Friday, May 25, 2018

Interview with Author C. M. B. Bell

Today we have a special guest and good friend of mine, author C. M. B. Bell!

Hailing from northern Illinois, C. M. B. Bell is a graduate from Judson University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications (Media Studies). This ambitious self-published author has recently released several works including Hollandus Landing, a cell phone novel; Kyvariz, a Sci-Fi/Comedy/Drama novel; Transparent Sabbath, a Dark Fantasy/Horror/Action novelette; and Piteraq Dusk, an Arctic Punk/Adventure novelette.

Today, I asked C. M. B. to share a little bit about his self-publishing experience, especially with his first officially-released work, Hollandus Landing, and the journey he's taken to get to this point.

Hey, C. M. B.! This has been a long time in coming. Thanks for sitting down with me today.

Hey, Jeannette! It's great to talk to you! Thanks for having me.

So you're currently working two part time jobs in addition to a third seasonal job coming up this summer. Any other jobs I'm forgetting?

You mean currently? No, those are the only ones I have now.

You know. Other than all the writing that you've been doing. (Laughs)

Oh yeah, definitely.

Busy guy. But not too busy to publish your first few books. How did it feel to get your first book out there?

It was very gratifying. Granted, these aren't the first books I've ever written: Kyvariz was technically the second book I'd ever written, and it was my first NaNoWriMo [National Novel Writing Month] project I did back in 2014 when I started that contest... and obviously Hollandus Landing, which I serialized last year through my blog. There's also Transparent Sabbath and Piteraq Dust, both of which I'd done as Camp NaNoWriMo projects. So it just felt amazing that I've been writing books for four years, yet I'm finally releasing them out to the world. I kind of forced myself to do that after not showing them to the public for this long.

That's awesome. It definitely takes a lot of courage.

I think a lot of people who don't do writing have no idea how much work it really takes: not just to write the project, but then to get it out there. For instance, I know that Hollandus Landing took a lot of work for you too, even after you were done writing it, due to some problems you were having with the actual self-publishing process.

Oh, yeah. With Hollandus Landing, first I pretty much had to copy and paste everything from my blog (all 810 chapters). I mean, sure, they may be 70-200-word chapters, but that's still a lot of content, and the fact that it added up to over 94,000 words—

Wow.

Yeah. I think it ended up being hundreds of pages long.

I want to say it's about 900 pages on the version that I have.

But the thing is, from a word count perspective, there are traditional novels that are shorter than this cell phone novel.

That's absolutely insane.

Right, and the fact that I did this for six months straight like clockwork every Monday through Saturday, five chapters each—it definitely took a lot out of me, especially doing this with two jobs and then doing this with Camp NaNoWriMo and with NaNoWriMo... Yeah, it was certainly an experience, writing this story with 40 different narrators, trying to have all their stories interconnect.

Yeah, it's really a project of amazing scope.

And that wasn't even my first cell phone novel. But it is the longest one I've ever written, and it's also the first one I've ever done the traditional way, publicly, for the whole world to see. But after it was written, next I had to edit everything for publishing: I definitely had to clean up the typos, grammar, fix any borderline inconsistencies that I wasn't aware of until the editing process. And then I had to try to format everything, because the paragraphs would not be spaced the way I wanted them to... So it took me forever just to straighten up everything.

Sounds like a headache and a half!

Oh, it was.

What gave you the idea to start Hollandus Landing in the first place? What were some of your sources of inspiration?

That's actually a really good question. I wanted to try something that was completely different, regardless of whether it was a cell phone novel or a traditional novel. I mean, sure, you've had books with multiple narrators (I and many others have done it). But how about something with 40 different narrators, where they have their own side of the story, plus mixing up different genres while still trying to feel as natural as possible? You have the slice of life elements: characters going to school or going to work, and then you have this underlying conspiracy going on in this city of Hollandus Landing, Wisconsin (obviously a fictional city).

I'm a sucker for “Something lurks beneath the surface” stories.

Some other things that have inspired me, especially with the multiple narrators, would be Rashomon, the movie by Akira Kurosawa, and how he uses multiple characters to tell their side of the story about a murder. It's a classic Japanese film.

Another lesser (and kind of surprising) influence was Spoon River Anthology.

Oh? Very interesting!

Yeah, my first exposure to that was Judson's production of the play and how it had all these different characters talking. Now, there's a big difference because these are the voices of the dead of this fictional Illinois town; that's not the case in Hollandus Landing, obviously. But you do have this fictional Wisconsin town—where all these characters who happen to be part of this city get to tell their side of the story. You have this interconnection, because I wanted to make sure that every character gets mentioned more than once besides in their own chapter.

No one gets forgotten.

Yep. Another big inspiration involves some characters that I remember from my past, so I just kind of referenced them in subtle ways. And interestingly enough, I forgot if it was in Estonian or Latvian, but hollandus means “nostalgia” in one of those languages. So the title literally means “Nostalgia Landing.”

“Nostalgia Landing.” I love it. Certainly a good title for it.

So how long had you been writing before you even started working on Hollandus Landing?

Well, as far as writing books and fiction, it would've been three years prior to Hollandus Landing, but I've been writing on and off for years before then. Like, I tried writing fiction even back when I was a kid, but it never seemed to work out. I felt I never had any good plots or concepts, and I was kind of spoiled by watching a bunch of cartoons (and eventually anime during my teenage years), or reading some comic books, reading some manga and lots of other books. I felt like I was consuming more storytelling media than I had been creating, even back then.

You've definitely been creating more than consuming nowadays! (Laughs)

Oh, yes. Easily. I wouldn't disagree with that at all. (Laughs)

Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process? What does a day in the life of C. M. B. look like, balancing all those jobs, trying to squeeze some writing in? Do you write certain days of the week or do you try to write every day?

I try to write at least a little something every day, whether it's an outline, or maybe doing some flash fiction on TaleHunt. I haven't written any stories in a while since I'm still focused on editing my own bibliography and getting that out there. But most of my writing currently has either been reviews on Iridium Eye or possibly working on my outlines and character concepts, because I've been working a lot with the spin-offs I have in mind for Hollandus Landing—and, of course, some of my other fiction projects, too.

A spin-off of Hollandus Landing, you say? Can you tell us a little about that?

I don't know if I should say this given how far you are in the book, because I don't want to give too much away...

Yeah, we want to keep this spoiler-free!

I will not spoil anything, but the ending does play a huge role in all the spin-off stuff. It involves some characters meeting up in different ways and giving them different experiences than could ever be presented in the Hollandus Landing city and the aesthetics of that particular place.

And it's gonna be all cell phone novels.

Very interesting... So for those of you who really enjoy cell phone novels, you've got a lot of good stuff coming up.

(Laughs) Yes, definitely expect more stuff in the Hollandus-cosm.

Hollandus-cosm.” I like it.

Can you tell us about any other projects you have in the works, or are those kind of hush-hush right now?

I do have some other novelettes, novellas, and novels I've written but haven't published yet. I can't give you an exact timetable of when I'll release them, but I can definitely talk about some of them.

There's Runa the Silencer. That one was a Camp NaNoWriMo project from the past couple of years. It's going to be more of a dark fantasy story about this female demon-slayer named Runa. She quiets her targets, so that's how she gets the nickname “The Silencer.”

Oooh!

As for the plot, it's definitely more of a mature fantasy series. It'll deal with some adult themes, which I don't want to say because it'll spoil huge plot-twists.

Of course.

There's also Sylvain, Serpent King

Oh yeahhhh.

—Which I believe is the first Camp NaNoWriMo project and the first novella I've ever written.

That's crazy to think about. But I'm really looking forward to that one.

Yeah. So if you're not familiar with that, it's an adaptation of a fairy-tale that came out in the 16-1700's called “The Green Serpent.” I found the fairy-tale on accident years ago. Now, granted, I'm not really into fairy-tales, but I thought the concept was so fascinating: you have this ugly princess, and then you have this serpent who was really a prince who was cursed years ago—but obviously they can't see each other. And I thought, “This would be really cool,” because you have so many fairy-tales (and not even just with the whole “Disneyfication” of fairy-tales) with the concept of “Beauty Equals Goodness,” which has always rubbed me the wrong way. So I thought the fact that this story had ugly protagonists was incredibly fascinating.

I wanted to see things more from the serpent's perspective, so Sylvain, Serpent King does kind of act as a prequel and a mid-quel to that story, if you will. So, obviously I gave the name of the prince, Sylvain. You find out what he was like before he became the serpent; you find out what happened leading up to it very, very early on.

Ooh, very interesting.

So you have him and the princess Laidronette as duel narrators in this particular story. But I did want to tone down some of the things with the mythical creatures so I had more of a human cast, and I wanted to add some other elements like some action, a bit of dark fantasy, too; so this particular iteration doesn't really feel as much like a fairy-tale despite its fairy-tale origins from Madame d'Aulnoy.

Ahhh. Very nice. Thank you for those sneak-peeks!

Yeah, sure thing!

Well, we've already talked a lot about writing, but do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Very good question. I would say definitely be creative in what you write about. Don't give up on it and find some time to write, even if you have to work multiple jobs or if you're still in school—I mean, hey, I was there at one point, y'know! (Laughs) And try to write some stories and character concepts that you've never seen before in books, TV, movies, or any kind of storytelling media. Definitely be original. That's a huge thing for me.

Yeah, you can see the passion you have for creativity in your works.

Thank you.

Absolutely!

Well, thank you so much, C. M. B.! I know you're not a big fan of social media, so what's the best way to connect with you?


The best way to connect with me would be through my writing blog at C. M. B. Bell's Writing Universe, where I post some of my fiction stories and news. If you want to follow me on TaleHunt (which is a free app, by the way), you can follow me at @Tocsinchronicle, where I post microfiction. I also have a Noisetrade account where you can get Hollandus Landing for free (or for your own price, your call—I will not judge). You can type in “Hollandus Landing” or my name, C. M. B. Bell, on Noisetrade.com to find that.

I also have my books Kyvariz, Transparent Sabbath, and Piteraq Dusk, available to purchase at Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks.

Make sure to check him out, everybody! Thanks again for your time, C. M. B.

No problem!

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[Note: C. M. B. was kind enough to bring to my attention that I misspelled "Sylvain." It has since been corrected. Thanks, C. M. B. and apologies, dear readers!]

Interested in more of C. M. B. Bell's work?

Friday, May 18, 2018

Why I Love the 2011 Steins;Gate Anime – And You Might, Too


Steins;Gate, 2011 White Fox
“You have no memory of the three weeks you spent with me. But that's okay. Somewhere out there, you're breathing, speaking, thinking hard about something... That's all that matters. Because somewhere out there you're looking at the same world I am... this world with an unknown future.”1

Based on the visual novel by 5pb. and Nitroplus, Steins;Gate follows Okabe Rintaro and his friends as they stumble upon the secrets of time travel, a dangerous secret society, and a plot to enslave the future.

I love Steins;Gate. And if you like bantering, quirky characters; plot twists; and repeated viewings that blow your mind, you might like it, too.

Steins;Gate, 2011 White Fox

Genre: Sci-Fi, Techno-Thriller
Year Released: 2011
Studio: White Fox
Licensed By: Funimation
Director: Hiroshi Hamasaki and Takuya Satō
Episodes: 24, 1 OVA, 1 film, 4 original net animations, and 1 sequel

What You Might Like About... the Writing

Make no mistake: Steins;Gate will keep you on your toes. From the unsettling aesthetics to the plot's twists and turns, you'll never be sure where Steins;Gate is going next, but you'll sure enjoy the ride.

From the start, you get the sense that all is not normal in this universe. Episode one contains a lecture on time travel, mentions of a real-world internet conspiracy, and a terrible crime. Then the push of a button causes the world to shudder and go wild with color. When the smoke clears, a crowded street is dead, with the protagonist left alone, confused... and horrified when he discovers a satellite is now jutting from the building behind him... and the crime he'd witnessed earlier had never taken place.

Steins;Gate, 2011 White Fox

This is juxtaposed with just how normal a person our protagonist Okabe is. Immediately after the eerie scene, he joins his friends at their usual hang-out spot: a low-rent apartment in a quiet part of town. It makes you chuckle and relax a bit. There's nothing wrong here after all. It's just a couple of crazy, bored teenagers pretending to be scientists and performing the kind of wacky experiments that become YouTube viral videos. The bizarre events that kicked off the show become a distant memory.

And then the plot kicks into gear.

Like a proper mystery novel, Steins;Gate delivers carefully-placed clues leading up to gut-punching reveals. Details matter in this show, and I'm not the only person to argue that a second viewing will often yield even greater satisfaction than the first.2

But Steins;Gate is not only a master of compelling set-ups and satisfying payoff; it also knows when to leave an air of mystery. Nothing is explained to death in this show, proving its respect for its audience.

What You Might Like About... the Audiovisuals

Steins;Gate has unique design that is dripping with storytelling purpose. Otaku Gonzo Journalism, an essayist and cinematography enthusiast, describes it best in the first part of his series “How to Recognize a Great Anime (in just one episode) [sic].”

Steins;Gate does an excellent job of generating a sense of mystery and suspense in its audiovisual design alone,” Otaku asserts, pointing out specifics such as the usage of lighting in the very first episode:3

Steins;Gate, 2011 White Fox
“[E]ach shot is framed in such a way as to make [the characters] look overly white and washed-out... [Even] some of the buildings seem to simply evaporate into the atmosphere as they get further from the camera... There's something unsettling about how this entire scene is colored, as if the boundaries of reality have become opaque and uncomfortable...”4

However, Otaku also points out that “[t]he look of the world is mostly realistic, but with a slightly-off-kilter color palette that would be unusual in any medium.”5 This trend of mostly-normal but slightly-off continues through every aspect of the audiovisuals, Otaku says.

Steins;Gate, 2011 White Fox
“The character designs have a very Pixiv-esque feel to them... yet the tall bodies and relatively normal proportions of the characters make them feel fairly realistic... The voice actors are clearly doing anime voices, yet they perform them with more subtlety than they typically would, and the sound design skews so sparse and foley-focused that the events feel like they're being recorded right there in the world, rather than dramatized for television.”6

Everything is otherworldly while remaining inviting and grounded; it's intentionally contradictory. We're not in Kansas anymore, but we're not in anime-land, either. But if this isn't our Kansas, it must be somewhere close enough.

The Characters

The premise, pacing, and plot are solid. The audiovisuals are masterful. But Steins;Gate's characters are still the best part of this show.

I've already gushed about two of the main characters in my Top 10 Anime Guys and Girls posts, so pardon me if I start to repeat myself. I just can't get enough of this cast!

Every character in Steins;Gate (with the exception of one single bit part) feels like a full person, not a stereotype. Each character is incredibly likable, because despite their realistic flaws (Okabe is pretentious and socially inept, Kurisu is proud, Mayuri is naive, Daru is a shut-in who lives off his libido), they still care about each other and bounce off each other well. They're a fantastic portrayal of real friend-group dynamics: one minute they're playing a board game, the next they're harassing each other, and the next they're all laughing about it.

The show never resorts to drab exposition to tell us about these characters; Okabe doesn't preach about his tragic backstory. The characters show off different sides of themselves in realistic and organic moments of vulnerability, such as in one of my favorite scenes in which Okabe and Kurisu open up to one another. As they gaze up at the moon, Okabe tells Kurisu about a painful memory that spurred him to take on his mad scientist persona. In exchange, Kurisu tells him how difficult it was growing up trying to please her brilliant father.

There are so many layers to each of the characters, especially Okabe. He's more than this crazy goofball we were introduced to in the beginning. When Mayuri stares longingly at a quarter-operated machine, pining for the small toys inside, Okabe smiles and, despite his lecture that “Life is cruel and we don't always get what we want,” he gives her a coin. You can tell her delight makes it all worthwhile for him.

Steins;Gate, 2011 White Fox

And when he stumbles across a terrible crime against a girl he only recently met, his horror is palpable. He doesn't have it all together, and he's heartbroken that this girl he just spoke to a few hours ago—argued with a few minutes ago—is the victim of something horrible.

Steins;Gate, 2011 White Fox
What I love most about the cast, however, is how each character brings out different aspects of Okabe's personality. Mayuri, the innocent, childish one, brings out his protective side. Suzuha and Ruka bring out Okabe's compassion. Faris is one of the few who actually plays with him as he rants and raves about being a mad scientist. Moeka brings out his ferocious masculinity and his raw determination to save as many people as he can. Daru both encourages and makes fun of Okabe's drive for science and knowledge. And Kurisu makes him a better, more introspective person, challenging him in every way.

Steins;Gate, 2011 White Fox

The Conclusion

So if you're looking for a show that's smart, funny, witty, clever, and deep, check out Steins;Gate. If you like shows with striking visuals, amazing voice acting, and shocking twists, you won't be disappointed.

Curious future Lab Members can find this show on Funimation's Youtube channel, which offers the series dubbed in English or subtitled. Best of all, once you've finished binging, you can head over to Crunchyroll to watch the sequel series, Steins;Gate 0, for free!

So what are you waiting for? The will of Steins;gate is waiting.

El. Psy. Congroo.

Steins;Gate, 2011 White Fox
---
Notes and References:
  1. Okabe Rintaro, Steins;Gate, “Achievement Point,” Episode 24, Directed by Hiroshi Hamasaki and Takuya Satō, Written by Jukki Hanada, September 14, 2011, Funimation.
  2. Otaku Gonzo Journalism, “How to Recognize a Great Anime (in just one episode) [sic] [Part 1],” YouTube video, 24:19, June 22, 2016.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US "Fair Use" laws. Unless otherwise specified, all are from Funimation's official YouTube channel.

Steins;Gate and all related names and terms are the property of Funimation.

Review format adapted from Curtis Bell's Iridium Eye. If you're bored of the usual flicks on Redbox or Netflix, check out Iridium Eye for a medley of movies and shows I can guarantee you've never heard of.

From Him, To Him

Friday, May 11, 2018

Brotherhood: The Mountain Ascent, Part 2 of 2 (TVB Universe)

Here's the conclusion of Brotherhood: The Mountain Ascent, a story set in The Victor's Blade universe! If you missed part 1, click here.

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[Frum Wimbleton and Pepin are on a dangerous trek through the mountains to reach the lands beyond. The boys may be traveling companions, but they have very little in common: Frum is a boisterous, talkative elf while Pepin is a silent Snow Faer. Frum is small and light on his feet, while Pepin is tall and limber. Still, it will take both of them to reach the other side of the mountains... before the approaching storm comes.]

“Hoi, Pep, d’ya think it’s getting hard to breathe?” Frum anxiously pawed at the fabric of his coat collar.

They were getting high on the mountain now, and both boys were panting. At a nod from Pepin, both boys stepped back and simultaneously plopped down atop a snowdrift to catch their breath.

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Each lad glanced about the cold mountain while they sat, their breath puffing like smoke from a dragon’s nostril.

Frum shivered and patted his arms, shaking his head. As his teeth clattered noisily, he glanced at Pepin with a rueful smirk. “Boy, Pep, you don’t need nothing, do ya?”

Pepin raised his brow curiously. Then he glanced around at the snow and shrugged.

“Nah, I don't just mean about the cold. Just look at ya! Sittin’ there like a stone, as if this whole mountain could come down on ya an' ya wouldn't blink!” Frum waved his hand at Pepin, gesturing ridiculously.

The stoic Snow Faer cracked a grin. He held out an open palm... and then smacked his hands together.

“Yes, I know we'd both be smushed if the mountain came down. But I'm bein' serious now.” Frum's characteristic smile had faded completely. “Ain't there anythin' that scares you?”

There was a moment of consideration. Pepin tapped his chin before shrugging.

Frum rested his chin in his hands. “Nothin' at all? But weren't you all by yourself back home? No one to look out for ya?”

Pepin held up his fingers in an “O” shape. Zero. No one.

“No family, no girl to keep ya company?”

With a sad little sigh, Pepin frowned and shook his head.

“No best pal?”

Pepin was silent, and he looked puzzled as he contemplated the question. Finally he shook his head and shrugged.

“Oh, Pep! Ya gotta have a pal! Everybody needs one!” Frum cried, jumping from his seat in the snowdrift. “You can’t go it alone,” Frum added quietly, glancing back down the mountain the way they'd come. He looked a bit... sad suddenly. “No one can.”

Frum motioned to the surrounding mountain. “Life’s just like this mountain, see? It’s full of dangers and twists n’ sharp turns. Y’can’t travel up it alone. A climber needs a pal beside him who can pat him on the back and tell him he’s doing a good job when he climbs a real rough crag. Or tell him not to give up when he’s just about had enough and wants to go home. Or give him a good cuff once in a while, just to keep him on his toes.

“That’s what a friend’s for, pal.”

For a long time, Pepin did not respond. He sat on the mountain snowdrift, brow knitted in thought.

But his thoughts were interrupted by Frum clapping his hands on his knees. “Welp, I've got my breath back. Let's keep movin'!” With a fresh spring in his step, he skipped away, merry as ever, as if nothing were bothering him.

Pepin shook his head and shouldered his pack as the two continued their ascent.

#

The drifts swelled from the freshly fallen snow, and it was not long before Frum and Pepin were wading through snow waist-deep. Frum was light enough to continue walking on the surface of the snow, but Pepin was far heavier, and he struggled to cut a path through. The boys had wandered far from the shelter of rock and crag, and the wind snapped at them from all directions.

As snow flew in their faces and stung their eyes, the boys pushed forward, side by side. Their progress was painful and slow, Pepin shoving inch by inch through the thick and heavy snow. The scenery around them was monotone: blinding white and shadowy gray with the thickening clouds overhead. Every sound from their labored breaths to the crunch of flakes beneath their boots was muffled by the snowfall.

So the terrifying crack that rent the air sounded even louder.

Frum spun this way and that, his blue eyes wide with fear. “W-what's—?”

But Pepin knew what. His face was nearly white as his hair. He lunged toward Frum, his mouth wide in a soundless shout.

Two more cracks and a long, whining creak, and suddenly the heavy snow on the slope just ahead shifted in one giant slab. In the next moment, it was all rushing like a waterfall, barreling straight for them.

There was no time to react. Frum and Pepin went under the powder of snow immediately, sucked below by the powerful current. The avalanche crashed down the mountainside, and the boys tumbled down with it: rumbling, crashing, falling…

And then, silence and darkness. The avalanche settled as soon as it had started. For a long time, the new field of pure white snow sat, silent.

And then—“Pep!” Frum's hoarse voice carried eerily over the death-silence of the mountainside. “Peeeeeep!” Frum, powdered white with snow, staggered across the new snowy slope. He whirled about, knees knocking together, eyes roving wildly, completely at a loss. “Pep, where are you?!”

Frum dropped to his knees, digging furiously, flinging snow everywhere. But there was nothing there. He staggered down the slope a few more yards and dropped to his knees a second time. Again, he dug. Again, there was nothing.

“Pep!” Frum’s eyes flooded with tears. “Oh, Pep, I’ve dragged you from your home to your grave! Confound it, Pep, you can't die here! Where are you?!”

Frum wavered down the slope, digging in two more places. “Confounded adventure! Confounded wander-lust! Confound me, Pep! Why'd I have to drag you into this just 'cause I couldn’t go it alone?”

But there was nothing. No sign, no sight, no sound of his friend.

“Pep!” Frum's voice caught in his throat. He staggered a few more paces before staggering face-first into the snow. He sat up, hot tears coursing down his face. “Oh, Pep, pal... I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. This is... it's all my fault!” He buried his face in his hands. “Please, Pep... don't leave me all alone...”

Only the bitter wind was there to howl at him for his foolishness.

And then a hand burst through the snow three yards away, waving frantically.

“Pep!” Frum shrieked in wonder and relief, all tears forgotten. He clambered on hands and knees over to Pepin's scrabbling hand. “Don't worry, pal, Frum's here to help!” Immediately Frum set to work, clawing at the snow around Pepin's arm to dig his friend free.

As soon as his head cleared, Pepin gasped for air. He floundered in the compact snow, trapped by its weight.

“Pep! Pep, you're all right!” Frum cheered as he dashed away tears and started digging even faster. As soon as Frum had freed Pepin's arm, the Snow Faer helped dig too. Soon Frum was dragging Pepin out of the pit of snow.

“You scoundrel, you’re alive!” Frum choked as he threw his arms about the Faer. Pepin gasped for air, but offered Frum a weary grin. He patted Frum's back gently. They sat for a while, hugging each other there on the silent snowy mountainside.

#

Pepin stared up at the snow-white ceiling of the new snow shelter. Frum had tossed and turned, shuddering and muttering for hours. At last, however, he'd finally fallen asleep.

Pepin glanced over at Frum. Even in sleep the elf was neither silent nor still, shivering and grumbling in his sleep.

Pepin shook his head with a smile and gently patted his friend's head. Rising on quiet feet, Pepin clambered out of their snow hut and peeped out at the midnight sky.

Stars dotted the clear sky, crisp and clear like diamonds glittering in a black velvet gown.

Pepin stood gazing at them for a moment, watching his breath smoke and rise into the night sky. Then he turned and stared at the snowy slope he’d been buried beneath only a few hours before. Another turn and he was gazing back the way they'd come: down that winding, terrible path that led back to his village. Pepin stared at that one for quite some time, thoughtful. Contemplative.

But then he turned once more, this time to face the slope they'd cross tomorrow: the path they'd been traveling all this time.

Pepin tugged on his hood once before ducking back into the snow fortress.

Frum still slept, mumbling incoherently and shivering with cold.

Pepin shrugged off his beautiful fur-lined coat and set it on Frum’s shivering shoulders. Frum's shivering slowed... and then stopped altogether. The elf stopped mumbling, and a smile spread across his face.

The smile had spread to Pepin's face as he settled back in to sleep.

#

“Wow… what a view…” Frum whispered.

Pepin gazed down the slope of the mountaintop, past the gentle snowdrifts and the coursing paths, past the misty clouds below them, to the greenery below. Trees—first pine and then others, oak and maple—stretched into a forest that passed away into green hills and yellow valleys crossed with sapphire-blue rivers and streams. Smoke rose in lazy tendrils from cheery chimneys of cottages sitting upon the knees of the mountain.

The boys had reached the other side of the mountains.

Frum's face was bursting with a grin that threatened to melt the snow around them for miles. “I think,” Frum announced, his arms akimbo, “that will be an excellent start for my adventure!” He pointed down the mountain slope to the land far beyond.

Rolling his eyes, Pepin shook his head and tapped Frum's shoulder.

Frum spun to him, and his grin grew even brighter. “Right. Our adventure.”

A grin to match Frum's spread across Pepin's face.

“Let's go, pal!”

And together, side by side, the two began the long descent into the lands beyond.

From Him, To Him

Friday, May 4, 2018

Brotherhood: The Mountain Ascent, Part 1 of 2 (TVB Universe)

I originally wrote this two-part short story for my college Creative Writing class taught by author Janet Riehecky, chronicling one of the many misadventures of Frum Wimbleton, Cartographer of Amboron. This is a slightly tweaked version, edited for clarity.

Like The Exodus, this is another tale in the TVB Universe, though many years before Jaranin's adventures.

Enjoy!

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“I’m certain you’ve got a great view up here… Pity we can’t see any of it!”

Frum Wimbleton, a scrawny five-foot elf, dangled from a pickaxe dug deep into the mountainside. With his hand clapped to his brow, he sheltered his eyes from the glare of the sun and the whiteness of the undisturbed snow. He may have been shivering like an autumn leaf, but his blue eyes glittered with marvel and mischief.

Three clefts below, Frum's companion Pepin paused his ascent long enough to offer Frum an exasperated sigh.

Pepin looked like your average Faer boy: lithe and beautiful and two heads taller than Frum. The wind buffeted Pepin's long white hair and both the boys' ears, carrying with it a sheet of delicate frosty snowflakes. Despite the cold, however, Pepin's ruddy complexion was only due to the exertion of the climb, not the wintry chill. His lovely fur-lined coat was only for fashion, not function.

Grinning brighter than the snowy scene, Frum whistled through his teeth. “Boy, you Snow Faer sure are a spoiled lot.” He swept his free arm around, gesturing to the snow-covered rocks and the area far below, where they knew Pepin's little village lay tucked between the boulders. If it wasn't for the wind kicking up all the snow, they'd be seeing smoke rising from tiny chimneys down there.

Scuffling boots and a crunching pickaxe, however, quickly dragged his attention away from the village and back to Frum. He was scooting up the rocky cliff face, more at ease than a squirrel in a tree. Frum chortled. “You get to enjoy that view every day!”

After one last longing glance below, Pepin mournfully followed.

Photo by samsommer on Unsplash

“Y’know,” Frum called between chips of his pickaxe, “when that old guide told us a storm was comin' and I'd realized we'd have to climb our way to the top, I thought it was 'cause you'd be too feeble to fly us up!”

Pepin wrinkled his nose and gave Frum a sour look.

“—Oh, sorry, Pep. Didn't mean it like that. I just meant you're probably too weak-kneed! Scared-like. On account of you've never been on an adventure before.”

Judging from the unamused expression on Pepin's face, it didn't seem the clarification was any better.

“But it'd probably be real dangerous to fly during a snowstorm, right? And I didn't want to endanger my new pal! So I figured I’d best not press my luck.” Frum dipped his head back, inhaling a deep breath of fresh air. “So climbing it was!”

Pepin sullenly kept climbing. Frum didn't give him a passing glance.

“But I'm real appreciative you came!” Frum grinned. “I needed a climbing partner. Never climbed a whit, not my whole life.”

Pepin rolled his eyes. It seemed the information didn't come as much of a surprise.

For another hour, the mountain was silent but for the crunch of boots, the swing of pickaxes, and the sighs of two tired young climbers.

“We’d best find a place to stop,” Frum finally said, breaking the silence as he looked around at the gathering snow and ice. “It’s getting late.”

They swung themselves up to the lip of a ledge, rolling into a snowdrift up to their knees. They dug in the snow furiously, shifting it around and packing it in until they'd formed themselves a little house of snow. As the sun dipped low on the horizon, the two exhausted boys crawled inside for the day.

But just as Pepin set his head down with a contented sigh, his companion's voice broke the silence. “Pretty incredible how the cold doesn’t affect ya.”

Frum was bundled under four layers of knitted blankets. All Pepin could see were Frum's blue eyes, peeping jealously from beneath his blanket hood. Despite his cozy fortress, the elf was shivering uncontrollably.

Pepin shrugged, then rolled over to stare at the white domed ceiling of their temporary home. He looked quite comfortable, lying directly on the snowy floor.

Frum wriggled like a caterpillar inside his cocoon, struggling to move under his confining prison of blankets. After several minutes with little success, he finally flopped down and lay still. He joined Pepin in staring at the ceiling. “Funny how you can be warmer inside a house made of snow, huh?”

With a weary sigh, Pepin rubbed his sleepy eyes.

Frum chuckled. “Ah. But you've known all about that, huh? Must seem normal since you've lived here all your life.”

Pepin nodded slowly, his eyelids beginning to droop.

“Never been outside the village before, though; not a whit, right?”

Another sleepy nod.

“Hum.”

And for the next few moments, Frum was silent. Pepin released another deep sigh, this one of relaxation that only comes after a hard day of exertion. He dropped his head back down on his arm. His whole body relaxed. As he closed his eyes, the briefest smile crept across his face—

“Huh. This trip must be strange for ya.”

Pepin’s bloodshot eyes roved back to Frum, ready to kill him with the glance.

The elf wasn’t looking at Pepin, however, and Frum continued chatting while staring up at the ceiling, as if holding a conversation with it and not his Faer companion. “Never left home, never had a friend, never so much as spoke, just keepin’ to yerself for years and years…” Frum threw his head back and guffawed. “Boy, what a life!”

Rolling his eyes, Pepin shifted to turn his back to the elf.

“Aw, I wasn’t mocking you, honest.” Frum shook his head violently. “It’s just…” Frum paused, as if at a loss for words.

Pepin glanced over his shoulder, one eyebrow raised.

“Well, I would have left years ago had I been you.” Frum shrugged. “That kind of life just doesn’t seem like living to me.”

Suddenly Frum ejected himself from his blanket cocoon, hurling his arm around Pepin’s shoulders chummily. “Not like out here! Where us two men spit in the eyes of odds and scorn Lady Fortune's will, makin' shelters with our bare hands and building fires and scalin' mountain clefts! Now that’s living!”

Pepin cast him an uncertain grimace, but Frum didn't seem to notice. He patted Pepin’s back. “And I couldn’t be doin’ it without you, pal.”

Pepin knitted his brow but made no further reply.

The time passed slowly in their little makeshift shelter. Frum tossed and turned in his sleep. Pepin dozed off hour by hour, each time waking with a start. There was an itching sort of feeling in the air, and both boys seemed to sense it.

At last, the sun rose and so did the lads. They packed up their things and surged into the cold mountain air once more.

Pepin trudged through several feet of snow slowly, wearily, as Frum whistled and skipped by. The elf nearly floated atop the deep snowfall, and he was apparently oblivious to the mountain and its silent loneliness. The day was cold, and the bitter chill must have nipped at Frum’s red nose, but the elf hardly seemed to care. “Boy, ain't this the life? Lost in the bliss of adventure, the wild calls of travel? We're facin' the great challenge, Pep—overcomin' the mountain and becomin' a man!”

Pepin tilted his head to one side, as if contemplating this ridiculous assessment of their predicament while Frum tramped on like a toddler.

Suddenly, the elf froze, hand cupped to his ear. “’Hoy, hear that?”

Pepin stopped, one foot still hanging in the air, mid-step. He caught a breath and held it.

The whispering wind that had echoed outside their snow fortress had picked up since they’d left the igloo. Now the gale tore around crags and clawed at the crevices of the mighty mountain, howling and snapping.

Frum cast a nervous grin back to Pepin and tapped his nose. “Storm’s picking up.”

Pepin nodded. The two boys climbed on.

#

A few hours had gone by. The sky above them, now smothered in gray clouds, stood in stark contrast to the white snow at their feet. Pepin tilted his head backward, glancing up at the dark sky.

One by one, white flakes of snow drifted sleepily from the gray sky, cloudy stars that fell to the mountainside.

Frum had finally noticed and had also tilted his head to the sky. “Oooh...”

Pepin closed his eyes and let the snowflakes land lightly on his eyelashes and in his hair. Frum tried, unsuccessfully, to catch a few on his tongue. He giggled; Pepin smiled.

The two boys continued their climb. It was a beautiful night.

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Next Excerpt (Part 2 of 2)


From Him, To Him