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NaNoWriMo: Secrets of the Dragons: Episode 2: Words

In the ruins of Great Chicago, the boundless power of the Water has brought Dragons back to the Earth. The Gold Dragons, in their Caverns and Castles. The Fire Dragons, reaping destruction wherever they wander. The Spirit Dragons, who use the dead to torment the living. The Wyverns on high, who call everyone their enemy. And deep in the lake, beneath the earth… the Wyrms.

The only thing deadlier than the Ruins, are the wilds without. So the people stay, striving each day to achieve the impossible: to survive.

Episode 2

            The sun was setting, Viniv was lying down to rest, and Simaira was having quite a fit about it all.

“What did I say?” she shouted at no one. “What exactly did I say?”

“Keep it down,” Viniv said. “That Fire Dragon can’t be too far away.”

“It’d be farther away if we hadn’t dragged you along,” Simaira grumbled, but her resentment was already dying. Az had found a pool of rainwater in another huge pothole, one almost big enough to swim in, and having their thirsts quenched helped keep their tempers in check.

Drinking was a constant ordeal in the New World, which meant survival was a constant ordeal. The trick was to keep Water contained in small amounts. In the Old World, Water was kept in little plastic bottles. Supposedly, the oceans were now full of enormous islands made out of these bottles; bottles that had once housed all the world’s Water and kept it safe. Somehow, the Water had all escaped and filled the oceans, and its sudden, earth-shattering power had created the New World.

The greater the Water, the greater its strength, the more bizarre and abstract things could be rendered physical. Nowadays, those plastic islands were said to be populated by gigantic, bloodthirsty equations, or ruled by the concept of Love, or used by totem gods for sport. Even the Great Lake by Chicago was a source of unimaginable Unreality. It had birthed the Dragons, who in turn had depopulated the Northern hamlets. In time, mortals learned how to use Water’s power over reality to further their own ends, and so magicians were reborn. Nowadays, even a small amount of Water was dangerous.

But mortals still needed to drink. Viniv was something half-mortal, and the beating she had received from the uncaring surface had left her dusty-lunged and foul-tempered. Still, she was not about to dunk her head in a pothole full of Water. Az filled some twisted old bottles and passed them around, and desperation made everyone drink their fill. Poofy lapped a swallow or two from the pothole before dashing away and once again curling up in Simaira’s lap.

“Why aren’t there more alchemists around?” Viniv asked, on her back, watching the indigo sky grow blacker.

“Most magicians start out as alchemists,” Az said. “Once they get a basic understanding of how Water works, then they start studying to be wizards or sorcerers or something. All magic needs Water. Except the necromancers in the Loop; they use blood.”

The Loop was the most powerful, most civilized, and most chaotic part of Chicago. It was a smaller hamlet, positioned in the eastern center of the city, right next to the Great Lake. But the various powerful entities who lived in its great towers managed to keep the chaos in check. At least, they kept it from hurting their own interests. There were supposedly some Gold Dragons there as well, but Az apparently had his heart set on Fauz F’Liig.

“So, how come you’re still an alchemist? You don’t want to learn how to raise the dead or something?”

“I just think Water’s really fascinating.” He was still sitting by the pothole, filling a few bottles and pouring them out onto the black road.

“He doesn’t wanna lose his amateur standing,” Simaira said, tossing the fox away from her and lying down. Poofy landed daintily on its feet and snarled before lying down as well.

Az seemed to finally finish playing with the Water and edged away. “You know, I suppose the Elixir of Life could probably be used to raise the dead. I wonder if any necromancers have ever discovered it. Maybe that’s why they’re all so rich.” There were several necromantic firms in the Loop. They and their clients controlled riches almost as unbelievable as the fantastic creatures that spawned from the Great Lake.

Simaira changed the subject. “So what’s so special about this Fauz F’Liig anyway? What makes you so sure they know anything about this Elixir business?”

“Gold dragons horde things. It’s what they do. But Fauz F’Liig is called Fauz the Wise. Sometimes. He’s got a reputation for sending people on quests and rewarding them for their service.”

“Quests?” Simaira sat up. “I thought they just horded stuff like squirrels. I thought we were just going to sneak in and grab something. This is a Dragon we’re talking about, right? Like that overgrown lizard that’s been chasing us for two days?”

“There’re different kinds of Dragons,” Viniv chimed in.

“How many different kinds?”


“No,” said Az, “just four.” He counted them off on his fingers. “There’s the Golden in their caves and castles, hording all their wealth. The Fire Dragons roaming wide, a danger to your health. The Spirit Dragons in their graves, who on the dead do prey. And the Wyverns in the sky, who fight all night and day.”

Viniv continued. “And deep below the water, where the Sun can never reach, the Wyrms hold court o’er good and ill, and live beyond the breach. Yeah, I heard that rhyme too.”


Simaira’s eyes were already closed. “I’d hate to meet something that lives under the Water. Should one of us keep watch or something, while the others sleep? In case Big Red returns?” she asked, her voice already trailing into a somnambulant murmur.

“Not me,” said Viniv, “I’m exhausted.”

Az looked at the two. He tried to say something, but by the time he formed an argument they were both snoring lightly. “Well Poofy,” he began, but the fox too was asleep. He sat by the pothole and watched the Water turn black as the sun slowly vanished.

He set three Water bottles down in front of the pothole and stared at them. What was it about plastic that could contain Water’s power? Looking at such small amounts, it was difficult to guess; it was difficult even to know that the Water’s power was indeed contained. Even something as large as a pothole full of Water, though dangerous, was clearly not so terrifying that they were afraid to drink from it. Granted, Az was the only one willing to get near it and actually put his hands in it.

He kept staring at the bottles. If all the bottles in the oceans had once contained the oceans, then why was there so much more Water than bottles? Water was the one thing Water could not create; that was one of the first things Master Shoogen had taught him. Of course, Master Shoogen had been swept up and eaten by a Wyvern during their first and only visit to the Great Lake, so perhaps he was not as wise as he seemed.

There were a lot of Wyverns in the Loop. They liked to perch on towers, and that was where the towers were. Still, although they lived in the Loop, they loved to hunt in the Northern hamlets. It was a small miracle Viniv had not been eaten by one, but Az supposed it was a miracle the Fire Dragon had not yet killed them. Somehow, it all seemed mundane already. Like any resident of Chicago, Az was familiar with life-threatening dangers, but Dragons were another matter entirely. His Uncle Zoofl claimed that they hailed from a lost generation of great Dragon slayers, but if that was the case, any such extraordinary potential had long since been bred out of them. Gnomes were not known for daring feats of valor, and the Mondis tribe was no exception. Az wondered about the strange coincidences of his life. His master was eaten by a Dragon, here he was fleeing a Dragon, and thanks to the Salamander Simaira, he was seeking out a Dragon. Was there any significance in this? Or was it just that being in Chicago necessarily meant that your life would inevitably be affected, if not ended, by Dragons?

Az looked up. The stars were coming out, and it was getting very dark. Nearby was an ancient lamppost, bent at a harsh angle, long dead. It was said that lighting used to run through nearly everything in the City, like a life-force, that made the lamps light and animated the millions of long-dead auto-carriages that now littered the landscape. It sounded more magical than alchemy, but Az had seen the sky trains that ran along the bridges above them, animated by that very lightning. Supposedly, there were still tiny settlements in the Far North hamlets like Rogers Park, where workers would take the trains down to the Loop to serve the necromancers and other powerful beings: to clean their chambers and bring them their meals, then travel back north after nightfall. Sometimes, he could hear the great rumble of the trains, so often mistaken for a Gigas or Frost Bison, and realize it was a train, transporting workers like a metal beast carrying midges on its belly.

But now all was dark and lifeless. It was a great time to start a fire, but Master Shoogen had never shown him how. Simaira promised she could start fires with the click of her fingers, once she got her powers back. For now, it was dark and chilly. Luckily, the weather was several weeks from turning.

How had Simaira lost her powers? Az looked at the sleeping Salamander, finally realizing that he had asked her precious little before agreeing to help her out. It was all quite arbitrary: she found out he was an alchemist, asked for his help, and he suggested the Elixir of Life. It might not work. Fauz F’Liig might not know how to use the Philosopher’s Stone. Fauz F’Liig might not even be where they thought he was. Still, what else was he going to do? The Mondis tribe was long gone by now, and much like those midges riding in the sky trains, Az was nothing without a master to serve.

Az looked back at the Water. What master did Water serve?

Was that a real question? Did that mean anything? Maybe not. These were just the sorts of things an alchemist was supposed to ponder.

A few minutes later, Az was a hunched over in a grab position, sleeping soundly.

In his dream, Az was on his hands and knees in a few centimeters of water. He was covered in a thin layer of dirt, and was balancing a wooden tabletop on his back. Sitting at the table to his left and right were Simaira and Viniv, both twice their usual size, laughing and talking about worms and early birds. One of them dropped a crown on the ground and ordered him to clean the dirt off it, but he could not move his hands. They were helping hold up the table. Eventually, he started licking the dirt off. As the dirt slowly vanished, he saw the crown was inscribed with the words “Some day.”

He awoke to growling, grunting, and a woman shouting, “Get off me!”

Az’s back was aching from sleeping in a strange position, and it twinged as he turned. Two people were rolling about on the ground, gripping each other’s shoulders, and looking thoroughly unfriendly. He quickly recognized one as Simaira; Viniv was nearby, still sleeping through the struggle. The other person had a striking mane of hair as well, but while Simaira’s was the color of fire, this hair was dark and nearly brown. The two were punching each other, but not anywhere terribly vulnerable. They rolled closer, and Az tried to intervene.

“Uh, excuse me… ladies?”

A leg swept out from the scuffle and knocked Az over. He rolled back, but before he could get his footing, he fell over the edge of the pothole and into the pool.

It was not a large pool, but clearly it was big enough to hold a panicking gnome. Az was no swimmer, but he managed to realize eventually that thrashing about was not doing any good. It was too late to hold his breath, so he stilled himself, tried not to move, and tried desperately not to breathe in the Water around him. Drowning was a frightening notion, but far more terrifying was the thought of getting so much Water anywhere inside except your stomach. Who knew what it would do to you?

His frantic heartbeats slowed, and he came to realize he was sinking upwards. He must have gotten himself upside down. Another two seconds, and his head struck a fairly flat surface. He used his hands to reorient himself and looked down at the flat surface in order to place his feet and kick off upward.

His eyes widened.

There, inscribed in a glittering golden lettering that could be seen even in the near total blackness, there was a message. It was written in a foreign tongue, but it was unmistakably words. Az’s excitement was soon drowned out, however, by the prospect of drowning. He kicked off from the floor and managed to break the surface of the pool before gravity became an issue.

He scrabbled onto the ground and allowed himself a few panicked breaths before standing and looking about. Viniv was still sleeping. Simaira was lying back with her hands behind her head, whistling at the stars.

“What happened? Who was that?”

“Hm?” she asked, seeming to notice him for the first time.

“Somebody was attacking you. What happened?”

“Oh. That. He ran off. That way, I think,” she gestured in an arbitrary direction. Poofy immediately began growling after the assailant.

“What… well, who was it? What did they want?”

“It was an attacker, Az. He probably wanted my treasure or what have you. Just be glad it wasn’t Big Red come to swallow us up. You were asleep on the job, I noticed.”

“Oh yeah. Sorry. But listen! There’s something written at the bottom of this pool.”

“Is it ‘take a deep breath?’ Don’t believe everything you read, Az.”

“No, it was… well I don’t know what it was. What languages do you speak?”


“It was… I think it was Abysmese, or maybe Necrohol.”

Simaira sat up. Poofy had stopped growling and was now listening intently. “That’s some pretty serious stuff, Az. Maybe leave it alone.”

“Maybe we can wake up Viniv.” Az took a step closer, and Simaira was instantly on her feet and backing away.

“Hey! Az! You are covered in Water, just so you know.”

His entire face grew rigid. He screamed as he spun around dancing, doing everything to get the Water off him. By the time Viniv awoke and sat up, he was down to his pants and ringing his shirtsleeves out over the pool.

“Rockin’ bod,” Viniv offered. “What’s going on?”

“Az fell in the pool.”

Viniv paused before pointing. “That one’s Az, right?”

“I know; I forget too.”

Az dropped his still soggy shirtsleeves on the ground and tried to wring out his old woolen vest. It was not going well. “There’s writing at the bottom of the pool. Viniv! Viniv!”

“I’m right here, guy.”

“Do you speak Abysmese? Or Necrohol? What do elves speak?”

She stood up. “What is going on right now?”

“Az is saying there’s something written in devil-talk at the bottom of that hole full of Water.”

Viniv looked around the starry night. “How can you tell?”

“It’s glowing or something. Gold letters. Would you mind, maybe…”

“I don’t speak Abysmese, exactly, and I definitely don’t speak Necrohol.”

“It might not be either of those. It could be… elf-talk.”

“Sylvani. And I’m not sticking my head in a pool of Water.”

“I just did. I fell in, and I’m totally fine.”

“Are you though?”

Az looked himself over. “I think so. They could be important. The words.”

“Nothing important was ever written at the bottom of a pothole.”

“I’m with the elf,” Simaira murmured.

“Okay. So who was that, Simaira? She had hair a lot like yours, but darker.”

“Viniv, are you going to stick your head in that pool or what? This is important.”

Az was torn between curiosity and the hopes of exploiting the Salamander’s superior powers of persuasion. He chose to do nothing.

“Who cares what it says?”

“It’s written in gold, Viniv. Do I need to spell this out for you?” There was a significant pause, pregnant with implication. “Gold, Viniv. We’re going to see a Gold Dragon. Maybe they wrote those words.”

“And that concerns me how?”

“What if it’s some sort of password? What if we need that to get our… quest, or what have you, from Fauz F’Liig? It’s sitting right there. What do you plan to do if this massive, glittering, gilt beast asks us for the password and we haven’t got it?”

“I dunno… wait three days for my wing to grow back, and then leave?”

Simaira drew herself up to her full height, nearly a head above anyone else, and put her fists on her hips. “Well,” he aspirated, “I guess we’ve learned all we need to learn about elves today, haven’t we, Az?”


“After you quite literally crashed into our lives. After you drew that Fire Dragon’s fury down on us—“

“That’s not what happened.”

“After we dragged your limping form away from that bloodthirsty killer—“

“Az did that, not you.”

“And who exactly is asking you to read those letters, huh? The gnome who saved your life, who selflessly risked his own for the sake of a complete stranger—“

“All right! Fine! Jaiva!” Viniv stormed over to the pool, knelt, and stuck her head furiously into the Water. A few seconds later, she pulled her head out, her hair scattering droplets all over. “It’s Eternal. Luckily, that’s sorta like Abysmese, which is sorta like Sylvani. Wow, that’s cold. You didn’t tell me it was cold.”

“Sorry.” Az offered his shirtsleeves to use as a towel, but as they were still damp Viniv quicklyi threw them back to the filthy ground. “So uh, what does it say?”

“Nothing. Something about secrets and power; it’s like prophecy.”

Az drew up beside her. “It’s a prophecy?”

“No, it’s like prophecy, the game.” Az continued to stare. “Prophecy? It’s a little kids’ game. You make up some vague statement like, “The Moon will turn again and again before your shell is cleansed,” and everybody has to guess that you’re actually talking about doing laundry in two months, or something like that.”

“Oh.” He flattened out his shirtsleeves to help them dry more quickly. “So, what does it say? Exactly?”

“Nothing. It says ‘Learn the secrets of the Dragons, and you will learn the secret power.’ Or something like that.”

“That sounds like something big. What’s the secrets of the Dragons?”

“I dunno. It might be Secret Dragons or something. Eternal doesn’t have a word for ‘of.’ All I know is that ‘Dragon’ and the first ‘secret’ are both plural, so it’s either talking about secrets that Dragons have, or a bunch of Dragons who are secret.”

“Secret Dragons?” asked Simaira. “Like the Wyrms beneath the earth, maybe?”

“Maybe.” Viniv was already lying down again. “I don’t think it means anything. Just some idiot trying to sound profound.”

“It’s written in glowing letters in a pool of Water!” Simaira was gesturing emphatically. “How much more sign do you need? What kind of secret power do you think it’s talking about? That could be the Elixir of Life, right?”

“It could,” Viniv yawned. “It could be practically anything. If you ask me, though, it’s pretty long odds to find some magic inscription about a thing we happen to be hunting after, right near the thing that supposedly has it.”

“Right? This sounds like destiny, or something like that. Doesn’t it? Right, Az?”

He had never heard of any secret power, but then that was a vague term. Magic itself could be called a secret power, and who knew what sort of secrets Dragons might possess. And, of course, if any particular Dragon possessed secret knowledge or secret powers, it would be Fauz the Wise.

On the other hand, Viniv was right. Happening upon such an inscription, so relevant to their own search, did seem like quite a coincidence.

Simaira remained convinced. “This must be how the Gold Dragons got so rich. You said necromancers have this Elixir too, right Az? And they’re all swimming in money.”


“Aren’t you excited? We’re going to be rich!”

“Well. We still don’t know if Fauz F’Liig knows how to use the Philosopher’s Stone. Or if it really even makes the Elixir of Life.”

Simaira was bouncing on her feet. “And wait! Isn’t the Stone supposed to turn lead into gold too?”

“Well yeah, but, we don’t have any huge chunks of lead sitting around, so…”

“Oh, right, right. But still—“

Viniv groaned. Loudly. “Grii’vaiiya! Yes, Fauz F’Liig has a lot of money. They’re a Gold Dragon, of course they do. We’re all gonna go find them tomorrow. We were already gonna do that, right? So let’s get some sleep, so we’ll be ready to run in case that giant lizard comes back.”

Simaira slumped, and a little life seemed to trickle out of her. “Yes. You’re right, you’re right. Tomorrow.” She elegantly collapsed onto the ground.

Az looked out into the dark. “Shouldn’t somebody keep watch?”

Viniv was already snoring again. “I’m sure we’re fine,” said Simaira.

“But what about that guy that attacked you?”

“Good point; you keep watch, Az. Good night!”

He tried to argue, but Simaira was already snoring, both loudly and (he suspected) falsely.

Az shivered. The weather was a long way from turning, but being damp and half-naked at night, without a fire, was far from comfortable. Between the chill, the words, and the excitement of the strange assailant, he doubted there was any risk of falling asleep again.

He was snoring lightly in another ten minutes. This time, his sleep was dreamless.

NaNoWriMo, Stories

NaNoWriMo: Secrets of the Dragons: Episode 1: Crash

In the ruins of Great Chicago, the boundless power of the Water has brought Dragons back to the Earth. The Gold Dragons, in their Caverns and Castles. The Fire Dragons, reaping destruction wherever they wander. The Spirit Dragons, who use the dead to torment the living. The Wyverns on high, who call everyone their enemy. And deep in the lake, beneath the earth… the Wyrms.

The only thing deadlier than the Ruins, are the wilds without. So the people stay, striving each day to achieve the impossible: to survive.

Episode 1

            There was a flash of orange, and Viniv was awake. Unfortunately, she was also missing a wing and rapidly gliding downward.

It was not a painful experience. An elf’s wings were, essentially, just collections of potential; a pair of sparkling extrusions that appeared whenever Viniv was airborne. Whatever had just hit her simply displaced all that sparkly energy. It would take a while for the wing to return, however, and the prospect of hitting the ground at speed was nothing to shrug at.

Viniv inspected the rapidly approaching ground. Rough, craterous, pockmarked concrete and asphalt abounded. A particularly craggy hillock of asphalt was below, and it had just been crested by a particularly shaggy and especially foul-tempered Fire Dragon. The name took a moment to return; Viniv had not seen one in a long time. It looked like a giant red crocodile (another thing she had not seen in a long time, as any elf stupid enough to visit a lake was rarely heard from again), its tail barbed with brutal spikes and its eyes covered by the shaggy mat of overgrown black hair that covered its top. Just then, the creature was letting out a roar that must surely be deafening at ground level, shimmers of heat and flecks of flame spewing out from between its long, pink teeth.

It seemed frustrated. Viniv thought maybe the thing had not even meant to attack her. It had probably let loose a gout of flame as a random expulsion of anger, and the flame just happened to strike her left wing. As the mighty roar subsided, she quickly saw the creature had eyes for something else.

Someone else, rather. In front of the Fire Dragon, fleeing as best they could through the potholes and rubble, were a pair of people and a small orange dog. She could not yet see them clearly, but precise details were growing less important by the second.

Satisfied that the deadly titan was no longer thinking of her, Viniv considered her options. The landscape was bedecked with gutted buildings, none more than three or four stories tall. They were all still far below her. How high had she been flying? And what were the odds that a random gout of flame would strike her so? No matter; she had to focus on practicalities. It was very hard for an elf to focus on practicalities while in flight, an irony that was asserting itself with serious force at present. Unlike the Fire Dragon, however, Viniv did not have the luxury of venting frustration. She could not simply roar her problems away, though she immediately understood the appeal of it. No, she would have to actually do something.

A few blocks ahead, there was a large building, four stories tall it seemed, with a huge, flat roof of fairly intact concrete. There was a small garden tucked in one corner, but it was far too small for her to consider landing on the soft soil. No, she would have to swoop in at a sharp angle and try landing at a run. Viniv’s eyes narrowed: she hated running. The two people fleeing from the Fire Dragon seemed to hate it as well, but that was hardly her concern.

Viniv took another quick glance around her while she was still high enough to take everything in. Collapsed old buildings were everywhere. Back over her shoulder, far to the southeast, several soring towers still stood next to a great, ominous lake.

Chicago. She was flying over Chicago. Of course. She must have been unconsciously drawn by the Great Lake. Still, it was better than being stuck out in the wilds somewhere with only one wing. There were worse things than the Dragons of Chicago, and at least here there were plenty of other smells (and other targets) to distract the predatory population.

Focus! It was really hard to focus, but she made herself eye the huge roof coming up. She had passed the Dragon and its prey, the roof was four stories up; she did not need to waste her time right now thinking of other people’s problems. She swooped low, trying to accelerate as little as possible, and prepared to tread onto the close lip of the roof.

Another roar sounded behind her. She glanced back.

One of them was human, or maybe a gnome; somebody smallish. The other had a sleek mane of fiery red hair, which seemed fitting given the monster crawling after them. The small orange dog now looked like it might be a fox. You were not supposed to trust foxes for some reason, but she could not immediately recall why. Did they steal food? Had the fox stolen something the Fire Dragon was eating? No, that was ridiculous. Clearly the fox, and its apparent owners, had just been incredibly unlucky. Luck, as always, was the cruelest of gods.

It was an ironic thought. At that moment, something struck Viniv’s left ankle at a hard angle, and she found herself tumbling about. Something hard struck her in the chest, and she was suddenly flailing trying to find purchase. Ah yes, the building. She had missed. She had missed the massive, four-story building, and was now in the embarrassingly slow process of falling to her death. She continued to scrabble and claw at the brick wall of the building, winning some fresh cuts and bruises but no purchase on the side. It was when she was halfway down to the brutally hard road below that she remembered elves could fly.

She banked upward a little, at a very hard angle, and suddenly found herself looping around back toward the ground.

Ah yes. Her wing. She was missing a wing. A Dragon had blown it off. Naturally. Where was that Dragon?

Focus! An especially wicked mound of broken asphalt was flying up to greet her, and she managed to break into a sharp horizontal glide to the south. All this swooping had her traveling at quite a pace, though. When she finally connected with the unforgiving ground, she touched down not so much at a run as at a mad sprint. To make matters worse, she was madly sprinting straight for the strangers, their fox, and the enormous red monster bellowing flames after them.

All in all, it was shaping up to be a pretty harsh Thursday.

Viniv tried to slow her sprint, but struck her already aching left ankle against an outcrop of asphalt and tumbled gracelessly to the ground. She rolled over a few more rather petty-minded mounds that managed to give her a few more bruises to think about, before finally coming to a stop. Her remaining wing vanished, and finally her head cleared up.

Pain. Yes, that sensation was definitely pain. Quite a bit more than she was accustomed to, and frankly far more than she cared to put up with. Alas, she suspected the rapidly approaching pair of panicked strangers would spare little concern for her plight. She struggled to her hands and knees and spat a fine collection of blood and saliva into an at-hand pothole.

She was just about to look up when a knee collided with her head.

“On your right!” a high-ish alto called out as the fiery-haired creature ran past her. Viniv tumbled onto her back, outrage briefly overshadowing her pain. She tried to offer a rude gesture, but not knowing exactly who she was dealing with, she was unsure which finger positioning would prove the most offensive. Instead, she held out her left arm lamely.

The other stranger, the shorter one, slowed a bit and grabbed her arm. He was trying to pull her up on her feet, but he was still running. The result was an agonizing, but brief, period of being dragged across the broken asphalt, before the petite creature’s momentum was overwhelmed by Viniv’s relatively small mass. Clearly, this was not a warrior she was dealing with. The small man kept tugging until she reached up and swatted at him with her other hand. “Sorry” he mumbled, then continued running. A moment later, the fox bumped into her leg and ran off.

She wanted to shout something rude after them, but the heat at her back reminded her to keep a sense of perspective. Looking over her shoulder was not doing her many favors today, but she did it again.

The enormous Fire Dragon was barreling down at her. With its short legs and long body, it could have been funny to watch it dundering after someone. Its size made up for its clumsiness, however, and then of course there was the fire. And then, of course, there was the fact that it was chasing her. Mumbling something about other people’s problems, Viniv started crawling away until she felt confident enough to start limping away. Eventually, the limp evolved into a sort of hobble.

She developed a routine. She would limp for a few meters, then jump and glide for a bit until she forgot why she was running in the first place, then dismiss her wing and hobble some more. It seemed to be working pretty well, overall. It had a novelty to it, if nothing else. Of course, all the Dragon had to do was let out another belch of flame and she would quickly evaporate in a cloud of moral indignation and rolling eyes, but there was no sense being needlessly negative.

She caught up with the strangers quickly. This was not surprising, as the red haired one had tripped in a pothole, causing a sizeable chunk of asphalt to fall onto her leg. The short one was trying to pull her out, fending off more swats. By the time Viniv arrived, the short one had wised up and was trying to lift the chunk of asphalt off her leg. “Help!” he cried as she approached.

Viniv snapped a finger at them. “Hard pass,” she called, moving on. The fox, she noticed, was now well beyond them and displayed an equal lack of concern about their survival. She knew you were not supposed to trust foxes, but could not remember why.

A twinge of guilt struck her. Again, foolishly, she looked over her shoulder. She pulled a face at no one in particular as she rushed over to help.

Between the two of them, the asphalt was quickly removed. The fiery-haired woman seemed undamaged and quickly resumed retreat. The short one said “Thanks,” gasping a bit, as he continued running.

“Remind me,” Viniv called as she followed, “why aren’t we just hiding in a building or something?”

“It can knock down buildings” the woman shouted back. “We learned that one yesterday.”

“Well, shouldn’t we at least be zig-zagging or something?”

The short one struck himself in the head. “Oh. Right. Simaira! Turn right on… is that… Berton?”

“I think it says ‘Berteau.’”

“Who cares what it says,” Viniv shouted. “Just turn right!”

The fox, having evidently understood the plan, turned right down the next street, followed shortly by the fiery-haired Simaira. Viniv tried gliding again and accidentally fell on the short one, who finally agreed to give her a shoulder and help her along. They turned right soon as well.

“When it gets up to speed, we can’t escape” the short one shouted. “If we keep turning, we can outpace it.”

“Okay byyyye!” Simaira called.

Viniv took a quick breather, and the short one did the same. He looked her up and down like an armoire before asking, “Are you all right?”

Her eyes widened before narrowing. “Do I… do I need to answer that? Or can we go straight to you being embarrassed?”

“Sorry. Did you fall from the sky?”

Sarcasm was not Viniv’s preferred method of communicating, so she decided to ignore him and move on. “So what’s the plan? Just run in circles until it gets tired?”

They started trotting again as he spoke. “Well… even though it can’t see very well, it doesn’t actually have a good sense of smell or hearing either. I think if we just outrun it again, we’ll be fine.”

“Again? How long have you two been doing this?”

He looked up at the sky. It was just past noon. “This is only the second day.”

“Not filling me with a lot of confidence here.”

He nodded. “Welp…” On they went.

For all its terrifying size and power, the Fire Dragon was lacking in grace. As predicted, it handled corners very poorly. They kept turning corners, and the behemoth creature kept falling behind. It tried to speed up, and at one point it turned so sharply it lost its balance and rolled over like a log before scampering back to its feet. Viniv laughed aloud, but her aching ribs taught her humility. The sense of threat vanished long before the creature itself, and a mere half-hour later they were catching up to Simaira and her fox, who were sitting in a large pothole in the center of an intersection.

Viniv collapsed onto the ground just outside the pothole and proceeded to not move for ten minutes. “So,” she managed between gulped breaths, “this is Chicago, right?”

“Yeah,” said the short one, also gasping on the ground. “What happened to you?”

“I think that big guy blew one of my wings off.”

Simaira looked up. “Wings? You can fly?”

“Well,” she hedged, “not right now. They’re kind of… made out of… magic… stuff. It’ll grow back. In a few days. Probably.

“Why are you in Chicago?” Simaira was sitting in a lotus position, the fox curled up in her lap. “If I could fly, I’d be out of this cesspit in a second.”

Viniv sighed. How could you explain flying to someone who would never taste the sky? “I didn’t mean to come here. When you’re flying… you sorta lose your sense of time. And place, really. It’s hard to focus on anything. I was… I think I was near the Gulf, and… I’m sure I wanted to go somewhere, but…” she trailed off.

The short one leaned into her view. “Do you think it was something important?”

She shrugged. “What about you two? What are you doing?”

“We’re looking for a Dragon,” the short one said.

Viniv stifled another rib-roughing laugh. “Well I hope you learned your lesson.”

“Not a Fire Dragon: a Gold Dragon, named Fauz F’Liig. He’s supposed to be near here.”

“Is it a he?” Simaira asked.

“Oh. I guess I’m not sure. Anyway, his… their lair’s supposed to be near Keeler and Keokuk. That’s what this hermit down in the Westers told us. Fauz F’Liig has a lot of treasure, but he’s supposed to have a vast array of knowledge too. We’re gonna ask him about the Philosopher’s Stone. I’m an alchemist, I should’ve said.”

Viniv nodded sagely. Then, “What’s an alchemist?”

“Someone who works with Water. Experiments with it, learns its properties, that sort of thing. The Philosopher’s Stone can turn Water into the Elixir of Life, supposedly. That’s why Simaira’s here. She’s a Salamander.”

Viniv examined Simaira more closely. She had large, pointed ears with a red-gold tint that made them seem to blend into her hair. Her large, dark eyes gave the impression of intelligence, or cunning. She was staring at Viniv, her long fingers caressing the fox nestled in her lap. She seemed to relax and let her breath out, at which point the fox bit her finger and leapt away. Simaira grumbled. “Yep. Salamander. Fire spirit. Very powerful. Yep.”

Before Viniv could ask the obvious, the short one explained, “She’s very weak now. That’s why we want the Elixir of Life.”

“Doesn’t look that weak to me,” Viniv said, letting out a few more choice gasps.

Simaira shrugged. “Well, I didn’t crash into a building after falling two thousand meters out of the sky, I’ll grant you that, but I’ve been better. I need the elixir to, ya know, make fire and stuff. I guess I could kill that Dragon then. Ya know. If you want.”

“What’s with the fox?”

“Her name’s Poofy. She farts a lot.”

The fox growled at this. “Never trust a fox,” Viniv said to no one in particular.

Simaira nodded. “Sage advice, yes. Mmhm. Soooo where exactly are we now?”

The short one pointed at a tattered green sign hanging on a large overhanging pole above the intersection. “Looks like Keystone. And Cullom.”

“Where is that?”

“I’m not sure. The short one slowly clambered to his knees and produced an ancient map of the city. Many of the streets were labeled, but many were not, and much of the map was worn by time, punctured by misfortune, or rendered illegible by the rain. “I think we were mostly running east,” he said, “so we can’t be too far from Keeler. That’s where you found us,” he explained to Viniv. “We didn’t want to turn and risk getting lost again, but of course lost is better than dead. Thanks for reminding us, by the way.”

Simaira threw a tiny piece of road at the fox, Poofy, who easily evaded it. “So, we just head back west until we find Keeler again, and get back to walking north, right?” She climbed out of the pothole and started off. The short one stood.

“Okay,” said Viniv. “You two have fun now. I’ll just… I’ll just… rest here.”

The short one looked at her, then back at Simaira. “Simaira. Don’t you think we should take her with us? The Elixir could help her too, right?”

“Yeah, good point. Or here’s another idea: we could not do that. I don’t want to be out on the road after sundown, and she’s looking a little on that not-fast side.” Silence. “Big Red isn’t after her, right? She can just go hide in a warehouse or an old apartment building or something.”

“Wait,” said Viniv, “is this thing actually after you? Like, you two specifically?”

The short one shrugged. “Not sure. There aren’t a lot of people in the Northwest these days. Maybe we’re just the only game in town.”

“So it could come after me.”

“Yeah but it totally won’t,” Simaira insisted, still walking. “It’s totally our nemesis, or something. You’ll be fine.”

“I think we should take her with us.”

“Why are you thinking about that, when you should be thinking about Water, or following me, or something else.”

He refused to move. “We can’t leave her out here in this condition, with just a wing and prayer.”

“Oh ho, ho ho, very clever.” She was still walking.

“What’s a prayer?” Viniv asked.

“It’s a human thing, I think. It’s like a wish.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s where you think about something you really want, and then it happens.”

“Humans can do that!?”

“Not, I mean, not really. They just think they can. I think.”

“Are you…” Viniv bobbled her head. “Are you not… a human?”

“I’m a gnome. My name’s Az, by the way.”

“Yes! Sorry, I just, I called it. Up in the air. Cause you’re so small.”

Simaira let out a loud bark of laughter.

Az the gnome seemed to shrink even in the moment. “You’re not exactly a giant yourself.”

“I’m an elf. Elves are small. So what? I’m Viniv.”

Az waved at her, even though they were a meter apart. “Hi.”

She felt awkward too. “Hi.”

Simaira let out a loud howling groan. “Fiiiiine. Bring her along, but hurry up. We gotta make up for the limpathon.” The fox, Poofy, was yipping in a decidedly amused fashion.

Az the gnome positioned himself next to Viniv. “You need a shoulder?”

“I don’t need anything,” she said, before resting against him. “I do want a shoulder, however.

The two trudged after Simaira and the fox. She kept well ahead of them, refusing to slow down, but Viniv noticed that she never let herself out of their sight.

NaNoWriMo, Stories

5 Robots is Back!

Five Robots Working That Hustle is getting its sophomore performance, as part of Otherworld Theatre’s PARAGON play festival!

ALPHA – Matthew Holmes
BETA – Lauren Kincaid
DELTA – Kaelea Rovinsky
GAMMA – Miquela A. Cruz
OMEGA – Marshall D. Kious

While you’re here, check out these sweet photos from the debut production.

Theater Stuff

Romeo & Juliet Photos

A few photos from Unrehearsed Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet are up. More will be coming in soon.

Company: The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Company
Venue: Atlantic Bar & Grill
Position: Director

Photos: iNDie Grant Productions

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Theater Stuff, Unrehearsed Shakespeare

One Person’s Treasure: Doc Danger Brings Something New to a Popular Genre

Briana Rose Lipor as Doc Danger, Harper Navin as The Kid, Stephanie Staszak as Jesai of the Jaguars, and Rae Elizabeth Pare as The Lady in Black. Costumes by Molly Mason. Lighting by AntiShadows. Set by Lisa Schlenker. Photo by Ross Zentner.

When I sat down in the Studio Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center, I was ready to enjoy a bright, fluffy, and un-challenging musical adventure; a fun escape from the week’s work. Remarkably, though Jason Powell’s Doc Danger and the Danger Squad (directed by Jill Anna Ponasik) delivers all the delight and escapism one could want, I was floored by a brilliant plot that managed to pull me ever-so-slightly closer toward the cult of superhero-worship that colors our contemporary pop culture.

[tl;dr – Doc Danger and the Danger Squad is a fun and brilliantly plotted musical, especially for the un-spoiled. The first act gives us superhero action and pleasant enough songs, while the second act provides both artistic challenges and superior music, particularly Rae Elizabeth Pare’s “Zero Stars” and “One Person’s Trash.” Strong singers abound; Ana Gonzalez and especially Eric Welch stand out for physical commitment and clear characterization. You can read my other reviews here.]

I have a lot to say about this show, so I want to preamble that by reiterating what an excellent experience it was. I had fun and was challenged, and it was well performed. I’ve got a lot of critiques, but even Hamlet was riddled with confusing imperfections. Doc Danger and the Danger Squad presents something new, it takes chances, and that is always worth seeing. The fact that the show itself was overall well executed is just icing on the proverbial.


Eric Welch as Professor Z. Costumes by Molly Mason. Lighting by AntiShadows. Set by Lisa Schlenker. Photo by Ross Zentner.

Spending most of my time in Chicago’s storefront theater scene, I was a little surprised to see such a large space referred to as an intimate studio. Still, Lisa Schlenker’s simple though expert set design accented the story beautifully without distracting, doing much to show that a large-ish company can still serve the story without floundering in needless extravagance (and what smaller companies could do if only they could get their hands on some funding). Schlenker’s backdrop illustration is thematically evocative, and frequently serves as a beautiful frame to highlight the action.

Molly Mason’s costumes were a little hit-or-miss: though functional, good-looking, and polished, most of them lacked the flash one might expect of superheroes. This was especially true of Doc Danger herself: her field-scientist-slash-adventurer outfit, rather than evoking Indiana Jones or Lara Croft (or perhaps more iconic superhero elements), seemed bland and un-dynamic, especially when compared to supporting superheroes Jesai of the Jaguars and Satellite Sally, where archetypes were more clearly utilized, and the pulp comic genre more overtly present. Eric Welch’s beautiful wigs did succeed in drawing focus to the performers (especially Ana Gonzalez’ Beetle Queen), adding palpable highlights to many of the cast.

Anti-Shadows lighting was brilliant and dynamic, highlighting action sequences often enough without turning the play into a light show. Jason Fassl, as usual, demonstrated powerful resources matched with measured reserve.

The Thing Itself (the Plot, and some quick character references)

(Back row, left to right), Sean A. Jackson, Eric Welch, Ana Gonzalez; (2nd Row) Hannah Esch, Carrie Gray, Becky Cofta, Melissa Anderson, Rae Elizabeth pare; (3rd Row) Briana Rose Lipor, Stephanie Staszak; (Front row) Harper Navin. Costumes by Molly Mason. Lighting by AntiShadows. Set by Lisa Schlenker. Photo by Ross Zentner.

The first act is (intentionally) predictable, but enjoyable all the same. A Kid (played by a committed Harper Navin) introduces us to the cast of superheroes: Doc Danger (Briana Rose Lipor), a super scientist who, through her own agency, has given herself super-strength and super-speed; Jesai of the Jaguars (Stephanie Staszak), protector of the jungle; Satellite Sally (Carrie Gray), a space cowgirl who likes to be in charge; Clare de Lune (Hannah Esch), Sally’s put-upon sidekick; and the Lady in Black (Rae Elizabeth Pare), a mysterious agent who unites the team under Danger’s banner.

There is an interesting dynamic in the performance’s quality, and that dynamic hinges on the superheroes’ relationships to their respective villains: Jesai of the Jaguars fights the Beetle Queen (Ana Gonzalez), Satellite Sally and Clare de Lune team up against Penny Dreadful (Becky Cofta), and Doc Danger herself squares off against arch-villain Professor Z (Eric Welch). More on this dynamic later.

The plot is simple and easy to follow (as it should be in a superhero musical): a McGuffin is stolen, a composer is kidnapped. Professor Z unites the baddies against the goodies, and the first act ends with the superheroes at their nadir, just before the evil plot is about to reach fruition.

Without giving too much away: The second act begins in the real world, where the Kid spends some time with her family (and her mother’s coworkers), all played by singers from the first act: Melissa Anderson, appearing primarily as an evil hench-robot before (with committed physicality and hilarious vocal timing), now plays the Kid’s mother. Lipor’s Doc Danger is now the Kid’s Aunt Dawn, and Pare’s Lady in Black is now her sister, Libby. The songs in Act Two are more varied and interesting, with valid points and excellent juxtapositions to be made. Yet, while I was enjoying this artistically superior story with more grounded and compelling characters, I often found myself thinking of the as-yet-unresolved conflict of Act One. And the new, “dull” reality of Act Two just kept going, making me yearn for action even as I enjoyed the greater artistry. When we at last return to the super-world, the experience had been exponentially improved by the tantalization and depth provided in the first half of Act Two. This structure was brilliantly new, and it alone justifies Doc Danger’s place in the musical pantheon.


Harper Navin as the Kid. Briana Rose Lipor doubles as Dawn. Melissa Anderson doubles as the Mom. Costumes by Molly Mason. Lighting by AntiShadows. Set by Lisa Schlenker. Photo by Ross Zentner.

Talented singers abound in Doc Danger (unsurprisingly, given this is a Milwaukee Opera Theatre production), but special mention goes to Ana Gonzalez and especially Eric Welch as the villainous Beetle Queen and Professor Z. Both Gonzalez and Welch provide excellent characterization and commitment, while Welch brings clear intention and professional levels of physical awareness to the role. Every singer is at least satisfactory (usually superior), but one cannot help feeling that some potential was missed with some of the lead actors’ characters. Doc Danger (Briana Rose Lipor) and Jesai of the Jaguars (Stephanie Staszak) in particular seem to lack unique characterization, while Satellite Sally (Carrie Gray) and her sidekick Clare de Lune (Hannah Esch) stand out from the start. This is not to necessarily say that any actor is better or worse than another. Rather, for Gray and Esch, much of the work has already been done: the script gives them a pre-established relationship that develops over the course of the show, while Danger and Jesai exist independently of anyone and display few wants outside of a general desire to stop the baddies. Likewise, although all the heroes have archetypes from which they can draw, “space cowgirl” carries clear connotations with which an actor can work, while our other three heroes require a little bit more digging.

Lipor confirms this in Act 2, where she plays the Kid’s aunt, Dawn: cartoonishly in love with an offstage beau, she sings a vibrant and physically informed ballad, featuring bold and (necessarily) broad characterizations. The problem seems to arise from Doc Danger herself: we know that she is smart and has super strength and speed, and we know that she wants to stop Professor Z, but that’s about it, while Lipor’s Dawn in Act 2 has clear desires and personality traits. Such traits could potentially be found in Doc Danger and Jesai of the Jaguars as well, either through rewrites or further exploration of the characters in rehearsal.

This issue is especially well displayed by Rae Elizabeth Pare’s Lady in Black, our fifth superhero. The Lady in Black stands out a little by virtue of the plot, and the role is well performed, but mostly we see another focused and no-nonsense hero with few other characteristics. In Act 2, meanwhile, Pare presents Libby, the Kid’s sister, with two of the best (and best performed) songs of the show: “Zero Stars” and “One Person’s Trash.” Libby is someone with opinions, unique ideas, and clear wants. The fact that Lipor’s Dawn and Pare’s Libby can be so clearly defined and vibrantly portrayed despite their minor impact on the main plot shows that the superheroes can be further developed (be it by writer, actor, and/or director) for more powerful and distinct performances.

It is here that an interesting dynamic emerges. While Danger and Jesai remain relatively indistinct, their arch enemies Professor Z and Beetle Queen were highlights in the show. Conversely: the third villain, Penny Dreadful, is overshadowed by her adversaries. While I do feel that Becky Cofta’s Penny was not quite as committed as Welch’s Professor or Gonzalez’s Queen (though she does bring clear physicality and characterization to the role), it is understandably challenging for a third cowgirl to outshine the previous two, who come equipped with unique wants and relationships.

In this regard, it is a little difficult to sense the hand of director Jill Anna Ponasik in this production: any unique depths that might have been mined are relatively unexplored. Yet again, however, it must be said that Doc Danger‘s staging is, at the very worst, professionally and precisely done, creating an overall enjoyable experience that in no way hampers the show’s message. More on this shortly.

Also worth mentioning is our unsung non-hero, Robert Von Hesslington (Sean A. Jackson), the kidnapped composer. Jackson is immediately charming and adorable throughout, and provides an always-needed example of a man who does not solve problems with violence. I think fiction in general, and fantasy especially, could use more characters that do not celebrate violence as virtue, but expecting superhero fiction to provide this is perhaps a bridge too far (outside of Steven Universe). The fact that Robert is a kidnapped composer, rather than the usual scientist, is also a nice nod to the value of the arts.

The Music

Because of the plot, the music of Doc Danger is a bit of a conundrum. Act 1’s songs are easily outshone by Act 2’s, but the twist of the story may well necessitate this. I enjoyed Act 1’s “History is Written by the Winners,” an all-villain piece with some beautifully Brechtian potential, but Act 1’s standout is undoubtedly “Cowgirls on the Moon,” our intro to Satellite Sally and Clare de Lune. Again, character dynamics really make the songs pop. Yet it may well be that Act 1’s ‘inferiority’ to Act 2 is a necessity of the show’s overall success. I’m reminded of The Hypocrites’ outstanding production of Threepenny Opera, where Kurt Ehrmann’s Mister Peachum gave a frustratingly impersonal performance for fully two thirds of the play, specifically so his speech about the disenfranchised poor would hit us like a truck near the show’s conclusion. Laurence Olivier also comes to mind, who made the deliberate choice to play MacBeth as quiet and unexciting in the first two acts of the play, both in order to highlight the power of Vivien Leigh’s Lady MacBeth, and so the title character would shine all the more brightly toward the show’s climax.

Whether incidental or intentional, I think this is a valid and perhaps even ideal choice to make with Doc Danger. Superheroes are in right now, and that alone will excite audiences and keep them around for Act 2, which is what this show is really about. Perhaps Danger and Jesai can be given a pre-established relationship that develops during the show; that, or the Kid could become a more integral part of Doc Danger’s arc (which immediately reminds me of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen); it may even be that we could stand to lose one of the main characters; but any failings in Act 1 won’t keep anyone from enjoying Act 2, and Act 2 makes any early failings well worthwhile. And while some of the performances could perhaps have used more depth (and, I hasten to remind myself, this is a musical about superheroes after all), they were always sufficient to their primary purposes: to entertain, and to sing the praises of the arts, in all their beautifully wide spectrum.


It has been said before that works of genius manage to balance the predictable with the revolutionary: the safe with the risky. Powell’s Doc Danger and the Danger Squad finds that balance between artistic risk and superhero safety. It is a well staged work of genius that I hope will continue to evolve both in Milwaukee and in the larger venue it deserves.

Reviews, Theater Stuff

This Prison Where I Live

“One cannot imagine a finer portrayal of Edwin Booth than the one given by Chicago actor and playwright Jared McDaris. He manages to hold the audience’s attention throughout the play. McDaris’s mercurial moods as Edwin Booth provide an effective emotional flow that carries throughout this unique piece of theater.” – Anne Siegel, TotalTheater
“McDaris exudes all the spellbinding conviction of a renowned thespian, while simultaneously crumbling within the confines of Edwin’s mental and emotional distress.” – Kelsey Lawler, Broadway World
“Jared McDaris deftly wields precision and perfection in his portrayal of the brother haunted by the ghost of an assassin. … relentless focus tempered by passion.” – Russ Bickerstaff, The Small Stage
“This small cast is truly without flaw… McDaris is tempered with his delivery. He brings Edwin’s naturalistic style to the interpretation of the reserved character, which elaborates the desperation as Edwin descends into madness.” – Kimberly Laberge, The Drama Den
“McDaris gives a remarkable performance as Edwin.” – Marilyn Jozwik, Wisconsin Theater Spotlight
“Stellar acting.” – Harry Cherkinian, Shepherd Express
“Please please PLEASE SEE this show—it was some of the best theater I’ve seen in my life” – Kira Renkas, Outskirts Theatre

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Theater Stuff, TheaterRED

Unrehearsed Romeo & Juliet (October 16 & 24)

Probably the most popular play of all time returns to Unrehearsed this October 16 & 24 at 7:30pm. Admission is Free for All!

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

Theater Stuff, Unrehearsed Shakespeare

King John Photos!

You can see more photos here as they come in.

Company: The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Company
Venue: Atlantic Bar & Grill
Position: Director

Photos: iNDie Grant Productions

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Theater Stuff, Unrehearsed Shakespeare

5 Robots Working That Hustle: Photos!

Photos (such as they are) from our recent production of 5 Robots Working That Hustle. 5 Robots was part of St. Sebastian Players’ first annual 10-minute play festival.

Robot Alpha: Kate Lass
Robot Beta: Jessica Goforth
Robot Delta: Kaelea Rovinsky
Robot Gamma: Gilly Guire
Robot Omega: Sarah Jean Tilford
Technician: Elizabeth Quilter

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Theater Stuff