Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Changeling: The Lost - Venice - Character History: Clio (with painting)

A re-post of Clio's backstory. Thank you to Heather for creating such an amazing visual of my character!

Clio: Digital painting by Heather Sheppard of Dinobot Illustration.


Signorina Katerina Rosa Zenarro was born into a middle-class life in Venice, in the year 1734. Her father, Signor Giovanni Zenarro, was a glassmaker and a widower; Katerina's mother had died giving birth to her second a child - a son who was stillborn.
Katerina was a pretty child, but she was also a tomboy, lacking in airs and graces. As a teenager, she was shy and awkward at social functions - her father despaired that she was not ladylike. He loved his daughter dearly, but worried for her future ability to find a good husband. From her 18th birthday, Katerina was forced to attend etiquette lessons, in an effort to mould her into  a more acceptable marriage prospect. By 22, she was a fully-fledged young woman, at least by appearance, curtseying her way through parties and impressing the gentlemen. Katerina was always confused about her father's guidance - he wanted her to enjoy her life and be happy, but not to the extent that she would blindly follow her passions. He expected her to stand up for herself, but also obey her future husband's wishes, whatever they may be. This mass of contradictions caused Katerina to remain a quiet, almost passive individual, nodding and smiling to potential suitors and doing as she was told, afraid to take the wrong path. Despite this, no marriage proposals came to fruition, and Katerina's downfall came during a masquerade at Carnevale, thanks to an excess of wine and a strong sense of curiosity.

In the midst of the ball, Katerina was propositioned by a mysterious masked man, and escorted to a secluded room in the palazzo. The man, it transpired, was none other than Giacomo Casanova, who at the time was around age 32. The encounter, from Katerina's perspective, was mostly painful - she had assumed it would be, but knew that next time it would be different. Filled with a newfound excitement, she wondered if Casanova might call on her again. This did not happen, and Katerina felt dreadful for weeks, imagining how terrible she must have been for him not to visit her.

Two months or so later, Katerina was troubled in the night by agonising pain in her abdomen, and something wet soaking through her nightgown. Her father was working late, and alone in the house, she struggled to her feet. A shaft of light poured through the window; stepping forward, Katerina could see that her nightgown was stained red. Shaking, she reached to her writing desk, grasping a letter-opener, and tore the blade down the front of her skirt. The blood poured down her thighs, the pain escalating. Katerina cried in agony, the letter-opener clattering to the floor. She knelt down slowly, only vaguely aware of what was happening - she was with child, and suffering miscarriage. She clutched at her stomach as the blood continued to flow, and slowly lost consciousness.

She does not remember waking up; only the water, not surrounding her, licking over her limbs. But somehow filling her, even though she would never have imagined drowning to be like this. Her body felt... almost like nothing, like pins and needles all over. She could taste the water, salty, but she was not choking. Slowly, she regained feeling, starting with her toes and ending with the tips of her hair. She was soaked through - no, she WAS underwater. Her eyes opened, stinging through the murky depths, and it took her a few moments to realise she could hardly breathe. Instinct pushed her towards the surface, and finally her head rose above, oxygen reaching her lungs.

It happened this way every time from then on. Katerina was a nymph, created from the water itself. For much of the day she lay dormant, trapped, in the lagoon. At night, she would return to her human form and be watched by dozens of visitors through glass walls.
Her Keepers were a pair of twins with handsome, yet cruel faces and blue hair. They referred to her as The Siren, and she was instructed to perform for the visitors - that is, sit by the lagoon and sing for their pleasure. Katerina did not know she had an especially good singing voice, but here it sounded ethereal and majestic. The visitors would comment on this and her stunning looks.
She would beg her Keepers for release, sometimes crying tears during her siren song, but the onlookers would only say how much more beautiful it made her seem. She begged to at least be released from the water, even for a short period of time.
The twins, with their sympathetic expressions and soft voices, appeared to be understanding. They relented that yes, The Siren could be released from the water for three hours every night - but her body, during that time, would not belong to her.

Katerina was used as a whore during those three hours, by the Fae who had come to see her sing. The clients would drop coins into the lagoon, wishing for particular sexual acts or scenarios that Katerina would then be obliged to fulfil. First she would be sent to a secluded dressing room, provided with a wardrobe of beautiful gowns, and ordered to adorn herself fully, from corset and stockings up to powder and rouge. The wardrobe's contents may have felt familiar to her if not for the shimmering fabrics, the indescribable intricacy, the colours that she could not name. Sometimes she would be used by her Keepers - one of the twins was wild and vicious and wished her to lie there meekly, letting him do as he pleased. The other twin was gentler, instructing her to always be dominant over him. This was difficult for Katerina, being pulled this way and that, and she found it hard to keep up with these contradicting demands. Despite this, she still began to savour the evenings as her only time on dry land. The sensation of her body being violated for pleasure was ecstasy compared to swirling, inanimate, under the water. As time went on, she would look forward to the clients who paid for her - even looked forward to spending time with her captors. She developed a form of Stockholm Syndrome, forgetting who she was when part of the water, and knowing only that she was otherwise a whore. She gradually came to be completely unaware of where she originally came from, concerned only with her existence in this strange world. She never considered whether or not she truly belonged there - there seemed to be no question that she did.

One night, one of the visitors dropped a coin into her lagoon that triggered a long lost memory - the coin was a Venetian ducat, and suddenly Katerina felt a strong sense of something - recognition, familiarity, or deja-vu - that told her things were not as they seemed. Once the seed of doubt had been planted in her mind, it grew over the course of the evening - entertaining her guests, she knew that she was supposed to be somewhere else.

Escaping from her prison was surprisingly easy. She had only to wait until her last client had rolled over, asleep - she had at least half an hour until she had to go back to the water, and the twins did not watch her closely if she was with someone else. They had become complacent about her contentment in her new role, and her ability to adapt to it. She dressed herself quickly in the gown and shoes she had been wearing earlier - she had no other clothes. She crept up to at least a dozen doors, certain that at
least one must lead to a place outside captivity. There had to be an outdoors, somewhere. Behind some doors, she could hear laughter and music - she did not open those. Other rooms revealed silent expanses of darkness, nothing visible to the naked eye. The last door Katerina found was different - it swung open to show an avenue of tangled bushes, strewn with red and white roses. But the light was dim there, the breeze was cold, and the flowers were wilting. It was not an inviting pathway, but she knew now that there was no other choice. She could hear sounds in the corridor behind her - she stepped through onto the path and closed the door after her.

She stumbled along, occasionally glancing behind her at the door, until it faded out of view and she turned a corner down another, almost identical avenue. The sky above her was black, without moon or stars, but the low light seemed to exist still, coming from an unknown source. The breeze had become a wind, whistling and getting colder by the minute. The tiny dirt roads didn't look like a maze but they felt like one, as though they might continue on and circle round until she came back to where she started. Though disturbed by the idea of this, Katerina hurried on until something gave her pause. There was a slight parting in the bushes, a space where the roses grew more sparsely than anywhere else. Beyond the browning leaves, she could see a slab of wood almost camoflauged; the size and shape of a door, though it didn't seem to be attached to anything. Still, she could make out a doorknob.
Katerina considered a moment, listening to the wind howling around her and feeling it blister her ears; she was sure she wouldn't find the way back to the twins now, even if she'd wanted to go. She pressed forward, trying to avoid the thorns - she protected her face, but they caught on her hands, dress, ankles. Twisting the doorknob, she felt her gown tear as she forced herself through the doorway.

She came out in a tiny street, the door slamming shut behind her and a blinding light suddenly hitting her retinas. She was in Venice, but it took her a while to realise it, squinting against the sunshine and then recognising the dry, crisp air that was the city in February. People could be heard round the corner on the pavements, speaking in the Venetian dialect, but there were just as many English voices. Katerina wandered out from the alley and found herself on Calle Frezzaria, and she knew she should remember it, but it wasn't the same. Some of the buildings looked familar, but their frontage was different and strange. One of them even heralded itself as 'Hotel Casanova,' which both struck a chord in her heart and puzzled her. She accidentally bumped into people as she passed and apologised in Italian; they were dressed strangely, many were bundled into warm coats, but in styles she'd never seen before. Conversely, and even more confusingly, she saw people dressed in more familiar fashions, but they didn't look quite right. They held themselves in an odd way. They were wearing Carnival masks, standing on corners, drinking hot chocolate or wine.

As Katerina looked down, she realised that her gown didn't look as it had a moment ago. It looked closer to the costumes of the revellers before her - imitation silk with a cheap thinness that caused her to shiver in the  winter cold. The embellishments were mere shiny baubles. The colour was a pale green.
As she walked through the crowds it was easy for her to be noticed by other Changelings - despite the fact that she blended in with all the tourists in San Marco. Katerina was escorted to the House of Autumn with one of its members, the goblin-like Little John, and thus was given a lesson in what had happened to her. Although she stayed at the House of Autumn for a time, it was eventually suggested that she may belong better to the House of Spring. Katerina's new name became Clio, something she could remember from a Greek myth when she was young - the name of a water nymph. As she began to adjust to her new reality, she got a job at the Florian Caffe, and moved into a small apartment by herself.

Clio's appearance to mortals is the same as it was when she initially grew up in Venice, as she has only aged two years. She has lightly tanned skin, dark brown eyes and long, almost-black hair.

Her mien presents as silver-blue scales all over her body, webbed fingers and toes, and bright scarlet hair with blue eyes.She often dresses in something simple and black in a classic, yet demure cut, and stiletto boots or shoes, with minimal jewellery. She wears her hair tied back for work, and otherwise down.

Clio has retained some of her personality from before she was taken - somewhat quiet, though she will raise her voice if need be, and is still getting used to the fact that women are allowed to speak their mind these days. She is fairly comfortable at parties and displays a good sense of etiquette.
Aside from this, she keeps a lot of things to herself and does not often talk to anyone about her feelings.


Since arriving back from Arcadia, Clio has been trying to understand love, as opposed to lust, which she is already well versed in. She is aware that as a Changeling, she cannot become pregnant, and so she knows that a 'typical' family life is beyond her. This is especially saddening given the loss of her own child all those centuries ago. In lieu of this unconditional love from an infant, Clio began to dream of finding her true love, but she has started to realise the possible futility of this idea. She is hardly normal, and she fears that a mortal man might not be able to understand her, however much she can try to be who she once was.

Her decision to join the House of Spring was questioned for  a while by its members, since she did not often attend parties or seek any indulgences. But as she has relented and decided to show her face more often, she has begun to feel more like she belongs.  Believing that she has been scarred too much by her time in Arcadia, Clio is  currently unsure whether she can ever change and discover a 'normal' life, and the thought of devoting herself more fully to the Spring Court may be a natural progression.

However, this in itself may come with complications. After choosing to sleep with Malvolio, the new Duke, in order to gain his trust and unveil any hidden secrets he might have, Clio has found herself instead succumbing to his charms. Attending more regular orgies at the House of Spring, her 'favours' towards Malvolio and the other courtiers are becoming increasingly similar to her life in Arcadia. Additionally, there are some who are jealous of the Duke's recent favouritism of Clio, convinced that she is using him to gain her own slice of power. Only time will tell of Clio's true feelings and motives, and whether or not she will be ruthless in order to keep her newfound status at the Court.

Clio - Water Elemental - By Heather Shepard #changelingthelost #whitewolf #white_wolf_fan

I???ve been working on this painting for around 2 weeks as part of the Changeling series.

This is Clio, Sam???s character ??? a swimmer skin water elemental of the Court of Spring, and the most beautiful lady I have ever painted :)


I???m going to take a shortbreak before moving onto Steve???s character ???Sonata??? ??? partly because his might actually be quite the depressing, down-and-out looking painting, partly because it feels like ages since I did a few concepty paint ups and I want to have an ideas binge for a while :) I love doing these illustrations, but they can be very intensive ??? so if I can give myself a day or so to do something else before starting on them, I feel like I can come back to them refreshed and raring to go. If I go from one intense painting to another, it can be a bit wearing ??? in the sense of, every stroke is so precise that you crave going back to a looser style, and avoiding the old ???Crab hands??? for a couple of days.

I???m already planning out how the Sonata painting will be composed. Steve???s putting together a moodboard for me of how his character looks ??? Of course, we all know vaguely what each other???s characters look like, but in order to get it 100% right as how the player imagines their characters, you need some good reference :)

Gathering reference and researching things thoroughly is always important ??? it makes things look more believable, but also cut???s down on your inevitable re-painting times. If you don???t fully know how something looks, then look it up! (it???s OK ??? you can???t be expected to remember what everything-in-the-world-looks-like-ever, even Frank Frazetta used reference! Don???t be fooled into the Legend of the Frazetta! He was amazing, but like all professional artists, he used reference too!) Even if you???re making an alien spacecraft, you can get inspiration from the weirdest things ??? like Gillete razors, the designs on them would make an awesome looking Generation ship! Or the weird and wonderful inventions of the victorian era! And even old patents from Nikolai Tesla???s inventions! So much inspirational stuff to start ideas off in your heads! If you???re ever told ???Don???t use reference??? then give the person who said it a hearty slap to the chops.

This is the second painting in the series that Heather has been working on, based upon the group's previous chronicle for Changeling: the Lost. How awesome are my players.

Here is the link to the previous image of the painter's own character, Freki. http://gibbergeist.wordpress.com/2d/freki_fin/

Monday, 19 September 2011

[actual play] Exalted - Forge of Souls @white_wolf_fan #whitewolf #exalted





Episode 3 part 4


With the party over the circle made their way to their chambers in Rain's home. Echo propped a chair against the door, fearing a nightly visit by Rain's amorous mother. Dorn however hired a rickshaw and travelled back to his apartment in the city centre.

In the morning there was a loud banging on the door to the manor house. The servants alerted Rain that they were here for him, that he was under arrest. Rain, taking some servant clothes, fled, cloaking himself with the power of his anima banner. He leapt over the wall of the garden and on into the city.
In the house the others awoke and Kheralin activate her charm, and slipped out easily, listening in on the guards, and discovering that the King and his son was dead, apparently at the hands of Rain. The city soldier were let into the house, and questioned were asked as the building was turned over. Aisha was questioned, though claimed to be the gardener, while Light said he was Unfettered Emerald's doctor. Echo of course got too much attention, but cowed them into submission on the presentation of his medal of office as captain of the Iron Eagle's of Nexus.
Rain arrived at one of the main squares near the arena. He was there looking for someone, a contact, a beggar who was also a minor member of his cult. On finding the vagrant, as usual the man was sat there with a dish expecting what small offerings people could give him. Rain dropped in two bits of silver and asked the beggar what was going on. Recognizing his master's voice, the beggar explained that he had heard that the King was dead, and that Rain was the killer. Rain was shocked by this and left, heading to Dorn's apartment.
Aisha, Echo and Light left the house and went into the city, hoping to get to Dorn. They took different routes, but were being followed. Aisha lost her tail in amongst the markets, while Light went looking for their mercenary friend. Since arriving in Khacin the mercenary had been staying near to Dorn and on the look out for anything strange. Light found him at the inn. Light was riding his camel he had purchased the other day in the market, and so he swapped with the mercenary. The mercenary rode the camel into the market, with Light on foot, before parting ways, the mecenary now being tailed by the soldiers.
At Dorn's apartment there was a knock on the door, and Dorn was met by Rain. Rain explained the problem as Dorn made preparations for the fight later. Rain set about making breakfast from the left overs in the apartment. They were soon joined by Kheralin.
Echo only noticed he was being followed as he went into the inn where Dorn was staying. He proceeded up the steps before turning back and rushing the guards. He kicked the one down the stairs and drew his sword on the other and threatened the man before throwing him down the stairs to join his friend.
Eventually all the circle was in Dorn's apartment. Rain was working out what to do, knowing that they had to turn the tables quickly. They still needed access to the library of the Manse of the Grey Tiger. It was decided that Dorn would go take part in the tournament, with Aisha watching. It was suggested that Dorn should try and make as much of a show as possible. Kheralin had already scouted out the the palace and the walls, and so Rain decided that now was a good time for an uprising, not just to take down the Immaculate Faith of Khacin, but also as a cover for them to get into the library.

It was time for the tournament, and Dorn and Aisha headed off to the Circle of Blood arena. The high black metal walls loomed over them, and from within they could hear the cheering of the crowds. The pair entered the areana through the combatant gate, and were led deep down into the arena. Above the roars of the crowd dulled, and about them were cages of prisoners, animals and beasts from the Wyld. They waited and queued and eventually they were brought to the lift from where Dorn would be winched up into the arena. Aisha was led to a private box from which to watch as Dorn made his final preparations.
Meanwhile, near to the slums, Rain was gathering the followers of his cult. They came from all walks of life. Their numbers grew as they began to approach the road to the palace upon the hill. Amongst their number Echo, Light and Kheralin hid, ready to take action. But with them were a number of mercenaries hired by Echo and Kheralin. Rain took his position to the front of the crowd, and from there made his proclamations and speeches, urging the crowd on.
Dorn was winched up on the lift, the floor of the arena opening and spilling light down into the darkness. The roar of the crowd was deafening. He stood in the centre of the arena as his name was announced to the excited mob. He then saw his opponent emerge from below the arena. She was tall and muscular, and brandished an enormous hammer of white stone. As her name was read out Aisha realized that it was not who Dorn was meant to fight. It was one of the Dragon Blooded who Kheralin had learnt of.
The two warriors walked up to each other and stared each other down. The Dragon Blood announced herself as Solemn Topaz. The two Exalts stared each other down. Each traded insults, trying to crush the other's will to fight. Aisha however is more concerned about how their identities were made known.
The fight began, with Topaz breaking her cool, and struck out with the enormous Goremaul. The hammer sent thunderous tremors through the arena, as Dorn dodge the strikes. Dorn, having noted the slowness of the weapon timed an attack. He grabbed the Dragon Blood, and embraced her in crushing grip. The gauntlets and razor harness dug in as both struggled for control of the grapple. Dorn crushed Topaz's armour, before with a roar he hurled her towards one of the pillars in the arena, breaking her against the column of metal with a sickening snap.
The arena exploded in to cheers and then screams. They soon realized that Dorn was the enemy of prophecy. A sun demon. His essence was boiling around him, and his anima banner, a great bear of the north, had erupted around him.
At the palace walls the mob of cultists, with Echo, Kheralin, Light and Rain, had gathered and were being urged on by the monumental words of Rain, his very words loaded with magic. Rain decreed that for too long had the Immaculate Faith of the Grey Tiger denyed them the truth of the library, and the now was a time of reckoning. Kheralin, calling upon her charms, easily lept up on the palace walls and snuck into the guard tower so that she might open the gates.
In the arena Dorn called for the people to witness the weakness of the Dragon Blooded. But in response there was a terrible roar from within the royal box, as the god, The Grey Tiger, Kha Alahan, called for Dorn, the 'Blackened Sun' of prophecy to come and face him in battle. The god strode forth, almost a full 10 feet tall, carrying a flaming red jade Dire Lance. The god had a perfect body of a man, but with claws and feet and head of a lion. The god leapt forward, shifting form into a centaur like form, ready to charge Dorn.

Part 5

The crowd of revolutionaries waited outside the gate, with Rain, Echo and Light amongst their number. Kheralin had already worked her way inside to the guard tower from where she might open the gates. Rain took the time to pray to the local god of the library. This god, The Thousand Eyes of Books in the Night, was an Owl like god and a servant of the Grey Tiger. Rain offered a place in the new order to the god in return for knowledge of the city. In return the god sent a vision, a route from where Rain stood to the library, but such a route that would evade guards and traps.

On the palace walls a priest of the Temple of the Grey Tiger appear. Rain recognised him as Generous Thought of Winter. The priest was the head of the temple and recognised Rain on sight. Winter denounced the mob, suggesting they should ask for forgiveness for their herecy should ask for forgiveness and hand over the vile traitor, calling out it's leaders to show themselves. Light nudges Rain, who asks him if this means he thinks he is in charge of the current rabble, or the more specific rabble of the circle.

Dropping his hood, Rain steps forward and acknowledges the priest, asking him if
he would come down and speak with them, explain the error of their ways. The priest, recognising Rain denounces him as a murder as well as a heretic, an Anathema as spoken about in prophecy, and a traitor and charges him with regicide. Rain replies that he doesn't know if the priest really believes he killed the king or is just using it for political advantage, but Rain has been with some of his followers since his arrival in the city. He again invites the priest down to the street to explain his position amongst the people. Then from the guard tower there is a scream as a guard is sent to plummet to his death by Kheralin. Rain demands that the priest opens the gate so that the people may enter the library, read the prophecy and decide for themselves.

But the gates open. 'Let them in, listen to his words, but nothing else' spoke the priest. Rain, Light and Echo suspect a trap. They were right. There beyond the gate was a talon of 50 elite guard of Khacin. With them were monks of the temple, and in addition, two Dragon Blooded. One of them stood at the head of the guard. He wore the armour of the realm, and was already wreathed in an anima of fire. He was drawing essence together. The other Dragon Blood was a monk, armed with blue jade razor claws. Water danced about him as he enacted the kata of the Water Dragon Form fighting style.
Rain unbuckled his sword belt and handed to Light in order to give a sign of trust. He demanded to know how long the throne of Khacin had been in the thrall of the Realm. Rain hoped to buy some time.  The fire-aspect responds that they are simply doing their duty as part of the Wyld Hunt, that they are to here to hunt Rain and his kind. The sorcerer then begins to fuse his essence into a ball of obsidian. Light and Rain recognised this action and realised they would have to act quickly or else be caught in the cloud of razor sharp obsidian butterflies.
Taking action Echo threw off his cloak and called upon his charms. He leapt forward, soaring into the sky and over the palace gates and into the throng of soldier, swinging his great sword back and forth, cutting through the men. Light threw to Rain his belt of swords. The former priest channeled his essence, unleashing as the Thunderbolt Attack Prana. Rain leapt forward, trailing golden essence, forcing his soul steel blade at the sorcerer. But even with a dead on strike, there was little injury, just a clang of metal. the sorcerer had a skin of bronze. Rain had hoped the the attack would have disrupted the spell.
The sorcerer maintained his concentration and command of the magic. The ball of obsidian exploded into a cloud of butterflies. They rushed forward, with Rain dodging what little he could at such a close range, and Light standing firm as he hoped his recently acquired soul steel armour would take the brunt of the attack. All about Light, the mob of cultists were cut to ribbons as the butterflies deflected of Light's dark metal armour. Rain however was not so lucky as any part of his body not protected by armour was cut to ribbons. Blood ran from the hundreds of cuts all over his body.
The water-aspect monk made his advance upon Light, demonstrating the water dragon. He gives a small bow, to which Light responds by unleashing the finished sorcery of the Flying Guillotine. The lightning fast razor chain shot forward, spinning towards the Dragonblood. With an effortless cartwheel the monk dodged the attack, which in stead strikes one of the guard. The chain wrapped around the man's waist, severing him in half.
Echo continued to wade through the soldiers, hacking at them as if they were mere weeds. He laughed with each strike. With a roar he issued a Mob Dispersing Rebuke, not believing that he needs to invoke the powers of the Dawn caste to scare of these enemies. However, the soldiers maintain their ground.
Finishing off the remaining guards in the tower and deciding that her mission is the priority, rather than helping the others in their fight, Kheralin starts on her way to the library intent of retrieving the book of prophecy the circle requires, but she looks out of the window of the tower to watch the fight unfold, fearing that she may need to intervene. The guard mob Echo, who uses his training to parry the onslaught. Soldier intervene between Rain and the Dragon Blooded Sorcerer. Rain leaps over their heads and attacks in a spinning fury. Blood streamed off Rain's injuries painting him as a red whirlwind of death. In response the sorcerer raised a hand, battered by Rain's blows. At his palm flames grew until he unleashed it at Rain as an elemental bolt. Rain however called upon his charms and blurred out of the way.
The water-aspect monk struck a series of blows at Brilliant Light of the Woods. The highly trained martial artists' attacks were powerful and accurate, with the jade razor claws tearing through the armour and bringing Light to his knees.

At the arena the  tiger-god, Kha Alahan, the Grey Tiger, charged at Dorn. Dorn had gathered his essence, focusing his rage, and every muscle bulged with barely concealed power. His anima banner, the great golden bear, roared out in fury as Dorn invoked the Solar Hero Form, and then Battle Fury Focus. Aisha had run off to try and release the dangerous animals within the bowels of the arena. She raced down into the darkness.
With the Tiger-God bearing down upon him, Dorn smashed down upon the arena floor, sending a shock wave through the arena. The floor collapsed, sending both Dorn and the Grey Tiger plummeting down 20 feet. The battle ground was now a ruinous maze of corridors, prisons and chambers. Unknown numbers of beasts and men had been crushed by the collapse. But for Dorn it had stalled the Grey Tiger's attack. Dust cloaked his movement and he readied himself to face the god up close.
From no where the god lashed out with his Dire Lance. The red jade blade glowed with fire, as a ruby hearth stone glowed in the head of the spear. Dorn is surprised by the flurry of blows, but is able to sidestep them as they punched through stone. But then Dorn realises that this was a city god he was facing, and so was tied to the city, and in turn able to appear anywhere in the city. There was no way to avoid this fight. Dorn grabbed the spear and pulled the god towards him, grabbing the god in an attempt to hurl the god.
In the arena chambers Aisha set about unlocking the cages, hoping the beast might act as a distraction. She also prepared her yasal crystal, for she realised there may be a captured demon beast that would act as a new source of power.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Speak Out With Your Geek Out - A list of my Geek #speakgeek

Final post about what I geek out over.


  • Transformers - toys, films, cartoons
  • Lego - I really want all the stuff my mum has kept safe
  • Thundercats - the new anime is awesome
  • Roleplay games
    • Vampire the Masquerade
    • Vampire the Dark Ages
    • Mage the Ascension
    • Vampire the Requiem
    • Werewolf the Forsaken
    • Mage the Awakening
    • Changeling the Lost
    • Geist the Sin-Eaters
    • Unhallowed Metropolis
    • Exalted
    • Fading Suns
    • Cthulhu Tech
  • Wargames - I want the time and money to get back into it, but not GW stuff, just Confrontation and Warmachine.
  • Science - chemistry, physics, maths, computers
  • Mythology
  • Scifi/fantasy films
  • Gipf and Zertz board games
  • Anime
    • Deathnote
    • Shadow Skill
    • Devil May Cry
    • Tower of Druaga
  • Computer games
    • Devil May Cry 1-4 (fuck you DMC or DMC 5 or whatever the fuck you are!)
    • Assassin's Creed
    • Batman - Arkham Asylum/City
    • Final Fantasy 7
    • Silent Hill 2
  • Superheroes
    • Batman films (old and new)
    • The Joker
    • Harley Quinn (yes please)
    • Smallville (yeah I know)
    • Spiderman
    • X-men
    • Wolverine
  • Horror films
  • Venice, Italy
  • Carnival
  • Manchester, UK
  • The paranormal
  • The Warhammer and Warhammer 40000 universe (I'd rather roleplay in them than play the wargames)
  • Cosplay

Speak Out With Your Geek Out - From Country Kid to Computational Scientist #speakgeek #chemistry

[gallery] Above image was the cover image to the Journal of Physical chemistry where my literature review on neural networks and chemical simulations appeared.

I have already estabished that at school, out in the the courtyside of Herefordshire, I was quite an enthusiast for science, technology and mathematics. That is not to say I did not enjoy art, graphical design and history, but I excelled at the sciences. For A-Levels (for those in the US that is the equivalent of the last 2 years of high school, but over here we specialize in a few subjects, and for my time that was just 3) I took Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. My Mum to a degree forced me into doing maths, on the grounds that no matter what I did at university it would come in handy. She was not wrong.


My love of Physics really comes from my childhood obsession with space. I loved how the solar system was, how planets were so different and similar, and at how man had left the confines of this world to explore others. A part of me as a child wanted to be an astronaut, or some form of astronomer. But as high school went on I could see possible choices like engineer or theoretical physicist. However there was chemistry.


Chemistry is a weird science if ever there was one. It sits are the threshold of all the others. Not all scientists wear white lab coats, and not all chemists are the same. Not all work in labs slaving over making new colourful liquids or bubbling, steaming pots of solutions. No there are a lot of boring steps to be taken in the creation of new chemicals. However, there are many forms of chemistry. There are surface chemists, biochemists, bioinorganic chemists, nano scientists, this list being very long.


What captured my imagination in Chemistry, was the links between it and Physics and in turn Mathematics. Quantum Mechanics. This strange area of science, ruled by particle wave waves, and strange physics, is the very science that puts electrons in their place around atoms, and in turn determines how chemistry happens. I was just struck by the beauty of the equations that determined the motion of these particle/waves. And so it was this that made me do Chemistry as a degree. But of course a particular type of chemistry.


Now I had applied to the Univeristy of Manchester Institute for Science and Technology (it was a one of a few such institutes) for a Masters in Chemistry. This was originally a B B C entry requirement, that based on the interview for the course, was reduced to B C C, with a B in Chemistry. That of course was achieved (I got a A in Maths, and two Bs).


But the course I was doing was not normal chemistry. It was Chemistry with Chemical Physics. Chemical Physics I had learnt during my hunt for university courses, was an area of chemistry where computers were used to model and analyse chemicals. It would mean I would learn programming and deal with Quantum Mechanics.


Of course in an ideal world you get to study exactly the way you want to. However, being such a nerd I was one of a few who were doing that exact course. Meaning that in the first few years of the degree I got to study specialized modules in Quantum Mechanics etc.However, Chemistry has a high level of attrition amongst the students. By the later years I was really the only person doing that course. This was an issue as the specialist course were not always an option for me to take due to not enough interest in them. This meant often I was doing other optional courses that were more synthetic in focus. This was and issue as it caused a drop in my overall grade averages. One thing I did learn through team projects is that I disliked doing synthetic chemistry. It would either yeild very small amounts of the desired product, or turn to brown goo. This was why I prefered physical chemistry and theoretical chemistry. it was all the formulas that described the chemical bonds and how molecules move about.


So for my final thesis for my Masters, I did a project on the design of a new, multipolar electrostatic, water model. How can I explain all this concisely? Water is a the most fundamental of all molecules. It is the medium for life, and is essential for the understanding for many other important chemical systems and physical properties (like how ice freezes). So what exactly was I doing?


Above is the way water molecules organise in the liquid. This structure is constantly shifting in the liquid, but becomes rigid in ice.


Water has been modelled since the start of Computational Chemistry, back in the 70s. Water models assumed a number of things. Water molecules are rigid (molecules are anything but rigid). Water molecules don't break bonds (this is a massive simplification - water molecules are constantly exchanging hydrogen atoms and making and breaking hydrogen bonds - these being weak interactions between the water oxygen atoms and the hydrogen atoms on another water molecule. Even if we models did do this, they assumed that hydrogen atoms move like normal atoms, but in fact hydrogen atoms are so small and light they move in non-Newtonian ways i.e. Quantum Mechanically).


Above is a diagram to show how electrons fill atomic shells. The number of electrons in a outer shell determines the chemistry. Atoms react and bond so that they complete a shell either by losing electrons or gaining them. For example, Carbon, has 4 out electrons. It reacts to form 4 bonds. In each bond it shares one electron from itself and another from the bonding partner atom. Thus in total Carbon has 8 electrons in total. A complete shell.

Water molecules can be described using points charges placed on the atoms. Oxygen atoms carry a partial negative charge, while the hydrogen atoms carry partial positive charges (this explains the above mentioned hydrogen bonds). These partial charges simplify the true distribution of electrons about the water molecules. The old models assume these charges never. However, these charge distributions do change, in response to bonds being made and broken, and in fact changes to the local environment of the molecules. This is called polarization (something I will get back to later).


Above a typical water model. It has the bond lengths and geometry. Note that water has a triangular shape. The toal charge of the molecule is 0. But the oxygen atom has a partial negative charge, and the hydrogens have partial positive charges.


So what was my model. My model used a more realistic representation of the electrons and where they are located, something called a electron density. These are 3D representations of the charge density and you can imagine the analogue with respect to say pressure of temperature.

Above is the molecule, imidazole, and the gradient vector field of its electron density. Note the field lines are the lines tha end at the dots (atoms). The isobars represent lines containing equal electron density. The thick curved lines are interatomic boundaries. Note how they curve. This means atoms are not round things when in molecules. They deform each other. The image is the same for computational determination as it is if you measured the same thing by x-ray diffraction. In fact the computer calculated version is more accurate.

The above image is similar to the previous. This time for two water molecules. One water molecule, on the right, lies in the place of the 2D plot. The othe is at right angles to it, with the hydrogen atoms sitcking out of the image. Note how the left water molecule oxygen atom deforms the hydrogen atom of the right hand water molecule.


A 3D representation of the atomis of three water molecules within a cluster of 21 water molecules. Red volumes/atoms are oxygen atoms, white are hydrogen atoms. The solid atoms belong to the central water molecule of the cluster, while the two neighbouring molecules have transparent wire-framed atoms.

This project not only saw me learn more about quantum mechanics and use such programs to generate data using the equations of quantum mechanics, but I also learnt about programming, Fortran, in order program the models and modify them so that using Newtonian equations of motion I could test if the water models recovered the expect structures of water that have been previously been measured using X-ray diffraction.


The work for this revealed some interesting results which I would then make use of in my PhD with the same group. The PhD was offered to me so long as I got a 2.1. Thank fuck I did.


Getting a PhD was a life changing experience. First of all having funding and money is good. Especially when you go from three grand a year to twelve. My PhD involved learning more programming and the fundamentals of AI, in particular neural networks. The new project was 'The design of a novel polarizable water model trained on ab initio electron densities'.


What hell does that all mean?


Let's go back to the old work. Remember I said the model assumed that the charge densities don't change, and that was a simplification? Well this new model of mine woud address that. The neural networks are computer algorithms that can learn things from the data presented to them. So what data is that?


Ab initio is the latin for 'first principles' i.e. quantum mechanics. I generated thousands (and that takes some time) of quantum data for various water clusters i.e. 2-6 water molecules in different arrangements where one molecule is surrounded by the rest. The data for these clusters shows that the electron density is distorted due to the placement of the water molecules. Why? Remember I said that the atoms have partial charges? Well that means that water molecules interact in such a way that the partial charges either push (negatively charge atoms do this) or push neighbouring electron density in other molecules. This distortion of electron density is known as polarization (I hope you note that a lot of these terms can be looked up on wikipedia).


So this means that each water molecule, and its electron density, are unique to the environment and organisation of that environment i.e. what stuff is about it and how they are pointing at each other. A neural network can be trained to related the positions and relative orientations to the electron densities found for these examples. In effect the neural network can predict during the simulation of water the electron densities, and in effect allow for the water molecules to be polarized.


Above is a basic neural network. They are an analogue to how brain neurons work. The circles, nodes, pass numbers along (left to right). These numbers are multiplied by things called weights i.e. how important a the number is, and used to calculate an output. A neural network 'learns' by modifying these weights so that once it has been trained to predict the output for some test examples, it can then be used to predict the output for other sets of inputs representing the other variations you wish to use.


Are we still following? Well this work is now being applied to a model for peptides (short chains of amino acids that if you make big enough can curl up and become proteins) and for water with ions (salt water is a good start).


So then I finished at the University of Manchester (a merger of UMIST and the Victoria University of Manchester) and have almost finished a postdoc at Warwick University. Here I have been developing models for spin crossover compounds.


Spin Crossover???


OK. So there are these types of atoms in the periodic table called transtition metals. These metals are called so because they can easily under go a transition from one oxidation state to another. That means they can lose a variable number of electrons when forming different complexes. For example iron can happily form compounds where in some it has lost 2 electrons, and in some 3, and in others even more. This means that in the two states it prefers different compound geometries i.e. what shapes it forms when binding to other atoms, it also has different colours in the two states, which in turn are further modified by the atoms it is bound to. For example rust is red because it is iron in the 3+ (i.e. lost three electrons) state. This is why our blood is also red when oxygenated. Really, go look up transition metals and see why they do so much stuff and are so important to life and science.


Above shows the outer shell electron structure of iron. Electrons are arrows. The lines are orbitals. Transition Metals break all the rules. Sothey have a 4s shell that holds 2 electrons and a 3d shell that can hold 10 electrons. Both shells are similar in energy. When iron is oxidised, it looses the the 4s electrons first (becoming a 2+ state). It will then loose one of the pair electrons in the 3d shell to form the 3+ state.


Now the other thing that transition metals can do is occupy different spin states. This means that while the oxidation state is the same, the electrons in the outer shell of the atom (the outer shell of the atom determines the chemistry of an atom) can be forced to change their arrangement. In turn this means that they can favour different geometries with the atoms to which they are bound. It can also mean they can be trapped in either spin state. (Spin is a property that electrons have. It is either up or down. Electrons can only be in the same orbital if they are of opposite spin. Now per orbital there are two electrons of each spin. This is stable. But pairing electrons decreases stability because electrons are negatively charged. It's like putting two north poles against each other. So then it is also favoured to have electrons spread out, one per orbital if possible. So there can be a number of ways to spread the electrons.

One is where as many electrons are paired up - low spin, and one is where as many are not paired up - high spin).



Above is the 3d shell for the iron in the 2+ state. What you need to know is that when iron binds with atoms you will find some of the orbitals (those lines the electrons are on) are higher in energy than others. Now here is the trick. You gain stability with the electrons in the lower energy orbitals. But you loose energy pairing electrons. So the you can spread them out (LS being low spin as the spins are all cancelled out, HS being high spin where there are more up spin than down spin). But that means putting electrons in less stable, higher energy orbitals. So there is a clever balance here that deteremines if the high spin or low spin state is preffered. It depends on how unstable i.e. how much higher in energy the upper orbitals are. If the pay off is not enough then LS state is preffered. Of course this energy difference, and thus preference can be modified by changing what iron is bound to.


What does this change of spin state allow for? Well spin states can be switched between if the material adsorbs a gas, or is heated, or is compressed, or is hit by a laser light. What can we do with this? The spin state can be used as a form of switch, like in memory in hard drives. Or perhaps as sensors for gases. They can even be used for optics.


So what am I doing for this. Well many of these models need settings to be determined for the functions that model these systems. Now this not trivial when there are 30 or more that need to be found so that the parameters can be used to model the compounds in both low and high spin states. Now, to find these, since there are many combinations, I have been using genetic algorithms (a way of varying bit string representations of the parameters) to search the parameter space to fit the models.


What makes it harder is that the fitting of the parameters must achieve two goals. The first being good energy predicitions for the test compounds, and the other being good recovery of the compound geometries. These two goals are in competition i.e. you can fit the models to get one really good while getting shit results in the other. This issue is know as multi-objective fitting. This is now going to be applied to a number of problems, and will in future be used for some other things.


My future work in Bochum, Germany, returns to my PhD work or neural networks, and I will be using it to simulate transition metal catalytic surfaces. This means I am drawing upon my old skills and pushing the work further forward since my old work and this new work are comparable and can be combined.



But why do we do this? 


In 2003, the cost of developing a new drug was estimated at $800 million, with a predicted 7.4% increase in costs per year, the development of a new drug will now require around around $1 billion.

 Typically, it takes over a decade for a drug to be brought to the market because only a couple of potential drugs out of 10,000 make it to the market. Moreover, it can be difficult recoup the money put into the research and the drug may be recalled when it makes it to the patient population. Subsequently, drug development and production needs to become more efficient. This can be achieved through the use of computational chemistry Computers have become ever cheaper and faster. It is, therefore, now feasible to run moderate sized simulations on a commercially available desktop computer. By using the computational tools available, and developing new computational approaches, drug design can be made more efficient and successful.


So I guess that means what I do should hopefully help save lives, or save the world. No really.


So there we go. My Speak Out With My Geek Out about Chemistry


Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Exalted - A Rememberance of the First Age: Falling Rain

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Terrestrials…. He always knew it would be the Terrestrials that would come for him. He had not, of course, anticipated the details of what appeared to be rapidly turning into a city wide insurrection, but he for some time now suspected hostile attention from the most numerous class of Exalt. As to the uprising, he wondered why the astrologers had not foreseen this. Either they were inept, or the hand of the Sidereal was in this somewhere. What could their intention be?

He disengaged the series of security protocols on the entrance to the lab. The orichalchum pieces shifting into place under his hand as he thought the code-thought, whilst the armoured Erymanthoi to either side of the doorway materialised into being and sharply stood to attention.

“Defend this doorway. With your existence if you must.” He snapped as he walked inside. From somewhere above came the muffled crump of essence batteries discharging. So, those jade warstriders had entered the compound’s internal courtyard then.

The Terrestrials had the most to lose from his project. If the programme to bio-thaumaturgically up-lift the vast majority of humanity to effectively Terrestrial levels of essence channelling succeeded, as he was confident it would without these interruptions, then what place would there be for the Terrestrials? They would have no special status other than a legacy from the Primordial Wars, and there were no longer any Terrestrials alive who had fought those battles.

He had found his personal bodyguard in his chambers, their weapons bloody, standing around the collapsing corpse of the summoned demon that had served as his body-double. He at first suspected the hand of a rival amongst the Deliberative. Perhaps even one of his nominal circle. No, they were occupied elsewhere, campaigns against the dead in the South for example, and the deliberative ignored his experiments.

The deliberative had mocked his choice of field of study. ‘Why not leave science and experimentation to the Twilight, who are so suited to it?’ they had asked. Whilst he swiftly killed his attempted betrayers, he reflected that if the Terrestrials were rising up more broadly, then perhaps his circle-mate's invitation to join her espionage and policing operations might have been a wise one. But no, whilst the Twilight may be paramount innovators, sometimes it took a member of the Night caste to make the difficult choice, the unconscionable one.  

He stood before the device, watching the shifting and distorting energy field at its heart. A vortex of potential, one of the protean forces of chaos – a pure field of becoming, and the first stage of a very principle of reality. If the deliberative in any way realised that he had captured in secret and dragged into creation a potential primordial, then they most certainly would have dispatched their own strike teams. The encounter-suit built into his armour engaged as it came into contact with the powerful containment sorcery built into the room as schematics and data flowed across his vision in hieroglyphs. It would have been the power-source behind the Great Enlightenment. 

“Disengage safety protocols.” He said, making a series of elaborate mundras with his hands, the bank of hearthstones in front of him blinked as if in recognition.. “Controlled detonation of vortex thirty seconds after my mark. Perimeter – the entire compound and the surrounding ten leagues.”


Thirty seconds. That should be enough to get clear.



Speak Out With Your Geek Out - From Wildest Herefordshire to Darker Days Radio #speakgeek

So what is this all about?

'Take a stance against baiting nerd rage and stereotypes of geeks.

Post about how much you love your geeky hobbies or vocation from Monday, September 12th, 2011 to Friday, September 16th on your blog, website, social media account or in a forum somewhere. Then come here and tell us about it. We'll have a kick-off post where you can stand and be counted.

Let's show the world why we're awesome and why there is nothing wrong with being a geek.

Initially proposed and organized by author, game designer and freelance consultant Monica Valentinelli.'


So what do I have to add. On flamesrising.com they have some great points on how to address this type of points.

I am an unapologetic geek. It has fuelled my passion for the sciences, for history, for mythology, for finding my own spirituality, and has also led to me finding jobs, friends, and also my wife.

Is being a geek bad thing? Of course not. Many people are geeks. They have a deep passion for some niche interest. Be it roleplay games, video games, or football fans. Geek has been a word negatively attached to an interest in technology, sciences and books. But as time has gone on, and the world has changed, being a geek has started to payoff big time, but in a more apparent way.

Many who meet me assume I still a student. And a student into the arts. I guess the big bleached spiky hair confuses many. They seem shocked to learn I am a doctor of chemistry. I am a geek, but not the stereotype may imagine.

So where does my proud life as a geek begin?

Transformers. It has to be Transformers. Even now I am a big fan of them. My wife bought me the Megatron toy from the Transformers Animated series a few Xmas' back. But I got my first Transformer when I was just 18 months old. My mother explained to me that back then I constantly wanted them as I saw older boys with the toys. Of course, that was the Eighties, and as I grew up there were many of the classic cartoon shows. He-Man, Thundercats etc. All of this fuelled my imagination, and that imagination was allowed to create with Lego.

During Primary school I discovered Greek myths, and then the other myths from other pantheons. Again my mother fed this need, and got me books on the subject. I was also equally obsessed with space, and knew even at the age of 9 all about the shuttle program, the planets and about stars.

It was also around this time my parents got for Xmas for my sister and myself a computer. The Amiga 500. This machine let my play games, use early publishing and art software, and also try out basic programming.

Then came High school, and it was in my first year there that a friend got me into wargaming. Warhammer 40000 to be exact. This of course led to me eventually playing all the games that Games Workshop produced at the time. Overtime my parents accepted this expensive hobby, noting how it let me be artistic, develop good logic and number skills, writing, and reading, and also let myself and my friend socialize doing something other than watching TV or playing on the computer.

It was also at High school I got into table top rpgs. My parent came back one Saturday afternoon with a black box with a red dragon upon it. This was D&D Basic. I of course got my wargaming friends into table rpgs. That Xmas I got the WEG Star Wars rpg, and a year after that Vampire the Masquerade. It was also around this time, while doing work experience at the Hereford Archaeology centre that I picked up some Magic the Gathering cards. This too also became a major hobby for my friends.

Of course all the way through school, from primary to high school, to 6th form, I was a bullied for being a geek. A nerd. I did well at lessons, and in exams, especially at maths and sciences. it wasn't that I didn't like sports, but I preferred things like Martial Arts. By the end of school I was a brown belt in Karate. But for all of it I was bullied. There were often times I even wished I was not as good at school. Is it any surprise then that I got into alternative music?

Of course these matters seem pointless in hindsight once on goes to university and finds that where before you were part of an apparent minority, you are now part of a larger, a more diverse, and accepting, body of people and peers. Of course I feel I would never have gotten to university, and even got my invitation grades lowered, if I had not been a geek.

Throughout university I was still doing wargaming, and for 3 years worked part time at a Games Workshop store. While there the parents of the kids that came in were often surprised to learn that I was a degree student. They could see that this hobby promote the types of skills and interests that would lead to their kids going to university.

Of course while at university I also joined gaming groups, joined the anime society, and became more alternative. I was a industrial/cybergoth in the making.

My degree of course is quite geeky. It started out as just chemistry, but then took a computing angle, and my final degree project was the simulation of water. So I was now a programmer/chemist. I worked in an office compiling code, reading up of quantum mechanics. I was a chemist, just not in a white coat.

Of course this led to me doing a PhD in computational chemistry. My skills expanded and I learnt about AI, neural networks, machine learning, protein folding (you know the stuff on the PS3). I was becoming an expert in my field, writing papers in a unique part of chemistry. Of course I was still roleplaying during this time, but I had also stopped wargaming. I needed the time, and the money. I also got into the industrial/goth scene around this time, and found that many of the goths in the city were also scientist geeks of some form, or artist geeks. I also met my wife half way through my PhD. We originally met over the internet. We were both members of a goth meetup, but never were at the same one at the same time. So we met up one day, geeked out over Spiderman films, and then spent a lot of the day walking around geek shops, like Forbidden Planet. Sam of course brought into my life all her geek interests, some I get, some I don't, and she in turn is now an important member of my rpg group. We also cosplay when we get the opportunity as our favourite anime characters.

So where am I now? I have almost finished my first postdoc research post at the University of Warwick, and I will be moving to Germany for my new job. I have also been married for almost 3 years, with Venice now being a geeky obsession of mine, as it is a place I got engaged in, married in, and I have also written about, both for my own games, and for the rpg Amaranthine (my first shot at freelance writing). I now also co-host the Darker Days Podcast, a World of Darkness focused podcast.
Since moving to Warwick I have set up another gaming group which consists of computer game artists, battle re-enactors and political researchers.

Now I am no paragon of geekdom. I have had my rants. Be it against those who bitch and moan about a company catering to their tastes, or having a rant a person who kills their gaming party in the first scene. I also dislike certain hobbies, but that is not to say that I do not accept that others.

So what is my message to other geeks who feel as if they are the outcast, or that their hobbies are some form of social impediment. They are not. These geek hobbies can fuel the mind and imagination in a way that can lead to finding other like minded friends, and can be turned into respectable jobs. After all in this day and age of computers and technology and computer games, don't geeks somewhat rule the world? Of all the people that have encouraged me, it has been my mother who has pushed me with my studies, accepted my hobbies and in fact got me started in them.

So there we go. I am a proud geek, and there are more out there than you realize. They just don't look like the stereotype.