News from Ashlora – July/2017

Chapter 3 is out last week and oh boy the pacing sure picked up a lot. The release schedule, though, slowed down significantly. I took last month off weekly releases. It’s just me being lazy, no excuse here, and I apologize for my procrastination.

BLOGGING SCHEDULE CHANGES

Starting from next chapter, White Destiny will be released on Saturday instead Thursday. The time will be around 6 PM (UTC+0). That is…if I could fight the urge to get the story out as soon as it is done. I added a handy countdown to the sidebar that tells the time and content of upcoming releases. This way, when I cannot publish the weekly update in time or when there is no upcoming update scheduled, the timer will be updated to reflect the changes in real time.

In addition to the usual seasonal anime review, monthly novel commentary and weekly scene releases, I’ll be doing some writing prompts now and then. In these writing prompts, I’ll pick three random items and write a short story around these three items (props to Bungaku Shoujo novel for the idea). The writing prompts are intended to replace some of the weekly scene releases whenever I feel stuck on the novel.

There are already to short stories in this format, please check them out here

https://fujihita.wordpress.com/tag/writing-prompt/

DEATH BY RANDOMIZATION

I have a confession to make on the events unfolded in chapter 3. I had no plan whatsoever. Past Leo’s conversation with Thomas, I flipped a coin to see if anyone else would interrupt the conversation and rolled a dice to see who would it be. I only knew that I needed to get the dragon to Ironheart and pitch the witch against the dragon at some points.

It just so happened that when the world’s mechanics have been sufficiently fleshed out, the story will begin writing itself, sometimes against the will of  the author. I deeply wanted Steve the Ironsmith to survive the ordeal, I really did. But, he was the kind of person to jump into the way of an attack, knowing that he would come out unscathed, confident of his fortitude and of the strength of his steel.

Unfortunately for him, the lightning pipe (formally notated in writing notes as “McGuffin”) is just that much stronger. It is the equivalence of nuclear weapon in Ashlora and whichever nation possessing the weapon will be condemned and purged by the ruling Archbishop and his crusaders.

And so, he died, along with captain Joshua who was destined to be killed anyways, and half of Rosenberg district, and Brown’s Boulder tavern. I rolled a dice for the inventor to successfully intervene but he failed.

In hindsight, using randomization is not exactly the brightest idea ever. The entire Steve x Katherine ship just sank to the bottom of the ocean, the royal selection plot line is going down with it as well and the geopolitical changes after this “terrorist attack” will spell disaster for the secession plot line.

GOING FORWARD

One good thing came out of all this turmoil is the inventor. He now has a solid agenda moving forward. Alexander D’Amore is his new enemy, Sir Richard is no longer his ally, and for a short time Lilia Silverflow will be his new best friend. His goal will be the remainder of the baron’s lightning pipe stockpile Alex has stolen and he plans to use them to gain leverage on Azeth during the secession.

So far in the story, the inventor has taken the role of a passive narrator. From the next chapter onward, he will play a more active role in the events. We’re now back to the original premise of the book, that is to gain political influence and start a war, and the core cast for this purpose: the inventor, the baron and the princess.

Other than that, I have to iron out some inconsistency I noticed. The knight captain’s unique marker is an arm guard, not a gauntlet as stated in scene #7. Also, I’ll need to reconsider the reactions of Silverflow Council in chapter 1 to the news of a dragon sighting now that it is revealed that the dragon can be tamed by the princess.

I didn’t plan for the dragon to be obedient but at some point in writing chapter 3, I came up with some hilarious and epic traits for the dragon and I decided to make it less of a plot device and more of an actual character.

White Destiny #12 (Rev 4)

Katherine did ponder in silence for a long time. She was given the captain’s arm guard and the reins of the princess’s horse and the instruction to retreat. The answer, “Yes, Your Highness”, could not have come any later.

The street of Ironheart was desolated. Not just in Rosenberg district but everywhere in the city. The moon had reached the end of its cycle and a new one had begun as the crackles of fire and the heavy footsteps of the dragon took the attention away from the flares of horn atop the Ruby Garden castle.

It was moon thirteen. There was no more whimpers in these parts of the town. There were only embers and burning corpses on the street.

“Tell me, Price. Who did this?” Lilia asked.

“Alexander D’Amore, Your Highness.”

“I see…so the witch did this too,” she concluded.

Father Felacia cringed but said nothing. He averted eyes when Leo tried to make eye contact.

“I can’t believe it! You are still going to cover Alex!? What must he do before you can start throwing up arms and say “I’m done with his crap, let him die now”?”

“Calm down, Leo. I’m sure she has an explanation–”

The inventor smacked the bishop’s hand away. His blood was boiling.

“Calm down? That bastard stole my sketches, beat me up, destroyed my favorite part of town and killed my best friend in an afternoon. How dare you tell me to calm down?”

“I have to agree with him. We have to draw a line somewhere. Alex’s behavior is inexcusable and he should face punishment for his deeds”, the deacon voiced his opinion.

“Thank you for having a shred of common sense, Father Graham.”

“Both of you, listen to me!” the princess clapped her hands to draw attention, “If words got out that Ironheart was in possession of lightning pipes, the problem would not end with just D’Amore. We all would be facing the wrath of His Excellency and I assure you, you do not want to go down the path Fa’el went.”

Her voice was solemn. This was no laughing matter.

“Pardon me, princess, did you just say lightning pipes!?” Father Graham gasped.

“This is insane!” Leo exclaimed.

“Is this for real? Father Felacia, do you know about this?”

Father Felacia hung his head, and then he began to speak:

“Sir Richard keeps a small arsenal of magical artifacts, including lightning pipes and some Fa’elin relics, for the day the witch attacks Ironheart. His Excellency would never agree to this but, the baron has his reasons.”

“Lord helps us all”, the deacon uttered.

“Lord helps us all indeed”, the princess nodded.

“I understand the reasons but I don’t agree with the approach. I believe it is better that we speak the truth and beg His Excellency–”

“If you are not going to trial Alex then get out of my way–”

“The dragon saw the pipe, how should we–”

“Quiet! Quiet! One person at a time!” Lilia smacked her hand across the inventor’s and the deacon’s chests.

“You hit me, you insolent woman!” the deacon reacted, grabbing her arm and throwing her off balance.

“Hand off the princess, Father Graham!” the bishop stepped in, trying to break them off.

Major repulsive.

Impervious. Major ponderous.

The situation escalated. The princess shoved her rosary in the deacon’s face and cast a spell. Father Graham’s body was catapulted into the air. But, he was quick to counter with a spell that made himself unbelievably heavy. His weight caused the pebble road under his feet to crack. Then, his pace hastened as he activated the third spell:

Nimble.

He dashed toward the princess for a flying kick, which failed spectacularly and he ended up in a sink hole caused by a wordless Crumble spell.

Obstreperous“, Lilia tossed a small stone into the sink hole and cast “Minor magnificent.

The stone quickly grew into a boulder.

Obstreperous“, Father Graham lifted the princess’s spell and the stone shrank to its original size. “Overflow“, the earth multiplied beneath him. The sink hole was filled to the brim and the deacon was on even ground again in seconds.

“You want me dead”, Father Graham remarked.

“Lese majesty is a crime punishable by death”, Lilia affirmed.

“Antique laws are not enforceable in a republic.”

“We shall see.”

“Both of you, cut it out!” Father Felacia cried.

“Uh…Felacia…”

“Not now, Leo!”

“The dragon is watching…”

The dragon was eyeing them from atop the obsidian obelisk. It was quietly spectating and letting out a few hisses when the bishop saw it.

The bad blood between the princess and the deacon had reached its peak. The two adversaries dashed head-on at each other and simultaneously chanted the combo:

Repulsive. Magnificent. Convergent

Both mages launched an enlarged stone as the base of their attack. The princess added an extra Crumble and Magnificent component to multiply the base stone into a meteor shower. The deacon reinforced his attack with Impervious and Magnificent. His boulder could easily resist the princess’s meteor shower but…

Obstreperous.

It was vulnerable to spell breakers.

Nimble.

Father Graham imbued his feet with the speed of the wind, he blazed through the incoming projectiles and snatched the rosary from the princess’s hand. His body withstood the debris field without a single scratch.

“Check, mate”, he declared.

Splendid. Fazegaid! Arc mul tasa, gondres faye!

The princess chanted in an ominous voice amplified by Splendid spell.

“What? Hand-free magic? Obstreperous.”

Fazegaid! Arc mul tasa, gondres faye!

The dragon perked its head and shifted its eyes toward Lilia. It let loose a ferocious roar and launched itself at the deacon. Its claws shattered a transparent barrier surrounding the deacon and scratched the deacon’s Impervious skin.

Father Graham was caught by surprise. He barely had any time to dodge but he barely managed it. The dragon opened its mouth and exhaled a stream of earth-scorching fire at close-quarter range.

Major Cryophilic“, the deacon and the bishop cried at the same time. Their combined magic kept the deacon safe but it was slowly being pushed back by the dragon’s fire.

Fazegaid! Raset guro! Raset imme!” Leo shouted, desperately trying to persuade the dragon to let the deacon go.

Splendid. Fazegaid! Raset guro! Raset imme!” Father Felacia repeated the same line. This time, the dragon listened to him and backed off.

The language the elder dragon of Azeth–the eater of realms Fazegaid–could understand was Gondrash. Gondrash was an ancient language that made up at least two thirds of the magic tomes in Fa’el’s Grand Library of Prism. The people of Fa’el worshiped a dragon-god that carried their kingdom on its back and Gondrash used to be their official language before Fa’elan, a modern language based on Ashlorian’s alphabet, was adopted.

After the fall of Fa’el, only a handful of people in the world could speak Gondrash. Two of them resided in Ironheart: the archbishop’s disciple, Lilia Silverflow, and the master of linguistics, Leonardo di Price.

But it seemed Fazegaid only took orders from mages.

“Stand down, Lilia. That’s far enough. By the power vested in me, I void your seat in the Church of the Spirit. You are to pack your belongings and leave the church before the end of this moon.”

The princess tried to open her mouth but the bishop gave her no chance to talk back:

“You should know better than anyone else that there is no justification for attempted murder. If you want to embrace the barbaric way, either join the red-helm knights or wait until after your coronation”, Father Felacia ruled.

“And as for you, Father Graham”, the bishop turned to the singed but not dead deacon, “You can stop attending Silverflow meetings starting today.”

“Fine, whatever…” Father Graham lay on his back and stared up the nose of a dragon many times greater than he was. He contemplated for a while, soaking from top to bottom in its healing saliva before he finally spoke his mind aloud:

“Hey, linguist! Come and teach me dragon-tongue sometimes.”

Highlight: Spring 2017 anime season

Tsuki ga Kirei header 2
“I want to tell her that no matter how far apart we are, my feelings for her will never change” — Kotarou Azumi

Two years of blogging seasonal reviews and I have yet to see any anime season as powerful as this season. Three shows made it to the top for their successful delivery of one awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping moment. It is always delightful to watch the story slowly building up to that decisive moment, and to see the climax being executed beautifully.

Erwin, you glorious bastard! Advance!

But not everyone can stomach eleven episodes of slow burns for that one explosive moment. Thankfully, Spring 2017 also features stories that deliver mini-climaxes every few episodes. Boku no Hero Academia (HeroAca), Sagrada Reset and Tsuki ga Kirei got this strategy nailed. In term of writing quality, I must say HeroAca and Tsuki ga Kirei are on equal footings. But, highlight goes to the latter because HeroAca is still ongoing and it is difficult to judge an incomplete show.

And then, there’s the nostalgia trio Clockwork Planet, Little Witch Academia and Tsugumomo whose character interactions and art styles are so dated, they give off the vibe of shounen anime in the 90s. I can’t complain, at least they fared the test of time much better than Warau Salesman did.

Seasonal Selection
Show Expectation Rating
Tsuki ga Kirei Star Highlight (1)
Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii Desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii Desu ka? Question mark Highlight (2)
Boku no Hero Academia Cash cow Decent (Pending)
Shingeki no Kyojin ss2 Cash cow Decent (Pending)
Sagrada Reset Star Decent (Pending)
Eromanga-sensei Star Decent
Sekaisuru Kado Question mark Decent
Re-Creators Star Decent (Pending)
Clockwork Planet Question mark Decent
Little Witch Academia Star Decent
Tsugumomo Star Decent
Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records Question mark Mediocre
Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho Star Mediocre
Alice to Zouroku Old dog Mediocre
Warau Salesman Old dog Nope
Highlight: Tsuki ga Kirei
(As the moon, so beautiful)

Tsuki ga Kirei is a poetic romance novel set in modern time. The story revolves around two junior high students, Kotarou Azumi and Akane Mizuno, as they meet and grow attracted to each other. It is a slice of life story about growing up, seeking common grounds, supporting one another and pursuing dreams.

In a sense, Tsuki ga Kirei is the purest manifestation of classical literature in anime form. It retains the subtlety and intricacy of classical literature.

Characters are recognized by their personality traits and less obvious differences in body shape rather than princess Cotton Candy’s hair color, eye color or her over-saturated accessories. Plus, for once, common sense is actually common in anime and realism is actually…realism and not grim dark masquerading realism.

Tsuki ga Kirei snapshot
Body language says it all

Its greatest strength lies in its ability to capitalize on body language in storytelling. Strategically placed shots of minute changes in gestures and expressions speak louder than internal monologue, actions speak louder than spoken words; and where spoken words are called for, they are natural and casual.

Show, don’t tell” is a storytelling rule often forgotten in modern writing. It is all too easy to write a dialogue (internal or vocal) that says “I’m so nervous” but it is much harder to convey the same idea using actions. Tsuki ga Kirei managed to pull this off in its animation, its character interactions and voice acting: fidgeting, having stiff posture, conversational hiccups and becoming easily startled.

If I have to draw a parallel, Tsuki ga Kirei is the junior high version of Rakugo Shinjuu, with more focus on romance than death. Both shows use monologue device sparingly, both shows manage to capture real conversation (with all its flaws and hiccups), and both shows put great emphasis on body language.

It is not just the gut feeling that tells me the show is thriving to be a work of classical literature. The show makes explicit references to what it wants to be. The poetic title “Tsuki ga Kirei”, the quotes from classical author Dazai Osamu, the male lead is striving to be an author in “serious literature”, and the author’s not-so-subtle allusion to the dreadful distinction between serious literature and light novel.

TsukiKirei_snapshot2
How I feel when the credits roll.

In term of memorable scenes, I can’t put my finger on one particular in the show. There are simply too many of them: the night scene at the shrine, the one at the park, the one in the bookstore, the one under the rain, that one at the festival, that other one before the exam, that other other one by the riverside, and that last one on the train. They are all accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack for completion.

Studio feel. lived up to their name. Every week, I feel nostalgic as I watch a shy boy and a shy girl trying to start a conversation (there was a time, I was in their shoes, oh these times when just being there together would be enough, words did not matter). I feel the warmth rising in my heart as I watch Kotarou’s parents quietly supporting him chasing his dream. I feel joy when their relationship reaches a new stage. I feel frustrated when things did not go their way.

And, I feel sad that the show is over.

Highly recommended for those who want a good slice of life romance. Extra recommendations for those who are still recovering from the heart break that is 5 Centimeters per Second. This show is essentially the hopeful version of that depressing movie.

Runner up: Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii Desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii Desu ka?
(WorldEnd: What are you doing at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us?)

Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii Desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii Desu ka? (SukaSuka) embraces a different strategy to remain competitive. The show bets everything on the finale. It has one climax, one big climax instead of lots of many small ones. The show in its entirety is a long build up for that one epic finale and, by the fact that this show made it on top of Shingeki no Kyojin season 2 so far, its bold investment paid off.

The show is about a post-apocalyptic world where child soldiers fairies are born to fight monsters and die in battle. One such a fairy, Chtholly, begins to develop feelings for her caretaker Willem and…well, like that is going to end well ever.

Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasuka Isogashii Desuka Sukutte Moratte Ii Desuka snapshot
Bombastic, graceful and grievous at the same time. Dammit, where’s my jaw?

Very similar to Narcissu‘s premise, SukaSuka, for all intents and purposes, is straightforward; painfully so. It has small twists here and there though these are rather predictable twists. The viewers are given the ending from the get go and they get exactly what they expected. Straightforwardness is an appeal, not a flaw, and I can name a good number of highly regarded shows in which the audience can see how things go down from miles away.

*cough*One Punch Man*cough*

Watching SukaSuka is like reading Narcissu all over again. The parallel is so great. Both shows start with the declaration that the main characters are not going to survive the ending. Both show draw inspirations from the conflict between the dying patient and the care taker. And…both shows have that one place where the residents all have their days numbered.

These kinds of story do one thing exceptionally well: turning innocent and joyful moments into melancholy and heart bleed.

Unlike Narcissu, however SukaSuka really did spend all its capital on the finale. It is a combination of heroic sacrifice, last stand ending, scenery porn, graceful yet badass animation and right-on-the-theme soundtrack. Right, I didn’t mention the poetic exchange between Cththolly and Willem in that last moment, which resonates with the story behind Scarborough Fair song, gives light to which memories these characters felt most endearing, at the same time contrasting their views on her sacrifice.

In other words, the finale packs more layers of information than that meets the eyes. It blows every other scene in this series, and some in other series, out of the water and takes the cake for the best scripted finale this season. It is one of those franchise-defining moments that will linger in mind for a long, long time.

Although, other than the finale, I find the build up not so impressive. It is decent but not great. I recommend SukaSuka for those who seek a fond memory, not recommend for those who are looking for a great overall viewing experience.

Special mention: Sekaisuru Kado
(KADO: The right answer)

Sekaisuru Kado tried to be different. It’s been a long time since I last saw a story on friendly alien contact. For a change, the aliens would be the reasonable and civilized ones and humans are the true monsters. For a change, negotiation and the voice of reason would be mankind’s greatest weapon and not tanks, jets, nukes, laser cannons, power suits or giant robots.

That was the premise Sekaisuru Kado tried to sell at the start. A professional–the best there is–diplomat, Koujirou Shindo takes on an unknown anisotropic life form named Yaha-kui zaShunina whose goal is to remove the limitations of nature on the potential of mankind.

But turn out, this is just another case of misleading advertisement. There were power suits, there were evil alien overlord, there was no negotiation. As soon as a second “native” alien life form appeared to defend the traditional life and exposed the seemingly zaShuina’s hidden agenda to…(you guessed it!) destroy humanity in the most convoluted manner possible, I know the show is not salvageable.

Going mainstream is NOT the right answer.

In the end, despite the jarring, all CGI, art style and the broken writing in the later parts, Sekaisuru Kado did two things right: its soundtrack and its final plot twist. While I still have mixed feelings about the resolution, the twist did surprise both Yaha-kui zaShunina and myself. Do I recommend the show? No. I’m only mentioning this because I’m genuinely pained to see this much potential going down the drain.

At least Sekaisuru Kado has some redeeming qualities. Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho, with all of its lost potential, has zero.

White Destiny #11 (Rev 4)

The count’s hired swords knew there would be no easy victory against the red-helm knights. The two elite knights versus fifteen mercenaries, full-body plate armor versus overwhelming number, and a life time of training for war versus a life time of fighting for survival was the premise. Mallets smashed into sturdy bucklers, swords met unbreakable gauntlets and within seconds, first blood was drawn.

Two elite knights versus fourteen mercenaries was the new premise.

Steve the ironsmith charged into the fray, a tower shield in each of his hand. A morning star landed on his back, he flinched and paused to glare at the man at the handle-end of the spiked steel ball. His unarmored back shrugged off the hit; he got away with only indentations and no blood.

The man fumbled on his ass and dropped his weapon. His eyes widened, complexion turned pale as more and more of his friends were cut down all around him. Blood dripped and gathered in ponds around the knights’ feet. The mercenary, stuttering “monsters, monsters” in snorts and tears, crawled on all four and scrambled for the exit.

The fight had been brutal but it was far from over. Back to back, the knights fended off six assailants at once. The ironsmith stood his ground and prevented the remainder of the mercenaries from en massing the knights.

Amid the chaos, Alexander D’Amore drew from a leather pouch a brown gold cylinder, roughly half a fist-wide in diameter, and aimed the cylinder at the knights.

The inventor looked up. His lips felt the moist and saltiness of blood bleeding out from a glass cut across his cheek. But, the cold running up his spine did not come from blood loss; it came from the sight of a lightning pipe Alex was holding between his long, slender fingers.

Alexander D’Amore had his fingers wrapped around the side of a cylindrical artifact. Safety lid was off. His thumb curved on the trigger switch at the enclosed butt of the pipe. A lightning ray captured in a pipe was an instrument of war unique to Fa’elin civilization. It set forth a lightning force as mighty as a platoon of war mages. It was a terrifying weapon, the only known weapon capable of melting a dragon’s scale that could be wielded by anyone, even a toddler.

Electricity surged from inside the pipe. Magic runes sealing the lightning ray unraveled. Lightning arced from cracks on the pipe’s surface to metal objects nearby. An invisible hemispherical barrier protected the wielder and everything behind him from the leaking lightning force. Then, the barrier rapidly contracted, folding inward toward the business’s end of the pipe, concentrating lightning into a bubble of boiling power.

Leo knew he had to stop this mad man. He leaped and tackled Alex right after the lightning pipe was set off. He was a split second too late.

Steve dashed in front of the knights and put two layers of shields between them and the lightning ray. Mastercraft steel was no match for the bottled up force of nature. Like a hot knife through butter, the lightning ray melted clean through two tower shields, the ironsmith’s torso and all the way through the captain’s plate armor, chain mail, gambeson and flesh. It destroyed the brick wall behind them, continued punching through several market stalls and only stopped when it struck the jet black obsidian pillar at the central square three building blocks away.

The shock wave following the lightning wrecked further havoc. It swept everything in its path hundreds of meters away and turned debris into deadly projectiles.

There were screams of anguish but none could be heard.

Vertigo, deafness and shock set in as the loudest thunderclap ever struck a human’s ear erupted. Even the man who caused his scene was dumbfounded by the destruction. Never before had a lightning pipe been discharged in urban area and, as the dusts settled down, it became painfully clear why lightning pipe was banned even as a siege weapon.

Alex yanked his leg off Leo’s grip and disappeared into the alleyways. No one could stop him then.

Shortly after the thunderclap announced the massacre to the world, the elder dragon of Azeth emerged from the clouds and landed near the obsidian pillar. It sank its jaw into the pillar, carving out the dead lightning ray, tiny in comparison to its size, and eating the creature on the spot.

Those who were not killed by the lightning, debris, or concussion suffered deep cuts, broken bones, skin burns and severe paralysis. They badly needed help but no help would come when a dragon as tremendous as the Ruby Garden castle itself laid claim of the territory.

The city guards watched from afar a great flame set by the lightning ray spreading over the district, consuming house after house, survivor after survivor. They were powerless, insignificant dirt under the claws of a mythical presence.

The dragon’s snake-like, elliptical pupils instill a fear so primal, it was paralyzing to those who caught glimpse of these eyes. The titanic form of this winged creature could be seen all over Ironheart. Its shadow plunged three nearby districts into total darkness.

Leonardo di Price had witnessed death and destruction before; after all, he was an herbalist and war architect; but never had he witnessed death and destruction of this closeness and scale. His body trembled uncontrollably, hair straightened, vision blurred, head drummed the pain of a thousand pecking, and his ears, dysfunctional.

“Oh God…oh—”

He shoved a hand over his mumbling mouth. This was not the time to call God. He must find…his allies.

“Steve!” he shouted.

No response. And, he could not hear his own voice; it felt awkward.

“Steve!” he tried again.

If there were a response, he would not be able to hear it. But he pressed on shouting.

“Josh! Kather—”

He stumbled upon a detached left arm of a knight. The shredded arm guard embroidered in golden threads told him this belonged to the captain. A large chunk of the torso still clung to the arm though it was sizzling and smelled like roasted ham.

In the rubble across the street he spotted movements. His eyes, then cleared up and no longer blurred, darted to the source of the movements. There stood Katherine, lumbering away from a crumbling wall.

“Katherine!” he shouted.

She kept on walking across his field of vision, removing her red helm and cast it on the ground as she did. Then, she removed her gauntlets and hastened the pace.

His eyes shifted, he finally saw what she was seeing.

“Cap…captain…”

He saw her lips mumbled these words. He too dragged his feet toward the corpse of the knight captain.

Joshua’s torso was almost gone. His armor was glowing red hot around the edges. There was no blood; everything inside him was cooked alive.

Katherine must have realized this too when she touched him. Her hands retracted from the heat by reflex. Agony and desperation were her descriptive words; she kept trying to pry the plate armor off his flesh.

Finally, the inventor stepped in. He grabbed her hand before she hurt herself further. She lifted her chin to look at him. The terror on her face was indescribable.

For a moment, there was a glimmer of hope in her eyes. Now, it was her turn to grab him. She grabbed his wrists, her mouth moved as if telling him something. His hearing had yet to recover and he could not make sense of her stuttering mumble jumble.

Stuttering mumble jumble was the only classification he could tell from reading her lips.

But she was shoving his hands into the captain’s red hot armor. Her grip strength was tremendous; his wrists felt like they could snap like twigs and he could not break free. It was as bad as it looked.

“I am an herbalist, not a god! I can’t bring back the dead.”

Dammit. She could not hear anything he said. She kept pulling his hands into molten metal.

“Gahh! Let go! I say let go!”

His fists touched the hot surface. He yanked harder and harder. Suddenly, before he knew it, he was able to overcome the knight’s strength and she toppled on top of him.

Salubrious. Minor Inflammable.

He could hear again.

A female voice announced two magic spells; the latter he recognized burned the remnant of Captain Joshua to ashes. Then a male voice announced the third spell:

Cryophilic.

Leo knew these voices.

In the darkened backdrop of embers and smokes; the silvery rosaries the bishop, the deacon and the princess wore seemed bindingly bright in his eyes. The city had dispatched all their magicians; the ones whose wield the rare gift of magic. Each of these mages could take on a legion of knights and emerge victorious.

The captain was no more; only his armor remained. Katherine continued to cry, digging her hands in the ashes that used to be the knight captain.

“On your feet, Katherine Livingston!” the princess commanded, “I hereby name you captain of red helm guard and grant you permission to take my horse.”

Her stern voice resounded and bore grandeur similar to that of the baron. Princess Lilia descended to ground level and shoved the reins in Katherine’s hand.

“Take her and make sure she reaches the castle safely.”

Tree tower

So after 10 weeks, White Destiny’s weekly releases stopped. I took a week off to go on vacation and I never got down to writing the story again. Writer’s block happened and now I’m stuck writing filler short stories instead.

Anyhow, on my vacation, I finally decided to make a big purchase and bought a drawing pad home. Sort of like a special souvenir that will remind me of the trip every time I use it. I originally planned to surprise you guys with some illustrations of the novel, but I ran into some issues with drivers and pen pressure, and I ended up tossing that idea asides as well.

Today, I came back to the tablet and somehow made the pen driver works (hooray!). So, I just took a random photo lying around the reference folder and drew a sketch of it. Can anyone recognize where this photo is taken?

Treetower_sketch

 

Short story: “Swimming pool”, “Cicada”, “Airplane”

N.Jon woke up with a broken rib and a mouth full of sand. The sun was burning atop the cloudless blue sky. His throat felt dry, so dry that he could drink his own blood, had it still been flowing out from the seashell cuts on his limbs, to quench this thirst. He cried. He wept his own misery as he lay on that empty beach, wishing dehydration would take him out quicker.

Then, he picked himself up, shed a life jacket that seemed to weigh a thousand pound, and dragged his wet feet on the hot sand to the nearest shade.

Oh how he missed the luxuries of F.City! Air conditioners blew in every corridor from subway to high rise. The outdoor then seemed torturous and a shade, this shade, his former self would deem hell on Earth.

Every summer, his father would take him on a long road trip across the county to the less grey town in A.K. His father’s favorite spot was at a stone bench next to a crepe stand overlooking a large swimming pool where he said he had come every day in summer break to watch the girls in their swimsuits.

N.Jon came in and out of consciousness several times.

“Find a shade, stay out of direct sunlight.

Be patient on the hunt.

Be bold, be fearless.

And, more importantly, never relent.”

The words of his father echoed in his mind; funny how these were his most endearing memories and it took him an air crash, a day drifting in the ocean and the onset of dehydration to realize the fact. These were the words of a man who could spend summers in ambush with only a bottle of water and brought home the girl of his life.

These wandering, gibberish and chuckle-worthy thoughts ceased to creak in by sunset. What was left was depression, hopelessness and hunger.

In his first night, N.Jon walked for many miles under the silver moon. Past the sandy beaches and up the standing cliffs laid the vast dark ocean stretching to the horizons in all directions. His worst fear was confirmed; he survived an air crash only to be stranded on a deserted island. And all he got with him was a life jacket, a whistle and a few strands of seaweeds stuck in his hair.

On the day he consumed these seaweeds, he vomited and lost more water than the stagnated rain water he could find in pools formed by crevices in the rocks.

He sometimes wished he had gone down with the airplane.

There was no sign of any mammal but himself, no body of fresh water, no boiling hot volcano, and no convenient cave to speak of. But, there was a small patch of green shrubbery at the shoreline onto which he was washed, and also from which he hauled enough driftwood to build a camp fire. A tall rock wall shielded his back from the ocean wind, an overhang put a roof on his head, all he had to do was clearing the floor of debris and getting a fire going.

He could not start a fire.

His fingers blistered and swelled red like tomatoes. Flints, drills, bows; he tried them all but to no avail. No ember, no smoke, nothing.

He would try again, and again, and again for two more days. His strength was slipping away. He found it more and more painful to lie down and rest. His chest ached; it ached much worse than he could feel the day before. He could feel his own rib bone impaling his chest every time he inhaled. Adrenaline had long worn off. Exhaustion, thirst and hunger kicked in.

His second day sleeping on a deserted island, a life jacket, tinder and some driftwood were all that kept him above the sand. He slept at day and worked at night and in early morning. With a pointy wooden stick, he dug up small clams hiding beneath the sand and carved out oysters from rock faces during low tides. He left them on a flat boulder to dry under the sun for half a day, then washed them in a bowl-shaped driftwood bark of sea water.

Food and shelter asides, on this barren island, water preservation took the utmost highest priority.

In F.City, fresh water was in abundance and he would empty an entire water bottle on his hair in summer. Outdoor activities were never his favorite, but he was willing to; or more precisely, had to; make an exception for the girl next door, R.Lina. She was flamboyant and full of energy, and she was an unlikely owner of a bug collection.

That one summer, his father’s red pickup truck carried an extra passenger.

The road trip to A.K seemed twice as long outside of the cab. But halved to a half by a smile whose brilliance put that of the summer’s sun to shame. Waving a bug net and a clear plastic pin as they were heading back to the motel, R.Lina spoke fondly about the emerald cicada she caught in the forest.

N.Jon had the same dream every day, seeing R.Lina chase after a colorful butterfly with a bug net, listening to the reel of his father’s carbon fiber fishing rod, and wrinkling as sun glares caught his eyes through the forest’s canopy. He stood on the sideline as a silent observer, a prisoner in his own dream.

His health deteriorated. His sleep hours spilled over to night time. Three days, five days, one week; he could no longer tell for how long he had been stranded. The first time he broke into high fever, he was scared. For the first time in the real world, he could not move. He was a prisoner of his own body.

The end drew near.

Early morning on the day his fever was the highest, he was woken up by loud rumbles. In his eyes, he saw emerald cicadas, a swarm of emerald cicadas, singing in the sky, circling above him, and darkening the sun. A cold hand gently touched his forehead. Oh R.Lina, her bright smile faded…

It started to rain.

Digging his fingers in the sand, he crawled out of the shelter. Lying on his back and opening his mouth, he drank from the rain; and when he saw that more water was dripping down the edge of the overhang, he began to drink from the rock face directly.

The fever rapidly subsided as soon as there was water in his system, but the rain intensified.

The storm raged on for two days. Sea water flooded his camp in the middle of the night while he was still sleepy and feverish. The sky, the sea and the ground shared one uniformed color: pitch black. The horizon and the shoreline blurred by the rain. Thunder and lightning streaked the heaven; and, between the flashes he saw tidal waves two hundred feet high.

The waves thrashed the rock wall. Ferocious, unforgiving and relentless, they eroded the shoreline and claimed the beachfront for the goddess of sea.

N.Jon quickly realized he had been trapped between the old and the new shoreline. He had to make a break for the new shore before the gap grows wider. Putting on his life jacket, he prepared himself for the dive. He waited for another flash of lightning to show him the destination. The wind and the rain battered his exposed skins. His heart pounded harder in his chest. Adrenaline surged through his veins. And then…

Pzzt…

The flash came. He heard the reel of a fishing rod in his mind.

“Be bold, be fearless.”

His father whispered these words into his ears. In a split second, he saw his father with the brand new navy blue carbon fiber rod standing by his side, posing to cast the line.

Brrabroommm!

“And, more importantly, never relent.”

His father cast the line. He dived into the murky waves…

One stroke, two strokes, three strokes…

He began counting the number of strokes he made and surfaced to take a breath every third stroke. He had learned this from his father one summer, at the swimming pool where his parents first met. His eyes were sore. He could not see in the water without goggles. Worse, every six strokes he made, the torrent pushed him back by four.

Then, it happened. Debris in the water punctured his life jacket. He began to sink beneath the roaring waves, sinking closer and closer to Davy Jones’s locker every time.

“And, more importantly, never relent.”

His father’s voice continued to echo in his mind. Almost there! He was so close to shore, he could feel his feet touching the bottom before the torrent pushed him into the sea again.

He took a deep breath for one final home stretch.

But, he was immediately pulled under by an unseen whirlpool. His arms and legs tangled in a nylon net. Calm, emerald currents rushed to his location. The raging black water became tranquil and crystal clear. The sun shone down from the surface and time seemed to have slowed down.

N.Jon saw R.Lina at the bottom, her chestnut hair fluttered in the water. Her brown eyes locked his eyes and he was reminded that he was in the river in A.K.

Her lips curled. These silent words, he understood so well.

This is retribution.

It was him who jumped into the river first. But it was the girl next door who left her body at the bottom of the river that summer. The bug net that steered him to shallow waters became the trap that sealed her faith.

Brrabroommm!

A deafening thunderclap shattered the scene from his memories. The storm returned and so did the roaring tidal waves. But, there was a new glow of fire, a flickering yellow at the peak of the rock wall.

Thank to the light, N.Jon saw his left foot tangled in driftwood and like a yellow-fin tuna the block of wood dragged him away from shore with the speed of a javelin. Though he could see the danger, panic got the better of him and he was unable to shake free. There was nothing for him to grab on. He could barely stay afloat with a punctured life jacket.

Oh R.Lina, she got him good…

A heavy object fell from the cliff and made a splash ten feet away from him. Standing on the burning log starting to drift in parallel to him, his father shouted.

Take me, R.Lina. Leave my son alone!

There dark semicircles under his father’s eyes and untrimmed beard he had seen so frequently since the day R.Lina died. Both his father’s arms charred dark like coal and steam was coming out of his body. Those fierce eyes fixated on the block of wood that was dragging N.Jon to his watery grave.

The sixty-year old cracked a smile, gritted his teeth and leaped toward the block. The branch that was holding N.Jon’s feet snapped, his father’s body and the block vanished into the torrent. By the time the clouds cleared and the sun rose again, his fever had gone and his muscles were aching all over.

He lived off raw shellfish and rain water for another eighteen days before a patrol plane spotted his distress signal written in the sand and rescued him. He survived for a total of twenty three days on a deserted island without ever starting a fire. It took him two more months to be released from the hospital, during which he learned of the passing of his father.

They found his body in the swimming pool in A.K the night one of the strongest hurricane in history hit the west coast. His father’s carbon fiber fishing rod was struck by lightning. Both arms were burned to charcoal. The body suffered extensive third degree burn.

But his father was smiling. He was smiling in the end.

 

Project Sekai visual novels bundle

Okay, visual novels; Japanese counterpart of tale-tell games, packed with big eyes, otaku subcultures and typical Japanese fetishes. But wait, don’t close this tab yet. Take a look at this new bundle offer from HumbleBundle and Project Sekai. Take a look at the offering on “beat the average” tier. See the one in the middle?

https://www.humblebundle.com/sekai-project-bundle

Narcissu bundle.png

HOLY MOLLY! That is Narcissu 10th Anniversary Anthology Project!

THE GOLD STANDARD OF MODERN JAPANESE TEAR-JERKERS

Every time a sad story popped up with elements like sick girl, hospital, and death, it is inevitable that I would pay homage to Narcissu franchise. I have mentioned Narcissu in my seasonal anime review for two of the most memorable tear-jerkers in recent time: namely Plastic Memories and Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso. I expect to continue doing so should such a show ever pop up again.

Why?

Simply put, I consider Narcissu as a franchise the absolute best of modern tear-jerkers.

It is vastly different from Clannad, Angel Beats! or the any of those critically acclaimed works from Key Visual Art’s in that it has little to no comedic moments. It sets the stage very clearly from the start, Plastic Memories did, that the purest and most beloved character in the story will perish. All joyful memories will turn bittersweet, not at the long last ending, but at the moment they are experienced.

These stories are dreadful, they are melancholic and depressing. But the message they carry is powerful: overcome losses and live everyday like it is the last.

In the case of Narcissu, it carries an even more powerful dilemma. The question to abandon or not to abandon loved ones in sickness; especially when they sincerely wish not to burden the living; is a question without a good answer.

But that is enough spoilers for now. The original Narcissu 1st & 2nd are available for free and it only takes a few hours (and a few boxes of tissues) to read. I believe the franchise will make the case for itself. I guarantee; after a few hours of beautiful soundtrack, gorgeous pastel graphic and deep storytelling; any sensible human being with a heart will realize the price tag of $12 for the entire Narcissu’s digital package is a disgusting steal.

Better yet! Ame no Marginal -Rain Marginal- (from the same author) is also in the bundle and it has a Narcissu Bonus Episode!

Narcissu Bonus Episode

Included in the game is a copy of Narcissu 1st, as well as a brand new VERY short bonus episode.
It’s very short, but hopefully is interesting for Narcissu fans.

I fell in love with this franchise when it was off Steam in 2011. I asked my Secret Santa in mangafox back in 2012 for a Setsumi signature + avatar set (which is the featured image, the header, of this post). I shipped the drama CD and the OST disk from Japan when it had only 11 tracks. I campaigned to greenlight this visual novel on Steam way back in 2013.

Am I a fan of Narcissu? Hell yes am I!

This bundle is an instant sold for me just for Narcissu Season Pass.

Beyond that, the rest of the offers are…cat girls, bunny girls, dog girls, magical girls, loli with the body of a mother, idols, beach episodes, micro skirts, maid etc. It is not missing any typical Japanese fetishes here except, maybe, shrine maidens and tentacles.

Yep, I won’t even touch those with a ten-feet pole. Just one Setsumi-chan and one Professor Croquette please!