Saturday, July 2, 2016

Outcast Demons: 5 Chapter Preview

What follows is the first five chapters of the rough draft version of Outcast Demons. I hope you enjoy it and purchase the book when I release it (hopefully in July or August).


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are a product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Randall J. Morris
Cover by Elizabeth Mackey Graphics
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in critical articles or book reviews.


Bumalin stood at the entrance of the labyrinth clutching a medium-sized rock in his right hand. Most demons and demonesses entered the trials with very little and it generally played a role in their demon placement. Bumalin knew he wasn’t going to become a minor demon after the trials. All he had was a rock.
He looked over at his partner, a demon named Banish. They had never met before the trials and were randomly paired up, as neither of them could find a partner. Banish had a sharp stick and looked like he was about to piss himself. Bumalin thought how stupid the trials were, since most of them would just become demons-in-training. That didn’t really help him in his current situation though.
“Let’s just walk forward slowly. We just need to survive. Maybe we can kill something and then search it for some real weapons. Sound good?”
Banish turned to look at Bumalin and nodded slowly. They started moving forward at a very slow pace, careful to thoroughly search their path before progressing. They came to a fork in the road and Banish looked at Bumalin.
“Flip a coin?”
Bumalin rolled his eyes.
“If I had a coin, do you think I would have come in here with nothing but a rock?”
“Fine then. You pick the way. I’ll follow.”
“We’ll go left. Do me a favor?”
“Calm the hell down. We can do this. I’ve always been told that the weaker creatures are at the front of the labyrinth. We can kill one and loot it. It’s going to be fine.”
Banish nodded and took several deep breaths.
“Cool. We can do this. I’m calm. Go ahead, Bumalin. I’ll follow you.”
Bumalin gripped his medium-sized rock tightly and walked forward slowly. When he made it a few more feet, the demons heard a voice.
“There’s no need to move so slowly, demons. I’m not going to jump out at you.”
Bumalin searched for the source of the voice, but saw only darkness.
“Come on out then. We’re ready for you.”
A vampire stepped into view complete with a cape, dark slicked back hair, and a very long sword in his right hand. The sword was dripping blood and the vampire smiled at them.
“I love the trials. So many scared little demons. So many ways to kill them.”
Bumalin took aim and got ready to throw his rock.
“I’ll hit him hard with the rock and you attack with your sharp stick. Easy.”
Bumalin looked over at Banish to confirm that Banish was ready to back him up. He saw that Banish has pissed his pants and was shaking.
“I can’t do this, Bumalin. Good luck.”
Banish stabbed himself in the throat with his sharp stuck, convulsed briefly after he fell to the ground, and then died. The vampire laughed.
“Good help is so hard to find these days. Wouldn’t you agree, young demon?”
“Shut up. I still have a rock.”
The vampire laughed again.
“Right. By all means, attack me with a rock. I’m ready.”
Bumalin stepped sideways and acted as if he was trying to get a better angle. In reality, he was moving closer to Banish’s corpse. Bumalin wound up and tossed the rock as hard as he could. The vampire stepped sideways and the rock sailed past him into the darkness. The vampire advanced, grinning at Bumalin.
“I can make it quick for you. Get down on your knees and bow your head.”
Bumalin got on his knees and started feeling around with his right hand. When he felt the sharp stick in Banish’s throat, he gripped it and bowed his head.
“You promised it would be quick. Let’s go.”
Bumalin felt the vampire’s blade resting on the back of his neck. As it lifted up and the vampire prepared to strike, Bumalin pulled the sharp stick from Banish’s neck and plunged it into the vampire’s heart. The vampire cried out and then turned in to a pile of dust. His cape drifted to the ground and Bumalin caught the long blade on his foot before it hit the floor and made noise. He gently set the sword on the ground with his foot and retrieved the cape. The cape was made of an expensive-looking black material and Bumalin put it on. He then retrieved the sword and realized he had no way of attaching it to himself. Bumalin didn’t own a belt. He looked around and zeroed in on Banish’s corpse once again. He ripped Banish’s shirt and rolled it into a makeshift belt, which he tied around his waist and secured the sword.
“I really wish you weren’t such a coward. I don’t want to do this alone.”


Bumalin continued to move forward slowly. Even with a cool new vampire cape and a sharp sword, he was hoping he could just find his way through without encountering anything else. The trials were stupid. Dozens of demons passed through them at a time and only two or three became minor demons. Everyone else was assigned somewhere as a demon-in-training. Bumalin really wanted to skip ahead to his assignment, especially since the labyrinth was only the first of three trials.
Eventually, Bumalin heard a low growl and saw a wolf step out of the shadows.
“Damn. I was really hoping I could just sneak through here. Oh well.”
Bumalin drew his blade and the wolf’s growling got louder. Bumalin was surprised when it stopped growling and asked him a question.
“Are you a vampire?”
“I uh… I killed a vampire. I didn’t know wolves could talk.”
“Most can’t. I’m a labyrinth wolf. I can talk.”
“So… would you be interested in a free, easy meal?”
The wolf grinned.
“You think that little of your own sword skills? That’s sad, vampire.”
“I’m not a vampire. I’m a demon in a vampire cape and I wasn’t talking about me. I’m not the meal. I’m willing to make a deal with you.”
The wolf sat, listening intently.
“I know where a demon corpse is. You don’t want some random cyclops or sphinx or whatever finding it before you do. I can tell you exactly how to get there.”
“What’s the catch? You get to suck my blood?”
“I’m not a vampire. I’m guessing you can get me out of here without running into any more creatures. Guide me out quickly and I’ll draw you a map on the floor with my sword.”
“Is it a big demon corpse?”
“He was pretty normal sized. Do you agree to my terms? Think quickly, there could be something on its way there right now.”
The wolf nodded.
“I accept your terms, vampire. Follow me.”
The wolf turned and ran. Bumalin followed. The wolf led him on a path that completely avoided fights, even though they had to sneak past a few creatures. When they reached the exit gates, Bumalin drew his sword.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going to scratch a map into the floor with this sword.”
The wolf looked at him like he was crazy.
“You don’t have anything to write on?”
“I told you I’d draw you a map with my sword. You accepted my terms.”
“Hold on. I’ll be back in a minute.”
The wolf turned and ran off into the labyrinth. Bumalin leaned on his sword and waited. Eventually, the wolf returned carrying a roll of parchment and a feather in its mouth. He spat out both items in front of Bumalin and looked up.
“Draw the map on these.”
“With what? You didn’t bring me any ink.”
“You’re a vampire. I just sort of figured you would have some blood on you to write with.”
“For the last fucking time… I… AM… NOT… A… VAMPIRE!”
“But you have a vampire cape and threatened to drink my blood.”
“I never threatened to drink your blood.”
Bumalin really wanted to just kill the wolf and leave, but realized that the wolf was right. He could just make the map using his own blood for ink. Bumalin made a shallow cut in his left palm and dipped the feather in his blood. He drew out a map on the parchment, marking Banish’s corpse with an “X,” and placed it on the floor. The wolf looked at it for a few minutes, rolled up the parchment with his paw, and then grabbed it with his mouth.
“Fank you, fampire.”
The wolf turned and ran off into the labyrinth. Bumalin was glad all of that nonsense was over. He turned to the exit and realized that he didn’t know how to open the gate. He looked around until he finally saw writing above the gate.
I am greater than God and more evil than the devil. The poor have me, the rich need me, and if you eat me, you’ll die. Speak the answer and the gate will open.
Bumalin thought for several minutes but couldn’t figure it out. He started blurting out random words.
Nothing happened.
“Tree bark.”
Nothing happened.
“The moon.”
Nothing happened. Bumalin put his sword back on his belt and sat down. He thought hard for several minutes more. He hoped talking it out would guide him to the answer.
“Greater than God. I don’t know anything greater than God. Same goes for more evil than the devil. The poor don’t have… oh it’s some bullshit like love, isn’t it?”
Bumalin stood and positioned himself back in front of the gate.
Nothing happened.
Nothing happened.
“I give up! This riddle doesn’t make any sense! Nothing is more evil than the Dragon!”
The gate opened after Bumalin said the word “nothing.” He thought it over and realized that “nothing” was actually the answer. He grinned and walked out of the labyrinth. A giant immediately placed a sack over his head, hoisted him over his shoulder, and started walking away.


When the giant had finished his journey, he set Bumalin down hard on a chair while two smaller demons tied his hands to the chair’s legs. The sack was removed from Bumalin’s head and he realized he was in a small, dark room looking at a demon he didn’t know. The demon looked him over and then began some kind of interrogation. Bumalin realized he was probably in trouble.
“You drew a map of the labyrinth for one of the labyrinth wolves. Was someone helping you with the trials?”
“No. I have a good memory. It wasn’t a big deal and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t cheating. I thought the labyrinth didn’t have any rules.”
“It doesn’t. You expect me to believe that you just remembered the way back to that other guy’s corpse?”
“I don’t care what you believe. If you’re going to kill me, just get it over with. I’ve had a very annoying day. Can you bring in a hot chick before you kill me though? I don’t want your face to be the last thing I see. Any of Vixen’s daughters would be fine.”
“You’ve got a mouth on you. I’m not sure if we like that.”
“We? I only see one asshole in the room with me. What’s going on?”
“What’s going on is that we have an immediate opening for a demon-in-training spot in the Philippines working for a minor demon under General Lucian. The official title is secret storer. You seem like you have a good memory and there’s no way you’re becoming a minor demon after taking three hours and forty-seven minutes to make it through the labyrinth.”
“You mean I could skip the next two trials and just get on with the boring work assignment part of my life? I’m in.”
“I’m still deciding if we want you. If I say no, you’re out of here and it’s time to get ready for the second trial.”
“Look… I didn’t mean to imply that you’re ugly. I’m sure you uh… clean up nice. I just don’t enjoy being carried by an ogre to a dark room with a sack over my head after killing a vampire and befriending the world’s most annoying wolf.”
The demon grinned.
“Yeah… we were watching that. Nice cape, vampire.”
“For fuck’s sake. Don’t start with that shit.”
“Or you’ll suck my blood?”
“You’re making it very difficult to not say mean things about you.”
A demon walked into the room and placed a wooden box on the table in front of Bumalin. He turned and exited without saying a word.
“Good. It’s here. This is a minor ring of power. We don’t normally give them to demons-in-training, but we make an exception for secret storers. It enhances your memory and works best when a demon has a good memory to begin with. Some of our best secret storers even have eidetic memories. I doubt it will do that well for you, but that’s what we’re here to find out. If you fail our test in here, we send you on to the second demon placement trial.”
“You gonna untie me so I can put the minor memory ring on?”
The demon pulled Bumalin’s sword from his belt and slashed at the ropes that bound Bumalin to the chair. His aim wasn’t perfect and Bumalin started to bleed a little from his wrists.
“Great. Thanks for that. I was hoping for open wounds on both my wrists to match the one on my left palm.”
“Quit bitching. Put the ring on and we’ll give you the test. I’m going to recommend we don’t take you unless you have an eidetic memory because you’re a whiny little asshole.”
“Come on. That’s not cool. You cut my wrists.”
The demon slammed a piece of paper on the table. Bumalin jumped back slightly and almost fell back in the chair.
“This sheet of paper has a long-ass number on it. Put on the ring. Memorize the number. You’ll have five minutes. When your five minutes are up, I’ll come back in the room and give you a blank sheet of paper. You’ll write as much of the number as you remember. That’s the test. I’ll give the both papers to my superiors and tell them you’re a sucky demon that we don’t really want. I hope they listen.”
The demon turned and abruptly left the room. Bumalin put the memory ring on his finger and looked at the piece of paper. He was able to commit most of the number to memory within a few minutes but realized he was going to have trouble with the last couple of lines. Realizing that he was running out of time, Bumalin dipped his fingers in the blood slowly trickling out of his wrists and wrote the last part of the number on one of the legs of the table without getting out of his chair or moving too much. He kept his eyes on the paper in case they were watching him. He could see the table leg if he turned his head slightly to the right. He ran through the majority of the number in his head one more time before the demon returned and took the paper away. He put a blank piece of paper in its place with a feather pen and a bottle of ink.
“Alright. Write as much of it as you can remember.”
“Are you going to recommend me if I can remember the whole thing?”
“Great. I’m glad you don’t let petty bullshit get in the way.”
Before the demon could respond, Bumalin started writing. The demon came over and stood next to Bumalin, blocking his view of the table leg.
“You can’t remember the whole thing, can you?”
Bumalin didn’t look up.
“It’s kind of hard to with you distracting me like this. If you leave the room, I can focus and write down the whole thing.”
“I’m not going anywhere…”
A demon entered the room.
“Alastor wants you out. He wants to see what the kid can do without distractions.”
The demon approached the demon at Bumalin’s side and grabbed his arm to escort him out. He shook it off.
“Fine. He won’t remember it anyways. He lied to the wolf and he’s lying to us.”
“Alastor said the wolf got the corpse. This guy’s map was accurate.”
The two demons left the room and Bumalin titled his head slightly, chewing on the feather as if he was thinking. He saw the rest of the numbers on the table leg and committed them to memory. Within thirty seconds, he had written them down on the paper. He waved the paper in the air.
“All done. It’s the full number. I have an eidetic memory, asshat. Go tell Alastor or whoever your boss is.”
The demon angrily entered the room and roughly grabbed the paper from Bumalin’s hand. He compared it to the original. Several minutes later, he looked back over at Bumalin.
“Luck. That’s all any of this is. I hope you end up with me in the Philippines. In fact, I’m going to request it so I can make your life a miserable nightmare.”
“You’re a minor demon then? Can I request that you not be my boss?”
The demon flipped Bumalin off before he turned and left the room. Bumalin used his cape to wipe the bloody numbers off of the table leg.


After a considerable amount of time, the giant that had carried Bumalin into the room showed up. He offered Bumalin the same sack and Bumalin sighed before putting it over his head. The giant lifted him up out of the chair and slowly stomped his way towards an unknown destination. A few minutes later, the giant set Bumalin down and removed the sack. Bumalin saw a large gate and the giant pointed at it before turning and walking away. Bumalin approached the gate and looked around.
A voice came out of nowhere and Bumalin looked for its source.
“I uh… I… don’t really know what the hell I’m doing here. This is where the giant dropped me off. My name is Bumalin and…”
The gate slowly started to creak open. Bumalin waited for someone to respond.
“Well go in. Alastor is expecting you.”
Bumalin once again searched for the source of the voice but couldn’t find it.
“That’s creepy. I don’t like conversations with demons I can’t see.”
Bumalin started walking up the path, now realizing that he no longer had his sword. The minor demon that had given him a memory test had taken it with him. At the end of the road, a demoness waited for Bumalin.
“Alastor wants to see you before he sends you off to the Philippines. Follow me.”
“So I passed the test then? I’m getting an assignment?”
The demoness looked embarrassed.
“Um… maybe. Hey… let’s just pretend I didn’t say anything, ok?”
“Oh. You weren’t supposed to tell me. No worries, babe. I can act surprised.”
The demoness didn’t respond. She led Bumalin to a large metal door and disappeared inside without opening it.
“Wall phasing powers. Cool.”
Bumalin took a seat on a marble bench next to the large metal door and waited. The demoness appeared a few minutes later and opened the door for Bumalin.
“Alastor will see you now and discuss your test results.”
“Right. Thanks.”
Bumalin entered the large room and saw Alastor sitting in a comfortable chair behind a large desk. Bumalin nodded, unsure what he was supposed to do. Alastor gestured at a chair in front of the desk.
“Have a seat, Bumalin.”
“Thank you… um… Lord Alastor?”
“That’s correct. I’m the middle demon of secrets under General Lucian. The department of lies is very interested in you after your performance in the labyrinth. The wolf found the corpse, by the way. What’s even more impressive is this…”
Alastor placed two pieces of paper on the table facing Bumalin. They were the number he was given and his attempt at copying it from memory.
“A perfect match. We’ve had secret storers who develop and eidetic memory over time but it’s rare that a demon-in-training has one with nothing but a minor memory ring. Is your memory perfect without the ring?”
“Afraid not, sir. I have an excellent memory but it was the ring that put me over the top.”
“Well I’m sold. We want to pull you from the trials so you can begin your assignment immediately in the Philippines. Menace went on and on about what a great asset you would be to his team.”
“Menace is the minor demon who gave me the test?”
“Yup. He requested that you be transferred to his army immediately.”
“Lord Alastor… I… don’t really know how to put this…”
“You think Menace is an asshole and you don’t want to work for him.”
Bumalin looked at the floor, unsure how to respond. Alastor laughed.
“Its fine, Bumalin. This is the department of lies. You think I can’t tell when one of my minor demons is full of shit?”
Bumalin grinned. He was starting to think Alastor was alright.
“You’re being assigned to a minor demon named Scarecrow. He works up in the mountains in the Philippines, in an area called Baguio. We’re seeing expansive growth in that area and he needs an eidetic memory secret storer a lot more than Menace does.”
“Can I have my sword back, sir? I took a long blade from a vampire in the labyrinth and Menace took it from me during that memory test.”
“Demons-in-training don’t get swords. They usually don’t get a meeting with me, either. You can keep the vampire cape but you’re only allowed one of these for self-defense in case of an angel attack plus any weapons temporarily assigned to you during battle.”
Alastor placed a large knife on the table. Bumalin took it and attached it to his belt.
“Don’t worry, though. We’ll get you some good weapons when you become a minor demon. Do what Scarecrow tells you and you’ll be alright.”
Bumalin was disappointed that his sword was gone but knew there was no point arguing about it. There probably wasn’t a great reason why the rule was put in place, but once a rule existed it took ten times the effort to get it removed. At least he could keep the cape that everyone mocked him for. He was starting to wonder if he shouldn’t have just kept his medium-sized rock. No one would want to take that away from him.
Alastor placed a gold coin on the table and Bumalin pocketed it without waiting for an explanation.
“That’s for Charon. He’ll get you to the surface with the latest batch of recruits. I have high hopes for you, Bumalin. You’re on the track to becoming a minor demon. Just follow Scarecrow’s lead.”
Bumalin nodded but was annoyed on the inside. Being a minor demon would allow him to carry a sword again, even though he had already earned one for himself in the labyrinth and they had taken it away from him. Bumalin got up from his seat and left. The same demoness that had led him to Alastor’s office was waiting for him outside the door.
“You didn’t say anything, did you? You didn’t get me in trouble?”
“No. I let Alastor give me the same news. I didn’t even mention you. Stop worrying about it.”
The demoness seemed mostly relieved. She started walking towards one of Hell’s rivers and beckoned Bumalin to follow.
“Thanks. Most demons tend to blackmail me when I screw up.”
Bumalin had been thinking about blackmailing her, but thought it would feel weird after she had just said something like that.
“Really. It’s no problem. It was a slip of the tongue. No need to hold it over your head.”
They reached a skeletal figure in a black hood and cloak. He held a scythe in his left hand and held out his open right palm as they approached. The demoness turned and started walking back briskly but slowed her pace for a few seconds. She looked back and saw Bumalin fishing through his pocket to find the coin for Charon. She turned and went back.
“I’d like us to be even.”
Bumalin finally pulled the coin from his pocket and placed it in Charon’s open palm. Charon pointed to the boat.
“It was no big deal.”
“You saw me walk through the door back there. I can phase in and out of walls. It’s a minor demon power, but I’ve figured out how to get the same effect from a potion I work on after hours.”
The demoness placed a small vial filled with clear liquid in Bumalin’s hand and then closed his fingers around it.
“It’ll work three times. Drink a third of the vial each time. We’re even now.”
The demoness turned and ran back to Alastor’s estate. Bumalin pocketed the vial and got on the boat. He found a seat near the middle and waited for other demons to arrive and board. A few of them looked at his vampire cape and snickered. He thought he might have the seat all to himself until the last demoness to board scanned Charon’s boat and then sat next to Bumalin.


Bumalin was torn. The demoness sitting next to him was cute, but he was getting pretty tired. He ran a rough calculation of the amount of time he had spent sleeping and eating over the past day and the number was frustratingly low. He decided on a compromise. If she started talking, he would talk to her. If she didn’t, he was going to take a nap. He started to close his eyes when he felt a hand feeling his cape.
“I like your cape. What’s it made out of?”
Damn. Bumalin had been starting to hope for the nap.
“I’m not really sure. I got it in the labyrinth off of a vampire I killed. Did you make it out of there with anything useful?”
The demoness gestured to the knife on her belt. Bumalin looked confused.
“I thought they give those to all the demons-in-training.”
“They do. Had I known that, I wouldn’t have tried so hard to keep this with me through the entire labyrinth.”
Bumalin grinned. The demoness smiled back at him.
“My name’s Alexa, but my friends just call me Lexi.”
“What job did they give you, Bumalin?”
“Secret storer.”
Lexi punched Bumalin in the arm.
“No way! We have the same job! How did you do on the memory test?”
“Um… pretty well.”
“Oh. You don’t want to tell me your score?”
“My score?”
“Didn’t they give you a score? I got 94% of the number correct.”
“Oh ok. Good job.”
“Don’t be an ass, Bumalin. I told you my score. Now tell me yours.”
“You won’t like me if I do.”
Lexi punched him in the arm again.
“Stop doing that.”
“How much of the…”
“I got the whole damn number! Ok?”
Bumalin thought that would be the end of their conversation and he could finally take his nap. Instead, Lexi looked at him with wide eyes.
“You have an eidetic memory?”
“Well only when I have that minor memory ring on. My memory is just pretty good without it.”
“That… is so… COOL!”
“Keep your voice down. The other demons will think you’re weird.”
Lexi waved his comment off dismissively.
“Oh I don’t care what they think.”
“I imagine that’s been a useful trait for you.”
Lexi tried to punch Bumalin in the arm again but he slid slightly away from her on the seat and she missed. Bumalin grinned.
“So are you going to be an arrogant jerk about your score? Can we not be friends now?”
“Of course not… Ms. 94. I mean… Lexi.”
Lexi laughed.
“Bumalin, I think we’re going to be friends.”
“Don’t I get a say in this?”
“Ok. I have a really important question to ask you if we’re going to be friends.”
“Ask it.”
Bumalin’s stomach growled.
“Do you have anything to eat or drink?”
Lexi nodded and pulled a small can from a sack on her belt.
“It’s the soul of a farmer who killed his neighbor. I stole it from Alastor’s personal stash back there. He was too busy to meet with me and I took it personally. We can share it.”
Bumalin grabbed the can from her hand and propped the lid off with his knife. He took a deep gulp and drained half of the can before handing it back to Lexi.
“Fuck yeah. That hit the spot. Now I kind of want a nap so…”
“Are you telling me to leave you alone? You just wanted half my can of murderer and that’s it?”
“No. I have a warm vampire cape. I was wondering if you want to take a nap with me.”
Lexi grinned and then pointed at the front of the boat. They had reached land.
“I guess I’ll take a rain check on that nap.”
Lexi gulped the rest of the soul in the can and hopped out of the boat. She motioned for Bumalin to follow. Bumalin got to his feet and stumbled towards the front of the ship. He ended up tripping and landing hard on the sandy beach outside the ship. Several demons laughed. Lexi helped him to his feet.
“Wow. You weren’t kidding. You really need a nap. Why are you so tired?”
“They took me directly from the labyrinth to that testing room. The asshole who gave me the test took forever. He kept interrupting and causing problems. I haven’t slept since before the labyrinth.”
“That sucks. They recruited me after the second trial so they gave me a whole day to rest while my batch finished the last trial. I feel great.”
“I hate you.”
“No you don’t. We’re friends. Remember? I decided we’re friends.”
“Oh. Right. I hate you, friend.”
“Wow. You get cranky when you’re tired.”
Bumalin started to walk forward on the sand. He tripped again, but Lexi caught him this time. She put his arm around her shoulder. The minor demon in charge was long gone, a long ways up the trail. Lexi and Bumalin moved slowly at the back of the line. As darkness started to set in, Lexi started to worry that all of the other demons were too far ahead.
Lexi thought she heard Bumalin snore.
“No wonder you’ve been so slow. You fucking fell asleep on me.”
Lexi removed her Bumalin’s arm from her shoulders and he fell to the ground, sound asleep.
“Damn it, Bumalin! We’re going to get in trouble.”
Lexi kneeled down and slapped Bumalin hard across the face.
Bumalin looked around.
“Hey! When did it get this dark outside and why am I on the ground?”
“We fell behind and you fell asleep.”
Bumalin sat up and stretched his arms.
“Well I feel great. Demons should get more nap time.”
“I hate you.”
“No you don’t. You decided we’re friends.”
“I just undecided that. You made me carry your lazy ass for miles. I’m honestly surprised your feet continued to move.”
“You know you want to be friends with me, Lexi. Who else are you going to be friends with? There’s no one else around here.”
Bumalin heard some rustling in the nearby bushes. He drew his knife and jumped up to his feet. He got between Lexi and the area the noise had come from.
“There’s something in the bushes. Get your weapon out.”
Lexi drew her knife and elbowed Bumalin hard in the ribs.
“This never would have happened if we could have kept up with the group.”
“Or if the idiots in charge wouldn’t have kept me awake for 24 hours… or if they had let me take a nap and go with the next batch of demons-in-training… or if you had let me nap on Charon’s boat… or…”
“Shut up.”
Lexi pointed at a particular bush that seemed to be moving. Bumalin nodded. Bumalin held up three fingers, then two, then one. An angel sprang out of the bushes, swinging two swords. His eyes lit up with white light and the blades started to glow seconds later.
“My name is Zephon and I’m the minor angel of household protection. Prepare to die, demons.”
Bumalin tried hard not to laugh.
“Why the hell would there be a minor angel of something stupid like household protection?”
The question caught Zephon off guard.
“It’s not stupid. It’s awesome. Prepare to die, demons.”
Bumalin spoke quietly to Lexi while removing the vial from his pocket.
“He won’t be able to hurt me. Get behind him and attack right after I do. Got it?”
“There it is. There’s the overconfidence. You have an eidetic memory so somehow…”
“It has nothing to do with that.” Bumalin showed her the vial and quickly downed a third of it. Lexi nodded and started slowly making her way towards Zephon’s back. Zephon pointed a sword at each of them and kept his swords in line with them as they moved. Bumalin yelled and swung his knife wildly before attacking. Zephon laughed. As Bumalin approached, Zephon took careful aim and put his sword cleanly through Bumalin’s neck. Bumalin tried as hard as he could to mimic a shocked facial expression.
“Now! Do it now!”
Lexi stabbed her knife in between Zephon’s shoulder blades. The angel fell forward on his knees. Bumalin put his knife back on his belt. The sword had passed right through his neck.
“Demon sorcery!”
“Sort of. I met this demoness before I met Alastor. She could phase through walls and doors and stuff. So what happened was…”
“Bumalin, why are you explaining your potion to a dead angel?”
Bumalin looked at the ground and saw the unmoving corpse of the angel.
“Damn. Now no one wants to hear my story.”
Lexi hit him hard in the arm.
“Wrong. I don’t think I like where the story was going, but I’ll be damned if you’re not going to tell me the rest of it.”

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Smart Home: A Review of 3 Smart House Products

When I get home at night, I get out my phone and give it a voice command. That one command unlocks my door, turns on the lights in two rooms, and changes my thermostat from Away to Home. What follows is a review of the 3 smart house products and the iPhone app that helped me get everything set up so that parts of my house are voice controllable. These 3 devices work with Apple's Homekit (two of the three also work with Amazon's Alexa) and they allow me to control them via Siri voice commands. If you're considering any of the products here, please use the link I provided as I get a small commission from Amazon. Thanks.

Smart Thermostat: Ecobee 3

The Ecobee is a smart thermostat that responds to voice commands from both Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa. You can preset comfort settings (temperature ranges) for both Home and Away and even control your house temperature remotely. Since installing an Ecobee, I got a check from Questar for about $100 for installing a smart thermostat and I save about 20% monthly on my energy bill.

Installation: The installation wasn't too bad, but it may require putting an adapter on your furnace. It was a little nerve racking installing the adapter thinking that worst case scenario I could blow up my house. Fortunately, that's not how it played out. Other than that, everything was pretty easy to install. Here are a few pictures:

The larger black square is the Ecobee and the small white square is a room sensor. The room sensors allow you to control the temperature in different areas of your house. The Ecobee comes with one room sensor and you can add up to 32 total. I have mine in my bedroom. The entire install took about half an hour.

App: The Ecobee app is pretty basic, but it allows for easy control of the Ecobee from both inside and outside your house / home network. Before I had the voice macro commands set up, I used to set my house temperature right before I went home from work. By the time I arrived home, the house was done either heating or cooling. I haven't had any issues with Siri voice commands or macro commands I've set up (like the "I'm home" command I mentioned earlier). You can check out the Ecobee on Amazon by clicking here.

Smart Lock: Schlage Sense

The Schlage Sense is a lock that uses low-energy bluetooth to communicate with voice commands via Siri. There's also an option of punching in a 4-8 digit code that you can set up and change via the app and you can always use the key that comes with it instead.

Installation: The Sense lock was pretty easy to install with one minor issue. When I initially installed it, I could get it to unlock but couldn't get it to lock. I called customer service and they walked me through a factory reset (the reset process wasn't in the manual). Their customer service was great. After that, the installation went smooth and everything worked. Here are some photos of what it comes with and what it looks like on an actual door:

The entire install took about 45 minutes if you include the phone call I had to make to their support team. If you don't run into that problem, I imagine it could be installed in half an hour or less.

App: The app has issues with seeing the lock via bluetooth on rare occasions, but it's generally fine. The app allows you to lock or unlock the door and it allows you to create temporary or permanent 4-8 digit passcodes that you can punch in on the number pad to get in. This is a great feature if you have multiple people using the door and you want everyone to have their own passcode. It's also great if you just want to let someone in temporarily, because you can delete the passcode after it's used. The app also tracks when the door opens and closes, so you can be aware of what times the door was unlocked and locked. You can check out the Schlage Sense on Amazon by clicking here.

Smart Lights: Philips Hue

Philips Hue lights are LED bulbs available in both white and color that can be controlled by Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa. The starter kit comes with the router attachment and two white bulbs. I ordered an additional two bulbs to control the lighting in four areas of my house.

Installation: The installation was pretty easy. There's a small white box that plugs into your router via Ethernet and then the majority of the set up takes place from the app after the lights are installed and turned on. The app took a few minutes to do a firmware upgrade on the router attachment. Here's what it the router attachment looks like:

Setting up everything, including swapping in the LED bulbs, took about 20 minutes. I took the extra step of naming each of the bulbs for the room they're in to make Siri commands easier.

App: I've heard that there are some issues with the app and color bulbs, but it works flawlessly with the white LED bulbs. You can turn lights on or off via the app or turn them on or off with Siri. You can also group lights in the same area together to make things easier. You can check out the Philips Hue Starter Kit on Amazon here.

The "I'm Home" voice command

After setting up a smart thermostat, a smart lock, and smart lights, I wanted them all to work together with a macro command. Apple has announced that there will be a Homekit app available in iOS 10, but there's a free app available right now that works really well with Homekit devices after you figure it out. The app is called Hesperus and it's available from the Apple App Store. Once I downloaded it and it added my devices, I was able to make a "scene" called "I'm home." Now when I get home from work, I say "Hey Siri, I'm home." Within a few seconds, my door unlocks, my thermostat changes from Away to Home, and the lights in two rooms turn on. Companies are working with Apple more and more to release new Homekit products. There's now a fireproof safe, smoke detectors, and even a security system that you can control with Homekit.

Additionally, some of these products can take voice commands from Amazon's voice assistant, Alexa. To look into that route, check out the Amazon Echo here.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Lost Art of Wet Shaving

Note: It looks like Chisel Shave Club went out of business (as far as I can tell), so I'll remove the links that go nowhere but leave my review intact.

Following my review of the Mach 3 vs. Dollar Shave Club razors, I was contacted by Chisel Shave Club, a company offering a monthly subscription service for wet shave products. They asked if I'd like to try out one of their boxes for free and I said sure. They sent me a box of shaving supplies in early January and it here's what it contained:

They included a list of steps on how to wet shave on the back of the welcome letter. I decided I would check Youtube for a how-to video before I attempted any of this, even though the instructions seemed pretty straight forward. I found a video of a Scottish guy that teaches you how to wet shave. You can check that out here.

The Razor
With wet shaving, you unscrew the top of the safety razor and place a blade in the middle before screwing it back on. Here's what the razor and blades from Chisel Shave Club look like:

I tried the Astra blade and carefully followed the steps in the Youtube video and on the back of the Chisel Shave Club card before attempting to shave my head. I've read that these blades can last 4-6 shaves, but that's probably for beards. I have enough razors that I'll replace these more often than that, as shaving your head is a lot more involved than shaving your beard.

Wet Shave
I used the Dr. Squatch Cedar Citrus Soap Bar in a bowl and worked it into a lather. Then I used the shaving brush from the Chisel Shave Club box to apply it to my head (your head should be wet before you do this). When compared to shaving with my electric razor or Dollar Shave Club razor, here's what I found:

1. Wet shaving takes longer. I knew this going in. It took me almost twice as long, but that's probably because it was my first time and I didn't really know what I was doing, even after the Scottish dude explained it to me in the Youtube video.

2. Wet shaving gets a closer shave. It may take more time, but wet shaving resulted in a closer shave with less irritation than I usually get from my Dollar Shave Club Executive blades or my electric razor.

3. Wet shaving eliminates hair getting caught in between razor blades. The Dollar Shave Club Executive blade with 6x razors clogs pretty easily and I've noted that I have to hit it against the side of the sink. While I occasionally had to clean the safety razor while shaving, that part is much easier and quicker than clearing out clogs in my regular razor blades.

After Shave
I used the Brickell Instant Relief Aftershave included in the Chisel Shave Club box. It smells like a combo of coconut and mint and cooled my head. Good stuff.

I asked their press team for a pricing structure for their subscription box and here's what they told me:

We currently offer a month to month subscription for $29.99/mo with the option to add on a safety razor handle and shaving brush to the first month’s box for an additional cost. We also offer:

A 3 month prepaid plan for $28.99/mo
A 6 month prepaid plan for $27.99/mo that comes with a free safety razor handle and shaving brush in the first box.
A 1 year prepaid plan for $26.99/mo that comes with a free safety razor handle and shaving brush in the first box.

If you'd like to try Chisel Shave Club, you can get 10% off by using coupon code RANDALLM10
at checkout.


I'll need a few more shaves to say anything definitively but I did enjoy trying this out. I'm going to try it again next week and I imagine it will take a lot less time. The soaps and after shave smell great. I'd say try it out for a month and see what you think.