Friday, October 26, 2018

Excerpt - TVB, Book 2: "Reminder"

More Book 2 fun! What are you guys thinking of the newest excerpts? Lemme know!

Violence Advisory: This scene will contain some blood and violence. Discretion is advised.

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash
Kalinvar stood over his desk, stroking his beard and running numbers in his head.
It’d been days since he’d sent out his secret weapon and precious jewel, Yeselda. She should be on her way back by now, but her next report wasn’t due for another few days. So it left him to agonize. Waiting was—
A knock on the door reminded him that despite his rising agitation, duty called nonetheless.
“Enter,” Kalinvar grumbled in the customary Vádigón language, the only one allowed spoken among Maddokar the Dark’s forces. He didn’t bother looking up as his guest entered the room; his gaze was still fixed on a map of the area surrounding Ásana and Leténja.
“Generallll!” greeted a giddy voice that forced Kalinvar to suppress a groan.
“What do you want, Delisk?” Kalinvar growled, barely glancing up from the map.
“I’m certain I’m interrupting your vital work, General, but I have urgent news!” The assassin leaned against the doorframe, delicately resting a hand on his pallid forehead. A sly smirk crawled across his dry, cracked gray lips. “My master the Dark must be notified immediately!” He giggled like a child barely withholding a secret.
Kalinvar clenched his fist. He hated Delisk more than any of the other Vádigóns in the Dark’s employ. At least the other generals despised him from a distance, across the table at structured meetings. He could ignore their barbed words and glared daggers, their airs of superiority.
But Delisk wouldn’t—and couldn’t—leave him alone. As an assassin, Delisk answered to the General of Spies: Kalinvar.
“Then petition the doorkeepers for an audience. I’m busy.” Kalinvar crossed the room in two long-legged strides and moved to shut the door on the assassin, but Delisk wedged his foot between the door and its frame.
“Please, sir,” Delisk implored with sudden remorse and sobriety. “You’ll want to hear this.”
Does he never give up? Kalinvar sighed. He stepped aside to allow the Vádigón room to enter.
Delisk slipped into the quarters with characteristic grace, swinging his lithe limbs. His long, dark hair flowed with his slightest motion. He skipped behind Kalinvar’s desk, trailing his fingertips along the back of Kalinvar’s chair.
No fewer than four different methods of murder trailed through Kalinvar’s mind as he watched those traipsing fingers.
“I again beg your forgiveness, my beloved General, but this is of utmost importance!” Delisk insisted. “Believe me, were it not, I would have waited until you were quite at your leisure.”
Oh, I’m certain you would. There was only one real reason why Delisk would be reporting directly to him rather than passing a message: he’d found something that would at best irritate Kalinvar and at worst threaten his position.
No Vádigón cherished working alongside a paltry human, and Delisk had chafed ever since being placed under Kalinvar’s command. But Delisk was the Dark’s best assassin, and Kalinvar had proven himself the most successful head of spies. So here they remained, each equally despising the other and eager to seize on the first ill-timed error.
As Delisk prattled on, Kalinvar approached his chair and clapped his hand on the back of the seat. With the two so close in proximity, his movement forced Delisk to take an instinctive half-step away from the chair and the desk.
In that moment of motion, Kalinvar slid his hand under the desk drawer, slipping a concealed knife into his palm. He sheathed it in a hidden scabbard on the back of his belt as he sat on the edge of his chair.
Better safe than sorry.
Meanwhile, Delisk continued rambling, skirting the desk until he was leaning over it much as Kalinvar had been a moment before. “…While I was in Leténja—you sent me there recently, as you may recall—Well, you’ll never guess who I happened to see there. At the very place my mark was.”
So close. All it’d take was one swing of his arm… Aim the blade right between those lolling yellow eyes…
Delisk giggled, clapping his hands. “Alright, I’ll give you a clue: it was an acquaintance of yours, General. An… old friend, you could say,” Delisk’s voice dropped to a conspiratorial purr as he eyed Kalinvar carefully. “He had a message he wanted me to deliver!”
Kalinvar smiled insincerely, “Indulge me, Delisk,” he murmured as he dropped his hand behind his back.
Delisk’s arm flashed, quick as a cat.
But not quicker than Kalinvar. Metal gleamed in the firelight as a dagger went sailing at Kalinvar. Then came the clang as Kalinvar redirected the dagger away with his own hidden blade.
The sneak attack foiled, Delisk bolted for the exit, but Kalinvar had already hurled his knife. It nicked Delisk’s cheek as Kalinvar vaulted over the desk and slammed into the Vádigón, crushing him against the door.
In this position, one of Delisk’s arms was pinned between his stomach and the door; the other Kalinvar held, bending it painfully. But the Vádigón only cackled.
“Well-played, General! You are learning with age!”
“And you’ve got a nice reminder on your pretty face not to cross me again, you back-stabbing dog,” Kalinvar hissed.
“Attacking the messenger! Dreadful, General.” Delisk licked at the trail of blood on his cheek. “I’m just doing my part to keep you spry.”
“Then try it again. I’ve been dying for an excuse to kill you.” Kalinvar pressed against Delisk’s arm, finally eliciting a grunt of pain. “You may be Maddokar’s little pet, but two attempts on my life, and even he’ll laude me for executing you.”
Satisfied with his ultimatum but still remaining on alert, Kalinvar released Delisk at last, yanking his knife out from the door. “Now, what was it you wanted to tell His Majesty?”
Delisk slid to his seat against the wall, chuckling as he dabbed at the blood smeared on his cheek. He looked up, locking gazes with Kalinvar. “The Tėmanim boy’s alive.”
Kalinvar’s fingers wrapped so tightly around the hilt of the knife that his knuckles went white. “What did you say?”
Delisk’s sly grin returned. “You remember him, don’t you, General? After all, his father gave you one of these to match…” He traced his fingers along the cut on his face.
It was on the same side of his face as Kalinvar’s scar. The deep, ugly scar that had nearly taken his sight in that eye.
Kalinvar loomed over the assassin, shaking with rage.
“Oh, so you do remember. I was beginning to wonder, what with you neglecting to inform His Majesty about the one who esca—!” Delisk choked on the last word as Kalinvar pressed the knife to his throat.
“Oh, I remember quite well. And this is none of His Majesty’s concern.”
“No indeed.” Delisk was still grinning, even with a knife against his neck. “He only ordered you to destroy a city to eliminate one family. And now there’s a survivor in both the lines His Majesty hates the most. Funny… isn’t this the sort of failure that got your predecessor… demoted, General?”
With a wicked grin of his own, Kalinvar whispered, “Your memory’s not bad either, Delisk. But I think we need some more tests to be sure.”
He dragged the knife’s flat against Delisk’s throat. “You tell me every. Single. Detail. About what you saw in Leténja, and maybe I’ll let you leave this room alive. Hm?”
[Excerpt from The Victor's Blade; all content subject to change.]

From Him, To Him

Friday, October 19, 2018

Excerpt - TVB, Book 2: "Sole Survivor"

Since I got back from Realm Makers in July, I've been working on book two of The Victor's Blade trilogy. I thought it'd be particularly daunting, but it's been quite the surprising experience.

For one, moments I thought would be difficult to write have actually come relatively easily (as long as I stay focused... more on that at a later date, I'm sure). Whereas some scenes I thought would be easy, well... haven't been!

The characters are, as always, keeping me on my toes. And there's so much happennnning, you guys! I can't wait for you to read it.

Well... maybe a couple sneak peeks won't hurt. ;)

This particular excerpt has a concept I've already revealed in an excerpt I posted a while ago. See if you can spot the part I mean!

“What do you mean, he’s the only one who can stop the Dark?” Isalaina snarled.
Zaelor sighed, running his hands through his hair. They didn’t have time for this!
Ignoring her for the moment, he stooped, dusting his fingers along the ground. But not even his father’s or Hawke’s training could get this rocky earth to talk.
So he turned to the bodies of the fallen Scourge, ever wary of Isalaina’s eyes piercing the back of his head. “We need to figure out where they’re headed.”
Isalaina growled in disgust but made no further protest. Even with all her questions, she had to agree this was the priority.
“Surely they must return to their leader,” Emarella suggested.
Zaelor glanced up from his work with a sigh. Time or not, the girls weren’t going to let this go. He’d have to track and talk at the same time. “To Maddokar the Dark,” he corrected.
Emarella wrinkled her nose at this reply. “But how could he survive? Hundreds of years of Zelméon history state Maddokar was assassinated by a Zelméon, a hero of the war!”
Zaelor hesitated. “Ever heard of Arin of Ánari?”
Her tilted head and confused look said no.
“Arin was son of the man who forged the Victor’s Blade, Lexirous. Jaranin’s ancestors,” Zaelor explained while examining blade wounds in the Scourge and blood spatters on the ground. “He reported fighting Maddokar the Dark some fifty to sixty years after your assassin had allegedly killed him.”
Emarella scoffed. “So one faulty report makes my people’s history a lie?”
“So you have time to talk about ancient history but not to answer my questions,” Isalaina grumbled immediately after.
Zaelor waved his hand, frustration quickly rising alongside his fear. “Give me a minute to explain, both of you!” He snapped.
He traced his fingers along the trail of a few streaked bloodstains. They’d been scuffed by footfalls: someone backpedaling.
Resting his hands on his knees, he glanced back up at Emarella. “It wouldn’t make sense for your assassin to lie. The truth would have come out immediately; Maddokar wouldn’t have wanted his troops to think he was dead. You said yourself, the results of the assassination were palpable: the Vádigóns fell into a state of chaos; it turned the tide of the war.
“If anything, the Vádigóns would’ve spread word that Maddokar had survived. But they didn’t. Everyone believed Maddokar was dead.
“But Arin had no reason to lie, either. This wasn’t revealed in some public proclamation, with hopes he’d become some legend. It was in private correspondence to a trusted friend. No one was mourning Ánari’s loss; at least not publicly. People considered the place punished by Adonai, even back then.”
“So neither man had reason to lie,” Emarella nodded, “but both could not be right. So Arin made a mistake; he killed the wrong person.”
“I don’t think so.” Zaelor traced his finger along the ground, following the trail. The blood was getting fainter. “Think about your people, Emarella. Think about the abilities they have.”
She was getting just as exasperated as him. “What does that have to do with—”
“Now think about the Vádigóns, Maddokar and his people.” Zaelor stopped in his tracks, tapping the ground. “They’re no unique race; just corruptions of your people, right?”
He knew he was. “Do they have abilities like yours?”
At last he seemed to be getting through; or at least getting her to think. Emarella considered his question—or her response to it—for a moment. “They have… abilities…” she finally conceded, “But they’re nothing like our own. Vádigóns are practitioners of dark magic, forbidden by Adonai. It grants them great powers of many forms: one of the reasons our war against them has gone on so long.”
Zaelor rose, waving Emarella and Isalaina over to the place where he’d stopped, the ground inexplicably clear of dead bodies. “Then doesn’t it stand to reason Maddokar has an ability too? That, perhaps, he can raise himself from the very dead?”
“But how could he—?”
“I don’t know how,” Zaelor replied, “But it’s probably the same way one of our Scourge friends up and disappeared into thin air, just like Elun said.”
He stepped back, giving the girls a clear look at his discovery: a circle burned into the ground, a perfectly round ring that looked blacker than the darkest ash he’d ever seen. It was warm to the touch and still gave off thin wisps of smoke, and it stank: pungent like sulfur.
The girls stared at the ring. Isalaina still looked unsure, confused. But Emarella’s eyes widened with shock and then squinted in disgust.
It was all he needed to confirm his suspicions.
“And if Maddokar can bring himself back to life,” he finished, “then the only way to kill him for good is to follow Lexirous’s legendary words, his so-called ‘prophecy.’”
Isalaina’s eyes sparked with realization. “Jaranin’s favorite story… The one where Lexirous said a great evil would come, and that… that…”
“That ‘only by moi blood shall th’ Dark be slain,’” Elun muttered behind them. He winced, gingerly tapping the bump on his head.
Emarella turned to him and pressed her hand against his temple, her hands glowing green as she worked to heal his injury.
“He didn’t mean we had to use his blood though,” Isalaina murmured.
“He meant his lineage,” Zaelor nodded. “And that creates a very big problem.
“Jaranin is the last one alive in that lineage. Maddokar’s exterminated them all.”
[Excerpt from The Victor's Blade: The Blade; modified to avoid spoilers. All content subject to change.]

From Him, To Him

Friday, October 12, 2018

Why I Love Patema Inverted – And You Might, Too

A world divided—not by borders or races... but by gravity and fear. A world where one wrong step could leave you plunging upward into the endless sky. A world where government ideology rules with an iron fist, condemning anyone who diverges from their designs.

Patema Inverted takes place in a Big Brother-style dystopia. The government uses pseudo-religion to keep the next generation in line, teaching them to despise the Inverts: people who live upside-down lives... literally.

Patema Inverted, 2013 Cinedigm / GKids

Eiji is a young dreamer whose father hungered for a world without ideological borders. He may share his father’s hunger for more out of life, but he feels trapped, isolated... until he stumbles across the spunky and inquisitive Princess Patema, an Invert. When the head of government, Izamura, learns that Inverts aren’t just the stuff of legend, he’ll stop at nothing to capture Patema... and take out anyone who gets in his way.

Patema Inverted, 2013 Cinedigm / GKids

I love Patema Inverted. And if you like dystopian settings, gorgeous visuals, and sweet stories of friendships that transcend boundaries—you might too.

Patema Inverted, 2013 Cinedigm / GKids; photo from Wikipedia

Genre: Science Fiction, Science Fantasy, Dystopian
Year Released: 2013
Studio: Purple Cow Studios Japan
Licensed By: Cinedigm; GKids
Director: Yasuhiro Yoshiura
Running Time: 99 min.
Rating: N/A; contains mild action violence

What You Might Like About... the Visuals

Patema Inverted, 2013 Cinedigm / GKids

This film is magical. Everything is visually captivating—from the blue skies Patema risks plunging into, to the grassy hill where Eiji’s father’s workshop sits, to the underground world where Patema’s people live. The few locations stand out from each other while still looking like they belong in the same imagination-inspiring world.

Patema Inverted, 2013 Cinedigm / GKids

What really sells these locations is the lighting and color. There’s the dim, hazy lights of Patema’s underground world. There’s the brilliant starry sky. There’s the ominous fog surrounding Izamura’s tower. It all adds to the atmosphere, sucking you in.

The visuals are also used as excellent storytelling devices. This premise could get incredibly confusing, especially visually; but the upside-down world of Patema Inverted is presented perfectly. The camera flips between Eiji and Patema’s perspectives to show each’s world. But this never gets dizzying or confusing. Each shot is staged in a consistent, coherent, and visually-appealing way.

What You Might (and Might Not) Like About... the Writing

But visuals can only tell so much of the story. What about the rest of the writing?

Though the story’s premise is fascinating, it can be difficult to follow; and the ending is a bit confusing. This is hardly a movie you can turn your brain off to fully enjoy. However, it is a treat for those who enjoy films that force them to pay attention to the details and make them think.

The Characters – The Good and Bad

To best focus on its complicated and fascinating premise, Patema keeps its cast limited. There aren’t many characters in this film, and most of them are straightforward.

Don't give me that look!

I will confess, the characters are one of the film’s weakest elements. Even the main characters, Eiji and Patema, are not complex, nor are they particularly unique. This is a story about two kids who develop an intimate bond (maybe romantic, certainly friendship); nothing we haven’t seen before. This may leave some viewers feeling the characters are flat, one-note, and boring.

Patema Inverted, 2013 Cinedigm / GKids
However, each of these characters is so genuine and sincere that I can’t help but fall in love with them. This is in large part thanks to the excellent voice acting, especially of Yukiyo Fujii (Patema) and Nobuhiko Okamoto (Eiji). They imbue the characters with an endearing, undying devotion to each other that I adore.

Similarly, some people may find the main antagonist, Izamura, lacking. He’s an evil for evil’s sake villain using religion to justify his desires, from political power to... Patema? He has a concerning obsession with the Invert girl, which might disturb some viewers, although nothing objectionable occurs.

Since I’m not against evil for evil’s sake villains, Izamura’s lack of depth didn’t bother me. I was, however, disappointed that his motivation wasn’t explained well. If he hates the Inverts, why is he obsessed with Patema and treats her like some sort of trophy? It’s like Frollo from Hunchback of Notre Dame, but without the song to explain his drive to purge all Gypsies.

Patema Inverted, 2013 Cinedigm / GKids

At the end of the day, I don’t mind that Izamura doesn’t bring anything new to the table; he does his job exceptionally well. He’s an intimidating presence and a credible threat to Eiji and Patema.

The Conclusion

Patema isn’t without its flaws. You may find yourself disappointed with its characters. Or you may be like me and feel that the characters don’t need to do anything revolutionary. I think anyone watching this film can agree that the good guys are charming; the bad guys are creepy, and the stakes are set.

With a good balance of emotionally-satisfying moments and suspenseful action, Patema is a fun view that delivers on its compelling premise. So if the idea of people walking on ceilings intrigues you, give Patema Inverted a watch.

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US "Fair Use" laws. Unless otherwise specified, all are from (which is basically Funimation and Crunchyroll rolled in one, plus lots of other stuff. Awesome monthly sub for your anime desires).

Patema Inverted and all related names and terms are the property of Purple Cow Studios Japan.

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

From Him, To Him

Friday, October 5, 2018

Competitiveness and Identity

Competitiveness: the drive to push yourself in order to win.

Competitiveness can bring out the worst in people. It can push people to break the rules in order to get ahead. It can result in “sore winners”: the people who rub their win in your face, or those who think winning is the only way. It can also create the kinds of people who don’t have fun unless they win: the sore losers.

Competitiveness brings out the ugly sore loser in me. I don’t see a loss as one of two inevitable end results of a competition: I see it as a frustrating failing on my part or an unfair game.

But neither of these is correct thinking.

Sore winners and sore losers share a common flaw: they place their identity in the results of a competition. How silly! We’re worth so much more than whether we win or lose. Even something as big as the Olympics is just a sport; it has no bearing on who we are. It doesn’t add or detract from our value depending on whether we win the gold, silver, or bronze.

Think about participants in any competition who give their all: the ridiculously-outmatched underdogs who still pour the best of their efforts into participating. Even when they inevitably lose, it can still feel like a win. Why? Because the results have no bearing on their worth and the value of their efforts.

So we’re not failures when we lose; losing doesn’t mean we’re losers. But what about when games are poorly built and just aren’t fair?

When we do poorly in a game through no fault of our own but rather due to poor game design, it’s frustrating. But few games are truly poorly-designed. I don’t usually lose because of that; I just don’t play well.

Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash
This tends to happen more often with video games than board games for me, because I’m more of what video game enthusiasts call a “casual gamer.”

I don’t try to collect every single do-dad and achieve every challenge. I don’t try to figure out the inner workings of the game to achieve the best results. These all end up being too much work for the payoff to be worth it for me.

The results? I tend to be terrible at games, at least compared to people who play them more seriously.

Which means if I play games against others, I lose. A lot.

And then I’ll be a sore loser. I’ll get moody and upset. I won’t have any fun; not even in the experience playing.

But I don’t want to be this way! So I have three choices: get better, don’t care about the outcome, or don’t play.

I didn’t want to take the time to get good enough to stand a chance against good players.

I didn’t think I could change how I felt about the outcome.

So, because I hated the ugly way I reacted to losing, I just stopped playing competitive games.

But I realized that not playing any competitive games wasn’t just a way to protect the world from myself; quite the contrary: it was a way for me to run away.

It was a way for me to ignore my flaw and refuse to deal with it.

It’s fine to not like playing a game a certain way. But to give up because I hated to lose...? What an absurd solution. What a sore loser I was still being, even without playing the games!

I was tying my identity into how I performed, just as I do with so many things: what I did while I was in school (anything less than an A was horrible because of course I could do better; I’d done better in the past); at work (if I got corrected for even the slightest mistake, I nearly felt sick I’d get so upset); and just in life itself. If I failed at something or made a mistake, it was because I was a terrible person. If my writing didn’t turn out perfect, it meant I was a terrible writer.

But that just isn’t the case.

Tying your identity to anything on this earth is dangerous. It ensnares you. It limits you to a thing to be rated and discarded if you don’t perform perfectly every time. We don’t even treat appliances with that kind of disrespect!

We need to find our identity in something immovable, constant, unchanging, and outside ourselves.

Because we’re flawed. Broken. Human.

The great news is, our identity isn’t in us or how we perform or what our tastes are; it’s in the one who created us. Whatever value the all-knowing, truth-speaking Creator puts on something, that’s its real worth. Our value, our identity, is what God says it is. And if God himself thought you were worth dying for, I’d say that’s a pretty high value. A priceless identity.

That’s where our identity lies. Not in whether we win or lose a game.

When competitiveness is no longer tied to our sense of identity, it can bring out the best in us. Competitiveness pushes us to improve. It teaches us to work hard toward a goal we want to achieve. It teaches us to persevere and not give up just because we’re losing. It tells us to do our best.

And when we’re doing that, we can enjoy the ride whether we win or lose... because we know that we did our very best. Even if our loss is a brutal loss... it’s still a win, because it grows us. We can learn from that loss. It drives us to do better, to not give up, and to try harder than ever before.

The drive to push yourself to win. When not tied down by our search for a sense of self, competitiveness can truly grow us into better people.

From Him, To Him

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Oops! Next Anime Post Oct 12th!

Eek! Due to me shifting the schedule last week, I confused myself and didn't get the anime-related post ready this week! :( You'll be able to see it October 12th.

There will still be a new Philosophy-type post coming up tomorrow! So sorry about that, everyone!

Here's a hint at what we'll be talking about on October 12th...

Originally posted by Camera Obscura