Party with the Stars: D. H. Willison

Welcome to SPFBO 6 and my brand new feature, Party with the Stars! Have you ever wondered what might happen if you could throw a party of your choice and not only could you invite your MC(s) but other literary figures as well? In this feature I ask you to imagine exactly that scenario and some more. Meet D. H. Willison and let’s get the party started!

D. H. Willison invitation
The Host
aka The Author
D. H. Willison

D. H. Willison is a reader, writer, game enthusiast and developer, engineer, and history enthusiast. He’s lived around the world, absorbing history, culture, and food. Actually he’s eaten the food. It has been verified that he is a complex, multicellular life form. Fascinated by nature, technology, and history, and especially anything that can put all three of these together, he has an annoying habit of dragging his wife to the most unromantic destinations imaginable, including outdoor museums, the holds of old ships, and even the tunnels of the Maginot Line. Subscribe to his newsletter for art, stories, and humorous articles (some of which are actually intended to be humorous.)

The Main Guest(s)
aka The MC(s)

I’ll let my main characters introduce themselves. Darin, what were your exact thoughts as you came to the party this evening?

I’d been in tough situations before. Close calls with monsters. Nearly plummeted to my death more than once. But at this moment, it all seemed to pale in comparison to the grim night awaiting me. The worst part? I was doing it voluntarily.
The iron-banded wheels of the pushcart clacked forlornly against the cobblestone. The streets were oddly empty this warm evening, and the late summer sun cast long shadows. What if I said I got lost? “Sorry, Kahlor, I took a wrong turn and just couldn’t find the place.” Yeah. The palace. Don’t think he’d believe that. Plus, without this gear, he’d be in real trouble.
The gate was just ahead. Even this side-gate was flanked by a pair of city watch in full dress uniform. No expense spared.
The left guard addressed me, his usual officious and surly tone ironed smooth like the silken pleats of his double-breasted coat. “Here for the founder’s day ball?”
“Yes. I’m part of the team handling decorations and entertainment in the south garden.” Come on. Say it. Jump into your persona feet first. Kahlor has done you a favor more than once. “We’re so excited to play a part of such a prestigious event. And you’ll be amazed at what we’ve got in store for you.” See? It didn’t hurt that bad.

Rinloh, the other MC, will introduce herself further down.

The Special Guest(s)

The city of course invites prominent fantasy adventurers every year: the more epic, the better. From Conan to Gandalf, the call goes out. Regrettably, the usual responses are from the likes of Rincewind or Skeeve. However, should any prominent and epic adventurers show up, Darin would most certainly go full fan-boy, pestering them with questions like, “Do you really use a back-scabbard? Doesn’t it make it difficult to draw your sword quickly?” and “Do you ever get splinters in your hands from such an unfinished-looking staff?”

The Entertainment

The Main Attraction

Gomfrey, the city’s most prestigious mage, creates an elaborate stage performance, which he considers the main attraction. However the real main attraction is an enchanted, life-size (ten-meter tall) ice sculpture of a harpy in the gardens behind the ballroom. Which is actually the second MC of the novel, Rinloh. I’ll let her introduce herself:

I could hardly wait for this evening! Not only the chance to see a human city up close, to view humans in their native environment, without them running in terror, but a celebration as well? With the city watch intoxicated I could sneak in. Usually can’t get within a kilometer of Darin’s city without being greeted by a barrage of cannon fire. The guards can be so rude and judgy. Sure, some of my sisters may have gobbled down a few people, but I’ve never hurt anybody. OK, there was that time with the fishing boat, but that was an accident, and they both recovered. Oh, and the donkey cart episode. But that was also a misunderstanding. I’ve had to stay very still to pretend to be a sculpture, but it’s been totally worth it. There’s music, and dancing, and all kinds of strange human rituals. Was that a good-enough introduction?

Great job, Rinloh! And that brings us to the main attraction. Darin can’t do much in the way of real magic, but his occasional success with magic gags and novelties allowed him to create the illusion that Rinloh is really a sculpture. The best part: the worse his illusion actually is, the more successful it looks.

Onlooker: “Wow! It looks so real. You can hardly tell it’s made of ice at all.”
Darin: “Yes, it’s taken years for me to hone my craft at illusions.”
Onlooker: “It almost looks like it’s breathing. How do you do that?”
Darin: “I’m afraid I can’t reveal the tricks of the trade.”
Onlooker: “Did the statue just giggle?”
Darin: “Ventriloquism. I can totally do that too.”

The Music

Troublemaker by Grizfolk

Practically an anthem for our MCs Rinloh and Darin. If the lyrics are taken literally, of course. And the album is called Waking Up the Giants—can you get any more perfect than that?

The Longing by Patty Gurdy

Encompasses the sense of adventure that called Darin from Earth.

Wrapped in Gray by XTC

A quirky, colorful song about unleashing the best of yourself on the world. Also the single cover is a harp(y).

Hungry Like the Wolf by Duran Duran

An irrepressible burst of pure energy. Very much like a certain harpy.

Home We’ll Go by Walk Off the Earth

A power pop melancholic anthem about finding home, wherever it may be.

aka Who Let the MC(s) Loose?

In order to tolerate the pompous nobles of the city, Darin would really like to get drunk. But he’s kind of on-duty. And more to the point, he needs to stick close to the main attraction of the party (see above) to make sure she stays in character as an enchanted ice sculpture.

Author's Note

Founding day: a celebration of Xin as a bastion of stability and safety on a world where minor races like humans or elves are generally defined as “snack sized.” Locals dress up as their favorite mythical creature, eat, drink, dance, and generally forget about the fact that tomorrow, the inspirations for said costumes will most likely be hunting them down.

It’s the place to be for nobility and wealthy citizens of the city of Xin. I’m unable to attend due to weather delays at my local dimensional portal, but MC Darin manages to get in by assisting with the decorations. Hey! It’s free food at least.

My MCs and I thank you for setting this up. We can sneak you into the party if you like, but you’ll need an appropriate costume. And I recommend against a hydra: those extra heads tend to get stuck in the punchbowls.

D. H. Willison submitted Harpyness is Only Skin Deep to SPFBO. You can connect with the author here:

To read about more parties and to follow our process in SPFBO 6, please visit my SPFBO 6 Phase 1 page!

Excerpt from Harpyness is Only Skin Deep

[Chapter 10]

For some reason, flying practice just wasn’t all that interesting today. I’d been flying all morning, and I had all my maneuvers pretty well nailed. The clouds didn’t have any interesting shapes that I could use as obstacles to fly around, and most of the other harpies were hunting at the northeast border of our territory. If only Darin were here, maybe we could try out a new move, or play crisscross, or hide and seek… but our meeting isn’t until tomorrow. He has this strange thing that he does many days, called a “job.” Apparently he needs it in order to trade for food and shelter. He trades a lot of silly little objects that baffle me, though apparently humans find them interesting. But since he did make that amazing necklace for me, I don’t bug him about his weird human habits.

I scan the ground below for any interesting targets to chase, but the scrub-land rewards my sharp eyes with only a scattered few tiny creatures grazing among the tall grass, far too small to be worthwhile hunting. Let’s head out to the coast and maybe I can do a little fishing.

Fish aren’t that interesting to hunt, you get one shot to grab them in your talons, and then they just dive away and I can’t follow. No interesting evasion, no extended chase, nothing. But I suppose I’ll need lunch. The cliffs west of the old fishing village give me a little extra lift, making the repetitive task of climbing to hunting altitude then diving for a fish a little easier. Darin calls it a “thermal,” but harpies don’t actually have a specific name for it, it’s just an ordinary part of flying, like the lifting magic in some areas. I do like the exercise I get when climbing higher, but doing it again and again gets boring.

After an hour or so, I’d caught a few fish, but they were small—only about a meter long—and I’m still a little hungry. I tried to make it more interesting by tossing the fish way up in the air after I grabbed them out of the water, then catching them in my mouth, but it got too easy after the first couple tries. It’s no fun when you don’t have anyone to play catch with.

There are a couple of human fishing boats just off shore… sooo tempting, but I shouldn’t play with them—last time I did that, I broke one of them, and Jenolen got mad at me because the humans couldn’t catch enough fish for us. Maybe I’ll head inland along Willow Creek. It’s rare, but sometimes you see a caprid along the creek, and those are fun to chase.

The creek below me winds like a silvery serpent through the grass covered rolling hills, its banks littered with shrubs and small trees. Things that disrupt my line of sight. Ohh! Maybe I can practice my auralocation! I’ve gotten good enough at it now to do it with my eyes open.

Let’s see… definitely life forms down there. Three of them. One a bit larger than the other two. I’m pretty sure the two smaller signatures are human. Hmm… I don’t recognize the third one. Maybe I can eat it! Hehehe. Target acquired. Wings tucked. Let’s dive!

I never tire of seeing the ground draw so rapidly closer, adjusting my wings to keep myself in a prey’s blind spot, and the anticipation: will this attack catch them totally by surprise? I can now see the three of them clearly, just have to adjust my dive a little to miss the crown of that tree. The third life form is some kind of four-legged animal, like a caprid, but larger. And it’s strapped to an odd box on wheels.

Almost there! Three, two, one—

“Gotcha!” I yell, grabbing the funny creature in my right talon. It feels a little heavy, heavy enough that I have trouble holding it with just one talon, and that box on wheels it’s strapped to isn’t helping. But with my wings extended for balance I seem to be OK. The creature makes odd noises, and kicks furiously in the air, but with my right talon around its chest, it can’t escape. That damn box hanging off it is really aggravating me though, and I can’t seem to shake it off.

Glancing around, I see that I also managed to surprise the two humans that were with this creature. A female human with long black hair in a single braid down her back, and an off-white cotton dress has her back against the nearby willow tree, while the male, with light-brown hair and a maroon tunic, is on his back staring up at me. Oops. I might have accidentally knocked him over. But fortunately it looks like I didn’t hurt him.

“Please don’t kill our donkey,” the young male squeaks.

“A donkey? Is that what these things are called? Hmm… OK, but it looks far too large for you to eat. And why do you have it tied to the box? To keep it from getting away?”

“I… no… you see…”

The young male doesn’t seem very coherent, so maybe I’ll talk to the female human. Hmm. This “donkey” shouldn’t be able to get very far tied to the box, as long as I break off these pesky wheels to prevent it from rolling. I put it down, and can chase it again later if need be. I hop closer to the female, to see if she is able to talk any better than that male. Hey! This is the perfect time for me to practice speaking “human.” Darin told me all about the funny human greetings and customs and such. If I do it right, maybe the female will be friendly and want to play with me! Let’s see if I can remember. He said it was considered rude to speak to someone if you are too far away. And when introducing yourself, it was best to tell them your name, and something about yourself.

I hop over to the willow tree that the female human has her back against, lean over so that my face is about at her level, and say in my friendliest voice, “Hi, I’m Rinloh, and I’m looking for something to eat.”

She just stares back at me with a strange look of terror in her eyes. Hmm. Maybe I didn’t remember the introduction correctly. Or perhaps I’m not close enough and I’m being rude. I need to think like a human. I had my face at the correct distance if we were both big, so let me lean in farther so that my face is about one of her arm’s lengths away. There, that’s the right distance for a human—she should feel more comfortable now!

She’s still just sitting there shaking and won’t respond. What am I doing wrong? Wait! She’s female. Darin said that human females like it if you compliment them. Maybe she’ll want to be friends with me if I compliment her.

“You look good!” I say, with a wide, friendly grin.

The female human just starts crying. Now I feel bad. It’s hard to believe that Darin would be wrong about human greetings. Maybe they do it differently in this village. I’ll have to ask him tomorrow. But for now, these humans don’t seem to want to play, and neither do they want to share their donkey with me. Humpf. Guess I’ll go back to the coast, grab a few more fish, then head back to the nesting grounds for the evening.

To read about more parties and to follow our process in SPFBO 6, please visit my SPFBO 6 Phase 1 page!

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