Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Nightfall Saga: The House Gathers (Part 2)

How long had it been since the last time Alara had ridden through the gates of the Ebonlynx estate? A grandiose mansion house that was nestled nicely into the splendor of Silvermoon City, complete with spires and animated objects of its own, swirling about the front lawns. And emblazoned on the entrance was painted a large black cat reared up on its back legs. It was an impressive home, larger than a mansion had any right to be, with its glinting windows that caught the light of the morning sun, the stone steps that lead up to the doors, and the carefully etched columns which lined the long porch. And even though it had been a very long time since Alara had stepped foot in this place, she still remembered every brick and cornerstone.

Alara’s hawkstrider approached the marble patterned steps that lead to the heavy wooden doors. Guards were posted outside the gate and the front entrance along with footmen ready to assist her off her mount. Not a thing had changed about the Ebonlynx posterity since she had been away. You could not lift a finger without a servant helping you to do it. With less than a sentence spoken between all of them, Alara’s luggage was whisked away and she was lead inside of the house.

“I trust that you can find everything on your own, Lady Alara?” her cloaked traveling companion asked, walking diagonally two steps behind her.

She nodded, “I am sure that my memory of this place will return. If you don’t mind, I would like to have some time to myself before the gathering gets underway.”

The elf nodded and melded away into the rest of the busy worker bees who were flitting about the estate halls, making last minute additions and preparations. Alara pulled the scarf down around her neck and made her way down the long, empty corridors. Nothing had changed. Nothing at all. The color of the curtains, the style of the rugs, the placement of the candelabras. This place had remained frozen in time. Frozen in that moment where she had walked away from it all.

Down one of the many hallways, in this maze of a house, hung a number of oil painted portraits. These portraits, which Alara had been forced to memorized, spanned from one end to the other. The heads of this branch of House Ebonlynx from generations past lined these walls, giving the feeling that; even in death; they held this House in their firm grips. The very last portrait was that of her father. The painting was a striking likeness. It even had the stern glint that was every present in his glance. But now there was something different. Her father’s portrait was longer last in the hall. An empty space was now adjacent to his portrait with an empty frame. For all the years she had been part of this family, her father had always been the head. But now she could not muster up enough interest to make herself wonder why her father was being replaced and by whom.

Another person was in the hallway, looking at the paintings that lined the opposite wall with the air of someone who had never seen them before. Alara did not speak. Instead she took a few steps closer. This elven girl looked entirely out of place, standing amidst the lavish d├ęcor and extravagance. She was dressed in beaten up leathers that had seen better days. Her corn silk hair hung straight and plain on her shoulders. Her boots were scuffed and caked in numerous layers of dirt, the buckles probably never had been shined even once. She stood there, staring at the portraits, eyes tracing over every small nuance. Alara was doing the same with this young woman. The hair. The clothes. The lanky body shape. Alara could feel her heart plummeting into her stomach.


Alara wanted that figure to continue looking at the family portraits. She wanted this woman to ignore the name she had just called out. However, her fears became reality as the blonde head turned around and looked at her.


Alara’s heart continued the fall from her stomach to floor. She ran over to her daughter and grabbed her by the shoulders, shaking Cixi as she spoke, “Why?! Why are you here?!”

This wasn’t supposed to be happening. Cixi was never to see the inside of these walls. That was the deal she had made. Cixi was supposed to be kept away from this place. So why was her daughter standing here? Now of all times.

The panic strickened face of her mother made Cixi a bit frightened. While she had expected her mother to be surprised to see her, Cixi had not expected her mother to react in this manner. Cixi winced as her mother’s fingers dug into her shoulders.

“A man in brown robes showed up at the Silvacce estate and left a letter for me,” Cixi explained, trying to pry herself loose from her mother’s grip, “I recognized your family name. It said that you were sent an invitation as well. I thought it was best if I came too.”

They invited her?, Alara thought to herself, They wouldn’t. They couldn’t do this. Why wasn’t I told?

A quiet cough interrupted the two. Cixi and Alara both looked up to see a group of young servant women who were standing behind them.

“Sorry to interrupt your conversation, Mi’lady. But we have been sent to tend to Young Lady Cixithara. Would you like for us to wait for a while before taking her to her quarters?”

Alara shook her head and let go of her daughter’s shoulders, “No, we can talk at length later on.”

She turned her attention to the servant women that were about to take her daughter away, “Could you tell me where my brother is?”

“Lord Jaias is in your father’s study," they answered. "He is preparing for the rest of your family to arrive. He has made it a point that he have no interruptions until later in the day.”

“He will see me.”

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Kitchen Adventures! - Peanut Butter and Molasses cookies

There are a few foods I admit to have constant cravings for. One of those foods are cookies. I can't tell you what it is about cookies that makes me want to curl up with a glass of milk and forget the rest of the world exists, but that is just the way it is. There are few foods that can make me as happy as a than a couple of freshly baked cookies from the oven.

I can't remember the first time I baked cookies. I'm pretty sure it had to be with my mom. Most of my budding culinary knowledge started with her. I do remember the first batch I made by myself, however. Every Christmas, we make molasses crinkles, because those are my dad's favorite. I was so excited to have my dad eat crinkles I had made by myself. Unfortunately, things didn't go that great. The cookies came out so hard you could have broke a tooth on them. I was pretty upset and disappointed by the whole thing. Dad thought it was funny. He picked up a cookie and bopped me on the forehead with it.

Peanut Butter and Molasses cookies
Anyway, let's fast forward to last summer, when I was in need of a late night cookie fix. It was too late to head out to the store, so my sister told me bake some myself. Surprisingly, she had everything you could ever need to make a cookie in her kitchen. My initial intention was to make a peanut butter cookie (because that is the way to my heart), however I stumbled on a recipe for peanut butter molasses cookies and decided to try that instead. Guys, I think I found the gateway to heaven.

This cookie combines the best of both a peanut butter cookie and a molasses crinkle. And, to top it all off, it is a soft cookie! Makes them even better. When warm, it feels like biting into a cloud of pillowy soft, spiced sweetness. The recipe made 2 dozen and I wanted to eat every last one myself. In fact, I made them as Christmas gifts this past December. That's how impressed I was with how these cookies came out.

A new cookie will be added to the holiday list. (Though it has been requested that I make them more often) I am pretty sure my dad won't mind. Especially now that he knows his teeth will still be in one piece after eating them. Do you guys have a favorite cookie? Any baking traditions around the holidays?

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Nightfall Saga: The House Gathers (Part 1)

It was the breaking of the early morning. The sun had yet to rise above the horizon and the grey of the morning was starting to push away the night’s darkness. It was silent this early. Nothing stirring, no one moving around. No one except one lone person, creeping around their own house.

She silently came down the stairs, fully clothed in a long, draping dress, not bothering to light a single lamp or candle. She led herself, using the polished railing of the banister. In the darkness of the wee hours, she slid her feet into a pair of heeled shoes and wrapped her head in a lightweight scarf. Part of her wanted to leave a note for her husband, but she knew it would be best if she didn’t. He would simply assume that she had headed out to the city to see friends if she said nothing. And she would much rather have him believe that than the actual truth.

The click of her heels knocking against the wooden floors was deafening in the silence. She wondered if the noise would wake her husband. She wouldn’t have minded if it had. For a moment, she imagined that barely there smile on his face as he stood atop the staircase to wave and tell her to have a good time. No, she would not have minded at all if these shoes on her feet caused him to come to her. However, as she reached for her luggage that was sitting near the door, there was no one to bid her goodbye. It was just her and the darkness of her home. It was just as well. 

Not even the wind stirred this morning, like it was holding its breath, waiting for something to happen. Much like she was holding hers right now. As the door softly clicked closed behind her, she lifted her scarf covered head and was greeted by a familiar sight. One that she had not seen in quite some time. A pair of brilliantly colored hawkstriders were right outside of the door and on top of one was the silhouette of a hooded person, draped in dark brown robes. Upon, seeing her, the cloaked shadow nimbly slid down from his mount and reached his hand out towards her.

“Lady Alara.” 

The formality in his voice, in that title, it sounded so foreign and yet she remembered the sound of that voice as if she had never parted from it. Falling into old form, she held her hand out and allowed herself to be lead to her hawkstrider. She did not speak to this man, only nodded when he called her name. Once she was securely in the saddle, the pair headed away from the village and along the winding road to Silvermoon City.

“Your brother wished for me to express how grateful he is that you decided to attend,” the elf in robes stated. 

“He says that as if he gave me a choice in the matter.”

Her voice was stiff and cold. Simply mentioning him made her blood hot.

“It is quite forward of me to say, and I hope that you forgive me, however I am grateful as well,” the elf continued, shifting his hooded head in her direction, slightly, ”It has been many years since I have seen you, Lady Alara.”

She only nodded.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Reminiscing about the days of make believe

Once upon a time, when times were different, a girl was handed her first set of dice.  Little did I know that night was going to open the door to something that I would enjoy being part of for years to come.

The first time I got invited to a roleplaying session, I remember my reaction quite vividly. I wrinkled my nose, twisted my lip and said no without a second thought. I didn't want anything to do with sitting around and pretending that I was casting a spell or some such nonsense. I could think of better ways to spend my weekends. However, I am guessing that was not the first time a reaction like mine had been given, because I was asked again. This time, it was to just sit and observe. If I didn't like what I saw, then I would never asked again. I went, prepared to be underwhelmed and practicing my rejection speech in my head. These were my friends, after all. No need to be nasty.

They pulled out pencils and character sheets, books and guides. Then the discussion of who they were to become started. I am not sure what it was about the character creation process that tapped into my curiosity. The thought that went into crafting a character, making a person that you were to play, it was like making a character for a performance that was happening in real time. And perform they did. Perform we did.

From that moment on, roleplaying became an almost weekly ritual. In the same way people got dressed up and went out to bars and clubs, I grabbed my bag of dice and headed to a friend's house to immerse myself in a world of make believe. I credit a large amount of my ability create characters and build worlds to those nights where I sat on couches, drinking Mountain Dew and eating Papa Johns, listening to the elaborate setups and situations our characters found themselves in. Imagining city streets and back alleys, weighing words of NPCs, wondering if they were friend or foe, always thinking "What would my character do?".

Unfortunately, time changes things. Too soon I was packing up my life and moving forward with it. All of my roleplaying circle did much the same and our nights together are now nothing more than fond memories I replay in my head from time to time. Like old home movies stored away in a dusty beaten up box somewhere. Fighting enemies, solving puzzles, battling in arenas, arguing amongst ourselves, buying my first set of dice, being taken to my first game shop, looking at figurines, so many good memories from those times I would have missed out on because of a preconceived notion that wasn't even mine to begin with.

I miss those days now. I miss them a lot.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Kitchen Adventures! Sausage and Cheddar muffins

Recently, I got my hands on a small cookbook that was nothing but muffin recipes and spreads to go along with them. Because who doesn't want to make their own honey butter. I can honestly say that I had not made muffins from scratch before this. I always used the mixes that come in the pouches. I found these recipes to be pretty simple to make and don't take that long to bake either. 

The first recipe I attempted, was a breakfast muffin. And let me tell you, they were amazing! So the name of them basically tells you the ingredients. Aside from the sausage and cheddar cheese, the batter consisted of Bisquick biscuit mix and cornmeal. I was not exactly fond of the texture from the cornmeal, but I got over it because the rest of the muffin was absolute divine.

This is definitely a good breakfast item, especially if you are in a rush in the morning. I would warm up two muffins in the microwave, pour myself a glass of milk or orange juice and that would be my breakfast. Next time I make these, I might try turkey sausage instead of pork. And I might add a bit of chive or something too. Another good thing, the recipe made 2 dozen muffins. So if I ever have to make something for a potluck breakfast, this will be my go to.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Daily Write - Balance on Windmill Hills - Part 5

The early morning sun was starting to rise, pushing away the dark blues and greys of the night; making the sky a brilliant shade of pink that spilled onto the ocean. The view from Windmill Hills was quite spectacular during these early hours. The only sounds were the striking of water on the sand and the sea birds gliding through the gentle breeze coming off the water. Coming up the winding path to the hills, Ariya rubbed her eyes and let out a rather large and noisy yawn that she didn't try to stifle. Ariya didn't mind mornings, but this was just too early to be awake and outside. She had not even bothered to do her hair. Instead, she had lazily put it up in a messy bun and covered her head with a dark green colored scarf. Next to her, the tubby Professor Cohen walked alongside, staff in hand, as she puffed her way up the hill. As she always did, Professor Cohen wore her light colored air wizard robes and her blonde bob was neatly combed.

“After walking up this hill for the third week in a row, you would think that this little hike would get easier. You either need to read your books a little faster, Ariya or I need to lay off of the sweet cakes from the pastry shop.”

“Why did we have to come up here so early?”

Professor Cohen could hear the unpleasant demeanor that tinged the words coming from Ariya’s mouth.

“If you had been attending your Earth magic classes like you are supposed to, you would be used to waking up this early. It has come to my attention that you haven’t been going for quite some time now.”

Ariya’s violet orbs slid sideways at the air wizard. “I doubt that Earth class starts this early. Most people are only rolling out of bed this time of morning. Am I to guess that this is punishment for me skipping? It’s not like I don't know what’s happening in class. I get my notes from people who were there that day and I study them. That class is one big history course anyway. I really don't have to be there to hear what the professor has to say. Just remember all the important dates for the exam, pass the class and move on to next.”

“Ariya, did you ever think that perhaps there is a reason that we want you to know all those things about Earth magic before you use it?” Professor Cohen asked. The sound of her staff made a very distant thunking noise against the path they were traveling.

Ariya took a deep, noisy breath. If there was anything more agitating than being asked these aggravating questions, it was being asked these aggravating questions early in the morning. 

“Magic is dangerous. Some elements are dangerous just by nature, fire being the prime example. Other elements are dangerous when not used correctly, earth being the prime example. By looking at where others got it wrong, we can see what went wrong and how not to do it again. I’m not as thick as everyone makes me out to be.”

The large windmills began to come into view as the two continued on the path in silence. They stood like mammoth old giants that had gone dormant along the hillside. Now nothing but fixtures worn by time and the elements, these ‘giants’ still stood as imposing as ever, dominating the landscape. As they came close to the windmills, Professor Cohen began to speak again.

 “Ariya, why do you make it so difficult for professors to get close to you? To try and understand you? To teach you?”

“Because all the professors are the same," Ariya replied, "They think the same thing about me when I walk into their classrooms. I am the one that will not bend to them. I am the one who will not believe their theory unless they have proof what they are saying is right. To question the doctrine of the Collegium is to be branded a troublemaker. So why should I try and prove them wrong? I am going to use my energy in order to become a good elementalist and in the end become an air wizard. In the end, it doesn't matter if the professors are close to me or not. They can think that I'm trouble, thick skulled, or just too stupid to understand the complexity of magic if they wish. It won’t change anything about me or what I'm going to do.”

“You think the professors in the Collegium are judging you?”

By now, the two had reached the top of the hills. The ocean breeze buffeted against Professor Cohen’s blonde bob and caused Ariya’s scarf to flap against her head. Her eyes had gone cold as she stared out at the ocean in front of her. What was Professor Cohen after with these questions?

“Isn't that why we have been doing this, Professor? You brought me out here because the other  professors are talking about me. They believe that I am a problem that needs to be fixed and you are here to do the job. Yes, I believe that they all judge me.”

“Do you believe that I judge you?”

Ariya loosely folded her arms over her chest. How could Ariya possibly answer that?

“It is a fair question,” Professor Cohen replied, “I may not be one of the higher, more prestigious professors but I am a professor. So, do you think that I judge you?”

“You aren’t like the others. It’s different with you.”

“I believe that you are the one that is doing all the judging, Ariya.” Professor Cohen replied in a soft yet stern tone, “You assume that every single professor in the enter institution is out gunning for you when really you are walking in class and putting a large target on your back. You set yourself up for confrontation.”

Ariya pursed her lips slightly. She just wasn’t in the mood to hear any of what Professor Cohen was trying to say to her. “So are we going to finish talk about Tempest wizards or not?”

Professor Cohen decided to go ahead and drop the subject for now.

“Well did you finish the book you were reading before?”

“Yes, I did. It just stopped. No ending, no stating how things went. It was just over. I went to see if maybe Milstein had written something else, but I didn't find anything. So now that I know what a Tempest wizard is. I don't know why you had me research it in the first place.”

Professor Cohen tossed her staff between her two hands as she turned to her lanky, pale skinned student. “Did you find out why there aren't hundreds of Tempest wizards wandering about today?”

“Something went wrong. The country’s military heads were ordering increases in the number of Tempests wizards left and right and then one day they started to be decommissioned. The training ended, the whole fighting style came to a grinding halt in the middle of the night. But no matter what book I looked at there were never any specifics on what happened. I would think with how powerful the Tempest wizards were that they would have been around for years.”

A strong gust of wind blue, making Ariya’s scarf flutter as Professor spoke,“That which is not respected is bound to be abused.”

Ariya looked at Professor Cohen quizzically as the professor uttered that statement into the air. “I am guessing that you know what happened?”

“When a person says ‘magic’ it gives the feeling that a wizard can do anything. That we operate outside the rules of the universe and wield an infinite amount of power that has no consequential strings attached to it. However, nothing can be farther from the truth. As elementalists, we don’t tell the elements to do anything. We only bend them temporarily. Milstein had a profound and deep respect for the elements he wielded. Those he worked for however did not.”

Ariya started play with the strands from her scarf,” I read that those trained in magic were no longer picking the wizard candidates. How did they know who was able to balance the two elements well and who wasn’t?”

“Balance at that time was not a big issue. The issue was, could the person do it. And if you could, could you learn to do it better, bigger, and faster than the person standing next to you. It was Varro’s trump card and the military was going to play it to the fullest. However, things went terribly wrong. Have you studied the Crimson Plague yet?”

Ariya nodded, “The Crimson Plague was first seen in a desert city in the lands of the South. A number of nomadic gypsies brought in their sick with a strange illness that they could not cure. It affected a number of similar nomadic tribes. It was traced back to their cultural uses of fire magic during rituals. The misuse of magic was making their tribesman ill.”

“Very good. Now, imagine the Crimson Plague, increase the symptoms by a hundred fold and multiply that by the number Tempest troops Varro had at the height of their fame.”

Ariya’s eyes widened as she stared at Professor Cohen, “A hundred fold?! How is that even possible? That could kill a person.”

Professor Cohen’s eyes met Ariya’s as she continued, “Soldiers talked about how the tortured screams of the wizards echoed through the hulls of the ships that carried them. Pain of the likes that none had ever been seen before. Those who did not die within hours prayed to the fates that they would die. The more reckless the wizard had been, the worse the sickness was. The Tempest wizard fleets were renamed Blood ships for the number of wizards that died on them. Those who lived were never the same, in constant pain; their contorted bodies lost the ability to use magic.  At first it was a rare case here and there. But as the numbers began to increase, it became quite obvious that Varro had made a huge mistake.”

Ariya just stared in disbelief. Was this what Milstein had been talking about in the last part of his journals? Was this the mistake he had wished to avoid? The smear that was going to stain his legacy?

“But certainly Milstein knew that could happen.”

Professor Cohen nodded, “Of course he knew. And he trained his battalion well so that none of them would succumb to the Crimson Plague. However others did not listen to him. Balance to them was not as important as power and cunning. It was nothing more than an after thought.”

Another gust of sea breeze wound its way around the Professor and Ariya. Silence fell around the two as both stared out at the ocean in front of them.

“So that is why you wanted me to find out what a Tempest was? So that I know how important the Balance is?”

Professor Cohen nodded, “No, you already know how important the Balance is to elemental magic. I want to show you why you must learn Balance first before you learn how to use your own element. Your thought of “learning your own element first and then learning how to the Balance incorporates your element with the others” is not a bad thought. There have been many who have thought just like that. How can you fully understand the Balance if you don't fully understand you own element, right?”

Ariya nodded her head at the professor.

“It is just that elements are not linear and magic isn't simple. So when your professor answer “Because you have to” it is the right answer. It is just not a very well explained right answer. Bending one element will affect the rest, even if we can't see the effects with our own eyes. Logically that doesn't make any sense of course, but you just have to know that it does. For many students, it probably wouldn’t matter which way they learned it. But for students like you, it is going to make a world of difference.”

Ariya shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “What do you mean by that?”

“I can already see it in you, Ariya Vant. You are the type of person who isn’t going to settle for what is simply in front of you. The air magic that you are going to learn within the walls of the Collegium is not going to be enough for you. Columns of air, shields of air, missiles of air, one day it is all going to become too simple. You are going to  want to push the limits even farther. You are going to want to see how far you can bend the elements to your will. You don't see magic as having walls, just hurdles that you have to climb over.”

“I don’t understand why you think that I…”

Professor Cohen chuckled.

“You are only sixteen and already you question the philosophy of the professors. Not because you think they are wrong, but because you want to know why they are right. You are hunting for answers on a higher level than the majority. You are the type of student who is going to leave this place and find there is more to elemental magic that what we are teaching you. You are going to bend rules and find that there are very few absolutes in what we do. For someone like you, learning the Balance first is absolutely essential.”

Again there was silence. The morning sun had finally come all the way up. Its pale yellow rays gently crept over the white capped waves that pounded along the sand of the coast line. The gentle breeze embraced both the professor and Ariya, buffeting the robes that they were clad in. Both stared out into the distance, gazes fixed on the climbing orange orb of the sun. The pinks were giving way to the light morning blue of the sky.

Ariya stood there, pondering what she had just heard. Her pale skin made her look statuesque amid the tall grasses of the hillside. Her tall, thin frame covered in the dark colors of her robe. Staring out at the landscape, Ariya was totally lost in her own thoughts. Would she really push the limits? Would she actually seek things that were beyond what was in front of her? It all sounded daunting and mysterious, as if Professor Cohen believed that there was something special about her. Or perhaps something beyond special.

“What do you mean bend the rules, Professor?”

Professor Cohen wagged her finger at Ariya with a large grin on her round face, “Learn the rules first, Ms. Vant. Make the Circle of Elements your foundation, learn how each coexists. Then we can talk about bending the rules of elemental magic.”

Ariya’s eyes shimmered slightly as a playful smile slowly made its way across her lips. It was the first sincere grin that she had ever seen Ariya make towards her.

“Oh c’mon, Professor. What would be the fun in that?”

                                                                                   - The End-

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Kitchen Adventures! - Quiche

More adventures in the kitchen! A few years ago, I attempted to make a quiche. I did not like it at all. It was a low fat crustless quiche recipe. It didn't really have that much going for it. It was pretty flavorless, unappealing and bland. I had made omelettes that were more exciting. So, I believed that quiche was a terrible dish and I had no idea why anyone would want to eat it. Recently however, I decided to that I would try my hand at it again and see if a few adjustments would change my mind. And boy did it ever!

I used the same basic recipe as the one before and blended in some ingredients from a second recipe that I had found one of the many cookbooks that I have accumulated over the years. This dish was absolutely delicious. And it is one of those foods that taste even better the next day. The vegetables I used for this were: zucchini, green onion, and carrots

The difference with this attempt (aside from the presence of a crust) was the type and amount of cheese that I used. The mixture has cottage cheese as well as cheddar cheese. And the bottom of the crust has a layer of mozzarella. When I make this again (because I will be making it again), I think I am going to try putting some fresh herbs in it. I think that would take this dish over the top.

Have you ever made a dish that you thought was an utter disaster? I challenge you to try it again and make a few adjustments. You may have your mind changed.