Tag: fantasy (page 3 of 23)

Words of the Dovahkiin, III: The Sons of Skyrim

Disclaimer: I do not own anything related to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and apologize in advance for what may turn out to be only passable fan fiction as I write down stuff that goes through my head as I play this game. Also, the following does contain spoilers for the game. Fairly be ye warned.

Previous Word


21st First Seed, 202 4E

She waited until we were outside Solitude’s gates to speak her mind.

Courtesy Bethesda Softworks

“I think you’re wasting your time.”

“How do you mean?” The wind was picking up, and I put on my helm before drawing up my hood.

“You have the Scroll. You know what must be done. Why not hunt down Alduin and kill him, while you still have the element of surprise?”

“I’m still not certain that I’m ready.”

She shook her head. “You are Dragonborn. You’re one of the most powerful people I’ve ever met. I know you can do this.”

“But if I do it now, would it be for the right reasons?”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

We hired horses from the Solitude stables, and we were on the road, riding side by side, when I picked the conversation back up.

“I’ve been to Windhelm. I’ve seen how Ulfric Stormcloak treats those of other races, especially Dunmer.”

“I don’t blame him for keeping an eye on the dark elves. I wouldn’t want them running rampant in my streets, either. They can’t be trusted.”

“Not all Dunmer are cutpurses and backstabbers, Aela. That’s like saying all Khajiit are scoundrels and liars, or all Nords are illiterate barbarians.”

She looked like she wanted to elaborate on her opinion, but she regarded me carefully as I continued.

“If Skyrim is to be free, it should be free for all who wish to live here. I’m not enamored of the Aldmeri Dominion, either, but I will not trade a puppet regime for a racist one.”

“There’s an alternative, you know.”

Before she could go on, we encountered what I’m told is a place called Robber’s Gorge. We were ambushed, and our horses killed from under us. The bandits, to their dismay, were no match for the pair of us. Unfortunately, we needed to proceed on foot from there.

“Go on.”

“What?” Aela was inspecting her bow as we walked, making sure the string was still taut after so much use lately.

“Tell me about this alternative.”

“You are Dragonborn. The blood of conquerors and kings flows in your veins. Why not unite Skyrim under your own banner?”

I didn’t look at her or respond, at first. That very thought had crossed my mind more than once. But when it did, the voice that carried it was only barely my own. It’s woven into the chant that exists in the foundations of my soul, the one stirred by Alduin and awakened by that first kill outside Whiterun, when Mirmulnir fell and I breathed in his essence.

The day was waning and I could make out the houses of Rorikstead in the distance. I looked at Aela and smiled a little.

“Let me show you something.”

Courtesy Bethesda Softworks

Nahagliiv’s bones remain where we left them.

Just outside of Rorikstead, where the dragon fell, Aela and I studied the sight. She’d been there when we’d slain him, but I hadn’t spoken of it since. I walked up to the skeleton and ran my hand down a rib.

“This was Nahagliiv. His name means ‘Fury Burn Wither’. His is one of the voices that now prompts me to do the very thing you suggest. And if I were to listen, I don’t think I’d be any better than our dead friend, here.”

Aela said nothing. I turned to face her.

“I won’t save this world simply to put it to the torch myself. The sons of Skyrim are owed more than a mere conqueror. I would be known throughout the land for who I strive to be, not merely what my blood demands. I hope you can understand that.”

She stepped to me and took my hands.

“I do. But I still think that we should ensure there is a Skyrim whose sons can learn who you are, as I have, before something truly horrific happens.”

I looked over my shoulder. In the distance, I could barely make out the sky-stabbing height of the Throat of the World. The wound in time was there. My destiny was there. The Elder Scroll felt heavy in my pack. I turned back to my wife and nodded.

“We deliver the horn to the Shrine of Talos, and ask for his favor. Then we ascend that mountain, and we put an end to Alduin’s evil once and for all.”

Aela leaned up and kissed my cheek. “I’m by your side no matter what comes. Remember that.”

Words of the Dovahkiin, II: Aela the Huntress

Disclaimer: I do not own anything related to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and apologize in advance for what may turn out to be only passable fan fiction as I write down stuff that goes through my head as I play this game. Also, the following does contain spoilers for the game. Fairly be ye warned.

Previous Word


18th Morning Star, 202 4E

Since coming to Skyrim, I’ve faced many challenges. I’ve faced down wolves, bears, trolls. I’ve taken on a veritable army of draugr and more than my share of hagravens. I have laid waste to bandit encampments and strongholds alike. I have slain dragons. I have saved the world on at least one occasion. And yet, yesterday morning, I felt more edgy and nervous than on any of those occasions.

Courtesy Bethesda Softworks

Aela, of course, knew something was on my mind, and asked me about it immediately.

I remember the first time I saw her. Fresh from my aborted execution, on the run and confused from Helgn, she glanced at me with narrowed eyes while she fought that Giant outside Pelagia Farm. I’d met Nords before, but to see one such as her in her native environment, full of beautiful ferocity and unwavering bravery, I was struck, even then. She said nothing of my magic but I could feel her suspicion. Now, as a Companion, and chosen by Kodlak Whitemane to succeed him as Harbinger, her eyes were not suspicious, but concerned.

“I’ve been thinking,” I managed to begin.

“You do that quite a bit, for a Companion. Maybe that’s why Kodlak chose you.”

“He could have chosen you. You were close. He trusted you. You ran by his side many nights.”

Aela shrugged. “What could be is not what is. I’m more concerned for you than I am for Kodlak. He is in Sovngarde. You are here.”

“And so are you.” I cleared my throat. Why was this so difficult? “I keep thinking of how I came to be here, of that day at the farm when we met. Do you remember?”

“I do.” She smiled a little. “I thought this spindly little mageling had a surprising amount of balls, standing with us against a Giant.”

“And I found you more dangerous than that Giant, to be certain.”

“Yet you stood by me and helped take it down. You’ve stood by me many times since then.”

As she spoke, Aela noticed the metal glittering under my tunic. Without prompting, she pulled out the amulet, and looked in my eyes.

“You know what wearing Mara means, don’t you?”

I nodded. “The priest in Riften told me. The question is, Aela, do you know why I wear it now?”

There was softness, there in her eyes, that I had not anticipated. Her fingers lingered near my chest. “I won’t lie. I’d like that.”

“I won’t lie either. I want you for my wife.”

She smiled. “Then it’s settled. We should go to Riften immediately. Times like these, to dally is to waste precious moments.”

So we did. We made the arrangements at the Temple, and the delighted priest admonished me not to be late for my own wedding. We rented a room at the Barb and Bee for the night, but Aela was restless. It was her nature. Her blood ran as hot as ever.

“You know what we should do?”

She turned and looked at me. It was an incredulous gaze, anticipating some sort of arcane scheme worthy of the Archmage of Winterhold.

“We should hunt.”

She blinked. I smiled. I was glad I could surprise her.

“On the eve of our wedding?”

“Can you think of a better way to spend it?”

Her smirk was coy. “Connor, you do know the way to a lady’s heart.”

Courtesy Bethesda Softworks

So it was that we found ourselves north of Riften, stalking wolves, her with her bow and I with my Skyforged blade. Its edge softly glowed with the electric energy with which I’d enchanted it. Eorlund disapproved of my doing so, but nobody denied the results. I was watching Aela, taking in the way she matched the wolves move for move, until they bolted. She looked back at me, wondering perhaps if I’d made too much noise, and then her eyes lifted and widened.

I don’t know how it snuck up on us. They’re not known for being terribly sneaky or subtle. But the dragon plummeted out of the sky on us, and my Skyforged blade flew from my grip. I brought up my dragonbone shield, and seeing it and that I was armored in the stuff, the dragon was incensed. I looked in its eyes and, in that moment, as it always was when I fought the Dov, we knew one another. His body pinned mine and his jaws snapped at me. My other blade was far from my hand, strapped to my back, and I was too distracted to summon Magicka. I struggled, smelled the fetid breath, closed my eyes.

I heard Aela’s howl. By the light of the moon, I saw my bride-to-be leap across the dragon’s snout, raking him with her claws. I had banished my own wolf-spirit to settle a conflict within myself, but Aela was as comfortable as ever wearing her two disparate skins. Now she wore the skin of Hircine, the skin of the werewolf, as she protected me and distracted the dragon. He wheeled on her, leaving me half-pushed into the muck, taking a deep breath and bathing the foliage in blue fire. Aela was quick, dodging away, roaring in defiance. The dragon snapped at her, swept in with claws and wings, finally catching her with his tail. It was when Aela was knocked away that I properly introduced myself.

“YOL TOOR!”

The words Paarthumax had taught me took shape in my mouth and issued forth as orange flame. The dragon staggered, turned, and stared. Now on my feet, I reached over my shoulder and drew Dragonbane, the sword of the Blades given to me by Esbern. I gripped my shield and charged. Dragonbone met dragonbone with a mighty crash, and Aela was slicing into its hide with her claws. But dragons are cunning, and he knew there was a bond between us, the way we each leaped to the other’s defense. When Aela sprang again, the dragon spun and swept out his tail, grabbing Aela’s ankle and slamming her back into the ground. He faced away from me, and even if I got his attention, I didn’t know how badly he would hurt her with his back claws as he turned.

“TIID KLO!”

Time itself stilled at the sound of my voice. I dropped my shield, ran as fast as I was able, and with my free hand I scooped up the werewolf from where she lay. I shoved her with as much strength as I could muster. I then backed away, as time once again flowed, as the dragon’s jaws closed on empty air. Aela hadn’t yet moved from where I’d pushed her. I swallowed my fear and looked up at the dragon, backing away slowly. My foot glanced off of Skyforged steel, and I bent to hold my Companions blade in my off-hand. Dragonbane seemed to gleam in the moonlight. The dragon leapt into the sky, blanketing the forest in fire. I ran, sheathing my blades, picking up Aela and running from the inferno. The dragon landed directly in front of me. I bent to lay Aela aside and stood between her and my foe. He inhaled, glaring eyes full of hatred, nostrils flaring as he prepared to breathe again.

“FUS RO DAH!”

The first shout I’d ever learned, one of my most powerful weapons, caused the dragon to lose his footing and slide down the hillside. Blades came free of their scabbards and with the mightiest cry I could muster, I leapt down after it. I slashed across his snout, ensuring I had his full attention. He roared at me, and I roared right back. I stabbed him in the cheek with Dragonbane, pushing myself upwards using the blade as my fulcrum. Landing directly between his horns, I brought my weapons down with all of my strength. Scale, muscle, and bone gave way under the strike and the dragon twitched violently as life fled from his body. Gasping for breath, I pulled my blades free and slid down the side of his still face, returning my blades to their homes. I looked up at the moon and closed my eyes as the wind came over me, carrying the voices of the Dov with it to fill my ears and my soul, telling me this Dovah‘s name and adding his voice to my own. When it was over, and nothing but his bones remained, I turned to see to Aela.

“No wonder they sing songs about you.”

She was already there, clad only in moonlight, holding my shield in one hand and her own axe in the other. Bruises and scratches did nothing to slow her as she made her way down the hill to me. I tipped her chin towards me and tasted her kiss for the first time.

“After tomorrow, I will take this dragon’s scales and make you something special.”

“You already gave me something special.” Aela’s gaze didn’t break from mine. “I’m going to spend my life giving you all I can in return.”

Movie Review: Pan’s Labyrinth

I’m really not sure where to begin with this. If I were still doing IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! I may just lead with a few moments of silence. Powerful films have a way of taking the breath, the very words right out of me. Make no mistake: Pan’s Labyrinth is one of those films.

Courtesy Estudio Picasso

The year is 1944, and Spain is under new management by the fascist Francisco Franco. At a forward post established against guerrillas fighting the new regime, Captain Vidal has summoned his wife and step-daughter to stay with him. His wife, Carmen, is close to giving birth to his son, while the girl, Ofelia, would rather keep her nose in her fairy tale books. En route to the post, Ofelia happens across a strange insect that transforms before her eyes and leads her to a secluded labyrinth where a faun tells her she may be a legendary princess. To prove herself worthy of her birthright, she must accomplish a series of tasks, in the midst of this bloody civil war, with the lives of all she knows and holds dear hanging in the balance.

Writer-director Guillermo del Toro is no stranger to dark fantasy. He brought us Blade II (one of the good ones) and both Hellboy films. By ‘dark’, I don’t mean the sort of dark fantasy where there’s lots of naked women and cursing and gratuitous buckets of blood. No, I mean thematically dark. Truly dark. The sort of dark that has kids curling up tight in their beds with their sheets pulled up to just under their eyes, because they’re scared witless by what’s in the shadows but don’t dare look away. You could even call it ‘edgy’, as it lives on the very edge between fantasy and horror. Pan’s Labyrinth is unafraid to glance, just for a moment here and a heartbeat there, into the deep shadows of the realms of the unknown and the very real darkness in human nature.

Courtesy Estudio Picasso
Absolutely stunning visuals.

You can’t tell a story like this without good characters, and in film you need good actors to make them come alive. In the hands of a less adept director, Captain Vidal would come across as a caricature of the fascist movement, a Nazi in all but name, not so much a man as he is a punching bag leering at us to hit him harder. Thankfully, the character is written with complexity and depth, even if he’s a rather vile human being, and Sergi López gives a fantastic performance. As for Ofelia, del Toro was so impressed by Ivana Baquero that he aged up her part so the young actress could play it. She, too, is complex and deep, as well as fallible.

Here are two human beings who come at life from entirely different angles, even in some cases wanting the same thing for completely disparate reasons, and their conviction is what drives this story forward and holds us mesmerized by it. The visuals and the construction of del Toro’s fantasy world don’t hurt, either. Culled from all sorts of fairy and folk tales, the world Ofelia alone can see, touch, and enter is brought to breathtaking life, with del Toro mainstay Doug Jones playing the parts of the Faun and the Pale Man. As wondrous as it is, there’s also a primal and untamed nature to it, as as attractive as it might be to a young girl, one wonders if it’s any less dangerous than the cold, jackbooted reality through which her stepfather reigns as nominal master.

Courtesy Estudio Picasso
My skin crawls just looking at the guy.

The tendency is to write something like “I can’t say enough about this” but I really feel, in this case, I can’t say any more about it. You should really just watch it, if you haven’t already. Despite its fairy tale trappings, it’s an exceedingly mature and heart-wrenchingly vital tale, far removed from what most would consider kid-friendly. Don’t be put off by the choice del Toro made to shoot it in Spanish; the truths of this film and the lives of its characters transcend things like spoken language. It is one of the most deeply affecting films I’ve seen in a very long time. I really cannot recommend Pan’s Labyrinth highly enough.

Flash Fiction: Benjamin Franklin in the Bermuda Triangle

Couretsy Fist Full of Seamen

For the Terribleminds request for pulp insanity, we return to the adventures of a revolutionary wizard.


The lingering storm clouds made way for the moon, and that was when it began.

The crew of the fluyt Eenhoorn lit lamps on-deck to throw back the darkness. The ocean nearby rippled and swooned, small waves crashing over one another. To Captain Kroeger, the phenomenon was entirely unnatural. He gave the wheel to his first mate, passed a deckhand being sick over the rail, and went into the cabin where their passenger sat, reading.

“Mister Franklin, we need you on deck.”

The American looked up over the rims of his spectacles.

“I take it the storm has ended?”

“Yes. But something else has begun.”

Franklin put his book aside and rose. He picked up a collapsing umbrella from his belongings and ventured out with the captain. He took one look at the swirling waters nearby and frowned.

“Captain, you may want to have your men man their battle stations.”

“Sir?”

“We passed Bermuda this morning, correct? And are taking a southern course?”

“Yes, but…”

“Then we are in dangerous waters.”

“We spotted no other ships nearby! Neither the English nor the Spanish are…”

The roar of the sea in upheaval drowned out the captain. From the swirling pool burst the prow of a ship. Its hull rose into the moonlight like a breaching whale, its masts hung with seaweed instead of sails and tackle. Kroeger’s breath caught in his throat when he beheld the opposing crew. They shambled rather than walked, in various states of decay, many an eye missing from its socket and those still intact smoldering with murderous intent.

“Battle stations! Run out the guns! Prepare to repel boarders!”

Benjamin Franklin furrowed his brow as he studied the enemy ship. Any colors it would have flown had long been consumed by the wildlife beneath them. Sliding the long umbrella into his belt, he climbed the rigging towards the crow’s nest. The Eenhoorn reeled under the superior firepower of the enemy vessel, despite said vessel’s cannon having been underwater moments before. Franklin nearly lost his grip more than once, but he refused to let go completely, gritting his teeth against the spray of the sea and the smell of battle. He alighted into the crow’s nest and took stock of the situation.

The enemy ship was closing in on the Eenhoorn. The half-eaten ambulatory corpses and oddly animated skeletons moved towards the railing closest to the fluyt, wielding grappling lines. Franklin knew it was now or never. He reached down the front of his shirt for the key that hung around his neck. When he freed it from the silver chain, it made his fingers tingle. He slid it around the top of the umbrella, opened the device, and held it above his head.

The storm clouds high above began to shudder and growl. Lights went off like cannon fire within the dark surfaces, and as Franklin pitched the umbrella towards the enemy ship, there was a momentary feeling that his hair was standing on end, his skin about to catch fire. A bolt of lightning snapped into existence, connecting the cloud to the umbrella as it sailed over the ghost ship. The steel spines of the device conveyed smaller bolts onto the ghost ship’s deck, catching a few of the undead crew on fire. A cheer went up from the Dutchmen as Franklin climbed back down.

“That was brilliant, Mister Franklin!”

“Thank you, Captain, but it only slowed them down. I need to find a more permanent solution, and I only brought the one umbrella with me. Hold them off as best you can. Excuse me.”

He grabbed his jar of salt from his belongings and made his way below decks, to the lowest point in the ship. He set a box down and carefully laid out the circle he’d need. Praying the Eenhoorn did not list too much, he touched the circle with both hands.

“Come up from your Locker,” he said. “Come up from your Locker, Come up from your Locker, Davy Jones, Davy Jones.”

The shadows in the bilge seem to grow longer, and in the circle, two saucer-like eyes appeared, blinking at Franklin.

“Ye be a bold soul to summon me, human.” Blue smoke wafted from the spirit’s nostrils. “Release me, and I’ll not drag your ship down to me Locker.”

“I will release you when you take back the ship attacking us.”

“Ye have no business at sea, Benjamin Franklin.”

“Shall we parley, then?”

There was an annoyed puff of blue smoke. “Go on.”

“My destination is Barbados. I have business there with a voudoun priestess.”

“I know of whom ye speak. She be a long way from home.”

“I want to offer her help. Perhaps bring her back to our colonies.”

“Two of ye at sea, then? I should indeed drag ye down now.”

“We will do no harm and work no further magic while at sea. You have my word.”

Jones reached up with a hand to stroke one of his horns. His tail swished in the dark.

“And what benefit be Davy Jones getting out of this bargain? I drown ye now, I’d have me no worries.”

“I wouldn’t go down without a fight. And if we fight, we draw the attention of ocean powers greater than you.”

Jones grinned, his eyes alight. Three rows of teeth glistened in the semi-darkness. “Ye’d lose, little wizard.”

“Maybe. But not before hurting you just in time for your king to arrive.”

The smile vanished. “Fine, then. I give ye safe passage to Barbados and back. But this not be something Davy Jones will forget, Benjamin Franklin.”

“Nor shall I.” Fingers broke the circle and the spirit was gone. He climbed through the decks to find the crew celebrating.

“The sea swallowed them up again!” Captain Kroeger slapped Benjamin on the back. “How did you do it?”

“The fine art of parley, captain. Now, let us get to Barbados with all possible speed. The less time we spend in these waters, the better.”

Rewrite Report: Elves & Dwarves

Bard by BlueInkAlchemist, on Flickr

At time of writing, the rewrite of Citizen in the Wilds stands at 50,230 spanning 17 chapters.

I’m roughly more than halfway done.

In addition to completely reworking the opening so it doesn’t suck, I decided it would behoove me to move some of the folks in the story away from traditional interpretations of fantasy races. In earlier drafts, they were elves and dwarves. It made sense to go with what I knew, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I was doing myself a disservice in trying to make my world something special but making these races no different than what’s come before.

Acradea is a living, breathing world all its own. Its native races should reflect that. So elves and dwarves became Yusarulim and Vulumae. The Yusarulim, or Children of the Grove, blend in with the foliage and greenery of their home in the forests and jungles, protecting what wildlife and resources they can from human intrusion. Events have left their people a bit scattered, with the biggest enclave being the titular Grove that rests at the heart of what Citizens call the Wilds.

At first, Asherian saw nothing. Then he detected movement, sliding down the vast trunks towards them. The coloration and texture of those approaching was nearly identical to the tree. Others emerged from the bushes and ferns, fronds wrapping around slender limbs that looked so delicate, Asherian feared they’d break with the slightest pressure. Their features and proportions, while vaguely humanoid, unnerved him, from their long digits to their slanted, almond-shaped eyes. The more they moved from the trees and plants, the more they appeared to be clothed in garments bearing motifs of leaves and sky, rather than those elements themselves. Their skin tones complimented these patterns, some with dark skin to match bark while others were the color of a clear summer sky. They were all armed, some with bows or spears, and others with wickedly curved daggers. And they were all staring at Asherian, not saying a word.

The Vulumae, while more numerous than the Yusarulim, are actually more secluded, living as they do far beneath Acradea’s surface in Holds of various description. With magic outlawed and lacking open air in which to travel, they have developed a rail system spanning the planet. Their society is highly regimented and vigilance is constant, as many believe that their proximity to the depths of the world brings them perilously close to what is referred to as ‘the Deep Darkness’.

Where the Yusarulim are slender and graceful, the Vulumae are massive, tending to move with deliberate purpose. They’re not quite as tall as the Children of the Grove, but the Stone-Folk easily have half again as much mass as a human of comparable size. Their skin tones range from soot to marble to obsidian and granite, slowly becoming more and more stiff and immovable as they age. They have large, dark eyes, well-suited for dark caverns and caves, and where humans have hair, they have either ridges of darker color than their skin that somewhat resemble cornrows or braids on a human, or strands or ringlets of what would appear to be spun metal, copper or gold or silver to name a few. They move in battle as one, with towering shields made to lock together and provide space for their spears, becoming mobile fortresses dangerous to approach and fearsome to behold when they charge.

So there they are. I didn’t want to just change the names of the races to sound different. My goal is to have them be functionally different from what we’ve seen before in “fantasy” settings. There’s a lot going on with Acradea and its origins, and these two races are a part of that. It’s my hope that readers will find them interesting and they add to the tapestry I’m weaving in Citizen in the Wilds.

And I managed to avoid spoilers! Not bad for my first rewrite update.

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