Friday, June 29, 2018

Cut Scene - TVB: "Beaten Jaranin Goes Home"


To help me gear up for Realm Makers Writers' Conference in July, I'm bringing you a series of scenes cut from The Victor's Blade. Be sure to check below for any other cut scenes you may have missed so far!

This one is a much more intense post, so readers who are sensitive to violence be advised.

This was from a version where Isalaina was part Forest fairy and had a healing ability.

---
[Jaranin and Kerlonkus clash constantly at the stables run by Kerlonkus's father Naman. Father and son both make the job a nightmare for Jaranin. But the bullying comes to a head one night as Jaranin walks home...]

He glanced down and felt his ribs, the ones Isalaina had healed just the night before. He could almost feel Kerlonkus’s knuckles crashing into his side again. The sensation was getting more common every year.

Jaranin’s eyes fell to the ground. Naomi, sweet Naomi, the only mother he’d ever known. She would never let him work at the stables if she had any idea what went on there. If she ever found out how Kerlonkus would taunt him, beat him, mock him. And as for Naman… It was difficult to say who was worse, the father or the son.

But Naomi could never know. Jaranin was too old to begin a new apprenticeship, and he had no father to glean skills from. His only option was to remain with Naman; working with the unicorns was the only skill he had, and Naman’s was the only stable close enough.

Jaranin shifted his gaze, and his thoughts soon followed. It would never do to dwell on things he could not change. Quickening his pace and forcing a smile, Jaranin continued loping down hill after hill, drawing slowly nearer to his and Naomi’s handsome little house. He didn’t enjoy the prospect of work tomorrow, but he less enjoyed the visions that plagued his dreams of Naomi wasting away to skin and bones from lack of nourishment.

Jaranin frowned and geared up his belt, looking tough and determined. He’d make it. He was sure he would. He’d do it for Naomi’s sake.

As Jaranin trudged on, he chanced a glance up at the sky. His good cheer darkened a shade as he ran his eyes along the golden-colored hues of the evening sky. Later than I thought, the lad mused. The sun was low on the horizon, dipping down to touch the distant treetops in the west.


Jaranin grunted as a heavy, blunt object struck him on the shoulder, shoving him sideways into a tree beside the path. His flank hit the trunk, followed closely by his head.

As the world spun and bright colors danced before his eyes, Jaranin felt something tough but fleshy slip from his shoulder to his neck, squeezing his windpipe and pinning him to the tree. It took him a few moments to recover from the blow and realize it was a tightly-muscled arm covered in long, wiry black hairs that was now squeezing the breath from his throat.

Kerlonkus’s face loomed into view, and Jaranin gagged more from the stench of his musty breath than the bully’s arm on his throat.

“Well, well. Looks like I’ve caught myself a little piggy in the forest.” Kerlonkus’s sneer was lit by his greedy, eagerly-glittering eyes. Kerlonkus quivered with energy and delight. He was feeding off Jaranin’s terror. The more Jaranin stared, horrified, into Kerlonkus’s eyes, the harder Kerlonkus seemed to press his arm into Jaranin’s neck.

Kerlonkus’s breath came quicker, and his eyes glowed with an even brighter delight. Only one thought could circle in Jaranin’s mind: He’s going to kill me!

It was growing hard to breathe. Jaranin gaped and began to squirm, instinctively clutching at Kerlonkus’s arm with his hands. He hopelessly tried prying the lad’s arm off, but Kerlonkus was far too strong to be trifled with.

And yet, as if suddenly sensitive to Jaranin’s wordless plea, Kerlonkus removed his arm. Jaranin gulped in a deep breath before he felt a blunt object crash into his chin. Jaranin’s world flashed black and red before he fell hard to the earth. His jaw felt as if it were broken. Even as he rose to his knees, his hand flew to his mouth and came away dipped red with blood.

With a satisfied smirk, Kerlonkus lumbered over to Jaranin, kicking him with full force in the ribs before the younger lad could scramble away. Jaranin howled and crumpled on the grass, coiling into a tight ball. He clutched his side and clenched his eyes and teeth as tight as he could. Jaranin struggled to maintain a grip on his tilting, spinning world of consciousness.

“Listen, sty-breath,” Kerlonkus’s tenor voice had sunk to a deep and ominous growl. “You’d better thank that old hag of yours. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have to be so careful where I hit, and I could beat that pig-face of yours in.”

Even from the ground, Jaranin glared and growled through his teeth. “Don’t you dare call Naomi a hag!”

“But we can’t have anyone finding out about our daily fun, can we?” Kerlonkus kicked him again, and Jaranin shouted at the pain. “Shut your mouth. It’s not her I came to talk to you about.”

Jaranin stared up into Kerlonkus’s face and nearly vomited at the look of sickening greed that spread across his features as Kerlonkus said, “It’s about that girl…”

Despite the screaming, searing pain in his sides, Jaranin struggled to rise. “You keep your dirty paws off her.” The growl in his voice surprised even him.

“Ha! And what are you gonna do if I don’t, eh?” Kerlonkus snarled and spat a gob of thick spittle at Jaranin.

The spit hit Jaranin on the cheek. He gagged and wiped it off with his sleeve. “I’m warning you, Kerlonkus… You stay away from her…”

“What’s her name, anyhow? She’s pretty,” he observed absently. And then, a flash, a glint in his eye. “Isalainaaaa...” A hungry tone tinged his voice. “That's the kind of girl I’d like to enjoy…”

Every drop of blood boiled over in Jaranin’s veins.

Jaranin exploded, hurling every ounce of his strength against Kerlonkus. Both boys went tumbling, Kerlonkus with a cry of surprise and Jaranin with a roar erupting from his own throat.

Jaranin landed four hard punches to Kerlonkus’s face before Kerlonkus shoved him off and pounced. For all his girth, Kerlonkus was alarmingly nimble. He was at Jaranin’s throat in an instant, twice as powerful and thrice as frightening as before.

Kerlonkus roared, charging Jaranin like a wild boar and pinning the smaller boy against another tree. Kerlonkus pressed his face up to Jaranin’s, nose to nose, his ragged breaths puffing hot and heavy against Jaranin’s cheek. But after a moment, Jaranin noticed that Kerlonkus was no longer fuming, and his face was no longer beet red. He was even leaning slightly away from Jaranin, though his fist was still full of Jaranin’s shirt collar and his forearm still pinned Jaranin’s torso to the tree. Then Kerlonkus’s twisted smile began to reform, and he even uttered a mirthless laugh. “Is that it?”

Kerlonkus lowered Jaranin from the tree and tossed him to the ground. Jaranin grunted as he landed painfully on his cracked rib.

“And you’re attempting to defend your lady-love?” Kerlonkus cackled. “You don’t even have the strength to protect yourself. You’re nothing but a weak little squealer.”

Gritting his teeth, Jaranin ignored the pain in his rib and swung his leg wide, kicking hard at the back of Kerlonkus’s knee. The taller lad went tumbling, and Jaranin leapt at his opponent with a newfound rage.

Jaranin dove deep into his roiling fury. He wanted to throttle Kerlonkus. Or better yet, punch that pink face in. He wanted to beat Kerlonkus bloody. He felt enraged, unbridled, untamed at the thought of Kerlonkus slobbering over Isalaina.

Jaranin landed three hard punches before Kerlonkus shoved him off and pounced. For all his girth, Kerlonkus was alarmingly nimble. He was at Jaranin’s throat like a wildcat in an instant, twice as powerful and thrice as frightening as before.

The two boys wrestled and swung until one fell, unconscious, and the other fled back into the forest whence he came.

It wasn’t until an hour later, long after darkness shrouded the battlefield, that Jaranin finally dragged himself to his feet and hobbled back home.

---
[Cut content from The Victor's Blade; all content subject to change.]

Check out more cut scenes here!

From Him, To Him

Friday, June 22, 2018

Cut Scene - TVB: "Kerlonkus Hits on Isalaina"


To help me gear up for Realm Makers Writers' Conference in July, I'm bringing you a series of scenes cut from The Victor's Blade. Be sure to check below for any other cut scenes you may have missed so far!

Isalaina's at work this week! But this time, she receives an unexpected visitor...

---
Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash
Isalaina trailed the shuttle back and forth, watching without seeing as the threads of various colors intertwined. Periodically, she’d glance to her side, where a stick with various colored threads told her the pattern of the fabric she was weaving. It was a simple design; she should be finished by tomorrow.

She sighed as she paused a moment to glance out the window. It had been a beautiful day, with the birds twittering and the breeze wafting through the open windows to greet the weavers. She offered her loom a rueful frown and continued with her work.

By now the sun was setting, the sky just beginning to tinge a golden orange. It would soon be time for her to head home. I hope Stablemaster Naman isn’t keeping Jaranin later again tonight…

She blushed as she began to imagine tall, strong Jaranin being her guide on the way home to Sinoa.

But then she jumped when a male figure crossed between her and her loom, as if stepping straight out of her daydream. He swept the shuttle out of her hand.

“Jaranin?” But the smile fell from her face as soon as she saw who it was.

Kerlonkus’s sneering smile loomed in her view. “Hoi, Isalaina.”

Isalaina shot a glance around the room, but all the other weavers were preoccupied with their own looms. Typically the men and women would all be chatting merrily at this time of night, with the shift nearly done. Of course they chose this moment to be industrious.

Isalaina didn’t bother to plaster on a smile. “Doesn’t your father need you back at the stables?”

“Oh, don’t be so cold, Snow fairy.” Kerlonkus chuckled as he bent down to face her at eye-level. “I know you’re actually happy to see me.”

Isalaina crossed her arms. “Feel free to entertain the fantasy.” She grabbed for her shuttle, still in Kerlonkus’s hand. “Now if you’ll excuse me, you’re in the way—”

Kerlonkus flicked the shuttle higher, just out of her reach. “Nonsense. The mistress weaver won’t mind if you pack up a little early. I’m sure of it. Talked to her myself.” He grinned wickedly.

Isalaina flushed. “If you dared lay a hand on my master…!”

“Ah, I was only teasing.” But the villain laughed as he cupped her face in his hand. His palm swallowed her chin. “My, my, but you are pretty when you get feisty…”

Isalaina cuffed his hand away and rose. “I’m going to go speak to my mistress and go home. Good night, Kerlonkus.”

He snatched her hand as she was walking away and kissed one of her fingers. “Won’t you need an escort home, pretty thing? It’d be awful if something were to happen to you in the danger of twilight…”

She yanked her hand away with a grunt. “I’ll be fine. Jaranin will be with me.”

“Jaranin…” Kerlonkus spat the name and glowered. “Aye, that string-bean’ll keep you safe for all of two moments. As soon as a real threat comes along, he’ll sit in a hole and cower—”

That was enough for her. Isalaina barked, “If you think Jaranin is a coward, you don’t know the first thing about him.”

Kerlonkus sneered and simply continued, “…Or worse, throw his neck on the line and get himself killed while the villains sweep you away in the night…”

For a moment, Isalaina was shocked speechless. She again glanced around the room, but all the other weavers, though working slowly, progressed with their looms, not daring to raise their heads.

Isalaina blushed red and shouted, “Mistress Alana, I’m packing up early for the evening. I will be here tomorrow early to make it up.”

Kerlonkus hounded her to the door. “Leaving so soon, pretty thing?”

She bristled and slammed the door in his face on her way out.

---
[Cut content from The Victor's Blade; all content subject to change.]

Check out more cut scenes here!

From Him, To Him

Friday, June 15, 2018

Cut Scenes - TVB: "A Birthday Gift for Jaranin" and Kerlonkus Intro


To help me gear up for Realm Makers Writers' Conference in July, I'm bringing you a series of scenes cut from The Victor's Blade.

This particular excerpt is from a very early iteration when I was first exploring the idea of Isalaina being a weaver. This scene was going to be the first look into her occupation and serve as some admittedly and embarrassingly heavy-handed foreshadowing. Glad I've learned a bit since then!

This scene also introduces a character I cut from the story entirely: Kerlonkus. You'll be seeing a lot of him over the next few weeks. Let me know if you think it was a good idea to cut him from the story or if you'd like to see him in the final version!

---
[After a successful storytelling at the New Year's Festival, Jaranin spends some quality time with his long-time friend, Isalaina.]

“So, I take it you enjoyed the festival?” Jaranin asked.

Isalaina simply giggled. “Of course I did.” A wry grin crossed her lips. “No one can attend a Sinoan festival and not enjoy themselves. It’s a preposterous thought.”

“Preposterous.” He just kept watching her, his mind refusing to work. She grinned and lowered her head. Was she beginning to blush?

Nah. Probably just a trick of the firelight.

“I, ah, made something for you, at the weaver’s. I thought this would be a good time to give it to you, what with you staying so late at the stables recently.”

“You made something for me?”

Isalaina laughed as she pulled a sack out from beneath her seat. “Don’t sound so surprised! I do have some skill with a loom.”

“Oh, no!” Jaranin shook his head. “No, I didn’t mean to—”

From the sack, Isalaina produced a small pouch of fabric tied in a ribbon, which she set in his lap. What could she possibly have made for him?

Carefully, Jaranin unwrapped the precious package. It was a neatly-folded, tightly-woven cloth. “You made this?” Jaranin inquired as he unwound the cloth. His inquiry turned to wonder as the cloth unfolded to reveal a red shawl with an elaborate border of yellow thread. Gracing the center of the shawl was the image of a silver blade.

“My master gave me a little help designing the pattern,” she nodded. “I meant to give it to you for your birthday, but the pattern was a little trickier than I expected.” Isalaina blushed lightly. “Sorry it’s late.”

He turned the fabric over in his hands, running his fingers over the blade. She’d used different shades of gray thread, so the blade seemed to gleam. “This is incredible, Isalaina.”

“Really?” Her eyes shone as she watched him examine her gift. Had she really thought otherwise?

“Of course. The detail is… incredible.” The blade’s hilt was decorated with a few tiny rubies. Even the border was decorated with a complicated interlocking weave. How anyone could work something like this on a loom was a mystery to him.

“Oh, I’m so glad,” Isalaina sighed with relief. “I thought of the pattern myself. I just thought… it seemed to suit you. And I wove the cloth tight, so it’ll keep water out. It may not be a cloak, but it’ll keep you warm during the trek home at night… Oh, Jaranin, you really like it?”

Jaranin couldn’t help but laugh. “What, you don’t believe me? Have you even seen it?” He held the cloth up. He could swear the yellow thread of the border reflected the light of the bonfire. “I’ll warn you, though. It’s going to get shabby, because I’ll wear it every night. Thank you. It’s a wonderful gift.” On a whim, he added with a teasing grin, “Even if it is two months late.”

Isalaina swatted at him playfully.


#

While they talked, one of the young men sitting at the feast tables stared at them intently. His oily black hair gleamed in the firelight, and his poison-green eyes glowered as the lovebirds laughed. He twirled a knife in his hand and periodically jabbed it into the hard wood.

“’Oy, what’s the matter, Kerlonkus?” chortled Elun, that impertinent elf. “Not a little jealous, are we?” The elf smirked as he nodded toward Jaranin and Isalaina.

As if in response, their giggles rose to a pitch.

Kerlonkus clenched his fingers around the hilt of his knife. This time the blade sunk two inches deep into the table. He flicked it out with ease and tossed it into his pocket as he rose and stalked away, leaving his plate of food untouched.

---
[Cut content from The Victor's Blade; all content subject to change.]

Check out more cut scenes here!

From Him, To Him

Monday, June 11, 2018

Update: Realm Makers and Content for Upcoming Weeks (Anime Fans, You'll Want to Read This)

Hey all! So I have a twofold update today.

First off, good news: I'm going to be going to the Realm Makers writers' conference this year to have the chance to pitch my book to two literary agents. It's a huge step toward making my dream of publishing The Victor's Blade a reality!

Buuuut second off, bad news: Because I need to focus my time on tweaking TVB to make it the best it can be, you're going to see a slight shift in the type of content you'll see here, so anime fans, listen up.

Though I prefer to do an anime-related post every third week, I unfortunately won't have the time to write my usual anime-oriented posts over the next two months. Instead, you'll be seeing a series of TVB excerpts that were cut from the book.

I apologize in advance for those of you who are disappointed at this news. If my fiction isn't really your thing, you can feel free to catch up on any anime-related content you might have missed by clicking right here.

And please don't worry! This is only a temporary thing. My regular schedule of posting anime-related content every third week will start right back up the first Friday in August!

Thanks again for all your support. It's you, my wonderful reader, who give me the drive to keep writing.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Why I Love Mob Psycho 100 – And You Might, Too


Mob Psycho 100, Bones 2016

"They came out at your request. These are my emotions."1

He has powers beyond his control, powers no one else can understand. He's one of the world's few espers, able to bend reality using his psychic abilities. But he doesn't care about that. All he wants is to earn the affections of his childhood crush... and try to keep his powers—and his emotions—under control.

Because when he doesn't, people get hurt.

Adapted from the manga by artist and writer ONE, Mob Pyscho 100 follows middle-schooler Shigeo Kageyama, AKA Mob. He's the world's least-assuming, least-ambitious kid. Mob doesn't care about grades. He's terrible at sports. He doesn't even care about the only thing that sets him apart: his incredibly powerful psychic abilities.

Mob Psycho 100, Bones 2016
They're really more of a burden than anything, after all. As Mob himself points out, psychic powers aren't like food and water; you don't need them to survive. They can't help you win love. They can't even help you with math homework.2

Ultimately, Mob sees his incredible abilities as something that separates him from everyone, especially the people he'd like to be closer to. No one in his family seems to understand his abilities. His childhood crush isn't impressed by floating objects.

The only useful thing he can do with his powers is help his employer, Reigen, an outrageous con-artist who survives off luck and relies on Mob's abilities to fuel his dream of running an exorcism business.

I love Mob Psycho 100. And if you like incredible powers, laugh-out-loud humor, and flashy fight scenes all used to tell a meaningful story, you might too.

Mob Psycho 100, Bones 2016

Genre: Shounen/Coming-of-Age, Paranormal, Action, Comedy
Year Released: 2016
Studio: Bones
Licensed By: Funimation
Director: Yuzuru Tachikawa
Episodes: 12 and 1 OVA

What You Might NOT Like About... the Visuals

Mob from Mob Psycho 100's first volume cover
published by 
Dark Horse Comics
Fair warning: Mob Psycho 100 is highly stylized to fit ONE's simplified artwork. Mob is defined by his blank-looking face. Mob's love interest, Tsubomi, has almost obnoxiously exaggerated features. And most other characters are downright hideous. In short, you're not gonna find any lookers here.

However, this is all intentional. Mob Psycho 100 is a bit of an anime parody, tweaking the nose of anime tropes. Unlike most anime that utilize highly attractive and idealized character designs, Mob Psycho's character portrayals are a bit more realistic—ironic for a show about psychic users pitting their skills against each other. Like an artist's brutally honest self-portrait, everyone is presented bluntly. This "warts and all" approach may turn some viewers off, however.

The simplistic art style does get more detailed and impressive during the hectic fight scenes. This is when the animation doesn't hold back, firing up the screen with crazy flashes of color and impactful animation that highlights the power of each hit. One thing's for sure: fights are never boring in Mob Psycho 100.

What You Might Like About... the Writing

You know what else never gets boring? The show's sense of humor. Irony abounds here, as many of the jokes play off Mob's general social cluelessness. This allows for some great situations of dramatic irony, such as every time Mob's con artist employer Reigen nearly gives away his lack of psychic powers.

Even better, the jokes never make fun of Mob. For a show this humorous, it takes its protagonist quite seriously. Characters who put Mob down are regularly shown to be in the wrong. Mob Psycho may not take itself too seriously, but it certainly doesn't do so at Mob's expense. This enables the viewer to not only feel for Mob but also to relate to him if they've ever struggled with bullying, not fitting in, or just generally not understanding others.

Because surprisingly, this show is not just for kicks and giggles. While humor permeates the show to the very last episode, Mob Psycho 100 also has its emotionally stirring arcs and some truly profound life lessons covering topics such as social anxiety, the highs (and lows) of having an innate talent, healthily dealing with emotions, and much more. And the show perfectly paces out this transition from a comedic slice-of-life to something particularly meaningful.

The Characters

This show succeeds both in its ridiculous humor and in its serious notes. And no two characters display this better than Reigen and Mob.

Reigen


Mob Psycho 100, Bones 2016

Reigen is this show's Captain Jack Sparrow. He's so hilariously over-the-top that you can't help but fall in love with him. He's got the charm of a devilish rogue while not always getting his way, and he can talk his way out of almost any crazy situation he gets himself into. He's a terrible person while actually being a pretty great guy. While his business couldn't function without Mob, it's also clear he cares about the kid, as he goes out of his way to protect Mob, even putting his life on the line to do so. He's a barrel of contradictions that somehow perfectly remains one cohesive character.

Mob


Mob Psycho 100, Bones 2016;
photo from Crunchyroll
Contrasting with Reigen's over-the-top nature, Mob is quite subdued. He seems like an unnaturally straight-faced and slightly socially awkward kid, but he has a vulnerability that makes him incredibly endearing.

For instance, one of Mob's defining characteristics is his frequent deadpan expression and his frequent lack of strong emotional responses. He'll get embarrassed or flustered, but he's usually neither extremely happy or sad or angry.

But this is purposeful: Mob is afraid of his emotions.

His psychic abilities are strong as it is, but they only reach full power when he's overcome with emotion. In this 100% state, Mob struggles to control himself, becoming almost monster-like with his unparalleled power. This means that any emotional outburst could be potentially devastating to everyone around him. Couple this with Mob's intense concern for others and his steel-hard morals (refusing to use his psychic abilities to hurt others), and it's easy to see how he began to bottle up his emotions. But Mob learns the hard way that this is not a healthy way for anyone to deal with their emotions, least of all him.

And that's just one of the many serious topics Mob deals with. Told you this show wasn't just for kicks and giggles.

The Conclusion

Mob Psycho 100 is a hilarious anime with a ton of heart. It perfectly balances humor with real life lessons and never mocks its characters or over-simplifies real-world problems. My only complaint was the hole in my heart this show left once I finished its 12 episodes.

So if you're on the hunt for shows about powerful espers, you can find the subtitled version of Mob Psycho at Crunchyroll. And if you decide you need more, good news! Season 2 is currently in production.3 There may not be a release date yet, but you can be sure this fan will keep you posted!

In the meantime, enjoy your romp in the wild world of Mob Psycho 100.

---
Notes and References:
  1. Shigeo "Mob" Kageyama, Mob Psycho 100, “An Invite to a Meeting ~Simply Put, I Just Want to Be Popular~,” Episode 3, Directed by Katsuya Shigehara, Written by Hiroshi Seko, July 26, 2016, Funimation.
  2. Mob, Mob Psycho 100, “Idiots Only Event ~Kin~,” Season 1, Episode 4, Directed by Tomoaki Ōta, Written by Hiroshi Seko, August 2, 2016, Funimation.
  3. Joseph Luster, “'Mob Psycho 100' Anime Lines Up Season 2 With Same Staff,” Crunchyroll (blog), March 18, 2018, accessed June 6, 2018.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US "Fair Use" laws. Unless otherwise specified, all are from VRV.

Mob Psycho 100 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, June 1, 2018

Cut Scene - TVB: "Elun Sleeps In"


This cut scene was from the first few chapters of a very old version of The Victor's Blade. In this version, the kids participated in a “unicorn hunt.” These hunts were not to kill these majestic creatures but to catch and tame them, as this was the best way to provide the people of Sinoa with beasts of burden. There are no horses in this universe!

This excerpt was the first thing I'd written showing Elun's family. I just loved the idea of Elun being so popular with a half-dozen younger siblings, and it serves as good contrast to Jaranin's small family unit.

Fun Facts:
  • Elves have changed substantially since this draft. Originally elves were going to be made up of two distinct species--High Elves and Lower Elves--to represent the differences between traditional high fantasy elves (tall, lithe, elegant, proud) and the kinds of elves you see in Christmas specials (short, jolly, round designs). In this version, Elun's father was going to be a High Elf, while his mother was a much shorter Lower Elf, which is why Elun's mother is so much shorter than Jaranin.
  • Elven dialects have also changed substantially. Though different groups of elves have differing accents, most of the elves you'll see in the current iteration have a more realistic Irish brogue rather than the generic fantasy dialect I used for them here.
---

“Bother that elf, sleeping an hour past schedule… We’ll be late to the hunt for sure!” Jaranin grumbled as he mounted three wooden steps and rapped his knuckles on a bright red door that smelled of cedar.

Photo by Mahir Uysal on Unsplash

He stood in the threshold of a quaint little cottage with cherry-paneled walls and the nicest little forest-green roof and red painted door this side of Wilyan. At his heels was a rock-and-pebble path that wound its way from the doorway up, up, up the valley floor, around two rows of widely-spaced elms, and up to the main road. If one listened carefully, one could hear the light trickle of water in the distance—a small stream that ran by the Elvinbard’s home.

Jaranin gazed at the red paneled door for a few more moments, his eyes roving over the strange elven carvings in the doorframe. His observations were interrupted by the door swinging open, revealing the deep, pitch-black interior of the house. A cheery little pale-skinned face with wide, pointed ears came shuffling out of the darkness.

“Hullo, Mrs. Elvinbard.” Jaranin greeted the little lady (who was hardly an inch taller than he). “I hope I didn’t wake the rest of your family…”

“No, no, not a’ t’all, Jaranin!” Mrs. Elvinbard crooned with the welcoming smile she always sported. “Ye’ve come for Elun, ‘aven’t you?” She wiped her thin little hands on a white apron nearly twice her size. A mop of auburn hair twirled into a bun rested atop her head.

“Yes, we were going to head to the hunt early this year with Isalaina,” Jaranin replied with another respectful bob of his head. “Has Elun risen yet?” He resisted the urge to peek inside the dim interior of the Elvinbard house.

“Oh, no, but ‘e should ‘ave well pas’ an hour ago.” Mrs. Elvinbard shook her head as she glanced over her shoulder. “Ah, pardon me, Jaranin-deary, you jus’ wait right ‘ere an’ I’ll fetch ‘im for you.”

As Elun's mother shuffled back into the house, Jaranin waited outside patiently, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. Jaranin could faintly hear a whispering voice, and then—

“Gerrof my scones, Gilbert!” bellowed a very irate Elun.

Jaranin winced. He knew what was coming next.

All chaos broke loose within the house. There were shrieks and bursts of laughter almost immediately. Suddenly, eight little voices were all clamoring for Elun to play with them. Jaranin could almost picture them, swarming about their eldest brother like wasps. The twins would be clinging to Elun’s legs; Jaranin could hear them crying for Elun to kiss their dollies. Little Allen would be tugging Elun’s arm unmercifully, asking him all sorts of strange questions. Jaranin could swear he heard the elf boy inquiring if his older brother could spell “hippopotamus.” Jaranin could hear periodic thumps; he presumed that was Chrissie jumping up and down—and there was her voice now, screaming a song she’d “composed herself” as loud as she could.

Elun crashed through the door with his brother Gilbert perched on his shoulders, yanking his hair and asking him if he’d ever seen a dragon before. The other siblings were soon to follow, swarming both Elun and Jaranin now, all shouting and crying and begging for the two older boys to play with them.

At last Mrs. Elvinbard managed to intercede, prying her younger children off her eldest. She wagged her finger and scolded the whole lot of them before banishing them to the kitchen for breakfast. Hanging their heads and whining in disappointment, seven little red-headed children with pointed ears marched off. As Jaranin helped Elun to his feet, Mrs. Elvinbard kissed her son on the cheek and slipped him a warm cake, waving them off with a chuckle.

Elun’s pants were wrinkled, his shirt collar was torn an inch, and his hair was a frizzy red mess. His eyes, dark with gray shadows beneath them, roved about wildly.

As the boys strolled away side-by-side, Jaranin threw his arm around Elun's shoulders, grinning. “The ol’ ‘Gilbert’s stealing your breakfast’ trick again, aye?”

Elun simply shuddered.

---
[Cut content from The Victor's Blade; all content subject to change.]

From Him, To Him