Villains are people too

A letter from the archives of the Realm Leapers, following up on a post years ago about villainous complaints.

To whom it may concern,

Thank you kindly for your willingness to speak up on the wrongs done to villains everywhere. All the stuff against wearing black, hiring incompetent minions, resorting to brooding as a pastime, and indiscriminate killing holds as true today as it does then.

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Fantasy tips: mysterious pasts, dragons, and swords

Say you’re a Legend Seeker. Say again you’ve strayed too near a portal and have been sucked into one of the far realms you’ve only viewed though ink and parchment. Firstly, to be honest, you’ve only a 1 in 10 chance of surviving the first five minutes because, despite the supposed randomness of the portals’ times and positions, many of them have developed a nasty habit of landing first-time leapers into the middle of a battle or into a peaceful looking situation which is about to explode into an assassination or ambush.

Still, if you survive long enough to exchange introductions, you might have a chance at living out the natural extent of your life. To improve your odds, here are a collection of handy tips I’ve gathered from my own first realm leaper, Kirin the Quillblade.

Read carefully. They could very well save your life or at least lessen embarrassing incidences in your hosting realm.

Mysterious pasts:

  • Learning your past isn’t what you thought it was or may not be a good thing; if your past has been hidden, it’s normally for a good reason. Something along the lines of ‘you’ll die if you don’t keep this information secret’ or ‘you really don’t want to know’.
  • Of course, you really do what to know once you’ve discovered the mystery. Sometimes the mystery is to protect you. Sometimes to protect those around you. Don’t get too excited.
  • Especially because there are a very small number of princes and prophesied deliverers, and a much great list of waifs and pitied orphans. Make sure you’re ready for the truth before demanding it of your elders.
  • And, since you’re sure to demand information no matter what warnings are given you, do it subtlety. Because, on the off chance that your past is important, it’s probably been hidden due to surrounding enemies. It will do you no good if they discover your identity and kill you thanks to your inquires before you learn the danger you are in.
  • Finally, whatever you learn or don’t learn about your past, don’t let it define you. It’s up to you to make your own life; your actions are not dependent on your past…well, unless there is a prophecy, but even then you’d better make your actions count. Rarely do prophecies mean what one thinks they mean…but that’s a topic for another day.

 

Dragons:

 

  • Beware coming between a dragon and his horde. And never, ever, take even the smallest fragment from it. Whether the beast collects gold, gems, stones, or even broken weapons, they know each piece and whatever you take will be missed!
  • Though only few dragons still talk, several understand human speech and the majority of dragons are very smart. They also tend to be sensitive about names so call them by their full titles and don’t, I repeat, do not, call them monsters or beasts if you value your limbs. As for the category of lizard; say that word and it will probably be the last thing you ever utter.
  • Never assume anything. Color, sight, size, and intelligence shift drastically from dragon to dragon. Some are mounts. Some pull carts. In other realms, they are their own lords. Treat them with distant respect until you know where they stand in the social powers of the realm and land you are in.
  • If you’re offered a special position on your first dragon hunt, refuse immediately. Some cultures enjoy breaking in the unwary by placing them as bait for the dragon before moving into ambush.
  • If you see a dragon in the wild, keep your weapons concealed and remain still. Most dragons will ignore you. If they approach, hold out your hands to show you are peaceful. If they don’t kill you instantly, then you’re safe unless you offend them. If they are after your blood…well, I bid you a fond goodbye. You’ll need plenty of training, a magical weapon, or a good deal of luck and the element of surprise to take down a dragon on your own.

 

Magical Blades:

  • Not all magic is equal: determine what power has gone into giving your blade its qualities, how long it will last, and what terms and conditions apply to its use.
  • Confirm the quality of your blade. A sword which can pierce dragon scales is all very well, but if it breaks when in combat with a mere human enemy, you may want to buy elsewhere.
  • Weigh the usefulness of the blade’s power with the dangers it may present. A sword which glows in an enemy’s presence could be useful. It could also be a signpost, revealing you when you’d prefer to stay hidden.
  • Beware old men carrying marvelous blades and offering cryptic futures. If they try to sell you the blade, they’re after your gold. If they try to give you the blade, it means it’s probably stolen and you’ll end up with an arrow in the chest or a sword in the gut before the day is out.
  • Finally, don’t ever, ever lay all your plans on a magical blade. They are notoriously unreliable and have a great tendency to be stolen, mislaid, or stuck in stones.

 

Any fantasy tips of your own? And any categories you’d like me to question Kirin about next time if we do this again?

Creatures from all Realms

Though probably one of the bravest realm leapers I’ve met, Kirin has weird ideas *coughs* irrational fears *coughs* when it comes to creatures. And the ones he does try to care for and bring back are the ones he probably would leave best alone. Basically, take what he says with a grain of sand and maybe you’ll learn something and still want to travel beyond your own door.

Each realm holds dangers unique to it. Lightning sand, sinkholes that drop you into another dimension, earth waves (think sea waves, but on land), and hurricanes. But there is one danger that crosses all lands… a danger all the worse because so few people notice it.

Creatures.

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Is Royalty Really Fashionable?

Disclaimer: I have nothing to do with Kirin’s attitude toward royalty. He didn’t get it from me.

Stability is all about order in leadership, of course. Never mind finances or fleets or armies. All you really need is a leader with a crown and scepter. His word is law, no questions asked. One can serve him, or one can rebel. In either case, there will be uncles ready to spring from the woodwork and depose of untested nephews, or queens to seize the crown for their young infants.

But hey, it’s still all in one family. A family who can fight it out among themselves, while wielding great armies and unlimited power. What could ever go wrong?

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New Fantasy Times: An Assassin’s Handbook

Kirin, umm, acquired a handbook not long ago. More like a pamphlet, giving tips to assassins both about their jobs and of what to do to occupy the times in between.

Disclaimer: if you’re reading this, you’re probably some young idiot who thinks he can take on the world and get paid to do it. Or you’ve some sort of broken past with nothing to lose. Or maybe you just like the money (which is decent, I admit. If you can keep it). All this to say, if you’re serious about being an assassin, chances are you’re going to die. Not yet, unless you’re really stupid. Maybe not for years. But sooner or later you’ll start a fight you can’t win. Or some vengeance stricken family will hunt you down. Or you’ll become so dangerous your own kind turns on you. If you can enjoy life with that shadow on your future, read on. If not, go find some other occupation, like candle-making or wool-carding.

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New Fantasy Times: Advancing Fantasy Technology

Advancing Fantasy Technology

Fantasy equals a sword, a bow, and a golden prophecy, right? Wrong. Do you honestly think that the realm in which you live contains the smartest, most advanced people? Of course, ‘advanced’ can have plenty of definitions. That aside, you might be surprised to find the realms which people in this land deem as ‘fantasy’ have a few tricks of their own.

What is technology after all? A thin device which carries words and pictures. An invisible thread in the air which connects the aforementioned devices. A globe of glass which glows. A chest which keeps things cold. A metal box which hurtles across the country at high speeds… It’s not quite so grand as some like to think.

Plenty of worlds have their own forms of useful (and not so useful) tools. There are the Silver Shells, which one can speak into and their voice will travel outwards to all other shells which are properly tuned. The Ruby Crystals hold pictures, even if they do tint them all red. Fire globes can carry heat and light for up to a week. One ice globe can keep a whole room cool. Swooping, kite-like contraptions carry individuals from one place to another.

The abilities of other realms are not limited to comfort and information. To be sure, swords and bows are quite popular. They were used for over three thousand years in our own realm, you will remember. But I have seen many other weapons. Powders that burrow into the foundations and, once fire catches on them, nothing can put it out. Catapults hurl explosions at iron-clad walls. Tubes send such explosions half way across the world. Hologramic soldiers march in rank and scatter confusion among the enemy. Mixtures seeped in water to weary the limbs and terrify the hearts. Other realms are not lacking in imagination or resources, let me assure you.

It is not just about what great men can think up either. The very air of some lands is different from those of others. There is one realm where currents layer the breeze. Two people in the same current can speak to each other though they are miles away. In other places, pools capture images and stones leave impressions of who was last there, while wind caves catch voices and echo them through deep caverns of the earth.

How people communicate and what they wield is just the beginning. The realms themselves are hardly what so many histories nowadays show them as…all green and swords and golden light or else dark and stony and hard. The past is not always pleasant, nor the future always hard.

Fantasy worlds are destroyed as well and must rise from the ashes. Realms and creatures from other realms interconnect – be they coming from the moon or from the sea. Wagons roll north over great deserts inhabited by wolves. Sleek silver ships combat dragons in the sky over glittering cities.

Quite frankly, no matter how many different ideas you can twist or merge, you will be able to find an existing world within the details. There is no limit except your imagination…and your realm leaper abilities.

 

Have any questions, legends, or trending cliches you’d like Kirin Quillblade (or Elena) to address? Please comment below; he promises to at least read what you have to say between his realm leaper’s missions, even if he holds the rights to choose what to write about and what to ignore.

 

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New Fantasy Times: Independent Sidekicks

For this study, Kirin discovered that at least one character didn’t take kindly to being called a side-kick. Following which, said character wrote the following letter. Ladies and gentlefolk, meet Jagger, one of Ethaniel’s friends in Fidelyon.

Firstly, it’s companion, not sidekick. I mean, honestly. It’s not as if the ‘hero’ is any more important than we are, even if he does happen to be king, or chosen one, or something of that sort. Admit it, all of you. That term ‘hero’ is used for the person the story is focused on. The rest of us somehow are viewed as… less.

Surprise! We’re warriors and heroic in our own right too. Well, sometimes. I’m not saying every person in every story is heroic. But if the story were about one of us instead, you’d see what I mean. The only difference is that, instead of trying to run a failing kingdom and face down deadly enemies, we are standing guard, protecting our king from assassins… and still facing down deadly enemies. Though I’m sure if you were interested, you could find all sorts of fascinating things about us, even if our actions don’t change the fate of the age.

What do we do, then? I just answered that, didn’t I? We are… well, we are people. Just normal people placed in very not normal circumstances. (Just like the hero, I might add.) Though even that depends on the situation. Sometimes we might have prepared our lives to fight and defend others.

Because that is a great part of our duty. There are secondary characters, but the ones called sidekicks (shattered spears, who thought that term up? Did they have something against us to give us such a derogatory term?) Anyway, as I was saying, we companions are close to the hero, and so close to all the danger he naturally attracts (because what is a hero without an assassin before breakfast?). Hence we normally have our work cut out for us. Not that the hero is a poor fighter himself, but the enemy sends people against him without taking us into consideration. Which is both enraging and yet slightly convenient.

Still, like I said, we are just people, even if we are awesome people. There’s no one ‘type’. Some of us are funny, some serious. Some young, some old. We are generally loyal to our friends. All of them. We live, we die…

But such is life. In the end, we are no worse than the hero. Generally, we’re even better in one area or another. (Juggling and wielding twin blades would be my forte.) And I just have one note for all of you who still aren’t getting it.

Don’t underestimate us. Your regret at ignoring us will be the last thing you think.

Humbly,

Jagger

New Fantasy Times: Mentors for Hire

Mentors for Hire

Mentorship used to be relegated to those who had nowhere else to go. The former experts who outlived their glory. Older men, frequenting alehouses to pick fights or brooding in the dark corners of their bare cottages until some stripling, in desperate need of training, brightened their life and pulled them out of apathy. Perhaps the reason most retiring soldiers avoided mentorship was the high mortality rate once the apprentice learned almost everything they needed to know. But for you experts out there in need of a job, I have good news. Mentorship is now becoming respectable again. Its ranks have opened for many kinds of trainers and you are more likely to survive nowadays than you ever would have in the past.

There is really only one requirement for mentorship…a thorough knowledge of the topic to be studied. I’ve seen younger men teaching professional soldiers how to shoot bows. I’ve seen girls train retired rangers in the art of writing. I’ve seen old women teaching boys camouflage, stealth, and mending, while mere children give pointers on tracking, weather, or living on the street. Princes teach peasants and farmer’s wives train kings.

Of course, those who are older do tend to know topics better, but this isn’t always the case. A twenty-year-old who’s been practicing survival to keep alive for half his life will have more expertise than a ranger who knows the facts but has only been on the field for a few years. And really, a thorough knowledge isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. No one knows everything, and as long as a mentor can admit that, learning from his apprentice even as he teaches him all he knows, things will be fine. Probably. Frankly, some of the most flourishing mentorships I’ve known is when both parties play the part of both mentor and apprentice in different topics.

Another point of note is that an apprentice can have more than one mentor, while a mentor might have several apprentices. This doesn’t happen all the time, of course, but such interweaving does tend to make the best use of resources.

As for the mentors themselves, rest assured you won’t turn gloomy and grim if you take the job. That’s not to say some frustration and pain won’t be involved. Unless you have an ideal apprentice, it won’t be easy…but there’s nothing to say you can’t face it with your own spirit and character. Jokes, pranks, teasing, reading while your apprentice practices their postures, surprises, dryness…each mentor has their own way of teaching and their own way of keeping up spirits, which is a vital task no matter your temperament.

Of course, while your apprentice will likely pick up on some of your quirks, they will be much quicker on picking up on your flaws. A sharp tongue. Brooding silence. A perchance for too much food or comfort… they will see it all. And they will use it as an excuse for their own behavior. So beware. If you think you’re not flaws, then take an apprentice and you’ll recognize your mistake very quickly.

And I think…oh yes, there is that final important matter of terminating the mentorship without dying. It’s quite easy, really. Leave before your apprentice faces whatever challenge he’s been trying to overcome. Let him fight his own battles and don’t throw yourself in front of a spear or sword or arrow, no matter how emotionally attached you’ve become during mentorship.

What? You don’t like the idea of abandonment or ditching self-sacrifice? I should have known better…though I might point out that some mentors teach solely for money and have no problems leaving him be. Moving on, there are alternatives to death and dishonor.

For one, you (probably) have a life too. Send your apprentice off to finish a task on his or her own while you turn to more personal matters. Sometimes life gives you a way out by throwing circumstances at you which force your apprentice to operate alone. Maybe you are wounded, are captured, are out spying, or are dealing with some other life and death matter of your own. Maybe you have another apprentice you are teaching, or a mentor of your own to save. Or maybe you just happen to be relaxing in some secluded valley during a peaceful lull, and can’t be reached in time for the main fight.

Perhaps you even stand by your apprentice’s side during the whole fight but be warned, there will come a time that he will need to rise up on his own. You may be there to see him do it, or you may have to leave if he is too dependent on you. But, mentally, each apprentice will need to come into his own and claim the prize you’ve been teaching him to acquire.

And really, besides the late nights, hard work, meager payment (like glory…which one can’t eat), emotional trauma, danger, and some likelihood of death (I said death was lessening, not that it was gone), there is no duty so rewarding as a mentorship. Assuming your apprentice doesn’t turn against you in the end, but that is a topic for another day. For now, if you have knowledge and love to teach, then at least consider the mentorship path. You won’t regret it.

Hopefully.

 

Have any questions, legends, or trending cliches you’d like Kirin Quillblade (or Elena) to address? Please comment below; he promises to at least read what you have to say between his realm leaper’s missions, even if he holds the rights to choose what to write about and what to ignore.

 

Join the Legend Seekers for monthly stories about the realm leapers and fantasy time-travelers, Kirin and Elena. Click here to sign up

New Fantasy Times: Musings of a Minion

Musings of a Minion

Heroes have overwhelming expectations placed upon them, and villains are pressed into stereotypes, but the one character who no one seems to expect much of are the minions. They work hard too, and they’d appreciate some recognition as this anonymous letter from a minion, delivered by Kirin testifies.

To whom it may or may not concern,

Everyone has a trade or craft or position of some sort, from smiths and bakers, to farmers and soldiers, to architects and sailors. I so happened to choose the path of a minion. Not, of course, that you should ever, ever, use that term. It’s a great inside joke, but do you know how demeaning it is when someone address us as a mere minion of some great leader? No? Well, try it sometime to our face and just you wait. You’ll be sorry.

Because honestly, face it, you use the term minion as if it is degrading. As if we are less than the one we serve, less than other people, and sometimes less than human. Is a soldier in the army treated as less than a person just because he’s under a great general? We are people, same as anyone else. We’ve loyalties, duties, likes, dislikes, families…we aren’t some brainwashed mass who does a villain’s bidding. I’d best add here that villain is just another term bandied about. To us, he is our employer. Perhaps a master. Perhaps a friend. Yes, there are some who might serve him out of fear, but then he’s little more than a slave driver. Generally ‘minions’ work because they choose to for money or for other rewards.

We might have ambitions to become like him someday, or we might just be working to put food on the table, but either way where do you think he’d be without others like us? No one, hero or villain, can do everything. So they hire helpers and others volunteer for the job. You don’t see the people helping heroes called minions, do you?

Though, frankly, the gross underestimation that generally comes with the term ‘minion’ does help us out quite a bit. I mean, how do you think we got our jobs? By shooting at a target and the one who hits the least gets promoted? We work to earn our way. If we deal in security, then we are at least a notch above the average shot or swordsman. If we work indoors, we are constantly on the alert. Our rise and fall is intimately connected to that of our employer (do you know how hard it is to find a job after working for someone termed ‘villain’?). This is also the reason a good villain will hire his helpers, not enslave them. But we aren’t just going to look the other way or fall asleep while guarding prisoners (there are severe penalties for that anyway) or (generally) accept bribes. Well, I take that back. It depends on the quality of our employer and what we think the long-term damage will be and how it affects us. The best course of action is to acquire the bribe then go to our employer. Hey, you don’t expect us to act honorably anyway. Why should we?

One thing we don’t do is fight among ourselves. There is a certain code among us, which we all follow for our own good. Sometimes, I admit, some man or woman gets ambitious, but such uprisings are generally put down from the top. Because no house will succeed when ripped apart from the middle. Now there is one exception. If faced with ‘minions’ from a different villain, insults and then blows might fly. But who can blame us? The others are generally insufferable.

We come from all walks of life and for all kinds of reasons. Adventure. Love. Revenge. The need to provide for a family. The experience. If we fail, there are standard punishments like anywhere else. If we betray, we die. But if we work hard and use our skills, we are able to obtain a view from the shadows that very few can see.

Remaining nameless to protect myself,

A Sharpshooting ‘Minion’

 

Have any questions, legends, or trending cliches you’d like Kirin Quillblade (or Elena) to address? Please comment below; he promises to at least read what you have to say between his realm leaper’s missions, even if he holds the rights to choose what to write about and what to ignore.

 

Join the Legend Seekers for monthly stories about the realm leapers and fantasy time-travelers, Kirin and Elena. Click here to sign up

New Fantasy Times: Damsels in Defiance

Elena has taken it upon herself to write this article. Kirin’s hurried agreement may or may not have had something to do with the arrow she was twirling between her fingers as she made the request. But regardless, Elena, everyone!

Ever been on the receiving end of a rescue? Yes? Well, you might have noticed they don’t always go as planned. You know those minor details which tend to crop up. An alert guard. A well defended dragon lair. An absent prisoner off on an escape of her own. Until, of course, the captive ends up in the grip of her captor with a dagger pressed against her throat. Not an enviable position.

Of course, all rescues don’t go like this. There was the time the pompous prince of Athada arranged the capture of his betrothed, then showed up in a scarlet cloak, accompanied by servants bearing silver crystals to record the event. He battled through a dozen apathetic guards before swinging open the door of the poor damsel’s chamber only to be splashed with several bucketful’s of tar rigged up on cleverly disguised ropes. The princess and I, concealed back at her father’s castle in perfect innocence, laughed over the transmission of the prince face for the rest of the night.

But, admittedly, not many captures are going to end this well.

Avoiding capture in the first place is always a good idea. Not as if we’re always given that option. But there are some things a girl can do. Like not disobeying a father or other authority and deciding to venture out the dangerous dark alone. I’ve nothing against a bit of danger, but if you slip off on your own in some rash attempt to prove your skills, you are practically asking to be captured.

And as for valid captures, the reasons aren’t limit to kidnapping a princess and bringing her to a castle in the hopes that riches will sway her to marry her captor (I mean, if she does agree, is that the sort of woman any man is going to want?) or to evil generals who want a ransom or a pressure point on his enemy (which is completely unfair to our friends, even if it’s not our fault, and we ought avoid this capture if at all possible, even if it means sacrificing some of our own freedom and staying safe).

But we woman are also captured for other reasons unconnected with the desire of our hand in marriage or the capture of those who love us. As messengers. As spies. As slaves. Or even intentional captures to manipulate the enemy from the inside.

Anyhow, readers of common stories sometimes expect their captives to act in an exasperatingly simple way. Now if you what to enhance this view of yourself, there are a few pointers you can follow:

  1. At least several times.
  2. Huddle in a corner. Preferably while crying.
  3. Make no effort to move (actually, the dead-weight tactic is a great passive-aggressive technique for many angles of behavior)
  4. Refuse to tell your captor anything, while clearly showing your answer through facial expressions (another way to trick your captor, if you are good enough at it).
  5. When your rescuer comes and gets in the inevitable fight with your captor, stand to the side and scream, ignoring the any weapons at your disposal (really not the best option since, at this point, it’s probably do or die).
  6. Basically, have no more use than a delicate golden curtain.

However, waiting around for rescue isn’t always a viable option. And there are many things a woman can do to while away the time and try to escape.

The first thing is establish your value, because on that depends your own safety and how far you can go before you press against the limits of your captor’s goodwill. If you’re being held by a prospective suitor or someone who needs you alive for a ransom, you can have some fun. Pranks on guards. Riddles. Sarcasm and insults. Of course, gauge yourself carefully. It would never do to be placed under stricter guard because you’re merely being annoying. If you’re being held by a slave driver or as a spy…it’s probably a good idea to shut up and make the least noise you can. Or maybe the most noise. It depends a lot on your guards and your captor’s personality. Each situation is different.

But, whatever the case, there are a handful of personalities one can choose and use to the full:

  1. The tearful princess: basically acting as weak and helpless as you can while preparing for one sudden push. This can be quite fun to reenact. The hard part is not laughing at everyone’s looks of disgust while you sob or pretend to be so delicate you can’t even walk on the rough ground.
  2. The steady maiden: take it all in stride. Keep informed. Don’t show much fear, but don’t show how much you know either. Act like everything is normal. The confusion this causes can be hilarious as well, though you will probably be watched fairly closely.
  3. The defiant damsel: insults, sarcasm, pranks, either with brazen triumph or practiced innocence. You can say what you want, demand what you want. Also quite fun to act. Of course, you’re likely to be kept under a fairly heavy guard, but you’re also likely to get some of the things you need for an escape.
  4. Using two or even three layers of personality can also give you some good results.

Also, always remember that persistence pays off. Want a view of the courtyard or extra sheets to tie together for a rope? Ask and plead and cajole until your captors are so annoyed they give in. You can veil your reasons in foolish girlishness, guilt your captors, or use hard brazen logic. Again, it all depends on the mood of your capture.

Conceal anything which could be used as a weapon in your clothing. And be prepared to use it. Especially in aid of a rescuer.

Finally, help your rescuer in any way possible, leaving behind clues. If you happen to escape, tell others as soon as possible so your rescuer doesn’t fall into your captor’s clutches and the roles reversed. It’s always very inconvenient when that happens, believe me.

 

Have any questions, legends, or trending cliches you’d like Kirin Quillblade (or Elena) to address? Please comment below; he promises to at least read what you have to say between his realm leaper’s missions, even if he holds the rights to choose what to write about and what to ignore.

 

Join the Legend Seekers for monthly stories about the realm leapers and fantasy time-travelers, Kirin and Elena. Click here to sign up