he could get some for himself.
Nikki bit in at 4:44 PM :: ::
Thursday, September 09, 2004

Today is Wonderful Weirdoes Day.

Yay for all of us!

Okay, I'm done with being pissed.
It's tiring, it's boring, it's pointless. And besides, Dean's partner Marc has kindly paid me for some of my copywriting work on their company's behalf, so now I can go and indulge myself with some retail therapy. (Not all for me; I have to start amassing the obligatory pasalubong [presents] for the U.S. trip.)

The payment was also a semi-bribe because the work is really piling on, and I'm hoping to get most of it out of the way before we leave so I don't have to think about it while I'm away. It's pretty unusual to be so busy this time of year in the corporate copywriting trade--usually all the action happens in the first two quarters with annual reports and whatnot, leaving budget-foolish idiots like me pining for projects in the latter half. Instead, I've been pretty much swamped with projects, to the point that my Outlook 'to-do' list is never quite neat and tidy the way I like it, and I never have time anymore for vital activities like PC games. Anyone with sense would start delegating to one of the many talented writers she knows, but nooo...

In the first place, I'm secretly convinced that I'm the only one who can handle my precious clients right, even though logically, I know that's not true; and in the second place, I'm just selfish and want all the money for myself. So really, I have no right to complain since it's actually my fault; and anyway we have a role-playing game tomorrow, and The Game makes everything all right, because it's a chance to forget my real-life concerns and stress out over imaginary ones instead.

Well, you already knew I was fekkin' weird, right?
Nikki bit in at 10:41 AM :: ::
Tuesday, September 07, 2004

And Now I'm Pissed

Not in that clever Brit way that means I'm good and drunk, either. I am well and truly pissed off that the U.S. Embassy denied our nanny's visa application--not so much due to the fact of the denial itself (It's their right, I have to concede), but because of the whole screwed-up bureacratic process that I had to go through today for nothing.

In the first place, I got up at 6 a.m. to get ready for our 8:30 appointment, because the embassy hotline person advised me to be there at 7:30. Anyone who knows me knows that I never get out of bed before 10 if I can help it, and cannot be expected to perform higher brain functions until 11 o'clock and my first cigarette. But up I got at the butt-crack of dawn, and hauled my poor, equally-nocturnal daughter out of bed as well, to prove to the consul that yes, I do have a child, which is why I need the nanny.

We arrived at the embassy at 7:15, only to be told that, so sorry, we don't let 8:30 appointments in until, well, 8:30; but don't worry, because we will then let all the 8:30 applicants in at the same time. I valiantly restrained myself from glaring at the guard because it really wasn't his fault.

At approximately 8:30, we were let in through the gates. I headed straight for the embassy pavilion, only to be stopped by a guard who insisted that I should line up at Window C. I showed him our documents and told him I thought we were supposed to line up at Window 1, but no, said he, non-immigrant tourist visas should queue at Window C. So we did, for about 20 minutes, before we finally got up to the window, where we were told that we should have gone first to Window 1.

So off we went to the pavilion where Window 1 was located. As we walked in, we heard an announcement calling for 8:30 appointments at Window 1, so we hustled into line for another 15 minutes, only to be told at the head of the line that no, so sorry, this line is for 8:30 seafarer appointments only; since you're not seafarers, please proceed to Window A.

And of course, by the time we got to Window A, we were told to go back to Window 1, which was now serving non-seafarers. Then Window 1 stamped our documents and sent us back to Window A, who stamped our documents and sent us to the original window, C. I looked around for the meddling guard who really was at fault this time, but he was nowhere to be seen; and anyway, it was probably best that Sage didn't see her normally even-tempered mother savagely chew on a strange man's metatarsals.

By the time we finally got into the embassy building proper (We had been out in the heat all that time), I had become savvy enough to question why we were being herded into yet another queue, which turned out to be for retired U.S. military personnel collecting veteran's pay. We adroitly slipped out of line and into the non-immigrant visa waiting area.

Which was chock-full of people who shiftily refused to make eye contact with anyone, for fear of having to give up their seats to old people, the disabled, or harassed mothers juggling armloads of paperwork and a forty-pound child. But I tried not to mind, because, hey, if I'd been lucky enough to snag a seat, I wouldn't want to give it up, either.

Because the wait was not only interminable but infuriating. At Window 1, they handed you a queue number on a first-come, first-served basis, which was supposed to determine your priority in the interview line. In theory, this number would be displayed on the big board in the waiting room, letting you know when it's your turn. In practice, the numbers were indeed displayed on the board; however, the priority in which the numbers were called had nothing to do with the order in which the numbers were given. Numbers 1064, 3012, and 2470 were all served before we--number 1125--were. I asked the nearest guard if there was some kind of hidden logic behind this that I was not following, and his sterling answer to this was, "Ganyan talaga 'yan, ma'am. Walang nakakaintindi." ("That's the way it is, ma'am. No one understands.")

So I had a long time to stand around and observe, during which poor Sagey suffered a bout of prickly heat, consumed a bottle and a half of milk, went number two and had to be cleaned off in the rest room, got tired and needed to be carried, got bored and needed to be entertained, and obligingly attempted to watch Dora the Explorer with no sound on a nearby TV. What I would have done without Diovine there, I don't know.

This gave me time to decide that I would be able to deal with any of the consuls at any of the windows, except for the woman with frizzy brown hair at Window 5. In the first place, women who don't know how to manage their own appearance generally don't like me. In the second place, she had already turned down every single applicant who had gone up to her window. And in the third place, one of these turned-down applicants, a man who wanted to accompany his sick father to the U.S. for an operation, had raised a big stink over his denial, refusing to leave the window until the woman granted his request (which she didn't). So she was a bad bet in general and in a bad mood, to boot.

Naturally, when our turn finally rolled around at twelvish, we were summoned to--surprise, surprise--Window 5. The conversation went something like this (much abridged, of course, and considerably less diplomatic on my part):

WOMAN: So your nanny has only been with you for around two years.

NIKKI: Yes, because our daughter is only two years old.

WOMAN: It doesn't look like she would be able to afford the trip.

NIKKI: No, but I'm paying for all her expenses and her pocket money.

WOMAN: I see that she's never been out of the country before.

NIKKI: No, she's never had reason to before, and besides, she couldn't afford it.

WOMAN: And she isn't married and has no strong family, business, or community ties.

NIKKI: She has family in Zamboanga. She helps them out financially and visits them for at least two weeks each year. She's actively involved in a number of business ventures and has served as an usherette and choir member at her church for fourteen years.

WOMAN: Well, I'm sorry, but I have to turn down your application, as she's had no previous travel, and I don't see any compelling reason why she would be likely to return to the Philippines.

NIKKI (thought balloon): Are you HIGH!?

Argh! Why couldn't they just tell you in the first place that you can't bring domestic employees with you unless they (a) have been working for you over the last quarter-century, (b) have so much money and are so well-traveled that they don't actually need to work for you in the first place, and (c) have so many familial and business obligations that they don't actually have time to look after your child? It would certainly have saved me a lot of time, effort, aggravation, two-hundred-plus pesos in taxi fare, and a hundred fucking dollars of visa application fee that I'm never gonna see again.


Still not shouting, though, Eric-kins. But I do sulk with the best of them.
Nikki bit in at 3:26 PM :: ::
Monday, September 06, 2004

The Kikay's Guide to Life

I've been gearing up to take our nanny to the U.S. Embassy for her visa application interview tomorrow. (We're going to the States in October, and my mother kindly offered to pay Diovine's way so that Mom could actually manage to talk to me this time--unlike last time where I had to spend every minute either chasing Sage around, or resting from chasing Sage around.)

This gearing-up process has involved not only tons of paperwork and bureaucratic hoo-ha, but also oh-so-important peripheral preparations like getting my hair cut and giving myself a facial and a pedicure. Not that the consul will ever actually see my peachy-perfect toes, mind you, but I know I'll be able to present our case better if I'm not worrying that someone somewhere is staring at my ugly feet. Quite simply, if I look good, I feel good; and if I feel good, I perform better. Which got me to thinking that maybe...

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Fashion and Beauty

1. Never have a haircut or facial on the big day itself. In other words, plan ahead and get things done early. Just as your hair needs time to grow out before being at its best, your presentation, for example, may need several revisions to develop and mature before actually being presentable. And just as your face might be irritated from the facial process, your printer or email or whatever may not work at the very moment you need it to. In beauty or in business, leaving things for the last minute is never a good idea.

2. Buy shoes at mid-afternoon, not at night when your feet are swollen, or in the morning when your feet are smaller. Translation? Timing is everything. Don't sell real estate when the market is down; don't hit your dad up for a loan when he's been stuck in traffic for five hours; don't try to get your boyfriend to commit to marriage when he's between jobs.

3. Pick a focal point on your face to emphasize, like eyes or lips; soften the rest of your makeup to complement it. In copywriting terms, that means don't try to highlight every last selling point of your product or service. Pick a central theme to focus on, and arrange all the other attributes in such a way that they enhance and are enhanced by the focal point. Same goes for arguments with your parents, your thesis review board, or your bitchy editor. Scattershot logic is forgettable and often irritating; targeted messaging gets the point across.

4. Anchor your wardrobe around a set of quality basics; buy other selections or accents with this set in mind. In short, think big picture. Whether assessing a job opportunity or a prospective date, consider how well the prospect fits with your overall plan. It doesn't have to be a perfect fit, but if it forces you to change the plan entirely, make sure it's worth it.

5. No matter how long a day it's been, cleanse your face before going to sleep. Some things need doing, regardless of how tiresome they are or how tired you are. Putting them off will not make them go away, and the consequences of procrastination, like zits, may be ugly.

6. Don't wear tube tops if you're big-breasted; don't wear cargo pants if you're big-hipped. And don't consider a career in accountacy if you can't add. Find out what suits you, stick with it, and get as good as you can humanly be. This applies to nearly everything from careers to conversation. Find your niche and work it, baby.

7. Don't be afraid to experiment with your style; hair grows back. Or as someone famous once said, whatever doesn't kill you... It's okay to make mistakes; sometimes it truly is the only way to learn. It's better to take a risk and fall flat on your face than to never fail because you never even tried.

8. Update your look at least once every five years. Never stop improving yourself, in big ways or small. Pick up and read a non-fiction book, learn to do something new, listen to a different kind of music. If you don't, the next thing you know, you've turned into the type of person who can't figure out how to operate a DVD player.

9. Use conditioner on your hair; the softness and manageability is well worth the extra step. Take time out to indulge yourself once in a while, whether it's a day off with your loved ones, or a couple of hours to watch a movie. Remember, you've only got one life and one you! Take care of yourself and have fun.

10. Be quality-conscious rather than brand-conscious. At the end of the day, success and happiness are measured the way you decide to measure them. Don't let anyone else tell you how to live your life. Not even fashion magazines, and certainly not me.
Nikki bit in at 11:24 PM :: ::
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Nikki Alfar is really not as sexy as El's illustration would have you believe... but she doesn't mind if you think of her that way.
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Location: Pasig City, Metro Manila, Philippines

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