Category Archives: Fantasy

Initiation: Part One

Another short story I’m writing.  Should be between four and six parts.

Ever since we were children, Levi and I had wanted to join the Order of Self. They represented the highest standards for all aspiring knights. Masters of their martial skills, but also masters of their own bodies. Initiates had to pass rigorous tests to gain entrance, and adhere to a strict code of honor and ethics. Only a single legion of knights were members of the order at any one time, though they allowed twice that many initiates to join, to serve as squires to the knights. Being a knight was a distant dream, but the yearly Tournament of Self, only two days away, was much closer.

Already, the tents were set up outside of the capitol city, and the area resounded with the sounds of construction as the Order’s initiates finished the arena, which differed each year. It was big this year, towering over the tents and booths. Merchants hawked their wares, and hopefuls sparred in the lots that were still vacant, testing themselves against their opposition.

I dragged Levi through the crowd, weaving between warm bodies and cold armor. To keep myself in practice, I tapped each combatant I passed, finding weak spots in their armor. A prod under the arm here. A poke to the side there. An easy touch on the back of a warrior who clearly didn’t care for his armor like he should.

The most amusing part was the utter confusion of those I touched. By the time they seriously looked around for the source of the touch, I had already moved several persons away through the crowd.

“Myrah, must you bother people like that?”

My cheeks warmed briefly. I had almost forgotten that I was still dragging Levi, and that he didn’t exactly enjoy my way of training. With my most innocent grin, I gave his hand a squeeze. “Come on, I’ve gotta keep in practice. The tournament is in two days!”

“I know when it is. I also know that if you get into a fight with one of these men, you’re likely to end up unable to compete. A sprained ankle is all it would take to fail you.”

I huffed and pulled my hand away from him, going over to an empty area where several competitors were training. Annoying as he was, Levi was right. One injury before the tournament, and I’d have to wait another year to compete. I felt his hand on my shoulder.

“Come now, Myrah. We have a festival to enjoy.”

We turned to go back towards the tents, but a call stopped us, and I turned back towards the field. One of the boys (for I’d hardly call him a man, yet) was waving at us. “Oi! You two look like contenders! Wanna go a round, mates?”

There were several boys near him who either nursed bruises or merely sat slumped and out of breath. Before I could even open my mouth, I felt Levi’s hand on my arm.

“What did we just talk about?”

I slipped out of his grip easily and stuck out my tongue. “He’s not going to even touch me, don’t worry.”

His long-suffering sigh followed me as I crossed the field to the boy. The look of surprise on his face when I got close was amusing. “A girl? Wot you doin’ in a getup like that? Girls don’t join the Order.”

I rolled my eyes, grabbed his wrist, and rolled backwards, flinging him over my head. He let out a surprised yelp as he sailed through the air, and then a heavy grunt as he hit the ground behind me. I turned to face him, straightening and smirking. “The Chapter-master of Cunning is a woman, for your information. As is the Banner-master of Insight.”

He staggered to his feet, glaring at me. “A nice trick. But it’ll only work once.” He picked up a pair of wooden practice swords, tossing one to me and twirling one himself. “I’m gonna join the Chapter a’ Strength! A girl like you don’t stand a chance!”

His charge was painfully obvious. I took one step to the side, kicked at his shins, and brought the wooden sword down across his shoulders. He went down hard, sprawling across the grass, his sword bouncing away.

“I have more than one trick. A brute like you doesn’t stand a chance of getting into the Order at all, even if you’re strong enough to join the Chapter of Strength.” I dropped the sword on him and walked away with an entirely necessary hair flip.

Levi shook his head as I returned to him. “Was that entirely necessary?”

“Yes.” I nodded once, grinning, and took his hand again. “Come on, there was a really nice-looking candied apple stand I wanted to try.”

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iLife

The dust kicked up by the blast had just begun to settle when he sensed another wave of assailants rushing him. Falling to one knee, he let out a long, slow breath, focusing inward, dimly aware of the dust particles slowing in midair as they fell. He pushed up to his feet again and turned, noting the position of each new attacker, and what they were equppied with.

He turned his attention outward again, springing upwards as time resumed its normal flow. Half a dozen variously-armed melee fighters found themselves striking at empty air. In the moment before they could recover, he slapped the heels of his hands together, palms down, and threw his chi downward in a blast of raw power, reducing them to little more than scorch marks on the rock.

A high-pitched whine drew his attention, and he shot backwards several yards to dodge the blast of plasma that shot past him, the burnt-metal smell washing over him. He teleported down behind the shooter, creating a sword of pure energy and slicing through not only the armored soldier, but his comrades on either side of him as well.

Silence fell around him. The bodies faded away, leaving him alone on the open plains. He checked his heads-up display, sending a few quick replies to the messages he had waiting for him. As he prepared to teleport back to the man who had asked him to put on this little show, he felt a burning pain slam into his chest, knocking him hard to the ground. He threw his consciousness along the path of the bullet, looking across the landscape, finding the sniper and memorizing his identity just before the second bullet struck between his eyes.

He let out a shuddering gasp as his body jerked in his pod. His heart raced as he recovered from that sudden feeling of falling. The touch of a button opened the door, and he removed the tubes from his arms as he stepped out onto the hardwood floors. He tapped out a status update on the laptop on his desk: Completed challenge, but got sniped. Taking a break. Then he jotted down a note with the name of his assassin, so he could take his revenge when he went back online.

With a heavy sigh, he flopped onto his couch, flipping through his contacts and calling his favorite pizza joint. The virtual world simulated food and the IV tubes provided nutrition, but the very fact that food companies still existed confirmed his suspicion that people would always prefer the real thing. As the phone rang, he murmured to himself, “Just another day in paradise.”

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Movie Review: Jack the Giant Slayer

“Fee. Fi. Fo. Fum.

Ask not whence the thunder comes.”

So begins Jack the Giant Slayer, a movie coming out on March 1st, which I was fortunate enough to pre-view tonight.

First thing I’ll say is, this is not the Jack your parents read you nursery stories about.  As the name might imply, this movie is the big-brother version of “Jack and the Beanstalk”, and should be treated accordingly. No profanity that I remembered, and no sexuality (the two of which would make me recommend this movie even if it had only been mediocre).  What makes this movie mature is the violence.

Now, it’s not overly gory (though there is some small amount of squick factor), but, as we all know, giants ‘grind your bones for their bread’ and the like. That’s a part of this movie, though not ever explicitly shown on screen.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I will say that Jack the Giant Slayer is one of the best movies I’ve seen recently, certainly far better than the commercials made it out to be.  It built up to an initial conflict about half an hour into the movie, while giving back story and character exposition, and the action doesn’t let down until the end.  Surprisingly, it manages to hold the thrill all the way through and even escalate it for the final confrontation.

I’d also like to recognize Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan in Star Wars II and III, the only decent actor in those movies), for his excellent supporting role in this movie.  He made me laugh and cheer at all the right times.

I won’t go into too much more detail without spoiling it, but suffice it to say that this children’s bedtime story has been retold as an epic fantasy adventure that would rank high on any list I make.  10/10

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Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard regarding The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is along the lines of “There’s too much CGI!”  And I can sort of see where they are coming from, but even having heard those complaints prior to seeing the movie and therefore paying extra attention to the CG effects, I didn’t agree.  Yes, there was more CGI than in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but it was also better CGI.  I barely even noticed it, and it certainly didn’t bother me.

Now, I’m not going to talk about the story much, both to avoid spoilers and because it doesn’t seem fair to me to judge what I consider the first third of a movie.  Something I do want to talk about is the tone.

The Hobbit pandered.  Unabashedly.  In a bad way.  There were scenes and lines that clearly had no purpose other than to evoke a laugh from the fans of the LotR trilogy.  A one-liners by various main characters and the entire scene with Gollum completely derailed the otherwise ‘epic saga’ tone of the movie.  Gollum is NOT supposed to be funny in this movie, people!  His scene is supposed to be creepy as all get-out, not comedic pandering to his fans.

The only other thing that bothered me was the dwarves.  I couldn’t hope to phrase it better than a friend of mine, so I’ll just quote her: “Dwarves are not supposed to be sexy, and at least three of them were.”  Mostly Thorin, Kili, and Fili.  Dwarves should be stocky and have big, bushy beards!  Thorin is the ruler, and he just has a trimmed goatee!

In all other respects, however, it was an excellent movie.  The action scenes were intense, and the music fit the story well.  It has very similar elements to the LotR soundtracks, with a heavier low brass section that seemed very representative of the dwarf-focused story.

Also, the scenery.  My goodness the scenery.  The elven city of Rivendell and the dwarf kingdom of Erebor were beautifully rendered on the big screen, and the level of detail was what I’ve come to expect from the LotR trilogy.  It was much, much more vivid the the trilogy, though, with more vibrant and varied colors.

All in all, this movie mostly served as an appetizer for the second movie.  Since they’re not staying perfectly true to the details of the book, I’m extremely hopeful that the Necromancer, credited as Benedict Cumberbatch, will play a bigger role in these movies than he did in Tolkien’s book.  When the complete trilogy is out, I’ll give this movie a rating, but in the meantime, I’ll just say it’s very good, definitely worth watching.

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The Eyes Are the Windows to the Soul

Arya gazed into the mirror, loathing with every fiber of her being what she saw there.  At first glance, it was a beautiful young woman, skin fair and smooth, with dark, soft hair tumbling down about her shoulders.  The lines of her face, and indeed, her entire body, were graceful and elegant, a perfect specimen of feminine beauty.  What upset Arya was her eyes.  They were a deep, unnatural red, almost the color of fire.  She had been to every witch in the kingdom, but none of them could change it, or even hide it.  The mark of a demon, it seemed, could not be hidden.
She sighed and turned away from the mirror, wrapping her cloak around her.  Going out was always an ordeal; her eyes told people exactly what she was, and most of them tried to avoid her like the plague.  The merchants overcharged her, since they wouldn’t tolerate her presence long enough for the usual haggling.
The door swung open easily at her touch, and she stepped out onto the street.  She kept her eyes downcast and her cloak pulled close around her, trying to hide her face.  Sometimes, though, she had to look up.  You couldn’t deal with a vendor without looking at him.  When she did so, she saw, floating above their head, their true name… and how and when they would die.
That was the ‘gift’ the demon had given her.  It was more like a curse.  She hadn’t asked for it, hadn’t wanted it.  He had forced it upon her.  His only explanation had been, “Ask your father.”
Her father was dead.  Gone off to war, almost five years ago now, though it had only been one year when the demon had come to her.  As though thinking of him summoned him, Arya saw the tall, hooded figure approaching her across the marketplace.  She tried not to react to it; as the only one who could see him, it made her look crazy or possessed when she talked to him.  Finishing the sale she was in the middle of, she picked up her groceries and walked out of the market, quickly, but trying to act casual.
When she rounded a corner, she set the groceries down, turned, and glared at the demon.  “What do you want?”
“Why do you always assume I want something from you?”  The demon bared its large teeth in an unconvincing innocent grin.  “Maybe I just enjoy your company.”
“And maybe you just enjoy making the entire village hate me.  What do you want?”
“You wound me, Arya.  But as it happens, there is a little something you can do for me.”
“Of course.”  Arya sighed.  “What is it this time?  Arson?  Theft?”
“Murder.”
She gasped and took a step back.  “Never.”
“You cannot refuse me, Arya.  You never could.  You never will.”
Arya closed her eyes, turning away from him and pressing into the wall, as though she could make the demon go away by refusing to acknowledge his presence.  “Leave me alone.”
A clawed hand grabbed her shoulder, almost painful in its powerful grip, but then she heard the demon gasp and release her.  She slowly looked up; nothing had that effect on him.
“Back off, demon.”  A man in a white cloak stood a few feet away, his eyes a bright gold, as alien as her red ones.  Behind him, there was a magnificent being, shining, with wings that must have been twenty feet from tip to tip.
The demon hissed, slowly moving away.  The angel strode forward, a sword of pure light forming in his hand.
What happened next was too fast for mortal eyes to follow, but it ended with the demon howling in pain as he shattered into wisps of smoke.
Arya stared in disbelief.  She felt free.  The demon was destroyed.  She looked up at the man to thank him.. and saw his name and his death spelled out over his head.  She still had the eyes.  She was still cursed.
She muttered a thank you, ignored his offers of help, scooped up her groceries, and went home.  Odds were, another demon would claim her.  Being cursed, she had no hope.  She looked in the mirror again, cursing her demon eyes.

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The Horde and the Shades

The messenger burst into the throne room, face red, his breath coming fast and shallow.  “Your Majesty!  General Kaza is dead!  The Army of the Dragon has fallen!  The Horde marches on the Capitol!”
“Can this be true?”  The king stood, staring in disbelief at the messenger.
“Sire!”  One of his Royal Guard stood at the window with a spyglass.  “‘Tis true!  I see the dust of the Horde rising from the North.  If they approach, General Kaza must have fallen!”
“Inform Commander Gorem at once.  Tell him to rally the Army of the Wyvern.  They are all that now stands between the Capitol and annihilation!”
“Yes, Your Majesty!”
Several men rushed off to do his bidding, and he turned to the messenger.  “Was it the full strength of the Horde?  Could you see their numbers?”
“Your Majesty, if this was not their full strength, then the Horde is limitless.  General Kaza fought them for hours.  Thousands upon thousands of the barbarians fell, but for every one we slew, a dozen took his place.  The Horde stretched out as far as the eye can see, filling the horizon.  No matter how many fell, their lines never thinned.”
“Then… the city is most likely lost.”  The king clenched his fists.  “But I’ll be damned if I let them walk in.  Call in the Reserve Guard.  Order the civilians into the caverns below the Citadel and have the Town Guard begin barricading the streets.  We will use the time Commander Gorem and the Army of the Wyvern buys us to strengthen our defenses as much as possible.”
As men scattered to obey his orders, he grabbed the arm of his personal servant.  “Get me Kallion.”
The man nodded and rushed off.  With a heavy sigh, the king strode to his window, looking out at the approaching Horde.  They were visible to the naked eye, now.  It would only be a matter of hours.

—-

Commander Gorem rode through the ranks of his men, spurring them to greater alacrity.  The Horde was closing fast, and the Army of the Wyvern was woefully unprepared.  They were a secondary army, only in the event of a sneak attack while the Army of the Dragon was away.  No one ever imagined that the Dragon would fall.
A shout from one of the scouts drew his attention from his own men back to the Horde.  Their front-runners were cresting the last hill, charging his men.
“Form up! Form up! Shield-bearers to the front, greatswords behind them, pikemen behind them!  Other soldiers, rank and file behind them!”
As his soldiers scrambled into position, he yelled, “Archers!  Volley!”
Arrows rained down, stopping the first few lines of the Horde, and they fell by the score.  Another volley, and another, and another, they cascaded on the invading savages.  Hundreds of the Horde died.  Still they came.  Never slowing, never showing the slightest sign of fear.  There were more warriors in the Horde than there were arrows in the Wyvern’s quivers.
When the archers had nothing left to shoot, the Horde crashed into the shield-bearers.  The massive shields they bore stopped the savages as the soldiers with pikes and greatswords hacked and pierced them.  For nearly fifteen minutes, they held the line.  Wave after wave of savages slammed into their shields, until finally one of them, a huge beast of a man, with a battle axe in each hand, smashed through, killing half a dozen of them before impaling himself on the pikes of the back row.
With the line broken, the Wyvern broke as well.  The soldiers, unprepared for such an onslaught, were scattered, and the battle dissolved into thousands of one-on-one fights, with the Horde coming out way on top.  The Commander scowled and signaled for his bugler to sound the retreat.
As his soldiers attempted to fall back, being destroyed by the unrelenting Horde, the Paladin assigned to the Army of the Wyvern rode up beside him.  “Commander, my Knights won’t do any good in the narrow city streets, but we can buy the footmen time to get inside the walls.”
Commander Gorem nodded, and the Paladin raised his shining sword, signalling the rest of his Knights.  As one, the armor-clad cavalry charged forward, splitting into two branches, pushing the Horde off the retreating foot soldiers.  Their initial charge gave them powerful momentum, and they cut a large swath through the Horde.  When that momentum began to falter, however, the powerful warriors of the Horde began knocking them from their horses, slaughtering them.
The gates were open wide, and the fleeing soldiers of the Wyvern rushed in, reinforcing the Town Guard in the barricaded city.  Commander Gorem rushed in with them, trying to escape the noises of the dying Knights.

——

Up in the top of the Citadel, the king watched as the Army of the Wyvern was butchered by the Horde.  A voice behind him nearly startled him, but it was nearly as familiar to him as his own.  “You summoned me, your Majesty?”
“Yes, Kallion.”  He turned and saw the chief of the Shadowy Hand, garbed in his standard outfit, black leather and fabric, with all skin obscured save his eyes.  “You’ve no doubt noticed the Horde.”
“I have been made aware of it, your Majesty.”
“It’s going to take the city.”
“I estimated as much, your Majesty.”
“I need you to do something, Kallion.  I need the Shades.”
“We live to serve you, your Majesty.  What must we do?”
“The city cannot be saved, but my people can.  Take the hidden tunnels into the forests, keep my people alive.  The Horde cannot remain this large and this strong forever.  One day, when they are weak, find allies and bring them down.”
Kallion’s eyes, normally so expressionless, widened slightly.  “But, your Majesty…  We are sworn to protect you.  If you do not leave the city, neither shall we.”
The king reached out and grasped Kallion’s shoulder.  “If the Horde does not find me, they will keep searching.  I will stand with my Royal Guard and buy you the time you need to evacuate the populace.”
“But…”
“No time to argue, my old friend.  Lead my people.  Never forget how great we were.  Bide your time.  Hold out hope.  Restore this city one day, ten, twenty, a hundred years down the road.”  The king’s eyes were shining as he released Kallion’s shoulder.  “Go now.  Gather your men.  Evacuate.”
The ninja nodded slowly, then straightened and bowed low before his king.  “It has been an honor to serve you, your Majesty.”
“It has been an honor to have you beside me, Kallion.”
Without a sound, the black-garbed man vanished into a secret door, rushing to the secret caverns beneath the Citadel.  A half-dozen men, attired similarly to him, met up with him as he walked.  “What is it, Kallion?”
“We’re leaving.  Taking the people and getting out.”
“But… the king?”
“He’s staying with the Royal Guard.  Don’t argue!”  Kallion cut off the younger man before he could even begin.  “The king’s orders are final.”
His men nodded slowly, then dispersed to begin the evacuation.  Kallion went on ahead, his natural pace quickly carrying him through the tunnel and eventually up into the dense forest.  He quickly shimmied up a tree, looking back at the city.  Fire and smoked rose from all of the lower districts; the Horde had left nothing.  Only the castle remained, resisting the onslaught of the invaders.  Even as he watched, he saw the gates fall, and the Horde stormed into the Citadel.
He looked back down and saw the first of the citizens coming out of the tunnel, ushered by the rest of the Shades.  Kallion looked to the city again, this time focusing on the flag at the top of the Citadel.  That flag could only be reached through the innermost room of the Citadel, no doubt where the king would be making his last stand.  When the flag fell, he would know that the king had fallen as well.
Below him, he heard his Shades directing the people deeper into the forest, but he kept his eyes on the Citadel.  Finally, just as the last citizen came out of the tunnel, he saw the flag fall.  The city was lost.  The king was dead.
Kallion jumped down from the tree, tapping one of the Shades on the arm.  “Where is the princess?”
The Shade pointed to a small knot of people gathered under a large tree.  Kallion went there immediately, seeing the young princess with her father’s most trusted advisers.  “Your majesty, I would speak with you.”
Everyone looked up at him, eyes wide at his use of ‘majesty’.  The princess stood, pale, and walked with him a little ways away from everyone.  “What is it?  And who are you?  I’ve seen you with my father before, but I don’t know who you or your men are.”
“Your majesty, you are now in charge of these people.  Your father is dead.”
The princess, normally so composed, let out of choked sob, putting a hand to her mouth.  “He’s dead?”
“He sacrificed himself to give us all the opportunity to escape.  It was his duty as king.”
She composed herself enough to give him a slightly suspicious look.  “You never answered me.  Who are you?  And how did you know what happened to my father?”
“My name is Kallion.  I am the leader of the group called the Shades.  We are the secret guards of the royal line.”
“Secret guards..?”
“Yes.  The Royal Guards protect the royalty from overt attacks.  We prevent the more sinister plots.”
“I… see.”  She looked up at him.  “So what happens now?”
“We establish ourselves in the hills and caves of the forests.  I keep recruiting for the Shades, and you keep the royal line intact.”
She gave him a look.  “I’m only sixteen.”
Kallion smirked.  “I didn’t say now.  That’s the big picture.”
“Oh.”  She paused.  “Can I… see your face?”
“Why?”
“If I’m going to be protected by you, I want to know what you look like.”
He reached up and unfastened his mask, pulling it off.  His straight black hair fell down around his pointed ears.
The princess let out a soft yelp.  “You’re an elf?”
Kallion nodded.  “Your father recruited me before my people left this land.  He needed someone better than a human to run the Shades.”
“All right…”  She nodded slowly, straightening her already straight dress.  “We’ll get through this, won’t we?  We’ll be restored eventually, right?”
“It might not be in your lifetime, but yes.  I will see the royal line again on the throne, and the Horde destroyed.”
She returned to her advisers, and Kallion looked towards the burning city.
No matter how many lifetimes it takes me, I will restore your kingdom, my liege.

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Old Stories: The Fallen Angel

Another cool old story beginning I found.

The man strode down the road, his long, confident stride covering the ground quickly, as he moved single-mindedly towards his destination. He moved without fear, for his six and a half foot frame and the hand-and-a-half sword strapped to his back deterred even the most determined of thieves. Reaching his destination, one of the more reputable bars known as the Red Lion, the fair-skinned man paused a moment before  entering.

As he entered, he felt a brief wave of disgust pass through him, although no one watching him would have known that from his expression. Briefly scanning the smoky interior, he found the one he sought and strode directly to his table. The man, remarkable from his fellows by his broad chest and shoulders and the fact that he was only partially drunk, spotted the tall figure and beckoned him over. “Ho, Tsumar!” he bellowed. “Come, drink!”

Tsumar’s face remained expressionless. “You know that I do not drink, Brundor. What news do you have?”

“Big news, Tsumar,” the big man said, his face taking an expression of seriousness that was almost comical on his broad face. “Rumors of a high-class demon, most likely a pit fiend.”

A brief flash of emotion from Tsumar, an almost imperceptible quickening of speech. “Where? When?”

“Up north, by Brunswick.”

Tsumar stood up abruptly, flipping the surprised Brundor a gold coin, almost twice the standard fee. “Thank you for you services, Brundor. If this demon truly is a pit fiend, then I might have no more need of your assistance.”

Exiting the bar, leaving a rather bemused Brundor behind him, he strode straight out of the city gates into the forest. He gave a sharp whistle, followed by a long low one, and within seconds a powerful, masculine unicorn came trotting out of the woods. “To Brunswick!” he said, springing lightly onto its back, “My vengeance is close at hand!”

“You have learned the location of Da’seth?” inquired the unicorn, looking over its shoulder as it began galloping towards Brunswick.

“Perhaps,” replied Tsumar. “I certainly know the location of a pit fiend. Even if he is not Da’seth, he will know where I can find him.”

There’s also a pseudodragon shapeshifter chick named Gypsy, who I wrote about but evidently did not save.  She’s cool. So is Tsumar.  Possibly more on them later.

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