Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Space Limerick: Hubble image of comet ISON

The beauty of space is surreal
This image has got some appeal
Just look what they found
The objects abound
That star at the bottom is teal!

Stars, Galaxies, and Comet ISON Grace a New Image from Hubble

Monday, July 15, 2013

Space Limerick: Washing Your Bald Head

If washing your hair is a chore
The scrubbing and rinsing's a bore
Just try it in space!
You're bald? In that case
You won't have to worry no more

Washing Your Hair in Space, Bald Edition

Space Limerick: Star Party

Come in! It's a fine stellar party!
We hope that you're feeling quite hearty.
As upwards we gaze,
The whole cosmic maze
Won't wait for the ones who are tardy.

Virtual Star Party – July 14, 2013

News Limerick 7/15/2013

To search for a comet's not easy
You stay up at night while it's breezy
Equipment you'll need
Must work at great speed
Competing with robots feels queasy

Amateur Astronomer Discovers Comet C/2013 N4 (Borisov) During a Star Party

Friday, July 12, 2013

News Limerick 7/12/2013

A planet that looks rather blue
And orbits another star, too?
The temperature's high
And winds really fly
At least we have learned something new!

Hubble telescope discovers alien 'deep blue' planet

Thursday, July 11, 2013

News Limerick 7/11/2013

We learn that our sun has a tail
As fast through the aether we sail
Like clover-shaped leaves
From strong solar breeze
The size of it makes me turn pale

Our Solar System Has a Tail Shaped Like a Four-Leaf Clover: New Findings from IBEX

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

News Limerick 7/10/2013

An arctic explorer named GROVER?
The first set of tests is now over
It faired rather well
When temperatures fell
As there on the icepacks they drove 'er

NASA GROVER rover completes first tests in remote arctic expedition

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: Misty Castle

They rode on through the clearing, following the path that continued to stretch before them along the deer path.

Elie: What's a deer path?
Me: It's where the deer often walk through the woods to get to food or water. All the repetetive walking makes a small path that others can follow.
Elie: Did they see any deer?
Me: They may have, but deer are very shy and may have been frightened by the horses.

As they continued, the forest grew older, the trees wider and more twisted by age and elements. More and more were entirely bare of all leaves. The undergrowth disappeared and was replaced by swirling mists creeping from the surface of some long forgotten lake.

Elie: Well, who was in the back?
Me: You said it was Tiana, I believe.
Elie: I think she had a chain on her horse so she wouldn't get lost.
Me: A chain from horse to horse? Good idea - that helped them all stay together in the mist.

A gust of stale wind scattered the mist before them and they saw a large jumble of stones and rubble that may once have been a wall or gate. The horses carefully picked their way over these and into a flat open area beyond. An archway still stood to one side. There were runes carved into the top of the passage.

Alatar consisdered these for a moment and then translated:
A hallowed throneroom lies beyond, open for the world to see.
They passed through and found another note scrawled on the wall:
The one who'd take the crown deserves it not
To sit upon the throne will make you rot
Elie: Who had the throne?
Me: Well, they have four horses, who do you think?
Elie: Mandalar's horse is the strongest so it had the throne. Sarai's had the crown, and Tiana the scepter.
Me: Leaving the chest with the treasure of science for Alatar's?
Elie: Yeah.

They had to dismount their horses as the ceiling grew lower as the passage continued. Behind them, they heard the now familiar scratching, clawing noise of stone on stone.

Me: What was behind them?
Elie: The gargoyles!

Frightened, they rushed through the end of the stone hallway and into open mist. Another stiff breeze blew in, this one carrying a salty smell of a nearby sea. Alatar spun around and formed a wall of the mist at the tunnel's mouth. Mandalar drew his sword and hefted his shield before him.

Tiana turned to Sarai. With a hand on her shoulder, she spoke quickly, "Do you want me with you or here to hold them off as long as I can?"

Elie: I think Alatar and Mandalar should be partners and Sarai and Tiana should be partners.

Together, Tiana and Sarai moved led the horses on. The breeze exposed a tlarge square trellis on a large stone courtyard, supported at four corners by thick stone pillars. It was open on all sides with mist streaming through. The ceiling was a latice of wood covered over with ancient vines.

"The throne room, open for the world to see!" Sarai exclaimed. She and Tiana quickly unloaded the throne and put it at one end. The scepter leaned against it to one side, and the treasure chest they placed on the other. The crown they set in the seat.

Me: The old king's throne was covered with hand quilted blankets to make the wood a bit more comfortable. Did they have anything to put on it?
Elie: Their pillows and blankets for sleeping.

These they carefully placed in the throne and it looked almost regal.

From behind them, they could hear more of the gargoyles clawing their way over and around the castle in great numbers. Alatar and Mandalar were losing ground, trying not to get surrounded.

"Quickly Sarai, you have to do something!" Tiana's voice quavered as she glanced back at the approaching hoard.

Sarai looked at the throne. "I can't sit there. And the crown is not mine. I need... something." Casting about quickly, she found an uprooted tree stump just over the edge of the stone floor. With Tiana's help, she moved this to the middle of the trellis. She grabbed a small twisted brach and fashioned this into a circlet for a crown. Instead of a scepter, she chose a heavy broken piece of stonework from an old statue.

With the circlet on her head, she sat on the stump and help her stone. Her shield fastened tightly to her other arm, she faced the gargoyles as they came over Alatar's wall, out of reach of Mandalar's sword. The sound of steel on stone rang out again and again, yet still they came. Eddies of wind whipped from Alatar's hands, sending more spinning and flailing harmlessly away, but two came to replace each one thrown back.

Tiana hurled a dagger a the closest one but it glanced harmlessly to the side. She picked up a large stone and threw this instead, crushing the beast's head. It turned into to a fine gravel and collapsed to the floor. Another came onward and Tiana grabbed for its neck, spinning herself onto its back and out of reach of its claws. The two dissappeared into the mist as the beast bucked wildly.

Two more crept under the trellis toward Sarai.

"Sarai! We're here!" Alatar called, whirling his staff with both hands above his head. A huge cyclone errupted and flew toward the trellis. It landed right around it, clearing the mist inside and preventing any more gargoyles from approaching.  The two already in looked at one another and then back at the girl sitting before them.

"We think it's time for you to give us back our fine things," one snarled. "They've been lost to us for far too long.

Elie: No! They're not yours.

"Oh, but they are!" it retorted, rising on its hind legs. "Our father kept them from us, from us all. They were rightfully ours, as was the kingdom, but he thought us unworthy. Now, he is gone and there is no one to stop us. We will be taking them back now."

Elie: Daddy, I think there was a strong spell then that helped Sarai.
Me: There's a very powerful magic at work here, one that the gargoyles don't know or understand. They can't hurt her. They can't even touch her.

The first gargoyle lunged past Sarai and grabbed the crown. As it looked at it, it laughed and placed it on its head. The instant it did, however, it stopped moving entirely. Then, slowly, cracks appeared in its stone skin. With a thunderous crack, it simply fell to pieces and melted into the stone floor. The other gargoyle shrieked and turned to Sarai.

"You've killed him!" it shrieked. "We worked so hard and so long, casting forbidden spells on our own bodies to prolong life and give us strength. And here, in our moment of triumph, you've somehow struck down my brother? You shall pay for this."

It crept closer slowly as it talked. Unsure what to do. Sarai lept up and backwards. She landed hard next to the treasure chest. A faint line of green seemed to lead straight into it, so she lifted up the lid. The magnifying glass glowed all green at her. She grabbed it and looked through at the gargoyle.

What she saw surprised her. There was no monster there, no wings and claws and whippy tail. There was no snout or sharp teeth or fox ears. What there was instead was an old, thin, bony man with knees that wouldn't stop knocking with each slow step. He leaned on a cane and had no teeth at all.

"You siwwy widdle giwl! What hab you done!" the gargoyle continued shouting. "My poow bwotheh!"

Sarai looked closely and saw that he could barely balance. Remembering the man training himself in unarmed combat, she swung her foot low in a quick arc that landed just below his knees. Her foot connected with a snapping sound and the gargoyle collapsed in a heap. The breeze blew in another gust, and the creature turned to dust before her eyes.

A shout from outside the trellis caught her attention. She saw that the mists had lifted and her companions were struggling with dozens of the beasts all around. The cyclone around her was no longer and more of the beasts were coming fast.

Before she could think what to do, a long low blast from a horn filled the air. Everyone stopped still and listened. The call was answered by another lower one.

"Dwarf horns!" shouted Mandalar.

Goblin bugles blew a high clear melody in reply, followed by the drums of the desert tribes. A hearty shout filled the air from the side, coming up from the now visible sea. The lobster captain and his pirate fleet had landed and were rushing up the hill armed to the teeth. Fairies flew in from the other direction, dumping great buckets of magic dust. Gargoyles screamed and turned into a beautiful field of flowers as it rained down on them. Gnomes followed, throwing magic seeds of their own. A whole group of gargoyles turned into a grove of mushrooms. The gnomes squealed with glee and began gobbling them down hungrily.

The gargoyles flew into a panic and took wing. Sarai grabbed in the chest, her hand finding the telescope. She looked through it and up to them. Each gargoyle caught in her gaze screamed and exploded into a burst of glitter. She lowered the telescope and simply shouted at them, "You cannot be! You've lived far too long and it's time for you to go!"

With that, the rest looked at her, pausing for the briefest moment. Then, they burst as one into a cloud of shimmering mist, drifting away on the breeze.

The gathered creatures of all kinds cheered and shouted. "Go on! Take the throne! Wear the crown!" they shouted.

Sarai shook her head. "It's not mine to wear," she declared. "I don't want to be queen, and you don't really want me to be. But I would happily sit as... as a judge. To provide my best judgement of what to do when there's an argument. I'll serve you in that way, helping you not to fight but rather to help each other. Will you accept that?"

The cheers resounded, filling the whole of the ancient castle. Sarai found Alatar's face in the crowd and saw him nodding silently.

The goblin king made his way through the masses to Sarai. "After you left, I thought about what you were going to do and realized you might want a little more help," he beamed. "Everywhere we went, we heard about the good you were doing and everyone you were helping. Each of them wanted to join us, too, and, well, here we are! I hope we arrived in time."

"Just!" Sarai laughed. "I'm so glad you did. Thank you."

Together, all the gathered creatures began clearing out and cleaning the old castle.

"Since you won't be a queen, would you still want a castle?" the goblin king asked. "We should have some place here for people to come to."

Sarai furrowed her brow, deep in thought. "No, not a castle," she agreed. "But a place to hold court, in a sense. A house is less fancy than a castle, so maybe a 'courthouse' would do? What do you think?"

Everyone agreed and set to work. In a few days, they had built a strong stone courthouse. The dwarves carved a giant stone scale to put before the entrance, perfectly balanced to show fair judgement.

Elie: I think Alatar and Tiana stayed on to help Sarai.
Me: Like advisers? A very good idea.
Elie: Yeah, and they were going to be her mommy and daddy.
Me: That sounds lovely!
Elie: They fell in love and wanted to be married.
Me: And together they helped everyone in the kingdom to live a more peaceful and content life together.

And that's the story of how Sarai helped unite the kingdom.

THE END

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

News Limerick 7/9/2013

Because of the smog in the air
Their lives have been shaved by a hair
But doesn't that beat
To freeze without heat?
There's multiple problems out there

China pollution slashes life expectancy by over five years in north

Monday, July 8, 2013

News Limerick 7/8/2013

The plane was quite close to a stall
And that's when the tail hit the wall
Was pilot to blame
For terror and flame?
Or did he just not hear the call?

Jet was on verge of stalling before hitting sea wall, officials say

There Once Was a Kingdom: A Clearing and a Key

As the companions continued on through the woods, they found the trees grew closer together. At times, so much sun was blocked out that it appeared almost twilight. The deer path was just wide enough for the horses to pass through with branches tickling their sides. From all around them, they heard the sound of croaking frogs and chirping crickets.

Elie: I think Mandalar still had his shield out front, just in case.

Suddenly and without warning, they found themselves in a wide open clearing. The unexpected bright sunshine blinded them momentarily. When they could see again, the four perceived a pair of men in the middle of the field. One was shouting at the other, waving a finger close to his face. The other stood with his arms crossed, frowning and not speaking. When the men saw the four riders, they both turned away from the other and stomped off to different sides of the field.

Me: What did Sarai do?
Elie: She wanted to talk to them and try to help them.
Me: Who did she go talk to first? The man who was shouting or the one who was silent?
Elie: The shouting man.

Sarai dismounted and walked her horse over to the first man. "What's going on here?" she asked.

"This here field? It's just perfect for planting a year's worth of wheat for me to grow and live on," he answered, scowling across the open air at the other man. "I hate the big cities and towns so came out for a walk through the woods. When I wound up here, I just loved it. I've spent several days building a cabin just over that way and now when I come and look back at the field to figure out how to start tilling it, I find him here and he just won't leave! Says he wants to use my field, too, but I just can't for the life of me figure out what for."

Sarai nodded and looked back over her shoulder. "Perhaps I could talk to him and find out?"

"You go right ahead if you want to waste your time," the man sneered. "Just see if you can get him to leave, would you? And then you all can get off my field too."

Sarai almost smiled at the man's determination. This one might not be easy, she thought, but it's still worth trying.

When she walked up to the other man, he looked at her silently. His face was a mask of disinterest, his thoughts lost elsewhere.

"Excuse me, please?" she started timidly. "Can you tell me about why you're here in this field."

A brief silence followed, and then the man shook his head as though startled by a fly. "Why, I'm sorry. I was lost in though," he answered. "Certainly happy to tell you. You see, I've been working on a new way of self defense - one that uses just your hands and feel, knees and elbows, and all the like. No weapons at all, you see? Just a way to redirect the force coming at you with minimum effort. I had so much trouble concentrating in the bustle of the town that I wanted to come out here to practice what I was working on. And this field is peaceful, quiet, and large enough that I have plenty of room for tumbling and rolling."

Me: What did Sarai want to do or say?
Elie: Maybe each of them could work together and build a fence through the middle of the clearing? Then one could plant food on one side and the other could practice on the other!

"Interesting - I'd be happy to just use half the field," replied the second man.

Sarai went back to the farmer to ask him, but he was much less receptive. "I need the whole field or I won't have enough food to last the year!" he shouted. "Tell him to just go find a different field and then get out of here."

The second man had walked up as well. "If we can't share it all the time, maybe we can share it by the time of year?" he asked. "You only plant your grain in the spring and harvest it in the fall, right? Well, then when it's not growing I can practice all winter. The rest of the time I can do other kinds of practicing out in the woods where it's dense, as it might be if I'm attacked."

As he spoke, he demonstrated some of his strikes and kicks. The farmer's eyes lit up. "Say, I haven't got a good scythe yet, but the way you're moving your hands and feet looks very similar to the motion you'd need... Do you think you could help me harvest the grain when it was time? If so, we've got us a deal."

The two agreed and went off talking quietly.

Tiana came up and said...

Elie: I want to say what Tiana said - you can do Mandalar and Alatar.
Me: Oh - okay. Well, she'd finally figured out about the key with a little help from the fairies peeking in to give her hints. While Sarai had been talking, she got the key worked out. What did she say?
Elie: I've got the key!

Sarai, Alatar, and Mandalar rushed over, bringing the treasure chest with them. Tiana put the key in the lock. It fit, but didn't quite turn. She slipped one of her thin lock picking tools in along the top and adjusted the pins slowly and carefully. The key started to wiggle as she worked. A moment later, she was able to turn it freely in the lock. The lid popped up, now loose from the lock.

Inside, they found a few slightly muddy instruments. Unlike the small box, the treasure chest wasn't water tight and some of the sea water and sand had gotten inside. Still, it had dried out after so many days in the air. What they took out was a metal scale with two small, curved plates hanging on chains, not quite in balance with the lumps of sand on the plates. There was also a telescope and a microscope, each with carefully crafted glass. A magnifying glass followed those. Then, toward one side, they also found a helmet that looked just a little large for Sarai.

Me: There was one other thing, too. What was it?
Elie: Another shield in case something happens to Mandalar's.

The other shield was a bit smaller, so they agreed it could be for Sarai in the meantime. It had no straps any longer, these having long since rotted away, but they were able to fix it up with some new ones. The helmet they lined with a bit of soft fleece and then it fit Sarai perfectly.

Looking at the rest of the instruments, they puzzled why this was such an important case.

"I've got it!" Sarai exclaimed. "The ruler of the whole country has to measure and balance things. Look at all angles, from the biggest to the smallest. Then, after understanding it all, come up with an answer they can defend with facts."

The others nodded. "That sounds like the kind of leader the people would gladly follow," Alatar beamed.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: Wandering Woods

As soon as they could, they left the desert town and headed back for the road. At the crossroads, Sarai looked again for the thin line to appear before her. Strangely, however, there were several. There was red, yellow, black, green, orange, and a bright searing white. Sarai tried to recall what the two colors were that she had been following.

Me: Do you remember?
Elie: There was blue.
Me: True, but they followed that all the way to the shipwreck. What else was there?
Elie: It was... green!

Sarai picked out the green path. The red led out into the desert, the black south to the mountains, the yellow out to the west over the scraggly plains, and the white curled around the town in odd loops and twists. The green, however, went nearly due north towards a forest.

They set out on their way, finding a thin deer path that the line followed.

Elie: I think Mandalar and Sarai were in front and Alatar and Tiana behind.
Me: The path was rather thin - the horses couldn't fit side by side.
Elie: Oh - then Mandalar was in front with his shield up in case there were any arrows, then Sarai.
Me: Who next?
Elie: Alatar, and then Tiana.

As they headed through the woods, the trail meandered easily with the curves and twists of the woods. After a time they stopped to rest. When they went to head back toward the path, they found that there was no path. They looked about and saw no sign of where they'd come from or where the trail used to lead.

Startled, each looked at the other with no idea where to go from here. Suddenly, the undergrowth rustled and a high tinkling laughter could be heard, followed quickly by a shushing.

Me: What do you think might be under there?
Elie: A hedgehog?
Me: I don't think hedgehogs giggle. Maybe something with wings?
Elie: Oh, um. A fairy!

Sarai folded her arms over her chest. "You can come out now," she scolded.

Three bashful fairies fluttered out from the low leaves. The one in front looked up at them, slowly circling and looking each one over.

"What are you doing here in these woods?" she asked finally. "What do you want with our trees?"

Elie: We're here to save the kingdom.

"And you need our trees for that, do you? Well you can't have them!" the fairy shouted.

Elie: We need to go through here! You can't keep us back. It's for everyone's good.

"A likely story. That's what everyone wants us to believe. But then they just want to cut everything down and build everywhere. Well we're not going to have it!"

Elie: But we want to help everyone to get along! We heard that the old king used to help people when they disagreed. Maybe we can help you, too.

"You know what, that's a good idea," the fairy replied. "See, there are some gnomes just over the other way who keep eating all of our mushrooms. We need those for our houses and some of our fairy magic but they just keep taking whatever they want! If you can show us you can talk them into not taking our mushrooms, we'll show you the path again."

The fairies led them through another path that opened before them down a small hollow in the woods. There, they saw a small gnome village. The gnomes were no larger than the goblins had been but with more human looking faces. They had big round noses and much smaller ears. Most had beards and pointy hats flopped over to the side.

When Sarai walked in, they stopped and looked up suspiciously.

"We hear you're taking the mushrooms from the fairies," she started. "But they need those themselves. Why are you taking them?"

"We're taking their mushrooms?!" one gnome squeaked. "Well, they're taking our nuts and berries. And we just love mushrooms, too, so it's really hard to resist when we find a good patch!"

Sarai nodded and said, "If we could get them to stop taking your nuts and berries, would you leave their mushrooms alone?"

"Hard to say, but we'd certainly think about it," the gnome answered.

Sarai headed back to where the fairies waited. "Are you taking their nuts and berries?"

The two fairies who hadn't spoken hung their heads and looked away, one idling drawing circles in the dirt with her toes.

"Well?" asked the lead fairy. "I told you not to go over that way. Maybe we could show them to that new mushroom grove we just found. If we offer them that instead and don't go stealing any more from them... You think you can handle that, fairies?"

The other two nodded bashfully. The first fairy asked to accompany Sarai back to the gnomish village. Once there, a deal was quickly struck and both fairies and gnomes were quick Sarai and her friends for helping them.

With that, the fairies sprinkled a bit of magic dust on the plants and the path opened up again before them.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: A Storm in the Pass

After they got back aboard, the fishermen asked if they could keep the underwater craft. "What was it you called it again?" the captain asked.

"A submarine!" Sarai answered.

"Interesting this will help us with our... treasure hunting," the captain nodded, trailing off.

They turned back around and prepared to return to the harbor. As they went, they looked at what they'd taken from the shipwreck. The treasure chest was locked and had iron bands wrapping around it in all directions. Tiana tied to pick the lock but found it very difficult make any progress. They didn't want to try to force the lock and risk damaging anything inside. 

"If only there were a way for me to see what the inside of the lock looks like," Tiana muttered.

Alatar brightened. "I can help with that! Here - hold one end of my staff. I'll make it appear to be a tunnel. You can look down and through it with the other end on the lock."

Tiana held it steady and looked straight down. At first, it just looked like staring through a hollow stick as one would expect. When she focussed on the dot at the end, though, she found that it rushed toward her so fast that she jumped. Looking in again, she found she could move the staff ever so slightly to see the different parts of the inside.

"Interesting! There's not just pins coming from the top and bottom like other locks I've seen, but from the sides, too. I can see where they come in. Maybe I can craft a small key of my own to fit and help me get those pins to the right positions..." she mused. She started to work right away. It was frustrating work with the rocking of the boat and she decided to set it aside until they were back ashore.

After a time, they turned their attention to the small wax coated box instead.

They carefully cut a a slit in the wax and found that the lid swung open easily. Inside, there was a bit of leather wrapped carefully around some folded parchment. Most of it was in an ancient language. Alatar puzzled over it for a time.

"It's unfamiliar to me, but I do recognize the symbols," he mused. "I may be able to make some sense of it after a bit of study."

Beneath all of these, however, was one sheet in their modern tongue. They read this out loud:
The one who brings the scepter, crown, and throne
May claim the whole of country for their own
If brought to castle lost that once was known
Before the 'goyles claim it for their own

A kingdom under them would soon be mud
The rivers dry, the fields all caked in crud
To stop the coming storm, prevent the flood
Will take a savior born no royal blood
"Wait - that says the savior has to be born with no royal blood," Sarai mumured. She looked at Alatar quizically. "Didn't you say I'm the old king's heir? How can I do this, then?"

Alatar stood silently for a moment. "I wasn't entirely misleading," he said at last. "You are not his heir by heritage, but by manner. I used divination to find one in our time who had a similar spirit and good heart to that of the king. My spell led me to you, and, when I asked around about you in the town, knew that I was right. Everyone there, including Tiana, spoke of your kindness and thoughfulness toward others."

Tiana nodded at this, smiling. "I didn't realize why he was asking at the time, but it's true. We all love you very much and respect your care for others."

"I hope you don't hold that against me," Alatar continued. "As you've already seen, you're able to do much to help others."

Sarai sat in thought and then nodded. "I guess this doesn't really change anything, does it? We don't want the gargoyles to get the king's symbols and we're the ones to stop them."

They continued sailing past where they'd met the sea monster without any further incident and made port easily. Sarai and company got their goods and horses unloaded and quickly road back up toward the mountain pass. As the approached the town at the foot of the mountains, however, another storm started brewing and they found shelter for the night.

The following day, the storm was still raging. The people of the town looked up at the cloud curiously. "Odd weather for this time of year," one was heard to remark.

Me: Should they try to rush through the pass in the rain or wait in the town to see if it would subside?
Elie: Try to wait for it.

They waited in the town, but it grew late and they stayed the night. Still the rain came down the next day and the next with no sign of letting up. Tiana ccontinued working on the key throughout but wasn't having any luck getting it to fit quite right.

"Sarai, this storm doesn't seem natural to me," Alatar said one morning. "Perhaps we should brave the pass despite the storm.

Elie: Yes, let's.

They bundled themselves up against the driving rain and walked their mounts slowly to the mountain pass. When they got there, they found themselves facing three gargoyles.

"We know what you have," one rasped. "Just hand them all over to us and we'll be happy to go on our way."

Elie: No!

"Do you really want this burden? Ruling a kingdom is very hard work. The people are always looking to you to solve everything. 'He took my cow! She stole some bread! They won't play nice!' You'd be much better off going back and living a nice relaxing life in the country. Leave all the hard stuff to us, little girl," the gargoyle hissed as it crept slowly closer.

Me: Should they try to go back and find another way to force their way through?
Elie: They should go through.

Sarai nodded to Mandalar, who suddenly charge his horse and swung his sword hard. The blade struck the creeping gargoyle square on the face, shattering its head to a fine dust. The rest of the body stopped as still as a statue and then collapsed into nothing more than a pile of loose stones. The others stared openmouthed.

Before they could act, Sarai shouted, "This way!"

She brought her horse to a gallop in the few steps between her and the stone beasts, leaping clear over their heads. Tiana, Alatar, and Mandalar followed and they rushed headlong into the slippery pass. The gargoyles behind them tried to regain their footing but skid wildly.

As they rushed through, careful not to lose control of the horses, the company heard more skittering, chattering noises coming first from behind them, but then, too, from the slopes on either side. They weren't even halfway through the pass when they could tell there were dozens of the gargoyles almost upon them.

Alatar tried to conjure up another wall of air but found the storm made the air too wild to control from horseback.

Mandalar spun around at the rear. "I'll stop them here, if you ask it of me, Sarai!"

Elie: No! We all stay together.

He nodded swinging his sword in great arcs to keep the gargoyles just far enough out of reach and turned back around to follow the others. Tiana looked over her shoulder and then spun around backwards in her saddle.  Aiming carefully, she threw two daggers, one to each side high on the slopes.

The small blades on a clear, dry day would have had little effect. In the rains that had pounded down for so long, though, each set loose several small stones that tumbled free. These knocked larger stones before them and soon huge walls of tumbling rock were coming crashing in from each side.

Sarai and her companions cleared the pass just as the great waves of rock came crashing together behind them, crushing many gargoyles under their weight. More still were stuck up the slopes or on the far side of the wall of rock but none followed them to the valley below. As they made for the town, they heard the horrible screeching of the gargoyles in the mountain behind them.

They left the storm up in the peaks and found a clear day awaited them below.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

Friday, July 5, 2013

News Limerick 7/5/2013

For Android, the key is a master
Which seems to invite some disaster
Your data is theirs
While you're unawares
That hole you can't patch with some plaster

'Master key' to Android phones uncovered

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: In the Wreckage

Having escaped the sea monster, they put on all the sail the could manage to make up time. The genie's magic showed Sarai that their destination lay some distance ahead. Over the crests of several waves, she could tell that it seemed to spiral and dive down into the water. She asked the captain to lower the anchor. After her guidance in confronting the sea monster, he didn't question her directions.

As she peered over the side, Mandalar, Tiana, and Alatar came up beside her.

"What do you see?" Alatar asked.

Sarai told them of the line falling away beneath them.

Elie: They should take a submarine!
Me: Those haven't been invented yet, but it's a very good idea.

Sarai tried to explain the idea of a boat that goes under the water to them. They looked skeptical at first, but willing to listen.

Me: What might they use to try to make one?
Elie: The other raft boat?
Me: A good start, but it needs something to hold the air in.
Elie: A sail?

They built a few arches from loose lumber and stretched a length of sail over it.

"I can seal it with magic, and enchant this rope to act like... well, a sort of a straw of sorts up to the surface," Alatar surmised.

They also took small pieces of glass and tied them in place front, back, and both sides in the canvas so they could see out. They fashioned a pair of the oars into a spinning rudder they could turn about to change direction. With that, they all climbed aboard and the captain and crew lowered them to the water.

Alatar ran his hands around the seams, chanting a solemn spell. When he nodded, they all crowded toward the front and the lifeboat plunged into the sea.  They held on as Mandalar spun the rudder to force them down farther still. As they descended it grew darker and darker and soon they could see nothing but a faint light twinkling from the surface high above them. Still, Sarai could see the path stretching farther down into the blackness.

Me: What do you think might help them see?
Elie: Glowfish!

Just when they worried they would lose all light, small fish darted past, glowing in brilliant blues, greens, and purples. A whole school of them darted before the boat, revealing a shipwreck below. The craft's side was split in two, a huge whole opening inside. It looked as though the vessel had been smashed by the monster they met, cracked by its strong tentacles. The blue line led straight inside.

As they passed through the hole, Sarai was surprised to see that the line blurred and split into three. One ended at a treasure chest on the floor. The second went to a small box smeared all over with wax and chained on a shelf. The third led behind a toppled table.

Me: What do you think they might find back there?
Elie: I don't know?
Me: They've already found the crown and scepter. What else is there?
Elie: The throne!

Sure enough, when they came to the other side of the table there was the frame of a wooden chair. It was well preserved, but had no cushion or cloth. If it were not for the magic line, Sarai could mistake it for any other well-crafted wooden chair.

Me: What might they use to try to get these things?
Elie: Rope.

They made a lasso out of a length of rope and threaded it through the side. With this, they grabbed the chair and were able to pull it aboard as Alatar strengthened his magic to keep the water out. The chest they snared too, but the box on the shelf was stuck fast by the chain.

Me: How can they get that?
Elie: Alatar can push it with his staff.

Sure enough, when Alatar shoved it with the end of his staff, the rusted chain broke apart. They pulled the box into their boat, too. With no other blue lines visible, they turned to head back to the surface.

When they emerged from the shipwreck, the glowfish suddenly panicked and scattered as something else approached.

Me: What might it be?
Elie: A whale.
Me: Many whales don't eat fish but things even smaller. What's something else that might scare the fish?
Elie: A shark!

A shark swam lazily through the water, silently circling them. Every now and again it turned its beady eyes toward them, watching their movements. They would have to find a way to get past it as it could swim far faster than they could maneuver their boat.

Elie: They could try talking to it.
Me: Reasoning with it, hmm?

Alatar tried cupping his hands against the sail and speaking into them to help his voice echo out through the water. He made a sound like a low hiss, punctuated with several pops and clicks. The shark spun towards them and rammed the wood hard.

"I tried to tell it we have no food for it here, but it didn't seem to care," the wizard apologized.

Elie: They could blind it with some more sail!
Me: Like the sea monster! That might work.

They tied some sail on the end of another length of rope, quickly slipping it out the side. It wriggled in the water, looking very much like a floundering fish. The shark charged it full speed and quickly became tangled in the sail and rope. As it twisted to try to get away, it just became more trapped in the fabric.

They quickly spun the rudder to rise as quickly as they could, watching below as the shark fell away, twisting and turning in circles. They broke the surface a moment later with an explosion of seaspray. The captain and crew helped them back aboard, admiring the craft they'd built.

Me: We'll stop there for the night, but what do you think the treasure chest and wax-sealed box might be?
Elie: The pirate's treasure.
Me: Pirates? Which pirates?
Elie: The lobster captain and his crew.
Me: Oh - they're pirates are they? Interesting twist - we'll have to see what we can do with that.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

News Limerick: 7/3/2013

They act like the state is their chapel
As difficult issues they grapple
Sharia in courts!
Abortion extorts!
For crazy, they rank number apple

Senate tacks sweeping abortion legislation onto Sharia law bill

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

News Limerick 7/2/2013

The school district's practicing yoga
Which parents don't like one iota
"Religious indeed!
It's far from my creed.
It's making me want a Toyota."

Judge goes to mat for yoga, rules it's irreligious

Monday, July 1, 2013

There Once Was a Kingdom: To Catch a Monster

The lobster fishing vessel set sail with Sarai at the captain's side, directing him which way to guide the ship to follow the line only she could see. Every now and then, the captain would look at her out of the corner of his eye to try to catch her looking at a compass or the angle of the sun. Still, he listened to her directions and turned the rudder accordingly.

The boat was well stocked with lobster traps, rope, spare lengths of cloth to repair the sail, long oars to row in case the wind gave out, and wood to patch the boat.

Me: Do you know how lobster traps work?
Elie: I don't know.
Me: It's a kind of a wooden cage with a door that snaps shut behind the lobster once it gets inside, or rope that gets it tangled.

Ahead, the line seemed to dive and turn. "Slow down," Sarai instructed. "I think we need to turn left."

The captain turned to face her. "Are you certain? I've... I've heard stories about the seas that way. They say there's a monster that lurks beneath the waves and can eat ships larger than this whole."

He started to call to his crew, but Mandalar simply jangled the change pouch at his belt. At the sound of the coins, the captain's eyes lit up and he turned back to the wheel. "Haul in the sail, pull the line! We're off hard to port!"

They turned as fast as the ship's sails and the wind would allow. When the thin line again seemed to point straight ahead of them, Sarai nodded and said, "That's far enough."

The sails again billowed with air and they were about to ride the wind again when the sea before them began to bubble. A storm cloud gathered overhead, rippling and roiling with grays and blacks. Flashes of lighning appeared, but it was very odd for the rest of the sky remained calm. Alatar muttered some more words trying to discern the source of the clouds and bubbling sea but could find nothing he recognized.

Ripples grew to small waves and rocked them about. The captain quickly dropped the anchor as the sea erupted in a spray that doused them all.

A creature burst forth with tentacles thicker than the ropes in the rigging. It had a head towering over them with ten eyes on tall stalks waving to and fro. It opened a mouth filled with jagged teeth and said, quite clearly, "AWUUUARRGGAAAAH!"

It slapped the sea hard with its long tentacles and started to swim towards them. Alatar tried to conjure up the wind to form another wall as he had with the gargoyle but the air was too quick here and he couldn't make it stand still. Mandalar drew his sword while Tiana readied several daggers. Sarai, though, looked at the equipment on the boat itself.

"There must be a reason the line led to this boat," she thought.

Me: What do you think they might use to trap the creature or stop it?
Elie: The rope!

She grabbed an length of the rope and swung it around. It caught on the creature's eye, making it blink furiously and stop where it was for a moment. Soon, though, it cried out again and started toward them.  It struggle gave Sarai another idea, though, and she quickly grabbed a lobster cage.

Me: Is there anything she could do to the cage so it would stop the creature from seeing them?
Elie: Wrap it in cloth?

"Quickly! Cut some cloth and tie it around the cages," she yelled a the captain. He didn't argue this time but rapidly sliced a length of the sail to size and fastened it tightly. Sarai tied another length of rope to one side and swung the trap around in a circle, slowly at first but gradually gaining speed.

She released the rope at the top of one arc and the trap sailed through the air. It landed right on top of one of the eyes, ensnaring it. Seeing this, Alatar, Tiana, and Mandalar hurried back to grab more of the traps that were being bound up by the captain and crew. They launched one after another, Tiana having the best success at aiming true.

When the last eye was caught, the monster howled a let out a noise that sounded very much like, "Harumph!" It slapped the water angrily and began feeling around for the ship.

"Do you have anything large we can throw?" Sarai whispered.

The captain thought for a moment and pointed at one of the two lifeboats, little more than a rowboat swinging on the side of the ship. "I hate to lose a lifeboat but would hate to lose my ship more," he sighed.

"We need to swing it as far out as we can and cut the ropes at just the right moment," Sarai said.

They all snuck over, unloading the spare food and water to store in the hold. They all pushed the boat but it only swung out a short distance before coming back in. They pushed again harder and it got to rocking farther. They pushed one more time and it rocked back and forth in a great arc. As it swung back over the side, Mandalar sliced the ropes holding it in one wide stroke.

The dinghy sailed fifty feet before crashing into the waves. The monster squealed with glee, sounding rather like, "AWHHEEEEE!" and wiggled its way through the waves toward the craft. When it got near, it felt out tentatively until it felt the edge and then opened its mouth for a big bite.

The crunch of wood echoed over the waves, but seemed to be entirely unsatisfying to the beast. It spat out the shards and quickly began rubbing its tongue with all its tentacles at once. "WWWWAAAAAUUUUGH!" it cried, desperately trying to get every last bit out of its mouth. It sunk quickly beneath the waves again and was gone from sight.

"Let's get out of here before it decides to try again," Sarai said.

The captain needed no convincing and they put on full sail to put as much distance between them and the creature as they could.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

There Once Was a Kingdom: Magical Menace

All the way through and down the pass they heard more of the creaking, snapping, and crackling sounds that had heralded the gargoyle's arrival. Look though they did, though, they didn't see another sign of a gargoyle all the way down.

Sarai followed the blue trail into the town. In the main square, they stopped at a small cafe for some hot apple cider to warm them up from the cold mountain pass. They ate bread, cheese, some apples and salad, and a sweet roll each to lift their spirits. Their horses were fed oats and given plenty of water to drink, too.

Thus satisfied, they start back on the path. Sarai started having more and more trouble picking it out along the road. Down one street, it stopped altogether. She backed her horse a few steps and found it again, but every time she came forward it disappeared completely.

She started to panic. Which way would they go? How would they know where to look? The others sensed her indecision.

Tiana reached over and put a hand on her shoulder. "What's wrong?" she asked quietly.

"I can't see it! It just seems to stop here," Sarai replied.

Mandalar put his hand on the hilt of his sword and slid it just barely out of its sheath. He looked quickly around but saw no threat.

Alatar got down from his horse and looked around. "There's no magic shops, witches hovels, or any other source of magic I can see from here."

He held his staff in both hands. He placed it firmly against the ground and began muttering in a language long forgotten by most.

"Alume sata inuroni tasoru..." he intoned softly, his voice falling to scarcely a whisper. For a time, his lips moved without any sound appearing to come out. When he lifted his face, his eye swirled with dancing orange lights and he looked slowly around. Then he shook his head vigorously and his eyes cleared.

"There is a powerful magic at work here but I do not know it, or where it comes from," he said after a moment. "Sarai, can you try to reach out to the genie with your thoughts? Perhaps the spell he cast links the two of you and he can hear if you ask for his help."

With the others looking on encouragingly, she closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around herself. As soon as she did, she noticed that she could still just faintly make out the blue line with her eyes closed. She quickly pressed both her hands over her eyes and could see it better.

"Quickly! Give me some cloth," she said to her companions. They handed her a length of fabric that she folded and bound over her eyes. With this blocking out most of the light, she could make out the direction they had to go. "I'll tell you which way to turn, but someone will have to lead my horse.

Mandalar took her horse's reins and tied them onto the back of his saddle. They started off again, Sarai watching for any turns in the path.

"Straight ahead here for a bit. Now it turns left! Hard left - that's right. And up ahead just a short distance back to the right..." Turning back and forth, the path led the through the town and out to the countryside beyond. As they rode along the road, the blue thread seemed to grow stronger again.

When it blazed behind her eyelids once more, Sarai pulled off the blindfold. With her eyes open, she could now see it as strongly as ever. "It's back," she sighed, "Whatever was stopping it is behind us."

Alatar looked at her closely and then back toward the town. "Whatever it was may try to come after us to interfere again. Let's move quickly."

They followed the trail down the slope of the land toward a harbor town. A great many ships were clustered in the bay, everything from large warships with a great many sails to sailboats, fishing vessels to rowboats. The path led them straight to the docks and down to one end. It turned sharply out onto the very last pier with only a single rundown looking lobster boat tethered to the end.

The captain and two crewmen were leaning back against the pier's piles, looking all scraggly and unkempt. They looked up curiously at the approaching riders.

"Captain, do you ever take passengers? We would like to ask you to take us out to see," Sarai asked.

The captain looked them over and answered, "We don't usually, but seeing as how it's not lobster season and haven't much to do... Have you any coin, perhaps?"

Mandalar opened his change pouch and pulled out several gold coins. He let these drop slowly, one after another into his other hand. Each made a satisfying clink against his metal gauntlet.

"Well, that's settled then! Welcome aboard!" the captain smiled. With that, they boarded the ship and prepared to make way.

Elie: What did they do with horses?
Me: They probably stored them in the hold under the deck with some fresh hay.

Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.

New Limerick 7/1/2013

The U.S. is listening in
Which some folks might say is a sin
But we can surmise
That everyone spies
And doesn't that make us all kin?

On defense for reportedly bugging EU offices, US says it gathers same threat data as allies