Automatons & Armorers at ConTemporal 2014

Last weekend, I joined the Temporal Engineering Alliance (TEA) as Port Raleigh’s aide-de-aether, otherwise known as social media assistant for ConTemporal.

In this industrious capacity, I met distinguished inventors, steamstresses, storytellers, troll hunters, melodians, haberdashers, automatons, armorers, leatherworkers, ladies and gentlemen at the third annual convergence of time streams and intersecting realities in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Some illustrative tintypes for your perusal:


Photos by J.L. Hilton

Color images and additional pictures here and here

Links:
The Blonde Swan
Bone Shaker Boxes
Brett King Steampunk
Brute Force Studios
GearHearts Magazine
The Gin Rebellion
Hatton Cross Steampunk
Koala Bags
Lady Heathers Fashions
Sleepy Hollow
Stephen Lee Chapman
The Victorian Magpie

Cogs & Captains at ConTemporal 2013
Characters & Curiosities at ConTemporal 2012

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Skyrim spouses: The good, the bad and the ugly

I love romance and I love video games, so today I’m going to take a look at both with marriage in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

The Divines have blessed a total of thirty female marriage candidates and thirty-seven male marriage candidates. But, before you get excited about the bonus beefcake for your Dovahkiin’s delight, sadly many of the eligible bachelors in Skyrim are bums, poor peasant laborers or old. And not hot old like Robert Downey Jr but old old like your great-grandpa. And many are drunks, like your divorced, unemployed Uncle Charlie.

You can marry any possible candidate, regardless of your Dragonborn’s race or gender, as long as you’ve fulfilled whatever requirements make them your friend, usually by completing a quest or conducting a financial transaction. However, there are no Bosmer (wood elves) or Khajiit (cat people) to marry, at all, male or female.

After the wedding, your spouse will make you a daily homecooked meal (yes, the men of Skyrim will cook), live in your home if asked or you can move in with them wherever they live, and they will run a home-based business (or continue their current business) garnering 100 septims profit a day.

For more about marriage in Skyrim, see this Elder Scrolls wiki page or this Unofficial Elder Scrolls wiki page.

Let’s take a look at our choices…

COMPANIONS

The Companions are a warrior guild in Whiterun and for many players the first faction of friends and potential marriage candidates you’ll meet. Several are both trainers and followers, which allows you to buy skill and then access their inventory and take back your gold.

All live in Jorrvaskr, where you can live anyway if you join the guild, so you won’t gain additional housing through marriage. Several players have also reported glitches in which steward or married Companions return to Jorrvaskr instead of living in the Dragonborn’s home.

Aela is Supreme Werewolf Queen of Side-Boob, which makes her almost as popular a wife choice as easy Lydia. Aela and Njada are both Nords and trainers, in archery and blocking respectively. Ria is an Imperial. All three are skilled warrior women and possible followers.

Between Vilkas’ tear-streaked emo eyeliner and Farkas’ dumb-yet-endearing-jockishness, the Brothers Werewolf are both popular husbands. Vilkas is a two-handed trainer, follower, spouse and steward. Farkas is a heavy armor trainer, follower and spouse. Torvar is a potential follower and spouse who is a surly drunk and possibly the only Companion who will do illegal things with you. All three are Nords.

There’s also a Dark Elf in the Companions who can be married, but I’ve listed him with the Dunmer, below.

HOUSECARLS

All housecarls are Nords, except Rayya. Valdimar is uniquely a spellsword, while the rest are warriors. They live in houses that belong to you — some will temporarily live with the Jarl of the area, while others won’t appear at all until you buy the corresponding house within which they are carling. All are possible spouses, stewards and followers who will defend you in battle unto death.

Lydia (Breezehome in Whiterun), Iona (Honeyside in Riften) and Jordis (Proudspire Manor in Solitude). Rayya (Lakeview Manor) is added by the Hearthfire expansion and gives us another Redguard women to marry (in addition to Anwen, but there are no Redguard husbands).

The basic game gives us Argis the Bulwark (Vlindrel Hall in Markarth) and Calder the groovy sideburns (Hjerim in Windhelm). But Hearthfire evens up the score with two more male housecarls — Valdimar (Windstad Manor) and Gregor (Heljarchen Hall).

DUNMER

There are several gray-skinned Dunmer to marry, perhaps because of the popularity of Morrowind? The dark elf chicks seem to possess a little more quality than the dark elf dudes, but they are roughly equivalent, I guess.

Avrusa Sarethi is an alchemist with her own farm. Brelyna Maryon is an apprentice mage at the College of Winterhold (where you can live anyway, once you join) and she’s a potential mage follower. Darvynea the Stoneweaver is an Expert Alteration trainer who works in the Steamscorch Mine and lives in Braidwood Inn in Kynesgrove. Jenassa is a mercenary living in the Drunken Huntsman and who loves killing — for a price.

Revyn Sadri is a merchant in Windhelm and a speech skill trainer, but will only marry or train the Dragonborn if you do a quest in his favor. Romlyn Dreth is a bootlegger with a small home under the city of Riften. Sondas Drenim is a food vendor at Darkwater Crossing, a mining camp. Athis is a member of the Companions who can be a follower or spouse, as well as training one-handed skill.

HOTTIES

Anwen (Redguard), Orla (Nord) and Senna (Breton). All of these lovely ladies live in the Temple of Dibella, goddess of love, beauty and sex. Of course.

While not followers of a love goddess, these three seem to be popular hunky husband choices for their looks, personality and skills. Marcurio the sassy Imperial mage mercenary can be hired at his residence, the Bee and Barb in Riften. Onmund is a sweet apprentice at the College of Winterhold who is a potential mage follower and steward, with a sob story about his Nord family not supporting his interest in magic. Vorstag is a warrior mercenary who can be hired from his residence, the Silverblood Inn in Markarth. He also seems to have a sweet disposition while also being a badass fighter, and possesses one of the softer Nord voices in the game.

AND MORE HOTTIES

Camilla is sister to the proprietor of Riverwood Trader and she is the Imperial creamy center of a love Oreo between Faendal the Bosmer archer and Sven the Nord lumberjack bard. If you marry her, her “friends” will continue to visit her at your home, wherever you live. Muiri is a Breton alchemy assistant who inherits the Hag’s Cure in Markarth if her employer is killed (and who also has an interesting love life, too, which you will hear about while doing the Dark Brotherhood questline). Ysolda is an enterprising Nord drug dealer with her own tiny house in Whiterun, who inherits the Bannered Mare if the innkeeper is killed. Sylgja manages to retain her youthful beauty in spite of being a hard-working Nord miner, and her big bust apparently doesn’t get in the way of swinging a pickaxe all day at Redbelly Mine in Shor’s Stone.

Sorex Vinius is an Imperial whose father owns the Winking Skeever in Solitude, involved in his own love Oreo with Vivienne Onis and Roggvir until the latter was beheaded. After marriage, he may continue flirting with ladies who enter the inn and he hates every home except Proudspire Manor. Quintus Navale is an Imperial alchemist who takes over the White Phial shop in Windhelm when his employer dies. I don’t know if he qualifies as a hottie (maybe if he lost that hat), but he’s young and sweet and roughly the male equivalent of Muiri. Wilhelm owns the Vilemyr Inn in Ivarstead. While the Nord cannot be a follower, he apparently possesses pickpocket skill and is marked “essential” so he can never be killed. Roggi Knot-Beard is a Nord miner in Kynesgrove, drunk and in debt, who can be a potential spouse, steward and follower, though his skills are minimal and his level is capped at only 20.

MATURE SPOUSES

If you prefer your spouse to be a little older and wiser, we have…

Aeri, Nord owner of Anga’s Mill and her own house. Gilfre, Imperial owner of Mixwater Mill and her own house. Temba, Nord mill owner in Ivarstead. And Uthgerd, Nord mercenary for hire in the Bannered Mare and owner of a decent house in Whiterun.

Ainethach is a prominent Breton who runs the Sanuarach Mine and owns a farmhouse in Karthwasten. Balimund is a blacksmith and smithing skill trainer with a house and forge in Riften, which he shares with his adopted son Asbjorn Fire-Tamer. Filnjar is a Nord blacksmith with a house in Shor’s Stone. Stenvar is a Nord warrior mercenary with a decent sense of humor who may be hired from his home, Candlehearth Hall in Windhelm. My own personal choice for husband, he makes an excellent follower but is capped at level 40 and I had to retire him to Proudspire Manor with our kids sometime between level 45-50.

ORCS & ARGONIANS

If you like the kind of spouse who has green skin and tusks, we have the orcs or “Orsimer” of Skyrim.

Female orcs: Borgakh the Steel Heart is the daughter of the Chief Larak of the Orc stronghold of Mor Khazgur and a potential follower. Ghorza gra-Bagol is a blacksmith and smithing trainer in Markarth, who lives with her brother in Understone Keep.

Male orcs: Gat Gro-Shargakh is a miner who lives in Kolskeggr Mine, east of Markarth. Moth gro-Bagol is Ghorza’s brother and also a blacksmith, working and living in Understone Keep in Markarth. Ghorbash the Iron Hand is an Orsimer living in Dushnikh Yal and is the brother of Chief Burguk. He is a potential follower, spouse and steward.

Or if that isn’t exotic enough for you, the Argonian spouses…

One lizard lady, Shahvee, and two lizard gentleman, Derkeethus and Scouts-Many-Marshes. Twice as much scaly dude skin, yay. Scouts-Many-Marshes is a light armor trainer but not a potential follower, so you probably can’t retrieve your gold from his inventory after training. He and Shahvee live in the Argonian Assemblage bunkhouse in Windhelm, if you marry and move in with one of them. If rescued from Darkwater Pass, Derkeethus can be a follower (ranger class, and the only Argonian follower in the game) and potential marriage candidate. After being rescued, he will move back to the small mining camp of Darkwater Crossing and might get killed by Falmer who spawn there.

DRAGONBORN DLC SPOUSES

One male and two female marriage candidates are added by the Dragonborn expansion. All are Nords and available as spouses but not followers, in spite of all appearing to be trained and armed warriors. From what I’ve read, these are the only spouses who can live with you in Severin Manor, but I’m not sure if they are limited to Solstheim or can move to Skyrim, too. I imagine they can, since they have to have the wedding in Riften?

Halbarn Iron-Fur and Hilund are residents of Bujold’s Retreat/Thirsk Mead Hall and Morwen has her own home in the Skaal Village (Dragonborn DLC).

SPECIAL SPOUSES

So far, so good. But here’s where things start to get a little uneven in the marriage market of Skyrim. These are the final three eligible females, but there’s much more to discuss on the male side. I’ll follow up with that in a sec.

Mjoll the Lioness is a Nord who despises the Thieves Guild and lives with Aerin in Riften. She is a skilled fighter who can be a follower, and what makes her special is that she cannot ever be killed. Even after her quest is finished, she will not die. Another added bonus (or PITA depending on how you look at it) is that wherever she goes, Aerin will follow. This has led to many jealous Dragonborn husbands secretly killing her little buddy when she’s not around. Taarie lives in the Radiant Raiment shop in Solitude, which is pretty special if you decide to move in with her, but what makes her really special is that she is the only Altmer (High Elf) marriage candidate in the game. Finally, there’s Viola, who is special because she appears to be the only really old female marriage candidate, as well as being an Imperial living in Windhelm (Ulfric Stormcloak’s city) with a very large home near Hjerim.

THE BAD AND THE UGLY

Because we can never have enough sweaty, dirty, impoverished laborers to marry, amiright? Omluag is a Breton who lives in the Warrens (basically the homeless shelter) of Markarth. Odfel is a Nord who shares a small house with an orc and whose claim to fame is a unique pickaxe called Rocksplinter. Perth is a Breton miner in Soljund’s Sinkhole who looks like he should be following Dorothy and Toto to see the Wizard. He shares a house with Tuthul (who is kind of hot looking and has a cool mohawk, but isn’t a marriage candidate – why?). Pavo Attius seems to be the best catch of the bunch, since the Imperial owns the Kolskeggr Mine and a house outside Markarth, but he will remain in miner’s clothes unless you have a PC mod. Forsworn might also invade from time to time and can kill him when you’re not around.

Angrenor Once-Honored is a homeless Nord war veteran who lives on the streets of Windhelm. Belrand is an old spellsword for hire in the Winking Skeever. While he’s not much to look at, I’ve heard that he’s a sweet husband (probably shares the same voice actor and dialog as many other spouses). Benor is a Nord thug who lives in Morthal and has been denied a job with the city guards but still lives in the guardhouse anyway. Beat him up to win his heart. Cosnach is a drunk whose heart can also be won by a brawl. In my experience, he’s a decent follower with some funny dialog about “aiming for the one in the middle” (since he’s drunk, get it?). He lives in the Warrens of Markarth. Octieve is a retired old Breton veteran who offers some two-handed training. He gambles, drinks, and lives with his grown daughter Evette in Solitude.

I WISH I COULD HAVE MARRIED

Blazing badass Teldryn Sero fills all top ten of this list. My heart is forever broken that the Dunmer spellsword can neither marry nor become a steward so we could have at least lived together. Or it might have been nice to be able to marry Faendal, the sweet Bosmer archer of Riverwood. Or black leather clad bad boy Brynjolf of the Thieves Guild. Really, just about any of the Thieves Guild members would have been acceptable marriage partners imo.

I wouldn’t kick any of the named Stormcloaks out of bed for eating crackers, either. Ralof, my buddy from Helgen. Arrald Frozen-Heart, possibly the best-looking guy in the whole damn game, who slaughtered the Miraak cultists and then helped me defeat a legendary dragon who attacked my Dragonborn Nord Assassin Silvara in Morthal. Or, y’know, Ulfric Stormcloak… But, alas, they are all unavailable, unless you’re rocking a mod on PC (I’ve been playing on PS3).

Any characters you wish you could marry in Skyrim?

- J.L. Hilton

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Game review part 2: THIEF leaves me feeling unsatisfied

THIEF
Rating: M for Mature
Blood, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Violence

Read part 1: THIEF makes me feel oh so very naughty

********* SPOILERS *********

A few weeks ago I rented THIEF from Redbox and wrote a review based on a few hours of PS3 gameplay. At the time, I thought I was about halfway through, since the main storyline was divided into eight chapters and I’d played up to chapter four.

I rented it again to finish the game and, surprise, there’s also a bunch of side missions. With those and the main story, I ended up spending $12 in total rental fees at $2 a day, though I could have wrapped it up for $6 without the distractions of work, kids, and a cold. I also suffered a setback from the mysterious April Fool’s Day Bug that caused me to lose some of my saved progress.

Through the second half of THIEF, I continued to like Garrett, the snarky anti-hero with a dancer’s body and BDSM suit, and I enjoyed the new missions full of much creepy shit and stealthy snatching. After fiddling with game settings, some of the audio remained a bit weird, but better than before.

I still wasted way too much time bumping into things. Some doors had knobs, many did not. Some windows could be pried open, many could not. Some ledges could be climbed, others not so much. By the time I became familiar with my “focus” ability, the guards’ behavior and the City layout — with its convenient spills of white paint occasionally indicating where to go — the game was almost over.

This is what passes for a map in THIEF. No streets labeled. No indication of where there are passable doors or windows instead of walls. In fact, I sometimes ran into walls where there were no walls drawn. Yay!

“At times, I caught glimpses of the good game that might have been,” said Kirk Hamilton, in his spot-on Kotaku review of THIEF’s disappointments. I hear ya, Kirk. I really, really wanted to love THIEF. I wanted to be all over this game, like cute on a kitten. It’s so many things I love — steampunk, stealth, supernatural, somber scenery, and a sleek, sexy, cynical protagonist.

THIEF felt like it wanted to be so much bigger. I wanted it to be bigger. (That’s what she said.) More characters, more missions, more parkour, more treasures, more puzzles, more chase sequences, more bearded burlesque ladies to rescue, more freedom to roam. I wanted the guards along Glimmer Lane to talk about more than rolling Polly Adler about 800 times.

And more explanations, please!

  • How did Garrett stay alive, if he was passed out for a year and couldn’t eat?
  • If the basic premise of the master thief’s personality and conflict with Erin is that he doesn’t like killing people, how come it seemed to be required to get through every mission with a few well-placed headshots and explosive arrows? (Or maybe that’s just me — I like arrows.)
  • How did the Queen of Beggars know all about the Primal stone fragments?
  • What was the deal with the obelisks (and the buttons inside of them)?
  • Was the Baron going to continue running The City or what?
  • What was Hector going to do with his automaton in Blackmoor?
  • Why did Hector have one of those Keep-shaped keys in a case in his workshop? Did I miss something to do with that?
  • Did Vittori’s carnival ever get to leave port?
  • What about those creepy-ass patients still roaming the asylum?
  • Was the Gloom gone? (And is Polly Adler spreading around something even worse?)
  • What about all the Freaks on the loose, and were they still Freaks after… whatever happened to Erin at the end?
  • Did Garrett actually love Erin at all?
  • Would Erin ever stop being a whiny PITA?
  • How did he reassemble the Primal stone if he still had a piece of it in his eye?
  • Did Basso ever get another bird?

ARRRGH! So many unanswered questions in what had the makings of an excellent story. Perhaps the answers were all there, I just didn’t find them. That I care so much certainly indicates that something in the story hooked me. I believe I could have loved this game the way I love Skyrim, but just didn’t quite get there. So heartbreaking.

- J.L. Hilton

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Game review: THIEF makes me feel oh so very naughty

THIEF
Rating: M for Mature
Blood, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Violence

I prefer rogues. In Skyrim, my Nightingale Dragonborn sneaks and snipes her way through dungeons. My vampire assassin creeps and cut-throats her way across bandit camps. So, when I saw the new Thief reboot, a video game that relies on stealth rather than brute force, I couldn’t wait to try it out.

Some reviews have been positive, but many have criticized the boring and repetitive gameplay, restrictive map layout, technical issues, gray upon gray graphics, and weak, supernatural-driven story.

I rented a copy from Redbox for my PS3. Within a few hours, I’d reached chapter four out of eight chapters. Granted, I didn’t explore to quite the extent that I might if I owned the game, but it certainly didn’t promise the 800+ hours I’ve devoted to Skyrim. For $2.00, though, I received my money’s worth.

I happen to love the color gray. I thought the muted color palette evoked the appropriate mood and environment for a protagonist who lives in the shadows. Not much different from Bioshock, or the grim Mystery Case Files hidden object games I enjoy.

The story seemed no more or less interesting than most. You’re a thief in a psuedo-Victorian city creatively named “the City,” where Industrial Era and supernatural forces collide à la Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes. Decent dialog featured one of the funniest conversations I’ve ever overheard in a video game. (Click here to listen. NSFW.)

A man in leather who's good with his hands? Yes, please.

I liked Garret, the thief of Thief. Having never played the previous games in the franchise, I had no preconceived ideas about his voice acting or anything else. With his arsenal of tricky arrows, he reminded me a bit of Oliver Queen. I even liked most of the secondary characters — Basso, the Queen of Beggars, the Thief-Taker General and Orion.

Erin, however, got on my last nerve. Unreasonable “I can take care of myself” woman-child who then promptly causes problems, gets in trouble and needs rescuing. Dressed like she just came from Hot Topic, with black nail polish and black lipstick, she wears a big dangling necklace that would have been noisy and impractical for a thief. SPOILER: Apparently she grew up in a brothel, so yay, another “rape as backstory for an edgy female character” trope.

Hi, I'm the annoying hot chick who reminds you of all the girls who ever friendzoned you in high school.

As for the game being repetitive, no more or less than most. Yes, it’s a lot of lockpicking, pickpocketing and sneaking. But is that any different from the repetitive dungeon crawling, jumping puzzles or “shoot the shit out of everything” in other games? I enjoy sneaking, stealing and lockpicking, so Thief worked for me, in that aspect. I’ve no complaints there. I just wished I could have carried more arrows.

So here’s where I agree that I despised the restrictive maps. If inFAMOUS can have a fully-interactive city, where every wall, drainpipe, awning and window can be climbed, why can’t Thief? I spent way too much time bumping against things and pushing L2, trying to figure out where I could and couldn’t go.

Even worse, the audio. People outside of a building sounded like they were right next to me. I might walk through an open doorway (no loading screen) and go from noise to silence very abruptly, or vice versa. Conversations often overlapped so that I couldn’t understand anything. Ambient sounds were inconsistent.

The brothel mission was a voyeur’s dream, and entirely unsuitable for underage players. And that’s coming from me, who lets my teen play Skyrim and watch The Daily Show. So, no, not a game you can play around the kiddies. Unless you want to explain BDSM to your kiddies.

In spite of it’s issues, the game kind of haunts me. It creeped me out and left me feeling a bit icky. The frustrating gameplay and sound editing pissed me off. But Thief has intrigued me enough that I can’t stop thinking about it. I may just have to rent it again and finish the second half.

Have you played? What did you think?

- J.L. Hilton

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Skyrim smut, part 3: “Tickling the angry troll”

WARNING: ADULT CONTENT

This is a cheeky homage to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Do not read if you are easily offended by erotica, witty banter, a Dunmer spellsword with nimble fingers, or an Imperial Dragonborn who kisses orcs — just not on the mouth.

Sequel to my previous Skyrim smut, “I need another stamina potion.”

3,000 words. Download as a pdf here.

- J.L. Hilton

* * *

TICKLING THE ANGRY TROLL

From the floor of the wagon, I watched the skies and the golden-green aspen branches passing overhead. A sentinel Teldryn Sero perched on the bench to my left. His back to the driver, he scanned the road behind us as we rolled toward Windhelm.

“I might regret asking this, but have you ever been with an elf?”

We discussed several subjects during our travels, but I suspected his latest question had something in particular to do with my attempt to bed him a few months earlier. He’d spurned my advances and I hadn’t offered again.

Though he couldn’t see the smile behind my Nightingale mask, he would hear it in my voice.

“’Been with an elf?’ Whatever do you mean? I’m with one right now.”

His own face hidden behind a red scarf and goggles, he made a little noise that would have gone well with a grimace.

“Do you enjoy making this conversation more difficult for me?”

Normally, he would have appreciated my dry humor.

“No, Teldryn, I’m sorry. Why do you ask?”

“Morbid curiosity. And a desire to fill the silence before you start singing about yourself, again.”

There it was, the flippant bastard’s levity. Reclining on a pile of large sacks, I laced my fingers behind my head and hummed The Dragonborn Comes until he playfully kicked me.

“Alright, well, there’s the Bosmer you met in Riverwood.”

“Faendal?” The name rolled off of his tongue with a tone of mockery.

“He’s a good friend, one of the first I made in Skyrim. We traveled together awhile. But he’s not a hireling, and eventually he wanted to go home.”

“I don’t blame him. If I had to settle in Skyrim, Riverwood might be the place I’d choose.”

“That, and he’s got a horker tusk for Lucan’s sister, Camilla.”

“The woman in the trader’s shop? The one who kept saying—” Teldryn mimicked her voice. “‘It’s a fine day with you around.’

“Yes, that one.”

“Not exactly the sharpest weapon in the armory, is she?”

“I don’t know what he sees in her, but I’ve given up trying to understand the love lives of elves.” Let him take that as he would. “He taught me a lot about archery. I taught him how to hit my target. He was sweet, but…”

I tried to think of a diplomatic way to say he lacked imagination and depravity.

“Not satisfying?” Teldryn suggested.

“I prefer Nords for their size, strength and stamina.”

“So I’ve noticed.”

Teldryn met my husband, Stenvar, in Solitude, and he knew I’d engaged my housecarl, Argis, to relieve my tensions in Markarth. I refrained from telling him about my previous companions, Vorstag and Thonnir, and the many nights the three of us spent together, or the means by which I’d thanked Ralof for helping me escape Helgen. Teldryn had asked about Mer, not Men.

“There was an orc in Cidhna Mine.”

“An Orsimer?” He made a noise of disgust. “I imagine your relationship with him was only prudent so long as you were imprisoned.”

“He didn’t coerce me, if that’s what you mean. I seduced him. They called him Borkul the Beast and he lived up to his name.”

He repeated my words back at me. “Size, strength and stamina.”

The wagon hit a bump in the road with a loud jolt. I braced myself until we got past the rough patch, then continued the conversation.

“He was a lovely shade of green, too, like the stem of a lavender plant.”

“And what did the orc say when you told him that bit of poetry?”

“I never did. He wasn’t much of a romantic.”

“I’m shocked.” No he wasn’t. “And how did you kiss an Orsimer with those teeth sticking out of his face?”

“I don’t remember kissing him much. On the mouth.”

He sneered. “Delightful.”

“Borkul belonged to Madanach, the king in rags. The Forsworn were decent to me. I helped them escape of my own free will, though I’d been sent to kill them.”

“I’ve never heard the terms ‘Forsworn’ and ‘decent’ in the same sentence before.”

“They only want the same thing the Nords want. Control of their own lands and destinies, and the right to worship as they please. I despise what that hypocrite Ulfric Stormcloak did in Markarth.”

“You would rather the Reachmen rip Markarth from the loving embrace of the Empire?”

I found an apple in one of the sacks and removed my mask to eat. “Better that than see the place crawling with Thalmor.”

“Now you sound like a Stormcloak.”

“I haven’t taken sides in the civil war.”

“They won’t wait forever. You’re an ally every faction desires—Stormcloak, Empire, even the Aldmeri Dominion.”

“To Oblivion with the Aldmeri Dominion.”

Day began to wane and a cool breeze stirred the trees. The weather would turn to snow when we reached Eastmarch. Teldryn tucked the edge of his red scarf under his chin and put a leaf of frost mirriam in his mouth, a mild measure of cold resistance.

“I take it, then, that you haven’t bedded an Altmer?” he asked.

“Ha. I never would, assuming one of them would want to tarnish his golden staff with an Imperial.”

“An Imperial Dragonborn. Someday, you may be worshiped as the next Talos.”

“Well, I wouldn’t let one of them profane my pink temple, how about that?”

“Fair enough.” Teldryn touched his thumb to the tip of each finger, counting off. “Bosmer, Orsimer, Altmer. The Dwemer are gone, and I assume the Falmer are out of the question.”

“Of course.”

“That only leaves Dunmer.”

“Not for lack of trying,” I reminded him.

“If you wanted to add one to your collection, there’s always Captain Veleth.”

I snorted dismissively. “He’s in love with Dreyla Alor.”

“Get him alone in the Bulwark, late one night, then tell me I’m wrong.”

“I don’t think I’m attractive to dark elves.” Or, one particular dark elf, at least. Or so I thought, though his goggles seemed to be taking in quite a bit of me at the moment, from the tips of my boots to the dark hood over my head.

On the road we both wore our masks. Mine was part of the traditional Nightingale garb, but I had no idea why he wore his. I’d only seen him without his chitin helmet in Markarth, when I’d had a glimpse of him bathing. Since then, he’d taken care to remain out of my sight. Which took some doing, because the fastidious elf loved to be clean. The Falmer would never smell his approach.

“You’ve tamed dragons, destroyed Miraak and traveled to Apocrypha without going mad,” he said. “Such a woman would capture the interest of any Dunmer. Even the Telvanni wizard.”

I grabbed another apple.

“Neloth? He’s what? Two hundred years old?”

“Over four or five hundred, at least. Which means he’s well-versed in the fornication school of magic.”

I’d just taken a big bite and almost choked on it, laughing. “Is that like alteration, but you make your cock invisible? Or like conjuration? Can you summon a tit atronach?”

He didn’t laugh with me, but went back to watching the forest and chewing his frost mirriam. He grumbled. “Don’t underestimate the imagination and ability of a Dunmer mage.”

“You’re a Dunmer mage.”

“I am.”

I wondered how many fornication spells he knew.

I tossed my apple core over the side of the cart. “So, Neloth or Veleth? I don’t know, hard to decide. They both have those sharp Dunmer features. High cheekbones, stern grimaces, arched eyebrows, deep haggard lines, scathing red eyes.”

“It is our ill-favored fate to look the way we do,” he said bitterly.

“No, no, don’t take that the wrong way. After spending some time on Solstheim, I’ve begun to appreciate the grim glamor of your people. They’re strange, but alluring. Character is so much more attractive than mere beauty.”

“I agree.”

We traveled in silence for several more bumps in the road. I studied him, outlined against the purple and orange of sunset, until the first stars appeared and Bjorlam, our carriage driver, lit his lanterns.

“I’ve answered your questions, now answer mine.”

“What do you want to know?”

“Does all of that dour cynicism melt away in the darkness? When everything else is gray, too, do Dunmer burn as hot as the molten lava of Red Mountain, or are they as cold as the unmelting snow on the Throat of the World? Does living so long make them disdain love, or feel it more deeply than they would ever admit to anyone, even themselves?”

He sighed, slouching into a posture that seemed almost despondent. “Anything else?”

“Does your skin taste like ash?”

Removing his chitin helmet, he knelt on the floor of the wagon beside me. When he pulled the goggles over his head, I looked into his scarlet eyes for the first time.

“I am yours to taste, if you will still have me.”

“You don’t have to sound so depressed about it, like you’re only taking one for the regiment.”

He ignored my joke. To hear sincerity rather than sarcasm in his reply, surprised me. “I’d only hoped to wait until the day you loved me in return. But I can’t stand the thought of you satisfying your curiosity with another Dunmer.”

Loved me in return… His words filled my mind like the chanting of a dragon wall. I possessed the star of Azura and Meridia’s blessed sword Dawnbreaker. I’d reconstructed the Crown of Berenziah and recovered the shards of Ysgramor’s ancient axe Wuuthrad. I’d taken the very souls from dragons. Yet, when I lifted my fingers to his mouth and the purple lines tattooed on his chin, I trembled to touch such a treasure.

As if he’d picked my master lock, my heart opened wide and revealed a truth that had been waiting there for some time. I told him, “I do love you, Teldryn Sero,” and felt the warmth of his exhale.

He grasped my hand and kissed my fingertips still sticky with apple juice, then put his lips around the tip of my first finger. I felt his teeth and his hot, wet tongue, and watched, paralyzed as if he’d cast a spell on me, while he moved to the next fingertip, and the next, until he’d tasted them all. He covered my palm with light kisses and I could hardly feel his touch through the black leather of my fingerless gloves, but it didn’t matter. I could see the adoration in his eyes.

I didn’t realize I’d been holding my breath, until I grew dizzy and had to inhale.

“You’ve made me forget to breathe.”

He gave me a wry smile. “My apologies, Serjo Dovah.” Dragon Queen. A clever mixture of Dunmer and Dragon language. “Should I stop?”

“No, don’t stop.”

He continued kissing my shield hand, my wrist, then the inside of my arm. I dragged the fingers of my sword hand through the strip of black hair down the center of his head, traced the feathery tattoos over his cheekbones, and explored the long tip of his pointed ear, before he’d made a path to my shoulder.

I tried to memorize every line, scar and tattoo of a face enigmatic as an Elder Scroll and shivered as if someone had cast a fear spell upon me.

“Cold?” He lay alongside me and raised a hand over my chest. A ball of flame crackled to life.

I invoked a healing spell and grasped his burning hand, lacing my fingers with his. I felt heat, but no pain. The intermingling of the two spells gave me a faint prickling sensation. When his flames disappeared, I ended the healing spell and he kissed my sword hand as he’d done the other. Moving up my arm, he didn’t stop at my shoulder but sought my neck, his nimble mouth doing more with a few inches of bare skin than most men could do with my entire body.

I arched my back and moaned, writhing against the tension that spread through me. I didn’t care if the carriage driver overheard. I could feel hard muscle beneath the netch leather covering Teldryn’s right shoulder, but most of his armor consisted of chitin plates that prevented my exploration.

Panting in short breaths, aching to be filled, I had no idea if he could fill me. I didn’t care. I wanted him, any part of him, inside me. I didn’t care which part or where. I searched to untie the knot of his trousers.

He shifted his weight, pinning my shield arm while limiting my access to his personal treasury.

“Patience, Serjo Dovah. I said I’m yours, but I didn’t mean right here and now. I won’t be half dressed when we’re attacked by bandits.”

“Just summon an atronach while I fill the bastards with arrows. We’ll be fine.”

My sword hand went for his trousers again and he caught my wrist.

“And what if there’s a dragon?”

I tested the strength of his grip. Strong as ebony. Much more powerful than he looked, the slender Dunmer, which aroused me more.

He watched the rise and fall of my chest, the way I licked my lips, and he laughed at me. “I’ve yet to taste your mouth, and you’re already on the verge of eruption. Do you need my blade in your sheath?”

“Yes.” I pressed against him. “Yes.” My insistence didn’t move him. “If you want me to beg, then… yes, please.”

“Yes, please, whom?”

“Yes, please, Teldryn.”

“Try again.”

Please, you maddeningly miserable mammoth’s backside!” I tried — not very hard — to throw him off. He wrapped one leg around me and held me tighter.

“Not the endearment I’m looking for.”

“Yes, please, my love.”

“That will do, for now.”

Smiling, he placed my hand around his neck. I left it there without complaint, there being precious little skin elsewhere for me to touch. Meanwhile, he traced a finger over my cheek, my jawline, the round curve of my ear, then down my forehead to the tip of my nose, where he said, “No.”

“What?”

“No, I won’t let you have my elven blade. Not yet.”

“You bastard. At least let me taste you. You won’t have to undress. Much.”

“No.”

“Damn you, dark elf, why not?”

“It won’t be enough to fulfill me, Zephyr Silvertongue. Not after all of these months of watching you. Wanting you. Waiting for you.”

With each word, I could smell the peppery hint of frost mirriam on his breath. My hand clutched his neck and pulled him to me, his burning mouth igniting my passion like a fireball. He wielded his tongue with the deftness of an assassin’s blade. I marveled at his skill, dying for him to end me.

“Don’t torture me,” I whispered against his lips.

“I will.” He caressed the curve of my breast, my hip and then between my legs, with just enough pressure that I could feel him but not enough to satisfy me. “I will torture you until you pay for every moment you spent fucking your housecarl.”

“I could have fucked you. I offered you the chance.”

He massaged me through the black leather and I thrust against his hand, seeking relief.

“I don’t want to fuck you.” He kissed my ear. “I want to explore you.” My closed eyes. “Love you.” My mouth. “Possess you.”

Unbuckling the armor around my hips, he worked his hand into my pants.

“And I want you to want the same, of me.”

I gasped. “I do.”

“You’re a bad liar when you’re wet.”

He found the hidden jewel in my treasure chest, and any protest I might have made about my honesty came out a senseless cry. He covered my mouth with his free hand. No, his skin didn’t taste like ash, he tasted like salt and leather.

“You’ll attract every sabre cat, bear and troll for miles,” he chastised me, but didn’t relent the skillful manipulation that drove me to continue my stifled moaning.

I recognized the tingling of a low-level lightning spell humming, uncast, from the hand between my thighs. Against my most sensitive skin, the vibration felt like nothing I’d never experienced before. I convulsed, clutching him, groaning and biting his palm. I did not merely peak but exploded, again and again, Dibella’s gift shattering me into a thousand sparks, like the stars overhead.

I felt lost for ages before I returned to the rustling leaves, the jostling wagon and Teldryn’s hands still on me. I tasted blood and realized how hard I’d bitten him, immediately casting a healing spell that swirled around him like a cloud of torchbugs. He removed his hand from my mouth and examined the vanishing wound.

“I’m glad I didn’t let you near my cock.”

He grasped my backside, pulling me close, kissing me again. I entwined my legs with his and my arms around his neck.

“How do I get you naked and inside me?” I whispered. “Tell me.”

“You still want me? I thought you’d lose interest, soon as I tickled your angry troll.”

I considered the gray skin under his chitin armor that I had yet to taste. The shape of the cock I had yet to know. The countless applications of sexual magic I’d never imagined.

I considered the mind, body, heart and soul of Teldryn Sero.

“I want you more than anything or anyone in Tamriel,” I answered.

“Then give me a fortnight. Neloth’s briar heart can wait.”

“Where can we…” I gasped as he nibbled my neck and massaged my backside. Scarcely able to form the word, I whispered, “Ivarstead?”

“Not enough privacy. The Retching Netch.”

“Too far away. Riften.”

“Your housecarl will tell your husband.”

“She won’t if I send her away. Delphine is recruiting Blades. It will be a great honor for Iona.”

“I’d love to read that missive. ‘Dear Delphine, tenacious survivor of the Aldmeri Dominion’s massacre of your brethren in arms: Here’s a dragon hunter to rebuild the ranks of your ancient and illustrious band of lofty do-gooders. Her qualifications are listed thusly: She is my sword and my shield, and I need to debauch a dark elf. Sincerely, the Dragonborn.’

“I think I’m the one who’s going to be debauched.”

He chuckled wickedly. “You can’t even begin to imagine.”

* * *

Read more Skyrim…

Skyrim smut, part 1: “Come with me to Sovngarde”

Skyrim smut, part 2: “I need another stamina potion”

How I left my husband for a man with pointy ears

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Skyrim smut, part 2: “I need another stamina potion”

WARNING: ADULT CONTENT

This is a cheeky homage to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Do not read if you are easily offended by erotica, witty banter, a housecarl who really knows how to hammer his Thane’s anvil, or an Imperial Dragonborn with a couple of tasty boiled creme treats.

This is a sequel of sorts to my previous Skyrim smut, “Come with me to Sovngarde,” and a prelude to “Tickling the angry troll,” which features a lot more Teldryn Sero.

2,000 words.

- J.L. Hilton

* * *

“I NEED ANOTHER STAMINA POTION”

My housecarl waited on the steps outside my bed chamber while I pulled a robe around my naked body. “What is it, Argis?”

“Have you finished your bath, my Thane?”

“I have. You can empty the water and put the tub away.”

“Your hireling has asked me to move it to the alchemy room, so he might bathe.”

“He can use it right there.” I gestured to the large open space behind him, between my bedroom and the servant’s quarters opposite. I had no idea what the original purpose of the chamber had been when the ancient Dwemer built Vlindrel Hall, but it now served as a kitchen, study and storage area. “It’s still warm, near the fire.”

“I told him already, my Thane. But he wants fresh water.”

“So, give it to him.”

“And privacy.”

Curious fellow, the dark elf. I’d yet to have a good look at his face, though we’d traveled together for months finding the Black Books, assisting the residents of Raven Rock, and undoing the treachery of Miraak. After that, we’d journeyed across Skyrim to the stone city of Markarth. The wizard Neloth wanted a fresh briar heart to study, and what better place to find one than the Reach. But before venturing out to seek the Forsworn, I wanted to bathe, eat, drink and rest well, for the first time in weeks.

“Do whatever he asks, Argis. Obey him as you would obey me.”

“Yes, my Thane.”

I also intended to know my new follower a little better, and having him bathe within sight of my bed would have been ideal for that purpose. My husband, Stenvar, took care of my needs when I happened to be in Solitude, but it had been a long time since my last visit to Proudspire Manor. Special services were typically provided by mercenaries, along with swordsmanship. Though, so far, I’d not asked nor had the dark elf offered. But then, I hadn’t expected to travel with him for so long. To be honest, I’d expected him to die easily in a draugr crypt, ash spawn attack or dragon’s fire before I left Solstheim. Perhaps he’d expected the same of me, at first, until I’d shown myself a true Dragonborn.

Teldryn Sero, whoever he was, had proven to be a remarkably capable match for me. With a wry wit, quiet feet, deadly blade, and powerful arsenal of battle magic, his fighting style complimented mine in every way. An affable traveling companion, thus far we’d shared similar opinions on many subjects. I found all of these qualities alluring, though I’d never been attracted to a dark elf before.

I busied myself while Argis emptied and moved the large brass tub. I read scrolls, journals and books, and sorted the new weapons, staffs, gems and jewelry I’d acquired. I took quill, paper and ink and wrote a letter to my husband, which I would have Argis send by courier in the morning.

After my housecarl completed his tasks and returned to the kitchen, I crept into the main hall and toward the alchemy alcove near the front of the house. There were no doors in the entire dwelling, only those at the front entrance. My view thus unhindered, I could see the top of Teldryn’s head, shaved but with a stripe of dark hair running down the middle, sticking up above the edge of the tub. For once, he wasn’t wearing his chitin helmet and goggles. They, along with the red scarf with which he covered his face, lay on the floor. I sneaked closer.

“Good evening, outlander.”

I straightened from my stealthy crouch. “I don’t deserve to be master of the Thieves Guild. How did you know I was there?”

“By the silence. I’ve heard you moving about for the past hour, and then… nothing. That you were up to some nefarious purpose seemed the obvious explanation.”

“How did you know I hadn’t fallen asleep?”

“I heard you walk through the kitchen, not climb into bed.”

“You’re a clever one.” I lowered my voice to a seductive purr. “But my purpose is not nefarious.”

I took another step closer and could see the ashen tip of his left ear ending in a long point, the corner of his eye, and a streak of purple over his high cheekbone. A scar? A tattoo? His lean, well-muscled arm rested along the rim of the tub and blocked my view of anything else. It amused me to see that even someone with gray skin had freckles, darker gray specks dusting his triceps and forearm.

“That’s far enough, please.”

“Why are you so mysterious, dark elf? Are you disfigured? Is that why you hide your face?”

“I assure you, I am the handsomest of Dunmer.”

I’d become quite familiar with Teldryn’s sarcasm.

“That’s not saying much,” I quipped in return.

He rewarded me with his musical laughter.

“Good night, Dovahkiin.”

“I would sleep better with someone beside me.”

“If you mean someone in-side you, you should speak to your housecarl. He is dying to be of assistance to you in that regard. I can see it in his face. And his pants. I’m sure he’ll do anything you ask.”

“But you won’t?”

“I am not your servant nor your plaything. If I am ever in your bed, it will not be because you ordered me to be there, nor because you paid me to be there. And it will never be because you needed to scratch an itch and I happened to be the nearest branch.”

I wanted to take the insolent dark elf by his bristle of black hair and drag him into my bed chamber. The arrogant bastard, to refuse the Dragonborn and agent of Dibella, goddess of passion, anointed in the temple of this very city. He didn’t know what he was missing. I’d force a paralysis potion down his throat, tie him down and enchant his staff in ways he couldn’t begin to imagine. I felt engorged and damp at the thought.

“I don’t think so little of you.”

“Good to know.” He waved me away. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Aching and angry as if I’d been hit by a steel warhammer of frost, I blew out my candles, climbed under the covers alone and closed my eyes. After a quarter hour of sleepless seething, I heard Argis approach, noisy as peddler’s cart in his steel armor.

“Is there anything I can do for you, my Thane?” His low, husky voice bespoke the release of my tensions.

I felt bitter, like sour milk. “I cannot sleep.”

He walked to my bedside. Light from the kitchen fire outlined his hulking silhouette.

“The dark elf is a fool.”

No. In my experience, Teldryn Sero was anything but a fool. Though I felt like one. myself. No one had ever refused me before. And to be denied by some dusty Dunmer vagabond, wearing armor made of glue and bug parts. If he thought he was too good to have his precious elven blade honed by Imperial lips, to Oblivion with him.

I rose, leaning on my shield arm. My robe dropped from my shoulder and revealed the curve of one breast, golden as an apple in the firelight.

“Pretend I’m not your Thane, and you are not my housecarl. If I am just a woman, and you are just a man, would you bed me?”

“I would. By the Divines, of course I would.”

I threw back the covers. When I opened my robe and my knees, he groaned at the invitation. Fumbling with the buckles on his armor, he practically ripped the pieces off of his body before he fell on me and buried his face between my legs.

Where my older and more experienced husband would have started at my toes and worked his way up each thigh, then teased each breast to make the honey drip from my beehive before he lapped it up, Argis used a power attack in place of skill. Riding a sabre cat bareback and naked up the Seven Thousand Steps of High Hrothgar might come close to the sensation of his unshaven mouth devouring me, licking, biting and sucking until his tongue triggered the little pressure plate of pleasure just above my treasure vault. I cried out and clenched his golden-red hair with both hands while he triggered it again and again.

He moved to my breasts like a starving boy eating two boiled cream treats. When he put his lips to mine, I could smell myself on his beard, taste myself on his probing tongue. His woolly chest and thighs felt like soft moss over granite boulders. The musk of ale, sweat and steel surrounded me, the perfume of every male Nord. His equipment wasn’t as large as Stenvar’s, but adequate to the task.

I wrapped my legs around him, but he would not take me. Instead, he rolled me over on my hands and knees. With his knees between mine, he rubbed his cock against the curve of my backside, his hands caressing every inch of me. I spread my knees further apart and tried to impale myself upon his sword.

“Sanguine’s balls, take me now!”

He groaned again, as if struggling under some great burden. “I … I would ask…”

“What?”

His voice sounded strained. “To speak your name, my Thane.”

“Then speak it.” I didn’t give a skeever’s tail if he called me General Tullius at that point.

Argis plunged into my damp cave, moaning, “Zephyr” and “Dragonborn,” at intervals. He clutched a cluster of braids and pulled my hair as he slammed into me, again and again, grunting with each thrust. I let him know how much he pleased me, encouraging him, crying out and begging for more. It felt exquisite to be taken so fiercely, wanted so intensely. I only wished he would pet my Khajiit while he hammered my anvil, and bring my frenzy to a climax.

I grasped his arm and twisted my body, pulling him off-balance and shoving him onto his back. I had the blood and soul of a dragon, making me stronger than most. He didn’t seem to mind, though he struggled enough to make the victory sweet. I pinned his wrists and rode him for my own enjoyment, galloping as if I were pursued by the hoards of Oblivion. My breasts bounced against his chest.

“I need…” He grunted. “Another stamina potion.”

I slowed my pace but did not relent. Clenching, I squeezed him with the walls of my secret passage and moved my hips like a tavern dancer.

“Another?” I teased, gripping his chin and looking into his good eye. “How many did you take before you came to me, Argis?”

“Three,” he growled through gritted teeth.

His arm now free, he wrapped it around my waist and I let him roll me onto my back, his blade still buried to the hilt. He kissed me, pinching my nipples between his rough fingers and sending jolts of painful pleasure through me. I writhed under him and climbed my peak, even as I perceived the tension in him, nearing his own release. When I felt the throb of his cock, Dibella blessed me with her gift and I moaned in ecstasy. He thrust, growling with the effort, and shivered as he flooded me.

When the wave had crashed and our passions ebbed, he collapsed, his head falling to my breast, gasping. I stroked his hair while he caught his breath.

“Thank you, Argis.”

“I’m honored, my Thane. Are you pleased?”

“Yes.”

He lifted his head. “May I please you again?”

“In the morning. You can sleep here tonight, if you like.”

Wrapped protectively around my back, he soon snored softly in my ear. But that was not the reason why I couldn’t sleep.

I still couldn’t stop thinking about Teldryn Sero.

* * *

Read more Skyrim…

Skyrim smut, part 1 (previous): “Come with me to Sovngarde”

Skyrim smut, part 3 (next): “Tickling the angry troll”

How I left my husband for a man with pointy ears

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Skyrim shenanigans and Game of Thrones geekery, plus interviews with some really cool people

It’s been a few months since my last update, and in that time I’ve attended the Geek Gala, taken my family to Disney World, suffered a long spell of bronchitis, and dealt with Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year and Valentine’s Day.

Necklace inspired by the GAME OF THRONES clockwork intro (click to enlarge)

I am still working on the third book in the Stellarnet Series, tentative title Stellarnet Mother, but haven’t had much time to write. Or, to be accurate, haven’t made much time to write, because I have a day job and writing in addition to that would mean shutting out my family and friends, giving up jewelry, not seeing any movies or TV shows, not doing any volunteer work, not going to any cool stuff like a Tim Burton burlesque show, not playing Skyrim (essential as breathing) and not sleeping. Basically, the way I spent 2012, the year I wrote and edited Stellarnet Prince. It took a toll on my mental and physical health, and I’m not going to do that again.

In manageable, bite-sized increments, I’ve done a little writing for the Contact-Infinite Futures SF/SFR blog and CharlotteGeeks.com, wherein I talk about geeky holidays, the incredible stop-action dystopian story of Junk Head 1, Dirk Gently, smooching aliens, and the beloved ridiculousness of geekdom. I interviewed Jeremy Whitley about his new My Little Pony comic and sexism in SF/F, Richard Dansky about video game writing and his favorite monsters, and William Harms about his new Shotgun Wedding comic and the best weapons for zombie defense.

I’ve indulged in some fandom, making a Stark direwolf sigil, drawn by hand and acid-etched, polished and hammered on my little jeweler’s anvil. I also made a necklace (above) inspired by the Game of Thrones TV intro, something I’ve been wanting to do since I saw the first episode and the clockwork map.

I bought a new gaming PC so I could play all of The Elder Scrolls games. For fun, I performed a little digital magic and made fan art of Teldryn Sero, the “best swordsman in all Morrowind… for the right price.” Then I made some Honningbrew Mead jewelry inspired by the doomed brewery in Whiterun.

I have an unholy obsession with dark elves...

What’ve you been up to?

~ J.L. Hilton

Posted in Conventions & events, News, On writing..., Science Fiction, Steampunk, Stellarnet Prince, Stellarnet Rebel, Stellarnet Series, Video games | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Happy Valentine’s Day from Duin, J’ni and Belloc

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Heroes and hagravens at Escapist Expo 2013

Escapist Expo is a 3-day convention in Durham, NC, where The Escapist magazine highlights video games, tabletop games, card games, science fiction, fantasy, comics and music. This year’s event happened over the weekend of October 4-6 and I’m finally getting around to writing about it!

LOTR: Awesome crossplay. These are both women! Escapist Expo 2013. Photo courtesy of my minion Lilith.

Last year, I shared a table with Bull Spec, a regional fiction magazine, promoting my Stellarnet Series along with many other local authors. This year I had my own table and peddled my handmade jewelry beside my post-cyberpunk fiction and the non-fiction steampunk art books in which my design work is featured.

I wish I could tell you about all of the exciting and amazing things that happened at the expo — Totalbiscuit, Yahtzee Croshaw, live-action zombie Nerf games, cosplay contest, Geek Trivia, MTG tourney, Cards Against Humanity, D20 Girls, panels — but I suffered a screwed up shoulder and spent most of my time behind my table, when I wasn’t resting and loading up on ibuprofen. Many thanks to my minions and the sweet expo volunteer who helped me lug my junk to the ballroom.

The expo crowd was a good one, though. Young and young-at-heart, upbeat, savvy and entertaining. I enjoyed meeting the folks who stopped by to peruse my shiny trinkets and I gorged on a visual feast of cool costumes.

For part of the weekend, I also hosted an old Underwood manual typewriter, courtesy of Bull Spec, upon which participants were encouraged to experience the origins of the “shift” key or figure out how to type an exclamation point. “How do you go to the next line?” was asked several times. “I thought the @ symbol was invented for the Internet,” someone said. It’s kind of creepy living long enough to witness an entire generation of grown adults who’ve never even touched an item I grew up with.

More goodies from the Escapist Expo:

SKYRIM: Hagraven, Briarheart, Giant and bandits. Photo by Heather Barefoot (c) The Escapist

Official photos from the Escapist Expo

Official videos from the Escapist Expo

Pics of the crossplay dwarves on Facebook

Geek jewelry from Taramorphic

Author and video game writer Richard Dansky

Fantasy illustrator Cynthia Sheppard

Rumble and Roar Wandmakers

~ J.L. Hilton

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Dear romance authors

I enjoy a good romance novel. I’m especially fond of anything in a kilt. Yes, Highland Romance is a cheesy genre, peppered with “dinnas” and “aye, lassies.” It typically pairs a fiery heroine incongruous for her time period with a Muscles MacCoolguy hero who’s strong enough to survive death, disease, mortal wounds, time travel and an invading army, yet romantic and sensitive enough to make love like an enchanted elven gigolo on Viagra. And I enjoy every bit of it.

Tropes are tropes because we love them, and I have no quarrel with that. But some clichés bring my enjoyment of romance to a screeching halt.

1) “SLANTING.”

There are two very overused examples: “Sunlight slanted through the window…” and “His mouth slanted over hers…” The first appears so often in fiction of all genres that it should be a drinking game, and the second just doesn’t make any sense. Have you ever in your life said to a friend, “I loved the way my boyfriend slanted his mouth last night”? The author might as well write, “His mouth sloped over hers…” or “He angled his tongue…” There’s got to be a better way to explain what’s happening than to make it sound like a guy can’t properly aim his smootcher. 

2) “FISTING.”

As in… “His hand fisted her hair.” Really? Maybe this is a common expression somewhere in the world, but I’ve lived 40+ years all over the U.S. and the only use of “fisting” I’ve ever heard is the hardcore porn kind employed in the uncut version of Caligula. Which REALLY ruins my immersion when I’m reading a romance.

3) CRISIS INTROSPECTION.

“As the bullets whizzed by his head, he wondered how she felt about him. He recalled the way her eyes gazed at him from across the room during the dance and couldn’t remember anyone ever looking at him that way before…” There’s no human being, male or female, who would be “wondering if she could trust the promise in his kiss” or “averting his gaze from her voluptuous breasts and the half-lidded suggestion in her eyes” when they’re near death or in some terribly desperate situation. Desperate moments might evoke desperate declarations, but spare me the navel gazing and pages of pondering — and the sex scenes — until a lull in the action.

4) DITHERING.

I can’t relate to adult characters who spend all their time worrying, speculating, doubting and daydreaming like 15-year-olds. There are certainly times for reflection and inner turmoil. But these work well if supported by actions and external events. If the entire “plot” of a romance novel is nothing but chapter after chapter of his unexpressed confusion, alternating with chapters of her endless mental waffling, no thanks.

5) STUPIDITY.

I once read a historic romance about a worldly knight who’d fought battles and wooed women all over Europe. But for the duration of the novel, he suddenly couldn’t understand body language, sexual attraction, emotion, politics, female anatomy, social status or the function of his own junk. He went on and on in the vein of “I just don’t know why she kissed me or why my body responded…” Dude, seriously?

Romance author Susanna Fraser shared one of her own pet peeves with me the other day.

“Small town romances that bash big cities. I’m fine with a small town setting on its own, but when all the characters can do is go on about how DANGEROUS the big city is, and how TERRIBLE the city schools are, I get angry. I love my big city home and my daughter’s school is excellent. And don’t even get me started on books where the heroine has been living a happy life in the big city, only to come back to her hometown, where she discovers her city life was empty and she belongs with her high school sweetheart.”

Are there any romance clichés, tropes and conventions that ruin your immersion in a story?

~ J.L. Hilton

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